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when i blink my eyes into morning (your smile will be the only one i see)

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Here is what she knows: the sky is bluest at its centre, where no one ever looks, and when he wasn’t looking, that was when she loved him most.

A sunrise is like a dance , Tessa thinks, as she unlocks the door to the dance studio, early enough that dawn hasn’t quite broken over the horizon yet. There is anticipation in waiting for the light to break, there is longing to see something so beautiful, there is the first movement when the colours peak, the sigh at something so wondrous, the release when golden light crests outwards.

Maybe, most of all, she likes that each sunrise is like a page that’s been turned—not quite a new beginning, but another chance to try again.

She rolls her neck from side to side, rises up on her tiptoes to stretch her arches. The studio is only quiet when it’s this early—any other time it’s filled with the sounds of her students, their footsteps and their giggles and the occasional tears. And while she loves it when the studio is brimming with the noise and life of her wonderful, wonderful students, she loves this moment too, when she can close her eyes and take a deep breath, centring herself for the day ahead.

She’s in the middle of double-checking the schedule for the day when she hears the front door bang shut. She used to wince, but now it’s just second-nature. Now she knows it’s just Scott. As she listens to him walk down the hallway, she thinks that she’ll always find it funny that for how light on his feet he is when he’s dancing, the way he walks is, to put it mildly, loud.

“Morning, Scott.” She glances up briefly to give him a smile but quickly becomes distracted when she remembers that Kaetlyn had called to say she’d come down with a stomach bug, and she’ll need to figure out who’ll cover her classes.

“Hey, T.” His smile is the one that is still touched by sleep. From the doorway, his eyes look half-closed, the curve of his mouth soft, and she thinks, for a brief moment, it’s something that belongs on the pillow next to you in the light of early mornings. But she doesn’t linger too long on that thought. 

There are some thoughts she doesn’t get to have, not after a certain midnight, after a certain bluish-black sky. 

She focuses back on the screen in front of her. If she takes the junior contemporary, and Scott covers the toddlers class, then maybe this will all work out for today. She hears a light tap and looks up to find the mug that Scott’s placed on the desk in front of her, already filled with her coffee. Neither of them really want to spend any more than what it takes to buy a kettle and a constant supply of instant coffee, sugar and milk, but it gets them through.

She takes a sip, gives him a grateful smile before she scans the rest of the schedule. She’s never quite figured out how he makes her coffee, somewhere between two teaspoons of sugar and three, a touch of milk. It never tastes the same when she makes it, and it always tastes better when it comes from him. 

He never fully settles in the desk across from hers, preferring to bend down to look at his desktop screen than sitting in the chair. He stretches his arm absent-mindedly, his head nodding, humming something a little off-key.

“Scott? You’ll be able to cover the toddlers class today, right?” She walks over to his desk with his own coffee mug, where she’s made his. Barely a spoonful of coffee, a lot of milk, two sugars. He smiles up at her when she places the mug down.

“Yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem.” He answers without hesitation. He always answers without hesitation, and it makes something in her chest ache. While he started out under her employ, it’s been close to a year now since she’d tapped on the same office door, a sheaf of papers in hand, the question whether he would want to become her business partner. 

“Are you sure?” he had asked back then, clearly hesitant, like he hasn’t spent as much time as she has between the studio walls. Her only hesitation would have been if it was going to be too much for him, when he’s already done so much for her, but when she told him that, he’d only shaken his head with a smile, had only said a fond Tess. He had a pen ready to sign but she had to tell him that he definitely needed to read through everything first, maybe they should do this process with a lawyer just to be sure—she was definitely wringing her hands by then—but he’d only taken her hands gently, until she stopped rubbing her skin raw. “I’ll read over them. Carefully.”

(Everything was signed and finalised by the end of that week. “I read everything three times—well, two and a half,” he’d reassured her, “plus I called my neighbour Patch, who did a year of law, I think, so he counts, right?”

All she could think of was ‘you got legal advice from your random neighbour?!’ and cemented her theory that Scott will, quite possibly, end up being cheated out of everything he owns at some point.)

Early on, a small part of her was terrified he’d regret the decision, but when she’d accidentally let that slip, he’d reassured her that he was all in, Virtch, one hundred percent , and he’s never given her a reason to doubt him.

She knows she would’ve probably lost her business by now if she didn’t have Scott in her life, if she didn’t have Scott as her partner.

When her students are practising in pas de deux , there is always one thing she’ll emphasise. Trust, she’ll say at the front of the room, looking in the eyes of every one of her students, is the most important word you’ll learn. Trust, in yourself and in your partner. 

Trust is important in any partnership, and even if her and Scott’s pas de deux consists more of dance curriculums and balancing budgets and placating stage mothers, it’s still a dance she wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

“Thank you,” she sighs in relief. “The moms are going to be so happy that you’re covering the class, you know that, right?”

“Oh, fuck."

She hides her laugh behind her mug.

She drops by Scott’s class just as it ends. The official story is that she’s dropping by to check in on how everything’s going, to say hello and make small talk with the parents. The unofficial story is that whenever Scott covers this class, he’s begged her to make sure she’s always there by the end.

“Tess, please, you need to rescue me. Most of the parents are lovely, but some of them are sharks.” She can’t really argue with that.

She watches a group of them circle him, and catches the look of terror that flits across his face for a millisecond before it smooths over, his professionalism taking over. He’ll be fine for a bit. He shoots her a look from across the studio and she tries not to laugh. 

You’ll be fine, she mouths.

His eyes widen and he starts to shake his head, but one of the moms in front of him asks a question and Scott gives her his full attention.

“Miss Virtue?”

She turns to find a woman in front of her, holding onto her daughter who’s sweaty but grinning. 

“Hi! It’s Tatiana, yes? And Angelica?”

The woman beams, shifting her hold on her daughter. “Yes. I just wanted to thank you for a great class. This is Angelica’s first class, and she had a wonderful time, right, my love?”

The girl nods shyly, before tucking her head back into her mother’s neck.

“I’m so glad to hear that. You really have Scott to thank though,” she nods towards him. “He’s just covering for this class and Angelica will have Kaetlyn, one of my other wonderful staff, taking this class.”

“I’m sure Angelica will still have a lovely time.” Tatiana looks towards where Scott’s still standing surrounded by his many admirers. “Oh my, they are shameless,” she remarks, as one of the women wraps a perfectly manicured hand around Scott’s bicep. She turns to Tessa again. “Sorry, that was rude.”

Tessa tries her best not to laugh. Tatiana isn’t too off the mark either. “Scott is a well-loved teacher here at our school,” she demurs as diplomatically as she can. She sees Scott scratch his left ear and the back of his neck. That’s their pre-determined signal. “Excuse me for a second? I’ll just grab Scott and you both can properly meet him.”

She slips in between the women and smiles as brightly as she can. “Apologies all, but can I steal Scott for just a second?” There’s a definite sense of disappointment but they let the two of them go.

“Thank you,” he murmurs low.

“Anytime. But I am bringing you over to meet another parent.” His eyes widen. “Her daughter’s first class was today, and they want to thank you!” He protests, but lets her drag him over to where she’d left the mother and daughter. “Tatiana, Angelica, this is Scott. Scott, this is Tatiana and Angelica.”

“Thank you so much for the class, Angelica really enjoyed it,” Tatiana says. Angelica pops her head up to say the cutest ‘Thank you’ before tucking her head back again.

“You’re very welcome,” Scott smiles, clearly enchanted by the young girl. Scott continues chatting with both of them about the class, and she watches as Scott draws Angelica out of her shell, until she’s joining in the conversation. 

He glances up at the clock. “Sorry, I’ll need to get ready for my next class, but it was lovely to meet both of you.” Angelica accepts Scott’s offer of a high-five. “Thanks, Tess. You’re a saviour.”

“I know.” She bumps his hip.

He places a hand on his heart, makes a mock-hurt expression, but he’s grinning by the time he finally leaves the room.

“You have a wonderful partnership,” Tatiana says, and Tessa turns back to her. “I don’t mean to be nosy—actually, never mind, I’m always nosy—but I just wanted to say, you two make a lovely couple.”

“Oh! Oh, we’re not—I mean—” Tessa stammers, shaking her head. She’s been caught off-guard by this kind of comment too many times and she doesn’t know why she never sees it coming. “We’re not together.”

“Oh! Of course, I’m so sorry.”

She attempts a smile. “It’s not the first time someone’s assumed.” It doesn’t help that all her staff frequently tease them about being ‘the married ones’. So what if she remembers exactly what goes on his favourite sandwich, or that he knows exactly when her legs are hurting? They’ve known each other long enough. She’s earned her knowledge of him, would feel like there are parts of her missing if she didn’t know these things about him. “Scott and I have learned to take it as a compliment. In a lot of ways, he is my partner. I’d be lost without him.”

Tatiana nods. “It’s lovely that you both have each other, I’m sure.” She smiles, wistful. “When you walked into the room, it’s like he suddenly knew, even though he had his back to you. It's almost magical. But I understand that's from having worked together for so long, yes?" 

Tessa nods. She knows the feeling, the awareness. It almost feels wrong to call it magical—she knows it’s come from hard work, from the effort they’ve both put in through the years, from things very tangible and real. It’s in the phone calls that always get answered, endless words of support, the comfort of a hand in hers, the listening and the understanding, the jokes that make a day brighter, the knowledge that they’ve always got each other’s back.

When she broke his heart on a certain midnight, under a certain bluish-black sky, she knows he could’ve left, and she wouldn’t have blamed him. But he didn’t. He stayed, and he’s still here, with her, caring for their students and dealing with their parents and every other disaster that crops up every other week.

“I’m very lucky.” She swallows past the ache in her throat. She says goodbye to both Tatiana and Angelica, tells them to come to her anytime there’s something they need or with any questions they have.

She’s got her own class to teach soon, her senior ballet students starting to warm up in Studio A, but she lingers in the doorway to Studio B where Scott’s teaching intermediate hip-hop. He looks up, grins when he sees her, throws her a salute that he mixes in with the choreography. She lifts her own hand in return, hides her smile as she turns away. 

“T, I’m going to remind you that I am vital to the operations of this team.” Scott says first thing in the morning.

“What did you do now?”

“Don’t shoot the messenger!” He lifts his hands up in surrender. “But I’ve just learned that the costumes our jazz kids need might not arrive on time for their comp.”

“Shit.”

“I know.” The two of them have talked about changing suppliers but he’d talked her into giving them one more chance, what with that soft heart of his and his puppy-dog eyes. “Let me fix this. I know I got us into this mess.”

“You didn’t—”

“I did. Let me phone them back. I’ll fix this, don’t worry.” 

He dials a number, taps his fingers on the desk in front of him until someone picks up. He paces back and forth across the office as he’s talking to the other end. It’s not an easy phone call, and she can tell he’s getting frustrated, running his hand through his hair. It’s not easily obvious though, to anyone who doesn’t know him that well. He’s endlessly charming, never raises his tone. By the end of the call, she knows he’s accomplished what he needed.

“It’s all good, now.” He lets out a breath. “I’m sorry I talked you into giving them another chance.”

Tessa shakes her head. She doesn’t want him to feel guilty. “Scott, no. You don’t need to apologise.” She walks over to him, places a hand on his shoulder. She knows that he gets like this when he thinks he’s fucked something up, gets all in his head that it’s only his fault. “I know why you wanted to give them another chance, because you want to believe in the best of people.” How often had he believed in the best of her? She’s afraid that she can’t get through to him, but he relaxes, croaks out a ‘Thanks, T’. He moves his hand to pat hers, taking it in his and moving it away from his shoulder.

Sometimes, when it comes to Scott, when he’s holding her hand like this and giving her a smile like the gently-hued sky of a spring morning, she wonders about second chances. 

But it’s not a thought she can allow herself to have. 

She slips her hand away from his, busies herself with arranging a bunch of paperwork on her desk. “I’ll just—” she says as she moves towards the door. “There’s something I need to do.”

“Of course,” he says softly, not meeting her eyes.

Just as she’s passed through the doorway, she looks back at him. He has his back to her, the lines of his back shifting as he moves, and she hears him sigh deeply. She feels shaken, her heart beating too fast, something behind her eyes aching.

“Scott, you don’t need to stare them down like that.” 

From the front of their studio, Davis & White is clearly visible, across the road, just slightly to the left. Scott has his arms crossed and his mouth set into a thin line. Neither Meryl nor Charlie are visible through the glass windows but for Scott, sometimes it’s really just the principle of the thing.

They started their studio only a few months after Tessa did, and she still feels the complete and utter fear she’d felt at the thought of losing all her students to the rival studio. She was just starting out, still trying to prove her worth. 

Scott had then only been working with her for a week when he had found her trying not to cry in the office. She had tried so hard to keep it together in front of everyone, couldn’t let anyone see her weakness, but Scott had appeared in the doorway just as she couldn’t hold the stress in anymore. Her heart had dropped somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach. But Scott had only walked over slowly, grabbed the box of tissues lying on one of the desks, and crouched in front of her. She remembers appreciating that he didn’t ask if she was okay, when she clearly wasn’t, but she remembers how open and gentle his expression had been.

She had apologised for her tears, but he had only shaken his head, asking if she wanted to talk. She never opens up to people, never so soon and not so fast, but right then, as the sunset painted the sky in soft blurs of colour, she had shakily confessed how scared she was. And he had listened, with no judgment or complaint, until both of them had sat down against the wall, with her hugging her knees like a child and him with his legs stretched out in front of him, hazel eyes never leaving hers.

It was the first time that she’d learned what one of his hugs felt like, when he had opened his arms and asked her, without words, if she needed one. She never trusts people easily, never so soon and not so fast, but she thinks she trusted Scott there, when she shuffled into his space without hesitation. Her body is her medium, and touch, her language, and Scott, she’d learned since then, was fluent in the same tongue.

This memory, and all her memories of him, sometimes feel like dance steps she’s known for a lifetime and a half, something she’ll always think of as hers. How can she forget Scott with his heart eternally on his open palms, his heartbeat so strong it leaves an echo even when he’s not around?

She thinks of a certain midnight, a certain bluish-black sky, his heart in his palms and her own hands shattering it and she chokes back a sob, because of all the times that Scott has given her comfort, this is not one of those times that she can allow herself to be selfish.

When she looks back at Scott, she wonders if he’s thinking about the same evening, some softness in his eyes, even as he quirks his mouth into a grin.

“Maybe I need to, T. It never hurts to remind them which is the best studio on this side of town.”

She rolls her eyes, even as he walks away, still grinning, still ridiculous, still the space between the best thing that’s ever happened to her and the best thing that never did.

“Just this side of town?” she teases, sticking her hip out as she props her arm on it.

“The entire city! The country! The universe!”

She laughs, in a way only he can make her, even when he’s disappeared through the studio doorway for his first class that day.

Her greatest secret—well, greatest might be not entirely accurate, but the point is that it’s up there—her greatest secret is this: her favourite thing to do is watch Scott teach the little kids.

She can never linger too long—there’s classes she needs to teach or paperwork to catch up on or another student or parent who needs her attention—but sometimes, when there’s a few moments to breathe, she’ll catch a glimpse of him in the half-open doorway laying out stuffed animals for the kids to practice jumping over, or demonstrating a plié or tendu , or clapping his hands with the biggest smile to praise one of his students.

There’s something so genuine about Scott, and she knows it’s the reason why every person he’s ever met gravitates towards him, and it’s so clear that every one of his students adore him, with their wide eyes and wider smiles. He’s so good with them, and it’s clear he adores every single one of them back.

(She figures she's honestly not any better than the moms that accost him after every lesson, in times like this.) 

He'll make such a good dad, she thinks, with a certainty she feels rarely, about so few things, but this is one of those moments. It will be an inevitability, she knows, when he talks about it often enough, when he says 'when I have kids one day, T…' so easily and so often. When he has kids one day, they will be loved. There are so many pieces of her he already knows, like there are so many pieces of him she knows too. But there are pieces of him she doesn't know, either, like if there's someone in his heart. 

She's only ever known once, on a certain midnight, a certain bluish-black sky, doesn't think she'll ever forget his confession, hands and eyes soft like the only place she'd ever want to know. 

He catches her eye through the doorway, and the way he smiles chases away the lingering memory, and sometimes it's like she can forget that she's hurt him in the deepest way one can hurt someone who loved you. 

(Loved. Loved. Loved. The past tense is important.)

It's Scott, and he's one of the best people she knows, and he deserves someone brave enough to risk it all to love him.

She knows, from the frown twisting the face of the parent approaching her, that this conversation will be extremely delicate and can go awry very quickly. She smiles as best she can. "Mrs Miller, what can I do for you?" 

The frown contorts even deeper, somehow. She didn’t think that was possible. “Miss Virtue. I’d like to speak to you about my daughter, Hannah.”

“Of course. Hannah’s a lovely dancer, and a very hard worker.”

“I think she needs to be moved up.”

Tessa internally winces. She acknowledges that most of the time, the parents have their child’s best interests at heart, but it still doesn’t stop the frustration she feels when she has conversations like this one.

“Hannah is doing very well,” Tessa agrees. “I believe that she will continue to flourish, at the pace that is right for her. For now, I am sure that the class she’s in is the right one for her to thrive in. I promise that my staff and I all want what’s best for Hannah, for all our students.” She hopes her voice doesn’t waver.

Scott appears in the doorway to Studio B, catching sight of her, a concerned expression on his face. He catches her eye, tilts his head. Is everything okay?

She nods as minutely as she can.

The woman frowns even more. “Miss Virtue, I don’t think your judgment is right. I mean, after all, it’s not like your dance career took off, did it?” The words hurt, just like they’re intended, piercing deep and her throat starts to close up. She wonders how often those whispers haunt these halls.

She feels Scott’s solid presence beside her, his hand on the small of her back. “Mrs Miller, I assure you that Tessa is the best dance teacher your daughter could have. There’s no one here who works harder than her, who’s here from the start of the day until it’s late at night. She believes in the best of all her students, including your daughter, and brings out the best in them. I cannot let you disrespect Tessa.” He’s breathing hard.

Mrs Miller is, understandably, quieted. She mutters something under her breath, before she stalks off, disappearing around the corner. Tessa can still hear her heart pounding in her ears, her breaths coming unevenly.

Scott’s voice comes to her like she’s hearing it from underwater. Tessa? Tessa? She’s barely aware of moving, Scott tucking them away into a quieter corner, his arms wrapping around her shaking frame. She squeezes her eyes shut, trying to block out the taunts that are circling in her mind. It should be easier—it’s not the first time someone’s hurled words that have yanked open scars—but on some days, doubt hits harder, and today is one of those days.

“Tess,” he murmurs into her hair. She hasn’t quite started crying yet, doesn’t want to, but she stays in his arms until her breathing’s calmed down. It’s a selfish thing, but she’s never claimed to be anything otherwise.

“What she said wasn’t true, okay? You have to know that.”

She opens her mouth to protest, because as hurtful as the statement was, there was truth buried there. But Scott shakes his head.

“It’s not true. I know that you had other dreams, dreams that maybe didn’t work out quite the way you wanted them to…” He trails off, and Tessa knows they’re similar in that way, in having plans that didn’t work out. “But you—you are amazing .” He whispers the words so quietly it’s like he says it to her skin, barely audible.

“Thank you,” she croaks out, some part of her still finding it hard to believe it when he says things like this. She wants to believe it and most days she does, but some days are just harder.

She knows that he’s got another class to teach, while she’s got a bit of a reprieve until her next one, and she loosens herself from his hold first. He frowns but she shakes her head, attempts a reassuring smile, looks toward the door. He kisses her forehead, squeezes her arms before slipping out the door. She takes another moment to gather herself, taking another steady breath. It’s like she can still feel him, the ghost and whisper of his touch.

If she skims her hand over her skin, on the places his hands have found before, can she sweep away the memory of him? She holds the thought, hides it away for the rest of the day, through all of her classes, through the time late at night when she’s closing up and when she looks up at the sky it’s a certain shade of bluish-black, reminding her of a certain midnight. She doesn’t cry because she’s not the one that’s been hurt—that’s a man with his heart in his hands that she broke with her eyes wide open.

She’s never been brave, always too cautious, and the thought of losing everything if things imploded if she and Scott ever properly became a couple had left her shaking, the only words leaving her lips being I can’t, Scott, I’m so sorry.

She wonders, sometimes, what it would have been like if she’d been braver. She wonders, sometimes, in the quiet of the night, what it would have been like to be loved by him. It’s not her place, and what they have is more than enough, more than she deserves, but she wonders, sometimes.

He’ll find someone brave enough to love him, one day. And all she wants is his happiness, even as she knows a part of her will ache for it to have been her. But she’s made her choices, and she’ll live with it.

She shivers in the cool evening, wishing she hadn’t forgotten her sweater. She wraps her arms around herself, takes a deep breath and lets it out. She’ll always want him in her life, as selfish as it may be, as long as he still wants to be in it. That’s the one thing she never wants to change.

It takes her a while to realise why all the students in her class are giggling.

She sees Lacey nudge Emma at the back of the group, pointing towards the door, and when she turns her head she finds Scott, leaning against the doorway. She smiles, despite herself. It’s his day off—he doesn’t need to be here. But it’s not the first time that he’s done this, and it’s definitely not going to be the last.

“Mr Moir!” Every kid in her class yells excitedly, hands waving, and it’s adorable, how much they clearly love him. Honestly, it’s like she might as well not exist at the moment.

“Hey all,” his eyes crinkle as he grins. “Have you been good for Miss Virtue?”

Every head nods. Scott looks at her. “Have they?”

She bites back her smile, “I don’t know…”

Her students erupt into a chorus of protests and she laughs. “Alright, up you get. We’ll get started on our warm-up.”

She won’t tell Scott but these days when he drops by are her favourite, even though he doesn’t need to, even though he deserves time for himself too. He’s perceptive and gentle with all of their students, taking the time to correct how an arm is placed and encourage how they’re going. Her lessons with him always feel easier, lighter, somehow and pass by in the blink of an eye.

They’re just finishing up with their cool-down when one of the kids (it’s Ethan, which is surprising because he’s such a quiet kid) says, “Mr Moir and Miss Virtue should do a dance!” Where did this come from? But she doesn’t have much time to think because Scott’s laughing and pulling her to her feet.

It’s easy to get swept up in him, in his arms, her hand in his and his other hand on the small of her back as he waltzes her around the studio. She hasn’t laughed like this in a long time, hasn’t felt this free. Sometimes, it terrifies her how well Scott knows her. All their students are giggling and clapping their hands, stomping their feet, shout ‘Again! Again!’ when she and Scott hit their final pose.

“Your parents are here to pick you up,” she informs them, and she receives a chorus of loud groans in response. They quickly forget their disappointment, though, when Scott gives each of them a high-five just before they leave the room.

She turns on him once the last student has left. “You really need to stop coming in on your days off, you know that?”

“That’s a great ‘thank you’, Tess,” he teases.

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. But I love coming to your classes, and you wouldn’t stop the kids from seeing their favourite teacher, right?”

“Hey!”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Of course, that title belongs to you, kiddo.”

She rolls her eyes at the nickname, something that used to annoy her more, but now is just another thing about him she’s become fond of.

“Still,” she steers the conversation back, “I hope that you’re not working yourself too hard. You need to have time for you too.”

He points to her then to himself. “Pot, kettle, black.”

Touché. “I just...worry.”

He wraps an arm around her shoulder, his hand moving up and down in a soothing gesture. “I know. But I promise I’m not overworking myself. I just wanted to see you.” He takes away his hand, his touch leaves her and she feels bereft for all of a moment. He tells her goodbye, his familiar smile in place as he walks out through the door. She tells him goodbye too, gives him a dorky little wave. It’s not until two, three classes later that she realises, she hasn’t stopped thinking about I just wanted to see you, like a song stuck in her head.

She hears music playing in one of the studios when it’s late in the evening, long after all the students have left, and long after most of the other teachers too. There’s only one person she knows that would stay this late that isn’t her and she finds him when she pushes the door open.

Scott dancing is poetry in motion—all strength and grace, at times languid, at times sharp, and he pours his entire heart into the movements. 

He stumbles on a step when he catches sight of her in the doorway, turning on the ball of his foot, his hand reaching up to rub the back of his neck, his eyes catching on the floor before he looks back up, his smile soft. “Tess.”

“Hi.” She steps into the studio. “Mind if I join you?”

He smiles, shakes his head, gesturing to the space beside him. “Of course not.”

She toes off her shoes, flexes her feet, stretches her arms and her back, then shakes all her limbs loose. The music’s still playing in the background and when he starts again, she follows. When she dances with him, on rare evenings like this, it’s like her body has always known his, in another lifetime, in all the universes. It’s a push and a pull, and suddenly she’s in his space, so close that she can see all the colours in his irises, hear the roughness of his breaths, can almost feel the warmth of his skin on hers.

When she dances with him, it’s like the light across the sky at golden hour, like the dance steps she knows like the back of her hand. When she dances with him, it’s forgetting and remembering, at the same time. Forgetting that the world exists, and it’s only the two of them and the space between them. Remembering that when she dances with him, it feels like it’s always been him, it’s always been Scott.

It feels like time has slowed down or stopped entirely, and when she leans forward to press her mouth to his, it feels like coming home. When his hand comes up to thread through her hair tenderly, when the other stays steady on the small of her back, when his kiss is like the softest place to land.

When he wrenches back, gasping, blinking like he’s dazed and waking up from a dream. When he trembles, when he doesn’t meet her eyes. It’s like she wakes up to a sky so grey and washed out of colour, when she realises what she’s done, what she’s wrecked.

“Tess.” Her name leaves his mouth in the most broken way and it breaks something in her.

She doesn’t know what to say, can’t find the right words to say. “Scott, I—” She touches her mouth, now that it’s known his, but it feels cruel and selfish to have known, not when he’s told her once that he loved her, and she’s told him once that she couldn’t.

He stumbles backward, blindly towards the door. “Tess, please—” He takes a shuddering breath. “Please don’t break my heart again.” It’s pleading and desperate, and she doesn’t want to hear him like that again, like something precious was broken inside of him.

He grabs his things, walks out the door. She wishes he’d slam it shut, so that she can feel his anger, but it just clicks softly shut behind him, like the last fracture glass needs to break completely.

She barely remembers getting home, barely remembers getting into bed, can only feel the slow passage of time. She doesn’t sleep, not when guilt sits like a stone in her stomach, in her heart. She leaves her bedroom window open, stares out at the starless night, wonders what she needs to do to fix what she’s done. When she looks at the clock, it’s crept into the early hours of the morning.

She fists her hands in her sheets. When she closes her eyes, all she can see is Scott’s broken expression and she resists the urge to sob. She thinks about a certain midnight, when she and Scott had stayed up late trying to figure out choreography, and his gentle confession, and his understanding when she turned him down.

There were many reasons that she had: they’d really only just started their partnership, and she thought that it was important that they focus on their business, what if they tried to date and they didn’t work out and she loses him completely? There was so much to risk, and she just wasn’t brave enough for any of it.

She remembers realising that following her rejection, she might lose him anyway, and losing him, losing one of the most important people of her life, would shatter her.

She walks over to the window and looks at the sky that’s just starting to lighten. What if she can be brave? She closes her eyes, searches her heart, all the places she’s hidden in. She thinks of Scott, and the coffee he makes for her every day and smiles like the softest sunset, and his steadiness and bad jokes that never fail to make her laugh anyway, and his dedication and love for his students, and the way that he dances that feels so in tune with the way she does, and I just wanted to see you.

She barely notices shrugging on a sweater, grabbing her car keys and driving over to Scott’s, the roads still empty with only the streetlights to guide her way. She barely notices the short walk to his front door and shakily knocking on his door at a ridiculous time in the morning.

She can hear his footsteps, the lock opening, and his hair is mussed and he’s still clearly half-asleep when he opens the door.

“Tess?” He blinks, like he’s not entirely sure she’s here in front of him.

“Scott—” her voice wavers, and she pulls the sleeves of her sweater down over her hands. “I—” Her heart is pounding the way it does before she’s about to go on stage, the way it does before every time she’s about to lay her heart, her soul, bare. “You told me once that you loved me.”

He winces, like she’s struck him, his hand tightening on the door and for a moment she’s afraid he’s going to close it in her face. But it’s Scott and he’s too kind to do that.

“I know.”

“And I said—” she swallows, although the tears she’s been holding at bay all night come streaming, “I said that I can’t.

“Tess, god, I know,” he gets out, brokenly, his eyes squeezing shut.

“I’m not brave, Scott, you know that. I’m terrified every single day.”

She can see him about to protest but she takes a step into his space, slowly, gently, crosses the threshold of his doorway. She reaches up slowly to cup his cheek, feels every tremor in his body, places her other hand on his waist. He’s solid under her touch even as he’s trembling, like he’s held a position too long, and all she wants to tell him is let go.

She presses closer, slowly, gently, her forehead against his. “But I want to be brave for you.”

“Tessa,” he says her name like it’s the first time and he crumples in her arms, but he’s been her anchor for so long—she can be his now. He holds onto her so tight and all she can do is hold on tighter. “Tessa,” he murmurs, as his mouth skims her cheek, her nose. Her eyes are shut but she knows before it happens when his lips find hers, when his kiss finds her kiss and it becomes theirs. 

He keeps on saying her name in between the spaces they find each other, Tessa, Tessa, Tessa , like he’s counting the beats to the music and she is his dance. She makes a desperate sound and he presses her up against the shut door, kissing down her neck as her hands tangle in his hair. His hands slip under her sweater and pajama top and she shivers at the rough warmth of his hands.

His urgency slows, even if his devotion doesn’t, and when she opens her eyes, she finds him smiling at her, tender like a whisper. She drags her fingers up his shirt, over the planes of his stomach, relishing the way he groans her name.

He holds onto her hands, guides them to take his shirt off, her fingers hook into the waistband of his sweatpants and he helps her push them off. His fingers tremble as he takes her sweater off, as he undoes the buttons of her top, her fingertips tracing patterns on the backs of his hands, weaving in between the knuckles. He hesitates at her sleep shorts and she kisses his jaw, arching into him once he’s slipped it off.

Maybe it speaks of something desperate when she wraps her legs around him and his hips press her against the door, his bedroom not far from where they are, but to her it’s just them. She loves him, she adores him, she wants him , and when he’s looking at her like this, it doesn’t matter, not to her.

There’s a window near his doorway, and through it she can see the sun just starting to rise. And in between his touches and his kisses and the sounds he coaxes from her mouth, she thinks that if a sunrise is like a dance, then making love with Scott is like a sunrise. There is anticipation in the breaths between when his mouth kisses each contour and valley of her body that he can reach, there is longing in the moment just before their bodies join, when she’s opened herself up as much as she can and she begs for him, as he trembles from his restraint, there is the first movement when he enters her, and she feels him shudder, feels his ragged groan, there is her sigh at feeling him over her and inside her, his touch and taste and scent all at once, at something so wondrous, and the release when he makes her come, his murmured love in her ear.

I love you, she whispers, pressed against his temple, his cheekbone and his mouth.

She doesn’t think she can press his body closer to hers, when he holds her after, doesn’t think she can smile any more than she is. She presses a kiss to his collarbone, his closed eyes, likes how he shivers at her touch.

(Maybe, most of all, she likes that like a sunrise, this is like a page that’s been turned—not quite a new beginning, but another chance to try again.)

What surprises her the most, in the days, the weeks after is that it’s her that’s not finding it easy to keep her relationship with Scott a secret.

She thought that it would be him, Scott with his heart eternally on his sleeve but he seems so normal while she feels like she’s about to burst from her skin, this ache to tell the world, he loves me, and I love him.

“Oh, T,” he’d smiled against her shoulder when she had confessed that to him one night in his bed. “The only reason it seems like that is because I’ve never been able to hide what I feel about you, so it feels like nothing’s changed. Because nothing has, for me. I loved you then, I love you now.”

“Oh.” She’d said stupidly, even though it felt like her heart was about to beat out of her chest.

Scott had laughed but she’d just pulled him down to kiss him, even as he was smiling against her mouth.

It’s her that has to catch herself from reaching out for his hand, from leaning up to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth, from the lovestruck grins that must adorn her face every time she sees him. She must be so obvious.

It only takes a while for the rest of their staff to catch on. She will argue that this time, it’s Scott’s fault, when he’d pressed a quick kiss to her lips as he passed her her morning coffee, except the office door was slightly open and Kaetlyn had just happened to walk past.

By lunchtime, every other teacher in the dance studio knew. Her phone doesn’t stop receiving notifications, messages ranging from congratulations! to get it girl! and she has to turn it off.

She’s always considered herself a level-headed person but she also didn’t see coming the spike of jealousy whenever the throng of moms gather around him at the end of every one of his classes. She trusts him, that’s never been a question, but she’s never felt the stronger need to tell them that he is entirely hers, as she is entirely his. But she’s a professional and she breathes through it instead.

(At least, until Scott scratches his left ear and the back of his neck, and she’s able to slip in and rescue him.

If, that night, she scratches his back a little deeper, sucks a mark into his collarbone a little darker, then no one else has to know. Scott rolls over to hug her to his chest, a knowing smirk on his face and she buries her face into his chest and groans.

“Don’t.”

“What? That was hot, T.”

“Shut up.”

“Okay, okay, I will.” He combs his hand through her hair, laughing softly, and she thinks about how she could listen to his laugh every night for the rest of her life.)

There’s the way he looks at her, like there’s a secret they both share, loves the way they can still have their silent conversations and the way that he tucks her hair behind her ear, especially the way he lets his fingers linger on the curve of her cheek.

There’s the way he holds her hand, holds it to his heart, fingertips tracing over every valley. There’s the way she can go home to him, even if she still technically has her own place. There’s the way she still loves watching him teach and him crashing her classes, even though she still pretends to be annoyed.

And there are the quiet evenings like this, when they’re about to lock up, roses and golds fading from the sky, and he catches her looking at him.

“What?” he asks, smiling bemusedly, taking her hand so easily it’s like he didn’t need to think about it.

“Nothing, I just—” she shrugs, tracing the inside of his wrist, writes her dreams in every stroke. His eyes turn soft and it’s like he understands. He pulls her through the doorway, and she burrows her head into the crook of his neck with a sigh.

(He smells like home, like the safest place. There are the three words that she says into his skin, falling from her lips like the way she falls into his arms when they dance, easy and trusting and uncomplicated, his hands always waiting like she’s the most important thing to him.)

“Come home with me?”

She nods, sleepily, and she feels the rumble of his chest as he laughs, the brush of his lips against her temple. Yes, she thinks, always, always, yes.

Here is what she knows: the sky is bluest at its centre, where no one ever looks, and even in all the times that she isn’t looking, he’s the one who’ll love her most.