at body temperature

On February 14th, 2016, Draven Kondraki has been out for two and a half weeks recovering from a cracked rib, an injury received during a 939 breach that had worried his father half to death. Ultimately, he'd been fine, just shaken up, but the doctors had insisted on the full six-week recovery time, and James had pulled over four of his vacation days to fuss over him.

It is Valentine's Day, and James Talloran uses one more of the few opportunities for solace the job provides to spend the day at home with his partner.

Snow is piled up outside, six feet to the windows; there's no point in going anywhere, no point to buying platitudes to exchange with each other. Instead, they sleep in together, chest to back under a heavy duvet in James's tiny box of a Foundation-issued studio apartment. The sheets are not particularly soft, but the feeling of Draven's hair between his fingers and the smell of fabric softener and aftershave more than makes up for it. It's quiet and comfortable, and James doesn't think about work, or about much of anything at all other than how pleasantly warm he is.

As night falls, they fall between and into each other, tangled bodies seeking closeness, finding understanding, crashing into each other and then blossoming. James is gentle with his still-healing partner, idly tracing lines along his bandaged chest when they collapse under the covers afterwards. He can feel his face still burning with flustered affection as Draven drifts off beside him, and everything feels incredible and new and beautiful.

On February 14th, 2017, James Talloran and Draven Kondraki take the day off again, but today the snow has melted into an early spring and so they go to the grocery store together. They pass the aisles of prepackaged pinks and reds and pick up milk, eggs, sugar, flour, and chocolate chips, and then they return home and Draven relays a recipe passed down by his father to his boyfriend.

He rests his head on James’s and circles his hands around his waist as he mixes, and they talk, about Draven’s father, about each other, about how they both feel and about the future. James is so paranoid about burning the cookies that they come out soft and doughy but taste fine anyway, and this is the point at which Draven makes up his mind about marrying him.

Instead of saying that, he blurts out I love you so much, and in response James laughs, gently and openly like a child, and murmurs I know that. Then, he smiles that slow-melting smile Draven had fallen in love with in the first place, and the words come easily as he replies I love you too.

That night, they freeze the leftovers and fall back into bed together, but this time all they do is sleep, curled in each other’s arms, allowing anxieties to slough off their shoulders, just for tonight. There is no routine in this bed and in their dreams; nothing between the sheets but love and trust and sincere helpless worry for another, expressed through embrace.

On February 14th, 2018, James Talloran is not in his lover's arms but instead cold and dying in a small room very far away and there are no plants or light or life anywhere and he wonders many things at once which often include the word why and Draven Kondraki is warm and breathing in a tiny box of a Foundation-issued studio apartment that belonged to his father surrounded by life and people everywhere and he wonders many things at once which often include the word why

On February 14th, 2019, James Talloran has been out for six and a half months recovering from everything in the world. The nastier effects of the amnestics are wearing off, but their scars are apparent; his hair is barely half an inch long when before he’d been growing it out to his shoulders, his physique has gone from "eats like a bird, should probably exercise more" to scarred and downright gaunt, and he moves through the tiny box of a Foundation-issued studio apartment like a ghost, watching the walls nervously.

His lover is still in his arms, though, having called in his precious few vacation days to care for him as he heals. Draven holds him more gently now than he ever has, with a kind of careful reverence, even as he sleeps. The date brings to mind a distant trauma, one far removed from the situation but still a raw, bloody wound; he wraps his bandaged hands around his boyfriend’s chest as if in defiance of it.

You wanna go make cookies? Draven asks, nestled to his chest, and James hadn’t realized he was awake yet but nods, so together they stumble, still tangled up in each other, to the kitchen.

As he’s licking the beaters Draven says softly hey, Jamie? and then something he doesn’t quite catch but that sounds nervous and new and wonderful in the way things felt four years ago.


"I was wondering how you felt about, um, maybe getting married?" He can feel Draven smile and swallow nervously just from the feeling of his chest against his back. "Not anytime soon, obviously, and I don’t have a ring or anything, but…"

Draven pulls away now so he can see James’s face, and the old ring on the same chain as his dog tags clinks pleasingly with the motion. "I’ve just been thinking about it a lot, y’know, with everything happening lately, and it—" He sighs. "I just— I dunno. It feels more permanent, you know?"

He does know. Husband seems like a more steady and permanent thing than lover or partner or boyfriend, something that couldn’t be taken away from them come hell or high water. Something showing that despite every attempt life had made at wrenching them apart, they were still here, in the same tiny box, in love with each other in the deep and warm and strong and helpless way they’d always been.

"Yeah," James says, smiling that slow-melting smile. "I’d like that."

They fall between and into each other again that night, gentler than ever but making up for it with words like I’ve got you and you’re so good and I love you, saying each other's names, all spilling out without their input. There’s a certain kind of fierce reverence now in their touches, something saying we lived, we’re alive and we’re here together after everything, burning and stubborn and yet open and yielding, like a flower blooming after the frost.

The sunrise finds them fast asleep in each other's arms.

rating: +7+x
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