The shock of the alarm triggers Diane's reflexes more than wakes her, and she fumbles for the snooze button without conscious thought. The second and final piece of information her mind is prepared to take in is the awareness of Kurt's arm, heavy around her waist, grounding her toward the mattress, toward him, toward sleep. She closes her eyes again, letting her head fall heavy against the pillow. Hazy impressions of the dream she'd been jarred awake from float into her conscious mind: he is there, she thinks she remembers, but she can't remember where they are or what was said. There is laughter, and then an ambulance siren. But that must have been the alarm.
She begins to drift off again, focusing her mind on the pleasanter parts of the dream which shift into memories of the night before until she is not sure which is which, nor does it much matter. Unconnected thoughts pass over her of his warm rumbling laugh, hands caressing skin, the sensation of him holding her fast in the dark. And then the ambulance.
The alarm sounds again, but before she can react this time it has already stopped. She is vaguely aware of the heat of his body as he reaches over her to silence the damn thing once and for all. Without opening her eyes, she catches hold of his side as he begins to move back, the contact with bare skin making tangible the thoughts she had just been entertaining. She turns on her other side to face him, pulling him closer.
“Don't fall back asleep now that you've turned that off,” she warns him sleepily, reserving that right for herself.
“Nah. I'm up,” he promises. “I'll be your snooze button.”
She closes her eyes again, shifting her limbs until she is comfortable. This is the kind of service she misses when he is gone.
“How'd you sleep?” she mumbles, not yet committed to being awake, but able to manage this much.
“Better, in my own bed,” he says. He kisses her forehead, letting his lips come to rest there. “Once we finally got in it.”
Flashes of memory pass through her: she pushing him down, he pulling her into him, the look in his eyes when he gives himself over to her completely. Heavy with meaning, she says only, “Yes.”
When she opens her eyes again, she is vaguely aware that time has passed, unconcerned to know how long. She trusts he would wake her if necessary, and she is in no rush to go anywhere. If she slept again, there were no dreams, no imaginings this time, just the calm, blank contentment they create together.
“Now look who's lazy,” he teases her, his head resting invitingly on an inclined forearm. He has been waiting for her, watching her, and the awareness of this quiet intimacy thrills her as if it were the first time waking up together. He lets his other hand roam across her arm, tracing a slow, meandering path down to her elbow and back up again.
Her eyelids droop heavily at his touch, but she blinks them open again, resigned to being awake now for good. “When's your meeting?”
He groans, looking vaguely in the direction of the phone that could be broken for all he knows – or cares. “Not till ten.”
She raises her eyebrows meaningfully. “We have a lot of time to kill until then.”
He nods slowly, confirming the fact as well as the implication. “It's a video call, anyway.”
“Oh, really? Then I have you all to myself until 9:59.”
“Let's say 9:58. I do need time to button my shirt.”
“All right. 9:58.” She yawns and stretches, ending the movement with her arm across his side, pulling herself closer until her head comes to rest now on his pillow.
He laughs. “Thought you had something else in mind.”
“Oh, Mr McVeigh,” she gasps in mock horror. “You're relentless.”
“Yeah, usually that's you.”
She snuggles a little closer still, humming in response. She certainly hasn't ruled out the possibility, but she wouldn't mind hovering on the edges of sleep a little longer, absorbing in minute detail the heat of his body, his breath on her skin; if they just stayed here long enough, she could perhaps decode some message in the lines he is tracing now on her back. She would happily stay here as long as it takes to find out.
But the questions she had the night before pop back into mind, and make her suddenly more alert. She pulls back just a little, studying his face. “So you'll get through your meeting. And then what?”
He downplays it with a joke, either not understanding or purposefully avoiding what she is asking. “Then... they'll probably give me some new loyalty test, make me sign an oath, who knows.”
“No,” she laughs, but presses him. “No, I mean... what do you want to happen next? Last night you talked about looking for a new job.”
“Yeah, I don't know. I don't know how many times I can start over,” he grimaces, and then just as quickly his expression shifts into a sideways smirk. His fingers' wanderings come to an end, interlacing with hers now. He squeezes her hand. “I like the last redo. Wouldn't want to take the chance.”
She smiles genuinely in response, returning the pressure. But she's not about to leave it at that. “Well, I'm not going anywhere, that much I can promise you. So what do you want?”
He looks off at some invisible point now, taking her question seriously. She knows he has not, not for a long time, thought about what he alone wants. All the conversations they have had, all the choices they have made in the months following their reconciliation have been so singularly about what is best for them, she wonders now if she has been somehow neglectful of him.
“Honestly? Are we talking the dream scenario here?” He trails off, sighing. “You're not going to like it if I tell you.”
She raises her eyebrows at this, always interested to find she can be surprised by him. He has thought about it, but he has kept it to himself. “Oh, now you have to tell me.”
“Remind me why I agreed to this whole 'tell each other everything' thing,” he grumbles, but it's all for show now. A nervous little laugh escapes him. “What I want, honestly, is to keep doing this, or whatever else keeps me afloat, until you're ready.”
“Until I'm ready?”
There's a playful glint in his eye now, but he's hiding it from her, not quite wanting to meet her gaze. Finally he says it. “To retire.”
“Oh!” she gasps involuntarily, not expecting that of all things. Then a moment later, as the thought sinks in, she repeats: “Oh.”
“No pressure,” he shrugs quickly, and she knows he means it. “Just... ready when you are.”
“Oh, Kurt,” she says again, still wrapping her mind around the thought. She covers his hand in both of hers now, anxious to show him there is nothing to worry about in her surprise. “Well, we should start talking about it.”
“There's no rush. I didn't think it needed to come up any time soon, but – you asked.”
“I did ask. You know I almost retired a few years ago.”
There is just a hint of grief in his simple confirmation, a heartache that has healed, but can't be made less real. That was a vision of her future that did not include him. And, unable to remove him from her life once and for all, she could only imagine running away.
But everything had changed since then. She squeezes his hand again. Everything.
“I haven't thought about it in a while, but we should have a plan,” she goes on, focusing them back on the here and now, and this new idea of a future they could have. “I don't know if I'm back where I'd need to be – where we'd need to be – to have the retirement we want, financially, but...”
“You're having fun at this firm,” he says, as if trying to dismiss the whole notion as silly. “I see how much fun you're having. I wouldn't want to—”
She cuts him off, freeing one hand to silence him, her fingers over his mouth. “You wouldn't be. I have an awful lot of fun with you, too, you know.”
He smiles, kissing her offered fingertips. “Okay.”
“I do love my work. But there are a lot of things to consider. So I think... we should consider them. We should keep talking.” She inclines her head forward, kissing him sweetly. “About our future.”
“I think that sounds good.”
She grins, charmed as ever by his gift for understatement. The sparkle in his eyes, the smile tugging at the corner of his lips, belies just how good he finds it.
The idea feels more real, more right with each passing moment and she knows, whether it's a year, or two, or five away that this is where they will be, and she is eager now to start down that path.
She could transition to emeritus status at the firm, make more time for the pro bono work she finds meaningful. It could mean more time at his cabin in the country, and a chance to travel to all the places they had each mentioned over the years, but could never seriously consider. What had he said to her, once? Put their lives first.
Never in a million years could she grow tired of making a new beginning with this man.
“So we should sit down with our accountants,” she says, confirming her intentions, pleased to realize she feels this way.
He makes a face in response. “Yeah every time we talk to them, they tell us to get divorced.”
She bursts into laughter at this, suddenly giddy, falling against him and muffling the sound against his shoulder. This is good. Oh, she thinks, this is going to be so good.
When she lifts her head again, she finds he is looking at her with an intensity that leaves her dazed. She knows he is thinking exactly what she is thinking: they have weathered so much, emerging better than before. Whatever comes next can only be better still.
And he says exactly what she is thinking right out loud: “I love you.”
Her own words, repeated with equal reverence, are swallowed in his kiss, too impatient to feel it to wait until he can hear it. He kisses her with a fierceness she was not quite prepared for, but which she responds to readily, both as always craving touch as soon as all words have been spoken.
His hand drifts over her again, pausing at the small of her back where he knows she is ticklish when her body begins to ache for him, and predictably her hips jerk forward. He laughs into their kiss, loving how he can anticipate her as much as the ways she surprises him. His laughter is infectious and she can't help returning it, marveling at how easily love flows through them, feeling it, saying it, showing it, all in one unbroken line. There is never a moment she could point to, a definite before and after, only a flow from one state to another until suddenly she cannot ignore that something has shifted in a definite and irrevocable way.
His hand continues lower, squeezing her ass affectionately as he grazes over it. He gathers the silky material of her negligee between his fingers, bunching it up until the hem of the garment is within reach.
“What are you doing?” she asks, unnecessarily.
“Kinda wish you hadn't bothered putting this back on.” His voice, now slightly rough, is full of a new desire his last words had not conveyed. She shivers. No before, no after, but at some point a definite change.
“Hmmmm. Why?” she teases him.
He kisses her temple rather than answer, the fingertips of one hand dipping beneath the fabric to graze slowly along the back of her thigh. Her knee rises almost involuntarily, pressing against him. God, at his slightest touch her body is ready to respond. Perhaps she is entirely predictable after all.
“I got a good night's sleep,” he murmurs vaguely, inclining her knee still further as his hand moves in a firm stroke from her thigh to the inside of her knee and slowly back up the long length of her, fingertips stilling slightly higher than they had been before.
“That's – good,” her voice hitches slightly, little interested in disrupting what he has in mind.
“Yep. Got my energy back.” He lets his hand slowly snake around toward the front of her thigh, his knuckles arching dangerously close to her center, but just missing.
“Oh – I'm glad,” she says, trying and failing to disguise the rise and fall of her expectations. She hooks her knee around his leg, drawing herself even closer.
“Thought I might...” he trails off, letting his lips linger over her forehead and then the bridge of her nose as his hand retraces its path back again in a maddeningly slow caress. “...go for a quick run.”
She laughs in frustration, baring her teeth against his neck playfully.
“No? Hmm.” He inclines his head downward to find her lips, pressing his against them softly. “Guess I'll have to find another way to work it off.”
She pulls him into a proper kiss, both arms wrapped around his neck, one hand holding his head in place. Her tongue slides along his, a reminder, a suggestion.
But he pulls back, a long low groan escaping his mouth as he does, as if to say this is just as hard for him as it is for her. “Do you still want to know what I want?” he asks, an edge to his voice that makes her suddenly aware that she is throbbing for him.
“Yes,” she says hoarsely, half-surprised she could manage that much, given the way he is looking at her, and his fingers poised about an inch away from where she want them.
“I want to see you,” he says simply, and the stark understanding of exactly what he means causes her body to lurch toward him helplessly again.
“Yeah,” she agrees, struggling to keep her eyes open in the intensity of the moment, just needing his hands on her now.
He complies, his hands moving the fabric aside over her hip and quickly returning, touching her at last. She can't help but let out a little gasp as she feels his fingers, shockingly gentle at first, tracing the outline of her lips and then softly parting them.
“Jesus, Diane,” he curses, presumably at finding her hot and wet and wanting him already or, more accurately, still, since last night.
She laughs at that, oh, god knows they're both predictable. Every time, that astonishment. Every time.
But she stops laughing as he begins to explore her in earnest, his fingers spreading her wetness to her clit. She shudders, she might even have gasped, she isn't sure, so surprised to feel him rubbing circles into her, so hard, so soon, but just as quickly the sensation recedes again. She understands he is only preparing her, and the thought makes her breath hitch again.
He shifts so the angle is easier on his wrist, positioning her where he needs her as well, and all the while she is conscious that his gaze never leaves her face. She is pressing into him now, whatever she can make contact with, desperate perhaps but she doesn't care. She feels his finger there – just there – and she pushes herself against him until finally she feels the relief of him moving inside her.
“Look at me,” he whispers, and she wants to so badly, but every time she raises her head and tries to find him her eyes wince shut again, her head hitting the pillow with a low moan. His hand works her expertly, knowing her every response, taking her exactly where he wants her and keeping her there exactly as long as he wants her.
“God, you're beautiful,” he breathes, and she can only imagine what she looks like, her face screwed up in pleasure and delicious pain, and yet she knows he means it.
“Look at me,” he says again, and it's a challenge he can't possibly expect her to fulfill, not when he has her there right on the edge, her hips rising from the mattress involuntarily now to meet his every movement. She presses her thighs together against his hand in a crude attempt to show him what she really needs, more pressure, god, please, there.
His movements slow and then still instead, leaning down to kiss her softly when she whimpers in protest. He brushes the hair that has fallen around her face from her forehead while his other hand just barely pulses inside her.
“Diane,” he whispers, kissing a slow path along her jawline, and then pulls back, denying her that, too. “Look at me.”
She is almost numb from aching for her release, but she begins to regain control over her responses in this stillness. She unclenches her fists, relaxes her grip on him, and slowly opens her eyes, taking a moment to find her focus again.
His face is full of reverence, amazed and endlessly curious about her, searching her eyes for something neither could begin to fathom much less define. And he is always looking at her this way, when she catches him in a quiet moment, this unabashed wonder in his eyes betraying his otherwise stoic demeanor. But this is so pure, so intense now that she almost has to look away – and then she cannot look away.
Concentration lines his features as he begins again, his thumb finding her clit at last, his careful study of her reactions informing his touch and taking her deeper and deeper into her bottomless well of desire for him. She clings to him again, hands grasping wherever she can find purchase, fighting to keep this connection as long as she can. But his fingers are moving furiously now, and if she doesn't hear him say let go, she feels it. She knows he is still watching her with that unfathomable love as her eyes close again, and her face contorts, and she feels every muscle in her body clench. She wants to kiss him senseless, feel his body overwhelm her, but her gift to him is allowing him to simply watch her unravel.
“Oh, god,” she groans, blindly feeling around for the pillow she sent flying in her thrashing. Finding it, she turns on her side, her body half pressed against his, half against the mattress, riding out the last irregular pulses of her orgasm on his fingers.
He laughs lightly, mostly basking in her pleasure and a little pleased with himself, which she certainly cannot begrudge him. He kisses her shoulder and then her neck as she shifts fully onto her stomach, his hands moving soothingly over her until she fully comes down.
“If retirement looks like a lot of mornings like this, then yes,” she says, stretching happily. “My answer is yes.”
“I don't think that's something we can ask our accountants to factor in,” he says wryly.
“That's why we never listen to them,” she laughs. She reaches out, searching for his hand, which he is quick to offer. She brings it to her lips and kisses his knuckles. “God, you're good to me.”
“Selfish, really.” He sits up and shifts behind her, moving his knees to either side of her hips, his actions seeming to contradict him as he begins to massage her shoulders. His thumbs press deeply into her neck where he knows it gets tight with every second or third circle of his palms. “Nothing turns me on like seeing you come.”
Something inside of her twitches anew at his words, blunt, base, and, she knows, true. “You must be dying back there, then, because that was – wow.”
“I'll manage,” he says, his hands moving further down her back, over the material of her negligee. She suddenly wishes she hadn't bothered to put it back on, too, aching again for his direct touch. “You just let me know when you're ready for round two.”
It's an imperfect metaphor, but it occurs to her now he is always waiting for her, for a sign that she is ready. Always poised to respond the moment she gives it, and sure of what that next step should be. She arches her back up into his touch now, wondering vaguely if she has ever told him that she knows this, she depends on this, she is grateful for this. Every time she has insisted on making her own way, there she finds him, at the end of it, patient and true. And she cannot imagine any path without him now, at her side, all the way.
“Let me feel you,” she demands, looking back at him over her shoulder. He shifts, bending over her to kiss her neck again, and then slowly lowers his hips, holding his body just above her. He presses his cock against her, almost imperceptibly pulsing where he comes to rest at her ass, hinting at what is to come. She groans at the contact. “I want you now, Kurt.”
The rasp in her voice, the sound of his name on her lips, is all the encouragement he needs, grinding himself against her and then sitting back on his heels. He pulls her up with him in a fluid movement, and she finds a perch on his legs, her back curving into his chest, hyperaware of how his hard length is straining for her touch. She obliges, moving against him as best she can while he holds her, his hands palming her breasts, both steadying and unsteadying her.
He kisses her neck, his breath already rough and ragged, his mind several steps ahead of his body. “You drive me crazy,” he mutters, although she knows, she could hardly miss it. Her husband never wastes his words on the obvious, and she loves that this is the one exception.
Diane slinks free of his embrace, eliciting a disappointed groan that quickly modulates into an appreciative hum as he enjoys the sight of her dropping to all fours in front of him, her entire body an offering. She casts a look backward, both a challenge and an invitation in her eyes, reaching behind to pull the skirt of her negligee up around her waist for his view.
He cannot hold back long enough either to appraise or to tease, following her as if on a tether. He positions himself behind her, one hand on his cock and the other parting her folds, guiding himself inside her with an almost comical sigh of relief. Only now can he seem to allow himself to breathe, allow himself to fully appreciate the sight of her, gloriously arrayed and open entirely to him, the feeling of her under his hands, the feeling of her surrounding him. And then he begins to move.
He is trying to pace himself and struggling, she knows, his irregular cadence an internal war, frustration palpable in his breathing. But she loves this, these moments when she can focus entirely on him, every movement, every touch, intuit what he wants before he knows it, and sense when he is past knowing, only reacting. The way he continues to give to her, conscious or not, melts her heart: his hands caressing over her every time he forgets himself and grips or pushes too hard, but it's never too hard, she loves everything he has to give her.
She knows he is thinking only of making her come again now and she is both willing him to be more selfish and loving him for not. She isn't sure if she can, doesn't particularly care if she does, and that is the real war they are fighting, each trying desperately to put the other first.
He folds forward now, his body perfectly molded around hers, pushing into her harder even as he drops his head to place sweet kisses anywhere he can reach. It's this dissonance that will undo her, she realizes, and at the same moment she is conscious that her own need is building again, a stirring that becomes potential and then a certainty. As if, her head dropping in exhaustion at the mere thought, he would ever stop before he took her there.
Both lust and love swell in her as she understands this, her body not quite sure how to respond. Her hips surge back on him, coaxing him to give her more, give her everything, while her lips search for his uselessly, desperate to kiss him, sloppily connecting only with the corner of his mouth here, his jaw there. Groaning in frustration, she settles for entwining her fingers with his where his palm is braced firmly against the mattress, focusing all his energy into satisfying her shifting and frenzied needs.
He kisses her soothingly, kisses her everywhere he can reach, his pace unrelenting now. His lips linger at her ear, his teeth nipping gently. “Please,” he whispers, and it's all he can manage, but she hears the rest: please, now, I can't hold out much longer.
“I need you to – touch me,” she gasps, and he does immediately, putting all his weight on one arm as he reaches between them to massage her clit with the other.
Her arms buckle as her second orgasm washes over her, yelling out at the intensity of it and the sudden reality of gravity, momentarily afraid she will lose precious contact with him as she falls. But he follows her, careful not to put all his weight on her as he surrounds her, his hips soon bucking uncontrollably into hers, following her exactly where she leads.
He shifts more of his weight off her and onto the mattress, pulling her tightly against his chest as they recover their breathing. He holds himself inside her until he no longer can, and they are both conscious of every last pulse and twitch, shallower and slowing, and of the simple pleasure of their connection. When it has all receded, he slowly withdraws from her, tenderly pulling her negligee back down around her hips.
She turns in his arms to face him, finally, finally finding the relief of his kiss she has been craving, perhaps more than anything, since they started. They lose track of time, tangled in each other and carelessly drifting from deep and needy kisses to slow and sensual kisses, following their bodies' demands.
When it is over, they catch each other staring, assessing all they have shared, and then, simultaneously, they both burst into heady laughter. At what, she could not quite say; was there a word for this? How good it is, how lucky they are, just to be alive.
“I know,” he says, shaking his head, as if in confirmation. He rolls over, his eyes drifting closed and a look of blissful stupor coming over him, seemingly content that everything has been said and done.
She watches him thoughtfully, curling up against his side, perhaps never quite able to let go in that same way. Her thoughts drift irresistibly to the future again, even as there is nothing more she could want in this present moment. It is a future that feels limitless, open, free for them to define. Every morning could be like this. When they're ready. They have their whole lives ahead to plan.
There must be a word for this. There must be something more she has to tell him, that she has not yet found the words to express.
This is happiness. It is as simple, and profound, as that. He gives her that, he saves her life with that, every day.
She leans forward and kisses his cheek, finding at last the only words that can express that to him, in a language they have created for themselves.
You're my hero.