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Fitting Between the Lines

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They’re both standing at the mailboxes in his new building. He’s sorting through electricity bills, medical notices, and carry out menus, dropping the rubbish into the bin on the floor. She, meanwhile, opens her letterbox, and it’s like champagne popping, or a jack in the box, the way the papers burst out and flutter to the floor.

“Shit!” she says, and drops down on her heels, the full, pleated skirt of her cyan dress blooming over her crouched legs. Her hair’s blonde, sleek, with curls raining down, pinned and prodded into a red carpet updo. The arch of her back as she hunches over and picks up the wayward papers is really quite distracting, particularly with the deep V in the dress. It’s heartening, he supposes, that he can still be distracted.

He looks down at the floor, eyebrows raised, but she’s got most of it picked up already, and, anyway, who gets their mail so seldomly that it’s fit to burst out of the box? Serves her right.

She notices him watching and flips her hair out of her eyes as she looks up at him, a huge, warm smile spreading across her face.

“Just moved back in,” she says, standing, shuffling so as not to drop her mail again. “The post office must’ve processed my change of address sooner than I thought.”

Once she’s got her letters in one hand, she brushes down the pleats of her dress. He notices a star tattoo across her wrist before she looks at him again, that blinding smile still pointed at him for some unfathomable reason. She laughs, sheepish. “Guess this explains why I didn’t get any mail at my old place last week.”

He offers a weak smile. More like a grimace, probably. Then, he nods, side steps her, and walks away.

--

The building’s a bit posh, for him, but then his provisional contract with the City of London Police came with a subsidised studio flat assigned, a mile away each from his physician’s office and from the station he reports to. Perhaps it’s meant to be some symbol of his rank with the department, his value, his tenure, his status as murder-solver-extraordinaire, that they assign him a flat in such a building, but all it does is make him itch all the way from the tasteful lobby to the lift to the bloody marble-lined corridor. The flat’s comfortable, at least. A bit barren, but then that’s the way he likes it.

As a bonus, it was paid for in part by the Broadchurch Police Department, which thrust 12 months pay at him in exchange for a signature on some forms promising not to go to court over wrongful termination procedures. Apparently, canning and uncanning him in the middle of a case - particularly one which he ultimately solved, thank you - wasn’t on.

Miller’s still stuck there, rebuilding her life as well as can be expected after having it utterly shattered. Officially, it’s indefinite personal leave. Unofficially, he thinks she’ll be back sooner than later, once the trial’s over and the whole damned mess is behind her. It’s in her makeup to do this job. His too. He sees her at court dates every month or two, and they talk a bit around preparing testimony and coordinating with CPS. He thinks about calling her in between, but has no idea what he would say. He’s shite at that in person, let alone on the phone.

Life in London is nothing but work and sleep and weekly check-ins at the doctor’s office. The clamor of it feels right, though, after several months of quiet in Broadchurch. London’s a place where he can blend in, where being new doesn’t attract any sidelong glances in public, where no one gave a shit when he showed up one day at the station as a new DI.

So he trudges in every day, and keeps at the deskwork, and so long as he maintains his medical appointments, he can hope for his yearlong probationary period to extend into a permanent position and a return to fieldwork.

Besides, he hasn’t got a lot of other options, has he.

--

There’s a cafe next door to his building, and it’s got halfway decent coffee. He’s supposed to limit his caffeine, so if he’s going to drink coffee, it’d better be good stuff, not the shite at the station.

It’s a Saturday in the summer, a bit warm, so he sits outside with a mug of coffee and a mostly-empty french press left for him as a refill. He shuffles through several manilla folders filled with police reports. It’s a series of robberies, not murder, but then part of his provisional contract is that he assists on the station’s areas of greatest need, and this is what he’s been given.

He feels eyes on him, like little laser beams boring into his forehead, and it’s bloody annoying. He snaps his head up, glower already on his face, and sure enough, someone’s looking at him. The woman with too much mail, sitting at a table across the way. The seat opposite him is empty, and then there’s another empty seat between them, and then her. She’s not dressed like a movie star this time. She’s got a coffee in front of her, too, and a cigarette dangling from her fingers like she’s not sure what it’s doing there.

She watches him, face contemplative, and snuffs out the cigarette without taking another drag. The smoke hadn’t been bothering him until he looked up, but now he’s glad to be rid of it. The way she put it out, eyes on him, it’s like she knows.

He meets her eyes a second longer, and she looks like she’s about to smile. The memory of the way it lit up her face hits him hard, so he lets his eyes dart away, refocusing on the case file.

She keeps her eyes on him for a while after that; he can still feel it. Eventually, she gets up and leaves, and he sees her walk by on the pavement a few seconds after, jeans low across her hips, light trenchcoat over a yellow blouse, designer bag, probably, over her shoulder.

He turns a page. Ten different robberies, similar descriptions of the attacker for each one, but only because they’re so bloody generic.

--

Three Saturdays in a row. Two chairs between them. He pores over cases and drinks his one coffee for the week, straight down to the dregs. She usually has two, a full refill of the french press. He doesn’t see her smoking again, and not because he’s not looking.

--

It’s a Thursday and he’s got three suits in his hand, held up high to keep them from trailing on the ground, and he’s headed towards the dry cleaners next door to their building.

When he gets to the door, he sees her inside, her arms full of dresses on hangers, folded at the waist and slung over her forearm. She pushes the door open with her free hand and it swings out in such a way that he has to take a step back. She catches his eye and smirks and he places his foot in the path of the door, keeping it open so she can exit.

“Thanks,” she says, and he nods.

He kicks the door out a little farther as soon as she’s through and turns, walking in before it can shut on him.

“Oi! Neighbor,” she calls out from behind.

He turns his head, eyes trailing from her messy ponytail to her zipped up hoodie, to her very short shorts. Her legs are so toned that he thinks about the exercise regiment from his doctor’s office and how he’s been slacking. Then, he remembers she’s spoken to him, so he clears his throat, sniffs, and looks her in the eye.

“I’m Hannah,” she says, and there’s that smile again.

There’s someone waiting to get by him and he’s blocking the doorway.

“Hardy. Ehm… Alec Hardy.”

She looks him up and down, twice, and he wonders how foolish he looks, one arm pitched high above his head, his drab old suits hanging there for her to see. The clothes she’s holding are bright, set in patterns and silk, and there’s at least a little bit of tulle sticking out somewhere. Then again, what does he care, anyway.

“Excuse me,” says the bloke behind him, so he shifts, moving out of the doorway.

He’s sure his face is drawn and tense and half of him wants to be left alone, to undo her introduction. The other half wishes she’d said hello at the cafe, where they’ve spent hours near one another, instead of this stupid dry cleaner’s with its tiny entryway. It’s all he can do to catch her eye one last time and nod again. She looks like she’s trying not to laugh, and he absolutely doesn’t care. He turns to the counter, back facing the door. Then, he waits a full minute after the cashier’s taken his suits to turn back around and leave.

--

The following Saturday, he’s a few minutes earlier than usual. He’s in an oxford and jeans, and it feels odd, to be wearing anything other than trousers. He drinks his coffee a little too fast, burns the tip of his tongue, and reads the same paragraph on his latest case file five times without absorbing any of it. Across the way, her table is empty. Not that it matters.

He’s considering ordering a second coffee when he sees her pass by on the pavement. His stomach leaps up into his throat and he clenches his eyes shut, runs his hand over the week’s worth of beard, deeply annoyed with himself for being unable to stifle his reaction. With a grumble, he gives in, craning his neck and watching as she walks into the cafe, and then feigning obliviousness as she walks out the patio entrance. He’s not looking, not paying attention.

Which is why it’s especially startling when she sits across from him at his table.

“Morning,” she says.

He feels the corners of his mouth turn down as he looks at her, raising his eyes from his case file slowly, even though his heart’s pounding. It’s a good sort of pounding, like he hasn’t felt in a long time. It’s also terrifying.

He maybe grunts in reply, he’s not sure, and gratefully she happens to order a coffee as he does it, so maybe, hopefully, she didn’t notice.

“Figure, now we’ve been introduced…” She trails off.

He lays the paper he’s holding down onto the table, tucking it inside its folder and straightening the pile.

“...Unless you’ve work to do,” she finishes, looking chagrined. “You do, don’t you? This was rude. I can go.”

He clears his throat. “No. That’s… that’s fine.”

“You just always look bored as shit whilst you’re going through those files,” she says, sipping her coffee and glancing at his hand. “Which is strange, as I’d take you for the married-to-your-work type. Aren’t they giving you the good cases?”

“No.” He’s surprised to feel the truth slip out.

She sips her coffee again, licks her lips, and puts the mug down on the table with a gentle thud. “Cop or detective?”

“Detective inspector.”

He slips off his glasses, cleaning the lenses with his napkin and replacing them in the case laid out on the table.

“That’s what I thought.” She bites the corner of her lip, watching him. “And Scottish, too.”

“Aye. What do you do?” he asks, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms.

“I’m a writer. Working on my third book. Published and all.”

“Mysteries?”

She shakes her head. “Autobiographical.”

“Autobiographical?”

She nods and he watches her for a moment, narrowing his eyes.

“So what else is it that you do that warrants writing about?”

She picks up her mug again and meets his eyes as she holds it in front of her. “I’m an escort.”

He furrows his brow, sputtering. “I’m not -- I wasn’t looking for--”

She bursts out a laugh that sends her chunky necklace bouncing against her plain green t-shirt. “No, I wasn’t propositioning you. Trust me, I don’t need to proposition anyone. And anyway, that’s illegal, which is not how I do things.”

“Right then,” he says, and grabs his own mug. “Good.”

“You did ask.”

Their eyes meet. “I did.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Not particularly.”

“It’s just… I’m sick of pretending. To be something I’m not, when I talk to people. So I’m trying something new.” She shrugs. “And if I can’t even tell the cute copper who lives in my building that I’m an escort, then who can I tell?”

He coughs, puts down his mug.

“All right?”

“Aye.”

He looks up at her, and when she smiles, this time he smiles back.

--

Since his heart’s already beating just a little bit fast, he doesn’t get a second coffee when she does. He does, however, switch to herbal tea. He’s in good shape, all things considered, that’s what his physician keeps saying every week, but after years of a racing pulse signaling the worst, the taste of chamomile is reassuring.

He’s not quite sure how to do this. Talk to a woman. Talk to anyone, really.

“Did you just move to London?” she asks.

“A few months ago now, aye.”

“And you’re from….” She pauses, and he realises he’s supposed to fill in the blank.

“Just outside Edinburgh.”

“Edinburgh. So why London? It’s fabulous, but... big change, right?”

He swallows. “Ehm. Came for a medical procedure and I wound up with a job.”

She freshens her coffee, watches him, and he can see the wheels turn as she decides not to press him.

“Do you like it?” she asks instead.

“I like the size of it; it’s huge. Nothing like Edinburgh.” He adjusts in his chair, leaning in and taking a gulp of his tea. “Suits me, I think.”

“Did you just move here from Scotland, then?”

“Nah. A town in Dorset, actually. A wee beach town.” He says the word ‘beach’ like it’s a curse. “What about you, you from London?”

“No, I’m from outside London. Been here forever, though. I love it. Got everything you could ever want in London. That, and the anonymity.” She stares off behind him. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

She’s quiet for a beat, but he misses the change in her demeanor and blurts, “Should we order something to eat, do you think?”

He’s embarrassed as soon as it’s out, and he looks over at her, ready to backtrack, to throw some notes down on the table and dart out of the cafe, but she grabs a menu from where it’s hiding behind the sugar and salt and pepper.

“Think their desserts are any good? I see them in that glass case every time I walk in,” she says, and he exhales, swamped with relief, then incredulity.

“Dessert? It’s barely 2pm. Have you had lunch? Breakfast, even?”

“I’m getting a piece of chocolate cake.”

He shakes his head. “Suit yourself.”

The menu lands on the table with a light ‘thwack’ and he picks it up. She watches as he puts his glasses back on and scans it, her face contemplative.

“I think I’ll try the arugula salad,” he says.

“Oh, salad? Come on. Now you’re just trying to make me feel bad.”

He shakes his head, but he’s smiling. “Just wanted to say ‘arugula.’ Don’t think I’ve ever tried it.”

“What, saying arugula?”

“No, eating it. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten arugula.”

“Oh, stop, it’s starting not to sound like a real word anymore.”

“What, arugula?”

“Yeah. No, wait. I think I like it again. With the accent, it’s nice.” She scrunches her nose. “One more time?”

“Arugula.”

She laughs, and he finds himself joining her.

--

Arugula is, as it turns out, not bad. A little spicy.

He doesn’t see her in the building - figures, they must keep different hours - but he keeps showing up at the cafe on Saturdays, and so does she. And now there’s a routine. They share a coffee, and then he switches to tea, and she has a second. Neither mention that they’re actually, in total, drinking less coffee than before they’d started sitting together. When they’re on their second drinks, they order some food, and he inevitably picks a salad, whilst she chooses a dessert. He sorts his cases on Sundays, now.

--

“How’ve you got time to knock around cafes for hours on end, anyway? Shouldn’t you be writing? Or escorting?” he teases.

“Oh, yeah. Both. Not simultaneously. Though it’s part-time escort now,” she says, “and full-time writer.”

“Autobiographer,” he offers.

“Right. But the writing depends on the escorting.”

He leans back in his chair, considering her. “I think you love it.”

“Which?”

“Well, both. But particularly the escorting.”

She looks away, and a grin spreads across her face. “I do. It's just who I am. And I'm so good at it. I swear, I’m gonna be turning tricks in the nursing home.”

“That’s a lovely mental image.”

“Mm, thanks. Might get an outcall or two, still, too. Never know.”

“To other nursing homes!” He laughs.

“And the granny fetishists!” She starts laughing, too, and rests her elbow on the table, burying her face in her hand, and biting her lower lip. Which is not at all distracting.

“Suppose there’s a market for everything,” he says.

She glances up at him, pushes her hair out of her eyes. “Oh, yeah, people take all sorts.”

“So you’ve got your fifty year plan, then.”

“Thank fuck for that,” she says.

“And where do all the hours of dessert and coffee come in?”

She thinks for a moment, takes a bite of her cake.

“Everyone needs a way to relax,” she finally says.

“With coffee?” he asks, voice incredulous, nose scrunched. “It’s a stimulant. You’d do better with some chamomile.”

“No, you numpty. With a mate.”

--

Four weeks on, he’s yet to see her eat anything with any nutrients.

He’s learned that she has a sister who sounds more than a bit challenging, and that still none of her family has any idea that she’s an escort, not to mention a Sunday Times bestselling author. He also knows she’s absolutely obsessed with fashion, she recently turned down a movie deal for her books, and, is quite obviously, not afraid to talk about the crazy shite she sees from her clients. He’s pleased to learn that it’s intentional crazy shite, the funny sort, since she carefully vets each one. He also knows that, at work, she goes by ‘Belle,’ which he’s quick to realise suits her every bit as well as ‘Hannah.’

What’s more is, he’s told her he’s divorced, and that he has a daughter who’s just starting to take his calls now that he lives somewhere she might actually like to visit. He’s told her that he had a serious heart arrhythmia, and now a pacemaker. He’s told her that he’s waiting to return to the ‘good cases’ after a year’s provisional partial medical leave which, really, feels a lot more like probation.

He can’t remember the last time he told anyone more about himself than was absolutely necessary to push the conversation along.

Their conversations don’t seem to need much pushing.

--

It’s Friday night and he’s headed home from another boring, long day behind a desk. The thought of tomorrow’s cafe date was the only thing that got him through the afternoon. He watches his feet as he walks and - past judgments aside - doesn’t bother with the mail.

He steps into the lift and hears Hannah’s unmistakable voice call out after him.

“Hold it, thanks!”

He can’t stop the smile that spreads across his face as he complies and when she steps in, she smiles back at him, that bright, lovely one he could look at all day.

“Thought that was you.”

“Oh?”

“Well, not a lot of fit, lanky blokes in our building. I like the suit.”

He presses his lips together for a second and she looks unbearably pleased to have embarrassed him. Then, she leans forward and pushes four. He’s hit three.

The doors begin to shut, and his stomach growls as he realises it smells like really excellent food. Possibly curry. Sure enough, Hannah’s holding a bag of take away.

“That smells like a real meal,” he says. “I thought you must run purely on sugar and caffeine.”

“Actually, no. Once in a very long while, I eat something other than dessert.” She flips her well-coiffed hair out of her face, then runs her free hand through it. “Got more than enough for two. If you want to come round.”

“Aye, sure,” he says too quickly, so he looks away. “Thanks.”

“Yeah.” He can see her smiling through the corner of her eye.

When the lift opens on three, she’s already pushing the close door button.

--

Her flat is a hell of a lot bigger than his. It’s spacious in a way a studio just isn't. It’s bright and painted and has a balcony and there’s a hanging curtain dividing the living room and what must be her bedroom. Hannah heads into her kitchen whilst he looks around and soon she’s back, two plates in her hand, and she leads him over to her sofa. He feels sort of tall and gangly amidst all of her posh looking furniture, but she tells him to sit and so he does, whilst she puts the food and plates on the far side of the coffee table. It’s only after that he realises he’s seated on his overcoat, so he stands again and takes it off, along with his suit jacket.

“You help yourself,” she says. “I’m going to hop in the shower and change if that’s all right.”

“Sure.”

She’s in a black, tight, backless dress and ungodly-high high heels that she’s still wearing for some reason as she walks through the flat. He’s used to her in jeans, and she looks bloody gorgeous in either getup, but her ‘Hannah’ clothing looks a lot more comfortable than the ‘Belle’ stuff.

She’s gone for not much longer than fifteen minutes, and he doesn’t actually open any of the cartons of food, instead studying the bookshelf, the decor, the rug under the coffee table, the desk in the corner with the twinkly lights. There’s more than enough to hold his attention. He can hear the water running and, after that, her rustling around, and it’s surreal, being in the flat of another person, a mate, invited over for dinner like it’s normal.

When she re-emerges she’s in shorts and a vest top and he’s suddenly quite focused on those cartons, after all. She stops at the bar in the corner and pours two glasses of red wine, then places them on the glass coffee table and sits down very, very close to him.

He turns to face her. Her face is scrubbed clean of makeup, hair tied back in a ponytail. He realises it’s the first time he’s seen her shoulders. He stares at a freckle on the left one for a second too long and when he looks at her again, she’s right there, much closer than he’s ever been to her. Her thigh is pressed against his trouser leg and her arm brushes his as she reaches toward the food.

“Chicken jalfrezi?” she asks, turning to look at him, a serving spoon in her hand.

He leans in and presses his lips to hers, his hand cupping her neck.

It’s like an electric shock and he breaks away immediately, pulling back and watching for some reaction. Years have passed since he’s kissed anyone. Longer than that since he kissed someone who he wasn’t sure would kiss him back, no matter how half-heartedly. But she looks pleased as she drops the spoon back on the table, slides a hand into his hair and and pulls him towards her. She kisses him now, her other hand gripping his arm.

He lets out a shuddering, relieved breath and his hand finds her waist; his mouth angles towards hers to make better contact. She slides her parted lips over his bottom one, sucking it gently, running her tongue along it, and it sends a quick jolt through him that evens out into a steady buzzing in his blood. He groans softly and opens his mouth, their noses bumping and teeth clacking as he shifts towards her. She scoots backwards until her back hits the armrest and he moves with her, hovering over her.

“Here,” she says, and pulls her legs up onto the sofa, snaking one behind his back and one over his lap. Then, she pulls at his arm once more and he moves with her, twisting his body until he’s lying over her. He’s barely got enough room on the sofa to brace himself on his elbows, to keep their hips from making contact, and that’s absolutely imperative since he’s already hard and not half embarrassed about how quickly it happened.

She curls her fingers in his hair and deepens the kiss, exploring his mouth. She smells fantastic, and her breath has a bit of mint to it, and soon he’s forgetting all of that as she tugs on the hairs at the nape of his neck.

They kiss for several long minutes and his legs and abdominals begin to strain with the effort of keeping the distance between their bodies. She either figures out how much effort he’s putting into this, or disagrees with the idea altogether, as she twines one leg around his thigh and pulls him down on top of her. He collapses, keeping enough weight on his arms that he hopefully doesn’t crush her. She breaks away and moans into his ear, grinding against him. The sound of it nearly undoes him and he bucks against her.

“Wanted to do this since that first day at the cafe,” she says.

“Since that day at the mailbox,” he admits, only because his head is so cloudy.

She grabs his belt buckle, and he lifts up enough for her to undo it, sliding the belt through the loops and tossing it away somewhere. There’s no way she can miss the way he’s straining against the zip of his trousers, and maybe that’s a good thing, since she’s slow and careful about unzipping him.

Once she’s got his trousers undone, he can think a little more clearly, until he sees her lifting her hips to tug down her shorts and knickers all at once. His mouth goes dry as she bares herself to his view, and although he’s given her enough space to move underneath him without grinding against him, he has to press his palm against his erection to keep some semblance of control over himself.

This is happening, and he needs to make it good for her, because he’s going to pop off like a bloody teenager the second she touches him, and she deserves better.

She manages to kick her shorts and knickers onto the floor and then she’s unbuttoning his oxford, grabbing his wrists and getting the buttons at the cuffs, craning her neck to kiss his. He has the presence of mind to loosen his already askew tie and toss it behind him, and then he helps her tug the shirt off, letting it fall on the floor.

Now that he’s so close to her, he can tell she’s not wearing a bra, and he dips his head down, taking her nipple into his mouth, running his tongue along the cotton. She leans her head back on the pillow, gasping, and he remembers he has hands, and he can use them. So he angles himself in such a way that he’s braced on one side, with a free hand that trails along her side until it reaches her hip. The angle’s not perfect, his elbow jutting out behind him, and he has to relinquish her breast in favor of her neck, but it’s worth it because he’s free to touch her.

He presses a finger to her centre and, oh, she’s wet already, and he parts her lips and slides one finger into her all the way to the knuckle. They both curse out loud, simultaneously, and then they burst out laughing, until he pulls slowly out and pushes back in again.

“God,” she says. Her hand finds his cock and he lets out a yelp that makes her giggle.

She strokes him once, twice, through his boxers, and she’s got tingles spreading at the base of his spine already, so he adds another finger and manages to press the heel of his hand against her clit, and that distracts her enough that her grip on him goes lax.

He keeps his movements measured. It’s been too long since he’s been with anyone, and longer still since he was with someone who made him feel so bloody happy, and he can be patient, he can.

Pulling his fingers out nearly all the way, he presses in again, and rubs the heel of his hand in gentle circles against her clit. She gasps underneath him and her hand moves to his shoulder, gripping him tightly, so he does it again. He creates a rhythm, steady and deep, punctuated with that firm motion of his hand against her pelvic bone. Soon she’s grinding up against him on every downstroke, squeezing his shoulder, breathing into his ear and cursing. He can feel her walls ripple around his fingers and he clenches his eyes shut, unable to stop himself from grinding against her thigh.

“Fuck,” she pants. “Faster.”

He speeds up his hand, and she grabs it with her free one, pressing him against her the way she likes until she seizes up. As she starts to come, she grabs his hair and brings him in for a kiss, and then she’s gone, writhing underneath him, moaning into his mouth. He brings her through it, forces himself to stop the movement of his own hips before he comes too, and when she slows, she breaks off their kiss and looks up at the ceiling, laughing and breathing heavily.

He’s ready to pull away, but when he moves his hand, she grabs it and stills it, then guides him to start all over again, and he drops his head to her neck and lets out a deep groan.

It takes a few minutes, but soon her breathing is speeding up again, and then she pulls his hand away. He swallows, looking at her, and her flushed face is so goddamn gorgeous that he has to kiss her.

“Condom,” she says when he breaks away. “In the box on the table.”

He has to shift his weight, but he’s just able to bump the top off the small wooden box on the coffee table and grab a foil packet, barely avoiding knocking over the two glasses of red wine she'd brought over before. She takes it from him and pulls his pants and trousers down far enough for him to kick them away. Then, she rolls the condom on and even the feel of her hand on him for those few seconds has his breath catching.

She lines him up and then she raises her hips and pushes down on the small of his back, and it’s almost too much, the feel of her tight heat sucking him in. She takes him slowly, but her breath is loud and fast in his ear, and he distracts himself by pressing his nose to her hair, breathing in the smell of her shampoo.

When he’s in as far as he can go, she strokes her hand up his back, soothingly, and waits for him to set the pace.

He thrusts his hips in a shallow motion, and it’s like butter, the way he slides in and out. It’s almost too good, and he slows down, trying to draw it out, to stop himself. He kisses her, and she leans into it, cupping his cheeks with both hands. When she breaks away, she looks at him, a soft little smile on her face.

“Don’t hold back,” she says.

He’s got no choice but to kiss her again, not when she’s sweet and gorgeous and looking at him like that. She deepens it, her tongue pressing against his lips until he gives her entry, and then she moves her hips down and back up, sliding along his length.

“Fuck,” he gasps, then kisses her again.

She pushes against him once more and it’s like a switch is flipped. He plunges in harder, and she moans into his mouth, so he does it again, long, deep strokes. She liked it when he grinded on her clit with his hand, so he angles his hips to press his pelvic bone against her. He knows he has it when he hears her gasp, and then he speeds up, giving into the heat spreading low in his stomach all the way to his fingertips.

His heart is beating fast, but it feels brilliant, nothing like before. Tendrils of pleasure curl at the base of his spine, spark through his body, and he feels his balls start to tighten. He’s trying to hold off, and he’s considering slowing down - he doesn’t want to, it feels incredible, but he’s going to come and he absolutely needs her to come, too - but then she grabs his shoulder, her fingers spread wide against him, and her walls start to clench around him in a steady rhythm. She meets his every thrust, her short, blunt nails biting into his skin.

“God, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop,” she says, and it’s a litany that pounds like the blood in his ears. He manages to hold on through her orgasm, shooting into her as her moans level off.

They quiet down together, until they’re breathing hard, but exchanging soft kisses. He pulls out and she moves enough for him to sit up, then grabs some tissues from the box on the table.

He cleans himself and walks across the room to toss the condom and tissues into the bin. He's surprised to see her up, heading into the kitchen in nothing but her vest top, holding the carton of food they'd left abandoned before.

She stops as she crosses him and leans in, pressing a kiss to his lips.

"I'm fucking hungry," she says. "How about you?"

"Aye," he says.

"Now, as I was saying before you interrupted me: chicken jalfrezi?"

He laughs. "Aye."

--

She reheats the food and they eat it on the sofa in their pants. It is, without a doubt, the best chicken jalfrezi he's ever tasted.

--

After, they're both full and sleepy and it's only natural to have a bit of a lie down, so they go to her bed, where there's more space. She’s curled into his side, her head pillowed on his shoulder, looking up at nothing. Somehow, he’s still buzzing. The mere act of pressing his skin to someone else’s, of feeling another human’s warmth seep into him, has his head swimming. But this someone in particular…

“I hardly ever do this,” she says.

“What, have a cuddle?”

“Actually, no, I do a fair bit of that. There’s a subset of clients who only want to…” She stops. “I shouldn’t talk about this right now, should I?”

“You should talk about whatever you like.” He brushes some errant hair out of her face. “Doesn’t bother me.”

“I meant sex. Fantastic, unpaid sex with someone I really like.” She pauses. “It’s different.”

“Is that what you want? Different?”

She exhales, a long breath through her nose. “Yes. And no. I dunno. Sorry… I know that doesn’t make any sense.”

“It does, actually.” He presses a kiss to her hair, smiles against it. “Since my divorce, I’ve hardly cared about anything, except solving the next case. And then this... It’s brilliant, but it’s… I haven’t the foggiest on how to do this.”

“I had a boyfriend.” She stops. “God, that sounds daft, compared to a divorce.”

“No, it doesn’t.” She’s silent and he looks down at her face. “Tell me.”

She takes a deep breath, like she’s bracing herself. “He was my best mate. We dated in uni and stayed friends. Got back together about a year ago. He knew.. he knew everything about me. He was the only one who did, from my life as ‘Hannah.’ And when it didn’t work out…” Her voice gets a little scratchy and she stops to swallow. He tightens his arm around her.

“I feel like I’ve tried it all,” she continues. “And I’ve seen it all. Blokes who tell me they can handle what I do, but they can’t. Blokes who get off on it and don't care about me at all. Blokes who think they’ve got free rein to cheat because of what I do. Blokes who run as soon as they find out. And I’m just so tired of letting people in and waiting for it all to go wrong. But I don’t want to be alone.”

He doesn't know what to say, so he holds her, and lets silence take over for a moment until he feels ready to share as well.

“My wife was my detective sergeant. When she cheated, she put our case in jeopardy, and there’s still a child-killer out there because of it.”

“Jesus.”

“That’s when I got sick. I took the blame for the lost evidence.” He shakes his head. “Thing is, I can’t even remember who I was before the divorce. I’m not the man I was before, though, I know that much.”

The truth of it stings him, making his throat a little tight, and she notices, propping herself up on her elbow and leaning in to give him a soft, sweet kiss.

“I like the man you are.”

She smiles and he runs his free hand over his chin, looking away.

“Even if you were a right grumpy sod at first.”

“At first?” He chuckles. “That’s a ringing endorsement if ever I’ve heard one.”

“Mm. Isn’t it? You’re blushing and all.”

“I’m not!”

“You are!” She sits up, watches him, and he lets himself look at her as the sheet rides down her shoulder and then her chest. Her top really is a bit see through.

“I’m sure you’ll find that if I’m… flushed, it’s for other reasons entirely.”

“Oh, I get that a lot,” she says. “Be sure to drink plenty of water and keep your blood sugar up with snacks. And no operating heavy machinery for four to six hours.”

He laughs, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her onto him. She squeals and sinks into him as her mouth finds his.

What starts off as a tease of a kiss goes on for several long moments. He feels himself harden, but before she can touch him he flips her onto her back and works his way down her body. He pulls off her vest top and kisses his way across her pert, gorgeous breasts, licking and sucking until she presses him closer and, self-satisfied, he pulls away.

He catches her eye and she watches as he kisses his way down her body, situating himself between her legs and tugging her knickers off. Her eyes seem to darken a shade and he could get lost looking at them, if he weren't so determined to bring her off with his mouth right the fuck now.

It doesn't take long, with two fingers pushed deep inside her and his tongue at her clit, and when she comes she clamps down on his head with her thighs a little too tightly. The fact that she forgets herself enough with him to do this humbles him.

When she's calmed down, she doesn't hesitate to pull him up next to her and tell him to lie on his back and take his pants off. She finds a condom in her nightstand and puts it on with her mouth, and even though he's come once already, he almost shoots off again at the sight of it. She knows, he can tell by her smirk, and then he doesn't know up from down because she's sinking onto him.

All he can do is watch her breasts bounce and the tendons at the junctions of her hip and thigh flex as she rides him. He curses under his breath and she speeds up, watching him silently. He licks his fingers - which taste like her - and brings them to her centre, rubbing her clit and watching helplessly as her pussy swallows and releases him.

She moans, speeding up, and he tells her to slow down, but it's too late, and his muscles tense as he comes. It takes a few seconds for him to calm and she looks smug as shit as she climbs off him, so he grabs her by the hips, throws her onto her back, and buries his head between her thighs until she comes again as if, somehow, that'll show her.

They've pretty well shown each other tonight, he thinks.

--

After, they fall asleep together, which he really wasn’t expecting, but she tells him to stay and he’s honestly a bit too knackered to do anything else. In the morning, he wakes up feeling very warm and calmer than he has in years. This mattress is about ten times more comfortable than his own. Best of all, he wakes to the gentle pressure of her head resting against his upper arm.

He’s not sure what it is that they’ve got, or what he wants it to be. But there’s something right about her, and the way he feels when he’s with her. He’s not in any particular rush to set the lines, to define them or box them in. It sounds like neither is she.

It’s a while before she wakes, and he closes his eyes, drifting in and out of sleep until he feels her stir. He opens his eyes just in time to see her confused expression land on him and shift into a smile that makes his heart stutter in the best possible way.

“Hey,” she says.

“Morning.”

She scrunches up her nose and glances around the room, like she’s trying to figure something out.

“I need coffee,” she says after what looks like some very careful thought.

“Aye,” he says. “Me too.”

--

It’s only sensible that he heads down to the third floor for a shower and a change whilst she does the same in her place.

He’s quick about it, but the hot water’s amazing, loosening all his muscles, and he finds himself whistling in the shower. Out of habit, he forces himself to stop, plastering a scowl on his face even though there's no one around to see or hear. But by the time he’s dried off and pulling on a fresh oxford, he can’t stop the smile that keeps forming on his face. After all, it's Saturday.

When he gets to the cafe, she’s beaten him there, somehow, and there’s a french press and two steaming cups at their table. He sits down across from her and grabs the menu, scanning it briefly before looking up at her. She leans in, resting her chin on her hand, a little smirk playing across her face.

“What have you possibly got to look at?” she asks. “You must’ve tried every salad on the menu by now.”

He pauses, considering. “Actually, I was thinking I'd try the chocolate cake today.”