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i'll keep you safe (in these arms of mine)

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sciamachy

(n.) a battle against imaginary enemies; fighting your own shadow

 

 

Nancy is saved. 

She’s saved with the kind of dizzying devotion that they only write about in movies –  the kind that rocks a boat, maybe moves a mountain. She’s saved with devotion that can only be described as biblical. 

Steve’s hands are on her shoulders, Eddie’s leaning against the entrance of the van, guitar slack in his hand, panting breaths coming out in shuddering moments, the kids are watching with nothing short of terror in their eyes–

And she’s here, too. 

Nancy is saved, because Robin looks like a fallen angel. Nancy is saved, because Robin reaches over and softly moves the hair on Nancy’s face out of her eyes, tracing her fingers over a cheekbone, down to the jaw. Unafraid, but also unassuming. It’s not a touch meant to insinuate, it’s a touch meant to reassure. 

“You’re okay,” she breathes, in that warbling away that a church bell rings. “Fuck, Wheeler, you’re okay.”

“Yeah,” Nancy manages to get out, too awe in everything, too terrified of what she’d just seen down there. “Yeah, I’m – I’m alright.”

Robin clutches Nancy’s hand in her own, and squeezes. 

“Let’s get you home, yeah?” she says. “The others can handle this. Let me take you home, Nance.”

 

 

When Nancy was very little, she’d learned all about the kinds of love that existed in the world. She’d learned it as she sat on her heels, staring up at her mother with the kind of awe that’s only reserved for a child and their parents.

The love between man and God. 

The love between child and parent. 

The love between a person and their neighbor. 

And finally, the love between man and wife. 

That’s it? she’d asked, freshly plucked from the mind of a God and put on Earth to be inquisitive. A child’s curiosity teeming at the way an adult boxes themself in. And she remembers her mother frowning, shaking her head, closing the Bible with a thump that had been simultaneously quiet and loud. 

Well, what other kinds would there be, sweetheart? 

Nancy hadn’t had an answer for her then. Only bleak acceptance. The stunted shrug of her little shoulders. The jolting knowledge that something– though she was too young to pinpoint what– was wrong with her. That her mother could not understand what she was trying to ask, but her mother knows all, which means Nancy must be in the wrong if Nancy has asked about things outside of the scope of knowledge. 

And then Barbara Holland appeared in seventh grade. 

Soft in the cheeks and the arms and in all the places that Nancy was angular. Soft in the heart, too, and continuously pushing glasses up the bridge of her nose. 

And Nancy knew. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she was not what God had intended her to be. 

Because there are only so many kinds of love, aren’t there? And this– this outlier– isn’t one of them. 

So she ignored, and she shoved, and Barbara ended up dead. 

Because that’s what happens to people who think outside of the box. That is what happens–

But that’s not right, either, is it? 

Because then Robin Buckley appears, and Nancy can’t imagine a future like that – a future of death– for Robin, any more than she could have for Barbara. Robin, who smiles with all her teeth and walks a little bit like she’s still awkward in her long and lanky body. Robin, who taps her head with the butt of a flashlight and then winces like she hadn’t been ready for solid objects to be solid. 

Robin, who stands on the other side of the door as Nancy sinks into her bathtub, submerging herself neck deep into the water. 

Robin, who asks, “Nance? Are you okay?” 

She does have half a mind to say yes, because that’s what she’s always said. Even if it wasn’t the truth. Even if she’d had to reach into the soft part of her gut, the part that hides all the lies and deceit, and pull it out with a bloodied hand full of her own rotten heart. 

But then, she says, “No, I’m not.”

And there’s no going back after that. 

“I don’t–” Robin responds from the other side of the door, and Nancy can hear her shuffling around uncomfortably. The scuffling of her feet. The stopping and starting of her pacing. “How can I help?”

Nancy glances around the bathroom. At the open bottle of shampoo, crusted around the edges of the nozzle from never being properly cleaned; at the rubber ducky on a plastic rack that belongs to her little sister; at the hair curlers left awry by the sink, her stuff. She glances, and takes it all in, because this is her life. Her perfect normal little life. The American Dream in every way possible.

Her life is not Robin Buckley. 

Her life is not-

She doesn’t do this– 

“Can you come in?” she asks. Whispers it like a prayer. Maybe a part of her hopes that if Robin can’t hear her then it wasn’t meant to be. That it’s a sign from God. 

But Robin says, “Oh, I don’t know if– are you sure?”

And Nancy says, “Robin, I was the one who asked.”

And the American Dream slips from her hands. Water between her fingers. Blood between ribs. All of it ribboning down, down a drain, away from her, back into the sewage. Recycling itself to someone else. Someone more deserving. Someone who doesn’t chase pipe dreams with bare hands, bare foot, on gravel. 

Robin comes in with the tentative energy of a first. The first of what is still unknown, but it’s there in the room with them. 

She’s mindful not to look at Nancy even once. “Where should I…?”

Nancy gestures at the spot beside the tub. “Right here is fine.”

So Robin drops to the spot, with her back against the cheap plastic wall of the tub, and her eyes now lingering on the toilet. 

They sit in silence, together, for a few minutes. 

It’s funny, Nancy remembers silences like this with Jonathan. She remembers how right it had felt. How those were the moments where he reached over, squeezed her hand, and said, this is forever. You and me, Nance. It’s forever. 

And then he’d broken up with her. 

Right before spring break– he’d said no, forever isn’t for us. I was wrong. 

So the silence doesn’t feel sacred, not to Nancy. It feels harrowing, it feels like a premonition. Things that start in silence, end in silence, too. She’s done silence with Jonathan, and she did silence with Steve, too, even though it was mostly her with the silence and him with… everything else.

She just wants Robin to speak to her. 

“Robin,” Nancy ventures, running her fingers up and down the sudsy surface of the water. 

Robin hums in assent. “Wheeler.”

The water is getting lukewarm. Nancy will have to get out soon. She’s only so brave as to say what she has to while having half of her body submerged under water. If she doesn’t talk to Robin now— 

—she never will.

“You seemed really scared,” she says, aimless but still shooting for something. There’s a confession she needs. A reassurance she wants to hear. She’s just not sure how to ask for it. 

Robin turns her head to the side, just enough that Nancy can see the gentle slope of her nose, and the corners of her mouth. The smattering of freckles over the apples of her cheeks. The water suddenly feels too cold and not cold enough at the same time. Nancy needs to get out of here, Nancy needs to—

“You mean, when you were getting, like, Vecna-ed?“ 

God, she really does need everything spelled out for her. Nancy finds that she really doesn’t mind it. 

“Yes, Robin, like when I was getting Vecna-ed.”

Silence, again, and it goes on for just long enough that Nancy thinks she’s overstepped. 

She opens her mouth to take it back, and Robin opens hers too.

“I was,” Robin says, slowly. Voice slow and smooth. “I was really scared. You didn’t see… you didn’t see the way you looked. Eyes rolled back to your freakin’ head, not moving, not speaking.”

Nancy sinks a little deeper into the water. She hadn’t seen, but she had known. She felt it, from the inside. She’d seen all of Vecna’s grabbing hands and pulling vines. She’d seen his darkness, his death, the blood and violence he entrenched himself in. She’d seen it, and she’d seen herself, too. All the things she’d spent her whole life pretending never existed, he’d aired them all out like they didn’t matter. 

Like Nancy didn’t matter. 

“It was scary for me too,” she says, slowly, speaking into the water. Into the room. From her lips to God’s ears. “I saw everything I never wanted to see. I saw Chrissy, and Fred… I saw Barb again.”

“Fuck, Nance,” Robin curses softly, body still turning, eyes still devoutly looking anywhere but directly at the woman in the bath. “That’s… I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

“I know,” Robin whispers, and Nancy can see her playing with the frayed edges of her jeans, occupying her hands when there’s nothing else to do. “But I still feel– I dont know– responsible, I guess. I want to keep you safe. I want to keep everyone safe.”

She’s too good. She’s too good for Nancy, she’s too good for any of them. 

“I can see why Steve likes you,” Nancy says softly, tilting her head to the side, leaning close enough that she almost knocks it against Robin’s. 

Robin rolls her eyes. “Wheeler, what have I said about—”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she clarifies, one hand coming up out of the water to wrap around the lip of the tub. She clutches it. She doesn’t miss the way Robin’s gaze lingers on the hand. On the drops of water. “I just meant… you’re a good person, Robin. And while Steve can be… Steve, he knows how to pick good people.”

Robin’s gaze stutters. Nancy watches this happen, the way someone would watch a pearl crack, or a baby deer slip. She watches it with devastation — because Robin is cute, and this isn’t the first time she’s noticed, but it’s the first time she’s felt it kick the soft part of her gut hard enough that she acknowledges it. Her heart feels like dry rot, crumbling through her chest, sifting gently down between her ribs.

She wants Robin there, to catch it. To cup her hands under the hollow cave of her chest, and hold Nancy’s fraying heart. 

“Yeah, well,” Robin says, softly, scratching the back of her neck. “You’re not so bad yourself, Wheeler.”

She plays casual, nonchalant, but here’s the kicker: Nancy knows Robin now. It’s the whole heart of the dilemma. 

Nancy knows that Robin’s hands are twitching in her lap, even when she can’t see them. Nancy knows Robin’s heart is in her throat, and her mind is racing in a million different directions, piecing together and ripping apart every bit of their interaction. 

So she leans forward, braces her chin on the back of her hand that’s wrapped around the edge of the tub, and looks up at Robin through her lashes.

(Many months from now, curled in bed against a warm chest, held between long arms, she’ll swear up and down that she hadn’t looked at Robin like that on purpose. She’ll laugh and giggle and feel Robin press kisses up the length of her neck, whispering, you were trying to seduce me, Wheeler!)

“I never said thank you,” Nancy says, watching Robin’s eyes struggle to stay away. Bouncing nervously between the floor, the ceiling, the toilet, and finally, Nancy herself. “For saving me.”

“No need,” Robin chuckles— honest to god chuckles— and Nancy has to bite down on her lower lip to keep from smiling. “I’m your everyday average small town hero, y’know?”

She gestures at wiping dust off her shoulder with her hand, and god it’s so dorky Nancy barely holds back a laugh. A smile. 

A kiss.

God.

She wants to kiss her.

Nancy Wheeler wants to kiss Robin Buckley. 

The love between man and god. Child and parent. Person and neighbor. Man and wife. Four types of love, and this isn’t any one of them. 

The violence of it all wreaks havoc in Nancy’s throat as she swallows it down. Forces it back into her stomach. She’s been fighting this for so long — and for a while, she’d thought it would be okay. She had loved — and still, to some extent, loves — Jonathan, but then he’d gone and broken up with her. He’d left her an unmanned army on the shore of a war. He’d left her a shipwrecked captain. He’d left her—

He’d just left her. 

Simple as that. 

And now she’s in a bathroom, barely holding onto her modesty under water, face to face with the temptation of a lifetime. She’s Eve in the creation story, but she’s also the apple; she’s the villager’s pitchfork, yet she’s the outcast; she’s the predator, and she’s the prey. 

She’s the golden child, and she’s the sinner child.

“Robin,” Nancy says slowly, staring down at her knuckles, the soap bubbling over them, the way it slips and slides. “Is the rumor about you true?”

The silence is heavy, but cold. Quick, but sharp. Nancy doesn’t look at Robin, and Robin doesn’t look at her. There’s so much on the line for both of them. Half-truths and white lies wade in the water by Nancy’s knees, the fall out of Robin’s mouth with every breath. The question is, in the end, do they trust each other enough to find out which one is which? 

“Yeah,” Robin breathes, reaching down to pick at her converse, where the drawing of the female anatomy is fading on the red fabric of the shoe. “It is.”

Nancy holds her breath, heart thundering in her chest, rainwater pounding the roof of her heart, dripping down her chest, down to her stomach, boiling in the acid that’s been threatening to spill over for so long now. It’s underwhelming, in reality. Listening to Robin admit it is anticlimactic – because God doesn’t reach down with a great big hand to smite her for it, and neither does she die some horrible death the same way Barb did. But Nancy’s breath is held, anyway. Kept prisoner. Locked away where she might never find it. 

Except Nancy has never been one to take things lying down, even if it spells out trouble for her. 

So she digs into her ribs, into her stomach, into the cavity of her body, and she pulls her breath back out. She holds it in her fist, and she trembles. 

“Does Steve know?” she asks, still staring at the soapy knuckles of her hand. 

Robin nods, still playing with her shoes. “He was the first.”

Nancy’s stomach curls. “And he didn’t care?”

“No. He did that boy thing that boys do – bonded with me over liking… boobies.”

Nancy laughs a short cough of a thing, because of course he did. Of course her sweet, kind, caring ex-boyfriend, whom she loved right up until she didn’t, would choose a tit joke over bigotry. It was all right there for her. And she’d given up. And continues to give it up. One at a time. Climb down, rung by rung, to the bottom. Where her reality is, where God is not–

But that’s not true, either. It couldn’t possibly be, not when sitting next to Robin, nearly naked but not sexual, covered in soap and grime and her own bathwater dirt, feels more refreshing than anything she’s felt in a long time. 

“Why’d you ask?” Robin asks, blinking at Nancy, eyes meeting eyes, souls reaching for souls. 

The truth. Right there, on the tip of her tongue. 

Sitting. 

Nancy shrugs. How much longer can she play this game with herself? How much longer can she pretend that looking at Robin doesn’t make her feel like unearthing bones dug long ago? 

“I was curious.”

Robin blinks. “If – god, Nancy, if this is making you uncomfortable, I’ll leave, I promise–”

“No!” Nancy shoots, and startles Robin into properly looking at her for the first time since she came in. She grips the edge of the tub. Holds it tight. Knuckles growing white. “No,” she tries again. “Please stay.”

Robin relaxes against the tub. “Okay. Okay, I’m not going anywhere.”

In a moment that swells and bursts, Nancy reaches out with her hand, palm dripping, getting the ceramic tiles of her bathroom wet. The drops fall right next to Robin’s shoe, but she doesn’t look. She’s only looking at Nancy, only looking at Nancy’s outstretched hand. 

“You want me to-?”

Nancy rolls her eyes. “Yes, Robin.”

Yes, Robin, she thinks. Yes. Hold my hand. Prove to me what I already know. Let me feel your palm in mine, and remind me of what I’ve been denying for so long. Remind me of—

Robin takes her hand.

— warmth.

“Oh,” Nance breathes out, without meaning to. Without filtering. Sometimes, you drop the ball, you let it crack, split right through the center, and it all just… escapes. 

Robin’s eyes cut to her. Sharp. Intrigued. There’s no tiptoeing around the implications of what’s happening. There’s no cover story — nothing for Nancy to hide under, no fluff to bury her feelings under pages and pages of. It’s just her, the moon, and someone she’d like to watch the moon with. 

And it’s right there, in the room with them, the burden of knowing.

The crackling implications.

The embers that catch and fizz and drift, that land in Robin’s lap and burn through her clothes until they’re sitting on skin and freckles; until she can do nothing but feel it. 

“Nancy,” she says slowly, turning over their hands, rubbing her thumb across Nancy’s knuckles. Slow. Forceful. But still gentle. “What am I doing here? What do you want from me?”

If people could be exit wounds, that’s what Nancy feels like. Hollowed out from the inside; Robin reaching in, tightening her fist around something and yanking it out. The flinty part of Nancy’s own self that she’s kept hidden for so long. And she’s so aware of their hands—

Of their palms—

Of lifelines meeting and ending and intertwining from one palm to the other. 

“I want to kiss you,” Nancy says, slowly, on an exhale, with her shoulders hunched. She’s prepared to be struck down. 

Eve was evil because she hungered for what she could not have. Eve plucked the apple when she shouldn’t have. You are never compelled to give into your hunger.

That’s what her mother had told her. Had specifically warned her. Though she never would have guessed that Nancy would end up here.

In a bathtub, next to a temptation in the form of a girl. 

It’s a horrible idea, she shouldn’t be doing this, she shouldn’t be laying all her cards face down in front of a girl she’s only really known for one week — but Robin is looking at her with wide eyes, with an open mouth, with devotion, and dedication — and isn’t it this what religion is? Biblical devotion? Finding rebirth in another person’s eyes?

Isn’t this baptism?

Nancy, sitting in a tub full of her own dirty water — Robin, holding her hand — and she’ll come out a new person.

“You do?” Robin squeaks, and really, she’s the only person in the world who would ask that. “Like - you really, actually, want to?” 

Nancy blinks. “Robin, this is hard enough for me as it is—”

“I know! I know, oh my god, I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to—”

“Robin—”

“—I shouldn’t have said anything, God, I am so sorry—”

“Robin, please just—”

“—should I leave? I really feel like I should leave right now—”

“Robin, will you please just shut up and kiss me!”

The silence rings. Robin stares at Nancy. Nancy stares at Robin. Their chests heaving, the water rippling around Nancy’s sternum, all the suds have waded away to the otherside of the tub, as if moved by sheer force of Nancy’s emotions. Their hands, still joined but limp, their eyes gripping each other’s gazes. 

The lightbulb above the mirror cracks and fizzles, just the slightest of jolt, and Robin blinks with it. 

“Yeah,” she says, finally, on an exhale, swallowing thickly. “Yes, I can do that.”

And so she does. 

Their hands untangle when Robin leans in, both hands on Nancy’s face, and so Nancy is left to find her own anchor again. She fists her hand in Robin’s shirt, the dark material bunching between her fingers, and then it’s— 

It’s noses brushing against each other, it’s Robin’s breath on Nancy’s mouth, it’s Robin’s breath hitching in her own throat, it’s— I swear this isn’t supposed to feel so good, it’s— kiss me, kiss me, kiss me— 

It’s Robin kissing her. It’s Nancy leaning in with a gasp, it’s slow, unhurried, exploring. Robin kisses like she’s uncovering a secret, like she’s cracking open an egg. Nancy kisses like she’s being chased. And they meet somewhere in the middle, with Robin’s fingers pressing into Nancy’s jaw, slowing her down, calming her. 

Nancy thinks of Leviticus, thinks of hate, thinks of cruelty, and every time she does, Robin’s right there to press her thumbs deeper. Calm, she says. You are your own savior, she says.

Believe in a God that won’t smite you just for loving, she says.

 

 

Robin wraps around her once they get out of the bathroom. 

The travel back to the bedroom is full of stolen glances and aborted smiles. Pregnant silences. Nancy can’t stop looking at Robin, can’t stop wanting more. Can’t stop the thundering in her chest. 

She also can’t remember a single thing that happened with Vecna, not when she feels so safe. 

“Let’s cuddle?” Robin says, once they’ve both changed into pajamas — Nancy giggles at Robin in her clothes, as they ride up her stomach and her ankles — and there’s nothing left to do but sleep. 

“You’re a dork,” Nancy says, with a roll of her eyes, but holds the blanket open for Robin anyway.

And unsurprisingly, they fit together. Nancy’s back against Robin’s chest, Robin’s arms around her torso, Robin’s fingers rubbing circles into her hips. It’s all just so nice. And Nancy has never put much stock in the whole, you just fit with some people idea, because she’s a worker. She’s a hard worker. She likes to make things fit, even if they don’t start out as such. 

But Robin flips that on its head. Robin holds her, and it just makes sense. Robin makes her feel like maybe being with someone doesn’t have to be so much hard work. Maybe... some things just are. 

Robin does a lot of things that makes Nancy feel a little like a Tilt-A-Whirl.

“You alright?” Robin breathes against the top of her head, height difference never to be overcome. 

Nancy curls. Shudders. Grasps Robin’s arms tighter. “Just… getting used to this. It’s new.”

“Sorry,” Robin whispers, loosening her grip a little. 

“What?” Nancy asks, tilting back till she can see Robin’s face. “You didn’t— this is on me.”

“Yeah, but,” she shrugs. “I don’t know. I probably didn’t make it easy for you? I’m not even sure how that would happen— but my mom always says that I make things harder for her. So. Just, y’know, in case I did the same for you—”

“Robin,” Nancy breathes, gripping her arms, pulling them closer, wrapping Robin around herself tighter. “No, no. It’s not like that at all.”

Robin’s found something to stare at, just past Nancy, on the opposite wall, full of her medals. Nancy’s heart aches. God knows how much of this Robin’s keeping locked inside of her, key swallowed and digested, never dealing with it. Never speaking about it in a way that’s not a joke. 

“You know,” Nancy says, tentatively, like she might scare Robin off if she pokes too hard. “The things she says… they’re not true.”

Robin snorts. “Right.”

“Robin,” Nancy pushes. Just a little further. Her fingers dig into Robin’s forearm. “I’m serious. I couldn’t have— this whole week, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Not even with Steve?”

Nancy’s face pulls. “Especially not with Steve.”

Something dawns on Robin’s expression. It’s tight.

There’s something about the way she focuses. The way fingerprints are dusted for clues. The way a doctor flicks their wrist for precision. Nancy’s heart creaks; she’s fairly sure Robin’s does, too. The space between them, nonexistent and warm, closes further. She can feel every contour of Robin’s body, bones on bones. 

“Nancy,” she says, holding fire and brimstone in her voice. “This isn’t… you’re not just toying with me, right? Because I’m — god, it’s killing me to admit this out loud — but I’m in. I really, really like you, Nancy Wheeler. And if you’re gonna break my heart, then you should tell me now, so I can prepare accordingly—”

“I like you, Robin,” Nancy says, scared, but resolute. “I like you.”

And that’s really the long and short of it.

Four kinds of love, her mother had said. Four kinds of love, her pastor had repeated. 

But what if they’d missed some? 

It still makes her tremble, it still makes her heart shrivel up — makes her yearn for Jonathan, whom she’d had something real with, too — it makes her want to wish Robin away. 

But Nancy has never been one to lay down and accept truths for what they are, and she’s spent long enough running. 

After a beat of silence, Robin says, “Wheeler, am I your gay awakening?”

And Nancy kisses her to shut her up.