The emotion that fills Millie when Jean says she’s staying, coursing through her veins hot and sparkling, makes her heart shudder and her head spin. She’s glad Jean has turned away, glad she can’t see the smile hurting her cheeks and the tears glazing her eyes. She thought she’d been happy when Jean agreed to come to America with her, but that was nothing compared to this dizzying rush of joy and relief.
‘You’re really staying?’ she asks, her voice lower and hoarser than usual.
Jean turns back and smiles at her. ‘For now,’ she replies, and Millie has to tamp down the desperate urge to run across the room and embrace her.
‘And you really went in the ocean in just your underwear?’
Jean doesn’t reply, just purses her lips and raises one eyebrow, her eyes sparkling.
‘I’d have paid good money to see that.’
Millie’s tone isn’t the teasing one she’d intended, the words coming out far more sultry and honest – too honest for her to just laugh them off. Suddenly the air seems to have been sucked from the room, and the joy drains from Millie to be replaced by shivering fear. But she can’t tear her gaze from Jean’s face, watches as her eyes widen and her lips part.
‘Millie,’ she says softly.
The spell broken Millie looks away, turns away and fixes her eyes on the corner of Jean’s suitcase. Her blood rushes loud in her ears as she waits, sure she’s about to receive a rejection at the very least, fearing her slip will have changed Jean’s mind again, will send her all the way back to London.
‘Millie,’ Jean repeats.
Millie’s shocked to realise that she’s just behind her, that she didn’t hear her come closer.
‘Please look at me,’ Jean says quietly.
Millie swallows hard and drags in a breath, steeling herself for whatever she might find in Jean’s eyes.
But what she sees when she turns around almost floors her.
‘Jean?’ she whispers, her brow knitted.
Because Jean’s face is the softest Millie thinks she’s ever seen it, and her eyes are filled with cautious, disbelieving hope, and something else that Millie was utterly certain she’d never see in them. She licks her suddenly dry lips, sees Jean’s gaze drop to follow the motion and then linger there, fixed on the bright red of her mouth.
‘Why are you staying?’ she manages to croak, excessively aware of Jean watching her lips form the words.
‘Because you’re here,’ Jean replies.
‘That wasn’t enough for you before,’ Millie says, and sees Jean flinch at the accusing note that creeps into her voice.
‘It’s about finding courage, isn’t it,’ Jean says softly, her gaze dropping to her fidgeting hands, to the floor.
‘Like swimming in your underwear?’ Millie asks, wondering exactly how that came about.
‘Exactly like that,’ Jean replies, with the flicker of a smile that fades back to seriousness. ‘I had a gun to my head, and you stepped up beside me.’
‘You’d have done the same for me,’ Millie says, without the shadow of a doubt, heart racing at the memory, at the memory of when Jean actually was shot, the scar she still carries from it.
‘Aye, I would. Without even thinking.’
‘I was terrified, Jean.’
‘You and me both. But it certainly puts other fears into perspective.’
‘Which fears, exactly?’ Millie asks, eyes flitting across Jean’s features.
‘Fear of change, of the unknown,’ Jean replies.
Millie hears her breath hitch as she hesitates, holds her own as she waits. But instead of continuing, Jean closes her mouth.
‘You think I’m not scared of that too?’
This makes Jean look at her, her face a picture of confusion.
‘Yes I love an adventure, but of course it scares me. I just decided a long time ago that I would face that fear, that I would rather have the excitement and opportunity that came along with it.’
‘And what about this?’ Jean asks, her hand hovering in the space between their bodies. ‘Does this scare you?’
‘Enough that I didn’t dare risk our friendship on a hope, a– a supposition,’ Millie admits.
‘So you’d have just let me go back to London, let that chance slip through your fingers?’
‘Better to have you as a friend on the other side of the world than not to have you at all.’
‘Well, I think I’m ready to have an adventure on this side of the world,’ Jean says. ‘In this apartment. With you.’
Millie feels something flare inside her, makes herself hold it in check. ‘We are talking about the same thing, aren’t we Jean?’
Jean’s hand stops hovering and grasps Millie’s, her thumb caressing Millie’s knuckles tenderly. She catches Millie’s gaze, holds it as she raises their joined hands and brushes her lips to where her thumb had swept.
‘We are,’ Jean says steadily.
‘Oh, thank goodness for that,’ Millie smiles, breath leaving her lungs in a whoosh of relief.
She shifts a little closer, still cautious despite Jean’s confirmation, despite the look in her eyes and the warmth of her hand, despite the fact that her skin tingles where Jean’s lips touched.
‘I never thought,’ she whispers, trailing off.
‘Me neither,’ Jean agrees, smiling.
‘How long, Jean?’
Jean shrugs. ‘Since Bletchley, I suppose.’
‘All this time we could’ve had, if only one of us had been brave.’
‘Maybe we needed it, to become brave. To be ready to be brave.’
‘Maybe,’ Millie smiles. ‘Or maybe we needed to be somewhere else, outside our normal lives.’
‘Maybe,’ Jean echoes.
She’s still rubbing her thumb across Millie’s knuckles and Millie’s starting to find it hard to focus, the touch sending sparks shooting along her nerves.
‘Either way,’ she manages hoarsely, ‘we’re here now. Together.’
‘That we are,’ Jean agrees.
Her accent is stronger now, her eyes dark and glittering, and Millie can’t resist any longer. She leans forward slowly, gives Jean chance to draw away because she still can’t quite believe this is real, can’t quite believe the figurative rug isn’t going to be pulled from beneath her feet at any moment.
But Jean doesn’t draw away, although Millie’s feet do feel a little like they’ve left the floor when their lips touch, when Jean’s free hand comes to tangle in her hair, when Jean presses against her, soft and warm and yielding.
‘Oh,’ Millie breathes when they separate, resting her forehead against Jean’s.
‘Quite,’ Jean agrees, and Millie can’t help but giggle.
‘You’re really staying?’ Millie asks again, lightly stroking Jean’s cheek.
‘I am,’ Jean smiles, leaning into Millie’s touch.
She sinks her fingers far enough into Millie’s hair to scratch gently at her scalp and Millie’s eyes flutter closed at the sensation, comforting and arousing all at once.
‘I couldn’t bear to lose you, Jean,’ Millie murmurs, tears pricking the backs of her eyes. And then she pulls herself together, raises her head so she can meet Jean’s eye properly and says as strictly as she can manage, ‘so no more stepping in front of loaded guns, do you hear me?’
‘I’ll try my level best,’ Jean promises.
Millie can’t stop looking at her, not now that she’s allowed to, not now that it’s alright for Jean to know that she’s looking; can’t stop looking at the delicate crow’s feet around her eyes, and the slope of her cheekbones, and the line of the tendon down her neck. It seems Jean is having the same problem; their eyes keep catching and lingering. Millie opens her mouth to joke about it but before she can speak Jean’s kissing the wide, smiling curve of her lips. Both her hands are in Millie’s hair now, thumbs brushing her cheeks. Her lips are firm and sure and tender, and Millie clutches tight at her cardigan to keep her close.
‘In case you were still in any doubt,’ Jean says with a smile when they part for breath.
‘I wasn’t,’ Millie smiles, gently wiping a smudge of her lipstick from the side of Jean’s mouth. ‘I’m definitely not now.’
Jean holds her gaze for a moment longer, then slips from her grasp.
‘Where are you going?’
‘To put these clothes away again,’ Jean calls over her shoulder.
‘Need a hand?’ Millie offers.
‘You’re just trying to get a peek at my underwear,’ Jean teases.
‘I’d far rather get a peek of it while you’re in it,’ Millie retorts.
Jean freezes and slowly turns around. Millie brazenly drags her gaze up her figure, eyes raking the curves she longs to run her hands over. When she reaches Jean’s face she delights in the blush she finds high across her cheeks, in being able to see her lipstick staining Jean’s half open mouth. Shivers at the thought of what it might look like elsewhere, vivid smears on Jean’s pale skin. She meets Jean’s eyes and even from here she can see how dark they are, wonders if Jean can read her thoughts, if she’s thinking them too. Millie thinks she probably is, knows Jean’s stern, proper exterior hides warmth and care and passion and thinks she’ll be astonished not to find this sort of fire there too.
‘I usually insist on at least being bought a drink first,’ Jean says, her voice low and her brogue thick.
‘I bought you one two nights ago,’ Millie points out. ‘And the night before that. And–’
‘Yes, alright,’ Jean interrupts her, smiling.
‘But I’d like to buy you another,’ Millie adds quietly, seriously. ‘Now we both know what it means.’
Jean softens at this, at her words and her tone and her expression. ‘Then I’d better get my coat.’
She turns again and disappears into her room leaving Millie staring after her, until she pulls herself together and dashes to check her hair, her lipstick. Both are messy but it just makes her smile, sends a thrill running through her as she tidies both, as she applies another coat of crimson and tries not to think about where it might end up.
Millie is halfway into her coat when Jean reappears. She holds out her elbow in invitation and Jean smiles at the chivalry of it, slips her hand into the crook and squeezes gently.
‘Let’s,’ Millie grins, patting Jean’s gloved hand, eyes lingering on Jean’s before she starts towards the door.
‘Millie?’ Jean says, not moving.
Millie turns to her, almost melts at the tenderness in her eyes.
‘You look beautiful,’ Jean says, leaning to brush a kiss to her cheek.
‘It’s only what I’ve been wearing all day,’ Millie protests.
‘You always look beautiful,’ Jean insists quietly.
Millie blushes, reduced to stunned silence, and Jean laughs, pulls her forwards. She has her hand on the doorknob, has half twisted it, when Millie stops her, slips her arm free from Jean’s grasp and instead slides it around her waist, gently presses against her back. Millie feels Jean’s sharp inhale, leans to press her lips to the spot behind Jean’s ear, breath stirring the few stray strands of hair that are short enough to have escaped her neat bun.
‘I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than you in lamplight,’ she murmurs huskily into the shell of Jean’s ear, her words vibrating through Jean’s body and making her shiver, although the fingers caressing circles through her blouse may have something to do with that too. ‘All glowing gold and shadows, that little frown as you work on a code, the light in your eyes when you crack it.’
Millie brushes her lips lower, feels Jean’s jumping, racing pulse. ‘I could gaze at you for hours,’ she confesses, the words whispered right onto Jean’s skin.
‘Good job you didn’t, else we’d never have won the war,’ Jean jokes, but her voice is shaky with want.
‘Or tracked down a number of murderers.’ Millie adds, letting her lips graze Jean’s skin one more time.
Jean arches her neck and hums softly. Desire floods Millie’s veins, blurs her vision and makes her head spin. She takes a step back and puts a little space between them lest she do something rash, slips her hand to rest on the small of Jean’s back and takes a shuddering, steadying breath.
‘Let’s get that drink, then,’ she says, as breezily as she can.
Jean nods once, sharply, in agreement. Millie hears the quiet rustles as she smooths her coat unnecessarily, as she tugs at the fingertips of her gloves, knows from both tics that Jean is trying to settle herself, that she has unsettled her. And of course, she can’t quite resist pushing just that little bit further.
‘And then, when we come back, I’ll hold you to that promise of seeing your underwear,’ she teases, her voice low and rich.
‘I don’t recall making any promises to that effect, dear,’ Jean laughs.
‘Oh, you don’t?’ Millie frowns, feigning innocence.
She follows Jean through the door, offers her arm again and ignores the rush at Jean’s touch when she takes it.
‘I’m damn sure I’d have remembered that,’ Jean replies, her eyes dancing, coaxing Millie to bow her head closer. ‘Doesn’t mean it’s not on the table, though,’ she murmurs.
At precisely this moment, their neighbour from across the way passes. All Millie can do is swallow down her response to Jean’s words and paste a polite smile on her face, and hope to god that she survives this drink without Jean causing her to do something that might get them both arrested.