The first time I laid eyes on him, I knew I was in trouble. His back was rigid, hand on his knee as he stared straightforwardly ahead. He was completely disinterested in me the moment I sat down, but that was fine. He didn’t know me yet. He excused himself and I murmured an introduction before he could get far. That close, I could see the palette of blues that make up his eyes, far older than even the worn vessel he inhabits. I could see the strain in every line of his face, the crow’s feet, the smile lines, speaking to what he’d been through.
He grudgingly shook my hand after a few minutes of banter and the contact was a rush. It wasn’t lost on me that the gesture was a nod of respect, but I could only focus of the feel of his calloused hand slipping into my palm. I imagined I could feel it on a cellular level, the rasping catch of his skin cells against mine.
We continued our conversation, but the need to feel that euphoric contact again won out and I brushed our fingers together at the next chance I got. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t even blink, and even now it feels like a victory.
Our working relationship only improved from that moment, though I spiraled deeper and deeper into my fixation with each interaction.
I sarcastically wished him luck as we crossed paths over the threshold of M’s office, and the snort of laughter I received in response was enough to carry me through the rest of the day.
We shared a joke at the expense of the Accounting department and suddenly I thought I kept seeing him on the street, his dark grey, wool jacket turning the corner ahead of me but when I hurried to catch him, he was never there in the first place.
Our shoulders brushed against each other as he leaned over my desk to look closer at my notes on a prototype design he’d tested and I ached to believe it was on purpose. My entire soul wanted to imagine that I was the only reason he’d even showed interest in the project, but he straightened up and stepped back, shoved his hands in his pockets and stood there like he’d never moved before I could say anything.
Eve teased me about our “friendship” with a sly grin on her face not long after and I shrugged it off with my cheeks flaring, not wanting to tell her I thought I could smell his aftershave in the elevator when I arrived at work that morning.
His hand brushed the small of my back as he shuffled past me to take a seat in the crowded meeting that was being forced upon us and my breath caught, the room reeling as I shakily pulled out my chair to sink into it, no longer able to trust my legs.
Then suddenly, it stopped.
I’ve searched every memory I have for a reason, some kind of slight that would have pushed him away. I’ve run myself in literal circles thinking about it, the sound of my feet hitting the track and the burning in my lungs the only anchor to keep me from getting swept away.
I see him in the hallway and he smiles and nods at me, but it’s not the same.
He gets out of the elevator in Q Branch, laughing at something 005 said, and my stomach clenches at the thought that he might come over and say hi. I can feel the tips of my ears turning red as I catch myself mid-thought and force myself over to my workstation. He never breaks stride as the two of them walk through the branch, but our eyes still meet as he passes by.
I confess my entire teenage-girl-crush-misery to Eve that night as we move onto our second bottle of wine. She laughs loudly, loud enough to scare Tabitha out of her cat tree and send her little legs scurrying across the floor. Eve places a hand on my knee, shaking her head at what turns out to be my stupidity, and says she’s known since the first time she saw us in the same room together.
I’m finally getting used to the idea that maybe we’re better off as colleagues. After all, we work well together—no need to screw that up. I suppose overhearing two doctors gossiping in Medical about how he’d slept with both of the new nurses on staff within a few days of each other may have helped the process along.
It’s the only reason I let Eve drag me to this ridiculous holiday party, really: the prospect of maybe meeting someone I don’t try to compare to him, sloshed on enough egg nog that my rationality can take the night off.
Eve’s plied me with enough liquor to knock out a small horse and has been trying to drag me out onto the dance floor for the better part of fifteen minutes. I wave her off when Bill offers himself up as a partner instead. I try not to look like I’d rather be anywhere else as I stand off to the side, sipping my drink and watching some of the smartest minds I’ve met throughly embarrass themselves.
I realize with the sensory delay of an alcoholic haze that he’s sidled up beside me in silence, sipping his scotch and staring in some odd mirror of my actions.
Instead of a polite greeting or, hell, even a “hi,” my loosened tongue decides to accost him with, “You’ve been avoiding me, Double-Oh Seven.”
It earns me a sideways glance and a raised eyebrow. “Have I?”
I frown, a disgruntled sigh escaping my lips as I take another drink. I see him do the same out of the corner of my eye, but he doesn’t say anything.
We stand like that for what feels like forever. This close, I can smell his cologne and instead of making me want like it did in the past, it ignites a flare of anger in my chest.
Finally, I turn towards him, opening my mouth to begin the verbal lashing that’s been building over the last few weeks only to stop when I notice the smirk on his face.
“What?” I ask angrily, licking my lips. His eyes follow the path of my tongue and my eyes narrow in suspicion.
“I haven’t been avoiding you,” he says quietly, turning fully towards me after placing his empty glass on the table closest to us.
I raise an eyebrow and drain the rest of my drink, unimpressed.
He sighs, looking indecisive for a moment before pulling the empty glass from my hand and setting it down next to his. It frees my other hand and I cross my arms over my chest.
He tentatively reaches out to uncross them, grabbing one of my wrists and turning towards the dance floor.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I hiss as he pulls me out into the throng of our colleagues dancing to the beat of an obnoxious pop song.
I stumble a bit as he stops abruptly and I feel his other arm wind around my lower back, steadying me against his solid body.
“Proving a point,” he says, his voice just low enough to be heard over the music. The smirk on his face returns as his left hand detaches from around my wrist and slides down to intertwine our fingers together.
My heart feels as though it’s suddenly trampolined its way into my throat and I don’t think I’m able to squeeze words past it, just a strangled, questioning noise.
He outright grins as he begins to gently sway us back and forth, clearly not paying attention to the beat of the music. “Would I dance with you if I was avoiding you?”
I still have enough faculty to roll my eyes and enough propriety to try to push back, to attempt to get some room between our bodies before I start hyperventilating while I overthink our proximity.
His arm is unyielding around me, and I feel his hand spread and slip a little lower, resting on my hip. I force myself to swallow, but can’t force myself to say anything else.
“I received some compromised intelligence,” he says a minute later, a smile still on his face though his eyes are serious.
I pull back to stare at him, gaping. “Double-Oh Seven, if a mission has been—”
“No,” he cuts me off. “Not about a mission. About you.”
“I’m…not sure I follow.”
He laughs and spins us expertly on the spot.
Over the shoulder of his navy blazer, I can see Eve dancing, and the wink and accompanying grin I receive from her aren’t as comforting as I’m sure she thinks they are.
“No, I wouldn’t expect you to.”
I start to open my mouth, my standard lecture when people discount my intelligence or experience ready to spill forth when he shakes his head.
“Not like—that’s not what I mean, Q. I heard that you had a partner and I…I guess I didn’t want to intrude. I was trying to respect your boundaries, if you will,” his voice is low again after he’s pulled me back in to ensure that his words aren’t overheard by those around us.
“Who the fuck told you that?” My brain to mouth filter has obviously shut down for the night.
“That you were taken?” The lines around his eyes get deeper as his fingers gently caress my hip over my trousers. He knows that it’s distracting me, the bastard. “Dr. Anand. I finally pieced together that he has a bit of a thing for you. I suppose he was trying to weed out the competition.”
I swallow and turn my attention to his shoulder to avoid his eyes, suddenly very fascinated by the fabric of his blazer. I realize belatedly that it’s velvet and I have an irrational urge to pet it—I know it’s just my brain trying to distract me as I process what he’s told me, but it looks very inviting.
“So, all this time you—what, were trying to be professional and keep your distance?” I ask, addressing his lapel instead of actually looking at him.
He huffs softly in laughter. “Yes?”
I snort and finally look up to meet his gaze. “I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
The laugh lines around his mouth and eyes are drawing me in even as I try not to fall into their gravity field, and before I know what’s happening, his lips are warm and gentle against mine. But it’s not long enough, not nearly long enough, and I chase the taste of him with my tongue as he pulls back.
“Yeah, I suppose there is,” he murmurs softly before pulling me even closer.
I know that everyone in our vicinity must be staring at us—I can practically feel their eyes as he brushes a cheek along my own, the drag of his stubble against mine eliciting a gasp.
He doesn’t say anything, just turns his head a fraction and kisses the edge of my jaw. I take a deep breath and release it with a shudder before letting my head drift down to rest on his shoulder.
The people, the music, the laughter, the chatter around us—it begins to fade from my awareness and I can’t help but smile. The gentle heat from his body allows everything else to melt away until all I can feel is him.