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All through the long hours of the night Nick hardly slept at all, though he was exhausted, though he knew he needed the rest. There was a certain irony in it, he supposed, that during their time undercover he had always slept peacefully with Jen beside him while she tossed and turned all night long, and now that they were safe and warm in his bed their roles had reversed. For she was sleeping, her breathing deep and even, her body soft and relaxed against him while he gazed down at her in wonder. It was hard to believe that after everything, after all the months they'd spent dancing around another and the three years they'd spent apart and the last year they'd spent working together and the last few days of chaos, she was finally here, naked and comfortable in his arms. He had dreamed about this, more times than he could count, had woken sweaty and aching at the thought of her, had tried his damnedest to ignore the way his body cried out for her whenever she was near, and now, now he did not have to. Now she was here, and whatever happened next, they would face it, together.

It was strange, really, how easily Jennifer Mapplethorpe had insinuated herself into his life, how effortlessly she had become the only woman he wanted. From the moment they'd first met in SIS headquarters four years prior she had intrigued him, entranced him, and all the many nights he'd spent sleeping by her side, all the meals they'd shared, all the hours they'd spent learning everything there was to know about one another had only served to endear her to him still further. She was buried beneath his skin, now, thrumming through his body like the blood in his veins. Somehow she had become the only woman in the world to him, and by some miracle she seemed to feel a similar affection for him, had not balked when he'd brought her back to his, had thrown her arms around his neck and kissed him with everything she had and shaken the very foundations of the earth beneath his feet.

In the early morning stillness the faint rays of sunlight streaming in through the curtains painted her skin a warm shade of gold, set her blonde hair to sparkling against his white pillowcases. So many times he had imagined her here, had wondered if perhaps she might be willing to make an exception to that old unwritten rule - don't screw the crew - and join him here in his bed, in his home, in his life. They had shared so many secrets during their time as Trish and Wesley Claybourne, had grown accustomed to wandering to and from the bathroom wrapped only in towels, brushing their teeth side-by-side at the same sink, warm skin rubbing together as they shifted in sleep. In many ways Nick already felt closer to Jen than to any of his previous lovers; not only had they shared so many tiny intimacies, but she also understood all too well the nature of his work, the mark it left upon a heart. They'd done laundry together and he'd learned how she liked her eggs and she knew all his opinions as pertained to the footie and he'd held her in his arms while she cried and cradled her head while she bled on the pavement and now she was here, sleeping.

He could hardly close his eyes for staring at her, the delicate curve of her shoulder, the arch of her neck, the artful tumble of her hair. A single bandage, white and terrible, wrapped around her bicep, stark and alarming against her pale skin, a reminder of just how close he'd come to losing her, and Nick could not stop himself from leaning forward, pressing a soft kiss against her skin, making a silent vow in that sun-dappled moment to protect her, to keep her safe, for all the rest of his days.

The touch of his lips and the warmth of the sun was enough to wake her; Jen grumbled a bit, burrowing further into the shelter of the blankets, the smooth curve of her bum slotting into place against the valley of his hips and drawing a muffled groan from both of them.

"Good morning," he murmured, unable to keep the smile from his voice even as his arm tightened around her waist.

In response Jen sighed, and he would have been worried if it weren't for the brush of her fingertips dragging back and forth across his forearm where it rested against her skin.

"Good morning," she answered in voice soft and thick with sleep. Though they had shared a bed more times than Nick could count, this remained the very first time that he had woken to find her still beside him; back in the safehouse - the week before and three years before, in another life - she always rolled away from him as soon as it was light, had drawn in on herself, kept her heart closed off, too far away for him to reach. Not so this morning; she stayed right where she was, and whispered good morning, pressing the unbearably smooth skin of her back flush against his chest.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, his eyes dancing up and down the length of her body, coming to rest on the bandage once more. It would need changing soon, and though he desperately wanted to help her in any way he could he was not looking forward to the sight of her terrible wound, to confronting the source of her pain, the sight of blood against her pale skin, the memory of how his heart had shattered as she'd fallen to the ground in his arms. No, he was not eager to undertake that particular task, but he would do it, would do anything to ease her pain.

"Hurts," she grumbled, turning beneath his arm so that she was lying flat on her back, pouting up at him adorably.

Nick moved without thinking, resting his hands on either side of her head as he slowly covered her with his own bulk, ducking his head to brush a kiss against her lips, inhaling deeply and trying to maintain some shred of self-control as the taste of her drove him wild with longing. He'd spent too long denying how much he wanted her, trying to avert his gaze from the curve of her bum in her tight trousers, from the shadow of her breast taunting him beneath the collar of her shirts, trying to ignore the sparkle of her eyes or the way her soft voice stirred something within his very soul. Too many long days spent by her side, laughing, talking, sitting at the bar long after everyone else had left while Jen ran her fingertips around the edge of her empty glass and he tried not to stare at her lips, thinking how easy it would be to wrap her in his arms, to never let her go. Too many moments when they'd danced right on the edge of the line they'd drawn between their past and their present, between what could have been and what was, catching their breath and lingering on the very edge of a cliff from which he longed to leap. They had lept in earnest the night before; as he kissed her now the memory of her breathy cries echoed in his mind like some glorious bell, calling him ever onward.

They moved together, slow and careful and warm as flowing water; Jen's thighs rose up on either side of his hips, while her hands wrapped around his forearms as he braced himself above her, their lips sliding together, warm and soft and electric. The future stretched out before them, three glorious, beautiful days rostered off from work, to spend entirely as they chose, to take their time and explore one another, explore what they would be together, discover how the pieces of their lives slotted into place. Three days without worrying about Matt or Dunny or Rhys or Allie or Wolfie or any of it, without question, without doubt; three days of bliss. It was not enough, and yet it seemed in that moment to be the single greatest gift he had ever received.

Jen ran her hands down the slope of his back as she caught his bottom lip between her teeth, giving him a playful nibble, giggling when he pulled his mouth away from hers and began to trace the column of her neck instead. Her thighs tightened around him and she sighed in bliss, arching her back slightly, pressing herself against him, his bare cock slowly hardening at the feel of her warm and so damnably close.

"Nick," she breathed his name, shivering as his kisses drifted lower, dancing across the sharp lines of her collarbones. He could not get enough of her, of her sweet, heady taste, of the softness of her voice, of the rush of emotions that filled him when she touched him. Four years he had been dreaming of this, countless nights he had been so close to having her he could have wept in disappointment and yet now here she was, breathless and bare beneath him, urging him on with hands gentle on his skin. He was ravenous for her, and she was encouraging him every step of the way.

Carefully he shifted, taking his weight on his knees to free his hands, his palms gravitating at once to the slope of her breasts. Jen hummed as his hands molded to the curve of her breasts, as the hard buds of her nipples caught against the rough skin of his palms, her whole body shuddering as his lips took up residence in the crook of her neck. The blind, ferocious need that had thrown them together the night before had been replaced by something altogether softer, more wonderful, more precious. There was no rush to this, the slow drag of his lips against her skin, to the way she canted her hips beneath him, the brush of her thighs against his sides. There was no hurry, no fear, just this soft, steady heat, stoked by their affection and desire for one another.

There were so many things Nick wanted to say, so many things he could have said, but they worked best in silence, with knowing looks and the brush of a hand, with the beat of their hearts shouting louder, more clearly than their voices ever could, and so he did not tell her how beautiful she was, how happy she made him, how he wanted her to stay here with him, always. Instead he carried on, smiling against her skin as his lips crested the curve of her breast, as his right hand began a slow and steady journey down the smooth plane of her stomach. He felt the trembling of her muscles beneath his fingertips, and when he looked up at her with his lips wrapped tenderly around one of her dusky pink nipples he saw her grey eyes watching him, warm and soft, saw her full lips part on a soundless gasp at the heat of his mouth against her, saw his every thought, his every need, reflected back at him. There were not words for the beauty of her in that moment, for the fullness of his heart, for the ache in his chest, and so he did not speak.

His fingertips drifted down through her sparse curls, tracing patterns against her folds, teasing out her need and drawing a soft sound of approval from her lips. The softness of her against his hand, smooth as silk and wet with want of him, the seafoam scent of arousal rising up between them, the rise and fall of her breast beneath his lips in time with her panting breaths, washing across his forehead, ruffling his hair; everything in that moment was sun-drenched sensation, soft and golden and gentle and here and now and there. He could hardly think, and he hardly needed to as he carefully slipped first one and then two fingers deep into her heat, felt her hips rising up to meet him, the rasp of her curls against the grind of his palm and the way his name dripped like honey from her lips. Nick had always been good with his hands, had always possessed a knack for fixing what was broken, for creating something from nothing, for smoothing rough edges and turning waste into beauty, and Jen was already beautiful but at the touch of his hand she became transcendent, undulating beneath him like a never ending wave breaking upon his shore, the sure and certain movement of her body and the lilting sound of her cries tugging at his heartstrings, begging him for more. This was what he wanted, what he craved, what had been missing from his life every moment of every day; this, them together, the heat and the rapture and the peace of it. Onward he moved, his kisses drifting from one breast to another, his fingers curling inside her, coaxing her on, drawing a steady stream of whispers and moans from her lips until at last she could take no more, and her nails raked trails of fire down his back while her hips arched up hard against him, her inner muscles fluttering around his fingers while her heart hammered against her chest frantic as a tiny bird, the sound of it loud as gunfire in his ear as he rested his head against her skin.

It was too soon for words, and so he did not speak, only held her, only cradled her sex in his palm until at last her tremors stopped and he dragged his hand out from between them, painting her skin with her wetness and smiling as she laughed at the sensatin. Jen reached out and cupped his cheek, her fingertips brushing against the shell of his ear, tracing the line of his jaw, her eyes wide and blissful and hungry. She had reached for his face once before, he recalled, that morning in the safehouse when he had whispered to her softly, when they had come so close to sharing the truth of their hearts as they did now, and for once he was grateful that they had been interrupted - though he would never, could never be grateful for the manner of the interruption - for if she had touched him them, if she had kissed him then, if he had been allowed one single taste of her, they would both of them have been ruined, he knew. Much better to save such blessings for moments like this, when they were safe, when the storm had passed, when all was well.

"I do, you know," she murmured, and he smiled at her softly, turning his head to nip at the pad of her thumb with his teeth, knowing without need of explanation that her thoughts must have drifted to exactly the same place as his own. You know how I feel about you, he'd whispered to her then, and her eyes, her eyes had found him, warm and wanting, her hand reaching for his cheek, and he had known then that she did know, had begun to suspect that she felt much the same, and now she had offered her reassurances. As he gazed down upon her, as one of her hands slipped over his hip and mapped a path across his stomach, circling lower and lower, as her eyes caught his and held, he understood what she was trying to tell him. She knew how he felt about her, yes, and yes, she felt the same and yes, a soft groan escaped him when her delicate hand wrapped around his hardness, circling, circling, circling.

"I know," he breathed, and then with her encouragement he was surging forward, the flared head of his cock slipping through her folds, delving inside her, drawing a gasp from her lips. The hand that had been cradling his cheek shifted down as she found purchase against his shoulder, fingernails clinging to him for dear life as he lifted himself onto his hands and began to move. With each pass he dove deeper and deeper, and yet though his whole body was electric with the heat of her, his need of her, he did not rush, did not send them both barreling towards completion, choosing instead to linger in this moment, to drink in the sight of her, her head flung back against the pillows, her body arching to meet him with every thrust. He chose to revel in the softness of her hands, mapping a path from his shoulders across the muscles of his biceps, bunching and flexing as he moved, until finally she was gripping his forearms, clinging to him as they drowned in one another. She shifted her hips, lifted her legs to lock her ankles behind his back, and the change in angle between them and the tightening of her heat around his rock-hard length was enough to make him swear, expelling all the desire and desperate yearning he felt for her in a furious burst of sound.

With each thrust of his hips, each of her sighs, each brush of her nipples against the coarse hair of his chest his resolve weakened and his need of her began to overtake his desire to take things slow between them. For her part Jen seemed to be caught in much the same riptide of want as he, grinding her hips against him, chasing the friction and the heat that would send her spiraling, whimpering as he gained speed, as he began to pound into her, relentless as a wave breaking on the shore, and for all that he was stronger and bigger and harder than she Jen welcomed him into the sanctuary of her body, cradled him between her thighs and urged him on until the sound of her moans deepened, until the rocking of her hips beneath him stuttered, until at last she broke, shattered and trembling in his arms, drawing him in, deeper and deeper still, clenching him so tightly he had no choice but to swear again and empty himself inside her, pouring out all the affection and desire and delirious longing he felt for her with a rush of breath, a whisper of her name.

Nick collapsed beside her, boneless and spent, and in a moment she was in his arms, rolling into his side, resting her cheek against his chest as they both gasped for breath. When he regained some control of his faculties Nick reached out and smoothed his hand over her hair, wanting to tell her how beautiful she was, how utterly she owned him, but the shine of her eyes stopped him in his tracks; there was no need of words, he realized. She already knew.

"Hey," she said softly, offering him a sideways little smile, acknowledging that though they had never left his bed they had both of them been on another plane of existence for the last several minutes.

"Hey," he answered, smiling right back at her as she lifted herself up onto her elbows to kiss him once, gently, before returning to her spot on his chest. As he ran his fingers through her hair, over and over, watched the blissful look upon her face, rising and falling with each of his breaths, he decided that this was where she belonged, here with him, with the taste of her on his fingertips, the smell of sex in the air, blankets warm and tangled around them. They belonged like this, here together, for she had laid claim to his heart, to the place where she rested now, the place he always wanted her to be.

They could not linger indefinitely, though, he knew; a certain expression slowly overtook her features, a look that told him plainly that she had something to say even as she rubbed her legs together absently beneath the duvet.

"You want to use the shower?" he asked. It was a guess, really, but the wry smile she offered told him he'd guessed correctly.

"I do, but…" she trailed off, her gaze drifting down to where her fingertips were drawing patterns against his chest.

"But none of your things are here and you want to go home," he guessed again. This time she rolled her eyes, but she kissed him, too, and so he counted himself lucky.

"Do you mind?" she asked softly, almost bashfully, or at least as close to bashful as Jennifer Mapplethorpe ever got.

"I'll drive you," he answered, raising his head to kiss her temple once before sliding out of bed.

"And you'll stay?" she asked from her position on the bed, naked and glorious and the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen in his life.

"As long as you'll have me," he answered.