LEARNING CURVE

There isn't any formula or method. You learn to love by loving - by paying attention and doing what one thereby discovers has to be done. - Aldous Huxley


"I'm no good at this," she murmurs against his neck.

He chuckles, lips grazing her forehead. "Feels pretty good to me."

She smiles into his skin, can't help it, but then lifts her head to look him in the eyes. His left arm stays curled around her shoulder while the right moves so he can stroke his fingers along her spine, up and down, up and down.

"This I can do," she says, smoothing her own hand over his shirt, tucking her fingers under the placket, thumbing at one of the buttons. "This part - being with you like this - is easy. It's all the rest that's hard."

He hums, the vibrations traveling through his chest into her body, awaking her nerves, filling her with warmth. "Don't know how good I am at this either, if it makes you feel any better."

She arches a dubious eyebrow.

"Kate," he says gently. "I've been married twice, divorced twice. Obviously I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to love."

She shakes her head. "That's not true. You're good at love. You love Alexis, you love your mother."

"And you."

She nods. "And me."

Hesitating for only a moment, she lifts her hand to his cheek, runs the pads of her fingers over his more than five o' clock shadow. "You've loved me for so long."

He nods, but there's no resentment, no hurt in his eyes for the way she made him wait. Just acknowledgment. He has loved her for a long time.

"How did you do it?"

The writer cocks his head to one side. "Do what? Love you?"

She drops her hand, cups the juncture of his neck and shoulder, squeezes the tight muscles. "Yes, but I mean, I made you wait, all this time. Why didn't you give up, move on?"

"I tried, Kate," he says quietly. "God knows I tried. But when it came down to it, I didn't have any choice. You were all I wanted."

This man. This wonderful, beautiful man.

She leans into him, presses her body tight against his, tries to get as close as she can while they're still clothed, wrapping both arms around his neck until they stand cheek to cheek, breathing together in the quiet of her apartment.

He came back.

He has always come back.

And the night before, when she opened her front door to find him standing there, determination in his eyes, she let him in.

It had been building, she knew that. Festering, and hurting both of them. Her deceit, his secret. The pain they'd unintentionally caused one another and themselves.

But they'd had it out, once and for all, trading frustrations and hurts and secrets and lies and finally, finally, finally - truths.

Fundamental truths. Undeniable truths.

Naked truths - in every glorious and long-awaited sense of the words.

"I don't know how to do this," she whispers, muffling the words against his skin.

She feels his cheek muscles move, knows even without seeing how his expression has changed. A half-smile. Realistic, but hopeful. Always hopeful.

"We'll figure it out together," he murmurs. "Partners."

"Mmm," she agrees. "Partners. I'm gonna frustrate you sometimes."

He chuckles into her ear. "I'm gonna annoy the hell out of you."

"I'm gonna get upset with you when you try to protect me," she whispers.

"I'm gonna do it anyway."

She huffs a laugh against his skin, and he sighs. His fingers coast along the ridges of her vertebrae, up to her shoulder blades, down again until his hands span either side of her waist and he pulls back.

"I don't want to leave," he tells her, blue eyes boring into her.

She ducks her head, watches him through long lashes, shy even though he's seen everything now. "I don't want you to leave."

One hand deserts her waist, rising to cup her chin, to tug her up to meet his eyes. "Then come with me. Come home with me."

"I don't-"

"Gotta start somewhere, Kate. Have breakfast with the rest of the people I love most."

She furrows her eyebrows even as she feels a smile stretching her cheeks. "The rest."

He nods, leans forward to touch his forehead to hers. "The rest."

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