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It was as though acknowledging their inebriation had suddenly altered the mood in the air between them. There was a lighthearted tension there, they’d both felt it building. And now their eyes had caught each other’s gaze several extra times, their smiles lingering a few seconds too long on each occasion. The flirty territory that had spanned the length of dinner had reached its boundary. The next expanse lay uncharted before them.

Jess flagged down the waiter. With the pretty new girl’s eyes still following her every move, Jess was only one beat faster, sliding the little check book quickly towards herself, replacing it with her credit card tucked inside. Kayla gave her a halfhearted, disapproving look, retracting her own hand and card back to the purse in her lap. A smile rapidly reformed across her lips, though, and Jess couldn’t help the one widening on her own. “What?”

Kayla’s eyes fell briefly on the member of the waitstaff swooping by to grab the bill. Then, leaning forward on the table gently, she found Jess’s hand with her own. She bounced her fingertips playfully across Jess’s knuckles. ”I want...” she grinned down at the hand on the table. It had interrupted her thoughts, turning over and snatching her fingers in its palm. Kayla raised her eyes to meet Jess’s. They smiled stupidly at each other. “Yes?” Jess waited.

“I want you to take me home with you.” Kayla couldn’t meet the other woman’s eyes then, and she found herself looking at their hands now casually splayed out on the table, stealing anxious glances up at Jess’s face.

Finally Jess mustered a reply, her expression losing all goofiness and becoming completely sober. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph...and the rest of your high holy friends- YES.”

To Kayla’s relief, their eyes reconnected and there was enthusiasm and reassurance in Jess’s gaze. Kayla released a nervous chuckle. The hand tightened around her fingers. Jess inhaled sharply. “Iwouldtrulylikenothingmore.” She added this in a rapid tone of suave silliness that seemed to Kayla a uniquely Jess quality. Kayla chuckled again, less nervous now.

Jess didn’t need to work hard to remember the rest of the evening. Kayla had stolen Jess’s phone in the Uber, a brief wrestle for control of the device before Jess conceded defeat and the younger woman triumphantly typed in her phone number.

The brief tousle through Jess’s apartment lobby continued down the hall and up the elevator, the pair intoxicated as much by the prospect of this new exploration of each other as by the early evening’s drinks.

Jess couldn’t work her keys when they reached the apartment door, and Kayla slid an arm around her waist to better reach the doorknob, succeeding nearly effortlessly first try, and pulling away in a small fit of laughter. Jess was still too stymied by Kayla’s nonchalant contact with her midsection to take offense. Instead she turned the key the rest of the way and let herself fall backwards into her apartment. As if on cue Kayla matched her pace, stepping forward and grabbing the door, which she pushed out of her way before clicking it shut behind her. Then, there in the dark foyer, the two simultaneously pounced. Jess gripped Kayla’s face in her hands possessively as Kayla’s fingers slid across Jess’s cheeks and into her hair. A frenzied few moments ensued, interrupted only by gasps for air and the shuffling in position of feet.

Somehow they managed to remain upright down the entrance hall til they reached Jess’s bed. Then Kayla tossed them down, delighted with herself for discovering the location of Jess’s most crucial piece of furniture. She hovered over her hostess, still kissing her hungrily. Jess felt Kayla gently pull her hair from its bun. Unhook her glasses from behind her ears. Kayla parted their lips and pulled away to gaze at Jess. Their eyes had adjusted to the dark, and they could just make out each other's expectant faces inches apart. Kayla toyed with Jess's hair until she’d laid out all the older woman’s curls to ring her face.

“Oh my God, why wear it up? I mean look at you! Look at you,” Kayla murmured this softly into Jess’s ear.

“Name two people at our job who deserve to see me like this,” Jess retorted with an impish grin and dramatic flourish of her hand across her face, letting it come to a rest on the small of Kayla’s back above her. She inched her index finger under the fabric of the clothing and traced circles on skin until she felt Kayla shiver.

“Hmmm...I can think of three: Me, myself, and I.” With this quip Kayla lowered herself back onto Jess’s lips, but Jess had had enough of the direction this was heading.

More forcefully now, both of Jess’s hands suddenly found the small of Kayla’s back and took hold. Jess reciprocated the kiss hard, and slowly rolled Kayla’s hips off of her. Allowing her own body to follow, she easily pinned her guest to the mattress. Kayla’s lips released Jess’s. She slowly opened her eyes to look at the woman on top of her as she hiked her thigh between Kayla’s legs. Jess was staring intensely back down at her.

Kayla’s breath caught in her throat and she gave her best smile. “God you’re so gorgeous,” Jess murmured. She leaned in and touched her lips to Kayla’s neck. “You...” She tried to respond, but as Jess’s hands slipped under her clothes she found her voice useless. Only a soft whimper, full of desire, protruded...

“Carr!”

The pen Jess had been biting down on a little too harshly flew from her mouth, the cap bouncing across the cubicle. Ron stood leaning against the partition, eyeing Jess quizzically.

“Yes! Sir. Yessir.” In one swift jerking motion Jess retrieved her writing accessory and was again upright at her desk. She rested her chin on a fist and tried to convince Ron that he held her complete attention. As an afterthought, she crossed her legs. Tightly.

“Sorry if I startled you. I know you’re busy.” Ron raised one eyebrow as he sipped from the coffee mug he’d been holding midair while witnessing the spectacle before him.

“No, no. What’s up, Ron? Always time for you.” Jess made an effort to appear nonchalant as she minimized the email tab on the computer screen behind her. The one with the new message that had upturned her whole inbox that morning. Upturned all her thoughts until Ron intruded into them.

“Did Rachel mention we’re all going for drinks tonight? Always more fun when you come along.”

“Ah, uh, no, she didn’t.” Jess didn’t remember an invite, anyway. Maybe it was in an email she hadn’t opened yet because of...

“Well can you make it? Would love to have you on my trivia team. We killed it that one time.”

Jess thought about her coworkers. Aside from the newbies like Rachel and Ron, the only other people still working in O’Reilly’s production were ass kissing hypocrite sell outs like herself. That reminder was almost too much to bear.

“I have a ton to do tonight, should probably stay late if I want to be even halfway to caught up for the morning.” A flat out lie. Which sucked because Ron was a nice guy. Fox needed more Rons. Less Rogers.

His face became visibly crestfallen. “Won’t be the same, Carr. You’re such a light wherever you go.” Ron sipped his coffee again, and his body language spoke defeat until, “If you’d rather...we could do dinner sometime? Just us.”

Okay, now Fox needed less Rons. And less closets. But Jess was saved from answering as Ron’s phone pinged. “Shit. Bill! How are ya?” Ron answered, waved, and turned on heel, strutting off with purpose in one swift motion.

Jess stared after him for a moment before her thoughts drifted back to Kayla. With time she’d been able to shake the feeling of Kayla’s skin pressed against her own, the image of her afterglow as they joked in bed. What she couldn’t shake was the slowly growing fire Kayla had ignited in her the day she stood up and stormed out of their shit job, ready to take on the world. Jess felt like she had let Kayla down. Let herself down, even. She felt like she was still living a lie when someone her junior had been too smart to tolerate it for very long. She felt like a goddamned idiot. Sighing, she plunged the pen back between her teeth and squared up with her computer.

Chapter Text

Jess maximized her email tab. Clicked once more on the little paperclip above the open message.

NYWIFT: New York Women in Film & Television
Night Out with Women Independent Producers
8:30 pm
Punch Restaurant
913 Broadway
New York, NY 10010

The NYWIFT Night Out is a safe space to ask entertainment related questions, seek advice, employment and other industry opportunities. Bring your business cards and get ready to make connections!

Jess’s lower jaw jutted out, conflicted. Her eyes trailed to the corner of her desk, where a stack of business cards sat in their holder. “Because Jess Carr, Producer, The O’Reilly Factor would sound so good to all of New York’s independent women.” She muttered bitterly. And yet-

You should come tonight.

K.

K wants me there. Jess told herself for perhaps the millionth time since morning. But why?

She’d had plenty of time to wrack her brain for the answer to that question, and could come up with a plausible two. The first, and most logical to Jess’s mind, was that Kayla legitimately wanted to help Jess leave Fox News, like she had. A pang of guilt surged up into Jess’s throat. She hadn’t been very much help to Kayla. Not even when Kayla needed her the most. So the second possible reason for Kayla to reach out, the one Jess held so sacredly in the dimly hopeful back of her mind, was inconceivable…

She pushed her chair back from her desk as though it would relieve the suffocating feeling crawling through her.

“G’nite, Jess! Sorry you aren’t joining us. See you tomorrow?”

Across from her, Rachel was shouldering her laptop bag and smiling at her cubicle partner. Jess hadn’t noticed her return to their workspace; she’d almost forgotten she was still there. Rachel snatched one more paper off her desk as an afterthought.

“Tomorrow!” Jess called, giving a little wave at Rachel’s retreating back. The office was quieting down now, the hum of sleeping computers a soothing white noise. Her eyes wandered, and came to rest on Rachel’s empty station. Jess’s eyes darkened. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Rachel, her newest cohort. Young and naïve, she couldn’t blame the girl for being cheery about her new position. Rather it was what Rachel’s presence meant. Who Rachel had replaced.

Jess didn’t know how long she stared at that empty chair. But eventually she turned back to her work and dove in. It was 7 o’clock before she wrapped a few items from tomorrow morning’s to-do list and was once again staring down that email.

Her hands remained poised over the keyboard hesitantly. And then, quickly typing a couple words, she hit send.

See you soon.

*************************

Jess stuck her gum in the potted plant by the door and stepped through. She remained uncertain of her decision as she surveyed the long, rectangular room. Strings of lights rained down in perfect straight lines from the ceiling, and under them crowded all sorts of women in all sorts of outfits, chattering with enthusiasm, touching one another in a sisterly way, laughing organically. This was definitely not Jess’s realm.

“Hi! Here for WIP?” A woman with the wrinkles of someone who has smiled their way through life brightly held a name tag sticker in Jess’s face.

“I, ah, WIP?” Was all Jess could manage in return.

“Women Independent Producers! I’m Margaret Firth, and we’re just getting started so you haven’t missed anything!”

“Oh, um, yes. Sorry. I’m actually looking for somebody-“

“You’ll know everybody before the night’s out! This is a place of camaraderie, c’mon I’ll get you a marker for your name tag.”

Jess had little choice but to let Margaret Firth guide her to a table off to the side. “Jess Carr?!” The woman lit up as Jess haphazardly scribbled. “So you’re the infamous old friend of our Kayla? The one who works at…well,” Margaret lowered her voice and looked over Jess’s shoulder at the crowded room, “…Fox News?

Jess blew out a breath, slapping on her name sticker with wide eyes. “I sure am.”

“Oh, honey,” Margaret breathed, attaching a tight grip to Jess’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Now Jess was no longer uncertain: She knew she shouldn’t have come here. “I’m okay, yes.” She replied firmly. “Only maybe I shouldn’t be here. This isn’t really my scene, what with, ya know, being at Fox News…” Before Margaret could reply, a voice from behind interjected, “Hey, I know you!”

For one brief and glorious moment, Jess dared to believe she would turn to face Kayla. But she knew better. She knew Kayla’s voice. And that wasn’t Kayla’s voice.

A tall woman with dark hair and glasses was sizing Jess up. Jess pushed the bridge of her own glasses farther up on her nose. The taller woman’s hand shot out, closing the space between them. “Aaron Miller. Producer. You’re Jess Carr.” She wasn’t asking. Jess took her hand and they shook, Margaret beamed. “See? Camaraderie.”

Other people were milling about by the front door, and with another squeeze of Jess’s shoulder, Margaret excused herself to go greet them.

Aaron Miller was still eyeing Jess. Scrutinizing. “Come on. The coat check is upstairs. And I know someone who’d like to talk to you.” The brunette reclaimed possession of Jess’s hand and steered her deftly through the crowd of women. Jess’s stomach lurched. Did Aaron know Kayla? Was she taking her to Kayla?

Jess hadn’t thought this far ahead. What was she even going to say to her? What did Kayla want to talk to her about? I shouldn’t have come. I. Should. Not. Have come.

They’d reached the back of the narrow room and now Aaron was leading Jess to a second floor. The stairwell was dark and lit only by a red neon sign reading WINE. Well at least there’s that.

Possibly more crowded than downstairs, and with even more enthusiasm, the women up here were talking animatedly with glasses in their hands as they stood in their little designated cliques. Again, across to the other side of the room Aaron led.

There by the windows, where the city lights reflected off the glass to combat the dark, stood a group of younger women, laughing animatedly as the one with her back to Aaron and Jess spoke. The blonde with her back to Aaron and Jess.

Kayla.

One of the ladies stopped laughing upon Aaron and Jess’s approach, and gave Kayla a knowing glance, her eyes training pointedly back to the new arrivals. Kayla stopped midsentence. Jess’s heart stopped working.

Time seemed to slow as Kayla turned. Her cheeks were flushed and her giant grin only widened. Like her group of friends, she was sporting a dark, tight dress, in her hand a pink glass of something where citrus slices bobbled.

“Jess!” With her free hand Kayla snaked an arm around Jess’s middle. The last time she'd done so flitted through Jess's mind. “It’s so great you decided to come.” Kayla said this quietly into her ear. When they separated her eyes flashed at the brunette. “So you’ve met Aaron. This is Sara, Alex, Julianne, and Courtney.” Kayla’s hand bounced over her circle of pals in turn.

“Hullo,” Jess nodded.

“Each of them self made producers, and employed!” Everyone laughed with Kayla again.

Jess wanted to fall through the floor into a sewer drain and float back to the office, opposite Rachel’s empty chair. Instead, she stood amicably listening, and feeling like a third wheel to the cart she could scarcely believe existed.

******************

“Hey, I said, you want one of these?” Kayla was holding her half-full glass of pink stuff up to Jess’s eye level, and the latter jolted.

“...What is it, exactly?” She felt stupid. For months she had been wondering if she’d ever see this beautiful woman again, and when she’d finally reached out to her, Jess had spent the whole day agonizing over what to do. Now that she was right here in front of her, she had instead allowed her mind to wander back to all her misgivings about everything she’d ever done in her entire life, career or otherwise.

That otherwise part was particularly troublesome. Especially because she still wasn’t paying attention to the bombshell right in front of her who was trying to reconnect.

Kayla laughed. “It’s strawberry gin and tonic. D’you like it?” She held the glass out for Jess to sample from.

Jess tried to loosen herself up, and smiled gently at Kayla. She put her lips to the rim as Kayla tipped it slightly. Their eyes met for half a second longer than intended. Long enough for Jess to see a familiar look in Kayla’s glimmering turquoise eyes.

Okay. I’m glad I came.

“It’s good!” Jess told her after she’d swallowed.

“I’ll go get you both one.” Aaron took Kayla’s glass and squeezed herself between the pair toward the bar.

Kayla rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind my girlfriend,” she laughed, and then winked, “She’s a little paranoid you’re here since I told her we hooked up that one time.”

Oh God.

“I’m um. Gotta go to the bathroom.” Jess took a step back before turning her body, and fell into the sea of women independent producers.

Women Independent Producers. Jess scoffed. What am I doing here?

She didn’t bother trying to find the restroom. She took the stairs two at a time, and bobbed skillfully between the women on the first floor, easily waving away Margaret Firth by reason of “family emergency!”

The frigid night air hit Jess the way she imagined the word girlfriend might’ve had she allowed herself to process it before the flight instinct kicked in.

You knew she invited you for the sole purpose of helping you leave Fox News. Jess chided herself. You knew that’s all this was. You’re being a real doofus.

Jess leaned against a fire hydrant, gulping in the wintry breeze swirling around her. Unsure of what to do now, and shivering, she righted herself and began walking briskly down the sidewalk. Not two blocks later she was in Madison Square Park, and plopped heavily down on a bench. She and the statue of William Seward sat in silent judgment of one another.

After a few moments her phone pinged.

Where’d u go? K

It was a new number, but somehow Kayla had retained Jess’s. Jess briefly contemplated chucking her phone at William Seward, to give both he and Kayla a piece of her mind. Instead, predictably, she hit the response bubble and her fingers hovered.

There was a line for the toilet. Peeing outside.

Jess erased her assholery before it got the better of her.

I had to head out. She sent instead. Simple. Honest.

A few minutes passed without response, so Jess let it go. Some people just aren’t meant to reconnect. It’s fine. She told herself.

Leaning back on the bench she could just make out a star or two beyond the light pollution. She thought of her coworkers having drinks. Resignedly, she considered meeting up with them after all. It’d be way less depressing than going home, alone, to the bed, where she and Kayla had “hooked up that one time.”

Kayla had looked so nice tonight. Her smile had seemed so genuine, as though she was truly happy. Her hair was shorter too, Jess had noticed. She could hardly believe she’d laid eyes on her again. And in that great dress, looking like that…

“Seward was an enigmatic figure too, you know.”

Someone had just sidled onto the bench right beside her, and Jess’s city girl instinct was to knee them in the groin. Thankfully she caught herself in the knick of time.

It was Kayla, and she nudged Jess’s arm softly with her own. She was looking at the statue. “He’s kinda like you.”

“How did you know where I was?”
“Lucky find.”

Kayla was wrapped in a long stylish winter coat, the beanie topping her head completely throwing an otherwise dressy ensemble. It was everything.

“As I was saying,” Kayla stretched out an arm on the bench behind Jess, and leaned back to look up, too. Her head just grazed Jess’s. “Historians don’t quite know what to do about him. Some say he lacked principle. Others call him a cultivated intellectual. They argue over whether he was a dreamer or a pragmatist. But y’know...I sorta think he could’ve been both.”

Jess could feel Kayla’s gaze had fallen to watching her instead of the night sky. She dared to turn her head to meet it. Kayla made it seem so easy to fall back into their natural back-and-forth. It was just like when they first met. Jess wished they could go back to that.

“Hey.”

Kayla gently nudged her again from her thoughts. Her eyes wove back and forth searching Jess's. A small smile curled the corners of her mouth.

“I was kidding about Aaron. You absolute nincompoop.”

Chapter Text

Jess's eyes followed the stir stick in Kayla's tea as she casually dragged it around the rim of the cup.

"So." Kayla gave a little wiggle in her chair to straighten her posture. "Is this more your speed than the producer gathering?" Kayla had coaxed Jess into a cafe opposite the park. It had been too chilly to remain outside.

Jess exhaled, slipping her index fingers around her own tiny espresso cup, dragging it closer to her. She nodded.

Kayla smiled down into her hot tea, removing the stir stick and snapping the to-go lid back in place. Then, "I'm sorry. I didn't realize it'd be so intense for you." She allowed her eyes to meet Jess's as she sipped.

"No! It was great of you to reach out."

"But maybe I should've done it some other way." Kayla's chin rose slightly, as if she was certain she should've.

Jess's mind was racing a mile a minute. WIP had been overwhelming, yes. She felt like a complete outsider around those women. And Kayla overwhelmed her just as much, in a different way. Jess still had no clue exactly what Kayla wanted from her. But after her poorly timed joke, and Jess's less-than-graceful reaction to it, Kayla must have some inkling of what Jess's own wants were.

"I feel naked, Kayla." It was out of her mouth before she realized she was saying it out loud. But that was how Kayla was for Jess. Disarming.

A mirthful noise escaped Kayla then, in spite of her pursed lips attempting to stop it. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, you're being serious, I know what you're saying." She reached over and laid a comforting hand on Jess's shoulder. And then more gently, "You think I didn't feel that way when I left?"

"I don't know how you felt." Jess said simply. Because it was the truth. The two had not spoken since Kayla yanked off her Fox News id badge and chucked it at a trash bin on her way out the door. Jess could conjure the scene back into her mind just as easily as every other Kayla moment she'd been privy to. How badly she had wanted to follow her out of that building. She had told herself she fell far too short of the strength of character that took. Besides...

"Well." Kayla withdrew her hand and Jess missed its warmth. "It was freaking terrifying. I came to New York City to. Work. At. Fox. News."

A smile crept over Jess's face. Her mind conjured the younger woman's bathroom freak out on their first day of work together as Kayla's words echoed the moment.

"And to suddenly be alone here, unemployed anywhere? I regretted my actions the instant I was on the train." Kayla took a rather forceful sip of her tea. "But I knew I'd done the right thing. That was how I slept at night."

Jess's smile faded. Pangs of guilt grew within her. Her thoughts bounced against the walls of her brain like ricocheting bullets. She felt dizzy. "You were so brave. Are so brave." She finally croaked, unable to meet Kayla's eyes.

"Jess-"
"No, Kayla, I-"
"Let's talk about you." Kayla wasn't going to be interrupted. She stared at Jess until the older woman met her gaze.

"There's nothing to talk about." Jess stalled for time by sipping her nearly-empty espresso. She'd feign nursing it til the end of time, if she had to. "I'm in the same limbo I told you about ages ago. I can't leave. Nowhere else will take me."

"Nowhere else you'll give a chance, anyway." Kayla retorted, clearly referring to the evening's function.

"What, Women Independent Producers? Kayla you don't just go from Fox News into the open arms of people like that." Jess's frustration with herself was making her lash out despite infatuation with her audience.

"Oh really?" Kayla leaned back, arms crossed.

"I mean, they really seem to love you, and that's great," Jess attempted a back track. "But you got out of Fox as quickly as you began. I've been there for years, Kayla. You're young. I'm...practically establishment." Jess had heard Kayla speak of long term employees that way. They both knew it applied to Jess.

"Let's see, who else was establishment there?" Kayla tapped her chin. "Seems to me Megyn Kelly's getting her own NBC show when her non-compete is up."

"You know that's different." Jess was becoming exasperated. This whole evening was nightmare fuel.

Kayla sat for a moment, examining the woman across from her with one eyebrow raised. "That place. Is killing you," She finally said. She raised a hand up in front of her, waving it in a circle, encompassing Jess. "This. Is not the woman I remember meeting." Kayla's hand rediscovered its place in the arms crossed over her chest. After another moment she seemed to have an epiphany, "Y'know what? Come on." The younger woman stood up, making a great show of slowly tucking her chair in and collecting her trash. "You think I'm kidding? Get up, c'mon." She extended a determined hand to Jess. Bewildered, Jess took it, and begrudgingly rose from the table. In her other hand she continued to clutch her empty espresso cup for reassurance.

Kayla dropped her grasp once out on the sidewalk, and led the way along the busy streets. She twirled around playfully every once in a while to make sure she was still being trailed, flashing Jess a smile each time.

God. What is she doing? What am I doing? Jess continued to shuffle quickly after her.

When they'd woven half a dozen blocks through the city, Kayla stopped abruptly before a door embedded into the wall between two much larger buildings. She raised her hand to the keypad to the right of it and typed swiftly. A buzz sounded and a lock clicked. She bounded inside, holding the door for Jess to follow.

"Where are we going?" Trepidation filled Jess. Were they about to enter yet another space filled with women whose very existence reminded Jess of her inadequacy? Or...She swallowed. This wasn't Kayla's apartment...Was it?

"Just come on, will you?" Kayla was halfway down a hall, flicking light switches upwards as she went. Passing the elevator, she opened a door, and when Jess caught up to her she found they stood at the bottom of a stairwell. "You up for it? We're going to sixth."

Jess said nothing, but continued stalking Kayla as she led the way, climbing the stairs like an excited child.

When Jess reached the landing of the 5th floor, she bent over and grabbed the tops of her knees. "Kayla. Where. Are we. Going?"

Kayla's head appeared over the railing on the floor above her. "Well I'm already there. Do you not make use of the Fox News Fitness Center very often?"

Jess ignored the way Kayla's hair, splayed and dangling around her face, made her look even cuter than her cocky comments already were. "If I ever do get up there, you're in trouble." She ventured in response.

Kayla's grin took up her whole face. "There's the ol' Jess. Knew she was still in there." And then her head disappeared back over the railing.

Kayla was punching in another code on another keypad when Jess approached at her side. When the door gave, Kayla ushered Jess through it, lightly grazing the small of her back. But the shock the contact produced barely registered above Jess's present levels of uncertainty.

"This..." Kayla flipped another light switch, "Is what WIP did for me." Dozens of florescent ceiling panels flickered on like falling dominos down a long stretch of office space. Desks and rolling chairs littered the expanse, but so did potted plants. And there wasn't a cubicle partition in sight. Vast modern art canvases lined the walls. A break room made entirely of glass windows divided up the space, and looked homey and inviting. Massive bean bag chairs were smushed in a pile in one corner of it.

"What, WIP got you a job at Google?" Jess inwardly marveled at the space, but still wasn't putting two-and-two together, and it irritated her.

"Ouch." Kayla pretended a pout. "Is it the beanbags? The interns like them." Her hand was back on Jess's shoulder. She pointed to a box fastened to the wall beside them with the other. "Please leave your suggestions in there. The boss is pretty attentive to the needs of the staff." She had a look in her eyes that Jess had never seen. She couldn't quite make out what it meant. It was accompanied by a smirk. Kayla leaned in til her lips nearly grazed Jess's ear. "This is my company." She whispered.

*************

"Forgive my Google comment." Jess stretched luxuriously on a purple bean bag as Kayla watched with wide eyes.

"Yeah?" She remained standing, arms crossed again.

Jess sunk a hand into the green bag next to her. "You mean you haven't tried this out, Boss?"

Kayla plopped down good-naturedly. As they got comfortable the only sound was the soft rustle of their seats settling.

In unison, they both broke into a fit of laughter.

"Okay, I feel ridiculous, but I see why they like these." Kayla said when she'd recovered. She unwrapped her coat and freed her arms from the sleeves.

Jess paid no mind to her own jacket, though she was plenty warm from the hike upstairs. She was lost in the view. "I like your beanie."

Kayla had made no move to take off her hat, and still didn't. She returned Jess's gaze with a smile and stayed quiet.

"How have you been, Kayla?" Jess barely got these words out, and had to look down at her hands when the woman's name passed her lips. She had so many questions. What was her company? How had Kayla gotten here? What did she want from Jess? But this most important question hadn't been asked, though Jess had wanted to ask it every single day since the last time they'd seen each other.

Kayla looked down too before finally replying softly, "Lately is the best I've felt in a long time."

Jess chanced looking up. She studied the green bean bag's occupant. Her skin glowed of health. Every smile she'd flashed tonight was pure, her eyes exuding happiness. Even her voice seemed more confident and jovial. It gave Jess an inner peace to observe these things. But when Kayla looked back up her eyes had darkened, and there was something of the old, insecure, confused Kayla in them.

"It's still really hard sometimes." She said even more quietly.

Neither of them had to say what was hard. They both knew. All of Jess's guilt came crashing back down around her. She wished the bean bag would swallow her whole. Her distress must've been visible.

"Jess, don't-" Kayla tried.

"No." She wasn't getting talked over this time. She had to get this out before she lost anymore sleep over it. "That night you called me from your date was one of the worst nights of my life."

Kayla blinked slowly at her. She looked to Jess as though she might start shaking like a leaf at any second. Jess felt tears forming in her own eyes, but resolved to stay strong for the younger woman.

"It confirmed my worst suspicions. You are the last person I'd ever want anything to happen to. Especially that..." Jess was fully aware she was making herself completely obvious now, but she didn't care. She needed to say exactly what she meant. Kayla needed to hear it. "I didn't do enough. There was so fucking much I could've done, and I did exactly nothing." She narrowed her eyes as Kayla's mouth opened to protest. "Kayla, you know I'm right." She knew Kayla knew. The whole office had been within earshot when she'd accused Megyn of not doing enough.

She must've realized this was what Jess was insinuating. "I brought Megyn Kelly into my counterargument earlier, and you said it was different. This is, too." Kayla said measuredly.

"I knew you better than Megyn did. It's different because I should have cared more, if anything." Jess snapped.

"Megyn didn't have to keep me at arms' length because we didn't sleep together." Kayla shot back. "Megyn didn't have to hide who she really was. I totally, fully, completely, understand why you did what you did."

"What I didn't do, and it's unforgivable."

"Not to me."

Jess couldn't help a shiver as Kayla leaned in and took her hand. Kayla's thumb traced over Jess's knuckles. "You were the only one who was there for me at all. You risked as much as you could to help me. And it wasn't like I was helping myself. I called you on a date with a man for God's sake."

"The gender of your dates isn't the issue here."

"Well it sure was." Kayla gently let go of Jess's fingers and leaned back into her bean bag. "You convinced me to report my abuse with that phone call. Which was what I was looking to hear when I called." She sighed. "What I didn't expect was the introspection you slapped me in the face with at the same time."

Jess searched Kayla's face. "...I don't follow."

Kayla leaned in conspiratorially. "D'you know how many stupid dates I'd been on trying to make it go away?"

Ah, so there it was. Jess's stomach twisted. Her heart broke for Kayla in solidarity.

"Well don't look so sad about it, but yeah," Kayla threw her hands up. "I'm a giant lesbian! That was almost as hard to accept as what Roger did."

"Can I hug you?"

"Of course."

They stayed in each other's arms for a long time. At any other moment Jess would've drowned in the familiar scent of Kayla's perfume, which made her smell like the sweetest bergamot. She would've had to fight back the urge to run her hands through her softly-curled hair, her fingertips down her bare shoulders. But in that moment of fellowship nothing mattered but the truth Kayla had finally accepted about herself. And the strength she showed time and time again to get past everything that had happened to her. Jess rocked them side to side in the proudest, biggest bear hug.

Chapter Text

"Hey Carr!"

Jess watched as Ron strode towards her cubicle, waving enthusiastically.

"Heyyyy..." She gave back hesitantly. Then looked back to her computer.

Ron leaned his forearms on the partition, clasping his hands together. "You think you might have a few minutes to spare sometime today? I could really use your help sorting out some of the scheduling spreadsheets. I'm still not 100% on how to file some of the program notes."

"Yeah sure," Jess's eyes hadn't left the work on her own computer screen. She typed another entry quickly with one index finger. Swiveled her chair to face him. "After lunch?"

"What are you doing for lunch? I could buy." The man didn't quit.

"I've actually already got something scheduled for the lunch hour." Jess was glad this was the truth.

"Oh."

"2 o'clock? I'll come find ya." She gave him a reassuring smile. She hoped her eyes conveyed strictly business.

Ron re-clasped his hands in acknowledgment. "That's perfect. Hey thanks, Jess, truly."

"Not any problem, Ron."

When he was gone Jess consulted her Fitbit. 11:36. Damn. Still not lunch. She placed her hands back over her keyboard.

"Wow, he called you by your first name, this is getting serious." Rachel remarked from across her own station.

"I know, kill me, right?" Jess supplied.

She heard Rachel chuckle over her shoulder. "I don't get it. He's asked you out about twelve times. You aren't feeling it? He's handsome as-"

"He's alright."

"Well give him to me, then." She said quietly.

"All yours, babe."

*****************

"Can I start you off with anything else, or do you want to wait for your plus one?" The waitress poured two water glasses and set them on either side of Jess's table.

My plus one. Jess felt herself smile stupidly, briefly gazing out into space.

She edited her smile to become a normal, appreciative one. "I'll wait, but thank you."

As the waitress walked away Jess drummed her fingers on the tabletop and looked out the windows at the sunny sidewalk, hoping to catch a glimpse of businesswoman Kayla, hurrying from one engagement to the next during her big city workday. God, she was cool.

She'd spent a couple more hours on the bean bag facing Jess the previous night, detailing all her new work life entailed. After Kayla had presented WIP with a business model for a company that highlighted the talents of women in media, their highest reps had been so impressed they had reached out to their higher connections in the field, and put a team together. It was a work in progress, and though there was already a wildly successful podcast and accompanying youtube channel, they had not yet reached their goal of broadcasting a women's news network to television. But they were close. Social media users ate up their content on every platform. And important eyes were watching the fledgling company, purse strings loosening. Kayla felt certain things were going in the right direction. Jess believed her. The younger woman seemed to impress everyone she met.

A hand landed on Jess's back and rubbed it briefly. "Hello there, Ms. Carr."

Jess whipped her head around and saw a smartly dressed Kayla dropping her purse off her shoulder to the crook of her arm, tossing her phone inside it.

"Hiya, Boss Lady."

"I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long. My meeting ran late." Kayla said as she sat.

"The world turns because you spin it, I'm just along for the ride." Jess smiled and rested her chin on her fists, elbows on the table. She was in a much better mood today.

Kayla cocked an eyebrow. "I dunno about that, but." She flipped open the menu in front of her. "You'd like this piece one of the interns is working on. We were just going over a rough draft of it. She came to New York from the deeeep south and is composing an expose on the close-mindedness of Bible Belt society in- Ooh, they still have the black bean sliders!" Kayla leaned over Jess's menu and pointed to a wide section at the bottom of the second page. "I told you they have a great vegetarian selection."

"Already eyeing this avocado walnut salad thing. And I'd love to read the piece."

The waitress came to take their order and went. Jess took the break in conversation as an opportunity to produce a thin stack of papers from within her book bag, placing it ceremoniously on the table.

"What's this?" Kayla curled a finger around a top corner of the papers, raising them towards herself.

"I was hoping you could proof this resume for me? And then, if it's any good, tell me who to send it along to at WIP."

Kayla's eyes flew down the first page, and when she reached the bottom, "Oh Jess...I'm so proud of you."

"I did it last night after we went our separate ways. I edited it a little this morning at work and then used their materials to print it. Because stick it to The Man, right?"

Kayla gave a small smile. "Absolutely. Are you serious about this?"

Jess shook a fist. "I must escape my chains!" She said this in the low, silly voice she knew Kayla enjoyed. At least used to enjoy.

At the moment, however, Kayla looked nervous, expectant. "Well, actually. I invited you to lunch today with ulterior motives. In fact, I have a proposition for you."

Jess pointed at Kayla's drink. "Doing better than last time, you've already got a glass of water for after."

Kayla turned completely scarlet. "Jess Carr!" after she'd recovered, "I should kick you under this table. This is a business luncheon." Her voice spoke in scolding tones but her eyes sparkled as though she was greatly pleased by the unexpected remark.

Jess was satisfied with herself too, though she'd mostly made the comment to divert the conversation. Because she knew exactly where Kayla was headed with it. She reached a hand over and placed it on top of Kayla's. "I don't want you to give me a job, Kayla."

Kayla blanched, briefly crestfallen, "How did you...What? Why not?"

"This is something I have to do on my own. And I have you to thank for the encouraging influence to try."

"But I could have you out of there today." Kayla argued earnestly. "You wouldn't even have to go back after lunch. We can take our time, get dessert, this afternoon you could meet the team-"

"Nepotism is no way to combat the patriarchy, Kayla." Silly again.

Kayla's face held a rather innocent disappointment, and she said nothing.

"If that looks good," Jess tapped the resume Kayla was still clutching, "We'll give it to whoever at WIP with glowing recommendation from you, okay?"

This finally prompted a small smile from the younger woman. "Deal."

They tucked in to their meal when it arrived and the conversation resumed its easy, familiar banter. After the previous evening, it seemed like the relationship to each other they'd once had was back in full swing. Except, Jess noticed, every once in a while Kayla fell silent and stared at her with something like concern in her otherwise bright eyes. Finally Jess commented on it.

"It's nothing, I think. I mean...nobody at Fox...none of them...They don't bother you do they?"

Jess gnawed on a piece of arugula. "They all bother me. They're conservatives. No offense intended to present company."

"No...I mean, the men. They don't like. Bother you...Right?"

"Oh! Oh God no. I mean, there's this one new guy who sort of wants to date me, but he's pretty harmless."

Kayla's face read as someone unconvinced.

"Trust me. It's actually a lot better there these days. Of course, it's still Fox, but."

"Okay," Kayla pushed her fork around her now-empty plate, spearing none of the few leftover black beans. "I'm not that much of a conservative anymore, by the way."

Jess grinned. "You're definitely going to have to elaborate more on that some time." Unfortunately her Fitbit told her she only had 20 minutes to keep her appointment with Ron.

Before they departed Kayla got up to go to the restroom, and to Jess's dismay, came back waving the check triumphantly. "I beat you this time."

"Doesn't anyone go Dutch anymore?" Jess asked coyly, getting up from the table to follow Kayla to the exit.

"I guess there's still a bit of conservatism left in me. I refuse to let chivalry completely die."

Jess hurried to beat Kayla to the door, opening it with a bow. "As do I."

***************

Poor Ron was having a disaster of an afternoon. He really had no idea what he was doing with his spreadsheets. If Jess didn't have the promise of imminent escape from Fox, she would've been overwhelmed with his incompetence. Instead she was patient and empathetic. After all, someone would need to learn how to do things without her around.

Then she took a moment to consider why she cared what happened to the organization of O'Reilly's program in her absence. She hazarded a guess that she didn't really care, she just didn't want the new guy to suffer.

"No, no. You want to click out of that before entering another field." She was doing a lot of gesticulating. Ron's brow remained knotted. His laptop was approaching low battery, and overheating it with several big softwares open was causing it to whir.

Jess's phone pinged. "Plug your laptop in, buddy." She said. "And give me one second." She pulled the phone from her back pocket.

Aaron Miller likes your resume. Wants to see you tmw @ 5. Can you? K <3

Jess bit her lip to keep from smiling too hard. The little heart at the end was a cherry on top and she couldn't manage it.

"Did I fix it? That smile says I fixed it." Ron looked back and forth from Jess to his charging laptop, where he continued to play with the columns of text.

Jess held up a finger, quickly typed Yes, 5. Email me location address plz? <3 and allowed herself to bask in the moment it sent.

She shook herself from her reverie and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, squinting at Ron's screen. "Sadly that's still fucked, dude." But she smiled reassuringly. Beckoned with her hands to get him to pass her his macbook. "Give it to me."

****************

Jess rolled back toward Kayla after turning on the bedside lamp. Climbed back on top of her.

"Oh, okay?" Kayla hadn't expected this, but happily snaked arms back around Jess's bare torso above her.

Jess brushed the back of her fingers across Kayla's cheek. "What, already wanna call it quits for the night?"

"No," Kayla asserted quickly. Her growing pupils spoke her continued interest. "Just didn't have you pegged as a lights-on sort of person," She brought a hand up around Jess's face and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. "It's nice. Your bedhead is really a vision."

Jess snorted. "Shut up." She buried her nose in Kayla's neck again. After a moment it was too much to resist, and she was back to kissing Kayla's skin. The younger woman's breathing changed instantly.

But something was wrong. With Jess. She felt herself growing, blimping out, weighing heavier on the beautiful woman beneath her. Kayla's breath stopped short. Jess felt as though she were smothering her. She rolled off immediately, sat up, and examined her hands in front of her face. They were old, fat, wrinkled. What the fuck?!

Kayla was sitting up now too, covering herself with the sheets, scooting far away from Jess, a look of horror on her face. "No. NO!" Finally emitted from her lips.

Jess tried to reach out to comfort her, and Kayla screamed, withdrawing further.

What the fuck?! What the fuck?!

Stumbling under newfound weight, and legs that didn't seem to function properly, Jess tumbled out of bed and made her way with great difficulty down the hall to her bathroom. Flipped on the light.

Stared at herself in the mirror.

Roger Ailes.

Kayla's screaming from the next room pierced her ears as her heart thudded violently in her enormous, disfigured chest.

Everything went black.

With a gasp Jess shot straight up in bed. Alone in the dark, she groped her body. Her normal, female Jess-body. God.

The nightmare still seemed too real to roll over and touch that lamp. She tucked herself back under the blankets and let her head sink deep into her pillow. Guilt did this. Jess told herself. I still feel guilty about leaving Kayla to fend for herself for so long. How do I fix it?

Ruminating, and with her heart still pounding in her chest, she tried to even out her breathing and picture Kayla, safe and sound asleep in her own bed somewhere at that very moment. She wished she could be there to throw a protective arm around her. Would Kayla want that, though, or is it a purely selfish desire?

She glanced at her alarm clock. 12:30. Scrambling around her bedside tables until she located her phone, she peered at the lock screen. Call it intuition or something else, but she wasn't really surprised to see a notification with the letter K floating over it. The message had come through 5 minutes ago.

Gnite Jess. Wish you were here.

Chapter Text

Someone whistled loudly over the sound of traffic.

Jess's nerves settled almost immediately upon seeing Kayla standing on the sidewalk outside of the address from her email. She was lowering her fingers from the corners of her mouth, and gave a little wave. Jess briskly jaywalked the rest of the way to Kayla's side and into her open arms.

A most welcome hug ended when Kayla stepped back, gently tugging on the collar of Jess's blazer, which protruded from under her unbuttoned coat. "Seriously, you look great."

A sheepishness came over Jess and she bit back a wide smile. "I clean up okay, then?"

She could see something she hadn't intended coming over Kayla in front of her. As the younger woman's eyes trailed up Jess toe to head, there was no hiding the meaning of her gaze.

Shouldn't've worn the hair down. Jess concluded, swallowing with difficulty.

"You clean up...more...than okay." Kayla was finding it hard to manage her throat too.

They smiled dumbly at each other, and Kayla took a curl from Jess's shoulder and twirled it playfully. They both giggled.

"Should we..?" Jess attempted.

"Yes, Aaron's waiting." Snapping out of it, Kayla pointed to the rotating doors in front of them, and they both stepped toward the entrance.

In the email Kayla had briefed Jess that Aaron Miller managed the LGBT branch of production consultants for BRITDOC, a society promoting documentary films. Aaron had expressed interest in Jess coming on board to help increase the diversity of production styles. Jess was wary, but willing to give the interview a go.

The pair passed through a lobby, where Kayla waved to the smiley receptionist, who seemed to know her.

They made their way down the hall, every so often Kayla eyeing the woman trailing her. Jess wasn't sure if she was sweating due to the anticipation of the interview, or because of the way Kayla's eyes met every part of Jess's body but her face each time her head swiveled.

Shit.

They passed a wall of elevators, restrooms, and what seemed to be a small cafe before Kayla held a door open to Jess.

"What a gentleman," Jess allowed herself to tease.

"We're going to three." Kayla said rather stiffly. Maybe she was trying to control herself.

They climbed the steps in unison, both hyper aware of their proximity to each other. Jess was too wrapped up in the scent of bergamot to complain about their climb.

Aaron Miller stood in the doorway at the third floor landing, one hand on hip. Her long dark hair lay perfectly around her face; she was wearing another more stylish pair of glasses than she'd worn to WIP night.

Jess felt professionally sheepish now. Her possible new boss had already met and scrutinized her once, even gone to get her a drink, and Jess had fled. A great reputation to start an employment opportunity with.

"Nice to see you again, Jess." Aaron extended her hand once more. They shook firmly.

"You too. Thank you for taking the time."

"Come through here, please." She held the stairwell door open for Jess to pass through into the offices.

"Kayla." Aaron smiled for the first time.

Jess watched as the two women embraced. As Aaron pet Kayla's hair and held her at arm's length to enjoy the view. "What did I do right to see you twice in one week?" They shared a grin.

"New glasses? I like," Kayla returned the compliment.

"I knew you'd notice, with your thing for four-eyed women," Aaron teased.

Despite whatever this was she was witnessing, Jess stored that piece of information away for later.

They chattered for a few more minutes like old friends. Or something.

"Well I won't hold you two up." Finally Kayla gave a little wave to Jess, taking a step back. "I just wanted to pop in and say hello while I was here for her." Kayla's eyes locked with Jess's, still something of the look that began downstairs residing behind them. "I'll text you later, okay? I have to run some errands right now."

Jess gave her a thumbs up, wondering what that might mean about where Kayla wanted the evening to head.

Aaron seemed to catch on to it, too. "I'll text you as well, Kayla."

***********

Aaron gestured to the chair in front of the desk in her office and Jess sat, tucking her jacket over the back, chewing on her lip, and straightening her pant legs.

Aaron closed the door and moved around the desk and sat back in her own chair. She tossed her glasses on the desktop. Briefly squinting at Jess, she sighed.

"I'm going to be perfectly honest here, Miss Carr."

Uh oh.

"Your resume is truly impressive. An MFA in Creative Producing from Columbia, an internship with the BBC on abroad program...and a consistent, years-long track record of achievements and success at a major cable television news network, albeit Fox News...Well, anyone would be lucky to have you join their production team." She shook her head. "Be that as it may..."

Here comes the but.

Aaron leaned over the desk closer to Jess. "The honest-to-goodness reason I agreed to give you a go was for Kayla's sake. And only Kayla's sake." Aaron's eyes darkened.

Jess opened her mouth to say something, but couldn't come up with a proper response. Aaron was swiveling around her workspace in her chair anyway, digging in a file cabinet.

"Here." Aaron slid a thick Manila folder over to Jess. "Read through that and sign the last two pages if you want the job."

Jess blinked. It couldn't be that easy. She hadn't even said a word since they entered Aaron's office. And if she was only giving her a job because Kayla wanted her to, how was this any less nepotism than working for Kayla?

Well at least this way, you won't want to sleep with your boss. Jess told herself. There was a tangible friction between her and Aaron Miller. I also don't want a boss who hates me immediately though. She sat stupefied, flipping through the pages of the folder without really taking in the words on them.

"There are stipulations." Aaron interrupted her bewildered thoughts and Jess looked up.

"You're going to have to unlearn whatever problematic conservative crap you got indoctrinated with in that place."

Jess held up her hands and glanced sideways, hoping the gesture conveyed her distance from close mindedness.

"You're going to have to prove you live up to the claims on your CV. And work hard."

"Well I'm no stranger to productivity." Jess finally found voice with which to defend herself.

Aaron opened her mouth to say something and instead closed it again. After a moment more of silent scrutinizing, she began again, "If I hear so much as a whisper of funny business with Kayla I'll sack you on the spot."

Jess's eyes widened and she blinked slowly, attempting to process. "...Funny business."

Aaron lowered her voice. "If you so much as say one word that could possibly injure her in any way."

"Huh."

"And I won't care to hear the reasoning behind any action you take or don't take that could put her in harm's way. It happens? You're out."

Jess sucked in a breath. "O-kay..."

Aaron studied her for a long moment. "Kayla is a wonderful person." She added softly. "I know that if she sees something good in you it must be there. She found me my assistant. Said the woman was perfect for the position, and she's been nothing but." Aaron put her elbow on her desk and rubbed her temple between two fingers. "I want to trust her on this, too. But I need to know you have people's backs if something shady ever happens in your presence at the workplace."

Kayla told her what happened. It was all falling into place to make sense in Jess's mind. This woman so obviously had feelings for Kayla. Maybe they'd even dated. One way or another, they'd been intimate enough at some point for Kayla to tell Aaron about what Roger did. About what Jess didn't do.

Jess swallowed. "I've made mistakes in recent past, yes." She conceded. "I won't pretend I have adequate excuses for them. I couldn't see past my own issues to protect anyone but myself."

Aaron's hand was over her mouth, a puzzled look searching Jess. "To be frank, I don't know that I could be a closeted person in a place like that myself."

Jess could feel her ears grow hot. She hoped her shame wasn't forming a blush across her cheeks.

Aaron added, "I don't know that I could be a person in a place like that at all."

Jess gave a barely-noticeable nod.

"If you want to leave Fox, I want to help." Aaron raised her voice decisively. "And I certainly don't mean to set us off on the wrong foot. Please, take a good long look at that." She jerked her chin back toward the folder in Jess's lap.

"Thank you." Jess managed. She was trying to keep herself together, but suddenly felt very small. The room sat quietly as Jess read, and finally, setting the last two forms on the desk, signed on the lines.

A tiny smile finally played across Aaron's mouth. She seemed relieved. Placing a hand over the paperwork, she reminded, "I'm not kidding about firing you, though."

"It certainly did not come across as a joke." Jess answered carefully.

"Good." Aaron stood.

It had been the quickest job interview in the history of the universe.

"I won't hurt her." Jess whispered, looking at the floor.

"What's that?" Aaron turned from where she held the doorknob to exit.

"You're right." Jess said more loudly. "Kayla is a wonderful person."

Aaron's grip on the doorknob visibly tightened. "She is."

"Nothing bad will ever happen to her around me or because of me." Jess assured her new boss.

Aaron stuck out her hand for another shake. "Same here. You start on the first of February."

**************

The temperature had dropped significantly while Jess was inside BRITDOC. She felt a first few snowflakes gently freckle her cheeks as she stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Three weeks. She told herself. Three weeks and I never have to go back to the News Corp. building again. She looked up at the skyscrapers towering around her with new eyes. Rush hour pedestrians trampled around her, knocking into her shoulders, but she barely took notice. She rummaged in her coat pocket to turn her phone back on.

Congratulations <3

The notification on her lock screen made her heart soar. She hurried to type a response.

Preferential treatment. An electoral college is undemocratic.

Make America Great Again <3 Kayla replied almost instantly.

Finish your errands?

Almost. Preparing lil get 2gether 2nite celebrating someone v dear 2 me getting a better job. Wanna come?

Kayla wtf

One sec. I'll link u a map

*************

"To new beginnings!" Sara, Alex, Courtney, and Julianne clinked glasses with Kayla and Jess. They stood around Kayla's kitchen island sipping their champagne.

The oven buzzer went off and Kayla turned to peep inside it. "Why don't you guys go make yourselves comfortable in the living room?" She tossed a hand towards her sofas behind the island.

Jess followed Kayla's friends as they all sprawled across furniture.

"So what's the first thing you're gonna do when you leave Fox News?" Julianne asked, popping a grape in her mouth off a tray on the coffee table.

Jess blew out a breath. "Maybe spit on the side of the building." She crossed her leg over her knee, leaning back into the couch. "Protest outside of it, burn it down."

Kayla entered the circle laden with an extra chair. She set it next to Jess and slid into it. "How utterly unappreciative of your former employer you are," She gave a sly smile.

"Trust me, we all already wanted to burn it down after Kayla relayed the horrors within," Sara piped in.

"Let's keep the mood festive, huh, ladies?" Kayla pressed her champagne flute against her reddening cheek.

"What's for dinner, Kay?" Julianne grinned. "Smells good."

"The basil's doing really well in the greenhouse right now, so I threw together a Margarita pizza."

Contented sighs fluttered through the group.

"Have you had Kayla's cooking before, Jess? 'Cause she's fire at cooking." Alex offered.

"I have not yet had the pleasure, no," Jess replied.

"Can we go up to the greenhouse after we eat? I bet there's a great view of the snow fall tonight." Courtney added.

"Sure, good idea." Kayla said between sips of wine.

Kayla has a greenhouse? Jess smiled into her champagne. She was learning a lot of pleasant information tonight.

The group chattered on until the oven buzzer sounded again and Kayla raced for the plates.

Kayla's friends were right about her cooking. The dinner was beautiful, the company unsurpassed. A pacified silence fell when nothing was left but empty plates and a few bites of pizza crust.

Courtney clapped her hands together. "That was excellent. But now I'll need a nap if I don't start moving. Who wants to help me clean up?"

Everyone rose to volunteer.

"Uh uh. Your night. Sit." Kayla pushed Jess back onto the couch with a hand to her chest. Kayla's touch rendered Jess useless to any further argument. She sat with her own hand over the place Kayla had made contact and watched all the independent women producer friends make quick work of the clean up. They made a little assembly line of dishwashing, busily tossed sponges, passed dishcloths. Laughing at something Courtney had said, Alex tied up a trash bag and hoisted it from the can.

The happiness surging through Jess in observing all of this was almost too much for her. Could her life become something like theirs? Like this?

Kayla looked up from the sink across the room and their eyes met. She gave a small smile but her stare bore deep through to Jess's heart.

Jess was filled with a lot of feelings. She took the last gulp of her wine.

After another moment Kayla abandoned the efforts in the kitchen to bring Jess another pour from a champagne bottle.

"Why thank you!"

"Up for a little hike to the roof?"

"You have a greenhouse." Jess said not as a question but because she liked the sound of it.

Kayla's lip twitched in amusement. "I do." She held out a hand to help Jess up.

"Come on, guys, we're going up."

The kitchen clean, everyone went for their shoes by the door. Kayla took her keys off their hook and left the door open behind her so her friends could follow in her wake.

"Five floors, though," Sara groaned.

"Stoppit, Sara, you know why." Julianne retorted.

"I'm just not a friend to exercise, and I'm full." Sara explained. "But I'll do it."

"What are we talking about?" Jess slipped into her second shoe. "Kayla's obsession with physical fitness?"

"That's not why she always takes the stairs." Alex supplied. Everyone else had filed out into the hall.

Jess righted herself. "Then why?"

Alex gave her a quizzical look. "Don't you still work in that mess? Surely you know why."

Jess returned a puzzled expression.

Alex lowered her voice. "Kayla has a real issue with elevators because of what happened to her. But please, don't tell her I told you, I assumed you knew."

Jess stared at nothing, her heart pooling in the bottoms of her feet. "I had no idea."

Chapter Text

"So where'd she go?" Aaron handed Kayla her refill of strawberry gin, looking around for Jess before setting the second drink on a nearby table for safekeeping.

"Bathroom, I think." Kayla gulped a deep swig from her glass. Aaron had turned back to their circle of friends, but Kayla still stood with her back to them, searching over the heads of the crowded room for a tiny blonde bun.

I shouldn't have said the girlfriend thing. Stupid. She chided herself. Aaron touched her arm. Kayla twirled around. "Hey! I think. I think I said something foolish."

Aaron's lip curled in disbelief. "What d'you mean?"

Kayla handed her glass back to the taller woman. "I mean I shouldn't have anymore of this tonight."

Aaron gave an obliging shrug, and leaned over to abandon the gin and tonic on the nearby table.

"I was trying to make a joke, and now Jess sort of thinks you and I are still together."

"Does she now?" Aaron mused.

"It isn't funny, Aar, she throws me off, I rambled. And I might've upset her."

"Didn't you invite her here to help her find a new job?"

"Well, yeah, but." Kayla bit her lip. She'd missed Jess. She was so easy to talk to. Touch. For a while she had tossed everything and everyone at Fox out of her mind and driven herself forward into a completely new and better life. But once she'd succeeded, she noticed something was still missing. She'd wondered if that something might be about 5'3 with bad vision.

"...But instead you told her a potential employer is your girlfriend? I mean, I'm not complaining but I thought we broke u-"

"We did." Kayla said firmly, then, in a milder tone, "I'm sorry. It's just-"

"I get it," Aaron replied gently.

Kayla was searching the crowd again. Frowning, she unlocked her phone, searching for the number she'd kept but never contacted. After a moment of typing and impatient refreshing, she looked back up at Aaron, face flushed with worry. "I texted her. She left!"

Aaron's expression revealed her inner turmoil but she slowly managed, "Well you better go after her, then."

"Should I?" Kayla's eyes pleadingly searched Aaron's for answers.

"It's a big city, better hurry before she gets too far."

Kayla's face sobered, she nodded, and turned on heel, making a beeline for her coat.

*********

Where would she have gone? Kayla looked both ways down the busy street. Home?

Hopeless, she lingered on the sidewalk for another moment. In front of her a car blared its horn thrice, the driver in front of it rolling down his window to give the finger.

Her eyes trailed down the block to 23rd street subway station. If she's already gotten on a train, I've lost her. Kayla thought desperately. Nevertheless she began to make her way down the sidewalk in the direction of the station, keeping her eyes peeled for any sign of Jess.

At the edge of the park she stood defeatedly. Such a big fucking mouth, Kayla. Resigned, she decided a quick once around the park would give her the fresh air required to forget her attempt at reuniting with Jess for the night and return to her friends.

Jess had looked just like her same old self. Kayla couldn't help but smile as she envisioned the woman she'd turned to see in front of her once again only half an hour earlier. She looked like she was okay. Kayla had worried if she was. And when their eyes locked as Jess had tried Kayla's drink....God. Jess's coy little smile still lit up Kayla's whole heart in a way Aaron had tried - but never been able - to attain.

Kayla rounded a row of fenced-in bushes and came to the statue of William Seward. Ever aware of her surroundings in the dimly-lit park, she scanned the benches for loiterers. There was only one. A small woman with a flustered expression on her face as she clutched her phone and stared searchingly up at the sky. Kayla drew in a sharp breath. Jess.

Kayla drowned in relief. She scurried over to the bench, trying to play it cool. She felt terrible for chasing Jess off with such childish behavior. But also...smug. Jess had really and truly bailed on an event comprised of great opportunities, all because she thought Kayla was taken. As she slipped herself onto the bench very close beside Jess, Kayla couldn't stop herself from thinking that maybe Jess still wanted to be the one to take her.

************

Kayla stretched until her toes reached the foot of the bed and dangled in the cool morning air. She groaned and curled them back up into the warm blankets.

Nope not yet. She told herself. Just another minute.

She had had the most wonderful dream, brought on, she surmised, by seeing Jess again. She pressed her face into the pillows and smiled.

Abashed little Jess Carr, totally out of her element, and...jealous.

“I’m so cruel, God!” Kayla said aloud, with feeling.

She closed her eyes, the events of the previous night culminating in the best part of the evening. If she tried, Kayla could still feel Jess's arms around her after she'd told her she was gay. She hadn't realized just how much she needed Jess's closeness until her whole body was reacting to the reciprocated contact. Kayla wanted the strong hands that had comfortingly gripped her back to be all over her. The dream she'd just awoken from went something like that.

She rolled over, sucking in a breath.

Just make it til lunch, Kayla. She reasoned with herself. Then that irresistible woman will be in front of you again.

She grinned. She was going to convince Jess to leave Fox and join her company. And then they'd live happily ever after.

Her snooze alarm jolted her from her fantasies. Whacking it, she remembered the part of the evening that had upset her. The reason maybe Jess hadn't reached out to her before now, either. Jess blames herself. A lump formed and caught in her throat. Kayla had done a lot of blaming for what happened to her. She blamed herself, she blamed Fox corporate, she even blamed Megyn Kelly. But it had never once occurred to her to blame Jess. Jess had been the one to "worry out loud" about her to the right people, after all.

Sitting up, Kayla dragged a hand through her messy morning hair. If she had to put herself in Jess's shoes, if someone had ever hurt Jess and she'd just sat by and let it happen...Okay, she could admit to understanding Jess's feelings of guilt. She just wished Jess could see it from her perspective. She didn't want Jess to hurt about anything. Ever.

*************

"Afternoon!" Kayla's assistant and dear friend, Alex, greeted her as she walked back into the office after lunch. "Nice lunch?"

"The best." Kayla couldn't help but gush. She noticed she was a little later returning from lunch than everyone else; the desks were full and everyone was back on the phone or busily clacking away on their computer keyboards. "Alex would you mind scanning this and emailing it to Aaron's BRITDOC address?" Kayla withdrew Jess's resume from her bag and handed it to her nodding assistant. "I have to make a phone call. Gonna monopolize the break room for a few, if no one minds?"

No one was about to object to the woman in charge, and they all adored Kayla anyway. A few of her employees had even been so enamored with the mission of her organization that they'd left higher paying jobs to help her make it a reality. It also helped that she gave generous bonuses on a whim, dipping from her personal account which was now rather plentiful after the Fox News settlement.

Kayla clicked the lock on the door of the break room and dropped into a bean bag. The purple one. She smiled to herself as she crossed one leg over the other, pulling out her phone.

Pragmatic little Jess Carr had refused her job offer, sure. But she wasn't going to stay at her godforsaken present job if Kayla had anything to do with it. She dialed Aaron.

It barely rang once. "Kayla!"

"I have a producer you should hire."

************

Kayla took a long shower after supper and crawled between her sheets. It was already 11:30, she'd stayed late at work because she'd spent half the afternoon convincing Aaron to give Jess a job. Aaron was extremely hesitant for some reason - perhaps jealousy? - but Kayla knew she couldn't refuse her request. She felt a little bad about using Aaron's lingering feelings for her this way, but not bad enough to forego her mission to rescue Jess.

She laid in the dark snuggling into her blankets without being able to drift off. Her thoughts were swirling around the woman who'd sat across from her at the most wonderful lunch Kayla had had in a long time. What is Jess doing to me?

She couldn't help but replay their entire meal over and over in her mind. Every little Jessism seemed to make her fall deeper and more hopelessly for her as she recalled each moment. How she'd stubbornly turned down working for Kayla before she'd even put the opportunity on the table, as if reading Kayla's mind. How her smile lifted her nose in a twitch of amusement every time Kayla made her laugh. Those eyes that looked at her as if she were extremely important...Not that this wasn't true of how others looked at Kayla, but with Jess it seemed different. More meaningful. It nearly hurt to think about her witticisms. They were so unexpected and delightful, and Kayla wanted a million more thrown her way. The water glass innuendo had really thrown her for a loop.

Going further back into her memories, to the night they'd spent together nearly a year ago, almost made her dizzy. Jess had brought out something wild in Kayla that was stronger than all her internalized denial and embarrassment of what and who she wanted. She still couldn't believe she'd mustered the gumption to ask herself back to Jess's place, and the flurry of events that had followed were so lovely as to seem surreal.

She'd never felt that way with anyone. But with Jess nothing seemed more right. And God, the chemistry. Kayla bit her lip, thinking about how they'd wrestled each other into Jess's apartment, straight to the bed in each other's arms. How Jess had known exactly what to do to take Kayla over the edge. How Jess had looked underneath her as she went over it herself.

And those hands. Kayla's mind was obsessed with them. They'd been so perfect trailing across every inch of her, so tender. And then so determined when they'd explored between her legs. It was too much to contemplate. Kayla allowed herself to picture Jess's face as it had looked intensely down at her, anticipating Kayla coming for her.

For the first time in a very long time, Kayla's hand slipped into her underwear, her thoughts still filled by Jess. It didn't take a lot to finish.

I need her. She concluded. God, how much I need her.

Kayla rolled over in bed and reached for her phone to try to tell her. Her heart fluttered anxiously before she hit send, and then she tossed the phone far away from her and curled up on the distant side of the bed, eyes shut tight.

Gnite Jess. Wish you were here.

*************

Will bring her up 2 u if that's ok? Kayla stood in front of BRITDOC texting Aaron, keeping an anxious eye on the street.

Would love to see you! Came Aaron's response after a moment.

Kayla stood on tip-toe searching the busy street, wishing she'd worn heels. She didn't think she looked very nice at all. It was Friday, so she was business casual in jeans and a sweater tucked under her long heavy coat. She self-consciously touched her hair, a frazzled ponytail at the end of the workday. It was then that she spotted Jess.

Fuuuuuuck.

Kayla raised her fists and bit her lip, squeezing her eyes shut. Her knees buckled a little without her permission and she shook her head. The woman striding down the sidewalk on the other side of the street was too much. Interview Attire Jess was a lot for Kayla to process. The unbuttoned coat, the smart pantsuit beneath...the waves of gold hair tumbling around her shoulders...Kayla knew she had to get a grip on herself before Jess noticed her standing there in anguish.

Straightening her posture, she dared herself to stick her fingers in her mouth and whistle as loud as she could. Curls bouncing as Jess whipped her head around, a smile came over the older woman's face as they made eye contact. Time slowed as Jess crossed the street towards her, and Kayla held out her arms without thinking of anything but another hug like the one she'd gotten the other evening. Her wish was granted, and suddenly her face was buried in that perfect pile of curls. She took in the distinct scent of honeysuckle.

The air was chilly, but Jess was so warm...Kayla withdrew from the embrace to appreciate the view and keep herself from becoming too warm.

****************

Kayla bounced back downstairs two at a time, making hesitant glances back up at the two women in the doorway, moving down the hall together.

I hope I'm doing the right thing here. Kayla thought fleetingly. I hope they don't kill each other. Or rather, Aaron doesn't kill Jess.

It was bitterly windy back outside. Kayla hurried for the subway. She was completely unaware of her surroundings now, her thoughts back up in the BRITDOC office where Aaron had promised Kayla she'd make Jess an offer.

"Lady are you new?" A stout businessman behind Kayla gestured impatiently at her with his briefcase as she got caught in the turnstile. Swiping her metro pass again and ignoring him, she pushed through.

When you want us tonite?
YAS Dinner Party Kaylas back! ETA??
FOOOOOD

Kayla clung to a pole in the subway car and read the incoming reply texts to her invites from her friends as she barreled through the underground.

I'll be home by 7 come by anytime. We'll eat around 8ish.

She still had to stop and grab tomatoes. And champagne. After all they'd be celebrating tonight. Lost in her thoughts Kayla almost didn't get out at her stop.

Can someone bring wine? She texted her group once more.

In the produce aisle, Kayla's phone continued to ping.

She signed on. I'll have her start beginning of Feb. Aaron.

Kayla too-tightly twisted the thin plastic bag holding her tomatoes as relief washed over her in waves.

***********

Alex let herself in. Courtney was with her. Kayla was tying her apron on behind her back. "Hi gals!" She called cheerily as she heard them enter.

"Yooo long time no see." Alex dunked a couple bottles of champagne in the bowl of ice Kayla had laid out on the counter.

"Right?" Kayla went in for a hug.

Courtney was still tossing off her shoes in the entrance way. "Sara and Jules are on their way. Their train got stopped."

Alex hadn't released Kayla from embrace. "What are we celebrating here, Kay? This is so sudden and you've seemed a little distracted at work the past couple days. Everything alright?"

Kayla's mouth twisted shyly.

"Oh, my God, is this about that blonde chick who ditched WIP night?" Courtney sauntered into the room, jabbing an accusatory finger in Kayla's direction. "It is, isn't it?"

Kayla didn't respond for a second, feeling her cheeks redden.

"Is she coming here? Did you invite her over?" Alex was slowly putting two and two together from scanning Jess's resume at work. She let go of Kayla to examine her. "Oh shit, you had your ex get her a job and now we're having a celebratory dinner, huh?"

Kayla had hoped she wasn't so easy to read. Did Jess find her as transparent as her friends did? She wished earnestly this was not the case.

"Is Aaron coming tonight?!" Courtney exclaimed.

"You guys, please." Kayla inhaled sharply, waving them off. "Yes, Aaron hired Jess. Just this afternoon. I recommended her because she's perfect for the position, and because everybody deserves to get out of Fox News."

"It helps she's hot and you've bedded her though," Courtney smirked.

"Bedded her, really!" Kayla snapped disapprovingly. She was beginning to regret having told them everything that happened while she was at Fox.

"Is she cool? We didn't really get a chance to know her the other night, y'know?" Alex apparently thought the conversation was veering in a direction that warranted pregame imbibing, and was rummaging through drawers for something to grip a champagne bottle with.

"She's very cool," Kayla replied softly.

Alex and Courtney shared a knowing glance.

"So is Aaron gonna be here? Things could get interesting." The cork gave a pop and Alex caught it in a dishcloth.

"Can you wait? Everyone isn't here yet." Kayla was becoming impatient, and beginning to question her actions. "Aaron's not coming, she didn't think it'd be proper."

Courtney dropped into a kitchen chair. "So I'm alone in my sarcastic wit this evening. She will be missed."

Kayla took the champagne from Alex, setting it back in the ice to breathe. She shrugged. "Jess is pretty witty."

"Jeeze you are super into this girl." Courtney observed.

Kayla tossed her a look over her shoulder.

"Hey, we'll be cool." Courtney held up innocent hands. "Just feel bad for Aaron, is all."

"Well don't feel too bad for her," Alex interjected. "Remember how she behaved during the break up."

"Guys..." Kayla gave a warning stare at the pair.

"Yeah, what a mess." Courtney conceded. "Well here's hoping this Jess is The One."

A warm feeling fled through Kayla from her chest to her extremities. The One?

"Anybody home?" Julianne's voice came from the door. "Sara has to pee."

Chapter Text

Jess took a turn about the space, swirling her wine glass. It was truly beautiful up here, with the city lights bouncing off the window panes, the sounds of traffic muted and the view of the stars a little better from this height. The snow had stopped, not accumulating enough to block the view from the skylights, but resting along the ledges outside the greenhouse in a sheet of glitter.

Finally Jess sat down on a whicker sofa by a huge palm plant, listening to the calm music floating through speakers peppered around the rooftop. She sipped her wine and smiled. Kayla’s residence was so beautiful, so…her.

She watched as Kayla twirled under Alex's raised arm and her assistant pulled Kayla to her by the waist. The blonde laughed and twirled away again, making room for Sara to latch onto Alex as she left Julianne's embrace.

Margaret Firth's choice of words from WIP night played back through Jess's mind. Camaraderie. Jess was more relaxed than she'd felt in ages.

Kayla floated past the palm, swaying to the beat of the music. Her eyes caught Jess's. Jess patted the seat on the sofa next to her. Kayla sidled into it. Flashed a big smile.

“Hi.”
“Hi.”

“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” Jess said softly, her eyes not leaving Kayla’s face.

Kayla smiled back, but didn’t reply. The look from earlier at BRITDOC was back.

Julianne suddenly grabbed Jess's free hand and tugged. "C'mon, new girl."

Kayla was watching, so Jess didn't challenge the request. Kayla held out a hand to take her wine glass and Jess rose.

"Don't steal my woman now," Sara called over Alex's shoulder. Julianne and Sara, Jess had learned, were engaged.

It was the perfect opportunity for a witty response insinuating Jess had feelings for the only other blonde in the room instead, but she didn't take it. Her thoughts on this were still muddled with worry. How had she not realized Kayla's affinity for stairwells had a more sinister cause? She didn't deserve to win her hostess's affections, so she certainly wasn't going to try. Even if Kayla did look at her like she was undressing her.

She was doing it now. Jess could feel it. As she spun Julianne and lackadaisically dipped her in time to the music, Jess sensed Kayla's eyes boring into her. She felt her face growing warm, and took the first opportunity to bow out of dancing.

Relieved to find that Courtney had taken up position in her previous seat, Jess situated herself in a chair opposite the whicker sofa.

Is Kayla still watching me? Jess chanced a glance at her. Shoot. Yes.

Kayla held up the wine glass. "Want this back?" She had an eyebrow raised and her voice was flirty.

"Sure," Jess managed, leaning to meet Kayla's reaching hand.

The song changed to something more upbeat, and Courtney leapt up. "May I?" She offered a hand to Kayla.

"Please do!" Kayla jumped up just as eagerly.

Jess gulped her wine, trying not to let her gaze linger too long on Kayla's movements. But she was mesmerized. You'd never know anything in the world troubled Kayla to watch her dance. Jess wished she could bottle Kayla's carefree enthusiasm in this moment and give it to her any time she was feeling otherwise. And the way she moved her body affected Jess in other ways. She had to battle herself not to think of similar gyrations she'd witnessed one glorious night in the past.

"Hey, Kay? We should probably get going." Sara held her fiancé in her arms in sleepy slowdance. Julianne was leaning against her chest, eyes closed. "This one's tuckered."

Kayla slumped in disappointment. "Ah, okay..."

"We had better go, too." Alex piped up with a meaningful look at Courtney.

"You're not my girlfriend, you don't own me." Courtney retorted, continuing to jive around the greenhouse.

Alex closed the distance between them and grabbed Courtney's arm pointedly. "Yeah but you have a date tomorrow, don't you? You need all the beauty rest you can get."

"Bite me- Oh!" Alex's intentions dawned on her, and she hastily recovered. "Yeah, I better." She huffed.

Kayla gave an appreciative look at her friends as they collected their drinks strewn on various greenhouse surfaces. She turned to Jess. "D'you have to leave already, too?"

Jess swallowed. She was no dummy. She knew what they were all attempting to orchestrate. And a small part of her was filled with glee at the notion. But the bigger part of her, the one that cared only for Kayla's utmost welfare, was hesitant. Although...it couldn't hurt to stay a little longer, and talk to Kayla one on one, at least.

"I can spare a little more time," She smiled reassuringly.

"What, your carriage doesn't turn back into a pumpkin til midnight?" Kayla was now being downright coquettish.

Jess adored her in that moment, but couldn't bring herself to match her attitude. She hoped it wasn't disenchanting.

"Great meeting you properly, Jess Carr." Alex stuck out a hand.

"Yeah, you too," As Jess took it. Kayla's friends were wonderful. She was reassured knowing Kayla had them. They all made their goodbyes in turn, and Kayla followed them to the rooftop stairwell. At the last moment, reaching for the stair railing, she turned her head. "Be right back?"

Jess nodded.

**************

"And this...is mint." Kayla plucked a sprig from the plant Jess stood over admiringly. She held the small cluster of leaves up to Jess's nose. The fresh wintery-green scent floated into her nostrils. Kayla harvested another sprig and popped it into her mouth. Jess took the other bundle and did the same. They chewed in satisfied silence.

"I had no idea you had a green thumb." Jess couldn't hide the admiration in her voice.

"I don't really," Kayla admitted. "It just takes time and attention, it's a sort of therapeutic hobby."

Jess found an in. "Kayla..." She hated to ruin the moment, but felt the need to address her concerns while they were fresh in her mind. "Why didn't you tell me about the elevator thing?"

Kayla's face dropped instantly, and it broke Jess's heart. She immediately regretted prying.

"What 'elevator thing'?" Kayla couldn't meet her eyes.

Jess wanted nothing more than to scoop her up in her arms and never let go, but refrained. Before she could muster an adequate reply, Kayla sighed.

"Yeah, okay, one of them said something to you I guess," She sounded bitter.

"Your friends really adore you."

"I know." Kayla fiddled with the basil plant she'd been watering as they'd walked along the little row of crops. Finally, "I guess I didn't want you to think I'm weak."

"I'd never think that."

Kayla smiled sadly. The thought of her upset made Jess's skin crawl.

"Hey." She brushed Kayla's arm gently. "You're the bravest woman I know."

Kayla chanced eye contact, an incredulous look in her gaze.

"Seriously." Jess's hand trailed down Kayla's wrist to take her hand. "You're braver than me."

Suddenly Kayla's lips were on Jess's. Slow, gentle. Another second and she pulled away.

They stared at each other.

"Kayla." It was Jess's turn for vulnerability. She was sure her expression wasn't hiding it. Everything she'd wanted out of reconnecting with Kayla was unfolding, but Jess couldn't let it go any further. Not after knowing her lack of action had left such deep wounds on Kayla. She can't even ride a lift in her own apartment building. Because I didn't protect her. "Not me, okay?" She let go of Kayla's hand. "You need someone who is worthy of you. You know?"

A puzzled look came over the taller woman's face. It was clear that of all the reactions Jess could have had, this was the least expected one. Kayla took a long time raising a hand to tuck stray hair behind her ear. "I'm sorry," She finally said, "I misread. I thought you were still sorta into me."

"It's not that-"

"Can we remain good friends?" There was a touch of desperation in Kayla's voice now. "What do you want?"

Jess bit her lip. "I want you to be happy. And feel safe. And loved."

Kayla's eyebrows met at the center. She looked more obstinate than Jess had ever seen her. The determination in her narrowed eyes now even surpassed that of her expression when she'd stormed out of Fox. "Well what if I think you can give me those things?"

Jess was almost certain her heart had stopped. She could barely allow herself to process what had just been said. It was more than Jess could've ever hoped to hear when she'd brooded over Kayla's initial email. But she couldn't put her own feelings before protecting Kayla. She'd made that mistake once. Never again.

"I can't, Kayla. I know I can't."

Kayla's eyes looked fit to brim with tears.

I'm trying to protect you, you endlessly sweet, silly girl. Jess screamed internally. It was killing her to do this, Kayla's heartbreak was so transparent, and Jess was heartbroken over her own feelings for Kayla, too. She didn't know what to do now, so she just stood there stoically, dying inside.

Kayla crashed against her. Her face pressed into her neck and her hands made fists of Jess's shirt at her shoulders. Kayla shook for a moment as though she were crying, but seemed to stop resolutely very quickly. Jess slowly wrapped comforting arms around her. She felt Kayla's breath on her skin as she murmured. "Stay with me tonight? Please. I don't want to be alone right now."

"Okay."

It was out of Jess's mouth before she'd allowed it. Her refusals of Kayla's pleadings were spent for the night. Now she'd jump off the roof if she asked her to.

********

Re-entering the apartment they found it quiet and warm. Kayla went through the living room shutting off lights.

"Can I help with anything?" Jess felt useless and emotionally devastated. She needed a distracting task.

Kayla just shook her head. She was in her own thoughts. "I can take the couch, if you'd rather not share a bed with me."

This is gonna be a long night. "I'll do what you want me to do."

Kayla stopped folding an afghan and draped it over the back of the sofa. She examined Jess.

"I don't ride the elevator because it reminds me of how I let me down."

They blinked at each other, and when Jess didn't contribute anything, Kayla continued.

"After the first trip up to his office I knew what he was. And yet I still climbed aboard and pressed 2 again and again. I didn't think I was worth more than what he asked of me. I'd fucking tell myself as much in that fucking elevator.Despite what certain people - i.e. you - were telling me about myself."

She slowly approached Jess until they faced each other not a foot apart. "I'm happy now. And I feel safe. It's just going take some time to sort out a few leftover pieces of baggage." She reached for Jess's hands. "No one made me return to his office day after day. And I wish you could see yourself through my eyes because then you'd never blame Jess Carr again. But that place has given you baggage too."

Jess opened her mouth to interject but Kayla wasn't finished.

"And if anything, the fact you're so obsessively concerned over how your actions could potentially hurt me proves you're more than worthy."

Jess was momentarily speechless. Processing. She liked the way Kayla's version of events painted Jess. And she liked that Kayla seemed to want her so badly she was still trying to persuade her into caving. Jess just wasn't sure she was capable of re-evaluating all her opinions on this.

"I did want to help you escape Fox," Kayla continued, "But I also reached out to you selfishly."

"Kayla, you're not selfish."

"Just listen to me. You said you want me to be happy and safe and loved? Well the closest I've ever felt to having all three was with you. Leaving that job did a world of good. But it left a you-shaped hole in my life."

Jess felt the tears coming, and then they were hot on her cheeks. Kayla had never seen Jess cry, and it startled her visibly. Powerless to keep them from falling, Jess allowed herself to be enveloped in Kayla's embrace. "When have you ever had a shoulder to cry on, Jess?" Kayla whispered gently, rubbing her back. "I don't think you even fully realize the toll that place takes on a person. The toll it's taken on you."

She knew Kayla was right, but Jess was so overcome with emotions pulling her in so many different directions she was too overwhelmed to think.

"Come lay down with me." Kayla persuaded.

************

The duvet settled over Jess as Kayla slipped under it beside her. She'd borrowed an oversized t-shirt of Kayla's with some Bible verse plastered across the back, a leftover souvenir from a church family fun run. Kayla wore her usual floral pink satin notch collar shirt and shorts.

In spite of her emotional exhaustion, Jess caught herself wisecracking, "Slumber party Barbie."

Kayla put a hand to her chest, mouth agape in feigned offense.

She leaned over and clicked off the light. Then Jess felt searching limbs. An arm draped over her chest. A leg across her knees.

"I'll have a comeback for your name calling one of these days," Came the sweetest voice. "Is this okay?"

Jess assumed Kayla was referring to how she'd curled into her. To Jess's mind, only one thing could improve upon their current situation.

"No, it's not." She said. But before Kayla could worry, Jess rolled on her side. "Put your back to me?" She requested.

Kayla rolled over obligingly, no questions asked. Jess wasted no time in scooping up her little spoon to her.

"Better?" Kayla inquired over her shoulder.

"Best." Jess whispered into her hair.

Kayla found Jess's arm encircling her tightly and caressed it up and down with light fingertips.

Jess closed her eyes and allowed the scent of bergamot to overtake her. This feels right. She noticed. Maybe it is. She nuzzled her way through Kayla's hair and pressed her lips to the back of Kayla's neck in a soft kiss.

"I want to try with you, Kayla. More than anything," She murmured, "If I could protect you just like this forever, I would."

Kayla released a sleepy, contented sigh. She sounded as though she were already half drifted off to sleep. But her reply was loud and clear as she pulled Jess's arm more tightly around her. "From you? I've come to expect nothing less."

Chapter Text

Jess was careful to keep Kayla nestled against her all night. She awoke several times and drew her closer. Nevertheless when she finally opened her eyes again to see the morning light slowly growing in the room, she found herself curled up facing Kayla, their foreheads nearly touching.

Kayla’s breathing came in the easy pattern of good sleep, her little exhales a distinct flutter of sound. Her hand rested just above Jess’s left breast, as though at some point during the early morning hours Kayla’d turned in search of her heart.

Jess then became aware of Kayla's legs tangled up in her own. Jesus.

Gradually, so as not to wake her, Jess withdrew until her thighs were no longer trapping one of Kayla's legs. Her task completed, she realized she'd been holding her breath, and sharply sucked in air. Whether it was this sound or the preceding movement, Kayla's eyes fluttered open. Catching Jess in her sights, a drowsy smile played across her face. "Mm, g'morning."

"Hey there," Jess murmured. Uncertainties didn't seem as prevalent in her mind with the break of a new day. She reached out and brushed strands of hair behind Kayla's ear. The hand on Jess's chest slipped away so a thumb could trace Jess's bottom lip.

Oh no. Jess caught Kayla's hand in hers before something else transpired and kissed it softly.

A wide awake smile broke out over Kayla's face. "I could make you breakfast," She proposed.

"Or," Jess touched the other woman's hand to her nose playfully. "We could stay right here til the end of time."

The turquoise eyes looking at Jess darkened. She felt Kayla's feet graze her own. The younger woman was biting her bottom lip, revealing a perfect row of top teeth. "Okay..." She said delicately.

Jess stifled a shiver. She hadn't meant it the way Kayla took it. But she wasn't sure she had any more defenses in her arsenal should Kayla initiate something. She remembered with relish what being that close to Kayla had felt like one night last spring. She wanted to revive it right this second, but...

Jess freed Kayla's hand and and rubbed sleep out of her eyes, trying to shake her thoughts.

"It's like 7 am," Kayla mused, reading her mood. "Why don't you go back to sleep for a little while?" She reached over Jess and found the hem of her t-shirt, slipping her hand underneath and running gentle fingers along her back. Jess gave in to the sensation, cuddling closer to Kayla until her head was buried in her chest. Everything was right in the world as Kayla's chin settled softly on the top of her head and Jess pressed her cheek further into the satin of Kayla's night shirt.

Jess drifted off for some minutes without realizing it, and reawoke to find that Kayla had moved on to her ear, tracing it tenderly with a careful index finger. As cosy and wholesome as all of this was, Kayla had unknowingly found one of Jess's weaknesses. She stirred, throwing the blankets off herself as she felt her body growing hot.

Jess propped herself up on a pillow with her elbow and gazed at Kayla. Cleared her throat. Swallowed, with momentary wide eyes. Once fully collected she inquired, "Does Miss Pospisil have plans for today?"

Kayla watched this unfold with some amusement. Then searching Jess's eyes, replied slowly, "It's the weekend, I have no real obligations until tomorrow...Why?"

A goofy look formed on Jess's face. "Kinda thinking I wanna take you on a date."

Kayla's eyes sparkled. "Oh, do you?"

Kayla was too pretty. It was too much. She never shoulda touched my ear.

"Uh huh." Jess croaked. She sat upright, mostly to prevent herself from leaning in and kissing Kayla.

Do things the right way this time, J.C. Her thoughts admonished, Plus, you've most likely got morning breath.

That did the trick. She reached for Kayla's bedside table and retrieved her glasses and her phone. Finding the Open Table app, she browsed through several options before a smirk evolved across her face. She typed for several seconds before triumphantly setting the phone back on the table and stretching luxuriously.

"What did you just do?" Kayla accused.

"Not a thing." Jess looked innocently up at Kayla's ceiling. Then making eye contact again, "I need coffee. D'you need coffee?"

**************

Jess knew she probably looked a little crazy on the train back to her apartment, smiling at everyone who accidentally made eye contact with her. But she couldn't help it. She couldn't get the image of her and Kayla's parting out of her head.

They'd thrown on yesterday's clothes and bundled up to grab Starbucks together in the morning snow shower. Jess had convinced Kayla to reconvene with her that afternoon. She needed a shower. And a wardrobe change. And to redo her hair in a way that would mess Kayla up again.

Because Kayla messed her up. Standing there on the sidewalk by the subway station stair, Kayla didn't even have to try to be someone Jess could fall in love with. The twinkle in her eyes suggested maybe Kayla felt the same way. That cheery little face poking out of a scarf, mittened hands raising a steaming to-go cup to lips that promised, "See you at 5."

God.

Would it ever be 5 o'clock? But there was so much to do before then. Time seemed to Jess to be toying with her.

*************

“Guess we should’ve met up indoors somewhere, huh?” Jess called through a gust of snow as she strode into the small park towards Kayla.

Kayla did a double take. The wind lifted Jess’s curls and they danced across her cheeks. Her glasses must’ve been tucked away safe and dry in her coat somewhere. Kayla took in the unobstructed view of Jess’s dazzlingly ice blue eyes, but there was nothing frosty about the way they gazed at her.

“Cute, isn’t it?” Jess swept an arm around the path.

“I love it here,” Kayla managed, but she wasn’t admiring the park.

“You’ve been here before?” Jess looked impressed.

Kayla found herself blushing. “A few times, to the Inn.” She tossed her head behind her in the direction of Christopher Street.

Jess sheepishly dug her fists deeper into her pockets. “See? Braver than me,” she admitted. “I’m surprised, since Antichrist Obama made this place a National Monument and everything.”

Kayla reached out and gave Jess a playful shove. “Oh my God, shut up!” She was surprised, too. “You’ve never been in the Stonewall? Do you wanna go, right now?”

Kayla felt a pang of guilt as she watched anxiety spread over Jess’s face and she shifted uneasily from foot to foot. Or maybe she was just cold? “I’ll go in February. With you.” Jess returned evenly.

Jeeze. She’ll continue to be a closet case til she’s physically out of Fox for good, then. Kayla realized with some pain.

She made her best effort to smile reassuringly. “February? Trying to be my Valentine or something?” She felt stupid making a joke of an idea that to her was such a meaningful notion, but she’d do anything to make Jess smile. “I missed you when you went home,” she dared herself to add.

That seemed to perk Jess up. “Ditto, baby.”

Baby.

Sure, she’d said it in her silliest tone of voice, but that didn’t stop Kayla’s heart picking up speed or her brain echoing the word on loop.

Lord, whatever I have to do to keep her by my side saying that, help me do it. She sent up in silent prayer.

“We have reservations down the street.” Jess announced, glancing up and down the area before gallantly holding her arm out to Kayla. “It’s not the Stonewall, but it is indoors.”

Kayla noticed herself shivering with cold and slipped her arms around Jess’s offered one for warmth. The contact instantly warmed her in more ways than one.

“What's the venue called?” She murmured into Jess’s shoulder, nuzzling the cold tip of her nose there.

The wind had mostly subsided; snowflakes now floated in slow motion towards the ground in the cushioned silence that comes at the end of a winter storm. Jess steered them away from the park in the opposite direction of the Stonewall Inn.

"You'll seeee."

There were few people out on the street, but they passed several. Jess seemed to stiffen a little each time, but didn't release their intertwined arms. Kayla felt the glance of an older male couple walking in the opposite direction. One of them beamed at the women, and Kayla could've died of happiness.

Yes, I AM on the arm of this beauty. She narrated to herself. Lucky me, lucky me, lucky me. She had to stop herself from skipping.

Not two blocks on, Jess halted in front of a white-arched doorway.

"One if by Land, Two if by Sea." She said.

"What?" Kayla narrowed her eyes, processing. "Is that where we're going? Oh my God, is that where we are? Jess." She let go of the shorter woman's arm and examined her harshly. "Are you crazy?"

"Whoa, bad choice?" Jess's eyebrows raised as she observed Kayla in return, some bemusement showing.

"Seriously, are you crazy?!" Kayla demanded again. "This place is like, a legend. Mostly for being super fancy and, well, expensive."

"Is it?" Jess remained aloof and unabashed. "I just heard the tofu's good and it's romantic in there."

"Jess!" Kayla forced her to meet her eyes. She knew neither of them were really hurting for money. But it was the principle of the thing. She couldn't conceive of Jess trying to take her to a place like this. Although...She hated to admit Jess was right about one thing: It was considered one of the most romantic dinner destinations in the world. She swallowed as Jess maintained eye contact. Kayla wasn't going to win this argument, and beyond her initial surprise, she suspected she didn't want to.

She wanted to follow stubborn little Jess Carr into the stupid fancy romantic restaurant.

*************

"I'm becoming less and less upset with you," Kayla told Jess as they settled into their chairs at a table directly in front of a fireplace. The fire crackled peacefully behind a golden-winged screen and gave off a great amount of heat. A fully suited waiter strode over and lit the single white taper candle on the table between them.

"Thanks," Jess said to him as she leaned back against her chair cushion. Then she looked back up at Kayla with a casual smirk. "So you forgive me?"

Kayla shook her head. "I'm beginning to believe there's nothing you could do that would ever upset me."

Jess gave her a quizzical look and took a moment to chew on the fingernail of her thumb. Then she exhaled a short laugh behind her hand. "Couldya tell that to my new boss?"

Kayla's eyebrows shot up. "Was Aaron rude to you? Be honest."

Jess let her hand fall to the table and sat up a little straighter. "No, she wasn't. I did get the impression she and I have more in common than I thought, though."

She's got me there. Kayla blushed and gave an embarrassed chuckle. "Alright, I'll come clean. She was my girlfriend, at one point. Briefly."

"Aha." Jess didn't sound the least bit surprised.

"She was there for me when I came out to myself properly. She was super sweet and patient about it." Kayla didn't know why she felt the need to explain herself. She didn't believe Jess needed her to. But maybe she just wanted to be completely transparent with the older woman. "Not that you weren't there for me, and super sweet and patient too." She smiled wanly.

"If I remember right, 'I'm not a lesbian,' were your exact words," Jess leaned closer over the table, resting her chin in her hand, a look of amusement on her face.

"Yes..." Kayla trailed off as the waiter returned. Inquired about drinks. "Rosé for me."

"Me too."

They watched the waiter depart.

"So what happened?"

Kayla sighed. "A lot. She was...a lot." The prompt waiter returned with a bottle and poured their rosé. Kayla grabbed her glass. "Frankly I think the real crux of the problem was that she was not you." Kayla reached over, clinked Jess's glass and kept her eyes on her as she took a sip.

Too far? Maybe I shouldn't have said that. Kayla chided herself. Jess was staring at her with a look she couldn't figure out. It unsettled Kayla. Another beat passed before Jess picked up her rosé and took her time drinking from the glass. She swallowed carefully and sucked her lips in between her teeth. Then she released them. Set down her wine.

"Kayla if you'll let me I'm going to kiss you before the night is out. Just so you know."

Let you?! I've been silently begging you to kiss me for days...Oh. My God. As if Jess could get any sexier to Kayla in that moment she ran a hand through her hair to get the curls out of her face. Then she dug around in her pants pocket and withdrew a glasses case, cracked it open, and slid her glasses on.

"There we go!" She said, raising her hands in a triumphant gesture. "Now I can see you in your full glory."

Kayla felt herself becoming incredibly shy. She could feel Jess's eyes going over every inch of her. Which is exactly what Kayla had wanted when she'd pulled the low cut red dress from her closet earlier. She just didn't know how she was going to make it through a four course dinner with the suggestion of Jess's lips being on hers later.

"So why was Aaron a lot?" Jess had gone back to her rosé but her eyes hadn't stopped their roaming.

"Ugh, we don't have to talk about her. I wasn't as invested as she was, that's all. And she's still struggling with it."

"And can't say no to you."

Kayla winced. Jess knows exactly why she was hired. "Well...Not many people can." She playfully bit her lip. "I imagine you wouldn't be able to say no to me either."

Jess held up her wine glass in acknowledgement. "This is true. So what do you want, K? Here's your opportunity. Ask for something I have to say yes to." She swirled her rosé a little and made a funny face, bracing herself.

Filled with delight that Jess was finally reciprocating in the silliness, Kayla was transported to the first night they'd flirted at that bar.

The waiter returned with their first course. "Truffle honey burrata with balsamic pearls." He set plates before each of them.

Jess rubbed her hands together, picking up a fork and knife. "Yes, talk cheese to me."

Kayla stifled a laugh as she watched Jess enjoy the appetizer for a moment. "Good?"

Jess stuck a thumb up and nodded vehemently. Kayla took a couple bites, savoring the luxuriousness of the dish.

"Okay. I know what I want from you."

Jess looked up expectantly.

"After dessert let me take you for a nightcap at Stonewall." She wasn't sure Jess would actually be able to honor her agreement to say yes. Kayla knew she was pushing it. It was a lot to ask, and maybe a little cruel to do so. She was just certain Jess would have a good time, and feel a little better if she could only release some of the weight she always carried around on her shoulders.

It evidently wasn't the request Jess had expected. She continued to chew thoughtfully for a moment before replying. "Okay." She finally said. "Okay, you win."

"Really?"

Jess reached across the table and tapped Kayla on the tip of the nose, letting her hand fall back to the table on Kayla's side. Grinned. "Really."

She'd finished her appetizer, and Kayla only had a few bites left. With one hand she slipped her fingers through Jess's. With the other she forked a last bit of burrata and held it up for Jess to take.

"You don't want it?"

Kayla chuckled. "I want you to have it."

"It's so frickin' good," Jess confessed, taking the offer. Their eyes met as Kayla slipped the utensil slowly out of Jess's mouth.

"Tell me something I don't know about Jess." Kayla said when they'd finished off the cheese. She felt a sudden need to know everything about her.

"Hm, like what?"

Kayla thought for a moment. "When did you become a vegetarian?"

"Seventh grade after a science fair. This kid did his project on chicken farms. You?"

"College journalism class. Paper on PETA."

The smiled at each other.

"Lemongrass tofu?" The waiter had reappeared to clear and replace their plates.

"Thank you." Kayla turned to him.

Jess picked up another fork to spear a cube of tofu. "Okay. Favorite book? And don't say O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln."

"The Thornbirds."

"What's that?"

"An old Christian romance novel, well kind of. It ends with zero conflict resolution."

"Well that's no fun."

"I read it in junior high. It left me with a lifelong resolve to go after the things I want, 'The best is only bought at the cost of great pain,' so says the book, anyway." Kayla gave a small smile at her plate. "I think I took that the wrong way until very recently, though." She hoped Jess would know she was referring to her time at Fox.

"And now?"

"Now I think it means the way to be happiest isn't always the easiest. But still worth it."

"Brave, beautiful and smart, to boot." Jess shook her head incredulously.

"Go on, what's your favorite book, then?"

"Killing Lincoln."

"Oh shut up."

*************

Kayla set down her spoon on the shared plate of chocolate souffle and vanilla ice cream they'd just demolished. "Well this place was dangerously good."

"Glad I thought of it." Jess licked the back of her own spoon with a cocky glance at Kayla.

Under the table, Kayla found one of Jess's legs with her foot and dragged the toe of her shoe up Jess's ankle. "You still up for the Inn?"

Jess froze at the contact, the effect Kayla had hoped for.

"Ah, yes, um, what're you doing?" She fidgeted in her seat with a reproving look in her eyes.

"Making sure you stay awake with all that food in you," Kayla flashed a flippant grin.

"Yes, I'm very alert, thank you." Jess's chin dropped with wide eyes focusing on the tablecloth.

Kayla laughed and withdrew her foot. Slowly. For a moment they just gazed at one another through the candlelight.

The waiter returned. “I’m guessing I'm to give this to the one in the suit?” He made a little bow, extending the checkbook to Jess.

“Bold assumption, but a correct one,” Jess gave him a little salute as she popped her card in the fold and the waiter turned away to settle up.

"I have another request." Kayla honed in all her courage to see if she could get Jess to say yes to her one more time.

"'Thank you for dinner' is what a normal person might say right now," Jess teased.

Kayla exhaled impatiently. "Yes, that too," She admitted with an appreciative smile.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding. What do you want, babe?"

There's that word again. Well almost. Kayla was pretty certain she could get another yes now. If she was brave enough to ask the question. Jess thinks you're brave. Prove it.

"Stay at mine again tonight?"

"Thank you lovely ladies, have a good rest of your evening."

The waiter handed Jess a pen and she went to work on the receipt. Then she raised an eyebrow meant for Kayla, without looking up.

"Somebody must really want that kiss I offered."

Chapter Text

Back outside on the snowy sidewalk, Kayla couldn’t stop herself from gazing at Jess. She could feel a foolish grin spread across her face but didn’t attempt to conceal it. She most likely couldn’t have even if she tried.

Who would blame me for staring at Jess Carr?

The shorter woman was absent-mindedly observing passing traffic, lost in her thoughts. She seemed to notice Kayla’s eyes on her after a few minutes, and turned her head. Jess gave Kayla the smallest sly smile and took her hand. It tore an electricity through Kayla. She slipped her fingers through Jess’s and clasped her hand back tight. Bold Jess was Kayla’s favorite Jess.

If only she’d be bold enough to make good on that promise of a kiss. Kayla refused to be the one to initiate it. Not after the conversation it had led to the night before.

How do I convince this woman I’m okay? That I want her. What more can I do?

“Tell me something else I don’t know about you?” She found herself asking.

“Anything in particular?”

“Who really was that in the framed photo on your desk at work?”

Jess exhaled, averting her eyes, ears reddening. “That was Bethany, my best friend. She went through a bicurious phase senior year of college. Broke my heart.” She grimaced. “It’s all good now, we’re still friends. She moved to Maine but we keep in touch." She looked back up at Kayla with an exposed expression on her face, though not trying to conceal it. "Basically, she was the first girl my dumb ass ever fell for."

Kayla’s eyebrows knitted in sympathy. Honest, vulnerable Jess might be even better than the bold one. “Oh my God you really do thrive in toxicity.” She stroked Jess’s thumb with her own. Jess gave her hand a squeeze.

“Wanna know the first girl my dumb ass ever fell for?”

Jess bit her lip, feigning concern as her eyes trained on the path in front of them. “Jealousy is not a good color on me Kayla, spare me, I beg of you.”

Kayla’s mouth twisted into a sly smirk. “Okay...but I think you’d have liked my answer.”

Jess’s head whipped back up. She shot a quick glance at the younger woman before dropping her eyes once more.

Yep, she caught my drift. Good.

“Are you warm enough?” Jess’s concern for her welfare was interrupting again.

Kayla sidestepped to face Jess as they walked, and grabbed their clasped hands in her other one. “I’m very warm, thank you.” She made a show of shaking her hair over her shoulder; Jess’s eyes didn’t leave her. Kayla reveled in the way the older woman seemed to be trying to memorize every inch of her face.

Kayla turned back around. Jess was even easier to captivate than Aaron. Except it was a whole lot more fun toying with Jess. Exciting. There was more at stake. Kayla’s feelings were on the line here, too.

If only she’d kiss me.

She caught herself gazing at Jess’s lips. They were perfect, the lower, slightly bigger one gave her the cutest permanent almost-pout.

Jess stopped, looking up. "Here we are." The red neon-lit sign of The Stonewall Inn reflected off her glasses.

"Are you sure this is okay?" Kayla asked her.

Jess nodded. "I've wanted to come here for years, but."

Kayla gave her a slow, suggestive smile. "...We could still always do...something else?"

Jess's jaw clenched, eyes growing wide. It was clear she was battling which of Kayla's desires she was brave enough to chase.

The gay bar must've won out. She strode forward, yanking the door handle.

"After you."

***************

"You sure you're over 21 there, girlie?" A bartender with frizzy brown hair called out to Kayla with a toothy grin.

"AJ!" Kayla bounded up to the counter and strained to hug the brunette over it.

“It has been far too long, where’ve ya been?” She clapped Kayla on the back. “Where’s your other half?” The woman craned her neck and squinted across the dimly lit space.

Forgot I haven't ever come in here without Aaron. “Ooh, um, about that...” Kayla dropped her eyes. Shit.

AJ caught her drift. “Ah well, you’re too good for her anyway. Stace said she was clingy when they were together. So you dodged a bullet, Poppy. Here alone? Your usual tap?”

“Not alone. Not sure what we’ll drink yet. How’s Stacy?”

“Hot and problematic as ever. Who are you with? Where is she? Dish!” AJ was back to scanning the room.

Kayla flushed beet red and delicately pointed to the front entrance, where Jess still stood poring over the historic sign in its frame. This is a RAIDED PREMISES. She turned as if on cue, found Kayla with her eyes and smiled, shuffling towards her at the bar hesitantly.

“Whoaaa, go Poppy.” AJ muttered.

Kayla shot her a look. “We’re not technically together, I don't think.” She whispered hastily as Jess approached.

“Well you’re both sure dressed like you’re trying to win each other over.” AJ shot back under her breath. Then brightly, “Hi! I’m Anjelique!” She extended a hand to Jess.

A hoard of guys heading to the back stairs cut in front of Jess. In the moment it took them to saunter past, AJ leaned in to Kayla’s ear, “She’s a bombshell.”

Kayla waved a hand in her face to shut her up.

"Jess Carr. Nice to meet you, Anjelique.” Jess said meekly when she was finally able.

“My friends call me AJ.” AJ smiled. “What can I get you girls?”

Kayla turned as she leaned against the bar, a flirty and inquisitive look at Jess.

“You tell me,” Jess's bewilderment was apparent.

“Two rum and cokes then, please.” Kayla decided.

“Can I see some ID?” AJ teased.

“Oh haha.” When AJ turned to prepare the drinks Kayla reached down carefully and tangled two of her fingers in two of Jess’s. “So what do you think?”

Jess surveyed the room. A few tables stood claustrophobically against the wall behind them, stools filled to capacity with a beautiful bouquet of colorful people. Some not lucky enough to have found a seat stood behind their friends, but didn’t seem to mind. A pool table lay beyond that, where five butch women were in heated but lighthearted argument over whose turn it really was. One of them was waving her cue stick with great enthusiasm. A jukebox was tucked back in the corner beyond; someone had chosen Queen.

“It feels like stepping back in time a little, doesn’t it?” Kayla contributed. Jess nodded.

AJ clinked the glasses on the bar top to grab their attention. “There ya go, Poppy.”

“What do I owe you?”

“Oh please.”

The pair drifted towards the far side of the pool table to watch the game.

“You know every woman in all of gay New York City, don’t you?” Jess finally said.

Kayla laughed. “Oh no. But Aaron, Julianne, and Sara do. Connections.”

Camaraderie.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” One side of Jess’s mouth twitched upwards, “Poppy.”

Kayla felt herself blush again. She hid her face in her drink. Then, "Over here, I want to show you something."

Jess followed as Kayla led the way past the bathrooms into a smaller, darker room behind. She pointed up at a glittering, rainbow-colored wall lit by a spotlight. Small, silver, hexagonal name plates peppered the surface. Kayla gestured exuberantly. "The ancestors."

Kayla looked on as Jess gazed upwards, taking in all the names. She swallowed, the impact of LGBT history seemed to be having a great effect on her. Swelling with pride for the foremothers, and also a bit too much adoration for Jess, Kayla reached up and pointed to a plate reading Stormé DeLarverie. She leaned in to speak softly against Jess's ear.

"Butch woman of color who used to be a bouncer for New York's gay bars. She called every lesbian she met her baby girl. And she punched a cop here on that historic night. She denied it for most of her life, but, they say, owned up to it on her deathbed."

"Badass." Jess gazed up reverently for another moment before turning to Kayla with full eyes. "Thank you for convincing me to come in here, baby girl."

Heat spread through Kayla's entire body. She could barely manage a response, "I knew you'd like it."

After a little while they floated back towards the front room, following the sound of the music.

A couple of guys brushed by them, holding one another and swaying to the song emitting from the jukebox. The taller of the two nearly stepped on Kayla.

Jess shook her head, an impatient glance at them. She took a swig from her glass and set it on the jukebox. “Hey, c’mere.”

She pulled Kayla in to her by the waist. Kayla settled her arms naturally around Jess’s shoulders, holding her drink out behind the shorter woman’s head. Their eyes met. The music wasn’t Queen anymore.

“Do you know this song?” Kayla asked softly.

“Huh uh.” Jess barely seemed to hear it; she suddenly looked as though her thoughts couldn’t possibly be on anything going on around them.

Please. Kayla thought wildly, Do it.

And suddenly Jess’s lips were on hers. A soft brush, light pressure. She withdrew slowly, and looked back into Kayla's eyes with her own barely open ones. Her pupils were huge inside their little blue pools, and not only because of the dimly lit bar. Jess gave a small incredulous smile, like she couldn't believe she'd just done that.

Kayla couldn't believe she'd stopped. She withdrew her arms to set down her rum and coke. Then grabbed Jess by the collar and pulled her towards her until their lips met again. As they kissed Kayla felt a hand climbing her back, stopping between her shoulder blades and pressing her closer. Then Jess’s tongue tentatively ran along Kayla’s bottom lip. Asking permission. Kayla melted against Jess, parting her lips. It felt insane how much she'd wanted this again.

Their tongues found one another and danced in each other's mouths. Jess was so perfect it took Kayla's breath away. If nothing but this ever happened again for the rest of her life, she'd consider her life exceedingly well lived. She gently released her grip on Jess's collar and slipped her hands up Jess's neck into her hair. Jess withdrew her tongue and instead gently nipped Kayla's bottom lip with her teeth, slowly pulling away and hastily coming back to kiss her again.

God. Kayla tried her best to keep up and not go completely limp in surrender. But her desperate fingers were tugging at Jess's hair, tangled up in it, which only seemed to encourage Jess's tantalizing behavior. Kayla pulled away after another moment so she could collect herself. We're in public, after all. She reminded herself. Any longer and I might make a scene in front of God and everybody. I can't breathe, my heart is racing, I'm wet, I- Their eyes reconnected. Jess had a glimmer in her eyes that didn't match the shock the shape of her mouth conveyed.

In unison they went for an embrace, holding on as though they'd never let each other go. Jess gave better hugs than any other being in the universe, of this Kayla was certain. And there were no other arms that mattered. I'm in so much trouble here. Kayla realized. If this woman decides this isn't what she wants I'm absolute toast.

But Jess's shoulders were shaking. Kayla pulled back, eyes wide with the fear that she was crying. No, she was laughing. Was that good?

"What? What is it?" Kayla demanded.

Jess pulled her firmly back in, shaking her head. "Nothing. That was awesome." A hand ran over Kayla's hair. "That was awesome. You're so awesome."

Kayla found herself laughing too. She laced her fingers together around Jess's back and squeezed her. Whatever the song was now, it seemed to match their giggling, and Jess moved their bodies together back and forth to the tune. They got into it, and began properly dancing with each other. Jess twirled Kayla away from her, and when she pulled her back in, Kayla kissed her. They were clumsy, taking turns taking sips of rum, stumbling, catching, laughing, more kissing. They could've been anywhere, the bar didn't exist, the people, the pool table, none of it was noticed.

Kayla couldn't remember ever feeling this way. Is this what people meant when they waxed lyrical about falling in love? The idea terrified her, but Jess didn't. Jess was the only thing that made sense. Concluding this, she let herself fall into Jess's arms, her own tucked between their chests as their swaying slowed.

"Jess?"

"Yeah?" The little inquiry was said so softly Jess's voice nearly broke Kayla into a thousand pieces.

"Wanna go home now?"

**************

Hand in hand they tripped up the stairwell away from the trains and out onto the sidewalk. There was no fighting it anymore. They were drunk on each other. Jess allowed Kayla to pull her along, almost running to keep up.

The subway station was still three blocks from Kayla’s. Jess couldn’t make it. She halted abruptly, causing Kayla to stumble. They laughed, Jess attempting to catch her. Kayla righted herself by grabbing onto Jess’s forearms for balance.

“Why’re we stopping?” Kayla asked breathlessly.

Jess answered by cupping her face and kissing her. Kayla melted against her again. Jess was addicted to the feeling of Kayla’s body relaxing completely in response to her touch. Her hands left Kayla’s face and found their way down to her waist, pulling her in closer. Their hips connected.

Kayla’s lips left Jess’s, gasping. She grabbed at Jess’s hands and tugged them. “Come on, we gotta go. We have to go home. Like, right now.”

“But I wasn’t done kissing you…” Jess pouted, attempting to pull her in again.

“No I know. Trust me.” Kayla gave another desperate tug, but wasn’t winning.

Jess got free of her grip and clasped her hands around the small of Kayla’s back, pulling her in again.

“Jess.” Kayla reproached halfheartedly.

Jess kissed her again. Kayla lost all self-control, running her hands through Jess’s hair with enough enthusiasm to horrify a hairstylist. Jess’s tongue owned her, she was powerless to any response but to touch Jess as much as possible. Kayla’s hands dropped out of her hair and down her chest.

It was Jess’s turn to be disarmed as Kayla gripped her breasts. She immediately understood Kayla’s side of the argument. She broke the kiss.

“Yeah, upstairs!” Jess choked. “Let’s get upstairs.”

Kayla smirked and they hightailed it to her apartment building.

They made it halfway up the stairwell before Kayla shoved Jess against a wall and kissed her hard. She unbuttoned the top couple buttons on Jess’s shirt and found Jess’s collarbone with her mouth.

Jess’s knees threatened failure. She knew her only recourse was to give Kayla a reason to stop and continue up towards the bedroom. She ran a hand down the length of Kayla’s back, lifting the hem of her dress and slowly squeezing what she found underneath.

That did it. Kayla released her, nipping her with another quick kiss before snatching Jess’s hand away from her. They stumbled up the rest of the stairs.

Along the hall they couldn’t keep their hands off each other, tripping and giggling and gasping between more kisses.

“How’re we ever gonna open the door?” Jess whined dramatically.

In unison they tore through Kayla’s purse for the key. It fell to the floor and they laughed as they both bent to snatch it up. Jess got there first, and fumbled with it in the lock on the door. Kayla bounced on her heels impatiently and tickled Jess’s back.

Finally falling inside, coats and shoes were thrown to the floor as they bee-lined for the bedroom. A nightlight from the attached bathroom cast just enough illumination for them to see each other’s outlines.

At the foot of the bed they momentarily paused, facing each other, catching their breath. The atmosphere had changed. Jess ran her fingers down Kayla’s wrist and softly took her hand. They both observed this, then looked back up at each other. Kayla stepped a little closer. The shift in their temperaments was tangibly towards the tender. They still wanted to be all over each other. But they also didn’t want to take the significance of such an intimate reunion for granted. Last year, a roll in the hay had been a fun distraction. An escape from all the things they wanted to run away from. Now it seemed to mean more. They were running towards something. Together.

“You are so special to me,” Jess whispered. She felt Kayla smile against her as their foreheads brushed.

Kayla lowered herself onto the bed, and still hand in hand, Jess gladly followed. With Kayla on her back, Jess perched above her as they stared at each other in the near darkness.

“I need you,” Kayla finally murmured.

“I’m here,” Jess reassured quietly. She leaned in and reconnected their lips.

Chapter Text

“I need you,” Kayla finally murmured.

“I’m here,” Jess reassured quietly. She leaned in and reconnected their lips.

Kayla kissed her back so sweetly Jess could’ve cried. Instead she pressed her body more firmly against Kayla's, savoring the closeness. Kayla loved it, too. But she wanted Jess even closer.

After a moment Jess suddenly withdrew, realizing she was forgetting herself. "Are you sure this is what you want?" She asked softly.

Kayla looked up at her in amazement, as though she couldn't possibly comprehend how Jess still doubted whether Kayla wanted her. It broke her heart. She brought both hands up to Jess’s face, comfortingly stroking her cheeks and taking the frames of her glasses in careful fingers. Slipping them down Jess's nose. She was so gorgeous it hurt Kayla to look at her. "Jess. I fuck myself thinking about this." She blurted it out in a desperate attempt to assuage Jess, but turned absolutely scarlet when she realized the weight of the confession.

Jess's eyes widened for a second, then darkened heavily. A slow, incredulous smile formed across her lips. "Oh, you do not."

Kayla sucked both her lips in, as if hiding them would prevent them from revealing anything else equally mortifying. She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded.

"Seriously?" She heard Jess say. Her voice sounded almost hoarse now. "Kayla...That's the sexiest thing I've ever heard in my life." Jess could scarcely breathe. She wished Kayla would open her eyes. She desperately wanted the gaze of the woman who fantasized about her when she touched herself. She dragged a finger down her cheek. "Hey."

Kayla's eyes opened hesitantly, full of vulnerability. But Jess's grin reassured her that her admission had been convincing.

Kayla stretched her arm far away from them to set Jess's glasses out of reach at the head of the bed. Jess slid her fingers up the length of Kayla’s arm and retook her hand. She moved it so it was positioned over Kayla’s head, and tenderly repeated the gesture with her other arm, pressing their hands into the mattress. Kayla raised her eyebrows. She wanted to say something cute and snarky, but couldn’t find any words in her brain. She simply gazed up at her adorable captor and waited patiently for whatever Jess wanted to unfold next.

Jess wanted Kayla’s mouth. Now fully confident, she was insatiable. She pounced, feeling Kayla’s fingers curling between her own as their tongues played.

Another moment and a little whimper escaped the younger woman. It made Jess dizzy. She scooted sideways slightly, hiking a leg between Kayla’s thighs and trapping one of them between her own. The way she'd woken up that morning flashed through her mind. How badly she'd wanted to be doing all this then. She slowly moved upwards against Kayla. Another gasp greeted her ears as she nearly saw stars.

Kayla felt herself completely surrender. With a mind of their own, her legs moved further apart from one another, making room for Jess. She bit down on her bottom lip, or Jess's, she wasn't sure anymore where her mouth ended and Jess's began. She was only all too aware of the rise and fall of her hips against Jess's body, and the way it had changed the breathing of the woman on top of her.

She wanted the use of her hands back. She had to get all those stupid clothes off of Jess. She needed every inch of Jess Carr under her fingertips. Yesterday.

"Please take your clothes off. I'm going to die." Kayla pleaded.

In answer, Jess kissed her deeply, running a hand down her side. Fumbling with the hem of her red dinner dress.

But the younger woman was faster. The second her arm was freed she'd snaked it around Jess's back and plunged a hand between pants and skin, gripping. Squeezing.

"Fuck," Jess breathed into Kayla's mouth. She hadn't seen that coming. She let go of Kayla's other hand, as much to free up her own as to see what Kayla would do with it.

It landed beside the other down the back of Jess's pants almost immediately. Kayla pulled Jess up on her more firmly. Jess finally caught bunches of dress hem in her fists and tugged upwards. They worked together to wriggle Kayla out of it completely.

Jess remembered this view. As Kayla propped herself up, leaning back on her elbows, Jess felt a fleeting pity for herself of the past months, not having had the pleasure to revisit this. She wasn't going to take it for granted now. Her hands found Kayla's stomach and slowly traced her fingers around her sides. Kayla beat her to her bra clasp and unhooked it for her. Her eyes stayed on Jess intensely as the older woman took each of the straps and slowly lowered them off her shoulders. The article was a plain pastel pink, just the shade of the cardigan she'd worn on their first overnight together, just the same color as the beanie she'd kept warm in the night they reunited. Now it was the last obstacle in the way of Jess's mouth. She yanked it the rest of the way off and marveled at what was revealed.

Kayla casually slid her elbows out from underneath her to lay back down. Jess watched, admiring the rapid rise and fall of Kayla's chest as the younger woman tried to catch her breath. The temptation was too great. Her hands grazed Kayla's breasts. She leaned back in and grabbed Kayla's lips with her own. Her thumbs pressed down on her taut nipples. Kayla moaned into their kisses. "Jess," She murmured helplessly. Her hips were back to rocking against the woman above her. "Jess, please..." She squirmed, her eyes fluttering shut. Kayla's hands failed her as she tugged at Jess's shirt.

Jess sat up swiftly, hands slowly trailing away from Kayla's breasts to quickly lift her own shirt over her head. Then she dove hungrily back down towards the woman underneath her. Kayla made instant work of Jess's bra, a brief wrestle and they had it gone. Jess grabbed Kayla's hands and put them against the mattress over her head again. Their nipples brushed, and they both lost their breath. Jess hiked her leg further between Kayla's and pressed against her. "Jess..." Kayla whimpered helplessly, moving frantically against her.

"What do you want, baby?" Jess coaxed her through a soft half smile.

Kayla opened her eyes and bore them into Jess's. She looked drunk with desire, focused only on one driving feeling, brought on as much by the word baby as everything Jess was physically doing. "I want you in my mouth." Kayla finally murmured determinedly.

Jess felt a very obvious shudder course through her. The needy little pout on Kayla's face nearly sent her over the edge by itself. Literally disarmed, her grip loosened on the woman underneath her and Kayla seized the opportunity to free herself. Kayla's hands flew to Jess's chest, lightly shoving her onto her back. She turned over and expertly flicked Jess's pants button open in a flash, yanking them down. Jess hastily kicked her legs out of them as she found Kayla climbing onto her abdomen.

Jess's attention became entirely focused on the spot where Kayla's underwear met her skin. The thin lacy fabric was incapable of containing Kayla's arousal. She noticed Jess noticing and bit her lip. Leaned down, slipping her hands around Jess's breasts. "Any more doubts about how much I want you?" She whispered, teasing Jess's lips with her tongue before kissing her hard. "I've been wet since the bar," She added. Another slow kiss. "Are you?"

Her hands left the teasing they were giving Jess's nipples and one slid down between their bodies. Over Jess's underwear. She dragged one slow finger directly between Jess's legs. Jess involuntarily arched her back. Kayla gave one of her full-face grins. "You are." She lowered her head, finding one of Jess's nipples and circling it with her tongue. Her other hand resurfaced to squeeze the breast opposite.

"God, Kayla-" Jess couldn't see. It was all she could do to stroke Kayla's back weakly, gasping for air.

The younger woman worked tantalizingly slowly down Jess's body, delighting in riling Jess up as much as possible. At some point Jess had found the wherewithal to slip her hands down the back of Kayla's underwear. When she attempted to tease her from behind with a single finger, Kayla's head popped up and she slid further down Jess's torso. "Not yet," She said reprovingly. "It's my turn." The coquettishness Jess adored so much was back and couldn't be argued with. She gave Jess the sweetest smile as her fingers ran down her hips and hooked into her underwear, pulling them away.

Jess watched her remove them completely, with some lingering disbelief that this was all even happening. Kayla's thoughts didn't seem to be on the same page. The underwear discarded, she leapt between Jess's legs and pulled them wider apart, fingers digging into thighs. She leaned down, her hair grazing Jess's skin as she planted the gentlest of kisses directly between Jess's legs.

Jess couldn't decide whether to cry or cry out. Instead she reached down and tenderly pulled Kayla's hair out of her face. It was then that Kayla's tongue made contact. Jess forgot who she was. Her back arched again, the back of her head digging into the mattress. Kayla was savoring Jess. She was slow about it, making Jess more insane. Sounds emitted from her that she didn't know she could make. It only seemed to encourage Kayla. She finally worked her way onto Jess's clit and lingered there, sucking greedily.

She didn't know how much longer she could last. Her hands were in Kayla's hair now, pulling it and her closer. One of Kayla's hands stroked her inner thigh, the other found its way under her mouth and Jess felt a finger slip inside her, curling towards her center. "Fuck, Kayla," She gasped as a second finger joined the first. "Baby..."

Kayla's heart soared at the word, heat shooting through her as Jess's body tightened around her fingers.

"Are you gonna cum for me?" Kayla asked softly against her before running circles with her tongue around Jess's clit. Her fingers found the perfect spot to apply pressure.

"Kayla, shit, Kayla!" Jess gave her her answer as her hips left the bed. She felt as though she were falling endlessly, her pounding heart surging through her whole body as bliss overcame her. Kayla rose with her, lifting her head to watch the waves of shivering float across Jess as her fingers continued their movements, her thumb replacing her tongue.

It was several minutes before Jess's rocking against her subsided and she collapsed back onto the blankets. Kayla was so endeared to the spectacle she never wanted it to end. She watched Jess catching her breath for another moment before reluctantly withdrawing her hand and sitting back on her heels. Jess found her with her eyes. Reached for her faintly. It was apparent how utterly spent Jess was. Kayla was pleased with herself. She bent down once more between Jess's legs.

"God, Kayla, I'll die, I'll die, I can't yet, wait, I-" But Kayla had only reached down to leave a gentle kiss, and sat back up with a reassuring smile. She took her time sticking her fingers in her mouth, making a calculated show of enjoying a last taste of Jess. The exhausted woman blinked at her, feebly making another attempt to beckon Kayla to her.

Kayla laughed softly. "Okay, okay," She crawled up to Jess's side, wrapping an arm over her. Jess pulled her in tightly, a silent vow to herself to never let her go. Kayla closed her eyes happily. She felt Jess plant a kiss on her forehead.

They lay in silence for a little while, allowing their heartbeats to return to normal pace. Jess gingerly rubbed Kayla's back. Then her hand traveled lower, tracing the waistline of Kayla's underwear. She turned her face to Kayla's and reclaimed her lips.

Kayla surrendered to her once more, her palms searching upwards to hold on to Jess's shoulders. Jess easily slipped Kayla's underwear down her legs. Once free, Kayla wrapped a leg over Jess's hip, scooting closer. "I'm yours." She informed her pleadingly between kisses.

"I'll make you mine." Jess muttered back.

"Please fuck me."

"Shh.” But Jess didn't have it in her to be cruel after where Kayla had just sent her. She wanted her too badly. Needed to hear Kayla Pospisil cum for her. A single finger found her clit and gave it a quick brush.

Kayla sucked in air.

"You're so, so wet."

"Mmhm," Kayla barely managed a whimper of acknowledgement.

Jess watched Kayla's face as her finger made contact again. Kayla's brow knitted as she moaned for her. Spurred on by this enthusiastic reaction, Jess's finger slid further down. Kayla leaned in to her hand as Jess's finger found its destination.

Suddenly any lingering inhibitions flew out the window; Kayla grinded against Jess's palm, riding her finger wildly. Jess was pleasantly surprised, and aroused again. She matched the movements of her finger with Kayla, eliciting sounds of approval from the younger woman, who wrapped her straddled leg more roughly around Jess's hip.

It was all too much of a turn on for Jess. She needed more. One more deep kiss interrupted Kayla's little gasps and then she was rolling over on her, withdrawing her finger. Kayla clung to her, begging her incoherently not to stop. She needn't have worried. Jess tucked herself under Kayla's thighs, lifting them so her knees folded over across her back.

Kayla suddenly understood and pulled her in. Jess's lips connected with Kayla's body. She latched onto her clit and remained there until Kayla cried out her name.

After a long time or a short time - neither one of them were aware of how it worked anymore - they were in each other's arms, petting various parts of each other's naked bodies and breaking the stillness of the night only to reach over and kiss one another again. It had been silent for a while when Kayla whispered into Jess's hair, "I hope you don't think I'm done with you yet. Please don't fall asleep."

A tingle ran through Jess. There was no way she would drift off now. "Anything you want, Boss Lady." She returned.

But Kayla was already climbing back on top of her. She grinned, cocking an eyebrow. "Exactly."

Chapter Text

Another morning waking up with her.

Kayla admired the sound asleep Jess. She had a stern expression on her face, as though she was taking her rest very seriously. Kayla ran fingers tenderly down the other woman's bare side. The softest skin ever. And Jess’s hands lay under her cheek as if in prayer. My own little cherub.

And then she remembered. Prayer. Kayla’s eyes darted to her alarm clock, which read 9:39.

“Crap, Jess! Get up! Wake up!”

The sleeping bundle next to her started, head up instantly, eyes wide with confusion.

“What! Yes? What happened,” Jess garbled.

Kayla leapt out of bed. “We have to go. Or at least, I have to go. You can stay here if you want to, but we overslept.”

Still only semi-conscious, Jess blew out an exasperated breath, squinting and shaking a hand through the rat’s nest atop her head. She caught the clock in her blurry line of vision. “Overslept?” She mumbled doubtfully. “We didn’t exactly sleep til like 6.” A dreamy, far away look recollecting the night’s activities came over her and she seemed to waken more fully.

Kayla was hardly paying attention; she’d started the shower in the adjoining bathroom and was darting naked around the room, gathering articles of clothing from a drawer here, the closet there.

“Where d’you have to be so badly?” Jess watched the scene playing out before her with a less-than-innocent gaze. “Couldn’t we just stay in bed and-“

“No!” Kayla whirled around, chopping the air definitively with one swift arm motion to drive home her point. Sighing, she softened. “I mean, I have to...Church starts at 10:15.”

Jess’s mouth gaped open for a split second before it snapped shut. She collapsed back onto the pillows with a groan. “Church...I thought you weren’t a conservative anymore...” She was nearly whining as she held her arms out above her, making grabby hands in Kayla’s direction.

Kayla pressed a blouse to her chest and came to sit on the side of the bed. She patted Jess’s stomach.

“Like I said, stay here. I’ll come back.” She flashed a suggestive grin and leaned in to give Jess a slow kiss. She felt her hair fall in Jess’s face, but if she minded, she didn’t show it.

“You’re already first in line for Heaven, Kayla,” Jess gazed dreamily up at the ceiling.

“Oh, shut up.” Kayla shook her head. “Take a nap or something,” she ruffled Jess’s untamed mane affectionately. “I’ll fix brunch for us when I get back.”

“Mmm.” Jess’s eyes fluttered closed for a moment, but then, peeking one eye open, “I wouldn’t mind going with you, if you want me to.”

Kayla found her thoughts screeching to a halt as Jess’s words registered. “...Really?” Skeptical.

“What? Yeah, of course. It isn’t a big deal. My folks are vaguely affiliated Protestants. Anyway, I’m your good Christian girl Fox News producer buddy, remember?”

Kayla hardly heard her silliness. She was fighting back tears. Aaron had always refused to go, flat out refused. How is Jess so perfect? Kayla quietly slipped her hand in Jess’s.

"Okay then. Come shower with me."

Jess sat up swiftly. "Yeah?"

"Be good." Kayla stood and pulled her towards the bathroom.

"I don't know if this is such a great idea, we have like 20 minutes to get to wherever the church is, and this view..." Jess's wide eyes couldn't help themselves as Kayla held the glass shower door open to her, the water slowly soaking her hair as she waited.

She rolled her eyes. "Will you just get in already?"

Jess hesitantly put a toe on the shower tiles. "Because bossing me around is helping." She said flatly.

Kayla forcefully set a bar of soap in Jess's hands, giving her a stern look accompanied by a smirk. "Anyway, don't you think you need a shower?"

"You're the one who was such a mess last night before I even touched you." Jess shot back.

Kayla opened her mouth in shock. "Jess Carr! The way you speak to a lady." But her facial expression gave her away. She lived for Jess's unexpected innuendos.

Jess tried to focus on the floor as she lathered herself, but even the view of water trickling down Kayla's ankles was a lot to deal with.

"Jess?"

"Mhm." She determinedly focused on the safe image of Kayla's toes. The nails were a carefully pedicured mauve. Nothing suggestive about that.

"You're really sweet to offer to go with me." Kayla said gently.

Jess looked up quickly to meet Kayla's eyes, lest her field of vision fall on anything in between. "It's really no big deal, like I said. Honest." She smiled.

"You can look at me, you know. I like when you do." Kayla put her arms around Jess's shoulders and went in for a kiss.

Jess fought everything in her to simply reciprocate and not take things any further. "We should get going." She reminded the younger woman once they parted.

"You are just too good, do you know that?" Kayla asked her. She searched her eyes. "You should teach courses to guys about what it means to be a gentleman."

Jess laughed. "I don't think that would work." She handed the soap back. Kayla set it on the ledge behind her.

"I've changed my mind. Let's not go." Her eyes were shining. "I want you again."

Before Jess could say anything Kayla was kissing her, backing her up against the wall. Jess felt the cold tiles against her back at the same time Kayla's warm, wet body pressed against her front. She couldn't fight it anymore and gladly took Kayla in her arms.

************

With a cutesy flourish Kayla slid a plate across the kitchen bar towards the stool Jess was perched on.

“Et voilà!”

“Oh. My God.” Jess stared lovingly down at the eggs Benedict as though it was her true soulmate.

“I used tomato instead of ham,” Kayla pointed to the fresh slices wedged between the poached eggs and English muffins.

“Inspired.” The older woman simply gazed at her.

They'd made their way back into the bed after a long path from the bathroom, things escalating over and over again in the shower, across the carpet, nearly every step of the way. Finally they’d untangled their limbs and Kayla had offered to make breakfast.

Now Kayla was gazing back at Jess, food momentarily forgotten. She giggled after a minute. “Why are we like this?"

Jess said nothing, just blinked and shook her head. Then, "I've never been like this with someone before."

"Neither have I."

Jess studied her, carefully weighing her next words. "Not even with Aaron?"

Kayla's eyes locked on her. "No, never."

Jess raised her eyebrows.

"I mean yeah, we did...stuff." Kayla shrugged. "But not like this. It wasn't the same somehow...Why are you so jealous?" She scooted closer over the counter. Grinned. "I like you way better."

"Good to know." Jess tried to play it casual, but her mind was racing. It scared her how vulnerable she felt around Kayla. If she got bored of her the way she'd seemed to get tired of Aaron...Jess didn't even want to think about it. She felt far too strongly about Kayla. She was afraid she might even be falling in love with her.

"Are you okay?" Kayla asked softly. Jess noticed her searching her eyes again. "You look a million miles away."

Jess shook her thoughts back to the present. "If I was a million miles away I'd be very sad. There’s eggs Benedict here.”

“Yes. Eat!” Kayla went about preparing a second plate for herself and made her way around the bar to sit beside Jess.

They ate quietly, Jess intermittently gesticulating her soaring approval of the chef. Kayla had gone silent, smiling softly at each of the other woman’s reactions but seemingly otherwise in her head.

“What’s up, K?” Jess finally inquired through a last bite of English muffin.

“It’s stupid.”

“I bet it isn’t.”

“It’s just that it’s already 2:30.” Kayla lamented. “The weekend is nearly over and then you’ll go back to that horrible place and we won’t see each other.”

Jess chewed as this reality hit, and her face scrunched up in concern, lines creasing across her forehead. “Well shit. You’re right.” Then, brightly, “Let’s just steal a car and ride off into the sunset, never to return!” Her theatrics nearly toppled her stool.

Kayla steadied it by grabbing Jess’s knee.

“Calm down, Thelma. Your Louise has moral convictions against theft.”

“What better time to hash out our differences than a long road trip where you’re stuck beside me for hours on end?” Jess took the hand on her knee and lifted it to her lips for a kiss.

As silly as Jess was behaving, the idea had struck Kayla in the heart, and she wished they really could just hop in a car and explore each other. Her mind wandered through every possibility.

Buying an old school paper road map, poring over it together. Picking a fun-sounding, unheard of town as each next destination to explore. And hearing every detail of Jess’s life in the long hours between stops. Telling Jess about her dreams. Working out how to further help Jess achieve hers. The whole wondrous adventure only drawing to an end as the car wound its way across the bends of the west coast. The urge to find the skimpiest little bikini to taunt Jess with along a California beach...

“Earth to baby girl,” Jess was waving a hand in her face.

Kayla flushed pink. “I can’t begin to tell you what it does to me when you call me that.”

Jess surveyed her. “I have an inkling.” She leaned in and kissed her very gently. “The first two days of the week are bullshit at Fox, as you well know.” She continued. “What if you come over Tuesday night? Something for us both to look forward to.”

“Really?” Kayla could scarcely believe Jess wanted to spend more time with her so soon.

“Do I have to take down my Hillary posters to persuade you? Because I will. It’s sort of a funeral shrine at this point, after our loss in November.”

“Can you keep a secret?” Kayla whispered.

Jess nodded hesitantly.

“I voted for her in November.”

“You are so fucking hot.”

***********

“Someone’s absolutely glowing.” Rachel remarked as Jess strutted into their cubicle cluster. “Good weekend, Jess?”

Jess flopped onto the corner of her peer’s desk, crossing her arms, bouncing her shoulders. “Rach, Rach, Rach! You know what? It was just the best.

The younger woman laughed at this different side of her coworker. “Well good.” She eyed Jess more closely. “Did you...get laid or something?”

Jess’s head whipped in 360 around the office. “Shh! No! I mean- no! Shh.”

“Oh my gosh. You and Ron? Did you finally-“

“Oh GOD, no.” Jess stood up. “I told you, he’s all yours.”

Relief washed over Rachel fleetingly, but then, “I wish he knew that. I don’t think he even realizes I exist.” Rachel cast her eyes down at her keyboard.

Jess was in a generous mood. Plus she wanted Rachel to feel some small fraction of the happiness she was feeling. “Maybe we can fix that.”

“What do you-“

“Next time he comes by, I’ll work my magic.” Jess plopped into her desk chair and winked at Rachel before diving in to the day’s obligations. There was a team pitch meeting with Bill himself in thirty minutes. He was bound to be in a bad Monday morning mood.

Jess wasn't bothered.

Not even Fox could bring her down now.

Chapter Text

Jess didn't get the chance to make good on her promise to Rachel til Tuesday.

"Hey, Carr!" Ron was finally leaning over her cubicle again just before lunch, invading her personal bubble.

"Just the man I've been wanting to see!" Jess raised a fist in victory.

Ron's face brightened. "That's very nice to hear. How are you?"

"Fine, just fine, hey listen-"

"My band is going out of town this weekend. Our first out of state gig." Ron hadn't even noticed he'd talked over her. That focused.

"Ah...uh uh," Jess pursed her lips.

"Are you in any way interested in sort of, indie rock? We could always use a groupie, if you need a few days away from the city."

Jess blinked at him, amazed. Pity for straight women came over her in waves. Groupie? Bleck.

"Ron? You know what? Let's do lunch." Jess stood. It was nearly noon, and she was hungry.

"I, er, really?" Ron looked as if he couldn't believe his luck.

"Yeah," Jess gathered her things. "You like that little diner on the corner?"

"Uh, heck yeah, best burgers for blocks."

"Excellent."

*****

Jess watched in mildly-amused disgust as Ron dug into the greasy monstrosity in front of him. Her heart softened for the harmless little guy, it really did, but how any woman could look upon this and feel attraction was totally beyond her comprehension. Much less the intelligent and pretty Rachel. To each their own. She smiled, picturing Kayla instead.

"So strictly off the record, can I ask you something?" Jess popped a french fry into her mouth.

Hope filled Ron's eyes to the brim as he nodded enthusiastically. Jess knew she'd have to get all this out quick so as not to lead him on.

"Your political views, outside of Fox, what are they like?"

"My uh, political views?"

Jess tried to be casual as she stuck out her fingers, naming topics as she raised them one by one. "Abortion, for instance. Gun laws. Gay marriage..." She tried not to blink on the last one. "You know, that sort of stuff."

"Are you gonna refuse me a second date if you don't like my answers?"

Christ.

"Ron, you sweet frog prince, this is not a date. And I'm sorry, but it will never be a thing that happens, between you and I. You're a nice guy," She added quickly. "But can you answer my questions?"

Crestfallen, but still engaged, Ron chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "Well, I suppose abortion shouldn't be up to me, as I'm a man."

So far so good.

"I'm more of the mind guns are for hunting, though I'm a terrible shot, despite my father's best of instructions growing up." He chuckled to himself. Then, "Are you really just not into me Jess? I'm sorry if I came on too strong. You're just so funny, and really beautiful."

"You didn't answer my last question."

"Oh, sorry. I forgot what it was?"

Jess inhaled nervously. Could she really come out to a coworker? She'd never done so before. Unless she counted Kayla. Which she didn't. Coming out to Kayla had involved taking her clothes off of her.

Jess cleared her throat and muttered softly into her fries, "Gay marriage."

"Ah, well then, I think-" The hands gripping Ron's half-eaten burger froze in midair halfway to his mouth. Mustard dripped onto the plate. "Wait."

Jess's heart pounded. She felt herself trembling. Did he understand what she was getting at?

"Are you..?" Yes, he'd put two and two together. "Is that why you don't wanna-" He set his burger back down.

Jess felt herself nodding but couldn't meet his gaze.

"Shit, man. Man oh man. I had no clue."

"Yeah, that's the general idea in the workplace." Jess grimaced.

"And you work at Fox News!" Ron exclaimed a little too loudly.

Jess surveyed the diner anxiously.

"Sorry." Ron lowered his voice. "Oh my God. I am so sorry."

"Don't be." Jess said so quietly she barely heard herself.

"And no one knows?"

"Not a soul."

Ron exhaled a whistle.

Jess took a deep swig of coffee.

"This shouldn't be about me." She set down the coffee mug. "We have other business to attend to."

"We do?"

"Yes, Ron. While it is with great regret I turn you down, I know a special gal who would never."

Ron pushed his plate away from himself to avoid distraction. "You do." He stated it rather than asking, skeptical.

"She'd probably hate us both forever if I told you and you weren't all for it." Jess was regaining her sense of comfort in the conversation, and popped another fry in her mouth.

"Who is it?"

"Maybe a better question would be: Is there anyone else in our office you consider a decent enough human being to date?" Jess leaned back in her seat, crossing a leg over her knee, confidence fully rejuvenated now that the topic wasn't her own personal life.

Ron let out an incredulous chuckle. "I see the gay woman now." He gestured to Jess's sitting position. "Not sure how I never noticed it before. And, to be honest, everyone at Fox is sort of insufferable outside our little trivia troupe."

"Uh huhhh." Jess encouraged. "Almost there, bud."

"Well the only other trivia women besides you are taken!"

"So I was your last choice then?" Jess mocked offense.

"No!"

"Don't worry." Jess assured him. "And I mean yeah, Lucy's married but Rachel..."

"She's single?!"

"Slam dunk, ba-by!"

"You think I should ask her out instead then?"

"I know you should. You've had a built-in groupie this whole time, brother."

"Wow."

Jess popped another french fry. "So tell me. What's this band of yours sound like?"

************

"I'm heeere." Jess's favorite voice said into her ear over the phone.

"Well hello," She hoped Kayla could hear the smile spreading across her face. "Let's get you out of that rain storm." Jess glanced out the windows just in time to see a flash of lightning over the city skyline. Yeesh.

"Yes, please." Came Kayla's sweet voice.

Jess barrel rolled off her bed and shuffled briskly into the entryway, pressing the button on her keypad to unlock the front door downstairs. "It's open. Want me to come down and get you?"

"No need, I remember where to go."

"Okay then." Jess couldn't wait to tell her about lunch with Ron. She'd be so proud of her for coming out to someone, and playing matchmaker. Not that she needed any reminders that Jess was a romantic deep down. She rummaged in her kitchen drawers for a moment and, finding a lighter, went about lighting the couple candles strewn around the bedroom. She knew Kayla would know it was about ambience, not suggestion. But suggestion was fine, too.

Still smiling to herself, she went back to the kitchen to pull a little snack tray from the fridge. Just then, the lights went out.

Jess paused, hoping it was a quick power outage caused by the thunderstorm. When about three minutes had passed and she still stood in darkness, she hastily shoved the snacks back in the refrigerator and made for her front door, flipping on the flashlight app of her phone. She didn't want Kayla to fall down four flights of stairs trying to navigate the climb in pitch blackness.

"Kay?" She called from the top of the stairwell when she reached it.

Silence.

"Kayla? Are you down there somewhere?"

Nothing. Maybe she'd stopped at the foot of the stairs when the lights gave to wait it out? Jess carefully trudged down the stairs, pointing her flashlight at her feet.

But Kayla wasn't in the lobby either. Could we have passed each other, somehow? It didn't make sense. She canvassed the lobby one more time. Then her heart fell to the floor. No. Surely she didn't...

Jess dashed across the hallway to the elevator and put her ear to the cold metal door. Knocked. "Kayla? KAYLA?"

"Jess!" A faint reply confirmed her worst fears. A muffled pounding of hands reverberated against her ear. It sounded so far away.

Jess slammed her palm against the elevator call button in vain. "Fuck!" She smacked it once more in frustration. "Kayla, do you know what floor you're on?" She hollered.

"I think...I think it's between floors!" Came a distant response.

"I'm coming, okay?" Jess tripped over her own feet taking the stairs two at a time. She'd try the second floor first.

"Kayla!" Her cheek against another metal door.

"I hear you better!" Kayla's voice was louder now, too. Jess set her phone on the floor, light shining upward.

"Okay, I'm gonna try to open the doors! Stand back okay?" Jess wedged her fingers between them and attempted to pry them apart. With enough effort, she was able to push them away from each other, exposing the door of the car and its innerworkings. Jess had no idea what all the little bars and levers did. And the car had not fully reached the second floor, leaving only the top half exposed.

"I'm halfway there. Are you okay?" She tried to sound sure of herself, despite her cluelessness about the obstacle still between them.

"I don't know," Kayla murmured softly.

The thought of her in distress fueled Jess to figure it out. She grabbed a lever and jangled it impatiently. No dice. Next she picked the biggest bar. It seemed to give when she pulled it down, but only a little. So she pushed up on it. An almost-click sound resonated through the shaft, so she tried again, crouching down and leaning into it with all her strength.

Click.

The door gave, and she was able to pull it to the left, revealing the cabin of the elevator car. Revealing Kayla huddled in a corner with her arms tightly wound around her knees. Her head shot up and wide eyes met Jess's. Jess dropped onto her stomach and stuck her arms out towards Kayla.

"Jess don't do that! If the power comes back on and the elevator starts-"

"We'll be quick, I've got you, come here." She beckoned her hastily.

Kayla hesitated, slowly rising to her feet and looking all around the elevator walls fearfully.

"Come on, it's okay, I promise."

As soon as Kayla latched on to Jess's upper arms, Jess yanked them both swiftly backwards. They tumbled out onto the carpet of the second floor. Sitting upright, Kayla flew into her arms.

Jess held on to her for dear life, her heart pounding. Kayla clung back, shaking.

"You sweet, silly girl, why would you get on the elevator?!" Jess pet her hair soothingly, whispering this through a loose strand draped over Kayla's ear.

Kayla gave no answer; it was evident she was crying. She began to tremble harder, and as Jess felt hands digging into her back, Kayla broke out into full on sobs.

"My poor baby," She murmured softly, wrapping arms tightly around Kayla. She wanted to envelope her in safety and security forever. But she didn't know how to do that. So she just continued to sit in the dark hallway floor, gently rocking the woman she already knew she endlessly loved.

************

Jess opened the door to the apartment and guided Kayla inside.

"Ohh, how smart of you to get candles out!" Kayla peeped.

Jess held back a sigh. "What can I say? I plan ahead." The ambience was already ruined anyway.

Kayla snuck her arms around Jess and held on tight. "Thank you for saving me."

"Shh." She never wanted to let go of Kayla again.

"My hero."

"Oh, honestly."

Kayla drew her head back far enough to search Jess's eyes. Her own were still a tearstained and swollen red. She kissed Jess, then withdrew and began unbuttoning her blouse. "I'm yours. Whatever you want." Another tear ran down her cheek, and she choked back another sob as the sleeves of her top slipped down her arms and fell to the floor.

"Kayla-"

Kayla shook her head. "Anything you want," as she started removing her pants.

"Stop. Kayla, I want you to stop." Jess grabbed both her wrists and held them away from her remaining clothing. She walked them both to the bed and sat down on its edge. Patted the mattress beside her. "Sit with me?"

Kayla sat obediently, a question mark on her face as she set her hands on Jess's shoulders, preparing to give herself to Jess again.

"Kayla." Jess couldn't hide the alarm in her voice. The other woman was behaving too transparently. It was disturbing.

"Did I do something wrong? You don't want me?" More tears accompanied a scared expression.

"Of course I want you." Jess promised gently. She tenderly tucked hair behind Kayla's ear.

"I...don't understand." Kayla choked. She couldn't meet Jess's eyes. She looked at her hands now folded in her lap, ashamed.

"I want you to be safe and feel safe. Always. You should never feel obligated to give your body to any one for any reason." Jess murmured. She lifted Kayla's chin with a finger to meet her gaze. "You owe me nothing. Ever."

Tears fell from Kayla's beautiful turquoise eyes. The dim light of the candle flames flickered in them.

"Especially not that just for troubleshooting a technical malfunction in my stupidass apartment building." Jess found the strength to smile reassuringly. "Okay?"

"I'm still not okay, am I?" Kayla admitted glumly.

"We can take a raincheck on a sleepover tonight, if it would help. I can take you home." Jess replied after a moment. She wasn't sure she was navigating this right at all.

"No, please don't make me leave." Kayla looked even more terrified at this idea.

Definitely not navigating this right. "I don't want you to leave. Just tell me how to help."

"You're too good, Jess Carr." Kayla's head fell to Jess's lap, one arm winding around Jess's legs. Jess let one of her hands land in Kayla's hair and the other fall lightly between her shoulder blades. She ran her hand through Kayla's hair soothingly and rubbed her back. The arm tightened around her legs and Kayla's body shook as she let herself really cry.

"I'm here," Jess said softly. "Let it out." She felt her heart shattering into a thousand tiny shards. With the same amount of care focused on Kayla, an equal measure was reserved in her soul for murdering Roger Ailes with her bare hands. And penning a strongly-worded letter to an elevator company.

"I'm sorry," Kayla peeped after a while. "I'm ruining our nice evening."

"You could ruin nothing." Jess said a little more sternly than she meant to. Softening, "You are so strong, honey."

Kayla rolled over, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. Looking up at Jess. "I'm honey, now?" A small smile returning to her face.

"I'll call you whatever makes you smile, you name it." Jess wiped another tear before it could fall.

Kayla sat up slowly. "I'm really vulnerable right now, so don't make it worse by not replying to what I'm going to say." She sniffed decisively, searching the older woman's eyes again. "I can tell you will, though, or I wouldn't be brave enough to say it."

"What-"

A hand slipped into Jess's. "I love you, Jess. And I'm not saying it because I feel like I owe it to you. I'm saying it because I feel it. I'm in love with you."

All the little shards of Jess's heart fused back together in an instant. The words felt so good they hurt. She couldn't breathe.

Kayla stared at her. "You did not take me under your wing at Fox and send Megyn's inquisition after me or pout in a park because you thought I was taken or bring me to the most romantic restaurant ever or go to a historic gay bar for me when you're not even out yet or offer to go to church with me or single handedly rescue me from a trapped elevator just to sit there and not reply when I say I'm in love with you." She raised an expectant eyebrow.

They both knew it. Jess's heart had just swelled to the point it felt like she was suffocating. She could barely manage any utterance at all, much less draw air into her lungs.

"God, Kayla," She sucked in air, swallowing hard to collect herself. "I love you so much, baby girl."

A classic Kayla grin spread huge across her face. Another tear - a happy one this time - escaped down her cheek.

Chapter Text

“When did you know you were gay?” Kayla whispered.

They lay side by side under the blankets in Jess’s bed. The power was still out. Heavy rain slapped against the windows, but at least Kayla had stopped crying. Now she was curled up alongside Jess, staring at her peacefully and absently stroking her cheek.

Jess exhaled in amusement. Shook her head. “I dunno,” her eyes didn’t leave Kayla’s. “Guess sort of...always.”

“Gosh...”

“That’s normal, isn’t it? They say you know deep down from an early age, looking back.”

“I didn’t know until October!”

“Really? Not one inkling before then? Allowing me to woo you last spring gave no hints at all?” Jess flopped over onto her back, heaving a deep sigh. “Some lasting impression I have...”

Kayla grinned and pulled Jess back to her. “Mm, I think you were a bad influence.”

"Are you suggesting I corrupted you?"

"I voted for Hillary, didn't I?"

"I only have your word, so the verdict is still out on that."

"Oh, come on! I really did!" Kayla propped herself up on an elbow and let her other hand fall from Jess's face to her underarm, giving it a tickle.

"No! No! Dontdothat-" Jess curled into a fetal position to protect herself from the sudden onslaught. They tussled briefly, Kayla emerging the clear victor as Jess was rendered defenseless, by nature extremely ticklish.

"I've learned another of your weaknesses this evening," Kayla smirked, releasing her victim.

"Do with me what you will, cruel mistress," Jess gasped dramatically, bringing her wrists together and offering them to Kayla.

The younger woman laughed and gave Jess's shoulder a playful shove. "You are such a goof."

"I love you."

Kayla sobered, her eyes brimming with deep affection. Then, "Aww," she smiled mischievously, "now I'm almost sorry I tickled you."

Jess slinked an arm around her waist and pulled her right up against her, kissing her temple. "Are you feeling better, baby girl?"

"Much." Came the muffled reply. Kayla lifted her head and kissed Jess on the cheek. "And I love you, too."

Jess wondered if the woman pressed to her chest could feel her heart banging out of it. This woman saying those words...She was still finding it hard to comprehend.

"Are you okay?" Kayla had definitely noticed her heart rate.

"Yes." Jess gave a soft, reassuring chuckle. "You make my heart sing."

"Oh, Jess..."

"You make everything...groovy."

It was Kayla's turn to laugh, her face scrunched up in confusion.

"Wild Thing? The Troggs? No? Too secular?"

"Oh, it's a song? Yes, I guess so."

"Christ."

"Yeah, I know a lot of songs about Him!"

Jess decided now was the time to find out if Kayla was ticklish too. She was, but not quite as helplessly so as Jess. She put up a valiant struggle, and fought her way on top of Jess with her fingers wriggling once again in Jess's underarms until the older woman was crying with laughter.

She stopped tickling before it became mean, and gazed down at her captive. Jess recouped slowly, happiness exuding from the blue orbs behind her glasses.

"So can we fuck now or do you still think I just feel obligated?" Kayla asked coyly, dropping her chin to a rest atop Jess's sternum with raised eyebrows.

Jess blinked at her in surprise. Kayla's brusqueness came just as unexpectedly to her as her own quips did to Kayla.

"Well how can I say no to that?" Jess recovered suavely.

Kayla slipped Jess’s glasses off. “It feels like years since I've touched you,” she pouted, "But it's barely been 48 hours."

"Hm, unfortunately you're going to have to wait a bit longer." Jess's voice was suddenly stern.

A concerned expression came over the woman on top of her.

"You're not to lift a finger tonight." Jess grabbed her by the small of the back and smoothly rolled them over so their positions were switched.

"Ohh..." as the realization hit Kayla, her eyes widened and a small glimmer emerged from their depths.

"If that's okay with you?" Jess added gently.

"Well I can't win every battle and you suck at the tickling ones, so.” Kayla gave back with a little wriggle of her body under Jess.

"You're trouble." Jess informed her gruffly as she allowed their lips to brush. Kayla kissed her greedily.

As the kiss deepened Jess became lost in the synchronicity of their tongues, hardly noticing as Kayla's hand turned her head to expose her ear, and at the last moment released Jess's lips to latch on to the lobe.

"No...fair!" Jess yelped, momentarily debilitated.

Kayla released her after a moment, a look on her face betraying how full of herself she felt.

"You make me an absolute mess," Jess breathed.

"I know. I love it." Kayla grinned.

With fresh resolve to combat Kayla's self-satisfaction, Jess ran slow hands down Kayla's bare sides, triumphant as she felt the woman underneath her shiver. Her fingers slid under Kayla's bra, then slipped back out tantalizingly.

"Noo, come back," Kayla pleaded, but Jess covered her lips with her own to prevent any further begging just yet.

She gave her one long, slow kiss, then drew back and let their eyes bore into each other for a moment. Then the lights flooded back on abruptly, and they both buried their heads in each other to shield their eyes from fleeting blindness.

After they adjusted, Jess made to roll over and grab the bedside lamp light switch. Kayla snatched her outstretched arm.

"Wait. Don't." With her free hand Kayla reached underneath her back and fiddled for a moment until her bra released her. She let go of Jess's arm and let both her own come to a rest above her head. "I want you to have a better view."

The previous week's nightmare flashed through Jess's mind, and she hesitated. In the dream she'd left the lights on and turned into Roger. She knew she was being ridiculous, but the memory left a bad taste in her mouth. Especially after the evening's ordeal.

"Jess?"

Jess sat up further, taking survey of the situation.

"Hey..." Kayla reached a hand up sweetly and cupped Jess's chin. "What's wrong? I'm okay, you know? More than okay."

"I just...donteverwannahurtyou," Jess finally confessed.

Kayla studied her for a moment, thumb soothingly running along her jawline. "You gonna leave me?"

"No!" Jess choked.

"Then you can't possibly hurt me." Kayla murmured. She searched Jess's eyes. "What's this about?"

"The other week..." Jess hesitated, unsure if she should share this with Kayla. Her expectant, worried face, coupled with the fact Kayla'd been the first one to say the L word were the only driving forces for Jess to continue her admission. "I had this really bad dream about us, we were in bed like this and then-"

Apprehension filled Kayla's eyes and her bottom lip drew down anxiously. "Tell me."

"I sort of...morphed into...him and it scared you - rightly so - and I just..." Jess slumped back down slowly over Kayla's body and clung to her tightly, letting her head come to a rest over the bra still loosely covering Kayla's left breast. She felt the younger woman's heart pound against her ear.

Kayla's hands pressed against the side of Jess's head, drawing her closer. "Oh angel..."

They lay in silence for a moment before Kayla figured out what to say to alleviate Jess's fears. "You must realize you were the only bright spot in my life at that time. You are the complete opposite of everything he stands for. No one in my life has ever made me feel as safe and loved as you have."

The rational part of Jess was aware that Kayla felt this way, but the part of her that loved her before all else remained cautious, saying nothing, listening for each next beat of the heart below her ear.

"What night was it, exactly?" Kayla asked gently. She tried desperately to piece together the timeline of distress inflicted upon the sweetheart who'd collapsed on her.

"I dunno...the night you texted me."

Kayla flushed. "When I told you I wished you were with me?"

She felt Jess nod weakly into her chest. She drew a hand to Jess's ear and stroked it softly before giving it a small, sensual tug. "Wanna know why I texted you that?"

"You weren't having a bad dream too, were you?" Came Jess's bewildered little voice.

"Far from it." Kayla's voice became husky. "I was fucking myself thinking of you."

Heat coarsed through Jess's body in spite of herself.

"See? You were so busy being hard on yourself for absolutely no reason while I was thinking about what you might wanna do to me. Wishing you were doing it to me. Doing it myself because you were off in your head instead of between my legs." Kayla's hands fell away from Jess's hair as she lifted her head incredulously. Her eyes met the seductive smile slowly playing across Kayla's lips.

"Fuck, Jess, what do I have to say or do to get you inside me again?" A hand slipped down Jess's back and pressed down. Kayla's legs splayed out on either side of Jess and her hips rocked upwards against her. "Please," She added in a halting breath.

Jess could barely see from this gesture, but attempted to remain composed one moment longer. "I love you, your happiness is everything to me, okay?"

"I love you. Your happiness is mine." Kayla replied easily. She found Jess's lips and kissed them, adding a little flick of her tongue across Jess's bottom one as she pulled away, eyes purposely trained on her and full of need.

This little event after so much reassurance seemed to give Jess what she needed to continue. She allowed the heat to rise in her body as she hungered for the woman she had pinned to the bed. She grabbed either side of Kayla's bra and lifted it away.

Kayla bit her lip and smiled up at her as Jess took in the sight, fully lit by the bright bedroom. Jess almost didn't even want to touch Kayla. She could die happily if this was the last image to flash through her mind. Fuck. She felt herself begin to throb against her underwear; moving the slightest centimeter produced massive sensitivity. She wanted to bring Kayla to that level.

She lowered herself softly back down onto the younger woman, reconnecting their lips and intentionally brushing her chest against Kayla's exposed, quickly-stiffening nipples. A little whimper escaped through Kayla's lips into Jess's mouth. She ran her hands up Kayla's sides as she felt her own underwear soak through. Her fingers lightly grazed the sides of Kayla's breasts before slipping just underneath them. With soft fingertips she gently massaged where the wire of the bra had left impressions on skin. Then her fingers stilled, gripping.

Kayla's breath caught. She took Jess's bottom lip between her teeth, moving her hips upwards into Jess again.

"Be still," Jess warned, "or I'll stop."

"You're not even doing anything..." Kayla whined.

"Well I'm not going to rush through to the highlights like some dumb tourist." Jess scoffed.

Kayla gave an exasperated laugh, relaxing her body under Jess. “You’re so cute,” her chest heaved, “I cant even stay impatient with you.”

“Oh,” Jess’s lips pursed into a slow smirk, “You’ll be very impatient very soon.”

Chapter Text

Kayla could tell from the gleam in Jess’s eyes and the change in the tone of her voice that any worry had dissipated. Nothing was left but need, and Kayla was all too happy to let her have anything her heart desired.

Because her own heart was so full of Jess. She tried to be good and wait calmly for Jess to fill the rest of her.

But for the moment Jess was content to cover Kayla’s neck in gentle kisses, unhurried. Jess had no intention of fucking her, despite the wording in Kayla’s request. She was dead set on making love to her, all night, if Kayla could handle it.

Kayla tangled her fingers through Jess's hair. When Jess lifted her head to smile softly at her Kayla locked their eyes, hoping to convey boundless trust and affection with her stare. She felt Jess's hands tenderly glide up her breasts, and her eyes fluttered shut automatically.

"Do you know how incredible you are?" Kayla felt Jess breathe. Her own breath caught; she wanted to reply but no words came to mind. Her whole head was just Jess, Jess, Jess.

Thumbs brushed over nipples, lips met, tongues searched. Any last morsel of coherent thought fled Kayla as she completely surrendered. She didn't want for anything, except to freeze them both in this moment for always. When Jess withdrew to find another place for her mouth to land, the only word left in Kayla's brain escaped out through her lips, "Jess..."

A hand leapt into one of hers, extracting it from its place in Jess's hair and laying it down beside Kayla's head. Fingers intertwined and held close as Kayla felt a delicate tongue along her collar bone. She caught herself smiling.

A line of kisses soon trailed south until they landed between her breasts. With Jess's free hand she cupped one, bringing it into her mouth. A vocal sigh left Kayla as thumb was replaced with tongue over her nipple. With her other thumb Jess stroked Kayla's palm.

Her attention to detail was painstaking and overwhelming. Jess's mouth melted against Kayla's skin like honey, gingerly dissolving everything but utmost tenderness, enveloping her in a sweet glow. Kayla suspected she might start crying again, but withheld, fearing Jess might mistake the reason.

Jess's free hand left her chest altogether, reaching down to fumble with the button on the front of Kayla's jeans. Kayla let go of her other hand and both her own flew down to assist. Jess removed the pants slowly, dropping them to the floor where they fell with a soft thud as Jess's hands lovingly ran up the length of Kayla's legs to settle on her hips. Another second and they were kissing again.

Kayla wrapped her arms and legs around Jess and the smile that pressed against her lips from the woman above her filled her with a kind of tranquility she hadn't even been sure could exist. She slipped her hands up the back of Jess's shirt and swiftly undid her bra.

"Hey now..." Jess admonished half-heartedly.

"I need you closer," Kayla whispered, and then, because she knew it would get her her way, pouted, "...Please?"

Jess gave no response but righted herself just long enough to pull her shirt over her head. Kayla gleefully ran her hands up Jess's stomach and gently pulled the bra away. Jess leaned back down to rejoin their lips and the sensation of skin on skin was Kayla's final undoing. She whimpered sharply into several kisses and the grip of her legs around Jess tightened. The hands that had found their way back down to her hips slid under the hem of her underwear and began softly pulling them down.

"I love you baby,” Jess murmured as her lips brushed down the length of Kayla’s stomach. She tremored as her thighs gave and Jess settled between them.

Jess was always sweet with her, but now she’d set such a delicate, affectionate pace Kayla’s eyes stung as she fought off more tears. Every little nip landing on her inner thighs seemed to transport Kayla to some scene from her past, some place, some experience, that would have been vastly improved with Jess by her side.

Jess...Jess...God, where have you been? Why weren't you here sooner?

But she was yanked back to the present as Jess’s hand softly pushed against one thigh, her breath falling lightly between Kayla’s legs, shooting shivers up her spine. Jess made contact slowly, as if it was their first kiss, then deepening sensually as she lost herself. Kayla’s fingers found Jess’s back, digging in to the pale silk of her ribs, rendered speechless.

Jess’s hand set her thigh free and wandered upwards, until Kayla felt a finger tentatively dip and make a shallow curl.

"Jess..!" Kayla shuddered, hips lifting off the mattress. She felt a tear roll down her cheek. She knew she couldn't let it go on like this. Jess would think she'd done something wrong, when really everything was just too unbearably beautiful. Their love seemed so intense to Kayla that it hurt to try and fathom, pained her to watch Jess attempt to demonstrate. She knew, from the all night frenzy of the weekend that had lasted well into Sunday afternoon, that there was a more unbridled passion she could unleash. And that that level of carnal desire would protect her from the tears that might bring Jess completely out of the moment with worry.

Kayla gave her eyes a rough wipe and then reached down and pulled Jess's hair until the older woman lifted her head. Jess smiled, but a question mark hung on her face as Kayla continued to tug at loose, curly blonde strands.

"C'mere," She managed, and Jess obeyed without further inquiry, crawling up to be face to face with Kayla.

Jess's occupied hand withdrew from inside her, coming up to rest gently on her ass, where she drew soft circles with a damp index finger. With her other hand she gently stroked Kayla's neck. "Are you alright?"

Kayla nodded with a big grin. "More than."

"Then what is it?"

"You're breaking my heart into a thousand pieces with your sweetness," Kayla leapt on Jess, who did nothing to stop her, surprised. "And there can be none of this hands off stuff right now." Kayla's hands were on Jess's breasts before she realized Kayla had pinned her. A gasp escaped her throat as her hands grappled for a new destination.

Kayla's tongue found her ear, "Fuck me."

Jess bit her lip too harshly, eyes closed, wincing. But it was being kissed better before it could smart, and she opened her mouth to welcome Kayla, who moaned into her. "Jess, fuck me," she repeated.

Jess's hands had scrambled back to her hips, clumsy and discombobulated by how quickly things had reversed course. One of the hands clamping down on her nipples suddenly released, grabbing one of Jess's hands and shoving it between their bodies.

"Pleeease, baby," Kayla finally groaned impatiently in her ear, and that did the trick.

Jess rediscovered where she'd left off, and the woman straddling above her rode slowly at first, a playful smile as she gripped and squeezed Jess's chest, dizzying her focus. Jess watched awestruck; another moment more and Kayla sped up. Jess added another finger, and matched the rather harsher pace Kayla was demanding. The younger woman collapsed onto her, crashing her mouth hungrily into Jess's as her hips continually mounted her waist. "Baby..." She whimpered again, and Jess couldn't help but notice a swell in her chest at the word being turned on her.

Her good fortune at having found this beautiful person took hold of her, and in desperation she began working more fiercely to make Kayla come completely undone.

She trapped Kayla's clit between thumb and forefinger, still pumping rhythmically deep inside her with the middle.

"I wanna come for you-" Kayla gasped, riding frantically against this adjustment, "I'm gonna-"

A violent tremor shot through her legs; Jess felt it against her skin as it rose through Kayla to her torso. Her arms gave and her eyes shut tight and the wind shot out of her lungs as she fell against Jess's chest, groping weakly along her biceps as the sturdiest part of her lover to cling to. Her hips continued to arch against Jess's fingers as she cried out her name. It came out over and over, sounding as though she were listing all the objects in the heavens. It was so lovely that Jess closed her eyes to simply feel and listen.

After a moment she made to withdraw her fingers but Kayla stopped her, still shuddering. "Please, not yet? Stay with me one more minute." Jess didn't mind, just gently loosened her grip on her clit to give it a calming few strokes. Kayla gave a happy sigh and relaxed against her before going completely silent. Finally Jess withdrew. The woman on top of her had become so still she thought she might have fallen asleep. She softly rolled Kayla on her side to face her, hold her.

Jess was surprised to see her eyes wide open and shining at her with a matching smile. Seeing her awake brought Jess's initial plan back to mind, and the rush of excitement with it. The fire still stoked behind Kayla's eyes suggested she could handle more, welcomed it with enthusiasm. Jess's head spun, clouded with the sudden, fleeting thought that maybe they'd never be satiated.

She'd always want more of the reactions she'd just elicited from Kayla, anyway. Jess reached over to brush hair out of Kayla's face. Kayla wordlessly mirrored the motion, and then they were kissing softly again. It was so easy for Jess to lose herself to it, to float far away from everything in the world except the feeling of the younger woman's mouth on her own, delicately, then desperately, wrestling for control of the movement of their lips, taking turns giving in, regaining authority, submitting, allowing, taking.

Jess discovered a gap in their choreography and took the opportunity to breathe, "Again? May I?"

The smile she felt against her cheek as Kayla's nose moved to bury meekly in Jess's neck assured her of the correctness of her assumption. She felt an index finger brush over her cheekbone, a brief suckle of mouth against throat, all accompanied by a gentle whisper, "Together?"

It was too sweet a notion to deny, and so despite her original plan for the evening, Jess nodded against Kayla's forehead.