five

December 13th
11:34 PM
New York
——

Audrey had been awake for hours and the only way she could think of tiring herself was by watching the night through the window.

It was frosty and icy, the December air taking with it every lick of warmth the apartment offered. The snow had thickened tremendously, a blanket of white over the streets and rooftops of cars. The image was still like a painting. For a moment her world was picture perfect and she would have traded anything to keep living this way.

She wrapped her arms around herself, chilled to the bone, but drawn to the peace and stillness of her surroundings. She was able to hear her own thoughts for once instead of the jumble of confusion her mind usually was. It was hard to find solitude sometimes. Each day was a struggle; a struggle to wake up, to eat, to look after her daughter, to meet the needs of her boyfriend, to go to work, to do anything. She was tired. Of everything. She wasn’t able to find peace lying next to Leah in her room, or next to Gunner for the past months, or by herself on the couch through nights when she really didn’t want the company of either.

Sometimes loneliness served a good purpose. It kept her grounded. But as she stared out the window, the air in the small living room stagnant, she felt less connected to herself than ever. Lost. Conflicted. Ashamed. The things she wanted, it wasn’t any of this.

Her parents had warned her, yet she was stupid and in love with a drug addict. Well, she had always been a naive person. Her father had warned her that the world was cruel, but she was determined to prove him otherwise. Look at where she ended up in the process. She lost everything. Herself. All of it. She had nothing.

The day she met Gunner Shaw was in Central Park. They had stumbled upon each other as one stumbles upon treasure, by mistake. From the very first glance they shared, it felt like he was one of those rare types. Something about him just felt… right. It was so damn cliche that Audrey wanted to chide herself for even believing in such a childish fantasy. However, she was practically a child when she met him. Sixteen. Wishful. Optimistic. Immature.

Audrey had first fallen in love with his appearance, but not because she had a shallow attraction to his looks. He was beautiful, a peculiar type of beauty that she had only seen in him and nobody else. To others, he might have not been much. To her, however, he was perfect. Not perfect as in without flaws. Perfect because of his roughness and his flaws.

She was always hopeless when his lips formed that perfect curve. When his dimples would crinkle his cheek and the corners of his light eyes creased. The last time she indulged in a sight so graceful was years ago. Gunner’s smiles had gradually disappeared along with their happiness; now, they were both cold around each other, putting up a facade of indifference as if it didn’t hurt that there was so much strain between them.

“What’s going on with you, Rey?” If it weren’t for his reflection in the glass pane, Audrey would have thought his voice a figment of her imagination. “Can’t sleep?”

She kept her lips pursed, her gaze steady on the view outside the window. She couldn’t meet his tired eyes.

“Are you still mad at me?” he tried again. When Audrey gave him no response, he came closer, his arms circling around her waist. She didn’t pull out of his grasp but sunk into the solidity of his body, engulfed by his presence.

“I’m sorry about forgetting Leah,” he said, resting his chin atop her head. “And for getting you fired.”

Sorry wouldn’t exactly put everything back in place, but despite it all, she just missed Gunner.

They rarely made contact. Their intimacy was out the window ever since she started working and every now and then, they’d exchange glances. That was all. When one was home the other wasn’t. It was as though they went the extra mile to keep away from each other. She couldn’t remember the last time they kissed or touched or spoke about something that didn’t end in an argument.

“It doesn’t matter anymore.” Audrey’s gaze lingered over his reflection, clouded by concern and disappointment. “It’s happened and it’s over with.”

“I was scared you were gonna leave today.” His arms loosened and his hands gripped her shoulders gently, turning her around to look at him, the real him; exhausted and overwhelmed by pain.

“I thought once you locked yourself in there with Leah, you’d pack and just…walk away from me, from us.”

He appeared as if there was a weight on him that he couldn’t carry any longer. The burden he held wasn’t just mental, but physical too. His entire persona was destitute and lacking the vigour it once housed. Audrey worried that he might have given out at any moment because of how frail he looked. It translated into the dull quality of his eyes, the pallid undertone of his complexion, and the brittleness of his tone. He was far from drunk or high, he was as sober as could be. And it was the worst version of him, the most delicate.

“You’re the only thing I have left, Audrey.” He splintered momentarily, slightly bowing his head to conceal what she gathered were tears. “If you go, then it’s over for me.”

Audrey emitted a quivering sigh. “I’m still here, aren’t I? I haven’t gone anywhere.” Maybe not yet.

Gunner breathed in heavily and his arms wound around her once more as though he feared she was still plotting her escape from him. “I’ll try harder, Audrey. I know I say that a lot but I’ll try really hard this time. I’ll make you happy. You won’t have to worry about anything.”

She bit down on her lip and focused hard on his scent. The touch of his hand in her hair didn’t faze her from this elaborate, trancelike manifestation of hurt; this fever of emotion. She wasn’t strong enough to face him, not when she was like this. Not when she was weak and moments from breaking. Not when she had sworn to herself to put Leah above him. The only thing that gave way to so much distraught, the anxiety she’d been hiding, were his fingers below her chin reorienting her eyes to meet his.

“I love you, baby, with all my heart.”

The house fell so silent that even the whistling wind behind the window was scarcely heard. His hands caressed her skin like the crisp winter air, and openly vulnerable, it ignited fires in her stomach.

She froze, not knowing what came next. It had been so long since they did anything of the sort. But as soon as his lips melded against hers, she could have just faded into him.

There was electricity pulsing through her veins and the inner workings of their lust weaving them together. The press of his mouth against hers had been something she didn’t anticipate. After months (maybe a year?) of distance from the man she claimed to love, she was completely unsure of what to do. It felt like she had to start over again. It felt like there was so much she had to tell him but wasn’t sure how. As they kissed each other, those were the only thoughts flashing in her mind. Thoughts of them, thoughts of where they were supposed to go.

Her gasp gently echoed between them as his tongue traced over her flaming skin and fingers slipped beneath her t-shirt. And she wanted it. The touching. The kissing. The whispering. The thought itself is enough to bring tremors to her knees.

But she separated from him for a singular moment.

They stared at each other in an odd way, as if there was too much conflict in their minds. There was plenty written on his face, which took her by surprise because of how little emotion he had shown her all these months.

Audrey caved first. She placed her lips on his and he brought a hand to caress her cheek. She fell in love with him like it was the first time. As he pulled her closer and filled the room with so much anticipated passion, she was clay in his hands, allowing herself to be moulded to whatever form he wanted. Because he gave her shape, he gave her a reason just as much as she gave him one. This tug of war, this give and take, was what defined them.

She let him in, held him tight, right until every space between them was nonexistent and the fire in each kiss seared her skin and bones. She ran her fingers along his spine, his hands ran through her silky hair. She could feel the beating of his heart against her chest and sighed.

Lost in the tenderness of his lips, her mind painted itself with the colours of all her buried emotion. Everything she harboured for him was unleashed. Given.

They gave themselves a chance to breathe but remained close. Gunner’s hands settled on her hips and her arms twined around his neck. Finally, she could look at him without worrying that what she wanted, what she was doing, was wrong.

“We haven’t done that in a long time,” Gunner whispered into the space between them. “I didn’t mean for it to happen when…”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Gunner.” Her fingers gently gripped the ends of his hair. He shut his eyes like it was too overwhelming to look at her.

“Feels like I took advantage of you.” His warmth began disappearing from her side and she felt a familiar twist of guilt in her heart. “I wouldn’t have stopped, that scares me.”

“But what if I want you?” she asked, placing a hand on his chest with the intent of drawing him close but never quite so. “What if I want…”

“Why would you… you hate me right now though.”

“I might be upset with you, but I don’t hate you. I honestly never could.”

Something flashed beneath his expression, but before she could investigate it, it vanished. “You’re sure about this, Audrey?”

A spell of paralysis was cast over her, spreading heaviness throughout her limbs, making it impossible to move any part of her. “Yeah… yeah, about you.”

Gunner kissed her again, and gathering her in his arms, stumbled to their bedroom. Inside they fumbled desperately at each other’s clothes, grasping and pulling and undoing the things that kept them apart. They trembled with anticipation, untamed with desire, their lips brushing, tasting, feeling one another.

Audrey had felt so distanced from Gunner. For months without him touching her, without the connection, without the force that sealed them together. As they rid each other of every barrier and fell back onto their bed, encompassed within one another, she began to cry because he was everything she wanted and everything that was hurting her.

It wasn’t a soft and gentle cry, but a ravenous and sweeping hurricane of despair and agony. It sprouted from the deepest part of her heart, carrying with it everything she had kept hidden away from him. This was her breaking point. She knew she couldn’t take any more of whatever this was no matter how much she longed for it.

“You okay, baby?” Gunner broke their kiss and focused on her moist eyes. “What’s wrong? Did I upset you just now?”

Audrey didn’t make a sound. She cried, but she had no voice.

“Audrey…” Her boyfriend’s worried face lost its tension and took on an expression of pity.

“I’m fine,” she answered, hardly believing her own words. “I just missed you, that’s all. I missed you.”

He leaned forward and kissed her tears away. It was pointless since more of them poured over her cheeks. “I missed you too. I really did.”

Gunner’s hands found themselves in her dark hair, their lips locking tightly, scared to create any spaces or excuses. He coaxed shivers out of her. Body to body without space in between, they said more now than they had in the past year. They melted into each other and gave way to a new feeling they would otherwise never be able to satisfy.

It could have just been the loneliness finally understood, but loneliness together would be better than loneliness miles apart. In the night, there was no need to be alone.

She savoured every second of it all. His heavenly taste, the tenderness of his skin beneath her fingertips, the sweet tremors travelling down her spine. His tongue tore through the seam of her lips and did all it needed to draw more whimpers from her and groans from him.

His sloppy kisses left her lips and trailed along her jaw and to her neck, tasting the sweetest parts of her fervently.

His lips glided over her collarbone, leaving behind his markings. Lower to her breasts, sending her mewling with pleasure. Her nails scratched at his back, at his tattoos, admiring her name printed on the curve of his neck. He lowered himself and left not one part of her untouched.

“You’re my whole world, Rey,” his husky voice managed to rouse her again. The lazy smirk on his face sent eruptions through her stomach. “If I change, that won’t.”

They gazed deep into each other’s eyes, the way he held her being so gentle and tender that it was nearly impossible to imagine he was the one who had done all those things to hurt them.

“You’re not drunk, are you?” she asked. “Or high on anything?”

“Wouldn’t do this if I was. I’d want to remember every minute with you.”

She nodded and sighed gently. Was it out of relief? She didn’t know.

He settled himself between her knees, looking at her in a way he’d never looked at another woman. Her arms pulled him closer by the shoulders, her face hidden in the crook of his neck. He smelled like he was made of all the most beautiful things in the world. His skin against hers, soft and bare, she sunk deeper into the moment and pleaded that he might just give her what she ached for.

“Just look at me, Audrey.” He placed both her hands on either side of her head, lacing their fingers. Every fibre of her was in love with Gunner Shaw. Surely, he had changed from the boy he used to be and not in the best way, but he was still Gunner. Wherever he existed, so would she.

The hallow planes of his cheeks, his illuminated eyes, his lips just breaths away from seizing her reality, the thick frame of lashes that brushed her skin when he leaned forward to fill in the gap between them, she loved all of it.

He sank into her cautiously, anchoring her gaze and watching her features wash over with desire, need. “You’re so perfect,” he lowered his forehead to hers as she connected their lips, their moans silenced but the erratic heartbeats filling in the quiet. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”

Her fingers dug themselves into his back, her head turned slightly to the side as his mouth moved slowly, carefully below her jaw to her neck. “No. No, I want you, Gun.”

He hummed into the air, smiling as though this wasn’t their most intimate moment. Eyes transfixed on one another, they saw nothing but lust kindled by the heat of the moment. “I missed this.”

And she had him all. Gunner Shaw in his entirety, his beauty. All because she loved him–in this moment or the next. It didn’t matter.

He moved fluidly with the moment, taking his time to memorize her, feeling her as though he’d never experienced such warmth. The warmth of her body, coaxing him, embracing him, wound around him as he drove his hips against hers repeatedly, leaving nothing but skin to separate them, the rhythm making her dizzy in the best way possible.

They shared their uneven breathing with one another, caught between two places as they chased one another to the place of their peaks.

“You’re so pretty,” the words left Gunner as a shallow breath. His right hand gently pressed into her stomach.

She couldn’t find it in herself to look away. So entranced by him and the delicate inner workings of one another, how perfect he felt all around. So enraptured by the dark, by what it was offering her. Sheltered in its arms and away from the rest of the world. Gunner was just a man, but he was otherworldly in the moonlight. Passionate in a way that gave rise to the deepest parts that she managed to stow away.

Her warm breath fluttered against his hot skin. A trembling hand settled in her hair, his mouth finding hers; a taste of volatility.

As they tangled together, her fingers moved into his mess of gold hair, curling into his locks as the pressure started to build. Their moans overflowed. Her eyes closed and he tilted his head forward to caress her face with his hands.

“I love you. I love you,” he confessed. “I really fucking love you.”

Audrey’s arms fell around his neck as his lips brushed her pulse. But from the way he gazed at her so longingly, with eyes that appeared to peer into the crevices of her soul, she would hold on.

She loved her daughter’s father. So she would hold on.

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