Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at http://archiveofourown.org/works/6577213.

Rating:
Mature
Archive Warning:
Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Category:
F/M
Fandom:
Bates Motel (2013)
Relationship:
Norma Bates/Alex Romero
Character:
Norma Bates, Alex Romero
Additional Tags:
Love, Sex, Romance, Drama
Stats:
Published: 2016-04-17 Completed: 2016-05-30 Chapters: 2/2 Words: 8610

Domesticity

by

Summary

Alex Romero is ready to embrace the married life. But can Norma Bates find her way to the truth of her own feelings? [A Normero two-shot request. For Kristen and Mandy. Rated m for sexual content.]

Chapter 1

He wants to take it all.

Men take, and take, and take, until there's nothing left. Until it's just a hole where your life used to be. They complain about the stories you give them—this one's not beautiful enough, they say, not sweet enough, there's no adventure, there's no damsel in distress, there's no reward for them at the end of the tunnel—and then they fill you up with their own tales of woe, long rambling epics which are neither interesting nor dramatic but somehow span hours and leave you emptier than when it all began.

They don't give back, not really. They fill, I think, or they try to: they fill your time and your body and a space on your couch, but it doesn't mean anything. It simply is, because men never have to think about existing, about trying to make a way in the world; they just do, because when they were born all their mothers told them the world and everything in it belonged to them.

And when they've come and gone, when you're left sore and bruised and generally bored, staring at the ass-imprint on your otherwise perfectly lovely sofa, you realize how inherently useless they are. How useless the whole affair was, really. A semi-pleasant (if you're lucky) waste of time.

Only now you have a new scar, and wrinkles to steam out of upholstery, and yet another mess to clean up.

But Alex wants to take everything—the beautiful and the wretched and the secret—and give me everything in return. Not stories or false promises or the weight of all his desires, but protection and stability and his calm, quiet presence.

It's the latter that takes the most getting used to; his protection has been ever-present from nigh the beginning, something you could almost take for granted. But it's the silence at the kitchen table that startles me; one moment I'm washing dishes, lost in thought and seemingly alone, and the next I turn around to find him reading the paper, coffee in hand, oblivious to my frown until he looks up and tilts his head and asks what's wrong.

So simple, so straight forward, as if whatever's troubling me could be so easily eradicated, if only I trusted him enough to let it all spill out.

That's how he looks at me: expectant, curious, perhaps even a little confused. Waiting for me to give him some sort of directive, like, such-and-such is bothering me. Go fix it, go kill it, go bury it. Oh, and dinner's at six.

And he would, that's the thing. I'm not blind to it, no matter what he might think. I know I could ask him for just about anything, and he'd tend to it immediately. And he'd show up for dinner, promptly, even covered in blood and sweat and dust, and he'd sit at my table and thank me with the same soft, reserved sort of smile he shares only in the most unexpected moments, and that would be the end of it.

He wants nothing and everything all at once, and sometimes, in the spare slip of a moment I have to myself, I think about how nice it might be to try to give it to him.


 

The ring is new but subtle, a simple gold band, and it takes me a good twenty minutes to realize he's wearing it.

"Eggs and bacon?" he asks, gesturing to the pan on the stove.

"Same thing every morning for three weeks."

He shrugs, pleased with his impending breakfast and unconcerned with what I hope is my slightly sour tone.

"Looks great." Dressed for work already—I washed and pressed his uniform the night before, and despite his many protests he wears it with a glimmer of something I'd almost call newfound pride—he eats silently when I set a plate down in front of him.

No 'how'd you sleep?' or "aren't you eating, too?' or 'thanks for breakfast, Norma.' Which means he does notice my tone, and is choosing to ignore it, because three weeks of cohabitation has somehow turned him into a Bates Jedi, able to discern and deflect my moods in a matter of seconds. Sometimes before I'm aware of them myself.

It's sort of annoying, to be honest.

"It's been slow this week," he says, gesturing with his fork in-between a bite of this or that. "Doesn't look like it'll pick up much. Thought I might leave the station a bit early."

"So?"

A flicker of a frown. He stabs another soft mound of eggs, but doesn't bring it to his mouth. Merely watches me, gaze traveling from my eyes to my mouth and back again, until finally he looks down and shrugs.

"So, I thought you might like to get dinner."

"Well, I can't."

He looks up from his plate, a single brow raised.

"No?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I've got plans."

"You've got plans," he repeats.

"Yes, Alex. Plans. Jesus." I adjust the sleeve of my sweater and scratch my wrist and turn my head to glare intently at the clock above the kitchen sink, because he won't stop staring and his expression is some unreadable mixture of doubt and amusement and simple curiosity, and I want to turn back around and look at the ring on his finger and maybe ask about it but the urge makes me hate him a little, I think.

Or maybe I just hate myself for caring about a stupid piece of metal.

Or both.

"I mean, anyway," I continue, "what's the problem? I'm not allowed to have plans? I have to check in with my fake husband whenever I want to go out?"

His jaw clenches, almost a reflex, when I say 'fake' but otherwise he doesn't respond. Not right away, anyway.

The silence is making me uncomfortable, and so is the tension in his expression, and even though I'm not looking at him I can feel the unwavering intensity of his gaze. Makes me want to shift, fuss with my clothing or get up and move to the other side of the room. But I keep my eyes trained on the clock. Watch the seconds tick down.

"What sort of plans?" he asks.

"I … what?" His question throws me, although it shouldn't, and I'm aware of my mouth hanging agape and my too-rapid blinking and his ever-so-irritating I'm-smug-and-thus-half-smiling-but-not-really-smiling smirk.

"Your plans," he repeats. "Where're you going? Dinner?"

"Dinner, yeah. You know."

"No, I don't. Who're you going with?"

"Well … the girls." The girls? Who the Hell are the girls? I don't even know any—

"Which girls?"

"My friends."

"I don't think I've ever met your friends. Are you going to introduce me?"

"I don't need to introduce you! You don't need to be involved in every aspect of my life, Alex. It's not like this is a real marriage."

"Mm."

"Right. Okay then. So I'm going out. Okay? God, it's not a big deal."

"Okay." A long pause. And then, finally, he asks, "so, you don't want to ask about the ring?"

Silence.

"You've been staring at it for ten minutes."

"I haven't been staring," I snap, aware that I sound like a petulant kid. Not that I care. "I've been looking at my clock. I think it's broken."

"It's not broken."

"Probably is."

"You don't want to talk about it?"

"The clock?"

"The ring."

"Pff, no. I didn't even notice until you brought it up. Maybe you want to talk about it."

"You're right, I do."

"Well, I don't.

"All right." He stands, pushes his breakfast plate back on the table. Shrugs into his jacket. Doesn't say a word while he fusses with his keys and his wallet and puts his dishes in the sink. Ignores my matching, albeit glowering silence. And then, despite my quick attempt to lean away and the half-muffled squeak of protest, he leans down and kisses my temple and chuckles softly under his breath. "I'll make reservations at La Fleur for seven-thirty, will swing by around seven to pick you up."

I glare at his back when he turns and walks down the hallway. It's only when I hear the front door swing open that I scramble to my feet and shout:

"You're kind of a dick sometimes, you know that?"

Silence. And then a snort, followed by something that I'm 98% certain is a laugh.

"You can complain about me to the girls. I'm sure they'll understand."

And then he shuts the door.

Asshole.


 

The restaurant's crowded, the dining room at something of a dull roar, but they keep the lighting low and the tables are spaced far enough apart that each two-top feels like a world unto itself.

The food's delicious, the wine all the more so, but I'm desperately trying to remember that Alex was a complete ass this morning, that I'm still mad at him and, really, he doesn't deserve too much of my attention or affection because he still hasn't apologized for insisting on this dinner or treating me like some sort of suspect.

Trying and failing.

"More wine?" he asks, and apparently I don't answer quickly enough because he's already topping off my glass. Reminds me of our first dinner: "Alcohol makes everything so much easier."

Maybe I should protest, I think. Maybe I should refuse to drink it. Glare at him for falling into his typical cop take-charge bullshit. Hell, maybe I should throw the glass, let it shatter to the floor, chuck the bottle at a waiter. Make a scene.

But then he smiles. Wide, easy, genuine. He's already forgotten this morning's tension, or maybe he never felt it in the first place. Or, more likely, he's choosing to ignore it.

There are three small votive candles on the table between us, and the dim glow illuminates his shoulders and jaw. Suit jacket snug over his arms, and the flickering light hitting every curve of bone in his face.

He's beautiful, that's the problem. Beautiful in a way that men shouldn't be. Made of high cheekbones and a square jaw and pretty eyes; he's carved so finely that, were it not for the way he carried himself and the ever-present five o'clock shadow and the strength in his arms and back, his features could almost be feminine.

But they're not, because his beauty only accentuates his masculinity, and as the waiter wanders over to place our second course in front of us he smiles again and I feel a twist, low and hot and aching, in my gut.

"I love that dress," he says, once the waiter is gone and we're again alone in our private universe.

"I know."

"Do you?" The corner of his mouth curls up.

Form fitting, chocolate brown, nothing but silk and lace and low-cut neckline, I'd worn it once, back when he slept in Room 11, and made note of his not-so-subtle double take when we'd crossed paths.

So I nod, and for the first time since I've known him I swear I see a faint flush in his cheeks.

Pride, maybe. A bashful, sweet sort of pride.

I watch his eyes flicker from mine to my neckline to my waist to my lips, and when he finally notices that I've noticed, he breaks gaze and looks down at his food with a soft chuckle.

Not shame, no. I don't think Alex Romero really knows how to feel shame.

"You look beautiful," he says. It's the third time he's told me since we sat down, and each repetition thaws my lingering traces of annoyance. And this time he makes no effort to disguise his lust; he looks back up at me, smile long gone, and there's only the heat of it. Of him, and his want, and the way he keeps glancing down to my neckline and the gentle hand he reaches out to place on top of mine.

He's made his way handling guns and grappling with criminals and all the exhausting elements of What Must Be Done, and his skin reflects that. The pads of his fingers are warm, but rough. Rough enough to hurt if he wished it, but he doesn't, and he's gentle, and when his thumb starts tracing small circles over each of my knuckles I feel that twist again, like a punch in the stomach.

I bite my lip, because it's too intense to meet his gaze but nigh impossible to look away, and then he's staring at my mouth again and his eyes widen when he notices the lip bite, and suddenly I can't hear the diners or the waitstaff or any of the restaurant's crowd, for that matter. I'm only aware of my breathing, too loud and too fast for my own liking, and his rapid-fire heartbeat when I brush the tip of my finger over the pulse point in his wrist.

He swallows hard. Hard enough for me to hear it, see his adam's apple bob with the motion. His fingers slide around my hand, squeezing gently, and I'm so lost in building haze that I don't immediately realize he's said something.

"What?

"I said, come here."

"What?" I ask again.

"Sit closer to me," he whispers.

I hesitate but he's already standing, pulling me up to him so he can set my chair next to his. I wonder, briefly, what the other diners must think. But a quick glance around assures me no one's particularly noted. And, anyway, there are already two couples who've sat themselves in similar arrangements.

He rearranges my plate, adjusts my chair, pulls it out for me, and I sit. I'm aware of his body next to me as he settles himself at the table; his arm brushing mine, and the texture of his jacket and an aftershave I've never smelled on him but enjoy immensely, and I'm trying not to be self-conscious, not to keep stealing glances at everyone around us, but I can't help myself.

At least until his palm brushes over my knee and he leans in to whisper against my ear.

"Norma, relax." I feel his mouth against my ear lobe, my eyes slowly drifting shut of their own accord. But then he presses a fleeting, almost casual kiss against my cheek and my eyes snap open, vaguely startled, when he asks, "Why does my ring upset you so much?"

"What? I mean, it … I don't … it doesn't." I shift nervously against him. There's so little space between us every subtle movement somehow brings us closer together. Or maybe it's just us, slowly drawing in towards one another, until there's barely room to breathe. "It doesn't bother me," I say again. It doesn't even sound convincing to me.

"Norma, tell me." He fingers slips an inch or so up my thigh, just beginning to brush the hem of my dress. "Please."

"It's just … this isn't real, Alex." I reach over to trace my finger over his ring. Lean into his chest, tuck my head against his shoulder until his cheek is resting against my forehead. Anything to avoid making eye contact. Not now. Not when we're talking about this. "It's not real, and I don't want either of us falling into the trap of thinking that it is."

He doesn't say anything for a long while. Winds an arm around my shoulders until I'm cradled against him, his other palm resting, still and warm, on my thigh, though occasionally I feel his fingers trace the fabric of my dress.

Our food's gone cold, but it doesn't matter. Neither, I realize, do the other diners, or any of the nonsense I've been worrying about for the past ten minutes. It's just us, and even if our marriage is a sham and our connection is complex and everything is hanging by a thread he's here, with me. Trying desperately, I realize to hold on.

"It feels real," he says, softly.

"It can't," I whisper. I hear the tears in my voice before I feel the tightness in my throat or the sting behind my eyes, but they both come soon enough. "That's dangerous. That's stupid, and reckless, and we can't let ourselves think—"

"Why not?"

"Because."

"Because why?"

"It'll just end badly. I told you before, Alex. I'm not very good at this."

"This?"

"Men. Marriage. This whole thing."

"So," he says against my ear, pulling me into him a bit more. "So, we figure it out together."

"Has it ever occurred to you," I ask, my voice a timid squeak—the product of tears and my rapidly mounting anxiety and the fact that I feel like I can't breathe being this close to him but it's intoxicating and wonderful all the same, "that I don't want it to be real?"

A hitch of breath, like he's stopped breathing or he needs to cough or, maybe, like he wants to pull away from me. His hands hover, one on my shoulder and one on my knee, still and seemingly unsure. I can feel the rise and fall of his chest, a sudden tension threaded through him, and the stab of guilt is instant, and painful.

"Alex," I whisper, "I didn't mean it like—"

"I want it to be real."

I want to ask him to clarify or repeat himself but the words don't come. Just a breathy squeak that, if I'm lucky, might sound like, "What?"

"I want this to be real, Norma. That's why I bought the ring."

"Alex—"

"That's why I can't stop calling you my wife. I use that word as often as I can, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. I'm not ashamed to be proud of that."

"Alex," I say again.

"You need to tell me," he says, neither moving away nor tightening his embrace, "and if you don't—if you really, truly don't—I need you to tell me. Now."

"I—I don't know."

"Norma, please. Just tell me."

"I think I … I think I might. Want it to be real, I mean." He inhales deeply when I say it, and I turn my head enough to brush my lips against his jaw, hear him whisper my name. "I know you want me," I say, and I take hold of the hand he's left resting on my thigh. I guide it up, slowly, under my skirt, until I feel his knuckles brush the fabric of my panties and his breathing is growing heavy and erratic, though his body is motionless, strung tight. "And I think I want you too."

"Don't toy with me," he whispers. He doesn't move his hand, doesn't explore further or insist or push, but he's certainly doesn't move away, either.

"I think I want this to be real." My tongue flicks out over the pulse in his neck, and he groans, low and inaudible to everyone but me. "But I need time. Maybe a lot of time."

He nods. "I can give you time," he says, the words mangled and stiff with the effort to speak.

"I also need more booze. A lot more booze."

"I can give you that, too."


 

"Stop! I can walk."

"You're drunk."

"I'm not that drunk."

"You had two bottles of wine, Norma."

"That's not true! You had some."

"I had two glasses."

"Pff, for a big bad sheriff you sure can cluck like a mother hen, you know that?"

We make it into the foyer without incident, though he'd had his hands on my back the entire way up the front steps, constantly chiding me to be careful, watch my step, hold the railing.

"You told me several times on the drive home, yes."

"Well, it's true."

"I'm sure—" My shoe slips on the rug at the base of the stairs, but a low-slung arm around my waist bolsters me in place against his body before I can fall. "—Norma, for God's sake, be careful. Please."

"I'm fine, Sheriff." But he feels so good—so absolutely right—close to me like this, that I turn, still sidled up against him, and look up to meet his eyes. "Such a worrywart."

A corner of his mouth lifts; an acquiescing smile. But then he grows serious, nigh concerned, and when he brushes a thumb over my chin he's soft and gentle and protective, and I remember why he's the only man I could ever allow into my home like this. The only one I could trust enough to marry me for no other reason than my child's wellbeing.

"You've had a lot to drink," he says. Not a condemnation but a simple observation. "You should get some sleep."

"What if I'm not tired?"

"You will be soon."

"Is that right?" I press my breasts against his chest, my arms slithering around his neck. His eyes narrow but flit down to my neckline for the millionth time tonight, and his arms—instinctively, I think—wrap around my waist.

"That's right."

"Mhm." I trace the tips of my nails under his collar, wait for his eyes to drift shut. A rare, brief moment of vulnerability, and one that allows me to crane my neck, purse my lips over the sensitive skin of his neck—he groans whenever I kiss his collarbone or neck or jawline—and suckle gently on his pulse.

"Norma," he says, hoarse and hushed and thick with want, though I can feel the resolve to resist in his posture and the way he holds himself tight. "Let me take you to bed, okay?"

I bite into the line of his neck, neither hard not gentle but firm enough to leave a temporary mark—firm enough to enjoy the way his hands tighten on my hips—and murmur my approval. "Sounds lovely."

"That's not what I meant."

"Isn't it?"

"No, I meant—" He trails off as I tug his suit jacket off his shoulders, unbutton the top of his shirt, kiss the first inch of flesh I find. He lets me nuzzle from neck to collarbone and back again, and just when I think he's relaxed, when he'll let me have my way, I feel him bend down, a strong arm hooked under my knees, and suddenly I'm hoisted up and he's holding me and he presses a chaste kiss against my temple. "I'm taking you to bed."

"Perfect."

"So you can sleep."

"No."

"Yes."

"No," I say again, and yes, sure, I've had a few drinks and it's been a long strange day and, truth be told, I am a bit tired, but all I want in this moment is him. His warmth and the way he smells like soap and clean water and spice, and the way that he's protective and firm and gentle in both life and sex, as if he could save you in bed as easily as he could from the monsters in the street.

So despite the fact that he's walking us towards the stairs, and he seems intent to ignore all of my advances, I wriggle a hand between our bodies while he carries me until my hand slips over his fly, and he stills. Or hesitates, at least, holding himself like he wants to keep moving but isn't yet sure if he can. Or should.

"Norma," he says. It's a warning but his voice is thick again, a telltale sign of lust warring with reason. When I kiss his neck again he holds his breath, and I can feel his arms shake slightly under me, though I know he can support my weight quite easily. "Norma, stop," he whispers. "We can't—" But then my hand closes around him, and even through his suit I can feel that he's hard and ready and eager, and he grows silent, save the sound of his breath.

"I want you. Right now."

My mouth finds his, and he doesn't lean into me immediately, but after a moment he relaxes. Lets me kiss him. And, slowly, comes alive beneath me, his mouth hungry and torn between kissing me in return and trying to assure himself that this is right, and proper, and that I—

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

"You need to be—" He trails off as my fingers undo his fly, slip under the band of his boxer-briefs. And when my fingers wrap around the length of him, a slow, lazy stroke—meant to tease and coax and soothe more than anything else—I smile into the crook of his neck when I feel his hips begin to pump with the rhythm and he groans low and long and lets his head fall back.

"I'm sure," I whisper between kisses placed over the curve of his jaw and up to the blade of his cheekbone. "And I want you."

"Should I take you upstai—"

"I want you now. Here."

The shift from man to animal sweeps in suddenly and without warning. One minute he's holding me, groaning nigh helplessly while I stroke and tease and kiss, and the next he's bending to lay me gently on the carpet at the foot of the stairs, his weight a welcome pressure against me.

He's rough, this man who was mere moments ago so very concerned with my wellbeing. His hands are on my jaw and my thighs; his mouth crashes against mine, not his usual slow, lingering kiss, but something hungry and made of want.

"You're beautiful," he says, and I whisper back, "I know," and it makes him laugh into our kiss, precisely the reaction I wanted, and when he pulls away just enough to begin sliding my dress up I put my hands on his shoulders and push until my intent his clear and he lets me roll him onto his back.

"Let me," I say. I hoist myself up to straddle him, which makes it easier to unbutton his shirt. I trace my mouth over every inch of skin revealed—collarbone, expanse of chest, curve of shoulder, a well-defined bicep—and the rapid rise and fall of his chest is my reward.

I glance up and his eyes are shut, jaw clenched, head tilted back. Lost, I think. For once he's lost to something besides he need to control and fix and save, his skin prickling at every touch and caress I have to offer him.

He groans again, louder this time, when I settle myself between his thighs. His pants come off easily enough, the boxer-briefs following suit, but it's only when I press my mouth flush to the head of his cock—a firm, appreciative, tender kiss—does he fully lose his composure, gasping something that sounds like my name and bending at the waist to reach for me. His hands wrap around my arms and he pulls me towards him, and I'm all to happy to oblige.

I push my panties to the side and settle myself above him, a shared moan filling the air around us when I slide down over him.

"Christ," he whispers. He fumbles—clumsy with impatience and need—with the top of my dress, tugging the sleeves down and cupping my breasts with something close to reverence. He lets them fall over the neckline of the dress and the cups of my bra, so that they're cradled and free and he's able to touch me. Which is, I realize, as I look down and notice he can't seem to tear his eyes from me, all he really wanted in the first place.

"Alex, touch me," I whisper.

Confusion crosses his features before my meaning makes himself clear. He holds my gaze as his hands find their respective targets; one on my chest, rolling a sensitive nipple between thumb and forefinger so that I toss my head back and roll my hips above him and sigh out the pleasure of it, and the other seeking—and finding, with deft accuracy—my clit.

Utterly gentle at first, but slowly building in intensity and pressure—matching the pace I've set for us—until we both begin to lose our rhythm.

It's a song or a chorus or private, unintelligible poetry; a string of nonsensical sounds or words or something in-between. Both of us calling and answering back to one another, a series of groans and sighs, whispered names and pleas to God, until finally I feel his fingers tighten around my breast—not painful, though I'll have bruises the next morning—and his hips bucking beneath me, and it's his urgency and his need that pushes me over the edge, so that I ride out wave and wave of orgasm atop him as he spills himself inside of me, never breaking eye contact.

And then we're just a mass of limbs and heaving lungs and sweat-drenched flesh, clinging to one another, exhausted by one another, but only in the best way possible. And I'm still whimpering through the final traces of aftershock when he wraps his arms around me and pulls me to the floor so that he can spoon up against me, hold me tight to him.

"Stay with me tonight," he says, perhaps because, on the few nights we've slept together, I've asked him to go back to his own bed in the middle of the night, afraid of where our afterglow and our intimacy would lead. "Please."

"Alex, I don't know if—"

"I want to hold you."

I run the tip of my finger over his ring, nestle my back against his chest. Remember the way he introduced me to an acquaintance at the restaurant: "my wife, Norma Bates."

"Okay."

"Okay?"

I nod, and even though I can't see his face, I feel him smile.

Chapter 2

He sleeps warm. It doesn't take long before he kicks away the blanket, tangles the sheet around his feet. His skin is hot to the touch, a faint sheen of sweat on in his forehead and the curve of his shoulders.

I sleep cold; he worries for my comfort. And so he doesn't open a window, or complain about the extra quilt I drag to our bed in the middle of the night. He just gathers me up to him, presses his naked chest to my back, wraps an arm around my waist, his body heat better than any sauna.

But when I wake in the morning he's gone. Nothing left but the scent of him on my skin and the memory of his weight and his hands and the way he buries his face in the crook of my neck when he's about to come.

I stretch out in the bed, flex stiff fingers and toes, crack my elbows even though I know he'd chide me for it were he here.

Out getting breakfast, probably. Coffee and pastries and something sweet, because I've never been much of a savory breakfast person, and he's the sort that notices things. Every thing. Every minute detail otherwise lost to the cacophony of life and boredom he somehow picks up.

He carried me upstairs last night, exhausted after the evening's activities. We'd left our clothing on the rug. Our cares, too. And he'd held me like I weighed nothing at all, like every step was a pleasure and every joint breath a gift.

Pulled back the quilts, set me on the mattress. Refused to let me go during the night. Occasionally I'd move; shift position, want to roll over, or just get up to go to the bathroom. And he'd let me without protest, but his hands lingered on my arms, followed by the soft, half-sleep murmur, "I just want to hold you."

He fell back asleep the the moment I nestled in against his chest.

A certain vulnerability to him now, I think. An open sort of need. He lets me see him smile, see him bleed. No longer wears his uniform like armor.

He's gentle and calm and full of lazy half-smiles. He thanks me for every cup of coffee and kisses the inside of my wrist whenever he takes me. Traces each scar with the tip of his finger; doesn't ask questions, merely tells me I'm beautiful.

I think about the early days, when only alcohol brought a smile or a joke or an air of comfort. When he had to be eight shots in to tell me his stories, to touch my hand. And, now, how eagerly he envelopes me in his affection.

We're both tender now. Tender, and open.

Like a wound.


Sometimes, when he's unaware I'm watching, he reminds of me of a panther. Muscle sleek beneath his skin, he moves with fluidity and surety, as if every step he's ever taken has led him to the right path. It's difficult to imagine him stumbling—over himself or anything else, really—and I wonder if that's what drove him to the marines.

He looks like a marine. Like a cop. Like someone who's seen too much in alleys and bars and his own living room.

Yet he's not in a living room now, but rather my backyard, and no matter how much his body might bespeak authority the unselfconscious, if oblivious smile that graces his face is made of simple contentment.

I watch him from the kitchen window. It's been warm lately, an unusual sort of warmth for Oregon, especially this time of year, the sun colliding with winter and resulting in an odd but ever-present humidity that leaves skin slick with sweat and coats required due to the mist but sweltering due to the temperature.

And his skin is certainly slick with sweat and mist, there's no doubt about that. Shirtless, wearing nothing but jeans and work boots, I press myself to the kitchen counter and watch as he hoists shovelfuls of dirt in the air, tosses them off to the side. He works intensely, never breaking focus, and all around him large holes spread throughout the yard.

It occurs to me, briefly, that I should wonder what he's doing. Should feel the slight prickle of irritation. I mean, sure, yes, we're married, and he lives here, but it still feels like my house, not our house. And for a moment I want to charge outside and grab his shovel and hurl it off into the distance and lecture him on boundaries and his stubbornness and the way he always feels he has to take charge.

But I don't.

I don't because his shoulders are broad and tan and the muscles pull and stretch and expand beneath his flesh, and I can still see the faint marks my nails left the previous evening. His hands are strong around the shovel's handle, and I remember how easily he carried me to bed last night, and all the things those hands did before sleep came for us both.

I don't because he smiles. Because those smiles are rare, and precious, reserved only for me and the house we share—our house, he calls it; our house and our marriage and my wife—and I remember all too well what it's like to be greeted with his stony silence and blank face, and how I never want to lose the gentleness he's cultivated and offered to me.


"I brought you something."

He glances up, shovel mid-air, squinting against the glare of the sun but breaking into a wide grin when he sees me.

"You look amazing."

I'm holding something in front of me, offering it to him, but he's too busy forcing the blade of the shovel into the dirt so that it stands of its own accord, before turning back to me, his eyes roaming from the base of my neck to the toe of my shoes.

"I love that dress," he says.

"I know."

He laughs when I say it, but it's true nonetheless. Three weeks has proved more than enough time to discern his tastes. Half the time I don't think he's even aware of it, all the subtle, telltale smiles and gestures he makes when something catches his eye.

He likes soft, floral perfumes. Sweet-scented shampoo. Delicate skirts, feminine dresses, minimal makeup, small heels. He toys with the rings on my fingers and traces the curve of my earlobe whenever I wear an earring that dangles. He likes lingerie, always takes a moment to appreciate the view when we undress before bed, but doesn't seem to know the difference between a bra and a bustier. Or simply doesn't care.

And he can't articulate any of this, of course. On the rare occasion I ask his opinion on an outfit or some such thing he always brushes the question off with a simple yes, or no, or whatever you like. But there's no mistaking the way he buries his face in the crook of my neck when two hours previous I've spritzed something on that smells vaguely of night-blooming jasmine, or the way he focuses his gaze on a heart-shaped neckline or the hem of a skirt resting just above the knee.

"You look amazing," he says again, and though he steps forward and slides an arm around my waist, carefully drawing me to him so as not to upset the item in my hands, he's staring my thighs and shoulders and lips the entire time.

"So I've heard." I lean up and press a quick, chaste kiss against his mouth, and he hums his approval. "What're you doing out here, anyway? You're all sweaty."

A roll of his shoulder gestures to several rows of saplings behind him, lined up against the side of the house. I hadn't been able to see them from the kitchen.

"Just planting a few things."

I stare at them for a long moment, trying to get the words right in my head; an odd feeling, low and twisting in my stomach, and I don't quite know what to make of it—or the saplings, for that matter—but I somehow manage to croak out, "What are those?"

"Fruit trees." It hits like lightning when he says it, sharp and hot and starting at the top of my head but spreading through my limbs and torso, and I blink at him, wanting simultaneously to burst into tears and throw my arms around his neck and kiss his face and jaw and collarbone and thank him again and again for remembering, for understanding, though it shouldn't surprise me at all because that has been one of his great defining traits from the moment we met. But I don't, because I can't seem to get my mouth or body to work properly, and my wide-eyed stare and silence must alarm him, because he rushes onward. "I, uh, I didn't know exactly what you wanted. So I just picked up a few things, you know. Plums, apples, apricots, persimmons, lemons. I was worried about citrus, but the guy at the nursery said lemons will grow just about anywhere. And it's a bit early for vines, but I thought we'd go back in March, pick up some berries. I could plant them by the house for you—"

"Oh, my God," I whisper.

"Norma." Alex frowns, serious, on-edge, watching my face intently. Trying to discern my mood, because for once he's having trouble reading it. "There's no reason to be upset. You mentioned that you wanted to plant some fruit trees, so I thought I'd use my day off to—"

"Shut up," I whisper. "Oh, my God. Shut up, you stupid, beautiful man."

I kiss him before he can react, though after the surprise fades I feel his mouth curve into a smile against mine. My eyes squeeze shut with the force of it, and I can feel tears on my cheek but they don't matter. And when his thumb brushes over my jaw I whisper "I love you" against his lips but it comes out mangled and unintelligible and he pulls away enough to chuckle and whispers back "Yeah, I love you too."

"I brought you ice cream." It's such a rapid change of subject that he blinks, before glancing down to the bowl in my hands. "It's so warm out here, and you're all sweaty. I thought you might like some."

"It's half melted."

"It wouldn't have been, if you hadn't been planting fruit trees, like a beautiful stupid jerk."

"Mm, I'll store that for future reference," he says. And then he bends down and kisses my cheek, lips parting just enough for the tip of his tongue to reach out, smooth away the last stray tear.

I lean into him—his touch and warm and the way he laughs and seeks to soothe me all at once—and I want to kiss him or ask him to take me upstairs or throw myself at him here and now, but instead I whisper, "You should eat it before it melts completely."

"Later." His mouth moves to my temple, across my forehead, pausing long enough for him to bury his fist and his nose in my hair. Inhale. Exhale. Murmur something I can't quite make out but that distinctly ends with the word 'beautiful.'

"But I made it for you," I say. I press the bowl—now nearly as cold as the ice cream—into his bare chest and he hisses in a breath, startles, pulls away from the chill.

He looks annoyed initially, eyes narrowing at the shock, but then he softens.

"You made it?"

"Mm. You remember that story you told me about your mother? How she used to give you fresh blueberries in cream for breakfast in the summer?"

His eyes go wide, but he nods. Softly.

"Well, I thought blueberry ice cream might be nice. You know, as a sort of homage. Not that they're fresh, not this time of year. I bought them frozen. But, you know, still—"

He rushes in, mouth on mine, hand cradling the back of my head, and then his free arm scoops up under my knees and he hoists me against his chest, bowl and all, and whispers "bring it to bed" as he carries me off and into the house.


Sun turns to rain by the time we fall back against the mattress, tangled in sheets and covered in one another's sweat and utterly exhausted.

The ice cream, long ago melted but certainly not wasted, leaves a stick trail on his chest and lower abdomen and the curve of my breasts and the dent of my collarbone. A useful trail to remind us of the soft laughter and softer caresses we'd shared just minutes ago.

I bend down to lick a few stray droplets off his hipbone, and he half-laughs and half-groans, fingers tangling in my hair, more affectionate than anything else.

"You're going to kill me," he whispers, but what he means is "give me twenty minutes and I'll throw you against the wall and make you beg for me and God and every previously unknown desire your unconscious can drag up to the surface."

But I just smile, and graze my teeth against his hip and the tip of a finger that ghosts past my line of sight and kiss my way up his chest until I'm nestled in his arms and he's humming his pleasure and his well-earned drowsiness.

"We'll revisit the issue shortly, Sheriff," I say.


I don't know how long I sleep, but both the birds and the daylight have retreated by the time I realize he's no longer next to me and I probably should've made dinner a couple of hours ago.

I'm sore and stiff when I manage to pull myself out of bed, the result of our evenings on the stairs and the floor and my bed and up against the wall. Bruises on my thighs and upper arms and a soft, delicate one on my rib cage, though there's no memory of pain with them, only his worshiping mouth and supportive hands and the way he holds me a bit too roughly (though deliciously, and never with the intention of harm) when he's about to come.

He's left his uniform folded neatly in a chair by the armoire, and the sight of it makes me stop, sigh, smile.

Not so long ago he wore it like armor. I'd known him a year before I'd ever seen him out of it, and even then he was in a suit, all very official, heading off to court. It was hard to separate the man and the cop in those days, possibly because I'd never thought of him as a man at all. He was merely Sheriff Bulldog, a stoic and imposing figure I'd wanted to use or avoid, depending on the day.

And now this.

Now his smile and fruit trees and the way he moans my name when my thighs are wrapped around his hips, as if there's no one else in the world for him, as if there's nowhere else he'd rather be, as if he could die in my bed and go to his grave a happy man.

He's said as much. In the night, in the dark of our bedroom when my face is nestled in the crook of his neck and he brushes hair out of my face, traces the line of my shoulder with his thumb. Half the time I wonder if he thinks I'm asleep, can't hear him, dead to the world. And it's just his voice, his bottom lip brushing against my forehead when he murmurs, "I'll die a happy man with you, Norma Bates."

The shirt smells like him when I slip it on, his badge heavy in the front pocket. It's too big, I have to tie the tails around my waist to get it to fit properly, but he's always liked it when I slip into his clothing.

By the time I hit the stairs I'm half expecting to smell dinner—takeout, most probably, as while he can cook he generally chooses not to, and he's recently become all too aware of my refusal to wear anything that arrives frozen and must be microwaved to be considered edible—but instead I hear music.

At first I think it's the radio, and strain to listen. Some local station, maybe, or one of the old records left in the house. But then I pick up distinct notes. A bit clumsy, perhaps, as if someone were long out of practice. But ultimately efficient. Even beautiful.

It takes a minute to register, and I'm so surprised I practically hurl myself down the stairs and into the living room—albeit as quietly as possible—and stare, blankly, at Alex's back as he plays the piano.

I don't want to startle him, afraid he'll stop, bashful and reluctant to continue, but he hears the noise of movement behind him and turns to glance at me over his shoulder, a lazy smile stretched across his face.

"I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No," I say, softly, and gesture to the dark beyond the sheer curtains. "But I wish you had. I would've made us dinner."

"You looked like you could use the sleep."

"Aren't you hungry, though?"

He grins, nigh guilty, and shrugs. "Nah, I ate earlier."

"Oh, God, if you tell me you went and bought one of those horrid microwaved—"

"Come here."

"—I swear I'll … what?"

"Come here," he repeats. But this time his voice is hushed, thick in his throat, and I notice his eyes are wandering over me. Specifically, his uniform, the way I've tied it. He reaches a hand out and the meaning is clear; I walk over, and as I do so he swivels his body on the bunch, turning fully to me so that he can wrap his arms around my waist and nuzzle his face against my stomach. "I love it."

"You love what?" I ask.

"This. You. All of it."

"All of it?"

He stands, his height and presence making me stumble backwards a couple of steps, but his arms are still wrapped around me and he draws me to him easily, supporting my weight.

"I love you." He kisses my forehead. "I love that one of your first thoughts upon waking was concern for my dinner." He kisses both of my cheeks, and the full line of my jaw. "I love that you're wearing that shirt." He chuckles, but kisses the hollow of my throat, and the vibration and the feel of his lips on my skin sends a hot thrill shrieking through my limbs.

"Alex," I whisper, letting my head fall back so that he has easier access to my throat, "I want you."

His hands are on the backs of my thighs before it occurs to me that our positions have changed. He hoists me up, as he's done so often in the past three weeks that it's become natural to trust my full weight and safety with him, and the next thing I know he's gently setting me down on the keys, the notes off-color and off-key in such a way that it makes me laugh. And then it's my thighs spreading for him, and his body nestling between my legs, and his breath hot against my ear when he whispers: "I love that you're only wearing that shirt."

He leaves the shirt on but deftly undoes multiple buttons, enough that he can spread the fabric and trail his lips and tongue and teeth from the base of my neck to the expanse of my collarbone and down over the curve of each breast. "I love that you always taste like honey and soap and sex," he whispers, each word a gust of breath against my skin, my fresh prickling up with the heat and the tension of it.

I spread my thighs farther for him, a hint that he readily takes, though his mouth never leaves my body, and I reach down to free him from his zipper, all too aware that he's already ready for me, his body hard and insistent and spring-loaded with a heavy groan when my fingers wrap around him and I bite into his shoulder and whisper once again, "I want you."

The piano creaks and groans beneath us as he takes me, the music chaotic and hilarious and beautiful all at once. It makes me want to giggle against his mouth when he kisses me, only I'm too lost to his every thrust, and his the tender, delicious imprint his fingers leave on my thighs, and the way his breath hitches whenever I tighten my body around him and reach the tip of my tongue out to tease the pulse in my neck.

"I love that this is our house," he whispers, nipping my bottom lip immediately after. I moan, soft and long, against his mouth, arching my body against him, keenly aware of the heat building between us, the way the force of our encounter rattles the piano and the floorboards and the old pictures on the walls. "I love that you're my wife," he says, but this time the sentence his lost to need, and he buries his face in the crook of my neck, a telltale sign that his pleasure his near, and when I dig my nails into his back—hard enough that I know he can feel it through his shirt—he groans and begins to lose his rhythm.

My body tightens around him, a series of waves and pulses, rocked by the force of him and rendered helpless and glorious and made of want by the love he offers, and when I feel my own climax begin to peak I beg him to keep going, to say something else, anything else, and his whispers back:

"I love that you're mine."

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