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Hook, Line, Sinker

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Each time Julia wakes up through the day, Carmen is nearby. Twice, she's at the desk in the corner, typing away and quietly talking - to Player, Julia assumes, given Carmen seems to be researching.

The third time, Carmen is napping beside her. Julia takes that moment to analyse her face. She's done it before - every night they've been together, really - but she always notices something else to file away in her mental map. Today, it's the fact that there's the smallest of scars on her jaw - a slender strip of slightly-paler skin. It's old, well-healed, and precision-perfect.

Julia wants to reach out to touch it, but she stays where she is, closing her eyes and trying to fall asleep again.

It works, because the next time she wakes up, it's to a too-dark room. There's a flash of panic that flares up from the pit of her stomach, but Julia swallows it down. She counts to twenty, and then grabs her glasses and gets out of the bed.

She stumbles across the room and toward the bathroom, carefully feeling her way. Luckily the rug sits perfectly on the wooden floor or else she probably would have fallen straight into a display case featuring Emporer Meiji's bust.

The light floods the bathroom. Julia gulps a few breaths and steadies her trembling fingers - everything is fine. Everything is perfect. She's in America, not stuck in an endless loop of airports. She's in California, not Poitiers. Not an interrogation room.

The bathroom seems newly-cleaned; Julia wonders if that was one of Carmen's tasks while Julia slept. There's a fresh towel folded neatly next to the glass shower, and some clothing. Julia lets out a breath. Everything is fine. Everything is perfect.

She showers, half-guiltily trying out three different body washes and two different shampoos. There's one that smells like Carmen - something foreign, a little spicy. Julia passes over that one and goes for the softer scents.

The strangness of the new surroundings extends to the bathroom counter. It's lined with more products than Julia has ever seen in a personal bathroom. Granted, a lot of it is for her hair; curling creams, frizz smoothing oils, heat protectants, split-end serums... Staring at all of it makes Julia very, very happy in her choice to keep short hair.

She dresses in the supplied tee and leggings. The tee would be too large even on Carmen - as it is, it hits Julia mid-thigh. The leggings - tight enough to not make her look like a child dressing in her mother's clothing - are soft and fleece-lined, perfect for the chilly warehouse-turned-home.

Julia noses around a bit more, checking under the sinks and poking through towels and hair devices. Julia shakes her head, baffled at how difficult it is for the woman to maintain her hair. It's gorgeous, though, so Julia makes herself a promise: never mention how bizarre and tiring Julia finds it all.

When she steps out of the bathroom, she finds Carmen on the bed with her legs folded beneath her. The track lighting along the ceiling spills warm light, pushing the oppressive shadows away. Carmen glances up from the laptop she's working on, and then abruptly hops off of the mattress. "Come on; you have to see this."

Julia has never been a fan of the 'come look at this' trope, but Carmen's eyes are sparkling with mischief. Carmen presses a finger to her lips and opens the bedroom door.

They don't go far - just to the lip of the living area. The television is on and playing some kind of sitcom. On the couch, Devineaux is laying with his arms around a throw pillow, mouth open in an unabashed snoring fit. His long limbs sprawl up and drape over the arm of the couch.

Julia has to cover her mouth in the mix of emotions. Somehow the sight of her always-moving partner so vulnerable is adorable and hilarious in equal measures. It's even better that he's drooling a bit. "He looks so calm. And ridiculous."

"I already took pictures," Carmen whispers, biting her lower lip and trying not to laugh. "I figured we could use them at some point when he gets too much. Embarrass him into silence."

Julia nods, uncovering her mouth enough to reply, "It would work."

"One more thing," Carmen adds, nodding for Julia to follow her. They pass through a large metal door - something that used to be for receiving shipments, she guesses - and into a sunset.

"Oh," Julia whispers, overcome for a moment. She's seen the sunset over the ocean before, of course. There was Cuba. There was Blockhouse Herbaudiere the summer before university. She and her mother ate sandwiches on the beach - promptly getting bombarded by seagulls - and watched the sunset. It didn't look like this one, though. It was dark and intense, harsh blues meeting bursting reds and orange.

Red skies at night, shepherds' delight. It's a good sign, Julie, her mother had said even though there was no proof to make such a statement.

Julia wonders what her mother would say about this sunset with its pastels, the blues turning to purple, to pink, to muted orange.

"Welcome to the west coast," Carmen says, crossing the pavement to the bulwark, hopping down onto the small patch of silty bank. Julia follows her to the water. They sit quietly on a rock that looks out of place. Something Carmen put out here, probably, considering she vid-called Julia every night that she was in San Diego.

"No more video calls," Julia realises aloud.

Carmen glances at her, a grin tilting her lips. "I mean, I could vid-call you from the other room if that's what you're into."

Julia looks up at the sky as if asking for patience. She loves it, though, and Carmen knows it. The auburn-haired woman wraps an arm around her back, pulling her in.

Just as the sun sinks below the water, Julia's stomach protests the lack of food. Carmen starts, surprised, and then laughs. "Chase had a similar reaction when he woke up. I picked up some pizza, but it's definitely cold by now."

"Cold pizza is fine," Julia insists, getting to her feet and scaling the breakwater.

Carmen trots ahead and into the kitchen, always one to do everything herself. The pizza boxes are half-decimated; Devineaux's doing. Julia doesn't care that the cheese is congealed and the thin crust is a bit soggy in the middle. Anything aside from aeroplane food is close to a delicacy at this point.

Carmen cleans up the leftovers - for something to do, no doubt - and Julia watches. She makes coffee in an industrial-sized maker, puts leftovers in the fridge, and then cleans the mostly-spotless counter for longer than necessary.

She's nervous, and that makes Julia nervous. "W-where are the others?" Julia asks just to put something in the air. "Ivy, Zack, Player, and..." she baulks on Shadowsan's name, realising that she knows very little about the man. Carmen has always been secretive about him.

Carmen clears her throat. "Shadowsan. He's out...they're all out, actually. Well, Player doesn't live here, but the others are out. They figured that you two might need a night to...adjust."

There's something else there, an awkwardness to her tone. Julia furrows her brows. "Is something the matter?"

Carmen glances up, a deer in headlights. She fakes a smile - it's too bright and involves too many teeth. "No! No. I was just thinking - I should probably give you a tour, right? I mean, you've seen most of the fun places, but we have a gym! And a garage -- but you saw that. We could watch a movie? Not out here, obviously, because of Chase. But we could in my bedroom?" She hesitates, blinks. "Our bedroom."

Julia is getting progressively more worried. "Carmen, what is it?"

Carmen bites her lower lip. "I guess I never really expected any of this..." she waves her hand around, "to happen. You. Here."

"And certainly not Devineaux?"

"That is an understatment."

Julia doesn't know how to feel about the admission. She's torn between being hurt and being understanding. Julia hardly believed this would happen, either, but she doesn't understand the panic buzzing behind Carmen's eyes. "I can have my own room if-"

"No, no," Carmen shakes her head; the panic seems to be rising. "It's not that. I'm just...new to this."

Julia finishes her pizza; it's sitting like a rock in her belly. "We should watch a movie," Julia smiles, trying to keep the sting off of her face. She's always been too expressive.

Carmen lets out a little breath and nods. "Right. Um...if you want to go pick something out on the computer? I'll get the coffee."

Julia escapes the tension in the kitchen, sliding onto the bed and pulling the laptop toward her. Part of her expects to see a series of documents pulled up - webpages, research, communication between herself and her team. Instead, it's the home screen. Julia admires the picture, the ancient scrawled paintings along a cave wall in France.

Carmen enters the bedroom with two massive mugs, setting Julia's on the end-table before going to her side. Wiggling onto the bed beside her, Carmen glances at the screen. "Ever been?"

"Lascaux? No," Julia sighs, looking at the shapes of lumbering beasts with longing. "I would love to see it up close. Can you imagine how many generations added to these paintings? Ages and ages." She glances at Carmen; the redhead is less tense now, but her shoulders are still tight, her gaze still guarded.

Julia shifts a little closer; Carmen stiffens a little more.

And then Julia realises what's happening. Carmen is usually excellent at hiding her anxiety, but her control has slipped considerably around Julia. Julia can hear her breath when it softly hitches. She notices the way that Carmen's fingers twitch on the bedspread. The way Carmen's eyelids hood over her stormy eyes.

Julia closes the laptop; the snap of it makes Carmen jolt, eyes raising again, surprised and confused.

"I have a different idea," Julia begins, the words coming out even though she isn't sure if she wants them to. She closes her eyes and tries to think of something to cover with - let's go to the gym? - but they won't come.

Working out won't help this kind of tension. This tension is entirely because they're living together, sharing the same space, and yet they've never...

It all makes so much sense that Julia lets out a soft laugh. Every time they've spent the night together, something came up. Julia being sick. Carmen being injured. Julia's mother interrupting their romantic holiday. Exhaustion that Julia is beginning to suspect was more nerves than anything else.

Julia gets to her knees, her brain warring with what she should do. She ignores the way her fingers start to tremble and how dry her throat has gone. She ignores how strange Carmen looks - confused, terrified, hopeful.

Julia pushes Carmen back into the short headboard, straddling her hips and pulling the woman into a kiss. Carmen reacts immediately, and it's by placing her hands on Julia's waist, tugging her closer, her mouth seeking and overwhelming.

"There are too many clothes," Julia whispers when she pulls back from Carmen's lips, while she pulls the tent-sized shirt off of her and shudders in the chilly air. Carmen's eyes leave Julia's, and her expression is enough to make Julia's flush go from awkward to smug in a second. Carmen looks out of her depth but entirely okay with it.

Julia's quite enjoying this table-turning. When she leans down to secure another kiss, Carmen's fingers - so warm, so firm on her back - skim up her spine, sharply drawing her in.

The table-turning doesn't last long; Carmen re-enters the situation with an ease that puts Julia to shame. She flips Julia over with a simple leg motion, rocking her hip and tossing Julia over the other. Julia lands and blinks at the ceiling for a moment, trying to catch her bearings.

"You need to teach me how to do that," she says finally.

Carmen's laugh is more like a purr when she descends onto Julia, mouth tracing a path from her lips to her jaw, neck to collar bone, her hands mapping out Julia's body with caresses and tweaks. Julia thinks she might die before the woman loses her shirt. "Too many clothes," Julia repeats, but it comes out breathy and overwhelmed.

Carmen bites her lower lip, trying to suppress her ever-growing smile. "You sure? It almost sounded like you wanted a sparring lesson."

Julia scrunches her nose at the woman, trying her best to sound displeased but failing. "If these leggings are still on in ten seconds-"

Carmen steals more kisses, one hand supporting her while the other sweeps downward.

 



A yell wakes Julia, forcing her out of bed in a panic. The yell turns into an annoyed shout, and then laughter. More laughter. Boston accents, the sound of scrambling feet. It sounds like something is forcefully hurled against a wall somewhere in the main room. More laughter. A burst of music.

Julia catches her breath before sinking back onto the bed. Zack and Ivy - because it can only be them - abruptly change from bantering to singing. Julia blinks at the door, both curious and reluctant to discover the goings-on.

It's an entirely new life. One she never prepared for.

First step. Glasses. Julia has to clean them for longer than usual, the stubborn smudges taking much more effort than expected. Julia never had that problem before Carmen rolled into her life like a tsunami. The thought makes her grin.

Next step, she tells herself, clothing. She finds her discarded shirt and leggings at the end of the bed in a crumpled heap. And then a pair of slippers that Julia decides she's 'stealing' when she feels how soft they are.

Taking a deep breath and steeling herself for a very awkward reunion, Julia opens the door. The music is coming from the kitchen - so is the singing. Julia stands a little taller, heeps her chin up, and strolls toward the noise.

Zack is the first to notice her when she comes around the corner into the sprawling kitchen. "Hey!" he announces from where he is putting breakfast egg rolls together. "She is alive!"

"She had a long day yesterday, leave her alone," Ivy scolds. Her smile is a little too knowing, and Julia reads between the lines of what she's insinuating.

Carmen glances over her shoulder from where she is sautéing things at the stove. Her grin softens when she meets Julia's eyes. "Zack, you're up to bat; season these and keep them moving," she announces, tossing the spatula toward the man.

"Carm!" he grunts in anguish, trying to grab the spatula, tripping over his own feet. He nearly hits his head on the counter, but he catches the utensil. That's something. "Ah-hah!" he announces triumphantly, holding the spatula aloft.

"You're such a moron," Ivy informs him before turning back to Julia. "So, you're here! Kinda weird, huh?"

"A little," Julia admits. She's about to thank Ivy and Zack for being so accommodating with the sudden situation. Before she can, Carmen takes her hand and spins her to the music, pulling her back into an airy sway of her own creating.

"It's too early in the morning for this much sap," Ivy laughs, but her tone is anything but displeased. She turns to the stove, hip-checking Zack out of the way. "You're gonna burn 'em! Who manages to burn vegetables on low heat?"

Julia would definitely burn vegetables on low heat, but she keeps this to herself, instead shyly grinning at Carmen.

"Morning," Carmen says, spinning her in a tight circle, drawing her in so that her back is to Carmen and Carmen's arms envelope her waist.

"Good morning," Julia replies, feeling her ears heat. She turns her head to bump Carmen's nose with her own.

"Oh, God! Zack, how much salt did you add?!"

"Carm said to season it!"

"With real seasoning, bro! Salt ain't real seasoning!"

Julia bites her cheek to stop from laughing and ruining the moment, but Devineaux takes care of that for her. His footsteps on the stairs result in the siblings going silent, curiously and hesitantly turning their attention away from the stove.

Carmen, for her part, loosens her grip on Julia. Devineaux stops on the top level, taking in the proximity the two have, and sighs. "This music is terrible," he announces before continuing his path. He is stiff-limbed, uncomfortable in his new surroundings, but he still flaunts unearned confidence like a cloak.

Carmen spins Julia out again; this time, she releases her hand so that Julia is face-to-face with Devineaux when his feet hit the main floor.

Julia blinks at him, and then at Carmen. Carmen winks and returns to the stove. "How's -- oh God, why is the cabbage so dark? How did you burn it on low heat?"

"That was all Zack. You passed him the flippy thing."

"Ivy was distracting me!"

A cacophony of noise breaks through the space; a clatter of pans, a splash of something upending, and Ivy moaning, "Oh my God, can we make it through one morning without me gettin' goop on my socks?"

Devineaux stares at Julia, and Julia stares at him. Finally, she murmurs, "We should...talk."

Devineaux looks toward the kitchen. Now that the siblings have noticed him, they are eyeing with scepticism. He seems to decide that Julia's uncomfortable talk will be better than the one in the kitchen. "It sounds as if breakfast is delayed, anyway."

Julia turns toward the living area, sitting down and angling toward Devineaux when he relaxes on the other end. "We haven't exactly spoken since..."

"Since we turned our backs on everything we stand for?"

Julia frowns at him. "Sérieusement? You intend to keep this up?"

"I am keeping nothing up!" He seems to realise how absurd the response is because he waves his hand and continues, "I am here now; I may have no choices, but that does not mean I don't have opinions, and I will voice them!"

"Arrêté!" Julia begs a little too loudly. It stuns Devineaux - it evidently stuns everyone in the kitchen, too, because Ivy clears her throat and someone turns the music louder.

"You are being stubborn, arrogant, and you won't listen," she continues, emboldened.

"Excuse-moi?!"

"Why did you even come here with me if you planned on being such a bull?"

"You are my partner, and I could not let you run headlong into danger!"

"I'm not in danger!"

"And how was I to know that?!"

"Because I told you so!" she groans, voice breaking. Devineaux blinks at her, stunned; she lowers her voice, trying to catch herself from going too far. "You say we are partners. You say you trust me with your life. And yet, the moment-" she pauses to maintain her cool, to breathe. "The moment Carmen is mentioned, you fly into another manic episode." 

He doesn't answer her. Julia composes herself before asking, "What is it about her that makes you this senseless?"

"She is the torment of my life," he finally mutters.

"Well, she's possibly the love of mine," Julia mumbles. Her cheeks feel hot, and she's so glad that the music in the kitchen deafens the others.

Devineaux shakes his head, looking toward the windows, toward the view of the bustling bay, the ships hovering, loitering. "This is not easy for me, Ms Argent."

"No one is asking you to fall in love with this situation, but I am asking you to hear them out. I am asking as your partner." She reaches out to cover his hand with hers. "And, as cliched as this is - I am asking as your friend."

Devineaux scoffs, but the sound is soft, stifled.

"You promised to be my mentor all that time ago - do you remember? To take me under your wing?" she presses. "If you meant that, then be here for me...just as I will be here for you."

Devineaux's Adam's apple bobs with a thick swallow. He finally meets her gaze. "For you, I will go along with this insanity for a while longer." He gives her hand a small squeeze, one of the few moments of real emotion he's shown her, before getting to his feet.

"This music is terrible!" he shouts.

"So's your bedhead, but we didn't say anything about that!" Zack calls back.

Julia covers a laugh while Devineaux sputters, Ivy turns the music down, and Carmen collects plates from a cabinet.

A blur of motion on the stairs catches Julia's eye. A man, wraith-silent, comes down the steps, his lined brow creasing further upon seeing her. "Julia Argent," he says, voice rumbling. It sends a pleasant chill down Julia's spine.

"Shadowsan."

He stares at her for a moment before giving a deep nod of his head. "I have heard much about you. It is good to finally meet."

"A-and you," Julia stammers out, unable to come up with something better. He's quite intimidating in spite of wearing a pair of slacks that look designed for a round of golf.

"I believe I heard your partner shouting?"

Julia winces. She somehow forgot about the impending disaster that might erupt when Devineaux lays eyes on Shadowsan. "You did. I think he's calmed down now, but..."

"He will no doubt change that upon seeing me."

"Probably, yes," Julia offers a weak smile. She isn't ready for another shouting fit. "He is in the kitchen."

Shadowsan raises a brow at her - it's a very Carmen expression, and Julia has to wonder if she picked it up from him during their time with VILE. "Would you like to come along?"

Julia thinks about it and then gets to her feet. Why the hell not? It's not like sitting out here will save her from the shouting. "Of course."

It doesn't take that long to come into view of the airy kitchen, and it takes even less time for Devineaux to go red. "You!"

Shadowsan crosses his hands behind his back, watching while Devineaux gets to his feet and gapes. "Inspector Chase Devineaux," Shadowsan murmurs.

"Shadowsan!" Carmen groans as she turns from the crackling oil on the stove. "You promised you'd let me handle the introductions."

"I was hungry, and you were taking too long."

Carmen purses her lips at him, brows furrowing. Shadowsan is impassive. She rolls her eyes and offers Devineaux a reassuring smile. "He's a turncoat, too, Chase."

"He abducted me!"

"With very, very good reason?" Ivy tries, wincing as the words leave her mouth.

"Yeah! I mean, VILE kinda thought you were workin' with Carm, so..." Zack trails off, eyes turning from his sister to Carmen. Imploring.

"Bonne raison?!" Devineaux sputters.

Julia steps beside Devineaux - who is now clenching his fists. It's a common thing for him, a reaction that Julia can read with little problem. "Zack, would you mind helping Carmen?" Julia asks, easing him away from Devineaux, giving the man room to breathe.

He's panicking. She's never seen him quite so agitated before - he is face-to-face with one of his kidnappers, though, so she supposes it makes sense. "Sir," Julia presses gently, stepping slightly closer. When he doesn't react, she places a hand on his elbow.

"I apologise for how things happened," Shadowsan murmurs. He is at ease - Devineaux's stance doesn't concern him. Considering what Carmen has told her about her mentor, Julia supposes it makes sense. "I had no intention of hurting you."

"And that beast of a woman you were with? Did she also have no intention of hurting me?"

"She had every intention of hurting you." Devineaux's eyes narrow a little more, but one of his fists loosens. He's listening; Shadowsan gives a small nod, perhaps a motion of acknowledgement, of thanks for his posture loosening. "Coach Brunt intended to bring Carmen back to the island and re-train her. Repurpose her, perhaps."

"Repurpose?" Julia asks.

"Shadowsan, not now," Carmen murmurs.

Julia casts her open incredulity at the redhead. "Not now?"

"She would be mind-wiped," he replies, eliciting a groan from Carmen. The redhead returns to frying breakfast, but her stance is rigid. "Placed back into the community, but imprinted with a code phrase. Possibly a custom-recorded soundwave, something impossible to duplicate. With that, she could be reactivated in the event VILE had..." he pauses. His face is blank, but his jaw sets in a sharp, displeased line. "In the event that they had use for her again."

"Impossible," Devineaux replies, but Julia knows him better than that. She knows he believes it somewhere beneath the years of corrosive scepticism.

"They've done it before," Carmen murmurs from the stove, still not turning around. Using tongs, she removes the egg rolls from the pan, setting them on a rack to drip and cool. "My best friend from VILE. They tossed him aside."

Julia hasn't heard this story, which is strange. She assumed she heard about all of Carmen's close relationships. "Is he...?"

"As far as I know, he's still a regular 20-something in Australia."

Shadowsan's hawk-eyed attention has not shifted from Devineaux. "I intended to join Carmen the night she escaped, but things...became confused. We thought you were an ally of hers, given your knack for interrupting VILE's missions and the obvious closeness between Carmen and Ms Argent."

Julia blinks. In retrospect, she supposes she did have a weakness for the woman from the getgo. Thinking about it now, she's surprised Devineaux never noticed.

"Say that I believe you," Devineaux presses. "Say that this implausible story is correct. Why did you not free me?"

"I was there for Carmen first and foremost. I would not have allowed Brunt to hurt you if I could help it, but I was not about to let Carmen slip away from me a second time."

Julia's eyes go to the redhead. She's watching Shadowsan with a peculiar expression on her face, but it slides away when she clears her throat. " Chase, I know this isn't...great. I know you don't trust any of us-" Devineaux gives a wry laugh, "-but we aren't going to hurt you. You're one of us now, come hell or high water."

"Or if you backstab us," Ivy adds. Her arms are crossed over her chest, and her tee shows off the muscles cording through them. "In which case..."

"No threats during breakfast, please?" Carmen weakly begs. "Look! I made breakfast egg rolls! Who doesn't like breakfast egg rolls?"

"Breakfast!" Zack proclaims, waving a hand at the food. "Breakfast is way more important than this chest-puffing!"

"I have something else to say," Shadowsan intones.

Carmen blows a piece of hair from her eyes with unadulterated exasperation. "Shadowsan, please, not now? Can't we just-"

But Shadowsan continues, his unchanging gaze focusing on Devineaux. "I appreciate all you have done for Carmen in bringing Ms Argent here. I appreciate all that you gave up in a moment of selfless compassion."

Julia is surprised at this - she really expected him to -

And then he does what Julia expected. "However. I will not fully trust you with Carmen until you prove yourself to me. Until you do that, you will go nowhere near Carmen's missions."

Carmen makes a huge show of plating the breakfast rolls and loudly depositing them on the island countertop.

"You will assist me on my mission until I deem you worthy of working beside her during run-ins with ACME."

Devineaux sputters. "She is a thief!"

"Hey!" Ivy snaps.

Carmen physically inserts herself between Devineaux and Shadowsan. "Cool it." Julia isn't sure which of them she's talking to, but both men go quiet. Shadowsan is as peaceful as a stream; Devineaux is red-faced and ready for a fight. "We're all on the same side - right, Chase? We're all going to be a big happy crime-stopping squad?"

Devineaux says nothing.

"And you trust my judgement, right, Shadowsan? Until the end of the line?"

Shadowsan gives a deep nod.

"So everyone calm down, enjoy the gorgeous morning, the uplifting music, and have egg rolls."

"This music is terrible," Devineaux mumbles.

Carmen raises a brow at Julia; Julia dutifully steps in, gently thumping Devineaux's upper arm. "You're being a bull."

"I like her," Zack grins, loading a plate down with small, fried rolls. "I like you. You're gonna fit in just fine."

"'Course she is," Ivy says from where she's leaning against the countertop. She reaches over and snags a roll from her brother's plate, turning the song up with her free hand. She and Carmen proceed to loudly serenade each other while Devineaux - grumpy but acquiescing to his new teammates' requests - reaches for a plate and an egg roll.

 


 

The jetlag is terrible; Julia is still feeling it later that week. Even so, Julia manages to rouse from a mid-day nap when Carmen prods her. "You awake?"

"I am now," she helplessly moans. She presses her face into the pillow and grumbles; Carmen laughs and leans in, nuzzling her cheek. "I want to show you something."

"Is it another sunset?"

"Nope - something more tangible."

That piques her curiosity enough to get out of bed. She finally went shopping, so she slips into a new outfit. It's nice to be in something that fits properly after three days of wearing Carmen's clothing.

The air is sea-scented and thick with mid-summer. Julia walks alongside Carmen, not sure on the etiquette of public affection. They've never talked about it - never had to. It was a given that they keep their relationship as quiet as possible.

But she supposes it doesn't matter anymore.

Carmen seems to read her mind because her fingers lace with Julia's, thumb rubbing against her knuckles. Julia glances at her feet and bites her cheek, too pleased to speak.

They don't walk far - about four blocks - before they come to a corner park. It's relatively small, but freshly-planted bushes and flowers spring up around the exterior. In the middle of the park are large planters of new sprouts and trellises.

"A community garden," Julia realises aloud.

"I thought it would be a little more practical than a private Babylon on our roof. The trees would probably draw some attention."

Julia can't focus on Carmen's quips. "You did this?"

"Why do you think I kept asking you to ask your mom for gardening tips?"

Julia swallows and takes in the surroundings. Count on Carmen Sandiego to take on such a task for her community. And for Julia. "C'est parfait," she whispers, her heart choking her throat. Oh, hell, her eyes are burning. "If you make me cry, Ms Sandiego-"

Carmen tilts Julia's face up and dutifully distracts her from the overflowing love crowding her heart.