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Jet is feeling syrupy, sleepy, slow, and spent when Adam slips back into his bed and pulls her slack body close to his. Her skin is still on fire, and the cotton of his boxer briefs feels rough against the bare skin of her hip.

She grumbles a little and squirms in the circle of his arms. His skin is sticking to hers, still sweat-damp but cooler now from the air of the room. His lips are cool, too, when he presses them to her too-hot temple.

“Did you bring water to share?” she asks. Her voice sounds a little hoarse, though that makes sense, of course, and oh, his neighbors are probably home, it’s a weekday evening. She can’t quite muster feeling embarrassed, though. She just had some really, really good sex.

“Yeah,” he says, “on the nightstand.” He doesn’t move right away so she can sit up, and she finds she doesn’t exactly mind. They’re becoming the same temperature, her skin is growing less sensitive, and the water will still be there in a few minutes. He tucks his head along her neck, kisses her shoulder. “And I can grab something else downstairs if you think your electrolytes are out of whack.”

She says, “Water will suffice,” but she brings her hand up to cradle the back of his head so he’ll know she doesn’t intend to move for it just yet. Adam is surprisingly clingy at times, and doubly so if they’ve done anything he considers rough or kinky. She thought at first that it was for her sake and bristled a bit at what she assumed it implied, but she’s pretty sure now that he does it for his own.

He seems to have some weird guilty conscience about being with her. Jet wishes that his niece had never let slip that his older sister thinks Adam is a bit of a creep for dating someone five years younger than our baby sister. Jet somehow doubts that dating would have been her verb of choice if there hadn’t been a kid in the room. She’s met the baby sister, his niece’s mom, who disapproves for different reasons, but has yet to meet Deborah ‘Puts The Debbie in Downer’ Mintock, as Adam described his older sister in an attempt to downplay the whole mess.

But even Jet can see that Adam was a little freer before his family had their say, a little less deliberately conscientious. He didn’t overthink being with her, at least not more than he seems to overthink everything else. That ease is returning, though, slowly; just being together seems easier with every week that passes. A process, a collaboration. A relationship, as weird as that word still sounds.

Adam’s breath has slowed and evened out, but he’s not asleep, and she says, “The 2022 equivalent of a penny for your thoughts.” She can practically hear him thinking, and it could be anything – bad news from his attorney or about his grandmother’s health are her first two thoughts. She trusts that the boyfriend barnacle routine isn’t him overcompensating for bad behavior in their relationship; he’s a horndog but he’s a mushy-hearted softie, too, and knows how important it is to her that they keep each other safe.

“Nothing much yet,” he admits, “but are you calling me cheap?” She’s too surprised not to laugh at the dumb joke. Besides, she doesn’t monitor her reactions as much here. She doesn’t have to. His bedroom is probably designed to put a stranger at ease, but that’s not why. It’s not the room. It’s Adam. It’s Adam, who says he literally can’t remember how many women he’s brought back here but also said that it doesn’t matter anymore, you’re the first one I’ve been serious about in years.

She’s serious about him, too. As spring gave way to the humid heat of a New York summer, she’d even admitted as much. First to herself, then to her disapproving best friend, and then just earlier today to her sergeant, who already knew, and then to the NYPD’s human freaking resources department. By the time she showed up here earlier in the evening, she could greet him by saying, 1PP officially knows we’re a thing.

Oh? he asked, hoisting her up against the only bare spot along that stretch of wall. Something he does often, since realizing that he can and seeing the way it makes her pupils dilate and her eyes go wide. Did you tell them we’re going steady? She had needed to write the word boyfriend, in fact; it felt oddly condescending, and all too big and small a word.

I did, she had told him, and it was his turn then to look at her as if he wanted to devour her. Every hint of his insecurities still surprises her, because his arrogance really isn’t an act, either. She wouldn’t have expected him to be so instantly turned on just because she scheduled the meeting she said she would schedule and filed the department’s little form. She’s not embarrassed by the simple facts: she’s an NYPD detective romantically involved with a parolee. She doesn’t think she loves him, yet, but she loves the way his hands curl around her thighs, loves seeing his smile for just a second before he kisses her, loves how his mouth feels against hers.

She didn’t try to keep her eyes open after that, or even to think. He rewards her so damn well simply for giving in to her attraction to him, for letting them try to have this, for opening your heart, arms, and legs.

That had been Adam’s turn of phrase, obviously, the last part. She had frowned, then explained that open legs is usually an insult, same as pillow princess. He had simply responded, I like that we have sex and I like how we do it, so they’re probably compliments coming from me.

Yeah, she’s got her insecurities, too. They spend a lot of time reassuring each other, and pretending that neither of them asked for it.

She kisses him one last time then pulls away to sit up and finally have some water. She tugs a blanket around her shoulders, more for warmth than modesty. It’s deep black, softer than it needs to be, and brand new save for a trip through Adam’s washer and dryer. His love language seems to be All Of The Above, and he doesn’t wait for an occasion to give her small, practical gifts.

Adam sits up, too, leaning back against the headboard until she finishes her water. He’s still bare except for his underwear, and she watches him appreciatively. He doesn’t have a perfect body, but it suits him: strong as hell with some soft edges. Mostly unremarkable, except for what he does with it, same as most bodies. He has a surgical scar low on his abdomen, and his knee still bears a childhood summer camp injury.

She hasn’t shared with him where most of her scars came from. They weren’t from summer camps, and Jet isn’t sure how to talk about certain things without ruining the mood of any given conversation. A few weeks ago, when he said You know how families are and she said I don’t, actually, he’d looked so sad for her. She doesn’t want to make him sad, on top of whatever tension he’s still handling with his sisters and parents.

At least Adam’s grandmother likes her. She has matriarch pull, which Jet doesn’t entirely understand but appreciates in this case. Adam had told her, almost gleeful, that Nana defended their relationship to her granddaughters. She said to shut up because our grandfather was older than her, too. Jet very much doubts that Nana told his sisters to shut up, but she knows the point of the story is how much her support means to Adam.

He reaches for her now, and Jet sees him in her periphery in time to stop herself from flinching or pulling away. He understands, or says he does, but she’d rather avoid that little flash of hurt on his face. She leans toward him instead, accepts the shoulder rub she already knows he’s offering.

It makes more sense when he’s had her restrained, if there’s some actual stiffness to work out or blood flow to properly restore. This isn’t aftercare tonight, though, it’s just… affection. And that realization is why she offers a little back, in the form of turning her head to press her mouth to his knuckles.

“You’re so pretty,” he says immediately.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah?” he answers, matching her tone. Then he adds, voice softer, “No idea why I said it just now, but you are. You always are.” He pushes on a knot in her shoulder, and she huffs, a pained little sound, as it works loose under his thumb. “It’s okay to just take the compliment.”

She knows that she is attractive. She also knows that her lipstick went from smudged to smeared to non-existent over the course of the evening, and she knows her hair is most likely a mass of tangles on the back of her head. She’ll worry about getting a brush through it in the morning. If she’s lucky, then Adam, still sleepy and tactile and reluctant to relinquish contact, will insist on helping. He’s good at detangling and braiding; he’s had experiences with previous partners, no doubt, but also with his niece. On the easiest mornings, Jet is still half-asleep when he pats whatever cute updo he chose for that day and tells her, You’re all set, go save the world.

The compliments are getting a little easier to accept. She wishes she weren’t so on guard for manipulation, that she could just hear his words and believe them.

She’s overcompensating, maybe, for the worst part: she trusts him, although she’s aware of a hundred reasons not to. She trusts him enough to ask him to bind her wrists together, to blindfold her, to hold her down and fuck her until her mascara is a mess on her cheeks. Somehow, that’s easier to ask for than it would be to admit aloud that she craves the moments just like this, too, the utter tenderness of it.

It’s as if Adam unlocked some additional mode she didn’t know she had, some latent piece of code toggled on. Nothing catastrophic, though; she can enjoy something without becoming reliant on it. She doesn’t need his arms around her or his nose nuzzling against her temple, so she can enjoy them while she has them. She works hard, and it’s not a horrible thing to partake in the occasional treat, an indulgence. That had been the whole justification for the clubs when that started, for risking exposure to COVID and everything else.

Then there had been Adam, and a whole different set of risks. But there have been rewards, too. He’s sensation combined with a strange sense of safety. He’s a convicted criminal, sure, but he’s also a sweet guy who cares about her and who has learned over the space of just a few months how to take her apart and then piece her back together, one backrub and braid at a time.

“Thank you,” she says quietly.

“You’re welcome,” he says, then asks, “What are you thanking me for?”

She shakes her head. Her neck feels nice, much looser than it usually does. She’s thanking him for at least ten things, ranging from the massage and the orgasms earlier in the evening to his overall compassion for her and his willingness to try even though she knows she’s difficult. She doesn’t say any of that, though. Instead, she shrugs, and he leans forward to press a kiss to the back of her head.

“Well, you are welcome,” he says softly, “even if it’s for something good I didn’t mean to do. We can pretend it’s all deliberate.”

It means more somehow that it isn’t. She doesn’t share Adam’s belief that they were meant to meet; she isn’t even sure he really believes that, though he’s said it at least three times since this spring. But, fated or not, she’s really grateful to be here.