You have two separate tabs of solitaire open on your laptop (despite not remembering opening either) and MSNBC is still playing on the TV, the volume turned down low at the late hour of the night—or early hour of the morning—when Steve breezes in through the front door. He catches the door with a practiced hand before it can slam shut, though you notice a slight quiver in his arm.
It’s startling to see him in a soft gray pullover. It’s hiding the starched white shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbow, and blue striped tie you know to be beneath it. The outfit he’s worn on air for the last couple days—though the tie has been changed, and maybe the shirt—is imprinted on your brain. Without the filter of a studio camera transmitting his image to your TV, the wrinkles and creases in his khakis are much more pronounced. As are his puffy, sleep-deprived eyes, made worse from where he’s clearly rubbed at them.
Not believing he’s finally home, you look to the TV and sure enough, Ali Velshi is manning the Big Board, a hand pointing out numbers—but not writing any. His other hand casually placed in one pocket. His suit and calm demeanor bely the days and exhaustively long hours this election coverage has lasted.
In the brief moment when your attention was on the TV, Steve had padded into the bedroom, the gray pullover already tossed in the hamper. He’s yanking frustratedly at his tie with one hand, while his other pulls at the buttons on his shirt.
You’re quick to hop up from the couch and dart after him into the bedroom, gently batting his hands away from his tie and shirt before he accidentally rips a button off—or strangles himself. Your fingers make quick work of the tie, getting it loosened just enough to pull over his head, careful not to knock his glasses askew.
As your fingers move to the buttons on his shirt, Steve takes his glasses off and closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, his shoulders sagging just a bit. He lets out a bone deep sigh and trusts you to finish the job of removing his shirt.
Your fingers stumble over the stupid plastic buttons, your fingertips teasingly grazing his chest, then stomach as you get clumsier in your haste. His breathing is slightly labored and you feel his stomach muscles contract at your touch.
Finally, you’re yanking the shirt tails out of the waist of his khakis, perhaps a bit rougher than necessary. You wait until you’ve pushed the shirt over his solid shoulders, leaving him in his undershirt, to murmur a stern, “Steve.”
He finally drags his hand away from his face, replacing his glasses. He glances distractedly at the shirt on the floor as if debating whether to pick it up. Then his eyes lock on yours as he looks at you for the first time, really, since he walked in the front door. Slowly, his face softens, his eyes crinkle as he smiles at you. It’s a soft smile, barely a quirk of the lips, but a smile nonetheless.
“You’ve been working for days,” you continue, still in a hushed voice. “You’ve been gone for days.”
Steve looks down, abashed. “I know,” his tone, too, is softer than his excitable, frenzied TV voice, but no less sincere.
You run your hands over his shoulders, massaging absentmindedly; he closes his eyes and rolls his neck until his face is pointed toward the ceiling. “Tell me you’re not going back tonight.” Your order is spoken gently, but there’s a firmness to your voice that leaves little room for argument.
Letting out a low groan, from frustration or something else—or both—Steve looks back to you, his eyes taking on that manic shine you usually only see on the TV screen.
“I can’t,” he says vehemently, even as his voice still remains low.
You slide your hands to his biceps, his skin smooth under the pads of your palms, but you dig in and shake him gently. “You need to sleep,” you argue in a hushed voice.
Steve wipes a hand down his face, knocking his glasses a bit askance, as his shoulders tense back up. “I just came home for a change of clothes,” he grits out, though not unkindly. “I can’t stay, I have to go back.”
Stepping back from him, your hands drop from his arms entirely. You miss the warmth. You’ve missed that warmth for days.
Instead of letting you retreat entirely, Steve takes a step forward, one arm banding around your lower back, pulling you firmly against his chest. His other hand slides up the curve of your neck, the tips of his fingers playing with the short hairs at the nape of your neck. He presses a sweet, too-short kiss on your lips.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be a normal election,” he murmurs, placing an apologetic kiss on the edge of your jaw. “We knew it was going to take a while.” Another kiss, just below your ear. “Before we had any real results.” Another kiss, at the base of your neck.
“Ohh yeah, talk dirty to me, map daddy,” you mutter, a good-natured teasing tone in your voice.
When Steve pulls back and you open your eyes, a slight blush tinges his cheeks and he won’t meet your eyes.
You cradle his face in your hands, your voice contrite as you say, “Hey.” You wait until he drags his eyes to yours. “I love watching you do math on live TV,” you say earnestly, hoping he can read the truth on your face as easily as he can read the numbers on his Big Board. You want to laugh at your own thoughts but keep a straight face. You’ll tell him your silly joke later—maybe. If you remember it.
Though Steve’s cheeks don’t fully return to their normal color, his smile turns slightly goofy.
Your voice is a bit sly as you say, “And I’m not the only one.” You can’t stop a grin from spreading across your face.
The blush returns and deepens. Steve won’t meet your eyes.
But you press on. “Y’know, I might need to fight all of Twitter to keep my boyfriend to myself,” you say, the grin on your face lacing your teasing words through with plenty of warmth. “There’s some thirsty bitches out there.”
Apparently, it’s possible for Steve’s cheeks to redden further at the curse word. Still, he huffs out a laugh and pulls lightly on your hold, not really pulling away, but threatening to.
You wrap your arms tighter around his shoulders, your chests flush together and revel in his strong arms around your own lower back. Your lips hover bare millimeters away from his, so close you can feel his intake of breath, stealing it from your lungs.
Being this close to him—for the first time in days—your heart is racing with excitement and an ache blooms as you realize that elation will soon turn to a desperate longing when he leaves again to go back to the studio. Still, you only want him to see your excitement for him.
“I love watching you work, I love how excited you get about the results, the numbers,” your tone turns a bit disparaging at that last word, though that’s mainly down to your ineptitude with them. (Steve is well aware of this.) “And I’m glad you’re finally being appreciated the way you should.” It’s your turn to be unable to meet his eyes, leaving your sincere words to hang in the air between you.
Steve tilts your face to look at his. “You appreciate me plenty.”
A filthy smirk works its way across your face and you hold him even tighter, anticipating him threatening to pull away again. “If you stayed longer, I’d appreciate you properly.” Your smirk grows as you watch the reaction to your innuendo dawn across his face. “I’d appreciate you all night long.”
The blush returns and spreads along Steve’s cheekbones, just below the rims of his glasses. He can’t budge from your hold, though he doesn’t even try to break away.
“I don’t have time,” he says hoarsely, pleadingly.
“Fine then,” you acquiesce easily, even if you don’t want to, ducking your head to kiss him on the side of his neck, taking a moment to appreciate his solidness, his warmth. “When you call the election and come home to me.”
It’s a promise. You seal it with a kiss.
Then you help Steve get dressed in clean clothes—different khakis, a white shirt with a subtle print that looks a bit like graph paper, a red-white-and-blue striped tie—and send him back to the studio. You sit back on the couch, certain you’ll see Steve again soon enough on the TV. Despite having made him promise to nap and eat a full meal before returning to the Big Board, you know he’s too excited to get back to his numbers and calculator to let little things like rest and nourishment get in the way.
Instead, you just hope they call the election already.