Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at http://download.archiveofourown.org/works/7308076.

Rating:
Mature
Archive Warning:
Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Category:
F/M
Fandom:
Bates Motel (2013)
Relationship:
Norma Bates/Alex Romero
Additional Tags:
Love, Sex, Romance, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Stats:
Published: 2016-06-26 Words: 7251

Pack Your Bag

by

Summary

He's the only man she trusts; she's the only woman he's desperate to protect; Alex Romero and Norma Bates head out on an impromptu honeymoon. [A Normero one-shot. Post 4x06. Anon request, with special thanks to Mandy. Rated M for sexual content.]

"Just go pack your bag."

Tears on the verge but you have to hold them in. Suck in a gasp of air and hold it until your ribs feel like they'll crack against the pressure of your lungs, and your stomach and esophagus burn, and your brain screams at you with every primal, primordial urge to exhale, inhale, repeat.

"Okay," he says, the very thing you knew he'd say, the very thing you dreaded he'd say, but that's the nature of it. You know this by now. This is why you hold your breath and drown those tears in the swamp of bile you feel rising in you throat, but you keep your face still, or as close as you can manage it, anyway.

You can exhale now, a sigh of resignation, because this is a tale as old as your bones, a pattern you know better than the splay of veins on the underside of your wrist.

Pain is, in its way, easy enough to manage. It might break you, crack open your breast bone and put your vital organs on display, but there's an odd safety in it. It's familiar in the way a snake's venom is familiar to their common pray; feared, but nigh inevitable.

Lose enough, watch your world crumble over and over again throughout the decades, a victim of human pandemonium, and you expect the fire and the ashes.

It's the hope that kills. The precious, pernicious notion that you might have so much as a shred of a chance for happiness, or at least something that resembles it.

So you breathe it out, that breath you were holding. No longer the threat of tears, because this is the world you know: you had something, once, briefly, held it in your hands and loved it, and now it's gone, just like you knew it would be. The pain is recognizable and easy enough to build walls around; you'll drink it off later. You'll throw all your worries and fears into your son; he needs you, and that drives you, and if you keep moving the predator with great sharp teeth that calls itself love will never find you.

But his face is unreadable; that bothers you. How the Hell could it not? You know faces the way you know agony and a good stiff drink and a pretty a-line dress.

Caleb taught you that, and Mom and Daddy and John and Sam, and even Norman in his darker moments, his frightening dangerous loving terrible moments. But Alex Romero is unreadable in this moment, seemingly soft, maybe distant, watching your face with an expression you might call sympathy but you simply don't dare.

At least until he lifts his chin, a gentle gesture, and whispers, "Where are we going?"

And then it's over. All of it. Any illusion you might've harbored about holding it in, containing it; hope hurts the way the devastation never could, and you're not crying so much as you're gasping out every remnant of every scar and dream you never dared voice.

He's warm when you fall against his chest and cling to his neck and dig your nail in, and you're sure it must hurt him at least a little bit, but he never flinches or pulls away, only cradles your head and holds you tight enough you can barely breathe. He makes soft soliciting shushing sounds, like soothing an infant or a wounded, terrified animal about to flee on its broken leg.

Gasps turn to sobs and sobs turn to a headache that starts at the base of your neck and spreads through your temples and only fades when you take in a series of hitching, high-pitched breaths, trying to fill your lungs, trying to breathe him in. And he smells like leather and coffee and the old Oregon trees, and you don't know how long it takes, this process, the matter of crying out all your old hurts and taking in the comfort he's offering you, but somewhere in the house a clock strikes midnight and you try desperately to remember what time it was when you stood in your kitchen and said, "I love you. I want you to know that."

"There's this old convertible in my garage," he whispers once you're still and quiet and resting against his shoulder. "Belonged my Dad. Still runs." He bends his head to kiss the top of yours, strokes your hair. "Go pack a few things. We're leaving."

"Leaving?" you manage to croak out. Your throat is raw and the effort burns but the word is surprisingly well enunciated.

"For a few days. Wherever you want to go."

"Right now?"

"Right now."


We're on the road by two. Not a sound out in the world beyond, and though it's the middle of December we crank up the heat and leave the top town. We roll the windows down too, so that while he drives I can stretch my arm out, making waves in the air rushing past.

"I think we're speeding," I say.

"Mhm." We're not in any rush, and he's the sheriff—the very last person who should be ripping us through dark country roads—but he seems unconcerned.

Focused, when I glance over at him. He's the very picture of it, dark and stoic, eyes straight ahead, hand on the steering wheel. He changed into his street clothes before we left, jeans and a black t-shirt, and the old faded leather jacket that I've grown to love because no matter how much I've cleaned it, or had it cleaned, it eternally smells like him.

("Had it since I was 17," he said one evening when I'd asked about it. "Don't think it needs to be cleaned." I cleaned it anyway.)

"Alex?"

"Hm?"

"Are we okay?"

"Why wouldn't we be?" But he doesn't turn to look at me. There's no comforting smile; he doesn't reach over and take my hand. And for a moment I feel the stab of that old fear, the one that wound itself around me in the hallway as he and Chick brought in that damned window and I split open the vein I promised myself I never would.

He's going to leave, I think. We'll get where we're going—he hasn't even told me where we're going—and he'll leave me there, nothing but a note ("Sorry, can't do it. Here's a few hundred backs, get back to town on your own,") with which to make his apology. This is just some sort of bizarre goodbye gift; make me think everything's fine, tell me all in the world will fall into place, and then make his quite exit when I least expect it.

He's not the sort to break the woman in half; he's the fuck-and-fly type of guy, no doubt.

I feel the tears brewing, an undeniable heat burning the back of my eyes, and I'm about to say, "Fuck you," or "I hate you," or "How dare you do this to me," or any number of the withering, hurt responses I can muster in the invented narrative running through my head.

But then I realize we've slowed; winding back country roads have slowly given way to slightly busier main streets in a town I don't recognize, and he pulls to a full still at a corner Stop sign, watching the other three cars on . the road go their various merry ways. And he turns to me, his whole upper body moving with the effort, and cups his palm to my face, thumb ghosting over the blade of my cheekbone.

He looks tired, I think. Shadows dark under his eyes, lines etched into the corners and the expanse of his forehead. But, no. Not tired. He looks exhausted. He looks like a man that's forever caught between trying to control and trying to save, and tonight he's given up on both.

Instead, he's trying to outrun the pain.

Mine, not his.

The traffic, if you can even call it that, clears. His hand travels from my face to the gear shift to the wheel. He turns left; returns his attention to the road.

I watch his face for a long time, the almost inhuman stillness only he seems capable of maintaining. I wonder, briefly, if he tried to outrun the ghouls that stalked his mother; if he thought he could save his father from his own greed; if he's afraid he can't save me.

"Alex?"

"Yeah?" A quick glance from the street to me and back again.

"I love you. You know that, right?"

His mouth quirks up at the corner, but his brows knit together; both pleased and concerned and the outcome is pure confusion, but my heart swells every second I'm looking at him because it's never anything but adorable.

"Is everything okay?" he asks, and that's just one of the many ways he says, "I love you too."

"Everything's fine. Don't worry." I unbuckle my seatbelt and scoot closer to him. Nestle myself against his side so that I can rest my head on his shoulder while he drives. I feel rather than hear his content little laugh, and a soft kiss against the top of my head follows.


Sirens. Horns, and sirens, and simple road noise. Somewhere, in the distance, neither far nor alarmingly close, I hear people talking. Can't make out the words.

It's only when I open my eyes, sit up properly and look around that I realize I'm still in the car, in some sort of parking garage, and Alex is not. He's covered me with his jacket, and at some point between now and the last thing I remember (dark roads, falling asleep on his shoulder) he's settled me back in the passenger's seat and fastened my seatbelt.

But no sign of him.

It occurs to me that I was right, mere hours ago, working myself up with nonsensical stories of abandonment and raw, open wounds. I dismissed it at the time—to ridiculous, so unlike him, he would never—but here we are. Or, rather, here I am.

Alone, in a parking garage, with no concrete idea of where, exactly, I am. And a glance over at the steering wheel confirms that he didn't even leave me the keys, for God's sake, just his jacket, like it's some sort of parting gift, like I should be thankful he's—

"Norma?" He smiles when I shift in the seat and peer back over my should towards him. Keys in hand, he's still, arm mid-motion, like he was about to open the trunk. "Did you sleep well?"

"Where were you?" I ask, and I'm not unaware of the harsh and accusatory tone laced through my voice, but I can still feel the sweat on the back of my neck, that prickle of fear that'd I'd been abandoned prodding every nerve into jittery, nigh wired, alarm.

"I was just taking the bags in." Gestures for me to be quiet, unlocks the trunk, opens it, hoists out two more bags, slams the trunk shut. Moves to stand next to more door. "You were sleeping so peacefully I didn't want to wake you until absolutely necessary."

"So you left me in a parking garage?"

My tone dims the smile on his face. He stares at me, arms at his sides, the suitcases resting against his thighs, as if he can't decide whether or not the anger in my voice is something to be concerned about.

Eventually, cautiously, he says, "Only for a few minutes."

"What if something happened to me?"

"Like what?"

"You're a sheriff! I'm sure you've seen plenty of things happen in parking garages. Who the Hell leaves an unarmed woman alone, not to mention asleep, in an unknown parking garage?"

"Norma—" He cuts himself off, looking tired, looking like he wants to pinch the bridge of his nose or sigh or pack up our bags and head right back whence we came. "It's a secured entrance. There are guards, and cameras, and the hotel door is five feet away from you."

Sure enough, I follow the lift of his chin to a large, brightly lit sign that reads Cavalier Hotel: Parking Garage Entrance, Level One a mere two cars in front of me.

"Oh," I say.

"Yeah, oh. Christ." He sets the bags down with a loud thud, opens my door for me. "Do you seriously think I'd leave you—alone and unarmed and asleep, as you like to phrase it—if I thought there was the slightest chance you'd be unsafe?"

"Well…"

"Well?"

"Okay, okay. No." Pause. "So, we're at a hotel?"

"Yes, Norma," he says, nodding, practically pulling me out of the car at this point. "We're at a hotel."


"So that'll be three nights and four days, is that correct?"

"Yeah, that's fine."

"Any room preference?"

"Is the honeymoon suite available?"

"Yes, sir."

"We'll take that," Alex says. He passes his credit card over the counter to the clerk, and I'm happy enough to let him check us in. One less thing I have to worry about or do.

That's the nice thing about Alex, I think. He can be overbearing at times, annoying and frustrating and exhausting, but he takes charge. Comes naturally, though I'm never sure if it's merely a facet of his personality or a quirk instilled by years of law enforcement.

The hotel's lovely, not overly large or grand, but old, and beautiful, and well-preserved. Situated in the middle of downtown Seattle, an otherwise bustling, affluent area full of skyscrapers and street-level restaurants, there's a quiet charm to it, a certain sense of privacy despite the din of the public beyond.

"There you are, sir," the clerk says. He hands Alex the keys, waves the bellhop over to take our bags. "And congratulations on your marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Romero."

"Bates," I say, and I feel rather than see Alex cast a glance in my direction.

"I'm sorry?"

"I'm keeping my name. It's Bates."

"Ah, well, I'm very sorry, Ms. Bat—"

"Mrs. Bates."

"I, er." The clerk is visibly flustered, and Alex, though I'm fairly certain I just heard a muffled laugh, elbows me lightly in the side. "I'm very sorry, Mrs. Bates. But congratulations all the same."


It takes a few hours to get settled in. Or, rather, it takes a few minutes for me to unpack, no matter how much he protests, and then lounge around for a few hours while he takes a nap. I'd slept on the drive up, after all, while he stayed wide awake at the wheel.

He sleeps evenly, soundly, like a child. Always surprises me. It can take me hours to get to sleep, thoughts flitting from one extreme to the next, worrying about Norman and Dylan and the motel and what I should do with an old pair of curtains recently dug up in the basement, and then I wind up drowsy and cranky through half my morning.

But Alex sleeps when he needs to sleep, and stays awake, seemingly without the need for stimulants, when he feels the need to do so. I watch him in the morning sometimes, when he wanders down and reaches for the coffee; a habit, almost, a small daily pleasure. But he's wide away and cheerful before the first cup, unconcerned with caffeine or a jump start to his day.

He's on the couch now, feet kicked up on the arm rest, shoes still on. "It'll just be a few minutes," he told me, "maybe twenty? And then we'll go out."

Four hours later and he's made not a sound or a movement, but I don't mind. I see the shadows under his eyes, a heavy exhaustion he hides well but overtakes him in the quiet moments.

And, anyway, there's the city beyond the wall-to-ceiling windows in our room, and the view is nothing to complain about. I press my nose to the glass, try to see the people down before, wandering the street. There's a cafe in the hotel lobby and the sidewalk outside is humming with activity, a blur of color and noise (I assume; can't hear anything eleven stories up) and it reminds me all the dreams I'd harbored as a little girl—

Silly things. Foolish things. Things that made hadn't mattered for two decades; things that certainly didn't matter now.

"Norma?" He stirs behind me, calls my name, and when I turn to look he's holding his hand out to me, still lingering on the edges of slumber, but warm and inviting. I take his hand, and he pulls me in until I'm stretched out atop his body, face nestled into the crook of his neck, pleased enough to simply enjoy the sound of his breathing and the lazy arm he wraps around me.

It's been like this lately: a slowly evolving yet potent intimacy. A comfort level with him I'm never experienced and, oddly, that comfort terrifies me. Drawing me in when I want to remain, at least a little bit, at a distance.

"You're pretty when you sleep," I say, and it makes him laugh, chest rumbling beneath me.

"Can't say I've ever had anyone call me pretty before."

"I find that hard to believe, Sheriff. I've seen the way the ladies of the White Pine Bay Bingo Club stare at you."

"Norma, they're all in their seventies."

"So? A woman can't appreciate a firm ass and a pair of pretty eyes in her seventies?"

He cranes his head to look at me. "A firm ass?"

"It is one of your better features, yes."

A pause. "Pretty eyes?"

"Those lashes," I croon, and he rolls his eyes. "Women everywhere are weeping over their tubes of Maybelline."

"Don't remind me."

"Be proud, Alex," I whisper. I tilt my chin up to better press my lips across the side of jaw, and he sighs into it, face turning towards mine. "You're beautiful, and strong, and clever. And you're a man. You'll always be safe."

His eyes flutter open and he stares at me, mouth half-open, like he wants to protest or argue. But after a long moment he tightens the arm around my waist, and kisses my forehead and says, "You'll always be safe too."


There are overpriced, if delicious, restaurants, and interesting cafes and color and music everywhere. We stay downtown, mostly, neither of us in the mood to drive, and though the area's not sprawling it doesn't disappoint.

It's nice to wander around the shops and the mall, stopping for ice cream here, ducking into a coffee shop for an affogato there. We take a few hills, and from Pike Place Market the water is endless and blue beyond, salt air mixing with the smell of the bakery down the road, and if I'm quiet, if I close my eyes, I can hear the seals and gulls over children's laughter and constant, though blurred, adult chatter.

Alex is relaxed and casual in a way I've never really seen him in White Pine Bay. Maybe because it's not suitable for the sheriff, because he's never really off duty; there's always someone, somewhere, who knows him or needs him or simply wants something.

But here he strolls with me calmly, dressed down, handsome and at ease in his jacket, an arm slung around my waist as we walk, directing me gently around he bend.

"How come you never got remarried?

"What?"

We've come to a stop in front of a jewelry store. Alex reluctantly letting go when I squirm away from his hold to peer at the necklaces in the shop window.

"You know," I say, although I'm only half paying attention, as I'm growing somewhat obsessed with a small pearl lariat on display, "after your first marriage to that girl. How come you never tried again?"

"Never met the right girl, I guess."

"What nonsense!"

A laugh. "What?"

"Look, Alex, I don't believe in true love or soul mates or any of that, okay? It's a sweet story, and I liked the idea of it when I was younger. But we're all just people, and we're capable of loving—and hating—so many people during our lives. You had to have loved someone throughout all those years."

"Not once."

"Bullshit," I say, but my tone is friendly, playful, and he takes it as such.

"Not bullshit. I just never met anyone I really fell for."

"Never? Really, really? Never-never?"

"Norma, what do you want me to say? I've been with a lot of women over the years. Some were wonderful, some were lovely, some were a mistake. Some I barely knew." He's smiling but as he talks a shadow slides across his face, nothing more than a flicker of darkness in his expression, something I can't immediately identify but catch all the same. "I was fond of most of them. I want good things for them; I wish them well. But it never went beyond that."

"Poor things were probably all in love with you."

"I somehow doubt that."

"Sheriff Romero, the local heart-breaker."

"Hardly."

"Should I be worried? Are you going to decide in a couple of weeks that you're not the marrying kind after all?"

"Norma—" He's still happy, and calm, but there's an edge to his voice now; he's starting to look uncomfortable, like he doesn't care for what I might be getting at.

"I wouldn't want you to feel trapped with me or anything."

"Stop." His voice is soft. There's a hard undercurrent but he's trying to shake it off, I can see it in the way he forced a smile. "What're you looking at?"

"Oh." I shrug a shoulder towards the window. "Just some jewelry. It's pretty."

"Anything in particular?"

"No, not really."

"Mm."

We stare at one another for a long moment, bodies close together so that the crowd can move easily around us. And when he smiles again all the hint of tension that had slowly begun to crept in faded away, and it was just him, and his affection, and the way his eyes crinkled at the corners whenever he was genuinely happy, a detail I'd come to appreciate only recently.

"Getting late," he says, and I nod. It's only four or so in the afternoon, but though we've snacked and sampled we haven't properly eaten. "Want to grab dinner somewhere?"

I don't have to nod this time, because he's already decided, if not for his own welfare than for mine.

His hand on the small of my back, guiding me down the sidewalk, moving towards the cluster of restaurants a few yards ahead, though he keeps me securely tucked to the side, positioning himself so that he's closest to the street.

It's an easy thing to miss, I think, the way Alex Romero shows his love.


Somewhere in the fray we've lost ourselves to a five-course meal and two and a half bottles of wine. The cab ride back to the hotel is a blur, and how we made it from lobby to our room is something of a mystery.

But we've made it just the same, and thus make our presence known with a trail of shopping bags and clothes scattered from door to bedroom to living room couch. I catch a glimpse of Alex's jacket draped over one of the chairs, and a flash of the smooth, muscular expanse of his back as he shrugs out of his shirt, lets it fall to the ground.

I've already made myself comfortable on one of the couches in the living room, toeing off my pumps and propping my feet up on the arm rest as he'd done during his nap. Comfortable.

"We should've just finished the third bottle." I shout so that he can hear me. "The waiter probably thinks we're insane. Or wasteful."

"Are you kidding? It's a miracle we made it back. Last thing we need is more alcohol," he says, although in the pregnant pause that follows I start laughing before he can make out the next work, "although I wouldn't say no to more alcohol, now that I think about it."

"Pretty sure you're an alcoholic."

"You're the one that's been going through my whiskey."

"You're the one who felt the need to bring his entire whiskey collection with him when he moved in."

"It's not a collection."

"If you have more than five of any item, it's officially a collection."

"Who told you that?"

"I think it was Sesame Street."

"Sesame Street?" His head pokes around the door frame, face contorted in such open confusion that I burst out laughing. A laugh that's entirely too loud, and too messy, and not remotely dignified, but I can't bring myself to care at all.

"Noooo," I manage to choke out, shaking my head rapidly and waving him off. "No, no, I'm joking. It's a joke."

"You're drunk."

"Look who's talking. Are you even wearing pants?"

He looks thoughtful, glances down, seems surprised. "No."

"Okay, so, what are you doing in there, anyway?"

"Undressing."

"Obviously."

His grin is slow, spreading across his face, the sort of nigh goofy softness I also never see of him, even when the day is lovely and his mood is immaculate.

That's the thing with him, really. Even on his good days, even though he's unafraid to show his affection or make grand gestures or simply tell me that he loves me, it's only ever alcohol that truly brings his guard down.

"I was taking my clothes of."

"Right, Alex, we've covered that. But why?"

"Well—I … don't know." He's still grinning, but it's warring with a confused frown. "Think I was going to take a shower."

"You're drunk," I say, amazed the words even make sense because I'm laughing so hard.

"I didn't drink that much."

"You did, though. You totally did. You had like 7/8 of the share."

"No, you had plenty."

"I had some."

"I did not drink all the wine, Norma."

"Disagree."

"You're too drunk for me to argue with you," he says, and then disappears around the door frame again.

"You're projecting!" I shout, and giggle, and throw myself back on the couch and let my feet dangle over the edge. I can hear him rustling around in the bedroom, but after a while I get bored waiting for him to return. "What're you doing?"

"Sleeping."

"Then how are you talking to me?"

"I am in the process of falling asleep."

"It doesn't sound like you're in the process of falling asleep."

"Oh, my God," he groans, and I don't need to see him to know there's an arm draped dramatically across his eyes. "It never ends."

"'Never ends?' You getting sassy with me, Romero?"

He doesn't immediately respond, and I'm not willing to "lose" this particular argument, so I don't pursue it further.

Still grinning, still giggling to myself, I hoist myself off the couch and wander over to a table on the far side of the room. This being the honeymoon suite, room service left a bowl of chilled strawberries and whipped cream as a congratulatory gift, not to mention chocolates and champagne.

The whipped cream is still cold, and the strawberries are ripe, and I've wiped out nearly half the bowl before it occurs to me I should offer him some.

"There's strawberries out here."

Nothing.

"I said: THERE. ARE. STRAWBERRIES. OUT. HERE." And this time I yell, raising my voice as loudly as I can without venturing into screaming, and somewhere between his groan of annoyance and a few mutterings of "jesus christ" and "she'll wake the entire goddamned hotel" and "get us thrown out" he's rolled out of bed and is stomping into the living room, alcohol blurring the edges so that he is angry and amused all at once.

"Do you have to be so loud? I'm trying to sleep."

"You're not, though."

He pinches the bridge of his nose, though his words are slightly slurred and so it doesn't have quite the effect it would otherwise. "Other people are trying to sleep."

"Don't care about them."

"What do you care about, then?"

"You're not wearing any clothes," I say, gesturing up and down his form with a flick of my index finger.

"What does that have to do with anythin—"

He doesn't flinch, because Alex isn't the sort of man that flinches. Rather, his eyes narrow and he stands stock still, hands on hips, utterly unconcerned with his nudity of the fact that I've just smeared a handful of whipped cream up over up his chest and down his face, taking a bit of extra time to wipe it clean from my fingers on the side of his neck.

I'm giggling so hard I can barely stand up straight, and he's still, and silent, and sort of glowering, until finally he says, "So, that's how it's going to be?"

"Yep, that's how it's going to be."

"Okay."

"Oh, don't out, Sheriff, I just—wait, what are you…? No!" His hands are on my arms, pulling me into his chest, and though I'm squirming and squealing, a long string of high-pitched, "no no no no no!" rushing out in one long sentence it takes no time at all for him to press his body against me, until we're both covered in whipped cream—he even grabs another palm full and smears it over the top of my hair, and I remind myself later to find a suitable revenge—and now he's the one laughing and I'm calling him every dirty filthy foul name I can think of.

"I can't believe you," I squeak out, slapping at his chest and his shoulder while simultaneously trying to shake my dress clean.

"Are you going to apologize?"

"No!"

There's an arm around the back of my knees before I realize he's bent over, and it's only when my feet are off the ground that I understand he's hoisting me over his shoulder and turning to cart me off towards the bedroom.

"No!" I shriek again, but I'm laughing and I want to sound serious, and annoyed, but somehow I can't quite manage it. "Where are we going?!"

"To clean you off." He doesn't slow down, and I notice we've passed the bed and seem to be making out way towards the bathroom.

"You wouldn't dare."

He steps into the shower, turns on the faucet, doesn't give or struggle under my weight or my now flailing legs.

"Don't you dare don't you dare don't-you-dare…!"

But he does dare, and the water is so cold I find it, bizarrely, hilarious, and after a moment we're both laughing so hard he can no longer safely hold me, and he sets me down on the tile. Reaches around me, shoulders still shaking with laughter, to turn the dial to a suitably warmer temperature.

We stand in the water for a long time, just laughing, not really saying anything. Not really needing to. The water's finally warm, and between that and our breath the shower doors and the mirrors are beginning to fog up.

And it's light, and funny, and we're both drunk and lost in the simple, easy joy of it, but there's a shift, somehow. Subtle, at first; I notice his eyes drifting from my face to the soaking wet front of my dress, and then I remember that he's nude, and I take in, with full appreciation, the body he's kept strong and youthful and beautiful throughout his life, and suddenly the fact that I'm wearing a dress at all seems wrong, or foolish.

The laughter dies, but I can't recall when. Two minutes or two seconds ago. It doesn't matter. His face is somber, still, intense. This time, when he reached out a hand for me as he did mere hours ago, the meaning is crystal clear.

I fold myself against him and his mouth presses against my forehead but it's a gesture made of want, not comfort. His hands are motionless on my upper arms but I can feel the restraint it takes him to keep them in place rather allow them to wander. And so I answer his question before he can ask it: I lean back just enough to pull my dress up and over my head, toss it to the bathroom floor, tilt my chin up towards his face, the universal invitation.

Alcohol wears away his self-control; his kiss is not the gentle, lingering affair it normally is, but hungry, and greedy, telling me without so much as a word how much he wants this, and me, and everything I have to give him.

He likes it when I lightly nip his bottom lip; makes a sound in the back of his throat when my fingertips graze the slight protrusion of his hip bone, skate across his lower abdomen; groans loudly when I break away from his mouth and press my lips to his ear and ask him to finish undressing me.

Surprisingly nimble fingers tend to my bra, working the clasp with military efficiency, tossing it over his shoulder to land somewhere with my dress. He stares at me for a long moment, pupils blown wide, not bothering to disguise his lust. I watch his eyes flicker from my lips to my breasts to my panties and back up again.

"You're beautiful," he says. He says it every time he undresses me, whether in the shadow of our shared bathroom or a hotel bathroom, and it has yet to lose it's charm.

My skin prickles with the combination of cool air, warm water and his hands sliding to cup my breasts. When he presses soft, plucking kisses against each nipple I moan softly, tangle my fingers in his thick black hair; that moan turns into something longer, something unintelligible and formless when he suckles, gently, and lets his fingers drift to my panties, edging them down slowly over my hips.

The shower wall is cool and slick when I lean back against it. He kneels in front of me, and if the tile hurts knees he doesn't let it show, merely looks up at me, normally brown eyes closer to black in the heat of it all.

He kisses my stomach and my hips and the outside of my thighs as he begins pulling my panties down. I lift my hips against the wall to make it easier for him, and then each leg—he follows the curve of each calf with his hand, tracing the flesh with his palm, and kisses the tender inside of each ankle when he slides the fabric free—until he tosses them back with my other discarded clothing.

I let my head fall back while he strokes my legs, nuzzles his face against my hip. My eyes drift shut when he urges my thigh over his shoulder and I feel his fingers gently, tentatively, spread me open.

The first touch of his tongue is electric; soft, and hesitant, and curious. Tasting, and exploring, and when I sigh or whimper or edge towards a moan he echos back with a reassuring, though quiet, groan.

We're interpreting one another's signals, creating our own language, and by the time my hands wrap around the back of his head he's nuzzled in closer to me, his tongue finding a firm, steady, confident rhythm swirling around and flicking back and forth against my clit.

My hips are pumping with the motion of his head, my lungs or my heart or both hammering in my chest, and he doesn't let up, he doesn't shy away. He merely holds my hips and my thighs and makes soft noises in the back of his throat as I shiver and shudder and whisper his name until those whispers morph into loud moans and one breathy, rushed "ohmygod" after the other.

I climb and crest and fall, and his lips and tongue stay constant, and adoring, and gentle, and only after each wave of my orgasm as ripped through my body, limb from limb, does he slowly pull away and let me sink down into his arms.

He's hard, and ready, and each breath is a pant; I can feel the pulse in his neck when I cup his jaw and kiss him, can taste myself on his lips. And even though I'm exhausted, and spent, and still shivering out the last aftershocks of my pleasure I scootch down on the shower flower and spread my thighs, use my freehand to hold his hip and urge him towards me.

"You sure?" he whispers. He'd stop without another word if I'd asked him to, and I love him for it. But I love him for the naked, adoring want I see painted across his face too, the tension I feel vibrating in his arms and his back, how much control it's taking for him to stay still.

"I'm sure."

His face goes from wanting-but-cautious to slack with need the second I say it; I spread my thighs farther, and he's inside of me a second later, gentle but the pace already picking up speed, the alcohol and my previous climax allowing him to ignore his usual leisurely tempo.

Breath hot against my neck, he nuzzles his face against my cheek, tangles his his fingers in my hair. He whispers my name between each gasp for breath, and it doesn't take long for his thrusts to become erratic, nigh desperate. He says "I love you" in the same breath he says "Oh, my God," and when I dig my nails into his back and nip his ear lobe he lets himself go with one long, low, agonizing groan.


The city sparkles outside the window, a series of constellations sprawling into the horizon. The bedroom's dark but we leave the curtains open, both of us drifting in and out of sleep, finding peace in one another and the view.

"Alex?" It must me three a.m., maybe four. I whisper, because though I think he's awake I don't want to bother him if he's managed to fall back asleep.

"Hm?"

"Why are we here?"

"What do you mean?" I can hear the drowsiness in his voice, but he tightens his arms around me, draws me closer until my back is resting firmly against his chest and I can feel his breath disturbing my hair.

"I mean, why did we come here?"

"I thought it might help."

"Me?"

"Both of us."

"Mm." I lay in his arms for a long time. Thinking, drifting, enjoying the feel of him, the safety he offers me. A rarity in my world. But a thought occurs to me, ghosting across my pleasant daydreams. "I used to want to live in a big city like this."

"What?"

"A city. Like Seattle. Or New York, or maybe Los Angeles. I don't know. When I was a kid. We lived in a small town, you know, a lot like White Pine Bay. And my parents, they were so unhappy. I always felt like the town made it worse. Like, it as so small, and so claustrophobic, they had nowhere to go. Maybe if they had a chance as a fresh start, where no one knew them, it might be better.

"I don't know. It was so drab when I was growing up. The house was always filthy and Mother was always drunk and Daddy was always angry, and everything was just gray, or blue, but not a pretty sort of blue."

"Mm." He makes a soft, soliciting noise in the back of his throat—he's trying to listen, but exhaustion and alcohol are luring him into sleep. But it doesn't matter.

"So I just thought, well, someday I'll move to the city. It'll be full of noise, and color, and glitter. And you can't be sad in a place like that, you can't be lonely. I mean, you can, but no matter how sad or lonely you might feel all you have to do is open your window and let the streets inside. It's like having a lover that never leaves you.

"You can't ever be bored, and somehow, it makes the loneliness easier.

"That's what I thought at the time, anyway.

"But like doesn't work out that way, I guess. Because here I am, with two kids, in a marriage of convenience with a man I somehow fell in love with, living in a small town that's constantly trying to kill me.

"Go figure."

"I always thought I could outrun everything," he says, and it startles me, makes me jump slightly, because I'd thought him asleep only seconds ago. "I thought I could help my mother outrun everything that haunted her. Thought I could help my Dad outrun himself, too. Never could.

"You and I can outrun that town, though. Don't ever think we can't." He squeezes me against him, a bit too tightly, but the meaning is clear and I don't mind in the slightest. "I can't change the past, Norma," he whispers, "but I can effect the future."

"What does that mean?"

"It means we'll outrun whatever the Hell we need to. We'll go wherever we need to go. And if that's as far from White Pine Bay as we can get, that's where we're headed."

"You don't have to say that."

"I'd never let anything happen to you. You know that, right?"

"Alex—"

"I couldn't handle it if something happened to you. And I can handle a lot. But not that. That'd kill me."

"You're drunk," I whisper, not unaffectionately, recalling a long-ago conversation in Room 11. "You'll wish you hadn't said that tomorrow."

"No." I feel his shake his head. "No, I won't."


I don't know what time it is when I finally wake up, only that the sun is up and the street below is made of loud, happy, utterly human noise.

It takes me a moment to realize Alex isn't next to me, but there's a small note folded on his pillow. For a brief moment I feel my heart pick up speed, the old familiar stab of fear: Jesus Christ, maybe he really has left me—but it's asinine, and I know it.

He wouldn't, and he hasn't, and I open the note to find his endearingly messy scrawl:

You'll never be lonely again.

I'll be back soon.

Alex.

If it's possible to smile and frown simultaneously, I do it. The note is sweet, but confusing. Or, maybe, I'm just too hungover to process it at the moment. The dull headache beginning to work it's way from the back of my neck to my temples is testament to that theory.

I roll out of bed and make my way into the living room, pleased to see fresh coffee and a pastry cart—Alex obviously ordered room service before he left—and it's only after I've poured myself a coffee that I stop, startled, and nearly drop my mug on the floor.

There's a large canvas leaning against the side table. A sprawling cityscape that speaks of color and noise and glitter, and dangling over the corner is the little pearl lariat I'd noticed while we were out shopping. But there's a post-it note stuck to the table the painting in leaning on, and I pick it up and bring it closer to my face so I can read it properly through the haze of my hangover and the newly forming tears:

Like I said: you'll never be lonely again.

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