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(tell me again) we'll always have paris

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There’s a couple fighting loudly in French directly across the row from her.  

It’s making Jamie’s head pound. She can’t understand a damn word besides the tone, hot and mean, and she’s gotten caught in the woman’s spittle storm one too many times. 

It’s making it quite difficult to read. 

She had gotten on her afternoon train hoping for a quiet journey, bone-tired and worn out from the week-long flower convention in Amsterdam. It should have been a quick trip, but the cheapest train ticket was for one that stopped in Paris, rolling through the countryside at a leisurely pace. And there’s the fact that she’s broke and had naively thought maybe she could use the time alone with her thoughts.

The woman in front of her has started screaming at her husband, nearly apoplectic, as he pointedly ignores her for his afternoon paper. 

When Jamie’s eye almost gets jabbed out by a particularly enthusiastic finger, she decides it’s time to move. 

Just leave him, mate, it’s not worth it, she wants to say to the woman, but bites her tongue. The last thing she wants to do is cause even more of a commotion, and besides, she doesn’t even know how to say ‘he seems like an asshole’ in French. 

She settles as far away as possible in a calmer section of the train car. It doesn’t drown out the couple, the wife openly sobbing now, but it is significantly further away. The only other person in this area is a young woman across the aisle, who glances up from her book briefly, smiling sympathetically her way when Jamie sits down.

She’s pretty, is the first thing Jamie notices. Almost too pretty, if she’s being honest with herself, all long blonde hair -- braided back with a scrunchie, of all things -- and a smile that goes on for days. She is worrying a thumb between her teeth absentmindedly as she reads and Jamie doesn’t realize she’s staring until the girl clears her throat.

Fuck, that’s embarrassing. Jamie jars, eyes snapping up to meet the brightest blue she’s ever seen. 

“My theory is that he cheated,” the woman leans forward to say, either not noticing, or choosing not to comment on Jamie’s ogling. She’d wager the latter. 

American, Jamie notes with surprise, though with hindsight, it seems impossible that this woman could be any other nationality, her grin tipped with apple pies. 

Her second thought is: how is even her voice gorgeous? Which is decidedly not a route she should be going down. 

The woman shifts uncomfortably, and Jamie realizes she has been too strung out on the soft sound of her voice to respond.

“Uh, who cheated?” is the best she manages, trying not to pay any mind to the swooping in the pit of her stomach. Things, she thinks wryly to herself, would be a lot easier if she just wasn’t so gay all the time. 

Her aisle mate tips her head towards the seat that Jamie had just vacated, peering at her quizzically, as though Jamie’s had a mental lapse of the last two minutes. 

She has, quite frankly, but the girl doesn’t need to know that. 

“Oh, right. Them,” she says lamely. 

The woman laughs and Jamie feels the heat of it work its way up her neck. 

“I made a whole backstory for their argument, a while ago. I got bored,” she adds sheepishly.

Jamie snorts and moves across the aisle. So she doesn’t strain her neck, she justifies. Their knees bump underneath the table between them as she gets comfortable. “Go on then.”

The woman’s cheeks pink. “She’s angry that he’s been spending so much time with his assistant. Long nights, weekend hours, you know the kind. Finally, after months of this, she confronted François -- that’s his name in my head -- last night, the final night of their vacation -- which has gone terribly by the way because he’s definitely sleeping with someone else -- and he refused to fess up.”

She’s talking animatedly, her hands weaving in the air between them, and Christ, something tells Jamie she’s in trouble. “Of course,” she continues. “Martine -- the woman -- knows that he’s lying and kept on him until about an hour ago, when he finally admitted he’s having an affair with his twenty-something year old coworker. Which brings us to,” she gestures to the couple, now stony faced and silent, “that.” 

“Ah,” Jamie says. “So, what I’m hearing is that we should cut her a break for causing the migraines of dozens of travellers? She is, after all, a woman scorned.” 

“Exactly!” 

They grin at each other for a minute, and Jamie was right, because they haven't even been properly introduced yet and she’s already well on her way to falling head over heels. 

“I’m Jamie.”

“Oh!” the woman flushes at the realization that they don’t know each other’s names, yet have been acting like old friends, and thrusts a hand forward. “Dani.”

Jamie lets it roll around on her tongue for a minute. It suits what little Jamie knows of her, she decides quickly. Clipped and warm, as though she’s perfectly content to cut right to the chase of who she is, sharing theories about strangers and not bothering with decorum. 

Dani holds her grip for longer than strictly necessary, hand soft and yielding. Then, quick as a flash, she blinks, skids away. It’s a little strange, but Jamie’s certainly not one to fault her for it. They are, after all, barely ten minutes into knowing each other, and she had moved across the aisle without really asking. 

“What… uh -- What are you reading?” Dani stutters, pointing to Jamie’s long forgotten book, still resting in her lap, the cover glaring: Europe’s Most Elusive Flora. It’s not the most embarrassing of her titles, she notes gratefully, her mind half flying to the worn copy of Affair Amongst the Apple Trees on her bookshelf at home. 

“I’m a florist,” she explains, hefting it as though that’s all the explanation needed. “Gardener by trade, but switched a few years ago.”

Dani makes a little noise of pleased surprise, and Jamie doesn’t miss the way her eyes seem to flick down, taking all of Jamie in. 

Never gotten that reaction to working with flowers before, Jamie flushes.  

Somehow, she manages to tell Dani about her shop in London without biting off her tongue, suddenly fuzzy under the weight of Dani’s stare. “Started it all myself,” she can’t help but tack on in quiet pride. 

“How wonderful,” Dani says with a sigh, and it’s clear she means it. “I love flowers.”

“Me too,” Jamie says, before realizing how dumb it sounds coming out from someone who has willingly chosen to spend her life surrounded by them. 

“What were you doing in Amsterdam?” Dani asks curiously, knocking Jamie’s foot with her own. She doesn’t move it away after, arching an eyebrow at Jamie as if daring her to say something about it. 

She doesn’t rise to it, but it’s unnecessarily attractive and Jamie is so, so screwed.

“‘S a big flower convention,” she explains, trying not to swallow her tongue. “People come from all over Europe to do panels, exhibitions, that sort of thing.”

She doesn’t bother explaining too much about it. The convention is pretty much only a big deal to the flower community, and even that has some mixed opinions. Dani, though, doesn’t seem to care, her eyes wide with delight as Jamie describes it.

“What kinds of panels?” she asks, fascinated.

“Boring ones. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to sit through someone listing how best to optimize your sales during Valentine’s Day, but it’s riveting, trust me.“

Dani laughs, a clear wondrous thing that makes Jamie feel bright all over as she says, “It’s a bit of a drag, if I’m being honest. Mainly go for the networking bits.” 

It’s not a lie, per say, but it is a touch removed. She mainly goes because after a certain number of warm bodies in her bed -- some of the only visitors she ever gets -- she gets a little starved for human interaction. Even if it is just a bunch of dreadfully boring hotel breakfast buffet lines. 

“What are you reading,” Jamie diverts, nodding to Dani’s own book. “Looks like something Mary Poppins would carry ‘round.”

Dani glances down at it, a weathered paperback titled Helping Children Understand Grief, as though she had forgotten it was there. She toys with the cover a little.

“The children I nannied. Their parents just died. They were the sweetest kids, really, but sometimes …It was like watching their emotions swallow them whole, I guess.”

“Was right about the Poppins bit, wasn’t I,” Jamie winks, mainly to stop the pinch in Dani’s brow, satisfied when she gets a relieved smile. Once Dani relaxes, Jamie continues gently, “Did you? Help them understand their grief, I mean.”

Dani looks a little starstruck. “I’ve never thought about that.”

It seems too personal, Jamie thinks, to be having these conversations with someone she’s barely met. As she averts her eyes to the window as Dani mulls over the question, to give her some semblance of privacy, she realizes that it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It feels, in fact, quite like they’ve done this before a hundred times.  

Dani coughs and changes the subject. Jamie learns that she used to teach fourth grade, in one of the middle states. Iowa, she thinks. Hm. Maybe Illinois? The states all kind of blend together to Jamie, so big they don’t feel real. Dani apparently thought so too.

“I just had to get out of there,” she is saying. “I hadn’t seen much of anything, and I realized there was so much world out there.”

It’s remarkably brave, Jamie thinks, impressed. Her own life is boring and comfortable and fine just the way it is. She can’t imagine having the courage to just up and leave everything behind. 

“I was in London for a while, actually. Nannying the children temporarily. But that ended a few months ago.” 

Jamie sits up straighter, heart pitching fast at the thought. “You were living in London?”

Dani nods around a terrible British accent, “I was there for a perfectly splendid six months.” 

Jamie snorts, trying not to feel so endeared to this person she didn’t know existed before this afternoon.

Would something have happened between them if she had met Dani at a bar in the streets of SoHo? A drink at the bar, a late night dancing, and then stumbling into bed together, wine drunk and wanting? It’s a loss Jamie wasn’t aware of two minutes ago. 

The feeling smarts behind her ribs. If she could have taken her on several dates, they could have at least tested out this flirty energy between them. Instead, they’re two strangers on a train, like ships passing in the night, a brief glance, a simple encounter.

Because Dani is on her way home to America, to a new teaching position in Vermont, after touring around a multitude of cities, including Amsterdam. 

“I ran out of money,” she ends bashfully. “So I’m flying there tomorrow morning. To a new chapter.” She wrings her hands, smiles, a nervous pull to her lips.

Dani’s getting off at the next stop, scheduling her train to get in the afternoon before, which means Jamie doesn’t have much time left with her.

“You’ve got me until Paris,” Dani teases and Jamie nearly chokes at the thought. There’s a lot that can be done in the hour and a half until Paris -- none of which she should be thinking about right now. Not rucking Dani’s skirt up her thighs, pushing aside the lilac blouse at her collar --

“I want to treat it like the last hurrah, you know?” Dani is saying, leaning forward enthusiastically, foot stroking subconsciously up Jamie’s calf. “I think I’ll just wander around for most of the day. I’ve never been to Paris.”

Jamie flushes, nods hurriedly. Tries very hard to look like she wasn’t just thinking about bending her seatmate over the table in front of them.

Pasting on what she hopes is a bland expression of interest, she clears the desire out of her throat. “Sounds fun. Do you want to go to the dining car? I’m starved.”

---

Jamie insists on paying for their late afternoon lunch, snickering at the opulence of it all; the dining car is dressed in deep colors, reds and golds splashed richly across the walls. There’s even a waiter, tie nestled securely in his starch white collar, who greets them with a funny little bow as the landscape whisks by behind him. 

They split some gratin dish and one odd menu item titled simply: Medium Rare Mash. It turns out to be similar to meatloaf, and Dani asks the waiter for ketchup when he slides it between them across a crisp tablecloth. 

Jamie, already piling her plate high, looks up at that, her mouth dropping open in horror.  

Dani stops her before she can even open her mouth. “Okay, see, that look. What is that?! Everyone always looks at me like that --, ” she waggles a pointed finger at Jamie’s face. “-- when I order ketchup!” 

“Ah,” Jamie says, torn between wanting to be polite and gagging dramatically at the thought. “Love ketchup, really. It’s just, uh… not something I usually put on meat, is all.” 

Dani eyes her over the bottle that has appeared on their table. “Not a fan of the combination?” She motions towards Jamie’s plate of meatloaf, which looks perfectly content alone, in Jamie’s opinion. “Try it, you might like it!” 

Jamie shouldn’t. Know she won’t like it even as she watches mournfully, her hands -- now fully detached from her brain -- squeeze out a bright red puddle right onto her meal. Dani is watching her in anticipation, full lips parted, and Jamie really, really needs to stop doing anything for a pretty face. 

It’s terrible. 

It must show on her face because Dani is laughing hard, giggling around the fork tapped between her teeth. “I take it you don’t like it?”

“The tastes by themselves are great,” Jamie tries, wincing around a particularly flavorful bite, and it sends Dani into another peal of laughter, beautiful and ringing. “But, together…”

“Huh,” Dani says, relieving Jamie of the ketchup bottle. “I have been told I like strange combinations.”

“Well, there’s your reason,” Jamie says. “You lot and your weird taste buds.” Dani tips her head at that and Jamie clarifies: “Americans.”

Dani rolls her eyes. “It’s good! I think you just don’t want to admit that you’re wrong,” she says, squirting it onto her own dish confidently. 

“It’s disgusting,” Jamie corrects calmly and Dani scoops an extra large forkful into her mouth with a tantalizing smile, moaning exaggeratedly at the taste. 

Holy fuck, Jamie thinks simply, trying not to mimic the color of the wine in her glass, all thoughts immediately returned to that table from before. She’s trying to kill me, isn’t she

Dani, thankfully, resumes her eating at a normal noise level before Jamie’s heart stops, and she tries to breathe through her next several bites, finally asking: “What’d you get up to in London while you were there?”

It all seems to fly past, and before Jamie knows it, the train is slowing and Dani is packing up her trash, a muffled voice over the speaker system announcing: 

Next stop: Paris. 

Next stop: where the pretty girl gets off and you never see her again. 

For a second, Jamie thinks she should get off the train with her. It’s a crazy thought that she’s already dismissing with a shake of her head, but it lingers in her skull, rattles at the back of her teeth, as Dani nervously smooths down her hair. 

“This is -- I guess this is it,” Dani shuffles forward slightly. Jamie doesn’t even really remember when they’ve started standing in the aisle together, as a few passengers squeeze past to exit. The sounds of Paris are already filtering through the open doors, and she’s definitely imagining it, but she swears she can smell baguettes. 

“Yeah,” she grunts, and it all just feels so terribly awkward, Dani lurching forward as though to hug her, then tipping away as she rethinks. 

She hugs Jamie for real a second later. It’s a quick, glancing thing that flusters her significantly, Dani pressed down the front of her for one lightning hot second. 

“It was nice meeting you, Jamie,” Dani says, so gentle around her name that Jamie nearly melts. “Thank you for keeping me company.”

“You, too.” They stare at each other for a second longer, until the train horn sounds. Dani finally breaks their gaze with a sad smile, ducking towards the open door. 

Jamie watches Dani leave, bright red backpack bouncing jauntily on her shoulders, before she slumps back in her chair. It feels like someone’s just tied five pounds of concrete to her legs and insisted she run. It’s bizarre because this morning, all she could think about was getting back to the comfort of her flat, safe amongst her unseeing, unjudging plants. 

Love is in the fleeting, her mother used to tell her, lips stained cherry rouge, hands solid as she combed through Jamie’s hair. She’s never understood what her mother meant by that, had always wondered if maybe that’s why she left them when Jamie was seven, and Denny was nine, Mikey screeching from his bassinet. Because they were fleeting and she had found another place to flit without them. 

Now, with the weight of Dani’s touch still tripping along her skin, she thinks maybe her mother deserves more credit after all. 

Someone clears their throat above her shoulder.

Whirling around, she’s surprised to see Dani again, wide eyed and lovely, smiling at her with a hopeful tremor. 

“Um,” she says elegantly. Shifts from one foot to the other. Stops her thumb midway to her teeth. 

Jamie realizes she’s holding her own breath. 

“Listen, I don’t really know why I’m doing this but I -- this -- there’s something here, isn’t there?” Dani rushes, indicating the space arching between the two of them. 

Jamie nods dumbly, because there is, she just hadn’t expected Dani to be so forward about it. Or … here, for that matter. “Uh, yeah, definitely,” she says, voice a near croak. 

“Okay! Great,” Dani fumbles and then pauses, seeming to steady herself. “I -- Do you -- I mean… Do you want to get off the train with me?” 

It’s definitely not what Jamie was expecting, even though the own thought had already crossed her mind. She’d been preparing for Dani to ask for her number, or a mailing address, before disappearing off into the afternoon sunlight again. Unpredictable, this one is.

Dani, though, seems to mean it. She’s clearly nervous, but her gaze never leaves Jamie’s even as her fingers tap anxiously against her leg. “Just for the night. We can explore for a few hours and then you… you can get another train tomorrow morning.”

God, she’s brave. Jamie thinks, dizzy with a heady combination of awe and bewilderment. She stares at Dani standing in front of her with an unwavering question, presenting herself to scrutiny for what she wants. Dani, eying her with such a trusting expression that Jamie already knows what her answer will be. 

It’s mad. She knows it is, but there’s something about this woman that she can’t quite place her finger on. She knows her, somehow. Can feel the pull in her middle begging to be followed. 

Can’t help thinking that maybe she can prolong this ephemeral feeling that sinks warm through her. 

“Yeah.” Jamie says, because what else is a girl to do when a beautiful woman asks you to upend your evening for her?

“Yeah?” Dani looks beside herself, exhilarated and with a brilliant smile, like she isn’t daring to hope, threatening to appear. 

“Let me just get my bag.” 

Her friends can never know about this, she vows to herself as she stretches onto her toes. How in the world would she even describe this? Hey Owen, a pretty girl smiled in my direction, so I decided to get off the train with a complete stranger, in a city I’ve only been once, with no plan for the next sixteen hours. Hell no. There’s no way she would ever be able to live with the endless teasing.

---

She doesn’t know why she asked the pretty girl on the train to get off with her. 

She definitely doesn’t know why the pretty girl said yes. 

Jamie is gorgeous -- all messy curls and long, dark eyelashes that brush her cheeks when she smiles lazily. And she’s so easy to talk to, Dani thinks maybe she’s walked into some alternative world where people can suddenly see who she is for real, instead of the versions of her they’ve built in their own minds. 

Jamie, she has learned over the course of the last several hours, is brutally honest, quick witted, and kind. She’s authentic and it’s pleasantly dizzying to be around, like when you’ve just tipped over the edge from tipsy into fully warm inside.

She’d known from the beginning that she thought Jamie was attractive -- tried, at one point to tell herself it was only because she wanted to be her friend. But, Dani’s been trying to lie to herself less, though, so that went out the window pretty fast.

Because Dani Clayton is probably, most likely gay. 

She’s always known, but she hadn’t really known , only realizing after Edmund had thrown his lanky body down on one knee, how wrong everything felt. How much she favored the seamstress’ touch. She left the week after she broke his proposal, Eddie red faced and betrayed. Mainly, it was to breathe, to get away from the oppressive energy that had finally shrunk too close to her skin. It also had the added benefit of being able to grind against women in German discotheques. 

Yeah, she is definitely gay. And now, she thinks she might probably, most likely be gay for Jamie. 

But still, what compelled her to take a step off the train, pivot, and blurt out an invitation before she could stop herself? She’s not too sure -- only all too aware of the gut punch she had felt, like she would regret it for the rest of her life if she didn’t. 

And then Jamie had agreed, which she hadn’t been expecting, sweeping overhead to get her bag, earthy perfume everywhere. 

“There we are,” Jamie says now at her elbow, righting her after helping Dani stumble down onto the platform on shaky legs. 

Dani just nods, too overwhelmed with the slide of Jamie’s fingertips against her own to respond, as Jamie leads her out into the fresh Parisian air. 

They secure a locker at the station and pile both of their bags in, not even bothering to get separate ones. They’ve both already decided to jump, to spend the next day together, and Dani feels a little giddy at the sight of their belongings mixed together as one. Her backpack, with all of its little flags and tassels, looks silly next to Jamie’s simple black one, but Jamie peers at the patches with interest. 

“What’s our combination? Can’t have you locking me out of my valuables,” Jamie teases over her shoulder, grin broad enough to reassure that she doesn’t actually think Dani is in this arrangement to rob her. 

Dani has to grip tight to the metal door before rattling off the answer, suddenly feeling a bit lightheaded at their situation, at Jamie’s solid presence next to her, hands shoved easily into her pockets.

Jamie, loping lazily at her side as the train station disappears behind them, has careened into her life so fast, that Dani feels as though she is racing around the track of a roller coaster, about to hit a big drop. The exhilaration (and, truthfully, sheer terror) at what she’s gotten herself into pounds in her veins at a heavy clip. 

It’s only when they’ve made it onto the Pont des Arts -- a walking bridge suspended idyllically over the water, central Paris all around them -- that Dani gets a second to process. 

The summer sun is warm at her back as she takes in her surroundings. The steeply pitched roofs, the ornate limestone, stretches in every direction. Bits of French, frenzied and rich, shoot past her sharply. 

Paris is -- there’s a list of superlatives Dani could use to describe Paris, but none of them feel enough. Everything is bright, and new, and curious. Magnetic, she settles on. Even in the late afternoon light, the Seine sparkles, riverbanks swollen, close to bursting.

She’s glad she scheduled her flight for tomorrow morning, this little view of the city already proving it was one of her better ideas.

“So, where to?” Jamie asks, breaking Dani out of her thoughts, clasping her hands together nervously. 

It’s hard for Dani to stop staring at her once she starts. The breeze is fluttering the flannel around Jamie’s shoulders, a worn t-shirt tucked into her jeans, and it is doing things to Dani that she did not realize existed. Namely, pitching pleasantly hot in her stomach. Jamie looks so pretty, the sun glinting golden off her hair as she basks in it, that Dani can’t think, can’t do anything but stand there doing an impression of a goldfish. 

Answer the question, Dani, she reminds herself helpfully. She’s expecting you to have a plan for the adventure you’ve just invited her on.  

Dani, decidedly, does not have a plan.

She just manages to bumble her way through telling Jamie she’ll ask the locals for suggestions, before stumbling away to a pair of aloof looking women in necktie blouses on the other side of the bridge

Only after she is armed with a bevvy of events that were delivered to her with an upturned nose, does she bustle back over, walking fast and rigid. “They said there’s a street market around the corner open until six. And apparently, her husband’s orchestra concert.” 

And then, because Dani’s brain hates her, she keeps going, scrambling for her guidebook to flip through the pages anxiously, reading off one tourist attraction after the other. “And I -- I think Notre Dame is around here,” she babbles. 

She definitely needs to stop talking. She, a grown woman with a year of solo traveling under her belt, has barreled right into an incessant chatter, and suddenly can’t stop listing activities to do like a den mother surrounded by a pack of bored children. 

Jamie is clearly trying to keep a straight face and Dani just cannot get her mouth to shut up. Sure, Dani’s never been great at making friends, but she has always done significantly better than whatever the hell is going on right now. 

It’s just Jamie, she tries to remind herself, but it ends up doing more harm than good, because Jamie is still essentially a stranger. A very pretty stranger, no less, and Dani’s tongue trips over yet another suggestion (this time to get crepes), just to spite her. 

“Can tell you're a teacher,” Jamie teases. “Thought of something for everyone.” 

It’s not disparaging. In fact, it’s almost affectionate, and it pulls her off the tail of her spiral before she even realizes what's happening. 

Jamie, smiling cheerfully in a way that makes her feel pleasant all over, doesn’t miss a beat. “Let’s do the cathedral, yeah? You can even buy me a crepe after, if you’re still inclined.” She says, bouncing on her toes.

Dani is so stunned by the sudden turn of events that she just stands there, blinking, until Jamie realizes she isn’t following behind, and has to peer around pedestrians to find her.

She scrambles to catch up, arm brushing against Jamie’s, and she feels faintly like she’s been pulled away from the eye of a hurricane just in time.

Calm down, Danielle. Just relax, Eddie would say when she got anxious, always with an uptick he thought sounded encouraging but really just made her want to vibrate out of her skin. 

Jamie hadn’t done that. Hadn’t even thought about dismissing her. She just carefully considered each option that had come flying out and picked one, like Dani hadn’t been on the verge of a panic attack, her fists clenched tight at her side. 

At least she finally had the courage to kick Edmund to the curb, Dani thinks with a sigh. If someone she barely knows is able to quell the thoughts swirling in her head, then she definitely dodged a bullet. 

She pushes aside the momentary thought that maybe it’s Jamie, in particular, who can read her like a book, because that would just be ridiculous.  

---

The inside of Notre Dame is breathtaking, all sweeping ceilings that seem to open nearly into the heavens, the late afternoon sun filtering through splendid stained glass windows.

Dani has never seen something so grand. Her experiences with churches were the occasional Sunday service her mother dragged her to in the name of appearances, and the squat, one story building that Edmund had selected for their wedding. 

It had reeked of mothballs, and the chaplain refused to talk to her, directing every word in Eddie’s direction, until Dani had loudly commented that they were considering the church’s competitor. 

She’s moved on, is currently standing in the middle of the most well-known cathedral in Europe, and she would bet her nonrefundable deposit all over again that Father Steven is still in Iowa, renting out his dingy community hall to unhappy fiances. 

This cathedral is so far from that depressing church that Dani has half a mind to take a picture and send it to them, just to gloat. 

They both wander around, every so often reading little tidbits that they find interesting to each other. 

“Listen to this,” Jamie whispers, as she reads off a placard in front of a large tomb. Their voices are louder than normal in the lofty halls, bouncing high and clear, and the two of them have resorted to hushed, hallowed tones that get swallowed up by the sheer space around them. 

Dani isn’t the religious type -- and judging from the way Jamie hasn’t so much as crossed herself since being here, neither is she -- but the vibrancy of the history around her sinks into Dani’s bones, especially when Jamie relays to her that the sarcophagus in front of them is nearly seven hundred years old. 

It’s holy, being here, in this safety of salvation for so many people Dani will never meet, who lived hundreds of years before her. 

Which is why she definitely shouldn’t be feeling a little hot as Jamie gives a dramatic reading of a bland description of some bishop, but the rasp of Jamie’s voice is incredibly pretty, lilting and grounded. Jamie talks like she expects to be heard, that the words she strings together are important, because they’re hers. It is a level of certainty about herself that Dani envies and admires in one fell swoop. 

It’s also unfairly attractive, and Dani can’t help but wonder what that husk would sound like panting around the syllables of her own name, can’t help the heat that rushes under her skin at the thought. 

The loud opening prayers of mass, intoned from a formidable, robe clad man at the high altar, jolts Dani guiltily out of a truly sinful scenario involving a dark corner, her breath hitching high because Jesus, she’s in a church, for crying out loud. She can practically hear her mother yelling at her from across the ocean. 

Somehow, Dani manages to pass off her fluttered state as merely surprise, and Jamie smiles in a way that has Dani quickly sending up a prayer that she won’t be subjected to eternal damnation, and pulls them deeper into the cathedral. 

Jamie looks like she belongs here in a weird way, her face glowing ethereal and she leans close to light a candle in offering. 

“Not my sort of thing, generally,” Jamie explains, shaking out the match. “Got a friend who lives for this stuff, though, so thought I’d do it for her.”

“This stuff,” Dani repeats, trying to stop herself from laughing, which feels like toeing the line of appropriate in this space. “You mean Christianity?” 

Jamie, it seems, has no qualms about being proper, and she lets out a tinkling laugh that seems to make the flames burn harder. A severe looking woman huffs in one of the pews, glaring at them over the rim of her glasses. 

Jamie ignores her. “Sounds bad when you put it like that, but yeah, not a big believer in divine intervention.”

“Why not?” Dani asks, before she can quite talk herself out of such an intrusive, personal question. She’s always had a problem with that, according to her mother. She has a knack for getting people to bear parts of themselves to her through the careful act of observation and well placed inquiries. 

Dani usually disagrees, considers it more an asset than anything else, but she cringes at her bluntness this time, relieved when Jamie doesn’t appear fazed, instead mulling over the question thoughtfully. 

“Dunno,” Jamie says softly and Dani wants to reach out and squeeze her hand when she continues, “Guess I learned pretty early on that no one was going to look out for me but myself.” 

It rings fairly close to home to Dani, aware that she had been headed down that line of thinking when Mrs. O’Mara had scooped her into the fold of their family, inviting her for dinners and sleepovers on the floor of Edmund’s room.

“I -- I don’t believe in God either,” Dani says, wanting to offer an admission in return, wanting Jamie to know that she feels the same. 

“Ah, Poppins,” Jamie says, already back to her easy grin, her lilting, unflappable attitude. “Don’t say it too loud or they might kick us out.” 

Dani doesn’t bother trying to stifle her snort this time, and when the woman in the pew shushes her loudly, she finds she doesn’t care. 

---

It’s getting dark by the time they leave the church, cobblestone streets bathed in strained sunlight, watery and waning. The street lamps are starting to blink on in uncoordinated patterns when Dani shivers against the air, now cool without the sweltering pound of the sun. 

Jamie, apparently, feels the opposite. She moves to strip off her flannel, presumably to drape it around Dani’s shoulders, ever the gentlewoman.

“No!” Dani garbles, and then manages to recover. “No, thank you. I run fairly hot.”

Jamie eyes her inconveniently trembling body. “You sure?”

Dani nods desperately, willing her to keep her shirt on. It’s not even that cold, but the thought of Jamie’s arms on display, surely strong from years of manual labor in the garden, is making her shiver worse than the breeze. 

“Suit yourself,” Jamie shrugs, and Dani watches in dismay as she takes the shirt off anyway, tying it around her waist loosely with nimble fingers.

At least she was right, she thinks, trying very hard not to let her eyes linger too long on the lithe muscle suddenly in her direct line of sight.

“Still in the mood for crepes?” Jamie asks, none the wiser to the internal conflict in Dani’s head. She rakes the curls from her eyes to peer down the quaint side streets of the Latin Quarter in front of them. “Don’t worry, I won’t actually make you pay for mine.” 

“A deal’s a deal,” Dani counters, already tugging out her money belt. 

Jamie bursts out laughing. “What is that?” she gasps between breaths.

Dani turns around, expecting to find a mime with a dog wearing a beret, or something equally Parisian. Finding nothing, she wheels back around to find Jamie clutching her sides, gesturing to the pouch in her hands. 

She doesn’t get it. “A money belt,” she says, though it comes out more like a question. 

“Why on earth are you carrying that ‘round? Haven’t ya heard of pockets?” It’s clear Jamie means only jest, and Dani lets her shoulders soften from around her ears. “They’re this pretty cool invention, you put ‘em on trousers and it holds all your shit.” 

Dani grins, allows herself to ease into the banter that seems to come so easily around Jamie. Tries not to question why it does.  

“I wouldn’t want those,” Dani says, snapping the strap of the belt for emphasis. “I prefer my cash slightly damp from my body heat.”

Jamie makes an amused little noise and Dani pulls her shirt up an inch to secure the bag back around her waist. She doesn’t miss the way Jamie tracks her movement, eyes glazed and reverent.

Oh, she thinks around the heat crawling up her cheeks. That was something. 

“It’s very effective against pickpockets,” Dani adds, nodding earnestly over Jamie’s resurging chuckle. “You tease me now, but I bet you’ll regret not having one of these if your wallet disappears.” 

“Don’t even carry a wallet,” Jamie says, tongue between her teeth as she produces a handful of crumpled bills and an ID from her jeans. 

Dani gasps in mock outrage and pats her stomach, right over her belt, dizzy at the easy cadence of Jamie’s voice, the brusque gracefulness with which she shoves her items back into her pockets. “I’m glad that, out of the two of us, the thief will go after you, then.” 

“So American,” Jamie mutters, her voice a cross between genuine bewilderment and endearment. 

Dani laughs, feeling quite like she’s been tossed out of an airplane only to be caught amongst the clouds, ferrying her along in a sea of pillowy white. She’d forgotten how fun flirting could be. Had forgotten how each jab, each snicker, could be delivered with the same feeling as sinking into a warm bath at the end of the day, when there were no hidden resentments brimming under the surface. 

She wants to be as close to Jamie as possible, she realizes, their hands brushing innocently as they poke into food stalls lining the cluttered street. When Jamie hooks Dani’s pinky with her own for a cozy, passing moment, before withdrawing to point towards a menu board, the touch sits phantom heavy on her finger long after she’s gone.

They squabble over who pays when they reach a tiny vendor selling every type of crepe imaginable, and Dani wins with a pointed, “You funded my meatloaf.” 

“More like ketchup with a side of meatloaf,” Jamie grumbles, but steps aside dutifully to let Dani hand the man a few Euros. 

Giddiness swirls in Dani’s stomach as they meander, their elbows knocking as they try to eat, because it seems that neither of them are willing to move away from the tantalizing gravity of the other.

The Seine is a steady current through the city, and when Dani argues that it’s too pretty of a landmark to not take advantage of, they decide to eat strolling along the walking paths framing the riverbanks. It’s beautiful, made only better by Jamie at her side, dipping in and out of the glow of streetlights.

They’ve only made it a few steps before their attention is drawn to a commotion down the way. There aren’t many people around, just the occasional jogger, and a pair of people, a man and a woman, drifting precariously close to the edge of the water. 

The man, tall and lean, is following after the beautiful woman, who is … storming in their direction, Dani notes with alarm. The closer they get, the more of the muffled argument she can hear.

“Come on, Becs, don’t be like that,” the smarmy-looking guy bites, reaching out to grip a tight hand around her wrist. 

Jamie glowers next to Dani, suddenly poised alert in the middle of the path. It surprises Dani, the readiness with which Jamie becomes suddenly attune to the streets, and she wonders briefly what Jamie has gone through to react so strongly. Jamie is, apparently, about to step in, when the woman rips her arm away and rounds on him, letting out a stream of insults about his character (he’s apparently a jealous asshole) and the size of his genitals, before stomping away. 

Jamie snorts in delight, a wry smirk edging its way onto her lips and it unleashes a flurry of butterflies that Dani didn’t even realize resided in her stomach.

“Seem to be lots of couples having a row today,” Jamie comments mildly, much looser than she had been a moment before. She even looks only the slightest bit affronted when the man nearly bowls her over in his haste to vacate the area. “‘S why I don’t do it,” she adds lightly, turning to watch the water lap at the stone walls keeping the river contained.

It’s stupid, she knows it is -- doesn’t even know what exactly Jamie doesn’t do, but Dani’s stomach drops at the statement, disappointment curling in her fingers. 

Maybe it’s because Dani has felt more alive in the last few hours than she has in her whole life, burning with wonder every time Jamie so much as glances her way.

Maybe it’s because it feels like there’s something behind Jamie’s gaze, when she lingers too long on Dani’s mouth as she speaks, when their shoulders knock.

Maybe it’s because, even as Jamie says the dreadful sentence, she’s tucking windswept curls behind her ear -- curls Dani just wants to sink her hands into and --

Well.

It’s stupid. 

It’s not like Jamie would actually be an option, even if she was emotionally available. 

In twenty four hours, Dani will be stateside, and Jamie will be … somewhere in London. Her shop or, perhaps, a cozy apartment that paints itself in Dani’s mind, filled to the brim with lush greenery and clutter. 

In twenty four hours, the day currently sprawled in front of them will feel like a dream, when they’re whisked back into the monotony of responsibilities and routine. Dani wonders briefly if they’ll stay in touch, friends across the ocean, steeped in their own lives but for a passing call. That would be nice. Far be it from her to reject a new friend, she thinks, few that she has left. 

And, besides, she likes being friends with Jamie, and the easy rhythm between them. 

“‘S that a boat?” Jamie asks, crepe halfway to her mouth. They’re in a more crowded area of the riverbank now, and over Dani’s shoulder sits a tour boat, the top exposed to the elements, tourists piling on. Jamie watches the lights twinkle. “Let’s get on,” she says, spur of the moment. 

“What?” Dani chokes on a bit of Nutella. “Oh I -- no, no… I’m not a big fan of bodies of water.”

She says this, even as she follows Jamie all the way to the rickety ramp that connects land to boat. 

“Why’s that?” Jamie asks, turning to give Dani her full attention, as though the ticket agent in front of her, already starting a sale, is very low down on her list of priorities -- a list that seems to have Dani ranked high at the top. 

“It’s silly,” she says, but Jamie just stands there waiting, ignoring the annoyed employee behind her, until she continues. “I -- I … you know when you’re swimming, and it’s over a really deep part and you think wow, something could just grab my legs and drag me under?” 

Jamie stares at her, bemused. “Wow, that’s dark.”

Dani snorts, because yeah, it is and she is no more over the fear now than when she was little, clinging onto Mrs. O’Mara’s neck in the community pool every Sunday. 

“Can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure of that particular thought,” Jamie says. “Can promise ya no one’s gonna throw you overboard, though.” She holds out a hand in question, and Dani can see that even if she still said no, Jamie would just as easily follow her to their next destination with a charming smile and an easy set to her shoulders. 

It’s what lets her say yes, in the end. That she was not cajoled or guilt tripped, simply watched with a steady gaze, the choice to make her own decision, and a trusting hand to hold onto. 

She says yes, and Jamie beams, finally swiveling around to humor the salesman eying them with reproach. 

Dani unclenches her fist and lets herself live. 

---

This is mad. It’s the only thing she can come up with as they glide along the Seine. She’s supposed to be in London, tucked away in her quiet, rational life. 

Instead, she’s on a goddamn river cruise in the middle of Paris and developing a massive crush on her travel partner for the evening, who has dragged them up to the upper deck with glee.

Dani is a vision in front of her, only peering nervously over the railing every so often as she sightsees next to Jamie’s own lazy lean. It’s not that Paris is disinteresting, per se, but it definitely doesn’t compare to the view she has right now, Dani’s head on a swivel as they drift, hair a storm of gold in the wind. 

“What, um -- what did you mean earlier?” Jamie raises an eyebrow at the ambiguous question Dani’s thrown her way, her eyes still lit up with delight at the exterior of the Louvre slowly disappearing behind them. “When you said you didn’t do ‘it’,” she offers helpfully. 

Ah, right. Her bloody mouth running rampant without her permission, inviting a stranger into the parts of herself she tries to keep hidden.

Only, Dani doesn’t feel like a stranger. She hasn’t felt like one since she conspiratorially shared the inner workings of her mind on the train, and the realization has Jamie softening under Dani’s gentle gaze.

“Oh, relationships. Reckon they’re not for me,” she says, shrugging around the loneliness of the statement to shove her hands deep into her pockets.

“None of them?” Dani looks askance, as though Jamie’s just told her she enjoys marshmallow and marmite sandwiches. 

“None that are worth the effort,” she winces at her own bluntness, hoping that it doesn’t make her sound like a Grade A asshole. “Relationships are exhaustive,” she amends, hoping Dani gets what she’s saying. “All of ‘em.”

Dani watches her curiously, a thoughtful expression on her face. “So you don’t believe in love?”

“Didn’t say that,” Jamie hums, swiping hair out of her mouth. Dani’s eyes follow the movement for a blazing moment, eyes lidded, and it sends heat thrumming down Jamie’s cheeks. As if realizing she’s been caught, Dani blushes too, clearing her head with a delightful little shake before motioning for Jamie to continue.

She mulls the question over. Wonders how to put into words how she feels about people. How practically everyone she’s ever loved has left her, in the end. How she had loved recklessly, dangerously once before, and paid the ultimate price in her freedom. How tiring most people feel. 

Very few are actually worth it, she thinks. Plus, she’s already got the friends she needs. 

She doesn’t know how to explain that she still believes in love, though, even if it’s not for her, settling simply on: “I do, yeah.”

Dani leans closer, intrigued, her hair brushing Jamie’s arm in a wave of perfume, and considers her, pensive. “See, I don’t know if I do. Love has always felt like … an obligation or something, you know? Something that’s expected of you, so you do it because you know it makes other people feel good, even though you don’t.”

“You don’t feel good loving other people?” Jamie asks, tinged in shock. Because if Dani, the physical embodiment of sunshine, doesn’t like loving other people, then there really is no hope for the rest of them. 

Dani shakes her head, laughs. “No, of course I do. I loved the kids I was nannying for. I-- I was making a real difference for them. That was worthwhile. But --,” She hesitates. “With my mom…with my past relationship…I don’t know. I guess I loved them the way they needed me to.”

“But not the way you wanted to,” Jamie fills in, watching her fidget out of the corner of her eye. Just wanna hug her , she thinks with a pang. She wants to be gentle with Dani in the only way she knows how -- with hands and words and authenticity. 

“Yeah,” Dani agrees, looking a little windswept that Jamie had been able to bridge the gap between her own thoughts so easily. “Love has never felt like something I’ve wanted.”

They’re not so different, her and this peculiar woman. There’s clearly some parental baggage, not to mention a whole slew of relationship problems, between the two of them on this winding boat to nowhere. 

“Why do you believe in love, if relationships aren’t for you?” Dani turns to her, headstrong, as though she’s merely asking what the weather will be like tomorrow. 

“Do I believe in some grand sweeping love?” Jamie starts, rolling her eyes internally at how Dani’s asked one question and she’s already decided to crack herself open like a geode. “Nah, probably not. But loving someone, putting their needs above your own, having them do it in return?” Jamie toys with the chain looped securely around her neck. “Dunno. Think some people can pull it off.”

Dani’s looking at her like Jamie’s just scooped her words from the rushing water of the river below and laid them bare at her feet, wet and vulnerable. 

Don’t think I’m one of those people, she almost says, but decides against it, because Dani is trailing her fingers around Jamie’s wrist, her pulse fleeting and solid, and for one blinding moment, Jamie allows herself to believe she can love the way she wants to. 

“That’s the thing, isn’t it,” Dani taps a finger into Jamie’s arm with finality. “Doing it in return. Letting the other person grow on their own,” she hushes, surveying the rush of the Seine underneath them. “I don’t understand how some people get love so twisted. Shouldn’t it be about helping the other person become the best version of themselves?” 

It stuns Jamie, to hear her own ideas about love and ownership thrown back at her. Because Dani is right. Jamie has always felt that love should come without having to back yourself into a corner, has found that that’s what nudges her away, in the end -- skirting around someone into blessed freedom just before she gets crowded against the walls. Love should be the most liberating thing, to Jamie, and she has been tired of having to cut off her wings mid flight in order to make someone else happy. 

“Yeah,” Jamie says, throat dry around the sudden, desperate urge to kiss her. 

Just when, Jamie nearly wonders aloud, did they tip headlong into this casual intimacy under the stars? 

She wants to touch her, wants to bend Dani against the railing and find out what she tastes like, in full view of the glittering city beyond. She’s starting to think Dani might have similar feelings, if the way her eyes keep drifting towards the line of Jamie’s mouth is any indication. 

Jamie, feeling flung out into space under the soft caress of Dani’s fingers, takes a careful step closer, pulse echoing rapid in her ears.

They’re almost chest to chest now, and yet the distance between them feels both too electric, and as expansive as the turbulent open water that Dani is so afraid of. She doesn’t look afraid now, though, her hands sliding up Jamie’s arms with meticulous care, her touch racing to explode in Jamie’s sternum. 

Dani, eyes wide and imploring, filling her senses so strongly, she can’t think about anything else but the plush of Dani’s lips when her tongue darts out to wet them. 

Dani, trailing soft fingertips up the back of Jamie’s neck, tilts forward to rest their foreheads together, and Jamie’s angling in before she can stop herself, dizzy with want when Dani says her name just so. They’re so close that she can feel the flutter of Dani’s eyelashes against her own cheeks, and she moves to eliminate the tiny fraction of space left between them, slip sliding closer and closer to this roaring oblivion, as she --

“Ah, ze Eiffel Tower to your left! ‘er lights were just updated two years ago,” the tour guide crackles to life over the loudspeaker, accent thick and jarring. “A feat of modern electricity!” 

Dani startles back, pressing a cool hand to her brow. “I -- uh, wow -- I… bathroom!” she blurts, backing away from Jamie with a truly bizarre gait. 

Jamie -- too dumbfounded to do anything but watch her go, power walking like a suburban mother going through a divorce -- slumps. 

What the fuck just happened? 

She buries her face in her hands. It’s too much to see out onto the skyline beyond, not with the knowledge of what Dani’s breath had felt like, a sweet dust against her lips, the current between them snuffed out much too prematurely.

In her twenties, Jamie wouldn’t deny that the French had a certain… allure about them. She would happen upon French women at clubs, their husky voices, threaded through with cigarette smoke, coaxing her into their beds. She would have been lying if she said she didn’t still have a soft spot in her heart for the nationality. 

But now? 

Jamie’s changed her mind. She hates the French, with their stupid fun facts and even worse timing. 

To make matters worse, the boat is slowing, boathands chattering amongst themselves as they taxi to the dock. By the time Dani comes back, their fellow passengers are streaming down the newly reinstalled ramp, and they have no choice but to step in line to exit, the moment broken.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie says, when the awkwardness has swelled enough that the air between them feels heavy, and she can’t take it anymore. “I shouldn’t have --” 

Dani shakes her head, fingers back to that ceaseless glide down Jamie’s forearm like she had never left in a cloud of nervous energy. “I’m sorry. I was just … surprised by the speaker.” She sounds just as wrecked as Jamie feels, and it does help a little, that Dani seems to be feeling much of the same loss of opportunity.

“So it wasn’t because I… because we…,” Jamie mumbles, palms sweating at the notion that Dani could very well just not have wanted to kiss her. 

Which would be fine, she rationalizes, even as her mind screams at her in the name of self preservation. Just wanna know, is all. 

“Jamie,” Dani murmurs, low and soothing, lacing their fingers together with surety as they totter down the ramp. “No, not at all.”

The reassurance slices through Jamie with such relief that she has to grip the railing on her way off, afraid of either her legs giving out, or squeezing Dani’s hand hard enough to betray the whirlwind of emotion in her gut.

The tour guide is bidding everyone farewell at the foot of the wharf, though his broad grin drops at the sight of Jamie’s scowl, aimed only at him. 

“Bonne nuit,” he stammers, breathing an audible sigh of relief when Dani thanks him in clunky French. 

Was a good night before you opened your mouth,” Jamie mumbles under her breath. 

“What’s that?” The man strains to hear.

She just manages to bite back a scream. Idiots! The lot of them!

“Don’t mind her,” Dani pipes up, steering Jamie away from where she’s wondering if she could commit a crime without being extradited back to this godforsaken country of frankly inconsiderate imbeciles. “She has a very confusing dialect.”

It’s only once they’ve made it across the quay, feet adjusting to solid ground again, that Jamie realizes what Dani’s said.

“You think my accent’s confusing, Poppins?” 

“No,” Dani hums, shoulder knocking into hers. “But it’s not his fault you didn’t get a chance to kiss me.”

Jamie gapes. “It absolutely is his fault,” she bickers, snickering when Dani rolls her eyes and threads their fingers together in the streetlight, as though they’ve done this a thousand times before. “Who the hell knew, anyways.” 

Dani’s responding grin could power the Eiffel Tower, new light installments and all. 

---

They find a bar. A speakeasy, rather, that Jamie remembers Owen showing her years ago on her one and only other trip here. It’s filled with low lights and melodic conversation, and it all feels so perfectly Parisian as they settle into a dark corner of the bar, that Jamie can’t stop the chuckle that works its way out of her mouth. 

Dani looks surprised for a second, and then dissolves into giggles too, melodic and free. She’s intoxicating like this, doe-eyed and honeyed in a way that sends Jamie’s stomach flying to her throat any time Dani looks at her. 

“What do you think his name is?” Dani whispers, gesturing towards the bartender at the other end of the curve, a gnarled Parisian with a perpetual scowl. 

Jamie thinks for a long moment. “Dunno,” she comes up with, because she doesn’t have the brain power necessary to make fun of the French right now, not with Dani hovering close, after the near beginning they have just had. 

Dani studies the bartender twirl a shaker curiously, fingers twitching like she’s a beat away from mimicking his movements for fun, the curl of her hair a gleaming flow now loose around her shoulders. It makes Dani more vivid, more present, somehow. As though she’s spent the better part of an evening untucking herself, messing up her perfect image, until she’s just Dani -- brilliant and undone. 

“I’m going to ask him,” Dani says loosely, marching across the room, slotting herself comfortably between a few patrons down the bar. Jamie can only watch, awestruck and aching, as Dani leans forward on tiptoes, the flow of butchered French and laughter drifting towards her. 

She looks so stunning that Jamie thinks she might have keeled over right then and there, if it weren’t so interesting, seeing her interact with strangers. Jamie’s known her for all of half a day, but she already notices the way Dani buttons herself back up, straightens her spine, around others. Notices how, even in her abundant moments of quiet bravery, she fidgets and rolls her shoulders back. 

Shite’s ingrained, Jamie thinks, and her heart gives a particularly distressed thud at the thought of someone poking and prodding a young Dani into this nervous caricature. 

Dani rejoins her, slipping back into her seat primly, and taking a sip of wine from one of the two glasses she’s returned with. She passes the other to Jamie, taking extra care to dab at the corner of her mouth with a napkin in a drawn out pause. Jamie waits, but Dani doesn’t give her the answer, choosing instead to regard Jamie with an annoyingly attractive arched brow that swoops into her stomach. 

“Well?” she finally breaks, the tension of the moment crawling up her neck. 

Dani pauses for dramatic effect. Tips her head to the side, considering. 

“Bernard.”

She bites her lip shyly, looking at Jamie in a way that sets her pulse to a gallop. 

“Damn. My money was on Henri.” Guess that infinitesimal breather got the synapses firing again, didn’t it. 

“That’s a terrible guess,” Dani deadpans, clinking their glasses together as she relays what she learned. Apparently Bernard has owned the bar for the last fifty years, after he inherited it from his father.

“I mean… wow,” Dani says, deep in thought. “Fifty years. I don’t know if I care about anything enough in my life to do it for half a century.”

Don’t really give a flying fuck about Bernard, Jamie thinks, entranced by the wine-stain rouge on Dani’s lips.

“Not even teaching? Thought you loved the wee gremlins.”

She’s asked the wrong question. She doesn’t know how, or why, but Dani’s face falls for a split second, before she pastes on a grin that doesn’t hide any of the upset swilling in her eyes. 

“I didn’t even make it a decade,” she says, blinking rapidly. The stem of her glass looks ready to shatter with how she is clutching it. 

“D’you want to talk about it?” It’s the only thing she can think to do, to offer herself as a willing ear. She’d always been good at that, in her foster placements. Not with the adults, God, no, but with the other kids, crammed into the houses as they were. Until one unsavory foster mother overheard her “corrupting” the young ones. She’d only been telling them to stand up for themselves, but she had been whisked away to another placement pretty quickly. 

She kept to herself after that, until the streets, at least.

Dani nods, searching for something in the air like it will tell her exactly how to open old wounds to new people. By the time she glances back at Jamie, knees knocking under the bar, a pleading look on her face, Jamie realizes that she’s asking for assistance.

Just what she’s good for, she notes wryly, slinging an easy arm around the back of the booth they’re sharing, grateful when Dani seems to sink into it.  

“Maybe I should ask about the real reason you’re running ‘round Europe,” Jamie starts slowly, watching Dani for any indication that she’s about to bolt towards the front door. “Surely it’s not just soul searching.” 

Dani picks at her napkin. “Just had to … get away, I guess.” 

It’s clearly not the truth, if the tension in Dani’s gaze fixed on the pockmarked surface is any indication, but she won’t push it. Maybe Dani’s changed her mind about sharing after all, and besides, Jamie doesn’t like being lied to. 

“No, I -- you’re right. It’s not just soul searching,” Dani doubles back, her face a determined twist of anxiety. “I guess I just… don’t want to unload on you.” 

Jamie shrugs. She doesn’t know how to tell Dani that she wants to know everything about her -- how she takes her tea in the morning, or if she folds her socks first when she does laundry -- that unloading is so far from what she would describe this as. So she says simply, “Asked, didn’t I?” 

She can see when Dani decides to let her in, a little resolute nod to herself before she begins, and Jamie’s heart stutters behind her ribcage.

“I was engaged.” 

Whatever she was expecting to hear, it’s not this, but the longer she thinks about it, the more it makes sense. That Dani, throwing herself almost recklessly into new situations, might have been doing so because of a newly found freedom she had been denied for so long? Yeah, Jamie can see it. 

“Picture perfect life,” Dani scoffs. “Best friends from childhood, high school sweethearts, the whole nine yards.” She doesn’t sound bitter, exactly, but there is an edge of something in her voice, bumping up against the sweetness that always seems to steep in her inflection. “I didn’t love him,” she adds bluntly, and then reddens at her own honesty. 

Jamie, largely giving Dani the space she needs to talk, can’t resist laying a hand over Dani’s on the worn wood grain of the table. Dani -- stammering through an explanation of how she did love him, but not in that way -- sighs at the touch, flips her hand over to let Jamie trace down the flat of her palm. 

“It was always, Be glad you have him, Danielle. Say thank you and don’t rock the boat.” Dani rolls her eyes, sidles closer until their arms brush. “My mother, mainly. She, uh, wasn’t around much, but when she was…” she scowls, as though her mother is somewhere just around the corner of this tiny establishment, ready to impose. “I mean, he was my best friend. And, Eddie’s mom, Judy, practically raised me. She bought all my school pictures and put them up in the living room, right next to him and his brothers.” 

“Sounds like a good mum,” Jamie can’t help saying, and is rewarded with an affectionate smile. 

“Yeah, she was,” Dani says, dipped in nostalgia. “Judy even helped me pick out my dress when we won prom king and queen.” She sucks in a deep breath, gives a mirthless chuckle. “Where did it all go wrong, right?” 

Jamie listens, soothing between knuckle and life line. 

“It wasn’t what I wanted. He wasn’t what I wanted, but it felt familiar, and comfortable, so I just … went along with it. Said yes when he asked me out, and then again when he proposed. But I--,” she trails off, trying to compile her thoughts. “Life feels … short. And I couldn’t handle agreeing to things I didn’t want anymore. I just felt like there was so much I hadn’t seen, or done, and I was sinking deeper and deeper into what I was accepting for my life and I just had to --”

“Leave,” Jamie supplies, knowing exactly what she means, the oppressive weight of her own history having led her to that exact itch to run, to flee, over and over again.

“Yeah,” Dani nods nervously, as though expecting Jamie to throw her hands up and berate her for her mistreatment of a fine young man. 

“Are you happier?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Jamie says gently, and Dani jerks up, looks at her softly, a gleam of something that looks a little like surprise, and a lot like deliberation in her eyes. Jamie flusters at it, the tension building between them until all she can think about is Dani under the glow of the moon on that boat, eyelids already halfway closed as she leans in. 

It’s inappropriate of her, to say the least, to be thinking of kissing Dani in this moment of vulnerability. Besides, she’s also never admired someone more, who should not have to hold the rigid set of her shoulders all by herself.

“I’m really proud of y--,” Jamie barely has a chance to get the word out before Dani is surging forward, cradling her face, to kiss her soundly. 

They’re kissing, unfettered and hungry, before Jamie can even register it, Dani’s lips bruising against her own, the noise she makes in the back of her throat buzzing through Jamie’s veins. It is, in essence, a liberation of longing, and Jamie has nowhere to put it, doesn’t want to put it anywhere but into this kiss, tugging Dani nearly into her lap, cupping her face tight between her palms, desperate and craving. 

“I get it now,” Dani says between breaths, punctuated by kisses that spin Jamie upside down. “The wanting.”

The words crash into Jamie’s ears, and she pulls back for one aching second, already feeling desperately empty without Dani against her. “Are you sure?” she asks, because, even with Dani’s heartbeat hammering against her, she needs to know before she throws herself off the peak of this cliff. 

Dani nods into the slope of Jamie’s mouth, already tugging her back in, tongue tracing against Jamie’s lips in their tiny corner of solitude. She thinks Dani must be able to hear the plea bounding through her hands, the one begging to be allowed to touch without restraint, because Dani does not back away, instead presses against Jamie as much as possible.

“Thank fuck,” Jamie just manages to rasp, promptly losing all rational thought when Dani’s hand slips down to stroke at her thigh, unabashed and yearning. Dani kisses her hot and needy, like she’s a long lost oasis in the desert, and she suddenly feels too aware of her own body, nearly reeling off balance with the way Dani is pressing against her. 

The tightness since the boat, so high strung before, now unravels easily, a spool of previously tangled thread under Dani’s electric touch.

Dani pulls away too soon for her liking, giggling at the wanton whine that works its way out of Jamie’s mouth without her permission. Rosy and breathless, she doesn’t move far, moving to dot kisses along Jamie’s cheeks. 

“We’re in public,” she hums, lips skating close to Jamie’s ear. 

She tries not to shiver, apparently unsuccessful when Dani smirks, slipping back a step. “Let’s not be in public, then,” she says, Dani’s laugh flashing against her skin.

“I feel like I’ve known you for years,” Dani whispers, reaching up to tuck a curl behind the shell of Jamie’s ear gently, still so close that Jamie goes a little cross-eyed. “Is that crazy?”

Jamie laughs, can only dart forward helplessly for another peck, beaming when Dani flushes pleased. Somehow, dangerously, Dani already feels like her best friend. “Not at all.”

---

Kissing Jamie had been a spur of the moment decision, and yet, it felt like the whole day had been leading up to it, since Jamie had collapsed in her corner of the train, all intimidating smirk and scowl. 

I kissed her, runs through Dani’s head on a loop, as they bundle back out into the summer moonlight, hands running daringly along muscle and spine. And she kissed me back. 

She’s getting bolder the longer she spends with Jamie, Dani finds -- as though her mere presence has assured Dani that it is okay to finally get down to the truth of the people she surrounds herself with. She can strip down to her most vulnerable layer, so long as it’s here with Jamie, sheltered from the judgement of the world in this city of love. 

It should be alarming, Dani thinks in a daze, as Jamie teeters on a low cobblestone wall next to the path -- arms outstretched for balance and the curve of a grin tossed over her shoulder -- before tipping Dani’s chin up and kissing her like she’s been doing it all her life. 

It should be alarming, but it isn’t, and isn’t that the terrifying part? 

Dani, angled towards the deep blue of the sky above them, has never had a kiss that has left her dizzy to her surroundings, before tonight. Has never felt kissing was worth it, seeing it as a lukewarm veil to foreplay. This, though, Jamie sighing along her lips, kissing like she is perfectly content to do just this for the rest of the evening, is something new entirely. 

“Fancy a trip to the top?” Jamie asks, when she drops back onto the pavement, jutting her chin towards the Eiffel Tower, peaking at them over the elegant tops of architecture around them. 

Dani, eagerness still thrilling under her skin, misses the added height immediately. “Oh, are we tourists, now?” 

“Please, Poppins,” Jamie skids close, brushes her lips against a spot behind Dani’s ear that wipes her mind clean. “Can’t avoid being a tourist with that accent.” 

Dani, shivering with delight, doesn’t respond to the jibe -- can’t, now that she knows what it feels like to be on the receiving end of Jamie’s complete affection. It’s comfortable and exhilarating in equal breaths, prickles her skin just as quickly as it soothes. She hadn’t realized how lonely she had been, before Jamie tumbled into her life. Sure, she had seen the Cliffs of Moher, the Colosseum, hell, even tried stroopwafels -- but every city, every country, before this one, had been tinted with isolation in an insurmountable way. 

Now, with Jamie by her side, Paris has taken on a vibrant tone, effervescent in every direction she turns.

They make their way through the winding streets slowly -- Jamie keeps getting distracted by the darkened flower shop window displays, and Dani keeps getting distracted by Jamie -- the way the lamps cast her face into delicious shadow, the delicate reach of her fingers for Dani, making sure she’s still there. 

The streets are alive all around them, people and music spilling out of restaurants and bars in a hazy glow, soaked in liquor and joy. Dani, pleasantly warm herself, feels like she’s wading through an Audrey Hepburn movie. Especially with the way Jamie keeps crowding her against secluded storefronts every few blocks, kissing her slow and heavy, sending thrills down Dani’s back. 

They round a corner, and the Eiffel Tower looms suddenly, like a beacon in front of them, and Dani’s breath catches at the magnitude of it all. The Dani of two years ago would be amazed at the life that she’s built for herself in the here and now, away from the constricting squeeze of small town life, of neighbors commenting on her every move. No one knows her here, standing in the shadow of this aged monument, gold sheened and spectacular. 

“You okay?” Jamie asks, hand soft at Dani’s elbow. 

“Yeah,” she shakes her head. “Just a little surreal.” 

“Know what you mean.”

Dani kisses her at that, because Jamie always seems to know what she means, without her having to explain at all. 

It’s nearing midnight by the time they make it to the top, and the viewing platform is practically empty. Truthfully, Dani’s surprised the Eiffel Tower is even open this late, and she moves to the fencing, awed at the gleam of lights beneath them. 

Jamie, on the other hand, flops down on the ground, clearly trying desperately to hide her shortness of breath.

“Christ, why couldn’t we take the elevator again?” she bemoans, motioning for Dani to join her with a truly pitiful pout.

“I like walking. Besides, it’s good exercise,” Dani laughs, crossing her legs neatly next to Jamie, who is practically spread-eagle on the concrete at this point. 

“I can exercise when I’m dead,” Jamie mutters, shuffling to lie down in Dani’s lap with aplomb, curls splayed over Dani’s knee. 

It’s casual, the way Jamie touches her -- as though they’ve been doing this dance for years, and Dani’s lap is a known spot to laze. The content sigh Jamie lets out as she gets comfortable sinks deep into Dani’s ears, reverberating until all she wants to do is make Jamie make that noise again and again. 

“You’ll get there pretty quickly if you put it all off,” she teases. Jamie swats at her gently, not bothering to open her eyes. 

Why, Dani thinks to herself, fingers sifting through Jamie’s hair, would anyone bother with the skyline when this is right in front of them? 

They sit in easy silence. Dani trails along Jamie’s every curve, trying to commit it to memory.

“Are we ever going to see each other again?”

It takes her a minute to register the question, too caught in twirling one of Jamie’s ringlets around her finger mindlessly. When she does, Jamie is gazing up at her, starry-eyed and vulnerable, and Dani can’t do anything but stare right back.

It’s an overwhelming thought, that she might never see Jamie again, no matter how irrational it is, and she has to swallow hard around the lump that suddenly appears in her throat.  

She doesn’t know how to tell Jamie that tonight has been like a shock to her system, waking her up in all the ways she needed. That even if she never sees Jamie again, she will always be endlessly grateful for this woman who whisked her into a fairytale with an easy smile. 

“I … I don’t know. I could come visit in London. I’d love to go back.”

Jamie doesn’t look convinced. “And me come to Vermont?”

Dani gulps, trepidation suddenly trickling through her bones at what this conversation seems to be veering towards. “Yeah, why not?” 

“Look,” Jamie pushes herself up, leans back against the wall, “You go home and we write to each other, what, a few times?”

Dani’s lap feels incredibly cold, all of a sudden, without the press of Jamie’s body. She doesn’t want to have this talk, and wonders briefly if plugging her ears like a child will make it all go away.

“And we visit once every couple of years,” Jamie continues, “because we both know neither of us makes enough for more transatlantic travel than that.” She scrounges a cigarette out of her pocket and glances out towards the shimmer of lights. “Then, maybe you get tired of the way I sign all my letters, or I’m annoyed that it’s taken you so long to write back, and eventually, our correspondence will probably just … fade away.” 

Dani’s breath catches because Jamie is earnest, so achingly exposed in this moment, her eyes pleading. 

“I don’t want you to be something that just fades, Dani.” 

Jamie,” she says, trying to put a fraction of what she’s feeling into those two syllables, heart wrenching hard at the realization that this is all coming to an end so soon after she has found it.

Jamie squeezes her eyes shut, and if Dani weren’t paying such close attention, she’d probably miss the tear that slips out as Jamie takes a shaky inhale. 

“There’s this flower I like,” Jamie says, the shift in topic spinning Dani’s head. Jamie seems to notice her confusion, because she reaches over, runs a thumb across Dani’s lips. “Promise I’ve got a point to this,” she smiles sadly. “Called a moonflower. Only blooms at night, and each bud only once. End up having to plant a new one every year.”

Dani regards her with careful eyes. “Why do you do it?” Because she may not know her address, or her last name, but Dani knows Jamie well enough to know she doesn’t do anything without reason. 

“Because it’s beautiful,” Jamie says simply. “And that’s worth it, to me. It flowers. And then it dies. Everything’s got to go, one way or the other.” Jamie glances sidelong at her, squeezes the hand Dani hadn’t even realized she’s holding. “It wouldn’t be a moonflower if I stuffed it with all kinds of shite to keep it longer. It’d just ruin it, you know?” 

“Am I the moonflower in this situation?” Dani asks wryly, and it breaks the tension, Jamie barking out a laugh as she wipes surreptitiously at her eyes.

“Nah, you’re prettier,” Jamie waves a hand, winks. “All I’m saying is maybe this was our one night to bloom.” 

It stings, the idea that they only have until the sun rises. That come tomorrow, they’ll be strangers to each other again, with only the memory to keep them tied together. It makes her want to throw up, if she’s really being honest with herself, and she has to choke back the bile rising hard and fast in her throat. 

But Dani understands. Agrees even. The last thing she needs is someone full of expectations, someone waiting for her to plan her life around their future again, when her own has just gotten started. She has a new life, a new career, that she’s excited about, and it’s not for anyone else but herself. Not for the benefit of anything but her own happiness.

So, yeah, Dani agrees, because this strange night has already been more than she had ever imagined her day meandering around Paris could be, even if it’s all she gets. 

Tonight -- just tonight -- is enough. No matter how bittersweet. 

“If that’s enough for you,” Dani nods, breath hitching -- because even if she agrees, that doesn’t mean she isn’t breaking her heart at the same time --, “it’s enough for me.”

Jamie looks taken aback for a second -- as though she expected Dani to burst into tears, beat on her chest, and plead for one more night -- and then, she grins, inching closer until Dani can’t think of anything but the way Jamie hovers, just out of reach. 

“Night’s not over, you know,” she teases, and it patches the hole in Dani’s chest, that Jamie can still be herself, playful and good-natured, even as they threaten to pop the bubble around them.

It’s maddening, to be this close to the sweep of Jamie’s tongue, the gasp on her lips, without being able to taste it, Jamie dancing away every time she tries to inch closer. Huffing, Dani finally decides to just give up on self control, fisting her hands in Jamie’s collar and pulling, Jamie’s laugh hot against her mouth. 

It’s probably the best kiss of her life, Dani thinks dazedly, as Jamie sighs against her, cradles her impossibly close. It’s immeasurably deep, tinged in desperation -- both of them trying to cement their solidity in this moment -- and Dani stops thinking at all when Jamie opens her mouth against her parted lips.

In all honesty, she’s forgotten they’re in a semi-public place until Jamie finally pulls away sheepishly, staying close as she smoothes a palm over Dani’s tousled hair. 

“Come look at Paris with me?” she asks, already interlacing their fingers and pulling Dani towards the railing. They stand there for a long time, quiet and together, the city spread endlessly below them. Jamie turns towards her, her face illuminated by the moon, and Dani thinks, for the first time in her life, that she understands what falling in love is like. 

“Sometimes, one night is all we’ve got, when we get down to it. And this one with you, Dani?” Jamie tips her head towards the sky, exhaling a plume of smoke from her finally remembered cigarette. “‘S been pretty damn good.”  

Dani’s inclined to agree. 

“Another time, maybe,” Jamie continues to the wind when they finally clamber back down the steep steps of the tower. “Another life, maybe.” 

---

It’s well into the early hours of the morning when Jamie tugs Dani into a warm, cozy cafe in the heart of Le Marais.

A Batter Place, the sign proudly declares above the tasteful storefront. It’s set down a wide pedestrian path, and string lights are hung from every window, twinkling in the quiet streets. 

Dani is charmed immediately.

“Friend owns this place,” Jamie says, whisking the door open with a grandiose sweep, palm warm on the small of Dani’s back. She can’t seem to stop touching her, now that she’s allowed. 

“You’ve had a friend in Paris this whole time and I’m just finding out about this now?” Dani asks incredulously. 

“Two, actually.”

Dani doesn’t have time to question what that means before Jamie’s name is being shouted.

“I must be dreaming,” a jovial looking man declares, his bushy mustache twitching around a grin. He steps around a large showcase, stuffed to the brim with pastries. There are numerous customers scattered around the open room, despite the hour, and it smells heavenly -- somewhere between freshly baked bread and like coming home after a long day to bright lights and someone’s arms. 

“Surely that’s not our Jamie?” An elegant looking woman has emerged from the back room, pausing to direct a few customers that have staggered in behind them to sit anywhere. 

“No, of course not,” the man says blithely. “ Our Jamie would have given us proper notice of her presence in the country.” He waves a hand in Jamie’s bemused face. “This one seems like a remarkable carbon copy, though.”

“You’re a prat, Owen,” Jamie laughs, muffled by the bear hug she’s suddenly enveloped in.

“Jamie! Oh, it’s wonderful to see you,” the woman sweeps Jamie into her arms. “You’ve just missed the late night rush.”

Jamie gestures around at the lively place. “Had no idea the place was doing so well. A late night rush, Hannah?” 

“It’s nothing,” Hannah waves it away. She holds Jamie at length and surveys her, before her gaze drifts over to Dani hovering awkwardly in the doorway. 

“And who’s this?” She has on a knowing smile, and Owen is glancing back and forth between the two of them like Christmas has come early, eyebrows waggling comically at Jamie when he thinks Dani isn’t looking. 

Jamie scrambles to introduce them and she doesn’t stop touching Dani the entire time, fingers sure and steady against her hip. They both shake her hand -- grip firm, grin solid -- and Dani feels as though she has been immediately inducted into some new club, with their effusive introductions. 

“Sit, sit,’ Hannah is insisting. “We’ll join you in a minute.” 

Jamie’s migrated to holding her hand shamelessly, and it’s, embarrassingly, the only thing she can focus on. Jamie’s hand is still so soft around the weathered callouses, and it’s grounding. Like she can feel the very earth Jamie sinks into everyday, just through the thread of their fingers. 

Owen takes their orders for the table, Jamie begging for a good cup of tea, and Dani finds herself stumbling through an explanation of her chaotic (and often failing) relationship with tea, the three in front of her listening attentively. 

“One time, the teabags started burning in the pot,” Dani says miserably. “I don’t even know where the fire came from.” 

Hannah covers her mouth politely, trying to hide her laugh, and Owen claps his hands in glee. “A bit of everything, then!” He proclaims, and shoos them off towards the dining room with a cheery push. 

“We’ve got a problem, Poppins,” Jamie teases as they head towards a round table in front of a roaring fireplace, even in the middle of the summer. “I love a good brew.” 

She says it as though they have any future beyond tonight, as though they exist in a world where Dani may have occasion to botch Jamie’s tea. It presses thickly in her stomach, and maybe it hurts for Jamie too, because she squeezes Dani’s hand and settles close. 

---

Hannah joins them shortly, halfway through an explanation of the cafe’s success when Owen comes tottering over. 

“Everyone getting oolong?” Owen slides a tray -- piled high with a teapot, mugs, and so many pastries Dani wonders if they’re expecting anyone else -- to the center of the table, ignoring Jamie’s groan at the pun.

“Didn’t miss that at all,” she snarks, and Owen flicks a bit of water in her direction.

Jamie nabs a madeleine from the mound of treats in front of them, and chucks it at his head in retaliation. 

“Honestly, Jamie, not my pastries,” Owen reprimands, solemn. Jamie’s already opening her mouth to apologize, before he smirks. “You’ll make me have a bake-down.” 

Dani already likes him, with his quick wit and penchant for making Jamie roll her eyes. 

The way Jamie interacts with her friends is a new side of her, Dani notes with fascination, giggling as Jamie struggles to fend off Owen’s attempts to chip her on the chin, Hannah watching fondly. She seems looser. Less burdened, like the load she’s carried on her shoulders was left at the entryway outside. Even the splay of her legs is wider, more slouched, knee rubbing carelessly against Dani’s own under the table. 

I’ll never be this person for her, pops into her head, unbidden, and she has to suck in a sharp breath around the sting in her sternum. 

The conversation from earlier is still smarting in her head, no matter how much she tries to sit in the moment. They’ve agreed to nothing beyond tonight. To no extra evenings around the fire, sharing toasts with friends and each other by their side. It shouldn’t hurt, because this curious woman from the train doesn’t owe her anything, much less something she’s not willing to give.

She mainly just wishes it could be different, because every time Jamie winks at her, or trails a hand low over her back, Dani falls helplessly into her again. 

“We used to live with Jamie, if you can believe.” Owen is talking, animated like Dani is an old friend, and it makes her feel immediately at home. Hannah, seated to his right, feels much the same. Twice now already has the woman thrown a gentle smile her way that has warmed Dani to her toes. 

“Only because we worked together!” Jamie cuts in, leaning back to cross her arms. It looks aloof, but Dani can tell from the way she’s trying to tamp down a grin that she’s loving this. 

“Right,” Owen nods seriously. “An important point. Think I’d have gone mad living with Jamie if I’d had a choice.” He glances conspiratorially at Hannah and tips a thumb in Jamie’s direction. “Can you imagine if we had willingly chosen to live with her ?” 

“Piss off,” Jamie chuckles and makes a show of lifting her drink daintily with thumb and forefinger, only to flip Owen off with her middle. 

“Children, I swear,” Hannah seems to say to the room. “ Anyways. We lived in a manor. In the lovely countryside.” She cuts off, speaking over Owen who has opened his mouth to interrupt. “I don’t want to hear it, you silly man; it was beautiful.” 

He slumps back in his seat. 

“It really was a great good place. I was the housekeeper, Owen the chef, and Jamie looked after the grounds. The owners came for summers with their kids, but for the majority of time, it was just us three.”

“Don’t forget to tell her it was haunted,” Jamie adds helpfully around a mouthful of biscuit. Hannah groans but Owen jumps right in. 

“Oh, yeah! Had a ghost named Viola tracking mud through the house a few times a month.” 

“Weirdo, that one was,” Jamie nods. “Think she lived in the lake. I remember every time I would change, I’d be thinking, ‘Christ, can the Lady of the Lake see me stark naked right now?’”

Hannah shakes her head, seemingly deciding not to dignify that with a response, and Jamie snickers. 

Owen takes mercy on his wife and continues, telling Dani about the endless string of long nights, all banter and wine. The times they were stormed in, until Jamie got fed up and eventually started shoveling mid-blizzard.

It sounds idyllic.

Dani glances at Jamie, who’s listening to Owen speak with a broad smile. Every so often, Jamie sneaks glances in her direction, seemingly equally enraptured by Dani. It trickles through her, adoring and easy and Dani can’t help swooning a little. She grins right back and Jamie glows.  

“That sounds wonderful,” Dani sighs. It does. If only she had found a place to settle like that during her travels. With people as warm and lovely as these three. She thinks maybe she would never leave. “What happened?”

“The children got older, I suppose,” Hannah says, hand drifting to the cross at her neck. “They stopped using the manor for holiday.”

“A diplomatic way of saying we all got the boot,” Jamie fills in.

“Oh, hush, you,” Hannah scolds without reproach. Owen high fives Jamie across the table.

“If you haven’t noticed by now -- these two,” she notes to Dani, “will be the death of me.” 

“Don’t listen to her,” Owen pulls Hannah close. Pretends to cover her ear. “She likes being wound up.” 

Hannah lets herself be squeezed and doesn’t correct him, gazing up at him with such adoration that Dani almost feels as though she’s intruding. 

“They’re always like this,” comes a voice directly in her ear. Jamie has leaned close, her perfume suddenly everywhere, and Dani shivers. Jamie’s breath skidding across her cheeks makes Dani want to throw propriety in the trash and drag her to the bathroom. She hasn’t been this overwhelmed by another person’s presence, ever, she notes, swallowing hard, and Jamie must notice, because she leans even closer, lips dusting the shell of her ear. 

She’s gone before Dani even registers the feather-light press, and she just barely catches herself from swaying towards Jamie. 

Dani can barely pay attention to the conversation going on around her, suddenly very aware of an hour ago, when Jamie’s lips had actually been there, sucking hot and hard down her jaw under the awning of a closed jewelry store. 

She flushes all over, hoping beyond all hope that no one notices. 

“Jamie moved back to London and started her shop, and we came out here hopping on dreams, didn’t we, love?” 

“Had to push you two together, though,” Jamie preens. “Reckon you’d both still be bumbling over your feelings for each other if I hadn’t stepped in,”  

And God, Dani wants to kiss her so badly, caught up in the twitch of Jamie’s grin, the bow of her upper lip. 

“Gossip,” Hannah says, even as she reaches over to pat Owen’s hand.

Hannah glances between the two of them. Settles on Dani. “And you? How did you two meet?”

“Who’s the gossip now?” Jamie tries to protest, but Owen’s leaning forward on one elbow, grin so wide it nearly splits his face in two.

“No, no. I want to hear this, too,” he says. 

Dani looks at Jamie, waits for her to tilt her head and smile around the cigarette between her teeth, as if to say Well, go on then. 

So, she tells them most of it. Describes the arguing couple, her own ask. She might go into too much detail for two people who have all the sights in their backyard, but Jamie is watching her, open and tender, and she finds she doesn’t care what comes out, as long as it keeps her gaze like that. 

She leaves out the kissing. And the part about Jamie making her feel like her skin is constantly on fire. As she talks, she reaches over, plucks the cigarette from between Jamie’s fingertips to drag on it, and if Hannah and Owen are surprised by how easily Jamie lets her do it, they don’t let on. 

“Wow,” Owen leans back in his chair when she finishes, impressed. “How in the world you managed to convince this grump to have a night of adventure, I’ll never know.”

Jamie lets out a high noise of discontent when Hannah hums in agreement. 

“It wasn’t so hard,” Dani says, turning to Jamie. “What did you say earlier? Something about the ‘allure’ of my smile?”

“Oh, I like her,” Hannah murmurs over Owen’s guffaw, voice easy to hear over the quiet hum of the cafe. Jamie blushes hard and fast, rushing her teacup to her lips in an attempt to hide it, but her fingers flex around Dani’s knee, like she agrees.

---

When they leave, bellies full after several hours of desserts and laughter, it’s with an extra container of croissants for them each, pressed into their hands by an eager Owen. They’ve barely made it a block, when Jamie pushes her against the rough brick of an alley, tongue hot and insistent against her lips. 

“Fuck,” Dani groans, when Jamie abandons her mouth to suck kisses down the column of her throat, head thunking back hard enough to hurt if her senses weren’t so filled with Jamie.

“Wanted to do that the whole fuckin’ time,” she growls, grip sharp at Dani’s hips, pinning her against the wall. It sends heat spiking through Dani’s stomach, and she can only hold on, gasping when Jamie nudges even closer, reclaiming her lips to kiss her open-mouthed and languid. 

She can't help the noise she makes, and when Jamie pulls back to look at her with awestruck eyes, Dani realizes their containers have been discarded somewhere on the ground, croissants scattered across the gravel. 

She starts laughing, and Jamie looks perplexed until Dani motions over her shoulder at the carnage of their leftovers. “Your friends are wonderful.”

Jamie shrugs, the corners of her mouth lifting into a smile, amused that Dani is able to be so polite, even with a knee wedged between her thighs. “Eh, they’re alright.”

Dani laughs, because Jamie, having just spent multiple hours with Hannah and Owen, has proved through sheer observation alone that these people -- her people -- mean a great deal to her.

“Yeah, they’ve been good to me,” Jamie amends, smoothing a hand down Dani’s blouse, and she nods in satisfaction, heart pounding at the way Jamie reveals bits of herself, her loyalties, like she is merely opening an umbrella on a particularly rainy day -- simple and unassuming. 

“Thank you. For letting me meet them,” Dani says.

“Wasn’t sure if I should, at the beginning there.” Jamie jokes. “Didn’t want you lot ganging up on me.”

There’s a hint of truth to the first part of her statement and so Dani waits, feels like she knows Jamie well enough at this point to see behind the curtain, to be able to read the clench of her jaw when she’s holding in something she wants to say. 

Jamie, kicking at the ground beneath their feet, shakes her head in disbelief. “It’s a bit like a dream, isn’t it?” She gestures between the two of them. “Felt like maybe I shouldn’t tempt the universe. Keep it just us.”

“What made you change your mind?” Dani asks, and Jamie is so close to her now, fingers curling around her hip, that she doesn’t quite remember how to breathe. She thinks there’s inhalation involved, but she can’t really be sure. 

“Wanted to make sure you were real.”

It nearly knocks Dani over. Hadn’t she been asking herself that the entire day? Wondering where in the world Jamie fell from and how she seems to fit so perfectly into the fabric of Dani’s own life? 

She twists them easily, until Jamie’s the one with her back to the wall, Jamie yelping in surprise, before it disappears into Dani’s mouth. Dani, trying to put all of her emotions into a kiss that makes her toes curl, pushes against Jamie, licks into her mouth. Jamie groans, low and heady, and Dani’s fingers find the button of Jamie’s jeans, mind foggy with desire.

Jamie breaks away, breast heaving, to run a hand through her hair. “Wait -- fuck -- hold on,” she says, and Dani stiffens. 

She read this wrong, she realizes desperately, stumbling away from Jamie so fast that she nearly trips. This isn’t what Jamie wants from this.

“No, not that…,” Jamie says, hands already reaching to guide Dani back into her arms. “Definitely not that. Just, ah, thought I’d save you some time with my story.”

Oh. She goes willingly, allows herself to be enveloped in strong arms, and Jamie presses a kiss to her forehead.

“You told me about Eddie, and your mum,” Jamie says, steering them back onto the sidewalk. “Thought it was about time I told you mine.”

“Jamie,” Dani says, “I don’t need you to tell me anything you don’t want to.”

Jamie smiles and slides an arm around her waist, grip tight, as though she can’t stand the thought of Dani being so close and not being hip to hip. “I want to.”

Dani, feeling immeasurably relieved that she didn’t just read all of the signs wrong, and touched that Jamie wants to unsheath another facet of herself, nods at her to go on.

Jamie takes a deep breath, her mouth tight. “I, uh, didn’t have the best childhood,” she says. “Mum left when I was little, and Dad’s best wasn’t enough, not when he had to juggle three of us.” 

Jamie talks and Dani listens. The night air is sweet at her neck, and the two of them amble through the streets as Jamie explains how she was swept into a system that didn’t care, the pervertedness of foster fathers and their trigger happy fists. Dani cuddles closer at the thought of Jamie, battered and bruised, trying to wade through the abuse without drowning. 

“I think Mikey, my little brother, had gotten adopted by the time I aged out and fucked off to London,” Jamie scrubs at her face with a tired hand. 

The streets are empty, and their steps echo around them, reverberating off the high buildings. It feels as though Paris is alive only for them, and this story, the gentle way they hold each other through the brutal inspection of becoming known. 

“Got into shite out there,” Jamie says, glancing at Dani with grim determination, like she needs to get this out, but also wouldn’t blame Dani if she called Jamie a criminal and hightailed it back to the train station. 

Dani, chest aching at the thought of a younger Jamie, sweet, headstrong Jamie, alone in a world with no one to care for her, nods encouragingly. 

“Fell in love,” Jamie chuckles darkly. “Wrong kind of love, definitely. She got caught selling to some undercover cop on a street corner like an idiot , and I gallantly took the blame. Said it was my shit and that she didn’t know anything.”

“Why was it the wrong kind of love?” Dani can’t help but ask, heart wrenching when Jamie looks at her like very few people have ever bothered to care about her trauma.

“I thought it would make her love me, taking a plea deal so she could have her freedom. Instead, she moved on. Didn’t come to my hearing, or to visit me on the inside… nothing.”

Jamie,” she tries to say, but the rest of her words get stuck in a tangle on her tongue. Jamie, all alone in prison, throwing herself bravely into the tiger’s mouth, only to be chewed up and spit back out. When nothing else comes out, she settles for pressing a long kiss to the back of Jamie’s hand, bringing their interlocked fingers to her lips, and Jamie closes her eyes into it.

“‘S all right,” Jamie continues genuinely, “Learned how to garden on the inside, realized I fuckin’ loved it. Got the job at the manor, with Hannah and Owen, when I got out.” She shakes her head in disbelief. “They put up with so much of my shit, helped me with my ‘reentry into society’. Owen even helped me get my shop in London through a friend of a friend, when we all got sacked.”

Dani hangs onto every word, every deprecating joke, as though afraid they’ll float away if she doesn’t listen hard enough. It’s a foreign feeling, to say the least. It matters to her that Jamie’s psychologist was named Tamara, in a way that Eddie’s regular comings and goings didn’t. 

This is what it feels like, she realizes with a start. This is what she was supposed to be feeling with him all along.

“You deserved -- deserve better,” Dani insists, reveling in the adoring smile that skirts across Jamie’s face. 

“Yeah, maybe,” Jamie tips her head in consideration. “But it got me to where I am.”

It’s an insignificant sentence, tossed in on top of all of the other ones that make up Jamie’s background, but it feels so quintessentially Jamie. 

Jamie, who has been burned her entire life, and still manages to find beauty in the mundane. 

Jamie, who accepted a stranger’s plea to see a world for a passing day and stole her heart in the same breath.

Jamie, who is tugging her towards the nearest bushes in sight, fingers tucked comfortably in the crook of her arm, as they make their way towards a sweeping park, walking paths splayed in every direction across a field dotted with trees and gardens. 

“They’re irises,” she says proudly, her other hand reaching out to cup the petals gently. “They just did a whole “Natural Flowers in European Cities” panel at that conference I was at.” 

She’s so reverent that Dani’s heart squeezes, the cut of Jamie’s jaw sharp as she leans forward to sniff the bud. 

“Here, Poppins.” Jamie nudges the stem in her direction, and Dani leans in, the smell gentle and the heat of Jamie watching her, warm and open, burning on her cheeks. Jamie darts forward lightning quick to press a kiss to Dani’s cheek while she’s buried nose deep in the flower and it makes her stomach do a funny little somersault. 

She’s the kind of unsuspecting pretty that makes you do a double take in the street, Dani muses not for the first time since this whole thing began, dizzy when Jamie grins. 

Jamie walks her through the rest of the flowers around them, pointing out different species and meanings, and Dani falls hopelessly deeper, unable to take her eyes off the way Jamie gets excited when she sees a cluster of peonies, or a patch of native long grass, before nudging her to sprawl out underneath a broad tree set back from the path. 

Jamie flops onto her back and Dani follows her, staring up into the deep, murky blue of the early morning sky. Even with the beauty of the expansive blue above them, it’s a little hard to appreciate the beauty of the Little Dipper when Jamie’s holding her hand in the space between them -- stroking their fingers together, up, and then down -- absentmindedly. It’s even worse when she turns her head a little and can see Jamie, staring pensively above her, neck long and bared. No matter what she does, all she can think about is how much she wants to kiss the skin there. 

---

“Are you happy now?”

Dani’s question hovers in the still air between them, a call back to Jamie’s own question when Dani had told her about her fiancé, and Jamie blinks at the break in the quiet silence they’ve built. Stares at the sky for a minute.

“Yeah, I am.” The clouds trail over the moon in lazy cycles, and Jamie is suddenly hyper aware of the press of Dani’s thigh against her own, the rise and fall of Dani’s chest. “You know, for a long time, I felt so out of control -- like everything was spinning around me. Now, everything in my life’s solid -- boring. I liked it.”

“Liked?” Dani asks, voice skewed high.

Jamie glances at her, head lolling against the grass underneath them, and smirks a little at the way Dani imitates her, their breath mingling in the tiny space between them. “Turns out I like this, too.” 

Dani shuffles onto her side at that, her own face resting inches from Jamie’s. She runs a careful finger along the curve of Jamie’s cheekbone, dips over the swell of her lip, as though Jamie will break if handled without care. 

Jamie has never been touched like a precious thing, is too used to the rough and tumble of a quick fuck and go, and it chokes the breath in her throat. She doesn’t dare shy away from this, time suspended as Dani ghosts along bone and blush, eyes a heady blue. 

Jamie, always the one preferring to do the worshipping so she doesn’t get hurt, suddenly understands the appeal of being on the other side.

This is the fleeting, Jamie realizes and if the moment weren’t so charged, she might cry at the implication of it all, at Dani touching her as though expecting to find salvation underneath her skin.

Dani, unflinching and raw in front of her, leaning forward to kiss her, brazen and bold. It sends static ricocheting through Jamie’s every nerve ending, snaps the tension coiling thick between them. Jamie is faintly glad that they’re already lying down, her legs jellied and leaden as Dani licks into her open mouth. 

Good Lord, she thinks around a gasp, all thoughts of the fleeting gone as she twists her fingers into golden hair, trying desperately to hold on for dear life. Tries to give as good as she gets to this Dani who kisses her with a tender burn that crackles through Jamie’s chest, who makes her forget loneliness ever existed. 

Somehow, she ends up in the cradle of Dani’s hips, her voice curling wrecked when Dani groans, presses up, grins into her skin. It’s too much, she thinks desperately, and somehow nothing at all. Dani, hot down her front, fingers trailing maddenly down her spine, is still completely clothed, is skimming around and reaching for the hem of Jamie’s shirt. She needs to be closer, suddenly, nodding as the shirt comes over her head, pulling off Dani’s to slide against the warm expanse of belly. 

She sucks down the line of Dani’s jaw, the curve of her collarbone, biting down in surprised arousal when Dani tips her head back and sighs, “Jamie.” 

She sounds filthy and it burns hot between Jamie’s legs, hurtles her towards a precipice she was not prepared for, as she pulls an earlobe between her teeth. Tips her right up to the edge of accepting anything Dani will give her, if she can hear her name like that again. 

Instead, she lets Dani fiddle with the clasp of her bra, the touch swirling through Jamie’s toes while Dani watches her, lip pulling between teeth.

Have this for a night, she thinks as Dani snaps it off, fumbling curious hands down to explore Jamie’s chest, bare and heaving.

Have this for a night, she thinks, eyes rolling back when Dani urges her up to lathe a roiling tongue across her nipple. Jamie, exposed and wanting, goes, lets herself be moved blindly. 

Have this for a night, she thinks, but it’s “Fuck,” that she says, panting to the open air, back bowed and arms shaking, Dani bright underneath her. 

Jamie needs to slow down because everything Dani is doing is hitting her solidly in the low of her belly. She must look a mess, cheeks ruddy and zipper haphazardly pulled down by Dani’s wandering fingers. 

Only until sunrise, she reminds herself, pulling back to breathe, to savor. She studies the corner of Dani’s mouth, the faint freckles along her cheekbones. Dani follows every line of Jamie’s body, lips parted and awestruck, and Jamie feels as though she might just collapse right back into her. She’s in Dani’s lap, naked from the waist up, and Dani’s pupils are blown wide, flush spilling up her cheeks as she drifts slow fingers to the edge of her own bra. 

Jamie helps, shaking in blazing hot shivers, until they’re pressed bare against one another, all soft skin and arching muscle puckered in the chill. 

This is happening. It smacks hard against Jamie’s sternum as she gently pushes Dani down until she’s splayed in the grass, Dani reaching quick, as though afraid Jamie will disappear the moment they break contact. 

Jamie knows the feeling. 

She readjusts, settles a thigh fully into the crook of Dani’s hips, has to slam her eyes shut at the experimental grind Dani starts, nails carving half moons into Jamie’s shoulder. 

Jesus Christ, she groans, sharp sparks shooting down the length of her spine when Dani’s skirt edges up her thighs. This woman will be the death of her. 

“Can I …?” Jamie teases at the hemline, hand sliding high, and Dani is nodding before she can even finish her sentence, slack jawed and eager, urging Jamie closer into a sloppy kiss.

Jamie has forgotten how all encompassing sex with feelings is, her vision swimming as she follows the twirl of Dani’s body, slipping off underwear and pushing skirt up waist. She has never felt quite so overwhelmed, stripped so tender and exposed, than she does right now, tracing circles as Dani groans in rhythm with the stars. 

The sound reverberates as Dani gasps into the crook of Jamie’s neck until it’s all she can hear, Dani groaning against the thrum of her pulse, Dani groaning as though they have all the time in the world for this pleasure instead of mere, waning hours. 

“I -- I want …” Dani says, words mumbled and rolling, unbidden, off her tongue. The jump of her hips, the keen in her voice, is too much, and Jamie hasn’t really been able to deny Dani anything for the last twelve hours, but still, she tries:

“Want to hear you say it,” Jamie says, skin on fire, so deliriously turned on that she would be concerned if she could think of anything but Dani. Dani. Dani. 

Dani, who is clutching at her, head now thrown back against the ground like it’s the only thing keeping her from floating away. Two of her favorite things, Jamie thinks, mind skidding at the curve of Dani’s collarbone, the slick heat at her fingertips. The Earth, and Dani; colliding together in ways she had never imagined. 

Dani, dragging her into a kiss so dirty and lengthy that her mind goes fuzzy around the edges, takes in the dazed look on Jamie’s face and whispers, “Want you inside, Jamie.” 

Jamie has never been one for fate, has scoffed at the very idea of it, but this? This, that she has no reasonable explanation for -- this push-pull between them, for Dani squirming, breathless and carefree, beneath her -- is on the edge of making her change her worldview.

And. Well. Jamie is not one to disoblige when asked so nicely, especially not from this woman who brushes down cheek, soft and earnest, toys with the hair at the nape of Jamie’s neck, even as her hips inch closer and closer. 

She’s sinking in with two fingers before she’s even aware of her fingers moving -- heart hammering in her chest at an impossible rate at the pull of her, slick and intoxicating -- swallowing Dani’s responding moan, all tongue and fire. 

Jamie curls deep, feeling quite like she’s the one on the verge of coming undone, and has to look away from Dani, who is watching her with lidded eyes. Has to duck down, to drag reverent lips across one breast, her unoccupied hand cupping the other. 

Dani, arching around a moan, buries her fingers deeper into Jamie’s hair, tugging her ever closer. Jamie, trying desperately to bite back her own noises from vibrating along Dani’s skin, pumps harder.

Dani tightens around her, mouth dropping open, and Jamie moves up -- blind to anything but making Dani feel good, to murmur encouraging words she herself can’t even understand, so long as it keeps making Dani buck -- to tip their foreheads together, pressing a thumb down in long even strokes.

Dani comes with a gasp, loud and bright, grappling at Jamie’s back, exuberant and wracked with twitches. When she finally relaxes, sprawls back on the lush of the grass, she can’t stop kissing Jamie. It’s slow, unbearably deep, and Jamie swears she can taste Dani’s heartbeat on her tongue. 

“That was -- God, Jamie…” Dani says, so close that her lips move against Jamie’s with the words, hands coasting languid and light up the slant of Jamie’s neck.

“Alright?” she asks, stretching along Dani’s side like she hasn’t just been turned inside out by the sprint of Dani’s heart, the velvet of her tongue. Dani nods but doesn’t respond, breath still quick and shaky, her gaze transfixed to Jamie’s fingers, glistening with herself. 

“What do I taste like?” Dani asks, and if Jamie hadn’t just been in her, it would almost seem innocent.

It’s clear that she wants Jamie to answer, eyes hooded and dark, like this is the cherry on top of her evening that she wants very much. Jamie is lightheaded at it, emboldened by the way Dani watches her, perfectly content to wait. She lets Jamie clean off one finger -- lets the heady taste of Dani linger just long enough for Jamie to consider forgetting this foreplay and just making her way down Dani’s body -- before sweeping forward.

Jamie has lost count of the number of times Dani has surprised her; bowled her over and shocked her system, since they met this afternoon, because Dani has darted out lightning quick to still Jamie’s wrist, to bring the other finger to her lips, hair a golden curtain as her tongue darts curiously along knuckle.

One of them makes a strangled noise, and Jamie realizes it’s her, heat pooling in a sharp fever between her thighs when Dani eyes her slyly, releasing her hand with an obscene pop. 

“Teach me how to do that to you?” she asks simply, already nudging Jamie to lift her hips, to strip Jamie of the last barrier she has between her and the naked exposure of being seen. 

Jamie is agreeing before she can spiral into the expanse of that emotion, scrambling to help Dani tug everything down her legs, unable to stop the whine building when Dani makes her way down, fervent along rib cage and stomach.

She leaves a mark accidentally on Jamie’s inner thigh, teeth blunt and bruising, and Jamie flushes with arousal at the sight of it, purpling and inherently just for the two of them -- the only people in the entire world that know of this bruise settled high on Jamie’s leg, know of the satisfaction with which it was given and received. 

Dani runs a thumb over it, adds pressure just so, and Jamie’s breath catches hard in her throat. Dani, attentive and unabashed, smiles. “Been wanting to do this,” she mumbles, licking slow and maddening along the hinge of Jamie’s knee. 

“What, fuck me?” Jamie gasps, threading her fingers deeper into blonde hair. “Or eat a girl out?”

“Both,” Dani groans against her, messy and enthusiastic. It shivers down Jamie’s spine and she has to remind herself to breathe. It certainly isn’t helping that Dani, with those big doe eyes, is noting every one of her reactions dangerously, clocks how Jamie wriggles when she applies more pressure, eyes darkening when Jamie says her name. 

Should talk to strangers on trains more often, she thinks deliriously, Dani’s fingernails scorching a honey hot sting down her thighs, before the thought is wiped right out of her mind. Jamie has never been this turned on in her life -- can’t help when her hips shudder with want as Dani hovers, breathes.  

Jamie is going to lose her fucking mind. 

Dani grins.

“Tell me if I’m doing it wrong,” she whispers, and then suddenly, she’s everywhere -- warm, wet heat that sends Jamie’s head spinning. And God, is she about to burst out of her skin at the way Dani feels against her. 

It doesn’t take long at all, and if it were anyone but Dani, she might have half a mind to be embarrassed about how quickly she crests, propped on her elbows, eyes glued to the splay of Dani’s fingers tight around her hip, the way she moves eager between her legs. But it isn’t and she doesn’t, the world fragmenting into technicolor for one swinging, splintering moment. 

Dani cuddles close, lips still shining, when Jamie can finally breathe again, glowing and spent. 

“Was that okay?” Dani asks almost shyly against her shoulder, as if she’s not currently still teasing up the length of Jamie’s thigh. 

“Better than -- Fuck, Dani,” she shudders, voice careening when Dani feathers playful fingers over her, still sensitive and throbbing.

She’ll take this fleeting, she thinks again as Dani’s laugh settles against her skin, her kiss lingering just enough to kickstart Jamie’s heart into a thundering beat again. 

---

 

Waking up in a park -- her back aching, at much too early of an hour -- is disorienting. For a second, Jamie nearly forgets last night, sweeps it all into the haze of her dream. But she becomes quickly aware of two things. 

The first is that the ground beneath her has not been a very good mattress. She used to fall asleep outside all the time at the manor, too engrossed in her plants to realize her eyelids were growing heavy, letting the soft pat of moss lull her to sleep. Jamie certainly didn’t think she was aging poorly, but as she blinks, bleary-eyed, at the dew soaked grass around her, she thinks that maybe she’s getting too old to sleep on the ground all night. 

The second thing is Dani, stirring against her shoulder to nuzzle sleepily into the line of Jamie’s jaw. It’s this that causes everything from yesterday to come crashing back, Jamie’s vision swimming with the feeling of soft thighs and thick groans. 

An early morning jogger runs past, and though they’re set away from the walking path, Jamie knows they are reaching a level of impropriety that even the French would turn their noses up at. 

“Hi,” Dani mumbles against her chin, and the yawning husk of her voice very nearly makes Jamie decide to revisit the previous night right here, right now. 

Instead, she presses clumsy lips to Dani’s forehead, grinning when Dani nudges her into a real kiss. The morning light filters through the trees like a halo in Dani’s hair and it, clichéd as it might be, steals the breath from Jamie’s lungs. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen anyone more gorgeous than Dani in this moment, tousled and loose, grinning up at her like the clouds parting after a particularly stormy day.

“Good morning.” Jamie loses herself in the pull of Dani, sleep-soft and pliant under her hands, quickly deciding that frankly, she doesn’t care who sees them under this copse of trees, so long as she can keep touching Dani like this. 

Dani seems to agree, kissing her eagerly, shifting into her lap with ease to start a slow grind against the seam of Jamie’s jeans. The energy shifts then, from a drowsy touch to one charged with purpose. Dani, already jerking Jamie’s head back with a firm hand in her hair, makes a pleased little noise at the way she lets herself be pulled like putty. 

Don’t think I ever want to wake up another way, Jamie thinks, as Dani’s fingers tease along the neckline of her shirt, tracing a link of her necklace before using it to pull Jamie’s head back up. She gets lost in the kiss, at Dani whining against her lips, urging Jamie’s hand lower, until she -- a dog barks somewhere nearby, startling them apart, even if only by a few centimeters, and Jamie groans in irritation.

“I hate Paris,” she grumbles, forehead to Dani’s collarbone. 

“No, you don’t.”

“No, I don’t,” Jamie agrees, grinning when Dani rolls her eyes.

“What time is it?” Dani asks, still looking adorably displeased at the interruption, her fingers skating deliciously down Jamie’s side, clearly still intent on continuing their less-than-PG groping. 

“‘Round eight, I think,” Jamie says, though she doesn’t quite care enough to check, too focused on dotting kisses along the arch of Dani’s neck.

She is surprised when, instead of sinking into the feeling, Dani stiffens and tips Jamie’s chin up to meet her eyes, suddenly serious.

“Your train leaves at nine, Jamie.” 

Oh. That. 

Somehow, she forgot that this was bound to end. That there was an expiration date on this thing building between them, and they’ll be hurtled back onto opposite sides of the globe.

The station is a half hour walk from where they are, and Jamie knows they need to leave soon, but the thought of shuffling Dani off of her lap to begin the slow, miserable trek, makes her feel like someone has sucker punched her in the stomach.

Jamie doesn’t ask for things in life. She accepts what she gets and she moves around what is placed in her path. 

Jamie doesn’t ask for things in life, generally, but it seems that Dani has thrown a wrench in her philosophy in more ways than one, when she wraps Dani up in a hug, and asks: “Can we just stay like this for a little?” 

Dani’s answering hum vibrates against her where her ear is pressed to Dani’s chest, and they spend the next few minutes wrapped up in each other, trying desperately to stop the steady march of time. 

It’s bullshit, Jamie thinks, when they’ve dragged out their quiet cocoon until the last dwindling moment. Time is bullshit. Why does it have to be so goddamn linear all the time? 

Jamie buys them both breakfast, darting into a random cafe on the corner, and when Dani smiles in gratitude, it doesn’t reach her eyes. The closer they get to the station, the quieter she gets. By the time they’ve retrieved their bags and ventured out onto the platform, Dani is practically mute, fingers gripping tight enough to bruise Jamie’s own. 

There are a few people milling around, and Jamie finds a secluded area, pulling Dani behind a pole for a shoddy facade of privacy. 

“I guess this is it,” she says, rocking back and forth on her heels, hands shoved into her pockets. Dani is glassy-eyed, her mouth tight, and it hurts to look at. She wants to look away, to study the concrete on the ground, or the bright red of the coach next to her, but the thought of wasting precious seconds looking anywhere but at Dani feels nothing short of sacrilege. 

Jamie has always operated on the succinct mantra of don’t stay long enough to fall in love. It’s been successful, carting her out of beds before the sun rises, getting the bill when she could stay for another drink. So how is it that she hasn’t even stayed for a day and she’s already breaking her own rules?

She wanted to try to prevent her own heart from breaking, last night at the top of the Eiffel Tower, when she had spouted off idiocy about beauty and mortality. Wanted to get out ahead of it, to stop at the red light instead of getting t-boned in the intersection. 

She didn’t know saying goodbye was going to feel like this. 

Jamie has the distinct feeling that she’s about to make the biggest mistake of her life; is about to let this woman that she’s already fallen halfway in love with walk out of her life for good.

“A year,” Jamie proposes, near desperation. Dani’s nosing into her palm, eyes watery and bright, and Jamie can feel the way her own heart is cleaving cleanly in two under the sinewy expanse of her chest. “We meet back here today, a year -- hell, six months even -- from now.”

Jamie,” Dani breathes, curling closer.

“What do you say? This platform in exactly six months.” her voice is shaky, threatening to trail off at every word. “It’ll be your Christmas break, so you’ll have time off from the kids, and I could come back. Is that stupid?” Jamie can’t quite get enough air in her lungs, clutching desperately to the back of Dani’s jacket.

“What happened to ‘one day is what we’ve got’?” Dani whispers, eyes a little red rimmed. 

It feels like a physical blow. “Right. Yeah, ‘course. Said that, didn’t I.” She tenses at the burn behind her eyes, starts to turn away. She doesn’t get very far, though, before Dani’s hands curl gently in her collar. She looks just as surprised as Jamie at her own boldness and Jamie instinctually catches her around the elbows, blood rushing in her ears. 

Please, Jamie wants to beg, let us try our hand at this beyond this sunrise. But, she’s not so blind as to think only what she wants matters, so she stays quiet, looks at Dani questioningly.

Dani squeezes her eyes shut, quick as a blink, and shudders, fingers winding deeper into Jamie’s flannel. 

“I’m scared.”

It pulls somewhere deep in her chest, because holy hell, so is she, and Jamie tucks a curl behind Dani’s ear, heart skidding at the way her eyes flutter shut. “One day at a time, Dani.”

“One day at a time … in six months?”

“Whatever you want,” Jamie blurts, her heartbeat a crack against her ribcage as she waits with bated breath. Whatever Dani says, she will accept. Whatever Dani asks for, she will do without regret.

Dani nudges closer, nosing into the swell of Jamie’s cheek. “Okay,” she finally says, folding into Jamie, lips needy and sure. 

The train horn sounds behind them, but Jamie barely hears it, too focused on the way Dani is kissing her like she’s about to slip under the water’s surface, kissing her like that big deep breath before you dive. 

Jamie had not signed up for this. Had not agreed to meet a strange woman on the train who talked of beauty and looked at her like she hung the sun. Sure, she’d said yes, thought the woman was a bit of a weirdo and lovely for it. But this -- Dani -- is so much more than she was bargaining for. 

“You have to go,” Dani murmurs against her, making no move to extract herself from Jamie’s arms. 

“Yeah,” Jamie agrees, choosing, not to pull away, but instead to pull Dani into a long embrace. She tries to savor it, but an anxious feeling steals up her throat: that there are no guarantees beyond this moment of Dani’s chin on her shoulder and she shouldn’t ever let her go. 

The train sounds again, loud and harsh in her ears and Dani starts against her at the noise. 

“Hey,” Jamie tips Dani’s chin up, her other hand secured tight around Dani’s waist. “At least our train experience together didn’t turn out like Murder on the Orient Express.”

Dani laughs in surprise, sniffling around her chuckle as she sags against Jamie’s chest.  

They don’t separate until it is clear Jamie is the last one left to board the train that will whisk her back to London -- away from Paris, and this adventure, and Dani. 

The thing is, Jamie doesn’t even feel scared, now that they’ve agreed to test this thing between them for real. She feels, in a weird way, like she is prematurely mourning the next six months she’ll have to wake up in a cold flat without Dani by her side. 

Dani walks her all the way to the sliding door of the train, falling into a final, too-brief kiss Jamie just manages to give her before the train whistles again.

“Alright, alright, I’m going,” Jamie mumbles against Dani’s lips, grateful when it makes her laugh again. “I’ll see you soon.”

“You better. I’ll be freezing out here in December.” 

“And miss the chance to see you in a Santa hat?” Jamie calls, solemnly crossing her heart. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” She puts on a grin, anything to make that wretched wobble in Dani’s bottom lip disappear. 

The door slams shut, and she is forced to find a seat, the number placards blurry as she squints through the tears that suddenly spring up around the stab in her sternum.

She finds a row to herself, and has barely managed to sit down before the gears screech to a start on the track beneath her. The train starts to chug, picking up speed, whipping Jamie’s hair through the open window, and she cranes for a final glance of Dani’s brilliant smile from the platform. 

She feels submerged at the bottom of a pool, time moving slowly like silk. Her train car seems to slide past the platform at a glacial pace, and there she is, all blonde hair and beauty, beaming at Jamie through a few slicing tears. 

Jamie grins wide, waves, and Dani waves back. The moment, warm and ephemeral, wraps around Jamie -- and then Dani disappears as the train whips around a bend in the track. 

She sinks back into the plush of her seat, the pulse in her chest drumming hard and aching. 

Fuck, Jamie misses her already.