A/N: For an alphabet challenge ages ago. "I" is for "Imaginary". Inspired by G. 's "After Larkhall" series, which I think was one of the first fics to examine what the N/H relationship would really be like in those early days after Nikki's release. There is an honesty in it that looks beyond the standard "happily ever after" approach. I meant to make this fic longer, but ended up making it a snippet. Maybe one day I'll revisit it.
It hasn't been an easy year for us, has it? Completely my fault, no question. That first month, I very nearly kicked you out of bed every night, didn't I? You must have grown tired of hearing me explain it was because I had gotten used to three years of sleeping alone, curled up on a tiny cot. But you never complained, despite a few threats about me sleeping on the couch. Now, of course, I've gone the opposite way and won't let go of you in bed. I keep waiting to hear that same threat about the couch, but it's never come.
Do you remember that first night? After a few drinks at Chix, we decided against food and went straight back to your place. But as we approached the steps, I faltered outside your door, the magnitude not only of the moment but of the last four years of my life hitting me at last. You seemed to understand, because you took my hand and led me upstairs to the loo. Running the water, you told me to have a nice wash up and you'd make tea. Five minutes later I was downstairs, washed and in your robe that ridiculously came up above my knee. I had kept waiting for the water to get turned off, but was too embarrassed to tell you as much when you asked what was wrong. With two glasses of wine in your hand, you once again led me upstairs, and this time, ran a bath. A bath! Though not an uncommon thing in Larkhall, I had never indulged; I thought there was something incredibly vulnerable about taking a bath in that environment. And yet there you were, running one as if it meant nothing. But it meant everything. You sat behind me in the huge tub and with your arms and your legs around me, I never felt so safe.
That was a year ago, and here we are, like colts, finally finding our legs underneath us and standing with more strength than we ever thought possible.
I've lived this life, you know. In my head. My imaginary world I could retreat to when the nights in Larkhall got unbearably lonely. I'd play out certain scenarios and moments; what I would say, what you would do. I'd try and re-create your scent, the softness of your skin under my fingers, draw your smile with bits and bobs of memory.
It's when I look across the room at you, my book left forgotten on my lap that I realize how inadequate that imaginary world was –because what you do to my heart can't be reduced to a simple list of items. I watch you at the dining room table, the newspaper spread out before you, your left hand reaching up in a familiar gesture to tuck a strand of hair behind your ear, a small line between your brows forming in response to something that's caught your attention, and I smile.
You must feel my eyes on you, because you glance up and meet my gaze. "What is it?" you ask with a smile of your own.
"Nothing," I reply with a slight shake of my head. "Everything."