She gets Gene by himself one evening, some months in, on the settee, and before she's even opened her mouth he's giving her a worried look, like he has been for a while now. "Are you planning on telling me someday you've had enough of me?" she asks him, before he can say anything like it to her.
"Not bloody likely," Gene says, and takes her hand. His thumb brushes over her palm, warm and familiar, though they're not much for holding hands. Nowhere to do it outside the house, and better things to do in it. "You're not fretting about that kind of nonsense, are you, sweetheart? I know a good thing when I've got one."
Annie sighs and squeezes his hand. "You keep worrying about it, that's all."
"I do not." He frowns and pulls his hand away.
She's growing used to having two sets of expressions, one for work, the other with sort of look she only dares give him at home, that says she knows him even if he likes to pretend otherwise. "You're always asking me if I mind things when anyone with eyes can see I don't." She pats his knee.
His frown gets deeper. "So's Gladys. You think he's worried you're going to run off on him?"
"No, Sam wants to get me saying 'Yes' to him because he likes hearing it." Annie tilts her head to one side. "And he asks in the middle of things, when he could tell if I wasn't going to say it. That's not what you do."
"Yes, it bloody well is."
Annie shakes her head once. "Give us a kiss," she says, not trying to mock his voice because she won't manage it.
Gene narrows his eyes. "Not till we're done with the row."
She laughs. "It's not going to be a row. But you don't have to ask all the time, not if you're quite sure what I'd like."
"Why'd I ask if I was so sure?" Gene stands up. "Just like a bloody woman--I try to make sure I'm giving you what you want, and you're after me for making sure."
Annie stops herself from crossing her arms defensively, because that won't help anything, and sighs. "I'm not going to wake up in the midst of things and suddenly notice you're there and I can't bear it. And if I ever do, I'll not wait for you to ask me if I'm all right."
He shakes his head, looking away from her. "Don't you lie to me, Cartwright."
"It's what happens, isn't it? Everything's going on all right, or you think it is, and then one day it's not, and you'd best be packing your things if you don't want them out for the rag and bone man. Or half the things in the house are gone by morning."
"Not without warning," Annie says, frustrated.
Gene turns with that particular lack of expression that means he's near lost for words. "You can tell me all you like about what you want, but I've no need of your lectures on how marriages work, Missus Tyler."
Annie groans and stands up, reaching toward him though he might as well be down the block for how far off he feels just now. "I promise I'll give you warning, all the warning I can think of." She tries to think of proof, finds it, and smiles. "And if you think for half a moment Sam would suffer in silence through anything he didn't like--"
That gets Gene to scowl, which is an improvement, because she can see how hard he's trying not to smile under it. "People change," he says, holding onto his side of the argument as hard as he can.
"I won't sneak around," she says, and he lets her catch his hand this time. "If things are going wrong, I'll let you know the moment I can tell. Both of you, as many times as I can till they're going right again, or till I'm too worn out with telling you and I have to go."
Gene winces at the latter bit. "You're not expecting a great deal, are you? I know I'm a right bastard."
"I've noticed," she says, and softens it by stepping close enough to hug him. "You've your bad moments, but so've I."
Gene brushes a strand of her hair away from her face. "Not bloody many."
Annie shrugs. "And you've been getting better."
"Have not," he says automatically, as though admitting it would make it not true.
Annie can think of any number of examples, but she'll not rub his nose in them. "But you really needn't worry," she says instead. "I know what you're asking of me, and I'll not decide from one moment to the next that I'd rather you didn't kiss me. Or anything else."
She wishes for a moment she were in the habit of thumping him when he gets stubborn, as Sam sometimes does. It doesn't help matters, but it's a distraction from how annoying he can be. "It's down to whether you trust me or not, then."
Gene looks startled. "It's the other way round, love."
"It bloody isn't." She won't smack him, but she'll give him a prod in the chest. "If you trust me to know what I want, you needn't ask so much."
He catches her hand and kisses her knuckles. "Maybe I like asking you."
"Then don't look like you think I'm poised to kick you out of bed."
"Kiss me," he says, not a question at all. He rarely sounds so sure of himself with her, as if he saves it all for work. And Sam.
Annie glances at the drapes--hideous, dark, Victorian-heavy things that mean they can carry on at all hours in the sitting room if they like--and kisses him, as sweet and dirty as she can make it.
They're back on the settee after a few more kisses, clinging and fumbling like they've never quite done this before. Annie unbuttons her blouse, and Gene hisses through his teeth. "You--" he shakes his head once, as if he's stopping himself from asking a question with an obvious answer. "Down here?" he asks instead.
"Unless you'd rather not."
Gene pulls her closer by her hip and kisses her again. "Anywhere I can have you, love."
They've been careful, so careful, and they'll never be able to stop being careful. Sam's due home any minute--an hour ago, except he's on a tear about proper filing procedures, and he swore he'd stay till everybody from Aaron Aaronson to Alice Babbington had their files straightened, if it took him all night to show Chris the way it ought to go.
So they might have all night, the two of them and a settee, and no reason to rush things. Sam's been trying to explain about alone time, couple time, and that sort of thing for a while, and Annie expects he'd listen if they said they needed to finish things off without help.
"Here's as good as anywhere. Get your trousers off," she says, and Gene gives her one of those looks, the one that comes right before checking to see if she's lost her mind.
Then he kisses her again, unbuttoning as he does it. He kicks his shoes off, then lifts his hips and shoves his trousers down and off with the ease of someone who's got no reputation to lose by going into work wrinkled. The lot of them know he's divorced these days, and so long as he's wearing something that doesn't smell like a midden, they're impressed. "Enough?" he asks, reaching round her to get her bra unfastened.
"It's a start," she says, and gets her arms out of it, then pulls away from him when he brushes his thumb over her nipple.
Gene looks less confused than he ought to, as if he was expecting her to flinch, till Annie eases off the edge of the settee to kneel on the floor. There's another question on the tip of his tongue, and she can all but hear it, but he says, "Should've specified," and gets his pants off as well.
"Sorry, Guv," she says, because she knows it'll throw him a little, and sometimes that's good for him.
His scowl's not even close to plausible, this time, like his question, "When are you leaving that no-good husband of yours?"
Annie pretends to think about it, while she's actually trying to remember if she's heard anything that might be Sam coming home. She's sure they're still alone in the house, though that was just the sort of thing Gene would say to make him splutter. "When I find a better man," she says, telling the truth, because that's half the game.
The other half is getting her hand on him, getting him to move his hips forward till he's close to the edge of the cushion, and spread his legs so she has space to kneel between them. "You're not looking in the right places for that," Gene says, rather wry.
"I've all the men I could want." Annie pats his thigh and leans in to suck him.
He puts his hand on her shoulder so quickly she's sure she's done something wrong, but if she's insisting he trust her to say when things aren't working, she'd best trust him, and apart from a ragged sort of gasp he doesn't say anything. Then he's quiet, far more than he generally is.
It's better than the last few times, when he acted as though she only does this out of some backward sense of charity, as though she couldn't possibly like it. It's not her favorite thing, and it's fair to say she doesn't enjoy doing it as much as Sam does, but it's a better test of how much Gene trusts her than anything else she can think of.
He says, "Christ, that's good," when she starts to find a pace for it. She stops worrying he'll realize what she's up to, five minutes after she's begun, when he's shaking with the effort of not moving as much as he might like.
She has to let him go to laugh at herself, at the worry that's gone away. "Sorry," she says. "Just--thinking."
"I wasn't." He strokes her cheek with his thumb.
Gene shrugs. "Do you do the crossword with Sammy after you like this?"
Annie turns her head and kisses his palm, grinning. "I wouldn't try. Why, do you want one now?"
"It'd be all short words, and none of them fit to print." He swallows once and Annie waits to see what he'll say next--whether he'll tell her to keep on, or wait to see what she wants, or if stopping to think means he'll start with the questions again. "This what you wanted?" is all right, as questions go.
"Then I couldn't talk you into coming up here."
Annie sits back on her heels and tries to recall which of the vases Sam decided looked most like a funeral urn. He'd said, "No one will open this one," and put a few condoms in it, after an incident that involved wandering round the house looking for the right supplies and washing the settee cushion covers after.
"You could," she says, and gets up. She finds the vase first try--it is rather awful, but then Sam had picked it out, and it doesn't quite go with anything else. It goes well enough to be getting on with, perhaps. Like everything else.
Like Gene, watching her, waiting for her, and reaching for her when she comes back, as if she needs help getting her knickers off. "Who keeps those things in the sitting room?" he asks, with the edge in his voice that's equal parts mockery and love.
"Someone who's expecting this sort of thing to happen in it."
Annie lays her skirt over the back of the settee, as it's got another day of wear left and she doesn't need to be ironing all night, and works out the angle. There's just space if she straddles him, if he helps her balance.
"All right, there?" Gene asks, and she can't bring herself to mind the question, not when it comes with his hand on her thigh, somehow bolder than he normally manages. For all the bravado he can muster at work, this is different.
"Yeah, just--" she settles in, bracing herself on the back of the settee and his shoulder. "Don't let me fall, that's all."
The way his hand feels on her arse--warm, possessive, stabilizing--makes up for any number of too-careful questions. "Don't worry about that." He hesitates, then says, "Sod it--you need anything else first?"
Annie bites her lip. "I don't think so." There are words for girls who get soaking wet over a few minutes on their knees, but all the ones she can think of are wrong. It wasn't being down there that got her like this, or the way he felt in her mouth. It was that she could give it to him, and he wasn't afraid.
There aren't so very many words for that.
He gives her a long look like he's trying to believe her, and she's about to point out the easy way to answer this when he dips his fingers between her thighs and teases her with one wet stroke. "When you're ready, sweetheart," he says, not as lazily as he probably means it to sound.
It's not the easiest way to do it, and she knows she'll be feeling it in the backs of her thighs tomorrow as she eases down onto him, but there's something undeniable about it, as if it's dirtier to do it downstairs with the lights on and the clock ticking on the mantelpiece than upstairs in bed. As if it's dirtier with only the two of them, without Sam there. That doesn't make the least bit of sense, but then sex isn't meant to make any sense.
Gene says, "God, but you're beautiful," and gives her a squeeze that makes her wonder which bits of her he's thinking of.
Annie kisses him instead of arguing the point. She could point out what a fool she looks, splayed like this, and that she's sure she's red in the face, and that he's barely got his eyes open in any case. But she can't find all those words with Gene rocking up under her, into her. "You've still got your vest on," she says, as though that means anything, like this.
"I could take it off," he offers.
She bites his lip. "No, I'd fall if you tried."
Gene snorts. "I told you I'll not let you fall."
"Just--keep it on." Annie shifts her hand from his shoulder, reaching down, and he catches her wrist with his free hand.
"Do you want me to touch you?" he asks, and that's more like Sam's questions. Though it's closer to first principles than Sam generally gets.
But if she only wanted Sam, she'd not be arching her back and saying, "God, yes," now, and first principles are a good place to start out loud.
They've got well beyond them, practically speaking, enough that he's got her digging her fingers into the upholstery, trying to find the edge of the wood to hang on harder, enough that she's beyond caring that her knees are starting to hurt. "Ah," he says, and, "Getting close, are you?"
It is definitely dirtier to moan the way she would in the bedroom and have it echo off of different walls. "Yes," she says again. "Don't stop--please--"
"You're all right--lean toward me a touch this time--there--Christ, I can't listen to you any more. Kiss me or you'll have us both done."
Another time, another room, and she'd ride him for all he was worth, but it's really not the angle or the posture for endurance. "I don't mind," she says, not what she would say if she could think. "Go on--"
Gene shudders and thrusts up harder, once, before he gets himself under control. "That's not fair. Don't say things like that--"
"It's all right," she tells him, like he's been telling her. "Just--a little harder--" and it's half that he's giving her what she needs, the way he feels inside her, his fingers on her, and half that she's giving him the same, that gets her where she needs to be. She'd cover her mouth if she could do it without falling, but as it is the easiest thing is to kiss him again while she shivers through it and tries to keep her balance.
When she lets him go, he says, "You'll kill me, love--God, the things you do--" and something even less coherent, just before he groans into her mouth and goes very nearly still in the middle of his own orgasm.
Coherence, smugness, and awareness of overworked muscles come in waves. "Thank you," she says, and gets one last startled look out of him.
"Don't have to say that."
"Not for the sex. For believing I wanted it." Annie kisses him lightly.
"You're not bloody subtle."
"I never meant to be, any more than you do." She kneels up as slowly as she needs to.
Gene snorts and gives her a hand for balance while she stands up. "Give yourself some credit, love, you're better than that."
"Sometimes, maybe," she says.
The front door lock creaks in a particular way. Someone else might oil it, but it's a comforting noise, as Sam's proven it doesn't do that when someone's picked the lock. "Hello?" Sam calls from the front hall.
"We're in here," Annie calls back, and picks up her skirt.
Gene stands up, somewhat more carefully than he normally might. "Lock the door behind you."
"Of course," Sam calls.
When he gets to the sitting room, Sam takes in the scene in a moment, as he always does whether it's something awful or something lovely, and grins. "Good night?"
Annie glances at Gene and nods, feeling less smug than she had in the heat of the moment. "I think we've worked something out."
"Don't fuck on the settee unless you want rug burn on your knees," Gene says, with a pointed look at Annie's knees. They're a little pink, but nothing terrible.
Sam gives her a sympathetic look. "Looks like you need to soak those."
"I'll be fine," she says, instead of "We'll be fine," which would only get him asking harder questions, and kisses him hello.