Milk

"I'm going out to get milk," I hear Seth call from the kitchen. Puzzled, I head through my kitchen (which Seth says is as large as half his apartment) and then into the vestibule where he's already pulling on his jacket. He's dressed in a pair of jeans and a plain white shirt– casual and not at all fancy, but I love it. I love seeing him at his ease and in his element, being with him when he's relaxed, catching all the smiles he keeps hidden away when he's at work.

"Whatever for?" I ask.

"For the cream sauce I want to make for the linguini. It takes two cups and there won't be enough left for coffee in the morning." He cooks. He doesn't need to– I have my own cook on staff– but Seth seems rather proud of his culinary skills and I think he likes showing off for me.

"I can call downstairs and have some brought up," I tell him.

He stares at me as if I were from another planet. "You... don't go to the convenience store when you're out of milk?"

"I– well... no. Seth?"

"Hmm?"

"You're looking at me like I have two heads."

"I'm sorry," he says, chuckling and reaching out to brush his fingers over my cheek. Even such a fleeting touch sends shivers through me. "It's difficult for me to imagine not needing to run out to the convenience store."

His jacket is still on and he hasn't come back into the kitchen yet. "I pay people to do things like that, remember?" I say snagging his hand and giving him a tug, but his feet remained planted on the vestibule floor. "Come on. I'll call down and you can start making your cream sauce... Or we can do something moreinteresting..." I put my arms around his waist and lean into him. I have to stand on my toes to whisper in his ear. "You're wearing clothes. I disapprove."

He catches my hands before they quite make it to his belt buckle. "After dinner," he says, bringing my hands to his lips. How he can be so infuriating is beyond me. I freeze as his lips brush my ear. "You need to learn patience." His voice, low and rumbling in his chest like a purr, makes me tremble. It's not fair that he can do this to me. "For now, come with me to the store. It'll be an adventure for you."

"But..." He looks like a schoolboy when he smiles like that, though why he's so delighted by something so silly I can't imagine. "Oh all right. You win. You're... sure it's safe, though?"

He raises an eyebrow. "In your neighbourhood?"

I shouldn't be this nervous, I know, but ever since dad was killed I've been skittish. "It's already dark..."

"It's fine," he assures me. "And I'll be with you." He says it gently, with that small smile of his I've always loved. He said the same thing the night he'd been shot. He was hurt, bleeding, and I was so afraid I would lose him, but even then he wanted to protect me. It's been months now, and I still think of it all the time. When we make love, the scar on his shoulder reminds me that I almost lost him. He was my whole world that night and I'm just thankful to have him as part of my life now.

I pull on my jacket and follow him out the door, hand held in his. The elevator ride from my penthouse apartment to the ground floor is torturous, being so close to him, all alone... I want to do all manner of indecent things to and with him.

The store is just a few block from my building and, as we walk, the streets are bustling and bright– but Manhattan is always bright. When I wake in the night and look out the window, the streets below are brilliant and the horizon seems to glow. The only time I ever see the stars is when I venture out to our cottage in Manchester.

When we arrive there, it's more of a small, trendy shop than the sort convenience stores that populate Seth's neighbourhood, the cramped little 7-Elevens with bleary neon lights. This place, on the ground floor of another apartment building, has nice, well spaced rows, and cheerful lighting. The store clerk looks pleased to see us and doesn't stare suspiciously as if expecting us to draw weapons and demand that he empty the register.

Together, we make out way to the refrigerators at the back of the store. I slide open the door and pull out a carton of milk. "Let me," I say as I see him pulling out his wallet.

His brow is crinkled as he looks up at me. "I thought we discussed this. When we go to dinner at one of your places you pay; when we go to one of mine, I do. The same should apply when I'm cooking a meal for you."

I sigh. I just want to save him the trouble, to do something for him. Money is... next to nothing for me so why shouldn't I pick up the tab? He holds out his hand. "Oh all right." I surrender the carton of milk to him.

"It's true that I couldn't afford your lifestyle, Eirika, but I promise you that buying a quart of milk won't impact on my finances."

I sniff. "You're just afraid I'll turn you into kept man, aren't you?"

"I suppose," he says, his lips quirked ever so slightly, "that I could think of worse fates." He's smiling as we head to the cash and he pulls out a trio of dollar bills. I can't remember the last time I paid for something in cash– no wait, I do remember. The night he was shot I bought first aid supplies at a pharmacy...

While he's getting his change from the cashier I take the opportunity to stare at him, to note the line of his jaw, the way his russet hair comes just short of falling into his eyes. When he sleeps, the lines of his face are more relaxed, his guardedness vanishes and he looks vulnerable almost.

The grocery store has gone green and the cashier gives Seth the milk in a paper bag that proudly announces itself as made of non-bleached post-consumer recycled paper. He tucks it under his arm and we head back to my apartment. I take his arm as we walk, chatting about the movie we saw yesterday and about our friends from work. Joy bubbles up in me like a spring. All the years of awkwardness and hesitation are replaced by this sense of ease, of trust and comfort that I've never felt with anyone save maybe my brother and Tana.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" Seth asks as we're taking our jackets off in my vestibule. "We're both still in one piece."

Halfway out of the vestibule I stop in my tracks and turn slowly to look at him. "Did you do all this for me?" I ask quietly, a smile tugging at my lips.

"Well... we did need milk."

What else can I do but throw my arms around him? "I'll be all right," I whisper into his neck. "I just need time."And you. How do you tell someone that they give you strength, that they help you remember how to be brave? All I know how to tell him is that I love him.

ooo

Seth goes about making dinner while I set the small breakfast table. The dining room has a table that seats ten but the room seems rather cavernous when it's only the two us. He's left his overnight bag in the vestibule so I set it down in the corner of my room where he can get at it easily when he needs it. He always sleeps over on weekends. During the week it's more complicated as he has to bring a spare suit with him to work and then to my apartment for the next day. It's odd to see it hanging up in my closet, a curiosity of sorts... Seth's suit... I feel almost as if his suits are a part of him, a layer that he strips off at the end of the day.

He's still nervous about staying over during the week because he wakes up so much earlier than I do so that he can go for a morning run. But it doesn't wake me and I miss him when he's not here, when he has to leave in the night. And it makes me nervous that he should have to make his way back home so late. I know he can take care of himself, but my fears are more real to me now, made tangible by the violence I've experienced in my own life.

"Eirika! It's ready!"

I come when he calls and we sit down together for a lovely meal. He does cook wonderfully and I enjoy every bite, though I'm constantly distracted by his brown eyes, by the way his foot sometimes nudges mine under the table when he crosses or uncrosses his legs, by the warmth of his hand when he reaches out to caress mine. I'm ready to swear that he's teasing me. I need to learn patience, do I?

When dinner is done we clear the table and as he's putting the last of the dishes in the dishwasher I seize the opportunity to come up behind him and wind my arms around his waist. He nearly drops a plate when my fingers sneak into his clothes and caress his skin.

"Seth?" I whisper against his ear.

"Hmm?" With great care and deliberateness he sets the plate into the dishwasher and starts it running.

"Pasta's what people eat before running a marathon. Should I read anything into that?"

When he turns there's a sly smile on his face. "Maybe."

I feel like I could melt when he finally kisses me, long and deep until we're both breathless. His lips, his mouth, his skin are warm and I want to be wrapped in that warmth. I want to drown in his scent, in the taste of him, in that perfect closeness I feel when I'm in his arms. My blood races with my desire for him, but more than that, my heart aches with how much I love him.

I take his hand and lead him towards my room.

ooo

Eirika takes my hand in hers and draws me towards her bedroom. I hesitate as I think of the ring in my jacket pocket.

Is three weeks too soon? Perhaps a month would sound less rushed? I know good sense dictates that I should wait, bide my time, but I already know for certain. I would bend, I would sacrifice for her. I will compromise. Because I want her more than anything in this world and it's as if all these years have been a long, drawn-out courtship. But whatever the cost, I know I want to spend my life by her side.

"Seth?" she asks, glancing at me.

"No, it's nothing. It can wait."

I squeeze her hand and follow her to the delights the evening has in store for us.

THE END


A/N: I wanted to say thank you to all those who've left reviews as I've been posting ths fic. I had a lot of fun writing these short pieces and it was a wonderful surprise to see them get such a good response. And it does put a smile on my face to know someone had fun reading them. As of yet I don't know if I'll ever write the longer AU story. I don't really know if it's even necessary after this. But in any case, thank you!