They’re both laughing, together in the park as they try on sunglasses, and Juliana feels light, feels like somehow everything in the world is exactly where it should be.
“Why is it that everything look good on you?” she exclaims, lifting her hands to Valentina’s face and swaying closer. Her tone is joking, but she absolutely means it, because even the most obnoxious pairs of glasses are attractive on Valentina’s face.
Although that might have less to do with the glasses and more to do with her face.
“That’s not true,” Valentina giggles, a bashful tinge to her broad smile, and Juliana cards her hands through Valentina’s loose hair as she half shakes her head, “You’re lying to me!”
“No, really, why does everything look good on you?” she repeats, still laughing but completely serious about the query.
Valentina wraps her hand around her wrist, gentle fingers pressing directly on top of Juliana’s covered soulmark, and her breath catches as she searches Valentina’s face, unable to see her eyes because of the sunglasses. The cheer is still bubbling in her chest, warm like the sunlight dancing over Valentina, and it’s mesmerizing the way she shines in it. Without conscious thought, her hand is reaching out again to brush through Valentina’s hair, and Valentina’s smile is happy as she tilts her head down to look at her over the top of her glasses.
Juliana’s surroundings come filtering back in, and she hears the distant strains of a familiar song floating through the air, turning her head instinctively and then letting her smile widen when she identifies it. “You know what? I love this song,” she speaks up, taking off the glasses she’s wearing and looking away from Valentina. She uses the moment to compose herself, glancing instinctively at her bracelets, and then she clears her throat and looks up again.
“Come on,” she folds up the sunglasses and returns them to the vendor, taking Valentina’s hand and tugging her over to where they can see a group of women dancing in the middle of the open park amphitheater. “I love this song, listen.”
“It’s cool,” Valentina comments, and Juliana grins at her, taking in the way the sun glints off her hair before coming back to herself.
“Shall we dance?”
Valentina gives her a look, somewhere between curious and incredulous. “To this?”
Nodding, Juliana smiles assuredly and swings their joined hands.
“Oh, no, I can’t dance,” Valentina draws away, pushing her hair away from her face and hooking it behind her right ear, and Juliana thinks she’s never seen a movement pulled off so elegantly before.
“Come on,” she coaxes, reaching for her again, and though Valentina willingly takes her hand, she’s still drawing back.
“I mean it, I’ve never danced to this kind of music, I can’t,” she objects, and Juliana rolls her eyes affectionately, knowing her expression is turning fond but unable to put a stop to it. Pulling Valentina gently by the hand, they make their way down the hill and into the amphitheater, and Juliana wants to giggle at the way Valentina trips after her.
“Juls, no – ” she tries to protest, laughing self–consciously, but Juliana grins as she pulls her forward into line, hoping Valentina will understand what she wants to share with her.
“All you have to do is feel the music and dance. Don’t be embarrassed, you just follow her!”
She turns to watch the instructor, trying to mimic her movements, and catches up quickly with the simple steps, moving in time with the music and the rest of the group. It’s been a while since she’s danced, and it’s amazing how freeing and fun something this simple is.
However, Valentina stumbles out of line fairly quickly, a reassuring smile on her face as she goes, and she waves at Juliana to keep dancing with a little shake of her head. Juliana lets the music carry her for a few moments more, the smile staying on her face, but Valentina is standing off to the side, and Juliana doesn’t want that. She huffs a small laugh, ducking her head and thanking the instructor when the song ends, and then steps over to her. She softens as she approaches to see Valentina watching the scene in front of her, rubbing at the skin behind her ear as she sways absently, and she straightens when she sees Juliana coming, dropping her hand and smiling sheepishly.
“Okay, let’s go,” Juliana says with a laugh as she takes her hand again, and Valentina follows without hesitation as she leads her to an empty space, away from the crowds in the rest of the park. She can feel Valentina loosening up, can hear it in the way she’s starting to resume her playful quips and idle chatter, and she swipes her thumb over the back of her knuckles.
“You know what?” Valentina reaches for her again, grabbing her hands and pulling her closer when they stop in the middle, “You’re going to teach me how to dance.”
“What? No,” Juliana laughs, tilting her head, and Valentina presses into her space before rocking back on her heels and grinning again.
“Do I look like a teacher to you?”
Valentina pulls a face as she laughs, wrinkling her nose in a way that almost makes Juliana feel like swooning, and she squeezes her hand encouragingly. “But you do it so well! Better than me, at least.”
“Val – ” she tries, but Valentina isn’t having it.
“What if I get invited to a party, and I dance like – like that? You have to teach me.”
Juliana would like to say that her resolve lasted at least a little bit longer than five seconds, but in truth she doesn’t think she had any resolve to begin with. She doesn’t have any idea how to teach someone to feel the music and just dance, but she’s learned that she’s completely unable to resist Valentina, and she’d be lying if she said that the prospect of dancing with her didn’t give her a thrill.
She really wants to dance with Valentina.
“Okay, I’ll teach you,” she cedes easily, distractedly flexing her left wrist when it twinges as if to urge her forwards, “But only because you’re teaching me how to swim.”
Valentina beams at her, bright and exuberant, and her words are giddy as she accepts the trade and holds her hand out for Juliana, both of them laughing as they shake on it exaggeratedly.
“Okay, come here,” Juliana giggles as she pulls Valentina closer without letting go of the handshake, “Stand in front of me.”
Juliana arranges their arms properly, tugging and prodding at Valentina until her feet are in the right place, and when she looks up it’s to catch a glimpse of Valentina staring at her as she tucks her hair behind her ears.
Something warm spreads through her chest, and in that instant all of her indecision is gone.
“Give me this hand,” she instructs, holding out her left hand and waiting for Valentina’s, and she ignoring the way her heart flips when they touch. Her soulmark is itching again, and she steadfastly doesn’t think about how it intensifies every time she so much as thinks about Valentina. She focuses first on their hands and then their feet instead of meeting Valentina’s eyes, not wanting to look at her but also unable to keep away, and when Valentina curls her hand around hers perfectly, she finds herself failing once more.
“Yeah, like that. Now place the other one here…” she guides Valentina’s other hand to her shoulder with a hand on her elbow, and then lets her go to put it on her side. “And I’ll place mine here.”
Her heart is starting to race now, the hopeful sort of quickness that merges in time with the pulsing of her wrist, and she swallows hard, hoping there isn’t anything in her expression that gives away the fluttering in her chest.
“Now, you’re going to take a little step to your right.” Valentina looks so focused, completely absorbed in the moment, and Juliana marvels at the endearing way she smiles as she bites her lip, the way her eyes shine, the careful way she’s holding herself. “My left, your right. And then follow me.”
She feels Valentina flex her fingers around hers as she takes a deep breath before nodding intently, and Juliana takes that as her cue to start.
“One, two, three, and four,” she counts, stepping slowly in time and making sure Valentina is moving with her. Her steps are hesitant, but this is as simple as it gets, and she has no doubt that she’ll catch on.
“And one, two,” she continues, moving in the other direction and letting herself begin to sway them more naturally, “Three, four.”
“Hey, I’m really doing it!” Valentina says, delighted as she continues to watch her feet, and Juliana smiles, charmed by the way her lips are curling up proudly. They’re so close together that she has to keep pulling back to avoid bumping her forehead against Valentina’s, and Juliana feels the urge to make this dance a real one.
“Yeah, but you know what?” Juliana says lightly, trying to keep her voice level, and Valentina’s eyes crinkle happily.
“What?” she asks, still focusing on her steps. Her hair is tumbling over her shoulders, and when Juliana looks up, she doesn’t manage to get higher than Valentina’s chin on the first attempt, averting her gaze back to their feet. Her soulmark thrums, almost like an encouragement, and she tries again.
“With dances like this... you’re usually supposed to look the other person in the eyes,” Juliana takes a breath as she speaks, pulling back so she can see Valentina properly. It’s a strange rush of courage running through her, but she’s not going to turn back now.
She watches as Valentina smiles shyly, shifting her gaze between her feet and Juliana a couple times before she tilts her head to the side and cranes her neck until it touches her raised shoulder, shaking her head.
“Wha– oh, no, I can’t do it all at the same time,” she bites her lip unsurely as she lowers her eyes one last time before tilting her chin up, and Juliana smiles reassuringly again. “I can’t look you in the eyes, and count and watch my feet, that’s just…”
Juliana catches a flash of color in the side of Valentina’s hair as she shakes her head and quickly dismisses it, assuming she’s got some kind of accessory in and refocusing on their dancing.
“Okay, how about this,” Juliana suggests, watching Valentina’s eyes encouragingly, “Hold on to me, and let’s do it again.” She readjusts her grip on Valentina, feeling it when she takes a deep breath and instinctively copying her. “Follow me, okay?”
“Okay, you – you lead,” Valentina agrees, still trying to meet her eyes as she lets out a little laugh, and Juliana nods as she begins to count again. Valentina’s smile is shy when she looks at her for a moment before skittering her gaze away, licking her lips and then nodding, and Juliana resists the urge to fully rest her head against the side of Valentina’s when she glances down and their temples touch.
They sway together, and it’s when Valentina finally meets her eyes that Juliana can tell that she’s put aside her reservations and started to follow her instincts. Her hand slides against Valentina’s back, brushing over the material of the shirt she’d gifted her, and the ends of Valentina’s long hair trail against her fingers.
Valentina’s touch is gentle where she’s holding her in return, one hand on her waist and the other still clasped with hers, and Juliana wants to pull her even closer, wants to close the minuscule distance between them until there’s nothing left. As the sun continues to shine down on them, Juliana thinks that maybe this is what people mean when they say dancing can be magic.
Soft blue eyes hold her own as something shifts in the air between them, and she almost forgets to notice the way her soulmark is pulsing so steadily that it’s matched exactly in time with her heartbeat, the rhythm holding constant with what might be their entire universe.
But not quite.