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Mélie sits at her desk in the studio exactly the same way she sits on Lucas’ sofa on games night: slouched forward, head tilted in a way that speaks of profound boredom and her legs tucked up underneath her on the wheelie chair. She’s also been sighing dramatically and clicking loudly at her laptop for the last half hour. Amicia has been doing a fabulous job of ignoring her so far.

Eventually, and predictably, Mélie snaps. “God this is awful,” she grouches, tipping backwards into her chair until she can look at Amicia. “Why do people care about this shit?”

“Because it’s easier to watch the lives of other people crumble than it is to deal with your own problems,” Amicia offers without looking up from her laptop.

She cackles a little and kicks her chair over to Amicia’s desk. “How cynical of you. You reckon they’d let me talk about something less boring than the ongoing custody saga?”

Finally, Amicia looks up at her. Mélie’s wearing her usual cheeky smile, but it’s softer than the ones she gives everyone else; the less mischievous one. (The honest one she saves for Amicia.) “I think Khalid pulled you out from behind-the-scenes because you deliver some harsh truths and that stings in just the right ways to go over well with viewers. You could probably talk about office gossip and how not even self-proclaimed down-to-earth regular working people are exempt from the occasional pseudo-Hollywood relationship drama.”

Mélie blinks at her but her smile widens with every word. “I’m gonna say that on air.” Her head tilts to one side, not quite as innocent seeming as her puppy inspiration, but enough that Amicia feels her hackles lift. “Out of curiosity, did you mean me?”

Amicia returns her teasing smile at only half-power. “Of course not. There’s no drama with you. I meant Regan and Sebastian.”

She sprawls her elbows across the desk. “Did something happen?”

“You didn’t hear?”

Mélie’s face falls away from teasing and into intense, not quite frustrated (she knows Amicia better than that) but burning with a need to know something temporarily out of reach. “Hear what?”

Amicia slips sideways into her personal bubble, her smile tipping wider, up into proper sassy. “Well, well. Our office gossip is out of the loop.”

“Amicia de Rune,” she warns, pressing closer, eyes still glittering with pointed determination. “Spill right now or so help me…”

“Or you’ll what?” she lifts an eyebrow.

“Or we’re off for Friday.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.”

She waits a beat or two but Mélie’s eyes don’t waver. She’s not serious, Amicia knows this, but she’s not cruel. “Regan’s pregnant.”

There’s a moment of silence and then Mélie’s on her feet. “I knew it!” She sits back down immediately. “How’d you find out first?”

Amicia shrugs. “She told me yesterday. All flustered about it.”

“It’s his?”

“She didn’t say that. Just that it’s not her husband’s.”

Oh my god,” Mélie’s tone borders on impish, delighted.

“Careful there,” Amicia warns her. “You’re getting close to evil cackles again.”

“Oh please. I can’t ruin a marriage on national television. I’m not that awful.”

“No,” Amicia agrees, standing. “You’re not awful at all.” She trails her fingers across Mélie’s shoulders as she heads to the print room. “But I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

 

--

 

She should not have encouraged Mélie.

 

--

 

“As we come into summer,” Rodric says, segueing over to Mélie a few mornings later, “movie season arrives on our doorstep. And with that comes a host of other issues to dominate the public conscious. Mélie has been loathe to share any of her report this morning, so let’s just pass over to her and brace ourselves.”

The camera cuts away from the anchor desk to their right. That section of the studio is mostly just for Mélie and her ‘truth tea’ gossip-slash-essay segment she does along with the occasional opinion piece and guest appearance. But it’s only gossip in the loosest sense and she’d punch anyone who called it as much. It’s more like soft news: things people talk about but aren’t covered by mainstream news media, bringing some awareness to lesser spoken of topics. It’s just that sometimes this does overlap with gossip and entertainment news, which is why she gets the confused reputation.

“Thanks, Rodric,” she says, leaning casually on one elbow. “So what I was originally gonna talk about this morning was the slew of Hollywood custody battles and divorces that are apparently in season right now, but that’s boring. People get divorced, it’s whatever. Then our lovely Amicia said to me,” and the camera cuts back to her so she has to sit upright again, “something about how even we – the good ‘self-proclaimed down-to-earth regular working people’,” she does the finger quotes and everything, “aren’t excluded from dramatics. So.” Her other elbow swings around to rest on the desk. “Workplace drama and how it ruins everything.”

“Oh good god no,” Lucas mutters from her left over by the weather. “Amicia, why?”

With wide eyes she just shakes her head at him but it’s not like she can deny the part she played in this development. She glares at Mélie but the infuriating woman is impervious after years of exposure. All that happens is she launches into a dissection of interpersonal relationships in workplaces, starting with Hollywood and the inherent closeness that develops naturally when working in such close proximity.

“These things happen,” she says, indicating a graph that appears on the prompt screen. “The more time you spend with someone, the better you get to know them.” Mélie leans dramatically across the table, palms flat to brace herself. “The problem is: who you are at work is fake, so it’s harder for people to get to know you.” She lifts a finger. “Doubly so for people in media. We all have a work persona, right, Amicia?”

The camera cuts back to her just too soon to catch Mélie’s obnoxious smirk. “You would know, Mélie,” she replies. “That’s what professionalism requires of us.”

“Exactly.”

It’s an interesting essay topic, really, that she’s presenting. As always supported by facts, examples (and sometimes even a scientific study or two), and in this case it allows her the perfect chances to mention all the gossip she’s expected to bring up. The Hillford divorce case, rumours of movie stars working together and cheating on spouses they met on other sets, musicians getting involved and splitting up bands, and so forth.

But then she starts to wrap it up and Amicia has just thought Mélie will make it through this segment without making some inappropriate dig at one of them when that hope is immediately thrown out the window.

“I’ll have everyone know,” Mélie says slowly, “I did my research for this and do you know what I found that really disturbed me?” It’s rhetorical, she pauses only long enough for people to digest the question before answering. “People out there who watch media – any form of media – project imaginary relationships onto these people they don’t know. There are several discussions suggesting that certain people in the public eye are dating, even if there’s no real supporting evidence.” Mélie stops talking, looks each of them in the eye (lingers longer on Amicia than Rodric or Lucas), and smiles at the camera. She does not elaborate.

“She’s fishing,” Lucas says tonelessly.

“I’ll bite,” Rodric sighs. “I take it you want one of us to ask something about how we’re in visual media so how do we fit in, right?”

Mélie grins. Confirmation enough. “Why, I’m so glad you asked. Did you know that there is a sizeable portion of people who watch our show who are firmly convinced you’re dating Amicia?”

Rodric goes red and starts spluttering. Amicia goes white and finds herself completely unable to speak.

Lucas says, “How absurd.”

“People…” Rodric begins oh-so quietly, “we’re… really? Why?”

Mélie pulls a folder towards her across the desk and shuffles the paper within. “I’ll be completely honest with you, Rodric: I don’t see it. But I know you both better than that, so I suppose my opinion doesn’t count for this piece. What does count are all these comments on our social media feed talking about how when you two went out to the carnivale last month Rodric played that stupid hammer game and gave the plushie to Amicia and that’s so romantic, you’re clearly involved. Honestly, I wish I’d never looked it up.”

“Absurd,” Lucas repeats softly from off camera.

Their prompt monitor shows what the viewers are seeing and at the moment it’s focused on Mélie’s smile, canted up into almost a taunt. Amicia leans towards Rodric and says, “This is weird to hear, right? It’s not just me?”

He shakes his head. “This is very strange.”

And when she looks back up, turns to Mélie, she sees the monitor has followed their exchange, tracked how close they’re sitting. Mélie, little shit that she is, says, “You’re just proving the point, there.”

“How does this relate to your theory that drama ruins workplaces?” Lucas asks, again, the camera doesn’t switch to him, it remains focused on her and Rodric. Amicia watches her expression on the screen change slightly, a little worried and barely able to conceal it.

Mélie looks at him for a long beat, waiting for the camera to focus her. When it does she says, “People get bored at work, they talk. That starts rumours. Whether or not those rumours are true, they’ll have an impact on you and what you do after you find out about them. But the truth is: we don’t know the truth. Are you and Amicia really dating?” She eyes the camera pointedly before adding, “The answer is a definitive no, by the way. Is Claire Hillford really getting a divorce because of cheating? We don’t know, but the public has heard enough to conclude that it’s true and so now everyone hates her soon-to-be-ex-husband. That will affect his life, perhaps ruin his workplace.”

“I doubt the rumour that Amicia and I are dating will ruin our workplace,” Rodric tells her drolly.

“She has a point, though,” Amicia adds. “It maybe doesn’t apply as much to us in news as it does to movies and television, but people on the screen live their lives in the public eye. And they have to see what everyone says about them, live with it.” She gives Rodric a pointed look. “I am now going to be aware every time we go somewhere that people think we’re together. That changes things.”

“Any press is good press?” Lucas asks.

“So they say.” Mélie folds her hands across the desk in front of her, indication that she’s about to end her segment. “But this is not always the case, and if you’re going to gossip about others, be prepared to deal with how it changes things. Sometimes the attention and rumour ruins lives, or it makes workplaces horrible. So maybe before you go gabbing about someone, think about the fallout it could cause first.”

She flashes her smile, bids the audience a farewell and the camera cuts back to a shot of Rodric blinking a bit like a fool. “Well… thank you, Mélie… I guess.”

“This month’s words to live by from Mélie Dubois herself: stay in your lane, folks,” Amicia mumbles.

“At least we do this bit at the end of the show,” Lucas chimes in. “I feel like that bombshell would’ve ruined everything.”

“That was my entire point, brainiac,” Mélie says, voice and face expressionless. “Drama ruins everything.”

“This isn’t going to make our workplace any weirder, is it?” Lucas asks.

“No,” Amicia interrupts when she sees Mélie open her big, dumb mouth. “We’re all friends here and that is…” she can’t think of anything so she just borrows Lucas’ adjective from earlier, “absurd.”

Rodric clears his throat. “Right.” And his face remains red the entire time he’s concluding the show. Personally, Amicia doesn’t think that helps a great deal.

 

--

 

She snatches the folder from Mélie the minute they’re off air and heads for the office kitchen. “Let me see this.”

“I’m scarred forever, by the way, thanks for that,” Mélie says, falling into step beside her. “The things I read with my own two eyes for this bit today…” she shudders theatrically.

“You chose this,” Amicia reminds her, flicking through pages of screen-shotted comments from assorted social media.

Some of them are perfectly innocuous, mentions of how great their dynamic is, how they play off each other, how easy it is to believe they actually get along (and a few side notes about other people mentioning their workplaces and the fake personas they adopt to maintain equilibrium). But then there are other comments, the ones she immediately wishes she hadn’t seen; things about how Rodric looks at her, how he’s a lucky guy for getting to work with her, some… crasser things too.

“I’ll have you know,” Mélie begins, boiling the kettle and leaning against the bench to watch her read, “I have never wanted to punch faceless internet people more than while reading some of those.”

Amicia stands in front of her, eyes on the paper, and completely understanding where she’s coming from. “People think these things about me?”

“Babe, people say these things about you. That’s my point. You’re lucky I never go with you when you’re on-location because I swear I’d get arrested.”

She closes the folder. “Can I burn this?”

Mélie laughs. “Not in the office, but my shredder is at your disposal.”

“Thanks.” She pauses in the act of leaving but turns back. “Do people say stuff like this about other people too?”

She sighs. “Yeah… they do. Ana, the weather girl from LCI, has similar comments on their feeds. It’s… awful.”

“Not you?” Amicia asks, softly, warily.

Mélie just smiles at her, a little sardonic but gentle in the way she always is. She lifts a finger and runs it over her scar. “Not me.”

“On the one hand,” Amicia begins, watching her carefully, “thank god.” Mélie laughs. “But on the other, how dare they.” Mélie’s face is easy, not upset by this and she says nothing when Amicia heads for her desk and the shredder.

 

--

 

Mélie deposits a cup of tea on her table five minutes later. Milk and sugar, just how she likes it.

 

--

 

“It’s going to be hot this coming week,” Lucas says two days later, staring dejectedly at his screen with the forecast on it. When he turns back to the camera he adds, “We’ll be hitting high thirties and perhaps even low forties towards the middle of the week, so if you’re going to be out in it, take the necessary precautions: hats, sunscreen, umbrella, stay hydrated. And if you can, stay out of the sun altogether.”

“Oof,” Rodric huffs. “Find somewhere air conditioned and stay there.”

“Or go to the park,” Lucas adds. “There are a couple of water parks that will be open this week; they’ll be packed, no doubt, but it’s a good way to cool off.”

“Lucas, will you take Arthur to the park?” Mélie asks, leaning heavily on her elbow, chin cupped in her palm. “Please?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you’re a good friend and he’s annoying?”

There’s an indignant squawk from behind the cameras where Arthur is working on lighting and audio.

“No,” Lucas goes on before Arthur can do something stupid. “I mean, why does he need to be taken to the park?”

“Because we have an air conditioner and if he’s not kept busy he’ll spend the whole week on our couch and I don’t want that,” Mélie laments, her eyes tracking her brother off camera. Amicia spots him too and isn’t surprised at all when he sticks his tongue out.

Rodric whirls on her, his expression pure betrayal. “Really?” He looks just like he expected Amicia to tell him this at some point. She shrugs instead. “Can I visit? I’m not feeling forty degrees.”

“Go to the movies,” Mélie suggests. And then she launches into her end-of-show spiel about movies; it’s harmless. They are a good way to beat the heat and several smaller theatres are running marathons through the hottest part of the day so if you can get down there it’s a great way to go. “And there’s plenty of variety, too,” she finishes. “Action marathons, or rom-coms if you need that, some comedy and if you’ve got kids on holidays right now there are several animated runs happening, including the entirety of the Little Dinosaur series.” She fixes Amicia with a pointed look and gets an eye roll. “I wanna go,” Mélie says.

“Maybe,” Amicia says when the camera pans back to her for the wrap up. “What the audience can go do instead, just by the way, is pop over to any of our social media pages and vote for our dear Mélie in the Screen Media Awards where she’s been nominated for best personality. For some reason.”

“Oh please. You know why I’ve been nominated. I’m the heart of our show.”

Without looking at each other, Amicia and Rodric both say, “That’s Lucas.”

And Mélie has the best scandalised full-body reaction to that they’ve ever seen. Which is why she’s been nominated. “Betrayal! Rodric definitely isn’t getting to experience the air conditioning then.” She pauses and adds, “Take Arthur to the park and make it up to me.”

He wrinkles his nose, but doesn’t get a chance to respond before Lucas is chiming in with, “What about Amicia?”

“What about her?”

“Harsh,” Amicia mutters.

“If Rodric has to make it up to you, doesn’t she?”

There’s a beat of complete silence before Mélie starts to laugh. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”

Lucas has his mouth open to press for more but Amicia beats him to it. “That’s it from us this morning, folks. Vote for Mélie… maybe. Be careful in the heat and have a great day.”

The monitor shows the camera pulling away from them all, featuring Mélie’s shit-eating grin and Lucas’ confused face, then the camera man does his three-two-one finger countdown and the screen fades black. Off air.

Amicia immediately turns to Lucas. “Why would you ask her something like that on camera, Lucas? You know how she is.”

“Oh? How am I, Amicia?” Mélie asks, wearing a still-offended expression.

“Absolutely shameless, Mélie.”

Lucas just blinks at them. “I don’t understand. I was just curious. It seems a bit like a double standard to have Rodric make something up to you when Amicia also said it.”

“I dare say she’ll have me make it up to her another way,” she mumbles. At the very least, it’s a relief that all Mélie does is laugh a bit more and not make the very easy comment Lucas has set her up for.

He’ll figure it out later. Or Rodric will tell him.

 

--

 

In spite of their exchange, when Mélie gets caught up with her brother fixing one of the boom mics later, Amicia brings her lunch. Of course, Arthur teases her, spouts a ‘well where’s mine?’ but Mélie just beams and invites her to watch them wrestle with unruly technology.

 

--

 

Amicia has been sitting on the sofa with her laptop for the last half hour at least. The thing about being a morning news anchor is that she’s considered by the station as less serious than the evening news, their show is more like entertainment, a cheerful good morning as opposed to the horror story of the afternoon. Which is fine, she prefers it that way. The problem she’s having at the moment is just that her station manager thinks of her team as a bit of a joke; a group he can boss around.

The email that interrupted her afternoon requests (or demands, more accurately) she and Rodric do an on-location show in two weeks from the Bordeaux Bastion to mark it’s six-hundredth anniversary. She doesn’t particularly mind being asked, it’s a good idea, just his wording irritates her.

When she writes back a suitably agreeable response, she also makes a point of saying out loud, “Sure, Khalid, whatever you want,” in the most sarcastic way she can manage.

That’s when hands drop onto her shoulders and she starts so violently the laptop nearly pitches onto the floor.

“What’s he want now?” Mélie asks, leaning over the back of the sofa to plant an awkward kiss to her cheek. “Interrupting Saturday and everything.”

“We’re going to the Bastion on the seventeenth,” she grumbles. “He didn’t even ask, just told me as much. Never asks if I have plans.”

Mélie hums, reaches around her to close the laptop. “Have you eaten?”

“What time is it?”

“After six.”

Amicia’s eyes widen and she twists around to check the clock on the oven. “Oh. When did that happen?” Mélie smiles at her in that fond way that says, ‘you’re a great fool, Amicia’ and pulls her off the chair. “What took you so long?”

“You know Arthur.” Amicia rolls her eyes because, yes, in fact, she does know him. “I stopped for groceries, also.”

She’s about to step away towards the kitchen but Amicia holds tighter to her hand, tugs her closer. Amicia is struck by the way she looks in that moment (it’s a weird moment, maybe), cheeks flushed from the sun, hair in disarray, one flannel sleeve rolled higher than the other, a twinkle in her eye that she’s never seen anywhere else. Something loose and warm swishes through her stomach and she pulls a little more on her hand. Mélie looks surprised until Amicia has her close enough to kiss properly; then she just hums low in the back of her throat.

“What’s that for?”

Amicia tilts her head. “I can’t kiss my girlfriend?” (Sometimes it still stuns her that she can do that whenever she likes. Well, except at work, anyway.)

Mélie lifts an eyebrow, twists her fingers into Amicia’s belt loops. “Thought maybe you were trying to apologise for calling Lucas the heart of our show.”

“He is,” she mutters, walking Mélie backwards towards the kitchen bench. “I was going to say something cheesy about how you’re my heart instead, but I can not do that if you’ve got something else in mind?”

When she bumps into the counter top Mélie uses her grip on Amicia’s belt loops to settle her as close as possible before kissing her jaw and humming again. The sensation sends tingles shooting down her spine. “You’re forgiven,” she mumbles. “Now how about dinner?”

It takes them a while to get there.

 

--

 

“You know,” says Rodric by way of greeting when he sinks down into his anchor seat on Monday, “I get where Mélie was coming from before. Arthur can be annoying.”

“I’m right here and I can hear you,” Arthur gripes from about five feet away where he’s fixing Mélie’s mic.

“What do you mean?” Amicia asks, sorting through her cards.

“Did you really take him to the park?” Mélie asks gleefully. She squeaks when Arthur tugs on the mic line and it pinches. “Asshole.”

“Yeah. It was nice. Apart from the bits where Arthur flirted with mums out with their children.”

“You’re just a coward,” Arthur replies. “Be in it to win it, my man.”

“Words to live by,” Mélie agrees and Amicia lifts an eyebrow.

“What exactly does that mean, Mélie?”

She receives an eye roll and the secret, soft smile that does funny things to her intestines. “Means if I wasn’t in it, we wouldn’t be dating, Amicia.”

“As I recall,” Arthur begins and gets no more words out because Mélie whirls on him and very nearly punches him full in the face. No doubt to keep him from reminding everyone that the only reason that whole thing worked out how it did is because Amicia accused Mélie of creating a ‘toxic workplace’ with all her low-key hatred and glaring, but only because she’d completely misinterpreted Mélie’s staring.

It was a less than pleasant conversation Amicia is fully glad never to have to relive. Ever.

Regardless, she feels compelled to say, “You weren’t in anything, Mélie, you’re a useless lesbian and we all know that. This was pure accident.”

Surprising her completely, Mélie’s smile tilts up into cheeky, her eyes glitter, it’s dangerous. She says, “Oh I’m hardly useless, princess.”

Arthur guffaws, high fives her. Lucas asks, “What does that mean?” and Rodric clears his throat loudly, looks away.

“You’re the worst,” Amicia sighs.

“You don’t mind.”

“You’re lucky you’re right.”

 

--

 

Mélie decides – history nerd that she is – that she’s going to accompany them to the Bastion when they go for the anniversary celebrations but she’s not there for work, technically, so when they park their assorted vehicles in the lot and pile out, she blows a kiss at Amicia and disappears. This early, the Bastion isn’t officially open yet and there are no guests milling in the parking lot, but there are plenty of cars and stalls for her to vanish behind, and she’s always been crafty like that.

“Can she be trusted here?” Rodric asks as he helps their camera man unload the equipment and begin to set up.

“She’ll be fine.”

“You’re not worried?” He looks at her like her flat tone is a testament to her insanity.

“Not particularly.”

“Why?”

Amicia shrugs. “She’s a smartass but she’s not going to start a riot or anything.”

He eyes her, hauls his backpack from the side of the car and slams the door shut. “That’s a lot of faith in someone blessed by several trickster gods.”

She laughs. “Trickster gods, maybe. But no gods of war and destruction.”

Rodric tips one eyebrow up, his smile small and knowing and fond, it takes the potential stinging disbelief from his words, “You really love her, huh?”

Amicia glances at him, surprised, momentarily forgetting the folder in her hand and allowing the paper inside to slip free and hit the floor of the car. “I…”

His other eyebrow joins the first. “You haven’t told her.” It’s not a question. But it also excludes the possibility that his first assumption was wrong.

(He wasn’t wrong, but she didn’t realise she’d been so transparent about it.)

Her heart thuds against her ribs painfully and she shakes her head, unable to speak for the lump in her throat. When she reaches down to the floor for the paper (and to escape Rodric’s knowing gaze) there’s a shake in her hand and she’s glad suddenly that he can’t see. When she pops back out of the van he’s still watching her with this strange, soft look on his face.

Amicia clutches the folder to her chest as if that will somehow protect her from what he’s said. “She’s… always been slow to open up, Rodric,” she mutters. “I…” She has to look away again.

“You don’t want to scare her, I get it.” He claps a hand on her shoulder as he walks past to grab one of the camera boxes and take it inside. “But, Amicia? She moved in with you. I don’t think this will scare her.”

She stands there and stares after him for a good three minutes before a Bastion employee comes running outside to start up a loud argument with one of the festival workers. Because it’s a serious historical monument with a rather dark past, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. And how else will kids get into history if they don’t associate it with fairy floss?

Checking her watch, she shakes herself and hurries up into the Bastion. Most everything is already set up in the foyer for their five o’clock start so Amicia just finds where Rodric has placed his stuff and drops her things down with them. He shoots her a look before turning back to helping a fellow with lighting. It’s a dark building, even in the foyer, and with the sun not quite up properly yet, it’s necessary to have a stand lamp to make sure they’re visible on camera.

“You guys ready?” asks the lead camera man. When they nod affirmatives, he gets them standing in the right places and then it’s just a countdown from thirty before the hour and they’re on air.

It’s simple enough: They do a quick run down of the history of the Bastion, get one of the historians on-site to do an interview and bring up anything exciting that happened; like when the French Inquisition kept people prisoner here during the plague in the fourteenth century. After that the Bastion is open and visitors have started filtering in. They speak with a few, go for a walk, do a rough on-air tour of the buildings with one of the tour guides, talk to a couple of kids, stop by several stalls and speak to the people tending them. Then they do the usual news segments, pass it back to Lucas in the studio for the weather and cut to a pre-recorded video essay Mélie made so she could come with today and not be stuck in the office.

They wrap up without even going over their two-hour limit which is brilliant. Normally these things take longer because the citizens aren’t scripted and they can go off on tangents or require quick cuts. But by quarter to seven they’re standing, camera free, among the stands set up around the Bastion.

Rodric shoots her a mock salute. “I’m going home. Arthur’s gonna come around and play the new Fall of Man with me.” Amicia laughs but returns his wave and once he’s been swept up by the throng, she heads off looking for Mélie.

And gets distracted.

With a camera on her, she’s never been able to get too into the things going on around her. She has to maintain her work-persona while they’re on air, but the little part of her that gets so warm and fuzzy whenever Mélie starts on about some obscure history fact she heard about once loves this stuff. There are crafters here selling things made in more traditional ways: knitting and leather work, a hatter, needlepoint, embroidery, crochet, some kind of weaving she can’t identify, hand-dyed fabrics, and a woman selling services as a seamstress. It’s so interesting poking her head into each little stall and seeing the things they can do.

She buys a little leather bag, handmade by a man with a thick moustache and crinkles around his eyes. She stops at a stand where a woman is showing miniature replica crossbows. They don’t fire, she says, but they’re perfectly accurate according to what the French Bastion soldiers would’ve used hundreds of years ago. She has tiny swords too. Amicia buys some of them as well.

She also gets side-tracked when, nearing eight, she’s reminded that it’s been over four hours since breakfast, so she follows her nose towards the nearest pleasant-smelling stall.

Luckily, she spots Mélie perched on a crumbling stone wall (that she probably shouldn’t be sitting on) with her legs kicking easily and having a conversation with a man who might be one of the stall-owners or just someone who wanted to have a chat. The line for the food-stall will take her right over to them, so she joins the queue and waits, eyes catching on Mélie more often than they should, probably, but there are no cameras here. This is personal time… almost.

By the time she’s almost reached them, she can hear some of their conversation.

“… didn’t think you’d bother,” he’s saying.

“I like history,” Mélie tells him. “It’s nice to know where we’re from, what happened to make our society this way.” Her tone is decidedly the fake work one she uses around strangers. Her customer service voice.

“So you’re off the clock then?”

She lifts her phone. “Well not technically until nine, but yes.”

“Why then? Doesn’t the morning show finish at seven?”

She shrugs. “We’re still expected to put in five hours of work a day, you know. Four to nine.”

“That’s a disgusting time period.”

“It’s not great,” she laughs. “But I’ve had worse jobs.”

Amicia loses track of their conversation while she orders. The stall is selling warm, sticky pastries in waxed paper. She doesn’t have a clue how truly authentic they are as a historical food, but they smell amazing and the quality of ingredients is probably better now than it was back then anyway so it’s likely a moot point.

By the time she’s thanked the salesperson and taken a bite of the (delicious) pastry, Mélie and her companion have moved onto a new topic: “… really think it ruins workplaces?”

Mélie scoffs. “Of course.”

He rubs the back of his neck. “My ex said the same thing.” He huffs a laugh. “Guess she was right.”

“I didn’t say don’t date co-workers,” Mélie corrects, waving a hand, “I said drama ruins everything so stay in your lane. Date who you like.”

“So then Amicia and Rodric aren’t dating, but if they were it’d be okay?”

Mélie rolls her eyes, leans back on one hand. “Didn’t say that either.”

“But better single than together?” he sounds confused and honestly Amicia is too.

She stops beside him. “You’re not listening very well,” she says. “Mélie didn’t say anything about Rodric or I being single.”

He starts and when he swings around to look at her Mélie gives her a wink and that soft, crooked smile she loves so much. Her heart thuds again, bordering painful. While she’d been on-air she hadn’t been thinking so much, but now here she stands and what Rodric said flickers back to life.

“Ah,” says the guy. “Good morning.”

“Hello.”

He extends a hand. “Patrick.”

She shakes it more out of habit than anything else. “Good morning.”

“You didn’t have much to say about that piece on workplace drama,” he prompts.

Amicia hunches one shoulder, takes another bite of her pastry to think of an answer. “Look, it’s like Mélie said: you work with someone, you’re going to get to know them, maybe even get to date them. That’s fine. But if two of my co-workers start dating that’s their business, not mine.”

“Would you do it?”

“I enjoy hearing about others but I’m not about to stick my nose into it.”

“I meant date a co-worker,” he says, laughing.

“Oh.” She pauses, eyes flick to Mélie who’s still wearing that stupid smile that makes her forget things. “Yes.” Mélie’s smile widens. “Why is this the topic we’re having?”

“He’s not a fan of history, is Patrick,” Mélie supplies.

“Shame. You’re so good at talking about history.”

Something sharp flashes through her smile. “Don’t think it’s me he wants to talk to.” Amicia hears the implication in that, but to cover it up Mélie adds, “Where’s Rodric?”

“Gone to play video games with your brother.”

“Oh, excellent. No Arthur all afternoon then?”

“I’d say so.”

She hops from the wall and steps closer, plucking the last of the pastry from her hand. “Brilliant.” And she leans in to bump their shoulders together.

It’s so easy with Mélie to forget that usually there are others around them. That used to scare Amicia, this weird gravity Mélie has that makes everything else seem unimportant. Then she realised that for some stupid reason, she seems to be the only one to know that Mélie has this magnetic super-power and perhaps even that Amicia is the only one it works on.

She’s reminded of this right now while she gets caught up staring at Mélie and the way she wrinkles her nose when she realises the pastry has raisins in it, the twitch to her lips, how the wind tugs on her hair and curls a lock across her cheek and under her chin. Her heart hammers a little harder.

Amicia stares at Mélie. But Patrick smiles at Amicia.

“Kind of rude,” he says and Amicia remembers he exists. “Can I buy you another one?”

“No thanks.” She doesn’t look away from Mélie. “What is it with you and guys, huh?”

Mélie spreads her hands. “What can I say? I just naturally ooze ‘do not talk to me’ vibes.”

Patrick shakes his head, but probably doesn’t understand what Amicia was really saying. “It’s more of a ‘one of the guys’ vibe.”

“Oof,” Mélie claps a hand to her chest. “That’s the worst insult you could’ve given me.”

“It’s not that bad surely,” he says.

“That’s true, Mélie,” Amicia agrees. “Think about it like this: no guys are going to flirt with you if those are the vibes you’re putting into the world.”

Her face scrunches up adorably. “Yeah but… I don’t wanna be one of the guys.” She gasps. “That’d make me my brother.”

Patrick has his mouth open to say something else when another guy swings around onto his shoulder. “Look who you found, Patty.” He makes no attempt to conceal the way his eyes skip from Amicia’s face and back up. “I have a camera at home if you’re interested.”

The two seconds it takes her to realise what he means by that is fortunately one second faster than it takes Mélie. Amicia catches her hand just in time to stop her from launching herself at this new fellow. And here she thought people only said things like that on the internet where they’re protected by anonymity.

His eyes flick over to Mélie but only long enough to recognise her. “You can come too,” he adds. “The more the merrier.”

A spike of anger lances down Amicia’s spine so violently that the only thing she can really do with it is take a half step forward and eject the energy into this guy’s face. Her fist connects with a satisfying crunch. He staggers back and Amicia feels something warm and soft grab her elbow. When she looks around, Mélie is holding onto her with both hands, eyes and mouth wide, caught equidistance between horrified, proud and perhaps a little bit of awe or maybe something softer (something more profound) if the stars are anything to go by.

Bitch,” the man squawks, hand over his nose.

“Do not,” she begins, heart slowing down a little now, “ever talk about Mélie like that.”

“And I thought I was gonna be the one arrested,” Mélie breathes, pulling her away from the two men and closer into her side. “That was hot,” she adds in a whisper when Amicia is close enough. And then suddenly ‘close enough’ isn’t anywhere near close enough.

She allows Mélie to tug her away from the men, to disappear them into the crowd until they re-emerge in the parking lot. Her hand is starting to throb uncomfortably, but Mélie holds it so gently until they reach her car and she has space to breathe, to inspect it, fingers impossibly careful as she prods the reddening skin.

“I don’t think I broke anything, Mélie,” Amicia says in a mumble.

“Maybe his nose, if we’re lucky,” she laughs. Her eyes are still glittering in this impossibly vast starscape when Amicia meets her gaze.

It’s infinite like the sky, the expression on Mélie’s face, and just as heart-stopping. It plugs up the breath in her lungs, presses pause on the few brain cells still functioning, it’s the gravity that draws her in and, if she lets it, might just consume her, might burst from her chest in a cascade of white-hot light. The thing is, Amicia wouldn’t mind if it did.

Mélie’s thumb brushes gently over her sore knuckles.

“I love you,” she blurts.

Immediately fear shoots through her, chasing all those nice, warm feelings away with worry. But Mélie’s smile tips up further and she pulls Amicia closer (closer, but still not close enough, never enough).

“Yeah?”

Amicia lifts her free hand to brush that stray hair out of her face. “Yes. So much it hurts.”

The fear fades when Mélie kisses her. Right there in the parking lot, kisses her like she does late at night, first thing in the morning, out of the blue in the afternoon: careful, deliberate, a promise. “I love you, too,” she exhales the words against Amicia’s mouth, and the fear vanishes completely, banished. She pulls back then, something sharp and teasing in her eyes, but transparent, hidden behind the aching fondness. “Bit mad you didn’t let me punch that guy. But yeah.” She presses her mouth to the corner of Amicia’s. “I love you.”

Somehow, the emphasis carries volumes of meaning Amicia had never thought to look for.

 

--

 

“Just in case you weren’t paying attention,” Mélie says as her introduction to her spiel a week later, “keep your nose out of other peoples’ business, alright? That’s literally how drama starts. I kinda thought I’d made that plain when I explained it the first time but listen: just because there’s a screen between you and me,” she waves a hand in front of her as if actually gesturing to the millions of viewers, “that doesn’t mean I stop being a real person. Do not be saying horrible things about other real live human beings just because you can’t touch them. They can still read and hear you.”

“Starting with a rant this morning, Mélie?” Rodric asks drolly.

“You didn’t have to hear everything that led up to this,” Amicia tells him. “Believe me. She swore a lot more the first few times we went through this.”

He pulls a face that says a lot, but she doesn’t care to read it.

Mélie rolls her eyes at them. “No, look, Amicia.” She pulls another folder from under her desk. “After we did the day at Bastion, I did some more digging and I’ve decided that people don’t see us as real folks, we’re just some abstract concepts to them.”

“I know. You’ve told me at length. Made me read some of those comments too.”

She slaps the folder onto the table. “It’s disgusting.”

Mélie stands and walks over to the anchor desk; thankfully the camera men are on point today and keep up with her. They don’t even miss a beat when she pinches Rodric on the cheek. Hard.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“We are real people,” Mélie repeats. “With real lives. We are not some set of Barbie and Ken dolls for you to smoosh together, alright? I’m sick of reading comments about us on our social media feed any time I go to post something. Our hobbies, friendships, god, our dating lives? They are not for you. This is true of everyone in media.”

“We have a legal department for this very thing, Mélie,” Lucas says.

“I know. And I took that folder to them a few days ago and they’re working on it as we speak. But I wanted to make… I guess a public call-out on the show anyway, so everyone knows that we are aware of it and we’re not having it.” She gives him a funny little smile. “After all, that’s what I do, right? News that isn’t proper news?”

“How come it’s always me you pick on,” Rodric whines, completely ignoring everything else, rubbing a hand against his cheek.

“I can’t pick on Lucas, he’s too…” Her face crunches up in that cute way she has while she looks for a word. “Well he’s Lucas. It’d be like kicking a puppy.”

“Amicia is right there.”

“She has a ‘not on-air’ policy, Rodric, you know that.” Mélie turns back to the camera. “As she should because we are here to present news and news-adjacent things to the public, not to provide any glimpses into our personal lives.”

“How is occasionally picking on Amicia a glimpse into your personal life?” Lucas asks.

Seriously, Lucas?”

“What?”

Her mouth twists wryly. “Think about it, weather boy. How does my personal relationship with Rodric differ to the one I have with Amicia?”

There’s a prolonged moment of quiet and then Lucas’ eyes widen. “Oh. Yes, I see.”

“Very good.”

 

--

 

The legal department comes up with several potential courses of action, all of which are immediately put in place. The most successful of which is a screening process for public comments. It’s a relatively simple solution that involves a filter picking out words that, if present, prevent a post from going through. Why it wasn’t in place to begin with she has no idea.

Of course, this isn’t fool-proof.

 

--

 

“I make one throw-away comment and now everyone thinks I’m dating Rodric,” Mélie huffs, flopping melodramatically across the sofa so her head lands in Amicia’s lap. “What did I do in a past life to deserve this?”

Amicia smooths a hand over her hair, running her fingers through until she reaches the band holding it in a messy bun and working it loose. “When I decided to pursue journalism, this isn’t what I had in mind.”

“Well I mean, you’re hot and you know what you’re talking about. Ending up on TV was probably the mistake.”

“Yes, maybe you’re right. Should’ve gone into print journalism.”

“Career change?”

She quirks an eyebrow at Mélie’s teasing tone. “I’m not letting those assholes win.”

Mélie laughs, low in her chest and when she sits up it’s to kiss Amicia until she forgets all about the latest comment to bypass the filter.

 

--

 

Mélie is late.

Khalid has been tapping one foot on the tiled foyer for ten minutes and Lucas is starting to look like he’d very much like to cut the foot off if that would make him stop. Most of the other staff have left already, so it’s just the three of them and Rodric waiting, now.

Amicia spots a flash of red hair through the glass door but when it’s shoved open there’s no Mélie, just Arthur. He’s wearing a nice vest over a crisp purple shirt, dark slacks and the same shit-eating grin he shares with his sister.

“I don’t believe you were invited, Mister Dubois,” Khalid says. “Where’s your sister?”

“She’ll meet you there.” He jerks his head back towards the door. “Let’s go.”

Amicia is the first to follow him out, asking, “What’s she up to, Arthur?”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

Khalid grumbles as he heads for the waiting town car, probably wondering why he trusted Mélie enough to hire her brother when she moved out from behind the camera. Arthur might be less inclined to spur of the moment stupidity, but that just means he takes the time to plan his stupidity.

Amicia is about to duck after Arthur into the car when Khalid hollers, “Buisson! Hurry up,” and she cracks her head on the frame.

Footsteps tac tac quickly across the pavement and Lucas is the last to slide into the seat on Amicia’s other side. Khalid says something low and furious to the driver but they’re still late to the venue so they forgo the front entrance where their camera crews are set up for coverage of the event and sneak in the side. There is still a man in a pristine black suit waiting to make sure they’re actually invited, though.

And that’s where they hit a snag.

Well… Amicia does. Khalid Soroush, Rodric Fabron, Lucas Buisson, even Arthur Dubois are all on the guest list (much to Khalid’s surprise). But Amicia de Rune is conspicuously missing.

“She’s one of the morning anchors,” Khalid fumes at the fellow. “How is she not on the list?”

He shrugs. “I just have the approved names, sir, not the hows and whys. And if she’s not here, she can’t go in.”

Khalid waves the other three in but continues to chew the fellow out as if he thinks that will fix it. She just lets him. The last awards night they went to was boring and she can’t say she’d be upset if they didn’t allow her in. And it is nice that Khalid is so up in arms about this on her behalf; sometimes she feels like the man doesn’t value any of them as more than simply replaceable faces to read news off a teleprompter. It’s good to know he cares at least a little.

The man shakes his head, placid, not at all worked up by Khalid’s stage yelling. “I’m sorry, sir,” he says, “she’s not here. But you should go in soon or they’ll close the doors.”

Khalid fumes some more and shoulders his way past the fellow even though there’s plenty of room around him. He stops, turns. “Sorry, Amicia. If Mélie finally decides to grace us, send her in at least.” Then he spins on one heel and storms into the main foyer where the news presenters from various stations and studios are the ones getting limelight instead of shining it on others.

“I am sorry, miss,” the man tells her.

“It’s alright. Is Mélie Dubois on there?”

He scans the list. “She is.”

She bobs her head. “At least that’s fine then. It would be awkward for her to not get an invite.”

He hunches a shoulder. “I’d say it’s awkward that you didn’t get one.”

“It’s probably just an error.”

“It’s not.”

The man looks up, over her shoulder, and Amicia turns. Standing in the doorway in a similar suit to Arthur but with suspenders over a (familiar?) blue shirt and a blazer instead of a vest, is Mélie. Amicia rolls her eyes.

“This is the mischief you got up to, I take it?” she asks, impressed that she can speak with how dry her throat is all of a sudden.

When she crosses the carpet, Mélie hooks her arm through Amicia’s elbow. “Wasn’t hard. I swapped your name with Arthur’s.”

“Why?”

“He wasn’t invited.”

“Now I’m not invited, Mélie.”

But she gets a sweet smile (the kind of sweet that definitely hints at trouble) and glances up at the fellow with the guest list. “She can come in if she’s my plus one, though, right?”

The man looks at his clipboard, flips a couple of pages and nods. “Yep. None of you officially marked your plus ones as attending but I’ll just check this off and then you’re good to go.”

He taps his thumbs against his phone screen and when he looks up it’s to smile.

“Thanks,” Mélie says, slipping past him and pulling Amicia with.

“You could’ve brought Arthur as your plus one.”

She scoffs. “I’m not quite pathetic enough to bring my brother.” Once they’re well past the guest list guy, Mélie tugs her to a stop and fixes her with that infinitely soft expression. “You look really nice, Amicia.”

She hums in reply, lifts her free hand to slide a finger under one suspender strap and use it to pull her closer. “You look pretty nice yourself.” Amicia leans in to whisper into her ear, “Is that my shirt?”

Mélie smiles, presses a slow kiss to her cheek. “If I’m gonna dress as gay as I can, it has to include an article of my girlfriend’s wardrobe. That’s just facts.”

Amicia laughs, urges her through the door into the main hall. Rodric spots them first and lifts a hand from across the room where he’s talking to someone from another studio. As she guides Mélie in his direction she asks, “Did you think of a speech for when you win?”

She huffs. “No. You know me. I’ll think of something if I win.”

“You made it!” Rodric offers Mélie a fist bump when they get close enough. “Just in time too. Khalid was about to blow a gasket so maybe find him before we go in.”

Now that they’re close enough, Amicia recognises the woman as Ana from LCI. She beams at them and says, “When I saw Mélie go off about nasty comments people make on your social media, I took some screenshots to our legal department and they’re working on it. I know a couple of girls from other shows have done the same thing, too. It’s nice that you gave us some awareness.”

“Ugh, you’re welcome, I guess, but I’m still caught on this being a thing I had to do,” Mélie says, the emotion in her tone building up to something anger-adjacent.

Amicia squeezes her arm. “How about instead of talking about the nonsense people say about us, we just try and have a good evening?”

“We could,” Ana agrees, “but I’d really like to know if there’s a way to stop this altogether. How did your filter work?”

“It went okay for a while, but people have been getting around it lately,” Mélie admits. “They seem to think it’s alright to make suggestive comments about my very obvious relationship with Rodric, now.”

Ana sighs. “I get things like that, too. When I mentioned it to Bao he got very frustrated. He’s married and people have been saying things about how I’m a homewrecker. I’ve met his wife, Yuri is lovely, she doesn’t deserve this.”

“Do people know he’s married?” Rodric asks.

“I don’t know.”

“It shouldn’t matter,” Mélie grumbles.

“We don’t owe the public any amount of our personal lives,” Ana sighs, “but if they’re going to make one up for us regardless, we might as well be open about it.”

“No,” Mélie says firmly. “Fuck ‘em.”

“Swap to print journalism then, right, Mélie?” Amicia asks her sweetly.

“Ugh,” she repeats.

 

--

 

Same as last year, the awards are mostly incredibly boring. There’s a moment where the morning news fellow from Ana’s station gets to the mic and does a very funny bit about who covers the news when the news people are the news. The word ‘news’ loses all meaning by the end of it, but that’s the only highlight.

She occupies the rest of her time fiddling with Mélie’s fingers. It distracts both of them in the worst possible way, probably, especially in public, but flanked on both sides by Rodric and Arthur, Amicia isn’t too concerned about being called out on it. Not even when Mélie turns her hand over and slides their fingers together, running her thumb slowly over her skin.

Having tuned out most of what’s been going on a while ago, Amicia is suitably surprised when Rodric jams an elbow into her ribs. Mélie’s hold on her hand tightens as Arthur jabs at her too and she squawks in response.

“Hey!”

“You’re up, loser,” Arthur says, nodding towards the stage.

“Oh. I won?”

“Not if you keep sitting there,” Rodric laughs.

Mélie has to shuffle past them to the end of the aisle, high fiving Lucas on the way, before she can trot up the steps to collect the little glass statue. “Well…” she says when the polite applause has faded away. “Thanks for this. Guess I should’ve listened when my girlfriend told me to plan something to say, huh. Thanks to my wonderful morning news squad for putting up with me, thanks to our producer, Khalid, for letting me in front of the camera, and uh… yeah.”

She hefts the statuette in one hand, waves at the camera and skips back down to their row. Once she’s seated again and the announcer has moved on to the next award, Amicia leans in.

“Your girlfriend?” she asks softly.

“Yeah. That’s you.”

“But you said it on TV.”

Mélie gives her this funny look, a little confusion mixed with the vast sparkling night sky that threatens to devour her all the time. “Yeah. Might get them to stop making comments about me and Rodric.” She shrugs. “Call it a concession.”

Amicia lifts a hand to her face, smooths some loose hair behind her ear. “I’d be okay with telling people, you know.”

She blinks. “You… really?”

“People are going to say stuff about us no matter what. Maybe not the ‘you and me together’, us, but all of us; media people.” Amicia shakes her head. “I’m not going to pretend I don’t love you just because people are assholes about personal boundaries.”

There’s this beat where Mélie’s expression is sort of dumbfounded, as if she hadn’t considered the possibility that Amicia would be okay with that, as if there’s something bigger in what she’s said that she doesn’t know about. Mélie just stares at her, searching her eyes, squeezing her hand, maybe there is something bigger.

 

--

 

She finds out the something bigger later when they’re home and Amicia is sitting in bed reading while Mélie towels her hair dry in the doorway.

“What if we break up?”

The question is asked so softly Amicia is almost not sure she really heard it. But when she looks up, Mélie’s standing there frozen, hands still, eyes scared. She’s said it without meaning to, clearly.

Amicia folds her book closed and puts it on the bedside table, pats the mattress beside her, waits until Mélie has crossed the space and sat. She’s left a gap. She never does that. Amicia shuffles around until she can hook her fingers into the waistband of Mélie’s soft sleep shorts and draw her down.

“Why would we do that?” she asks, pressing her lips to Mélie’s shoulder where her shirt has slipped.

Mélie is tense beneath her. “People do, you know. They break up, get divorced, leave.”

“They do,” Amicia agrees. She waits, but Mélie doesn’t look at her until she’s used two fingers to turn her chin. “But I won’t.”

She gets a wry smile. “Predicting the future now, are we, princess?”

Amicia curls her fingers across Mélie’s cheek and doesn’t miss the way her breath hitches or her eyelids flicker. “No. The future is unknowable, uncertain.” She brushes a kiss to Mélie’s jaw and mumbles, “This isn’t.”

The way Mélie’s fingers find the tattered hem of her shirt and clench is desperate, hopeful. “People get sick of me.”

“If I was going to break up with you for being insufferable,” she laughs. “Mélie, honey, I would’ve already done it.”

Mélie’s hands press firmer on her hips and Amicia allows herself to be guided until she has to laugh and shift her weight. In the end she has her knees bracketing Mélie’s hips and hands under her shirt, pulling her down.

“You mean that,” Mélie whispers. It is decidedly not a question.

Amicia answers anyway: “Of course.”

Mélie kisses her, fierce and relieved and says, “I love you.”

The emphasis makes sense, this time.

 

--

 

Monday morning news passes uneventfully. Rodric and Mélie share a delightful back and forth about her winning the award. Arthur hollers from off-set that she didn’t deserve it and she tells him to say that to her face so he bangs about until he’s on screen with his nose almost pressed to hers and says, “You suck and don’t deserve something so good.”

She laughs, shoves him away, makes eye contact with Amicia and smiles.

They make it through several pieces on local news, some fun things about new arrivals at the local zoo, a warning about some supermarket chain having to recall all their bananas because of insecticide contamination. Lucas shares the coming forecast with much more enthusiasm since there are no more forty-degree days in the immediate future.

Mélie even does her entire end-of-show dissection of misogyny and how it benefits from the anonymity offered by the internet without once going off on a mad tangent about anything. She even concludes with a warning to parents to keep an eye out for signs of young boys picking up phrases and ideas from both online and friend groups and how to confront that behaviour.

It’s the smoothest show they’ve done in a while. But, of course, the second Amicia thinks that, it flies off the rails.

Or – more specifically – Mélie derails it.

“That’s about it from us today,” Rodric begins and is promptly cut off by Mélie launching from her seat to join them at the anchor desk.

“Not quite, it’s not,” she says cheerily. And that, more than anything else, is what concerns her. Mélie waves a hand until the camera focuses her, then she holds that hand out to indicate Amicia. “This is Amicia de Rune,” she tells their viewers. “She’s great.”

“Mélie…” she warns. “What are you doing?”

“What we talked about the other night.”

Her eyes widen immediately. “This is a new level of insufferable.”

Mélie just shoots her a brilliant grin and a wink. “You still love me.” Rodric makes a surprised sound, eyes flick to Amicia briefly but he – smartly – holds his peace. Mélie turns back to the camera. “Like I said: she’s great. And also, she’s my girlfriend.”

Amicia’s eyes close and she sighs heavily. What can she say to that?  “Mélie,” she exhales. “You are a menace.”

When she looks up, she’s met with Mélie’s brilliant smile, equal parts mischief and something that mirrors emphasised ‘I love yous’. It’s probably not an on-air kind of expression but it’s enough to cease all her higher brain functions for the split second Mélie needs to lean over and smack a loud kiss to her cheek.

Then she’s tearing away off screen in a hail of mad cackles and all Amicia can do is holler, “Mélie Dubois!” after her as her face stains a bright red. She claps a hand over her eyes and waits for Rodric to conclude the show.

“Well…” he says, uncertainly. “I think now we’re done for this morning. Thank you and have a wonderful day.”

There’s the usual moment of delay while the cameras pan out, count down and black screen. Amicia doesn’t look up until Rodric gives her a gentle shake to her shoulder. His face is probably at least half as red as hers.

“Did you know she was going to do that?”

“Nope.”

His expression is worried. “Are you… Um…” He clears his throat. “Sorry, it’s just… How mad are you at her?”

Amicia exhales. “The usual amount. Why?”

“I…” Whatever he wants to say, he’s clearly not sure whether it’s a good idea. It takes her a long minute to figure out what he means.

When she does, she starts laughing. “I’m not going to break up with her, Rodric, relax. Your pleasant workplace is safe. Or… safe as possible with both Dubois here.”

He huffs out a heavy sigh. “Okay. I didn’t want to… thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet. This is the first Khalid is hearing about this.”

On cue, they both jump when Khalid yells something and comes storming into the studio. “You’re what?” he shrieks.

“Oh, calm down, bossman,” Arthur drawls. “They’ve been together for years. This isn’t even news.”

Years?” His voice hits that dogwhistle pitch that makes Lucas uncomfortable and out of the corner of her eyes, Amicia can see him slinking away. Khalid swings around to glare at Amicia. “Years?” he repeats.

“Since before Arthur was hired, sir,” Amicia tells him. “Back when Mélie was still doing behind-the-scenes.”

His jaw saws open. “That’s… two years… and then some. How did…?”

She shrugs. “We’re at work.”

“This is Amicia’s ‘not on-air’ policy, sir,” Rodric chimes in.

Khalid flounders. “But…”

“There’s no station policy against dating co-workers, you know,” Mélie says from the side door Lucas had disappeared through. “I checked.”

“How many people knew about this?”

Rodric lifts a hand and so does Arthur, several of the other crew members do as well and Mélie has the audacity to throw Lucas under the bus too.

Khalid deflates, his anger whooshing out of him with a long exhale. “Fine. Whatever. It’s not as bad as our anchor punching a citizen while still on the clock,” he huffs.

“You did what?” Arthur asks Rodric in a high-pitched whine.

Rodric lifts his hands. “Not me.”

They both turn to Amicia. “Look. In my defence, that guy was being inappropriate with Mélie. What else was I going to do?”

“The professional thing is to ignore it,” Khalid tells her.

“I’ll do my best to remember that for next time,” she assures him.

He tosses both hands in the air and stalks out with another huff.

“So we’re not getting in trouble?” Mélie asks quietly.

“We don’t appear to be.”

“Excellent.” Mélie slides up onto the edge of Amicia’s desk and tips down to smile at her. “Am I getting in trouble?”

She sighs. “No. I just wish you’d given me a warning.”

Mélie leans in closer. “That’s no fun,” she says, presses a softer, more earnest kiss to her cheek. “But I am sorry for springing it on you.”

“Yeah, alright. Buy me dinner.”

Laughing, Mélie pulls her to her feet. “You got it.”