They’re definitely both expecting awkwardness and regret, but neither seem to be feeling it. They’re lying on their backs, still wearing the remnants of their clothing. Hardy’s trousers and boxers down around his knees; Ellie with a bra, open shirt and one leg still tangled in her own work trousers. They must look ridiculous. In fact, she starts laughing. He looks at her, concerned, a little confused possibly.
“I need a fucking drink,” she says, and sits up. She steers her breasts back into the cups of her bra, kicks her trousers and knickers off completely. Tries the whole time not to watch him grip and slide the condom from his softening prick, fumble and knot it. Fails at not watching and ends up taking it from him to fling it in the bin under her bedside table.
“If you go and make a bloody cup of tea right now, Miller, God help me I will—” He’s interrupted by her kissing him, the remainder of his words emerging as ‘ mmhmmff hmm mmhmm ’ but then he’s kissing her back, tugging her over to grope at her backside, dip his fingertips into the crack of her arse. He tucks a long leg over hers and rolls towards her.
It’s so lovely to be touched by him like this; it feels like she’s been waiting her whole life for it, on the edge, just waiting. His hands are hungry for her, skating over her skin and trying to get her closer, underneath him, around him. He shuffles down a little, so he can slip his hand between her legs from behind.
“Insatiable,” she teases, but doesn’t stop him.
“Only for you,” he mumbles, digging his hand harder, at what must be an uncomfortable angle, to get his fingers hooked just inside her, tucking them eagerly into her vagina. “I’ve wanted you for such a long time.”
“I know, darling,” Ellie soothes, petting at his hair, kissing at his forehead. Then she pauses, “Hang on, what? You’ve what ?”
He shushes her, and she lets him, just this once, mainly because he’s got his other hand around her thigh and is pulling her on top of him. Their skin is damp and a bit sticky and while Ellie would love to ride him into oblivion, she’s not sure there’s enough energy between them to make that work.
“You can’t possibly want to go again,” she scoffs.
“Hmm, getting it up again right now might be a bit of a challenge, love, even if it’s for you.” He still bites at her chest, scrapes his teeth at the top curve of her breast and sucks soft flesh into his mouth.
“Oh, you are a bitey one,” Ellie laughs, then moans. He’s going to leave marks all over her and, if she’s honest, she fucking loves it. She spreads her legs wide and pushes back onto his hand, sinking his fingers deep inside her. It’s feeling a little tender down there, but his contact is a nice sort of pressure, quite soothing. He shows no signs of wanting to stop, bending his leg up to encourage her to rock back and forth, fuck herself on his digits. She’s not quite surprised by this, by him ready to pleasure her and take nothing for himself. “You don’t have to, you can, oh Christ Alec, what are you doing?”
“Thought you were a detective.” He flips her, crawling down her body, kissing and biting at all the parts she’d quite like to hide from him: the dip of her belly that pudges when she sits down, the muffin tops of her hips, the ugly white scar across her bikini line. “I’m gonna taste you now, if that’s ok.”
Well, apparently he’s bloody good at this too. Ellie is panting, lying on her back, feeling like she’s sinking into the mattress. Her second orgasm is a slow build-up, full body affair, burning hot shocks of nerves and jerking muscles and thank God she is lying down else she’d be flat on her face and possibly unable to breathe. Alec has two fingers curved up inside her and a sure, sucking grip of lips around her clit. Ellie is swearing and pulling his hair, which he’s quite happy with. But it’s when he involves his second hand, squeezes at her buttock, slides a wet thumb in, down between her cheeks and grazes over the tight sensitive skin of her arse that she has never let anyone else near but holy hell that feels so good, that she absolutely explodes .
He knows what he’s doing, and he holds nice and still and lets her ride it out against his face, use his hands and mouth as she needs. Then he slides gently free and comes up to lie beside her, wipes his wet hand discreetly on his trousers as he yanks them up his legs. Ellie has stopped floating and is now sinking steadily into the bed. Her voice croaks a little as she groans, lord, she might have been screaming.
“It’s definitely time for a cup of tea.”
“It’s nearly one o’clock in the morning, Miller.”
“Never stopped me before, Hardy .”
He looks at her, long and deep, serious and sober. She wonders what he’s thinking. Wonders if he’s regretting all this, now it’s done, now she’s back to herself and bickering with him. Finally, Hardy sighs, glancing away.
“I’m going for a piss.” He grumbles, and rolls off the bed.
Ellie goes downstairs to make tea, of course she does. Her legs are shaking as she’s waiting for the kettle to boil. It’s a little bit stressful, feeling quite this wrung out, exhausted from tiredness and pleasure, and still not knowing what’s going to happen. Is he going to go all weird on her, grumpy and sharp? Is he going to leave? Ellie can’t quite bring herself to regret what’s just happened, but it won’t take long if it’s fucked all this up. Sometimes it feels like he’s the only person she’s actually got left properly, apart from her boys. The only person who doesn’t look at her and see the fuck up she’s been and sometimes still is.
She’s crying, she realises, her tears dripping from her chin onto the pale blue shirt she’d nicked from the bedroom floor. No way she wasn’t wearing that; even the idea of it was sexy. She’d taken her own wrecked clothes off, put this shirt on, and admired the way it only just closed up to the swell of her breasts like she was some wanton harlot. She looked good in the dressing table mirror as she snuck out of the bedroom. She smelled even better, aftershave and Hardy, yum. But now she is crying all over it, wiping her soggy face on the flapping cuff.
“I can’t believe you were actually serious about tea.” Hardy comes up behind her.
She’s not expecting it when he slides his hands around her waist, stands against her and kisses at the back of her neck. She’s not sure what she’s expecting. Certainly not this, with him being all snuggly and gorgeous and half-naked (though she did steal his shirt, so really that bit should have been predictable). He hesitates, obviously noticing something is amiss, turns her round.
“Miller?” He’s all earnest concern, cupping her tear-wet face in his hands, making her look at him.
“For…? For the whole thing… or the…what are you sorry for?”
The sob pushes out before she even knows it’s going to, but Alec, bless him, just pulls her in, cradles her head against his warm chest (still smells good, damn him) and holds her close.
“For being such a mess,” she hiccups. She’s stopped now, mostly. “I don’t even know what the matter is.”
“The matter is that you’ve dragged yourself out of bed and down two flights of stairs to make a cup of tea at stupid fucking o’clock in the morning.”
“Will you shut up about the tea?!”
Hardy sighs, squeezes his arms tight around her, the best sort of hug. Ellie slips her cuff-covered hands around his hips and squashes her face into the surprisingly soft hair on his chest. She’s not kissing him, she tells herself, just resting her mouth against his skin, moving it a bit. She is, however, definitely cheekily feeling up his backside a bit. There is a light exhale of laughter and then he leans her back against the counter so he can reach and pour the just boiled kettle into the teabag-loaded mug for her.
“You just making one for yurrself?” He questions.
Ellie snorts at the taunt, also at the bulge she can feel against her lower abdomen where he has her pinned. “You seemed so against the idea.”
“Are you…” Well, there’s no polite way to put it, so Ellie just wriggles against him, feeling his prick stir.
“You’re more than half-naked, your tits busting out of my shirt, you smell like sweat and shagging and me, Miller. So yes, I’m popping a hard-on for you.”
He’s so damn cheeky and vulgar, and she loves it. Joe never would have said tits, or hard-on. Hardy swears like it’s half his vocabulary, and Ellie thinks the burrs and rolls of his accent are perfection itself. She heaves herself up on the kitchen counter, pulling him in between her legs. She’s higher than him now, and he’ll have to tip his head back to kiss her.
“Let’s fool around while the tea brews.” She suggests, though it’s clearly a demand rather than a question. It’s still pleasing, though, when he goes straight in for it, tipping his head back as she’d imagined and kissing her hard. She pulls back with a giggle, “You taste of me.”
“I had my tongue inside you not five minutes ago, Ellie. M’not apologising.”
“Please don’t,” she agrees and bites at his lips, moans at the decadent slide of his tongue alongside hers.
Ellie is awoken by the creak of the bedroom door. She blearily cracks open an eye just in time to see Tom poke his head in, take one look at the pair of sleeping, naked adults tangled up in the duvet and each other, and whip himself right back out of the room again. He may be nearly an adult, but that is quite enough, too much in fact, for him to be dealing with.
She finds him in the kitchen when she goes down to make coffee. She’s pulled on her pyjamas and slippers and feels remarkably lazy when she sees her teenage son fully dressed and making toast. She’s not quite sure how to broach the subject she needs to, but is sure, however, that it will be easier to do without Hardy there. She’s left him snoozing. A lovely image that, Hardy on his front, with one long, hairy leg bent out from the covers. It was difficult to leave him without kissing at least one part of him, but if she’d started she might not have been able to stop.
“Coffee?” Tom offers, already filling the kettle.
“Ooh yes please!” She could get used to this - sitting down at the kitchen table and putting her feet up on the seat beside her. “Everything ok last night? I take it you were both up late if Fred’s still asleep now?”
“Yuh,” he shrugs, eloquent as always. “Shall I do one for Hardy too?”
Ellie freezes. Panics for a moment. Too soon, too soon. She hasn’t decided what to say yet. “Um…”
Tom nods to the black coat she’d picked up and slung over the back of a chair in her hasty tidy-up in the early hours, at the wallet and keys that must have fallen out that Tom’s rescued and put on the table. “Guessing he’s here. And I thought I saw his car outside.”
Ellie knows then that Tom doesn’t know that she knows that he knows that she… this is confusing, but he’s trying to give her an easy way out and she loves him for it. Loves him so hard; he can be an arsehole, but he’s also such a sweetheart. She stares at him, his nearly six foot frame, broad shoulders and muscular curve of back barely contained in his t-shirt. He’s going to make someone a great partner one day, and she’s so ridiculously proud of him. There’d been a few blips in the last few years, but really he is so brilliant.
“I love you so much, darling. And yes, better make him one as well, because he’s a total bear without one.”
“He’s a total bear all the time,” Tom mumbles, but reaches for another mug. “Does he have sugar?”
“Because he’s sweet enough?” He quips.
They both laugh at the very idea.
Hardy’s still asleep, doesn’t even shift position when Ellie puts a mug of coffee on the bedside table beside his face. She goes for a glass of water and rifles through his abandoned trouser pockets for his medication too, puts them with the coffee for when he does wake. There is a painful moment of hesitation, although it’s not so much painful as wracked with anticipation bordering on anxiety. How have they got this far? A few weeks ago she was introducing small moments of contact between them and now she’s about to climb into a bed beside him.
Right on cue, Hardy ruins the peaceful, perfect image of him with a rumbling snore that catches in his throat and makes him cough. The anxiety loses its edge and welcomes in a little humour, allows her to lift the edge of the duvet and slide underneath. The bed smells of him, of them, of sex, of overnight sweating and snuggling and Ellie realises it’s lovely, it tingles her a bit inside. So she wriggles closer, slides a hand over the sharp angles of his ribs, so warm and welcoming. Pushing her face up against the back of his shoulder is delightful. She breathes him in, opening her mouth to graze her bottom lip over his skin - a half kiss, half-taste, a whole wonder.
Hardy rolls his neck, extends his long legs in a shuddering stretch and leans back into her a little. His grunt cruises into a moan. A long-fingered hand finds hers and tugs it over, nestling it into the centre of his fuzzy chest.
“I brought coffee,” Ellie whispers, hoping she doesn’t actually wake him, in case he does something awful like move or, Lordy forbid, get up and leave. But she really has to let him know what’s going on, doesn’t she? “It’s nearly nine.”
Ellie snorts. “You can’t change the time just by disagreeing with it.”
“I’ll give it a bloody good go.” His voice is dry and gravelly with sleep, with relaxation. He rolls onto his back, carefully letting her move out of the way and curl back over his shoulder. “Why have you got clothes on?”
“Because I have children.”
Hardy’s growl is frustration and defeat and realisation that the real world is back. Ellie completely agrees.
Ellie comes out of the shower feeling a little fresher, but still aching in all the good places. She was right about the bruises. The inside of her thighs are tender and she has little purpley-brown kisses across the tops of her breasts. Hardy’s teeth have marked her shoulder and it’s beautifully savage.
When the bedroom is empty on her return, the bed made, her clothes in the laundry basket, she knows he’s left, he’s dressed and fled. She tells herself it’s fine, it doesn’t mean anything bad, he has his own life to live and things to do and he’s never been the sort for goodbyes, or discussing difficult situations, or talking much at all really.
But he hasn’t gone. He’s sprawled on the sofa beside a sleepy-looking Fred, with his long bare feet up on the coffee table, slurping a fresh cup of coffee and scrolling on his phone. He’s slipped back into his shirt and trousers, but they’ve clearly spent a night on the floor. The shadowed triangle of skin at the base of his throat looks decadently delicious from where she’s standing, gormlessly in the doorway.
“We’ll be off out to the shops soon.” Ellie says, pretending she’s not fighting the urge to just drag him back upstairs for another round. Hardy just grunts in acceptance. Very helpful, she frowns. “Are you staying?”
Hardy finally looks up, all brown eyes and tousled hair and, crikey, he really is gorgeous, isn’t he? Ellie curls her fingers into her palms in an effort not to stomp in there and thrust her hands into his hair.
“M’off after this coffee. Shower, clothes, shit to do.” He winces, eyes flicking to Fred, to check if he heard. Fred just grins.
Ellie manages to nod. Avoids Tom’s curious look, he’s clearly confused at how awkward they’re suddenly being. Slips into the kitchen to hide and not have a breakdown.
Alec catches her by the back door, of course he does. Takes hold around her waist and pulls her right up against him. His face is deadly serious as he tips down to kiss her, softly then firmly then fiercely, until she’s clutching at his arms and that furious fluttering has taken over her entire belly. His inhale is stuttered, his nose pressed into her face, breath sucked in across her skin. Ellie lets out a little sigh, voice catching in her throat.
“So I’m thinking, do you have a minute, we should talk a minute,” he mumbles, finally pulling away. His lips are swollen and damp.
“Ooh, that must have been painful,” she mocks gently when he finishes forcing the sentence out. Reassuring him with humour when inside she’s crumbing. “Ok. What are we saying?”
“I just need to know we’re... on the same page.” He’s clearly having trouble opening up here; his defences are up, high like his shoulders.
“Ok.” This is it, she thinks. Ouch. This is where he says it’s just sex. Two friends helping each other out. Just a casual thing. Or something that can’t go on. Or that he’s leaving. She’s too much for him, too ruined, too broken, too many things - kids, history, temper - attached. Or not enough for him, not young enough or pretty enough or good enough or… enough. She’s never enough, is she? Not for anyone.
“I’m. I… Fuck.”
“It’s ok,” she says, though it’s really not. She’s telling herself as much as him. Her lip is quivering, she can feel it, the traitor.
“I love you.” He snaps out, almost angrily. Then he watches her, carefully, as if he’s counting her blinks. There are a few. He takes a breath. “I mean, I’m in love with you. Have been, for a very long time, long before I should have been, long before I cared to admit it, even to myself. I don’t know if I can do this, if I can… invest myself into this, and come out in one piece if I’m just… like a convenient… friend. For you.”
There is a long silence. Ellie isn’t even sure what her brain is doing, it’s not cooperating whatever it is. It’s going round in circles, dancing and spinning around “I’m in love with you”, around and around until she’s dizzy with it.
“Ok.” She manages finally. Alec looks like he can’t breathe. She wants to hold him. So tight, so hard. So she slides her hands up to meet around the back of his neck, feels him relax a little on her way. Blimey, he’s tall.
“Do… you. I. What do you… Miller…” And then he makes one of those lovely long jumbley vowel occasional consonant sounds that doesn’t ever evolve into an actual word.
“Hardy. Alec. You can’t tell someone you love them like that and then not snog the life out of them.”
“It’s so alright I can’t even… I love you too, I’m in love with you too. I thought you knew, I thought everyone knew.” She’s not going to cry, she’s not. She’s going to kiss him and smile like a normal person. Except her face is wet and he’s kissing the tears from her cheeks and laughing gently.
“If you so much as mention a cup of tea right now,” he threatens, but he can’t keep a straight face, and the flash of his teeth and huff of his laughter is dazzling. He’s still chuckling when he leans down to press his mouth to hers.