AN: Hey my lurvely readers! Thanks so much your thoughtful reviews! They mean a lot. This chapter's a bit sad, and I know that others have already tackled this topic but I wanted to add my two cents. Hope you like it! xoxox

Chapter 6. The Tie That Binds

It was in that moment that he thought of her-the same moment every day, the same perfunctory chore that he had performed thousands of times since trading his fatigues for The Man's regulation button-downs.

Taking off his tie.

It was that moment that he failed, every day, to push his everpresent longing for his partner to the back of his mind. No matter how distracted he was, no matter how late the hour, that moment always flooded his senses unbearably. The rasp of fabric, of silk sliding through cotton, of a knot loosened and left undone.

All the little rituals of their imagined life together, all the fragments that combined to form a marriage he had only experienced in the depths of a coma dream, distilled into a simple, daily motion that had become imbued as something more. A benediction. A blessing. The simple pleasure of a wife's gentle fingers releasing him from his workaday shackles.

In his dream, Bren had always taken off his tie.

His role as a nightclub owner didn't dictate any particular code of dress. Sometimes he wore a simple cotton t-shirt耀ometimes he wore a flashy casual shirt with an obnoxious print. But on the days when he suited up, and wrapped that simple but deeply meaningful cord of silk around his neck, he looked forward even more to the moment that he returned to his wife. It was a routine, a pattern. A constant.

Somehow that simple gesture now contained all that was wifely... intimate, feminine, oh-so-slightly demanding, possessive. Her hands so close to him, a wisp of perfume, the delicacy of thin fingers relaxing the tension of Windsor-knotted silk. Her eyes so near to his, unguarded, looking up at him. Sometimes she would kiss him, sometimes she would laugh. Sometimes the gesture was only half-conscious and slipped into the middle of a recount of her day. But it was always its own pleasure. Sibilant, quiet. She had no idea how much it meant to him. She. Bren. Bones.

A tie was a man's domain. It was a garment that few women understood or even cared to consider. Tying one was a skill that a father should teach a son. In his case, he remembered the day distinctly, when Pops had patiently repeated the knot until Seeley managed to arrange his own tie for the first time, showing up to church with a crooked, undimpled pillow of a knot choking his air supply, feeling as proud as the first day he'd thrown a curve ball. And as much as he sometimes hated the damn things, as onerous and uncomfortable as they were, they were a symbol of manhood. Of adulthood. A yoke, yes, but one that he would gladly shoulder for that one moment of sweet release when her fingers allowed him to breathe freely again.

In his dream, he would come home. And she would undo his tie.

The first time, in real life, that she'd undone his tie, she was focused on a chicken-plucking machine. She didn't hesitate, she didn't blush-and in that alone, she was Bren once again. A woman who had every right to undress him. It had caught him off-guard, rattled him, and Cam's perceptive look had told him that she at least had observed the flicker in his composure.

The second time, she was gathering evidence after a bomb blast. She was babbling on about her holiday dinner, and he almost wondered if the intimacy of the gesture had affected her too. He had been so close, too close, to falling back on the certainty of a husband. Of allowing her to see what her innocent gesture meant to him.

But tonight, he was alone again, true to his reality. He had thrown his jacket over the back of the couch, kicked off his shoes, thinking of Parker's upcoming visit, thinking of his own growling stomach and the indulgence of a cold beer from the fridge-but the moment his fingers reached to undo his tie, he found himself still. Paused. Viciously hurled out of one reality and back into a life that refused to free him from its grasp. A life he'd never truly lived, but still had experienced more deeply than he could explain.

His own fingers, too blunt and rough, digging into the knot that she should have freed him from. At this moment, every day, he felt like a man who had lost his wife.