"Hey," he shouted, "Are you awake? Blair?"
He tossed his keys onto the desk and called after her. "Blair?"
She appeared at the top of the stairs. She was dressed in her lounge pants and a tank with a silk over jacket. "Hi."
"Did you just get home?"
"Yeah. An interesting day," he said, as she descended the stairs to him, and put her arms around her neck and pulled his mouth to hers.
"Scotch. I taste it."
"And I taste you." He kissed her deeper. "Wait until you hear about this day." He decided not to tell her about Fedora Man outside the building in the morning. What if McBain is right, and I am imagining things? I can't scare her, not now.
"I can't wait to hear about it. Our first assignment together!"
"Maybe," he said, leading her by the hand to the couch. She sat and he put the logs into the fireplace and lit it. The warmth was almost immediate. He sat beside her, arm around her shoulders. He began to relay the events at The Break Bar to her, and entertain her with his description of the events.
"It sounds like blackmail."
"It is blackmail, but the question is, what for and who?"
"Yeah. So, what's our plan?"
"Yes, our plan. Don't leave me out, Mr. Manning. You definitely said I was going to be working with you. Remember?"
"Yeah, I said it, but this one...come on Blair. What are you going to go undercover as?"
"I don't know. What are you going to go undercover as?"
"I think it's obvious don't you? The back room, the hookers, looks like I've got to pretend to be a client or something." He was lost in thought.
Blair dropped her jaw, and folded her arms over her chest. "Oh no you're not!"
"You're not going to be a john and engage in whatever mess it is you'd be engaging in."
"Blair, come on, give me more credit. I've been essentially with one woman for most of my adult life, and she's the woman that is my heart. You can trust in that."
"Oh, and who is she?" She feigned stupidity.
He nuzzled her ear. "Come on, now, none of this jealousy stuff."
"Jealous? I'm not jealous, it's just, what kind of husband goes off to pretend to be a client of a hooker to get information about blackmail of a guy he met at a bar?"
She slapped his shoulder. "Oh! I don't want you to do this! I mean, these are young girls, what if one of them has her way with you?"
He looked directly into her eyes. "No one can have their way with me but you." He kissed her, bringing his hand to her cheek.
"All right. I guess I trust you. So, what is my assignment?"
"None. There's no male hookers there, Greek magicians, or paunchy CIA artists."
He smiled. "Yes, Mrs. Manning?"
"Come on! What's my assignment?"
"Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to keep our bed warm, so that when I get home, I can come and act out all the things the ladies offered."
She folded her arms again, over her chest. "Oh, you....this is not fair. On our honeymoon, you said..."
"On our honeymoon, you weren't feeling really tired, going through a lot with Jack or being around men who want to pay for sex."
"Ah, so you're the one who is jealous, then."
"Maybe. I just don't want my pregnant wife dealing with this kind of story."
She didn't respond. Instead, she huffed up the stairs. "Well, I had better get going at my 'assignment,' shouldn't I?"
She was out of sight. He was slightly bothered by her anger at him, but not enough to falter. With Fedora Man, her exhaustion and worry, the revelations about Jack's abuse, and everything she had been through in recent times, he was certain he was doing the right thing. There would be other stories for them, and long hours at The Sun, and long nights with the new baby. He realized that before long, he would be holding his new little one, a little parcel of the love they have for each other, wrapped in their skin and looking at him through her eyes. He hugged himself across the chest and leaned into the couch, feet up. He'd let her calm down before heading upstairs.
It was in the quiet, solitary hours that he let his mind wander, and at times, he did not like where it ended up. He reviewed McBain's conversation with him, going back to the same question; "Manning, if I may? Could you have imagined it?" Could I be that messed up? This evening, he looked into the fireplace and just could not shake the feeling of dread. In his mind, he spied The Slice and Dice, somewhere in a prison cell, using a shank he made from silverware, peeled an apple with a knife, or maybe even peeled his cellmate. He was waiting to find an opening, a slight error on the part of the guards, a mistake that would lead to his getting free. He was waiting to come back and finish the job he promised to complete on Blair. Why didn't I kill every last one of them?
Todd approached the fire and stared into the flames. They were orange, sepia, brassy, and beautiful, but he also knew the pain they could inflict. He moved closer, to get warm, he was so cold and shivered. What about The Grim Reaper himself? All those times with the lighter, and Peter's voice, and then...he stopped himself.
She came down the staircase, first with an angry pace and her arms swinging, but when she looked at his face, she slowed.
She came down the staircase, first with an angry pace and her arms swinging, but when she looked at his face, she slowed.
"Todd? What is it?" He couldn't speak. He didn't even look at her. One arm was hugging himself, and one hand was extended forward. "Oh, My God," she ran to him. He looked down, again without speaking. One of his hands was slightly red. He was still shaking, as if it were freezing. He looked up from his hand to her face, and fell into her arms, gripping her in his panic. "Shhh," she whispered, "it's all right."
He sucked in air and tried to regulate his own breathing. Instead, he heard the raspy sounds of someone sobbing, and realized it was him. "Blair." He pulled her tighter, if there were such a possibility.
She pulled back, but he fought her. "I'm not leaving you or going anywhere, I just want to see you. Look in my eyes."
He finally focused on her face. "Babe," he said, not sure what to put after it. He found the words. One question: "What did I do?"
"I came down and I saw you standing in front of the fire and your hand was....your hand was over the flames. What were you thinking of? Do you want to tell me?" She fumbled for his hand and searched it. He had not held it over long enough to burn it.
He was afraid to. He was afraid that telling her would make it more real. "I can't. I don't know." He pulled her back to him again.
She lead him to the couch and they sat. She held him close against her and stroked his hair gently. He stared off in to the fire. This was the first time in a long while she was afraid for him.
"What is it, Todd?"
"Something...I don't know, something bad."
"Remember what Ray said. It's not going to go away overnight. Go slow. You can tell me, if you want to." He thought to himself how beautiful she was, how close he had come to losing her, how close it had come to her death in front of him, or her electrocution, or...her rape. He began to shake again. "I was thinking...about The Grim Reaper."
She gently moved his head to her lap, and he looked up at her. His expression, so boyish and innocent, snapped her heart into pieces during these times. He needed her. She asked, "You mean Carlo? Isn't that who you mean?"
"No. Carlo is not frightening to me. The Grim Reaper, for some reason, he still is. Something about him, when he pretending to be Peter. Something that he....that he did to me, or had someone do. That's more like it for him, I guess. Watch someone else brutalize me. I still can't remember all of it...but...."
"It was bad, wasn't it? It was very bad," she combed his hair with her fingers.
He closed his eyes. "I was getting close to recalling it, but I don't think I want to. I was on the brink of seeing it in my mind, and then, I don't know, I just saw you, and you ran toward me. Blair, I didn't even feel the heat of the fire. It was like when Peter used to abuse me, I'd just fade away. Like that." He wouldn't remember. He refused.
"It was safer that way, that's all." In her mind, she played his words over. Had someone, in sick hopes of torturing him with reliving his past, raped him during his captivity? Was that the horrible thing? She didn't ask him, at least not then. Instead, she stroked his hair again, off his forehead, and she started to sing. When she was finished, he was not shaking any longer, calmed and breathing regularly.
She said, "You know, I'm not mad, I could never stay mad, and you know that."
"I knew you weren't really mad. Well, maybe a little."
"Are you all right now?" Her heart broke for him. His head, on her lap, was so close to her belly, she was certain he could feel the movement she was feeling.
Within moments, he moved in reaction to it. "I felt her!" Joy was all over his face. He sat up and put his hand over Blair's small roundness. "I felt it again. She's got a lot of energy."
She hugged him close. He closed his arms over her back and rubbed his hands in circles on her. She looked at him, "Do you want to go upstairs now?"
He moved her hair with his index finger. "Yes, I do. But I have a special request?"
"All right, anything you want."
"Will you hold me, close, and will you...sing to me? I need you, Blair."
She looked closely at him. His green-gray eyes were pained, and had bags under them. His face was still contorted with grief. He seemed so tired to her, suddenly. "I said 'whatever you want.' I meant it."
They walked upstairs, and she crawled into bed, waiting for him to change. He slipped into bed next to her, putting his arms across her and lying his head on her breasts. He traced her belly and belly button with his fingers. "You and this baby, and Jack, Sam, Hope and Starr are everything to me. Everything." He closed his eyes. She knew what he needed from her, and began to circle her fingers through his hair with her free hand. My man, my God, I still can't accept what they did to you. She kept her thoughts private. She sang, "Tell me why, the stars do shine. Tell me why, the ivy twines. Tell me why the sky's so blue. And I will tell you, just why I love you..."
After a while, they both were quiet and breathing together. She said, "So, how do you feel?"
"Better," he said, "much better now."
She dragged her fingers across his chest and abdomen, seeing his body respond. He was so beautiful and so ready for her. She knew that for her, it never took long to get him going.
"Good. I know what would make it even better," she said, moving him off her gently, and onto his back. She just wanted to make him feel good. She worked across his shoulders, kissing every inch, and then onto his chest, where she flicked his nipples with her tongue. Her hands were busy running up and down his body, caressing his arms, sides, and thighs. She moved her mouth down his chest to his rib cage, where she kissed delicately along his abs and ribs. His hands found her hair as she moved lower still, licking his skin along his waist and belly button. Moving down, she dazzled him by taking him into her mouth, as fully as she could, and beginning to move over him like he knew she adored, she used her tongue and suction to bring him to a solid hardness that suddenly ached him. He closed his eyes and let himself be taken by it. He wanted release.
He buried his hands in her hair more and wildly, whispering, "Babe, it's good. So good."
She hummed, "Mm - hmm," and worked carefully to lick up the sides of him, stopping to pull on and off him rhythmically. She felt his hands kneading her hair and brought herself down on him, lower and harder. After the years together, she knew all of his signals and desires, as he knew hers. She knew what he needed, and her only goal was to hear his beautiful, ragged voice let her know he'd forgotten his pain, at least for a little while.
She got a thrill inside her thinking back to him calling her name when he finished, as he'd done so many times. The thrill turned to a physical shake through her, and she felt him direct her to all fours. Her mouth never left him, and her hands were giving him every pleasurable touch she could think of. He pushed himself inside her mouth more, meanwhile reaching between her legs and finding her center-most spot. He began fingering her, stroking and massaging her into a state of deep want. Her cries were muffled by him inside her mouth, but her body responded to him like nothing else. Never had there been a man who had brought these feelings to her, while barely having to touch her to make it end in pulses of pleasure. She felt him surge to his ending, and tasted him, loving all of him. His whispers, moans and sounds of surrender brought her closer to abandon, as he used his long fingers to drain ecstasy from her. She cried out in passion. Shortly, their shadows fell into stillness, and the dark took them into sleep.
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