Creeping fingers, untucking his shirt and sliding to stroke the soft flesh of his stomach. Gooseflesh rose under each touch of perfectly manicured nails, and she smiled at him. He was frozen, cold, fear of the ''oh god what would she think'' making his stomach drop.
Setting his hands on her wrists, gently, and pushing her away. “Not... Not now, Charlie.” And he tried to ignore the hurt in her eyes as she smoothed his shirt back down and pressed a kiss to his chin.
And now, with that memory dragging itself from the cobwebbed parts of his mind, Maxwell found himself in a similar situation. Wilson's touch was less assured, sliding over the bumps of his ribs in what was probably meant to be a loving caress but only made his skin crawl. “Don't--.”
And he didn't, hand halting just under his ribcage and a wide-eyed look. “What? Am I moving too quickly? Are your ribs tender? I told you that--.”
“No! No. It's...”
It's the way Wilson's face had flushed when he learned. Scandalized. It's the sudden, increased respect for his privacy. Averting his eyes at a glimpse of boney leg and standing when he needed a seat. It's the hesitation when referring to him. It's the carrying his backpack and holding open doors and the look of pity when he stirs in the night and shuffles, ashamed, with a pad of cloth clutched in his fist.
'Do you think of me as a woman now?' Is what he wants to say, but it burns his throat. 'Is this why you aren't ashamed to love me now?' He wants to vomit. He's shoving away Wilson's hands and getting to his feet and leaving the tent with tears in his eyes. Humiliated.
And Wilson. Naive and earnest Wilson. Wilson with his hair still ruffled and face still flushed, follows. “Are you alright? Maxwell?” And he reaches to touch him and he means well. He does. Wilson doesn't have a cruel bone in his body.
But Maxwell pulls away. “Don't touch me!” And hates the shrillness in his voice and the lump in his throat.
And the hurt and confusion in Wilson's eyes.
It's days later and the bandages are digging into his ribs and every breath stings. It's making him light-headed, and he wants to lie down. But Wilson's eyes are burning holes into him.
There's no way he can avoid the conversation forever, but he can dream. Especially as Woodie makes him sit under the shade of a tree as his eyes start to roll and his knees tremble. The autumn chill does nothing for the sheen of cold sweat, and he tucks his head between his knees and gasps for air.
And the next thing Maxwell knows is the warmth in the tent and a full breath of air. He feels high on it. He feels violated. Wilson is staring at the cocoon of bandages, and a razor lays nearby. A blanket has been tucked up to his chin for privacy.
“I almost couldn't cut through them... you shouldn't layer them like that.”
He doesn't speak.
“No one saw. No one knows. Your secret's safe.... You should rest for the day.”
The bandages are balled up and thrown carelessly into the corner, and the razor flicked closed and put away. Wilson's getting ready to leave, but he pauses and adjusts the blankets. “You'll let me know if you need anything?” He nods and Wilson sighs.
Later, he brings in a fresh roll of bandages and a plate of meatballs. As Maxwell eats, he finds the end of the roll and frees it for him. “I can do this for you? I don't mind.”
And in a moment of bitterness, it slips out. “You're sure about that? You're sure you don't want to stare at them? Or maybe look away like the proper gentleman you are?” And he drops the blanket.
Wilson's eyes don't even flick down. He can tell it's a conscious effort, and even still he's not making eye contact, instead staring somewhere between his eyebrows. He's got that nervous half smile and even still he looks worried.
Maxwell pulls up the blanket and the heavy weight of shame settles back as anger dies down. He's putting his face in his hands and, mercifully, Wilson sets the bandages down next to him and leaves. So that Maxwell can cry.
It's obvious he'd been waiting. He knows he can't cry if someone's there, but the bleeding heart bastard couldn't bring himself to fully leave. So when Maxwell leaves the tent with a loose wrapping around his chest, he nearly trips over Wilson. He's resting his head on his knees and snoring softly, one half of his hair plastered down against his knees and a lock of it glued to his face with drool.
Moving slowly, he squats next to him and pulls the hair out of his open mouth. Wilson doesn't stir, and Maxwell brushes his hair back out of his face. And after a moment of thought he drapes his suit jacket over him.
In the morning, things are still a little awkward. They eat in silence and Wilson's continually heaping ridiculous spoonfuls of burnt, scrambled eggs onto his plate and mumbling something about making sure he's recovering properly.
Maxwell humors him, but puts the most burnt bits onto Wilson's plate, who doesn't so much as bat an eye as he wolfs down blackened toast and crunchy eggs.
He's pulling a long, black hair out of the newest pile of eggs and feeling nauseous when Wilson finally speaks up.
“I'm sorry. I love you.”
“You're sorry that you love me?”
Wilson's uncharacteristically silent and it makes Maxwell's stomach churn all over again. The squeal of disgust when the egg-covered hair is tossed onto his neck is much more in character. Maxwell tries not to laugh. But it seems to give him his words back. “I'm sorry I... I don't know how to court a man, Maxwell! And... and you deserve to be treated... I'm a gentleman and I should know how to....” He waves his hands.
“I've only.... well I never really did but I knew how to of course, I never really was good with women, not like you! But.... I didn't mean to hurt you. I just... I want to do this right.” Somehow, he doesn't laugh at the notion that he did anything but ruin his past relationship. There's a pang of old hurt there, but it doesn't ache as much as it used to. Instead he sighs and catches Wilson's hand as he moves to pick at his callouses.
He looks nervous. “I love you, Max. I want to-- I want to give you--... I want to give you what you deserve...?”
“...I think there's a debate to be had about what I 'deserve' after what I've done.”
“Well. I think you deserve to be loved. Romantically. And all that...”
There's an unspoken question there. A 'how'.
“Let's see. You could start by tying your hair back when you cook.”
He gets elbowed for that one.
But that night he's sporting a ridiculous ponytail and and offering a plate of hairless pierogi.