Off Limits

By: Lauren Landish


I noticed that her skin was slightly flushed, and her joke was as forced as my casualness, but still, both of us smiled and I shook my head. Maybe she was feeling it as much as I was? Fresh hope flared in my chest. "Come on."

The bathroom was just after the kitchen in the L-shaped design of the studio apartment, and I found a bottle of antiseptic spray inside the medicine cabinet after rooting around for a few seconds. "Here," I said, handing it to her. "No peroxide, but this should do."

"All right then, off with your hood," Abby said. She grinned at the slightly macabre joke, her lips curling up in the most enchanting bow I could imagine. "You're already bleeding onto it, and you need to get some cold water on that fabric or else it’s going to be ruined."

An electric thrill ran through me as I let her peel my shirt up and over my head, leaving me in just my jeans and boots. Abby had turned to toss my shirt through the open door to the laundry room beyond the bathroom, so when she turned back, her startled pause when she saw my upper body for the first time actually caused me to blush. She reached toward me before pulling her hand back, suddenly realizing that she hadn't asked permission. "Wow."

I tried not to let it show that I was pleased with her unexpected compliment, but I couldn't help it.

Abby blinked and shook her head, tearing her eyes from my torso to look up at my face and taking the bottle of antiseptic in her hand. "Okay, hold still," she said, moving close enough that I could almost feel the heat of her presence against the skin of my upper body. "I'll try and be gentle."

Unfortunately for Abby, the button she'd originally taken to be a weak spray turned out to be much stronger than either of us anticipated, and the resultant shot of mist not only got my cut, but also my left eye. "Ow, shit!" I gasped, immediately closing my eye and turning around. I planted my hands on the countertop, my fingers digging into the curve made by the marble of the sink. "Fuck!"

"I . . . I’m sorry!" Abby said, her voice apologetic. I was blind and in pain, but she sounded just as hurt as I was. "God, I'm so sorry!"

"No . . . it's okay," I said, tears running down my face. "You didn't mean to, and I should’ve closed my eye."

"Hold still," she said, putting her hands on my shoulders. I stilled, a blissful calm almost coursing from her touch into my body, as if she were some sort of magical being. "Keep your eyes closed."

I heard the water in the sink turn on, and a minute later, the cool bliss of a wet washcloth pressed against my injured eye. "Here," I heard Abby say as she gently wiped my eye and down my cheek. "I'm so sorry, Dane. You go and save my life, and I try and repay you by blinding you."

"You didn't mean to, and you don't need to repay me," I said. The pain was lessening. I turned away from the sink and reached up, putting my hand over hers to hold the compress against my eye. Her hand didn't move though, and I could feel how close she was to me. "Just let it flush out a bit, and I'll be fine. You just surprised me, that's all."

In the silence that followed, which was now tense not because we wanted to be apart, but instead because of the unspoken desire to be closer, I could hear her breath quicken. In the reddish darkness of my still tightly shut eyes, I almost thought I could hear her heartbeat. "Dane?"

"Yes?"

"What are those tattoos for?" she asked, her free hand coming up to rest on the ink that adorned my chest and arms. "There are quite a few of them."

" I got most of them in the Army," I said, trying to remember in my mind's eye what her fingers were touching. The truth was, some of them were from before the Army, a few were in service, but a lot of the others were from my time at Leavenworth. Every prisoner has their own little way of telling the administration to fuck off, and for me, it was ink. There had been a Specialist from the 10th Mountain division locked up with me who was quite the amateur artist, even though he didn't always have access to the best supplies. "I think that one is my jump wings. The parachute, right?"

"Yeah," her voice, thick and a bit deeper, said. She was feeling it too, and I was quickly losing any resistance to wanting to pull her closer. She may have been untouchable. She may have been a bit younger than me and most likely the worst mistake since I'd permanently fucked my life up with a single act in Iraq, but if I was going to be damned, there were a lot of worse ways to go than what I wanted at that moment. "What about the others?"

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