“Nick! I’m starving, aren’t you ready to go yet? You said we could get breakfast—”
Maya stopped with the door to Phoenix’s bedroom open, her mouth hanging open. He looked over at her from where he was standing in front of his mirror, a bewildered look on his face.
“Jeez, Maya. Don’t you knock anymore?”
He turned back to the mirror and Maya entered the room slowly, never taking her eyes off of him. He was dressed—sans waistcoat and jacket—and his fingers were entangled in the pink slip of fabric that was his tie.
Maya made her way over to his bed and took a seat on the end of it, watching. Phoenix glanced over at her and raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Nothing,” she said, tilting her head a bit. “I just never realized how complicated tying a tie was.”
“It’s really not that hard once you get used to it,” Phoenix said, flipping one piece of fabric over another. “My dad taught me when I was in high school. We were having a job fair to help kids get part time jobs and to look into jobs we might want to go to college for, so he pretty much forced me to wear a suit and tie to it.”
Maya smiled. “Well, I’d say it was worth it, right? You wear a suit and tie almost every day now.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” He glanced over at her again, a small smirk playing on his face. “Do you want to learn?”
Maya blinked. “Um… I don’t wear a neck tie so it’s not like I have a reason to…”
“Come on, you never know when you might need it. You’re already an expert at tying that sash around your waist, you’ll get it in no time.”
She sighed. “Okay, fine,” she said, standing up from the bed and walking up to him as he turned towards her. She found herself looking up into his face, waiting for him to start.
“Watch me first,” he said, unravelling the tie again and slowly moving the pieces over and under each other. “This is apparently a Windsor knot. I don’t really know any of the others, but at least it’s not a clip on, right?”
She smiled but kept her eyes on his fingers. Even in the slowed down process of it, it took him no longer than 30 seconds. She blinked. “Sorry Nick, but I couldn’t even tell which part was going where.”
He unravelled it again. “Here,” he said, “take it.”
She lifted her hands to take the two ends, and then Phoenix placed his hands over hers. She swallowed. After all these years she didn’t think there was much left that he could do to fluster her, and yet she found herself flushing. She lowered her head slightly, hoping he couldn’t see the redness of her cheeks.
He said nothing as he began to move their fingers together, guiding her in the weaving of the fabric around his neck. She tried to stay focused on the movement of it and how the knot was forming, but her hands were in his and they were standing so close together she could smell whatever aftershave he’d used that morning, and his chest was steadily rising and falling beneath her hands. It felt oddly intimate for something as innocent as tying a neck tie was.
It felt like forever to her, but in reality was probably only a minute or two, before the knot had formed like magic in her fingers. Phoenix had probably done most of the work himself, especially with her being as distracted as she was, but she smiled anyway.
“Now do it by yourself.”
Maya looked up at him. “Huh? But it’s perfect!”
“But I helped you. Come on, it’s only a few steps,” he said, unravelling the tie yet again.
Maya took a calming breath and lifted her hands to each end once more. She concentrated, trying to remember the steps he’d just shown her, her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth as she worked her fingers.
She was unaware of Phoenix's eyes on her, watching her face as she focused on the task at hand. She had been back from her two year stint in Khura’in for a few months, but so much of her time was spent in Kurain Village now that he found himself savouring moments like this. The quiet ones, where it was just the two of them together, with no one else around to distract them from each other.
His thoughts were interrupted as he realized that Maya had finished. She was slowly tightening the tie around his neck, sliding the knot up to his throat. She smiled, her cheeks glowing a light pink. She looked so pretty.
She flattened the collar of his dress shirt down and patted his shoulders, checking again that everything looked proper. “There,” she said. “I think that’s good.”
She looked up at him when he said nothing, only to find him looking down at her, observing her. This time she didn’t break his eye contact, however much the butterflies in her stomach wanted her to. She’d always loved his eyes, so dark they looked black from far away. But standing this close to him, she could see the swirls of the dark blue that they actually were.
He took a step towards her, wrapping his arms around her to pull her even closer. Her hands slid from his shoulders to rest against his chest, and she could feel the pounding of his heart beneath her palms. Her own heart was beating wildly.
“Did I ever say how much I missed you while you were gone?” he murmured, bringing one hand up to her neck.
She said nothing as he pulled her face towards his—hesitatingly at first but then more confident, as if in that moment he’d made a sudden decision—and pressed his lips against hers. His kiss was soft and so gentle she wondered if he was just as nervous as she was. It was short and sweet, but she couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect.
Maya smiled as the kiss broke, though neither of them stepped back. “I think I have an idea how much,” she said. His answer was obvious in that kiss.
He pressed his lips against hers again, seemingly unable to help himself. Maya melted into him as the kiss deepened and became slightly more frantic, the past few month’s worth of tension finally building into something neither of them could ignore anymore.
She forgot all about breakfast, and Phoenix’s tie didn’t stay around his neck for very long, even after all of Maya’s hard work. That was okay, she thought as he led her back towards his bed. She was sure she’d have many more times in the future to practice.