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“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay? If this is too much-” Tess is asking Lori as she hands her over Sylvie, and Rick takes the bags with Sylvie’s things from Shane.

Dismissing her words with a wave of her hand, Lori takes Sylvie into her arms and the baby immediately settles without much fussing. “You seem to forget I already raised one baby. Takin’ care of this lil one for a couple of days won’t be anything new.”

She knows that Lori and Rick are more than capable of handling any situation that may present, but somehow being separated from their baby for the first time has Tess worried. Not about Sylvie exactly, because the baby adores the Grimes; she’s more worried about Shane and herself and separation anxiety bound to kick in once they get home.

“Sweetheart, come on. This pumpkin’s gon’ be just fine. Ain’t that right, love?” Shane is leaning over and cooing to Sylvie as he tickles her sides, making her giggle and bury her face in Lori’s neck. Rick teases him a bit, but Shane doesn’t show any signs of being offended; he loves his baby girl and is never ashamed to show it.

Shane’s eyes are shining as he watches their daughter, a huge smile is plastered on his face and for the umpteenth time, Tess thanks the universe for gifting her with such a wonderful man.

He was more than helpful from the moment they found out she was pregnant, always there to cook or bake her whatever Tess craved for in that moment, massage her back and feet, and even hold her hair as she puked the entire content of her stomach into their toilet during the first months of her pregnancy, never once complaining.

Ever since Sylvie officially joined their family six months ago, Shane has been busting his butt off both at work and at home, doing house chores, cooking, caring for the baby when Tess was exhausted and could barely get out of bed. “You’ve been caring for her all day. Let me take over,” he will say and send her off to sleep while he busies around the house doing as much as he can, though never straying far away from Sylvie. They were practically joined at the hip at this point, and Tess would be lying if she said she wasn’t just a tiny bit jealous of their bond.

During their weekly dinner at the Grimes’ the previous week, Lori suggested they leave Sylvie with them for a couple of days and take a break for themselves. At first, Shane was against it as was Tess, fearing leaving their baby for such a long time. Never before had they done that in these six months, so the mere thought scared them. When, however, they came home and discussed it, they realised they needed some couple time. They decided for the weekend, since there wasn’t much work then and Shane was able to have those days off.

And so, as they say goodbye to Sylvie, both pressing a kiss on her forehead, they head home, both looking in the rear view mirror as Lori holds Sylvie’s hand and waves at them.

 

*       *        *        *        *

Crossing the threshold of their home and being met with nothing but silence and occasional buzzing of their fridge feels odd and unwelcoming. Moving into the living room, Tess and Shane look around at all the mess that fills it: piles of clean and folded clothes, Sylvie’s toys, Shane’s work files scattered on the coffee table and his shirts lying over the couch’s backrest. There are dirty dishes piled in the sink, she remembers; dirty coffee cups sitting next to each other on the counter and a half eaten sandwich she abandoned that morning because she was so tired she could barely eat anything.

Tess wants to cry. It hits her then, how utterly exhausted she is and how in spite of constantly running around the house, picking  up clothes and toys and wiping every surface, everything still looks disorganized and filthy. She feels horrible and irresponsible for letting her home become this. A feeling of utter failure grips her heart in that moment and she wants to scream her frustration out.

A tear rolls down her cheek and she quickly wipes it with the back of her hand, not wanting Shane to see it. He’ll just get more worried. Just then, as if sensing her distress, he wraps his arms around her, resting his chin on her shoulder from behind, his warm embrace relaxing her for a moment, before her anxiety kicks in and a torrent of tears appears on her cheeks.

“Hey, girl. I don’t want none of those tears, you hearin’ me?” he’s whispering close to her ear, lips brushing against the shell of it as he holds her close, swaying side to side. It calms her for a bit, this tenderness he shows for here in moments like these, when her brain is being her worst enemy.

“But look at this!” she motions with her hands, sighing exasperatedly. Somehow, the mess seems even worse now and she starts shaking in his arms. “This place looks like a pigsty. It’s like I never do anything around here!”

She’s tired, so tired of everything. Instead of cleaning up, she wants to break the damn plates and glasses in the sink, wants to throw away those clothes and close herself in their bedroom without ever getting out.

Shane’s arms are still around her, his lips brushing against her temple as he mumbles sweet, sweet words to her and confesses how much he loves her. He’s kissing her shoulder then her neck, pressing his cheek against hers as he entwines his fingers with hers on her belly still bearing some of the baby weight.

“Don’t say that. You’re doin’ the best you can, don’t go blamin’ yourself or I’mma get real angry with ya.”

“But-”

He cuts her off, not letting her blame herself any more. Instead, he twirls her around and her hands land on his chest as she gazes into his dark eyes filled with so much understanding for her and what she’s going through.

“The only butt I want today is yours and preferably naked. We have the whole weekend for ourselves and I’ll be damned if I don’t use every minute of it to make ya feel better.”

Tess smiles then, has to because how could she not?

She never told him, but Tess feared Shane wouldn’t want her after she gave birth. Never having enough time for herself, she thought he wouldn’t find her attractive anymore.

She was an idiot for ever thinking that, for letting her anxiety dictate her feelings. Her man... He was the sweetest, most patient man and never made her feel anything less than beautiful, never pressured her into anything and always offered encouragement.

He is looking at her now in the way that makes her feel like she's his whole universe, his hand caressing her cheek and Tess wants to melt into his touch, forget everything and just enjoy being with Shane.

“C’mere, darling. I love you.”

He picks her up with ease as she entwines her hands around his neck, and carries her to their bedroom. When he puts her on the bed with all the care in the world and starts taking off her clothes, Tess thinks he wants to have sex.

Her stomach fills with dread then. It’s not that she doesn’t want to have sex with him, because of course she does. What bothers are her own issues with the new shape of her body and too much self-doubt.

They haven't been intimate since before Sylvie was born. Usually they'd be all over each other, but Tess' growing discomfort during her last weeks of pregnancy and the post-pregnancy recovery period took a heavy toll on them. They would manage to share a kiss or two but it never went further than that. Most days and nights, they both just crash from exhaustion for two or three hours before the baby wakes them up.

They missed each other, that much was obvious, and not being able to show their love for each other the way they were used to made their love life bland.

She pushes her doubts aside, refusing to let her fears control her. Reaching for the hem of his shirt and pulling it up, Tess expects Shane to hurry things along, which is why she is surprised when he stops her. When she gives him a confused and hurt look, he cradles her hands in his, rubbing her knuckles with his thumbs. “I want you to get some rest first, sweetheart. We can get nasty later,” he tells her with a wink and Tess wants to kiss the breath out of him for being so attentive. 

Nodding, she leans back on the bed and lets him take off her clothes, leaving her in just her boy shorts. Fighting her instinct to cover herself, she stretches a bit and turns to his side of the bed, grabbing Shane's pillow and hugging it to her chest.

“Gimme that shirt in the corner,” she mumbles, pointing at one of his work t-shirts lying on the rocking chair in the corner by the window. It was one of her favourite Shane shirts to steal from him. It was soft and a little threadbare, but she didn’t mind one bit. It was his, smelled like him and enveloped her perfectly so she could let her imagination run wild and imagine Shane hugging her even when he wasn’t at home.

“I was wonderin’ where this was,” he tells her with a hint of teasing as he takes the t-shirt and comes back to stand by the bed. Tess turns slightly and lifts her arms so Shane can put the t-shirt on. He tugs it down so it's over her thighs, stopping right under her ass.

“It smells like you. Keeps me safe,” she tells him as she starts drifting off to dreamland and he pulls the covers over her, tucking her gently.

“I'mma keep you safe. Don’t need no shirt, darlin'.” He kisses her temple and stands up, making sure to close the door and let her catch a few hours of undisturbed sleep.

 

*      *      *     *    *

When Tess wakes up and glances at the small clock on her nightstand, she's surprised to see she has been asleep for ten hours and it's already night-time as far as she can tell by the soft dusk seen through the window and a couple of street lamps that cast a pale glow on their bedroom walls.

When she shifts in bed to get up, she realises Shane is lying beside her, his soft snores filling the quiet room. He looks so peaceful, his eyelashes fluttering only slightly as he mumbles something in his sleep and Tess hopes he too will get some rest.

Careful not to wake him up, she gets up and makes her way to the kitchen, yawning a few times. For a moment, she wishes to go back to her warm bed and her sleepy boyfriend.

Before she reaches the kitchen, she retreats a few steps and as she takes in her surroundings, she realises there's no mess in the house.

Those piled up clothes? Gone. Sylvie's toys? All collected in the box by the TV cabinet. The pillows on the couch are all fluffed up and sit in their designated place and the coffee table is barren of Shane's work files, now neatly tucked under the table.

Going into the kitchen and readying herself to tackle the dirty dishes, Tess is yet again caught off guard.

There are no dirty dishes. The kitchen looks spotless and not a trace of this morning's mess is left. Even the trash bin is empty and a clean dishtowel was put on the counter by the microwave.

As she finds her way to a chair and plops on it, she starts crying.

Shane cleaned everything up. He let her sleep and took care of everything himself. It makes her feel guilty and relieved at the same time, since she was about to scream just thinking of everything awaiting her.

Before she can let herself wallow even more in her misery, Tess decides to use the time while Shane’s asleep to take a shower to relax and make herself feel a bit better.

It takes her much longer than she's used to, but she takes her time to really pamper herself. She lets her hair soak in some nourishing mask while she shaves her legs and rubs her skin clean. Then she rubs in a generous amount of moisturizer that smells like cherries (Shane’s favourite) all over her body.

When she's done, Tess puts on some clean panties and Shane's t-shirt then starts making dinner. The fridge is fully stocked as is their pantry; Shane must've taken care of that as well. Deciding for something simple and quick, she busies herself around the kitchen, humming some tune that has been stuck in her head for days before realising it's the lullaby Shane's been singing to Sylvie for the past month. 

After she’s done with dinner, Tess sends a quick text to Lori to check on her daughter, and when Lori replies that everything is fine, it puts her mind at ease and lets her focus on herself and Shane.

After setting the table, Tess makes a quick trip to the hallway mirror to check her appearance. Her naturally wavy hair doesn't fail her this time either so she doesn't need to do much with it. Making sure that everything is set in the kitchen, Tess goes to wake up Shane.

She starts by kissing his knuckles, gently pressing her lips against a few scabs adorning them, making her way up his forearms - her kryptonite - and biceps, then kisses his stubbled jaw and finally his plushy lips. Shane stirs only slightly, his arm going instinctively around her, his hand resting on her lower back.

"Hey, baby, wake up." She kisses the top of his nose and rests her forehead on his cheek. "Shane, baby. I made dinner."

Instead of getting up, he pulls her towards him as he turns on his back and she falls on his naked chest, her face a hair's breadth from his. He's still got his eyes closed but there's a wide grin on his face as he draws her close and wraps his arms more firmly around her making her shirt ride up.

"You got some rest?" he asks, nuzzling her cheek, his warm palm making its way up her thigh, making a short stop to squeeze her ass before continuing its journey under her shirt.

"I did. Thank you for letting me sleep. And for gettin' the house back in order. You're one of a kind man, you know that?"

She brushes her finger along his cheek, watches as his eyelashes flutter and a ghost of a smile appears on his handsome face.

Watching him like this, being all peaceful and recollecting all that he does for her and their family, Tess thinks she couldn't love him any more than she already does. And then she thinks to herself, It's Shane, you can always love him more because he proves times and times again how wonderful he is, how he loves her and doesn't shy away from taking care of her and the baby, how he doesn't get fazed by dirty dippers, constant crying from both Sylvie and her, how he doesn't mind doing house chores and making meals when she can barely get out of bed.

She loves him, but she can always love him more simply for being Shane.

"I love you, baby. I hope you know that," she whispers in the stillness of their bedroom, cupping his face as she gets all choked up.

Tess knows nothing she says will ever fully encompass all her feelings for him, all her love and gratitude and admiration she has for him, but she hopes her actions will speak for her.

Just then Shane opens his eyes and regards her for a long time, his hand on her back caressing her skin.

"I do. And I love you too. More and more each day."

He's sincere and the love he has for her shines in his eyes, dispersing her fears and doubts about herself, about them making their relationship work.

He is leaning forward then and she turns so she's the one lying on her back now as Shane hovers over her.

"Are you gonna be okay?" he asks her worriedly and her heart is yet again full of so much emotions for him. However, as much as she loves how attentive he is, she needs him to leave that aside and make love to her the way he hasn't done in more than six months.

"Yes. Now stop talking and start taking off those boxers!"

Shane just chuckles as he pulls down his boxers and throws them on the floor and she does the same with her shirt. When she goes to take off her panties, his hand on her wrist stops her.

“Don’t take all the fun out of it,” he tells her with a lopsided grin and Tess rolls her eyes, but complies. She puts her arms above her head, giving him all the control and Shane doesn’t disappoint.

Not the first time, when he makes her come two times with his tongue and his fingers alone.

Not the following two times when he makes her come by burying himself to the hilt, all the while making sure she is doing okay and he’s not hurting her.

He kisses every inch of her body from her toes to her forehead, writes love confessions on her skin with his lips, and worships her with all he has.

Holding her in his arms he repeats times and times again how happy he is with her, how he never dreamed of having a family like this because people kept telling him no woman would want to settle with the likes of him. They kept telling him he was no good, just another manwhore roaming round King’s County living on his good looks and high school fame.

Her heart aches whenever he confesses this to her (because he has done it many times by now), that she wants to spit in all their faces and make them choke on their words.

“They don’t know you, baby. I do. And I love all of you.” She snuggles closer to him as her fingers play with his hair and her eyes lock with his, yet again full of self-doubt. Tess makes sure her voice is loud and her words clear because she doesn’t want him doubting himself ever. “Your family loves you, Shane, No one else matters. No one but you, me, and our baby.”

The sadness in his eyes disappears then. He nods to indicate he heard her and understood even what she didn’t say, and he buries his head in her hair, kissing it.

A few minutes of just existing in each other’s arms pass and they put on their clothes and walk hand in hand to the kitchen. Shane gets behind Tess and tickles her, making her laugh and slap his arm as he bites a hickey into her neck and she gasps then, tilting her head back and letting him press a few kisses behind her ear.

Shane sits at the table and waits as Tess reheats the dinner since it got cold while they played around in their bed. Tess steals a few glances in his direction as she goes around the kitchen cleaning up and putting away the dishes she used while making the dinner. She tries to hide her smiles, but then realises she doesn’t have to. Tess knows how much he loves to see her smile so she doesn’t want to deprive him of that, especially since he’s the reason for her smiles in the first place.

Shane is sitting with his feet crossed, arms propped on the back of the chair as his gaze roams up and down her body, stopping every once and a while on her barely covered ass.

“Like what you see?” she teases him as she strikes a pose to prop her ass and pouts her lips.

Shaking his head and laughing, Shane stands up and crosses the few steps that separate them. His palms immediately settle on her behind as Tess moans at the touch.

“You in my shirt...  My favourite look on you, second only to you naked. Matter of fact, I’d like to bite that lil apple-shaped ass of yours right now.”

“No hanky panky until after we eat, Walsh! You promised,” Tess reminds him, pointing a finger at him and he retreats back to his chair feigning disappointment.

While they eat, they talk about their plans for the weekend, what they could do or watch. Shane asks about Sylvie and Tess lets him know she’s got the entire Grimes family wrapped around her finger, especially Carl, according to Lori. Shane makes a noncommittal sound and changes the topic.

After dinner, they move to the living room and put on a comedy, cuddling under the blanket on the couch. They laugh and make out, remembering what it was like before they had Sylvie and their time as a couple was cut short by their new parent responsibilities.

When the movie ends, Shane and Tess go back to their bedroom and quickly fall asleep, both still tired in spite of taking a nap earlier that day.

 

*         *         *        *        *

It’s about half past three in the morning the next time Tess wakes up to find Shane’s side of the bed empty. She listens for any sounds from their bathroom, but hears none.

Curious, she leaves the bedroom only to find Shane standing on the threshold of the adjacent room – Sylvie’s room. He’s leaning against the doorframe holding one of Sylvie’s plushie toys.

“Shane? Why are you up, baby?” Tess asks him, coming up behind him and hugging him.

Sighing he answers, his voice breaking up a bit, “I got up to check on ‘er. Was worried when I didn’t hear anythin’ over the baby monitor. I rushed here and-”

“you realised she’s at Rick and Lori’s,” Tess adds, hugging him more firmly.

“Is it crazy I miss her? We’ve been inseparable for six months and the first night we have all to ourselves, I want ‘er here with us.”

His head falls, a shiver runs through his body. Tess presses a kiss between his shoulder blades. “No, baby, it’s not. I miss her too. It just means you’re a good dad. The best.”

Shane turns around and Tess can see a worried look on his face.  He’s still holding the toy like it’s his lifeline. “Should we call Rick, just to check on them?”

Cupping his face, Tess looks at him. “Lori would’ve called if somethin’ was up. I know you’re stressed, I am too, but let’s not worry over nothing. Please? We'll call them first thing in the morning.”

She expects him to agree but of course he doesn’t. Instead, he states, like the smartass that he is, “It’s already morning.”

Tess laughs, rolling her eyes and he laughs too, the worry in his eyes easing.

“At a more decent hour then. Now come to bed.”

She pulls him towards their bedroom and they settle back under the covers, Tess hugging him from behind as Shane clutches Sylvie’s toy to his chest.