Just how bad Christian fucked up, we don’t get to see until that weekend. We get back to Seattle late Friday night, too late to even pick up Calliope from Kate and Elliot’s. So Saturday morning is the soonest we can make it to the remote testing site where Christian stores his fusion project. Elliot is waiting for us there, at Christian’s request, but when we pull up beside him, he doesn’t even look at us. He’s staring at the building in front of us, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Oh my god,” I whisper, stepping out of the car and surveying the damage in front of me.
The testing site is a large, rectangular building, all white with industrial doors and windows. Almost exactly half of the building looks as though it recently survived a bombing, with repeated volleys. Any windows still attached to the structure are wrapped in cellophane and a few smaller holes have been covered with bright blue tarps. Most of that half of the building has been completely blown apart and it’s left the paint over the entire front of the structure singed black.
“Jesus,” Chrisitan says, walking forward and stopping with his hands on his hips. A hot flash of anger moves through me and I round on him.
He doesn’t answer. He takes my hand and pulls me toward the building.
The damage is worse inside. Entire walls are missing, rooms have been gutted… we’re handed hard hats before we’re even allowed to enter the lab.
“What happened?” Christian demands as we approach Welch.
“We couldn’t contain the heat. It got out of control.”
“What about the cooling system? The suppression system?”
“They worked fine… until they burned inside the housing unit.”
“What does that mean?”
Elliot takes a step forward and picks up one of the prototypes that managed to survive the explosion. Even though it wasn’t the one that exploded, it still looks like something that was recovered from a plane crash. He turns toward Christian and starts explaining about heat and friction, using the model in his hands to illustrate the point. I’m distracted from what he’s telling us by two people who enter the lab from an entrance opposite the one we came through.
It’s Ros, talking to a guy in a white lab coat and surveying the damage with a look that’s made up of defeat, disgust, and a hundred other emotions too embroiled with one another to separate.
“It’s like I said when you brought this up last February,” Elliot finishes, tossing the prototype back on the counter like a piece of junk. “Perpetual motion is a fantasy. You can’t overcome friction.”
Welch shakes his head in defiance. The same unshakable look of determination I’ve seen in Christian’s eyes over the last few months is reflected in his. “What if we detach the core from the housing unit? Make a floating structure around it that can absorb the energy and redistribute it back into the mechanism without transferring any of that energy into the structure?”
Elliot shakes his head. “What would you make it out of that wouldn’t melt or reflect enough potential energy to throw off the equilibrium of your core?”
“Well, we could… uh…” He stops, clearly racking his brain for answers but also dismissing each and every idea he comes up with. Before he’s able to offer a solution, Ros stomps past me, past Elliot, past Welch, and steps right up to Christian.
“I got the estimate. Wanna take a guess?”
He glares at her. “Not really.”
“$128 million. You just blew up another $128 million! You wanna write the check for that? Because I don’t know that GEH can anymore, Christian.”
They stare at one another, two unyielding titans battling it out until one of them breaks. When it happens, it’s not the one I expect.
“Alright,” Christian says. “Shut it down.”
Ros blinks, looking as though that was the very last thing she expected him to say. “What?”
“Shut it down. All of it. Clean it up, pack it away, get it out of here.”
“Mr. Grey!” Welch protests, but he silences him with a sharp look.
“I said shut it down.” Christian reaches for me, pulling me after him as he storms out of the lab. I hear a crash, followed by several loud clangs, like metal tumbling across concrete. Glancing back over my shoulder, I see that it’s because Welch threw the destroyed prototype across the room. His whole team is bent over the table, heads hung in vanquish. Ros watches us go, shaking her head like she isn’t sure what in the world she is going to do next.
It’s a longer and more convoluted drive to Kate and Elliot’s house in Medina than it would have been to go straight home to Seattle. I see Elliot’s car behind us in the side view mirror the entire drive there, but I only catch a glimpse of his face a few times. He looks worried, and so am I. There was something hanging in the air of the lab when we left, something no one was willing to say out loud, but that everyone clearly knows. Everyone except me. But with the way Chrisitan looks as he mindlessly follows the highway, I don’t think now is the time to press about it.
We pull up to Kate and Elliot’s house and follow him inside through the garage. Kate is on the couch, the babies both napping in a playpen a few feet away. A long investigative report on medical record fraud sits in her lap. She smiles as we file into the room.
“How’d it go?”
“Christian finally saw reason and ended his fusion project,” Elliot answers.
She turns slowly toward my husband, a taunting smile spreading slowly across her face. “Awh, I didn’t take you for a quitter, Grey.”
Christian goes rigid and stays that way for several seconds. Kate blanches. It had been a joke, but he doesn’t take it well. When he thaws, it’s only enough so that he can move.
He goes to the playpen and gently lifts Calliope into his arms while he scans the room for her carseat. Once he locates it, he looks at me and motions to the door.
“Let’s go, I’ve got work to do.”
My mouth pops open in protest, but snaps shut at the look I get in return. I nod, reluctantly, and turn to give Kate a tight smile. The disappointment I see in her eyes echoes my own. We’ve been gone all week and I’ve barely even had the chance to talk to her. This morning, I’d hoped we were going to spend the afternoon here. Maybe even call Grace and Carrick to meet us somewhere for dinner.
It doesn’t look like any of that is happening.
Christian skips hugs from Kate and his brother and makes a beeline out the door with the baby. By the time I’ve said my goodbyes and finally get out of the house, Calliope is already buckled in the back and he’s waiting in the driver’s seat, the car idling. I slide in next to him, barely getting the door closed before he starts out of the driveway.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask, hesitantly, once he’s turned onto the 520. He shakes his head, not even bothering to speak aloud. It drives me nuts, not knowing what he’s thinking. Especially with the amount of tension I can feel rolling off of him and filling the car like a toxic pool. I’m desperate to know exactly what he’s putting himself through so I can stop it.
Reaching past the console between us, I move my fingers into his hair, lightly scratching his scalp with my nails. For a second, he lets me. He leans into my touch, breathing deeply as he does. But then he reaches back and pulls my hand away. He doesn’t release me, though. He holds my hand in his lap and every so often, he lifts my fingertips to his lips.
Once we’re home, he goes straight into his office and I get the sinking feeling I won’t see him for the rest of the day. It’s as good an excuse as any to get some work done myself. So, after I move Calliope into her bed, I take the baby monitor to my office and settle down with my laptop. It’s only been a week, but running two branches is already proving to be a much bigger task than I’d anticipated. I forced the Seattle branch to change their strategy and eliminate the volume model they’d used before. Scott didn’t do the same for his branch, and now taking on the New York office has more than doubled the amount of work I have to do on any given day.
With an air of dread, I open my email, only to be immediately sidetracked when my phone rings. It’s a welcome distraction, though. An elated smile crosses my lips the moment I read the name on the caller ID.
“Hey, Luke,” I answer.
“Okay, so here’s what we tell him. I had a brain tumor that impaired my judgement, right? But I’ve had it removed now and now I’m cured!”
I laugh. Luke and I haven’t seen each other since the night Christian caught us in New York. Christian hasn’t explicitly asked me not to, but I see the tightness in his jaw and the dark shadow that clouds his eyes whenever Luke calls. I don’t think it’s a great idea to invite him over to veg out on the couch. Not yet. Not today.
“I don’t think that’s going to work.”
“C’mon, Ana,” he complains. “Just come over for a few hours. You can bring your new CPO. I need to make sure this guy is up to snuff anyway, and I’m sure you need to get started on torturing him with It Happened One Night. Or we could pick something new, just for him. Like, Casablanca. God, I’d give anything for those two hours back.”
I laugh. “Sorry, Luke. I think Taylor actually likes black & white movies. He’s not completely devoid of taste like you.” I smile to myself, waiting for some biting remark about my music.
“Taylor?” he says instead. “Where’s your CPO?”
“Well…” I chew on my lip, feeling the now all too familiar feeling of guilt filling my stomach. “Apparently, Taylor is having a hard time filling the job.”
“Why? Everyone wants to move out of GEH to personal security. It’s more than double the pay.”
“I guess people have noticed that my CPOs never last very long. No one wants to end up unemployed.”
“So, what? You just don’t have anyone with you? Are you alone in your office downtown everyday?” The accusation in his voice gets stronger with each word. Clearly, he isn’t pleased with the idea.
“No, I have Taylor.”
He lets out a harsh, irritated breath, but doesn’t push it any further. “Will you come over here?”
“It’s not a good day, Luke. Christian…” I look at the door, imagining Chrisitan in his own office and feeling myself sink again. “It’s just not a good day.”
“That sucks. I’m used to seeing you all day, every day. Now it’s like… I don’t know. I’m just lonely, I guess.”
“What about Jade?”
“Yeah, I’ve got Jade.” He lets out a low sigh, one I know very well.
“Uh, oh. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I think… These past few days, every time she looks at me, it’s like… she’s looking for something that’s missing. I think she’s getting bored with me.”
“That doesn’t seem possible.”
He laughs. “It is though. I’m a boring guy. I’m trained to be hyper aware of my surroundings at all times and I can’t turn it off, so going out is exhausting most of the time. We don’t have any friends in common, except you… and I can’t even see you anymore. I don’t know, Ana. I think she’s going to dump me.”
“Luke…” My heart feels heavy in my chest. A year ago, I thought Luke and I would grow old together. Not the way Christian and I would, of course. I pictured him, long after he’d retired from being my bodyguard, moving into an apartment in my house where he’d live out the rest of his days like Joey from Full House. He doesn’t have anyone else. Only me. So, when he’d told me he’d fallen in love with Jade, I’d started to imagine a whole new life for him. A future where he’d have a family of his own, maybe kids. Hearing the sadness in his words now as he worries he’s about to lose her makes me wonder if he’d imagined a future like that too.
“I just don’t know what to do about it. I’d take her anywhere she wanted to go, but we don’t have anyone to do anything with. Maybe I can call Kate, see if she’ll invite Jade and me the next time she and Elliot go off together.”
That would be perfect, except that Kate just had a baby.
“It’s the Fourth of July soon and we’re probably going out on the yacht. You can bring Jade!”
“Yeah, I’m sure Grey would love to spend an entire weekend trapped with me at sea. If you’re trying to murder your husband, there are faster ways to do it than giving him high blood pressure, Ana.”
I laugh. “You leave Christian to me.”
“I don’t know.”
“He’s going to have to get over it eventually. You’re my best friend, you’re going to be around. I want you around. Besides, there’s a good possibility that Kim is going to be there with her kids and I could use a buffer.”
“Kate. Elliot. Your dad. Your husband. Both of your in-laws. Your baby…”
“As many buffers as humanly possible.”
He laughs again. “ I don’t know, Ana. I don’t want to start another fight between the two of you. I think a whole weekend might be too much to start with. Maybe we could… have dinner or something? All of us. Kate and Elliot too.”
“I can set that up. We’ll do dinner at my place next Friday.”
“You’re sure that’s okay?”
“It’s more than okay. In fact, I insist.”
“Okay, we’ll go.” He pauses. “Thank you. I’ve been driving myself crazy thinking about what I’m going to do with Jade for days.”
“You know I’d do anything for you, Luke. Now, get off the phone with me and call your girlfriend. It is a Saturday and you are going to take her out on a date tonight. Somewhere loud and crowded that you’ll hate. That’s an order.”
“I’m done taking your orders, Steele. I don’t work for you anymore.”
“You’ll never be done taking my orders, Sawyer.” I laugh, then hang up the phone. I decide to text Kate and ask her to send Luke ideas for places he’ll be able to take Jade, but while I’m answering all of the questions she shoots back to me, I hear Calliope begin to cry through the baby monitor.
So much for getting any work done.
Christian doesn’t come out of his office to join us for dinner. He doesn’t come out of his office at all. Just after I get Calliope down for bed, I drag my laptop down to the couch with me, but I’m pulled from the manuscript I’m reading by the sound of the doorbell. In the distance, I hear the muffled sounds of Taylor greeting whoever it is and a few seconds later, Ros walks into my living room. She goes straight into Christian’s office without saying a word to me, and closes the door behind her. By the time she emerges again, I’ve fallen asleep on top of my computer.
“Ros?” I call, rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand as I sit up. She steps back into the room, looking completely drained. “How is he?”
“Not good.” She shakes her head. “It’s not good, Ana.”
“What do you mean?”
She sighs and moves to the couch next to me, collapsing into the cushions as if her legs have actually given out.
“He’s been blowing through money for months, and I mean money. We’ve sunk billions into developing the technology for the fusion project. I’ve tried to stop him, to make him see reason. He just kept telling me that it didn’t matter how much we spent, once the prototype worked, it would pay for itself thousands of times over. But it doesn’t work, so we have nothing.”
“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?”
She lets her head fall in my direction. “GEH is barely solvent. We’re in trouble, Ana. Big trouble.”
“Oh, god. Christian…” My voice is filled with pain. Ros nods, the movement echoing the hurt in my voice, then peels herself off the couch.
“I gotta get back to work,” she says. “I’ll see you later.”
I give her a weak smile and wave until she disappears into the foyer. Once she’s gone, I push away from the couch and make my way to Christian’s office.
He doesn’t look up when I open the door. He’s completely absorbed in whatever is on his computer screen, his fingers flying over the keyboard. When I approach, he stops, looks up at me, and leans back in his chair.
I crawl into his lap and reach for his face so I can hold his gaze with some serious eye contact. “Not being able to overcome the impossible doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you human.”
It takes him a long time to reply.
“I don’t want to be human,” he says at last, the word at the end dripping with loathing. “I need to be more. So much more. I need to be a god. I need to have so much control over this world that it strikes fear in the hearts of those who hate me. I need to stand so far above the fruitlessly ambitious lowlives fighting over my scraps that they won’t even be able to see me well enough to be envious. I need to wield so much power that entire fucking nations will raise armies to stand between you and danger if that’s what I ask for. That is what this project was going to buy me, and I failed. I wasn’t good enough to make it happen.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t even think that way. You’re Christian Grey. You’ve redefined entire industries, you’ve invented technologies that have revolutionized the way we connect with one another, you’ve brought infrastructure and opportunity to places where it didn’t exist before. This doesn’t take away from any of that success, Christian. You are a god.”
He just looks at me, stoic, considering me for a long, silent minute with impassive eyes. “Do you want to know the secret to my success, Anastasia?”
“Devastatingly good looks?”
He doesn’t laugh. His head tilts to the side, and furrows his brow. “It’s a feeling. That’s it. Whatever it is I’m working on, an acquisition, a sale, a new R&D project… I can do as much research and data analysis as I can possibly consume and it never matters. My decision always comes down to a feeling. A gut reaction. I don’t know how it works, but it’s never failed me. Never. But I felt in my bones that I was going to do this. That I was going to build this machine and change the entire course of the future. I still do…”
His head falls back against his chair and for the first time, there’s a crack in his mask. He looks… lost.
“They told you it was impossible,” I whisper.
“My whole life has been people telling me everything I wanted to do was impossible and me proving them wrong. I thought this would be one more thing.” He goes silent again, reaching up to play with the ends of my hair. After a while though, his hands go still and his eyes shift up to mine. “If I couldn’t give you this anymore… the yachts, and the private planes, and the penthouses, and seaside mansions… would you still love me?”
My heart feels like it freezes solid in my chest, then starts again with thick heavy thuds that hurt with every beat.
“Christian…” I don’t even know how to continue on from that. How could he possibly even question that?”
I sit up in his lap, moving my hands to either side of his face, and stare into his eyes. I try to pour everything into that contact, every ounce of the love I feel for him. I try to prove how unshakable that love is with the way I hold him. None of it is powerful enough to hold the weight of how I really feel about him. There’s only one way to express the sheer force of that love. So I lean down and kiss him.
His lips are hesitant against mine at first, but as I fall deeper into the kiss, he tumbles after me.
It isn’t the fiery kind of kiss I’d normally expect while straddling him in his office chair. His lips are soft against mine, his tongue undomineering. He doesn’t push for more or try to take control. Our mouths move together, in sync. Our breaths come in equal measure and our heartbeats match each other’s cadence. He moans when I slide my fingers into his hair so I can hold him to me, and each sweet pass of his lips makes me shiver with pleasure.
I melt so deeply into that kiss that the hands that start pulling his clothes away from his body aren’t even controlled by me anymore. I untangle his tie while he pulls my shirt off of me and begins attacking my bra. I’m only half stripped, my panties merely swept hastily to the side, when his restraint breaks and he thrusts inside of me.
I gasp, and then hurriedly reclaim his lips again. His hands go to my hips, pushing me down on him, holding me there while he’s buried as deep inside of me as he can reach. I moan, revelling in the fullness. Revelling in him.
“I love you, Chrisitan,” I tell him, each word wrapped in the reverie flowing through my veins.
He groans and starts to churn his hips.
I move the way his hands direct me, slowly, in opposition to his own long, deep strokes. My skin heats and my insides grip him as the intensity of his eyes makes me tremble. I want to moan, but I don’t. I tell him that I love him. Over and over and over again. Every small whine, every pleading breath, every gasp… I choke it all back and tell him, “I love you,” in its place.
It does something to him.
His fingers dig into me, but not because he wants to mark me. Not to remind me who I belong to. He’s trying to find a way to get closer to me than he already is. The intensity of our kiss rages out of control, like flames spreading across an oil spill, but it’s not about uncontainable want. It’s like he’s suffocating and the only way he can draw breath is through me. Like I’m more important than breathing anyway.
We writhe against one another, touching anything and everything we can get our hands on. When the first hint of my orgasm begins to blossom inside of me, he moves my hands from his chest and wraps them around him, pulling me flush against his skin.
“I love you,” I whine, nearly at the edge.
“Show me,” he whispers against my ear. “Come for me, baby.”
I do, collapsing against him the moment it starts, unable to do anything but let the pleasure have me. The ‘I love yous’ bubble through my lips until I can’t form coherent words anymore. Then his lips are on mine and we lose ourselves again until he finds his own release inside of me.
We come down panting, clinging to one another, staring deeply into each other’s eyes and reiterating everything that was just said between us without any words. He presses his forehead into mine, taking a deep breath as he reaches up and places the palm of his hand over my heart.
“I’ll fix this,” he promises. “I don’t know how, but I’m not going to let it end this way. There’s still so much more I want to give you.”
“You gave me Calliope. You gave me a family. You gave me your heart. What more could possibly give me?”
He gives me a small smile, a gesture of appreciation, not conceit, and brushes a wisp of hair from my face.
“The same thing I’ve promised you from the moment I fell in love with you. The world.”
I cuddle into him, pressing my face to his skin and breathing him in, loving the faint trace of my own scent on him. I want to reassure him that he has nothing to prove to me, no debt to pay… but that’s not what he needs to hear right now.
“I believe in you, Christian.”
His hands stop moving across my skin. His eyes, drinking in the sight of my naked breasts, close. I see his forehead crease, and then, he wraps me in his arms.
“I love you, Anastasia,” he breathes into my hair. “So fucking much.”
“I love you, too, Chrisitan. For better or worse.”
He nuzzles me. “As long as we both shall live.”