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Entre Les Overdoses d'Amour

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She doesn't know why she's even here.

It's the middle of a particularly grey, cold and rainy March and coming into the heart of London hasn't made that any brighter. Obviously. She doesn't think she can imagine anything more depressing than this stupid, grubby neighbourhood under this horrid weather. She didn't know it was possible for there to be a place worse than Bristol, but here she is, learning that the hard way. And for no good reason, either. It had seemed like a brilliant idea 3 days ago. It wasn't until she was staring out the train, zooming past hills and cooling towers, that she actually realised what she was actually doing.

So she stands at the intercom, debating. Getting here really wasn't as fucking difficult as Emily had made out. Her sister never was good with directions, giving her even more reason to be a leader back in college.

Her fingertips hover above the 3-digit call number. She memorised it on the tube to prevent herself from looking like a lost and confused easy target when she arrived. But that meant fuck all now considering she couldn't even work up the courage to visit her own damn sister. She takes a deep breath and scans over all the entries in the directory. She doesn't even see a familiar name next to the number she knows is Emily's. Figures. Judging by the state of the place, it isn't exactly kept up to high quality standards by the landlord.

The whine of a door hinge needing oil causes her to turn around. She almost rolls her eyes at her luck.

James Cook stands stunned in the doorway, key in one hand and a large paper bag full of what she can only assume is liquor in the other.

 “Hey stranger,” he says in a voice that Katie has never heard before. Almost like shock.

 “Cook,” she greets in kind. He glances behind him, to see if she is with anyone before turning back to her with a strange expression. He's probably surprised that she could actually find the flat considering he was likely used to her useless sister getting lost everytime she went outside.

 “Forget the code?” he asks.

She nods, accepting the lie he offers. “I'm here to see Emily. She called a while ago, yeah? Said I should,” she pauses mid-sentence to give the lobby a once-over again and tries not to turn up her nose further. “Come round and see the place.” It's hesitant. It isn't that it isn't the truth, but she still isn't convinced that at the time the offer was extended, it was sincere. She's about to find out. He notices her reluctance.

He shoves the off-license bag into her arms, ignoring the rather large overnight bag on the mat beside her, and opens the inner door. Only when it's held open with his foot does he motion for her to hand him the bags. He trades her for the keys and lugs her bag and his towards the stairwell. She follows him without saying anything even though her mind is racing with pleasantries that she knows she's supposed to offer. There's something about a dead sober, less-than-exuberant Cook that unnerves her however and she stays quiet as well.

Inside the flat is nothing like she expected from the exterior. With grudging acceptance, she notes that it's actually sort of nice. It smells nice anyway even if there's crap littered all over the worn coffee table and a pile of dishes on the sofa. (Really? She can't imagine Emily ever settling for this sodding shit-tip after the childhood they had.) But they have some fairy lights up, a few decent pieces of furniture from IKEA, and a bunch of plants that neither smell rank nor feel like they're crowding the space. And a fucking wicked television smack dab in the middle of it all. She can see into the tiny kitchen from her spot in the living room and it's typical. And messy.

 “Welcome to our humble abode,” he announces proudly after a moment of her silence, spreading his arms wide and grinning. She offers a weak smile. It's the best she can do if she wants it to be genuine. “Make yourself at home, babe.”

When the word falls from his lips, she's immediately taken back and realises that she's never heard 'babe' ever sound quite as right as when it comes from him. It brings back memories of before. Before Effy smashed her over the head in the woods; before Emily and Naomi broke up for the (then) last time; before fucking stupid Effy went and overdosed, the dumb cunt, and before Emily moved away to bloody Durham.

She smiles wider. “Where's Emily?”

He shrugs indifferently and begins unpacking the contents of his shopping bag into a bar fridge beside the TV. Lagers. Obviously. “Uni probably, doing her best to rid the world of ignorance... or getting pissed and flashing her tits. Whatever you ladies do there.”

Katie wants to correct him but keeps schtum on that topic in favour of asking another question. “What are you doing here? Middle of the day and all.”

He looks up from his position, his eyes lingering a little too long on her breasts before meeting her eyes. “Don't have work 'til later. You're stuck with me... Liquor? Spliff?” He offers with a wink at her as she moves over to him.

She sighs, a little dramatically. “Whatever. I'm easy.”

He raises his eyebrows at her comment and hands her a moderately cool can of Fosters. “Tease.” The smirk that spreads across his face is mirrored on her own. He tosses her the TV remote as she finally takes a seat on the sofa.

 “Amuse yourself, but a word of warning: it's possible Blondie has locked-out every channel except Discovery and equally boring-as-fuck ones.” Katie smiles a little at his dismissive tone and tries out his theory. It's obviously a lie but she scrolls through the meagre offering of channels as she sips her beer anyway. Cook slumps into the armchair and she's a little disappointed that his cheekiness has pretty much evaporated. A year ago he would have slithered down beside her, a little too close, and done the whole yawn-and-stretch trick.

It's a little awkward being in this situation after having so much history. She really should have at least texted her keener sister on the way over. Her visit being a surprise was a terrible idea. She sees the spark of a lighter and a haze of smoke drifting her way. Then again, some things never change.

 

There's a bustle of movement on the other side of the door and soon Emily comes bursting in, followed by a rather breathless and dishevelled looking Naomi. Katie's lips automatically turn into a sneer and she has to try her best to repress it. After all, they're Facebook friends or whatever and the ugly cow is shagging her sister, still. It's just that they haven't actually seen each other since the day after Emily dumped her (which she knows now how it went down) and old habits die hard. She looks instead to Emily and grins.

 “Surprise!”

Emily's face seems to do this weird thing where it's like she's trying to do every expression possible at the same time. Eventually it settles on pleased and she holds out her arms for a hug. Katie arches an eyebrow, and surveys her sister for a second before noticing Naomi's got the very same look of genuine confusion on her face. She jumps from the sofa and walks over, if only to give herself something to do other than glare at the blonde standing so bloody close to her sister. It's like their auras need to constantly be humping or something. She squeezes her eyes closed as she hugs Emily tight. She missed her too much, and feels a little more complete beside her.

When they separate, Naomi's gone and Emily's eyes are sparkling, boring holes into her. She stares into the nearly identical brown eyes with the same intensity before Emily finally relents and speaks. “I'm glad you finally came.” She moves over to the stack of dishes. “If you had told me, I would have cleared up a little, you know. Tidied and made up the place suitable for company.”

 “It's fine, Ems. Seriously,” she interrupts.

When Emily returns from the kitchen after making a racket of dumping the dishes into the sink, Katie sits down again and picks up her beer. It shouldn't be this awkward. They're family, twins for fuck's sake but she can't think of a single thing to say now. The only things that seem to be present in her mind are the same pathetic questions distant relatives ask at various holiday gatherings. 'How's school going?', 'Anything exciting happen lately?', 'How's that blonde thing you're dating doing? Still buffing her beaver every night?'. The usual. She sees Cook studying her and wiggles her fingers at him, silently asking for the nearly finished spliff. He acquiesces with a dirty grin. “You can finish it.”

She nods, quirks her lips and looks around briefly before inhaling. She almost coughs; it's been a while. Still, practiced smoke rings emerge from her lips. She glances around again and Emily's darting around pushing various objects into random corners.

 “Where'd Naomi go?” she asks and trains her eyes on her sister's back. There's a lazy wave in the general direction of what she can assume is a bedroom door before she turns, hands limply on her hips, and faces Katie.

 “Are you going to be nice?” she asks abruptly and Cook chuckles in his chair. Katie really tries to look offended but realises the attempt is failing magnificently. Instead she grits her teeth.

 “Yes.” Cook giggles louder at her statement and she idly tosses a magazine at him. “She's your, whatever, yeah? And, like, you love each other.”

Emily narrows her eyes as she watches Katie toke again. “She's my girlfriend,” she says with a thin layer of smugness.

 “Right. And we're all grown ups.” There is a large guffaw from the general direction of Cook and she finally rolls her eyes. “Fuck off,” she groans at him before returning her attention to her sister. “Ems, past is past.” She's serious, or at least she's trying to be. She swears they've had this exactly conversation numerous times on the phone already. She wonders if Naomi is afraid of her. That would be a first.

Emily relaxes and smiles again, plucking the remaining joint from Katie's fingers and inhaling deeply. Katie watches with an air of appreciation she never had before. “But we're not going to be, like, best mates or anything.”

There's a funny look on her sister's face, and she smirks. “Good. Naomi doesn't need any more best mates. The one she has is shitty enough.” And then Emily laughs as Cook squints at her, wagging his finger.

 “You, Little Fitch, are a proper runt,” he whispers, before breaking out in a huge grin.

 “And you are going to be late for work – again.”

Cook reaches over and gulps down some of Katie's lager, before pounding his chest and standing up, stretching. Katie can't help herself. “You're going like that?”

He grins again, like he's got a secret even with bloodshot eyes. “Well, princess, there is nothing in the world better for rush-hour crowds on London's fine Underground than a little bit of relaxation. It makes the unbearable bearable. Wanna come with?” He waggles his eyebrows at her as best he can under the circumstances as Emily hands him a pair of quite stylish sunglasses. Placing them on top of his head, he struts towards the door. “Ladies, I will see you when the Bow Bells doth sound thrice!” With an exaggerated flourish, Cook closes the door behind himself and disappears. Emily screws up her face in contemplation.

Katie narrows her eyes. “I don't remember him being so weird.”

Emily sighs but stays otherwise silent, her eyes trained sadly on the closed door and Katie realises there's so much she doesn't know anymore.

 

 

 

 


 

It is fucking surreal being in this situation, watching Emily and her minger girlfriend poke and piddle around their tacky kitchen like little domesticated housewives, preparing some sort of vaguely edible tea for her. She thinks she should offer to help as well, but it's too bloody bizarre to be bearing witness to this scene. She wonders about buying them matching “Kiss the Cook” aprons for next Christmas, but realises that the idea just prompts completely unbidden images of a threesome with Cook. No, she doesn't want to see that – or be the cause of it – ever. Disgusting. They're whispering something to each other and it just makes her feel ever more like this whole visit was a shit idea because they've obviously got their own world that she no longer has even the smallest place in.

Two years ago that knowledge would have stung, provoked her into some sort of ridiculously dramatic and potentially dangerous action. But she's pretty sure the blow to the head caused her spirit to bleed out as well, and when Emily finally left Bristol, whatever leftover droplets she had been holding onto were siphoned away with her. Now, she just accepts losing her sister as one of those things that she deserves. She deserves to be miserable, living in a half-empty bedroom in her mother's house, working a less than wonderful job just to give her something to do. Her new friends are fine. They don't know about college. They wouldn't care even if they did, not because they like her for who she is or any of that bollocks, just because they don't really give a shit about anything. Like a whole group of Cooks. But she convinces herself it's fine because they get fucking lashed with her 4 nights a week, sometimes she'll get shagged by one of them (usually Matt) and it's not that she's particularly fond of him, but he fancies her and that's enough. Pandora is just about the only person, other than her sister, she still speaks to from college because talking with Panda is like therapy: she nods a lot, smiles and often says half-mad, philosophical-sounding things that make Katie believe that not everyone hates her all the time. But Katie blows her off far too often for the lure of dark clubs and amphetamines to think that they're best mates.

She's a shit twin, shit girlfriend and and a fucking useless friend. So, she sits and watches her positively glowing other half grin at the same blonde twat that had ripped them apart. And it's fucking pathetic how she can't even be angry at that because Naomi is just as bloody loved up. More than anything she's plain jealous, in a hopeless and kind of self-loathing way.

Then the hippie cow turns to her, spoon in hand, and asks if she likes green or red peppers as if it really matters. Katie wants to punch her in her stupid foodie-inclined face but she settles for muttering “red” before looking away, anywhere but at the eyes that are set on her like lasers. It's a good thing Naomi has never been that remarkable at reading people. She is no Effy, that's for damn sure and so, as awkward as she feels with Naomi studying her, she feels safe enough.

With a resigned sigh, she stands and leaves the kitchen, not willing to be party to whatever lame experiment Emily and Naomi Cuntface have going but after staring blankly at her reflection in the bathroom mirror for a few minutes, she grows bored. It's the same worn and tired face that she sees every fucking day. Something has to change. And being here, in London, a new place, granted, but with old people, she doesn't really see how that's supposed to work. The one person she never wanted to be is the person she became. That sad loser who looks back to when they were 16 and says “Those were the best times of my life!” and honestly means it, even when they're 42. Like her mum. She's slowly transforming into her and it seems futile to fight and there's a suddenly spark of fire inside her belly when she considers Emily's escape. Emily, the arsey spaz, has got it all together (with potentially the worse person in the human race, but that bit can be ignored for now) and yet she's supposed to be the fucking Queen Bee. She's the older twin, the trailblazer. Being jealous of her younger twin was never something she thought would happen in a million years.

And she's sick as hell of hearing James ask their mum or dad what wicked and amazing thing Emily's been up to lately. From the looks of it here, she doesn't do much of anything except go to lecture and shag Naomi, neither of which seem all that exciting really so she doesn't get what the huge fucking deal is. Making her way back to the kitchen, she tries to act nonchalant about the current situation.

But that is made doubly difficult when she catches them mid-snog, Emily pushing Naomi up against the counter. It makes her stomach flip in a weird, nostalgic kind of way that isn't entirely unpleasant. Maybe it's because she knows that's what love looks like, or maybe because it's almost like all those years ago, in middle school, when she first saw it. It's like time has reversed: she has a second chance, and this time she doesn't come raging in, screaming and throwing a half-full beer can at Naomi's scrotty little blonde head. She clears her throat instead and waits in the doorway.

Naomi drops the half-cut pepper on the floor, and her cheeks flush redder than Katie thinks she has ever seen them. It's not like she caught them fucking or anything and Katie narrows her eyes, seeing Emily casually wipe at her lips, before running a thumb under Naomi's. She is grinning like a fucking wanker of massive proportions and all Katie can do to stop herself from shitting a brick, is bite down on her cheek, hard.

 “We're in love,” Emily states, plainly as day. As if it's some sort of justification for rubbing Katie's nose in it.

Katie purposely looks as unimpressed as humanly possible. “No shit.”

Naomi waves a carrot at Katie. “Jealous, Katiekins?” She asks and actually bloody winks as she delicately bites off the tip. There's a pause as Katie tries to work out why she doesn't feel the sick rising immediately to the back of her throat.

 “Oh of you shagging my sister, you mean?” comes her snappy response, if a little delayed. “Not sodding likely, you lezza perv.” She tries to remain serious but a small smirk betrays her and Naomi catches it immediately and laughs, and for the love of Christ, she winks at her again. “And I hate to break it to you, Campbell, but your skanky muff is not on my list of things to see in this lifetime.”

 “Maybe the next then?” She arches an eyebrow and smirks in a less-insufferable way than usual.

Bloody hell, Naomi fucking Campbell is flirting with her. Of all the situations in the world that could make her impossibly uncomfortable, she has to get stuck in this one. She wouldn't exactly call it a nightmare, but it's so unreal that she's actually at a loss for words.

She manages to mumble a halfhearted “Whatever.” before seeing Emily smile at Naomi and their silent exchange. She groans loudly, her spirit renewed. “I didn't come all the way here so you two could have a go at me, so get your dykey asses back to the hob and make me some food.” She's incredibly pleased at just how firmly that comes out of her mouth.

Emily chuckles and goes back to busying herself with the veg. “I've missed you, Katie,” she says offhandedly as she rinses a bowl in the sink.

Both Naomi and Katie stare at Emily momentarily, before the blonde resumes her chopping and Katie allows herself to smile sincerely. That was all she really needed to hear.

  

 

 


 

The bloody sofa is not meant for sleeping on, she's completely convinced. She's well pissed off at Naomi for insisting that it was perfectly acceptable and Cook's used it numerous times with no complaint. So, she's been forced to learn for herself that it's not only hideous but it's also useless, and Katie's pretty sure the only reason Naomi feels the need to talk it up so fucking much is because its hers and mirrors her personality. Knowing the cheap twat, she probably nicked it from the dump. She automatically scratches at her scalp just as the mere thought of the cushions crawling with lice comes into consciousness. This whole thing is getting ridiculous. Emily and her unashamedly-lying girlfriend went into their room hours ago and Katie wishes she could say they were asleep but every so often there's an odd noise, sometimes a thump, sometimes a giggle but most of it is too muffled to be definitive. It's better that way because she really, really, really doesn't want to hear anything. The TV may be a good distraction. Just as she tunes into a programme on boring-arse water purification, there's the sound of a key in the lock and Cook stumbles in, trips over a corner of the rug, and falls into the wall beside him. Katie can't tell if it's because he's mashed or because it's dark and he just has shit night vision.

It's only when he attempts to flop onto the sofa that he notices her there. Her nose turns up at the scent of stale alcohol and cigarettes and she momentarily wonders how the fuck Emily of all people can tolerate him.

 “You stink,” she mumbles as he slumps into the armchair.

 “I work at a club, babe,” he reminds her, much more sober sounding than she anticipated. He strips off his shirt and tosses it onto the floor and reaches for a pipe, pulling a baggy from his trousers. There's the overwhelming curiousity about exactly what kind of club he supposedly works at. She rolls her eyes in the dark but continues to watch him in the blue flicker of the TV light. There's a flash of fire as he pulls in the aromatic smoke. “Better?” he asks, exhaling strongly, as if he truly wonders about her answer. When she doesn't respond, he continues. “Wanna hit?”

 “No, Cook. It's 2 AM.” She pauses. “You're an idiot, do you get that?”

 “You're a nag,” he replies. “Relax, Katiekins. This is serious draw. It makes the shipping forecast sound like a shitting symphony. If you're having trouble sleeping...” He trails off with his suggestion actually seeming more appealing the longer he talks to her. Maybe she should just go for it and pass out. “I missed this, you know? Me, having fun. You trying to stop me from having fun. It's like old times.” He chuckles a little but puts the pipe down without finishing the bowl.

Katie isn't sure whether it's kind of like a compliment or what, and with all the strange signals she's been getting all day, she doesn't even want to hazard a guess. She lays on the settee, curling into the blanket as he stares blankly at the television. Somehow, the silence is actually comfortable. It's been a very long time since she just spent time just doing nothing with anyone. He raps his fingertips against the chair cushions for a moment before breaking the quiet.

 “That sofa is shit, yeah. If you want, you can have my bed.” The offer surprises her and she wants to ask when he became a gentleman. Instead she resorts to the familiar.

 “No thanks, I don't want, like, chlamydia or something.”

 “Funny.”

She shrugs and smirks. “It's what I do.”

Suddenly a tense kind of silence descends and she can tell he's about to say something uncomfortable just by the intake of breath. “I thought shagging all my best mates was more like your specialty.”

It hurts. Much more painfully that she ever expected. Maybe it's the blunt, heartless way he says the words, or maybe it's the fact she's never had anyone actually tell the truth to her face like that. But maybe it's because she doesn't know what provoked it and why he is suddenly trying to upset her.

 “And the love of my life,” he adds bitterly.

 Fuck. He knew about fucking Effy. Well, Effy fucking her. Shit. Of course that fucking slag would tell him. They probably wanked each other off talking about it. “Yeah well, obviously she wasn't getting something from you.” Her tone is sharp and angry, if only to mask how fucking crap she feels, how much she wants to bawl her eyes out. More than anything she wants to tell him that it was just a stupid one-off at a stupid house party cos Effy was a stupid, drugged-up, horny twat 99% of the time. And Katie just happened to be completely and utterly off her face and thoroughly depressed, which is partly why she hadn't even remembered the shitting thing until a few months ago. It still made her skin crawl. Not surprisingly, it wasn't something she was proud of. “So, whatever, Cook, go tell my sister and Naomi, you all can have a good laugh, alright? Just fuck off.”

Cook blows out a heavy breath out through clenched teeth but he doesn't respond.

 “For your fucking information, she fucked me. It's called making a mistake.” Her voice has gotten louder, she thinks. Maybe they're going to have an all out proper row. It wouldn't be the first time. It happened with Cook in his final months in Bristol more often than it had happened with Naomi in all of college. It seemed that Cook was the only one who was able to provoke any sort of impassioned response of any kind, especially after her overwhelming anger at Effy had dissipated in light of their paltry (and mostly tenuous) reconciliation the summer before the final year of college. And the sodding bugger seemed to still possess that certain knack. However, it only really worked when he fought back. This time he was just sitting there, seemingly expecting more abuse. The stupid tosser was even more fucked up than she remembered.

Running a hand over his face, he yawns. Loudly. “Fair enough, Kates. Just had to clear the air, yeah? Forgiven, over and done.” It's like he's ticking off something on a messed up to-do list.

 “You fucking prick,” she grumbles.

He grins then, seemingly forgetting completely about the last 5 minutes. “You still want to shag me.” He stretches a leg out and nudges her with his toes. Repeatedly. It's annoying.

She's pretty sure her eyebrows have jumped so far up her forehead they're hidden in her hair by now. “Still? I never wanted to shag you. You're a child.”

He laughs louder. “Ah come on, Katiekins! You want it. We're like the missing pieces, yeah?” He continues laughing. “You've shagged everyone else. I've shagged everyone else so –.”

His completely deplorable come-on is cut short by her interruption. “Campbell?”

He nods vigorously, with the ugliest shit-eating grin on his mug, and the disturbing mental image is a little more than her brain can handle at this time of night.

 “Emily?” Her voice betrays just how equally curious and repulsed she is by the concept.

If she thought he was laughing hard before, he it was nothing to the sound that erupts from his throat now. “Your sister is two things: incredibly faithful to Blondie, and, this is sort of a secret,” he leans closer to the redhead. “Gay.” He bursts out laughing again and she huffs in annoyance. “Like '100%, no cock, no way' gay.” He puts to fingers up to his lips and makes incredibly loud licking noises. She thinks that she may actually murder him tonight.

Before she has the chance to find a sharp object, Naomi, full of piss and vinegar, comes barrelling out of her bedroom, in little more than a large t-shirt, and without warning, pummels him over the head. It makes an impressive thwack sound and he flinches. “Shut up! Go to bed. Some of us are sleeping!”

 “Oi, Margaret Thatcher, give us a break!” He kicks out a foot in her general direction to keep her back, but still goading her. “Me and Kates here are just having a little chin wag about your Ems' loyalties.”

 “You bloody wanker,” she practically snarls. “I have classes tomorrow morning! And you,” she looks down at Katie, “Stop encouraging him.”

God, she was an amazingly stroppy bitch when she was overtired. As she stalks back to her room, Katie flips her off which Cook grins at. For some reason, she s this is kind of like a routine for them.

 “Bitch. Maybe if she stopped tongue-fucking my sister for 5 minutes, she'd get some rest,” she grumbles, mostly to herself, but it's quiet enough that Cook hears her comment too.

He claps once. Loudly. And on purpose, in the direction of Naomi and Emily's room. “Brilliant.”

Despite the roller-coaster of the last 20 minutes, she reckons they actually connect on some screwed-up level. And, well, he looks more fit than he did in college...

 

 

 

 


 

Emily bunks off her lectures for the day to spend time with Katie, and Katie for her part has to resist letting it slip that she got off with Cook the night before. It wasn't like she planned to, but she had found a particularly hard lump in the couch that she couldn't manoeuvre around and Cook was still there, in his chair, scoffing at her attempts and repeatedly telling her she was welcome to his bed. He had promised to take the sofa but as she gathered her pillow, she told him they were responsible adults now.

They both had known it wouldn't remain platonic but Katie needed something that she only seemed to find in the sweat and rhythm of sex, and Cook, well, he was just falling slowly apart. Even she could see that and she'd only spent the better part of 12 hours with the dickhead; he grasped at anything in the vain hope of redemption, or some sort of escape.. The knowledge was reflected in Emily every time she looked in his direction, and Naomi's occasionally pitying stares. She didn't think anyone deserved to be looked at like that. It was probably the same way everyone looked at her now. So she had yanked on his hand and he followed her without resistance into the bedroom.

They hadn't shagged. Not really. She actually hadn't done a thing really, other than a little middle school groping, but she could say that either the boy was born with a natural talent, or he had learnt a little too well from living with two massive lezzas. His mouth did things between her thighs that she had never felt before, and it was really too much of a blur to concentrate on what techniques he even used. Not that she cared. Not that she could even ask Emily if he learnt a few tips and tricks from them.

She runs the tip of her tongue along her bottom lip and feels the small lump of scabbed tissue from biting down too hard. Emily's chatting about something that she stopped paying attention to ages ago. She vaguely hears the mention of Naomi's name and remembers why she stopped listening. Her face flushes instead with flashbacks of the night, and she wiggles a little as she walks to subtly adjust her pants.

It's only when Emily links her arm through hers that Katie actually begins paying a little more attention to the conversation.

 “...so then Naomi says that it's really not about that, you know? Christ, it was impressive. I'm telling you, Katie, that tosser just didn't know what to say.”

Katie gazes over to her sister's smiling, distant face. Despite them not actually walking into any other pedestrians or lampposts and the like, it looks like Emily's lost in her own world and Katie wonders how the fuck it's possible to be so bloody smitten with someone for so long. Surely, the thrill should have died down at least a little bit by now. Especially with a cuntish person like Naomi who seems to purposely try to destroy everything she touches. Katie can't even get a guy to just like her for long enough to get a lousy birthday card from Poundland. It's all too much to hear: the happy lilt in Emily's voice, with that fucking dopey smile on her face, the way she just gushes over the blonde heifer. She honestly afraid that any moment, her sister is just going to swoon with recollections of how wonderful Naomi fucking Campbell is. That would be well embarrassing.

 “Don't you have anything else to talk about?” she snaps and suddenly Emily's eyes cloud over with anger. Shit. She's fucked up again. She attempts to take it back. “Not that your girlfriend isn't an intensely interesting topic of conversation.” It ends up being far too sarcastic and sharp to be any sort of apology. Emily just stares. She seems to do that far too often now, like she's looking for something constantly and it's awkward because it's not like Effy who you could literally feel creeping around inside your head, or Naomi who tries the same and just fails miraculously at it. Emily is different, she just studies the outside, like it's all a puzzle and she's fitting pieces together: a crinkle of the eyes, a quirk of the lips, the misting of tears threatening to build. They are just pieces. She wonders if Emily actually succeeds, ever.

It's only when a middle-aged woman with far too many New Look bags for her age knocks into her shoulder that she realises they're stopped in the middle of the pavement. There's not really any point in lying.

 “I can't stand it, Emily,” Katie huffs and drags her sister over to window of some tacky souvenir shop, out of the way of the pushy, rush-hour crowd. Emily is still fucking staring, squinting a little. It's driving Katie mental and she wants so badly to just knock her in the face. “I can't listen to you go on and on about Naomi anymore. I can't take it. On the phone that's all I hear, when I visit it's all I hear. I get it, okay? You love her. You think she's the greatest fucking thing since strap-ons were invented. Just leave it be now. Okay? It's you and me. We have more to talk about than her.” Her miniature tirade comes to a close and Emily actually looks less angry, and far more guilty. She looks down at her shoes, kicking feebly at a pebble and suddenly Katie doesn't see the new Emily anymore. She's the shy, beaten-down version of herself that existed in middle school. Almost as if, when Naomi isn't in her mind, she loses everything. They stand in silence as Katie feels the sick rising at what she's done. Again and again, they come back to this. It feels worse each time she exerts this power over her twin. The rush is gone.

 “I don't want to talk about this here,” Emily finally mumbles at the pavement. “Please, Katie.”

It's so wrong to hear her like this now, so bloody defeated. She wants Emily to fight and she certainly doesn't want to face Naomi back at the flat when the blonde sees how, in the matter of 4 hours, Katie's managed to suck the strength out of her girlfriend. She's faced off with Naomi over Emily multiple times before, and come out on the losing side every single time. She has no desire to repeat the experience.

She considers revealing what she and Cook got up to but decides that it probably will only disgust Emily, not actually cheer her up. She opts instead for the obvious.

 “I'm sorry, okay Ems? I just...” she trails off and catches Emily raising her gaze to Katie's face. “It makes me feel left out.” Honesty. A nice touch, she thinks. Then Emily, the stupid cow, just shrugs. Actually shrugs. It's infuriating how blasé the twat could be about her pouring her heart out on a bloody London street corner.

 “Maybe if you were as buff as me, you'd have your own completely amazing girl-- boyfriend to talk about,” Emily s, the hint of a grin on her face, daring Katie to respond.

 “Oh go on,” she groans and turns her back to her younger sister, walking towards the intersection. “Wanker.”

Emily catches up to her, easily falling instep, and linking their arms again.

 

 

 


 

Katie didn't realise that she wasn't the only one who could effectively deflate Emily within a couple seconds. As Emily pushed open the door to her flat and walked in, she saw the obvious slump of her twin's shoulders. She pushed her own way inside and glanced over to see what the issue was. Naomi, the supposed love of her life, was with Cook on the sofa, in what appeared to be the most innocent of cuddles. Katie grimaces at her sister's reaction and then curiously looked back towards the sofa, standing on tip-toe, trying to peer over it to see exactly what Emily was so upset about.

Emily however merely dumps her bag beside a chair and wanders to the kitchen. Katie takes the opportunity to sink down in the armchair that Cook normally occupies and studies the two people. Cook flashes her a weird kind of smile that she's not sure if it's supposed to be inviting or repulsive. Naomi is just plain asleep, her head resting on Cook's chest, curled up around him.

 “She's asleep,” he whispers and points at Naomi laying on him.

Katie rolls her eyes. “I'm not fucking blind, Cook.” Any affection she had felt for him the night before somehow evaporates in less than 60 seconds. She says the words loud enough to wake Naomi, and happily succeeds. The blonde raises her head and looks over at Katie with a look of bafflement, like she had forgot Katie was even staying with them. And without moving an inch really, she yawns and calls for Emily, breaking the silence in the flat. Katie's not sure what to make of this. Bellowing for her sister, for apparently no reason was peculiar behaviour – even for Naomi – but she doesn't really have time to think on it before Emily appears beside her, leaning against the armrest, looking down at Naomi in a mildly disinterested fashion.

 “What?”

Katie's eyebrows shoot up when she hears the sharpness of her sister's tone. It apparently has no impact whatsoever on Naomi however.

 “C'mere. I missed you today,” she grumbles and wiggles around to free herself from Cook, and propping herself up best as she can.

There's something odd about the entire conversation and Katie's not sure if it's because she's never seen Naomi quite so needy and stupid and trying so hard to be adorable, or if she's never seen her sister so sour towards her girlfriend. (When she wasn't her girlfriend, that reaction was understandable.) Especially after their afternoon of shopping and blathering on about Naomi for 3 hours straight. She looks to the blonde minger, who is practically pouting. And then to Cook who looks as completely bored as humanly possible, as if this was an everyday occurrence. And given her experience during her total of 27 hour stay so far, it is quite possible it is. Naomi pushes herself upright, pushes Cook's legs out of her way and Emily finally relents, coming round to Naomi. Wasting no time at all, the disgusting lezza perv has grappled her twin onto straddling her lap and sealed their faces together so tightly that Katie is fairly certain they will stick like that. Cook makes some sort of annoyed grunt sound and kicks Naomi's arse with his foot, forcing her towards the opposite end of the settee.

It's then that Katie sees the look on his face. He's not even close to perving on them. He's well pissed off by the open showing of affection. And, with something resembling shock, she realises he's jealous too. Lonely. The thought annoys her more than it should because it means they're even more similar than she thought. Meanwhile, being in the same room as her sister making out is a little too weird and she feels twinges of revulsion at bearing witness to this. She glances down and unfortunately sees the subtle movement of Emily grinding her hips rhythmically into Naomi's. For fuck's sake.

 “Are they always this disrespectful?” Katie asks loudly and pointedly, towards her disgusting sister though she's obviously speaking to Cook. He looks so fucking relieved that she's talking to him, giving him a distraction.

 “Just about.”

The comments seem to make absolutely no impact on the couple, especially as Naomi's hands slide up under the green top of the girl on her lap.

 “Right,” Katie snorts and pulls herself out of her seat, walking purposely over to them. Cook is watching with a mixture of appreciation and confusion. She grabs Emily by the collar and just yanks her away as hard as possible. The younger twin ends up falling backwards onto the floor, letting a string of obscenities loose upon her offending sister. Naomi looks like she's just about to boil over with rage but she doesn't attempt to help Emily up. When Emily's done swearing at her, she shrugs.

 “You two are the rudest fucking cunts in existence,” she states, glaring at her sister on the floor and then to Naomi.

 “That's fucking rich, Katie,” Naomi growls. “Did you just not see what you did?”

 “You have company, Naomi,” she stresses Naomi's name as if it's an insult. “I don't give a fuck what you two homos do in your bedroom but I'm your guest and you should have some bloody class, not that you'd really know much about that.” She smirks in the practised way she became so accustomed to in college, that quirk of the mouth like she knows exactly how right she is with one eyebrow raised in silent challenge. Naomi narrows her eyes but doesn't argue. Cook looks on in surprise, his mouth half-open. Emily stands up, pulling down her top. She pauses before slapping the side of her sister's head and stomping off.

It doesn't really hurt and Katie barely winces. It was pretty much expected. She just continues to stare Naomi down until the blonde shifts her eyes and slinks out of the room. When their bedroom door slams shut, she falls down next to Cook on the ridiculously uncomfortable couch. They sit in a silence for a while, blankly staring at the television. He doesn't even attempt to pull out a spliff. She wonders if he's as numb as she feels.

She's not sure how many minutes pass before his fingers creep out and intertwine with hers. It's so timid and soft that she practically spins her face around to make sure it's the same boy that used to throw careless punches at gangsters and drug lords and heavily paw at her when he thought she was drunk enough to appreciate it. (She never did. She was never that drunk.) His hand is cold but warms after a moment in hers. She thinks he mumbles a thank you, but it may have just been the television programme.

 Fucking insanity, she thinks. Of all people, she's pretty sure that she actually is friends with James Cook now. Fuck.

 

 

 

 


 

Cook doesn't come home from work that night.

Neither Emily nor Naomi seem to consider this odd. It's only 2 days later when they've still had no word from him that the worry begins to creep over Naomi's face. When she texts him and sits on the sofa like a statue, waiting for a response for about an hour straight, Emily places a hand on her knee and the look in her eyes says exactly what Katie was dreading too. Naomi sets her jaw, repressing her emotions defiantly, but Katie can see the fear there, sneaking out through her cracks.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Stupid fucking bitch. Fucking cunts!

 

He tears down an alleyway, dodging around rubbish bins at an impressive pace as he tries to lose the police plodding away behind him. It's made increasingly difficult by the fact the quadruple drop of molly he took just a while earlier is now at a full on, massive roll. Fuck, he'd rather take the sodding pills than be caught with them and done for possession or some shit. There's an empty-looking bin ahead and he clambers into it quickly and closes the lid behind himself.

It stinks inside and he's fairly certain there's maggots crawling over his trainers and into his socks. But fuck if it's not absolute the best bin he's ever been in. It's quiet, peaceful but the pitch dark is making him slightly nauseated. As soon as he's sure the police have ran on ahead, he lets a stomach full of sick loose in the confined space and feels only slightly relieved. Peeking out, he sees a clear alley and ends up knocking over the bin as he attempts to climb out, managing to cover himself in a mixture of vomit and maggots, something that would no doubt cause any weaker man to heave all over again. But not him. He's a fucking rockstar, innit.

Brushing off the somehow adorable little bugs, he peers around blearily at his unfamiliar surroundings. What the fuck... The streetlamps beyond are casting a pleasant soft glow through the London fog. He moves towards them. His pocket feels bulky and he fingers around to pull out a decently sized wrap of coke. Definitely for selling. He lets out a boisterous laugh at the shit luck he would have had if not for that rubbish bin. He snorts a bump, feeling the drip and his senses clearing slightly. The nausea is still there though.

He stumbles slightly as he begins to walk again towards the lights, pulling out a spliff from another pocket and laughing even harder at his magical pockets of never-ending drugs. He forgets that they're for profit, not for use. Blondie would shit herself if she knew he didn't have a real job, even if he's so flipping good at the one he has it pays better than his real last job, a shelf-stocker at Iceland, ever would. He chuckles, thinking about her face. Taking a long drag, he sits down on the kerb.

 

He's not sure how long he's been sat there, staring at the trails of the occasional car going by but a drizzle has begun and his tee shirt is getting damp with more than just sweat. Across the road, a shadow stands against a letterbox. He squints, as if it helps at all. It moves into the light and it takes less than a second for him to recognise the glint of blue eyes. He wants to run to her, but he can't seem to move, frozen to the pavement.

 “Effy!” he calls out, his voice breaking on the second syllable. He just wants to fucking move. The frustration builds the harder he tries. It doesn't make sense. Part of him knows it's bullshit, that she's a figment of his drug-addled imagination and he wonders briefly about the purity of his gear. But fuck, he misses her so fucking muchso he chooses to ignore the remaining rationality. She moves even further into the light, smirking at him and curling her index finger, calling him silently. But she's still mostly a shadow and he wants to be beside her, to see her clearly. He finally manages to get to his feet and darts out rapidly if haphazardly towards the silhouette.

 

He doesn't even see the lights speeding towards him on rain-slick asphalt.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

She does her best. She always tries extra hard for Naomi. Always has. She pushes herself so far that she reckons that the only things holding her together are the thin, invisible strands of hope. Then, when those begin to snap, one at a time, she falls apart. Completely and utterly apart. Which is why she fights so hard against that, why she grasps for hope where there is none and winds herself up in it, why she imagines fairytales instead of looking at the ugly truth of reality. She doesn't want to feel that final snap of the last filament.

She's only experienced that once. It was so dark and hopeless there when she realised that you can stop loving someone if you truly want to, if you lose faith in them entirely. Gradually she rediscovered a few threads, sewed pieces of herself together again until she thought it was a strong enough garment to withstand a few cut strands.

But now, she feels that the tension is becoming a little too tight like she's being yanked in two different directions, and any moment they're all just going to give way at once and she'll be ripped and splatter like blood all over the place, soaking into the carpet, forever staining the walls crimson. That's why she just needs to make it work.

It's all or nothing for her. You're either in something, or you're not. You love someone, or you don't. There is no “sort of”. No “maybe”. No qualifications and adverbs. The world in black and white was easier to see, and learning to live in Naomi's domain of constant shades of grey had taken a lot of effort to understand, let alone cope with her never-ending questions about meaning and truth and complications. It was like living in fog with her sometimes. For someone who was so obsessed with right and wrong, Naomi sure didn't apply her politics to her emotional life. The only positive about that situation is that the the truth is so shrouded in a haze that even the silliest kind of hope seems actually plausible. How could anyone know better, right?

Right.

Or at least that's what she reminds herself of when the whole thing just suffocates her with its uncertainty, even after this long. Because, despite everything, she has doubts too. They are often ridiculous and exaggerated, and easily dissipated when Naomi looks at her in just that specific way that still gets her breath caught in her throat. She can see things in Naomi's face that remind her why they are still fighting for this, and the best part is she's pretty fucking certain Naomi has no idea she's so transparent. Always has been.

The girl with the triple-reinforced walls didn't realise they were just made of glass. And Emily's bloody good at peering through them, squinting at the warped images until they become clear. Sure, it takes effort but she likes effort. She likes trying hard for things because the pay-off is so much sweeter in the end. Work, school, relationships: they are all the same.

Give, give, give. She gives until her back aches, her fingers bleed, and her head throbs with the weight of decisions and consequences.

Just as long as there's a little bit of hope to grab ahold of and spin into strength.

And she's perfectly aware that it's not exactly the healthiest method for success because it eats away at her sanity, makes her do things that seem over-the-line, take things a little too far, push people a little too much. She doesn't give up easily though. She sees not what's there, but with the rose-coloured glasses of hope, she sees what could be.

She falls in love with potential.

 

Unfortunately, when that potential never materializes, and when she accepts this as the only reason for failure, it cuts the ties that bind her together, with each realisation snipping another thread.

Naomi has such beautiful potential.

To do amazing things, makes amazing strides for social welfare, governmental policies, environmental change, and to be an amazing person. But it all takes careful coaxing and trickery to get her girlfriend to see these things about herself. It's a little deceitful really, the way Emily manages to work her way in and around Naomi who at the present seems somewhat addicted to failure. Not in a significant sense, and not like she seeks it out. Just that she seems content to glide around, nursing Cook through his utter wreck of a life and fucking her on the side, and never really trying – a concept Emily has an incredibly difficult time understanding. Naomi's content to just fucking wait for everything, like the world owes her something, like she shouldn't have to ever move from her ivory tower for anything to get done.

That was probably the most infuriating thing: her sense of entitlement, no doubt passed down through the undercurrents of her charged belief system. The world was so unjust, and it should be fair. Therefore, fairness means everyone gets what they deserve and no one has to try for anything. Ever. Things come automatically to those who deserve them. In a perfect, just, karmic world. She misses the point that people who actually do try often do get what they deserve. That's fairness in a sense, Emily thinks.

Emily learnt at around the age of 5 that the world was not even remotely close to being fair, especially if you have Katie Fitch for a twin sister. Get it over it, move on. And she was determined to get everything she should, if she had to work hard for it or not. Naomi would just sit there and wait for Emily to make a move, to give an excuse, push her into that emotional turmoil that was bound to guarantee some sort of result. But to Emily, that attitude, waiting in that hell, was a fate worse than actually doing something. At least, that's how she sees it.

 

In the past few months, Emily had thought it changed. A shift had taken place that first night she moved in here. While Naomi can still be a stubborn cow when she wants, she isn't quite as stoic with her lovelife anymore (everything else is caught in static it seems). And Emily thinks her heart actually sometimes bursts open with hope when she catches Naomi smiling at her for no reason, or when Naomi's the one waiting for her on a bench near her last lecture, or when they are lying in bed and her fingertips are carefully, almost reverently carving trails over her skin, both absorbing and creating every spark. She wants then to shake her girlfriend and be like, “See, I told you it wouldn't hurt to trust in me. What took you this long?”

But as Naomi slowly (painfully so) grows brighter, Cook continues to slide down into something darker. She's not sure she wants to know how deep the hole is, she's scared to bear witness to that. She's mostly certain it's the same perpetually dark and hopeless place Effy dwelled. And he's got part of Naomi's heart in his teeth, tugging her away from Emily, pulling her down while Emily struggles to pull her up, grabbing with both hands and digging her heels in. It results in Naomi barely moving at all. She sometimes wonders how much hate for herself Naomi has buried deep inside to lead her always back to this darker path every time she seems to take a step away from it.

It's really this reason she's grown to resent Cook sometimes. Other times she's just broken-hearted for him. Fucking up his own life was one thing, but dragging everyone else into his blackhole of misery is another thing altogether, especially when the one person she's ever truly been in love with thinks she can't let go of him. There's jealousy in there: that Naomi seems to love him so freely, without judgment, without fear of reprisal from anyone, without any of those goddamn issues that plagued their own relationship. There's jealousy too in the fact Naomi never gives up on him the way she had given up on herself, and Emily, so many times. It results in some equally beautiful and horrid bond between them that Emily has no access to. She can only ever be a spectator. And there's still the uncomfortable niggling of a thought that there's something more to her girlfriend and Cook beyond being merely best mates, and it's something that she lost out on when they broke up. It worries her sometimes, the way they occasionally glance or snuggle in was that took her years to earn and he got in a matter of months. She wonders what's wrong with her. But then she passes it off always as being in her imagination... but it never quite fades entirely.

She doesn't hate him, couldn't hate him if she tried but she knows he sells drugs instead of working, she knows that he's lying to the only fucking person on the planet that still loves him. It's not her secret to share, and she hates the heavy feeling of keeping something so important from her girlfriend. It feels like they're in college, secretly filling out their own university applications. Despite this, she perseveres because that's all she really knows how to do. She sees the glimmer of a happy future, and wraps herself in it.

But everything is wearing thin now, stretching and being unwound.

Naomi's falling apart at her feet as each day without contact from Cook passes and she's exhausted from holding them both together, physically and mentally. Not to mention she hasn't been to classes in nearly a week now.

It's with a fair helping of guilt that Emily's grateful she wasn't in Naomi's life when Effy died. If the current situation is any indication, she couldn't have handled it. It would have drained her completely. Her breaking point is coming soon and there hasn't even been word on whether or not he's actually dead. She's so fucking scared about what will happen to Naomi if he never returns and so fucking angry that she's not enough for Naomi. So, so angry. At Naomi, at Cook, at everything. But mostly at Naomi for letting her feel this way, and sleeping in Cook's bed, just so that she can see him as soon as he comes home. Other than one night, they've been sleeping apart, she and Katie in what should be the bed she shares with her girlfriend, and Naomi adamantly alone in his.

The only respite is that Katie and Naomi have stopped sniping at each other and kind of exist in a silent peace treaty. It surprises her too that her sister is even still here, and even more that she appears genuinely upset at Cook's disappearing act. She takes comfort in the extra strength that comes from standing by her twin's side. It's a little boost that she had forgotten could have such a profound effect. Without Katie, she honestly wonders if she could have handled it alone. But even then, 'handling it' may be giving her current situation a little too much credit. She's coping, and she's worried about university not just for herself, but she's terrified for Naomi. They are both risking penalties for potentially missing assignments and exams. It doesn't seem to phase Naomi in the slightest and Emily wishes, for once, they could just sit down and talk it all out.

 

The mattress dips and she knows it's Naomi. Katie is breathing evenly on the other side of the bed, she really could sleep through most things. The taller girl says nothing in the dark but she crawls underneath the duvet, practically hanging off the edge of her bed. She grips Emily's t-shirt tightly in her fist and pulls herself flush against the twin. Emily's not sure what to make of the situation. For the last few days, Naomi hasn't sought out comfort at all despite Emily offering it almost constantly and now she was almost desperately pushing up against her. She's not crying, and not close to being relaxed. Emily can feel the tension in her arms and the way her breathing is coming in short breaths against her cheek.

 “Naomi?”

There's no immediate reply from the girl beside her an she lets go of a sigh, wrapping an arm over Naomi's waist, holding her from falling off the bed. Despite their stalemate, she doesn't imagine that Katie will feel particularly generous sharing a bed with Naomi. They only merely tolerate each other.

 “Please, Emily,” she croaks, moving her lips urgently along the redhead's pulse point. A week of barely touching Naomi except for heavy and almost awkward comforting hugs and pointless hand-holding has done it's worst and she valiantly represses a shudder of arousal.

 “Go to sleep,” she manages to whisper. “I'm here. It's okay.” The moment the words escape, she inwardly cringes. It's not even close to being okay. It's a blatant fucking lie. Emily doesn't like liars. And furthermore, she's not sure how long she'll be able to say that's she's here for Naomi and actually mean it. More than her obvious placating lie, that knowledge makes her want to throw up even as Naomi ignores her words and dances cool fingers under the hem of her t-shirt.

The whole thing is so wrong. Beyond the fact that Cook is missing, and beyond the fact that she's never seen her strong Naomi so goddamn shattered, and even more than the fact her twin sister is asleep, not half a metre away, it's that she doesn't like this kind of comfort. It's false, and no one ever feels better afterward. She pushes Naomi's hands away, with a little more force than necessary.

The action does absolutely nothing to dissuade Naomi who seems to have a one-track mind at the moment. She uses her weight and large frame to gain an advantage, trapping Emily under her and sucking her bottom lip so hard it almost hurts. Fucking Naomi. Emily wishes that she could stop kissing her, but she can't and the blonde is all too aware that they just can't say no each other, no matter how wrong it is. She doesn't even realise her hands are tangled in blonde locks until she attempts to deepen the kiss and it happens easier than expected.

 “Fuck's sake!”

Katie's voice rings out piercingly. She launches herself out of the bed with surprising speed, and grabs a pillow. “Shit. Take your pity sex elsewhere next time. Disgusting.”

She is beyond angry, and Emily winces again as her sister slams the bedroom door behind her, no doubt making her way to the sofa right now. Thankfully, the interruption has caused Naomi to cease her onslaught. She merely hovers above her girlfriend, looking perplexed in the dim light. Emily glances over and sees the time being near to dawn.

 “It's not pity sex,” a voice says and her attention turns back to the blonde above her. “Is it?”

Emily doesn't know what to say because she thinks that it was going to be exactly that. She wonders when telling the truth became so difficult and she momentarily resents Naomi for placing her in this position once again. She was always between a rock and a hard place. She opts then for a half-truth.

 “Dunno.” Maybe.

Naomi's shoulder's slump noticeably and she lowers herself to the mattress beside Emily with a deliberate sigh. Emily knows too well that Naomi is thinking things she's not saying. She never gives Emily the benefit of the doubt that she won't judge her. In fact, she knows Naomi so well by now that she'd even hazard a guess that it has something to do with just wanting to feel close to someone. But if she refuses to say it, Emily will continue to ignore it. She's tired of forcing it out of her girlfriend.

As if reading her thoughts, Naomi mumbles, “I'm sorry.” And Emily knows it's not really an apology for closing herself off as much as it is for her poorly-thought out pity sex attempt.

She just wants that other apology, just once. Something meaningful. Something reassuring.

 “Talk to me,” Emily pleads, already knowing it will fall on deaf ears. Her suspicions are correct as Naomi shakes her head and resumes her fingertips' journey across the smooth plane of her her abdomen.

 “I just want you to make it go away.”

It maybe should sound sweet, maybe even be a compliment but it makes Emily uncomfortable because that's exactly what she's been trying to do all week, and she knows she can't, and it makes her upset because she should be more than just a person to forget with. Especially since the whole exercise is just for the blonde to forget about bloody Cook. But Naomi's lips are warm and insistent and her hands are equally determined so she relinquishes control again and lets Naomi lead. The groan bubbles up inside of her and she forgets that this is supposed to be comforting Naomi. She claws at the layers between them, desperate to feel hot skin against her own and to feel the low vibrations of Naomi's pleasure reverberating through their bodies. Desperation streams like sweat between them as her teeth collide with soft skin yet it's still like everything is in slow motion; they're frantic but not rushed, dragging it out as long as possible. They are splintering and Emily tries to push thoughts of Cook, and Naomi's motivations for this, out of her head as Naomi rolls a nipple between her fingers, eliciting a series of sparks to shoot right to her toes. She flips Naomi onto her back with practised ease, feeling how ridiculously wet Naomi already is, and burying her fingers deep inside the other girl. She moans in response to her girlfriend, twisting and stroking so agonizingly slowly and grinding herself vigorously against a taunt thigh.

This isn't going to solve anything. Emily doesn't quite understand why they still resort to sex to solve problems because it never does; it just delays the inevitable conversation, or it distracts them enough to never talk about it again. She remembers when the would make love for months without it being an alternative to an honest relationship. Those days feel lost. This feels like a huge backslide. But regardless, it's still intoxicating as the first time, all those years ago at the lake. The touch of Naomi's fingers is enough to make centre feel heavy an warm, and her chest constrict in the most pleasurable way.

But Naomi's taste is altogether something else, and all she can think about at the moment. She follows the familiar path down to the apex of her girlfriend's thighs. It only takes one hesitant, almost regretful, sweep of her tongue through the length of Naomi's folds before she's addicted all over again; lapping and sucking like a starving animal. She can feel her hair being tugged at as her tongue deftly circles Naomi's clit and hips are pushed into her face. With her fingers beginning a rhythmic accompaniment, the sound of fervent moans are enough to tell her that Naomi is close. There's the initial tremble and Naomi's orgasm explodes without much warning, shocking in its intensity.

After a brief respite, where Naomi catches her breath, she pulls Emily up, catching her lips with her own, not giving herself an opportunity to become tired. It's sloppier now but no less determined.

She misses the blonde's lips and tastes Naomi's well-hidden, rare tears sometime in all of this, betraying the girl they fell from. She kisses them back if only to finally taste her weakness. It reminds her not to cry as well, especially as she feels a hot mouth slip down to her tits and further still. Naomi is so slow, so meticulous, tasting every bit of skin before finally laying almost ghostly kisses against her core.

It's not supposed to feel like goodbye but she just can't shake the feeling that it does.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

When she eventually forces her eyes open, sunlight is bouncing into the bedroom and casting everything in what should be a warm glow. She's not sure if she's even seen the sun in almost a week. Maybe it's a sign. A good one. But then she reaches over and finds the bed beside her cold and empty. There's no Emily beside her and a lump forms in her throat, unexpectedly. It is ridiculous to be this upset about waking up alone because it's not like it's never happened before.

She waits patiently for the bedroom door to open and her girlfriend to pad in with a bowl of cereal or something edible like she has the past few days. After 5 minutes she realises that isn't going to happen. The clock reads 11:30 AM and she vaguely remembers that she's already missed a lecture today. Oh well. It's not like one more is really going to make much difference now. One more missed class and she'll officially have had a black star week. There's something her mum is bound to be proud of, although under the circumstances, it's reasonable surely. Maybe. But the thing is, her mum has no idea what's happening with Cook right now. She's resisted ringing her. Something about that action makes everything real. Like it did with Effy.

Naomi swings her feet out, finding her slippers easily and dragging her groggy body towards the exit. As she opens the door, she's struck with the rather odd sensation of being entirely alone. The air is calm and there isn't a sound coming from anywhere else in the flat. No Emily, and no Katie. She glances towards the open door of Cook's bedroom and reminds herself that he's not there either. Regardless, she slinks towards the room, and peers in, hoping that by some bit of magic, the last week had just been a nightmare. So much for the sunshine being a good omen.

Flicking on the TV, she relaxes as the sounds of midday BBC News seep through the imposing silence, making it seem not so much like a crypt any longer. She puts the kettle on and slumps down on the sofa to wait to make her tea. The headlines flashing across the screen barely even register however and she feels the itch to ring the police and check in again, as she has multiple times and her fingers hover over the now familiar numbers but she resists. If it's bad news that they just forgot to notify her about, she's not sure she'd be able to stomach it without someone next to her.

The last time, with Effy, she and Cook were together. Tied together as soon as the hospital rang the flat number and she received the news. It wasn't exactly as if either were in a state to take care of the other, but somehow they managed to both share the load. This time was different. Yes, Emily was here, thank fuck for that, but she seemed more distant than usual and gradually less interested in supporting Naomi the longer this continues. She isn't oblivious to the fact that it is likely painful for Emily as well, and she also can tell something else is wrong but she simply doesn't have the emotional resources to handle that right now as well. A little bit of resentment pools in her gut when she thinks about Emily's shit timing. She ignores the fact that some simple communication could likely clear it all up. That seems like too much effort, too much risk.

So she places the phone down on the table and sits, staring blankly at the television until she hears the click of the kettle.

As she stands, the front door opens and Emily walks in, dropping her school rucksack loudly on the floor. A simultaneous feeling of both relief and annoyance flirts with Naomi's conscience momentarily. She searches for something to gain Emily's attention, fumbling for something better than 'Hello'.

 “Where's Katie?” She inadvertently bites her bottom lip, knowing that it wasn't the most pleasant of things to say.

Emily just shrugs and kicks off her trainers. “Out. Shopping somewhere.”

Naomi wants to continue the conversation but there's no point in asking where Emily's been because it's obvious she was at uni, and frankly, it sounds kind of possessive and needy – two characteristics Naomi despises. “How was class?” she asks instead, trying to hide her irritation at Emily's shift back into normal life while Cook is still gone.

She's met again with a shrug and it's really starting to piss Naomi off so she turns and goes to tend to her tea, leaving Emily to sulk or whatever the fuck she's doing. When she returns from the kitchen, Emily's sitting on the sofa with a textbook spread open in her lap. Naomi sips the hot liquid before settling down next to her.

After a moment, Emily speaks. “I missed a quiz, you know.” Her tone is accusatory almost and Naomi is somewhat repulsed by the hidden blame there. She thought they were in this thing together. “I explained it to the coordinator and she said I could sit it on Monday.” She pauses as if there's something left to reproach Naomi for. “Of course, it's all on material from this week.”

 “You'll have all weekend to revise then,” she states plainly, unconcerned with her girlfriend's predicament. “You'll do fine.”

Emily closes the textbook firmly but doesn't look at the blonde. “That's not really the point,” she sighs but doesn't elaborate further. Naomi's left to piece together what she thinks Emily's getting at. Probably something about how it's all her fault for being such a tit over Cook and all Cook's fault for being a twat and going missing. She's pretty sure it's not because Emily's concerned about her standing in school.

 “It kind of is though,” Naomi argues feebly. “There's more important things to worry about, I think.”

There's an odd sort of sputter that erupts from Emily. “Yeah, because sitting around here doing nothing and going mad with paranoia sure is helping the situation,” she scoffs in disbelief and attempts to rise, but Naomi reaches out and grabs her hand. It's cold.

 “Look,” Naomi starts harshly, but softens almost immediately. “I'll help you, okay?” She doesn't really have the faintest idea how since she's useless with Emily's coursework, but it's worth the offer. She can, like, do note cards or something.

 “I don't need help, Naomi. I need you to understand.” She finally meets Naomi's eyes, but her expression is unreadable.

 “You're making that bloody difficult,” she huffs, reaching the point of annoyance at Emily's behaviour and stupid cryptic fucking sentences. “What the fuck is your problem?” That likely was not the best solution.

Something must snap inside Emily because one moment she's staring Naomi down like prey, and the next she's tossed her rather heavy textbook onto the table with a very loud thud and looks like she's about to explode. Naomi just stares, shocked. “Would you stop being so fucking stubborn? You're losing it, Naomi, and I can't sit here and just watch it happen! I'm tired of this bloody game you play. I can't stand it.” She shakes her head defiantly, scrunching her eyes closed.

There's nothing Naomi can do but let her mouth fall open slightly in confusion because she honestly has no flipping clue what on earth just happened or what Emily is even ranting about. She feels compelled to argue, and even a stronger compulsion to run. But the flat isn't that big, and she knows from experience that it doesn't really accomplish anything. So she stays silent and waits. Waits for Emily to make a move, like always.

But then, almost as if nothing happened, Emily squares her shoulders, stares at some point on the wall beyond and sighs. “Sorry.”

Still a little speechless, Naomi nods mutely.

 “Sorry,” Emily tries again. “I think I'm just stressed out about everything.” She sinks back down into the cushions beside her girlfriend and closes her eyes. Naomi feels like that was too easy, like Emily gave in too quickly and her excuse is paper thin. But pushing the issue means possibly facing things she doesn't want to hear so she accepts the flimsy and false apology. She feels the disappointment oozing from Emily; from her gaze to the defeated slump of her shoulders. She's so fucking tired of being a disappointment, like she's confined on some bloody pedestal all the time. Emily's bound to fall victim to shattering disenchantment when she finally accepts that Naomi can't possibly live up to the overwhelming expectations. Everyone always does. Naomi knows she's losing her precarious balance, and she has petrifying doubts about whether Emily will be there, waiting at the bottom, to catch her inevitable fall from grace.

Focussing instead on her well-developed habit of denial, she buries the doubts that were rising just a minute ago and wonders if she should attempt to touch the redhead. It seems like the proper thing to do, but lately touching seems to either lead to awkwardness or sex, and neither of those would help at all. She is desperate to ask for merely a hug but the words never manage to form on her lips. She really just wants reassurance, wants to feel Emily's warm body against hers. Instead, they sit there in silence and Naomi watches the steam rising from her rapidly cooling tea.

 

 

  

In an hour, Emily is gone again, back to lectures presumably although she didn't really mention anything on her way out the door. Naomi's just settled back into her programme, surreptitiously glancing at Emily's textbook every so often and wondering if she should surprise her with flashcards, when there is a pounding on the door. Her heart leaps into her throat and her pulse immediately races with the fantasy that Cook is back. But the knock is too firm, too demanding, too orderly to be his. It sounds official. With trepidation, she inches towards the door, breathes out evenly and summons the courage to open it.

There's a flash of dark burgundy and assorted animal prints as Katie Fitch storms into the flat and promptly drops heaps of shopping bags on the floor. “What took you so bloody long? These are well heavy and I had to carry them up 3 flights of stairs!”

Naomi mutters a confused apology and watches the whirlwind toss bags around until she finds what she's looking for. She pulls out some black fabric from a Selfridges tote and throws it in Naomi's direction. With an easy catch, Naomi stretches it out and finds it's a rather nice black, cowl-neck top. A little much for her personally and she's not sure if Katie wants an opinion on it or to give it to her so she says nothing and just fiddles with the top, holding it up higher.

 “It's for you,” Katie states plainly, as if it were an everyday occurrence that she hands out very nice Kookai tops to everyone she doesn't get on with. She goes back to digging in her piles of carrier bags.

Naomi pauses, unsure what this means. “Erm, thanks, but...” She's not certain how to continue the sentence without seeming ungrateful.

 “But nothing, Campbell.” Katie catches Naomi's reluctance. “Don't flatter yourself. It was well discounted. And you're wearing it.”

For a moment, Naomi wonders when she became a substitution for Emily. “I don't understand.” It's the truth, and she'd really like to ask what Katie expects in return now. She doesn't want to be some grown-up Barbie doll. She's glad she never had a sister for a reason.

Brown eyes latch onto to her, almost frustrated. “You wouldn't,” she spits, but it's only partly venomous. “It's called 'fashion', Naomi. You should, like, associate yourself with the concept sooner or later.” She gives the blonde a rather blatant disapproving once-over before meeting her eyes again. “Preferably sooner.”

Despite her hard bravado, the behaviour makes Naomi feel small and ugly, and that feeling alone is all too painfully familiar. She realises, with some astonishment, that she hasn't actually felt this brand of embarrassment in quite a long time. She blames the stress of the week for her sudden urge to cry. Emily never judges harshly, and Cook, well, he never gives a fuck about anything let alone her choices in clothing. Katie has an amazing way of just belittling people with a look. She reckons that it's a shame that Katie is so unmotivated and not very clever because she might actually make a good solicitor. Naomi insecurities must rise to the surface because Katie's glare softens slightly.

 “Look, I'm not trying to be a bitch or whatever, but it would be nice for my sister to see just what she has. Take her breath away, you know?” Naomi's not sure how to take the statement. She thinks it's kind of a compliment. The moment is lost however as soon as Katie continues with a sneer. “You certainly don't put in the effort yourself.”

She reckons that maybe that's all she wants to hear from Katie's mouth for the rest of evening, at least until Emily comes home and can distract the cunt. She feels the annoyance finally rising in place of shame. It is a much more empowering feeling. Her blue eyes harden on the brunette. “I don't know if it's escaped your notice, Katiekins, but Emily really prefers me without clothes on. They really just get too wet and who really wants to go around positively reeking of sex all day?” She smirks, knowing the graphic image of her sister sweaty and fucking Naomi's brains out will be enough to turn Katie's stomach for at least a few minutes. Not to mention, it's obvious that Katie hasn't had a meaningful relationship since, well, ever. “And really, taking advice from you? I may be a little daft, but no one your age should wear that much leopard print. It ages you prematurely, wouldn't you say?” It works as she expected and she takes delight in the small victory as Katie sets her jaw. Naomi can't help but notice the way Katie turns away, bows her head and self-consciously picks at her blouse in the process. A sliver of guilt creeps up but she squashes it down, reminding herself what the bitch just said.

She doesn't ask for the top back, but instead gathers the rest of her purchases and lugs them into Cook's room, shutting the door behind herself, not looking at Naomi once.

The blonde wonders how it's possible that the trio of them just seem to be stuck in a cycle of constantly hurting each other, for no real reason. Worse still, she sees no other alternative.

  

About 10 minutes later, Katie emerges, hair tied up in a ponytail and wearing a pair of joggers and a small pink t-shirt with the words “High Maintenance” on it. Naomi can't decide whether that's supposed to be ironic or not. But there is a definite lack of animal print. She sits down next to the blonde on the settee and picks at her nails, letting a saddened sigh loose.

 “What?” Naomi snaps, no longer in the mood to play Katie's games.

Katie's head shoots up to face Naomi, and she actually looks mildly offended. “Can't a person breathe?” she snipes back.

 “We're going to fall out,” Naomi warns in a low, serious voice.

 “Haven't we already?” Katie retorts quickly.

Restraining a huff of irritation, Naomi lets the issue drop for now and chooses not to respond. The silence is a little awkward, and not just because of the argument that happened earlier. She senses that the twin has something important to say, or to ask, and dragging it out is only setting her nerves even further on edge than they already are. She wants to confront Katie, get her to blurt out whatever it is so they can go back to ignoring each other but she lacks the resolve. Facing a Fitch twin was always a bit of an effort, but she had always found Katie monumentally easier to confront since sharp insults usually were all conversations consisted of.

Finally the ice cracks. “Do you love him?”

For a moment, Naomi's not even sure who “he” is and wonders if Katie is high or something. She glances at the TV screen, working out what fit bloke she supposedly fancies. It's nothing but a sweeping landscape scene, across tropical ocean waters. Then she realises it's Cook the twin is referring to. She stifles the disbelief and opts for casual.

 “Not the way you're implying,” she states.

 “Are you sure?”

 “Are you mental?” Naomi rebukes. “Really, Katie, grow up.” This is an absurd conversation to be having, she's sure. And Katie is just staring at her like she's some sort of 50% off tag and she's working out the discounted final price. It's uncomfortable.

Katie shrugs. “I've just never seen you this disorganised and weird. And you're plenty of both on a normal basis.”

There's a brief second where Naomi actually interprets Katie's words as genuine concern. Then she remembers who she's speaking with. “Cook is missing,” she emphasizes. “Imagine Emily went missing and how you'd feel.”

 “Not the same.” She sounds so fucking sure of herself and it convinces Naomi that Katie really has no sodding clue about any of their situations at all.

 “It totally is. Don't even try this bullshit on me, Katie. We've had our big row for the day and I'm really not keen on another.” She finally lets out an annoyed sigh. “Either leave me be, or go shopping. Get out of my face.”

Katie chews on her lip momentarily as she surveys the blonde with narrowed eyes. “Why are you such an arrogant cunt, Naomi?” She smirks. “It's kind of unbelievable, really, just how intolerable you actually are. I thought it was just a phase.”

The older girl shifts away on the sofa. “Pot, meet kettle,” she quips before shooting Katie an angry glare. It seems to just bounce off of her however and Naomi's defenses falter with the failure of her attack. She really wants to ask when the fuck Katie plans on leaving London because she's certainly over-stayed her welcome but she can't form the words and resolves to merely stare, sort of pointedly in her direction.

 “I honestly don't see what my sister sees in a munter like you,” Katie muses, almost indifferently.

 “That's a good thing,” Naomi retorts, raising one eyebrow in mute challenge. She senses that their somewhat civil (as best as can be) conversation is about to turn ugly again. She has so many barbs she can sling her way, but she represses the desire quite well. If Katie wants another fucking row, so be it, but she wants to say honestly to Emily that she's not the one who started it.

The brunette shrugs again and Naomi's struck with just how similar the twins could be. “I don't really give a shit about you, or your fucked up life, but if you hurt my sister – again –, I swear to God on my Nana's grave, that I will personally make you seriously regret it.”

Trying to adopt the same bloody blasé attitude, Naomi shrugs as well. “Message received. Watch out or some cheap slapper from Bristol will insult my fashion sense and force me to do vodka shots and ketmine til I pass out and wake up in a stranger's bed the next morning with no memory and a nasty case of genital herpes. How is that going for you anyway?” Naomi put on a false face of concern. “You know it's incurable, yeah?”

She had tried to restrain the malice, but the silly threat and Katie's generally displeasing presence had made it near impossible. Not to mention that all the rage and resentment that had been building for the last week finally had a target, however undeserving under the circumstances. She was so frustrated with Cook's disappearance, Emily's cold behaviour and the fact she was fully aware that she was once again throwing away her entire future (both in a romantic and an educational sense) out of concern for a boy who could care less about his own. And she feels powerless to stop herself. Always so fucking powerless.

The shock of Naomi knowing that private part of her life, a trust that her sister had breached, brings something resembling anger to Katie's face, though Naomi isn't exactly sure. Maybe it's betrayal. There is no snide comeback from the twin. She just grits her teeth and turns away. It doesn't really feel like a victory this time. Not even a little.

Almost before she has time to think, words escape her throat. “Sorry. I didn't mean...” It's so foreign to even her own ears that she's not surprised when Katie looks at her in something resembling awe, mouth half-open and a curious gaze in her eyes. She doesn't elaborate, probably couldn't even if she tried but it seems to be enough.

Katie clears her throat and returns her attention to the television again. “I thought that top would look mint on you,” she offers as some sort of odd acceptance.

There's a heavy kind of silence for a moment. “Thanks.” She means it.

 “Ems would love to see it on you. I know she would.”

Naomi's sure that it isn't a come-on and she instantly regrets the words that came out of her mouth in the past few minutes. It's the kind of thing that hits below the belt; it's unfair. It's definitely going to get back to Emily too eventually which is possibly even worse. She knows through Emily, that the whole thing was really rough on Katie for a while, Emily even went home for a few days. And whilst Katie wasn't a stranger to getting herself into such sketchy situations, she really didn't deserve anything that happened. She wants to tell Katie that she really does mean she's sorry, and that she wouldn't wish that kind of thing on anyone. But the words get lodged somewhere between her throat and tongue. She swallows noticeably instead.

 “I just need to be sure,” Katie says softly. “I need to know she's going to be okay.”

This genuine outpouring of concern from Katie strikes Naomi as a little odd, and slightly disconcerting the way it seems as if the twin's ending something, but she doesn't attempt to correct Katie by reminding her that Emily's been doing okay on her own. She's already done enough damage for the day, the week even.

 “I love her, Katie.” The words don't feel as strange as she thought they would considering Katie really is the only person other than her mum that has been a witness to that admission. Not even Cook had heard that phrase. She hopes and prays it sounds as serious as she is.

 “More than I do?” she asks with the slightest of cheeky smirks.

Naomi wants to shrug because she's really not sure exactly, or how one would even go about calculating that if it was an exact science. “Differently than you do.” She settles for the truth and offers a small, hesitant smile in return.

 “That'll do,” she concedes.

Naomi fusses over the remote for a moment before changing the channel and settling down again. She glances over at the brunette. “You're all right, Katie. When you're not being a demanding cow.”

She doesn't meet her eyes, but Naomi can see the smile anyway.

 “You're not bad yourself, when you're not taking your freaky, cuntish frustrations out on me.”

Naomi feels momentarily defensive again. “That's cos I knew you could take it,” she rationalizes. It's the truth, as good as.

Eventually, Katie looks over at her and nods slightly in understanding. “I know.”

  

A truce. Finally.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The day had been one of multiple surprises and Katie just couldn't believe some of the shit Naomi had brought up. She couldn't believe that they actually had two massive rows and managed not to stab each other repeatedly with forks. And now, they had some sort of agreement, or something. Katie wasn't sure but she really wasn't interested in fighting any longer. The blonde bitch could bite as well as she barked, and fuck, it hurt like hell. But she was a Fitch, and for the most part she knew Naomi was venting. That was also a surprise, her ability to allow Naomi this privilege without socking her in her thick skull with a well-trained fist. Sometimes she believes that Naomi actually gets her. Like, they have a mutual understanding about some things.

Then other times, she's sure they live on completely different planets. Different fucking galaxies maybe.

When Naomi comes out of her bedroom wearing the Kookai top she had bought with a smart pair of dark jeans, there is a little surge of pride. Firstly, she convinced the plonker to wear it. Secondly, she was fucking right. It looks perfect. For the first time, possibly ever, Katie concludes that Naomi can be quite fit when she tries. She retracts the thought instantly. She rises to meet Naomi and motions for her to come closer.

 “I told you it would be well peng,” she trills, trying to keep the pride out of her voice for being so brilliant as she makes a few small adjustments to how Naomi is wearing it. She sees the pinkish colour rising in the blonde's cheeks. “She's gonna love it.”

Naomi smirks. “What about me?”

 “Yeah, well, I guess since you're in it she'll love you too, that's like a packaged deal.”

 

It all happens kind of suddenly, even though it likely spanned a good 20 minutes.

 

One minute she's fiddling with the way the cowl neck hangs over Naomi's so-called tits (which she has effectively managed to make look perfect as well), the next she hears the door burst open. Naomi jumps back in surprise.

 “Jesus, Ems. You and Katie should copyright that entrance. Scared the shit out of me.”

Katie looks nonplussed at the entire situation, and feels that way too. As if she's just anticipating the next minute ahead of time. Waiting for time to move. She sees her sister's gaze shift from her in joggers and a tee, to Naomi dressed to impress. She appears nothing short of utterly bewildered as she drops her rucksack in the corner with a thud.

 “What's going on?” she asks, to Katie, which seems a little odd to her since it's really Naomi who is the strange one.

It's only when she sees Naomi visibly searching for an explanation like a choking fish that she steps in. As always. “Surprise, Ems. Campbell wanted to make me jealous of you.” She grins.

The dumb cow opens her mouth, obviously to tell Emily how it's all Katie's idea so she swiftly interrupts with a lie. “We went shopping!”

Now, Emily no longer looks confused. She looks downright incredulous, suspicious even. Naomi's so flushed that she's pretty sure she's single-handedly created a new shade of red. For the first time in her life, Katie feels sympathy for Naomi's obvious lack of both a real spine and any semblance self-confidence. Her mouthiness is just compensation. Thankfully, instead of adding to the lie and making it worse, Naomi smiles. “It's for you. Like it?”

Finally, her sister loosens up and gives the blonde minger a hard look over. Twice. And then there is that glint in her eye that Katie knows all too well. It's her signal that she should leave them alone because any second they're going to be all over each other.

 “Well done, Katie,” Emily grins appreciatively without her stare leaving Naomi, as they practically fuck with their eyes. It should be sweet, she knows, but she can't help thinking how sick it is to be that in love with someone. That is, until Naomi quickly moves over to her girlfriend and kisses her so soundly that Emily looks just a tiny bit dazed when it ends. Katie's not sure she's ever been kissed like that. She wonders if it's something that takes time and experience, and builds to that point or if it had been like that since middle-school. It's hard to separate her jealousy from her depression now so she turns to retreat into Cook's room, which has kind of become hers when Naomi's not sleeping there.

Then without warning, there's another knock on the door. Very loud and unnecessary for the small flat and all the girls share similar looks of apprehension, Naomi's by far the worse she thinks.... until she sees Emily watching Naomi, and her heart plummets for them both. Katie moves towards the door, but a hand on her arm holds her back. It's Naomi, and she's shaking, but she her face looks hard as stone. She puts her hand on the knob and sighs far too loudly. She was always so dramatic.

There's so much movement and noise in such a short period of time that Katie's not really sure what's happening at first. Her only thought, and yeah, it's not the best one, is that if it's Cook, she really doesn't want to have to sleep on the fucking sofa again. Poxy piece of crap. Her fears about sleeping arrangements are confirmed however, as Naomi continues to let out this weird-as-fuck wailing kind of sound and Cook's doing some grumbling or something and she's all over him. Like, all over. And the soppy minger is actually crying. It's when the ignorant fucking cow snogs him that Katie feels like vomiting in place. Fuck this bloody hideous carpet anyway. Any inconsequential fears she had about spending another night on the uncomfortable sofa are vastly overshadowed by the pure terror about what happens now, from this moment on.

The kiss, though brief by all standards, was frantic. And it's not like there was any tongue or whatever but it just looked meaningful. And that's what terrifies her. She sneaks a glance at Emily, who has gone from a blissfully aroused state to ashen white, and looking just as nauseated as Katie feels.

There is something ending right now, she can feel it. Naomi manages to back off slightly and it's only then that the twins can really see the state of Cook. He looks far worse than she had ever seen anyone, (except maybe for the bloke in Trainspotting). He's bruised, and bloody, and just covered in what looks like a week's worth of dirt, grime and stale sick. He can barely stand, his eyes seem vacant in this light and the blonde cunt is there immediately to pull an arm over her shoulders and help him inside. In a few seconds, he turns his head slightly and gets sick over Naomi's new top.

 “Help me, Ems,” she says. It comes out probably more demanding than she intended as she struggles to hold up Cook's weight. Katie doesn't feel even remotely like she should help. There's something incredibly strong rooting her to her place by her sister's side. And Emily doesn't even flinch. There is no attempt to help Naomi or Cook, and Katie can tell by that sort of far away look that Emily is just caught re-watching slutty Naomi kiss that stupid fucking tosser, over and over.

 “Emily!”

Naomi's voice sounds ear-achingly shrill but still, neither girl moves. Eventually, she gives up imploring them to assist her and shouts a string of obscenities at Emily mostly that make Katie want to give her a proper kick to the face.

 “Piss off then! Guess being useless fucking tits runs in the family!” she shouts as she slams the bathroom door behind her and Cook.

Christ, she hates Naomi Campbell.

 

 

Emily doesn't appear to blink, let alone, move for a good 5 minutes and Katie pushes aside the notion that people can go catatonic that randomly. She gently takes her sister's cool hand and tugs. The trance is broken and Emily looks at her, her eyes so sad that Katie for once doesn't feel that bland pity rising, but a sort of connectedness; empathy. She knows what that's like now. Katie's fairly certain she can literally feel Emily's heart breaking through their connected palms.

 “I need...” Emily starts softly, almost as if she doesn't know she's even speaking. “To not...” She never finishes the sentence and Katie is confused if that is the whole of it. She watches her sister move towards the bedroom and close the door behind herself, shutting her out and shutting down. Right. That's fucking it. She warned that stupid slag what would happen if she did this, and miraculously it only took less than a day for her to totally ignore the threat. She thinks Naomi actually might be retarded. Or have some type of fucked up saddo's death wish. Because, honest to God, Katie will fuck shit up good and proper if she has to.

With this in mind, she marches towards the bathroom and throws open the door. The first thing her eye is drawn to is Naomi's new top in a pile of water and sick on the floor tile, along with Naomi's trousers and a bunch of Cook's clothes. It turns her stomach because she knows what she's going to see next. She narrows her eyes and manages to suck in a breath of surprise at the scene in front of her. It's not really what she expected.

Cook is slumped in the cramped space of the shower stall, completely naked and almost unconscious as streams of water pummel him. Naomi, crouched in the shower as well with a washcloth in one hand and soap in the other. She's in her bra and knickers, still looking as scared as she has the entire week. He feebly groans in protest every so often as she brushes over a purple bruise or an open wound. Katie realises that this situation isn't all that much better than before, there's still uncertainty and fear. Water is pooling on the floor outside the stall as Naomi has left it open for more space. A thin layer of steam is coating everything and Katie decides it must be the reason she feels so suffocated. She closes the bathroom door to keep in the heat.

It's only as the blonde scrubs away the grime that she sees the nasty red track marks lining his arm. Naomi pretends not to notice but Katie gasps a little. She follows the trail up his arms, down his chest which is battered in bruises, some fresh and some healing, until her gaze settles on what appears to be an infected gaping wound on his thigh. It's so red, and a greenish pus is dribbling out of it every so often. The caked blood around it has been there so long that even the flow of water has dislodged very little of it. It looks like he needs stitches. She thinks that they should take him to hospital. This is not right.

When Cook heaves again and lets what's left of his stomach contents escape down his chest, she finally looks at his face. Angry blackened bruises line his jaw, one eye is slightly swollen and his lip is split. She can't help but wonder how much it must hurt to have that acidic bile seeping into open sores and she's actually thankful when Naomi wipes it away from his mouth.

With a sorrowful kind of shock, Katie realises that Cook now just looks as broken on the outside as he is on the inside. And guesses that's what her insides look like as well. She feels immediately guilty for being so self-absorbed with where she was going to sleep and whatever issues Emily and Naomi are having, because, unfortunately, this time the hippie div might actually be right. There are bigger problems. He is dying, right here in this flat.

For the first time since she's entered, she attempts to move. “We should call 999,” she offers hesitantly.

It seems like Naomi's voice echoes in the small room. “No. He'll be fine.” There is a ferocity in her tone, like she needs to convince herself of the truth and Katie is taken aback at how adamant she sounds for once. She puts down the toilet lid and takes a seat, watching Naomi's meticulous cleaning. The same quiet determination is obvious in her actions.

A diluted stream of blood flows from somewhere on Cook's head and Naomi is running her hands through his soapy hair, searching desperately for the source. It's only when she's hovering above him that Cook looks Katie's way. Her eyes catch his there is a spark of recognition and she feels warm. But a wince and a groan are enough to distract him as Naomi finds the source of the bleed. Katie knows that's not the same way Cook looks at Naomi and feels stupid for even guessing otherwise. And as she watches Naomi too, she realises that Emily's fears are unfounded. Naomi is as fiercely loyal to her friends, and over-protective of them, as one of those mother lions on the telly is. This isn't sexual, and it's not love. Well, it's love, but a different kind. It's the kind she loves Emily with, and it's the reason Naomi made than comparison earlier.

Why does the fucking tit have to be right all the time?

 “Head wounds always look worse than they are,” Katie states, trying for some semblance of calm. Naomi doesn't say anything in response, but she nods, before looking down at the dirty washcloth and then back where her hand is cupping the side of Cook's skull.

 “I need to get another facecloth,” she says distantly as she steps out of the stall, completely unconcerned with modesty or the fact Katie can see right through her wet white knickers. She's on a different plane at the moment. Katie tosses a towel in her direction.

 “Cover up. You'll catch cold,” she chides as Naomi wraps it round herself. Katie wonders when she started to care about these two twats, but as the taller girl leaves the room in search of clean washcloths, Katie strips off her joggers and steps into the shower, ignoring the fact her t-shirt is getting soaked and feeling the cool water against her back. She twists the knob further and hot water once again spurts out. She crouches down across from the boy who seemed so invincible in college. Picking up the soiled washcloth, she lathers it up starts scrubbing away dirt from his abdomen. She considers letting Naomi do it all, but somehow she thinks it will be best if she tackles this part, especially in light of her sister's insecurities. She had no doubt Naomi regarded Cook in a purely clinical sense at the moment, but Emily likely wouldn't understand that. That girl just cared too much about everything, which forced her to see meaning where there wasn't any. She moves the washcloth to Cook's groin and begins to clean away what is undoubtedly stale, caked-on piss and spunk, mixed with other substances she probably wouldn't want to identify. She's careful not to aggravate any cuts and bruises he has, and apologises quietly when he flinches as the soap stings a sore.

 “Miss'd you,” he slurs, almost unintelligibly, but his eyes are strangely clear. She's sure he hasn't said as much to even Naomi yet. She chuckles slightly.

 “You're just saying that cos my hand is on your cock again,” she volleys back.

Suddenly the shower sounds incredibly loud because she can't quite make out what he said but she's pretty certain it was something along the lines of “You're more than that, Kate.” It strikes her that having such tender feelings for him, especially given their current state, is weird but at the same time oddly right. She ignores the blush rising to her face, and moves to wash around his terrible looking leg wound. His muscles visibly react when she gets near to the inflamed skin. She opts instead to work on his other leg until it's clean down to his toes. Rocking back on her heels, she merely stares at him through the spray of water and steam. “You should come back to Bristol with me,” she suggests, taken aback just as much as he undoubtedly is at her request. She changes the subject completely to hide any rejection she may face.

 “Why did you do this?” she asks softly because she really wants to know what pushes a person to this edge. He shakes his head wordlessly, groaning a little with the serious turn in conversation. With his reluctance obvious, she grabs hold of his scarred arm and pokes at the track marks. He flinches again. “Why did you do this?” she demands, less forgiving than the last time.

For a moment, she thinks she sees fear. Then shame. Then just pain. “Effy.”

It's the first time anyone's mentioned her in quite a while, even though she knows that fucked up girl has been on everyone's mind lately.

 “I saw her,” he whispers, just above the crashing of the water. “I just...”

Katie's not sure she understands, not yet anyway. “What did you do?” She is honestly afraid of the answer.

 “Everything,” he states plainly, his head lolling back against the tile as a dry heave racks his body. “Almost worked too,” he adds sadly and the awareness of exactly what he means feels like a slap across Katie's face. She really doesn't want the answer but knows that she has to ask.

 “How many times?”

He holds up two fingers, and that alone seems like far too much effort for him. She wants to have a proper conversation about this, about how he tried to kill himself – twice – with drugs, and god knows what else by the looks of him. She knows it was the drugs that made him feel like he could escape, like he could actually see fucking Effy Stonem in all her anorexic, depressing glory. She knows how lucky it is to overdose to the extent that it was obvious he went to, and not die, especially twice within a week. He should be fucking ecstatic to be alive, but here he was, a pathetic shriveled mess, bleeding out in a shitty East London flat with a girl who, up until about a week ago was repulsed by him. She's irrationally angry suddenly. Like, who the fuck does he think he is? Putting her sister and that huge blonde monster through all this. Making her kind of fucking fall for him a little bit and then just trying to off himself like all of it means absolutely fucking shit. She's boiling with barely contained rage.

 “What made you give up and come back here?” Her tone is unforgiving because right now, she doesn't feel he deserves pity. “Quitter.”

He rolls his head again, and there's that insufferable hint of a grin. “She doesn't want me anymore.”

It takes her a few moments to piece together his story and realises he's been talking to imaginary ghosts for a whole week, ghosts that told him not to go. That makes her feel the sorrow seeping into her bones. “Yeah, well, there are people who do. Like, real living people.”

As if waiting for the perfect moment to return, Naomi comes back into the bathroom with a pile of facecloths, drops her towel and tosses a bunch of tea towels over the small flood on the floor. She studies Katie for a few seconds, taking in not only her lack of trousers, but her still adorned wet t-shirt (and wicked tiger-striped hot pants), squatting in the shower with Cook. For once, she actually keeps her gob shut and stands aside as Katie steps out, pulling a free towel around her shoulders. Naomi's back by his side in an instant, pressing dry cloths rather fruitlessly to his head wound. Katie gathers all the discarded clothes into a nearby washing basket and carries them out, kicking the door closed behind her.

Both she and Naomi eventually help Cook to his bed, which she has graciously stripped and remade for him while Naomi was finishing cleaning him. Emily still hasn't come out of her room and the stress of the day has made itself entirely too evident on the blonde's face. She looks like death herself as she mutely leaves the bedroom, surprisingly not crawling into bed beside her best mate. Katie finds her on the sofa, where she has been for the last week. It's like nothing has actually changed, and part of that, Katie guesses, is because Naomi sort of wishes it hadn't. Because then Emily wouldn't have closed herself off in the bedroom and her life wouldn't suddenly be falling apart at her feet. Katie sinks down on the other end.

 “You really need to get him to hospital, you know. His leg –.”

The blonde cuts her off. “I know.”

Katie chews on her lip for a moment, contemplating her next sentence. “It's going to be fine, yeah.” And Naomi snorts and shakes her head as if that is a ridiculous notion. She glances at the closed room she shares with Emily.

 “It hasn't been for a while,” she muses sadly and it bewilders Katie that Naomi's known the whole time that her relationship is cracking, and yet did nothing to try to fix things. It's with an odd sense of camaraderie that Katie feels slightly upset with her sister for not being out here. First of all, it's not Katie's place to be comforting the stubborn prat, and secondly, Naomi looks like she could really, really use her right now. It's never been so obvious how much Naomi needs Emily.

 “So fix it.”

Naomi reacts as if Katie has just said that the Prime Minister has bought a gas-guzzling, environmentally-murderous SUV for everyone in England and passed a law that they all must be driven. It's the same kind of abject horror at the thought. Katie feels annoyed by the response.

 “Or don't. And throw away the only person who will ever love your cowardly, colour-blind arse, I don't care. She fucking loves you, and unless you're some sort of brilliant pathological liar, you love her too. We've all gone through this shit before and it got fixed in the end. But I really don't think Ems is going to be quite the same this time.” And she honestly doesn't. Something about everything feels final. And Naomi may be a raging bitch 99% of the time and a master of hiding the affection she feels in public, but Katie has no doubt that she's full on in love with her sister.

The other girl sighs, defeated and nods almost imperceptibly. Katie honestly can't believe she's giving good relationship advice to one of the banes of her existence. It's so bloody backwards.

Almost in an attempt to prove her wrong, Emily emerges from the bedroom with red, puffy eyes but a hard, cold look on her face. She's toting two large bags. Katie recognises one as her own and thinks it's rather ludicrous to be kicking her out now.

 “Come on, Katie.” Emily's voice is distant, as if she's completely disassociated herself from her body.

 “What?” She's just as baffled as Naomi appears, though less terrified. “Sit down, Ems.”

 “No, Katie. I packed your stuff. We can get the rest later. We need to go.” She pauses and looks directly at her girlfriend. “Now.”

Emily makes it almost all the way to the door by the time Naomi summons the courage to stand up. Katie's not sure what's happening right now, but Emily's her sister so she looks around for her jacket and trainers in the piles of mess that have been building up over the past few days.

 “Emily.

The voice makes both girls pause and turn towards the blonde.

 “What are you doing?” Her voice trembles noticeably with the question, and if Katie thought Naomi was bad when Cook was missing, she takes it back now because she knows this is going to get a million times worse.

 “Leaving,” comes Emily's curt answer, wiggling into her shoes. “Not that you would care.”

That comment flicks Naomi's bitch switch apparently. “What the fuck, Emily?!” Naomi's glaring at her sister with such contempt that Katie is amazed that she can push down her emotions that easily. “What's your problem this time?”

It's going to be a blow out, Katie senses and she really doesn't want to be party to it. She's not sure she can watch three lives crumble to dust in one day.

 “It doesn't matter now,” Emily states and a chill runs down Katie's spine. She's never seen her sister be quite as callous as she is at the moment.

 “Like fuck it doesn't matter,” Naomi snarls back, losing the battle of who can be the most apathetic, by a long shot. It's only a small gain for Emily however, because in an almost instantaneous way, she screams back, breaking her ice-queen resolve.

 “You kissed him!” Her voice breaks painfully.

The sound silences Naomi for a minute. “So what?” She seems utterly confused at the issue, until her irritation comes to the forefront. “Are you shitting me?”

Emily doesn't respond but crosses her arms across her chest defiantly, challenging Naomi to explain herself. Katie knows her twin however, and there is a barrage of tears built up behind her brown eyes that are reaching a critical point. Naomi doesn't seem to notice, not really a surprise there. She's too absorbed in her own anger and disbelief.

 “You really think I would snog him the same way I do you? You're being fucking absurd.” Her tone is far too acerbic to be any kind of hidden apology, or explanation even.

Katie's attention flicks back to her sister and the constant back and forth is doing her head in. It's like watching the most horrible tennis match ever, and she's certain there isn't going to be a winner either. Though, maybe that's for the best. At least it would finally break this cycle of mistrust and hurt. Emily can be free. When there's still no verbal response from Emily, her girlfriend snaps.

 “You know I bloody love you!”

And before Naomi's even finished the sentence, Emily begins to shake her head sadly. “Don't you see, Nae? That's not enough. Not anymore.” She holds her composure magnificently, Katie muses. Naomi just scoffs at Emily's words so she continues. “You can't do this. I can't do this with you anymore.”

Cook appears in the doorframe of his bedroom, scratching at his scalp and squinting around.

 “He's a drug dealer, okay?” Emily finally shouts and pokes two fingers at Cook, who looks completely lost as to why he's being dragged into something like this. “He doesn't have a fucking job. And you just let it slide, like you let everything fucking slide now, Naomi. You just don't care. So you can love me all you want, but if you don't care about me – about anything other than saving him – it's worthless. He's not your dad. You can't just cling to him and keep safe knowing he'll never leave you, cos he's too bloody dependent on you. It's just manipulative and wrong.”

It's hard to tell exactly what piece of that Naomi is reacting to at the moment but she looks briefly at Cook, who is now rooting around for what Katie can only assume is leftover weed, and then back to Emily with this kind of unreadable expression. Something between shock and disappointment, with a little fear mixed in. In fact, she looks betrayed. Cook shuffles back to his bedroom but not without Katie catching the guilt all over his bruised face.

 “Goodbye, Naomi.”

Naomi doesn't respond to Emily. Doesn't even attempt to, so the younger girl bends down, lifts her bag over her shoulder, and nods for Katie to follow. She's out the door before even Katie has time to protest.

At that moment she sees Naomi collapse slowly to the carpet in a dazed kind of shock. Katie hovers a moment as watches the scene unfold. It's so surreal to see sodding Naomi Campbell of all people in this state. Forlorn, painfully vulnerable and completely shattered. There is a heave of the blonde's shoulders as a huge sob finally breaks free and she buries her face in her hands. The picture of Naomi, broken beyond belief and sobbing in a heap on the floor, is the last thing she sees. The sounds of her choked cries are the last thing she hears as she closes the door.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Recovery was slow. The hospital queue even longer it seemed but within a few days, about 20 staples, and some very helpful “medicinal” (if slightly illegal) marijuana he was able to ignore the throbbing pain in his extremities and focus instead on making soup and bringing it to Blondie in bed, who spent a great deal of her time wallowing. She was in much the same state he was, just utterly defeated. She hadn't really done much of anything since Emily walked out on her, and as ironic as Emily's statements were, he is actually the one taking care of his best mate. Not the other way around. Plus, he feels ridiculously shit about the whole situation.

They had spoken, he and Naomi. About the night he saw, or rather hallucinated, Effy standing in the rain. It had been a difficult conversation, bringing up old demons that they had both thought were gone and buried. He told her about getting hit by the car, and making his way not to casualty, but a mate's place who offered pills and IV morphine instead. He doesn't remember very much after that, except the constant injections and the substantial mixture of every Class A he could procure in that disgusting squat. And hell, every B and C as well. He wasn't picky. His mobile had been crushed in the accident.

She hadn't looked upset at his admissions, just lost. Helpless. So he told her about seeing Effy again in the haze of opiates and hallucinogens, wanting to be with her so desperately and doing line after line of whatever powder he found until his heart felt like it was being shredded and crunched and he vomited up blood before passing out for what he could only assume was at least a day. It had felt like a failure, like Effy would not be proud of that. So he had tried again. Somewhere in the blur, he was offered an opportunity for speedballing, which, well, fuck it, why not? The smack was top notch, and the high fucking indescribable. But he hadn't seen Effy then. He's still not sure how many days he spent fluctuating back and forth from the skag and various other drugs to borderline sobriety. As the comedowns got worse, he decided in one particular rut between episodes of being sick, to go for it again. Packing his rig for the speedball of his fucking life (and his second of day, he supposed), he had made a decision.

Naomi had begun to cry at this point in his narrative and he had to pause, but had no idea what to say to her. Comfort just wasn't possible. He had needed to continue so she let him.

After sitting and staring at the syringe, he doesn't remember much, monging out to a magnificent state. He knows that needle poked his vein. He knows the crisp buzz, followed by a sublime brown rush. And he knows for certain that Effy was there. Somewhere. Possibly even before he decided that the mushrooms and infinitely more lines of coke would be a brilliant idea. He couldn't make her leave and he couldn't make her stay. It had been like a constant tug-of-war. There was the best feeling of his life, followed only shortly thereafter by the worst. Convinced he was slowly dying, he swore he had seen his life flowing out through his fingertips. And he had heard voices sometime later in that ephemeral dreamstate. One, he was certain, had been Eff telling him to fuck off and stop being a shithead, that they were over now. Apparently there had been more seizures, that horrible feeling of a strangled heart and blood in his mouth. And that's how he ended up banging down the flat door.

After the conversation had ended, Naomi said very little. She had just stared and said she was glad he made it home. Until she asked if he had been trying to kill himself. The answer was harder to admit to her than to Katie, from what he remembers of their shower conversation. It was just better in that blissful place, close to God, Effy, whatever. It was better than the fucked up shit life he had been living. Yeah, ODing would be the easiest way. The pained look that had taken over Naomi's features was enough to immediately regret telling her the truth.

 

And now he lies down next to her, pulling the duvet over them both and settling into yet another evening of dull silence.

 “You need to get tested,” she finally mumbles into the darkness.

He sighs. “Not really an issue.”

 “Like fuck it's not,” she hisses, although only halfheartedly. “You're pumping shit into yourself in a squat, Cook.”

He laughs. “Babe, they may be addicts, but they're not complete mongs. It was all clean.”

 “Debatable,” she growls. “You'd better go. I need to know. You bled everywhere.” There is definitely fear in the tremble of her voice and he decides to give in even though he is certain there is nothing to worry about. Absolutely 100%. But it couldn't hurt if it sets her mind at ease.

 “Fine, Blondie. We'll do it your way, like always,” he says with a chuckle, feeling in better spirits than he has been for a while, since well, since little Katie Fitch had one of the most massive, flailing orgasms he'd ever had the pleasure of giving another person. Yeah, he was a sodding oral rockstar.

They fall into another period of silence. And he's not sure if it's the right time, if there ever will be a right time for this, but it needs to be done.

 “I'm going home,” he whispers to the air, barely audible.

He can feel Naomi shift around until he knows she's staring the best she can in the dark, trying to figure out how to react. The least likely of his predicted outcomes happens.

 “But, you are home.” She sounds like a child, lost and confused. He shakes his head, grimacing as his healing head wound rubs a little to hard against the pillow.

 “Bristol home.”

 “For how long?”

The question sends sparks of guilt and regret throughout his body and he knows he has to answer truthfully. “Indefinitely.” He reaches over and grasps for her hand, finding it easily, like it's second-nature. He's going to miss that. He knows that as much as he thinks he's going to miss her now, when the first night back in Bristol comes, that pain is only going to pale in comparison. No one in his life has ever believed, trusted in him the way she does and he feels like he's somehow betraying that now, which only adds to guilt of the feeling he broke up her relationship with the munchkin. Resisting the urge to just take it all back, he grips her hand harder. “I love you, you know that, Blondie. You're my best mate. I wouldn't go if I didn't have to.”

 “You don't,” she interrupts. “If it's about the drugs, we can get help here.”

He sighs, feeling himself unravelling in light of her desperation. “It's not the drugs, babes. You just gotta take care of shit sometimes.”

It's amazing how he can predict the coming moments, the way her body tenses with indignation and she begins to protest. “No. You don't get to leave me too. No, James, you bloody don't,” she pleads, her voice breaking. He reaches for her but she pulls away, a firm hand pushing against his sore chest. It's a warning.

He wants to explain it all too her. Katie's offer, the need to get away from this hole and his dead end in London, the way he believes answers wait in the murky harbour water, in the colourful houses of Totterdown and in the freedom of standing in the middle of Clifton bridge. But that all sounds fucking cheesy and gay so he doesn't say it out loud. “I'm not leaving you, I'm going home.”

 “Did you have a thought about what happens to me? I'm completely alone, and soon to be fucking homeless cos my savings can't pay for this flat alone.”

He wants to ask if he was merely a source of income but knows better. If she were more angry than just scared, he probably would have done. “Of course I thought about you, you twat. I'm doing this for you. I'm just holding you back here.”

 The tremble in her voice is far more pronounced now. “No, you're not. You don't...” But they both know better, have for a while, and hearing it spoken aloud has just made it all the more real. He can tell Naomi's mind is whirling with objections, arguments to prove him wrong. But as a testament to his truths, she never actually voices any of them. They know they became mates because of pain and heartbreak, then they rallied together as best mates, chaining their souls together, when Effy left, if only because it was harder for her to drag both of them with her at the same time. But she's really gone now, she doesn't want to tear them from this world, and he's not afraid anymore. Blondie has yet to realise this herself. He just wants her to be happy, and the one person who makes her genuinely blissful has walked out because of him.

He hopes this olive branch will help. “Kate's coming round tomorrow, with your Ems, yeah? Sort it.”

There's an intake of breath on from the girl. “How do you know?” She's suspicious. It's better than angry, and much better than crying.

 “I nicked your mobile when you were sleeping,” he admits and watches her snatch it from the beside and scroll through the call history, her face illuminated in a blue glow. She frowns harder, then shoves it in his face.

He tries to focus on what she's showing him but can't since she won't stop waving it at him. “You spoke for 34 minutes to Katie?! You're buying me more credit.” She pauses for a moment. “Such a tosser.”

Her insults are common enough behaviour so he takes them in stride and curls up around her, ignoring her feeble attempts to ward him off. He knows she's relieved that Emily's coming round. “Just so you know, I know I'm not your substitute dad. Ems is talking bollocks. I'd never leave you if you weren't ready to let go.” When he feels her relax, and then nod off, he allows himself to sleep as well.

  

 

 


 

 

The afternoon arrives without much fuss but he can tell Blondie's so nervous she's going to piss herself in a minute. Offering her a spliff, which she obviously declines, he sits back in his chair and tries to concentrate on the programme about horses. He doesn't even like horses particularly but Naomi has some sort of coursework about animal cruelty to work on and decided a more fruitful (and rapid) approach to research would be watching documentaries instead of reading. He can tell she's barely registering what's happening on the TV screen. The way she's chewing on her bottom lip is a telltale sign. It figures that as soon as she gets up to put on the kettle, a key turns in the lock and the Fitches step into the room. He only affords Emily a short glance because he's still a little pissed off at her for going off on Naomi yesterday, and for her obvious lack of concern for him. It's peevish but he can't help it. Katie, however, looks well buff and he has an honest moment of confusion about how he never really noticed before. She was always a set of great tits, but he could see all over her now and while she doesn't present the manipulative air of challenge Eff had, she is still a complete and proper stunner. They both stand somewhat awkwardly in on the other side of the room, waiting for Cook to say something welcoming. He looks back to Emily, fidgeting in place. He recognises, with some resignation, that she hasn't brought her overnight bag with her. It's a sign that they don't plan on staying. He shrugs at her.

 “What do you want, Emsy, an invitation? It's your place an' all, mate,” he says carefully, making sure no more callousness comes out than necessary. She huffs in irritation at his attitude and makes her way to the kitchen, somehow knowing Naomi is hiding in there. Katie takes a seat on the sofa and winces.

They can hear the sound of talking above the drone of the television, which at this point is showing kill pens and horse slaughterhouses. Not the best choice of entertainment. He listens for Naomi's voice. At least they're not screaming at each other. Yet. He takes a long look at Katie and she catches him.

She smirks. “If you're wondering, I talked some sense into her last night. I told her about you coming back with me as well. Don't worry so hard about Naomi. She's in good hands.”

He's not sure if she means Emily's or her own. He wonders if Katie Fitch is magic because despite Effy (and himself) pulling everything apart, she's kind of brilliant at putting it all back together again. Like it doesn't take any effort at all.

 “Safe,” he says absently, trying to figure out how to move over to the sofa without looking like a desperate pillock. Fuck it. That's never stopped him before. But he doesn't get the chance to make a move. A loud crash is heard from the kitchen and his stomach drops and Katie's eyes widen in confusion. She jumps up from the sofa with her back ramrod straight, shoulders squared for a confrontation. But there's no screaming. Cook grins and stands slowly, and waves at Katie to sit back down.

 “Unless you want nightmares, sit your fit arse down. I'll check on them.” He moves carefully towards the other room, like it's all some sort of spy game. Poking his head around the doorway, he sees what he expected: Ems, her back to him, is propped up on the kitchen table with her knickers dangling around an ankle and her skirt hiked up around her waist, and his best mate with her top lost somewhere as they snog languidly. That much is a relief. It isn't the frenzied fuck of regretful mistakes. More like the slow, dedicated act of redemption. He watches as Naomi pulls back and whispers something intently, cupping her face with both hands. Emily barely nods but he can hear her say “You really scared me, Nae,” before she pulls Naomi's lips towards her again. The pot of leftover pasta has rolled across the floor, and some of the hardened noodles have spilled out.

 “Cook!” Katie calls loudly and he stops his contemplation of the pasta pot. “Stop perving then.” He slinks back over to the sitting area and slouches down next to her. It's almost like a week earlier, except he feels possibly even more lonely now knowing what he has to do in the coming days. This time Katie reaches over and links their fingers together.

 “I guess this means you want to call me 'James' now, yeah? Or some other soppy crap name.”

She chuckles. “We're not there yet, babes.”

He thinks that's as good as a promise.

 

 

 


 

 

It takes a week and a half to tie up all loose ends in London, and pack what little of his shit he's bringing home to Bristol. He knows tonight and tomorrow morning are going to be the hardest hours of this new adventure. He's decided no drugs, no excessive drink; not tonight. He wants a clear mind and a clear memory, even if there was nothing quite like the brand of hilarity that ensued when Naomi and Katie got pissed and started yipping at each other. Things have calmed down substantially in the wake of the past few weeks, and he's thankful to see the smile back on Blondie's face, and the way she can evoke that crinkle in Little Fitch's nose when she giggles. He's not stupid though, and there's still tension deep down but he honestly thinks they are possibly in an even better place than before Katie visited, because there's something she does that slaps bandages over everything, helping it heal. Literally and figuratively, obviously because Blondie's been little to no help in that department since she's been so preoccupied with uni again, and shagging her girlfriend during all her free time. And good on her for that, because he doesn't think he has ever – even in college – seen Ems look quite so bloody satisfied. They're moving to a smaller flat soon, something that is completely theirs and free from haunting memories of this one. And he thinks of the secret trip he and Naomi made to Hatton Garden and wonders what will come of that.

With a clang, he dumps a handful of cutlery onto the kitchen table, sliding it all around to bracket the plates. Katie is beside him setting up rather nice and delicate wine glasses he can swear never existed in this flat before. He knows. He would have taken great joy in hurling them around. They're silent, as they tend to be often in the last few days and he knows it's because they've both stepped into an area of life that was previously blurry and unimaginable. Tomorrow is the start of something, and that's enough to scare them both into silence.

It's pretty lucky that they have Naomi to constantly prattle on about some boring-arse issue of the day. The girl likes to go on... as she is at the moment while she checks on the boiling potatoes. It is possibly about the success of Malawi in implementing fertilizer subsidiaries despite IMF restrictions, or maybe about the Japanese poaching of whales for human consumption in the Antarctic under the guise of scientific research, or even the effect of burning petrol on climate change in the fucking highlands of bloody Scotland and how it makes all the sheep cry. He has no clue, but it doesn't really matter because it's the same kind of thing she always rants about. It's almost the same as putting on talk radio, but at least that has advert breaks. Meanwhile, Ems is just sitting in a chair, staring at her blathering on and on and on, her eyes sparkling.

“Careful there Ems, swoon much harder and you'll fall off your seat,” he comments with a wink, and a blush rises to her cheeks.

Almost immediately, he feels a hot, wet chunk hit his head and hears it drop with a plop to the tile. Looking down, he sees a potato and glares at Naomi, who has a rather large serving spoon in her hand and a smug grin on her face. “Oi, wanker, if she wants to swoon at my feet, she can,” she states simply, glancing at her girlfriend. “I'm very swoon-worthy.”

Katie makes a gross snort-like sound beside him, and he laughs. Naomi's just narrowed her eyes at the brunette and Emily's flushed darker, suddenly finding the placemat incredibly interesting.

 “Aw, look, you guys, stop it. You're embarrassing my little sister,” Katie says with mock sweetness, refraining from letting go of the chuckle that's in her throat.

 “Just shut up,” Emily growls under her breath. Blondie takes the opportunity to start up about something else completely unrelated and probably important for the well-being of the planet until the meal is ready and on the table. Then she just begins what he assumes to a hippie would be a tremendously exciting and informative one-sided conversation about the profitability of organic farming in the southwest of England, pointedly talking about Bristol's obvious inclination towards this trend. It's a little hard to make out however when her gob is stuffed with veg.

He doesn't tell her to stop though because it's likely the last time he'll hear her voice in person for a while.

It seems wrong somehow to not get marvellously fucked up on his final night in London but they persevere anyway, choosing to relax in the sitting room with a DVD. Everyone immediately vetoes Blondie's choice and she slumps sullenly into the sofa cushions until Ems snuggles up to her, whispers something that is obviously filthy in her ear and she brightens instantaneously. He doesn't even want to know anymore. Katie, after watching them for a moment, smirks and raises an eyebrow in his direction. He taps the side of his nose and chuckles. He's still surprised at the ease of their even silent conversations.

  

That night, Naomi climbs into bed with him. Katie takes the sofa, and Emily agreeably sleeps alone. It's magic, really. As the quiet descends over the flat, he can feel his best mate fidget and shuffle about in the sheets. They don't speak either. She merely reaches out and spoons up behind him, like so many times when he'd have nightmares about Effy.

Sometime around half 3, he feels the dusting of a kiss to his cheek and then the mattress springs free of her weight. He can hear her careful footfalls all the way back to her own bedroom and he knows at that exact moment that he's made the right decision to leave. Things change. They move. Time is the unstoppable force, and therefore no immovable object can exist.

In the morning, he wakes to a head of wavy brunette hair tickling his nostrils and he doesn't feel lonely. He doesn't think of Effy, or Naomi.

 

 

  


 

 

At Paddington, Ems insists that none of them focus on goodbyes, because that is ridiculous. It helps a little bit and as he's sitting on the train, watching Reading, then the Didcot Power Station, then cottages of Bath fly by, he reminds himself of this. It's not goodbye. Beside him, Katie blathers on about how she's glad to be heading back to Bristol since lezzers are way too insane and emotional for her. She says something about how she doesn't know how he put up with Ems and Naomi for so long. He's not sure either, but at this moment he sort of would rather be back in that flat with the overdramatic muff-munchers because the thought of Bristol is terrifying him suddenly. Katie grabs his hand tightly as they pull into Temple Meads.

“Right,” he says, quelling the trepidation in his voice and echoing, almost wistfully, the exact phrase from years ago. “Let's go fucking mental.”

 

  

 


 

 

He doesn't go there right away.

He doesn't really do much of anything those first few days back. He's not sure what to do, who to see, or whether this is a good idea at all. So, instead of any particular mission, he wanders through Clifton, up Brandon Hill, climbs over the graffiti-covered barricade at Cabot Tower and smokes half a spliff in the dilapidated structure. It brings back wisps of memories but not as pleasant a feeling as he had hoped. Then he strolls down Park St. to the green, past the fountains and Oceana and to the harbourside. There are other young punks drinking lagers on the green, and other young slags sneaking cigarettes by the water's edge and he's struck with the terrible realisation that he doesn't really belong anywhere anymore. Nowhere really feels like home. He's thankful that Kate found him a mate of hers that he could kip with for a bit, since everyone he knows has either moved out of this shit town or changed their numbers. But that's not going to last forever, and with no job, no money, no family and no flat to go back to in London, he's pretty sure he's fucked this up well and proper.

Growing bored of feeling like a stranger in his home, he fucks off back into the areas of Bristol that he's familiar with, past old homes of old mates, old grammar schools he was expelled from, and ends up in a diner that serves all day greasy brekky and horrible coffee with a 'Help Wanted' sign in the window. It's better than the library, or Cabot Circus or some lame shit like that.

There's that niggling thought again. He knows he needs to go there soon. It's the only way but the truth is he's afraid to go alone, afraid that if he finally goes, he won't want to leave. He'll just dig a big hole right beside her and cover himself up until the worms eat him to death. But he's already lied to Katie and said he's gone and done it, so he can't ask her. Not to mention she seems busy constantly now, making up shifts at work, and getting grilled every night from her parents about Emily's well-being.

He can see the pavement outside slowly growing darker with rain and realises the walk he has ahead of him just to get back to that bloke's flat he's staying with. Maybe it just won't ever stop. It'll flood the Avon and wash this whole fucking city, and him, away to the bloody ocean once and for all. That would be a happy day.

His new mobile vibrating in his pocket rouses him from his apocalyptic musings. It's a text from Katie and for once, he sighs in relief. She tells him where to meet her. She's off work in 20 minutes.

 

 

Castle Park in the pissing rain seems like an odd choice and he's stuck standing under a less than sheltering tree until she arrives with the biggest, pinkest fucking umbrella he's ever seen and a Primark shopping bag with something large in it. It's where she works so that's not surprising in itself. She smiles at him as she approaches and he's surprised to feel his heart skip a beat, because that kind of fairy shit doesn't happen to James Cook. That's for birds like Emily who sit around reading fables about princesses and whatever, singing sodding Disney songs in the shower (Yeah, he's heard her). He doesn't say anything at first, mostly because he's trying to remember how to speak. It's bloody freezing outside. It's frozen his mouth. That's it.

 “You're all right, babe?” she says in a particularly perky way considering the weather. He merely nods as she nods towards the road. “Didn't think it would be coming down like this. Sorry.” Almost effortlessly, she extends her arm, allowing him under the umbrella. He feels a weight on his chest, like he used to feel when Effy was with Freds. Like, he wants to do something and just can't.

He wants to kiss her. And the intensity of this is what scares him because he is used to wanting to shag girls, come on their tits, do whatever filthy thing they want to try. But not just snog them. Not since Effy. It's fucking distracting. Plus, it's fucking stupid since they aren't really anything right now probably. She hasn't tried to snog him either since they got off the train days ago. She's holding something back. He doesn't understand what that's supposed to mean and he's a little ticked off that she doesn't just come out with it.

Under the awnings of the Mall, she pulls out a jacket from the bag and hands it to him silently. Shrugging out of his rain-soaked hoodie, he pulls it over his shoulders. It fits. But he has no idea what to say in response. He doesn't receive gifts. To be honest, the gesture makes him uncomfortable because he's not sure what he's supposed to give back. “Thanks,” he manages to mumble.

 “Jesus, you're about as ungrateful as Campbell,” she chides but doesn't attempt to hide the laughter in her voice. “Don't be so shocked. It's your welcome home present, yeah.”

When he bursts forward and kisses her, she stumbles back slightly before catching herself. And she doesn't pull away, or swat him off her like he was so accustomed to. He reckons that snogging Katie Fitch in the rain is possibly the most romantic thing he's ever done. It sure feels like it.

Until she does pull away, a perplexed expression on her slightly flushed face and a somewhat dazed expression that betrays the near invisible quirk of a suppressed grin. “We need to go somewhere,” she states, ignoring what just happened and he knows exactly where she wants to go.

 “Oi, Kates,” he calls as she begins walking away, “I just snogged your face off and that's what you've to say?”

 “Charming. Really,” she retorts and turns, waiting for him to jog up beside her and duck under the umbrella. She doesn't say anything else until they hop on the bus. And that is only to talk to the driver briefly.

He doesn't need to ask where she's taking him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Katie Fitch is not fucking stupid. She can tell when someone is blatantly lying to her face, likely a by-product of blatantly lying to other people's faces for so long. So, as she and Cook had sat at Big Bang (surely to make Naomi proud in spirit) poking at sausages and mash, and he told her he had been to see Effy already, she naturally didn't believe a word of it. Firstly because the tosser still couldn't bring himself to say the word “grave” and secondly, because he couldn't meet her eyes for a good 2 minutes afterward. Now, she could have chosen a better day to traipse out to bloody Bedminster Down but best just to rip the bandage off, yeah? Plus, the weather is eerily fitting, she decides as she and Cook huddle closer together under the umbrella that she had purchased specifically for this purpose. She couldn't help it if they only had bright pink left in stock. It never hurts to be fashionable, even in a cemetery.

He hasn't said a word since they got on the bus and she can tell just by his gait, the slump of his shoulders like he's carrying a ridiculously heavy burden, that she was right when she guessed he had been lying to her. She knows where she's going, almost by heart, but just in case, she has a map Panda scribbled for her in her pocket. In fact, the first time she came here, it had been Pandora's idea at a house party one night and while that hadn't been sombre particularly (mostly because Katie was half in the bag already and tripped over twice during the trek) it had been enough to make her breathe shallowly and suddenly wish to be anywhere else. Staring blearily at Effy's tombstone in the moonlight, standing beside a strangely silent and pensive Panda, was the stuff of nightmares. She had then gone back, alone, a few days later in the dim overcast afternoon, and got lost, just to rid her memory of that night. She decided two days ago to take Cook in the daytime.

It's an unassuming plot, and strangely uncharacteristic of Effy Stonem. It makes absolutely no impression whatsoever on passersby and Cook must be thinking the same because as they draw in front he hums a little and asks, “That's it?”

She nods, taking in again, the engraved title of “Elizabeth Stonem”. Not even that seems right. It seems to anger Cook more than anything. “Who the fuck is that? When has anyone ever called her that?”

 “Cook,” she warns softly. She knows from Emily that he had never made it there after the service, and that was well over a year ago. Neither had Naomi. He ignores her and moves out from her fuchsia shelter, walking right up to the gravestone. The moment he's there however, any anger he had seems to dissipate immediately. He crouches down and just... stares. She's not sure how long he stays there, in the pouring rain, just gazing at the piece of rock but his new jacket is soaked through and his hair dripping. She reaches into her bag for her next gift and walks up behind him.

 “It's done, ain't it, babe?” he asks and she realises he's not speaking to her at all. The knowledge seems to knock him over because he collapses backward, falling on his arse in the wet grass, and still just staring ahead. “This is real.” With a gentle tap on his shoulder, Katie hands him a bottle of Beck's which he accepts almost too eagerly, chugging back half with impressive ease. She sips on her own.

Without warning he leaps to his feet and she stumbles backward to get out of the way. Within a few more seconds he's hurled his bottle at the stone and it shatters loudly. Turning wildly on her, he grabs her own drink and does the same, drenching the grave in lager, before kicking haphazardly at the sod and flowers, before laying a few hard kicks to the stone itself like he wants to destroy it.

She's seen Cook in all sorts of conditions now. Ecstatic, broken, excited, solemn, and now, full of rage. None of it is surprising any longer.

 “You stupid fucking bitch!” His voice cracks multiple times, betrayed by the weakness inside. “You stupid, stupid fucking bitch.” He's screaming at Effy now, not her. She merely watches from a safe distance, waiting. He yells out something unintelligible, before dropping to the ground again, mud covering his trousers and likely slashing his knees on broken glass. And so she calls to him.

 “Cook.” 

He turns quickly, as if he forgot about her presence and his eyes reflect a kind of longing sadness. She shimmies the carrier bag onto her arm and holds out her hand for him. It's like grief turns humans into wild animals, she thinks, because the look he gives her is so utterly confused and cautious, it breaks her heart a little. It's like he doesn't even recognise her as a friend. But she never waivers, never lets her arm go limp. Eventually, he stands on shaking limbs and reaches for her offer. She's surprised to see that he isn't crying, or at least, she can't tell if he is with all the rain.

 “Sorry I nicked your lager,” he says pensively almost. As if she's really all that concerned about a little bit of beer after that display.

 “It's fine.” And it is.

They stand in silence, surveying the slight damage he's done and Katie reckons the broken beer bottles and mucked up earth are strangely fitting for a grave that otherwise said nothing about the Effy Stonem the world knew. She doesn't need to ask him if he's feeling better. His back is straighter, his chin held a little higher, like he's seen something new. A challenge. He reaches into his trouser pocket and fishes out his mobile. She peers over to see him punch in Naomi's number and 'u should do this 1 day' then hit 'Send'. He stuffs the phone back and stares again ahead of him.

After a few more moments of this contemplative silence, he glances at her. “Why won't you be with me?”

 “What?” She's honestly bewildered by the question, especially after what just happened. “I am with you.”

He shakes his head, letting a disbelieving chortle escape. “No, I mean, with me, yeah? I thought...” He trails off and resorts to gesturing between their bodies instead, obviously clueless at how to form the words.

She sighs and gazes at Effy's grave. “I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get Effy Stonem's sloppy seconds for the rest of my life.” She gives him a pointed glare and studies the way the realisation stretches across his face and he too turns his attention back to the gravestone.

 “It's closure, but I'll probably always love her,” he states without apology and Katie understands that what she really thought would happen today can never happen. It's simply not possible. She bows her head and stares at the blades of grass around her once-white trainers. “I'll always love Naomi too, you know. 'Cos, it's like, that's just what people do. Different kinds of love or some bollocks. But it's not like there's no room left over. It's pretty fucking empty. Pregnant with potential,” he says with a grin, like he's just figured something out. “So gonna let me slip you a length now?”

 “No, babes, delightful as that sounds, I don't want to shag you now.”

She watches the rejection sink in and feels like a clarification is necessary. “It's fucking pissing down, and I don't want, like, glass up my fanny.”

He laughs, a large boisterous sound that she had almost forgotten about. “Right on.” He takes the umbrella from her and gentlemanly holds it over them both. “It's not possible for you to be second best, Katiekins. She took things apart. You fixed them.” His voice is weird and thick and Katie is scared that he really, truly means it, and that this is turning into something heavier. She looks down again and fiddles with the shopping bag handles, hoping he'll say something stupid to lighten the mood. Nothing comes out of his mouth.

 

For the entirety of college, she so badly wanted to be Effy fucking Stonem. She wanted that walk, that air of magnetism, that fucking secretive smile, like she knew everything everyone thought before they did. She wanted the attention and the sex and the boyfriends and the power. But standing at the grave occupied by the shattered shadow of a girl, she wouldn't trade a rock to the skull and years of boredom and listlessness for that. She realises what a mistake it was to believe that Effy was invincible, so magnificently untouchable. There was nothing to be jealous of anymore. She knows she's better than Effy now, because well, she's alive, letting go of years of secret grudges and undue blame towards her. (She'll save some for Campbell though.)

When Cook kisses her again, the skies don't magically clear up and the sun doesn't shine down on them with rainbows and birds singing happy songs. It's still raining, it's getting darker by the minute and any birds probably sought shelter a long time ago. She can feel the cold dampness of his clothes soaking through hers. His hand is equally cool cupping her face. And she's all too aware that they're standing at the foot of a grave of someone that brought them both so much pain in the end. But his lips are warm and sure, and a little bit relentless, like he never wants to stop. When he breathes in, he takes her breath with him until she's dizzy and her mind is foggy. She can feel the shiver pass through his body right to his fingertips so she pulls back, trying to focus.

He looks worried as his eyes dart back and forth, across her face. “I'm crap at commitment, at any of that shit.”

She blinks slowly as a smile curves through her lips. “Good thing I'm brilliant at it then.”

Taking his free hand in hers, she turns her back to Effy and breathes out carefully and slowly, hoping that everything she had held onto for so long flows free. Her hot breath mixes with the cold English air and it's pummeled down by rain drops. She imagines Effy inhaling deeply, taking in what is hers now, a knowing smile on her face.

Katie smiles as she tries, and fails, to hold back a sprinkling tears that had been dormant for so long. Gripping Cook's hand tighter as he leads the way out of the cemetery, she thanks Effy once, silently in her mind.

 

When she catches Cook's eye as they board the bus back home and her heartbeat surges, she quickly looks away only to catch her own reflection in the glass. She pauses. For once, even despite running mascara and moisture-frizzed hair, she can't see anything wrong. No fatigue, no failure. A sort of contentment digs its roots through her skin and into her chest. As they sit down, he puts and arm over her, laying a soft kiss in her hair and she's sure that there isn't a better feeling in the world. She understands why Naomi and Emily fight so hard for it, and why they never really give up.

And she thinks that Cook got it wrong:

It hadn't been Effy's fault. They had all torn themselves apart. She, Cook, Emily, Naomi. And Effy, in her own misunderstood and mysterious way, had laced them carefully back together. So now she accepts Effy's endless presence as pleasantly inevitable.

 

Because, after all, the stars can't shine without the darkness.