They're giving it a go, him and Alex.
They're not exactly 'dating', as such. But she comes round after work some nights, or he goes to hers. They share meals, figure out how to talk to each other when it's not just this murder or that emotional crisis.
DCI Fielding becomes simply Alex, with her quick smiles and her lovely eyes and lovely voice; Alex, with her son, her normal worries, her normal life. She goes home at night and does normal things, like anyone with a family does. He sometimes wishes he could slot right into their lives as if he always had a place there. Instead, he fits in wherever she makes room for him and grows more comfortable in the cracks and edges all the time.
He sits in her kitchen one night while she stands stirring something in a pot on the stove. She has a school book open next to her, reading from a spelling list while Ben peels potatoes at the sink and gets every word right. Tony drinks his wine and merely observes until he finds himself recruited to check maths homework, despite protesting that he's a humanities man.
It's very nearly perfect.
And later, after homework and dinner and a bit of telly, after Ben is ushered off to bed, she comes to find him in the kitchen where he's putting away the dishes. It's all rather peaceful and domestic, these little habits they're even now in the process of developing, and then she comes to him, reaches for him, kisses him.
She wants him; loves him. It still feels miraculous.
They leave the dishes and go upstairs.
Alex is sensual and affectionate in bed, and she smiles at him often, as if he pleases her. Which, he does try to please her, though he doesn't always succeed.
All right, well, the sex is a problem sometimes.
He tries to reassure her and she tries to be understanding but he knows that soon she'll be asking herself if it's her, if she isn't attractive enough, sexy enough. And there'll come a point when she wonders if he's so damaged there isn't enough of a whole person in him to share with anyone, no matter who she is.
He wouldn't blame her, it's something he wonders about himself often enough.
On this night, when he pulls away, she sighs and doesn't try to touch him again. The space between them in the bed seems to expand into miles of cold, empty sheets.
He sees the seeds of insecurity taking root and he knows this is all a relationship needs to end before it ever really began. They've only been doing this a month or two. Soon she'll be turning away rather than to him. He'll get excuses, missed calls, avoidance. It'll be awkward but they might still be able to work together. He hopes for that, at least.
"Is there something you need?" she says. She's looking at him now with a copper's eyes, assessing. He doesn't much care for it; he's used to being the voice in her ear, not the poor sod across the table. "You can tell me, it's a bit late for modesty, don't you think? But I'm not a mind-reader."
"Thank heavens for that."
She crosses her arms over her breasts. She's still in her vest and knickers, they hadn't got very far at all before the singular bright point of his desire was crowded out by the dark turmoil in his mind.
"What, you don't think I could handle it? You don't think I know the sort of things you - that you can't get out of your head sometimes? Who do you think you're talking to? You're not out there alone, Tony."
"It's not out there that's the problem, Alex, I'm not alone in here. My head can be a very crowded place at the best of times."
She touches him then, and he leans into the hand cupping his head, gentle fingers brushing through his hair. He might not deserve this tenderness but oh, how he craves it.
"Then what do you need from me to cut through the noise?" she says.
"You shouldn't have to -"
"I'm not trying to be your bloody therapist, Tony, we're sharing a bed. We're sharing a fair bit more than that. I just want to make this work."
He sighs heavily. "I want to make you happy, Alex."
She frowns. "What makes you think you won't? You already do."
The simple truth of it is that he loves her. Trusts her. What can he do but believe her?
"All right," he says.
And he tells her.
She listens, looking dubious. "You want me to tie you up? Smack you around a bit?"
"It might help."
"I've never done anything like that before."
"Of course you haven't, you're not kinky Alex, just forget it."
"You calling me boring?"
"You don't bore me."
"And you don't scare me. This doesn't scare me." She lifts a shoulder, smiles with her tongue between her teeth. It might be bravado, or perhaps something else. "All right, let's give it a go."
So they start again.
As a lover she's usually generous and affectionate; this time she's selfish and demanding. She gets a little rough with him. Pushes him down and holds him there. Pulls at his clothes, scratches at his skin. She tells him what to do. She goads him. She makes his blood boil with her fierce passion and gets his back up with her taunts and he's hard as rock by the time he starts to push back.
He tries to get on top and as he's bigger than her, stronger, it shouldn't be all that difficult, but her training kicks in and when he finds himself with a knee on his back and her arm across his neck and her lips at his ear telling him you'll have to do better than that a surge of lust has him straining into the mattress, hungry for release.
She doesn't let him have it. She teases him, makes him wait for it, makes him frustrated and impatient, discovering a new kind of impotence pinned beneath her. His wrists are bound with a pair of her stockings and her knees are tight about his hips. Her wet cunt is inches away from his aching erection and he can smell her, can practically feel the heat of her, but she hovers over him just out of reach.
He's panting and near to begging and she won't even kiss him.
She's getting off on this power play as much as he is. More, he thinks, as he arches up under her and finds only more denial, and something of the accusation must show on his face.
"Is this too much for you?" she says, sitting back on his thighs. His nipples feel tight and tender where her fingernails were just teasing. "Do you need me to stop, cut you some slack? Maybe I'm being too hard on you."
It's nothing but another tease and the throbbing need to come makes him combative. "Course I don't bloody want you to stop," he spits out harshly. "You've not gone far enough, frankly, you should -"
"What, hit you? Choke you? Leave bruises?"
"Then it's a good thing you're not making the decisions here, because I'm not going to do any of that. I'm not comfortable with it. This isn't about you now, you can just lie there and take what's given to you and shut up about it. Can you do that, Tony?"
He blinks. She's surprised him. He looks up at her, into her eyes, and is reminded suddenly of how this began: with trust and with love.
For this moment he believes that he can do it; he can lie here and take what's given to him.
"Yes," he says. "I'll shut up about it."
She snorts. "We'll see if that lasts five minutes."
When she fucks him, finally taking him inside her and riding him hard, he lasts at least five minutes, maybe even a little more, before coming in a blinding hot wave of pleasure. She drowns his shout with her mouth pressed to his and shudders atop him as she finds her own completion.
She's a pleasant, warm weight, still lying on him, as she lazily tugs the bindings off his wrists.
He pets her hair. Hasn't the energy for anything else.
"You all right?" she says in his ear, her head resting on his shoulder.
"Yes," he says, a somewhat stunned smile on his face. "I think I needed that."