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Check. Mate.

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fandom: primeval, fic fandom: primeval, fic genre: het, fic pairing: abby/connor, fic: all

Title: Check. Mate.
Author: alyse
Fandom: Primeval
Pairing: Abby/Connor
Rating: NC-17/18
Spoilers: Set post series 3, but only vague references to the last episode
Disclaimer: Primeval and its characters belong to Impossible Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. This is fanfiction, written solely for love of the show.
Word Count: ~13,800
Status: Complete
Author's Notes: Written for [personal profile] irrel for [community profile] help_haiti who, among other things, wanted Abby/Connor but uttered the immortal words You could write about them playing chess for all I care. So here you go. Abby and Connor playing chess ::g::

Many thanks to [personal profile] aithine for whip-wielding beta duties, as always.

Summary: Queen takes king.


It was beginning to rain when Abby got home, fat splatters hitting the windscreen of the car. She scowled, toying with the idea of rummaging in the glove compartment to see if she could find the umbrella that had, at one point, been kept in there. But she had a vague recollection of Connor being the last one to use it and that meant it was probably somewhere in the flat, along with everything else that he never put away in its proper place.

She sighed, rubbing her eyes and then glancing guiltily at the clock on the dashboard. It was early yet - far too early for her to be sneaking off home - but Lester was being remarkably lenient these days and she had had several excuses. The first excuse - and it was a good one - was the unusual lack of anomalies, at least since she and Connor had finally found one that led back home. Maybe the universe had finally cut them a break, or maybe Danny had managed to stop Helen and now, without her out there causing chaos, everything was settling back to how it should be. Who knew? It wasn't like Danny was around to tell them.

And that was the second excuse - Danny's continued absence, another loss to add to the many. The ARC was quiet and subdued without him, with nothing to distract the team.

The third excuse was sitting in their flat, probably bored out of his mind and waiting for Abby to get home.

That was the best excuse of all; apart from anything else, a bored Connor was a very dangerous thing. It wasn't just that he tended to get himself into trouble, because he did that even when he wasn't bored; it was more the chaos he left in his wake when he had nothing else to distract him. She'd lost more than one hairdryer, mp3 player or even kitchen utensil to his insatiable need to keep tinkering with things. While he'd always replaced them - at least once she'd reminded him about it six or seven times - that wasn't the point. The fact she didn't dare use the toaster now without checking that it was still in the same place where she'd left it and hadn't been 'enhanced' in the meantime, now that was the point.

Connor had been more or less confined to their flat for a week while his ankle healed, so who knew what he'd managed to get up to today? She was honestly expecting bedlam when she finally opened the door, water dripping from her hair and running down the back of her neck; the silence that greeted her when she did could only be described as 'ominous'.


There was no answer and she froze, head tilted while she listened out for any sound of movement that wasn't Rex or the Diictodons, all the while telling herself that it was stupid to be scared. They were home now, where it was - relatively - safe. Toaster mishaps aside, there was a limit to the amount of trouble Connor could get himself into in their flat, but even so... Well, she'd be lying if she said that she wasn't still feeling a little twitchy after everything they'd been through recently.

She tried again. "Connor?"


There was still no sign of him but even so the relief at hearing his voice flooded her, forcing her eyes shut for a moment as her fingers tightened on her keys until the serrated edges dug painfully into her palm. She loosened her grip when the pain hit and let the keys drop with a clatter into the dish they kept by the door. But there was still no sign of him and she rubbed her thumb idly across her palm while she stopped and thought.

"Everything okay?"

She kept her voice casual, asking the question while she pulled off her jacket and then ran her fingers through her damp hair to separate the strands, but all she got in return was a sound that could, charitably, be interpreted as a grunt. That wasn't like Connor, who could talk the hind legs off a donkey even on his quietest days.

She narrowed it down and found him on the couch in front of the door, the one that - for some reason - they'd decided when they'd moved in would be best positioned facing away from it. It made a perfect little hiding spot for someone who wasn't all that interested in hiding.

When she leant over the back of the couch to peer down at him, stretched out flat on his back along the length of the cushions, Connor's expression was brooding. She'd known him long enough to spot that, even when Connor wasn't normally the brooding type. "Everything okay?" she asked again and, once again, he made a sound that wasn't quite an affirmative. He didn't look at her - instead his attention was on whatever he was holding in his hands, rolling it between his palms, back and forth. She couldn't make out what it was through his fingers but Connor wasn't really the subtle type.

The rest of the chess set was sitting on the coffee table, one piece missing. She'd lay odds that it was the queen, just like she'd lay odds that it was missing because Connor was holding it.

She paused for a second, considering her plan of action, and then moved around to the front of the sofa, unceremoniously pushing his legs off so that she could sit down. She didn't know why he squawked quite so loudly. She hadn't dropped his sore foot on the floor - well, not until it only had a couple of inches to go, anyway. That was practically restrained of her.

He pushed himself upright and glared at her. She ignored it on the grounds that it was an improvement on the brooding.

"Comfortable?" he asked, the sarcasm clear in his voice. She ignored that, too.

"Yes, thanks." She put her feet up on the coffee table, and his glare grew outraged. He didn't follow suit, although that might have had something to do with the number of times she'd told him off about it. Which was funny, but also a little worrying because that wasn't like Connor either, not to push it, at least about things that weren't important. She stole a sidelong glance at him, taking in the frown that still creased the skin between his eyebrows and the way he was worrying at his lip.

Yep. Still brooding.

"How's the ankle?" she asked, more to buy time to think than any genuine curiosity. She already knew it was getting better; the only reason she was back at work while Connor wasn't was because Lester had muttered darkly about health and safety regulations and Connor not being fit for fieldwork yet. It was bleakly amusing in retrospect: the idea that Connor had ever been fit for fieldwork; that either of them had, at least for the kind of insanely dangerous things they did day in and day out.

The idea that Lester had picked now, of all times, to start worrying about health and safety was even more so.

"It would be a lot better if you hadn't just manhandled me," Connor bitched as he struggled upright and she couldn't hide her grin. Didn't even bother to if she was still being honest. Not that she had much of a track record of being honest - really honest - with Connor.

"Manhandled?" She raised one eyebrow, slightly mocking, and he flushed, his gaze darting away, back towards the chessboard. It was only after the word came out of her mouth that she realised how it could be interpreted, and then she blushed, too, feeling the heat of it rising to her cheeks.

No. They didn't have a good track record with each other about being honest where it really counted.

To cover her confusion, she leant forward and picked up one of the chess pieces, feeling the weight of it as it rolled coolly in her palm. It looked - and felt - as though it might be painted pewter and Connor had made her watch the bloody film often enough that she recognised the character it represented.

"Star Wars, right?" she asked, leaning over again to place it on the board again and reaching for one of the opposing pawns instead. She twisted it in her fingers, frowning slightly when she didn't recognise it even though that would never have bothered her previously. "What's this one?"

Connor shifted uncomfortably. "Battle droid," he said shortly and her frown deepened as she tried to place it. God, he was turning her into as big a geek as he was.

Eventually, she had to cave and guess, "Empire?"

He snorted, reaching over to take it from her and placing it back on the board. She didn't miss the way he settled it, turning it so that it faced precisely forward, aligned neatly with the rest of the set.

She hadn't missed how his fingers had brushed against hers as he'd taken it from her either.

"No," he said with a sigh, and then he gave her this little look out of the corner of his eye, not quite turning his head far enough to face her. His cheeks were flushed again; maybe he hadn't missed the way their fingers had touched either, although Connor usually seemed oblivious to such things. Or maybe not so oblivious, not these days. "Episode One."

It took her a second to place it, turning it over and over in her mind until something rose, sluggishly, to the surface. "The Phantom Menace?" she hazarded, and Connor's flush deepened.

"Yes," he said shortly.

"But I thought you hated that film?"

"I did. I mean, it basically took the original series and pissed all over it, and don't even get me started on JarJar Binks. It was worse than the re-mastered editions of the original trilogy."

She only followed about half of what Connor was saying, but that she knew even that much about Star Wars now was worrying, like he was infectious or something, or they'd lived in proximity for so long that she was picking these things up via a process of osmosis.

"So, if you hate it that much, why on earth do you have the chess set?"

Any amusement she might have had died slowly in the face of Connor's silence, killed by the way his expression settled back into brooding, the grief glimpsed underneath. She knew the answer before he said it, but he said it anyway.

"Cutter bought it for me for my birthday year before last."

If she could call back words, she'd call hers back, if only to spare Connor any more grief. But she couldn't. She could only lean back into the soft, welcoming cushions of the couch and if the angle of it meant she ended up settling against Connor as well, well. That was one of the things that simply couldn't be helped, not like her big mouth.

"I think it was Stephen's idea actually," Connor added, the lines in his face smoothing out as the grief was tempered with remembrance. "I can't imagine Cutter thought of it on his own, you know? Much less find the thing."

He turned his head to smile at her and she smiled back, knowing that hers was just as tinged with sadness.

"Duncan and Tom would have given me a really hard time about it. You know, if... well... Things were different."

Although his lips quirked upwards again, the grief still lurked behind it - too much grief, layers deep. Bone deep, and she reached out as he took in a shaky breath, resting her fingers on the back of his hand where it lay loosely curled on his thigh.

"You okay?"

"I'm..." He took in another breath, one that was still shaky, and his fingers twitched underneath hers. "Just had a lot of time to think, you know?"

Yes, she knew. She'd had a lot of time to think, too, since they'd made it back. Time to think about a lot of things. Like how she'd felt as Connor fell, as though her world would shatter if he did. Like how it felt to kiss him, and how it felt to have him hold her when the nights were long and cold and things that should have been long dead roared out there, in the dark.

Things could change in a heartbeat, break and shatter in a second; she knew what it was like to live with regret, and she was tired of it.

She let her eyes track over the lines of his face: the hollow of his cheek and the arch of his brow where the bruises were still fading. She thought about how his stubble had felt against her temple when they'd clung to each other in the dark, how it had scratched against her lips when she'd kissed him, slow and sweet, after her brat of her brother had messed up. She thought about kissing him again, right here and now despite his sore ankle and her damp hair, and about the condoms shoved into the drawer of her bedside table because she'd been brave enough to buy them in the first place but too bloody scared to do anything else. Things might change in a heartbeat, past or present or future all at once, but changing things between her and Connor still scared the crap out of her.

She thought about all those things, but kept silent, and that pause, that hesitation, stretched out between them.

Connor was the one who broke it. "Is there any news?" he asked, the words coming out brisk and abrupt and that - more than anything - told her that he hadn't given up on the hope of Danny walking back through an anomaly any day now, not entirely, because he couldn't. Not Connor.

"No," she said, still softly, and his fingers twitched under hers again, clenching convulsively. And then Connor leant forward again to place the piece he was still clutching on the board. She'd been right - it had to be the queen, no matter what it looked like, and it got the same careful treatment as the pawn, lined up so that it was facing forward.

She wasn't fooled; she knew who Connor was thinking of, who that piece represented, even before Connor jerked his hand back, sending a few pieces flying, including that one, and then scowled down at the board.

"Danny will have stopped her," she said, curling her fingers over his clenched fist, pressing down until some of Connor's tension leached away. "He'll be making his way home, you'll see."

"Yeah." Connor huffed out a breath, something caught between a laugh and a sob. "Yeah, you're right." The last of the tension drained away from him and he turned his head again to give her a smile, a little wobbly around the edges. "I only really got the board out because I was bored."

"I wondered why the TV was off," she said dryly.

"Well, there's only so much Halo a man can play. And don't get me started on daytime telly."

She raised one eyebrow, giving him a look that coaxed a small - very small - smile out of him. "Who are you and what've you done with Connor Temple?"

"Funny." He slumped back into the sofa, all gangly limbs and no grace, and that was Connor. "I thought maybe I'd practice or something, or maybe find someone to play with online."

She reached out and began picking up the scattered pieces, placing them neatly back on the squares to give herself time to think.

"I could play you," she said slowly while she made sure that each piece was neatly aligned, facing straight forward. Facing the future, just like he'd wanted. Maybe she'd find her courage from them.


"You don't have to sound so surprised," she huffed, giving him another of those looks, one of the ones she'd perfected because they made him wriggle like an abashed puppy. Those were always fun.

True to form, he didn't disappoint, but she didn't miss the smile that he was trying to hide.

"I'm just saying..."

"Saying what, Connor?" Her tone might have been sweet but she made sure that her smile had just enough bite in it to make his next response carefully worded.

"Well, you've put the king and queen back on the board the wrong way 'round for a start."

She jerked her head back around, staring at the board with a frown. Well, how the hell was she supposed to know which piece was which when they weren't exactly traditional in form?

"See," Connor continued, reaching past her to swap the pieces over. They weren't as straight when he'd finished, but she left them as they were. "The Emperor is the king, and Darth Maul is the queen."

"I'm sure that was news to his wife," she muttered and Connor didn't bother to hide the snort of laughter he let out.

"I don't think he had one. Darth Vader was the one who was married, Abby. Well, before he was Darth Vader, anyway." She didn't roll her eyes - there was something like enthusiasm in his voice, and anything had to be better than Connor brooding or watching Connor remembering everything he'd lost. "Darth Vader," Connor kept on chattering, "was Luke's father, remember? And Maul was the Emperor's apprentice before Vader."

Okay, maybe this time she gave him the look, but there was a limit to her patience, even - especially - with Connor in full on geek mode.

"Well, anyway. Darth Maul - the red guy with horns? - is the queen piece, okay?"

"So, Darth Maul is the Emperor's bitch. Got it."

He grinned at her, delighted. "Well, I was always told it was the queen with the power, the one that controlled the board, so I'm not sure about that. But the queen's role is to defend the king, so maybe."

She rolled her eyes at him, resisting the temptation to ask him if he wanted to teach her how to suck eggs as well, because... well, after the manhandling comment she wasn't sure that a sucking comment was the way to go. At least, not just yet. "I'll play you," she repeated, challenge in every line of her body.

"Okay," he said. "Now that the pieces are the right way around." When she snorted, narrowing her eyes at him threateningly, he simply widened his eyes back at her, all wounded innocence. She swallowed down another smile, feeling something loosen in her, too, something that had been slowly winding tighter and tighter all day, every minute that she'd been away from him.

She looked back at the board, considering her options again. Considering lots of things - like grief and loss and fear and hope and... yes. Other things, too.

Things could change in a heartbeat, and her heart was still beating, fast and furious, in her chest.

"Let's make it interesting," she said, turning her head to look at him and holding his gaze as she drew the words out slowly, still wondering if there was time to turn back. Still wondering if she wanted to.

"Interesting?" He frowned at her, but it was his confused frown, not the hurt one or the annoyed one or the one that said he saw what she was doing and didn't like it; she knew them all now, every single one of them, like she knew most of his other expressions - hope, fear, guilt. Love. "Should I be worried? I mean, if you're going to try and take all my money, Abby, I think I ought to point out that you get most of it anyway."

Yes, she did, that much was true - his contribution towards rent and council tax and bills. God, they even had a joint bank account that they both paid into for all that stuff, and when they'd signed the lease for this flat, it had been both of their signatures on the contract rather than just hers.

Sometimes she wondered what it was that she was still so scared of; it couldn't be falling, not now, not when she was already in this deep. Landing, maybe.

"No. Not money. And not whose turn it is to do the washing up," she added quickly as soon as he opened his mouth. She knew him too well. Too well to want to turn back now, no matter how terrifying it was. They'd faced worse, together.

He shut his mouth again, still watching her with that small, puzzled frown between his eyes, and she took a deep breath, feeling it deep in her chest where it loosened some of that tightness. Only some of it, but it was enough to get the next words out.

"How about... every time one of us loses a piece, we lose something else as well?"

It took him a second - for a smart man, Connor could be remarkably slow on the uptake sometimes - but she saw it click. Click and slip away again; Danny coming home wasn't the only hope that Connor clung to, and it wasn't the only one where he lived, every day, preparing to be disappointed.

She couldn't have that. Not any more.

"How many layers of clothing are you wearing today?" she asked, aiming for casual and knowing she missed it by a mile. She covered for it by leaning over the chessboard and straightening those last two pieces, the king and the oddly shaped queen, so that they were eyes front, preparing for battle. Preparing for the future.


Another breath, another moment to gather her courage, and then she turned to face him, trying to keep her expression under control. Maybe she managed it, maybe she didn't. She couldn't tell from Connor's expression, which stayed stunned. "Just so we're starting from the same place."

"You're talking about... strip chess?" The pitch of his voice had gone up and maybe it was the adrenaline or the nerves or even - possibly, probably - the anticipation, but it made her grin, wide and free, and she watched him blink, dazed, in the face of it.

"Why not, Connor? Scared you're going to lose?"

"Scared I'm going to lose something," he retorted and then stopped, apparently horrified at the words coming out of his mouth as the colour rushed into his face, turning his cheeks bright red.

She took it all in, nodding seriously. "Chicken," she said.


"Bwah bwah bwah buck."

"...That seriously has to be the worst chicken impersonation I have ever heard."

"Picky, picky, picky," she said, pushing one of the chess pieces so that it was aligned absolutely perfectly in the centre of its square. "Maybe you'll win."

When she turned back to face him he was looking at her, really looking at her, all wide-eyed and open-mouthed, hopeful and fearful both at once. And then his gaze flickered down for a second, settling on her chest before darting back up again.

Boys. And Connor definitely was one, as though she'd ever doubted it.

She cocked an eyebrow and smirked at him, and he swallowed nervously. For a second, the look on his face - still half-terrified - almost made her take it back, turn it into a joke. Except - that's what she always did. Moved a little closer, giving Connor just enough to keep him hoping, and then took a step back, leaving him staggering, off balance and wounded. It wasn't fair to do that to him again. It wasn't.

Things might change in a heartbeat, but sometimes they needed to be changed. That wasn't something the anomaly project should have to teach her.

"Well?" she asked, and there was no taunting in her voice this time; she kept it soft, kept it simple. He swallowed again and she waited, as patient as she could be, for the hope to win out.

"Okay," he said, and then he said, "Okay," again.

She tilted her head and looked at him, weighing him up until he squirmed a little self-consciously in his seat.

"You're wearing more than sixteen items of clothing, aren't you?"

"What?" It broke the ice and he laughed, unable to help it; she relaxed enough to grin back at him, not hiding her pleasure in his enjoyment.

"That's it. I'm definitely going to go and put something on."

"Spoilsport," he grumbled as she pushed herself to her feet, but he was smiling, even if the look in his eyes still reminded her of a deer in headlights, or a rabbit on seeing a fox. She hesitated, once again on the verge of telling him to forget it, but his smile faded slowly, the sadness creeping back into his eyes.

"Won't be long," she said and her fingers twitched with the need to touch him, just his cheek or his shoulder, just so he knew she was there, really there. But she couldn't. Not yet. Instead she said, "Don't start without me," and turned away from him again, heading towards her room and already feeling her cheeks starting to burn.

In the end she grabbed a cardigan; the dampness of the air outside had left her a little chilled, but it was more something to throw on for show than anything else. Something to take off again as well, probably, and her face burned more brightly at the thought. She didn't know why. It wasn't like she'd been all that shy about getting naked with men she liked before; hell, when Connor had first moved in, she'd thought nothing of stalking around her flat wearing whatever she was comfortable in, which was often very little.

But now... well, there were a whole lot of things that were different now than they had been three years ago, starting with her and ending with Connor. Still, she hesitated by her bed for long moments before tugging the drawer of her bedside table open. Better to have and not need - that was the Girl Guide in her coming through loud and clear, although she was pretty sure that the Guides had never had this kind of scenario in mind. That was probably why Abby had ended up switching to tae kwon do classes instead.

Connor was still waiting for her when she made it back to the lounge, sitting on the couch and looking a little shell-shocked. He'd settled on one end of it, facing her bedroom, almost like he was waiting for her to come out again or for her not to come out and instead to tell him she was kidding. His expression didn't change much when he saw her, so she still couldn't tell which it was, but the chessboard had been twisted around on the coffee table to that each end of the couch had a 'side' of the board.

She sat down on the couch, facing him, then stared down at the board, all those serried rows of figures, looking like they had a purpose. She had no idea which pieces were black and which white. Not when both sides were simply painted miniatures. Except, Connor had that horned figure - Darth Maul, she thought he'd called him - in the set closest to him, and he'd muttered about 'turning to the dark side' often enough for her to have registered the meaning of it via that weird osmosis trick if nothing else. So Connor's pieces had to be black, making hers white.

It was rather ironic given the less than pure outcomes she was planning on. It was far from ironic that he'd left the first move to her.

"I'm white, I take it?" Connor nodded, eyeing her far too seriously for what was supposed to be, at minimum, a bit of fun and, hopefully, a lot of fun. "Okay. I open then?" and he nodded again, his expression still unchanging.

She took another deep breath but stayed traditional for her opening move, pushing one of her little robot pawns forward two places. "Let's have some rules," she said, watching the board rather than Connor. Even so, she caught his start of surprise out of the corner of her eye and swallowed her smile, feeling the butterflies settle in her stomach now that she had a set of planned tactics of her own.

"Rules? You mean more than chess rules?"

She nodded. "Rules for... this game." His eyes widened further and she thought he might even have swallowed. She turned her attention back to the board, pretending to study it even as her heart skipped a beat. She probably wasn't fooling him - he hadn't even made his first move yet. "A pair of socks or a pair of shoes or the like counts as one item."

He paused, his fingers already resting on his opposing pawn. "Okay," he said cautiously. "That sounds reasonable."

"And the person losing the piece gets to decide what order clothes come off in." She heard him swallow again, more noticeably this time, and his fingers tightened for a moment on the piece. He still hadn't made a move - she needed to wait until he was fully committed, patience being a virtue and all that. It was weirdly, stupidly superstitious, that need not to make her move too soon, telegraph what she was up to in advance in case Connor found a way to counter it. She still didn't say anything, not until he did.


Now he pushed the piece forward, two squares, matching hers.

"Loser pays a forfeit."

His fingers jerked, almost knocking the piece over again. "What?"

"Loser pays a forfeit, Connor."

He swallowed again and now she looked up at him, smiling as though she didn't have a care in the world, even though her heart was still tripping in her chest, fast and tight, leaving her giddy and near breathless with it. "What kind of forfeit?" he asked and she shrugged, looking back at the board and once again pretending that she was more interested in that than in any objections he might have had.

"I'm sure we'll come up with something."

There was a long silence and when she finally looked up at him again, he was eyeing her suspiciously.

"Is this the point where I find out you're a chess prodigy? Some sort of, I don't know... chess shark or something?"

"Chess shark? What on earth is a chess shark?"

"Like a card shark only... well..."

"With less clothing?"

He swallowed in surprise again and this time it obviously went down the wrong way as he spluttered, the coughing mixed in with laughter. His eyes were still wide, though, and the look in them was still that jumble of everything he was feeling, everything she felt as well.

Her move.

"If you don't want to risk a forfeit, Connor, you know what you have to do?"



"Oh. Funny."

She made a happy little humming noise in the back of her throat and moved another pawn, drawing Connor's attention back to the game. If her fingers shook a little as she moved her next piece, well. It was cold out.

He stopped objecting, at least out loud, and the game moved forward - move and countermove. It didn't take long for her to decide that they were evenly matched. She hadn't played for years - not since she was a kid, anyway - but Connor seemed distracted, even more so when he was first to capture one of her pieces, a pawn she was more than willing to sacrifice to him.

It was the least she could do, given everything over the years he'd been willing to sacrifice for her.

She slipped her cardigan off again, not minding now that she'd warmed up a bit, but it was weird how Connor kept glancing across at her afterwards; she wasn't wearing any less than she had been before she'd fetched it, but apparently the simple act of her removing anything had him all hot and bothered.

She swallowed a smile, feeling it tingling all the way down, fluttering in the depths of her stomach, and worked on getting him to lose one of his own pieces. When she finally snatched one of his pawns from the board, light-headed with both the glee of it and the anticipation, he stared at her for a long moment, lips parted. And then he reached down and peeled his socks off.

That was just not on, even if she'd been the one to introduce the 'loser's choice' rule. But he had nice feet, and that was a really odd thing to think.

He shifted position on the couch, tucking his feet away out of sight as he sat cross-legged. His smile this time was a little self-conscious around the edges and the very tips of his ears were red as he ducked his head, his focus fixed on the board between them.

She wasn't fooled.

Connor started to pay more attention after that, eyeing the board with a small, thoughtful frown. She knew him well enough by now to spot most of his tells - the way his eyes darted about, planning out his strategy, move by move, and the way his lips moved as he did so, silent murmurings as he worked things out in his head.

She was more interested in Connor than his strategy; it wasn't a surprise when he took another of her pieces, one of her bishops this time. He looked up with a grin, one that faded when she kept silent, still watching him. She had no idea what expression was on her face, how much she was giving away, but Connor's cheeks began to burn, too, matching his ears.

She kicked her shoes off, listening to them land, one after another, on the floor. Thump, thump.

It matched the beating of her heart, which sounded even louder in her ears.

Connor cleared his throat, leaning over to place her stolen bishop on the coffee table. His fingers lingered for a second as he glanced over at her, his cheeks still flushed red, and then he pulled back, folding his hands in his lap as he waited for her to make the next move. His fingers were shaking, barely noticeably.

She was so hyperaware of him that she noticed it anyway.

She leant forward and studied the board, mapping out future moves in her head, much as Connor had done, taking her time about it. The seconds drew out like soft taffy; she could hear the sound of Connor breathing over her heartbeat and the soft susurration of the rain still pattering down outside. He shifted position on the couch and the soft rustle of his jeans against the cushions sounded loud in the silence. The day was fading, growing dimmer now, and the light was taking on that twilight quality where everything was still and dreamlike; the world shrank down to just the pair of them in this room, nothing else. Nothing outside: no pain, no grief, no anomalies.

Nothing but her and Connor. Nothing else that mattered.

She moved her piece and he followed suit, move and countermove again and again. Winning and losing didn't seem to matter any more; what mattered, what had always mattered, was this dance between them, each of them guarding their pieces, afraid to lose any of their defences. But she lost a knight, and took off her socks. Connor lost a rook to her queen, and took off his t-shirt. And the world didn't end.

She was the first to lose her jeans, wriggling out of them to kick them off onto the floor. They fell onto the coffee table, half on and half off, and she left them where they landed, draped over the glass like it wasn't odd for them to be there. Connor watched her legs, his face angled like he wasn't. His hair was getting longer now - long enough for one lock of it to fall over his forehead, and his eyes glittered underneath. His face wasn't as flushed, not at first, but when she stole another glance in his direction, he bit his lip and looked back at the board; that was when the colour began to steal up his neck again, rising into his cheeks.

It didn't stop him looking back when he thought she was distracted; his lip was red as well, where he'd bitten at it, and wet where he'd licked it. She licked at her own lips and tried not to think about leaning forward, pushing the chessboard onto the floor and pressing her mouth against his, tasting his desire as well as her own.

This time her fingers shook as she moved another piece. If Connor noticed, he didn't give any indication.

Connor lost his long sleeved tee next, one of the ones he habitually wore under everything else, layer upon layer. He was still wearing a vest underneath and his shoulders were narrow - narrower than they should be, given the weight that rested on them, and her fingers twitched again with the need to touch, just to let him know he didn't have to do it on his own. She didn't bother pretending she wasn't looking, not like Connor had, and he looked back at her steadily for a moment until the colour rose to his face again under her scrutiny.

He had a swimmer's body for all that she didn't think he swam, not regularly. Long and lean, tapering down to a narrow waist and narrow hips. She'd always gone for broad shoulders and well-defined pecs. A sensible brain inside the package, yes, but there had to be a package. She was so stupid sometimes, and it meant she'd been missing out. Missing out on a lot of things, so focused on making sure that it was always meaningless fun rather than something serious, something real, because it was less threatening when she had nothing to lose. But now...

She lost one of her pieces to his advances, just gave it away to him, and lost her t-shirt as well. No vest for her, and if, just for a second, she wished that she'd planned this in advance and put on something a little more special than a plain, pale blue bra with minimal lace, well, Connor didn't seem to mind. He swallowed and licked his lips again before tearing his eyes away.

They drifted back, more than once. His face and neck stayed pink, and there was no hiding the way his fingers shook when he reached out for the board. His fingers hovered over one piece before moving on to another, and she tilted her head, a frown crinkling her brow as she slowly worked out his strategy.

He had a choice, she realised. He could take her queen in a couple of moves and have her remove another item of clothing, but if he did that he'd leave himself open; she could probably checkmate him three moves after that. Or he could resist temptation and maybe go on to win down the line. She wasn't a good enough player to forecast how the game would go beyond three or four moves ahead and see the outcome with any great certainty, but she suspected that Connor might be. He kept so many things in his head, all those balls that he juggled on a daily basis, flitting from one to another in a second or a heartbeat; if he dropped them sometimes, it was no more than anyone else would do in the same situation. He probably dropped things less frequently, if she was being fair.

Connor hesitated, his hand hovering over the piece that would end up taking her queen. He looked at her - really looked at her, straight in the face - and she couldn't read his expression, not this time, not past the pink and the hope that was always there. Then he sighed and took hold of the piece, committing himself. When he'd removed her queen from the board, he looked back at her, saying nothing, the moment stretching out between them.

"You're going to lose," she said quietly, and his mouth quirked.

"Probably," he said and it sounded too loud in the silence.


He nodded, no amusement in his face this time in spite of the way that his lips were still turned up at the corner. Instead there was kind of a resigned sadness, rueful and a little lost. "It's not a reason not to play, though, is it?" He flicked one eyebrow up, pulling out another of those smiles of his, one of the ones he tried - and failed - to hide behind. She wasn't sure this time who he was trying to convince: her or himself.

"Do you want to keep playing, or give in to the inevitable now?" She was trying for arch, something playful, but Connor's eyes flicked away from her for a moment, his face still the way it was whenever something hit him and hit hard, that moment of frozenness before the pain hit.

When he looked back, the mask was firmly in place but cracked, as it always was, at the edges; Connor, in spite of everything, was no good at pretending. He never had been, even if sometimes she couldn't read what lay behind it all.

"Give in to the inevitable," he said, and his smile was still sweet, also in spite of everything. He reached out and tipped his king over, a sign that even she recognised.

The queen controls the board.

Her move.

"You have to pay the forfeit," she said, and the words echoed in her head. It was strange how it felt like whatever was between them was brittle and would crack if she said it too loud, moved too quickly for it. Like it couldn't bear the weight unless she stepped carefully.

He nodded again, half with trepidation and half rueful, from what she could tell, and that smile was still playing around the edges of his mouth, never settling entirely.

She'd lost her queen; she owed him another item of clothing but he didn't ask, didn't push it. She owed him more than that or - if not owed - well. Wanted to give, maybe, or take or whatever. But he still didn't - wouldn't - make that final move to win the game.

She swallowed, watching as his eyes flicked down to her throat, dropping further to her chest before they crept back up to her face. They crept back up slowly, but not just because Connor wasn't subtle. It was almost as though he was afraid that this might be his last chance to look at her, like he was filing it all away with all of the other curveballs she'd thrown him over the years.

She licked her lips, knowing it was now or her courage would fail her forever. Fail both of them. "Take the rest of them off," she said and that got his attention, his eyes flicking straight up to meet hers. "All of them." Despite the seriousness - the fear and the hope and everything else tangled up, tight in her chest - she had to fight not to giggle, not wanting to make Connor feel like she was mocking him when she wasn't. But it was hard when the joy was right there, bubbling up, all giddy glee and terror mixed together.

Connor simply looked at her, his face reddening further. Then his hands dropped into his lap as he started to fumble with the buckle of his belt. His eyes dropped as well. He didn't - wouldn't - look at her, not at first. Not until the zip was down and he'd lifted his hips up to slide his jeans off.

When he did finally look back in her direction his expression was almost pleading, as though he thought she'd make fun of him or that she was doing this to make a point or something; she couldn't tell. But if that was what he really thought - if that was how scared he was - she had no one to blame for it but herself.

"The curtains are open," he said, the nervousness slipping out into plain sight. She nodded seriously because she wasn't stupid; she realised how easy it could be to mess this up, more even than she already had.

"I'll close them," she said, and the muscle in his cheek jumped. Under other circumstances, the slightly hunted, haunted look on his face might have been amusing; under these circumstances, it just made her heart ache. She parted her lips, ready to tell him that he could forget about this if he wanted, but then he took a deep breath, no longer looking at her but instead staring straight ahead of him. She recognised that expression, that 'Connor working up his courage' look. She wasn't surprised when his fingers caught hold of the bottom of his vest and he took in another deep breath, holding it this time, screwing up his courage those last few inches.

She took pity on him, pushing herself to her feet, up and away from him, giving him whatever space he needed. She didn't look at him; instead, she walked around the coffee table towards the window. That caught his attention; he stopped what he was doing, twisting in his seat when she moved behind the sofa so that he could continue to watch her.

It was even dimmer outside, darkness falling. The streetlights were on and, as usual, their quiet lane was deserted. She could leave the curtains open all night and the chances were that no one would pass by close enough to look in, especially not in this miserable weather. Puddles were forming in the road, and the rain was still streaming down the window. The glass would be cold if she reached out and touched it, and her face was burning now. The urge to press her forehead against it, just to feel that coolness, just to feel centred again, was almost irresistible.

She resisted anyway, pulling the curtains shut and shutting out the world with it. She didn't turn to look back at Connor, not immediately. It was easier to do this when she couldn't see him, even knowing that he could see her.

Even knowing that he was watching her.

Especially knowing that he was watching her.

She'd been naked with men before, done things that Connor could only dream about and probably - knowing Connor - had. It should be easy to remove one more item of clothing, even if it changed everything. Everything changed, anyway, in a moment. This way she could change it for the better.

Her hands didn't shake, not even when she slipped the bra straps down over her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She could hear Connor's sudden intake of breath over the sound of the rain. Or maybe that was her breathing, not him.

It only took a heartbeat to turn around and face him.

He swallowed but his eyes didn't immediately drop down to her bare breasts, the way she'd thought they would. In a weird way, the fact he didn't look was disappointing, and maybe even left her a little anxious, but before she could get too worked up about it he turned away again, facing forward rather than looking at her. She'd only just folded her arms across her chest, a little defensively, when he let out the breath he was holding and tugged his vest off over his head.

It made his hair stick up every which way and something in her melted at that. Her fingers were itching with the urge to sink them into his hair, to smooth over the vulnerable curves of his skull - to kiss him until he ached for it as much as she did - but she took her time walking back over to the couch. Connor's head dipped briefly out of sight, only his shoulders visible above the back of the couch, the muscles of his arms flexing. She knew why - knew what item of clothing he was busy removing now. His boxers.

She didn't let it hurry her steps, too caught up in the inevitability of this and in the heavy silence of the room to want to rush things. Instead she listened to the sound of Connor's breathing and to the beat of her heart, strong and steady.

When she was finally back in front of the couch again, Connor had pulled one of the scatter cushions into his lap where it perched awkwardly, hiding him from view like a red velvet chastity belt. His fingers were clenched tightly in the fabric and his face was no longer flushed; it was pale, with lines of tension radiating from the corners of his mouth. He still didn't look at her, not at first. Not for long moments and then finally, when she stayed silent, he glanced over.

This time his eyes dropped, taking in her semi-naked form, and his face didn't stay pale. The flush started in his chest, rising up his neck and into his cheeks. She watched, fascinated, as he coloured.

"Hey," she said, settling on the couch. She knelt on it rather than sat, facing him again. He swallowed, glancing over at her and then away. His tongue darted out, licking at his lips.

"Hey," he said, and he blinked, leaving his eyes closed for a beat too long for it to be entirely natural. "Is this the only... is this the forfeit, then?"

His voice was pitched higher than normal and his fingers tightened again, knuckles white against the cushion fabric. She paused, considering her answer. Her move again. But it couldn't be the wrong one, or she'd lose the entire game and end up having to forfeit her king.

"You don't have to do anything else," she said, watching as some of that tension leached away from his fingers. "Well..." When he looked at her, straight in the eyes this time rather than at her chest, she held his gaze, mischief in hers but not mocking. Never mocking. "Not unless you want to."

Another swallow and she dropped her gaze down to watch his throat move. When she looked up again, into his eyes, they were scared, yes, but she didn't think that was the only emotion in them. Whatever else there was, it made her brave. She leant forward, slowly enough for him to move away if he wanted to. Crack a stupid Connor joke, something that was supposed to relieve the tension but instead ruined the moment. But he didn't.

His face was warm against her fingertips and he swallowed again when she leant in further, cupping his face with the palm of her hand like she had the first time they'd kissed. She wasn't being fair to him, like she never really was. In spite of everything, his awkwardness, his inability sometimes to string a coherent sentence together, he hadn't ruined that moment. She had, afterwards, with her stupid cold feet and 'let's not be weird'.

"Do you want to?" she murmured in that brief pause before her mouth met his. He nodded, quick and jerkily, and she closed the last few millimetres between them, feeling him melt under her touch, all of the tension leaving him and leaving nothing but this.

She took her time, her lips moving slowly over his. When his fingers wrapped gently around her wrist - not to hold her, it seemed, but to steady him - she grew even braver, tracing her tongue along his lips. They parted for her and the tip of her tongue touched his; she felt the jolt of that touch all the way through her, like lightning to her belly, like she was sixteen again, heavy petting on the sofa with her boyfriend.

She finally needed to breathe and pulled back far enough to see Connor. His eyes were closed, like they'd been the first time they'd kissed, and his lips were parted, pink and wet. She traced her thumb along the line of his cheekbone, up towards his hair, and his eyes fluttered open. When he saw her watching him that closely, he flushed again, pink staining his cheeks, and his gaze darted away from hers before being drawn back.

"Hey." Her voice sounded hoarse and she cleared her throat, still a little breathless about it all. The smile he gave her this time was fleeting but real, all nervous enthusiasm but still with Connor's patented sweetness underneath. His thigh was tense where it pressed against her knee but she didn't think it was a bad tension, not this time. It was a good tension, the right kind of tension, and she wanted to feel it pressed up against all of her, matching her tension with his. She slid her fingers into his hair and kissed him again and, again, he melted into her, all hot and sugary sweet.

He twisted to face her awkwardly, his knee bumping hers, and his fingers settled on her shoulder, warm and solid against her skin. He still wasn't close enough, or she wasn't close enough to him. She wanted - needed - to be touching him more than this, to feel the heat of his body pressed up against hers.

And she was braver now. She had to be.

Queen takes the king.

She pushed herself up onto her knees, catching hold of the back of the couch with one hand to steady herself - the other stayed in his hair, curved around the sweet contours of his skull. She kept her balance perfectly as she swung one leg out over his and settled herself in his lap, facing him.

He let out a soft 'oof' of surprise; it puffed against her mouth and she swallowed it down, her lips turning up against his in a pleased little smile. Secure now, she wrapped her arms around the back of his neck and kissed him harder, more heated. His lips parted underneath hers and this time when she teased the edges of his mouth, tracing along his teeth with her tongue, his tongue was right there, teasing her back.

His hands settled on her waist and then moved across her skin, the roughness of the calluses on his thumbs scratching lightly. It made her shiver, instinctively arching her back away from the pressure so that she pushed against him instead; his grip on her tightened in response, a feedback loop of pleasure. One of his hands drifted up the line of her spine, settling between her shoulder blades and pulling her closer until her breasts were pressed against his chest, bare skin against bare skin. The other - in a move that was unusually brave and forthright for Connor - slid lower, until his fingers were tracing along the elastic waistband of her knickers, plain white cotton and not at all sexy. Connor didn't seem to agree with that assessment, not judging by the soft sound he let out when he grew even braver and the first of his fingers dipped even lower, slipping underneath the fabric to skim over the soft skin underneath.

The zip on the cushion still trapped between them was digging into her stomach now, even more so when she wriggled encouragingly, desperate to get closer to him. It was the only barrier between them - the cushion and her knickers - and she needed, desperately needed, both of them gone. She let go of Connor reluctantly and leant back far enough to get a good grip on the cushion's fabric, tugging at it impatiently even as Connor leant forward, stealing another kiss. Stealing? No. She'd give them to him, every single one she had, kiss after kiss after kiss until he was as giddy with this whole thing as she was.

She tugged harder, watching Connor rather than what she was doing, which meant that she couldn't fail to miss the nervousness that crossed his face again when it finally came free and was tossed behind her. From the clatter, it landed on the chessboard and knocked some of the pieces over, but she didn't care.

She cared about this, and about Connor.

He swallowed again and again he gave her another one of those little smiles, sweet and edible, so utterly edible that she had to lean in again, kiss him until his eyes drifted closed, until he couldn't think of anything but her, how she felt, how she tasted. Only then did she pull back far enough to look down at what he'd used the cushion to hide.

He was hard - that wasn't a surprise. And he had nothing to be ashamed of in that department, which shouldn't have been a surprise either because she knew better than to judge a book by whatever covers it had. The surprise was when he reached for her again, pulling her back towards him and kissing her thoroughly, no hesitation this time. His hand drifted up her back again, over her shoulder, tracing along the faint red line left by her bra strap. She opened her eyes, her lips leaving his, and watched his face as his fingers moved over her skin. The line he traced was feathery soft but wherever he touched left her skin feeling hot and tight, tingling with sensation. He didn't take his eyes off her, holding her gaze as his hand moved lower, down the slope of her breast, leaving goosebumps in his wake. Only when he reached her nipple, which tightened under his touch, the skin around the areole crinkling as he stroked his thumb across it, did he tear his eyes away and look down, and she didn't miss the soft gasp he let out when he liked what he saw.

She pressed her mouth against the skin of his temple as his fingers delicately mapped out her curves, apparently fascinated by the way her body reacted to him: his touch and the scent of him. And then she pressed gently on the back of his head, guiding his mouth down to the slope her neck, the place where she was most sensitive.

He kissed her there and she shivered, caught between the two sensations, his lips against his skin and his fingers still stroking her, circling round and around her nipple. And then he pulled his mouth away from her, sliding his fingers between his lips instead. The sight sent another one of those lightning fast jolts through her, settling heavily in the pit of her belly, between her thighs, and she rocked her hips to ease it.

When his fingers touched her again, stroking over her skin, they were cool and wet, sending more shivers through her, leaving her aching and wanting.

She tugged on his hair, pulling his head back, and then kissed him, wet and open-mouthed, no finesse in it, just pure need.

"Abby," he murmured when she pulled back far enough to let him breathe, and the sound was tight, breathless. The fingers cupping her breast were still moving gently, a soft, rhythmic kneading that he didn't seem even aware of but that had her fighting not to wriggle, not to push closer into that touch. His other hand slipped down her back again, straight under the fabric of her knickers, pressing against the curve of her bum.

She placed both hands on his chest, feeling the muscles shift underneath her touch as she pushed upwards, away from him, and he tried to follow her. "Wait," she said, and it came out just as tight, just as breathless as anything that he'd said. Disappointment flitted across his face, but that wasn't what had stopped her. She stayed where she was, perched in his lap, one hand braced on his chest, as she twisted around and reached for her jeans, which were still draped over the coffee table.

His hands settled on her waist, steadying her, supporting her as she leant over further, her fingertips finally snagging on the fabric. She pulled them closer until she could grab hold of them properly and reel them in, pulling the small foil packet out of the pocket before discarding them entirely.

There was a sudden intake of breath from Connor and when she turned back to face him he was watching her, back to wide-eyed and half hopeful, half terrified. She held up the packet, twisting it slightly in her fingers. "Okay?" she asked softly and he nodded, eyes not leaving her face. She found her smile and it was slightly self-conscious as she added, "I... I bought them after we got back," because, of course, he'd care about that.

He nodded again, still looking slightly shell-shocked. When she held the packet out to him he hesitated for a moment and then he reached up to take it from her, all fumbling fingers and nervous smile.

She watched him seriously for a moment, taking it all in and feeling everything shift between them. It didn't scare her as much as it should have; maybe that was because Connor looked scared enough for the both of them. Or maybe it was because by now she was really bloody horny.

She had to stand up to take her knickers off. The move was perfunctory at first, until she realised Connor was watching her, the condom forgotten. She wasn't the kind of girl who could do a striptease - she was far too practical for that - but she could at least slide her fingers underneath the soft cotton fabric and push them down her legs slowly, inch by inch.

Connor watched the whole time, taking in a deep breath when she straightened up in front of him, now completely naked. The look on his face - awe and adoration and everything else - made it easy to straddle him again, and she settled back down on his lap, staring down at him.

He swallowed again, one hand settling on her leg, a warm and heavy weight. His thumb stroked lightly over the skin of her inner thigh, high up, only inches from her cunt, and she leant in and kissed him, her palms cupping his face and her own thumbs stroking across his cheekbones, echoing his rhythm.

He pressed closer, his fingers sliding across her skin and she wanted them on her, maybe even in her, but he pulled back too soon, focusing instead on the condom packet he still held. His fingers were shaking when he tried to tear it open, and it took him several attempts to get into it and pull the condom out. Even then he seemed a little unsure, turning the condom over and over as though he was struggling to work out how the hell it worked.

She closed her fingers over his, feeling him start at her touch. It was another one of those moments, she guessed. One of those where the wrong move could result in her losing everything, but she had no idea how this panned out, what the next few moves could - or should - be. In the end she settled for something really stupid.

"What did you say earlier?"

He looked at her blankly and she couldn't blame him for that one. "What?"

She closed her eyes briefly, searching for the right words, just the right ones, ones that couldn't be misinterpreted or put that old familiar distance between them, because things were changing and she wanted - needed - them to change in the right way. "When we were playing, before we started." He still looked blank, the colour starting to rise to his cheeks again. "The queen... About what the queen does."

"... controls the board?"

She nodded, relieved. "Yes. So... this time. Since I won this game. Why don't I...?"

He handed the condom over to her without even a hint of a protest, and that was Connor. No pretension, not with her. Not about this. Instead he watched silently, still a little awed, she thought, as she pinched the end of the condom, creating that necessary little bubble, and rolled it neatly down over his length.

"Okay?" she asked when she'd rolled it out all of the way, her fingers resting in the curled hair at the base of his cock, above his balls, where the skin was soft and wrinkled, almost fragile. All of his breath huffed out of him, half a laugh, half a gasp.

"Yeah. Just..."

"Just?" She gripped the base of his cock lightly, shifting position, ready for her next move.

"Just trying not to come in the next two point three seconds." And it startled a laugh out of her, one that he echoed, now grinning broadly like that had been startled out of him, too. And if there was something sheepish lurking underneath that smile, it was more than made up for by the sheer delight he seemed to take in her pleasure, and the fact that he'd finally relaxed.

"It will be fine, Connor," she said, letting her fingers stroke along his length but gently, very little pressure, not enough to take him over the edge if he really was that close. "If you come in two point three seconds, we'll just have to try again later."

"Yeah, like that's an incentive."

She smiled, all of her focus now on how he felt in her hand, how he'd feel inside her rather than listening to him babble. She shifted forward, her knees on either side of his waist, and pushed herself upright, one hand on his shoulder to steady herself and the other still holding onto his cock. "I have more condoms," she murmured, brushing her lips over his, a promise and a reassurance and anything, everything else she could get into it. "Ready?"

"Yeah." He nodded, a quick little movement, suddenly so serious again that she had to fight the urge not to smile again, still worried about making the wrong move. Instead she kissed him, slow and sweet, feeling him relax again as she used his distraction to shift above him, pushing down lightly on the head of his cock with her fingers until she could guide him into her, and then lowering herself slowly as he slipped inside.

"Oh, Jesus fuck."

She laughed and let go of his shoulder, caught up in the feel of him sliding more deeply into her and in the idea that this - just this - could make Connor swear like a trooper. His hands settled on her hips, his fingers digging in, and she cupped his face in her fingers again, feeling the slight burn as his cock stretched her, filled her. Oh God, it was good. "Okay?"

"Yeah, just..." His voice was as tight as his fingers. "God, I never... I never thought... Jesus, you're so tight." The words came out jaggedly, on little explosions of breath. She wasn't, not really. But it had been a while, and he wasn't small.

"Okay?" she asked again, her fingers curling into the hair on the nape of his neck, stroking lightly over the skin while she waited for him, for whatever he needed.

"Yeah, just..." And he looked at her, wide-eyed and with worlds at play in the dark depths of his eyes. "I never thought..."

She kissed him, sweet at first and then heated, rocking slowly, back and forth, to give him time to adjust. And for her to adjust, too, to the breadth and the depth of him. His arms slid around her, holding her tightly, and his mouth was slack under hers, at least at first. She swallowed down each soft sound he let out as she moved.

"Just let me know when you're ready," she murmured against his mouth. His fingers were flexing against her skin now, not digging in; echoing the small, rhythmic movements of her hips. She pulled back far enough to look down at him and smile again, putting everything she could in it. It wasn't hard, but he was and she loved it. "When you don't think you're going to come in two point three seconds."

He huffed out a laugh, his head dropping down so that his face pressed against her shoulder. "Funny," he said again, his breath warm against her skin, and she curled her arm around his head, holding him to her until the muscles in his shoulders flexed again and he lifted his head.

"I'm ready."

"Okay." She shifted her weight until she wasn't rocking but pushing herself up and lowering herself onto him, still only a few inches at a time but enough to start sending little tendrils of pleasure curling through her. "Is that okay?"

"Yes. God, yes." He turned his face up towards her again, and she gave him the kiss he wanted and more for good measure. "More than okay."

"Good." Her head felt too heavy, rolling on her neck, and she let it fall forward until her forehead rested against his, their faces so close that her breath mingled with his. "That's good, Connor."

"Abby..." Her name came out broken, and she closed the gap between them, her mouth moving slowly, languidly over his. "God, I love you..."

She swallowed the words down, not ready to hear them, not ready to say them, not yet, but they settled inside her, warm and weighty, pulling her down onto him until he gasped and moaned. Her movements grew bolder, deliberately so. She could feel the beginnings of pleasure in the tensed muscles of her thighs, in the pit of her stomach, shivering all the way up her body everywhere it pressed against his. Little starbursts across her skin where they touched. His hands stayed clamped on her hips, not quite a death grip, but it was clear that he was losing himself in her, just like she was losing herself in him.

"Connor," she murmured against his mouth, stealing his breath and his fingers dragged over her skin, stealing hers. "Connor," she murmured again, and his fingers found her breast again, more roughly this time than they had before. It was clumsy but it was perfect; he pressed too hard and just hard enough for her, and she was so turned on now that even rough felt good.

"Is it... Is this okay?" he asked, and she cupped the back of his head again, guiding it downwards, lower than before rather than towards her neck. His mouth replaced his fingers on her nipple and the angle was awkward, his tongue rasping roughly over her skin even as she struggled to keep him inside her. But then she leant back a little further, and Connor leant forward, both hands back on her hips, and it worked, somehow. It worked, and he sucked a little harder, sending little sharp sparks of pleasure spiralling through her.

She arched her back even further, one hand braced on his knee behind her, both steadying her and giving her some leverage. It still wasn't enough, not quite. Not if he really was as close as he thought. She needed more friction, something rough and hard against her clit to make her come; now that she wasn't wrapped as tightly around him she wasn't going to get it from being pressed against his skin, where the coarse hairs grew at the end of his treasure trail.

"Connor," she said again, more demanding this time, and he raised his head, his eyes dark, his pupils blown wide with pleasure and with his expression slack with it. She took hold of one of his wrists and he let her pull his hand away from her hip, guiding it around to the front where he could brace it against the dome of her stomach. All of her muscles were tight underneath his palm, and his strong, clever fingers spanned up towards her hip leaving his thumb pointed downwards. "Lower," she said, and he got it - God bless Connor and his ability to pick things up quickly. His thumb slid down into her dark curls, seeking out and finally finding the hood of her clitoris. The rhythm he picked up was jerky rather than smooth, but it worked, God, it worked: her fucking herself down onto Connor, Connor's thumb hard against her clit, and Connor watching her like she was everything, the queen of his fucking castle.

She let go of his neck, placing both hands on his knees, her own knees braced into the couch cushions. He slid his legs further apart, spreading her thighs wider and she wobbled for a second until the hand he still had on her hip moved around to her back and steadied her, letting her find her balance again. Her thighs burned but that was nothing to the heat rising inside her - the new position made it easier for her to move, to really go for it, and she found a rhythm that was harder and faster and deeper and absolutely fucking perfect.

Connor had both hands on her thighs now, fanned out like a butterfly, thumbs meeting in the middle. But he wasn't rubbing against her clit anymore. Instead he used his thumbs to ease her folds apart as she took him in deeper, rocking forward, slow and sure, and feeling the softness of his belly press against her on each downward stroke, the pressure making her want to moan and sob. When she opened her eyes to look at him he was staring downwards, watching as his cock slid in and out of her. The expression on his face was awed and greedy, hungry for her; they were looks of his she didn't recognise but she knew she wanted to see again. She needed to see them again.

She needed...

It was too much; she was too close. She pushed herself up again, capturing his face with both hands and moving in for another searing kiss. One thumb pressed back against her clit and lower, sliding against her slick wetness, but he wriggled the other hand free and wrapped it around her waist, holding her tightly even as he moaned into her mouth.

She kept moving, so close now, so fucking close she could taste it, every sinew, every fibre aching for it, reaching for it. He pulled her closer, grinding into her now, slow and sweet and deep, filling her up until she thought she'd break apart, fly into a thousand pieces. His tongue slid into her mouth and his fingers left her clit and sought out her breast again, where his fingers pressed against her nipple. Once again they were wet, but not from his spit, not this time. Wet from her, painting her skin with her own desire. And all the while he kept up that sweet pressure with his thumb against her clit where she needed it and then she was tumbling, falling, coming apart with his name on her lips.

He held her, steadying her and murmuring half-heard sounds against her sweaty skin as she came back down, sticky and satisfied. He was still hard in her, his hips moving restlessly so that he pushed into her incrementally, in and out, a gentle rocking that reminded her that he was there, that he hadn't come yet even if he wasn't saying anything. It was easier to focus on that, on the fluttery feeling of her cunt still spasming around him from the aftershocks of her orgasm, than it was to think about the fluttery feeling in her chest.

"What do you need?" she asked him, her voice a whisper. "Connor?"

"You." It wasn't an answer, not one that she needed but she was in control, wasn't she? At least of this game.

The queen controls the board, and the king yields.

She leant closer to him, her lips grazing along the outer rim of his ear. "Do you want to fuck me?" she murmured, feeling him shiver at the words. "Fuck me hard, fuck me slow?" She began to move her hips again, slow and languid now, too sensitive to want any pressure against her clit. Connor's hands slipped over her skin, clutching frantically until he found her hips again and could pull her to him on each downward stroke. His eyes were closed, his head tilted back against the couch cushions, and there was a small frown furrowing his brow, the kind of pained pleasure that told her he was close, just inches, seconds away from coming himself. "What do you need, Connor? Want me to do this?" She tightened up the muscles in her vagina, clenching them just to hear him gasp. He groaned, his fingers digging in more painfully as he pushed up into her. He was grinding into her now and his cock felt thick, filling her; she let out a gasp as he slid in deeply, then nipped at his ear with sharp teeth. "Or maybe you don't want to fuck me at all." The feel of him in her had stolen her breath away, but the words kept spilling out anyway, a litany of want and need. "Maybe you want me on my knees, on the floor in front of you. Maybe you want my mouth on your cock, sucking you off. Is that what you need?"

Apparently what he needed was her to talk dirty to him; he let out a strangled little cry as he bucked up into her, once, twice, hard and fast and deep as he finally came. She stayed with him, stroking her fingers along his skin and murmuring nonsense of her own as he sagged back against couch cushions, letting out a ragged little laugh. He sounded just as breathless as she was, but happy, so happy, and she smiled, burying it in his shoulder. His skin was salty under her tongue and she licked a line, long and slow, along his collarbone, feeling him squirm underneath her.

"Okay?" she murmured, pressing a kiss into the hollow where she'd licked. His fingers slid across the skin of her hip, down into the curve in the hollow of her back.

"Yeah. God. Yes. That was..."

He trailed off but she didn't need to hear more, making a happy little sound that had his hold on her tightening for a moment, not quite possessively. Not quite, but it still left her wanting to stay there, on his lap and in his arms, for as long as she could.

He pressed his mouth against her hairline, his breath warm against her skin. Her hair was damp again, but with sweat this time, not rain. She thought she might prefer it that way, although a shower wouldn't come amiss. And she needed to move - there were practicalities to deal with, like the condom to take off before it could get lost and give her another pregnancy scare. The one she'd had at sixteen was more than enough for her, and Connor was already starting to soften inside her. She started to pull away when his arms tightened briefly around her again, and the words he murmured this time weren't drowned out by the sounds of her own pleasure.

"I love you."

Connor's voice was barely above a whisper; she could pretend not to have heard if she wanted, if only because she didn't have an answer for him - not yet. Not one that didn't leave her too scared because it was a step, a change, too far and that was something her heart wasn't ready for yet.

She sat up and Connor's arms loosened and slid away. When she looked down into his face, he didn't look back, but his fingers traced small circles on her hip, as though he couldn't bear to let go of her entirely.

"We need to... um..."

He looked up at her, his face still slack with pleasure but with something darker and more pained lurking underneath. In the end, when all of her words fled in the face of his silence, and in the face of her embarrassment, she had to wriggle her hand down between them, her face burning, to catch hold of the condom so that she could slide off him and leave it behind. She had to force herself to ignore that vague feeling of loss when he slipped free.

"Oh, right." His hands darted movement towards his lap before he stopped, looking just as embarrassed at having to deal with it, weirdly so given not only what they'd just done and the fact that they were both still naked, but also because Connor never seemed to embarrass easily at all. Or maybe because they were both still naked. Naked and - in his case - vulnerable. "What do I...?"

There was a box of tissues on the coffee table and she twisted around, pulling a few out and handing them to him and then watching as he pulled the condom off, wadding it up in the tissues. He left it on the coffee table, of course, and normally she'd have words for that as well, if she could find any.

"You don't have to say it back," he said suddenly, and he wasn't looking at her, staring down at the coffee table instead - at the chessboard or the tissues or something else. Anything but her. "I mean..." And now he looked at her, really looked at her again, all bravado on the surface but with all of that sweetness, and all of that brokenness, that characterised Connor underneath. "It's okay."

Because the queen controlled the board and the king yielded; it wasn't a happy thought. Not this time.


"So." He nodded jerkily, his eyes back to being fixed on the board because that's what he did when he felt too exposed; babbled and interrupted and expounded and hid in plain sight. "Do we need to get more condoms?" And asked exasperating questions.

"No," she said softly and he flinched, making her fingers flex with the sympathetic need to touch him. "I bought a pack of three. I'm pretty sure we're not going to run out before tomorrow."

"Oh." He gave her a painful twitch of a smile, fresh hope and familiar fear tangled up in it - and underneath it all, always underneath it all, his love for her. "Does that mean you want a rematch?"

There were so many ways to answer that question but only one of them was the right one. Only one of them would let her win.

She reached up and brushed her fingers against his cheek, curving her palm along the line of his jaw and feeling his stubble brush against her skin when he turned his face into her touch. "I think maybe I'd rather stop playing games, if that's okay with you, Connor."

The queen yields.


The End