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Buck Rogers

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A scream jerks me awake for the second time tonight. After a couple of seconds of disorientation, I reach over to gently shake Max. “Wake up, sweetie, you’re having another nightmare.” She bolts upright, gasping for air, her wild eyes reflecting the dim pre-dawn light filtering through the curtains. After a few seconds, her breathing begins to slow and she’s able to focus on my face.

“Katie?” she asks. That’s my cue to take her in my arms, and whisper soothing words in her ear while she weeps into my shoulder. Eventually, she begins to drift off back to sleep, so I help her lie down and curl protectively into her back. Hoping that what remains of the night will be uninterrupted, my eyes close and I swiftly return to unconsciousness.

The alarm clock wakes us both a couple of hours later. Max flails for a few seconds before managing to silence it. She twists around, pulls me close, and plants a gentle kiss on my cheek. “Good morning, Katie. I’m sorry about last night, thanks for taking care of me.”

“No need to apologize, I’m just looking after my friend.” I kiss her cheek in return, ending our morning ritual. It’s a rare night that’s completely free from the nightmares, and sometimes Max has three or even more. They’re the reason why, despite the fact that officially we’re nothing more than roommates, we’ve shared a bed almost every night since we moved in here. I can’t bear the thought of her waking up from one of those bad dreams and finding herself alone.

Unofficially, I’m not sure how I’d describe our relationship, but a relationship it is. It’s not something we’ve ever talked about directly, or tried to put a label on – but I can’t imagine my life without Max, and I’m confident that she feels the same way about me. Physically, there’s not much more to it; the occasional kiss is as far as things have ever gone. Honestly, I don’t see that changing any time soon; we both have our issues.

For me, it’s internalized homophobia, courtesy of my Mother and the brand of ‘Christian’ – but not very Christ-like – teachings she seems to prefer. Max helped me find an LGBT-friendly church here in Portland, and the people I’ve met there have been helping me work things through, but I know I’ve still got a way to go. There’s also the fact that I was once president of the abstinence club, but a now-legal-in-Oregon marriage would solve that problem. To be honest, I’m not even sure I’d need that; what we already have feels like commitment enough to me.

For Max, it’s Chloe. They grew up together, the closest of friends. Reunited after a five-year separation, they fell in love – and then Chloe died. Not just that, but she had Max deliberately sacrifice her in the hopes of saving the town where we were at school. False hope, as it turned out. Five days later, Arcadia Bay was destroyed by the very storm they were trying to prevent. Chloe had died for nothing, and Max has never come close to getting over it – or over her.

Max gets out of bed, stretches, and turns back to me. “If you won’t accept an apology, how about I ply you with pancakes before you go to school?” I feel like I should demur, tell her that that’s really not necessary, but Max learned to make pancakes from Chloe’s mom – and they are to die for.

“Sounds delicious,” I reply, “thanks, sweetie.” I get up and follow her into the main room of our apartment. Max goes over to the kitchen nook to start fixing breakfast; I head into my bedroom to pick out some clothes, then the bathroom for a quick shower. By the time I’m dressed and ready to go, Max has made me a huge stack of pancakes, loaded with blueberries and drenched in maple syrup.

“You do realize that if I eat all of these, I won’t need any lunch, or dinner, or… any other meals for the next two or three days?” That doesn’t stop me tucking in with gusto. Max sits down, grabs a fork and starts attacking the opposite side of the stack.

“That’s why I wasn’t planning on letting you finish them alone!” We race to the middle, and I victoriously spear the last morsel a split second before Max. She pouts, and I lift the fork to her mouth; she accepts the peace offering with a smile. “Chef’s perks!”

I get up, take the plate and cutlery over to the sink to soak, then return to Max. Feeling bold, I help her up from her chair and tell her “no, this is the chef’s perk,” before pulling her into a kiss. She wraps her arms around my neck and deepens the kiss with a faint moan. Eventually we’re both forced to come up for air.

“I stand corrected,” she says, a little breathlessly.

“You surely do,” I reply with a smirk. Checking the clock, I continue, “look, I hate to eat, smooch and leave, but I need to get to class.” I can hear Max failing to suppress a groan as I grab my bag and coat. “I’ll see you tonight,” I tell her with another, briefer kiss. “Have a good day, sweetie.”

“You too, Katie.”

I’ve just gotten out of my last class of the day when my phone rings; it’s Max. “Hi, sweetie, what’s up?”

“I, uh, twisted my ankle. I don’t suppose you could come pick me up?” I can hear the pain behind her words; as usual, she’s downplaying things for me. In return, I try to keep the concern out of my own voice.

“Of course, I’m finished here for the day. Let me know where you are and I’ll be right over.”

She gives me an address. “Thanks, Katie, you’re the best.” I head into the parking lot, and walk over to my car – a shiny new Jaguar XE in British racing green. Now, this probably needs a little explanation. I’m an impoverished student, and while Max is making decent money off her photographs, it’s hardly enough for such an extravagant vehicle. It was actually a gift from Victoria Chase – part ‘sorry for nearly driving you to suicide,’ part ‘thanks for finding me in the ruins of Blackwell,’ but mostly a transparent attempt to salve her conscience by throwing money around. She’d been trying this for a couple of years before I finally gave in.

The Jag appeared in the parking garage of our apartment building around three months ago, together with a message for me: I know you love tea, which is very British of you. This is also very British, so I hope you’ll like it too. PS. If you decline this gift (like you have all the others) then I’m going to sell it and give the money to the NRA. Your call. Given that threat, I kept the car, especially as it came with fully paid-up insurance, a fuel card, and even a parking permit for PSU. Honestly, I haven’t regretted it for a moment – as Max said, it’s ‘a hella sweet ride!’

I settle into the plush leather driver’s seat and punch the address into the sat-nav. It’s in a part of town I’m not familiar with – not unusual when I get one of these calls from Max. The car picks up my phone and resumes my playlist – it does have a CD player, but that seems something of an anachronism. I’m pretty sure if anyone from my generation is buying music on discs at all, they’re mostly the vinyl kind.

I see the dust cloud from about a quarter of a mile away. A couple of blocks from the address Max gave me is the source – the remains of a building site. Whatever had been under construction is now little more than a pile of rubble and twisted metal. I sigh, knowing exactly what’s happened to have Max call me out here. She’s been playing hero again, the ‘Portland Ninja’ as some enterprising local journalist dubbed her. It wasn’t much of a stretch given the outfit she wears to conceal her identity.

I park the car, and find Max sitting on the steps up to a townhouse. She looks utterly exhausted, wiping her nose with a bloody handkerchief. I sit down next her and snake an arm around her back. I can feel her relax as she leans her head on my shoulder. We stay like that for a few minutes before I ask, “how bad was it?”

“Bad. Something like this… there’s only so much I can do. If I can’t go back to before they’re trapped by something too heavy for me to move, then I’m powerless. There were too many people like that who were still in there when the place finally came down.” Max is always like this, making the worst of everything. In truth, she goes to the gym five times a week trying to build up the strength and stamina for her heroic exploits.

“So maybe you can’t bench press a truck, or move objects with your mind, or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but you have an amazing power. I’ve lost count of the lives you’ve saved in the two years we’ve been living together. How many did you add to that tally today?”

“Five,” she admits, “but it could have been six. There was one other guy I thought I could reach, but I could tell I was almost out of rewind, so…”

I cut her off before she can spiral too far. “That’s five people who aren’t buried under that pile of rubble right now, five people who are going home to their families tonight, five people who are still alive because of you. That’s what you should be focusing on, not the people who were beyond anyone’s power to save. You did the right thing – if you push too far and get yourself killed, who’s going to be there to save lives the next time something like this happens?” I neglect to mention the fact that if she died, I’m pretty sure I’d never get over it.

She sighs. “Yeah, I know. It’s just… I dunno.” She looks up at me with a pitiful expression. “Please can we not talk about this any more, Katie, I’m so tired. I just want to go home, have a long soak in hot bath, eat some comfort food, then snuggle up with my girlfriend and go to sleep. Can we do that?”

Somehow, I manage to hide the shock that her use of that word sends through my system. Is that really how she thinks of me? I think with joyful hope. Max doesn’t seem to realize what she’s said, so I decide not to mention it. “That sounds like a wonderful plan, sweetie.” She lets me pull her to her feet, leaning heavily on me as she limps to the car.

“Ahhh… so comfy!” Max declares as she settles into the passenger seat. “Remind me to thank Victoria – grudgingly, mind you – for giving you this thing next time we see her.”

“Which will be when, exactly?” I ask as I head us off in the direction of home. We may be on slightly better terms with Victoria now, but we’re never going to be friends.

“Probably at the memorial next month, assuming she bothers to show up.” There’s no question about us going to the annual service in what’s left of Arcadia Bay, every year for as long as they hold it. We both have friends to mourn, but more than that, Max still feels responsible for everything that happened – to the town and, most of all, to Chloe.

I still remember the aftermath. I missed the storm itself, because I’d just been discharged from the hospital after my suicide attempt, and my parents were driving me home. We heard the news reports on the radio, and I screamed at them to take me back, that I needed to help my friends. Thankfully, even my mother couldn’t argue with my assertion that providing aid after a natural disaster was the only Christian thing to do.

I spent the first day at the ruins of Blackwell with some of the other surviving students, several of whom had odd stories about how Max had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and saved them from some unpleasant end. We were doing a second pass over the areas that the National Guard teams had already checked, and that’s where I found Victoria, buried deep in what was left of the Prescott dormitory. I could just make out her faint cries for help filtering up through the rubble and called in a digging team. Two hours later, they pulled her out, and she collapsed sobbing into my arms.

On the second day, I was helping in a makeshift field kitchen down near where the Two Whales used to be. There seemed to be an endless stream of people queuing up for a hot meal. That actually gave me hope – they might be homeless, and have had their livelihoods destroyed, but at least they were alive; perhaps the death toll wouldn’t be as catastrophic as it had first appeared. And as I talked to them, I heard a number of people telling stories about a small brown-haired young woman who had miraculously saved their life.

The third day, I went looking for Max. The stories I’d heard all seemed to place her near the seafront, and as best I could piece together she seemed to have been be working her way north. By early afternoon I was getting frustrated – I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for. Then I looked up at the promontory, and somehow I just knew. I hurried up the path, climbing over fallen trees and the odd pieces of wreckage thrown up there by the storm.

I found Max at the top, curled up inside the decapitated shell of the lighthouse. Her clothing was torn, she was covered in cuts and bruises, and a river of dried blood flowed down from her nose, staining the front of her hoodie. I gently shook her, and she startled awake, calling out for Chloe. I could see the pain in her eyes, and when I moved to hold her, she clung on to me as if her life depended on it.

Eventually, I persuaded her to get up, and helped her back down to the remains of the town, where I took her to the triage station. About half an hour later, I was holding Max’s hand while a nurse plied her with fluids and treated her wounds, when her parents swept in. They fussed over their daughter, thanked me profusely, then firmly took control. Having nothing more to do, I left to find my own parents and head home. It was only then that I realized Max hadn’t spoken a single word other than Chloe’s name.

When we get back to the apartment, Max collapses on the couch while I go to run her bath. I crumble in a bubble bar I picked up in Lush last weekend, and the soothing scent of lavender begins to waft up from the tinted water. Once the tub is full, I go to collect Max, and half-carry her into the bathroom. She looks at me uncertainly. “Um, I don’t think I can manage this by myself. I’m worried that if I try to get in alone I’ll just fall over. Do you think you could stay and help me?”

I blush a little. It will hardly be the first time I’ve seen her naked, but as time goes by I seemed to be getting more, not less, embarrassed by it. Perhaps that’s because I’m finding it increasingly difficult not to stare at her, and after what Max said when I picked her up earlier, I find myself really wanting to. “Of course I’ll help you, sweetie. The last thing we need right now is you slipping and cracking your head open.”

I end up having to help with her clothes too, gently slipping her jeans and underwear off over the swollen ankle. Then I lower her into the steaming water and she settles down beneath the layer of bubbles. Max lets out a relived sound that’s more of a moan than a sigh. “Oh, that feels so much better.” With her decently covered, my heart slows back down to a more normal rate. “Thank-you for coming to pick me up today, Katie, and for looking after me, and for… everything.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll always be here to take care of you.”

She looks me straight in the eye, and something I see there makes my heart flutter. “I know. You’ve always been here for me. I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you do. I don’t think I could have made it through the last few years without you.”

“And if not for you, I wouldn’t be here at all. Look, we’ve both been through hell, and we both owe a lot to each other, so can we please just leave it at that. I’m really not interested in keeping score.”

Max sighs. “You’re right, I know you’re right. It’s just that sometimes I worry that I’m becoming a burden on you.”

“Oh, sweetie, looking after the person I love could never be a burden. Do I wish that your nightmares would stop? Of course. Do I hate seeing what a day like today does to you? Absolutely. Do I worry that someday your rewind is going to run out at the wrong moment and leave you trapped in a burning building or unable to dodge a gunshot? Constantly. But I am so proud of you, of your bravery, and the way you selflessly step into harm’s way to save people you don’t even know – people that only you can save. Looking after you isn’t a burden, it’s a privilege.”

Max is tearing up at this. “You are one hundred percent awesome, Kate Marsh,” she says in a choked-up voice.

“And you’re a fucking superhero, Max Caulfield.” I pause for a moment. “Pardon my French.” Another moment, then we both burst into laughter and the tension ebbs from the room. I very rarely curse, and it never fails to crack Max up when I do. It takes her a couple of minutes to calm down.

“Thanks, I needed that. It’s easy to take all of this too seriously.” Then, she smirks at me. “Anyway, you should be heading to the kitchen, wench! What are you making me for dinner?”

“I was just going to whip up some mac ‘n’ cheese.”

Her eyes brighten. “Homemade?”

“Of course!” I answer indignantly. I really don’t understand why people make it from a packet. I can put together the cheese sauce from scratch in less time than it takes the pasta to cook. Pour some milk in a pan, add diced butter, flour, a pinch of salt, and a dash of Tabasco. Whisk it vigorously over a moderate heat until it thickens, then melt in some shredded cheddar. Easy! “If I have it ready in, say, an hour or so, would that be acceptable?”

“Sounds perfect.”

I have well over half an hour before I needed to start cooking, so I decide to sort out the laundry first. I dig Max’s ‘Portland Ninja’ outfit out of her backpack and check it over; there are a couple of tears, so I make a mental note to sew them up once it’s clean. I toss it in the machine, along with the contents of our laundry hamper, and set the thing running. I also pack away the police scanner Max uses to listen out for ‘incidents’ where she might be able to use her rewind to help people. We have a deal that she will take a few days to rest after using her powers like that, but I like to make sure that temptation isn’t lying around on our dining table.

Max moved to Portland a couple of months after I started school here, having scored a junior photographer job with a local paper. She looked me up straight away, not wanting to repeat the mistake she made with Chloe when she started at Blackwell. It was the first time we’d seen each other since that day I found her up at the lighthouse; we’d exchanged a few messages since then, but that was about it, so meeting her in person was a little unexpected. She freely admitted that she’d picked Portland because she needed to get away from her family, and it was the only place outside of Seattle where she had a friend.

Our shared trauma meant that that we quickly became very close. We’d both been shy before, and now were happy to eschew attempting to build other friendships in favor of spending almost all of our free time together. It quickly became obvious to me that Max’s issues ran far deeper than my own, but she equally obviously didn’t want to talk about it. I guessed that it was connected to whatever she did to save all those people in Arcadia Bay, but was at a loss as to explain how or why.

Then, one Friday night, I went to Max’s tiny one-room apartment to find her barely able to stand, clutching a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. Her drunken ramblings gave me some hints as to what it was she’d been through. At first, I wondered if they were some sort of delusion, but when I confronted her the next day, she told me the whole story and demonstrated her rewind power. Finally being able to share it with someone seemed to be the first small step on her road towards recovery.

After that, it seemed natural that when my dorm room contract expired, I didn’t renew it; instead, Max and I found this place together. By then – with a little help from Victoria, who seemed to think she owed Max too – she’d had a first showing of her artistic photography, so she had more money coming in than just her minimal earnings from the newspaper. It was shortly after we moved in that Max started seriously working on her ‘Portland Ninja’ thing. She’d used her powers to help people a few times since leaving Arcadia Bay; now she started training in earnest, made herself a superhero outfit, and invested in the police scanner.

The first time I had to collect Max after she got hurt while playing hero, I was horrified. She must have caught the look in my eye, because she spouted an old movie quote about power and responsibility, then nodded down the street. I could see the paramedics treating four kids and a couple of adults; behind them the fire trucks were dousing the blackened remains of what I assumed to be their home. I realized that had I been in Max’s position, I’d have done exactly what she did, and probably cursed at anyone who tried to stop me. When I turned back to her, the words I’d been about to say were gone, and I simply pulled her into a hug. That was the first time I felt the spark of something more than just friendship between us.

I’m draining the pasta when Max calls from the bathroom. “Hey, are you gonna come help me get out of this thing? I know you’re dying to see me naked some more!” That’s an uncomfortable truth that I’m beginning to realize I can’t put off dealing with for much longer.

“Just give me a minute!” I quickly mix the pasta into the sauce and leave it on the stove to keep warm, then hurry into the bathroom. “Come on then, show me the goods!” Max has the decency to blush before laughing ruefully.

“Well played, Miss Marsh, well played.” I grab a towel and wrap it around her as I help her up and out of the bath. “Thanks, I should be fine to hobble into my room; I can lean on the wall. Go serve up, it’ll only take a couple of minutes for me to dry off and throw on a robe.”

I’ve already set the table, but on impulse I grab a couple of bottles of hard cider and switch them out for the water pitcher. True to her word, by the time I’ve spooned the pasta into a couple of bowls Max is sitting herself down. “Alcohol and novelty citrus-shaped glasses. If I didn’t know better, I could almost believe I was at the Vortex Club.”

“Ha, ha,” I respond sarcastically. “One more crack like that and you get bread and water instead.” An empty threat but, bless her, Max at least pretends to take it seriously. She shuts up and turns her attention to the fruits of my labour. Dinner may have been quick to prepare, but it’s even quicker to eat.

“Thanks, Katie, that was hella tasty. How about some ice cream for desert? There should be a pint of Phish Food in the freezer. Unless you ate it.” I just smile and clear the table. “Please tell me you didn’t eat it,” she begs plaintively.

I retrieve the tub and plunk it on the table along with a couple of spoons. “I’m not that much of an ice cream fiend.”

“Well, there was that one time…”

“Yes, emphasis on ‘one.’”

“And that other time.”

“I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count. There were extenuating circumstances…”

Later, as promised, we’re snuggled up together in my bed. I’m playing the part of the big spoon, holding Max protectively in my embrace. Given that I drink about as often as I swear, the cider from earlier is enough to give me a nice buzz, and I’m feeling more relaxed than I have in a long time. Plus I’m really enjoying being pressed up against my friend… girlfriend?

As if reading my mind, Max chooses that moment to start the conversation we’ve been putting off for way too long. “So…” she begins, “when I was in the bath, you used a certain four-letter word.”

“I’m sorry, it just popped out. I promise I’ll try to keep my cussing under control.”

She bats at my leg. “Not that one, you goofball, the one beginning with L.”

“That one I’m not sorry about, not even slightly. What about you? Earlier, when I picked you up, you used a certain…” I pause for a moment, counting, “ten-letter word.”

“Um… er… I got nothin’.”

“Begins with G, second half beginning with F, and I’m pretty sure you were referring to me given that I’m the one you’re snuggling with right now.”

She turns round to face me. “I did not!”

“You did too! Not something I’m going to forget in a hurry. Do you want to take it back?” I ask nervously.

“Do you want me to take it back?” She asks in return, and there’s a touch of fear in her voice.

“I want you to shout it from the rooftops,” I answer softly.

“Really?” Her relief is obvious.

“Well, perhaps not literally,” I reply, smiling against her neck, “but I’m done pretending that our relationship is anything less than that; to you, to our friends, to everyone.”

“Even your family?” she asks shrewdly.

I sigh. “I’ll have to tell them sooner or later. I’m in love with you, Max, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. That’s not something I can, or want to hide. Yes, my mother will probably never talk to me again, but in some ways that’s almost a bonus,” I admit. “Dad is a little bit less rigid; it’ll take some time, but I think he’ll come around eventually. As for Lynn and Ruth… I don’t think this will stop them loving their big sister; they’ll just be happy that I’m happy.”

“And what about you?” I ask. “Are you sure you’re ready for this, ready to move on?”

It’s her turn to sigh. “I’m not going to lie to you, I’m still not completely over Chloe; I don’t think I’ll ever be over Chloe. But what I had with her was childhood friendship, then a few crazy days together that didn’t even happen in this timeline. What I have with you is so much more. For the two years we’ve been here, and most of the year before that, you’ve been my rock. You’ve kept me anchored in this reality, you’ve looked after me through thick and thin, you’ve been the thing that keeps me going. Wherever my Katie is, that’s my home.”

There’s really only one response to that. I pull Max close to me, and my lips find hers. When we part, she adds one last thing. “Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – I’m hella in love with you too.” Before I have a chance to respond, she draws me back in for a series of kisses that leave me panting.

“So… now what?”

“Now we decide which of the bedrooms is ours and which becomes a guest room.”

“Obviously we keep your room; bigger, better light, that huge closet. Why do you think I spend so much time in there?”

“Okay, cool. So, what else? Um… we can totally hold hands in public now. Lots more kissing, of course.” She demonstrates the merits of this. “Oh, and you don’t have to be guilty about perving on me in the bathroom any more.”

“I… I…” I’m pretty sure that I’ve turned bright red.

“I’m sure you try really hard not to, but don’t think I haven’t noticed. Don’t worry, I do it too; or I would if you ever gave me the chance – I have to make to with checking you out in your underwear. It’s really not fair now that I think about it.”

I laugh. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

“Look,” she says more seriously, “I’m not going to pretend that I wouldn’t like a more physical relationship, but I appreciate that it’s a really big step for you to take. I’m in no rush. One day, when we’re both ready and the time is right, it’ll happen; be that a month from now, a year from now or a decade from now.”

“Thanks, sweetie. And for the record, I’m really hoping it’s toward the sooner end of that range.”

“Why,” she teases me, “does my Katie have a little bit of a horny?”

“Your Katie pleads the fifth.” That gets a laugh from her. “I’m so glad we finally had this conversation. In some ways it seems long overdue, but in other ways, I don’t feel like I’d have been ready to talk about it any sooner.”

Max nods. “I know what you mean. I’ve had these feelings towards you for…” She stops to think, then shrugs, “a long time now, and it’s not like I haven’t had strong suspicions that you felt the same way. I guess I wasn’t ready enough to take a step forward with a relationship that I was willing to risk a set back to our friendship. Then, this morning…” she looks me right in the eye, “that wasn’t our first kiss, but it was the first time you kissed me. That’s when I knew I didn’t want to hide how I feel from you any longer.”

“I’m glad. When you called me your girlfriend this afternoon it was so casual that I was pretty sure that you hadn’t even realized what you said. I figured that if you felt that way on a subconscious level, then it was time to tell you that I feel the same way too.” I pull her into a fierce hug and whisper in her ear, “and nothing has ever felt more right.”

“Right back at ya,” Max replies, fighting off a yawn. “Sorry, I guess it’s time for me to go to sleep.”

I pull back and kiss her. “Yeah, me too. Sweet dreams.”

Max rolls over and wriggles around to make herself comfortable. After a moment, she asks “will you hold me, please?”

Immediately, I press myself against her back, savoring the warmth and wrapping an arm around her. “Forever.”

It’s the weekend, so there’s no cruel alarm to wake us the next morning. Instead, I come slowly out of my slumber, memories of the previous day gradually resurfacing. Clearly we’ve shifted during the night as I’m now lying on my back with Max sprawled across me. Her left leg is hooked over mine, and her head and hand are resting on my breasts. Twenty-four hours ago, this position would have left me mortified, but now I find myself smiling so broadly that my face begins to ache as I wait for her to wake up.

The first indication I have is when Max’s hand starts to move, as if she’s confused and trying to figure out what it’s resting on. It feels… good, and somehow I can’t help the appreciative noise that comes out of my mouth. At that, she lurches backwards. “Oh my God, Katie, I’m so sorry!”

I grab the ‘offending’ hand and kiss it. “It’s fine, sweetie.” My other hand finds the back of Max’s head and pulls her into a kiss. For a moment, she’s stiff, then she relaxes into it. “Seriously,” I say when I pull back, “I don’t think that accidentally groping your girlfriend’s boob in your sleep is a hanging offense.” I hesitate for a moment, biting my lip. “It actually felt kinda nice.”

Max’s eyes widen at that, and she’s momentarily speechless. “Um…” she says eventually, “does that mean I get to do it again?”

“Down, girl!” I say, laughing. “Not right now, but maybe a lot sooner than either of us was expecting.” I look her shyly in the eye. “I think your joke yesterday about me having a horny might be truer than you realized. I just need a little time for my mind to catch up to where my body already seems to be.”

Max strokes my cheek softly, “take as long as you need. For now, how about we just work on being more physically affectionate with each other in more Kate-friendly ways?”

“That sounds wonderful.” I think for a moment. “No nightmares last night?”

“None,” she says with a smile; then her face darkens. “I… I have to confess something. One of the components of my nightmares over the last few months has been a fear of you leaving me. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t figure out how without… having the conversation we had last night.”

“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry. I wish we could have had that talk sooner. And I could never leave you, even before yesterday.”

She relaxes into my arms. “I know that now. I can feel that little knot of worry is just… gone.”

“I’m glad I could help,” I say, idly running my hands across her back.

“Oh, Katie, you always help. I can’t remember the last time I woke up from a nightmare and you weren’t there to hold me. Maybe it’s being in your arms that stops them. We should totally do an experiment!”

I smile slightly. “Now you sound like Warren.”

“Yeah,” she agrees sadly, but there isn’t the level of pain in her voice that would have been there even a year ago.

“Unfortunately, there’s a flaw in your plan. A proper experiment would require a control group of nights where I don’t hold you, to see if the bad dreams still come. I’m afraid I simply can’t condone such unethical behavior.”

Max sniggers. “Far be it from me to argue with you, Doctor Marsh. I didn’t realize our little chat last night had created a monster… the snuggle monster.”

“Hey! I resemble that remark!” We both laugh. “So, what do you want to do on our first weekend as official girlfriends?” I ask.

“Well, I think we definitely need to go out on a proper date tonight, and at some point I need to conduct a detailed study into which parts of you I am allowed to grope, but for now…” she cuddles in even more tightly. “For now I’d just like to stay like this for as long as my stomach and bladder allow.”

I smile. “Now that’s a plan that I can one hundred percent endorse.” I think for a moment. “We might need to discuss reciprocation in that groping study, though…” I feel, rather than hear Max’s laugh in response. After that, we just lie there, warm and comfortable, reveling in our closeness. Soon, the toll of all those disrupted nights catches up with me, and I begin to doze off again. “I love you,” I whisper.

“Love you too,” comes Max’s sleepy reply. If the bad dreams are behind us at last, I think, maybe the good dreams can finally come true. That’s the last thought that goes through my head before I drift back into slumber.