In Emma’s defense, she’d managed to go almost three weeks after moving to DC without visiting the Memorials like the tourist she secretly is. She’d gotten the Lincoln out of the way first, and now she’s just finished checking out the Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the edge of the Tidal Basin. It’s a beautiful day, if a little windy, and Emma decides to take a little wander down the path, stop at the edge of the water, and take in the view.
Emma’s attention is pulled from the water by a small dog gleefully tearing along the path with its leash dragging on the floor behind it. The dog bounds playfully, clearly having the time of its life on its little escapade, and then Emma catches sight of a woman sprinting after it. She reaches into her pocket, where she has the crusts of her sandwich wrapped up in a little bag, and waves it at the dog as she whistles to get its attention.
Sure enough, the little golden doodle - by the looks of it - gets distracted by Emma. Maybe it smells food. Either way, Emma manages to tempt the dog over to her, crouching down to pick up the leash as she offers the pup the leftover crust of her ham and cheese sandwich.
“Oh my God, thank you so much.”
The woman has reached her by now, out of breath from the chase, and Emma looks up. She freezes.
The pretty view has nothing on this woman.
She has dark curly hair which is blowing in the wind, deep brown eyes, and quite possibly the most beautiful smile Emma has ever seen. She gives Emma a rueful, dimpled grin, cheeks flushed, and Emma tries her best to kickstart her dumb gay brain - which has gotten stuck - into action.
The woman looks down at the golden doodle. “Bad girl, Nugget!”
Nugget ignores her in favor of finishing off the sandwich. Emma stuffs the empty bag into her jacket pocket, straightening up and offering the leash back to the woman. She forces her brain to make her mouth say words.
The woman blinks a couple of times, and Emma thinks she’s blown it, but then she smiles again. “I’m Alyssa.”
Their fingers brush as Alyssa takes the leash back, and it’s like sparks shoot up the length Emma’s arm. “Pleasure to meet you,” she manages.
“Thank you so much again,” Alyssa says, glancing down at her dog. “She just gets so easily distracted, and she’s surprisingly strong and she just ripped the leash out of my hand and took off running. I know I should get one of those extendable leashes for her but I don’t like the thought of her getting up enough speed to hurt herself at the end of it and I’m saying far too many words to a complete stranger, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Emma says quickly. “I don’t mind.”
Alyssa looks at her in surprise. “You don’t?”
“I just moved here three weeks ago,” Emma explains. “The most conversation I’ve had since I got here has been with one of my neighbors, and that stopped pretty quickly once he found out I was a lesbian and, thus, not interested. So, it’s kind of nice to have a conversation with someone.”
“I’ve lived here for two years and I still don’t have that many people to talk to,” Alyssa admits with a shrug. “I end up mostly talking to Nugget.”
“I’m sure she’s a great listener,” Emma says, looking down at the dog, who has wrapped her leash around Alyssa’s legs at least once, and is now snapping her jaws at a passing bee.
“She’s not bad,” Alyssa says, the hint of a smile tugging at her lips. Emma finds herself getting distracted and forces her gaze back up to Alyssa’s eyes. From the little glint she sees there, she wonders if she’s been caught.
“Um.” She’s floundering; searching for a way to keep the conversation going. She doesn’t want to stop talking to Alyssa yet.
“Can I buy you a coffee, or something? As a thank you?” Alyssa asks, in a rush. “It’s a little bit of a walk, but there’s a Starbucks over there somewhere, I’m sure of it.”
Emma doesn’t even look in the direction she’s pointing. “I’d love to.”
Emma nods quickly. “Absolutely.”
“Cool,” Alyssa breathes, laughing slightly. “Maybe I should be thanking Nugget for getting loose instead of telling her off.”
“Maybe.” Emma barely knows what Alyssa’s saying anymore, too caught up in her eyes, as well as her elation at the prospect of getting coffee with her, but she nods along anyway.
It’s only when Alyssa gasps in shock that Emma knocks some sense back into herself. She sees Alyssa look down, at the empty collar and leash, and realizes that Nugget has taken her escape to the next level entirely. She looks around for a small golden dog, but Nugget is nowhere to be seen.
“Nugget!” Alyssa calls out, a little panicked.
Emma points to further down the path. “There!”
Nugget is apparently chasing the same bee she had been snapping at a few moments ago. So focused is she on her task that she clearly doesn’t notice how close she’s getting to the edge…
“Shit,” Emma hisses, just before Nugget runs right off the edge and plummets five feet into the water below.
Alyssa quickly disentangles herself from the leash and takes off running towards where Nugget had just disappeared, with Emma hot on her heels. By the time they reach the edge, the current has already carried the little dog out of arm’s reach.
“Oh my God,” Alyssa whispers, stricken as she watches Nugget struggle in the wind-buffeted water.
In that moment, Emma makes a decision. It’s not necessarily a smart decision, but it’s the only one to make.
She kicks off her shoes and socks, takes off her jacket and flannel shirt, and shucks off her jeans, leaving herself in just a tank top and boxer briefs, and jumps feet first into the Tidal Basin.
Emma swims after Nugget, who has seemingly forgotten how to doggy-paddle in the stress of being rapidly swept away. It’s hard work catching up to the lightweight dog, and the water is freezing cold, but Emma sets her sights on Nugget and doesn’t let up until she’s close enough to reach out and grab onto her.
She curses the dog for somehow slipping out of her collar, because it means she doesn’t have something easy to hold onto, but she manages to wrap an arm around her tiny body and draw her in towards herself. Nugget’s paws scrabble at her shoulder as she tries to get out of the water, and Emma winces as her claws dig into her skin a little.
“I’ve got you,” she gasps. Her voice isn’t coming out very soothing, but it’ll have to do. “It’s okay, Nugget.”
Nugget whimpers pathetically in her ear.
If Emma had thought getting to Nugget was hard, then making it back to shore against the current while holding a dog in one arm appears to be a whole other level of impossible. It’s extremely slow going, and Emma feels herself getting colder and colder with every passing moment as the adrenaline wears off, but she’s not going to stop until they’re both safe.
She knows she’s further down from where she’d jumped in, due to the current, but that’s okay. She can make out Alyssa on the bank, surrounded by a small crowd of people, all of them yelling encouragement at her. Emma notices that some of them have their phones out. She’s not sure whether they’re filming or calling the emergency services. She knows which one she’d prefer, and it’s probably not the one that they’re doing.
“Why is this water so fucking cold?” she grumbles breathlessly to herself, quickly deciding to shut up and not waste breath talking to no-one except Nugget, who is definitely not listening to her at the moment.
She curses the water for being too deep to wade through; this whole thing would be a hell of a lot easier if she could plant her feet on the bottom. But she’s stuck swimming, with one arm out of commission as she tries to keep both hers and Nugget’s heads above the surface. At least Nugget seems too tired, or too disassociated, to struggle. Her occasional whimpers keep Emma calm, because it means she’s doing okay.
After what feels like several lifetimes, Emma reaches the wall. She hangs onto the rough stone with her free hand, grateful that the current isn’t as strong here, and hoists her shoulders out of the water. The air is warmer than the water, but she’s still shivering from her dip in the Basin.
A man lies over the edge, presumably being anchored by some of the gathered crowd, and Emma holds Nugget up for him to take, suddenly grateful for her small size. Once Nugget is safe, another person lies next to the man, and both offer a hand for Emma. She definitely grazes both of her knees against the wall, but between the three of them, Emma gets pulled out of the water and back onto dry land.
She all but collapses onto the grass, completely spent.
“Emma!” she hears Alyssa’s voice, and then she’s crouching next to her and leveraging her up into a sitting position so that she can wrap something warm around her shoulders. Emma thinks it’s someone’s woolen picnic blanket. She blinks, and Alyssa’s face comes into sharp focus.
“Hey,” Emma pants. Her eyes widen as she looks around. “Where’s Nugget?”
Alyssa has tears rolling down her cheeks. “Wrapped up in someone’s scarf. She’s okay, Emma. She’s okay.”
The blanket is helping a lot, Emma decides. Her shoulders sag in relief. “Thank fuck for that.”
“I was so worried,” Alyssa says, taking Nugget back from the stranger who has swaddled her in the scarf with a grateful smile. She hugs the puppy to her chest, and Nugget licks at her cheeks, squirming to get as close as she can. The sight warms Emma’s heart ten times more than the picnic blanket does.
“Me too,” she says.
Alyssa sits down on the grass, Nugget in her lap, and rubs Emma’s arms through the blanket. “I was worried about both of you, dummy.”
“Dummy, really?” Emma jokes weakly. “I just saved your dog.”
“Now I really do have to buy you that coffee,” Alyssa laughs, even as tears continue to fall from her eyes.
“Well, all my money is in my jacket,” Emma says, giggling a little despite herself. “Which I abandoned along with most of my other clothes.”
Alyssa shakes her head. “I brought your clothes with me, don’t worry. They’re around somewhere.”
“Oh.” Emma nods dumbly. “That’s good. Means I don’t have to walk around half-naked for the rest of the day.”
“You’re such an idiot,” Alyssa says, breathless. “What were you even thinking, jumping in there after her?”
“She was in danger and I wanted to help,” Emma says immediately. “Also, I did not think it would be as difficult as it turned out to be. I’m sorry, Alyssa. I didn’t mean to worry you, or make a scene, or—"
Alyssa grips onto the edges of the blanket and tugs Emma forward, silencing her with a kiss. Emma’s eyes close on instinct, and she barely hears the ripple of chatter that goes through the crowd that’s still gathered around them. Alyssa’s lips are warm, and soft, and she kisses Emma gently with just a hint of desperation.
Emma lets herself sink into it, heart pounding in her chest as she kisses Alyssa back, and Jesus, she can’t believe that she’d met this woman less than an hour ago, because it feels like she’s known her for so much longer. She can’t explain it.
Alyssa breaks the kiss but keeps her close, and Emma waits a moment before opening her eyes again. She watches the movement of Alyssa’s throat as she swallows heavily before glancing up to meet her eyes. Alyssa looks a little shocked, like she can’t quite believe she just did that; Emma can’t quite believe it, either.
“Holy shit,” Emma murmurs.
“I—I—" Alyssa stumbles over her words, and Emma’s brain mercifully, finally, wakes up.
“How about we take Nugget to get checked out, and then we could get that coffee?” she suggests.
Alyssa sags against her with relief, one hand falling to rest on the puppy snuggled up in her lap making little noises under her breath as she tries to chew on the scarf. Her other hand tucks a lock of Emma’s hair, damp at the ends, behind her ear.
“Sounds like a plan,” Alyssa says. She takes a look up and around at the group of strangers that surround them, who appear not quite sure if they should be leaving now, and giggles. “So, uh, Emma. Lovely to meet you. Welcome to DC.”
They look at each other for a long moment before simultaneously dissolving into a helpless laughing fit.