It was, Abby had to admit later, her own fault that it happened.
In truth, technically, there was no reason for her to be the one to always change the dressing on Marcus’ leg. She could have passed it on to Jackson, or one of the people she was training up, who were more than capable of handling a routine check-up like this. But Marcus was her...friend, although somehow the word seemed a trite understatement now even in her head, and Abby wanted to assure herself of his recovery personally, if only to set her own mind at ease.
Besides, what had happened to him was due to a choice Clarke had made, and she couldn’t help but feel some responsibility for that.
The wound was closing well at least, and there had been no muscle damage – he would always have a scar, but in a few weeks he would probably be able to walk without a limp again. Still, infection was always a worry, here on the Ground far more so than on the Ark, and Abby was determined to keep checking up on Marcus until she was sure he had fully healed, especially since he wasn’t the type to complain if something did start to trouble him.
They talked often, these days, but during his check-ups Marcus was always quieter than usual, perhaps just because it was one area in which Abby’s expertise was indisputable. In the past she would have taken some satisfaction at that; him being forced to accept her authority in any way, but now she’s the Chancellor anyway and their days of trying to one-up each other are long over. Abby instead just felt glad that he so obviously trusted her, that he took her advice on the rehabilitation of his leg uncomplainingly, accepted her care of him gratefully.
Today though, Marcus was even quieter than usual as she unwrapped the old bandage and peeled off the dressing. She wished he would say something, because without some token conversation it was increasingly difficult to focus on anything but the fact that he was sitting there on the edge of the hospital bed wearing only a shirt and underwear, his uniform pants folded neatly over a nearby chair. Abby was no stranger to the male body, being a doctor, but there was something about seeing Marcus so vulnerable that stirred something deep inside her that she was unable to put a name to.
Forcing herself not to think about it, she swabbed the healing cut on his leg gently but firmly with antiseptic, as always, and Marcus hissed slightly through his teeth.
“Sorry,” Abby murmured.
“It’s alright,” said Marcus. He sounded a little strained, and Abby glanced up at him, slightly surprised. He had certainly endured much worse pain than this, and yet everything about his posture was tense, and his eyes were fixed on the opposite wall as if he couldn’t bear to look at what she was doing.
Abby couldn’t have said exactly why her eyes drifted a little away from the wound when she looked back down, but they did, and she suddenly became very aware of what the problem was.
Oh. He wasn’t in pain. Well, he probably was, but he was also...uh...having a very different reaction to her hands on him.
Abby felt her face heat up and cursed herself for being so ridiculous. God damn it, she was a professional and she shouldn’t be thrown by this. It was a simple involuntary physical reaction to stimulus, that was all.
The truth was, if it were any other patient, she would have tactfully pretended not to notice and left it at that. But now she was blushing like a schoolgirl because this wasn’t just any patient, it was Marcus, and she wasn’t used to thinking of him as...well...a person in this way. A physical flesh-and blood human being. Or more specifically, a man.
Now she was faced with undeniable evidence that he was only a man, after all. Quite emphatically so, in fact.
She cleared her throat. “Ah...right, well everything looks fine,” she said hurriedly. She couldn’t quite look him in the eye, and she was suddenly very conscious of the fact that whenever she was bent over him like this he was probably getting a pretty good view of her cleavage too.
“I’ll just re-bandage it,” she said. “But you probably won’t need that at all in another couple of weeks.”
“Good,” said Marcus. He sounded as though that one word was all he could manage. Abby couldn’t blame him.
She covered the wound with the dressing and taped it in place, trying to be as gentle as possible while also being incredibly aware of every brush of her fingers against his skin. Her gaze kept drifting involuntarily to the obvious effect she was having on him, and she felt an unexpected tug of something deep in the pit of her stomach. Something like desire, mixed with a strange kind of...pride. Alright, so there it was. Abby could at least admit it in the privacy of her own head – awkward though this situation was, there was a part of her that was just a little thrilled at having such an effect on the usually imperturbable Marcus Kane.
After all, telling herself a line about ‘involuntary physical reactions’ was all very well, but it was difficult to believe that he would have gotten a raging erection if Jackson had been the one to do this. She had seen the way Marcus looked at her, sometimes. She wasn’t blind. And she wasn’t made of stone either, although thankfully the effect that a half-dressed and hard Marcus Kane had on her was a lot easier to hide.
“I need you to stand again, if you can,” she said, vainly trying to keep her voice calm and professional. “So I can re-bandage your leg. Or you can...lie down, if you prefer...”
“I’ll stand,” said Marcus immediately.
“Right. Don’t put any weight on it if you can help it though.”
Abby turned around for longer than she needed to in order to get the clean bandage, wishing now she had put it somewhere further away so she’d have an excuse to leave his side even if only for a few more seconds, and maybe give him some time to sort himself out, if he could.
But she could only put it off for so long, and as she knelt beside him to re-wrap the gauze she was excruciatingly aware of how her hand brushed against the fabric of his underwear with every pass she made of the bandage. Under normal circumstances she might have tried to make conversation, but she could think of absolutely nothing to say. There was no way she could pretend not to have noticed his...condition, and even though she had no intention of mentioning it, the fact that they both knew was enough to make the air in the room feel hot and thick with embarrassment.
“Does that feel okay?” she said, when she had finally finished wrapping and secured the bandage, and winced internally at her own words.
“Yes,” said Marcus, and to his credit his voice was only a little hoarse. “That feels fine.”
Abby wondered what his answer would have been had she moved her hands a little higher, and then firmly clamped down on that train of thought.
“We’re done,” she said quickly, straightening up with some relief. “You can...uh...go. When you’re ready.”
She didn’t actually flee the room, but it was a close thing. She retreated as quickly as seemed dignified to the little office that adjoined Medical, closing the door behind her and collapsing into a chair. Her heart was pounding, and her face still felt hot.
Through the frosted glass of the door, she could faintly see the dark shape that was Marcus, reaching for his uniform pants and pulling them back on. Instead of leaving immediately, he sank down onto the edge of the bed again, and stayed there for several long minutes, apparently staring at nothing. Abby couldn’t see his face, of course, but his whole posture spoke volumes. She felt a sharp tug of guilt.
She took a deep breath. And then another one. Then she realised that by stalling she was half hoping Marcus would simply get up and leave, and that was no way to treat a friend, whatever else he was to her.
She walked back out into Medical, carefully not reacting to the look of guilty surprise on Marcus’ face as his head snapped towards her at her approach.
“Oh good, you’re still here,” she said lightly. “I’m actually done here for this morning, so I was wondering if you wanted to go get some lunch?”
His tentative answering smile was enough to make Abby’s heart squeeze in her chest. “I’d like that,” he said. He braced himself on the edge of the bed to stand up again.
“Need a hand?” asked Abby, offering hers as she said it, and then when she was sure she had his full attention, added: “Or should we not risk it?”
There was a heartbeat of utter silence as Marcus stared at her, and then to her immense relief his face split into a self-conscious, almost boyish grin.
“I think I can handle it,” he said, accepting her hand for a moment to take some of his weight as he stood, then releasing it again. For a moment Abby rather wished he had kept it in his own.
“Thank you,” he said warmly, and Abby returned his smile, feeling the awkwardness between them fade away.
“Any time, Marcus,” she said, and when she saw the flash of surprise in his eyes she realised how flirtatious it must have sounded, under the circumstances. She decided she didn’t care. Whatever they were to each other now, whatever was changing between them, Abby realised she didn’t want to ignore it, or push it away.
Perhaps neither of them were ready to fully face it yet either, but that didn’t matter. Right now they were both still healing, and as they left Medical together, walking side by side and exchanging casual conversation as had become their habit, Abby knew that whatever came next, they would at least be able to face it together.