"Why would you want to know, anyway?"
"What?" Her voice is already soft and muzzy, exhausted, and he immediately regrets opening his stupid mouth. Maybe he had been the only one lying awake with the question about Claire still hanging between them. It wasn't like Miller didn't have anything else on her mind, after all. Her brain had probably gone six other places while he'd still been thinking about Claire, and now here they both are thinking about it again, instead of him just letting them drift awkwardly off to sleep.
Now that he's said it, though, he has to keep going, because she's rolling over, looking at him in the nearly non-existent light. He groans and tosses an arm over his eyes. "Claire," he clarifies. "Why'd you even ask? What's it got to do with you?"
"With me?" she asks. "Nothing, I suppose. It's just…" she sighs deeply. "I'm so in the dark with all of this." He can feel her shift beside him. "You're keeping things from me. You tell me half-truths, just enough to get me to go along with you, and I'm sick of only knowing bits of the story. I've half a mind to leave you to your own with all of it, if you don't start opening up a bit."
"Opening up," he repeats, and laughs bitterly, letting his arm fall away from his face. "Me. Right."
"See," she accuses. "There. Like that. Deflect, deflect, deflect, and then I don't know nearly enough to actually be useful!"
"I slept with Claire." Miller is silent, so he continues. "Once, and it wasn't particularly satisfying for either one of us." He could stop there, but she's the one pushing, so he adds, "I don't think I was quite kinky enough for her," just to be vindictive. "There, now that's a piece of information you have. Does it help you, at all? Do you feel more enlightened about all of this, now? Does it make some giant puzzle piece fall into place?" He doesn't let her respond. "Didn't think so. Go to sleep, Miller."
"You're a bastard, you know." It's mild and without any heat to it.
"Oh," he says, "I'm aware."
She curls onto her side away from him, and he spends a long time staring up at the ceiling, watching the way lights from the road will occasionally cast patterns across it and trying not to think. It doesn't work, of course, because thinking is all he knows how to do, and he can feel her not sleeping beside him, stiff and awake. He sighs finally, loudly, and she shifts in annoyance.
"You don't have to," he says, aloud but quiet, in place of the apology he probably owes her but can't bring himself to form into words. "Help, I mean. I know I made it seem like you did, but." He breathes out slowly. "It's not your fight. I could have not made it your problem. It's just - " I didn't have anyone else, he doesn't say. "I thought maybe you could use a distraction."
Her snort of laughter is bitter and humorless. "It is now, isn't it? You saw to that." She flops onto her back heavily. "You're probably not even wrong, is the worst of it. It has been a distraction. It probably has been good for me to have something else to think about, other than - " Joe. Danny. The loss of my career, my home, my life. "All of it. Doesn't make it a bit less manipulative and shitty on your part, though."
"No," he agrees, and it's the apology he couldn't voice before. "It doesn't." He rolls his head to look at her, but her eyes are on the ceiling. "I mean it, you know. I will need a ride back, after this, but after that, if you need to focus on -" The trial. Your kids. Whatever remains of your career, your home, your life. " - other things, I understand."
"I don't what?"
"Understand. You can't. You never will. And I'm starting to realize that I'm never going to understand - " she waves a hand, encompassing the hotel, the town, the situation, "- any of this. Not really." He's already trying to make contingency plans, trying to figure out how he's going to keep an eye on Claire as a singular person with so many other things to pay attention to, when she continues. "And maybe I don't need to."
He peers at her. "No?"
"No. Maybe knowing that it's your fight, maybe that's enough." He doesn't know how to respond to that, but he doesn't need to, because she's already moving on, already going somewhere his mind has to take a moment to catch up to and follow. "Why did you let me go in?"
"To see Joe." He freezes. It's a conversation they very deliberately haven't had, and it feels even more confessional happening here, in the darkness, her curling onto her side to look at him in the dim light from the window. "You knew it was a mistake. You did it anyway."
"I didn't," he objected. "I…" I trusted you. "I trusted you." He'd meant to reword it, but those are the words that come from his lips, and he can't take them back, so he forges ahead with them. "I thought that being a cop would outweigh being a wife, and...well, maybe that has more to say about me as a husband than anything else. The Miller I knew would never lay into a suspect like that, but I only ever knew a part of you, didn't I? It wasn't Miller at all who went at him, it was Ellie, and by the time I figured that out, well."
"Too late," he agrees. "I'm sorry," he says, and of all the apologies he hasn't given her, this one comes easily. "I shouldn't have done it."
"No," she agrees, "you shouldn't've." It's too dark to tell for sure, but he thinks her voice might hold a hint of a smile as she says, "But I might not mind so much that you did."
"You've got to!" he objects. "He might go free because of it, and that would be on me." On us.
He can feel her stiffen beside him, and he winces. "All right," she concedes, "Ellie is glad of it, mostly. Or at least satisfied with having given him a few to the ribs. I hadn't thanked you for that, so here I am, doing it. The consequences, well. We'll live with those." He can tell from the way she says it that the thought of Joe going free is one that she's shoving off to the darkest corner of her mind, and he wants to kick himself for voicing it. "Miller, for the record, is ripshit."
He laughs, and for the first time, it isn't strained. "As well she should be."
"I'm not leaving this," she tells him. "Not now. You've dragged me into it, and now you're stuck with me, but you have to tell me things. You can't continue to keep me in the dark and expect that I'm just going to follow along wherever you go like a dog."
"You do, and I won't do it."
"I never would have for a moment thought you would," he says honestly. "That's not...I didn't bring you in on it because I needed a follower, Miller, I needed a partner. And I don't - " I don't know if you count as that, I don't know if you'd want to. But you're what I've got. "I don't know how I'd finish this without you." It's the last thing he means to have come out of his mouth, but there it is, out there between them, and instead of getting upset, she's laughing.
"After you've just said I can quit anytime I like," she says. "You're a real prize, Hardy, you know that?"
"That's not what I meant," he objects, but it's far too late for that.
"You've said it, though, haven't you?" His eyes have adjusted enough to the darkness to see that the smile she gives him is almost tender.
"You can leave," he objects. "Hell, I would even go so far as to say that you likely should. But I don't want you to." He spreads his hands above them. "Call it manipulative if you like. 't's the truth, is all."
"Didn't say you were manipulative," she clarifies, "I said you do manipulative things, and you do. But this?" They're so close, both of them curled into each other like they're shutting out everything else in the world, and he won't touch her, he can't, but he aches to. "No, this time I think you mean it." An almost sly smile spreads across her face. "I should catch you sleepy more often."
"I'm always sleepy."
They both laugh at that, because it's true, it's so real, his exhaustion, and it's something that's so uncomplicated, unlike everything else. Alec Hardy doesn't sleep, and when he does, he wakes up with nightmares and his heart racing and the certainty that this time must surely be the last time, and it's funny, somehow, it's easy, almost as easy as the way Miller's hand lands soft against his cheek, rasping and warm.
He doesn't reach for her, he won't, he can't, but he closes his eyes and leans into her touch, because he wants it suddenly, wants her, with an intensity that should scare him, but is instead reassuring, because he hadn't known that he was even capable of feeling this much anymore, not without completely collapsing. He's steady, though, steady and strong and oddly soothed by her touch as she curls her fingers against his jaw, stretching toward his neck, holding him still against the pillow like she's still trying to make up her mind. He lets her take her time, eyes closed, expectant, and when her lips touch his it's not soft and hesitant as he expected, it's solid and warm and resolved.
He kisses her back like he's drowning, like she grounds him, and only then does he let his hand come up, resting against her waist, not holding her there, but holding him, giving him something tangible to press his fingers against as he learns the taste of her, the right amount of pressure that leaves her gasping against his mouth.
"Miller," he breathes, because he can't let her lose herself in the tactile relief of this moment without a reminder that this is him, that she could be making a terrible mistake, that maybe she doesn't want this at all and he's just there, but she only kisses him harder, lets her own hand fall against his waist, tugging him towards her.
So he lets her pull him, lets himself roll toward her, onto her, all tangling limbs and breathless laughter against each other's lips, and it's simple in a way nothing has been for him in years. At least, it's simple until she presses a hand to his chest, pushes him lightly back, and he knows that this is the end, that she's come to her senses and -
"Can you?" her voice is wrecked from his kisses, and it takes him a moment to process the words, to become anything but a pile of gasps and sensation.
"Look, I have had a very bad year, I cannot have you dying atop me."
He bursts out laughing, leaning down to press his face to her neck, shaking against her, and she's laughing too, muffling it against his hair. "I'm not going to die on you, Miller," he promises.
"I'm sorry," she says, "that's not sexy," and he laughs again, leaning up to capture her lips with his.
"But practical," he points out. "Always practical, you." He sobers a little. "I promise," he says, "I'll let you know if I need...a break." He's bracing himself above her, but lets one of his hands slide down her body, enjoying the way she shivers under him. "It's stress, mostly," he admits, "that sets me off. I'll be alright."
"And if you're not - "
"If I'm not, I'll tell you." He tilts his head to kiss her softly and lightly. "Promise." Somehow, he feels her believe him, feels the moment when she lets the last of her concerns dissolve as she leans up to kiss him again, as her hands grip his waist, holding him close to her.
They kiss for an eternity, for years and millennia, and he wants more, but he also doesn't, also feels perfectly content to stay there with her legs curled around him, her fingers sunk into his hair, her mouth against his and every thought about anything beyond this room collapsing into nothing.
He follows her lead, refusing to progress anything without her go-ahead, and so it's her fingers that tangle into his, dragging his hand to the buttons on her pyjama top, clutching his hand between them and then letting it go, letting him fumble the buttons open, her breath hitching into his mouth as his fingers curl over her breast, finding her nipple. She writhes, and he stops kissing her to watch her, to watch the way her head rolls back, her hips pressing up against him. He drops his lips to her neck instead, kissing there, and he can feel her shiver at the rasp of his stubble against her. He nuzzles in deeper, kissing below her ear, and her hips buck up against him, insistent. He laughs low against her skin, and feels her fingers dig hard into his waist.
"Tease," she gasps, and he lifts his head to catch her lips again.
"Sorry, what was that, Miller," he says, "did you want something?" He lets a hand drift down her body and settle at her hip, curving against the waistband of her pyjama bottoms, wanting desperately to touch her, but needing her to be the one to take it there. Up until now, it could all be dismissed as a harmless bit of snogging, as some stress relief after a long few weeks, long few months, long year, but past this point -
Her fingers grip around his wrist. "If you don't touch me - "
"'m touching you," he objects, "I'm very much touching you all over, you might note."
"Not all over," she says, and he is utterly lost at the sound of her voice, somehow both teasing and desperate. He plunges a hand into her pants, finding her slick and hot against his fingers, and she shakes, her hands gripping his sides, her hips pressing into his touch.
"Oh." It's half a gasp, half an exclamation, and all Miller, somehow prim and laughing and sensual all at once.
"All right, then?" he asks, because he can't not, because he has to know that she's here for this with him, that he's not taking advantage, that she wants this.
The way she rocks against him might be answer enough, but she also gasps, "Yes, please," and he curls his fingers into her, holding her as she arches, breathless, helpless. There's a part of him that wants to slide down the bed, to take her trousers with him and press his mouth to her, but holding her is too good and too satisfying, her arms around him, clinging to him desperately, so he works her over with his fingers instead, giving her everything she needs until her face is pressed into the crook of his neck, breathing hot and damp against his skin as she pants, "I'm - I can't - "
"Come on, then," he encourages, and she comes apart against him, writhing and gasping in his arms.
"Oh," she breathes after, trying to gather herself, straightening a little. "That was - " she shivers all over, meeting his eyes and smiling almost slyly. "Why, you're good at that."
"A surprise, is it?" he asks, almost offended, and she grins at him.
"I might have expected you to be a bit self-involved," she says, which he can't even argue with. "But look at you." He can barely stand the way her eyes rake over him as she sits there, looking utterly debauched with her top open and her bottoms rucked up. "Barely even touched."
"Well." He shrugs, looking at her invitingly, and she laughs.
"There it is," she says, crawling toward him, and his objections are swallowed up in the press of her mouth against his. She's good with her hands, which he might have expected, and his trousers are gone in no time, her fingers around him, and he's so worked up already from having watched her that he can barely stand it. He whimpers shamelessly against her lips, and she mercifully doesn't tease, giving him exactly the pressure and speed he needs until he's arching into her hands, gasping incoherent warnings into her mouth.
"Let go," she tells him, and he does, curling against her with a cry, his fingers too tight on her skin, but she kisses him through it, and when he collapses against her, unable to locate any part of his body anymore, she curls her fingers into his hair and runs them through it soothingly until his breathing evens out again.
"Well," he says finally, hoarse and strained. "I. Well."
"Mmm," she agrees. He half expects the regret to seep in, to either one of them, but he feels nothing but relaxed, pressed against her, his leg thrown across hers, her breathing soft and gentle, her hands soothing and unhurried on his skin.
"Gonna clean up," he says eventually, fuzzily, and she makes an almost asleep noise in response. Dragging himself from the bed might be in the top seven hardest things he's ever done in his life, and when he comes back, he half expects to find her curled defensively into her corner of the bed, bundled up again. Instead, she's lost the top entirely, and is sprawled toward his side of the bed, and when he tucks himself in (under the covers with her), she wraps around him, her breath tired and even against his neck.
"Night, Miller," he says, and he can feel her smile.
"Night, then," she replies, sounding already asleep.
He sleeps, and he doesn't dream.
He wakes in the morning to the smell of tea, and when he opens his eyes, there's a cup being waved under his nose. "Yes," he says, "good," and his fingers come up to tangle around it, wrapping hers up in the process.
"Morning," she says, utterly too cheerful, and he groans, taking a long swig of the coffee before he can even think of getting upright. He doesn't want to look at her, doesn't want to see the regret there in her face, so he makes himself busy immediately, swinging his legs out of the bed, dressing with his back to her, and he's tying his tie as he turns back around to find her watching him almost hesitantly.
"What?" he demands, and he sees her face break out into a smile.
"Well, don't have to worry if we've changed anything, I see," she says. "Still the same bastard you always are in the morning."
He almost objects, almost comes out with some snappy reply, but he can see her waiting for him, see her almost desperate to confirm that no, nothing has changed, so instead he breathes out a laugh. "What," he says, "you expected someone different?" and he feels a wave of relief as she grins wider, and then sobers.
"Off to work, then," she says, and he nods, gathering his bag from the corner.
"To work," he agrees, and if he lets his hand drop to her waist just briefly as they leave the room, neither of them acknowledges it.