When he wakes up, it’s not from the brake-slam of a nightmare, or that dreadful feeling of water filling his lungs.
It’s because someone has kicked him.
He opens his eyes blearily and glances at the woman in his bed, then at the clock. Ellie’s beaten his alarm by half an hour, which isn’t too bad compared to previous mornings.
He rubs his eyes and sighs. He adores her, and their new arrangement, but she is truly terrible to share a bed with. Three years without a partner have left her with some bad habits, and unlike himself she's finding it difficult to transition back. She habitually sprawls herself across the bed in her sleep, often ending up lying diagonally, leaving him with two small triangles on either side to curl into.
He's sorry to say she's gotten worse since they solved the case. Their first time together had been unexpected - a fire inside touched them both, a sudden blaze, a sudden light – like St Elmo’s fire wreathing a mast, miraculous and blue in the midst of a violent storm. They'd fallen into it roughly, unwisely, used it as a way to rock themselves to peacefulness or exhaustion.
Now normality has returned, and insomnia has eased, and all that's left is navigating the pitfalls of sharing a bed with a pugilist.
She kicks him again. He retaliates by leaning over and curving his arm around her. She’s lying on her stomach, her hand curled next to her lips. Her mouth is open and she’s drooling, just a little bit. It makes him smile. He presses his nose to her neck and breathes in the smell of her skin and tousled hair. She's slightly sunburnt on her neck, and he nuzzles against that warmth.
‘Good morning,’ he says, kissing her.
She groans and shifts. The movement causes her hair to fall away from her face and he takes advantage of this to kiss her cheek.
‘Time is it?’ she mumbles.
‘Early,’ he replies.
She groans again, lifts up the pillow and places it over her head.
It's a fair response, so he leaves it at that. He adjusts the blankets around her and slips out of bed, feels his way to a t-shirt and pyjama bottoms.
He’s in the kitchen making coffee when he hears the alarm goes off. Several curse words follow. There is a bang, a crash, a thump, and the alarm turns off.
He's bent over the frying pan cooking eggs by the time Ellie shuffles into the kitchen. He turns and sees that she’s wearing one of his work shirts. His shirt – and nothing else.
‘That’s mine,’ he says.
She lifts her arm to cover a yawn, and it causes the curve of her bum to peek out. ‘Mmf. Don’t have PJs,' she reminds him.
Much as he appreciates the sight, he thinks ahead to possible mornings when Daisy is not staying with Chloe. He suggests, ‘y’should bring some. To leave here.’ He winces, wondering if that was too bold, too presumptive, and finishes lamely, 'if you want.'
She thinks about it. 'Might leave a toothbrush too,' she says. ‘I like seeing you cook,’ Ellie continues. She leans against the counter, just next to him, and pushes her hair out of her face. ‘It's a bit sexy.’
She playfully pinches his arse.
‘It’ll be done in a minute. Just sit down.’
‘What if I want it now?’
‘I can’t cook them any faster.’
Her fingers are creeping across his back. She's biting her lip and smiling.
‘What if it’s not the eggs I want?’
Well, if she was asking...
Just before he kisses her he glimpses a little look of delight on her face. He can taste the quip that’s on her tongue, something about how it was about time he’d figured it out, that she’s amazed he can be such a great detective but still miss it when she practically puts out runway lights on the mattress.
He wraps his arms around her, then moves his hands lower, cups her arse and squeezes hard. Before she can react, he lifts her onto the kitchen counter, and pushes himself between the V of her legs. She makes a surprised noise, and wraps her legs around him. His tongue laves in and out of her mouth. She nips his bottom lip in response. Things are starting to heat up, then -
‘Alec, the eggs are burning.’
‘Sod the eggs,’ he groans, running his hand up her the inside of her thigh. She gasps and digs her fingers into his back when he hits the mark, and he kisses her again.
‘No,’ she whimpers, breaking the kiss. ‘No – ahh – ahh – Alec, the eggs are really burning.’
He becomes aware of a nasty smell.
‘Let’s not burn the house down, hey, tiger?’ Ellie suggests, patting his shoulder.
Hardy turns the stovetop off, shoves the frying pan into the sink, and promptly takes Ellie’s hand to march her back to the bedroom.
‘So much for a nutritious breakfast,’ Ellie sighs, settling on her back. ‘If we want to get to work on time, we can't have sex and eat.'
Her shirt – his shirt – has hiked up to her midriff. He gets his hands under it and squeezes her breasts, coaxing a soft moan from her.
‘I swear this is all one big conspiracy to stop me from eating.’
‘Could’ve got up earlier,’ he points out. 'Done both.'
‘I’ll take sex over breakfast but you must be daft if you think I’d take sex over sleep.’
The shirt is getting in his way now. He tries to unbutton it, then gives up and just pulls it over her head. She divests him of his own clothes next.
‘Where did you put the condoms last night?’ she asks.
‘You’re supposed to keep them in the bedside table,’ Ellie reproves.
‘When I get a bedside table, I’ll do just that.’
‘How have you not managed to furnish this place properly yet?’
‘I got Daisy’s room set up, haven’t I? And chairs in the living room…’
He gropes along the floor, finds the condoms and takes one out.
‘For someone who wears glasses, not having a bedside table… that’s living on the edge, isn’t it? Living dangerously?’
She’s sitting up, waiting while he fumbles with the wrapper. He grimaces.
‘I never know, do I?’
‘What, where your glasses and condoms will be in the morning?’
‘No, I mean I’ve been moving around so long, I never know if it’s worth buying furniture. Never know if I’m gonna stay in one place.’
He opens the wrapper, rolls the condom on and moves forward to kiss Ellie, palming himself as he does.
‘Well, you’re home now,’ Ellie says, settling back. 'Here, in Broadchurch.' She threads her fingers in his hair.
He hovers over her for several seconds. ‘This house... it'd be too small for three. Or more.’
He’s aware he’s sailing dangerously close to the wind now, so before she can reply he pushes inside her all at once. She makes a surprised noise that changes to a guttural moan. He can feel the tension in her muscles, knows that that was too much too fast. Still, she trusts him to overwhelm her, and when he starts to move she sighs into his ear.
He fucks her slow and deep. ‘Harder. I want hard,’ she says, and he obliges. His mouth drifts to her neck and his tongue finds the throbbing carotid artery. He can feel her pulse race faster the more he revs her up, and he sucks on the point for just a little too long, his teeth pressing into the skin.
She lets out a tiny hiss and it hits him that he shouldn’t leave a mark. He returns to leaving soft, wet kisses, but she whimpers, ‘Your mouth – do that again.’
‘It’ll – ungh, leave a mark.’
It’s all he needs to hear to bite down on her shoulder. She lets out a short cry and her cunt clenches – oh, he’s definitely doing that again – then she cups his arse and pulls him forward. She guides the pace of his thrusts while he sucks bruising marks into her skin, then his hand creeps lower and brushes her clit. She twitches and sighs as he strokes her, and as the intensity grows her hands leave his arse to scrabble at his back.
He’s going to have marks of his own by the time she’s finished with him – her fingernails alternate between digging and scratching, and then she’s shuddering and crying out, making these glorious little twitchy movements beneath him.
He keeps touching her, keeps coaxing little aftershocks right until he feels his own orgasm begin to overtake him, and she pushes his hand away. One more thrust, and he’s gone.
When he regains coherency, it is with a strange sort of pride that he surveys the half dozen or so hickeys he’s left on her neck and shoulder. Shivering, Ellie shifts and his cock slips out of her. He falls at her side, straight into the sticky spot on the sheets, removes the condom, and disposes of it.
Ellie looks supremely loose and satisfied. She rolls onto her stomach and stretches out like a cat, a lazy smile playing on her face.
‘I can still smell the burnt eggs,’ she mumbles.
He places his hand on her back and traces his fingers up the ridges of her spine until he finds the nape of her neck. He stays there for a moment, then moves to caress her hair. His thumb turns circles on her scalp. The two of them twine languid limbs around each other.
He’s never known how to wear human skin as if it fits. He can’t remember a time when any kind of relationship has come naturally to him – apart from fatherhood, of course, but even that’s still a work in progress. What is astonishing about Ellie now is how easy it is. It’s so easy to be around her. It is easy to be himself, to feel human, to feel loved and worthy and assured that he’s deserving of this intimacy.
‘You smell good,’ she snuffles against his collarbone.
‘Whole station’ll see these,’ Hardy remarks, touching the little marks he’s left. 'They might guess.'
‘I’m the only person you’re nice to, so I suspect they already think I’m fucking you.’
His beard scrapes her forehead as he adjusts his head upon the pillow. Her slender fingers thread through his chest hair and she drifts upward, brushing the pacemaker scar.
‘God I've missed this,' she sighs. ‘Did you?’
‘Miss it. Sex.’
‘It was a surprise,’ she continues, ‘because I’m not a very sexual person. But it really got to me.’
A little giggle escapes her.
‘I started having fantasies about sex when it’s normal and boring… you know how it is with long-term relationships sometimes, when it’s not so good. Like… when it’s late at night…’
‘And you’re tired,’ Hardy puts in.
‘Yeah. Or full.’
‘Ugh, full!’ He wrinkles his nose.
‘When it seems like a good idea at first, but then…’
‘But then you just think, “let’s just get it over with.”’
She giggles. ‘Even thinking about that, I’d go, “that’s the hottest thing I’ve ever heard.”’
He touches his forehead to hers.
‘So how do I compare?’ he asks in a rumbling brogue. ‘To your wild fantasies?’
A tiny flash of embarrassment crosses her face.
‘Was I in your wild fantasies?’
She huffs and cannot look at him. ‘Don’t be a twat about it.’
He grins like an idiot and she smacks him.
They are quiet for a moment, then she asks,
'Was I in yours?'
'When you thought about... a third person in your home. Did you think of me?'
It is beyond his capacity to answer. 'I hoped...' he struggles out, but cannot finish.
She is silent. She understands. He thinks she's known for a long time that his home has always been with her.
‘Have to move now.’ He prints a quick kiss on her lips. ‘We’ll be late if we don’t.’
‘Mm, we can be five minutes late,’ she says, keeping a grip on him. Her eyes are closed and she’s smiling. ‘I’m sure I can get away with it. I'm sleeping with the boss, after all.’