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Pictures at an Exhibition

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Prompt: "Nadine realizes that she is basically living with Mike and doesn't know how to deal with it."


He never asked her to move in. The topic just never came up and that was probably a good thing, because she would have had a very pointed answer for him.

Nadine values her independence. She has been single in all the ways that matter for a very long time—she likes her space, and likes spending time by herself. Mike respects that, and she appreciates him for it. He's never pushy or smothering or overbearing, but she can't pretend she doesn't notice the way his face lights up when she agrees to spend the night, or the way he holds her close to him even in his sleep.

The real twist is, she likes it too.

When she comes down for breakfast in the morning in his oxford shirt, there's already a steaming mug of tea waiting for her next to his coffee, and waffles cooking in the iron. The whole kitchen smells like warm batter and maple syrup.

She leans into his side, and he wraps an arm around her and presses his lips to her temple. "Hi there," he says. He presses the tea into her hands and moves behind her so that he can wrap his arms around her from the back. "Do you have to go in today?" It's Saturday, but in their line of work that doesn't mean much.

"In the afternoon," Nadine says. "Just for a few hours. I should probably go home soon so I can get ready."

"Okay," he says easily. He kisses the base of her neck before releasing her, moving away so that he can check on the waffles. Opening the waffle iron, he makes a noise of dissatisfaction. He slides the waffle onto a plate and shoots Nadine an accusatory look. "You are distracting," he informs her. "I almost burnt that one."

"I'll eat it," she offers with a charming smile.

"Uh-huh. And what kind of gentleman would I be if I let you?" He ladles more batter onto the iron before closing the lid and flipping it over. "This one will be a good one. You can have this one."

/

In her apartment, Nadine stands in front of the bathroom sink and stares dumbly at her half-empty medicine cabinet. And then she drifts back out to her bedroom and opens the doors to her closet, where half of the rack is cleared.

Nothing she needs is here.

It strikes her very suddenly what the problem is, and she doesn't understand how she didn't see it coming.

"Damn it," she says.

/

She ends up back on his doorstep not an hour after she'd left. He opens the door to her, and he looks surprised but pleased. "Miss me already?" he says teasingly.

"I'm living here," she blurts out, which is not at all what she intended to say. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"...I live here," Mike corrects, sounding about as confused as any other sane person would. Nadine rocks on her feet, still standing in his doorway, and shifts her weight back and forth. "Do... do you wanna come in?"

"Yeah," she says finally. He steps aside and she strides in, kicking off her shoes with anxious energy. Gordon winds himself between her legs but she barely pays him any mind. "I have to get ready for work."

He shuts the door. "I thought that's why you went home."

"Yes, well, I can't get ready for work there because it turns out that none of my things are there. Everything is here."

"I see."

"Mike!" she says, exasperated. She isn't sure what she wants him to say or how she wants him to react, but his calm and cool demeanor isn't at all what she's looking for.

"Sweetheart, I'm not sure I see what the problem is."

"The problem," she stresses, "is that I'm basically living in your space and we didn't... we didn't agree to that."

"Do you see me complaining?" Off her look, he adds hastily, "But I can see that it's bothering you."

She sighs then, all of her frustration leaking right out of her. "I don't mean to take it out on you. It's not your fault."

"I don't see why it's anyone's fault."

"I guess I just didn't realize I was spending so much time here."

Mike shrugs. "I like having you here. I like coming home to you, or with you." He walks over to where she's standing, and when he wraps his arms around her she doesn't fight it. "I like that you're the last thing I see most nights before I fall asleep, and that you're the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Unless Gordon is barking in my face."

That finally elicits a chuckle out of her, and she melts into his embrace.

Mike continues, and his tone is more serious this time. "I never asked you to move in with me because I knew you'd turn me down. You like having your own space, and I respect that. But if you ever changed your mind..."

She leans back a bit so that she can get a good look at him, surprised. "Really."

"Yup. So now you know."

"I don't know if I'm ready for that. It seems too... official," she says uncertainly. It's a lame reason, because they are official, more or less.

He kisses her sweetly. "I know, sweetheart. Just know that the offer stands, if you ever change your mind. You wouldn't even have to ask."