Juliana waits nervously on the doorstep of Valentina’s house, so much grander than anywhere she’s ever lived. She’s half expecting somebody to come throw her off the premises at any moment given how out of place she is, and she looks around, taking in all the extravagant landscaping. Her eyes are automatically drawn to the vibrant flower bushes lining the property, something about them calling her attention, and she turns away from the door to ponder them properly.
They’re beautiful, colourful and bright, and she distractedly brushes her fingers across the inside of her left wrist, the place where her soulmark is hidden by her bracelets. The small flower mark twines along her skin and seems just on the verge of blooming, but it’s closed. It’s always been closed.
She’s never figured out which type of flower it is, as much as she’s tried. None of her research had unearthed any answers, leaving her frustrated on more than one occasion, but there aren’t enough details in the mark to distinguish it. But she has to imagine it’s something like these flowers, something intricate and pretty and nice. She hopes so, anyways. She hopes her mark will someday shift into something more impressive than a tiny nondescript flower.
Folding her left arm across her stomach, she brings her right hand up to worry at her thumbnail and then stops herself when she realizes what she’s doing, shaking her head firmly. Instead, she crosses her arm over the first, and that’s when the door opens.
She spins around, greeting the woman at the door with what she hopes is an appropriately casual smile, and after introductions follows her inside. The house is even more impressive from here, and Juliana marvels at the front room until she hears footsteps approaching.
“Hi!” she greets as soon as Valentina rounds the corner, feeling something tug at her heart as a rush of excitement shows at the sight of her, and it’s so welcoming that she even forgets to feel embarrassed.
“Hey!” Valentina beams in response, and Juliana feels a tug again, something drawing her towards Valentina just like it had felt the first time she’d passed her on the street.
She remembers staring at her the other day, remembers her dumb remark about admiring her clothes to her mother, remembers the way the sun had been glinting off her hair.
She also remembers her distraught face and the heartbreaking way she had been curled into herself, and she remembers feeling.
Something had drawn her forwards then, except it hadn’t really been forwards – it had been towards her, towards this girl she’d never met, towards something bigger, something…
Juliana blinks hard and flexes her left hand, drawing herself out of the memory and coming back to the present. Her soulmark is tingling, and she pulls her arm closer to her body. She really ought to change her bracelets for new ones if the loose threads keep itching like this.
Valentina comes over to give her a hug, and she steadfastly ignores the tickle against her wrist as she hugs back.
“You know what? Let’s go swimming!” Valentina suggests excitedly after Juliana has stained her new shirt during lunch. Juliana blinks at her in surprise from where she’s wiping at the material, not having been expecting to hear anything remotely near those words.
“I – I don’t have a swimsuit,” she gets out, and Valentina smiles at her in a way that seems almost shy.
“It’s okay, I can lend you one,” she assures her, voice casual but shoulders pulled in awkwardly. She rambles a little bit, gesturing animatedly, and Juliana wants nothing more than to agree with her.
“Val,” she tries one last time, swallowing and setting down her napkin. She resists the urge to scratch her wrist yet again, wondering why it’s itching so badly all of a sudden.
“I can’t swim.”
Valentina laughs, but there isn’t a single trace of judgment in the sound, not a hint of derision. “Are you serious? That’s totally fine! It’s even better, I can teach you,” she smiles earnestly, blowing through Juliana’s protests and reservations like they’re nothing. Honestly, as Juliana is quickly learning, they may as well be nothing where she’s concerned.
“The pool’s right there, and it’s very nice,” she continues, waving in the direction of the window, “It’s huge, and heated too. Really, it’s okay, I promise!”
“…Okay,” Juliana gives in, nodding and unable to hold back her smile in the face of Valentina’s enthusiasm.
“Great!” she reaches out to give her wrist a quick squeeze before rushing off to fetch them bathing suits and towels, and Juliana’s heart flips in her chest. “Be right back!”
As soon as she’s out of sight, Juliana hunches over and rubs at her tingling wrist, squinting at the spot Valentina’s hand had just been as if she can see through her bracelets. Coincidentally, it’s also the exact spot where her soulmark is.
This is getting to be very distracting.
Valentina is right, of course – the pool is amazing. It’s clear and calm and inviting, and Juliana takes it in with wide eyes, trying not to let her awe show. Valentina drops the towels onto a deck chair and slides into the water with no hesitation, turning around to grin up at Juliana and hold out her hand, and Juliana notes with relief that she’s standing easily, water barely coming up to her waist.
“You coming?” she asks when Juliana doesn’t follow immediately, gesturing for her to get in with her other hand, and Juliana blinks again.
“Yeah, yes.” She shakes her head once before nodding again and awkwardly stepping to the side of the pool, sitting down and lowering one leg at a time to dangle them in the water. Valentina laughs warmly, raising a hand to scratch absentmindedly behind her ear as she watches her, and she keeps the other hand extended for her to take. “Right,” Juliana takes a deep breath before accepting it and pushing herself in, “Here I go.”
She gasps at the cold feeling of the water washing over her legs, letting out an embarrassing squeak, and she hears Valentina’s musical laugh again as she squeezes her hand. Smiling self–consciously, she runs her fingers over the top of the water, only looking up when Valentina makes an excited sound.
Valentina is smiling again, a happy little thing as she watches her, and when she meets Juliana’s eyes she beckons her over, pushing herself backwards through the water until she’s more or less in the middle of the pool. Juliana follows instinctively, not wanting to be too far away from her, and she giggles down at the distorted view of her feet as they move through the water.
“Alright, teacher,” Juliana grins when she’s standing in front of her, “What’s first?”
“First?” Valentina scrunches her eyebrows together, snapping her eyes up to meet Juliana’s from wherever they had been listing off to, “Oh, yes! Well, first,” she tilts her head playfully and lowers herself until the water is covering her shoulders, “Dunking.”
“Dunking?” Juliana raises an eyebrow and wraps her arms around herself, feeling chilled, “Why – ”
Before she can get the question out, Valentina has giggled and taken a breath, plunging her head underwater before resurfacing with the widest grin on her face.
“You’ve got to get your hair wet first!” she shakes her head, strands of hair flinging water at Juliana, and Juliana recoils with a laugh and watches as she then uses both hands to flip it away from her face, lingering again with her hands behind her ears.
Juliana half-shrugs and flicks a bit of water at her before following her lead, submerging herself completely. She only lasts a moment before she pops back up with a gasp, wrapping her arms around her waist as she blinks water out of her face, and Valentina doubles over laughing.
“It’s okay, you get used to it!” she tells her, coming closer to put her hands on her shoulders, “The longer you stay in, it’ll get better, really!”
Juliana shivers and gives Valentina a halfhearted smirk. “I’m taking your word for it here, so you better not be making it up.”
“Promise, promise,” she smiles warmly, rubbing her hands down Juliana’s arms before drawing her closer and murmuring, “Now come on.”
“Oh?” Juliana doesn’t resist, moving along easily, but she doesn’t know what to do with herself when Valentina pulls them both down until the water is around their shoulders and wraps her arm low around Juliana’s back.
She looks down in confusion before glancing back at her for some kind of cue of how to proceed, and Valentina smiles at her again.
“You have to take your feet off the floor,” she laughs, reaching out to tug lightly at Juliana’s ponytail, “It’s not swimming unless you’re floating, at the very least.”
“Well then, show me how to float,” she shoots back, lips curving up in another grin, “You said you’d teach me, so get to it.”
Valentina thinks about it, pushing her hair away from her face again in a motion that leaves Juliana’s mouth dry, and then she puts her hand behind Juliana’s head, resting it on the back of her neck.
“You’re going to take your feet off the floor, and I’ll hold you, and then you’ll learn how to float on your back.”
Juliana nods determinedly, forcing her focus away from the curve of Valentina’s jaw to the task at hand, and then throws her arms around Valentina before even attempting to lift her feet off the floor, needing something stable to hang on to.
She blushes as soon as she does it, starting to pull back, but Valentina looks unreasonably pleased, making a reassuring humming sound.
“Okay, I’ve got you, just… hang on to me and lift up your feet.”
Taking a deep breath, Juliana does what she says and then gasps, and she feels more than hears the other girl let out an affectionate huff. Valentina gathers Juliana up properly in her arms and pulls her close, staying crouched so that they keep themselves in the water and aren’t too exposed to the air, and Juliana quiets, hesitantly bringing her right hand up to hold on to her shoulder. Her left hand flounders uselessly in the water, and she instinctively puts it on the exposed skin of Valentina’s back and tightens her hold around her.
Their faces are close together now, much closer than they’ve been all day, and Juliana doesn’t quite know what she’s supposed to do with this. Though she hasn’t had very many friends in her life, she knows that what she’s feeling has to go a little deeper with Valentina.
“You okay?” Valentina murmurs right next to her ear, and Juliana nods jerkily, not ready for the feeling of her breath or the sound of her voice so close. She’s hyperaware of every point of contact between their bodies, and Valentina is certainly not making this any easier for her.
“Okay, I’m going to hold you up,” Valentina reassures her, little giggles breaking up the words, and Juliana feels herself smiling in response. She feels Valentina’s hand resting on the back of her neck, soft skin pressing against hers, and only her knowledge that she will thoroughly embarrass herself if Valentina lets her go is keeping her from drifting.
“You need to let go,” Valentina laughs, and Juliana giggles in response, pressing her chin against Valentina’s shoulder.
“No, what? Wait – ”
Laughing again, Juliana lets her eyes flutter closed as the feeling in her chest continues to bloom and spread.
“I won’t let go of you,” Valentina promises, “Relax, it’s okay.”
“But what do I do? Do I stretch out, or – ”
“Take a deep breath,” Valentina tells her, raising her eyebrows and then inhaling exaggeratedly and giving her a pointed look, “Like that, and hold it.”
Juliana copies her, letting her eyes close again because it’s easier than trying to keep her composure and float and look at Valentina all at the same time, and Valentina cups the back of her head reassuringly, still supporting her neck before she guides her back down to the water.
Her fingers brush just a little too far to the side of her waist, and Juliana twitches, instinctively trying to move upright again when the motion of her laugh makes her feel like she’s dipping too far into the water.
“No, you’re doing really well, just stay like that!” Valentina encourages, guiding her back down, and Juliana takes another deep breath.
“Okay,” she nods, feeling only slightly ridiculous as she listens to the sound of the water splashing and what she swears must be Valentina’s heartbeat, “Like this?”
“Hmm,” Valentina hums, and even this close to her Juliana can barely hear it. “Do you trust me?” she asks delicately, and that’s what gives Juliana the composure to finally settle enough that she can let go of her, nodding and shakily spreading her arms out to her sides. Valentina’s hand shifts against the flat of her back, but as promised, she doesn’t let go.
They both keep giggling, and Juliana feels light and buoyant in a way that has nothing to do with being in water.
“You’re floating,” Valentina tells her softly, and Juliana’s smile widens as she feels her muscles slowly start to relax. Sure enough, even though it’s Valentina’s hands holding her up, she can feel her legs afloat on the water. She relaxes even farther, keeping her eyes closed, and then her wrist itches again.
It’s a different feeling this time, more like a thrumming than a tingling, but it’s still causing the same sort of fluttering feeling in her chest and stomach. And once again, she realizes it’s centered on her soulmark.
Her eyes open, and she strains up to see her wrist over Valentina’s shoulder, her left arm hurriedly wrapped around the other girl’s back once more. Her bracelets are wet, but they’re still in place covering her mark, and Juliana exhales in relief, accidentally sinking deep enough that water covers half her face and leaves her sputtering.
Valentina quickly pulls her up again, one hand still supporting her neck but her other arm curling around her shoulders to keep her head up until she regains her breath, and though her eyes are dancing with amusement, she’s watching her with a mix of affection and something Juliana can’t read shining on her face.
Valentina has a couple strands of hair caught on her lip, and the strap of her bathing suit has been twisted around… and she’s breathtaking. Obviously she had been breathtaking before, but now she’s breathtaking
Juliana looks at Valentina with wide eyes, wet hair sticking to the back of her neck and making her shiver, and her mind starts to whirl, trying to make sense of what can’t possibly be true.
…Could it be true?
That’s when they’re interrupted by someone calling Valentina’s name, and Juliana startles again, mentally pushing the issue aside and resolving to figure it all out later.
But her soulmark doesn’t quiet.
Listen all they do is touch and laugh and smile and I don’t have enough words to describe this please send help
Lucho and Sergio are downstairs, probably wondering about their next course of action, but Juliana and Valentina have sequestered themselves in Valentina’s room and frankly, Juliana doesn’t care what they do as long as they stay away. She doesn’t even feel bad about it, because they aren’t supposed to be here in the first place.
“I was expecting fireworks, but… nothing!”
Valentina is in the process of telling her all about her adventures in Canada, moving on to her disappointing experiences with boyfriends, and Juliana listens with wide eyes.
Valentina shrugs. “I don’t know how it was for you, but for me…” she shakes her head and makes a little face before sighing and musing, “Maybe it’s just me.”
Then she’s watching Juliana expectantly, and Juliana doesn’t know what she’s waiting for, laughing a little bit at the absurdness of it all. “What?”
“Tell me!” Valentina laughs, nudging her gently, “What do you think?”
Juliana can feel herself blushing and ducks her head, grateful when her hair hangs down to hide her face, even if for a second.
“No?” Valentina moves with her, trying to hold her gaze as she giggles, and Juliana can feel her flush getting worse.
“Nothing, just – nothing!”
“What do you mean, nothing?” Valentina laughs, tone curious but still kind, and surprisingly Juliana doesn’t feel any sort of judgment coming from her.
“Well, no – I’ve just… I’ve never – no,” she tries to figure out a way to tell her she’s never had sex without embarrassing herself, but her mind is drawing a blank and Valentina is still watching her with those crazy blue eyes, and this would be hard enough under normal circumstances.
There’s a pause, and then Valentina grabs her right hand and squeezes tight, face lighting up. “What? You – ”
“No, stop it,” Juliana protests halfheartedly, and given the way Valentina just continues without pause, it’s completely ineffective.
“Are you a virgin?” she asks gleefully, practically bouncing in her seat, and Juliana drops her head.
“…Yes! Fine, yeah, yes.”
Valentina bursts into peals of laughter, falling sideways onto the bed, and Juliana huffs and rolls her eyes before pulling her up.
“Val, enough,” she pouts, “Don’t make fun of me!”
“No, I’m not making fun of you!” she keeps laughing, but Juliana can tell she’s putting effort into stopping. “Juls! You have a whole world of possibilities to explore!”
Juliana looks away and brings her hand up to scratch the side of her nose, taking a moment to try controlling herself, and doesn’t expect to see the affectionate smile Valentina has on her face.
“This is incredible!” she continues, waving her hands around, “It’s the best news of the day!”
Hesitating, Juliana smiles back before dropping her head to stare at her left wrist, playing with a loose thread of one of her bracelets as Valentina takes a deep breath and seems to compose herself a bit more, pressing both hands to her mouth before she holds them out for Juliana again.
“You’re not missing anything,” she promises, eyes shining sincerely, and Juliana doesn’t know if she believes her. Her soulmark starts to tingle insistently, feeling slowly getting more noticeable, and Juliana presses it against her leg.
“You’ve never been in love?” she asks curiously, hating how childish the question comes out. That finally seems to give Valentina pause, and Juliana watches as her smile turns rueful when she hesitates.
“No.” She shrugs one shoulder, pushing her hair behind her ear, “I don’t believe in it.”
“Don’t… believe in love?” Juliana repeats in confusion, and Valentina nods.
“It’s just something made up for silly people,” she says nonchalantly, eyes crinkling playfully, “So they can celebrate on September… 14th… wait, February! See, I don’t even know the date!”
She bursts into laughter again, and it’s contagious the way her face is alight with mirth. Juliana can’t remember when it’s ever been so easy for her to laugh like this, but she thinks it must have started when she met Valentina.
They calm after a second, laughter still hanging between them, and Juliana feels her left wrist tingle again.
“Then what about soulmarks?” she asks before she can think better of it, and she flushes when Valentina looks up at her, eyes widening slightly in surprise. “I mean, that’s their whole purpose, right? To help you find love?”
Valentina quiets, the cheer slowly fading from her face as she begins to curl into herself. “I mean… with mine anyways, I don’t really… I don’t know. It’s – I just expected a little bit more, you know?”
Juliana nods but stays quiet, sensing the way she’s trying to gather her thoughts. Soulmarks are personal, and it’s rare that people share them. She has no doubt that Valentina isn’t going to –
“It’s water. A water droplet,” Valentina says in a rush, voice only the slightest bit unsure, and Juliana widens her eyes, mouth dropping open in surprise. She stays quiet, and Valentina shifts, raising one shoulder and giving her another rueful smile. Her eyes are so expressive, and Juliana feels like she can see every bit of her. She wonders how people ever miss it. “A tiny, little... water drop.”
Juliana stares, trying to wrap her head around the fact that she’s been given this knowledge so freely. This is personal, this is intimate, this is special information people don’t go around sharing with anyone.
And yet Valentina is sharing it with her.
“A water drop?”
Valentina hesitates, and then she’s turning her head away and pulling her hair over her shoulder, exposing the back of her neck to Juliana. Tilting her head, she taps at her right ear before setting her hand in her lap. It’s a lot to take in, and Juliana tries not to let herself get distracted by the smooth expanse of skin.
It’s so quiet in the room, and Juliana finds herself holding her breath as she leans closer to get a better look at the splash of ink behind her ear.
“Like rain,” Valentina murmurs quietly, dipping her head a bit more. “…Or a tear.”
Entranced, Juliana reaches forward, almost brushing the tips of her fingers against soft skin but stopping herself before she makes contact. She hears a quiet intake of breath from the other girl and quickly retracts her hand, folding them one over the other in her lap.
“It’s beautiful, Val,” she says honestly, “Really.”
Valentina lets her hair fall back and turns to face her, shrugging bashfully. “Every one I’ve seen has been cooler, so I don’t know.” She sighs and then shakes her head, visibly conflicted. “Are you… happy with yours?”
Her tone is tentative as she meets Juliana’s eyes this time, and Juliana can feel her heart beating throughout her entire body.
“It’s… here,” she lifts her left wrist and hovers her right hand before tugging at her bracelets, twisting her wrist to move them and slowly uncover her own soulmark. Staring hard, she bites her lip as she waits for a response.
She’s never had any issues with her soulmark before, but looking at it now she’s hit with a sudden wave of insecurity. She hasn’t really seen anyone’s mark aside from her parents, and she definitely isn’t going to be basing any impressions off of them – they didn’t wind up setting the best example, thanks to her father ruining everything. But what if hers is weird, or laughably unimpressive?
But when she looks up, her fears are put to rest. Valentina is staring with awe, leaning forwards and angling her head towards it, and when she slowly brings both her hands up, Juliana lets her cradle her wrist.
“Beautiful,” she murmurs, fingers moving against her skin, and Juliana should probably be putting more effort into keeping her breathing steady. Valentina hesitates, biting her lip and looking up to meet Juliana’s eyes with an unspoken question on her face, and Juliana inclines her head, unable to keep the smile from spreading across her face.
Valentina gives her a happy look in return before leaning over her once again, a lock of hair slipping over her shoulder, and the ends trail down to brush against their hands.
The touch of her fingers on her mark is almost electric, completely in contrast with the soothing sort of shock that rushes through Juliana at it, and that feeling sinks in, spreading through her veins until it reaches her chest. Valentina finishes tracing the flower and stills so her hand is just resting on top of Juliana’s, but the feeling doesn’t fade.
Juliana doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what to do, but even stranger, she doesn’t feel the need to figure it out. Using the thumb of her right hand that’s still holding her bracelets out of the way, Juliana absentmindedly rubs at the side of Valentina’s fingers and doesn’t truly register the touch until Valentina looks up through her lashes with a shy sort of joy radiating from her. Her gaze is soft and warming, and Juliana knows without a doubt that she could get lost in it. If she didn’t know better, she’d say that Valentina was watching her with something akin to wonder on her face.
Valentina blinks at her, eyes shining blue in the sunlight filtering through the window, and then she lets out a laugh. Juliana wants to settle in this moment, maybe stay here forever, and then Valentina surprises her again by pulling her forward using the grip on her hand and wrapping her in a hug. She nuzzles her head into Juliana’s neck, and Juliana automatically sinks into her, bringing her free hand up to Valentina’s back and returning the hug.
Of course, they’re interrupted again, both of them pulling away from each other abruptly as something screeches to a halt, but that doesn’t stop the feeling of Valentina’s fingers tracing her soulmark, imprinting itself into her mind like it was always meant to be there.
Listen this scene might be my favourite and it’s incredible in absolutely every way and I kind of hate myself for attempting to rewrite it bc how the hell do I do it justice??? I am aware that several miscalculations were made
They’re both laughing, together in the park as they try on sunglasses, and Juliana feels light, feels like somehow everything in the world is exactly where it should be.
“Why is it that everything look good on you?” she exclaims, lifting her hands to Valentina’s face and swaying closer. Her tone is joking, but she absolutely means it, because even the most obnoxious pairs of glasses are attractive on Valentina’s face.
Although that might have less to do with the glasses and more to do with her face.
“That’s not true,” Valentina giggles, a bashful tinge to her broad smile, and Juliana cards her hands through Valentina’s loose hair as she half shakes her head, “You’re lying to me!”
“No, really, why does everything look good on you?” she repeats, still laughing but completely serious about the query.
Valentina wraps her hand around her wrist, gentle fingers pressing directly on top of Juliana’s covered soulmark, and her breath catches as she searches Valentina’s face, unable to see her eyes because of the sunglasses. The cheer is still bubbling in her chest, warm like the sunlight dancing over Valentina, and it’s mesmerizing the way she shines in it. Without conscious thought, her hand is reaching out again to brush through Valentina’s hair, and Valentina’s smile is happy as she tilts her head down to look at her over the top of her glasses.
Juliana’s surroundings come filtering back in, and she hears the distant strains of a familiar song floating through the air, turning her head instinctively and then letting her smile widen when she identifies it. “You know what? I love this song,” she speaks up, taking off the glasses she’s wearing and looking away from Valentina. She uses the moment to compose herself, glancing instinctively at her bracelets, and then she clears her throat and looks up again.
“Come on,” she folds up the sunglasses and returns them to the vendor, taking Valentina’s hand and tugging her over to where they can see a group of women dancing in the middle of the open park amphitheater. “I love this song, listen.”
“It’s cool,” Valentina comments, and Juliana grins at her, taking in the way the sun glints off her hair before coming back to herself.
“Shall we dance?”
Valentina gives her a look, somewhere between curious and incredulous. “To this?”
Nodding, Juliana smiles assuredly and swings their joined hands.
“Oh, no, I can’t dance,” Valentina draws away, pushing her hair away from her face and hooking it behind her right ear, and Juliana thinks she’s never seen a movement pulled off so elegantly before.
“Come on,” she coaxes, reaching for her again, and though Valentina willingly takes her hand, she’s still drawing back.
“I mean it, I’ve never danced to this kind of music, I can’t,” she objects, and Juliana rolls her eyes affectionately, knowing her expression is turning fond but unable to put a stop to it. Pulling Valentina gently by the hand, they make their way down the hill and into the amphitheater, and Juliana wants to giggle at the way Valentina trips after her.
“Juls, no – ” she tries to protest, laughing self–consciously, but Juliana grins as she pulls her forward into line, hoping Valentina will understand what she wants to share with her.
“All you have to do is feel the music and dance. Don’t be embarrassed, you just follow her!”
She turns to watch the instructor, trying to mimic her movements, and catches up quickly with the simple steps, moving in time with the music and the rest of the group. It’s been a while since she’s danced, and it’s amazing how freeing and fun something this simple is.
However, Valentina stumbles out of line fairly quickly, a reassuring smile on her face as she goes, and she waves at Juliana to keep dancing with a little shake of her head. Juliana lets the music carry her for a few moments more, the smile staying on her face, but Valentina is standing off to the side, and Juliana doesn’t want that. She huffs a small laugh, ducking her head and thanking the instructor when the song ends, and then steps over to her. She softens as she approaches to see Valentina watching the scene in front of her, rubbing at the skin behind her ear as she sways absently, and she straightens when she sees Juliana coming, dropping her hand and smiling sheepishly.
“Okay, let’s go,” Juliana says with a laugh as she takes her hand again, and Valentina follows without hesitation as she leads her to an empty space, away from the crowds in the rest of the park. She can feel Valentina loosening up, can hear it in the way she’s starting to resume her playful quips and idle chatter, and she swipes her thumb over the back of her knuckles.
“You know what?” Valentina reaches for her again, grabbing her hands and pulling her closer when they stop in the middle, “You’re going to teach me how to dance.”
“What? No,” Juliana laughs, tilting her head, and Valentina presses into her space before rocking back on her heels and grinning again.
“Do I look like a teacher to you?”
Valentina pulls a face as she laughs, wrinkling her nose in a way that almost makes Juliana feel like swooning, and she squeezes her hand encouragingly. “But you do it so well! Better than me, at least.”
“Val – ” she tries, but Valentina isn’t having it.
“What if I get invited to a party, and I dance like – like that? You have to teach me.”
Juliana would like to say that her resolve lasted at least a little bit longer than five seconds, but in truth she doesn’t think she had any resolve to begin with. She doesn’t have any idea how to teach someone to feel the music and just dance, but she’s learned that she’s completely unable to resist Valentina, and she’d be lying if she said that the prospect of dancing with her didn’t give her a thrill.
She really wants to dance with Valentina.
“Okay, I’ll teach you,” she cedes easily, distractedly flexing her left wrist when it twinges as if to urge her forwards, “But only because you’re teaching me how to swim.”
Valentina beams at her, bright and exuberant, and her words are giddy as she accepts the trade and holds her hand out for Juliana, both of them laughing as they shake on it exaggeratedly.
“Okay, come here,” Juliana giggles as she pulls Valentina closer without letting go of the handshake, “Stand in front of me.”
Juliana arranges their arms properly, tugging and prodding at Valentina until her feet are in the right place, and when she looks up it’s to catch a glimpse of Valentina staring at her as she tucks her hair behind her ears.
Something warm spreads through her chest, and in that instant all of her indecision is gone.
“Give me this hand,” she instructs, holding out her left hand and waiting for Valentina’s, and she ignoring the way her heart flips when they touch. Her soulmark is itching again, and she steadfastly doesn’t think about how it intensifies every time she so much as thinks about Valentina. She focuses first on their hands and then their feet instead of meeting Valentina’s eyes, not wanting to look at her but also unable to keep away, and when Valentina curls her hand around hers perfectly, she finds herself failing once more.
“Yeah, like that. Now place the other one here…” she guides Valentina’s other hand to her shoulder with a hand on her elbow, and then lets her go to put it on her side. “And I’ll place mine here.”
Her heart is starting to race now, the hopeful sort of quickness that merges in time with the pulsing of her wrist, and she swallows hard, hoping there isn’t anything in her expression that gives away the fluttering in her chest.
“Now, you’re going to take a little step to your right.” Valentina looks so focused, completely absorbed in the moment, and Juliana marvels at the endearing way she smiles as she bites her lip, the way her eyes shine, the careful way she’s holding herself. “My left, your right. And then follow me.”
She feels Valentina flex her fingers around hers as she takes a deep breath before nodding intently, and Juliana takes that as her cue to start.
“One, two, three, and four,” she counts, stepping slowly in time and making sure Valentina is moving with her. Her steps are hesitant, but this is as simple as it gets, and she has no doubt that she’ll catch on.
“And one, two,” she continues, moving in the other direction and letting herself begin to sway them more naturally, “Three, four.”
“Hey, I’m really doing it!” Valentina says, delighted as she continues to watch her feet, and Juliana smiles, charmed by the way her lips are curling up proudly. They’re so close together that she has to keep pulling back to avoid bumping her forehead against Valentina’s, and Juliana feels the urge to make this dance a real one.
“Yeah, but you know what?” Juliana says lightly, trying to keep her voice level, and Valentina’s eyes crinkle happily.
“What?” she asks, still focusing on her steps. Her hair is tumbling over her shoulders, and when Juliana looks up, she doesn’t manage to get higher than Valentina’s chin on the first attempt, averting her gaze back to their feet. Her soulmark thrums, almost like an encouragement, and she tries again.
“With dances like this... you’re usually supposed to look the other person in the eyes,” Juliana takes a breath as she speaks, pulling back so she can see Valentina properly. It’s a strange rush of courage running through her, but she’s not going to turn back now.
She watches as Valentina smiles shyly, shifting her gaze between her feet and Juliana a couple times before she tilts her head to the side and cranes her neck until it touches her raised shoulder, shaking her head.
“Wha– oh, no, I can’t do it all at the same time,” she bites her lip unsurely as she lowers her eyes one last time before tilting her chin up, and Juliana smiles reassuringly again. “I can’t look you in the eyes, and count and watch my feet, that’s just…”
Juliana catches a flash of color in the side of Valentina’s hair as she shakes her head and quickly dismisses it, assuming she’s got some kind of accessory in and refocusing on their dancing.
“Okay, how about this,” Juliana suggests, watching Valentina’s eyes encouragingly, “Hold on to me, and let’s do it again.” She readjusts her grip on Valentina, feeling it when she takes a deep breath and instinctively copying her. “Follow me, okay?”
“Okay, you – you lead,” Valentina agrees, still trying to meet her eyes as she lets out a little laugh, and Juliana nods as she begins to count again. Valentina’s smile is shy when she looks at her for a moment before skittering her gaze away, licking her lips and then nodding, and Juliana resists the urge to fully rest her head against the side of Valentina’s when she glances down and their temples touch.
They sway together, and it’s when Valentina finally meets her eyes that Juliana can tell that she’s put aside her reservations and started to follow her instincts. Her hand slides against Valentina’s back, brushing over the material of the shirt she’d gifted her, and the ends of Valentina’s long hair trail against her fingers.
Valentina’s touch is gentle where she’s holding her in return, one hand on her waist and the other still clasped with hers, and Juliana wants to pull her even closer, wants to close the minuscule distance between them until there’s nothing left. As the sun continues to shine down on them, Juliana thinks that maybe this is what people mean when they say dancing can be magic.
Soft blue eyes hold her own as something shifts in the air between them, and she almost forgets to notice the way her soulmark is pulsing so steadily that it’s matched exactly in time with her heartbeat, the rhythm holding constant with what might be their entire universe.
But not quite.
“This one too!” Valentina calls from the other side of the curtain, and then a dress is promptly shoved through for Juliana to take. They’re in some fancy store that Juliana would have never set foot in given the projected price range of the clothes, and Valentina is having a blast picking things out for her to wear to Guille’s party. “Try it next!”
“Val, all of these are great,” she laughs, their fingers brushing as she accepts it and watches the curtain swish closed again as her arm disappears, “Really, they are, you don’t need to keep looking.”
“Maybe they are great, but we’re going to find you the perfect one,” Valentina tells her confidently.
Juliana’s laugh is soft as she shakes her head. “Val – ”
“Yup! The perfect outfit for the most perfect girl! Oh, I’m going over there to check one more,” Valentina says, steps already moving away, “So don’t change until I see you in that dress, got it?”
Alone in the changing room, Juliana smiles, ducking her head even though there’s no one here to see. She’s lost count of how many dresses she’s tried on, each one more fabulous than the last, and it’s a completely new experience for her, having access to this many high–end articles. It’s amazing, and her mind is whirling as she distractedly thinks up all the ways she could alter some of these pieces.
Holding up the dress Valentina has just passed her, she tilts her head and considers it for a moment before slipping it on. It’s black, sleeveless with some kind of side train, and her first opinion is that she really loves it. Smoothing her hands over the material of the dress, she looks up through her lashes to take in her reflection in the full–length mirror and wonders what Valentina will think.
She’s found herself wondering that a lot.
There’s a flurry of motion outside the changing room, and Juliana giggles at Valentina’s breathless, “I’m back! Did I miss any?”
“Don’t worry, I waited. You were gone like two minutes!”
Valentina huffs, and Juliana can clearly hear the smile in the words. “I know, but I don’t like being away from you that long.”
It’s not anything close to what she expects to hear, and it startles Juliana into grinning widely. That’s a sentiment she knows well.
Suddenly, a strange feeling washes over Juliana, something comforting and deep and somehow everything she’s been missing in her life, all at the same time. It would be unsettling if it weren’t for the inexplicable familiarity that shrouds it, and she shifts, unsure if it’s her imagination the way the inside of her left wrist is pulsing. It doesn’t pass, instead getting more and more pressing, and Juliana consciously keeps her breathing even as she furrows her brow in confusion, hyperaware and instinctively taking in as much information as she can.
The feeling intensifies, and she hurriedly pushes her bracelets away, movements infused with a sudden urgency she doesn’t understand. Fumbling with the strings, she shoves them aside to reveal the skin of her wrist… and then she stops short.
There on her arm where her soulmate mark has always been, where the inconspicuous closed flower has always been, is now an intricate mass of petals and leaves, twisting and twining and dancing on her skin.
The new additions are half opened and partially coloured in, splotches of color decorating her wrist like the galaxy’s newest constellation has decided to take up residence on her arm, and Juliana is gaping.
For lack of a better word, the flowers are beginning to bloom.
Juliana sucks in a breath and stares dumbly, unable to believe what her eyes are seeing. Her soulmark is shifting, and it’s… because of Valentina?
“Are you almost ready?” Valentina’s voice interrupts her thoughts, sending her mind careening back into the changing room where she’s been standing frozen, and Juliana jerks around to face the curtain, heart beating wildly as she covers her soulmark with her right hand.
“…Yeah!” she calls back, uncoordinated fingers tugging her bracelets back into place over the soulmark, and she’s relieved to hear her voice is steady. “Yeah, I’m – I’m coming!”
Her soulmark is shifting, and it’s because of Valentina.
Juliana inhales sharply and bites her lip to slow the massive grin from taking over her face. It seems like a losing battle, and she wriggles happily, clutching her left wrist to her chest.
Heart speeding up, she can’t push down the elated feeling growing in her, and she isn’t entirely sure she wants to try. It’s like she’s been infused with years worth of every positive emotion under the sun, and she can’t stop the smile from spreading across her face any more than she can control her soulmark.
“Just – just a second!”
Taking one last glance down at herself, Juliana darts her gaze to her wrist, unable to help the way her grin widens once more as she uses shaking fingers to adjust her bracelets one last time. Covering them does nothing to stifle her glee, and Juliana feels like she could fly.
Once the newly expanded soulmark is properly hidden, Juliana takes three deep breaths and steps out, keeping her head angled downwards to give her a few extra seconds to get her face under control before looking at Valentina. She knows that whatever look she gives her right now will be hopelessly lovestruck, and as much as she might want to start yelling it, she needs time to process this revelation before throwing it at Valentina too.
Pressing her lips together, she’s completely unsuccessful in suppressing her smile, and she only lasts a fraction of a second before she’s out of time and has to lift her head. With anything else, with anyone else, Juliana would be running fast and running far, but it’s Valentina, and she wouldn’t do that to her. More importantly, she doesn’t want to.
She doesn’t know what this could possibly mean, or what might come of it, if anything at all, but as she looks up to meet Valentina’s eyes, she hopes that maybe, just maybe, she’ll get the chance to find out.
Later at the party, everything starts out great, but slowly it goes awry. They keep getting separated, the boys are somehow even more irritating than usual, and then Juliana finds Valentina high in the hallway. She assures Eva that she’ll take care of her, worriedly pulling Valentina away, and does her best to keep her out of trouble for the remainder of the night.
After it all draws to a close, when they’re finally back in Valentina’s room, Juliana feels her shoulders loosening, glad to be away from the crowds of people. Valentina turns on the stereo, playing the song they’d danced to in the park as she pulls her high ponytail over her shoulder, and Juliana catches a glimpse of color before she gasps excitedly and spins back around, her hair swishing back into place. It appears she isn’t done yet, trying to get Juliana to dance with her, and then she has another idea and guides Juliana to sit on the bed, declaring that they should play a game.
Valentina is holding her wrists, trying to urge her into holding up her hands, but Juliana instinctively curls her fingers, only barely able to stop herself from making them into fists. She’s always trusted Valentina intrinsically, instinctively and wholeheartedly, but her reflexes from a lifetime’s worth of experience are hard to overcome.
She takes a deep breath and lets Valentina uncurl her hands, but evidently she isn’t cooperating the way Valentina wants because she sits down next to her and tries again with a renewed focus.
She’s hesitant in a way she doesn’t usually feel with Valentina, reluctant to engage her when her state of mind isn’t completely her own, and when Valentina tells her to close her eyes, it takes her a moment to comply.
Valentina’s fingers trail over her skin, the touch light, and Juliana tries to keep her face impassive as her heart jumps. Though her eyes are closed, she can feel Valentina right in front of her, leaning closer.
When Guille comes in, Juliana jerks backwards and hastily gets off the bed, away from Valentina and away from the temptation to let the best thing that’s ever happened to her be destroyed.
Valentina doesn’t seem to be similarly affected, immediately jumping to pull her brother into the game as well. Guille gently refuses to humour her, and when he leaves Valentina lets out a little sigh before spinning back around.
“Help me out of this?” she asks, gesturing for the zipper behind her and promptly giving up, turning to give Juliana access to the back of her neck. Heart jumping in her chest, Juliana inclines her head in agreement and moves closer, steeling herself before reaching out.
She slowly trails her fingers over her skin, moving her hair out of the way with admittedly much more contact than is necessary, and she doesn’t know how to make sense of the thoughts and emotions whirling around her head. It’s overwhelmingly confusing, and she needs more time.
She can see Valentina’s soulmark, the little water droplet resting along the curve of skin behind her ear, and it’s dripping down in a… colourful…
Juliana stops and catches her breath.
And then all she can do is stare as she registers exactly what she’s looking at.
Valentina’s single water droplet, the solitary mark from before, has morphed into the beginnings of what Juliana thinks must be a waterfall.
How has she missed this all evening?
There are trails of water appearing from her hairline and following the curve of her skin, reaching down for her shoulder blade. It’s spread out, color bleeding through it like watercolours, and Juliana’s efforts to force her brain into catching up are in vain. The mark isn’t big, but now it’s the only thing she can see.
“Juls?” comes Valentina’s soft voice, but Juliana barely reacts. The evidence of Valentina’s soulmark shifting is literally right in front of her face, and she stands frozen, unable to process this.
What is she supposed to do now?