The building was dim and quiet, the air conditioners humming a protest to the summer heat. The sun had set, a faint yellow glow still at the horizon. Sam was alone as he walked down one of the corridors on the western side of the building.
Stacey's office door was ajar and he could hear her talking as he drew nearer. He tapped his knuckles against the frosted glass and she glanced up, the phone nestled between her ear and her shoulder, her arms folded across her chest as she stood behind her desk.
Alex and James were both gone, their computer screens dark and the chairs at their desks pushed in.
Sam held up his car keys and Stacey shrugged at him and looked back down at the floor, listening to whoever was on the other end of the phone. It was a shrug split into two meanings: half of it said I don't know how late I’m going to be and the other half said I’m still pissed at you and I’m not going home with you.
He threw his keys into the air and caught them in his fist as he walked back to the elevator.
Sam had been prepared to let their latest argument go. He couldn't even really remember what it had been about – they'd been arguing a lot, lately. But Stacey's indifference had made him angry again and, as he watched the blacktop skim beneath the headlights of his car, he realized she was going to ride it out and wait for him to apologize.
He tightened his fingers around the wheel and blew out a sigh, not sure yet if he'd give in and get it all over with, or if he'd torture them both a little longer by being stubborn and trying to make her apologize first.
The house was dark when he turned into the driveway, and he sat for a moment and looked up at the wide arched windows, wondering if he'd ever get a chance to come home to a family waiting for him.
That was what the argument had been about. It disguised itself sometimes as an argument about money, or Sam forgetting groceries or Stacey staying too late at work, but it was always the same thing underneath.
It was a long-running argument which would only resolve when she agreed it was time to start a family. He wanted to start now and she wanted to wait, and it had been that way since they'd been married.
He was asleep when Stacey came home. He woke to the familiar noises of her electric toothbrush and clicks of glass jars and bottles on the marble counter as she took her make up off and rubbed lotion into her skin.
He kept his eyes closed as he heard the bathroom light flick off. There was a long moment of quiet before the mattress dipped beside him, and he felt Stacey's leg brush against his as she slid herself into bed.
She wasn't going to wake him, he realized. She wasn't going to lean over and whisper apologies into his ear until he stirred and wrapped his arms around her. She wasn't going to wake him with slow, warm kisses or gentle strokes on his skin. She was just going to get into bed beside him and fall asleep, and tomorrow they'd either wake up and pretend the argument had never happened, or start another day still caught in it.
“God you're fucking stubborn,” he muttered into his pillow.
The mattress shifted and he could picture her there, the sheet drawn up to her chin as she looked over her shoulder at him. “What did you say?”
“You heard me.” He kept his eyes closed.
“And what are you?” she asked coolly. “Mr. Reasonable?”
“Mm-hm.” He rolled over so he was facing the other way, his arms curled up under his pillow.
“I don't know if you're trying to be funny or not,” she said, “but it's not helping.”
“I've given up on trying to figure out what would help, Stacey,” he said, and he was a little relieved to discover he was still so annoyed. Sometimes he felt like he gave in too easily.
She huffed a noise and the sheet pulled tight against his shoulder as she rolled over again, her back to him.
It had become this thing between them, he realized. It wasn't even the argument anymore, it was who would be the first to give in. And she had a better record than he did when it came to stony silences and avoidance.
He opened his eyes to look at the numbers on the clock beside his bed. It was a little after midnight, and he felt wide awake. He could almost feel Stacey's fury radiating from her as she lay rigid beside him, and all of a sudden he was miserable.
Sometimes they were just too alike, and it worked against them.
He watched the numbers change over slowly, until it was closer to one than twelve. He couldn't hear Stacey breathing beside him, which meant she was still awake, tense and careful to avoid his notice.
He ran through what he could say to break the silence, but even in his imagination it all ended in something worse, with them both resorting to shouting, and Stacey eventually storming off to sleep in the spare bedroom.
He found himself wondering if he could come out on top without either of them having to say they were sorry. There was no point in hoping for a proper discussion on when Stacey might want to get pregnant; that was something that needed more time and energy than either of them had right then. But he didn't want to be mad anymore and he didn't want to be the first to apologize, either.
He lifted himself just enough to turn his head on the pillow and look at her. Her shoulder was bare above the edge of the sheet and her blonde hair was loose and brushed back from her face.
He reached out and slowly ran his fingers in a line between her shoulder blades, following the curve of her spine and dragging the sheet down until he reached the small of her back.
She kept still, but he hadn't missed the shift in her breathing.
He brushed the backs of his fingers up to her hip. She'd come to bed naked. As he cupped his hand over her waist she straightened her legs a little, shifting her head on the pillow.
He slid his weight closer to her.
“Sam –” She bit back the lone syllable of his name, and he grinned and bowed his head down to her shoulder, marking one small victory on his scorecard.
He watched her fingers curl into the soft swell of her pillow as he slipped his hand between her legs. Her breathing was shallow and quick, but she was silent, and she held herself still and tense, refusing to give him the satisfaction of showing any enjoyment.
He opened his mouth against the back of her neck and sucked hard, drawing color to the surface of her skin, and she hissed a breath and shoved her elbow back at him, hitting his ribs so he coughed and curled up.
There was enough light in the room to see the smirk on her face as she rolled over, her hand against his shoulder to push him onto his back.
He wanted to say something cutting, something about her giving in, but she dug her nails into his skin and sucked hard against his bottom lip, and he realized she hadn't relented at all. He grit his teeth and rolled her over again, the sheet wrapped around them both and her thighs open against his hips.
“Fuck you,” she breathed, her hands pushing up against his shoulders.
He nipped at her neck and when his fingers moved between her legs again she was wet. He heard the way her breath hummed in her throat, and she jumped and squirmed whenever his teeth closed against her skin, pinching and leaving little red marks.
She kept trying to roll him over again, but he pinned her into the mattress with his weight, sucking another red mark into the soft skin under her breast. He had to concede a small defeat when she scratched welts into his back and he let out a yelp. The satisfied look on her face when he looked up at her said she wasn't giving up yet.
But she was already breathless, and her skin was hot under his touch. He caught her wrists by her sides and held her still as he licked a line up the crease of her thigh. He felt her bare heels slide against his back. He closed his teeth in a sharp nip against her inner thigh, and she twitched and cursed at him.
He laughed, and she tried again to push at him, but she didn't have enough contact with him to position him anywhere; didn't have the momentum to shift him. He moved his mouth and his tongue slowly, kissing her and tasting her until her head fell back and she was drawing him in with her legs, ankles crossed over his shoulders.
He let go of one of her wrists to trace his fingers in lines up and down her thigh, and she gripped his hair and thrust up against his mouth, her breathing loud in the quiet dark of the house.
When she was close to coming she jerked her hips back, like she had remembered suddenly that they had been arguing before this had started, and to relent in any way would be a victory in Sam's name. He grabbed her hips in his hands and dragged her back to him, and this time he didn't give her the opportunity to retreat; he wrapped his arms around her thighs and opened his mouth over her, flicking his tongue and moving his lips and his teeth until she drew his pillow down over her face and sobbed breathless curses into it, her body shaking and quivering.
He pushed himself back up into the middle of the bed, pulling the pillow away so he could see her.
“You can get that smug look off your face,” she said, hair sticking to her face and her cheeks.
He grinned at her, and let her roll him over again so he was on his back. She lowered herself onto him, still catching her breath, dark blotches on her skin from where he'd sucked hard enough to bring the blood so close to the surface, weaving a crooked trail from her throat down to her hip.
It wasn't going to take much to make him come, but as far as he was concerned he'd won whatever competition they were caught up in.
She fucked him slowly, grinding her hips in a circle, back arched, one hand braced against his thigh and the other one between her legs. He took her hand and she moved his fingers with her own until her breathing was vocal again, her voice breaking and catching at the back of her throat each time he thrust up to her.
He was going to come soon. “Stace,” he whispered, and he could barely hear his own voice, lost in each heavy breath. “Stace –”
She leaned over him quickly, and he looked up at her with wide eyes as suddenly she wasn't there anymore, and he was on the brink but she wasn't going to let him finish yet –
“Fuck,” he gasped. “Fuck, I hate you.”
She laughed and settled over his mouth again, her fingers winding tightly into his hair.
He jerked, trying to catch her by surprise so he could roll her over and finish by fucking her hard underneath him – but she was ready, and she used her grip on his hair to keep him still and guide him to where she wanted him to be.
He tried to reach down so he could jerk himself off, but she kept grabbing his hands, and her weight kept him pinned.
"I'm gonna kill you," he said, his voice ragged, and she laughed again and looked down at him as he lifted his mouth to her, trying to chase her as she raised herself just out of reach.
He hummed whenever she let him close enough, his pulse pounding in his ears and sweat slick on his skin. Eventually she stopped lifting herself away, and her weight was more constant; she rocked down against him and let him span his hands over her hips.
She was close to coming again, and her nails dragged against his scalp as she ran her fingers through his hair, tilting his head beneath her to guide him closer. He wrapped his arms around her thighs, in case she had any intentions of pulling away again, and stroked his tongue against her firmly until she cried out, twisting a little as she tried to break contact with him, her muscles trembling.
Not taking any chances, he pushed her before she could recover, and she fell back onto her side of the bed, breathless and flushed. She let out another raw noise when he thrust inside her, and she tipped her head back and hooked her legs around his waist until he finally came, breath hot against her throat and his bare skin damp and slick against hers.
“I hate you,” he said breathlessly. He closed his eyes, his face buried in her neck. He only wanted to sleep now, her arms still wrapped around him and the night air warm on his skin.
“Get up,” she said, but she kissed the top of his head to make it sound less like an order.
He rolled off her and listened to her disappear into the bathroom.
“Jesus, Sam,” she said, her voice still carrying a husky note. “I look like I've been beaten up.”
He was pretty sure he had claw marks down his back, so he didn't feel obligated to apologize. He grabbed her pillow and pulled it under his head, trying to stay awake long enough for her to come back.
The bathroom light flicked off again, and her hands were cold when she slipped back into bed with him. “I'm still pissed at you,” she said, without conviction.
“Okay,” he murmured. “Love you.”
She tutted, but she kissed his cheek and nestled into his side with a sigh, her head on his shoulder. “Love you, too.”