I Woke Up and One of Us Was Crying
Mac traces patterns on Stella's skin: hieroglyphics, once, or the root system of a tree, common road maps. One night he begins at her heel, meaning to inscribe I-95, all of it, on her from head to foot. He gets as far as Tennessee before he's sidetracked for good, and that evening her fingernails rake long red scratches into his back. He winces, later, when the shower drives hot needles into the tender cuts, but he's laughing, too; and he spends the rest of the week hoping he won't get a scene that will make it necessary for him to change into coveralls. He can only imagine what Danny would say if he spotted the scratches, or Hawkes. His luck holds and he gets away with it, and he thinks that one night he'll have to take up where he left off; but that Friday night, the next night they're together, is all about helixes and supernovas, instead, and he files the idea away for a future date.
He doesn't do this every night they end up at his apartment or hers, of course. Sometimes they're too frantic, or too drunk, or Stella is too tense to be soothed or seduced by this long, slow process of mapping her body. He's learned to read her moods in this matter, too, to trust his instincts the same way he would in any other situation with her. On those nights, they fuck in more straightforward fashion, and he goes as fast as she needs him to, does her hard from behind or up against the wall, or whatever else it takes. Afterwards, skin slick with their mingled sweat, she'll lie next to him and kiss him, and maybe they talk, or maybe they don't. Either way, she almost never tells him to leave, or gets up to leave herself.
There are nights when she falls asleep, and he'll lie awake stroking her hair and waiting to see if she'll start to shake in the middle of the night, hoping she won't, but prepared to croon comforting nonsense words into her ear if she does. Other nights, when she wants to talk, they do so curled together under the blankets or in the kitchen over drinks. They never talk about anything consequential; Stella's careful about that, and Mac knows when he can push her and when he can't. On nights like these when they stay up to talk, sometimes they end up getting it on again; and sometimes -- if it's been a hard-and-fast night up until then -- she'll even let him go slow, will submit to the mapping of patterns across her flesh. Not always, but sometimes. It's never enough, but maybe it can't be. He suspects that he wants too much, craves her too much for sanity.
He manages the balancing act okay most of the time, but there are also moments when he catches himself thinking of these things at all the wrong times. He'll be in a budget meeting and he'll suddenly remember Stella in his lap, back arched and hair falling across her shoulders as he sketches the movement of a tidepool around her nipple and, after that, how he stops stroking her and splays his hands across the small of her back for balance as he maps the course of a river with his tongue, licking all the way from the peak of her breast down her belly, then tumbles her to the mattress and moves on top of her. Stella moaning underneath him, her nails digging into the back of his neck as he pushes two fingers inside her and sweeps his tongue over her clitoris: waves breaking on the beach at high tide. It had been a nautical-themed evening.
Tonight, it's New York City street maps. Not New York as it is now, but New York as it was back around the turn of the century, and before. There aren't always a lot of differences, because Manhattan, then as now, is laid out on a grid, but the ones that occur are significant.
Stella frowns up at him as he draws the Bowery on her calf. "I wanted constellations," she says.
He smiles, remembering how he plotted out Orion and the Big Dipper on her back. "We just did," he says, "last week."
"This is too methodical." She sits up a little, and he pauses with his hand on her knee.
"I could do Central Park," he says.
She smiles and reaches for his erection, and he gives an involuntary thrust into her hand as her fingers tease at the tip. "Yes," she says.
"All right." He pulls out of her grip with some reluctance and stretches out next to her, kissing her mouth before he begins. He could do that forever, lose himself to her lips and tongue, but she never lets him linger long. "We'll start with the Ramble," he says, and presses a kiss to the curve of each breast before bowing his head and denoting the start of the path just above her navel.
This is better anyway, he decides: less methodical, the landmarks less ordered, and that gives him a chance, as his mouth moves lower and he tongues the shape of the Reservoir into her skin, to write other things there, too. To form letters and words in between the Duck Pond and the Delacorte Theater, all the things he can't say to her and all the things she won't let him say.
He's finishing the d in need when he slips one hand between her legs; and she's already so wet that he abandons the idea of moving on to the Boathouse or the Great Lawn. Instead he nudges her legs farther apart and moves lower, sliding his tongue quickly into her soft folds. He hears himself moan, and Stella gasps out, "Fuck, Mac," and tugs at his hair. She jolts, pushing against his fingers, and he strokes her, then turns his head to bite the inside of her thigh; and she's still cursing from that when he nips at her clitoris as lightly as he can and then soothes it with the flat of his tongue. Spasms rock her body and he digs his fingers into her hip, riding the wave with her, licking insistently into her warm wetness as she turns and turns beneath him like a gyre.
She's still writhing when he slides back up her body and thrusts into her in one smooth movement, unable to wait any longer and pretty sure that she doesn't want him to wait. She arches against him and her hands press the back of his skull; they're kissing and she's not pulling away, sweet friction as he rocks into her and her legs go tight around his waist because this is all he ever wanted, really, just this and her mouth and oh Jesus, there, Christ fuck, like that and touch me please now don't stop -- he says, "Stella," and his voice breaks in the middle of it, and her hot breath is in his ear, his face against hers as he kisses her and kisses her and comes, map of the body between the two of them and he'll never be able to figure out the geography of this, not in any sensible way.
He doesn't know how long they've been lying in each other's arms, breathing hard, when Stella stirs and puts her arms around his neck and says, "See, wasn't that much better than a bunch of boring street maps?"
Mac laughs and rolls over onto his back, and Stella curls up next to him, propping her chin on his shoulder. There's a smugness in her eyes and in the upward tilt of her mouth when he traces one finger along her cheek and kisses her again, and says, "You may have a point."
"That's why you keep me around," she says, and the words end in a yawn; she lets her head drop to his chest and he twines his fingers through her curls, knowing already that she's not going to leave tonight. He's pretty sure by now that he doesn't have to try to invent means of keeping her here, and that's good to know. If only he can keep finding new ways of pleasing her, of charting new ways to indicate to her how much he wants to stay on his knees at the altar of her body -- and, better yet, if only he can find new ways to tell her all the things he can't say.
A jazz progression, he thinks as he leans back against the pillow, feeling Stella's body grow drowsy and relaxed against his; there's something he hasn't tried yet, and the best thing about it is that it allows plenty of room for improvisation, but also has its own intricate, secret structure. That should do the trick nicely.
He kisses the top of Stella's head, and her arms tighten around him.