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On Losing a Reputation

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I know you're probably sleepin'
I got this thing I keep thinkin'
Yeah, I admit I've been drinkin'
The void is back and I'm blinkin' 

She hates Moira O’Deorain. From the aloof air she carries with her when she teaches - as if this is all below her - to the way she patronises Angela in front of the entire class, questioning and probing and tilting her head til Angela turns red with frustration, and eventually retreats. She hates Moira’s stupid hand gestures, and she hates her comically pointy shoes. The way that, when Moira is watching her, she does so over her glasses - like she’s a child - never fails to grind her nerves.

“And she just,” continues Angela loudly over the thumping music, waving her drink around wildly, “She just has no respect, for anyone. We could all drop dead tomorrow and her grieving process would consist of one singular sniffle and last perhaps - at the maximum - four seconds.”

“Are you done?” chuckles Gabe, and if he sounds nervous she can’t exactly blame him.

Angela sips her mixer, shakes her head, continues as if she didn't hear him. “I just don’t know why you invited her.” Gabe only sighs, and over Angela’s shoulder gives Moira a look.

Moira, poised just inside the entryway of Gabe’s shitty on-campus apartment, wonders how damaging it would be to Angela’s already frail self-image to saunter from her shadows and greet the pair formally. Part of her relishes the idea of embarrassing Angela to the point where she can’t look her in the eye in class on Monday, or riling her up enough that her voice cracks in the pretty way that Moira is partial to. But she hasn’t seen her in days, and she remembers what she heard on Wednesday morning as the students filtered into the theatre, and although she does not care for juvenile gossip, that doesn’t make her unnecessarily callous.

Gabe glances at her again and tries not to smile. “You don’t know her outside of university,” he tries, but Angela shakes her head.

“What is there to know? All she does is rip apart anything I’ve ever written, pulls me down in front of the whole room. Embarrasses me. She’d take pleasure doing it in any arena.  She’s sadistic.” 

Moira considers this. Sadistic. Well, perhaps in some facets, but certainly none that Angela has had the pleasure of experiencing. She lets Angela continue as she gives her a few seconds to calm down, loops her overcoat onto a hook, fiddles with her glove and unwinds her scarf. She’s still listing all the reasons why Moira is the worst human in the world when Moira decides she doesn’t need to hear any more. 

“Good evening, Gabe,” Moira says softly, and watches as Angela completely stills.

She strides over, and smiles slightly as she catches Angela gaping at her from the corner of her eye. She leans over him to kiss him on the cheek, then turns and extends her ungloved left hand, right safely tucked away. “Good evening, Angela. It’s good to see you here.”

She’s never seen Angela look angrier. It makes something in her chest tight, and something in her stomach flutter. Moira flexes her fingers and lets her hand fall to her side when Angela ignores it. Just as she takes a breath and opens her mouth, a crash from somewhere over near the kitchenette rattles throughout the apartment; then, bellowed equally as loud: “Oh my God, is she actually here?”

Someone shouts, clutching something alcoholic protectively to their chest. Olivia vaults a couch where a young man with a shock of green hair is dozing and launches across the room, sending a chair flying and scattering a tower of red solo cups. Now, Moira sighs, before the purple flash slams into her side and winds her briefly.

“You never come to things, bruja! What changed your mind?” Olivia punches her shoulder hard enough to sting. Moira’s eyes flick quickly to Angela, who’s staring at her cooly, before she considers the tiny fury before her.

“I got my weekend work all cleared, just for you,” she lilts, and pinches Olivia’s cheek.

Olivia is an undergrad that’s somehow linked to Gabe and somehow still passing classes, and that’s all Moira knows. That, and she seems to live on the couch. She beams up at her, and begins to drag Moira across the floor to where three sofas are angled together, around a table with various substances and paraphernalia scattered messily atop it. “Good, because McCree brought his favourite whiskey. You can finally try some…”

She can feel a number of things radiating off of Angela. Anger, shame, intoxication. But predominantly, there is loneliness.

*

When Gabe invites her to the party, like all invites she receives, Moira turns him down.

“You don’t even know who’s going,” Gabe laments, and Moira snorts.

Flicking a neat, red line through one entire paragraph of the essay she's marking, she asks, “Why would I need to know?”

Honestly, Ziegler could do better than this: her dissertation on the hypotheticals of nanotechnology Moira admired enough to pull all-nighters reading, the valedictorian of her high school, biology, and now soon to be her genetics class. But this is dribble. Another slash. Moira sucks her teeth.

Technically, Gabe isn’t supposed to be in this faculty office, let alone this building. Science is across campus from Histories, and about a twenty minute venture from his little desk squirreled away in Tactics of Modern War slash History. But he swings idly in Professor Zhou’s plush blue chair, like he is right where he is meant to be, pestering her.

“Jack’s invited Angie,” he sing-songs, and Moira grunts like it's the funniest joke she’s ever heard.

“She hates me. And look at this,” she sneers, patting the paper. “She’s distracted. If she thinks partying is a viable way to spend her time rather than excelling her career and unlocking her true potential she should get out of my class.”

Gabe whistles lowly. “Jeesh. You’re a mess.”

Moira flicks her glasses closed and all but throws them on the desk. She pauses, folded arms over her chest, and eyes Gabe for a considerable time, before stating, “She has a boyfriend, anyway. Some old militia captain’s son. He’s in your class, isn’t he?”

Now, Gabe laughs, and Moira feels a spike of anger flare in her chest. “Ay dios mio. Fareeha Amari, the esteemed Captain Ana Amari’s daughter is in my class, yes.” 

“What are you on about?”

Gabe’s smile is absolutely wicked and Moira doesn't like it one little bit. “Angela’s girlfriend. If someone would do us all a public service and jump your bones more frequently than you jump to conclusions, we wouldn’t be here.”

For the first time in many years, Moira is genuinely surprised.

She sniffs.

Gabe stares her down, barely containing the enormity of his crazed grin. Moira purses her lips.

“I won’t be going,” she concludes bluntly. “I’m much too busy. Now get out before someone catches you. Don't you have assessments to mark? You’ve given me a headache.”

Gabe raises his hands placatingly and saunters away chuckling, and Moira pinches her pen so tightly she swears she hears it crack. Though, that might be her teeth with how tightly they're gritted together.

Perhaps if she went to this silly thing she could reprimand Angela for her sloppy work, although that would seem mighty unprofessional outside of an academic environment. It would provide Angela with more fuel to burn her image. 

Moira knows she's cold, and can come across cruel, but she only wants the best for Ziegler. She's well aware of her scores from her previous classes the years before, knows how much more she could be. She's soon to be off to med school. Placements in the country's top hospitals are on the horizon. But not if she continues down this line of carelessness.

Next, the pen clatters against the desk. A girlfriend, Moira thinks bitterly. She isn’t sure if that's better or worse.

A girlfriend, Moira thinks that afternoon as she stalks the aisles of her local wholefoods. The cashier - who has pink hair and a labret piercing and a petrified look on their face - eyes her skeptically.

A girlfriend, Moira sneers that night as she sits down alone for dinner. From its hutch, her rabbit peers at her, wide eyes gleaming, his nose trembling.

“Did you hear,” whispers one of the undergrads as they all herd into the lecture theatre. It's Wednesday morning, when Moira hosts a combined class for the greenies and the postgrads. Initially she was loathe to the idea - and to her spacey professor, especially, for unloading this onto her - but Moira finds if can drown out the inane chatter it's really not that bad.

“What?” hisses a girl with brown hair. Moira’s ears prick, but not for any good reason.

“Yesterday Amari - you know, the captain of the basketball team? - finally broke up with her girlfriend.”

And?”

An eyeroll. “Her girlfriend? Angela Ziegler? Do you pay attention to anything…”  

“Oh, I wonder if she’ll finally crack when O’Deorain starts on her…”

“Do TA’s not get laid or something? She’s always so pissed. I’m reconsidering my application…”

Moira freezes, swallows. The students filter past her at the podium, paying no mind to the way she stands stock still, deaf to the thundering way her heart is thumping. When she glances to Angela’s seat in the second row she finds it empty. Moira licks her lips.

It’s hard to focus all day. Every time she looks away from the projector her eyes find themselves fixed to that lone empty seat, adjacent to her podium. Too many times she finds her throat going dry when she can usually talk comfortably for hours on end. The lesson seems to drag on to be the longest hour of her life, and when she finally concludes it Moira herself is almost the first one out of the room. 

She stalks through the corridors, out into the courtyard where her coat whips around her with the chilly morning wind, and with cheeks flushed and freckles glowing bursts into the labs. Professor Zhou looks up from her petri dish. She's wearing a set of spectacles with eight different lenses.  

“Everything okay, Dr O’Deorain?” she pipes cheerily. Moira gives her a curt nod, and edges around the tables in the middle of the room. She’d asked Mei what she was working on, once. She still doesn’t know what it is, exactly, and it's difficult to gauge by the debris scattered over the worktops. Some kind of environmental satellite, perhaps, or maybe just a very elaborate microwave.

Moira dumps her satchel and dons her lab coat, perching her half-moon glasses on her long nose. She needs to pull something apart, needs some kind of distraction. She doesn't have another class til later that afternoon, and whilst there are papers to mark they can always wait. That, and she doesn't trust herself not to tear the pages as she slashes the discrepancies.

Deciding there are too many feelings she needs to pick apart in her mind, she compartmentalises everything and focuses on the purple tubes and the intricacies of the stringy spiderweb of wiring in front of her instead.

Angela has a girlfriend. Well, she has an ex-girlfriend.

That afternoon as she's sat in traffic Moira worries her lip and fidgets with all the dials on her dash.

Angela is off-limits, not only as a taken, supposedly straight woman but as her student, she reminds herself. Of course, as a postgraduate teaching assistant on the cusp of becoming a professor, rather than an actual professor, the lines are a little blurry; but Moira doesn't need two doctorates under her belt to know that it is incredibly unprofessional to consider dating a student.  

But now, Angela seems a little… less off-limits. A little less taboo than before. Something excitedly jitters in her stomach and climbs the rungs of her ribs to make a lump in her throat.

Moira hates herself. Because now she wants her even more. Because now she can see Angela being with a woman, picture her kissing a woman’s mouth, holding a woman’s hand, lying between a woman’s hips--

A honk blasts from the car behind, and with perhaps a little too much gusto she slams the accelerator.

At home, Oscar chirps happily from his hutch as Moira goes around the living room and flicks the lamp on. She unfastens the latch on his cage and tentatively lifts him out and into her lap, stroking his nut-brown fur.

“I missed you today, little one,” she coos; then tries not to wince at how empty the house sounds, when silence follows.

That night, Moira sits in bed, unable to sleep.

She wouldn’t go to the party. Not only was she just not the type do enjoy that kind of social task, but she still has those papers to mark. That, and she doesn't trust herself. Gabriel Reyes is a smart man, surely he understood. Or maybe that was the point. Maybe he knew that Angela and Fareeha’s relationship was on the rocks, and sought to do something to destroy it irreparably. 

And if Moira got laid, perhaps she’d quit her bitching at him. She frowns. Like it was Gabe’s damn business, anyway.

Ten pm turns to eleven, and as sleep evades her she only grows angrier with herself. At her stupid, insipid, useless… obsession.

Midnight comes, and Moira throws back the covers and stalks to her study. Her laptop beeps to life when she flips it open, and soft light fills the room. She taps hurriedly, before she can think too hard on it, before she can stop herself, the round nails on her left hand clipping the keys.

Angela,

I noticed you were absent from our composite class today. I have taken the liberty to send you a copy of my notes from the lesson. You will not be required to complete the weekly assignment, unless you would like to. If you wish to discuss the subject matter I am more than happy to correspond via email, or we can schedule a time to privately review the material in detail.  

I hope to see you in class soon,

Moira O’Deorain

 *

“Gabe,” hisses Moira. “I really shouldn’t be here.”

Gabe rolls his shoulders. “Relax. Honestly, it’s fine. Angie is Jack’s friend. You’re my friend, I’m allowed to invite you.”

Moira grits her teeth. “You know damn well you didn’t just casually invite me, like it was an absent thought.” She glances out at the living room, where Angela sits with a girl who has untameable brown hair and enough piercings to cause magnetic interference.

They’re huddled in the kitchen, under the pretence of raiding the refrigerator for beer. On the counter a dissected lemon lazily bleeds juices everywhere, and three different bottles of tequila sit in varied states of emptiness. A recycling tub full of cans and glasses by the balcony door is already brimming. It’s only eight o’clock. 

Gabe smiles and looks away like he’s been caught. “Look. I just want you to get out more, okay? I don’t know what’s going with Angie, I didn’t even know you had something going on with her.”

Moira splutters on nothing and the tips of her ears go red. “I don’t.

She gets one of his looks in return. “Then stop bringing it up. Relax, damn.” He fishes through the fridge and lugs a can of something cheap and disgusting to her. “Have a drink. Loosen up. Meet some new people.” With that he grabs another can of beer and takes off in Jack’s direction, leaving Moira defenceless and alone.

It’s not just the fact that she keeps catching Angela’s cold eye that makes her want to recoil and slink away; she just doesn't… do these sorts of things. When she was young and studying, no one invited her to parties. This isn’t her ideal social scene, nor is it her idea of a good time. She’s twenty-nine, and would much rather enjoy a few fingers of whiskey in the evenings than bar hop til three in the morning and eventually tumble into bed with someone.

Maybe, when Jack has Gabe thoroughly distracted, she can make her escape. No one will even know she’s gone.

But then she glances up and Gabe is staring at her from across the room. He raises two fingers to his eyes, and then points at her menacingly. Moira swallows thickly.

“There you are!” titters Olivia, seeming to materialise from thin air. She smells like tequila, and Moira glances back at the counter. She yanks on Moira’s hand, and pulls her from her alcove. Her fingers must be coated with something because when Moira inspects her glove she grimaces. A viscous purple goop links her fingers like webbing when she splays them. Moira sniffs. “Come on, we’re going to start playing games once we round everyone up. Also, you’re totally creeping everyone out with your depressed and sexually frustrated aura, bruja.

“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Moira sighs, removing her infected glove and shoving it into the pocket of her pants, but Olivia isn’t listening. 

She’s steered to the huddle of couches in the centre of the room, where Olivia pushes her down onto an oddly-stained sofa. Beneath her something crunches sickly and she tries not to wince too obviously.

Honestly, she needn’t have worried. Glancing around she realises no one is paying attention to her, everyone too engrossed in whatever drunken spiels they’re spinning to one another. Next to her the young man with green hair sleeps peacefully on a pillow of crisps.

“Alright, fools,” shouts Liv, climbing up onto the rickety coffee table. “Presta atencion!”

Moira just wants to go home, really, but instead she stares down at her can of beer and eventually sighs and cracks the top.

“McCree get your ass over here and set us up!”

(Inbox [1]

     Re: Lesson Notes    >> 03:48

Thank you Moira I greatly apreciate this

Angela Z.)

“A’ight, a’ight,” slurs someone from the balcony. The door is open, and thick, stale smoke filters through the sheer curtains. Then, a hulking man wearing a pineapple-print button-down saunters in and promptly trips over a lone, stray riding boot laying on the floor.

(She wasn’t in class on Thursday, but she did come today. Her eyes were red and her hair oily, and pulled into a loose bun. As the professor spoke Moira set about delivering papers. When she came to Angela she hesitated, but slid her assignment down anyways. Angela had taken a shuddering breath, as though all the red lines across the page were cuts Moira had gleefully stabbed in her. Something sharp had twisted inside of her. But then she walked away.)

McCree all but falls into the low futon closest to the backdoors, and the brown haired girl close to Angela laughs and calls him gross, and pushes him off of her. McCree raises two hands placatingly, and settles down next to her. He rests his elbow on her shoulder and she laughs more, weakly trying to dislodge him.

Angela flashes a brief, weak smile at the scuffle. Moira looks away.

“Now, we decided on strip poker, didn’t we, ladies?”

“In your dreams, Jesse!” 

(At the end of class Moira - arms laden with her notes and wearing her satchel on her shoulder - began to approach Angela’s desk, but Angela just shouldered past, without even looking up.)

Jack lobs a pack of cards to Jesse, and settles down on the adjacent couch with Gabe under his arm. “Leave Lena alone, you pervert.” 

“Let me dream a little. Now, I’ll be sayin’ the rules once, and once only. If any of y’all need to refer to Reyes’ cute lil’ chart that’ll be one healthy sip of your drink of choice.”

“You know,” slurs the green haired kid, talking to Moira, and sometime between McCree clambering over the ground and Lena, he woke up. “He’s from Santa Fe. He doesn’t need to do all… this.”

He waves his hand in McCree’s general direction, and leans heavily into Moira. She tries not to shudder. “I mean, look at him, he’s wearing chaps.

McCree clears his throat. He adopts a tone that gives Moira the impression this isn't the first time this has been explained. “Genji, these are my party chaps.

Moira stares at him incredulously, and mutters, “I don’t understand what either of you just said.” But neither are listening.

Instead, Jesse launches into describing the role of each card for whatever stupid game they’re attempting to play, and Moira decides that it’s the perfect moment to stop listening. Condensation from the can has made her hands wet and cold, and honestly the beer tastes more or less like carbonated cardboard so she leaves it mostly full on the edge of the coffee table. To her right Angela is nursing what's left of another vodka mixer, a different colour to the one from before. This one is electric purple, and Moira can taste the how sickly sweet it is just by looking at it. It’s already almost empty, down to the dregs.

She wets her lips. Angela has a little colour in her cheeks, otherwise the rest of her appearance is pallid and rather sullen. She listens to McCree with no interest, eyes glassy and somewhere else. Her hair is down, falling over her collarbones, unlike the usual ponytail she wears, and Moira has never seen it out because she’s never seen Angela out, in anything other than her casual clothes or her lab coat. Everything in Moira’s life has a place, and Moira makes sure that in order to keep herself sane the facets of her life don’t bleed into one another.

But she’s here, at her best friend's boozy house party, with the suddenly not-so-taboo person that Moira’s entire life seems to circumnavigate.

Oh, but that’s right, Moira thinks dryly. Angela hates her. So even if she wasn’t her student, and wasn’t raw from her breakup, it wouldn’t matter. Suddenly, being sat here on a dirty couch seems less appealing, when there isn’t exactly a reason to be.

She was fooling herself by thinking… she doesn’t know what she was thinking. That because they were academic equals they’d be perfect for each other? She’s never even seen Angela socially, hasn’t had a proper conversation with her outside of campus. She only knows her surname because it’s on her class list.

Mouth suddenly dry, Moira clears her throat and excuses herself from the table. The bathroom is off the short hall from the entrance, so she rounds the corner and grabbles for the handle.

The more she thinks about it the more she roils. She really does have an… obsession, with Angela. With Angela’s success. Moira tries to justify it; Angela’s brilliance exceeds that of anyone Moira has ever met, and she just wants her to excel. That’s all, she thinks bitterly. She leans on the basin and stares down her reflection. Every time she questioned her methods was to get her to find a different path to a better solution. Every time she told her she was wrong it was in order to stoke the flames of Angela’s passion, for her to figure out what was right in a fiery vigor.

She wasn’t trying to hurt her. She doesn’t want to be… loathed.

Moira squeezes the countertop. Maybe… maybe she pushed too hard. It wouldn’t be the first time. This probably won’t be the last time. There’s a reason Moira doesn’t have friends, aside from Gabe, who is a very strange man when Moira really starts to think about it. But she’s fine being alone, she is. 

Outside, the others are cheering drunkenly, and they’re happy. Inhibited and themselves, they’re happy. Every morning Moira looks in the mirror and counts two mismatched eyes and decides which personality she’s going to wear that day. Does Angela do that? Or anyone else?

She scowls at herself.

Whatever, Moira thinks, as she fiddles with the bathroom lock and slinks out down the hall. This time next week Angela will be back with Amari, over their little lovers’ spat, and Moira will be hating herself double for even thinking that coming to this party would give her a chance with Angela. For letting Gabe’s senseless teasing get in her head, for even entertaining the idea that she could fill the hole that Fareeha - academic and sports fucking superstar - Amari left.

Even if she didn’t treat her so terribly, Angela would never want someone so drawn back, and boring, and old.

Moira shrugs into her coat and roots through the pockets for her cigarettes, hidden somewhere in the folds. She lets the door click shut softly and walks along the front balcony, flicking her lighter angrily and resisting the urge to kick a line of potted succulents by the neighbour’s door. Instead she takes a heavy drag on her cigarette and starts to stomp down the stairwell. She doesn’t make it very far. 

“Where are you going?’ seethes someone from the top of the stairs. The rawness to their voice and dryness of their tone make Moira freeze.

The only light is the throbbing red end of Moira’s cigarette, but she doesn’t need to see Angela standing there to know it’s her.

She breathes out, slowly, tendrils of smoke curling around her temple. “Home,” Moira finally answers. She cocks her head. “Why does it matter?”

“It doesn’t,” Angela bites back. She’s holding the banister, and Moira imagines her knuckles are whiter than the moon. "Go on, then.”

Moira snorts. “You stopped me in the first place.” When Angela doesn’t respond she turns and starts back down the stairs. “Good evening, Angela.”

She trudges through the frosty grass and across to the car lot, where the orange lamp posts flicker, weak and headache-inducing. A swirl of bugs dance around the lights, and the gentle wind blows smoke back in her face. Moria bites down on the butt of her cigarette as she shoves her hands in her pockets, hunting down her keys. 

“Do you, I have to ask, do you always do that?” Angela calls out, from where she’s standing in the grass halfway between the apartments and Moira’s car. “Do you always have to have the last word? Do you always have to win?” 

Moira shoves the key in her door and turns. “Go back inside, Ziegler, you’re drunk.”

Angela laughs bitterly, and trudges through the grass. The light throws shadows over her face, but Moira can still see that her eyes are red. “Right, so that means you won’t take me seriously. Like you ever do.” 

“Don’t cause a scene. If you wish to discuss the course, or your marks, now isn’t the time.” Moira pulls her door open and leans heavily on it. The smoke burns away between her fingers. She considers Angela, swaying on her feet. She knows she should shut up. But she doesn’t. “You’re emotionally unstable, and will only embarrass yourself.”

Angela stares at her, eyes blown wide, mouth parted. Moira wonders if she’s going to come closer and punch her square in the jaw, which is probably what she deserves. She glances at her car, then back to Angela. “If you’d like a lift home, I’d be hap-”

“Emotionally unstable?” Angela yells incredulously, voice cracking. She stares down at the grass like it’s just told her the funniest joke in the world. “I’m… fine. You know what? Fine. Okay. Maybe I’m a mess, but you’re a fucking bitch, Moira.”

Moira’s eyes narrow. Angela stalks the rest of the distance between them and glares up at her. This close, Moira can feel her warm breath, short and sharp against her throat.

“At least I have emotions, and compassion, and empathy. At least I don’t tear down everyone around me, just to make myself feel important.” She shakes her head, and stares down at her trainers. “But I just have to know, why me? Why I am the one that cops the brunt of your bullying. You're going to be a professor, or- is that it? Do you feel threatened by me?”

Angela looks up, her blue eyes hard and cold and full of hate. “Do you even feel at all?”

Moira sucks a breath between her teeth and lets her cigarette fall to the cracked, hole-ridden bitchumen. Before she realises what she’s doing her ungloved right hand is on Angela’s throat and she’s spinning them, pushing her against the hood of the car. Angela’s hands grapple for Moira’s wrist and she squeezes, and Moira spits a curse. Angela's left foot finds Moira’s knee with a swift, well aimed kick and Moira buckles, falling on top of her.

Angela slaps her so hard her ears ring. As she watches the world spin through her dishevelled fringe Moira works her jaw, and slumps to the side.

“What the fuck is your problem?” Angela’s voice is impossibly high. She’s recoiling away from her, as far as she can with their legs still entwined, sprawling across the bonnet. Moira spits and shakes her head.

“You,” Moira seethes, throwing her a scorching look. With the shadows her eyes have turned black, and she’s haunting, all angles and sharp lines crowded over her. Angela tries to push herself up but her shaking palms slip on the slick, frosty metal. “You are my problem.”

Moira draws herself up. Angela’s eyes are wild, and she looks delicious laying there on the car, and she whispers, “What do you mean?”

She’s so very fucked, Moira thinks, as some distant part of her realises what she’s about to do.

It’s a part of her that’s standing on the other side of the parking lot, watching herself idly with a cigarette loose between her lips, beneath a lamppost, not even bothering to intervene.

Moira pulls Angela to her feet by the collar of her sweater. Her mottled right hand rests against her flushed cheek.

She’s so very fucked, Moira thinks, as she leans in and presses their mouths together.

There’s nothing. Angela doesn’t move as Moira kisses her, her fingers tangling in her hair, and her left arm wrapping around her waist. Angela tastes like sticky sugar and cheap vodka and bitter heartbreak. Her hands are on Moira’s biceps, squeezing, but she isn’t kissing back. She isn’t kissing back-

Moira pulls away like she’s been burnt, almost pushing Angela back on the car. She only sways on her feet, eyes glassy and staring over Moira’s left shoulder. Moira wipes her mouth, and breathes, hard.

Shit. 

Shit.

This’ll go on her record, Moira realises miserably. She physically and sexually assaulted a student. She kissed Angela fucking Ziegler whilst the stupid girl was off her face and doubled over her car.

Moira cards a shaky hand through her loose hair, and a desperate laugh bubbles out of her. She opens her mouth, to say something, anything, but nothing comes out, so she steps back, and tries to clear her throat.

“Angela,” she tries. Her voice is rough and deep, her eyes looking anywhere but at the woman in front of her, wobbly on her feet.

So she doesn’t see so much as she feels when Angela’s hands grab her by her lapels and pull her down, and all Angela is is an orange blur as she suddenly smashes her mouth very ungracefully and very unforgivingly against Moira’s thin lips.

A desperate moan that Moira can’t hold back sneaks from her throat; her hands, wide and long, grapple for purchase against Angela’s sides and back. This shouldn’t be happening, she thinks, as Angela’s frozen hands sneak beneath her button up and press against her flat stomach. Angela’s tongue feels like silk in her mouth, as drunk as she is. She pushes a knee between Moira’s legs, and shoves her violently against the car.

Angela’s fingers sneak under the waistband of Moira’s slacks. An alarm goes off in her brain but Angela’s tongue does a fine job of quieting it. Her fingers are clumsy as they slide over her fly but she pops it open, and hooks her fingers in Moira’s belt loops. 

When she pulls away it’s to sit down on her knees, pulling Moira’s pants down to her thighs in the process.

The cold sting against Moira’s bare skin is the prod she needs to snap from her haze and realise what Angela’s doing.

“No,” Moira starts, and tries to pull away, but she’s stuck against the car. “Angela, no, stop.”

Angela presses her face to the jut of Moira’s bared hip, her lips ghosting the elastic of her panties and her breath tickling the insides of her thighs. “Angela, stop,” Moira tries again, but she realises-

She won’t. She’s using her.

Moira fists her hand in Angela’s blonde hair, and pulls her off without a second thought. 

Angela freezes, and looks up at Moira from under her lashes. God, she's stupidly hot on her knees. Moira wishes this wasn’t happening like this, wishes she wasn’t just a distraction. Wishes Angela could grow to lov-

“You’re drunk,” Moira says gently, instead of something stupid. “We aren’t doing this here.”

Angela says nothing, only stares, eyes faraway. 

Maybe she thought she was making out with Amari in her drunken haze. Maybe she’s coming to the sick realisation that instead, it’s the person she hates most in the world.

“Come on.” Moira tries not to let her emotions wrangle her. She taps her shoulder. “Let me take you home.”

Angela opens her mouth, and Moira braces herself for the next onslaught of scathing insults she’s going to get hurled with this time. She gently takes Angela’s elbow, and tries to pull her up.

Angela makes a strange, broken noise, and stares down at the pothole-ridden road, and before Moira can even attempt to do anything to stop her, Angela promptly leans forward and vomits all over her infuriatingly comically pointy shoes. 

*

“Gabe,” Moira says desperately, when the line clicks. “It’s um…” She’s rang him thirteen times now. “It’s me.”

What? ” Gabe grouses from the other end. Moira flicks her gaze off the crying woman slumped against her car to the pulsing purple light emanating from his apartment windows.

Moira swallows, and watches as Angela buries her head further into her arms. “I need your help. I’m in the parking lot.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line, then, a confused, “What?”

Moira sighs. “Outside.”

She bites her nail as she watches the curtains on the left-most window part, and then as the door flings open. By the time Gabe has stalked down the stairs and crossed the distance between them, her thumbnail is a jagged nub.

“What did you do?” he seethes, not knowing which point of interest to take in first: Moira’s shoes, glistening wetly in the light, off to the side; Angela huddled in on herself, on the verge of imploding; or Moira’s bright pink rabbit print socks.

Moira shrugs pathetically. “Angela’s a little unwell,” she decides. “I want to take her home but she won’t tell me where her apartment is. Or if she even lives on campus.”

Gabe opens his mouth. Points to Moira’s shoes. Shuts his mouth. “Angela…” Gabe shakes his head. “Wait. What were you two even doing out here?”

Angela whimpers softly and covers her head.

“Talking,” Moira says too quickly, and Gabe narrows his eyes. “About school work.”

He points at Angela. “So you ripped her apart again. Right. That’s what she needs right now.” And then back to the shoes. “And she was so distraught she threw up.”

“Please, Gabe,” Moira hisses. “Where does she live?”

He folds his muscled arms across his chest. “Well, currently, no where. Seeing as she shared her dorm room with Amari.”

Oh. 

She looks down at Angela, who is now still, and quiet.

“She’s been staying with us the past few days, til we figure it out.”

Fuck. Of course. Gabe gives her a look, before he crouches down and gently touches Angela’s shoulder. “Come on, honey. Let’s go back inside. Get you to bed.”

It takes a little coaxing but eventually Angela stands, and she leans on Gabe as he takes her across the grass and up the stairs. Moira trails after them awkwardly, her socks damp from the frost, shoes in the boot of her car.

Inside everyone is cheering, and Genji is gyrating his hips on the rickety coffee table in a pair of thigh-high stockings and a dangerously small skirt and little else. Olivia is draped over the back of the couch, and she whistles when Angela is carried in with Moira in tow.

“Let’s keep it down, yeah?” Gabe nods to the stereo, and someone lowers the volume remotely. He thanks them in rapid Spanish, and then carries Angela back into the bathroom. Moira loiters in the doorway, fiddling with her hands.

“In the spare room,” begins Gabe, not looking up as he fumbles with the temperature on the shower and starts untangling Angela from her sweater, “Her clothes are in a suitcase. Can you go find something comfortable?” 

Moira doesn’t answer him; doesn’t need to.

She winds down the hall and slips past the calamity in the living room. The spare room is to the right, and is little more than a glorified storage cupboard. A tiny futon is pushed against the wall, decorated with a plush duvet and impossibly fluffy pillow. The window has a cute little family of cacti balancing on the sill, and fairy lights are wrapped around the curtain rod. A desk is pushed to the other wall, where a hairbrush and a few tubes of lipstick lay. In the corner is a small suitcase, black and basic. It lays open, entrails sprawled onto the floor.

Moira decides on a loose-fitting shirt emblazoned with the face of a late 80’s popstar and a pair of pyjama bottoms with little plus signs on them. A pair of sickly familiar red panties, and mismatched socks are added to the ensemble. She folds them all neatly on the bed, and then thinks that’s stupid, because Angela can’t even stand up straight let alone sort her clothes and dress herself, and then she thinks that she’s stupid for even getting involved in all this.

Moira huffs, turns the fairy lights on and the downlight off, and bundles the clothes in her arms. She returns to the bathroom and tentatively knocks on the door. 

“You can come in,” says Gabe, so she does, and decides when she realises that Angela is sitting naked in the combination shower-bathtub that the Gabe has chosen a truly unique and pivotal design for the tiles closest to the ceiling. Pure ingenuity.

“Just give me the clothes,” he grouses, then waves her away.

Moira assumes she should probably leave party, by this point, properly leave this time. She isn’t friends with anyone sitting and watching the strip tease taking place, not really, and Angela… well. She absolutely cocked that up. She wonders if the board would mind if she abandoned her scholarship and booked it to Ireland to live as a hermit, in the hills, forever.

She should definitely leave, but… she doesn’t want to. And since everything else she’s done tonight has been a huge mistake Moira gives herself the benefit of the doubt and thinks that well, one more can’t hurt.

In Angela’s room, Moira settles down on the bed, knees together and her hands folded. Minutes tick by, and nothing. She fidgets.

By the time Gabe has brought Angela back Moira has acquired a glass of cool water and popped two little ibuprofen capsules out on the desk, shucked her coat, rolled her sleeves up to the elbow, unbuttoned the first three buttons on her shirt and paced the short distance spanning the room approximately forty-six times

She stands in the middle of the room, with her hands behind her back. The fairy lights twinkle behind her, Moira watches them sparkle in Angela’s eyes.

“How are you feeling?” Moira asks dumbly, when no one says anything. Angela shrugs. The shirt is loose, and Moira spies her clavicle. 

“Better. In some regards.”

Of course. 

Moira clears her throat. She cocks her head in the direction of the water. “Make sure you stay hydrated. You won’t sober up but you won't feel like shit, either.” 

Angela lets slip a small smile and rolls her eyes. She squeezes Gabe’s arm, and he nods and backs out. Then she stands there, and stares at Moira. Her nipples peak against the shirt, and the dampness of her hair has turned the white translucent in patches. Moira swallows. 

“Well, I should be off, too, then.” She awkwardly stoops to gather her coat, pauses, then brushes past Angela.

A hand flicks out, and tentatively touches Moira’s thin, cold wrist. She holds her breath, and stares down at Angela.

“Stay, would you?” Angela asks softly. “It’s late. And I’d like it if you would.” 

She’s drunk, says part of her, and doesn’t know what she wants.

You’re the rebound, says another, this is unhealthy and stupid.

“All right,” is what Moira actually says. “Of course.”

Angela pulls back the duvet as Moira peels her sopping socks off and lays them on the window sill to dry. She pulls apart the remaining buttons on her shirt, sparing her singlet, and deftly pulls off her bra. Angela chuckles lightly from under the covers, hair tangled wildly with the purple tufts from the pillow. “And your pants,” she murmurs.

Moira clicks her tongue. “I don’t think that’s wise.”

She thinks Angela shrugs. “I don’t think that’s comfortable.”

Moira licks her lips. Of all the things she’s done tonight, taking off her pants in front of Angela Ziegler doesn’t rank. Sleeping with her does, though, in any capacity. She feels exposed, her long, pale legs dotted with dark freckles, her black panties high on her hips. When she turns back Angela is peeking out at her from under the duvet. 

“Come here,” she says, muffled under the blanket. Moira swallows.

Angela rolls over and faces the wall, leaving a scant gap for Moira to lie down in. She sits stiffly, then turns awkwardly, and settles down on her back.

The fairy lights twinkle above them. Outside, McCree and Olivia bicker in Spanish, to Lena’s amusement. The music pumps softly. A car churns to life in the parking lot, and Moira clears her throat.

“Could you,” begins Angela, then stops. Moira nudges her encouragingly. “Could you hold me?”

“Is that what you want?”

A pause, then Angela sniffs. Her voice is impossibly quiet. “Yes.”

Moira struggles to fit on the bed let alone arrange her limbs to comfortably accommodate the two of them. She ends up with her left hand on the shell of Angela’s hip, her scarred right arm shoved under the pillow. She presses her knees to the backs of Angela’s warm thighs, her lips impossibly close to her wet hair. Her shampoo smells of pine and cedar; Moira assumes it belongs to Jack.

Angela’s ear is a soft pink; it’s from the heat of shower, Moira thinks.

They’re silent, and Moira knows she should say something. She needs to tell her that it’s okay. That she forgives her for slapping her, and kissing her, and for vomiting on her. That she’s sorry too, for destroying whatever semblance of normalcy they held between them before they kissed. If she could, Moira would take it all back. For some reason, it was easier to live with the knowledge that Angela absolutely despised her than… whatever the truth is.

Which could be little more than that Angela is simply desperate, now that she thinks about it. Moira screws her eyes shut.

Instead of something crippling and stupid, Moira says all of nothing, and watches Angela’s shoulder rise and fall in slow, steady breaths.

When she’s sure Angela has drifted to sleep Moira tentatively flexes her hand and sweeps her fingers over Angela’s hip; she allows herself that much. Then she peels herself away, gently rolling Angela onto her side, and pulls the covers back over her. Her watch tells her it’s close to midnight, so she hurries about finding her pants and semi-dried socks.

Standing in the doorway, Moira lets herself look over the room. She tries not to let the image of Angela, little more than a blonde plume under the duvet and glowing softly under the fairy lights, affect her, but Moira wets her dry lips and swallows thickly.

She shouldn’t stay. If she’s gone in the morning Angela can convince herself it was just a wild dream, and things will go back to normal. They won’t have kissed, or slept together, and Angela can go back to seeing her as the bitch of a TA she has for genetics, even if Moira finds herself unable to look Angela in the eye.

That’s what Moira tells herself as the door softly clicks shut behind her and she slips through the party, shrugging into her coat and making her way down to the parking lot outside.

*

“Talk to her,” Gabe implores around a mouthful of toast. He pierces the yolk of his egg unforgivingly with his fork. “She’s not left her room all weekend, and it's driving me wild.” Moira watches it bleed across the bacon in a thick, lazy spill. 

She swallows the lump in her throat, and pushes the soggy mushroom on her plate to the side. “Perhaps she’s still hungover,” she tries, pathetically. Gabe violently cuts his remaining toast into triangles, and Moira tries not to wince. “She did drink quite a-”

“She’s depressed, ” Gabe snaps, and Moira finds herself unable to look him in the eye. “You need to sort this shit out soon, all right? Or I’m gonna have to start lighting candles and burning sage or some shit.” Gabe mutters under his breath in Spanish and angrily chews his brunch.

Moira sighs, losing the unwinnable battle with her conscience and trying to find solace in her smashed avocado bruschetta. The avocado stares back at her, a green, smeared mess, oxidised at the edges. “What am I meant to say, Gabe? Is there a card for, ‘Sorry I sent you on the verge of a mental breakdown and shoved my tongue down your throat to make up for it’?”

Suddenly, Moira is extremely conscious of how public they are. It's eleven am on a Sunday morning at one of the most popular cafes in town, and the tables around them are filled with-- old people, and young lovesick couples, mostly, she concludes after scanning the floor. If there are students creeping in the wings and behind corners she doesn't notice them, but that does little to abate her anxiety. 

She does notice Gabe’s sympathetic shrug, but that doesn’t make her any less on-edge. “I think right now, she needs a friend. And she’s only going to shy away more if she hears, well… Jack said there are already... rumours, floating around.”

Moira tries not to choke, and ends up almost having an asthma attack “What kind of rumours?” It’s hard to keep the raspy sternness from her voice, but Gabe shakes his head.

Relajarse. Before you transferred, she had a bit of a… reputation. If you asked for Angela Ziegler, biology grad, on the fast track to the top med school in the country, you’d get a blank look. If you asked for Angela Ziegler, the university’s bicycle…”

Moira remembers the way Angela had dropped to her knees in the parking lot, how hot her mouth had been against the flat of her stomach. She clears her throat and glances elsewhere.

“Well, Fareeha came and changed all that. She’s your jock type, but she’s clever, and fearsome. The whispers stopped.” Gabe takes a sip of his long black. Moira’s flat white has gone cold by her wrist. “They’d been together for years, but now they've split, and people have their theories. And apparently gossip never completely dries out.”

“I get the picture,” Moira says briskly. Around them the cafe is bubbling, the smell of coffee is warm and sweet. “How am I supposed to help, though?”

Gabe smiles softly, and leans on his hand. “Be her friend. She hasn’t got many, and really, you probably know her better than the rest of us. Really know her.”

Moira pays for their brunch on card. A pretty girl with long brown hair pops her gum when the payment clears. From the coffee machine to the side, Lena waves wildly to them. 

Moira knows that Angela takes notes on a battered MacBook Air, that takes about three minutes to boot up because of its age.

She knows that on Mondays, Angela wears an obscenely short tennis skirt and trainers, and when she’s delivering the lecture Moira has a tendency to stare anywhere but her, because the way she folds her long legs flashes a small sliver of her red panties.

Gabe falls into the passenger side of Moira’s car, and flicks through the radio stations once Moira has keyed the ignition.

Moira knows that Angela sucks on biros, on the lab days or when she’s not bothered with her archaic computer. She knows Angela isn’t doing it on purpose, but it drives Moira up the wall, and turns the tips of her ears red.

On the drive back to the uni Gabe chatters on, but Moira stays quiet, thinking that she really doesn’t know Angela the way Gabe thinks she does, and that she is really, really fucked.

The rest of Moira’s Sunday stretches out with an itchy kind of tension. From her couch she watches Oscar flopping around the living room, chewing on her slippers and burying his soft nose into the rug. On the television a very riveting documentary on the breeding habits of the angler fish plays on mute. Moira takes a lengthy sip from her tumbler of whiskey. 

She has her lesson plans stacked out in neat little piles upstairs, on her desk, where her laptop sits on stand-by. Tomorrow’s clothes are folded and laid out on the end of her bed. Her emails are open, where she abandoned a half-constructed draft of an… attempt, at something.  

There’s no way Moira can send it, if she has any dignity. It’s times like this she wishes she had better friends, with better advice. She supposes she could ask Professor Zhou for help, but; no. Then she’d have to explain the mortifying sequence of events that left her like this, sinking into her couch and grasping the dregs of any professionalism she has left.

Dinner is easy stir-fry, most of which she hand feeds to Oscar. She watches him munch on a snow pea, chin in her palm, elbow on the armrest. 

“What should I do, little one?” Moira laments. “I’ve really cocked things up this time.”

Oscar’s inky black eyes stare at her, his little mouth stuffed with a head of soggy broccoli. He pauses a beat--  then goes straight back to munching, blissfully oblivious.

She goes to bed early. The sheets are cold and stiff, and she pointedly does not think about how empty her bed feels, and she tries to ignore the deafening silence filling the house.

So she thinks of pretty golden hair, soft with soap, and milky skin, and the indignant way that Angela pouted sitting on the couch at the party. She thinks of how pink her lips are, bitten to blush, and how nice they might have felt kissing the shells of her hips, nibbling at the skin above her underpants, had Moira not stopped her.

Her own hand creeps there now, slipping beneath the cotton, down down down, and she brushes the pads of her fingers over her clit, and hisses into her pillow when she pushes down hard.

With Angela in her mind it doesn’t take long to work herself to the edge, fingers rubbing in methodical little circles. When she comes it’s to the thought of Angela begging her to fuck her, desperate for her, legs spread wide and panties drenched and all because of her.

With the whiskey and the glow making her soft sleep comes easy, warm and welcome and creeping in the corners of her conscience before guilt can get there first. Moira sighs with her arm draped over her face, and decides that maybe the best course of action is to do nothing at all.

Tomorrow, it’ll be as if nothing ever changed. She’ll treat Angela like a student, and nothing more, and hopefully, the more aloof she is, the less confident Angela will be to bring it up.

Her chest feels tight, but she ignores it. This will hurt less, she tells herself. This will be less damning. 

Out in the dark, her laptop purrs softly, forgotten. The cursor blinks lazily where she left it.

Inbox [8]

*

“In these next coming weeks we’ll cover the last subject that will be in your final exams. One week before the exam period begins I’ll be holding revision classes.” Moira scans the room over her glasses, eyes skimming the lone, empty seat in front of her. “Attendance is optional, if you feel your own study and revision is adequate.”

With that, Moira’s last lecture for Monday is concluded. The students scuffle out of their seats, a few sheepishly sidling up to Moira, scratching their heads and asking for spare lesson plans. Moira resists the urge to pinch the bridge of her long nose. This is, after all, the true nature of her position. 

“Send me the subjects you need via email, and I’ll get back to you,” Moira says. She powers down her laptop and slides it into her satchel. “When we revise, bring up any specifics and we’ll go over it then.” 

The girl in front of her is staring at her hand and pretending not to. Moira clears her throat. She subtly glances away and then up at her. “Thanks, Dr O’Deorain,” she beams. “You’re the best.”

That’s what she gets for not wearing her precursory glove, Moira supposes, switching off the lights and jamming the key in the shut door to lock it. It falls back with the others, that jingle against her chest when she loops the lanyard around her neck, cool through her button up. Idly, she stares at the pink nubs on her fingers where her nails should be, the pad of her thumb soft as she rubs the scars. They twist up her arm, but the worst of it is hidden by sleeve, buttoned at the wrist. Moira knows them well, though, to see them without needing to look. She can feel the supple ridges where her skin rises and sinks without needing to touch.

It’s as she stares at her right hand in an empty corridor, after lunch on Monday, that she hears the slap of trainers on lino, and a hissed sheisse.

Moira’s gaze snaps up, hawkelike. Angela is standing ten paces away, chest heaving, tresses of hair falling from her bun and curling under her jaw. Her cheeks are red, lips shiny. The skirt she’s wearing is short, white, and so familiar it knocks the wind out of Moira’s chest.

She’s even prettier than she was last night, in her head, on her knees with Moira's hand in her hair.

“Oh,” Moira says dumbly as her brain short circuits. Her heart thunders unhelpfully. “Angela.”

The slap. The kiss. The bed. Moira shoves her right hand in her pocket, and clears her throat. Angela may as well have jammed the keys in her chest for the way she makes it hard to breathe. 

Angela shifts from one foot to the other, and finally, clears her throat. “Sorry I missed class,” she’s staring at Moira’s slacks, at her pocket. “Again. I, um. I sent you an email.” 

Shit. “Last night?” 

When she was coming and whispering Angela’s name, over and over, perhaps.

Angela drags her eyes up, to meet Moira’s, and suddenly everything feels too hot, and the air feels too thick to breathe. 

“Yeah,” Angela says. “I sent you several. Sorry. It- it was probably late.”

It wasn’t late. Moira knows she’s lying but acknowledging that puts the blame on her, and it’s not as if she was ignoring Angela, in particular, she was ignoring all her problems; but there’s no way she could ever admit that.

So Instead of carrying on pathetically Moira straightens up. Lets her hand rest against her thigh openly, and tells herself to get her shit together, and to stop looking at that damn tennis skirt. “I apologise for my negligence, Angela. What was the email in regards to?”

Angela pulls a thick blonde curl behind her ear. Moira wonders if it still smells like cedar and pine; and then decides it doesn’t matter.

She’s meant to be pretending like nothing happened, she reminds herself. 

“If we could organise a time to go over what I’ve missed in class.” God, the way she’s staring down at her own shoes, eyes hooded-- “I was also wondering, and I know it’s a lot to ask, but if that could somehow make up for my lost attendance...” 

“Of course,” Moira says too quickly. She tries to recover by fishing out her phone, and thumbing into her planner. “You’ve been top of the class every year, I think you deserve some off-days.” She attempts a friendly smile. It probably comes off as more of a grimace.

But then Angela suddenly looks up, and smiles back at her as if she once forgot how to, like no one’s ever done anything nice for her before. 

Correction, Moira thinks, scrolling through the planner and staring anywhere but Angela; she’s smiling like this is the first nice thing she’s ever done for her. The thought makes Moira’s heart do something silly in the cage of her ribs.

“Thank you, I- I really appreciate it.” Moira doesn’t miss the way she bites her lip. “Would this afternoon be too early to start?”

Absently, she stares down into her empty planner.  She closes the app. “I’m busy til four. Is that too late?”

“Not at all,” Angela says breathlessly. “Do you want to meet up at Gabe’s?”

“That works. I suppose I’ll… see you then.” 

“Yes,” Angela’s lips are pursed, holding a smile. She skips backwards. “I guess I’ll see you then.”

They watch each other a moment, and right when Moira thinks that Angela is going to bring up this unspoken, dangerous thing, she shakes her head and turns back down the corridor. The smile doesn’t leave her face. Moira watches the way her skirt floats around above her knees. And then she rounds the corner, and everything’s quiet again.

Barely a moment goes past before Moira is stalking in the opposite direction, where the faculty’s offices are stowed. Inside, Professor Zhou is on her telephone and reclining in her affronting blue chair. She gives Moira a cheery wave, but it goes unnoticed.

The succession of ass to chair, satchel to desk, and laptop to power is so quick Moira wouldn’t be surprised if something was broken, somewhere. Peeling off the edges of her good nails with her teeth, Moira stares at the load up screen, and she’s sure nothing has ever taken as long as this in her entire life. She doesn’t even wince when she nicks the nail too close to the skin.

The keys clatter beneath her fingers, she taps into her emails.

Sucks a breath, glances over at Zhou, who is animatedly discussing the many ways one could - theoretically - live on cup noodles in the wilderness, and paying her no mind.

Inbox [ 8 ]

One is from her professor; another, from the university, regarding her position in the coming year. Two are from other students begging for notes.

And the rest are from Angela.

The cursor hovers over the thread; she could delete them, and tell Angela they never sent. She could pretend she never saw them, and thus never have to deal with the consequences. And so far, it’s been easy to act as though she isn’t affected by… this whatever lingering between them. It has.

But she clicks the bolded email anyway.

     Subject: Revision     >>20:36

Hi Moira,

The notes you sent me helped, but I was wondering if we could perhaps organise a time for you to go over it all with me? I’m sure I understand, but I’d like to make sure. That is, if the offer is still on the table.

Angela Ziegler

     Re: Revision    >>21:23

Hi again,

If you did want to meet up, it wouldn’t have to be formal. I know you’re very busy with finals coming up, and the prof is no doubt laddling it all on you. I know a nice coffee house, or we can go to the park with the duck pond down on the boulevard. Whatever’s easiest for you.

Thanks, Angela

     Re: Re: Revision >>22:03

Hi Moira,

I just want to apologise for the way I behaved on Friday night. As I’m sure you know I’m going through a delicate situation at the moment, and but it is no excuse for my actions. I lashed out when I shouldn’t have. I deeply hope that this doesn’t affect the way you view me, and that we can resume a professional, educational relationship.

Let me know about catching up,

Angela

     Re: Re: Revision >>22:14

P.S: You left your gloves the other night. I’ll make sure they get back to you.

*

Her fourth cigarette whittles away between her charred fingers. The stereo is droning something she’s heard ten times in the last week, and tinged with static.

The clock winks at her. The more Moira watches it the more patronising it becomes.

In the backseat lays a manilla folder of printed notes, colour coded and grouped together with little bulldog clips, highlighted, underlined, and heavily revised. Her laptop is tucked away in her satchel, on the floor of the passenger seat, battery full, bound in its own charger.

Moira breathes two steady plumes of smoke through her nostrils.

The dashboard clock blinks. 15:38. 15:39. She stubs the rest of her cigarette out against the ashtray, and when the clock hits twenty-to she peels out of the staff car park and putts towards the other end of the university.

The apartments are towards the eastern side of the university block, a ten minute drive at best while the dormitory complexes are even further. Moira’s never ventured that far, finding Gabe’s little corner of the grounds to be shady and grimy enough as it is.

The treeline breaks, and the brown brick building grows when Moira rounds the corner of the street. Gravel rolls and pops beneath the tyres, which flirt with the potholes stippling the small parking lot. She sidles into the empty spot next to Gabe’s battered truck, and stares through the peeling glass-tint on her window up at the second floor.

The curtains are pulled. Moira spies Jack’s herb garden sitting on the sill, basking in the cold afternoon sun. The window is cracked ajar, just slightly.

15:53.

She thumbs the tacky butt of number five, then flicks it in the ashtray. In the glovebox is the frosted glass bottle of Imperial Leather Gabe gave her last Christmas, and a dinted tin of mints.

The aluminium pops.

The cologne is slick on her collarbone, against her pale wrists.  

Moira unfurls herself from the car, gravel slides beneath the soles of her black oxfords. She straightens her brown jacket and knots her scarf, for want of something to do with her hands, pretends they aren’t trembling. Perhaps she takes longer than she needs in circling to the passenger side for her bag, she might stare at the leather interior of her car imploringly when she grabs the folders, hoping the seat sucks her in. But that’s no one’s business.

Standing by her car in the parking lot makes Moira’s skin prickle in a way she doesn’t fancy all that much. She tries not to dwell on it, and tucks the folder under her arm and stalks along the path to the units.

The staircase looks different in the daylight. Moira glances up at the second floor from the middle landing, and she remembers the way Angela stood and glared down at her with so much anger so perfectly. She takes the stairs two at a time, and clears her throat.

Each step is heavy, and punctuated by her thundering heartbeat. Soft music wafts from someone’s apartment, she can smell something spiced like patchouli from another, and then all too quickly she’s standing, holding a staring competition with the peephole in the off-red door to Gabe’s apartment. 

Moira raises her hand to knock.

She takes a slow breath, and then another.

And can’t seem to move her fist as she lets it hang in midair.

To her right the happy little succulents mock her, simpering in the sunlight. The urge to kick them right to the other side of campus overwhelms her.

But she turns back to the door, and exerts all her coiling anxiety into delicately rapping her knuckles against the flimsy wood. 

Not a beat goes by before the door swings open. Moira blinks dumbly with her hand still poised to knock, and with a surprised look on her face she glances down, to Angela, who is standing in the doorway, very, very close.

“Good afternoon, Angela,” she greets with a crisp smile. She shoves her hand down by her side.

They’re so close that she can feel the huff of Angela’s breath as she takes her in. They’re so close that if Moira stepped forward their chests would touch.

Angela clears her throat, and pretends she isn’t drinking Moira in with her eyes. “Thank you for this, Moira,” she says, eventually, and when she smiles up at her Moira’s heart does something stupid in her chest. She steps to the side. “Come on in.”

Moira adjusts her grip on her satchel and ducks as she trots past. Angela’s wearing a grey jumper, and that same damning skirt she wears every Monday. She’s wearing socks, and a nervous look about her face, her soft lip chewed between teeth. Her loose hair falls in wet ringlets over her shoulders, the ends damp from a shower. It just serves to remind Moira of the way Angela was slumped in the bathtub, eyes swollen from crying and hair limp with grease. Moira looks away.

The livingroom is just as sickly familiar as the carpark, the stairwell. Olivia is draped over the couch, at least on the seat this time. Her purple nails tak tak against the keyboard of her laptop, which is glowing a strange slew of colours. She doesn’t look up as Moira steps into the living room.

“Wondered how long you’d be standing there. Was it three minutes, Angie? Four?” Olivia snorts from the couch, and Moira scowls, and deigns not to answer. She’s grateful of the fact that Angela stays silent, too.

The other lounges have been returned to their proper locations; Olivia faces the television, with that rickety brown coffee table in between. Another is angled beside it, making an L, while the last one is hidden away. If Moira can recall the missing seat is the black one with holes in it, and she assumes it’s out on the balcony.

Otherwise, there’s a stereo and Jack’s old turntable against the wall by the bookshelf, but instead of rattling bass something soft and electronic pumps quietly from it, and Angela has a stick of incense smouldering away.

She tucks a damp tress of blonde hair behind her left ear, when Moira looks back at her. Angela clears her throat. “I cleared off the counter, um, if that’s suitable.” 

Moira’s gaze flicks to the kitchen island, which is surprisingly barren of half-drunk bottles of alcohol. The internet modem flickers steadily where it’s pushed in a bundle of cords against the wall, nestled next to a slow clock. Two mismatched stools sit side-by-side, one shorter the other.

“It’s just that, well, my room is quite small,” Angela continues, and tries a chuckle. 

“It should be fine.” Moira heads to the shorter stool, and sets about unpacking her satchel. 

Right. Okay, she thinks. This doesn’t have to be awkward. She tutored for three years as an undergrad, and the only thing different about this is that she isn’t twenty one.

“Do you want anything to drink or eat before we start?” Angela calls as she pads around and grabs her laptop from the coffee table. “Gabe put on a pot of coffee before he left.”

Moira stacks the notes in neat piles, four, for the four days. “Sure, just a dash of milk.” Her laptop chirps happily when she keys in her password. “Gabe isn’t here?” 

She watches Angela shrug, her back to her, as she fiddles with the coffee pot. “I don’t think so, at least I haven’t heard him in the last few hours.” Angela bends low to reach into the fridge, and when Moira catches herself staring she scolds herself and blushes and glares at her computer screen.

God, she’s despicable. She’s meant to be doing Angela a good turn. Angela’s hurting. This isn’t about her.

Two mugs are settled in front of her, Angela’s thin hands eaten by the ends of her sleeves. Her nails are bitten to the skin, flaking. Moira smiles her thanks, and takes a sip as Angela rounds the counter and sits at her side.

Moira pretends she’s distracted as Angela sets up her laptop, but she can’t help but notice her wallpaper. Of course she can’t. It’s a picture of her and Amari, arms around each other, at a park. Foliage curtains them, a sea of green. A fence trails off out of the photo, bracketing something that Moira can’t discern. She looks away. 

“Last week you’ll remember we were covering the patterns of genetic coding that are susceptible to certain diseases. The notes over the last few lessons disclose these particular patterns and diseases, in whom they are commonly found, and the way these genes evolve.” Moira flicks her spectacles open and slides them over her nose. She unpacks the manilla folder. 

“I’ve also included excerpts from journals that I think you personally will be interested in, and if you reference them in your finals, it will be to your benefit.”

Angela scoffs, a touch bitter. “Don’t make it easy for me.”

Moira looks at her from over her glasses. “I’m not.” She doesn’t offer any other explanation however, because the true one is too heavy to admit, and gets stuck in Moira’s throat if she even thinks about it. Angela nods just, and looks down at the notes.

“I’ve cleared a period in the labs, so tomorrow we can go over the prac you missed, too. We’ll have it from three.” Moira flicks through the papers, until she finds what she needs and slides it over to Angela. “Unless you’d prefer not to.” 

Angela shakes her head, and blows the steam off her coffee. Black, Moira notices. “Thank you, Moira, that would be a wonderful help. Would half-three be stretch, though?”

Moira shrugs. “That should be fine. Usually Professor Zhou is occupying the laboratory with whatever diabolical experiment has captured her mind for the moment, but I have insider knowledge that she’s going hiking with her wife tomorrow.” 

Angela makes a sound; when Moira looks over at her, concerned, she finds her snickering. “Are the labs cleared or did you just overhear the professor on the phone again?”

Moira narrows her eyes. “Again?”

Angela leans back on the stool and gives her a look that melts something crucial in holding herself together. “Come on, everyone knows it was you who walked into the office when Zhou and her wife were having phone sex. Just admit it.”

The tips of Moira’s ears burn hot, and she clears her throat. Despite doing so, her voice still comes out ragged. “I don’t see how this is pertinent to our lesson.”

Angela laughs, and it’s as pretty as crystal, and just as prone to shattering.

She’s taught Angela hundreds of times over the last year, but every time was from across the room, and never this close. So of course she had no way of knowing that the tip of Angela’s tongue pokes past her lips when she types, or how she can do so without looking at the keyboard. She'd never noticed the deadly focus to her eyes, nor the slight hunch to her shoulders. Moira reads her lesson plan steadily, the same as how she would in class, but here there’s no microphone, she doesn’t need to raise her voice. She feels like she’s reading into Angela’s ear from how close they are compared to normal, every word articulated, her esses sharp and hissing, accent mellow.

Moira watches her as she reads, and tries not to stumble over the words.

By the time she’s finished the first stack of notes her coffee is drained, and her skin is itchy, and too warm. Angela stretches her back out, and moans when something pops.

Moira wonders if the paper might incinerate under her gaze.

“Another round?” Angela pipes.

Moira stares at her dumbfounded, pretending she isn’t starting to blush.

“There’s a face that needs coffee,” Angela laughs, standing and going over to fuss with the perculator. “Break time.”

Moira drums her fingers of her left hand against the counter, watches her, but Angela doesn’t seems to mind. Her gaze is broken by Olivia yawning loudly from the couch. Moira had almost forgotten she was here.

“You guys are so boring,” Olivia laments, rolling onto the floor. She’s wearing purple leggings and a t-shirt that has something inappropriate in Spanish emblazoned across it, and the most pained expression in the world. “Honestly, I thought something would have happened by now. Disappointing.” 

She jumps to her feet and pulls on her sunglasses. “I’m going to Satya’s. See ya."

Moira watches in mild confusion as Olivia saunters out of the apartment, slamming the door shut, only to stop and point at her from the other side of the window.

Me? mouths Moira, jabbing to herself. Olivia nods gravely, and then gives a firm point to her left, Moira’s right, where Angela has her back to them, none the wiser. 

Olivia kisses the air, and then throws her head back, mouth open in a little o.

Moira scowls, and has to fiercely resist the urge to flip her off.

“All good?” Angela asks from the sink, and Moira clears her throat.

“Who’s Satya?” she asks in lieu of reply. She’s inspecting the nails of her left hand like she never knew she had them, when Angela returns with full cups. 

Angela shrugs as she settles down again. “The neighbour, I’m pretty sure. She brings food over sometimes, but I think Liv is hoarding it under the couch cushions, like a squirrel.” 

Moira opens her mouth. Shuts it. Decides she’d rather not know, and stares down at the open textbook.

“We’ll cover the diseases themselves, now, from first detection to what we now know of how they evolved,” Moira starts, quickly scanning her book for reference. “Here, this chapter. My notes are directly from this, with additions from my own research. I’ve included my sources, if you should wish to read them later.”

Angela nods, and leans on a hand. With her other she reaches for her pen, but it scatters to the floor, and it’s then that Moira makes the mistake of looking down, where she’s met by the creamy expanse of Angela’s thigh where the skirt doesn't reach. There’s a freckle on the right side of her knee, in the divot next to her patella. Moira makes the mistake of staring too long for it to go unnoticed.

“Let me get that,” she implores, wriggling off of the chair and crouching to the floor. Angela’s socks are soft pink with white along the toe and heel, they come up to her shin, and are rumpled slightly. She’s eye level with that damning freckle, and if she looks up she’s met with the line of Angela’s muscle that splits her thigh in two, and where it disappears under the pleats of her skirt. 

“Angela,” Moira says softly. Her right hand curls around her ankle, and her scars blend in with the cotton there. Oh, God, some part of her thinks idly, this feeling is so familiar. “Angela, I- 

It’s then that it happens.

Whatever Moira’s about to say dies in her throat; it’s pronounced dead at the scene, a funeral is held, and the mausoleum of her shitty choices is sealed.

A low, gritty noise escapes from some corner of the apartment, punctuated by a gasp, and something that sounds like a wet fish being thrown against tiles.

Or - Moira thinks, mouth dry - warm slick skin on warm, slick, receptive skin. 

Angela looks down at her horrified, and not because of their proximity. From a closed off room - that Moira foolishly overlooked - a dirty moan seeps, and some Spanish that escapes Moira at that point in time, and then the very obvious and very apparent sounds of two men having sex.

“Oh fuck,” someone whines, “Please, papi.

Jack, Moira decides, face white. 

“I didn’t know they were here,” Angela whispers desperately. “I didn’t… I didn’t know.” 

Moira stands up, and tries to ignore the way her soul crumples in on itself and her palms sweat. “It seems they didn’t know we were here, either.” 

The absolutely undisguisable sounds of two strong men fucking simper over the dulcet tones from the record player. Moira worries her lip, and glances down at Angela, who is staring at their workspace completely lost and shutting down. “They’ll be a while,” she says in a strange way, her cheeks soft with colour. She can’t meet Moira’s eye, but that’s probably for the best, otherwise she’d see the way Moira is losing her fucking mind and her composure.

“We could wait?” Moira tries, but regrets it instantly. Angela at least nods, but then she swiftly shakes her head. 

“No. Too long.”

Jesus Christ. 

Moira stares down at their rapidly cooling coffees, and watches her laptop blink at her.

She opens her mouth.

Gabe spits something in Spanish that Moira would not translate under threat of death.

“Do you want to,” she licks her lips. “Would you like to continue this tomorrow?”

Angela nods, again, and stays silent. She watches as Moira hastily stacks the papers and shoves them in the folder, and doesn’t even bother turning off her laptop when she closes it. She loads her satchel. “Wait,” Angela says. And then says nothing.

Moira regards her for a tense moment as the bedframe rattles violently against a wall. When it becomes clear that Angela won’t meet her eyes nor speak her mind Moira just takes the jump, because honestly, everything is already going southward anyway.

“Would you like to come over and complete the revision at my house?” she asks slowly. By the time she’s finished Angela has already folded her laptop in two, and is rushing over to find her shoes in the rack.

Please,” she whispers on returning, slipping her socked feet into black ballet flats. “I- your gloves are in my room. Give me a moment.”

Moira slings her bag over her shoulder and watches Angela tiptoe back to her makeshift room. She’s there a moment, one moan-filled, slapping-accentuated moment, before she hurries out, one crusty black leather glove in hand. 

“I’m sure I’ve seen its pair, I don’t know where I put it, I’m so sorry,” Angela starts, but Moira waves her off. She takes back her glove, and peels the sleeve on her right wrist up, revealing the warped and marbled skin. Angela pretends she isn't looking. Moira pulls the glove back on, and it’s like she can breathe again.

“I only need one,” she says, flexing her fingers before reaching for her satchel. Angela breaks her stare and nods, and focuses instead on hoisting her laptop and textbook under her arm. She almost slips in her haste to get to the entryway, but Moira steadies her with a firm hand against the small of her back. Someone breathes hard through their teeth, and from the bedroom, someone moans brokenly. Their coffees sit forgotten on the counter.

Angela pulls the door shut softly behind her, and for a moment, stares down at the scuffed cement balcony. Music still plays, and someone’s cooking dinner, and the succulents hide in the shadows of the early night. 

It’s interesting, watching the way Angela seems to compartmentalise everything that just happened, and finalise what she’ll say to abate the awkward tension between them. If she was anyone else, if she was Lena or Jesse or Genji, Moira supposed they’d just laugh it off. But Moira is their professor’s aid, and a bitchy one at that. 

They kissed, but they aren’t lovers.

They can’t joke about this, because they aren’t even friends.

“I’m…” Angela swallows, and doesn’t meet her eyes. Part of Moira just wants to tell her not to worry, or to bring it up ever again, but for some reason she thinks not letting Angela speak would make things worse.

Angela is twenty-three. She’s an adult. They both are.

“I’m sorry, I just.” She looks up, and tries a smile. “I’m sorry, hey?” And then she laughs.

Moira finds herself huffing, and looking out at the setting sun. And then, Moira finds herself laughing, too.

She laughs into the back of her hand, until tears wet the edges of her eyes. She hums as she shakes her head, and rubs the bridge of her nose under her glasses. “God, there’s nothing like hearing your best friend’s boyfriend calling him daddy, is there?”

Angela doesn’t answer because she’s too busy staring at her, Moira discovers when she turns back, incredulity sparkling in her eyes and something pink and warm staining her cheeks. An odd twist in her stomach inspires her to cough, and look away. 

“Come on,” Moira says softly, and tries that again- smiling. She cocks her head in the direction of the parking lot. “Give it five hours and I’ll drop you back. The quarantine squad should be finished cleaning the place up, right?” 

Angela hugs her laptop and together they walk down the stairs, and across the soggy grass, and as Moira unlocks her car Angela tries convincing her that they at least don’t take it out of their bedroom. 

“How many times have you had to suffer that?” Moira asks, horrified, as she puts her hand on the back of Angela’s seat and reverses out of her spot. She catches Angela biting her lip in her periphery, but she chalks it up to simply being because her sleeve has ridden up on her right arm and she can see her mangled scars and they're gross, this close to her.

And not because they’re crowded together in Moira’s cosy sedan, flushed to the thighs because of their eavesdropping.

But Angela manages a shrug, and doesn’t look at her. “Not as often as you’d think. There were a few times, when the parties got late, but mostly everyone had left by then.”

You hadn’t, Moira thinks, and realises there’s probably a reason for that. 

Instead she says, “You went to a lot of Gabe’s parties?” and pointedly tries not to think about all the invites she’d turned down in the past, all the missed opportunities…

No. Her grip on the steering wheel flexes. Angela was and still is tangled with Amari.

But Angela seems to fidget under the hinted accusation. She drums her fingers on lapful of laptop and book, and gives her a sly glance. “For the social aspect, mainly. I don’t-- I didn’t, well.” Angela huffs, and fiddles with the radio. “I never really drank.”

The street lights play on Angela’s face, staccato, hypnotising. Moira tries not to get distracted, but when they sidle up to a set of lights in the heart of town, it’s hard to focus on the traffic pouring across her vision instead of the way the orange makes Angela’s hair shine and cuts across her pale thighs. If Moira accidentally revs the car too hard when the lights flick green it’s because her foot slipped. Because her shoe was wet. From the grass. 

“You said that Gabe was your best friend?” Angela continues, when it’s apparent that Moira isn’t going to say anything. Moira still doesn’t trust her voice not to warble, so she grunts, and when the chorus of the song on the radio picks up she gathers a reply.

“Yes, we’ve gotten along since I transferred here. He’s probably my closest friend.” She thinks about tacking an in America to the end of that, but she hasn’t really got anyone at all in Ireland, either, so she stays quiet.

Angela hums, and leans back in her seat. “Can I ask a question? How come you never came to any of the parties, then?”

Moira laughs, and manoeuvres through town and onto the highway, to the urban areas where her little townhouse is stowed away. “Angela, do I honestly look like I go to parties.” 

“You did on Friday,” comes the reply, lightning-quick and as coy as a snake. “What changed your mind?”

Moira makes a strange noise in her throat, only the radio is talking now, and she has no cover. You, she wants to say, you and your ex-girlfriend and that damning skirt. Of course she can’t, but she thinks that Angela knows anyway, knows without her having to even say it.

She isn’t sure what the expression on Angela’s face is. Complete neutrality, totally impassive and unreadable. But really shielding so, so much more. 

Neither says a thing, and by the time they pull up the driveway to Moira’s little house it’s 18:13. The dashboard says so. Angela swings out of the car, and stares up and down the street with a grin.

“I’ve never seen this part of the town before,” she exclaims, scooping up her laptop and textbook. She nudges the car door with her hip. “Your house is really cute.”

Moira just shrugs, and eyes her neighbours, all the same white house, sardined together along the boulevard. “Thank you, it was convenient.”

Her sedan beeps shut happily, so Moira turns her attention to the front door, and away from Angela’s looking at things. It’s now that Moira wishes she had a few plants out the front, or a nice windchime, or funny doormat, or something to add character to the rental. But there’s nothing. Just clean floorboards and a few paintings of her hometown she’d hung on already-drilled hooks, when she opens the door, leading like a trail down the cold, dark hall.

The downlights flick on, throwing shadows into the winding staircase to the right where the second-floor holds her bedroom, bathroom and study. Moira sits on the fourth step and unlaces her shoes, and watches as Angela toes off her flats, eyes taking every little detail in.

Angela pulls the sleeves of her sweater over her hands, and stands on her toes to look at the paintings.

“Are these of Ireland?” she questions, walking down the hall, scanning each picture.

Moira hums. “Yes. It’s Wicklow, where I was born.”

She watches Angela trace the curve of the hills, where the dulled green tumbles down into the grey of a broad flat lake. The sun is cold behind the hills, and when Moira looks at the painting she thinks she can feel the wind. 

“It’s beautiful,” Angela tells her. Beneath the artificial lights strands of her hair shimmer like glitter. When she looks back over her shoulder to Moira, her eyes do, too. “I’ve never been to Ireland.”

“It’s overcrowded,” Moira grouses, and pointedly decides not to brush too close to Angela when she walks past lest she do something stupid. "And bloody cold." Angela just laughs, and follows her into the living room.

“You do realise I was born in Switzerland, right?” She waves her hand about. “Switzerland: snow, alps, skiing.”

Moira snorts as she fiddles with the thermostat, and switches on the downlights. Oscar scuffles around happily from his hutch when he realises she’s home, but before Moira can turn her attention to him there is a very high-pitched, very delicate aww coming from a very excited Angela.

“You have a rabbit!” she coos, and crouches down next to the hutch, where it’s pressed against the wall near the dining table. “I didn’t know you had a rabbit.” Moira watches as she sticks a finger through the bars and wiggles it happily. Oscar’s nose twitches, snuffling over her knuckle, and Angela laughs gleefully. Her skirt fans out on the floorboards, a perfect circle.

“Do people really need to know?” Moira asks, confused, as she unloads her satchel on the dining table. Angela shrugs, and grins up at her.

“Maybe more people would think you’re capable of human emotion, if they did,” she teases. Moira just looks away.

She knows it’s a joke, but the heat burning her cheeks just reminds her of Friday night, and the way her chest tightens when she watches Angela talk to her rabbit makes her wish she didn’t have feelings at all.

When Moira pointedly doesn’t reply, Angela stands and pads around, setting up her laptop and flicking through the textbook to the right chapter.

Angela moves so easily, like she comes over for tea every Thursday, for playdates with Oscar on Saturdays and tea cake on Sundays. She pulls out a chair and makes herself comfy, and Moira tries not to let her mouth slip open. She tries not to let Angela see it when she throws a daring look over her shoulder. "What's the wifi password?"

Moira blinks. "Oscar7." 

She gets a frown in reply

“His name is Oscar,” Moira blurts, nodding down at the rabbit, because she doesn’t know what she’s meant to do. Angela hates her, and yet she's making herself at home. “As in Oscar Wilde.”

Angela smiles down at the hutch, and nods. “That’s a cool name.” Moira wonders if she’ll say more as she taps her keyboard, but she doesn’t, just stretches across the table to where Moira’s thrown the manilla folder and it’s hastily-gathered contents. Angela pulls the notes around her, and she’s still got that damn smile tugging the corners of her pink lips, and she’s acting like she knows a secret Moira isn’t privy to.

And still the silence, as Angela traces the lines of writing with her index finger. Does she feel the tension, or is it just Moira? Is she playing a game with her? Moira finds a niggle of irritation sparking somewhere behind her right eye. Just like the other night, it’s who breaks who, who throws the hardest punch, who says the worst thing first. 

Be nice, Gabe says in her head, and then he moans around Jack’s cock, and Moira’s eye twitches.

“Would you like something to eat?” 

Angela’s eyes flick up under her fringe. “Hmm?”

Moira works her jaw. “I could make us dinner,” she explains. “It’s about that time.”

Angela considers her for a long time, until she finally utters a very soft, and slightly apprehensive, “Alright.” She’s still smiling, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “I’ll keep studying. I’ll let you know if I’m stuck?”

Moira nods, not trusting her voice. The kitchen stems off the living-slash-dining room, and offers enough privacy for Moira to comb her hair with her shaky fingers and clench her jaw against a curse. This has gone too far; she was just meant to email her notes, and Angela wasn’t meant to take her up on her offer. She should never have gone to Gabe’s shitty party, and Angela wasn’t meant to kiss her back. 

And now she’s here, in her living room, in that tiny skirt and with her hair the way Moira likes, and when Moira glances out of the doorway she’s sucking on the tip of her biro with glossy pink lips.

Fuck, Moira thinks, leaning against the counter. She shucks her glove and folds the ends of her sleeves up, up and up and up, to the elbow, til the feeling low in her belly goes away. This has definitely gone too far.

And yet, something whispers in her ear, as she pulls things from the fridge, it’s barely gone anywhere at all.

The issue of Moira’s morality has always been one she laughed off, or brushed away. Her empathy is in check, and she feels genuine care for people she’s loved, and pain for the people she’s lost, so it’s not a matter of managing her emotions. But instead, to Moira, what’s good is not always what’s right, and what might propel a person to become better, in any sense, is more often than not, wrong.

And in black and white, infidelity is wrong. Moira knows this. She does. And she knows that people don’t just walk away from relationships that span years, not without lingering ties and stinging hearts. The act of breaking up is like untangling two different coloured balls of yarn that have been rolled together, over and over and over, and it takes time. It takes longer than six days.

Moira stares down at the vegetables on the cutting board, at the pan on the stove, and then, out at Angela.

The issue is that Angela isn’t black and white. She’s gold, and she’s red, and she’s bright like fairy lights, and her lips are as sweet as sugar; and infidelity is the sound of someone else in her house, it's a solid weight at night between her arms. The more time she spends in Angela's company the more that line that can't be crossed starts to fizzle and fade away. Angela is an orange light in a dark autumn night, and she’s just a frozen insect. Moira knows she shouldn’t try for this, because it won’t end well, if it begins at all.

But Angela is anything but wrong.

“Hey,” comes a call. Moira blanches, leaning on her forearms, on the counter. “Do you have any music?”

She works her jaw, and says a very eloquent, and very shaky, “Um.”

Angela pads over, and sticks her head past the doorway. “I focus better with music, is all.” She quirks an eyebrow. “Are… are you alright? Do you want a hand?”

Moira pushes up and off and waves her away, and turns her back so she can’t see the way she’s losing it. “I’m fine. Stereo’s next to the TV, pick anything.”

“Thanks,” Angela calls, and Moira listens to the way her socks slide on the floorboards. She’s fucked, her reputation will be utterly and irrevocably ruined. 

Because she’ll do it. If Angela gives this thing between them a name, she’ll say it. If Angela wants her, Moira will give her every part.

Warm vocals and deep piano waft from the living room, and Moira wants to scoff. Of course. The opening song to this album, of lovers and choices and heavy sin. Moira loves the singer, also Irish and from near to her hometown, but now she wants to seethe.

Dinner is repeat easy stir fry, and as Moira cooks she tries not to listen to the music or the way Angela sometimes coos to Oscar, or to her dangerous thoughts. She exerts her frustration into chopping vegetables and tossing noodles, and by the time she’s finally finished she’s made a wager with herself. 

“Ohh,” Angela simpers, eyes wide as she watches the steaming bowls being carried to the coffee table. “Dinner break.”

If Angela is wearing black panties, she won’t do a thing. She won’t sit too close, she won’t touch her, or flirt, or deepen her voice, or stare too long. She’ll stop everything, and she’ll forget the night they kissed.

“I’m afraid all I’ve got in the way of drinks is water,” Moira chuckles, turning to find Angela bent forward, saving her document. Her skirt is so short it only just covers her, the hem flirts with the soft fleshy spot at the very top of her thighs. “Sparkling or still.”

“Breaking out the good stuff,” Angela laughs. “Just still, please.”

In the kitchen Moira pulls two glasses out of the cupboard, and calmly, slowly, fills them with water from the refrigerator. She carries them, and two sets of forks, back out to the living room. 

If they’re black, Moira thinks, she won’t do anything. If Angela is wearing the red panties, however, Moira will take it as free game. Moira won’t ask Angela’s permission, because she’ll have already granted it. She won’t stop herself, or hold back, because Angela will know what she’s done, because she wanted it.

Angela’s pressing pause on the CD and holding the television remote in a loose grip when Moira returns, and she throws a smile over her shoulder, and something in Moira’s chest twists sharply.

God, she thinks, sitting down low on the couch, watching as Angela turns on the lamp and turns off the overhead lights.

Shit, Moira curses, as Angela circles the coffee table to come to her right side. 

Moira can’t help the way she stares. A silly gameshow blows dry jokes on the television, but she pays it no mind, her eyes are fixed to the pale stretch of Angela’s legs, from the backs of her thighs to the little freckle on the side of one knee.

Angela leans forward, next to her, off the couch, reaching so very languidly for her bowl of stirfry and her fork. 

Just a bit more.

A bit more.

She gets her hand on the bowl.

Fuck, Moira thinks, her mind static, throat sore.

She spies the lacey fringe of the panties, just a sliver, for barely a second, but it’s enough. It’s enough to make her stomach cold and her jaw clench.

Angela settles back down with a pleasant sigh, and pulls her legs up underneath her. She uses her lap as a table.

Black, Moira thinks dully, as Angela leans against her gently.

“Mmm,” Angela moans, scooping noodles and broccoli up on her fork. “This is good, Moira. This is really good.”

Moira’s slow to look at her; the top of her head barely reaches her shoulder. Angela’s raptly engaged with TV, unaware of the way Moira’s nails are carving semi-circles to the soft part of her palm, and the way her knuckles are whiter than porcelain. 

Black means she won’t do anything. But that doesn’t mean Angela won’t. 

“It’s been ages since I’ve had a home cooked meal,” Angela continues, picking at a cashew. There’s sauce on her lip. Moira tells herself not to stare too long. “Come on, hurry up before I eat yours.”

Angela nudges her. She stabs a slither of zucchini with her fork and holds it up to Moira’s face. “Try it.”

Moira rolls her eyes and leans forward to gather her own bowl, and she hopes that Angela isn’t looking at the tips of her burning ears. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” she manages evenly, surprising herself, and stares down at her own greasy mess of noodles. She’s never lost her appetite quicker. “What are we watching?”

She settles back, and Angela is even closer now. When Angela shrugs Moira feels it all up her arm, a drag that leaves tingles in its wake.

This is intentional, right? It has to be. 

“We can change it. What do you normally like to watch?”

This is so domestic that it hurts. It’s making her sick, and it hurts. She shakes her head. “I don’t normally watch anything.”

She wishes she was wearing her glove. Her bared right arm is closer than it’s ever really been to another person, since it was burnt, and it’s unsettling, almost, because Moira discovers when Angela presses against her harder that she doesn’t mind the proximity.

Her head tilts onto Moira’s bony shoulder. She can feel her chewing. Swallowing. Moira wonders if Angela can hear the way her heart is pounding through her bones.

Her hair smells like cedar and pine. 

“I’m serious,” she says, pointing her fork to Moira’s bowl. Moira’s watching her shiny lips. “Eat it or I will. Jack can’t cook to save his life so every night we end up with take out, or if we’re lucky, three day-old Satya food.”

You can have it, Moira wants to say, you can have anything you want of me.

Her fucked up hand finds itself spanning the width of Angela’s left thigh. The difference is so stark it’s jarring, just like the little gasp that slips from Angela’s mouth.

You can have me, she thinks, as the TV plays on forgotten, please have me.

Because the thing is, Moira reasons as she leans down, Angela’s wanted her for weeks, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed; and in turn she’s wanted Angela for the two damn years she’s been here: only she never let those thoughts bubble to the surface. But things have shifted in her favour, and Moira isn’t going to let her morals or her reputation get in the way of this. Amari shouldn’t have broken up with her, that’s what it comes down to.

And Angela shouldn’t have shown her how pretty she could look down on her knees.

Her left hand curls under Angela’s chin to tilt her up, and before it happens, she searches her eyes for anything like the pain she saw in her on Friday. 

But there’s only pretty, lake blue eyes; a little red around the edges from reading, wide and wicked and practically begging her for it.

The first kiss is soft, and their lips catch when Moira pulls away. Angela’s still looking at her with those, imploring, babydoll eyes. So she kisses her again.

And again.

And Angela’s hand finds itself pressed to Moira’s chest, where the top three buttons are open, and her collarbones edge out.

And they kiss again.

Moira breaks away to move their dinner, and when she turns back Angela’s already moving to press them together, and Moira lets a shuddering sigh shake loose from her chest, and when Angela’s tongue presses against her tentatively it feels like all the scattered pieces of her have finally come back together and slotted home.

“Moira,” Angela whispers against her mouth, and she half laughs, half sobs. But it’s not with regret. “Oh, god, Moira.”

Her thumb strokes Angela’s sharp jaw, back until her hand tangles in her blonde curls and she holds her tight as she angles her mouth and kisses her deep. Her tongue is soft, and her mouth is warm, and she tastes like food but Moira doesn’t care, not with the slew of little noises she’s wringing from Angela. 

Her legs slip open easily, when Moira draws herself up and slots her knees either side of Angela’s thighs. Part of her chuckles darkly at how easy Angela’s being for her, but the other, presiding over the better half of her mind, is spewing a litany of fuck fuck fuck.

Angela’s breathy, and she’s practically mewling, and if Moira could live in one moment, over and over, it would be this one, where she’s got Angela fucking Ziegler pinned and pliant beneath her. 

If she could hear only one thing for the rest of her life it would be Angela moaning her name.

Angela’s hand slips down the front her shirt, her fingers clumsily fingering the buttons til they come loose, and she can fan her hands over Moira’s shoulders, and push the shirt down down down. Moira whips the silly thing off onto the floor and leans back down, crowding over her and holding her still as her she sucks Angela’s tongue.

“Please, Moira,” she hisses against her thin lips. Moira smirks.

She pulls back, but only so she can lean down to Angela’s jaw, to her throat, to bite a mark to the soft skin at the junction of her neck and shoulder, where the sweater’s opening gapes. Angela moans lowly, her legs slip open further. Her hands slip from Moira’s sides to the hem of her jumper, and with weak arms she pulls it off.

Moira’s mind is screaming its little mantra now, as she lets her eyes rove over Angela’s chest. Sometimes, Angela wears a white polo to class, and it clings in all the sinfully right ways. She had no doubts that Angela was endowed, but the shitty grey sweater really didn’t do her the justice that wearing nothing but a flimsy black bra does. The left strap has fallen from her shoulder and dangles loosely around her bicep, and her flushed areola peeks above the cup, teasing, and Moira has to swallow thickly before she can breathe. 

“Stop staring,” Angela huffs, tangling her fingers in Moira’s hair and pushing her. “It’s weird.”

“I’m weird.”

“I know.”

Moira slips to her knees on the rug, between Angela’s thighs, and she’s met with the fucking skirt. It’s a trap, really, because the moment she slides her broad hands up Angela’s thighs and pushes the pleats away, there really is no going back. There is no pretending this didn’t happen, can’t chalk it up to inebriation, either. Moira won’t be able to stop herself once she starts, even if Angela changes her mind. Even if Angela begs her to.

A quick glance to Angela tells her that that won’t be happening any time soon. She’s biting her lip, and her eyes are wild, hair wilder, falling around her face in a mussed tangle from where Moira held her. Her cheeks are red, and it travels down her neck, across her trembling shoulders, down to her heaving chest. Somehow she’s sexier -- trapped in her bra, and with her socks still on -- than anything Moira’s ever known.

“Please,” she whispers, and then she draws her knees up to her chest, and Moira can plainly see the black lacy panties, and the wet patch in the middle of them. “Please.”

Moira burns.

It’s like Angela’s pushed her off a cliff, and she’s smiling as she watches Moira fall.

Her fingers grip her thighs hard enough to mark.

“Fuck me,” Angela whispers. “Fuck me, Dr O’Deorain.”

Moira licks a harsh thick stripe over Angela’s panties, tastes her, smells her, and relishes the way she whines. Falling is so nice, so easy, when it’s for Angela.

She pulls the panties up, and Angela pulls one leg out, leaving them wrapped around her thigh, and Moira can’t help the way she breathes, or wets her lips, when Angela hikes her knees back up to her chest. She’s shiny with slick, and she’s shaved, save for a thin patch of blonde hair above her clit, which is soft when Moira pushes her nose to it. Angela whimpers above her. 

Moira flicks her gaze up, half expecting Angela to have her eyes screwed shut, no doubt picturing someone else, someone like Amari. Finding her staring right down at her, looking into her mismatched eyes with something like reverence takes her completely by surprise, and fills her with something primal.

Her tongue finds Angela’s clit easily, and they both moan. She circles it easily with firm strokes, and she tastes a little bitter but Moira doesn’t mind, likes it, even, because it’s Angela, because she’s eating Angela fucking Ziegler’s pussy and it’s like all her Christmases have come at once.

When Moira’s tongue slips inside easily, lapping up her slick, Angela makes this noise, and Moira decides she wants to hear it again, and again and again, so she slips two fingers from her right hand in and hooks them, pressing up in swift little circles that makes Angela moan lowly. 

Her hands slip from her knees, and they find themselves fisted tightly in Moira’s hair, and Moira finds she rather likes the sting of the pull. She works her fingers methodically, over and over, and continues to draw little teasing circles around her clit. Moira doesn’t know what Angela likes, going off what she knows she enjoys, but if the way Angela’s fingers are trembling and the way she’s panting mean anything it’s that she shouldn’t stop.

“Fuck, Moira,” Angela moans, her socks slipping on the leather couch and her legs falling open. “Your fingers-- you’re fucking, oh.

Moira smirks against her, and gives her a look. Not having nails has its benefits, to be sure. She wonders if Angela can see the way her mottled skin disappears inside her, or if her chin blocks the view. Wonders if she’s horrified at how alien it is, or instead aroused. But she doesn’t focus on it, not when Angela’s voice breaks and she starts a litany of oh shit, oh fuck, oh fuck me.  

Moira wants to whisper in her ear, what is it, kitten? but the current preoccupation with her mouth limits such dirty talk. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.

Which there might be, Moira hopes, watching Angela squirm and whimper. Her eyes are wild, pupils blown, boring down into her own. “Moira,” she whispers. “I’m gonna- If you keep, I’m gonna-”

Moira laves her tongue firmly over her clit and grins when she wails. Angela’s thighs are shaking either side of her and her breath is coming heavy, cheeks red, hair sticking to her with sweat. Her mouth is moving but no words are coming, so Moira takes her chance and pulls her left hand up from her quivering thigh, and shoves three fingers past her chapped lips.

It’s mildly alarming, how quickly Angela is to start sucking. But mostly hot, and Moira knows without touching herself that she’s unimagineably wet. She curls her right fingers back and forth, deep inside Angela, feels her start to clench and tremble.

She’s messy with her spit but strict with her tongue. Around and round and over, around and round and over, her right hand slowly undoing her, her left hand pumping gently, thoroughly enjoying the way Angela’s messy with her mouth. Drool crawls down Moira’s wrist; she can’t wait to lick it all up.

“Mmm,” Angela warns, around her fingers, trying her name, failing, moaning instead, letting her head fall back. Her eyes are open, and she never looks away.

Come for me, Moira wants to whisper. Come for me, darling, let me feel you, yes, let go. She’s so hot, and she’s drawing up, so tight that Moira can barely move her fingers. But she doesn’t let up, she doesn’t break Angela’s gaze. Her eyes are so dark they could be black. Any blue in them has dissipated, replaced by something carnal and vicious and hungry, something only Moira has had the wonderful pleasure of knowing.

Just let go, Moira wants to hum. We’ve already come this far .

She crooks her fingers, and it’s as if she’s finally found the right key for the perfect lock.

Angela stares at her wildly, and it’s like she can hear Moira’s thoughts. She’s beautiful, she’s the prettiest thing Moira’s ever seen.

And she’s shuddering hard, and moaning loosely, and then she’s falling apart to Moira’s mouth. She comes and comes and comes, and it drenches Moira from the wrist down to her elbow, and without thinking she laughs. She pulls her fingers from Angela’s mouth but only so she can spread her come over her cunt, fingers slipping wetly across her. “Oh, darling,” she coos, and when she looks back up Angela is panting heavily and blushing even harder. 

“Moira,” Angela gasps, and she tries pushing herself up but her arms are like jelly and she slumps back on the couch. “Moira what did you-- what did you do to me-- oh, God, look at your floor, fuck, oh.”

Moira laughs lowly, her face glistening with come and slick and spit and probably the most genuine smile she’s mustered in a long, long time. She crawls up the couch, over Angela, and holds her chin delicately.

“I’ve made such a mess, oh, I’m so sorry, Dr O’Deorain, I-”

Moira’s gaze is severe. She grips her jaw. “Say it again.”

Angela’s eyes are wild. “Dr O’Deorain,” she says slowly, breathily, and when Moira pulls her into a harsh kiss she moans loosely, tastes herself on her tongue. “Thank you, Dr O’Deorain, for fucking me.” 

Moira slides back to her knees, between her thighs, and cleans her up with her tongue; and as something twists inside her, and Angela moans her name brokenly, she thinks she might be in love.

*

By the time they make it to the shower it’s eight o’clock, and by the time they’re done mapping each others bodies there it’s ten o’clock, and Angela’s sitting in the middle of her bed, wearing one of Moira’s shirts, the last of the notes in an arc in front of her.

Moira leans against the door frame, two cups of coffee in her hands. Black for Angela, white for her, and that same old pain that she felt before hits her.

It’s blanketed though by the afterglow of bringing Angela to orgasm thrice, with two of her own to count.

And the mental picture of coaxing Angela to ejaculate for the first time with just her fingers. That had been rather nice.

Angela gives her a look, like she can read her thoughts.

The way Angela had rubbed her off whilst choking her been rather nice, too. 

She gets a pencil to the chest for her faraway mind, and a wicked grin for her look of surprise.

“I’m almost done,” Angela says softly. “Come on. We can get it finished tonight.”

Moira supposes that the notes really weren’t a pretense to just get closer to her, with how scrupulous Angela is with her studying. Moira mostly listens to her talk to herself, asking questions and then figuring it out before Moira can even start to open her mouth. She leans on her arm, next to her, wearing one of Gabe’s old shirts and flannel pants with little syringes on them. A gift from Olivia, she explained to Angela when she laughed at the sight of them. Moira still isn’t sure if they are a gift, or a strange threat.

But if it was all just a facade, it worked, Moira thinks privately. If her goal was sleeping with the TA to pass her finals, she made it. Angela is oblivious to the way she’s being watched, or at least she doesn’t mind. Moira wonders if she knows how beautiful she is. How privileged she feels to have her here, in her bed. Literally.

And figuratively, she supposes, watching the way she bites her pen.

Amari was a fool for ever letting her go.

When it becomes apparent enough that Angela won’t be needing her help any time soon Moira busies herself around the room and in her study, printing off her lesson plans and finally responding to the emails in her inbox. She tacks the scanned notes in the emails to the students with a huff, and is happy to see them out of her messages. But she hesitates before hitting send in reply to the faculty, about her position.

Then Moira sighs, and reasons that it doesn’t matter either way, and clicks once on the trackpad.

By eleven they’re finally finished, and stifling a yawn Moira stacks the notes and lines them up on her bedside table. Angela stretches, and moans when things pop back into place, but instead of flushing or blushing or feeding this thing between them she just smiles. She just smiles, and aims it at Moira.

“Would you like me to drive you back to Gabe’s?” Moira offers, but only so that later, when everything has fallen apart, when she looks back, she can say that she did.

Unsurprisingly, Angela shakes her head, and leans back into the unruffled pillow on the right side of the bed. She bites her bottom lip when her thighs delicately, innocently, fall open. 

Moira rolls her eyes. “You’ll be the death of me.” She pads into the bathroom to clean her teeth, and roots around to find a spare brush for Angela, and thinks she should be alarmed with how easy this is.

They brush their teeth in comfortable silence, side by side and staring at each other’s reflections like they can’t believe they’re there. She should be scared, Moira realises, but in that, moment there’s nothing to fear.

She plugs her phone in to charge and sets her alarms. Angela left her phone at Gabe’s, but the isolation is liberating. There are two texts from Gabe, asking if she’s seen Angela, and Moira smirks as she taps out a little winking face and nothing else and hits reply. Then she flicks the lights off and pulls the duvet back on the bed, and Angela takes the right side, and slots herself as easily into the bed as she has Moira’s life.

And she isn’t afraid of Angela leaving, she thinks when she settles down. Not because she won’t; she will, everyone leaves, Moira knows this. But she knows that it’ll be okay. That it’ll have been worth it. 

Or it’s easy to think that as she rolls to her side, stretches her arm, and feels Angela laying there next to her. Not a dream or one of her inappropriate fantasies: real, and soft, and warm, and for this moment, hers.

They tuck against each other, two half moons, Moira draping her left arm over Angela’s side, tucking her right beneath her pillow. She doesn’t miss the way Angela sighs softly, or nuzzles back against her. When Moira breathes she feels like she’s shedding years of tension off her back, a tingle runs down her spine, then down her arms, through her to her fingers and toes.

Moira buries her nose in Angela’s soft hair. This time she won’t sneak away. This time she’ll stay, and see the morning with her, start the day with Angela in her arms. 

*

Moira wakes up before her alarm, happily tangled in Angela’s limbs.

In her sleep she’d turned, and now she faces Moira. Her mouth is slightly open with a little string of drool connecting her to her pillow. Moira would kiss it away if it wouldn’t wake her, so instead she lays there, and watches her sleep, the breaking dawn lighting her up from the window behind her.

She could get used to this, she thinks, burying her face in her pillow, and taking a shaking breath.

When Moira’s phone does chime Angela’s eyes flick open as if she was already on the edge of sleep. For an anxious second Moira waits for her to frown to pull from her grip, she waits for the spitting and the curses to start, to cover Angela’s regret.

But they don’t. Angela only smiles dopily, and hums. Beneath the covers her fingers flirt with Moira’s shirt.

“You’d better get that,” she chuckles, when Moira deigns to stare at her incredulously rather than silence the irritating, repetitive chirp of her alarm.

She thinks she might understand, now, why people do this. Especially when they already know how it’ll end.

Once she’s up Moira gathers Angela’s clothes from yesterday and tosses them into the washer-dryer with a load of her own, and sets about chopping breakfast for Oscar. Upstairs Angela occupies the shower, so Moira takes the privacy to stare pensively at her rabbit, and will him to give her answers.

Oscar only twitches his nose, and gives her a long, hard stare.

And then he pounces on the stick of celery she offers through the hutch, and Moira sighs forlornly.

Her phone supplies her twenty-two messages, all from Gabe, all in various degrees of disbelief, and Moira wonders if he could offer her any good advice. She clicks the thread, and winces. 

>> What does that mean?
>> Where’s Angela?
>> Moira I swear
>> Don’t. Fuck. Angela. Ziegler
>> Oh god  
>> Did you
>> Moira I know we joked about it but  
>> You have, haven’t you 
>> Jack is crying, what have you done

She highly doubts that. But as Moira scrolls she can't help the smile splitting her mouth. By the time she reaches the end it’s just a slew of Spanish, some of it angry, some of congratulatory. She wonders if Olivia tinkered with his phone, and decides that for the good of her image she won’t ask him anything in writing.

Upstairs the water turns off. Moira purses her lips, and locks her phone.

She picks out a long sleeved nice button up and soft purple tie, paired with her favourite cream-coloured slacks and her oxfords. They’re the ones Angela vomited on last week, Moira realises idly, as she ties the laces. So much can change in a night. But she new that. 

Angela smiles at her in passing as she exits the bathroom and Moira crosses into her study to gather her satchel. She stares down at her desk, hard, for several moments, trying not to think about the way her cheeks were flushed from the hot water or the drop of water Moira noticed sluicing down her chest, disappearing beneath the hem of the towel. Fuck, Moira thinks desperately, carefully folding the papers. She’s fucked.

But she knew that too.

“Moira, come here,” Angela calls from her bedroom, across the hall. “Do you think this works?”

Moira takes a steady breath through her nostrils and counts to three. 

In her room Angela is twisting in front of the full length mirror, which is fixed to the closet. Her waist looks so tiny from this angle, and the way Moira’s maroon turtleneck is hugging every inch of her doesn’t help. It’s tucked into one of Moira’s old pencil skirts, a black one that she hasn’t worn in years. It drapes down past Angela’s knees, and on anyone else it’d look childish but Angela looks stunning. She holds the belt loops in her fingers, though, and Moira ducks her head.

“It’s- you’re. It’s good. You’re good.” She stares at Angela’s face, and absolutely nowhere else. “You make it work.”

Angela laughs with her hand covering her mouth, hums and spins. “It barely fits. You’re so big, Moira, I never realised.”

Moira makes a point to turn and root through the belts she has looped over a hook on the back of her door, so that Angela can’t see the way she’s blushing. She doesn’t even know what to say to that, so she says nothing, proffered belt in hand.

Angela has to loop it around twice to secure it, and Moira whines pathetically.

“We should go,” she says instead of something stupid.  

Angela rocks back on her heels, and looks at Moira expectantly.

“Do you,” Moira says slowly, “Do you need anything from the apartment.”

“I have everything I need right here.”

Moira huffs, and inclines her head towards the door. “Come on then. We’ll get breakfast on the way."

*

They ride in silence, radio soft in the background,  but it’s comfortable, and there’s nothing that needs to be said.

Moira drives with her right hand on Angela’s knee, and Angela smiles out the window.

And everything feels right. It feels nice. 

Moira parks them out the front of the little cafe she and Gabe frequent. Overhead dark clouds are gathering, and Moira eyes them skeptically, daring them to break, as she taps out a cigarette and pulls a twenty dollar bill from her wallet.

“Go get us whatever looks good. And a small, extra shot flat white for me, please.”

Angela watches her as she flicks her lighter, and fills her lungs with a steady suck.

“You know, it’s really not good for your health,” she chides. Moira smirks. Holds her smoke.

“But it’s hot, right?” she asks, leaning against the boot of the car. Angela blows a tuft of hair from her face. 

“Just a bit.”

Moira watches her turn and duck inside the cafe, rubbing her flats on the doormat. It looks like they’ve come just as the morning rush has hit, so Moira takes the time to flick through her emails and texts.

She has a new message from Gabe. She replies with a photo of the facade of the cafe. Through the windows it’s possible to spy Angela, but she’s almost unrecognisable wearing her clothes, and Gabe would have to give all his attention to finding her, like a Where’s Wally book.

An unhappy selfie of Gabe still in bed lights up her screen.

>> Boo. Where’s mine?

He mustn't have noticed her.

<< Let me just tell Angela what you want

Moira’s chuffed, and she pockets her phone in her coat, and finishes her cigarette in pleasant peace until a girl with long brown hair flies passed her and up the stairs, tying an apron around herself and mumbling angrily. Moira thinks she recognises her, from when she came here on Sunday, with Gabe. So much has changed since then.

When Angela resurfaces from the flow of customers she’s holding two paper bags to her chest and balancing a tray on her hand. “Order up,” she chirps, passing the bags to Moira as she circles the car to the passenger side. To her side. Like it’s hers and always has been. “I didn’t know that this was where Lena worked. I got distracted chatting, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Moira tells her, peeking inside the bags. “What did you get us?”

Angela manoeuvers the seat belt over her with her hand preoccupied. “Paninis, I think?” She shrugs. “With salad, halloumi, and mushrooms,” she lists. “Awfully healthy sounding.”

Moira scrunches up her nose and unwraps one. “You can have double mushroom today. My treat.”

“You don’t like mushrooms? But they’re so good for you!” Angela looks shocked.

The thin grey strips are greasy between her fingers and she cringes, opening Angela’s sandwich and slathering them wetly there. She has to swallow down the lump in her throat. “Fairy rings,” Moira says bitterly, as if that’s any explanation. Angela opens her mouth, then closes it, then decides it isn’t worth it.

By the time they pull up into the staff parking lot Moira has wolfed hers down, and now she sips pleasantly on her coffee. She looks to Angela, who is playing with the flaking crust of her hardly-eaten panini. 

“Too much mushroom?” Moira tries. Angela smiles, but she thinks it’s sad around the edges.

“We shouldn’t walk in together,” Angela says quietly. “And.. you shouldn’t talk to me, today, in school hours.” 

Moira purses her lips. “Well, obviously,” she replies. It might have come out a little too harsh, because Angela doesn’t look at her. “This is just…” What is it? Will she be the one to put a name to it?

She doesn’t even know what to call this thing between them. 

“This doesn’t affect anything,” is what she decides on. Angela nods, and tries a smile as she wraps up her breakfast.

“I’ll head off first, I suppose I’ll.. see you in class.”

Despite everything her chest hurts. It shouldn’t, but it does. She’s being ridiculous.

“Yes,” Moira says mildly. “I’ll see you in class. Don’t forget your coffee.”

Angela smiles at her, truly, like the smiles she was giving her last night. Moira watches her cross the parking lot, then wind up the path through the grounds, to the main building. She’s a little maroon and black blur, and then she’s gone. 

It’s exciting, Moira tries to tell herself, having a secret. It’s fun. 

She isn’t convinced. If this was a hot, illicit affair she wouldn’t feel like she’s been sidelined. She wouldn’t feel like in the daylight, Angela still belongs to Amari.

Moira waits five more minutes, scrolling through today’s news articles on her phone, before she unfurls herself from the car and makes her way to the labs. The professor is giving the lecture today, which frees her morning to work away on her own experiments, at least until she has to deliver his lesson notes. Moira rolls her eyes, unlocking the door. The labs are blessedly empty, this early in the morning.

She enjoys the company of the professor, and he is amicable enough. Just a little sidetracked, and mildly hopeless, is all. It suits her fine, though, because running his classes has definitely given her a hefty amount of experience and has gotten her in the university’s good books, to be sure. That, and it gives her a bit of leeway. Moira’s personal room is locked with a keycode, which she taps in quickly, to find her work still on the table where she left it.

Moira smiles slightly. Within the next year she should be finished, and her journal no doubt published. And then she can relinquish her position for something more permanent, something better.

By the time Moira has cleared her workspace and prepped for the afternoon with Angela it’s almost time for the first class of the day, so Moira takes her time in crossing the grounds to the science building. The faculty door is ajar, but Moira raps her knuckles on the wood regardless.

“Professor,” she greets mildly. The man, who’s taller than her and so hairy it’s almost uncomfortable to look at, turns, and gives her a beaming smile.

“Good morning, Dr O’Deorain,” Winston booms, fiddling with his glasses. Moira pretends her ears aren’t ringing. Now that she thinks about it, there’s probably a reason she runs so many classes. “How are you?” 

She ducks her head and rifles through her satchel. “Wonderful, professor. How was your weekend?”

Winston shrugs. “The usual.” Moira pretends she knows what that means. She hands him the notes with a crisp smile, all bound and highlighted and annotated where needed. “Labs today?” 

“Yes, C3 should be ready for the class. You have the postgrads in the morning, undergrads in the afternoon.”

Winston grins but it looks more like a grimace. It is. It is a grimace.

“Undergrads are fun,” Moira says lightly, settling at her desk. Winston grunts. 

“Maybe for you, ” he pokes, and she knows he doesn’t mean anything too sinister but it still stings, a little. “How is Angela Ziegler going, by the way? I noticed she was absent.”

Moira makes a funny noise in her throat and tries very hard to school her features. “She missed several days, yes. I’m helping her revise in her own time.”

“That’s very nice of you,” Winston says evenly, maybe a touch sly. Moira pretends she doesn’t notice.

She just shrugs instead. “We can’t have our valedictorian falling behind.”

Any other time, Moira would have said it through a sneer. The softness to her voice surprises her. And Winston, from the way he’s looking at her.

That or he somehow knows everything. Moira’s palms are sticky, she glances at her desk; there’s no way he knows. No one does. No one will. 

“I suppose I should get to it, then,” he huffs, when neither of them say anything. He flicks through the notes, his fingers so thick he almost crumples the pages with the lightest of brushes. “You’re handling finals revision?”

Moira nods, swallows. “All under control,” she says, but it feels like she’s talking about something else, and it feels like she’s lying.

Winston offers her a warm smile and pats her shoulder. “You’ll make a fine professor one day, doctor. I’ll be sure to give you a good recommendation in the review.”

He lumbers out of the staff room and down the hall, leaving Moira alone with her thoughts. Dangerous.

The rest of the morning passes easily enough, and Moira catches up on her own work for once. It’s nice, not having to worry too much about a theatre of sixty students all asking her for help. A few more have emailed her, but at least she can hide a sour face behind the anonymity of a keyboard.

At lunch she hunts down a coffee and the daily special from the on-campus cafe. The queue is held up by a student in one of the university’s sports team’s jerseys, prattling on with the cashier, and Moira tries not to glare too many daggers at the back of her shiny, jet-black hair. Moira takes her food back to her office without too much of a huff, where she’s pleasantly alone, and finds a message from Angela. 

Subject: empty >>11:43
Still on for labs this afternoon? :) 

Oh, she thinks, sending a quick yes in reply, this is a feeling she hasn’t felt in a while. This is… nice.

Angela’s waiting for her outside in the courtyard, just past two. She hasn’t noticed Moira yet, so Moira takes the chance to just… watch her, the way she glances around, bounces on her heels. A wave of something hits Moira, chases her spine, warms her from the inside. Angela looks good in her clothes. And she’s been walking around in them all day.

Everyone in class saw her, and everyone in the corridor saw her, and none of them knew.

It’s nice having a secret, Moira thinks, waving when Angela notices her. She hurries across the yard, shoes clipping the cobblestone. It’s nice having Angela.

“Afternoon,” Angela says brightly, her smile happy, eyes light. There’s slight flush on her cheeks from where the wind has nipped her, and her hair is tousled, pulled back in a ponytail, and god, Moira would kiss her here and now, if they were the only two people in the world. 

They’d be good together. Angela will be spectacular, when she’s a fully-fledged surgeon. They could rule the medical world.

“How was your morning?” Moira fiddles with her keys, swiftly unlocking the door and leading her through past the communal labs. 

She catches Angela shrug before she unlocks her room. “It was good. Nice seeing Professor Winston again.”

Moira snorts, and holds the door open for her. “Have you checked in with Gabe today? I’m sure he’ll skin me alive when he sees me.”

Angela groans, and it’d sound innocent if Moira didn’t know how she sounded in bed. “I did. You don’t know how hard it was looking him in the eye after… well.” 

“Just call him papi, and watch him crumple.” Angela laughs.

It’s a beautiful sound. Angela’s beautiful.

And she went back to the apartment, but she’s still wearing Moira’s clothes. She tries not to read into that.

“We should only be here til five, I hope that doesn’t take up too much of your afternoon,” Moira continues, shedding her jacket in favour for her labcoat. She catches Angela staring, and smirks.

“Oh,” Angela says, looking up, “No, I’ve… I’ve got nothing on. It’s all good.” 

It’s… relatively easy, being with Angela. It’s calm. And even though things have changed drastically the only difference is that now when Angela looks at her it isn’t scalding, and full of hate.

It’s something else now, something easier to swallow.

They work well together. Were Moira with anyone else she’d have to watch hawklike over their every move, making sure all the vials and beakers and chemicals and slides stay intact. But Angela moves with a practised ease, skirting around her and steering clear of her elbows. She lets Moira teach, asking questions here and there, offering a giggle with Moira slips the wide, plastic goggles over her glasses.

“What?” Moira grouses. “Safety first.”

“I know,” Angela tries, vaguely apologetic. “You just… look like a frog.”

They’re quiet for a while; that’s why when Angela clears her throat, it comes as a shock. To the silence and to Moira. 

She’s leaning over the microscope when she asks, “Are you doing anything this evening?”

Moira looks at her over her clipboard. Somehow, whatever she answers with seems pivotal. She wonders what the weight of Angela’s question is, and that if she lies, will she ask again.

So Moira says the truth. “Hanging out with Oscar.” Angela pulls away from the microscope to frown at her. “My rabbit.”

“Ohh,” Angela says dryly, rolling her eyes and leaning back down. “Would you like to hang out with me, instead?”

It’s a good thing she isn’t looking at her, otherwise Angela might notice the way Moira’s cheeks have taken a shade similar to her hair. “Yes,” she says too quick, and ruffles her pages to pretend she didn’t. “Of course, that would be nice.”

Angela offers her a smile. And nothing else needs to be said.

They finish up just before five, and head over to the apartment with a cautious ear. No questionable sounds are rattling the foundations of the building, however, so Angela deems it safe to open the unlocked door.

Olivia is lounging on the couch watching something loud on the television, a woman with a curled lip and the prettiest eyes Moira’s ever seen sitting ram-rod straight beside her. 

“Hey, Satya,” Angela pipes, giving a little wave.

Satya glares at her. Angela just nods, and leads Moira past the couch to her closet.

“Yeah,” Angela continues, in the room, but Moira didn’t say anything. “Satya doesn’t talk much. She’s studying engineering, I think, and Olivia said something about a cult. But that sounds pretty far-fetched, right?”

Angela rifles beneath the lumpy futon for her phone charger, and grabs a fresh change of underwear. She eyes the lipstick on her desk, and swipes a tube for good measure.

Moira wonders how it’d look as a kiss mark against her neck. She hopes she finds out.

“Good to go?" 

Angela glances around, and nods. “I’ll send Gabe a text to let him know I won’t be home tonight.”

Moira cocks a fine eyebrow but it goes unnoticed. A bold assumption, but Moira hopes she’s not wrong.

God, she hopes she’s not wrong. 

*

They order take out and sit on Moira’s leather couch and watch a movie. Angela leans against her freely, and laughs at the funny parts, and her breathing turns ragged when it’s tense. At some point Moira’s arm snakes around her shoulders, and then creeps down, curling around her waist. 

That night Angela rides her, and calls her professor, and fulfills whatever twisted, unspoken fantasy the two of them have about the other. Afterwards Moira untangles herself from the strap on, and they shower, and she washes Angela’s borrowed clothes. She finds a shirt that she’s ever seen before in the hamper. It’s too big to be Angela’s; Moira closes the lid.

When she wakes up the following day Angela’s brought her a coffee with one hand, a plate of wobbly eggs and buttered toast balanced with the other, and Moira’s never been more in love.

And as the days pass, more and more of Angela finds itself woven into her world. There’s a hair-tie looped around the bathroom door knob, and her brush is entwined with strands of shiny, gold hair, stark against the red of her own. In the fridge is a strange type milk that cannot really be considered milk, and three boxes of fancy blended teas are stacked next to her kettle. Sometimes she finds Oscar’s water dispenser already topped up. Sometimes her clothes are neatly folded on the made bed, and she has no recollection of doing either. 

It’s nice. It’s so easy to get used to.

But some parts are hard. But sometimes, Angela mumbles in her sleep, and Moira deigns to ignore it, and the sting. Sometimes she catches Angela staring at her phone, with a bitter or angry expression, but rather than bring it up Moira just tries hard to make her smile.

She’s been getting looks in the corridors, though. Initially Moira just assumed it was her own subconscious projecting, or grumpy students unhappy with their marks, but as of late the amount of scathing glares she gets has doubled. Especially from a vaguely familiar looking student with short black hair.

On Saturday Angela takes her to the cinema, to see some new critically acclaimed film about which she’s heard good things. Aside from their coffee shop, where Moira mostly waits with a cigarette by the car and watches Angela enter, it’s the most public thing they’ve done together. Moira makes sure to stand a reasonable half-foot apart whilst waiting in the queue, and can’t help periodically scanning the bustling foyer.

She recognises a few students, but none of hers. Just people she’s seen around campus. No one of note. 

Before she can speak against it Angela buys them a popcorn to share, and Moira tries not to frown. She knows she’s just being paranoid, knows that a teenaged cashier with juicier highschool drama to gossip about won’t care, or even notice, if they’re together or not. But what they’re doing isn’t exactly in the greenlight, their strange relationship isn’t meant to leave her house, where they’re safe.

Maybe she just assumes, living in a world of academics, that everyone is as cluey as she is. Angela loops their arms and sucks on the straw to her soda water, shaking her a little, and giving her a look. She doesn’t seem worried about how public they’re being, not at all. A dark thought simpers at the back of her mind; maybe Angela wants the attention, the gossip. Maybe she’s trying to make Fareeha jealous.

They sit centre-middle and Angela holds her right hand throughout the entire movie. She gasps, and laughs, and at one point Moira’s sure she hears her sniffle. Moira rolls her eyes, but squeezes her fingers regardless.

Outside the night is crisp and damp, puddles stipple the street, and the bitchumen smells metallic with rain. She lights a cigarette but lets it whittle away between her fingers, ignored. It’s as Angela is dawdling along beside her, swinging their arms together and listing all the things she loved about the film, that Moira realises something, and in turn feels like she’s been shot with a bullet.

“Didn’t you think the cinematography was just spectacular, Moira? Oh, and the colour pallete was delicious, did you notice how the director used that as a running theme? It’s little things like that that make a movie great, it’s not hard, and--” Angela stumbles when Moira stops in her tracks. “Moira?”

They’re caught between two lamp posts. Everything is bathed in soft orange, and dulled silver, from where the moon is eclipsed by the wrung-out clouds. Angela’s wearing high heels tonight, nice red ones Moira likes, even if they help bridge the gap between their heights. She’s wearing a black dress, and a scarf, and such a pure expression on her features that Moira is almost compelled to look away, because it’s too good for her. She’s too good for her.

“Angela, I-” Moira licks her dry lips. Her accent is thick, messy. “Angela, I think I’m in love with you.”

It comes out like a question: ill-formed, weak and uncertain.

Angela just smiles sweetly, and leads her down the street to the car, into and out of the offbeat flicker of the lamp lights.

*

Moira lies awake that night, unable to shake the creeping feeling that somehow, somewhere, something shifted. A faint crack in the glass, tiny spiderwebs blossoming beneath the surface. A butterfly flapped its delicate wings and knocked the wind from her lungs.

There’s something different about this thing they hold between them. Sometimes Moira catches Angela looking at her like she’s just a pawn. During lectures Moira offers her a warm smile, but Angela just looks unfazed, taking her notes, biting her biro. Often, Moira spies Angela on her phone, the screen angled away. 

Part of her clicks its tongue with folded arms, and tells her that she knew there was an expiration date from the beginning. The other part is desperately grappling for any kind of attention Angela gives her, even if it’s physical. Sexual.

Her need to be needed is disgusting. On Tuesday morning, one feeble, pathetic week after everything, Moira stares down her reflection. Her blue eye is cold and limpid, her red more a ruddy brown that looks as empty as she feels. Her skin is pallid, lips chapped and split, and no matter how much pomade she slicks through her hair it won’t hold.

“Almost ready?” Angela calls from the other side of the bathroom door. Moira stares herself down.

It was fun while it lasted, she tells herself. And it was never going to last.

In a lecture, Moira calls on Angela’s biology dissertation. A fine example that every student should follow with their studies. Someone mumbles under their breath, too quiet for Moira to discern, but hearing the resounding snickers is easy enough. She frowns.

She’s in the queue at the campus cafe when two professors she barely knows - completely different faculty and area of study - stop in their tracks and stare at her. Moira glares at the back of the woman in front of her, and ignores the way they whisper.

She’s fucked, Moira thinks, behind pursed lips. She rolls her shoulders, cracks her neck, and doesn’t feel any less stiff. She mumbles her order and slides a five over, and doesn’t meet the barista’s eyes.

It doesn’t matter if she’s going to be the youngest professor for genetics in the country. It doesn’t matter if she is amongst the top ranked alumni of Dublin University. She’s fraternising with Angela Ziegler, and that’s all that anyone is bothered to care about.

Her coffee makes her feel sick. Thinking too hard on this whole situation makes her want to throw up.

And then it happens, on Friday night. 

“Fareeha wants to get back together.”

They’re sitting, eating dinner, watching the same shitty game show that’s on this time of night. 

“Oh.”

The host says something wild, the audience are clapping and hooting on que.

Angela waits on her, but Moira only swallows, attempting to dislodge the knife that’s been sheathed in her throat. 

“I don’t know what to do,” Angela divulges. “It’s been almost three years-“

Probably not all this, she wants to snarl. But she doesn’t.

“Could you get back together?” She says instead, staring at patch of white paint behind the TV set. After everything goes unspoken.

“She could never know,” Angela whispers. “She wouldn’t-- she can't know.”

Moira’s sure the creak of her teeth when she clenches her jaw is loud enough for Angela to hear. She wants to yell, because she’s mad. She’s furious . Angela would manipulate someone who loved her just for the comfort of her old lifestyle, for the infallible security of a warm bed at night. Moira refuses to acknowledge the way the corners of her eyes are stinging. 

“Why did you two break up the first place?” 

Angela doesn’t pause. She doesn’t hesitate. The cut is clean and swift. “Because of you.”

Moira makes a noise halfway between a chortle of incredulousness and a snort of derision. 

“i was too obsessed with you, apparently. I was too obsessed with being perfect.”

Moira can’t help it; it slips out, a snake of a sentence, and as soon as it does she wishes she could shove it back down her throat and let it instead constrict her. “So sharing my bed is the closest thing to perfection you could possibly achieve.”

Angela’s eyes are hot on her neck. “Don’t be mad,” she says quietly.

“I’m not,” Moira all but snarls. “I just don’t know why I expected… nothing.”

Angela takes her thin wrist, thumbing over the lumpy, pink scars. “Please don’t be mad with me. You’ve been good to me throughout all of this.”

She’s breaking up with you, a mellow part of Moira thinks.

But you were never together.

And she was never yours.

“I’ll be finished my masters next year, and next month I’ve got my interviews for med school,” Angela continues, the silence too heavy for even her dirty conscience to bear, too awkward filled by the television alone. “And Fareeha… we’ve always wanted different paths. I thought never too much on our future. I never saw one.”

“Is this your way of telling me I have a chance? In the future?”

There’s a slight crease between Angela’s brows. Three little folds to tell of her frustration at Moira’s impertinence. Moira burns every detail to her memory. “This isn’t the best of times for either of us, Moira. This isn’t a… conventional way to start a relationship.” 

Moira places her plate on the coffee table very delicately, so as to not throw it against the adjacent wall. “So I’ll just wait til you’re ready then. I’ll twiddle my thumbs and put everything on hold while you stumble back and forth trying to decide who can do more for you: me, or fucking Amari.” 

Angela tries a stready breath through her nose. “It’s not like that.”

“I should never have gone,” Moira says, but it’s to herself. Her throat has a lump in it and her eyes are stinging, too hard to ignore. “I should never have gone to the party. I should never have fucked a student.”

Angela slams her plate down on the coffee table and stands in one surge of movement. She opens her mouth to say something, but ultimately decides against it. A wise choice, because if Moira were to retaliate she’s sure her voice would crack very unfortunately. Her knuckles are white in the fist on her thigh. The only evidence of how she’s effected.

She doesn’t watch as Angela turns from the living room into the hall. 

She doesn’t listen as Angela has a hasty conversation with Gabe on her mobile. 

She doesn’t feel when Angela walks out the front door.

Doesn’t feel anything.

At some point in the night, before the crying stops but before the self-loathing starts, Moira stalks to her office and pries open her laptop. Her vision is hot and blurry, but she logs in, and opens up her university portal. She clicks the class, into the drop-down menu of students and scrolls for a name.

It all had to be for something, right? 

Ziegler, Angela

Attendance > Amend > 100%  

Grades > Amend > 100%

Save

And then it’s over.

*

Professor Zhou’s wife - who from memory was the Russian gold medalist in deadlift in three different Olympics - is built like a barn with hands bigger than Moira’s waist, and is the first person to say something to her on Monday morning.

“Professor O’Deorain,” she says thickly, incorrectly, hanging from the window of her white Range Rover. They’re in the parking lot, and Aleksandra’s in the neighbouring space. “You don’t look too well. All okay?”

Moira gives her a polite smile, but she’s not sure it works, because Aleksandra narrows her eyes. Her hair is so obnoxiously pink and rather belies the threat, but Moira is still intimidated.

“All good.” Moira swallows. She wonders if it’s obvious she’s had ten hours sleep in the last three days and her head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton. Does she know that this is Moira’s fourth cigarette since she left home? 

Zhou has her back turned to them as she riffles through the backseat for her briefcases. “Let me, Professor,” Moira insists, taking a bag. She almost immediately drops it, and stares down incredulously, wondering what’s inside. It’s a good thing Zhou is too busy kissing her wife goodbye to notice.

Moira pretends she doesn’t see, pretends doesn’t feel a strange pang of jealousy. Zhou’s all puffed up and preening like an owl, her cheeks and button nose glowing pink. She chats to Moira pleasantly as they wind up the path to the campus, and Moira tries not to make eye contact too often.

They make it into the office without too much scuffle. But every person they passed had glared at Moira. Or at least it felt that way.

But then Winston pulls her up, with a gentle touch to her shoulder that nearly sends her skittering across the room.

“Dr O’Deorain,” he says softly. Eyes knowing. “Are you alright?”

Moira schools her features, holds one wrist in a punishing grip behind her back. “Yes,” she manages. “Just a bit tired, I’m afraid.”

He looks at her over her glasses, considering, and his nostrils flare. “How about I take classes today?”

Any other time, any other instance, Moira would have vehemently insisted she was fine, especially to teach her class. But she hasn’t seen Angela yet today, hasn’t built up that scar-tissue enough to be sure her voice won’t crack dangerously when she does. She’d rather not have a microphone next to her mouth if it happens.

“Okay,” she all-but whispers. Her hair hangs in messy curls around her ears where she wasn’t even bothered to slick it. It dangles in front of her vision when she looks down. “Thank you, professor. 

“Of course,” he rubs her shoulder. “But you’re welcome to step in and help, if you’re up to it.”

She really should, because keeping herself scarce would be weak, and cowardly. But oh so easy.

She wonders what Gabe will say when he sees her. Probably nothing. He’ll probably just sigh, and Moira deflates at the thought alone.

Throughout classes she looks without seeing, hears without listening. She pulls up slides, references, peruses the aisles of the theatre glancing at laptop screens, and bending down to help anyone who calls on her. And then they all rise and bustle around her, when the lesson ends, and Moira stands there, watching Winston shuffle out.

The eleven o’clock seminar is the one that Angela usually attends.

Maybe it’s an act of rebellion of some kind, and Moira is surprised, because she does come to the lecture. She sits in her usual seat, and crosses her jean-clad legs, and unfolds her laptop. And Moira doesn’t look at her once.

She lingers around afterwards, caught talking to a gaggle of students about the upcoming finals, and it’s then that she catches Angela’s eye. They both look away, and Moira screams at herself not to cry.

Moira stays long after the final dregs of the students have filtered out. Just leaning against the podium, staring out into the sea of brown seats. Her stomach twists painfully, partly because it’s lunch hour and that reminds her that she hasn’t eaten since Friday.

And then the third person pulls her up, as she’s locking the room, with a sharp pull on her shoulder and a shocking punch to the right side of her face.

Aiteann,” Moira spits, or gets halfway trying before a muscled forearm is being pinned to her throat, and she’s slammed against the part of the wall next to the door. She gasps loudly, fingers scrabbling for purchase over her assailant's arm, but there’s no letting up. Pain blossoms across her face, and lights dance in front of her eyes as she writhes.

And for a split second her vision clears, and when she realises who’s in front of her, she seethes another curse.

“No, fuck you,” Fareeha Amari grits, shoving her so hard against the wall Moira can barely breathe at all. She aims a kick for Fareeha’s right knee but it’s sloppy and it doesn’t connect. “Fuck you, O’Deorain. You just couldn’t stay away, you creep. You had to go and ruin everything.

Clearly she knows, but obviously not all the finer details. If Moira’s windpipe wasn’t so compressed she’d probably laugh. Instead she bares her teeth, and wonders if Fareeha will kill her.

“You think,” Moira manages to rasp. Black spots start to flicker in the corner of her eyes. She blinks them back. “I took adva- I came onto her?” Moira feels the way Fareeha’s arm falters, and manages to slip a hand between her and her throat.

She uses all her strength to push her away for just enough time to spit, between heaving breaths, “Angela came to me. She wanted me.

That gets her another punch to the face, on the other side this time. Moira keels over as the world spins, and something hot trickles down from her nose.

“She hates you! You’re a monster! She’d never want you.”

This time Moira dodges her swing, but Fareeha just growls, and slams her back against the wall. Her head cracks back against the plaster, and pain lances everywhere.

Students have banked up in the corridor, all watching and whispering. Just a dozen or so, but a dozen too many. “Don’t worry,” Moira says, and it comes out soft even if it isn’t meant to. “She doesn’t want me.” 

She meets Fareeha’s red eyes, and finds a familiar pain there. She wonders if Fareeha can see it in her, too.

One student is having a frantic conversation with someone on their mobile. All these lights are way too bright. Fareeha is still staring at her. Moira closes her swollen eyes.

Are jock types really this dumb? “There isn’t anything to fight over,” Moira seethes, each word a bullet, said painfully slow, and this time it’s easy when Fareeha falters to push her off. Heavy boots of the security slam against the lino, up the corridor. Amari throws an anxious glance over her shoulder, and Moira shuts her eyes again, and maybe wishes she had killed her. 

“You have a future ahead of you. A career. Think of that instead.”

When the security guards round the corner the students disperse hurriedly, and Moira is standing with her hands in her pockets, shoulders slack, a ruddy bruise sprouting beneath her eye. They stop abruptly, and one tilts his head in confusion.

“What’s going on here?”

Moira shrugs. Her shoulder is still aching. She doesn’t flinch. “I don’t know, officer. A student was unhappy with her marks, so she yelled at me and stormed off."

“What’s her name?” the guard spits.

She wipes the blood from her nose with handkerchief, and grimaces. The ache in her head is pounding against her skull now. “I couldn’t tell you. I’m not even her teacher.”

The man is obviously disgruntled, and rolls his shoulder. The three other men around him ease up. “A student said they witnessed a physical altercation. But obviously there’s nothing for us to do. You’ll need to make a written report and submit it to admin, and find out the student’s name.”

“All right,” Moira says, bored, and she picks up her fallen bag. “I’m O’Deorain, for the record, if you need to follow anything up.”

She salutes the guards, and turns on her heel, and tries not to limp as she starts down the corridor.

So Fareeha knows, Moira thinks idly, ignoring the stares she’s getting. At least they’re for a different reason now. She wonders what Angela will do now that she’s scorned two people. 

She doesn’t look at her reflection in the windows because she’s too scared of what she’ll see, and for that same reason she angles her rearview mirror away when she falls into her car.

The first thing she does is light a cigarette, and take a shaky drag. The second thing she does is drive over to the apartment.

She limps through the grass. Hoists herself up the stairs. Passes the happy little succulents, and couldn’t even kick them if she wanted to.

The door to Gabe’s apartment opens before she can knock, which Moira is honestly thankful for because her hands are very sore, and so is her head. That’s why she winces when Olivia gapes and says, “Oh, my, God,” and then turns her head over her shoulder. “Gabe, ven aca !”

Moira doesn’t kick her shoes off as she crosses the threshold, just passes Olivia, shucks her jacket, and slumps on the couch. She’s starting to unbutton her shirt when Gabe bursts in, and Moira pretends she doesn’t notice which room he’s come from.

“Shit,” Gabe hisses, eyeing her over. “Do I need to ask.”

Moira shakes her head, and pats her pants for her smokes. Fuck, they’re in her jacket. She leans back with a shaky breath.

“I’ll get the kit,” Olivia offers, crouched in front of her. “You really had a tumble, bruja.

Moira laughs. It comes out like a croak. “You could say.”

Gabe sits down on the coffee table and checks both her eyes, her nose, because it’s still bright red and bleeding. Her hair is sticking to a cut on the side of her face. Where Fareeha’s knuckles split her skin.

“Did you give as good as you got?” Gabe asks after a long time of looking her down. Moira scoffs, and tries to roll her eyes. 

“Of course not. The girl is untouchable, and besides, future-professors can’t exactly go around assaulting students.”

Does it even matter now, though? Her image is in tatters. No doubt students filmed the incident. Even if she didn’t retaliate, it won’t look good. But Moira supposes it barely matters; losing her reputation had been a process that started with Angela Ziegler, the moment she walked into her class.

Gabe purses his lips, fiddling with a cotton bud and a bottle of antiseptic from the kit. To the side Olivia clatters around the kitchen, making some kind of tea and popping a hefty amount of painkillers, hopefully.

“Security come?”

Like a petulant child Moira shrugs. Then wishes she hadn’t. “I didn’t tell them anything.” She tries not to flinch when Gabe dabs the little ball across her face. “She’d lose her spot on the team. She doesn’t need that, too. I’m not--” Moira gasps. Then steels her gaze. “I’m not a bad person, Gabe.”

Gabe sighs softly, and sucks a breath through his teeth when he pulls her collar way, to look at the bruises across her neck. “I know, Moira. I know you’re not.”

She takes the tea from Liv with a flicker of a smile, who perches on the arm of the sofa next to them, and holds the little pills. “Still though,” she says between mouthfuls. “It raises the issue. Amari knows.

“We’ll deal with it,” Gabe says gently, patting her thigh. Moira realises with a twist he isn’t talking about the two of them.

Moira throws a glance to the hallway, to the little room with the catci and the fairy lights, and the tubes of lipstick on their sides. The lumpy futon. The fluffy pillow. Moira shuts her eyes.

“How did she find out?”

Olivia hums now, playing with a loose thread from the seam of the couch. “It wasn’t me, I swear. But from what I’ve heard, you were seen together at that cafe Gabe likes by Hana, who’s dating some DJ named Lucio, who told his best friend which is Genji, who you know from the party.” Ah, Moira thinks. The stripper. “And Genji probably told Hanzo - who’s his estranged brother, you know, the Shimadas? Ay, they're messy with a capitol M - and Hanzo is on the archery team with Fareeha, and… yeah.”

She’d laugh if she could. Gossip really does travel here. She leans back on the couch.

And sits up straight, when she hears the front door being unlocked.

Hears a little wet gasp, the slump of a body against a wall.

Angela stares at her across the living room. She looks as wrecked as Moira does, except without all the bruises and blood.

Her hair is limp on her shoulders. She’s wearing jeans and a sweater and a sad twist to her lips. An emptiness in her eyes.

They stare at each other in silence, and Gabe lets them, til Angela nods, to herself mostly. Then skirts the coffee table.

And then she sits down beside her, and nothing needs to be said.

*

Moira hates Dublin. From the constant rain that pelts the streets, to the way her people constantly crowd any space they can occupy. For some reason coffeeshops are most susceptible to this, and Moira has to fight to get a table anywhere she goes. Mugs stained with tea and ringed with coffee are stacked haphazardly on the table she’d valiantly secured this morning, and she sniffs, moving them to the edge with a single finger and unfolding her laptop.

She’d forgotten how bloody cold it was around this time of year, too, which doesn’t help her spiralling mood. Moira grouses under her breath as she clicks into her emails, which have been flooded by the faculty, the hospital, and select few from her classlist practically begging for notes. Moira rolls her eyes and attaches the documents, sending them off with a huff.

In her personal email there’s a message from Gabe, with a dozen or more photos attached. She smiles when they load. One is of Gabe reclining in a lounge chair, sunglasses skewed and mouth drooling, a tiki cup spilling its contents across his chest. Another shows the extent of Jack’s horrific sunburn, and his very grouchy upturned lip and Gabe in the foreground, grinning with a thumbs up. There’s one that was taken by someone else, of the pair in loud button downs and boardshorts, Gabe’s arm slung over Jack’s shoulders, something gold glittering on his left hand.

Moira smiles. She should really fly over and see them, if she ever gets a break. She regrets missing the wedding, but she’s been video calling Gabe every other night to make up for it.

She clicks back to her work inbox, and groans inwardly. The hospital excursion. It’s not as if she’s anxious of it, but rather loathe to the idea of shepherding fifteen of her top students through the narrow halls of London’s top surgical hospital as part of their extracurricular study. They’re adults, they’ll behave, and she knows a handful or so are headed off to med school once they graduate, so the experience will do them good. And the board is all for it, it seems, as she pursues the email.

They’re due to fly over on Monday morning, and should be set to return before supper that night. All expenses paid.

“Your coffees, ma’am,” pipes a young woman from her side, and Moira grunts as the waitress deposits two steaming cups by her wrist. If she were a younger woman - or had perhaps had a touch more sleep the night before - she might flinch away or move her right hand down to her leg, safely obscured beneath the table. But Moira is thirty-two, and her median number of hours sleep-per-night usually rounds off to five.

She gestures before the girl can leave. “What do you have in the way of sandwiches?”

“Our weekly special is a grilled focaccia,” she pats her apron down for her pad and pen. “With prosciutto and mascarpone, and our vegetarian options include-”

Moira glances at her watch, and rolls her eyes. Always late, even to her own damn meetings. “I’ll take two. Surprise me.” She throws a glance up at the waitress. “But no mushrooms.”

Sipping the head off her flat white Moira unlocks her phone and scrolls through the message thread. They’d agreed this time. Her thumbs start to twiddle. She watches the oils in the long black swirl and settle, crema dissipating, steam twisting through the air. Bites her lip.

It’s as something incessant and jittery starts to niggle between her ribs that Moira’s ears prick to a string of angry German, followed by a rather terse, “Excuse me.”

If Moira smiles the only witness is her coffee.

“Oh my god,” says a clipped voice behind her. A briefcase is dropped to the floor and slumps against her own. “I know it’s raining but it’s midweek, why is there so much traffic.

A black coat is slung over the back of the other wicker chair. A red scarf pools onto the table. The click of a plastic ID card, attached to a white lanyard, is what draws Moira away from her coffee.

Ziegler, Angela
London N.H.N.N
Fellowship: Neurosurgeon 

“Moira,” Angela says, slumping down into her chair. Her hair has been messily pulled back into a bun, and there’s ink beneath her left eye. “I’m so sorry, my flight’s in two hours, I really can’t stay long-- oh, is this mine? Thanks so much.” She pauses, but only so she can take half her coffee in one sip. “Oh, you got us breakfast? You’re wonderful. I’ve been reading your latest journal, by the way, we really need to discuss this development of nanotechnology because it’s fascinating, really, and--”

Moira smirks, chin to palm, elbow to table.

“I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” Angela says pitifully.

“You are.” Moira shrugs. “But it’s cute.”

Angela at least chews her food before she swallows, and Moira takes this silence to nod down at the bright green pair of crocs that have been affronting her from beneath the table for the past three minutes Angela has been in her presence.

“Nice shoes,” she comments slyly.

“They’re comfy!” Angela announces around a mouthful of bread.

And Moira laughs.