The maddest thing of all about this--which started with Annie giving Sam a deservedly odd look, as she often does, and asking if he was sure he meant it, and if he was sure he was talking about something physically possible--is that it grounds him more than anything has yet.
It's not something he can say in words, especially not in the middle of it--he's on his knees, and the rough terrycloth of the towel is digging into his skin, where he'll find the imprints of the little loops later, and Annie's petting his back with her free hand while she's got her other hand deeper in him than she'd believed she could.
Deeper than he quite believed he'd be able to deal with here, from her, from anyone, but it's been a few months working up to this. There's nothing like success in the strangest thing he's asked her yet to make the top of his head come off. Pretty emphatically.
But for the rest of it, it's like coming home, even if he can't work out how to say that, how to say anything more than, "It's good, it's good, it's--God, there's just--" and that's all the words he knows right now.
Annie asks, "Do you need me to stop?" as deliberate and calm as if they're talking about something simple, practiced, and measured.
"Not yet. Just--hang on a bit."
"All right, love."
Hanging on is what he's doing.
Hanging on is what he's been doing, waiting for it all to feel right, to be sure that this was the right thing, the right self, the right time and place and world. Never will he ever tell her exactly when everything finally came right, in the first place because he told her it did, months ago, and in the second because she already thinks he's got a screw loose. No reason to give her cause to doubt him, and this sounds like cause and a half.
Even if what it is, is the end of doubt. There have been any number of things that felt real, things he's done before, things he never has but believed in, but this--nothing, really, feels like this. Nothing could, nothing should, except having someone else's hand buried in his body, inescapable and exactly what he wanted. The last time he did this, he dared himself into it, half out of his mind on drugs in the late Nineties, and it wasn't what he wanted from his partner at the time, mostly because his partner at the time was a bastard.
Sam's learned something since then about the kind of person he's willing to get that naked with. He's never been shy about much to do with his heart once he was sure, and he's been open with Annie about everything from the little or obvious--a birthday card, an "I love you" or ten--to the huge or obscure--it's not every man in 1974 who explains this sort of thing to his girlfriend. Nor, to give her all the credit she deserves, any girlfriend but the rarest one who listens with wide eyes and asks all the questions she can think of. And helps with the shopping by looking at the PCs' duty roster and working out when they'll be on the other end of their beats from the shops that sell things marketed, in this era, mostly to people who walk in with sunglasses on and their collars up.
She's found ways to enjoy the whole ambitious process like it's a strength-training exercise coupled with a sexual urge, like a physical trainer with a particular strain of innocent-sounding perversity.
This is not a place he'd be if it wasn't for her, and he's asked her for every inch of help--and everything else--she's given him.
Sam's not sure whether he's crying, exactly, or if he is, whether it's a bad sign. "I'm all right," he tells Annie, in case she notices the tears and starts to worry. "It's just--overwhelming."
She laughs sympathetically, a sound he's grown used to from her. It's hardly the worst thing to hear from someone who's come along on this kind of a trip. "I should think so," she says. "Ready to be done?"
He doesn't want to tell her "Yes" and isn't sure it's true to say "No." "Give me another minute," he says, waiting for something--he doesn't know entirely what at this point, and there are boundaries they'll push some other time. This time he meant to prove that it'd work as much as anything else, and if it's not perfect, that's more proof it's real.
"As long as you're sure."
Sam doesn't mean to say, "Ah--" as indecisively as it apparently comes across.
Annie hisses through her teeth. "Take a breath. We'll stop for now, and start again when you're sure."
"I'm all right--"
"Don't you dare make me hurt you," she says, sharply enough that he's aware of how frightened she hasn't been through most of this.
Sam lets out his breath as slowly as he can. "Let's stop for now," he agrees.
It is not quite like being turned inside out, or like losing something that makes everything else come into focus. It isn't pleasant, but he's alive afterward, body singing with all the endorphins of pushing himself. Annie gives him a wry look when he settles back onto his heels. She's sitting next to him, one hand gloved and shining with grease to the elbow for all he's certain she didn't need that much. "All that and you haven't come."
"That wasn't exactly the point," Sam says. "But if you want, I can--"
She wiggles her slippery fingers at him. "Not just now. We could give it another go."
The world slips back into its normal focus, and the parts of his mind that can never believe this will work fixate on her fingers. "Another time." Sam reaches for her clean hand. "Kiss me?"
And that, too, is real.