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kiss me deadly

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Dani Clayton did not sign up for this.

Dani Clayton had signed up for a lot of things, sure.

Dani Clayton had signed up to leave an entire life behind––it had never been her life, she thinks, not really––a family and a fiancé and a fully furnished home, superlative and suburban and absolutely suffocating, in favor of giving her own, long neglected, room to breathe. Room to, if it would survive in the world outside Iowa City, Iowa, grow. Flourish. If it could. 

Dani Clayton had signed up to be an au pair to the Wingrave children, Flora and Miles, just over three months ago, had promptly moved into their family’s townhouse, the whole of her life, uprooted and in flux as it had been, packed neatly into two suitcases, toted carefully up the stairs, and tucked away under a new bed, into a new wardrobe, in a new closet.

(The irony of which, Dani thinks, rueful and indulgent, is not lost on her.)

Dani Clayton had signed on to stay on with the Wingraves beyond her three-month probationary period, Miles and especially Flora happily acclimated to her, their uncle Henry’s approval begrudging and benevolent, baths and bedtime stories such regular staples of Dani’s daily routine now she’s not sure she could imagine a life without them.

Dani runs through the list in her head, sandwiched between Flora and Miles in the backseat of an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar countryside, Flora staring dreamily out the window to her right, Miles preoccupied with the grease-stained pages of a comic book on her left. 

It’s calming to Dani, for whom, under any other circumstance, a long car ride would be a welcome reprieve, the serenity of backseats and blurred windows the souvenir of an otherwise intermittent childhood, the simplicity of distance measured, not in metric or imperial, but in time, constant and reassuring. Under any other circumstance, Dani thinks, between the cool air from the cracked windows and the easy silence from Owen, the near stranger up front, she may have even fallen asleep.

Instead, she’s anxious and claustrophobic, wedged between Flora and Miles, who, despite their small size, press in on her, boxing her in at all angles, except:

She leans forward, seizing the empty space in front of her as her own, breathing in deeply. “So, Owen,” she says, and Dani can feel the relief flowing into her already, steady and fluid, “how’d, uh… How’d you get roped into all this?”

“All this?” Owen cranes his head back towards Dani, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Yeah,” Dani glances nervously back at Flora and Miles, happily distracted behind her, and lowers her voice, “helping Henry. At the manor. Right now, with… Everything that’s been going on.” 

“Ah,” recognition flickers across Owen’s face, and his eyes dart briefly to his rearview mirror, meeting Dani’s, before sliding back to the road, “that. Well,” he lifts his shoulders, shrugging, “I’ve been employed at Bly for a while now. Henry’s a good boss, if a little absent, but I trust him. Besides,” his mustache twitches, and Dani leans forward, discerning, “Bly’s home, isn’t it?” 

“Home?” Dani blinks. “I didn’t realize… I didn’t realize anyone lived at Bly. Henry didn’t say––”

“The town, I mean,” Owen clarifies quickly, waving an explanatory hand, “not the manor. I escaped for a bit,” he continues, and Dani smiles, appreciative and eager, “spent some time in France”––his shoulders straighten, proud, at Dani’s subsequent “what?”, impressed and delighted, and he grins––“studying to be a chef.”

“Yet here I was,” Dani’s smile softens, curious, “just thinking you were a driver.”

“No, no, no,” Owen chuckles, “only sometimes, when Henry asks me.”

“Miss Clayton,” Flora breathes then, reaching up to tug lightly on Dani’s sleeve, her face pressed against the window, “look. Cows.”

“Cows,” Dani agrees amiably, leaning over to look with her, the excited puffs of Flora’s breath fogging up the window in front of them. “Y’know,” she offers, eyes tracking the low wooden fencing sweeping by them as Owen drives, “I always liked to look out for cows when I’d be in the car growing up, too. Still do, really.”

“Really?” Flora’s head whips around to look at Dani, her eyes bright. 

“Really,” Dani laughs, leaning back against the seat behind her as Flora finds her hand, threading their fingers together happily. “We had a lot more corn, though,” she adds absently, glancing over at Miles, rubbing the sleeve of his sweater fretfully over the fingerprints decorating, staining, the seventh issue of Star Wars: Droids.

“Corn,” Flora echoes.

Dani’s quiet, and eventually Flora turns back to the window, her forehead pressing back against the glass, her eyes darting, catching across the landscape as they go.

“You said…” Dani looks back up at Owen, meeting his eyes momentarily in the rearview mirror. “You said you’ve worked at Bly––at the manor, I mean––for a while?”

Owen hums his assent, nodding. “About…” he squints, “three years or so now?”

“What do you do…” Dani pauses, tugging her bottom lip between her teeth, thinking. “What do you do there, if you don’t mind my asking? Not,” she supplements quickly, her voice stumbling, wavering, “to be rude or anything, I just mean… Well, I thought… Since Henry doesn’t…” 

Owen tosses his head back, offering Dani a reassuring smile before turning back to the road. “Doesn’t live there, you mean? It’s not rude at all, Miss Clayton. A good question, really”––Dani smiles gratefully––“I live in Bly, the town, with my mum, but there’s, uh,” his mustache twitches again, “there’s a housekeeper, Hannah Grose, who lives at the manor full-time. Looks after the place, takes care of it. Takes her job seriously,” his voice is quieter now, Dani thinks, almost tender, “Hannah does. The manor is her home, after all. It’s just been her, since,” he glances back at Dani in the rearview mirror again, jerking his head towards Miles, then Flora, “you know. Anyway,” Owen clears his throat, “I cook. I’m…” The car jerks, shuddering over a pothole in the road, and he grimaces. “I’m a rubbish driver,” he glances at his side mirror, eyes landing on the pitted pavement already disappearing behind them, “but not a bad cook, it turns out.”

“So you’re the cook,” Dani leans forward again, her fingers slipping out of Flora’s, and crosses her arms, leaning on the seatback in front of her. “Does it ever get lonely out here, just the two of you? You and…”

“Mrs. Grose,” Owen supplies.

“Mrs. Grose,” Dani finishes. “I can only imagine, the two of you out here, alone…”

Owen flushes, ducking his head, and it’s the first time, Dani notes, he’s taken his eyes off of the road for this long.

Next to her, Flora, having taken a sudden interest in the conversation at hand, listening intently, tilts her head to the side.

“The good news is,” he finally says, and from the way his shoulders slump, Dani’s not sure she believes him, “we’re not alone anymore, are we? We’ve got you, and Flora,” his eyes find Flora’s in the rearview mirror and she beams, wide and bright, her eyes sparkling in the afternoon sun, “and Miles, and Jamie now, too.”

“Jamie?”

“Yeah,” Owen shifts in his seat, “she’s the, uh…” he waves a hand, at once vague and clarifying as he turns, the steering wheel gliding smoothly beneath his other, “the… Security specialist? The one Henry hired.”

Right, Dani thinks dumbly, the trappings of circumstance rushing back to her, that.

It’s this, this, that Dani hadn’t signed up for. 

Dani Clayton had not signed up for a… Jamie.

Dani understands that things happen, understands that it’s the way of the world. She understands Henry Wingrave’s high profile, had understood, immediately upon interviewing for her job, taking in the breadth Henry’s office, wide-eyed and gaping, exactly the value of the man, prosperous and precise, for whom she would come to work.

She understands disgruntled employees––she had been one of them, once, sixteen years old in a Dairy Queen polo, pressing, smearing a cherry-dipped cone into Richard Johnson’s sweater, breathless and ecstatic and so alive––and understands it’s not Henry’s fault, that he, so blinded by bourbon and grief, couldn’t have foreseen it.

The only person whose fault it is, Dani knows, is Peter Quint.

Peter Quint, who’d robbed Henry blind; Peter Quint, who’d disappeared, leaving a cacophony of chaos in his wake; Peter Quint, who’d eventually, inevitably, circled back for more, a shark smelling blood in the water, his face, pale and gaunt, leering at her through the front window of the Wingraves’ townhouse. 

It’s not that Dani doesn’t appreciate the protective measures Henry’s taken, because she does. More than she thinks he could know, had he capacity enough to pay attention.

She’d appreciated the added security in London, appreciated Henry’s choice to contract a private firm rather than rely on the police, remembering bitterly the sergeant who’d told her, dismissive and bland, “I’m not sure what else you’d like me to do.”

She appreciates Henry moving herself and the children out to his family’s country home in Bly for added safety, appreciates the opportunity to, Flora and Miles’ private school in London abruptly abandoned, their tuition unrefunded, take on the burden of their education. (Dani appreciates, too, the generous salary increase Henry had given her to compensate for the added responsibility, appreciates more than ever her own training, ten years’ of teaching experience behind her.)

More than anything, Dani appreciates Henry’s dedication to his niece and nephew, his determination to protect them at––quite literally––all costs. She would do the same, is doing the same, for Flora and Miles, immediately and without doubt, plunging head first into icy waters if only to ensure them a semblance of safety. To ensure them a chance.

Which is why, Dani thinks, annoyance blurring and proud at the edges of her temperance, she doesn’t need this. Doesn’t need private security when they’re already miles away from London. Doesn’t need a… Jamie.

Dani can, she thinks, and Dani will, take care of Flora and Miles herself.

They’re fine.  

Dani has, happily, handily, spent her entire life taking care of other people. Her childhood had been dedicated to her mother (three parts hydrogen peroxide to one part dishwashing detergent could lift even the most stubborn of red wine stains; it was seven steps, her mother’s arm slung over her shoulder or her hand wrapped sloppily around Dani’s, from the garage to the basement, thirteen more up the stairs, and another twenty-three to her mother’s bed), her adolescence to Eddie (the tiny pocket screwdriver, used exclusively to tighten Eddie’s glasses, had lived in the front pocket of Dani’s bookbag from middle school onward; her planner had detailed due dates for both his assignments and hers, Dani’s own extracurricular endeavors filled in later, an afterthought), and her adulthood––as much as she’d experienced of it so far––had been to her students.

And now it was to Flora and Miles. 

I could make a difference, Dani had told Henry after her interview had concluded, the words spilling out of her mouth in a jumble, a real difference. 

Dani’s eyes flit to Flora, to Miles, and she leans further forward, her seatbelt pressing into her chest. “This… Jamie. She’s there already?” 

“Mmhmm,” Owen nods, leaning forward, squinting through the windshield at the road ahead. “Got in yesterday afternoon. Did a whole sweep of the property already. Nicked a couple of my biscuits,” he adds, voice cheerful and something akin to a grumble, “while she was at it.” 

Dani purses her lips, pensive, admiring, as she watches the road narrow, concrete yielding to gravel, watches the greenery around them spread, disperse, giving way to stone spires and chimneys, a checked roof and gleaming windows. 

“D’you think,” she finally says, turning back to Owen, her voice low, furtive, “we really need it? Security, all the way out here?”

Owen pauses, considering. “I think,” he says, guiding the car around the gentle bend of the drive, “Henry thinks we do. And that,” the car rolls to a stop, the front of the manor emerging, looming and full, before them, “is enough for me. Here we are.”

It’s beautiful, Dani finds herself thinking, momentarily distracted, all of it. The manor, the grounds… She wishes, almost, that she hadn’t been so preoccupied as they’d arrived, that she could have taken so much more of Bly in, musing that she might have even liked to walk up the drive on foot, taking in the whole of the property as she’d gone.

What was it Owen had said? A sweep.

She might have, even, liked to have done her own sweep.

“What did she find?” Dani angles her head towards Owen, otherwise unmoving, Flora and Miles rushing to unbuckle their seatbelts beside her.

“What did who find?” Owen shifts the gear into park, sliding the key out of the ignition and slipping it into a pocket, turning to Dani.

“Jamie,” Dani says, dimly aware of the weight of the name on her tongue, the way it’s taken root in her brain, already, “what did she find? On her sweep.”

Owen looks at her for a second, brow furrowed.

“Owen!”

His head whirls back around, a wide smile cracking his face as he sees a woman, tall and elegant, making her way towards the car. “That’ll be Hannah,” he announces warmly, undoing his own seatbelt and peering through the windshield. “As for Jamie,” he pauses, squinting, then nods as a second woman, noticeably shorter, slips between the yawning doors of the estate, “I’m not sure, actually. But you can ask her yourself, now. Here,” he slides out of the car, taking a step backwards to pull the door open for Flora, helping her out with a flourish, “m’lady.”

“Thank you, Owen,” Flora beams up at him.

Owen smiles. “Anytime, miss.”

Dani scrambles out after Flora, all warm determination and no grace, her eyes snapping, intent, to the woman making her way slowly, lazily, towards them.

Oh.

Oh.

Dani Clayton definitely did not sign up for this.


There are, Jamie knows with no uncertainty, worse gigs. 

There are worse gigs than spending a month, at least, at a beautiful manor on beautiful grounds in the beautiful countryside, so far away from anyone else that the tiny pub in the adjoining town is the only one for hours in any direction.

There are worse gigs than spending most of her time outside, patrolling along rambling hedges and an overgrown lakefront, slipping, unnoticed, through knotted trees and trailing vines. 

There are, Jamie thinks, watching Dani Clayton bumble out of Owen’s car, bumping her head softly against the door as she does, Dani’s eyes flying to Jamie, wide and startled and blue, so blue, in the golden afternoon light, much worse gigs.

They hold each other’s eyes and, just for a moment, Jamie forgets about sweeps. Forgets about the children, shoving each other and giggling, rushing around her, Hannah shepherding them inside. Forgets about anything other than the woman, blinding and certain, in front of her.

And then Dani’s straightening, taking a breath, and, all proud shoulders and stubborn jaw, crossing immediately to Jamie. 

Jamie watches her as she walks, the soft gravel of the drive crunching under Dani’s boots, Dani’s arms pumping, strained, her fists clenched at her sides. “Dani Clayton,” she says when she reaches Jamie, forcing a splayed hand out between them, her smile warm, tight.

Jamie stares at her for a minute, deciding, carefully, how she wants to let this play out. She lets a smirk hover at the corner of her lips.

“I know,” she finally says, reaching a hand out to take Dani’s. Dani’s hands are smooth and perfect and Jamie’s willing to bet there’s at least two tubes of overpriced hand cream hidden somewhere in that overstuffed backpack of hers. 

“I’m sorry?”

“I know,” Jamie says again, mild and matter-of-fact. “Our shared boss Lord Henry Wingrave shared your information with me ahead of your arrival today. Background check and all. Your Italy patch is backwards, by the way.”

Dani’s brow furrows, and Jamie can feel Dani’s body, across from her, tense. “Background check?”

She ignores, Jamie notices, pointedly, Jamie's critique about her backpack.

“Standard procedure,” Jamie grins. “Nothing personal, promise.”

Dani huffs, and Jamie watches as a few flyaway strands of hair flutter up and against her forehead. “Maybe not,” she says, “but you don't think a heads up would’ve been nice?”

“Giving you one now, aren’t I?”

Dani only stares at her.

Jamie still hasn’t, she realizes dumbly, let go of Dani’s hand. 

She lets it drop, and Dani shivers at the loss of contact, a small jolt through her spine that has Dani blinking, shaking her head, and Jamie feeling as if Dani’s only just now there with her, as if she’d disappeared for a moment, Jamie realizing her absence solely upon her return. 

“Jamie Taylor, by the way,” Jamie shoves her hands into the pockets of her overalls, inclining her head towards Dani, “Lloyd Security Enterprises.”

“I know,” Dani chirps. Dani’s tone is friendly, placid, and Jamie has the nagging suspicion that, somewhere between the shine of her eyes and the curling pout of her lips, Dani is smug all the same. There’s a confidence to Dani Clayton, Jamie’s observed, a surety that feels somehow both improbable and absolute, Dani digging her heels in, but digging them into a mudslide, capricious and roiling.

“I may have told her,” Owen slips past them, Dani’s bags tucked under his arms, and Dani smiles after him, obliged, “a bit about you on the way.”

Jamie laughs, turning to call after him. “All good things, yeah?”

“If being a biscuit thief is a good thing…” Owen’s voice, echoing from the entryway, fades into the foyer, and Jamie shakes her head, grinning after him, before turning back to Dani.

“Not what you were expecting, then?” Jamie rocks forward on the balls of her feet, and, waiting for Dani to lean back, to maintain the distance between them, raises an eyebrow when she doesn’t.

“Not really, no.”

“What?” Jamie cocks her head, her jaw jutting forward, curious and proud. “Weren’t expecting a girl?”

Dani scoffs, and she sounds almost bored, Jamie thinks, when she offers a cool “no, not that” in response.

“No?”

Dani’s quiet again, watching her, eyes discerning and darting as they dance around Jamie’s face, and it should be unsettling––it would be easier, clearer for Jamie, if it were––but Jamie can’t look away.

Dani blinks then, and it’s like her entire body relaxes, her mouth quirking up into an apologetic smile. “Look,” she says, smoothing three hours' worth of wrinkles from the front of her skirt, “I’m… I’m glad you’re here. Really, I am. I… Appreciate the work you do, and I’m glad Henry’s looking out for us.” 

Jamie can tell Dani’s been practicing this speech in her head for at least the last five minutes, has been practicing it, maybe, since before they’d met, when all Jamie had been to Dani was a mere suggestion, a name rolling off of Owen’s tongue. 

It is, as far as attempted letdowns go, painfully average.

“But…” Dani bites her lip, glances down at her hands, clenching, unclenching, at the material of her skirt.

“But?”

Dani glances back up at her, and when their eyes meet, Jamie’s taken aback by how clear Dani’s are. “Thank you,” Dani says next, voice confident and perfectly collected, and it’s already maddening, Jamie wonders, how nothing about Dani Clayton adds up, “but I’m not sure we’ll be needing your help.”

“No?”

“No,” Dani’s hands find her hips, proud, “I can take care of myself.”

Jamie doesn't respond, sweeping, instead, her eyes down Dani’s figure and back up again, lingering, catching on Dani’s chest, at the hitch of Dani’s breath under the weight of Jamie’s gaze.

Dani swallows.

“Can you?” 

“Can I what?”

“Take care of yourself.”

Dani blinks, and Jamie’s pleased with the surprise she sees there. “I…” Dani flushes, her brows pressing together. “I… Yes.” The single syllable is stubborn and staunch and Jamie can't decide if she wants to hear it over and over or ever again. 

“You sure?” Jamie asks, relishing in Dani’s deepening flush, at the soft crease that springs up between her brows. “Because right now, I see smooth-soled boots on gravel, an off-kilter center of gravity––probably not even very consistent to begin with, mind you-–thanks to that backpack weighing you down, and a body so tense that you might just shatter the second anyone so much as touches you.”

Jamie watches Dani’s nostrils flair, grinning at the tension that springs to her jaw, Dani’s fists clenching, again, at her sides.

“Is that why you were looking at me?” Dani breathes, her voice quiet, tight.

“Why else,” Jamie lowers her voice to match Dani’s, “would I be looking at you?”

Dani's eyelids flutter.

Jamie grins then, leaning back, and takes several springing steps backward towards the manor. “Trust me, Dani Clayton. You need me. So let me do my job, and I’ll let you do yours. Though,” she stops briefly, grin widening, “if I can give you a bit of advice”––she doesn’t wait for Dani to respond, doesn’t even pause––“lighten up a bit, yeah? I mean, Christ, Poppins.” 

Jamie’s turned on her heel and is halfway through the front doors when––

“Maybe you should take your own advice,” she hears Dani call after her, “lighten up a bit yourself!”

This, this, might be a problem.

There may not, Jamie’s realizing, be worse gigs after all.

Chapter Text

“The most important rule,” Jamie says, waving a hand at the front drive as they make their way back outside, bags dropped unceremoniously at the foot of the front stairs, walking backwards across the lawn as she talks at them, “is that you never leave the property. The house, really, if you can help it. But if you must,” her eyes sweep over the group of them, Hannah, Miles, Flora, staying when they find Dani’s, “then the buddy system is in full effect. And ideally,” she puffs her cheeks out, plucking boastfully at the shoulder of her flannel, “that buddy should be me. Even if you have another buddy, say… You and the kids”––she nods at Dani, who raises her eyebrows mildly––“I’d still like an invitation. S’only polite, after all. Also,” she adds, shrugging, resuming her leisurely steps backwards, “the whole reason I’m here. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of me, yeah?”

Flora and Miles are too busy following Jamie’s lead, trying to walk backwards themselves, giggling as they teeter in the wet grass, to notice the quip. Hannah scoffs, smile on her face fond––already, Dani muses––nonetheless.

Dani, expression bland and pleasant and absolutely inscrutable, outright ignores it.

“Right then,” Jamie shrugs, turning around, “to the chapel.”

It’s a moment, Dani thinks, finally, of blessed silence.

“While we walk,” Jamie pipes back up, “another thing.” 

Dani wonders, briefly, what would happen if she split from the group, if she skipped the chapel and kept walking straight into the lake beyond. 

“Don’t leave your rooms at night. Stay in your beds,” Jamie winds around a sunken patch of mud and grass, “until morning.”

“Wh––” Dani stumbles, boot sinking into the mud. “What?”

“Stay in your bed,” Jamie repeats, “until the morning. Easy enough, I think. You’ll be sleeping, anyway.”

“Some of us,” Dani takes a wobbling step, attempting to shake the mud off of her foot as she does, “won’t–– Can’t, actually. Some of us can’t. Can’t sleep, I mean.”

Jamie casts a glance back at Dani over her shoulder, eyebrows raised. “And you… Wander, when you can’t sleep?”

Dani blinks once, twice. Purses her lips. Shrugs. “Maybe. Maybe, yeah.”

Jamie hums thoughtfully, head turning back around, and Dani thinks that’s as much of a response she’s going to get when Jamie stops, gesturing for Hannah and the children to go around her. 

“You might,” Jamie confides lowly once they’ve passed, “want to start thinking about a new way to tire yourself out, then.”

Dani tenses, but Jamie only grins, continuing before Dani can cut her off, can feign bored indifference.

“Can give you some suggestions, if you’d like. Reading. Meditation. Did you know,” Jamie leans in, eyes shining, “if you work out, even early in the day, you’ll sleep better at night?”

Dani lets herself indulge her, Dani’s eyes sliding over to Jamie. “Is that so?” 

Jamie blinks, her face slackening. 

Dani raises her eyebrows and resumes her steps, shuffling after Hannah and the children, muddy boot squishing softly into the grass as she goes.

Jamie watches her go, brow furrowed, and then she’s jogging, rushing ably ahead of Dani over the damp lawn.

“So anyway,” Jamie spins on her heel, walking backwards again, “dunno how many of you are the religious sort, but chapel’s here. Don’t have many rules about it––there are no secret nooks or crannies to worry about. It’s not like Indiana Jones,” she shrugs, the corner of her mouth quirking up, “I’ve checked.”

Jamie looks, Dani thinks, bored, nothing like Indiana Jones. Her overalls are a loose, light washed denim resting against a tanned chest, and Dani’s momentarily fascinated by the idea that Jamie may not be wearing anything underneath them at all until her eyes slink from the open splay of Jamie’s collarbone to the freckle nestled, teasing, in the angle of her overalls and the strap of a cobalt blue tank top. It’s doesn’t feel conducive, to Dani, for a glorified bodyguard to be caught up in overall straps and an oversized button-down that billows out behind her as she walks, but neither does the chain, gleaming a soft gold in the sunlight, lying gracefully across the top of Jamie’s chest.

The chain, Dani decides, feels particularly counterproductive. It would be so easy, she imagines, so easy to reach out and grab it, to yank Jamie in towards her and––

“She looks like a tour guide, doesn’t she?” Dani murmurs, falling into step beside Hannah. “Walking backwards… Telling us everything we can’t do…”

Hannah looks askance at her, all sharp eyes and nascent smile.

“A basic fire safety tip, though,” Jamie’s saying ahead of them, “if you’re lighting candles, don’t go lighting”––she winks at Hannah––“and forgetting them.”

“You don’t…” Dani glances sideways at Hannah as they continue around the chapel and past the lake, Flora peering excitedly through the reeds, “think we really need them, do you? All these rules? I mean…” Dani looks back at the lake as they loop around it, coming to rest in the shade of a stone gazebo. “What is there to need protection from? Leeches––”

“Leeches,” Jamie’s voice overlaps hers, “vampire slugs, beetles. Peter Quint, come back to take what he feels he’s owed. Dani,” Jamie tuts, disapproving, “I’m not asking. It’s not a suggestion, not an option. I’m telling. No matter how well-equipped you think you are to handle this,” Jamie stuffs her hands into her pockets, shrugging, “you’re not.”

There’s a soft “excuse me,” and Hannah’s slipping away from the two of them, following Miles and Flora, chasing excitedly after tadpoles, along the waterline.

Jamie watches them go, her gaze casting back to Dani after a moment, and lowers her voice. “Look,” she says, “I’m not going to push it in front of the kids. Don’t want to do it in front of Hannah, even. But this is my job, Dani. I understand that you’ve been taking care of the two of them for a while now, and I get that.”

Dani starts to roll her eyes, to glance away, over at the children, but Jamie shakes her head, reaching out to tug at Dani’s wrist, pulling Dani’s attention back to her. 

Dani blinks, and Jamie can feel the way she tenses underneath Jamie’s grip.

“I get that,” Jamie says again, reasoning, “and I get that now someone else, someone new, is here purporting to do the same thing, and that can feel…” she scratches at her forehead, “threatening, but––”

“Threatening?” Dani yanks her wrist back. “You…” she blinks, brows pinching together, “you think I feel… Threatened?”

“I––”

“Trust me,” Dani takes another step back, her voice harder now, out of the gazebo and towards Hannah and the children, “threatened is the last thing you make me feel.”

Dani’s turned her back on Jamie, is bending over to look at the tadpole wriggling in Miles’ hands, when she hears Jamie, can hear the grin in her voice, back behind her.

“Last,” Jame calls out, voice bouncing off of the stone around her, “leaves a lot of other things for you to feel first.”

Dani presses her eyes shut. Takes a deep breath.

“Miss Clayton?” 

Dani’s eyes flutter open to find Miles looking up at her, tadpole still in his outstretched palms. 

“Let’s… Get this little guy back into the water, yeah?” Dani guides Miles’ hands back towards the glassy surface of the lake as he nods, dipping them in carefully, the two of them watching as the tadpole disappears back under the surface. “Better to let him grow,” Dani adds absently, chancing a glance back over her shoulder, and Jamie’s head is turned, craned away from her, looking intently at something beyond the chapel, across the drive, “into what he’s meant to be. We can give him that time,” Dani turns back to Miles, smiling, “can’t we?”

“Yeah,” Miles says, smile breaking across his face, nodding, “we can.”


The funny thing about it is, ever since stumbling into adulthood––real adulthood, not the play adulthood of Dani’s youth, valiant if misguided attempts at coping with her father’s death and her mother’s alcoholism, with the before and the in-between and the after––Dani’s liked rules.

Loved them, even.

They’re like little certainties, a singular constant in Dani’s life regardless of the particular state of disarray it’s wont to be in at any given moment.

But here, now? Dragging behind Jamie Taylor’s heels as Jamie points out each and every window on the first floor of Henry Wingrave’s country home, instructing them, her eyes idling on Dani as they meander into Henry’s study, that they are, under no circumstances, to linger in front of or open them?

Dani purses her lips.

Jamie, halfway through pointing out to Miles that yes, that includes the occasional stained glass pane, stops. Pivots. Tilts her head. “Can I help you, Dani?” She raises her eyebrows, expectant.

“No.”

“You sure about that?” Jamie’s voice is tight, goading.

Dani stares at her for a moment.

“You know what,” she finally says, “you can. You can… Help me.”

Flora and Miles glance at each other, and Hannah, hovering in the hallway, takes a tentative step towards them.

Jamie’s brows lift higher.

“You can tell me,” Dani steps in closer, and Jamie’s eyes flit down to Dani’s hands, clenched tightly at her sides, “why we even have windows. If we’re not… Not allowed to look out of them. I mean… What’s the point, then? What is it? Really?”

“Dunno,” Jamie’s response is smooth and instantaneous and maddening, “didn’t build the place. But I doubt whoever did could foresee Peter Quint making his way to Bly to skulk about, cause trouble. Agitate”––Dani swears she can see Jamie’s eyes twinkling––“any delicate sensibilities.” Dani scowls, opens her mouth, but Jamie continues: “didn’t say you, did I?” She smirks. “You’re telling on yourself, Poppins.” 

Dani’s knuckles are white and her jaw is taut and the blue of her eyes has become a hard, crystalline thing, fixed and unforgiving. It makes Jamie feel as if she’s locked in a staredown with an open flame, simmering and constant, despite the volatility flaring, scorching all around her.

Just what, Jamie finds herself wondering, heat slowly creeping up the back of her neck, might make Dani Clayton give into the blaze? 

Jamie swallows.

“Besides,” she offers Dani a nonchalant shrug, slouching backwards to lean against Henry’s desk, “you don’t have to stand point-blank in front of a window for it to have a point. Can still enjoy the natural light. Let some sunshine in. You could,” she chuckles, a soft puff of air through her nose, “bear to let a little good in, you know.”

Something in Dani’s face changes, but before Jamie can step in closer, can scrutinize it, Hannah’s lighting a hand on Dani’s shoulder. “Let’s, ah, show Miss Clayton the classroom, shall we?”

Dani relaxes into Hannah’s touch, smiling gratefully up at her. “Yes,” she says, and whatever Jamie had seen reflected on her face is gone now, “I would love that.” 

“You say that now,” Jamie murmurs, pushing herself off of Henry’s desk, following the group as they make their way down the hall, her eyes gliding down Dani’s back, along Dani's waist, as she walks. Dani’s gait is uneven, her steps heavy, and Jamie’s shaking her head, smirking, remembering Dani’s insistence she could take care of herself, when she finds herself wondering about the parts of Dani she can’t see. Jamie wonders about Dani’s legs, hidden underneath the sweep of her skirt; the curve of her waist, sheltering underneath her denim jacket; the swell of her hips, buried beneath both. If only Jamie could see them, could take Dani in properly, could so much as reach out and––

It’s a shame, Jamie thinks, head flopping to the side as she gives Dani another up and down, she can’t size her up correctly, can’t determine the whole of Dani’s fitness, can’t identify the wealth of her aptitude for protecting herself. Jamie can try, certainly, can gauge Dani’s center of gravity (low, in her hips) now that she’s left her backpack by the stairs, had known immediately and without question where Dani falls when it comes to fight or flight (fight, every time), can tell which side of her body she favors (her right, almost painfully so), but… 

“This is gorgeous,” Dani breathes, stopping abruptly in the doorway to the classroom, barely reacting when Jamie nearly bumps into her, a gentle hand darting out, bracketing itself around Dani’s waist, bracing.

“It is, isn’t it?” Hannah beams proudly, Dani’s eyes wide as she takes in the space in front of her, Flora and Miles ducking around Dani to careen into the classroom, Flora losing herself, already, in jars and jars of different-colored crayons, Miles entranced by the science desk, all beakers and bottles. 

“It really”––Jamie drops her hand from Dani’s waist and Dani inhales sharply before continuing––“is. Did you do this all yourself?”

Hannah ducks her head, humble in spite of the smile stretching across her face. “Oh, it was a group effort. I telephoned the children’s school, had help, plenty of help, from Owen…” 

Dani grins. “He seems like a pretty helpful guy.” 

“He is,” Hannah agrees, her eyes crinkling at the corners, “we’re, uh… We’re very lucky to have him.”

“Miss Taylor––”

“Jamie,” Jamie slips past Dani and into the classroom, hopping up to perch on one of the desks, looking at Flora, “you can call me Jamie.”

“Jamie…” The name is slow to roll off Flora’s tongue, her brow furrowed, conflicted, but then her face is brightening, her voice cheerful. “I’ve never called a grown-up by their first name before. Miss Clayton told us we could, but…” Flora glances over Jamie’s shoulder at Dani, “our Uncle Henry insisted we call her Miss Clayton instead.”

Jamie purses her lips, nodding thoughtfully. “Makes sense. He’s a proper sort, your uncle. But,” she leans forward, grinning conspiratorially, “he’s not here, is he?”

Jamie hears Hannah scoff behind her, ignores it. 

“You’re right,” Flora’s quieter, more pensive, “he really isn’t.”

It’s a tender spot, a fading bruise, and Dani knows it isn’t Jamie’s fault she doesn’t know not to poke at it, Dani understands fully the scope of accountability, but she feels her temper flare anyway, anger hot and heavy in her stomach. How can Jamie be expected to protect them, Dani thinks bitterly, nails biting into her palms, when she doesn’t even know what scars are already there? Which wounds are still healing?

Dani isn’t sure how you can be anything to anybody without bothering to know them first.

“So,” Jamie’s lowered her voice to match Flora’s, “what’s up, Miss Wingrave?”

Flora giggles, and just like that, she’s smiling again.

“See?” Jamie swings her legs underneath her. “Sounds silly, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Flora agrees, and, sliding the lid carefully over the paint set she’s moved on to inspecting, looks matter-of-factly at Jamie. “I have a question for you,” she shifts her weight from one foot to the other, “Jamie.”

“Let’s have it, then.”

“What about,” Flora turns, waving an arm across the length of the far wall, lined with wide, bright windows, “all these windows?” 

By the door, Dani freezes.

“Yeah,” Jamie tilts her head, taking in the windows across from her, “that’s the thing.”

“Sure is,” Dani leans back against the doorframe, crossing her arms.

“No way around it,” Jamie answers. “We can close the blinds and all, but,” she glances over at Dani, “you lot shouldn’t be sitting in the dark all day. If Mrs. Grose thinks she’ll be fine”––Jamie glances over at Hannah, who inclines her head, obliging––“then I reckon the best course of action would be for me to stay in here with you during the day. Keep you company while…” Jamie grins over at Dani, “Miss Clayton is teaching.”

“I thought Henry wasn’t here,” Dani says dryly, “thought we were all on a first name basis now.”

Jamie laughs.

“I don’t know, Miss Clayton,” Miles looks up at her from his chair in front of the science table, tearing his eyes away from the bunsen burner nestled there, “it feels like it might be… Weird. Weird, I think, to change it now.”

“Quite right,” Hannah supplements, voice accented with a thick air of approval, her inclination to propriety winning out over an otherwise even keel. 

“Looks like I get to keep your name all to myself, then, Dani,” Jamie slides her palms behind her, stretching back atop the desk. “So what do you say? Mind if I join you in the classroom?”

“Don’t think I have a choice,” Dani replies mildly. 

Jamie shrugs. “Not really, no. But isn’t the illusion of choice sometimes better than reality?”

There’s a flicker of recognition, of something deeper across Dani’s face, but she’s forcing it back down, her expression smooth. “If you’re going to be in my classroom,” she replies coolly, “you’re going to have to follow my rules. Not yours. Mine.”

“Sorry, but,” Jamie straightens up, apprehensive, almost warning, “my rules are non-negotiables.”

“And so are mine.” Dani’s patient, even, and Jamie gets the feeling she could do this well into the night if she had to.

“Perhaps,” Flora interjects, smiling, still, between them, “your rules don’t have to be… Mutually exclusive. That’s the phrase, right, Miss Clayton?”

Jamie’s grin is back.

“Quite right, Flora,” Hannah’s hand is finding Dani’s shoulder again, squeezing gently. “What do you all say I show you to your rooms? Let you freshen up a bit before dinner?”

Dani and Jamie are still staring at each other as Flora and Miles file out of the classroom, Dani’s eyes stubborn, daring, Jamie’s teasing, threatening, implicitly, to take Dani up on it.

“Come on, dear,” Hannah guides Dani around and out of the classroom. “You’ll have plenty of time to make the space your own once you’ve settled.”

“Hard to settle,” Dani mumbles, “when it feels like I’m not allowed to relax.” 

“Not sure you could relax anyway,” Jamie’s voice chimes in from behind them, “even if you were allowed.” 

“Jamie,” Hannah tuts, chiding, “take it easy on her. It’s a lot all at once, isn’t it?”

Jamie only grins, holding her hands up in front of her in mock surrender as she slips around the two of them, heading for the stairs. “Don’t worry, Hannah. Just having a laugh.”

Hannah glances over at Dani, offering an apologetic smile, but all of Dani’s focus is on Jamie, Dani’s jaw set as she follows her up the stairs.

In the case of Jamie Taylor, Dani finds herself thinking, eyes sweeping across the unconcerned arc of Jamie’s shoulders, some rules are just begging to be broken.


It is, Dani allows herself to admit, flopping backwards down onto the freshly made double bed, at least a little bit relaxing.

The room is bigger than hers had been at the Wingraves’ flat in London––bigger than she’d expected, even with the size of the manor––and, Dani notes gleefully, basking in the late afternoon sunlight streaming in through the windows, it’s on the second floor. The second floor, and Dani pops back up, pleased, to cross to the windows, throwing open the gauzy curtains pulled tightly across them, which means she can do with her windows whatever she’d like.

Dani steps back, grinning, proud and delighted with her small act of rebellion. 

She stands there a moment longer, taking in the warm glow, the tops of the trees stretching out endlessly before her, and if she allows herself, for a moment, to forget about Jamie Taylor, something (the house, the universe, the happy accident of time) is quick to remind her.

Dani’s tugged her jacket hastily off of her shoulders, warm in the fading light, to toss it back onto her bed, and her t-shirt is halfway over her head, her arms tangled up in white cotton, when she hears the soft groan of hinges, followed by a much less soft “Jesus!”

There’s a minute––a blundering, awkward minute that feels like forever––where Dani wrestles herself back into her shirt, where Jamie stands in the doorway of what is very apparently their shared bathroom, having clapped a hand over her eyes a few seconds too late, and then they’re staring at each other, wide-eyed and unmoving.

Dani finally speaks first, scarlet spreading from the tips of her ears to her cheeks and across the bridge of her nose. “Don’t you,” she says, her voice bordering dangerously on shrill, “know how to knock?”

“Yeah, I,” Jamie waves a hand uselessly, and for her part, Dani thinks, she actually looks apologetic, “I’m sorry, I… Wasn’t thinking, I guess.” She reaches up, scratching at her forehead. “I just, uh… Couple things, really.”

Dani raises her eyebrows, arms crossed, impatient, against her chest.

“First off, I wanted to tell you about this,” she jerks her head towards the bathroom behind her. “It’s a shared bathroom between… Well, between our rooms. Flora and Miles have one just like it, across the hall. Theirs should help,” she adds, “when it’s bedtime. When you’re doing… Whatever it is you do.”

Dani’s only acknowledgement is a tight-lipped “hmm.”

“Anyway, ours,” Jamie continues, “figured I’d give you a heads up before you…” 

“Let you walk in on me naked?”

Jamie would laugh, Jamie wants to laugh, but she is, she finds, entirely too terrified by the singular arch of Dani Clayton’s right eyebrow.

“Yeah,” she says, almost sheepish, “that. Look, Dani, maybe we just… Keep the doors unlocked, and then whenever one of us goes in there, we lock them from the inside, so that way whoever isn’t knows––”

“How are you supposed to come to my rescue, then?”

Jamie blinks. “What?”

“How are you supposed to come to my rescue,” Dani repeats, eyes glinting, “when the door’s locked? What… What happens if I slip in the shower? With my… My…” Dani’s eyes dart across Jamie’s face, recalling, one of her hands twining into the material of her skirt, “off-kilter center of gravity, was it?”

Jamie swallows. “Not sure it’s my job,” she says, voice hoarse, “to look after you in the shower.”

Dani’s “hmm” sounds lighter this time, flippant.

Jamie has no idea, she marvels, when the balance of power between them has shifted. She hadn’t even known it had been happening at all, and when she rakes back through the last few minutes in her mind, she realizes that maybe, just maybe, she’d walked into it. That Jamie had ceded control the second she’d walked into Dani’s room, the second she’d found herself unable to tear her eyes from the delicate expanse of skin between neck and waistband, interrupted only by a small bit of fabric.

That Dani, knotted up in her t-shirt, had been in control the whole time.

Jamie doesn’t like not being in control. 

Jamie has a way of doing things.

Jamie doesn’t like people messing that up.

She clears her throat. “Right then,” she says, and Dani blinks, “second order of business. I had a question for you.” 

It’s brusque, too brusque and too pragmatic for what she’s about to say, and Dani has no idea.

“What, how long it’ll take me to do my hair in the morning?” Dani rolls her eyes, finally letting herself grin as she does. “Because I promise you, it’s not as long as you think, not when you know, really know, how––”

“It’s not.” Jamie looks down, staring down at her boots, lips pursed, before looking back up at Dani. “Look, Dani, no bullshit. I have to ask you this. The, uh, the fiancé. The dead fiancé.”

The air goes out of the room.

Dani condenses before her eyes, pulling into herself even as she stands taller, thumbs tucking into tight fists at her sides, her shoulders furling backwards, tense, chin high and jaw taut, Dani’s face white, save for the slow flush bleeding in along the edges.

Jamie thinks it must be a little bit like watching a diamond form, hardening, impenetrable, under pressure.

“Was that,” Dani’s eyes are crystal again, unyielding, even as her voice drops, wavers, “in your background check?”

“Dies mysteriously,” Jamie continues, forcing herself to shut down, to ignore the woman in front of her, to do, she tells herself, her job, “fiancée up and leaves not only the town but also the country… I mean, you were childhood sweethearts. Almost thirty years of your life, and then you… What? Immediately moved halfway across the world? To London,” Jamie’s tone is disbelieving, jury and judgement all at once, “from Iowa City, Iowa.”

“You,” Dani’s voice is harder now, more confident, and Jamie has no doubt it’s in spite of the way it shakes, “don’t know anything about me.”

Jamie doesn’t like not being in control. 

“You have to admit,” Jamie presses, scrambling, “it looks strange.”

Dani’s eyes have come unglued, are resting, unfocused, somewhere in the middle distance between Jamie and the bathroom behind her.

Jamie has a way of doing things.

“I just…” Jamie grits her teeth, fighting, her efforts futile, the wear on her patience. “I’m not trying to pry. I’m just trying to do my job.”

Dani’s eyes snap back into focus, darting up to bore into Jamie’s. “I think,” she says, “you should leave.”

Jamie doesn’t like people messing that up.

“And I think,” she snaps back, “you should let me do my fucking job.”

“No,” Dani says, firmer now, matching Jamie’s tone, “you need to leave.”

They stand there again, staring at each other, unstoppable force meets immovable object, and then Jamie’s turning, pivoting on the ball of her foot, and disappearing into her room, slamming Dani’s bathroom door shut behind her.

Silence.

Silence, then the sound of Jamie’s bathroom door slamming shut, too, the final punctuation on an ugly exclamation.

The wall shudders.

Dani is alone, unmoving, illuminated by the setting sun, a coda swelling in through her open, exposed window.

Dani sinks back onto her bed, and she cries.

Chapter Text

Jamie isn’t at dinner. 

Jamie isn’t at dinner, and Dani’s fine with that.

Dani prefers that.

Dani also, her eyes casting, restless, around the table, can’t seem to relax.

Everything is neat. Everything is in order. Everything is fine.

And yet.

Dani can’t place it, the feeling gnawing along the margins of her stomach, the unease that’s taken up residence in her brain. Her head feels like oil in water, her thoughts skittish, slipping out of reach as soon as they’ve condensed.

She breathes, running through her list of checks as Owen, pinstripe apron knotted neatly around his waist, doles out plates of mashed potatoes and sausages to each of them.

Doors: locked, closed and cordoned as soon as the party had returned from their tour of the grounds that afternoon, Dani’s fingers pressing, balancing, against cool wood as she’d wobbled, tugging off her muddy boot. 

Stove: she squints, peering across the kitchen at the gas range. Leftover sausages sit cozily in their cast iron atop the cooling front right burner, the stove’s dials all turned to their discernible twelve o’clock off position.

Flora: across the table, a few flyaway strands of hair having escaped the ribbon Dani had tied in a patient bow that morning, surreptitiously pushing her peas around her plate, hiding them, scattered, behind a heaping serving of mashed potatoes.

Miles: seated, smiling pleasantly next to Flora, cutting into a sausage, the sleeves of his sweater pushed up just below his elbows and watching Flora out of the corner of his eye, looking wary as she dips her finger into the mountain of potatoes on her plate.

Hannah: next to her, a new addition to Dani’s list, hands folded primly in front of her and belied by the smile lurking just beyond the corners of her mouth, watching Owen as he wings around the corner of the table to deliver her a plate with a wink and an overserious “madame.”

Owen: another new addition, bringing Dani her plate before collecting one for himself, plopping happily down in the open chair next to Flora––across from Hannah, Dani can’t help but notice––and reaching for the cup of tea Hannah’s offering him.

Jamie––

Not there.

Not there, which is exactly where Dani wants her.

“Dani?” Dani only vaguely registers that Owen’s saying her name, only thinks to respond when he says it a second time. “Dani?”

“What? Oh,” Dani glances up, sheepish, “sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for,” Owen’s smile is warm, and he reaches across the table towards Dani, proffering an uncorked bottle. “Wine?”

“Please,” Dani’s returning smile is grateful, and she can already feel her nerves beginning to dull as she holds out her glass.

“Flora,” Hannah’s voice, airy and unyielding, floats across the table, “don’t.”

Flora, finger caked in mashed potato and reaching for Miles, sighs. 

Dani laughs, murmuring a thanks to Owen, and lifts her glass to her lips. This is what she’d imagined when Henry had informed her that she and the children would be relocated indefinitely to Bly, that they were to stay there––“you can… Make something of it,” he’d suggested, weary and already disengaging, “like I used to”––until Peter Quint had been apprehended. This is what she’d expected when Owen had told her, his grip gentle around the steering wheel, his eyes steady on the road ahead of them, about himself, about Hannah, about life at the manor. This is, Dani thinks, exactly how it should be: Hannah and Owen, trading secretive smiles across the table, Flora, snickering as she hides her peas underneath stray bits of mashed potato, Miles watching her, fascinated, Jamie, sauntering in––

Jamie.

Sauntering in.

Dani’s glass is halfway to the table when she freezes, eyes pulled, unflinching and immediate, to Jamie. 

Jamie barely so much as looks at her, her eyes sliding, heavy, from Dani to Hannah to Owen as she crosses to the sink.

Dani is no stranger to betraying herself.

For so much of her life, Dani had felt trapped in her body––trapped by her body––held hostage by the wildfire raging across her skin, by the embers burning, low, in her stomach, and for so much of her life, Dani had tried to suppress it. 

She’d tried to suppress it at boarding school, twelve years old and away from what had once been prepubescent play-acting with Eddie, what had since started to become something altogether different, something for which she was altogether unprepared. She’d felt it for the first time then, fingers carding through Lisa Miller’s hair, trembling as she’d wound it into a tidy braid, as she’d tucked it, carefully, over her shoulder.

It had been a rush of air, sudden and all-encompassing, and Dani had felt as if she was breathing, finally, for the first time.

It had been a rush of air, racing through her lungs to reach the cinders of a self still so unknown, near-dormant and deep, content to glow dully, darkly, before igniting, finally, to bring Dani, Dani, to life.

It had been a rush of air, and Dani had only ever tried to suppress it.  

Suppress the air, she’d thought, and suffocate the fire.

Stick it out, and eventually she would feel how she was supposed to.

But it always came back. It always came back––a smile from across Eagle Foods’ frozen breakfast aisle, the brush of a hand as she closed out her mother’s tab with the bartender down the street, the touch of a tailor, hemming her wedding dress––and Dani had accepted, eventually, that it, always there, always smoldering, was a part of her. 

That it was Dani, burning lowly in the dark of a boarding school dorm room; Dani, burning lowly along the margins of propriety in Iowa City; Dani, swathed in a wedding dress that would never see the day, that had always been there, waiting for the right breath, the right puff of air, to ignite. 

That Dani, the whole time, had been the wildfire, and she’d spent her whole life, trying, failing, to suffocate herself. 

Here though, now, when Jamie walks in without so much as a nod, Dani feels as if she’s had the wind knocked out of her.

It’s this––Dani’s body, responding to Jamie’s as soon as she enters the room, answering Jamie’s in turn as if it always has, as if Jamie, despite having only overlapped with a single afternoon of Dani’s life thus far, is all Dani’s ever known––Dani thinks, this betrayal, committed against herself by herself, that is the most reprehensible yet. 

“Sorry,” Jamie’s voice cuts across the kitchen from the sink as she scrubs at her hands, “phone call.” 

“That’s quite alright,” Owen’s back up, busily preparing a plate as Jamie shakes her hands dry over the sink. “Everything okay?” He drops an extra sausage onto her plate with a wink, following Jamie as she sinks into the empty seat at the head of the table, sliding the plate in front of her.

“Yeah,” Jamie, already hunching down over her plate, offers him a small smile. “Thanks, Owen.”

“Happy to help. Now,” he says, eyes dancing, mirthful, “try to set a good example for these two and finish your dinner before going after my biscuits this time, eh?”

Jamie grins. “Can’t make any promises, Owen. But I’ll do my best, yeah?”

“I quite think,” Owen glances down the table at Flora and Miles, set dutifully to work on their tomatoes, and then over to Dani, “Jamie Taylor’s best is good enough for me.”

If Dani sees Jamie’s eyes flicker over to her before returning to her plate, Dani ignores them.

The rest of dinner goes by without so much as a word passing between the two of them, and Dani feels like she can’t breathe at all.


She’s ushering Flora and Miles to their rooms after dinner, has made it to the foot of the stairs, when she hears Jamie’s voice.

“Poppins?”

Dani pauses, and when Flora and Miles glance back at her, questioning, she shoos them forward, sending them off with a warm “I’ll meet you upstairs.”

She does not, however, turn.

“Look,” Jamie starts, and Dani can hear her approach, the careful progression of boot on baseboard, can hear her stop, hesitate, a few feet from Dani, “I’d wanted… I’d wanted to talk to you before dinner, but then I… My call ran long, and I…” Jamie sighs, a frustrated puff of air that Dani can already all but see in her mind’s eye. “I’m sorry,” Jamie tries again, “about earlier. I just–– No, actually,” she stops, the silence hanging heavy between them as Jamie gathers her words, voice deliberate when she finally speaks, “I’m not sorry.”

“No?”

“No, I–– Jesus, Dani, can you look at me?”

“Why,” Dani reaches out, wrapping her fingers tightly around the base of the banister, steadying, steeling, herself, “should I look at you?”

“Why should you… Because I’m bloody talking to you, aren’t I?”

“Why should I look at you,” Dani continues, petulant and fully unable to stop herself, “when you couldn’t even look at me all throughout dinner?”

There’s silence, then, cavernous and dense, stretching for leagues across the few feet between them.

“Right,” Jamie finally says, sniffing, “okay.”

There’s a shuffling, and then the sound of Jamie’s feet, echoing, again, across the hardwood. She slips past Dani, keeping her head low as she makes her way up the stairs, pausing when she reaches the top. 

Dani finds herself staring at Jamie’s back this time.

“I’ll fix that Italy patch for you,” Jamie says, unturning, voice inscrutable, “if you want. Take it off and resew it back on properly. An… I dunno,” her voice lilts, and Dani’s sure her lips must be quirking upwards, “olive branch, I guess. Olives,” she says again, “for Italy. You know?”

“I could sew,” Dani says, her voice wavering, “if I wanted to.” 

Jamie nods, sharply, once. “Suit yourself.” 

It’s not until Jamie’s disappeared into her room, door slipping softly shut behind her, that Dani lets herself exhale, sinking backwards against the banister, reaching up to run her hands through her hair. 

“You really ought to give her a chance, you know.” Hannah’s voice rings across the foyer, and Dani jumps, grabbing for the banister with both hands. 

“Oh! Mrs. Grose. You–– You scared me,” Dani’s slow to relax, watching, crease etched between her brows as Hannah crosses closer, hands clasped in front of her. “How, uh… How long were you standing there?”

“Long enough,” Hannah meets Dani across the foot of the staircase, resting her hands atop the banister base opposite. “The things one could overhear,” she divulges, eyes shining, “simply passing through this house…” 

Dani huffs, too preoccupied for embarrassment.

Hannah hums, thoughtful.

“It’s just…” Dani’s brows pinch closer together. “Why would she do that? Make fun?”

“Make fun?”

“She said she wanted to apologize,” Dani purses her lips, eyes flitting across the foyer around them, “and then took it back. And then she offered… An–– An olive branch and… Insulted me, all in the same breath.”

“What makes you think,” Hannah tilts her head, “she was making fun?”

Dani’s eyes snap back to Hannah, wide and incredulous.

“Now I know,” Hannah starts, reaching a calming hand out, taking one of Dani’s, “I’ve barely known her longer than you, but… Have you tried giving her a chance? Tried getting to know her at all?”

“No,” Dani sniffs, “she’s not interested in that.” 

“No? What’s she interested in, then?”

Dani’s embarrassment catches up with her, and she flushes. 

Hannah raises an eyebrow.

There’s something about Hannah’s gaze, Dani thinks, that makes her feel like she’s twelve years old again, at boarding school and squirming in a seat across from her dorm parent, puzzling out whether or not she’s in trouble.

Dani hangs her head.

“It’s only been one day,” Hannah says, reassuring, “and it’s easy… Well, it’s easy to get off on the wrong foot, isn’t it? Especially with two people as… Committed, as you two, I think. Tomorrow,” she squeezes Dani’s hand, still in hers, “try again tomorrow. Tomorrow could be better. A fresh start, maybe.”

“Yeah,” Dani echoes, looking back up at Hannah, and she’s not twelve, she thinks, she’s twenty-nine, she’s an adult, and she can handle this. Can handle Jamie, can handle a glorified workplace disagreement, can handle herself. Isn’t that, after all, the whole point?

“Yeah,” Dani says again, Hannah watching as she stands up straighter, as her shoulders square, “tomorrow.”

They bid each other a good night, Hannah letting Dani’s hand fall with a final, comforting squeeze, and she watches, expression at once curious and knowing, as Dani trudges up the stairs.

“Oh, and Dani?”

Dani pauses, halfway to the landing, glancing down at Hannah over the banister.

“Mind the stairs,” Hannah smiles serenely up at her, “they’re brutal on the knees.”


Tomorrow feels harder, Dani decides, sitting up in bed, cheek propped in her splayed palm, resolution farther away, when she can’t sleep tonight.

It’s Jamie, keeping her awake.

It’s Jamie’s rules.

It’s Jamie’s insistence that Dani can’t do the job for which she was hired, the job whose duties Dani has been fulfilling––and then some––flawlessly for over three months now.

It’s the way Jamie presses Dani’s buttons, smug and insistent, the way it’s a treatment she seems to reserve for Dani and Dani alone, the way she seems to know, intuitively, leisurely, exactly what those buttons are.

It’s the way Dani hadn’t been able to take it when Jamie had stopped.

It’s Jamie’s self-satisfied assumption, the assuredness she brings to it, that Dani… Needs her, somehow.

It’s the idea that Dani needs Jamie at all.

It’s the fact that Dani hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it, that Dani’s still thinking about it, even at––Dani glances over at her watch, curling around itself on her nightstand––one-thirty in the morning.

It’s that Dani, for all her stubborn determination, all her hard-won confidence, can’t stop thinking about Jamie.

She’s been thinking about her since she first saw her, slipping between the doors of the manor, ambling down the Wingraves’ driveway, twelve hours ago.

Dani sighs, sitting up further, her fingers dragging down her face to press, restive, into her jaw. 

She looks around her room.

Her eyes catch on her backpack, lying on the bench along the foot of her bed, on the Italy patch sewn there. Dani starts to wonder, briefly… 

She looks away.

There’s the mirror, hanging, empty and silent, to her right.

Her curtains, still furled open, reckless, to her left. 

A small act of rebellion, she’d thought earlier.

She pushes herself up and out of bed, crossing swiftly to the window, and stands square in the center of the pane, staring out at the grounds below.

They’re empty.

It doesn’t feel as invigorating, Dani thinks, this time. 

A medium act of rebellion, then.

She crosses to her bedroom door, arms swinging, purposeful, at her sides, pausing once her fingers wrap around the cool brass of the doorknob.

Silence. 

Dani slips out of her room, glancing right, then left. She pauses. Glances right again. Hesitates.

Crosses, on tiptoes, to Jamie’s door. Leans in.

Dani isn’t sure what she’s expecting, isn’t sure exactly what she could hear, her ear pressed lightly against Jamie’s door, that would assuage the heat slowly rising up, lapping, along the back of her neck.

If Jamie’s anything like a normal person, Dani reasons, she’d be asleep. She’s probably asleep. She has to be asleep.

Then again, Dani thinks, countering, Jamie’s nothing like a normal person.

She’s childish and headstrong and infuriating, and Dani can imagine her now, sitting in her bed, anticipating, gleefully, Dani’s after-hours abscondence, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

Dani wonders idly what kind of pajamas Jamie’s wearing.

Tries to envision it.

Jamie, cross-legged on the bed, in long pajama pants.

Dani purses her lips, tries again.

Jamie, cross-legged on the bed, in pajama shorts.

Jamie, cross-legged on the bed, in pajama shorts, waiting for Dani to make the wrong move.

Jamie, cross-legged on the bed, in pajama shorts, hearing Dani’s soft gasp just outside her door.

Jamie, in pajama shorts, leaping off the bed, throwing open the door, Dani, in her nightgown, tumbling inside, into Jamie, a tangle of bare limbs and––

Dani recoils from the door. 

She’s not doing herself any favors, she thinks, admonishing, shuffling back down the hallway towards the staircase, indulging her anxiety like this, playing out every possible scenario in which the present, for all its gentle quiet, could fork easily towards the terrible.

Dani tucks her thumbs into her fists, and starts down the stairs.

A medium act of rebellion.


Jamie’s already in the kitchen when Dani, fresh off of peeking in on Flora and Miles, of making sure they’re awake with their morning routines well underway, makes it downstairs.

Jamie’s already in the kitchen and Jamie’s laughing, one foot propped up on the chair beside her, fingers threaded around the handle of a mug. “That’s terrible, Owen,” she manages between laughs, and he’s laughing with her, “just bloody–– Poppins,” Jamie sits up a little straighter, heel digging into the seat of the chair beside her, “mornin’.”

“Morning,” Dani tries for cheerful and ends up landing somewhere around indecisive, stifling a yawn as she does.

Owen, unperturbed, beams at her from the stove. “How do you take your eggs?” 

Dani presses the heels of her hands to her eyes, a vain attempt at rubbing out the vestiges of sleep. “Uh…” She thinks for a moment, then lets her hands drop, smiling, hopeful, over at him. “Chef’s choice?”

Owen beams wider, nodding as he hefts an empty pot from one of the back burners. “Poached it is, then,” he says, crossing to the sink, busying himself with the faucet.

“Show-off,” Jamie murmurs, grinning, a finger tracing idly around the rim of her mug, glancing up when Dani lowers herself, tentative, into the empty chair at the head of the table. “Early morning?”

“What?”

“You’re tired,” Jamie points out, eyebrows raised, “and you, uh,” she nods at Dani, “did your hair, so… Early morning?”

“Oh,” one of Dani’s hands floats to her shoulder, brushing absently at a loose wave, “yeah.”

“Or,” Jamie purses her lips, looking down at her mug, finger dragging, slowly, around the rim, “it’s because you left your room last night. Even though I told you not to.”

Dani blanches. “I––”

“It’s no use,” Jamie continues, “trying to deny it. And I don’t like being lied to, so. Let’s have it.”

“Have what?” Dani glances over her shoulder at Owen, whistling, focused pointedly on the sieve settled in a bowl in front of him.

“Was it worth it?”

“Was it… Worth…”

“Your tea. Was it worth getting out of bed at one-thirty in the morning? Breaking my rules?”

Dani blinks. Narrows her eyes. “How’d you know I made tea?”

Jamie shrugs, lifting her mug to her lips, her eyes meeting Dani’s over the rim as she sips.

Dani stares, waiting.

“Was awake,” Jamie shrugs. “Heard the kettle.”

There’s a short, excited inhale from Dani that makes Jamie blink.

“Look, Dani,” Jamie leans forward over the table, hands wrapping around her mug, “we don’t… Have to be best friends. We don’t have to…” Her eyes cast around, landing briefly on Dani’s. “We don’t have to stay up together, braiding each other’s hair. We don’t even have to like each other. I just…” She takes a deep breath, looking down. “I just want to do my job.”

Tomorrow could be better, Hannah had said, a fresh start, maybe

Dani’s quiet for a moment.

Jamie glances up at her, waiting, her jaw tight.

“I can braid my own hair, anyway,” Dani says, but there’s no bite to it, the corners of her mouth starting to curl, “but thanks.”

Jamie laughs.

There’s a sigh of relief from the stove, and Dani’s not sure if it’s for them or the eggs, extricated easily with a slotted spoon and transferred to a plate, where they're nestled cozily next to a scone.

“I’m not–– Thanks, Owen,” Dani smiles up at Owen as he slides the plate in front of her, then turns back to Jamie, hesitating.

Jamie raises an eyebrow, lifting her mug to her lips and watching as Dani’s brows pinch together, thinking, then smooth again.

When she finally says it, there’s the ghost of a grin along the edges of her mouth. “I’m not in trouble, am I?”

Jamie nearly chokes on her tea.

Dani grins wider.

She’s pleased with herself.

“Not in trouble,” Jamie lowers her mug to the table, her words slow, calculated, “but do it again and there’ll be serious consequences.”

Dani inhales, sharp and sudden.

Jamie arches an eyebrow.

They stare at each other across the table, Dani’s grin waning as Jamie’s burgeons.

Behind them, Hannah sweeps into the kitchen, smile wide as she opens her mouth to greet them, only to close it, abrupt, when Owen offers her the slightest shake of his head, his eyes darting over towards Dani and Jamie, leaning into each other across the table.

“What,” Dani breathes, tempering herself, her voice shaking anyway, “kind of consequences?”

“Afraid I can’t tell ya,” Jamie replies easily, fingers darting out to pick at the scone on Dani’s plate, “would ruin the surprise. Besides,” she pops the bite of pastry into her mouth, expression all smug satisfaction, “wouldn’t want to tempt you. You might decide you like them too much. Might decide they’re consequences you want to face, and go out for another nighttime stroll. Tempt fate.”

Dani’s speaking before she can stop herself, leaning up out of her seat, closer to Jamie, her voice low. “You could never,” she whispers, “tempt me.”

Jamie, to Dani’s chagrin, only grins wider, pulling away from Dani to lean back in her chair. “Pretty sure I already did,” Jamie stretches, letting one arm hang, languid, behind her head, “when you asked me what the consequences were not one minute ago.”

So much, Dani thinks, something almost like kindling sparking, flickering, underneath her skin, for a fresh start.

Chapter Text

Jamie can’t say she ever expected to find herself in a classroom again.

Admittedly, she’s found herself in a number of situations she hadn’t expected over the years––living out of her suitcase on a tour bus for three months with south England’s fledgling rock darlings, party to a team of paranormal investigators (“not sure I know how to disarm a bloody ghost, but a paycheck’s a paycheck, isn’t it?”), whatever the fuck Panama had been––but this? This is new.

She’s not sure if it’s the pastoral domesticity of the assignment or the gravity of its quotidian confinement, but something about the Wingrave appointment, about Bly, about the manor, throws Jamie, a creature so carefully of habit, wholly and completely off her axis. 

The first day had been fine, Jamie fitting seamlessly into the mechanisms of the manor, the polish of its reformed wear, the ramshackle warmth of its overgrown grounds, a happy spectator to the seeming endlessness of Hannah and Owen’s eschewing waltz. It’s the kind of place, Jamie thinks, tugging her hair up into a haphazard bun, pausing, squinting into the mirror in front of her, the kind of assignment, she should be enjoying. 

And yet.

The two days after had been dizzying, a sudden rush of sticky fingers and blonde hair, and though Jamie knows kids, though Jamie’s worked with kids before, though Flora and Miles have slotted happily, graciously, into the scaffolding Jamie has so carefully curated for them, their arrival had brought with them a sudden and inexplicable vertigo, new and insidious.

Jamie, suddenly, is all too aware of her every movement, overly conscious of every ripple she sends cascading through a room: the gasp, tender and hitching, when she slips out of a shared bathroom at the wrong moment, the sharp exhale across the table when she’s late to dinner.

Jamie, suddenly, can’t sleep at night, perched cross-legged in pajama shorts at the head of her bed, waiting, restless, for something, anything, a penny she hadn’t even known was hurtling through the air to finally drop.

Jamie, suddenly, has too much energy, her body a livewire, her veins all sparks and electricity and no blood at all, a closed circuit with no output, no matter how many laps she runs around the property, no matter how many crunches she does before bed, no matter how many pushups with which she starts her day.

Jamie can’t figure out what it is.

Jamie doesn’t like it when she can’t figure out what it is.

Jamie has always, unfailingly, known exactly what everything is.

She’d be shit, she tells herself, slipping out her bedroom and through the predawn dark of the manor’s hallways, down its gaping staircase, at her job if she didn’t.

If there’s one thing Jamie Taylor prides herself on, it’s that she does her job exceptionally well.

Jamie’s good at her job, and Jamie likes her job––it isn’t one she set out to have, though she’s not sure who does set out to work in private security––which is more, she thinks, than most people can say. 

She wraps her fingers around the front door key, snug in its keyhole, and turns, tugging the door open, taking care to lock it behind her as she steps out into the cool dim of the morning.

Jamie likes her job: it pays her, enough to live on and enough to send back to someone who’s not quite home but is home enough; it covers her room and board, a perk particularly enjoyable with someone like Owen contracted alongside her; it takes her to places she’d never otherwise visit, lets her live snippets of lives someone like her could never otherwise lead. 

She glances right then left, tugging a foot up behind her, stretching one quadricep, then the other.

Jamie’s good at her job: she’s physically capable, her discipline palliative, her commitment to routine falling into an easy mutualism with the requisite precision of fitness, of skill, demanded by her line of work; she’s clever, has spent her life honing a propensity, immediate and thoughtless, towards action, a certain quickness to her intuition that had kept her alive even before her employ; she knows people, knows how to care to them without caring for them, knows how to cultivate the warmth of camaraderie on borrowed time, knows how to leave them when all is said and done.

That’s what happens, Jamie figures, taking off, gravel spinning out underneath her sneakers as she sprints up the drive, when that’s all you’ve ever known, regardless––she reaches the treeline, turns, pauses, takes off again––of whichever side of it you’ve been on.

Jamie has all of those things in Bly.

She likes her job here: she’s getting paid. She has room and board. She has a new countryside, a new life, new people––

One more sprint, she tells herself, one more consuming lap, lungs burning, up the drive.

––pleasant people, mostly––

Two more sprints. She can do it.

––with the exception of one.

Three more sprints. She’s good. She’s capable.

But she can handle that. If Dani is set on making Jamie’s life a living hell, why shouldn’t Jamie return the favor? Why shouldn’t she have fun doing it? It's only fair.

Five more sprints. Five more sprints, and then she’ll stop.

She’s good at her job here: she’s physically adept. She can think quickly, respond quicker. She knows the people––

She has to quit smoking, she decides when she finally breaks, hands finding the crown of her head, fingers tangling in her hair, catching her breath, and she will. Tomorrow.

––even if one of them continues to baffle her, surprising her at what should be her most predictable moments––

Jamie takes off again, slower this time, her jog light, paced, around the property. 

––knows she can provide for them without needing them, can cultivate temporary relationships, harbor meaning for the time being, its expiration date impending and impersonal––

Her eyes scan the grounds, picking up speed as she goes, sweep and terrain training all in one.

––except when she can’t, two magnets repelling and attracting all at once, fighting, anticipating the termination of their desperate push-pull––

She laps the grounds once, twice, one more time. 

––knows how to leave, in the end. When it's done.

Her chest feels like it’s going crack open, and so she stops.


Jamie’s waiting for them in the classroom on Monday, leaning leisurely against the back wall, one foot propped against it, arms crossed loosely over her chest. 

Dani, following closely behind Flora and Miles as they file dutifully in, raises an eyebrow.

“First day of school,” Jamie offers, shrugging, “didn’t wanna be late. Got you this, by the way,” one of her hands disappears into a mint green pocket, and when it reemerges, she’s tossing an apple across the classroom, “think fast, Poppins.”

When Dani catches it, it’s to Jamie’s delight.

When Dani’s only response otherwise is a barely there curl of her lips and a mild “hey, thanks,” it’s to Jamie’s disappointment. 

When Dani lifts the apple to her lips, all pink mouth and red shine, when she crunches into it and grins widely around a mouthful of fruit, when she hasn’t yet had a chance to swipe the back of her hand across the juice dribbling down her chin, Jamie feels something else entirely. 

“You’d better watch out,” Dani reaches down with her free hand, ruffling Miles’ hair, smoothing gently over Flora’s, “looks like someone’s trying to be teacher’s pet.”

Jamie’s voice cracks. “Is it working?”

Dani’s answering smile is wide and perfect and feels like sunshine.

“No,” she says, like it’s the simplest thing in the world.

Everything, Jamie thinks, sounds so simple when Dani Clayton says it.

“It’s because I already am,” Flora chirps, the world around them continuing, somehow, to turn, “isn’t it?”

Dani laughs again, crossing to the front of the classroom. “How did you know?”

“Lucky guess,” Flora sighs, flopping into a chair behind one of the desks.

“Or,” Miles is quick to follow suit, glancing over at her, “you’ve always been the teacher’s pet.” 

“Have not! Miles!” 

Jamie watches them bicker, mouth quirking up as she leans back against the wall, arms recrossing, guarding, against her chest.

When her eyes drift, inexorable and aloof, to Dani, Dani’s already watching her.

Dani’s watching her, steady and searching, and as soon as Jamie’s eyes find hers, she’s looking away.

“Okay,” Dani clears her throat, and it’s remarkable, Jamie thinks, the way Dani changes before her eyes, commanding the space, the classroom hers and hers alone, “c’mon kiddos, cut it out. Let’s… Let’s tell Jamie our classroom rules. Since,” her eyes drag back to Jamie’s, holding, “she’s decided to join us while we’re here.”

Dani’s rules, Jamie is fully prepared to conclude, are bullshit.

She’s ready to hate them, to fight them at every turn, pull at Dani’s bonds as Dani does hers, but… 

“Be respectful,” Miles is saying, and Dani's nodding, smiling, turning to scrawl the words on the chalkboard in looping script as he speaks.

“No talking over each other,” Flora chimes in once Dani’s finished writing, glancing sideways at Miles.

“A personal favorite of mine,” Dani murmurs, “thank you, Flora.”

“Be engaged,” Miles supplies next, “whatever way we can be.”

Dani hums, and as she adds it to the list, glances back over her shoulder. “Flora,” she says, “do you want to tell Jamie what we mean by that?”

Flora nods, swiveling around in her seat to look at Jamie. “Sometimes,” she explains, earnest, “we don’t always feel as well as might.”

Jamie nods, amused.

“I don’t mean sick,” Flora pauses, furrowing her brow, thoughtful, “I just mean… Right. Sometimes you don’t quite feel right. And you don’t need to stay in bed, but it’s hard… It’s hard to…” 

“I follow,” Jamie’s voice is soft, encouraging, amusement gone, and when Flora beams, relieved, Dani finds herself smiling, too.

“Right,” Flora says, “so when you’re feeling like that, you don’t have to raise your hand. To participate in the same way. You just…” She glances forward again, back up to Dani. “Do the best you can. Even if that’s just listening.”

It might be the best rule, Jamie thinks, eyes following Flora’s, lingering on Dani’s face, open and attentive and with so much affection as she smiles back at Flora, she’s ever heard.

When Dani breaks for lunch, Flora and Miles are sprinting out the door, heedless of Dani’s “walk, please!”, Jamie pushing herself off of the back wall, drifting after them, when Dani slips in front of her, blocking her way out of the classroom.

Jamie all but walks into her.

Dani leans one shoulder against the doorframe, unperturbed, and crosses her arms. “Speaking of rules,” she says, raising a pointed eyebrow, “I heard you out and about last night.”

Jamie cocks her head. Narrows her eyes. “Did ya?”

“Aren’t there consequences,” Dani says, and Jamie thinks she sounds a little bit breathless, “for something like that?”

“I,” Jamie stretches an arm, wrapping her hand around the doorframe, her thumb grazing Dani’s shoulder as she does, and leans in towards her, “was out and about this morning. Mornings aren’t against the rules.”

“It was still dark out!”

Jamie pauses, reassessing, then: “were you awake and just… Listening for me?”

“I–– No,” Dani’s arms tighten across her chest, and Jamie watches the tips of her ears turn red, “no, I was just––”

Jame grins. “You’re a morning person, then?”

“I don’t… I mean, I can enjoy…” 

“I can hear you,” Jamie leans in closer, lowering her voice, “when you finally get up in the morning, Poppins. You’re not a morning person.”

“This isn’t… That’s not…” 

Jamie leans back suddenly, grinning wider and shoving her hands into her pockets. “If I’m mistaken though,” she sidesteps Dani, slipping around her and out the door, Dani whirling around to watch her go, “you’re welcome to join me in the mornings. Wind sprints and perimeter jogs. Like I said,” she turns around, shrugging at Dani as she walks backwards towards the kitchen, “they’ll help you sleep at night. Build up your endurance. Just might,” Jamie’s voice fades as she rounds the corner, disappearing out of sight, “come in handy one of these days, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Dani calls after her, her voice echoing down the hall, “if it helps me endure you!”

She thinks she hears a laugh, but by the time Dani gets to the kitchen, Jamie is nowhere to be seen.


Jamie knows Dani is, objectively, attractive. Recognizes it. Would be willing, even, to acknowledge it. 

It would be dishonest not to, and Jamie, as someone who takes great pride in her character, is definitively not dishonest. 

It had been the first thing she’d noticed about Dani Clayton, all blue eyes and blonde hair and pink cheeks, flushed from the three hours spent sandwiched between Flora and Miles in the backseat of Owen’s car, before Dani had stood up straight, thrown her shoulders back, and fixed her jaw in that way that Jamie knows now, already, even after so few days spent together, means trouble. 

It’s a good thing, Jamie thinks, that from that moment on, Dani has been absolutely insufferable.

Saves her the trouble, really.

Not, she adds, chiding, to herself as she shuffles through the hallway Tuesday morning, biting moodily into a biscuit, that it’d be trouble at all. 

Jamie Taylor is a professional.

Jamie Taylor is good at her job.

Jamie Taylor is turning into the classroom and walking face-first into Dani Clayton, their foreheads colliding with a dull thunk, a startled gasp, and an indignant “oi!”

“I thought,” Dani says, and she sounds almost cheerful, Jamie thinks, too cheerful, reaching up and lighting her fingers across her forehead, feeling for a bump, “you were supposed to be observant.”

“Yeah, well,” Jamie says sourly, watching, fascinated by the grace with which Dani’s fingers dust along her brow, “I thought you weren’t a morning person.”

“Those were your words,” there’s the hint of a smile at the corner of Dani’s mouth and it’s unbearable, Jamie thinks, “not mine. Now,” and Jamie’s desperate, wracking her brain for a comeback, a quip, anything to keep Dani from smiling like that, “hold still.”

And then Dani’s fingers are on her forehead, and they’re delicate and warm and barely there, and Jamie feels her breath catch in her throat.

She hopes, vainly, that Dani doesn’t notice.

“Bump check,” Dani breathes, satisfied, “standard procedure. You have crumbs, by the way”––her fingers float down from Jamie’s forehead to her chest, brushing, ginger, persistent, at her t-shirt––“right here.”

There’s a clatter, then, of footsteps on stairs and of Flora squealing, Miles laughing as he chases after her.

Dani jerks her hand away.

Jamie watches it fall. “How’d I do?” 

Flora darts into the classroom, squeezing between the two of them, and Miles is quick to follow, veering around them both as he makes a beeline for his seat.

“No bumps,” Dani’s voice is cheerful again, and she’s already half-turned away, halfway to Miles and Flora, when: “bruised ego, maybe. But,” she glances back over her shoulder, smiling widely, blindingly, “yours could stand to take it. Might do you some good, really. Now,” she claps her hands, looking back to Flora, to Miles, “what do you two say we start the day with some geometry? Hmm?”

It’s a good thing indeed, Jamie thinks, dragging her feet as she crosses to the back of the classroom, hopping up onto the science table, the toes of her boots grazing the floor, that Dani is absolutely insufferable.

“Who can remind me what a right angle is?” Dani asks, and Jamie tunes out as Miles and Flora begin excitedly talking over each other, Dani’s eyes sliding from one to the other, stuttering, in between, over Jamie.

It’s a good thing, Jamie thinks, watching the quirk of Dani’s mouth––it skews left, she’s noticed, when Dani talks, when her vowels are at their widest and most offensive––as she talks about angles, that it interrupts any attraction that Jamie may or may not feel to Dani Clayton.

“Now, acute…” Dani’s drawing on the chalkboard, turning her head to make sure Flora and Miles are paying attention, her eyes meeting, skittering away from Jamie’s as she does.

It’s a good thing, Jamie thinks, head flopping to the side, eyes dipping down to the swell of Dani’s hips, to her thighs, skating languidly across the dark, tight denim there, that she can be honest with herself about these things.

“Obtuse,” Dani’s saying, and her eyes flicker, briefly, once more, over to Jamie.

Jamie’s thinking about the way Dani’s fingers wrap deftly, sure, around pieces of chalk, her own flexing, knuckles white, around the lip of the table below her when Dani sets Flora and Miles to work at the chalkboard, labeling the different angles she’s drawn there, and crosses to the back of the classroom.

Jamie raises her eyebrows, watching as Dani hops up onto Flora’s desk across from her, Dani’s ankles crossed, her legs swinging in the open air below her. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Dani, for her part, doesn’t look amused.

“What?”

“Can you stop?

Jamie blinks. “Stop what?”

“You’re being distracting.” Dani folds her arms tightly across her chest, her brow furrowing.

“I’m–– Dani, what am I doing?”

Dani glances at the children behind her, then leans forward, lowering her voice. “You’re… Smirking.”

“Am not!”

“You are,” Dani leans in closer still, her voice quicker, tighter, “every time I look at you, you’re looking at me. You’re… You’re looking at me, and you’re smirking, and it’s distracting. And,” she adds, sitting back up, furling her shoulders back, “it’s unprofessional.”

“Unprofessional!” Jamie laughs. “You want to talk about unprofessional? Poppins,” she tuts, leaning forward herself, “you’re the one who’s staring at me.”

Dani splutters. “I–– No. No, I’m not. I’m not doing… That.”

“Said as much yourself, didn’t you? Every time you look at me, you said. Said it clear as day, just now.”

Dani gapes at her.

If Hannah, dusting the frames lining the hallway just outside, heard it too, she doesn't say a word.


Jamie does not want to get in trouble for staring again.

Trouble.

Like she’s Miles, or Flora, or a third member of their motley crew, childish and dirt-streaked and incorrigible.

She hadn’t heard the end of it all day, hadn’t been so much as able to look in Dani’s direction without being met by the pointed clearing of a throat or a hum, conclusive and self-satisfied.

“Makes it difficult,” she’d muttered, helping clear the table after dinner, slipping Miles’ plate into the sink as Dani had scrubbed at Flora’s beside her, “when it’s literally my job to watch you.” 

Dani had only laughed, an inelegant huff somewhere between a snort and a scoff. “Don’t be creepy, Jamie,” she’d said, dipping her hands into the dishwater to reach for another plate, Jamie eyeing the gentle lap of the water against her forearms, “it’s not very becoming.”

Jamie hadn’t so much as hesitated to dump the rest of the dishes unceremoniously into the sink, Dani gasping, leaping backwards as the dishwater had surged up, soaking her t-shirt.

Jamie had watched, leaning against the counter, smirking, until Dani had retaliated, thwacking at the water with an open palm and laughing, thrilled, when Jamie had taken a rush of water to the face.

Jamie does not want to take another rush of water to the face.

Today, then, Jamie decides, she’ll find other ways to keep herself occupied.

Other ways to distract herself from the tedium of primary education. 

Other ways that allow her to do her job, to maintain a wary watch over the classroom and those in it, without risking Dani Clayton’s ire.

(No matter how much, Jamie thinks, almost mournful, she enjoys it.)

She’s spread out on the floor, construction paper scattered messily around her, safety scissors tucked carelessly into the kangaroo pocket of her overalls, when Dani finally, Flora and Miles enmeshed in independent reading, comes to stand in front of her at eleven-thirty in the morning.

“What’re, uh…” Jamie watches Dani’s Reeboks encroaching from across the room, her stride a constant heel-toe, heel-toe, biting back a smile when they come to a stop in front of her. “What’re ya doin’?”

Jamie’s head snaps up. “Figured I’d make some tools,” she says, grinning, and holds up two rolls of paper, one blue and one brown, taped carefully together along the seams, “look. Binoculars.”

Dani’s eyebrows flutter upward, and the corner of her mouth twitches, but she seems, otherwise, amiable. “Oh yeah?”

Jamie nods, at once serious and tongue-in-cheek, not wanting to break whatever spell is hovering in the air between them.

“Thank you,” Dani says, bending down, indulgent, holding out a hand, “may I see them?”

It’s how she is with the kids, Jamie realizes dumbly, all encouragement and warm curiosity, but it’s not condescending, not insulting, and Jamie, by now a seasoned expert in Dani-making-fun, knows Dani is, very decisively, not making fun.

Dani is genuinely interested, and that’s not something Jamie’s used to in a classroom. It’s not something Jamie’s used to at all.

Jamie nods, holding out her makeshift binoculars.

“These,” Dani makes a noise like a sigh, awed and almost a little charmed, raising them to her eyes to peer around the classroom, “are very useful. Thank you,” she lowers them for a moment, the corner of her mouth quirking up, belying whatever it is that’s playing out between them, “Jamie.” She pivots to look out the windows, raising them again. “We can look for Peter Quint.”

They stay like that, the two of them frozen in a tableau, Jamie staring at Dani, Dani staring out the window, until Dani’s timer, set to mark the end of Flora and Miles’ independent reading time, buzzes in the front of the room. 

Dani jumps, and Jamie can feel it breaking, whatever’s settled over them, and she’s almost relieved, had almost been scared the longer it had stretched out between them, a point of no return, vague and incomplete, looming somewhere just out of the scope of a pair of paper binoculars. 

Dani turns back to Jamie, her smile mischievous as she holds the binoculars back out, and when Jamie takes them, she could swear Dani’s fingers curl, fleeting, around hers.

“Thank you,” Dani says sweetly, smiling wider as she turns back towards the front of the room, towards her desk, towards the timer, its buzzing relentless and unforgiving, “for taking care of us.”

Jamie ignores, making a beeline for the door, disappearing the second Dani deems it lunchtime, the feeling low in her stomach that tells her that somehow, some way, she just might be in more trouble than she had been the day before.

She feels better, though, after lunch.

It was hunger, Jamie resolves, flicking a cigarette butt into the gravel outside of the manor, stubbing it out with the toe of her boot, that feeling. Nothing else. Nothing that couldn’t be solved with some fresh air, time alone, and a heaping plate of Owen’s cooking. 

She’s good. 

Back to normal.

When Jamie returns to the classroom, slipping in a couple of minutes late, head ducked, Dani’s already launched into a lesson about gravity, animatedly describing the sun’s pull and Earth’s rotation, endless and sure, around it. 

She’s introducing the idea of the Earth’s axis, that, despite Earth’s constant position relative to the sun, part of the Earth is always turned away, swathed in night, when Jamie sinks into the chair in front of the science table. 

Her back is to Dani, she knows, but she’s good with that, all things considered. Prefers it. Focuses, instead, on the bunsen burner, snug in the corner of the table, loses herself in its tiny flame, orange and yellow and so blue, in the end.

“Jamie!”

Christ.

“Poppins.” Jamie doesn’t turn, focusing, instead, on the flicker before her.

“Don’t you think that’s a little dangerous? Open flame in the classroom?”

“Can’t be too dangerous,” Jamie slinks forward further onto the desk, closer to the flame, her lips curling, “if someone put it here in the first place.”

Dani purses her lips.

“Besides,” Jamie continues, letting her head fall to the desk, her chin resting on the backs of her hands, “it’s my job to protect you from danger, yeah? Would know if this was a hazard. Could be,” and Dani can hear the smirk in her voice, “I’m checking to make sure it’s safe. Hooked up properly and all.”

Dani hums. “Are you sure,” she pushes, and Jamie hears the squeak of sneakers against hardwood as she takes a step closer, “you didn’t just want to see the fire?”

Jamie chuckles. “Can you honestly tell me you’ve never in your life wanted to play with fire, Dani?”

There’s a sharp intake of breath behind her, then a pause. 

Jamie smirks.

“Well,” Dani finally says with that feigned nonchalance that Jamie knows so well already, that lets Jamie know she has, handily, won, “stop. It’s making the room hot.” 

One more, Jamie tells herself. She just needs one more.

She turns around then, directing her smirk up at Dani, arm slung over the back of her chair.

Dani raises her eyebrows.

“You’re not scared,” Jamie murmurs, “of a little heat, are you?”

The look with which Dani fixes her is nothing short of damning, but before Jamie can respond, can raise her eyebrows in kind, Dani’s turning on her heel and crossing, fists clenching reflexively at her sides, back to the children.

Back to normal.

At least, Jamie thinks, watching as Dani bends over Miles’ desk, she’s not in trouble again.


On Thursday, Jamie chooses the piano bench.

It’s comfortable, laying back across its length, and Jamie lets her legs hinge down over the edge, turning her head to face the front of the classroom, the smooth wood of the bench cool underneath her cheek.

It’s almost soothing, the way Dani drones on about simple circuits, and between the boredom, another sleepless night behind her, and a grueling morning’s worth of wind sprints, Jamie thinks she might just fall asleep.

She might just, if not for––

“Jamie?”

“Mm?”

“Jamie, open your eyes.” 

Dani’s voice is commanding and brassy and settled low in her chest, and Jamie wouldn’t be able to fight it if she wanted to.

Jamie opens her eyes. 

“Did you,” she reaches up, scratching idly at her forehead, “just use your teacher voice on me?”

“Did it work?”

It’s rhetorical, Jamie knows, dully registering just how closely Dani is standing over her, the way Dani’s knees bump lightly up against her own, Dani’s asking a wicked flex towards her own satisfaction, and so Jamie ignores it. “Not a bad way to wake up,” she says instead, glancing sideways at Flora and Miles, making sure they’re engrossed in the circuitry kits Dani’s plopped in front of them, “all things considered.”

“All things considered,” Dani intones, hands on her hips, “for someone who likes to talk so much about doing her job, you seem to be pretty happy not doing it. What if,” she leans down, eyes glinting, and Jamie curses the swoop she feels, low in her stomach, that feels almost habitual now, “Peter Quint were to climb through one of those windows right now?”

If Peter Quint were to climb through one of those windows, Jamie thinks, he would somehow still be the last of her worries. 

She needs to find a snack, she resolves. Fix whatever's happening in her stomach. 

“You,” Jamie offers affably in the meantime, “would handle it. Can take care of yourself after all, can’t you?”

“Oh, so now I can take care of myself?”

“Mm,” Jamie pushes herself up, steeling herself when Dani doesn’t lean back, forcing herself to hold Dani’s gaze, “high tops today. No backpack. Still tense, but I reckon nothing’s gonna change that one.” She shrugs, the corner of her mouth quirking up. “You wouldn’t fall right away this time, at least.”

Dani’s veneer cracks, her brow furrowing. “How do you know what shoes I’m wearing?”

“Clocked them as soon as you came in, Poppins,” Jamie grins lazily, flopping back down onto the piano bench, “it’s my job to have you pegged.”

Dani opens her mouth to respond, but then a lightbulb is going off behind her and Flora’s calling her name to tell her she’s finished her circuit and then Dani’s gone.

Jamie sighs, craning her head back over the edge of the bench. “Sure is a spark,” she mumbles, rueful, to the upside-down windows waiting for her there, “isn’t it?”


Dani is explaining states of matter.

Dani is explaining states of matter and how, given the right change in temperature, the right freezing point, the right boiling point, one thing can become another, so unlike itself and so undeniably the same, existing, moving through the world in ways that, before, it never could. Existing, in some cases, at all.

Jamie doesn’t care about states of matter.

Jamie has been moving through the back of the classroom, from the wall to the science table to the piano bench, for a good forty-five minutes.

A good forty-five minutes, during which Dani has patiently answered Flora’s questions (a carousel of variations on the eternal “but why?” of childhood that, in any other scenario, would leave Jamie nothing if not impressed), administered––and graded––simultaneous spelling tests, and begun the weighty task of imbuing Miles and Flora with the unassailable knowledge of the innermost workings of the universe.

A good forty-five minutes, in other words, during which Dani hasn’t snapped at Jamie once.

Dani has just found her groove, the cadence of her speech evening out, her shoulders relaxing, settling into herself the way she does when she’s comfortable, Jamie’s learned, genuinely comfortable in her surroundings, despite the fact that science isn’t her forte, despite the fact that she prefers math, or English, when Jamie dumps an caddy of markers onto the floor.

It’s louder than Jamie had anticipated.

Jamie is delighted.

Dani stops, mid-sentence, and Jamie watches as she tenses, watches as her spine straightens, as her shoulders roll backward and her jaw slides forward, can feel the temperature in the room changing with her.

“Kids,” Dani says, voice tight, her easy trill vanished, evaporating, “independent reading.”

Flora and Miles glance at each other, one of Flora’s eyebrows raising, questioning, Miles’ brow unsure, his eyes quizzical.

Jamie’s only response is to grin widely, wider still as Dani crosses, slowly, stiffly, towards the back of the room.

Dani pauses when she reaches Jamie, when she reaches the mess of markers strewn across the floor, and she stops one with the ball of her foot as it rolls away, pressing it, hard, into the gleaming wood below.

Behind her, Miles and Flora have busied themselves with their books, Flora curling cozily up in her chair as she does, Miles letting his head sink onto the surface of his desk.

Dani drops to her knees in front of Jamie. Jamie, who's watching her with an amused raise of her brows, the bow of her lips pleased, anticipating.

“Jamie,” Dani’s voice is all steel and sigh, her fingers pressing, tight, against her thighs, “what are you doing?”

“Organizing,” Jamie responds simply, happily. “Thought I’d resort this lot by color, make your job a bit easier. Rainbows,” her mouth twitches, “that’s physics, innit?”

Dani doesn’t bite, only stares, blue of her eyes intent, at Jamie.

Jamie waits.

“I’m going to ask you again,” Dani says, and Jamie’s ready for it this time, prepared for the cool command with which Dani imbues her words, “what are you doing, Jamie?”

God, Jamie wants that blue to combust.

“I heard,” she says, pursing her lips thoughtfully, deliberately, “you give extra attention to students who seem like they really need it.”

“You,” Dani says, unblinking, unfazed, still cool, too cool, for Jamie’s liking, “are not a student.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Jamie spreads her hands, gesturing emptily to the classroom around them. “Every day, I’m here. Every day, I’m listening. Every day I’m…” She tilts her head, eyes held, firmly, to Dani’s, “reprimanded.”

It’s almost wolfish, Dani thinks, Jamie’s expression, the scrutinizing bright of her eyes, the teasing curl of her lips.

Dani raises an eyebrow anyway, that singular arch of her right eyebrow, and when Jamie’s lips part, when Dani can make out the tiny breath of air that flows between them, Dani risks taking the bait. “And what is it,” she asks, shoehorning steadiness into her voice, her posture, the entirety of her existence, on her knees and on the floor and in front of Jamie, “that you need, exactly?”

Jamie grins, and Dani knows she’s made a fatal mistake.

“I’m so glad,” Jamie says cheerfully, “you asked.”

“Oh?” It’s tense, Dani’s voice, but the steel is gone, her resolve melted, and she’s not sure whether the offending heat had come from Jamie, radiating steadily from the back of the classroom since the first day Dani had walked in to find her waiting, an apple in her pocket, or from Dani herself, from the burning, low, in her stomach, igniting, threatening, at any moment, to take her.

“I have this job,” Jamie purses her lips again, glancing down at the markers around her as if noticing them for the first time, and Dani watches as she begins to collect them, watches as Jamie wraps deft fingers around them, sorting the markers, carefully, by color, “and I’m good at it––really good at it, if I do say so myself. And I’m on this new assignment. Should be easy. Bucolic. Pleasant, even. But one of my clients––a reluctant client, mind you, more like a charge than anything––this…” Jamie’s eyes sweep up from the neat piles of markers around her, taking in Dani, all of Dani, dragging up and then down, “American, right? She thinks she doesn’t need my services. Feels like she thinks she’s too good for them, even. Even though,” here, Jamie lowers her voice, leans in, markers forgotten beneath her, “she does, Poppins. She really does. I mean,” Jamie chuckles, reaches up to scratch at her forehead, eyes casting, briefly, around the room before finding their way back to Dani, “you should see this woman.”

“Oh?” It’s not even tense anymore, just wavered and wanting, hanging thickly between them, Dani leaning in, the marker trapped under her foot rolling away, unnoticed. 

Jamie matches her, her murmured “mmhm” drifting, catching, in their shared gravity.

“Tell me about her,” Dani breathes, “this woman.”

There’s a part of Jamie, too far away now, that realizes it’s unexpected, that hears the break in her voice, that bemoans the hopefulness there when she says, simply, “yeah?”

“Yeah.” And Dani is sure, so sure, even, Jamie thinks, as she’s coming unravelled. 

Behind them, Flora is glancing at Miles over the top of her book, and Miles, bored, is glancing back, his hand reaching, slowly, for a crumpled piece of scratch paper.

“Well,” Jamie swallows, “like I said, she’s… American,” She pauses, eyes finding Dani’s, daring, again, “though… Maybe a bit too pretty. Makes it even harder for me to do my job than it is with her already.”

“Jamie…” Her name is barely more than a breath on Dani's lips, hushed and fleeting.

“Yeah?”

“Stop it,” Dani says, and it sounds like the last thing she wants.

“Stop what?” Jamie’s voice is lower, hoarser, its teasing edge slipping, blurred away by the hasty puffs of Dani’s breath.

“You’re just,” Dani’s eyes flit nervously around the room, landing, finally, back on Jamie’s, “trying to get a rise out of me.”

“Am I?”

“Are you what?”

“Getting a rise out of you?”

Dani’s eyes are wide and pleading and that part of Jamie, that faraway, self-aware part, condenses enough to take pity on her.

“Look, Dani…” Dani feels closer, closer then than they’ve ever been, closer even than when they’d butted heads, literally, outside of the classroom earlier that week, “if you really want me to stop, if it’s ever too much, just… Say the word, yeah? Say the word, and I will.”

Dani’s staring at her, and it’s still so maddening, Jamie thinks, that she can’t interpret it, can’t understand what’s going on behind those eyes, watery and crystalline all at once.

Dani opens her mouth.

A wad of paper, flying through the air, hits Jamie in the middle of the forehead.

Dani laughs.

Dani laughs, and behind her, Miles and Flora are giggling, doubled over in their seats, crumpled balls of paper littered all around them, an entire war waged without Dani and Jamie’s notice.

Dani’s nose scrunches up when she laughs, and Jamie’s not thinking about being caught unawares, not thinking about taking a direct hit to the forehead, not assuring herself that it was only paper, that she’s fine, that it’s just a reminder to get her fucking head in the game––

“Your nose scrunches up,” she’s saying suddenly, seriously, as if it’s information critical to the success of Dani’s survival, and Dani’s blinking, her face smoothing, evening out before her, “when you laugh. Your nose scrunches up all funny.”

Dani stares at her.

Jamie stares back, wide-eyed.

The world turns, Miles and Flora carrying on, giggling, behind them. 

After a moment, Dani rises to her feet.

Jamie blinks.

“Oh,” she says, and there’s a distance between them again, a keener, more observant part of Jamie notes dimly, “grow up, Jamie.”

And then she’s turning, crossing to Flora, grabbing a handful of crumpled up paper off her desk.

Jamie, alone and on the floor, crosses her arms. 

Huffs.

“Plenty grown,” she mumbles, and reaches for a marker.

Chapter Text

That night, staring at her reflection in the mirror, Dani plans her own peace offering.

Dani hadn’t spoken to Jamie the rest of the morning, had ignored her as Jamie had given up resorting the markers, had shoved them carelessly back into their container, had proceeded to do the same to caddy after caddy of crayons and colored pencils: (loudly) upturn, (arbitrarily) sort, (forcefully) shove, (recklessly) abandon.

Dani hadn’t spoken to Jamie at lunch, had tried to ignore her absence as Jamie had disappeared before Dani had even finished her usual “how about we break for lunch, huh?”, bolting out of the room quicker than she had all week, Dani’s parting glimpse of her a navy blue plaid hem, skirting around the edge of a doorframe. 

Dani hadn’t spoken to Jamie the rest of the afternoon, had failed to ignore her as Jamie had skulked along the margins of the classroom as Dani had run multiplication drills, settling, finally, in the armchair next to the bookshelf, slouching against its straight back, her legs splayed, lax, in front of her.

Sulking.

Sulking, Jamie’s bottom lip flushed and sullen and shining in the late afternoon light.

Dani hadn’t realized when she’d skipped an entire times table, jumping from eight to ten in a single breath.

Dani stares at herself in the mirror, fingers floating up to card through sinking waves, buoying, teasing the day’s wear out of her hair. 

She pats at her cheeks, brows pinching together at the time it takes for them to flood with color again, purses her lips. Offers herself a reassuring smile.

She looks fine.

She looks fine, but––

Dani pauses.

Narrows her eyes at her reflection.

Crinkles her nose.

Relaxes.

Crinkles it again.

Leans in closer.

What makes you think, Hannah had said, almost a week ago now, she was making fun?

Dani’s not sure what else Jamie could have possibly been doing.

She allows herself one last glance in the mirror, one last scrunch of her nose, and then she’s shaking her head, laughing, a little loudly, a little nervously, to herself, and clattering back down the stairs.

She finds Jamie in the drawing room, practically melting off the couch, one hand tangled absently in her hair, the other holding a battered volume of––Dani squints––The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson

“You like poetry?” It’s abrupt and blurted and not at all what Dani, standing in the doorway, two wine glasses cradled precariously in one hand, a freshly uncorked bottle of red dangling in the other, had been planning on saying. 

Jamie’s eyes find Dani’s over the edge of the book.

Dani cringes. 

“Not too keen on it, to be honest,” Jamie says, feigning nonchalance, her hands gentler, more careful than Dani would have expected a week ago as she closes the book, resting it on the table alongside the couch, “but saw this one on the shelf and thought, ‘why not?’ Might help me make sense of any other…” she raises her eyebrows, the corner of her mouth quirking up, “baffling American women I may come across.”

“Baffling American women, huh?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie’s eyes are bright, inquisitive as they sweep over Dani, lingering on the glasses hanging from her hand, her brow softening, smoothing for a moment.

“I bet you… I bet you get a lot of those.” Dani takes a tentative step forward, swallowing, nodding at the open couch next to Jamie. “Is it okay if I…?” 

Jamie purses her lips, quiet for a moment, Dani swaying nervously in front of her. “Can’t say anyone has ever baffled me quite the way you have, Poppins,” she finally says, voice low, adding, returning to her normal tone, “and yeah, sure. What, uh… What’ve you got there?” 

Dani collapses onto the couch beside her, and Jamie, for the briefest moment, watches her relax. 

“I thought…” Dani turns suddenly, forcefully, her voice determined, her knees bumping Jamie’s, “I thought we might celebrate.”

“Celebrate?”

“Yeah… Yeah.” Dani nods, more for herself than for Jamie. “First week of class done,” she shrugs, all forced effortlessness, “feels kinda worth celebrating, doesn’t it?”

Dani’s eyes are so wide and so hopeful and Jamie wants nothing more than to reach out and take the spare glass from her hand, to wrap her fingers around it, to feel the soft of Dani’s skin as she does.

“I can’t,” she says instead.

“Oh,” and Jamie watches something in Dani shut down again, watches her recoil, watches her blink once, twice, three times, Dani’s mouth tightening, twitching as she does. “Is there…” Dani’s brows pinch together, her eyes darting back and forth across the carpet, and when she looks back up at Jamie, they're hard, resolute. “Why?”

“What?”

“Why can’t you?”

Jamie isn’t used to being questioned, isn’t used to having her word taken at anything other than face value.

She should have, she figures, expected it from Dani Clayton.

“Phone call,” Jamie says, rising to her feet, her eyes focused, intent, just to the left of Dani, “that time of night.”

“That time of night,” Dani repeats, voice rising, skeptical. “You’re… You’re sitting here on the couch, reading poetry you don’t even like, and the second I come in, you–– You’re–– The second I come in, it’s suddenly that time of night?”

“Yeah,” Jamie shrugs apologetically, shoving her hands into her pockets, “look, Dani, I’m sorry, I would–– I’d want––” Jamie stops herself. Shakes her head. “I’m sorry,” she says again, voice finite, “but I’ll see you at dinner later, yeah? Owen’s making… Spaghetti, I think. With meatballs. Family style and all that.”

“Right,” Dani says emptily, “family style.” 

She watches as Jamie backs out of the room, shoulders hunched, dipping, finally, around the corner, and disappears into the foyer. 

Dani collapses back into the couch, and lifts the bottle to her lips.


Everything, Jamie had thought, sounds so simple when Dani Clayton says it.

First week done.

A celebration.

But:

First week done.

Three weeks left.

Three weeks left, give or take, depending on the degree of Peter Quint’s slipperiness, until the end of the Wingrave assignment. To the fulfillment of her contract. To leaving Bly and the children and Owen and Hannah and Dani forever.

Then, Jamie decides, and only then, can she celebrate. 

The children and Owen and Hannah and Dani––

Dani.

Dani and the way her nose crinkles up when she laughs, wide and bright and unselfconscious for what feels like has to be one of the only times in her life.

Jame sinks back against the wall in the foyer, closes her eyes. Breathes.

Jamie is good at her job. 

Jamie likes her job.

Jamie is good at distance, is good at keeping people at arm’s length, is good at giving them just enough to get by, to enjoy the time being, but not so much as to linger, a scarred landscape in the geography of their lives, after her departure. 

Jamie is good at becoming the ghost of a memory, worn away, faded, by the mercy of time. 

Jamie likes distance, likes keeping people at arm’s length, likes laughing and swapping stories and making the most of every assignment while she’s on it, but Jamie likes the endings more.

Jamie likes leaving people before they can leave her.

It’s easier, she’s always figured, to pack up and take the stories and move along, never making too much of an impression, never giving anyone the chance to make their time together anything more than it is: a job.

The Wingraves are a job.

Dani is a job. 

And Jamie is good at her job.

Jamie likes her job.

But the only part of a job worth celebrating, Jamie’s learned quickly in her line of work, is the end.

She opens her eyes, and reaches for the phone.


The more Dani thinks about it, the angrier she gets. 

She’s angry alone on the couch, tearing through page after page of poetry she already has all but memorized from her years teaching English, taking furious swigs of wine as she goes.

She’s angry at dinner, managing to spoon meatball after meatball onto Miles’ and Flora’s plates, nestling them neatly in heaping mounds of spaghetti, sauce splashing up and onto her blouse the second she helps herself.

She’s angry in the shower, the water scalding, acutely aware of Jamie in the next room doing whatever it is she does, be it poetry or push-ups or plotting new ways to make Dani's life miserable. 

She’s angry all night, awake and twining herself around sweaty sheets, fixated on the idea of Jamie, a shared bathroom away, cross-legged on her bed and in pajama shorts, waiting for Dani to dare to do anything: move, breathe, exist. 

She’s angry the next morning, shepherding Flora and Miles downstairs, shuffling her feet behind them as they wander into the kitchen, sliding excitedly into their chairs, as she sees Jamie, leaning, grin cavalier, against the counter, arching her neck over the stove, watching, curious, as Owen lets drop spoonfuls of batter into the cast iron.

“So you just let them drop?” Jamie’s saying, glancing up at Owen, “like that?”

“Mmhm,” Owen nods, reaching for his spatula. “You have to let the batter drop thick, though. Not wide. And be sure to separate the eggs when you’re mixing it. You want to whip the whites separately,” he grins over at Jamie, “for maximum fluff.”

“Maximum fluff?” Jamie arches an eyebrow. 

“Oh, c’mon Jamie, I’ve seen you take on baked goods,” Owen waves his spatula at her, and Jamie laughing, leans back, dodging as it zigzags closer to her. “Don’t pretend like you don’t want maximum fluff.”

“Couldn’t if I tried,” Jamie’s hand darts out to grab a finished Scotch pancake from the plate next to the stove, and, popping it in her mouth, continues through a mouthful of fried batter, “m’not sure what kind of person would, either.”

Dani clears her throat. 

“Poppins!” 

She’s angry at the way Jamie’s face seems to light up when she says it, angry that she hadn’t gotten this Jamie last night, angry that she’s reached a point where she even has a favorite Jamie at all––

Dani tucks her thumbs into her firsts. Clenches.

It’s perfectly reasonable, she tells herself, to have a favorite Jamie. It’s perfectly and especially reasonable, she assures herself, glancing around the kitchen, because there are bound to be moments, isolated in a country manor with five other people, two of whom are children, when she enjoys some people’s company over others’. 

Flora, for instance: just before bed, when Dani’s tucking her in, Flora’s eyes dreamy and shining, small fingers knotting into Dani’s, voice lilting and sleepy as she asks for one more story, her sigh cozy and content as Dani leans down, pressing her lips to Flora’s forehead, Dani’s gentle “goodnight” whispered against a smooth brow.

Miles: when he’s hopeful most of all, his eyes bright, a grin cracking that face too contemplative for so few years, leaning happily into Dani’s hand as she ruffles his hair, all fondness and resonance, the two of them mired, together, somewhere between a childhood interrupted and adulthood protracted. 

Hannah: in private conversation, solitary and mollifying, tucked into a corner of the hallway or around the kitchen table, the kettle settled between them, her eyes heavy-lidded and expressive, Hannah’s resolution grounding, her sense epiphanic for all its simplicity.

Owen: eyes twinkling and mustache twitching, dropping a napkin over Flora’s head or nudging batter across Hannah’s cheek, a pun ready and proud on his tongue, another ready where that came from, his laughter relaxed and infectious as Dani, exaggerating an eye roll, beams, laughing along with him.

Jamie––

Jamie, grinning up at her from the floor of the classroom, from the piano bench, from behind a pair of construction paper binoculars, from the science table, her legs swinging freely beneath her, the bow of her lips flushed and full, her eyes open and curious and a little bit conspiratorial, wont to linger, laden, on Dani.

Jamie, grinning over at her, like she’s doing now.

It’s preferable, Dani insists to herself, to the dogged teasing, to the judgement, to the cruelty of that first night, preferable to hunched shoulders and the hem of a button-down, furling around a corner into nothing, preferable to the abandonment that comes with every lunch, every nighttime phone call.

For someone so insistent on doing her job, Dani thinks, enmity rising, low, in her stomach, someone so determined to curb others’ ability to do the same in the interest of her own, Jamie sure seems to love disappearing.

Dani snaps.

“Can I talk to you? In the hall?”

Jamie blinks. Glances over at Owen, staring, concentrated, at the cast iron, and Miles and Flora, focused, carefully, on folding their napkins into cranes. 

She looks back at Dani, and grins wider.

It’s all the invitation Dani needs, and she’s crossing the kitchen to grab Jamie’s wrist, tugging her into the hallway, Jamie stumbling, grinning, behind her. 

When Dani stops, spinning on the balls of her feet to face Jamie, it’s abrupt, and Jamie’s momentum sends her careening into Dani, pressing into her, the two of them falling backwards against the wooden paneling of the wall behind them.

Jamie’s grin, Dani notices dumbly, pinned between Jamie and the wall, vainly, perhaps, as the points of contact between them ignite, looks wider than ever.

“Good morning, girls,” and Dani would let her head fall back, defeated, against the wall at the sound of Hannah’s voice drifting down the hall, pointed in its casualness, if she could, if it wasn’t already there, inches from Jamie’s, “sleep well?”

“Great, thanks,” Jamie’s reply is quick and easy and unmoving, her lips curled wide, her eyes fixed, sparkling on Dani’s. “You?”

“Lovely, thank you,” Hannah hums, angling her body as she sweeps past them towards the kitchen, pausing, her back to them, just outside the doorway. “Don’t be too late for breakfast. Scotch pancakes are a Sharma specialty.”

Dani groans, pressing her eyes closed as she hears Hannah make her way into the kitchen, greeting Owen with a mild “busy morning, isn’t it?” before laughing, delighted, at whatever Flora and Miles have managed to turn their napkins into.

Jamie still doesn’t move, and when she offers a murmured “heya, Poppins,” Dani can feel it, Jamie’s breath low against her lips.

Dani burns hotter and hotter.

“You,” she breathes, eyes stubborn, challenging, on Jamie’s, loosening enough her hold on her anger to let it rise to the fore, “are getting paid to be here, right?”

Jamie blinks. Pulls back a little bit.

Good, a thinking part of Dani, a more rational part of her than the rest, more resistant to whatever heat is flooding her body, manages to note. She’s surprised.

“Yeah,” Jamie says, her voice hesitant, newly careful, “I am.”

“Then today,” Dani presses her hands against the smooth wood behind her and pushes herself off of the wall, forcing herself forward as Jamie takes a faltering step back, “you’re going to work.”

“Wha––”

Dani smiles, and it’s sweet, Jamie thinks, far too sweet for whatever Dani’s playing at. 

“No more disappearing at lunch,” Dani says, taking another step, “and no more phone calls. You talk about doing your job so much”––Jamie’s back bumps the opposite wall and she stares at Dani, eyes wide––“you’re actually going to do something.”

“I do my job,” Jamie sets her jaw, her eyes assured, searching Dani’s, “damn good at doing my job, in fact.”

“See, I’m not sure you are,” Dani raises her eyebrows, “because I’m not sure you can do your job if you’re not around. If you’re on the phone.”

“I step out,” Jamie’s voice is hushed, bordering on warning, “when you all are eating lunch in the kitchen. All in the same place, the windows high enough that no one’s getting in without breaking an ankle. Same for my calls. Always before dinner, always when everyone’s helping make it. Don’t, Dani,” she says, voice softer still, “I’m serious. Don’t go there with me.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Dani’s voice is placid, unconcerned. “You went there with me.”

“I was doing my job asking you about your fiancé––an answer I still don’t have, by the way––and you know that.” 

“You don’t,” Dani replies smoothly, “and I do. And,” she smiles, wide and indulgent, and Jamie can feel something––anger, she tells herself––coiling in her stomach, “you’re going to continue working. All day today, with me and the kids.”

Jamie clenches her teeth.

Dani takes a step back, and Jamie watches her face change, just for a moment, a flash fire of bravery and insolence.

And then Dani’s cupping her cheek.

It feels a little bit condescending and a little bit affectionate and Jamie suddenly feels like she doesn’t know anything other than the tender swipe of Dani’s thumb, dragging across her cheekbone.

“I’ll see you in the kitchen,” Dani says, and it feels a little bit breathless, too, even as she takes another step back, even as she turns toward the kitchen, even as she calls back without looking, “wouldn’t want to miss Owen’s Scotch pancakes. They’re a Sharma specialty.”


Dani, somehow, ends up even angrier.

Dani had originally promised Hannah and Owen she and the kids would spend the morning cleaning the kitchen and making lunch––“you two deserve an easy Saturday. Relax. Enjoy each other’s company. Maybe even,” she’d grinned goofily at them, “make a break for it. Enjoy some time together in the garden”––and when she’d seen an opportunity to have Jamie polishing tiles and prepping fruit salad along with them, an opportunity to keep Jamie close, an opportunity, she’d thought, to keep an eye on Jamie the exact way Jamie insisted on keeping one on her, it hadn’t been a thought she’d been able to resist.

Dani really, really wishes she had.

Because Jamie is enjoying herself. 

Jamie is enjoying herself, and Dani hates it.

Dani had expected it to be a punishment, Jamie’s comeuppance for her transgressions, for her phone calls, for her disappearing lunch after lunch, dipping out the door with a tinfoil-covered plate of carrots and potatoes, a chair left empty next to, across from, catty-corner to Dani.

Instead, Jamie is beaming. Jamie is beaming and Jamie is laughing and Jamie, most of all, Dani learns, even with a whole week in the classroom behind them, is good with kids. 

Jamie is good with kids, and this feels like a whole new transgression.

Dani watches them, half-hidden behind one of the pantry doors, listening as Jamie spends forty-five minutes chattering happily with Flora, each exchanging, in detail, their ideal itinerary for a two-week long Australian vacation as they scrub at the grout behind the sink, Jamie holding Flora firmly in place as Flora scrambles along the counter, craning to reach behind the faucet.

(If Dani feels herself flush watching Jamie scoop Flora up, watching the flex in Jamie’s forearms as she hefts Flora onto the counter, it’s a testament, she thinks, to just how angry she still is.)

Dani sets Jamie to work destemming grapes after that, settling Miles and Flora at the prep table next to her, Flora meticulously stacking small glass bowls, Miles carefully cutting cantaloupe.

At least, Dani knows, rushing up the stairs two at a time to grab a zip-up sweatshirt from her room, she can step away from the kitchen knowing Jamie won’t let Miles hurt himself with the cutting knife. Jamie, thankfully, is enough of a professional, is dedicated enough to the children’s safety, for that.

She lets herself linger in her room, staring at her hair in the mirror, reaching a hand up to ruffle through it, teasing the soft waves.

Maybe, she thinks, just maybe, Jamie’s good for something after all, even if it’s only for letting Dani leave. For giving Dani a moment, at last, to breathe.

Alternatively, Dani decides, stepping back into the kitchen a few minutes later, tugging an arm through her sweatshirt, Jamie is good for nothing, is not a professional, and is more of a child than Miles and Flora both.

Jamie is laughing, aligned dead center at the end of the table, picking grape after grape out of the salad bowl, collecting them in one hand and shifting her weight back and forth as she assesses the distance between her and Miles, situated, his feet planted, at the table’s other end.

“Ready?” 

Miles nods.

Jamie grabs a grape, and, narrowing her eyes, adjusting her stance once more, hurls it in Miles’ direction.

It bounces off his forehead, and all three of them, Flora hovering along the edge of the table, watching, burst out laughing.

“That’s what you get,” Jamie crows, throwing her head back, “for that paper yesterday! Serves you right, doesn’t it?”

Dani clears her throat, and Jamie whirls around, her flannel slipping off one of her shoulders and down her arm, coming to rest in the crook of her elbow. 

Whatever Dani had planned on saying, whatever chastisement had been building on her tongue, immediately dies.

Jame’s shoulder is smooth and lean and just a little tan from her morning runs, the strap of her tank top curling, snug, around it, overlaid by the heavy denim of her overall strap. Dani wonders what would happen if she were to slide her hand up that arm, if she were to squeeze, if she were to dip her fingers underneath those straps, letting them follow the path of Jamie’s flannel, down her arm and away.

Dani wonders if Jamie’s bare shoulder is as soft as her cheek.

“Miss Clayton?” 

Dani startles, eyes shooting over to Miles, his head tilted curiously.

“Are you alright?”

“I–– Yeah, I’m… I’m alright. I’m good. I…” Dani looks around, her eyes frantic, settling, finally, on the fruit bowl settled at the edge of the table. “I thought,” she shakes her head as if to clear it, her hands finding her hips, “you three were supposed to be making fruit salad.”

“Got bored,” Jamie says simply, shrugging.

Dani watches her bare shoulder rise and fall and tries desperately not to think about the freckles there as she does.

“Hair looks nice,” Jamie adds, dumping the rest of the grapes unceremoniously back into the bowl, “by the way.”

“What?”

Jamie only raises her eyebrows. Grins. 

Dani feels a flash of heat again and wonders if she’ll ever not be angry at Jamie Taylor.

“Just…” Dani glances over at Miles and Flora, watching her from across the table. “You know what,” she says, looking back at Jamie, “I think you’re done. You’ve… Worked plenty. For the day.”

“And what am I supposed to do now, then?”

Dani’s brows pinch together. “I don’t know. Don’t care, really. Go do… Whatever it is you do.”

Flora and Miles look from Dani to Jamie and back again.

“I dunno,” Jamie takes a step back from the table, and when she tugs her flannel back up over her shoulder, Dani hopes she can’t hear the small, strangled sound in her throat, “I’ve quite enjoyed my morning in the kitchen. Working with these wee gremlins”––she winks at Flora and Miles, who grin excitedly back at her––“has been one of the best parts of my week so far.”

Dani can’t help herself. “One of?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie steps back towards the dining table, dragging a chair out from underneath it and sinking down into it, “one of.”

She meets Dani’s eyes and holds them.

Dani, burning, looks away.

“Right,” she says, and there’s that shake of her head again, Jamie notices, before Dani’s turning to Miles and Flora, “what do you say we get started on this lunch? These potatoes won’t peel themselves.”

“If you need any help…” Jamie starts from the table. 

“No,” Dani interjects quickly, avoiding her gaze, “no, it’s fine.”

“Suit yourself, then. Might still keep you all company, though, if that’s alright.”

It’s not alright, Dani wants to say, it’s not alright and none of this is alright and we don’t need you and you make me absolutely––  

But Flora is beaming over at her and Miles is grinning, his head bobbing excitedly, and goddamn it, Jamie is good with kids.

“Sure,” Dani says, her voice tight, “I don’t see why not.”

It’s not that Dani had started out intending to have a problem with Jamie, she muses, wrapping her fingers firmly around a potato. It was the idea of Jamie she’d had a problem with, the idea that she was incapable of taking care of Flora and Miles––and herself, too, she supposes––that she needed someone else to step in, someone else to stave away their nightmares and keep out the boogeymen, someone else to do it all for her.

Dani would have wanted to like Jamie, she thinks, would have liked her, but…

Well. Jamie had chosen to be like this instead.

This, Dani thinks, looking up from the bowl in front of her to Jamie, staring at Dani from the kitchen table, a smirk playing at the corners of Jamie’s mouth, her eyes heavy and unflinching and drifting down to Dani’s hands, Dani’s fingers shaking, suddenly, inexplicably, as she peels the potatoes.

Their eyes hold, and then Jamie winks.

Then, quickly:

Dani looks away, but not before she manages to drag the peeler neatly down along one of her own fingers.

Jamie is springing up, chair legs scraping sharply against floor, and is at Dani’s side before Dani’s even realized what happened.

Jamie’s voice is calmly telling Miles and Flora to grab a clean, damp washcloth and the first aid kit from her bedroom upstairs. 

Jamie’s hands are gentle, wrapping around Dani’s, enveloping them, her thumb solid and sure as it presses, holding against Dani’s finger.

Jamie’s breath is soft against Dani’s cheek, Jamie’s body pressing, once again, into hers, as she murmurs, “have to keep up the pressure, okay? Platelets and all that.”

Dani’s turning to look at her, and her startled eyes are remarkably steady, Jamie thinks, for someone who’s just taken a potato peeler to her own hand.

Dani’s eyes find Jamie’s, and everything, finally, slows down.

Dani breathes.

They’re still standing there, pressed against each other, Dani’s hands in Jamie’s, Jamie’s free thumb smoothing easy circles against the back of one of Dani’s hands, when Flora and Miles make their way back to the kitchen.

“We’ve got it,” Flora says, a little breathless, “everything you asked for.”

“Thanks, Flora,” Jamie’s eyes don’t leave Dani’s, the stroke of her thumb against Dani’s skin constant, “drop it on the table right here, yeah? And then you two can take a break. Independent reading, maybe,” the corner of her mouth quirks up, and she raises her eyebrows at Dani, “right, Poppins?”’

“Independent reading,” Dani breathes, “right.”

Miles and Flora disappear down the hall and into the classroom, returning moments later with armfuls of books, scattering them across the dining table as they climb into chairs on either side.

Jamie guides Dani over to the sink, where she sets to work rinsing Dani’s finger, quiet as she does, concentrating, her brows furrowed, tongue peeking out between her lips.

Dani stares. 

“What’re you looking at?” Jamie’s voice is rougher than Dani expects, her fingers tender as she lathers soap over the mar of Dani’s skin.

“What?”

“You’re looking at me,” Jamie murmurs, attention still glued to Dani’s hand in the sink below her.

“If you know I’m looking at you, why ask?” Dani whispers, and Jamie can’t help but notice her breath catch now, hitching, finally, for the first time since she's started bleeding. 

Jamie swallows. Sidesteps the question. “You, uh, scared of blood or something? Don’t want to watch what’s happening?”

“No,” Dani says, and it feels heavy, and her eyes feel heavy, and it could be crushing, might be crushing, but Jamie doesn’t want it to stop, “I’m not scared.”

Jamie doesn’t want it to stop, and so Jamie doesn’t stop. “No?”

“I’m a lot braver,” Dani says, “than people think. Including,” she gasps, Jamie’s fingers smoothing, rinsing, over hers, “myself.”

Not everything, Jamie realizes then, sounds so simple when Dani says it, after all.

“Don’t think anyone would dispute that one,” Jamie mumbles, fumbling for a paper towel and blotting Dani’s hands dry, “especially after this morning.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means,” Jamie’s hands squeeze slightly. “Sorry about this next bit, by the way.”

“Next bit?” Dani blinks, her brow furrowing.

“Yeah, uh… Hey,” Jamie wracks her brain for a distraction, glancing back at the dining table, at Flora and Miles, nose-deep in their books, then back at Dani, “wanna know a secret?”

Dani’s nose crinkles. “Jamie, what––”

Jamie can only come up with one thing.

“Remember when I dumped all those markers out yesterday?”

“Yes, but––”

Jamie, so used to being in control, doesn’t really think this one through, thinks only of Dani and the moment and the only thing, she knows, that will throw her.

“What if I told you I did it because I was tired of waiting?” Jamie’s voice is quiet and collected and urgent just the same. “If it was because I was tired of waiting for you to notice me?”

“For me to…” Dani’s eyes are fixed on Jamie’s, shining and desperate and hanging on her every word, and Jamie takes the opportunity to reach around the counter, into the first aid kid, for the antiseptic.

“It’s like I can’t stop,” Jamie continues, unscrewing the cap just outside Dani's line of sight, “waiting, I mean. For you.” 

“For me…” 

“Yeah,” Jamie whispers, “for you.”

Dani stares at her, and Jamie could swear she sways forward as she does.

“I meant what I said,” Jamie says, “about you being too pretty. About you making it hard for me to do my job. I think about you”––Dani’s breath hitches again, and Jamie inches her hand closer––“all the time, Dani. And not just… Because you’re determined to make my life shite. Because I can’t stop. Because I…”

This is the moment, Jamie thinks, and her hand shoots out, dousing Dani’s finger with antiseptic, and Dani’s torn, gasping, between the sting of the antiseptic cream and the break in Jamie’s voice as she murmurs, “because I don’t want to.”

And then everything’s fast again, Jamie wordlessly, gingerly, wrapping a bandage around Dani’s finger, holding it, just for a moment, punctuated by a soft “there we are.”

And then Jamie’s swallowing, nodding, stepping back, shoving her hands in her pockets.

And then Jamie leaves.

Jamie leaves, and Dani’s standing alone, and the world keeps on turning.

Chapter Text

It’s like I can’t stop.

Jamie is waiting for her downstairs that night. 

Dani isn’t entirely sure how Jamie knows to wait for her there––Dani’s just as likely, she thinks, to find her way back to her own room after putting Flora and Miles to bed, to slip under her covers and turn off the light and stare, ruminating, up at the ceiling––but Jamie does.

Waiting, I mean.

Dani slips out of Miles’ room, pulling the door softly shut behind her, and as she steps onto staircase, lighting her hand along the banister, she sees Jamie. Jamie, tiny in her oversized coat, tinier in the gaping foyer, one hand shoved in a pocket, the other holding Dani’s coat, downy and purple and so at odds with the rest of her Dani can’t help but smile, over one shoulder. 

Jamie, watching her descend the stairs one at a time, Dani’s posture tight, her bandaged finger sliding along the banister as she goes.

Jamie, waiting.

For you.

“What…” Dani’s feet connect with hardwood, and she glances down the hallway, right, then left. “What’s up?”

Jamie’s voice is easy, matter-of-fact. “You’re coming with me.”

“Coming… With you?”

“Mmhm.” Jamie shrugs Dani’s coat off of her shoulder, grabbing it with both hands and lifting it, holding it open. 

Dani’s crossing to her, even as her brows pinch together, sliding first one arm, then the other, into her sleeves. “Coming with you where?”

“Well,” Jamie grins, “you’re getting paid to be here right?”

Dani turns, untucking her hair from her collar, and narrows her eyes.

“Just saying,” Jamie reaches out and grabs the bottom of Dani’s coat, tugging her closer, threading the zipper, “you recruited me to help with your job. Now I’m,” she gives a gentle yank, zipping Dani’s coat all the way up, “recruiting you to help with mine.”

“I can zip up my own coat, Jamie,” Dani mumbles, but it’s half-hearted, her anger exhausted, spent somewhere between the tenderness of Jamie’s fingers against hers and Jamie’s reappearance, finally, at dinner, sinking into the empty seat beside Dani, peering, inquisitively, at Dani’s hand as she’d reached for a dinner roll.

“My job to take care of you, isn’t it? Not exactly doing that if I’m letting you catch pneumonia, am I?”

“Your coat isn’t zipped,” Dani points out wryly, shuffling dutifully behind Jamie as she starts walking towards the door, “and I don’t––”

“Need anyone to take care of you,” Jamie finishes, laughing, “I know. That’s why,” she pauses, turning to face Dani, “you’re coming with me on my sweep tonight.”

Dani blinks. “I’m… Coming with you? On your sweep?”

“Thought you’d be more excited about it, Poppins. Owen told me you’ve been asking after my sweeps.”

“Owen told you?” 

“Sure did. Seems like,” Jamie’s eyes sparkle in the dim light, “secrets don’t keep very easily around here.”

“No,” Dani swallows, “no, seems like they don’t.” 

They’re quiet for a moment, staring at each other, and then Dani’s breaking the stillness that’s settled between them, launching herself clumsily forward, grabbing for Jamie’s coat and fumbling with the zipper. 

“If my coat has to be zipped,” she manages by way of explanation, stumbling, quickly, over her words, “then yours does too.”

“Fair enough,” Jamie murmurs, her head ducked, watching Dani’s hands work, drinking in the frantic bend of Dan’s fingers as they tug her coat shut.

Dani steps back when she’s finished, and they’re silent again.

“Right,” Jamie says, clearing her throat, pivoting, unlocking the front door and pulling it open, stepping out into the night, “so.”

“So.”

Jamie locks the door behind them then turns, waiting for the soft crunch of Dani’s Reeboks on gravel before she starts walking again. 

“Jamie––” Dani’s voice is too loud, too sharp for the night settled densely around them, and she flinches. “Jamie,” she tries again, lowering her voice, “why am I here? Really?”

The corner of Jamie’s mouth quirks up. “Told you. I helped you with your job, now you help me with mine. S’only fair. Besides,” she adds, craning her neck, her eyes scanning up and down the trees lining the front drive, “gets lonely out here at night. About had it, to be honest. Figured you,” she glances back at Dani, “much of a pain as you are, might be the best company.”

“Oh yeah?” Dani picks up her pace, feet shuffling, quicker, along the gravel now, falling in step with Jamie. “Why’s that?”

Jamie’s quiet, and Dani’s worried she’s asked the wrong thing, worried she’s poked at something still too tender, is wracking her brain for a way to take it back, when Jamie smirks.

Jamie smirks, and it feels like the world is shifting back onto its axis, and Dani immediately regrets feeling bad in the first place.

“Well,” Jamie says, patient and pragmatic, as if she’s the one whose job it is to explain rules for multiplying fractions on a daily basis, “don’t get too big for your britches, but…” She purses her lips, thoughtful, and glances over at Dani. “I think you’re the best person here for the job. Determined, fast thinking, relatively self-sufficient–– Relatively, Dani. That doesn’t,” she gives Dani a pointed look, “mean you don’t need me, but,” Jamie shrugs, “you’re alright.”

Dani beams.

“Besides,” Jamie mumbles, peering at something through the trees to their left, smiling softly to herself before veering right, towards the chapel, “you’re so damn stubborn. Someone tries to come and knock you on your ass and you’d just,” she sniffs, laughing, “tell them no.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

“Depends,” Jamie says, her voice uncharacteristically measured, “who it is.”

Dani bites her lip, grinning, and glances over at Jamie, opening her mouth to respond, when Jamie stops. Her arm shoots out, and Dani walks straight into it, but Jamie holds it there, taut, pressing into Dani’s chest.

“One sec,” Jamie murmurs, narrowing her eyes at the chapel ahead of them, Dani following her gaze.

There’s a low, red glow flickering in one of the windows.

Jamie slowly lowers her arm, eyes fixed on the chapel ahead of them, and Dani hasn’t even spoken, hasn’t even moved, when Jamie’s shaking her head, lips pursed. “You’re staying here Dani,” and her voice is so low Dani has to lean in, tipping her ear towards Jamie’s lips, to hear it. “I mean it. Don’t even think about it.” Jamie takes a step forward then pauses, half-turning her head back towards Dani––just enough, Dani thinks, for the swell of Jamie’s bottom lip to catch the warmth diffused by the window. “Save any heroics for when I’m mortally wounded, yeah?”

“Wha–– Jamie!” 

Jamie ignores her, dropping into a crouch and padding forward through the brush.

“You can’t just”––Jamie, still moving cautiously forward, flaps a hand blindly, haphazardly, behind her, and Dani lowers her voice, hissing––“you can’t just say something like that, Jamie. You can’t just–– You can’t just say something like that and then walk away from me!”

Jamie presses forward, skirting around the corner of the chapel, and when she slips through a patch of moonlight, Dani swears she can make out a smirk.

Just like that, she’s angry again.

She’s angry at Jamie for sidelining her, relegating her to the shadows while she runs headfirst into a possibly present danger.

She’s angry at Jamie for being so cavalier about it, for smirking, the curl of her lips insatiable, even in the thick of the dark. (Especially, a part of Dani dares to notice, her stomach surging, in the thick of the dark.)

Most of all, though, she’s angry at Jamie for charging into a gleaming unknown, tossing her head back to give Dani one last, lingering look, easing open the chapel door and slipping inside, before they can talk about it.

Dani clenches her teeth once, twice, hands squeezing helplessly into fists at her sides, and then she’s barreling forward after Jamie.

Jamie’s at the front of the chapel when Dani gets inside, bending over a rack of candles, blowing softly. “Hannah must’ve left ‘em burning,” Jamie murmurs, unturning, and Dani doesn’t think to question that Jamie had known to expect her, had known exactly the second she’d walked in, only welcomes the quiet lilt of the voice carrying across empty pews. “Place will burn down one of these days.”

Dani welcomes Jamie’s voice, and it feels like a revelation, searing and holy all at once.

“Thought I told you,” Jamie takes a step back from the rack, voice a little louder, a little harder, “to stay out there. Not to think about it.”

“C’mon, Jamie, you know I wasn’t going to let you––”

“It’s not a matter of let!” Jamie cuts her off, wheeling around and crossing the width of the chapel in a handful of punishing strides, and for all their fights, all their flare-ups, Dani’s not sure she’s ever seen Jamie like this.

Jamie’s burning, too.

“It’s a matter of you, Dani. It’s a matter of you not taking this shit seriously. It’s a matter of you, sitting in your classroom on your high horse, contradicting me at every turn. It’s a matter of you not getting your bloody head done in because you couldn’t well listen. It’s a matter of you––”

Dani stares, wide-eyed and open.

Jamie’s shout catches, and she takes a step back, shaking her head, a humorless chuckle escaping her lips as she reaches up to rake a hand through her hair.

“I take,” Dani starts, seizing the silence before Jamie can continue, stepping in towards her, Dani's voice hard, leaden, despite the way it wavers in the dwindling space between them, “this seriously. I take it very seriously. I take it seriously when you,” she raises her eyebrows, the blue of her eyes blazing, boring into Jamie’s, “refuse to follow the rules you’ve set for our own safety, running off on your own to God knows where. I take it seriously when you insist on doing everything yourself, even though you don’t have to, even when you invite other people”––she gestures wildly at herself––“to go through the motions of it with you. I take it seriously when you run recklessly into situations that could easily get you killed when we haven’t… When we still haven’t…” 

“Haven’t what?”

“Haven’t talked about it! Jamie,” Dani deflates as she says Jamie’s name, sinking into herself, her bravado waning, snuffed out, “we haven’t talked about it.”

They’re quiet then, staring at each other in the darkness of an empty chapel.

Dani’s voice is small, whispered, when she speaks again. “Are we gonna talk about it?”

“Dunno,” Jamie finally says, her voice stripped, guarded, “what there is to talk about.”

“You do, though. You do know.”

Jamie purses her lips. Shakes her head.

But Dani won’t say it.

Dani can’t say it.

Dani can’t disturb the embers taking, flaring, just under her skin. Can’t speak, for the fear of her soft exhale, for the fear of oxidizing the thing inside her, granting it the emptiness of the chapel, the right to bloom in the middle of so much nothingness, devouring the air around them.

Place will burn down one of these days, Jamie had said.

It’s different, she tells herself, this time. This isn’t the scorching abandon of a life withheld. The recrudescence of heat she feels every time she thinks about Jamie––the weighted drag of Jamie’s eyes, the teasing curl of Jamie’s mouth, the tender delicacy of Jamie’s hands on hers––isn’t about denying herself anything. 

Dani swallows. Pushes it down. Reaches up to run a hand through her own hair, catching the whites of Jamie’s eyes as she watches her, tracking Dani’s bandaged finger through the dark.

They leave the chapel, and trade its silence, heavy and anticipating, for the current, buzzing, if muted, running, alive, through the night outside.

“You’re really,” Dani breaks the silence between them as they circle the lake, Jamie ducking into the gazebo, Dani’s eyes skating along the fluid angles of her shoulders as she swings around a stone pillar, “hot and cold, you know?”

Jamie, peering across the lake, turns back towards Dani, narrowing her eyes as she hops out of the gazebo and down next to her. “How do you mean?”

“You… Spent all week looking at me, and then… Making fun of me. Made your own peace offering a week ago and then ignored mine last night. Helped me earlier and then just… Disappeared. All day. And then now, you act like you… You act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, like it never happened.”

Jamie listens. Purses her lips. Nods, thoughtful. Then: “You’re a little hot and cold yourself, you know?”

“I–– What?”

Jamie chuckles dryly, shaking her head. “God you…” She cranes her head back, looks up at the sky and all its stars, years of combustion coming only to blazing fruition now, in this moment, just for them, “you don’t even realize you’re doing it, do you?”

“Doing what?” Dani’s breathless again, swaying as she says it, tilting dangerously close, and Jamie has to glance over at her hand, has to make sure, for all of Dani’s sudden unsteadiness, she hasn’t inexplicably started bleeding again. 

For the second time that day, Jamie chooses a gambit.

“My, uh, calls,” she says instead, and she knows Dani’s already been watching her, has felt her eyes hanging along the curl of her lips, hooking around the angle of her jaw, but it’s different now, honed. “They’re to… They’re to my, uh,” she clears her throat, “they’re to my little brother.”

She peeks at Dani out of the corner of her eye, and finds her head tilted, eyes fixed and interested, as they walk.

“You might wanna,” the corner of Jamie’s mouth quirks up, but it’s amused, almost fond, “watch the ground as you walk. Lots of… Roots back here. Vines, and the like. Keep meaning to tidy it up a little bit, but…” 

She feels it when Dani looks away, and a part of her, a part of her uninterested in assignments and protocol, uninterested in keeping Dani relatively intact if it means Jamie is once again the subject of her attention, ire or otherwise, regrets saying anything at all.

“But?”

“Well,” Jamie says, angling her body into Dani’s as she squeezes around a tree, “been spending all my time in the classroom, haven’t I?” She smirks, and it feels better, she thinks, safer when she does. “Reckon I deserve some extra credit for all that… Teacher time.”

It’s armor and adversary all at once, familiar ground on which Jamie can regain her footing, grasping at the vestiges of control while fanning the flames burgeoning between them.

Dani doesn’t miss a beat, but her voice is soft, patient nevertheless. “You were talking about your little brother?”

“Right,” Jamie glances around them, squinting through the trees as they start to loop back around the property towards the manor, “Mikey.”

“Mikey,” Dani echoes.

“It’s, uh, just us, me and him. Has been for a while,” Jamie chews the inside of her cheek, pausing, holding a branch out of the way so Dani can pass without mussing her hair, “since we were kids. Mum left when we were young, but dad… Well,” she shrugs, “Dennis was Dennis. Anyway,” Jamie clears her throat again, and Dani, concentrating on the dirt path in front of her, sneaks a peek over at her, watches the gentle tremors along the column of Jamie’s neck, “I check up on him. Talk about my day. Listen to him talk about his. Every night. It’s what we’ve always done, as long as…” She sounds far away, Dani thinks, her ears perked as she shuffles along, the two of them emerging from the trees as the manor sprawls back into view. “Anyway,” she shrugs, “we talk. And I send him money. Don’t need much myself anyway,” she glances over at Dani, “since work always covers room and board. And continuing education now, too,” she adds, eyes shining in the dark. “Not sure what else I could possibly need.”

Dani laughs. “Pretty sure you have to pay attention to that education to actually get it.”

Jamie snorts. “I pay attention.”

“How could you be”––Jamie can hear the pride creeping into Dani’s voice, dreads whatever’s coming next––“when you’re so busy… Allegedly, anyway, monitoring the windows for suspicious activity?”

“I,” Jamie spreads her arms, grinning over at Dani, “multitask.” 

Dani’s brows pinch together. “Multitasking is a myth.”

“Is not. I do it all the time.”

“You only think you do it all the time. It’s not actually possible. You’re just… Lying to yourself.” 

“Am not. I manage to do my job and dislike you well enough, don’t I?”

Dani hums. “You do one of those things well, sure.”

Jamie gasps, indignant. “Do not!”

“So you do neither of them well?”

“I–– No!”

“Listen,” Dani offers, temperate, as they reach the front of the manor, stepping back as Jamie slips the key into the lock, tugging the door open for her, “you can tell yourself whatever you want. Whatever helps you… Sleep at night. But just know,” she slips through the door, grinning widely back at Jamie over her shoulder as Jamie pulls the door shut behind them, “you’re still lying to yourself.”

“Doing both just fine right now,” Jamie mumbles, locking the door. “Besides,” she turns to face Dani, and Dani feels her jaw tighten, anticipating, when she sees Jamie’s grinning now, too, “of the two of us, I’m the only one who actually does sleep at night, aren’t I? That offer,” she reaches out for Dani’s coat, tugging it carefully off her shoulders as Dani unzips it, “for suggestions still stands, by the way. Help you sleep and all.” She turns, sliding Dani’s coat onto a hanger and into the closet, quickly slipping out of her own as well.

When she turns back around, Dani’s still there, hands clasped, nervous, in front of her, bottom lip caught between her teeth.

“What? You actually gonna… Take me up on it? I’m mostly teasing, it’s really just exercise and mindfulness––”

“No–– No, I…” Dani trails off, frowning. “You told me about Mikey,” she finally says, slowly, carefully, “so I think… I think it’s only fair… I think it’s time I told you about Eddie.”

Jamie’s eyebrows shoot up. “I–– Yeah,” she nods, shoving her hands into her pockets, “yeah, okay. Are you–– Are you sure, Dani?”

Dani blinks. “What?”

“Are you sure? Because I know… I know it’s a lot, and I didn’t… Look, I didn’t tell you about Mikey so you’d feel obliged––”

“I’m not doing it because I feel obliged.” It should be snappy, Jamie would expect it to be snappy, but Dani’s voice is soft. “You’re doing it right now, by the way.”

“Doing what?”

“Neither of those things well.”

Jamie scowls at her. “Should’ve left you outside.”

“You’re too bad at disliking me for that.”

“You’re making it easier for me with every passing second.” 

Dani laughs and turns on her heel––Jamie’s fascinated by the curtain of her hair as she does, by the lift and the whirl and the shimmer as it resettles around her––and Jamie has no choice but to follow her to the drawing room.

“I get that, you know,” Dani says as they walk, “taking care of other people.”

“Yeah?”

Dani sinks down onto the sofa, watching carefully as Jamie follows suit, her legs falling open in front of her, her left leg splaying, fully extended, towards Dani.

If Jamie’s stretching her legs as they sit, Dani thinks, she might as well too. It’d been a long walk, after all.

She stretches her legs, the toe of her high top butting up against, sliding around behind Jamie’s ankle.

“Oi,” but there’s no bite to Jamie’s exclamation, “get your own couch, yeah?”

“Why would I,” Dani grins over at her, “when I was here first?”

“Here first? We got here at the same bloody time.”

“Whatever,” Dani chides, “you need to tell yourself.”


When Jamie wakes up the next morning, she’s still in the drawing room.

She’s stretched out along the length of the couch, two pillows––they’ve been fluffed, she notices, distracted––providing a careful buffer between her head and the couch arm, her flannel carefully folded, resting just next to the pillows, a blanket tucked fastidiously around her.

She presses her head back into the pillows, craning her neck to glance at the side table behind her.

C’mon Jamie, Dani had said, her grin broad and bright, and if Jamie hadn’t already known she couldn’t say no to Dani, that, she thinks, would have been the moment, one drink. You kind of owe me, anyway, don’t you?

The bottle settled on the table is empty, as are the glasses next to it, gleaming in the lamplight. 

Eddie had led to Judy, Judy had led to Karen, Karen had circled back to Dennis, then Louise. Louise had led to… Jamie doesn’t remember what, something lighter, she thinks, happier, and then she remembers Dani yawning, her head lolling onto the back of the couch, her cheek pressing against soft fabric as she’d turned to look at Jamie. She’d said… Something, Jamie thinks, and then Jamie had been yawning too, had tried to stifle it, had failed, and… 

Jamie reaches backwards, dragging her fingers down the stem of one of the glasses.

She had gotten the information she needed. 

She had gotten the information she needed, had scrubbed clean the stains on Dani’s background check, because Jamie is good at her job.

Jamie is good at her job, and Jamie likes her job.

She lets her hand fall back onto the blanket, fingers tracing idly over the seams. It’s meticulous, she wonders, her fingers flexing into the plush, so meticulous, the way it’s tucked around her.

Jamie only knows one person quite so painstaking.

Jamie’s job also requires a certain amount of distance. 

Distance from everyone: from her clients (or charges, she supplements, as the case may be), from her colleagues, from civilians. Distance from Mikey, even, the only family she has, a toothy grin with sparkling green eyes and a curl flopped carelessly between them that she hasn’t seen in years, relegated to too-short phone calls and monthly wire transfers. 

Everything, by nature of Jamie’s work, is unsafe.

Her firm gets contracted when people are unsafe. She’s in Bly because Bly is unsafe. She’s with the Wingraves (and Owen, and Hannah, and Dani) because the Wingraves (and Owen, and Hannah, and Dani) are unsafe.

She, by extension, is unsafe.

Jamie exists solely because safety does not, moving, transient, through liminal spaces bubbling, flaring up in accordance with the whims of a world poorly suited for tenderness.

Jamie exists solely because someone, be it record labels or foreign governments or Henry Wingrave, has decided someone else is worth it, a decision proving, in turn, by the grace of its own existence, by the fact that it has to be made at all, that no one is.

Closeness, then, especially here, where increased proximity outside of the everyday duties required of her would only compound the risk, is not an option.

She’d pushed it last night, has been pushing it all week, and now, Jamie thinks, grip tightening around the blanket, her knuckles blanching against warm gold, she has what she needs. She can stop pushing.

She has to stop pushing.

Arm’s length.

Arm’s length, she tells herself, sitting up, and she hears a shuffling, clumsy and hurried, from the landing as the blanket slips off, pooling in her lap, can’t be that hard when you don’t even like someone to begin with. 

Jamie’s multitasking, and Jamie’s good at that, too.


Dani’s in the kitchen before Jamie that morning, and all the more smug for it.

“It was… Nice,” she’s saying to Hannah and Owen, Miles and Flora sleeping in upstairs, Dani seated along the corner of the table, her hands wrapped around a steaming mug as she raises it, thoughtful, to her lips. “It was actually really nice.”

“You say that like you’re surprised.” Hannah matches her, taking a draw of tea, raising her eyebrows at Dani over the edge of her mug.

“I mean…” Dani leans forward, one elbow on the table, propping her chin up on a closed fist, “aren’t you?”

“Can’t say I am, actually,” Hannah muses.

Owen glances over at her, something wordless and familiar exchanged between the two of them, and turns to Dani. “Can I ask you something?” 

“Of course.”

“Why do you assume the worst? I mean… You had your mind made up with me, in the car, before you’d even met her. And now you know her, and… What? You’re still surprised you’re enjoying her company?”

Dani gives him a look. 

Across from her, Owen shrugs, reaching for his tea again. “If you ask me,” he says, voice measured, “there’s no reason for it.”

She indulges him. “For what?”

“For keeping her in such…” Owen grins around the lip of his mug, “hot water.”

“Oh,” Hannah, next to him, swats playfully at his arm, “you outrageous man.”

Dani laughs, and reaches for her own tea, taking a sip. “I just… Trust me. I know how to pick ‘em, Owen. And Jamie Taylor?”

Hannah’s eyebrows raise, and Owen starts to open his mouth, but Dani continues, her tone escalating, determined.

“She’s like a child,” Dani’s saying, “and I know children. You don’t feed into their attention-seeking behavior. When you see it, you ignore it, and eventually they learn that they have to get your attention some other, more appropriate way. Which is exactly what happened last night, isn’t it? Ignore the––”

“Watch,” there’s the quiet sigh of a cupboard opening behind Dani, the light clink of a mug being taken out, and Dani freezes, her own mug halfway to her mouth, “who you’re calling attention-seeking, Poppins.”

Hannah and Owen watch as Dani draws her lips together tightly, takes in a deep breath, and turns, her voice cool as she does. “Was my assessment wrong?”

“Just think it’s interesting, is all,” Jamie shrugs, reaching for the electric kettle, “you calling someone else attention-seeking. With your…” Jamie’s eyes slide over Dani and Dani flushes, heat spilling out across her ears, her neck, her cheeks, “neon aqua scrunchie and bright purple sweater.”

“And I suppose it’s your job,” Dani snaps––and she’d known, she’d known, she berates herself, not to be lulled into a false sense of security after the night before––her temper flaring, “to tell me what I can and can’t wear now, too?”

“Didn’t say that,” Jamie’s voice is tight, balanced, as she fills her mug.

“I can dress myself,” Dani presses, ignoring her, “just fine. I can run my classroom just fine. I can take care of myself,” her knuckles are white around her mug now, “just fine. I don’t,” she says with finality, “need you to tell me how to do things, Jamie.”

Something in Jamie changes.

The angle of her jaw is sharper, her posture straighter, taller, her chest prouder, and her eyes, for all of the control, blistering and abrupt, rolling off of Jamie in waves, are wild.

“You really think you can take care of yourself?” 

“I have so far,” Dani challenges, meeting her, her shoulders furling back, her eyes igniting under Jamie’s, “haven’t I?”

“You think you could protect yourself against Peter fuckin’ Quint––”

“Jamie,” Hannah chides.

“––if he just… Shows up one day? Shows up, while you’re… I dunno, in the kitchen, making awful coffee by yourself?”

Dani stares at her. Holds Jamie’s gaze. “Yes,” she says finally, the single syllable stubborn and decisive.

“Great,” Jamie says, tone lilting for all its weight, as she sets her mug down on the counter, “stand up.”

“What?”

“You heard me,” Jamie says, jerking her chin forward, “stand up.” 

Dani’s brows pinch together but she acquiesces, pushing her mug to the center of the table.

“C’mere.” Jamie crosses into the center of the kitchen, into the open space between the prep tables and the dining table, Hannah and Owen adjusting, scooting further down along the dining table, as Dani follows. 

Dani settles herself across from Jamie, crease deepening between her brows as she stands there, stomach surging.

Jamie’s eyes are dark, dragging down Dani’s body and back up again, her voice low when she finally speaks. “Can I touch ya?”

What? ” 

Along the table, Hannah and Owen glance at each other, and Hannah raises her mug to her lips.

Jamie’s voice is cooler, Dani thinks, than she’s ever heard it. “Can I touch ya?”

“I don’t… I’m not sure I understand…” Dani’s sputtering now, fists clenching and unclenching at her sides, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.

“If you’re so sure you can take care of yourself,” Jamie’s voice is patient, paced, “let’s run some basic self-defense drills. Let you prove it to me.” She takes a step in, and when she asks Dani again, the ask is slow, painfully so, and Dani can feel every word burning, low, in the pit of her stomach. “Can,” Jamie murmurs, taking another step towards her, “I. Touch. Ya?”

Dani swallows. Nods.

And then Jamie moves.

Jamie’s fingers are wrapping around Dani’s wrist and Dani barely has time to breathe––a shallow, sharp intake of breath––before Jamie’s tugging, using Dani’s forward momentum to whirl her around and wrap her arms, tight, around Dani’s middle.

Jamie’s front is pressing into Dani’s back and Dani can feel every inch of her, can feel the rise and fall of Jamie’s chest, steady, if shallow, against her, can feel the press, slight, but there, of Jamie’s hips into hers. 

Dani wonders how much Jamie can feel of her.

Dani wonders if Jamie can feel the ragged pull of her every breath, the pounding, ceaseless and insistent, of her heart against her ribs, the wildfire blazing across her skin.

Dani looks down, her eyes wide and staring, at Jamie’s arms, freckled and flexing, softly, against the bright purple of her sweater.

At the table, Owen bumps his shoulder gently against Hannah’s, and she shakes her head, taking another deep sip of tea.

“Right then,” Jamie’s voice is rough when she breaks the silence, and Dani starts, jolting back into Jamie as she does, “get out.” 

Dani squeezes her eyes shut.

“Get out,” Jamie says again, and Dani can’t stand the provocation there, can’t stand the smugness already creeping in.

Dani's hands fly down to Jamie’s arms and then they both freeze.

Jamie’s skin is soft, some piece of Dani registers dumbly, the world slowing to a soft crawl around them, softer than she ever would have guessed, and her forearms are tight, holding Dani firmly in place as Dani’s fingers drag, skating along the thin line of muscle she finds there.

Jamie’s skin has goosebumps now, too.

“Get out,” Jamie says again, but it’s staggered this time, and when Dani wraps her fingers around Jamie’s arms, tugging helplessly, it’s to no avail.

Dani’s fingers stay there, flexing, blunt nails digging into Jamie’s skin, leaving pale crescents in their wake, even when it doesn’t work.

The rise and fall of Jamie’s chest, Dani notices, is less steady now.

“If I didn’t know any better,” Jamie’s voice is low, challenging, and Dani can’t stand it, can't stand the way Jamie never stops talking, “I’d say you didn’t want to get out.”

Dani’s fingernails dig deeper, harder, into Jamie’s forearms.

“Thought”––Jamie’s ducking her head, and Dani’s gasping, Jamie’s lips skimming the shell of Dani’s ear as she whispers––“you could take care of yourself. Or was that all,” and Dani swears Jamie’s arms are tightening around her, pulling her in closer, pulling her back, harder, rougher, into Jamie’s hips, “talk?”

“I,” Dani breathes, and she rakes her nails, hard and fast, along Jamie’s arms, Jamie gasping sharply behind her, “can take care of myself.”

“So show me,” Jamie whispers, and Dani can feel her grin, can practically feel the shine of Jamie’s teeth against her ear, “show me what you can do.” 

And then Dani’s rocking her hips, hard and fast, backwards into Jamie.

There’s a strangled sound, low in Jamie’s throat, and a soft gasp from Dani, and they’re springing apart, breathing too heavy and too hard and with their eyes everywhere but each other, and then Dani’s moving again, disappearing around the corner and out of the room in a frenzied blur of purple and aqua.

“You might,” Hannah chimes in from her spot at the table, “want to go after her.”

Jamie startles, turning to look at Hannah as if only just seeing her. 

“Wouldn’t want her to disappear outside without a chaperone, would you? Jamie,” Hannah intones, tutting, “go.”

Jamie stares at her for a moment, then nods, slowly, and then she’s running too, boots scuffing the hardwood as she rounds the corner, footfalls fading quickly into nothingness.

There’s silence, then:

“Feel like I need a cigarette after that,” Owen quips, mustache twitching as he glances sideways over at Hannah.

“You could always bum one off of Jamie.”

“I wouldn’t,” Owen reaches for his mug, “interrupt her and Dani Clayton right now if you paid me.” 

Hannah laughs. “That scared of her? What happened to not assuming the worst?”

“Not sure who I’m more scared of, to be honest.” Owen turns to Hannah, and when his knees bump softly against hers under the table, they both chuckle.

“I, uh,” Hannah ducks her head, smiling up at him, “should go check on the children. Something tells me those two are going to be a minute.”

“Right,” Owen says, “the children.”

Hannah smiles at him, almost apologetic as she gets to her feet, and then she’s disappearing around the corner too, her flurry one of navy and tartan.

Owen sighs, and, rising out of his seat, sets about getting ready for breakfast.

Chapter Text

Jamie finds her outside.

Dani had thought it would be different during the day, that the current that had been running through the air the night before would be lesser somehow, diffused in the light of the sun’s rays, but her nerves stay scalding, her breaths fraying, and when she’s interrupted by a “Poppins?”, the air is alive again, sparking, arcing, along her skin.

Must be Bly, she thinks, glancing, frenzied, around her, wrapping her fingers around the lip of the concrete planter behind her, clinging to it, must be the manor, must be… Something. Something about this place, something charged and alive and relentless. 

“Poppins,” Jamie says again, taking a cautious step towards her, “you good?”

Dani makes a strangled noise in her throat. 

Jamie takes another step closer.

“I just,” Dani takes a desperate gulp of air, “needed some air? Is all.”

“Look,” Jamie says, and Dani does, immediately, “I’m sorry, I didn’t… I just…” 

She feels bad, Dani realizes. She feels bad, and Dani’s only seen Jamie like this one other time, on the stairs and offering an olive branch.

An olive branch that Dani, notably, had refused.

“Don’t…” Dani exhales, presses her eyes closed, “don’t apologize.”

“What?” It’s stark and surprised and Dani likes, she finds, her stomach surging, really likes, surprising Jamie Taylor.

“It was…” Dani’s brows pinch together. “I… I think,” she breathes in, deeply, through her nose, and when she speaks it’s paced, deliberate, “I think I needed that.”

“You… Needed…”

Dani opens one eye, taking in the furrow of Jamie’s brow. Jamie isn’t smug; there’s nothing to belie her apology, no creeping condescension or impending challenge, and so Dani opens her other eye, watching her warily, sinking backwards into the planter.

“What,” Jamie cocks her head, eyeing Dani, circumspect, “did you need, exactly?”

“You…” Dani sighs, and, setting her jaw, nods. “You were–– You were right. You were right”––Jamie raises her eyebrows––“and I know I’ve never… Said that to you before, but…” Dani tenses, squeezing her eyes shut again, her lips pursed. Jamie thinks it’s a little bit like watching a cloud pass over the sun, and then her eyes drift down to the part of Dani’s lips, catching on their pink curl, and she’s not thinking much of anything at all. “I think we should do it again,” Dani’s saying suddenly, and Jamie’s head jerks back up, her eyes flying to Dani’s, hard and crystalline in the sun, “I think… We–– I… I need to do it again.”

Jamie blinks. “Do it… Again?”

Dani’s answering nod is sure, eager.

“I, uh…” Jamie rocks up onto the balls of her feet, pressing her fists deeper into her pockets. “I dunno, Poppins,” her eyes flit, briefly, over Dani, sagging against the planter, “you seem pretty…” She trails off, nodding indiscriminately towards her.

“Not… Now,” Dani bites her lip, ducking her head, her eyes hopeful, shining when she looks back up at Jamie, “but… Maybe you can… Teach me?”

“Teach you?” Jamie’s voice is incredulous, her head angled, disbelieving towards Dani.

“Yeah,” Dani says again, firmer now, “teach me.”

“For real?”

Another nod.

Jamie looks at her, jaw hard, thoughtful, and Dani, eyes wide and anticipating, holds her gaze.

“I will give it to you,” Jamie finally says, and Dani feels something not far off from pride, but not far off from something else, too, swelling in her chest, “that hip thing was a good move.”

“Thanks,” Dani beams, and at least she’s smiling now, Jamie thinks, a far cry from the sputtering woman she had come chasing after, “got it from the Girl Scouts of America. Girls’ empowerment workshop. Troop 452,” she adds, proud.

“The Girl Scouts of America,” Jamie echos. “With moves like that, they sound even more savage than your average American. And you know,” she sniffs, “I don’t know what the rest of that means, by the way.”

Dani grins mysteriously. “I know. And they are,” she chirps. “Make good cookies, though.”

“Oh?”

“Mmhm,” Dani’s relaxing, finally, leaning comfortably back against the planter as she looks over at Jamie, her smile easy, contented. 

Jamie matches Dani’s smile with her own, and they stay like that for a moment, basking, until––

“Anyway,” Jamie clears her throat, looking down at her boots, and Dani starts, “I reckon I could, uh, take you up on those lessons, if you’d like. Don’t wanna step on the Girl Scouts’ toes, of course, but…” She glances back up to see Dani biting back a grin, and, feeling the corner of her own mouth quirking up, shrugs a shoulder, feigning nonchalance. “Could certainly get you to a point where you can at least take care of yourself a little more. Not entirely, mind you, but… If you’d feel better.”

“Better,” Dani repeats, her head bobbing, “yeah.”

“Better could start,” Jamie says, eyes tracking the swish of Dani’s ponytail as she nods, “tomorrow. If you want.”

Dani’s eyes are alight. “Tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

“I think I’d like that.”

“Cool. Tomorrow, then.”

“Cool.”

Jamie nods, curt, and, turning to go back into the manor, pauses, glancing back at Dani. “Think of it as… Professional development, yeah?”

Dani laughs. “Professional development. I like the sound of that.”

Professional development, Jamie repeats to herself, her footsteps echoing across the foyer as she makes her way back to the kitchen, it’s professional development. It’s professional development, and that means it’s work, and work means it’s a part of her job, and Jamie… 

So much, Jamie thinks, slipping back into the kitchen, pointedly ignoring the way Owen and Hannah’s eyes, curious, immediately snap to her, for arm’s length. 


The rest of the day feels almost normal, Dani thinks, passing by in a daze of Flora, excitedly regaling them with a story about a unicorn-cat; Jamie, eyes sliding over the edge of a book to meet Dani’s from across the drawing room; Miles, slapping his hand down on a pile of playing cards and whooping, boastful; Jamie, smirking, lithe fingers absently tracing a seam along the back of the couch; Hannah, slipping out of the kitchen, glancing back at Owen over her shoulder, laughing, heralding the arrival of tea and sandwiches; Jamie, splayed out across the carpet, thoughtful and patient, her feet kicking lazily back and forth in the air behind her, walking Miles through a written essay assignment; Owen, sweeping in with a handful of wine glasses at dusk, winking at Dani as he tops hers off; Jamie’s lips, wrapping around her glass, Jamie’s lips, stained slightly purple, Jamie’s lips, curling as Dani laughs, loud and full.

It feels almost normal, and yet, Dani thinks, she can’t shake the feeling she’s had all week, all weekend, building day by day by increasingly sleepless night.

By the time night does roll around, real night, after dinner night, Miles and Flora fast asleep in their beds night, it’s unbearable. It’s unbearable, and Dani can’t take it anymore, can’t take another night spent waking and walking, trapped by the truth of her tutelage. 

What was it Jamie had said?

Reading. Meditation. Did you know, Dani’s breath hitches as she sits up in bed, remembering the shine of Jamie’s eyes as she’d leaned in, if you work out, even early in the day, you’ll sleep better at night?

Reading, then.

Dani looks blankly around her room. Purses her lips.

She gets up, nightgown swishing softly against the floor, and pads over to the bathroom door. Knocks.

Silence.

She slips inside, crossing the cool tile to knock on the door linking Jamie’s room to their shared bath.

Silence.

She knocks again. “Jamie?”

There’s a rustling, the sound of feet on hardwood, and then Jamie’s tugging open the door. “Yeah?”

Jamie’s tugging open the door.

Jamie’s tugging open the door, and Jamie’s shirtless.

Jamie’s tugging open the door, and Jamie’s shirtless, and Jamie’s sweating.

Jamie’s sweating, and a damp curl is flopping down into her eyes, and Dani stares.

Jamie tilts her head to the side, the corner of her lips quirking up.

Dani can’t look away from the plane of Jamie’s stomach, Jamie’s sports bra, Jamie’s freckles… And God, Dani’s breath catches, Jamie’s freckles––

“Eyes,” there’s delight in Jamie’s voice, but it’s soft, softer than Dani would expect, “are up here.”

Dani’s eyes, wide and startled, shoot up to Jamie’s.

There’s a flicker there––tenderness, Dani tells herself before she can think better of it––and then Jamie’s speaking again. “What, uh… What’s up?”

“Book,” Dani says eloquently, immediately cringing, “I mean, uh… I–– I’d like to borrow. A book.”

“A book,” Jamie repeats, eyes sparkling.

“Mmhm,” Dani breathes, “a book.”

“Any…” Jamie tilts her head to the other side, surveying Dani, “particular book?”

“I––” Dani blinks, her eyes flitting around Jamie’s room, “I hadn’t… No,” she says, pursing her lips, resolute, “no, no particular book.”

“So you just… Knocked on my door at ten o’clock at night… Looking for… Just… Any old book?”

Dani nods.

“Right,” Jamie says, and when she turns, crossing to her nightstand, and when Dani’s eyes find the small of her back, sweaty and shining, in the low lamplight, it feels like scalding, “any old book then. Here,” she picks one up, and, crossing back, holds it out to Dani, “this one should do.”

Dani takes it, squinting down at the title. “Practical… Landscape Gardening?”

“Yeah.”

Practical Landscape Gardening,” Dani repeats flatly, eyes flicking back and forth across the deep green of the cover.

“S’a classic, isn’t it? Since 1918.”

“Jamie,” Dani intones, staring determinedly at anything but, “landscape gardening? Really?”

Jamie grins. “Not what you expected?”

Dani finally looks up, flushing as her eyes skate across Jamie’s bare chest, tripping over the freckles there, and she’s opening her mouth to respond, but––

––(and Jamie doesn’t even realize she’s doing it, doesn’t feel its pull, falls heedlessly and happily into its orbit)––

“Could, of course,” Jamie purses her lips, jerking her head back towards her nightstand, “get you a dirty magazine if you’d rather, but… As much as I have my suspicions, haven’t quite sussed you out yet. Not sure if they’re entirely your type.”

Dani’s fingers flex around the book in her hands. “I thought,” she says, Jamie delighted to hear the edge of a challenge creeping into her voice, “you knew everything about me.” She stands up straighter, taller, her eyes a clearer blue, and Jamie knows, watching Dani's shoulders stretching, proud, behind her, she’s hit a nerve. “Or was that not in your background check?”

Jamie shrugs. “Not one to pry, am I?” 

Dani snorts.

“I’m only saying, Poppins,” Jamie shrugs, smirking, Dani’s eyes carefully tracking the gentle swell of her deltoids as she does, “I see you looking. Have seen you looking”––Jamie swallows, and there’s that flicker in her eyes, again––“but, then again…”

“Then again?” Dani arches an eyebrow.

“You’re not very nice to me, are ya?”

Dani laughs at that, bright and full and perfect, and Jamie immediately wants to make her do it again.

“I like women, Jamie,” she says, and it’s so confident, so matter-of-fact, she seems even to startle herself, “if that’s what you’re getting at.” 

Jamie feels herself flush.

“Doesn’t mean,” Dani smiles widely, prettily, “I have to like you, though. Thank you, by the way,” she turns on her heel, striding back towards her room, “for the book. Goodnight.”

She’s almost to her bedroom, is waiting to deflate, to catch her breath, to forget the image of Jamie’s stomach, Jamie’s shoulders, Jamie’s skin, when Jamie calls out to her.

“What do you need a book for, anyway?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” Dani replies easily, stepping into her room.

Jamie laughs. “Wish I hadn’t been kidding about having those magazines,” she calls out, “would’ve helped you fall asleep just fi––”

Dani closes the door, and collapses back onto her bed. 


Reading, Dani decides quickly, markedly, doesn’t work.

She smooths her fingers over the embossed lettering on Practical Landscape Gardening's cover, shining gold in the low lamplight of her room, and, cracking it open, stares at the pages in front of her. 

She tries, she tells herself, she really, really tries, but when Dani finds herself reading the same paragraph about drought tolerance once, twice, three times, she knows it’s a lost cause. 

She wonders if Jamie actually enjoys reading it, briefly entertains the idea that Jamie gets something out of it––thinks about Jamie, Jamie, cross-legged on the bed, in pajama shorts, holding this very book, her fingers wrapped loosely around its weathered edges––wonders what Jamie thinks about drought tolerance, if she thinks anything about it at all.

Maybe, Dani supposes, crossing her legs beneath her, she should keep reading.

Just in case.

She’s slipping back into the bathroom ten minutes later, pride abandoned, curiosity clutched firmly in its stead as she pads to Jamie’s door, knocks.

Waits.

The door opens.

Jamie’s still in her sports bra.

Jamie’s still in her sports bra, and Dani had thought about that, had been expecting it.

Jamie’s still in her sports bra, and Dani had thought about that, had been expecting it, and Dani’s breath catches anyway.

She’s sweatier, Dani notices with a thrill. She’s sweatier than she was before, and––

“What’re you doing?” Dani blurts.

Jamie raises an eyebrow.

“In here, I mean. What’re you doing in here?” Dani leans in, trying to take in Jamie’s room, meaning to take in Jamie’s room, but instead all she gets is Jamie, Jamie, smelling like earth and sweat and a little bit like rosewater too, and Dani’s losing her balance, wobbling, softly, over Jamie’s threshold. 

Jamie’s fingers curl around Dani’s bicep, squeezing, steadying, and Dani feels like she can’t breathe.

“Easy,” Jamie murmurs, Dani stilling, condensing, under her grip.

Jamie doesn’t let go, and Dani doesn’t pull away.

“Circuits,” Jamie replies then, a seamless answer to a question, seconds old, already long expired. 

Dani’s nose crinkles. “Circuits?”

“Not like your circuits,” Jamie’s fingers flex around Dani’s arm as she angles her body, giving Dani a clearer view of her room as she jerks her head back. “My circuits.”

There’s a jump rope, Dani sees, a couple of hand weights, and Dani knows Jamie must have been doing crunches too, can see it etched in the gentle definition stretched across Jamie’s bare stomach.

Dani presses her eyes shut. 

“Reading not working out for you, then?” Dani can hear the amusement in her voice, can all but see the twinkle in Jamie’s eyes.

“No, I––” Dani exhales, the smoothness of her breath forced and painstaking. “How much do you know about drought tolerance?”

“Drought tolerance?”

Dani nods, eyes still pressed tightly shut. “Mmhm.”

“Reckon anything I’d know about it you could get from that book.”

Dani’s eyes flutter open, her brow furrowing. “I’m asking you, though,” she says, training her eyes steadily, determinedly, on Jamie’s, “aren’t I?”

“I suppose you are.”

Neither of them speak for a moment, and then Jamie’s thumb is moving, pressure slight, circles small, stroking, into Dani’s skin.

“It’s a plant’s ability to thrive,” Jamie murmurs, voice low, moving in time with her fingers, “without what it needs. Water”––Dani’s breath hitches––“in this case.”

Dani doesn’t acknowledge Jamie’s response, only sways again, her eyes dipping, distracted, down to Jamie’s lips. 

“Does that,” Jamie speaks again, Dani’s eyes shoot back up to hers, “answer your question?”

The nod Jamie earns in response is small, absent at best, and Jamie holds.

Jamie holds, just for a second, and then she’s dropping Dani’s arm quickly, abruptly, and stepping back, clearing her throat. “Right then,” she says, mustering a wry grin that doesn’t quite meet her eyes, “you gonna let me back to my circuits now?”

Dani blinks. 

She shakes her head quickly, as if clearing a fog that’s settled, heavy, around her, and then she’s stepping backwards, out of Jamie’s space and into the neutral ground of their shared bathroom. “Yeah,” she says, vowels high, strung tightly across the tension of her tone, “of course.”

She turns, can feel Jamie’s eyes on her as she does, makes her way back to her room. Pauses, struck, at her door.

“Jamie?” Her voice is soft, her back unturned.

“Yeah?”

“Do you think… There’s a difference?”

“A difference?”

“Between… Between thriving.”

“And?”

Dani’s quiet for a moment, then: “Surviving. Just… Surviving, I guess.”

Jamie’s voice matches, bests, hers for softness. “Think you just answered your own question, didn’t you?” 

Jamie thinks she hears Dani, can just barely make it out when she whispers, “I’m asking you, though, aren’t I?”, and she’s opening her mouth to respond, but Dani’s pulling the door shut behind her, Jamie’s parting glimpse of her a navy blue hem, disappearing between door and doorframe.


Meditation, then.

Dani forces herself back, cross-legged, on her bed, Practical Landscape Gardening settled neatly on the corner of her bedside table. 

She doesn’t know the first thing about meditating.

She isn’t about to knock on Jamie’s door a third time.

She remembers Jamie telling Hannah about it at dinner a few nights ago, can remember the moment vividly: the way Jamie’s index finger had dragged lazily down the stem of her wine glass as she spoke; the angle of her jaw catching, sharp, in the relief of the kitchen light; the comfortable ease with which she spoke, her voice confiding and warm and something Dani had thought she could listen to all night, should it to belong to someone, anyone else.

Dani has, now, listened to it all night, Jamie’s fingers, wrapping around a wine glass, and Jamie’s jaw, keen in the sitting room light, and Jamie’s voice, all-encompassing, saturating any memory she has of the night before.

Dani thinks, too, she would again.

“It’s something Tamara taught me,” Jamie had been saying, and Dani had felt a pang at the mention of a woman unknown, at the idea that Jamie still had secrets to which Dani, backgrounds and associations fully vetted, wasn’t privy. “Not unlike your own prayer, I think?”

Hannah had said something, Dani can’t remember, but Jamie had nodded, her eyes bright, listening carefully and leaning in, invested and earnest.

“That’s exactly it,” she’d said, reaching across the table for a roll, Dani’s eyes following the lazy stretch of her arm, “and it doesn’t even have to be for a long time. It’s just about… Breathing, really,” she’d shrugged. “Breathing, and whatever’s grounding to you. That and”––she’d laughed––“trying not to get distracted by whatever’s going on around you.” Her eyes had slid to Dani’s after that, and Dani had looked away, focusing on her lap, on her fingers, tangled, fidgeting there.

Breathing, Dani thinks, is easy enough.

She takes a deep breath, sitting up straight, resettling herself. Closes her eyes.

Pauses.

Her hands.

She doesn’t know what to do with her hands.

She’s never not doing anything with her hands, be they in tight fists or wringing at each other or pressed to her lips, her teeth gnawing gently away at a thumbnail.

Whatever’s grounding to you, Jamie had said to Hannah.

Dani sighs, forcing herself to take a deep breath again, and tucks her hands into fists, resting them atop her knees.

It feels… Okay, she thinks. 

She takes another breath.

From the bathroom behind her, Dani’s headboard flush against the shared wall connecting the two, Dani can hear the opening, closing of Jamie’s bedroom door. The soft click of a lock from the other side of Dani’s own.

That and trying not to get distracted by whatever’s going on around you.

Dani takes another breath, deeper this time, and focuses on the air filling her lungs.

The shower turns on.

Dani focuses on her fists, curled tight, their weight settled, constant, on her knees.

Jamie, in her sports bra, dipping her fingers into the waistband of her shorts, kicking them off––

Dani, breathing.

Jamie, sweat gleaming in the warm light of the bathroom, hooking her fingers into her sports bra, peeling it up and away––

Dani’s fists.

Jamie, tugging the scrunchie out of her hair, setting it carefully atop the counter, skin prickling in the chill of the bathroom as she steps back towards the shower––

Dani, breathing.

Jamie, stepping into the shower, sighing as the water rushes over her, droplets rolling over coiled muscle, catching along the sharp angles of her lean frame––

Dani’s fists.

Jamie, tipping her head back into the rush of the showerhead, her lips parting, falling open, her eyes fluttering shut––

Dani, breathing.

Jamie’s hands, reaching up to tangle into a mess of wet curls, nails scratching softly against her scalp, before moving onto the rest of her, lathering soap across her stomach, her shoulders, her breasts––

Dani’s fists.

Jamie and the shower and drought tolerance, and how Dani suddenly, desperately, needs water too, needs it to survive, needs it to drown, needs it like breathing––

Dani, breathing.

Dani, breathing.

Dani, breathing.


Not meditation, then.

Not reading, not meditation, but… 

Dani refuses to try working out.

She wouldn’t be able to shower after, anyway, with Jamie in the bathroom, and besides, Dani figures, she’d worked out enough that morning, running self-defense drills, snared somewhere between the prep tables and dining table and Jamie’s arms.

Jamie’s arms, tight, but not suffocating––Dani has never imagined them suffocating, could never imagine them suffocating––wrapped firmly around her middle.

Jamie’s arms, flexing, squeezing, pulling Dani close, closer, pinning Dani to Jamie’s hips, the two of them moving, breathing, rocking together in Jamie’s grasp. 

Jamie’s arms, wiry muscle circuit-swollen in the low light of her bedroom, hanging at her sides, the sloping arcs of her deltoids well within reach.

Jamie’s arms, shining and slick in the shower, taut as she massages conditioner into her scalp, carding nimble fingers through sweat-bound curls.

Jamie’s arms, hands splayed and sliding up Dani’s bare ribcage, wrapping around Dani’s middle, pulling her down and holding her tight, Jamie’s fingers digging into Dani’s shoulder blades, Jamie’s thigh sliding between Dani’s, Dani burying her face into Jamie’s neck, urging herself closer, closer still… 

Dani’s arm, reaching, brushing against her stomach as her fingers trail between her legs, the hem of her nightgown knotted in her fist, hitched up and around her waist.

Reading hadn’t worked and meditation hadn’t worked and this is the only way Dani’s found she can sleep at Bly, can alleviate the sleeplessness and the tension and Jamie, Jamie’s rules and Jamie’s voice and Jamie’s smirk, constantly on the fringes of her mind, the sheer weight of Jamie’s eyes alone, heavy and lingering, stoking the slow burning in the pit of Dani’s stomach. 

It’s never been like this, though.

Dani has been a drought and a slow burn and a spark, teetering on the edge of calamity her entire life, a life dedicated to others, to suppressing herself in their service, to the slow suffocation of the self in the name of the other.

But here, now, Dani is living for herself. 

Dani is living for herself, and Dani is a drought and a slow burn and a spark, and all it takes is someone stoking the fire, all it takes is a rush of air, all it takes is Dani, breathing, and the three are colliding, sudden and ruinous, devouring and inevitable, and Dani doesn’t know what she’ll become in their wake.

Dani doesn’t even know if she’ll survive.

It’s worth it, though, she thinks, hand hand loosening around the hem of her nightgown to scramble upwards, fumbling with the buttons there, slipping between them, feather-light, to circle, to pinch at, a nipple, to feel like this.

It’s worth it to let her other hand settle between spread thighs, bowed out across her bed, to drag her fingers down, dipping them into the wetness she finds there, to pull them slowly, tortuously back up, both hands tracing light circles in unison.

It’s worth it, she decides, this act of self-immolation, to let herself think, finally, of Jamie, and everything rushes in all at once, a deluge of every look, every touch, every thought Dani’s written off, begged into anger or animus, made alight in blazing clarity.

Jamie’s arms, Dani thinks again, wrapped around her waist and holding her close, Dani’s bare chest pressing into Jamie’s, their hips rocking, urgently, together, and Dani thinks about Jamie’s lips, pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses to her neck, and Jamie’s teeth, tugging at her earlobe, and Jamie’s rasp, her “can I touch ya?” cutting straight to Dani’s core, and Dani thinks about Jamie’s hand, snaking around and between her legs, and Dani, sinking two fingers into herself with a sigh, lets herself burn.


Jamie’s combing out her hair in the shower, her fingers carefully working conditioner through wet curls, when she hears it.

A whimper.

It’s quiet, but audible, even in the tile of the shower, through the shared wall between them.

Jamie pauses, listens.

Silence.

Jamie starts moving again, her fingers massaging her scalp, and tells herself that she’ll check in with Dani tomorrow. Make sure she’s okay.

Dani, Jamie assures herself, bending forward, reaching for a bar of soap, is okay.

She can’t check on her tonight, won’t check on her tonight, has already seen altogether too much of Dani tonight.

She’s touched too much of Dani tonight, she reminds herself, hand burning where it’d held her, Dani’s bicep flexing under her fingers, as she lathers it with soap, had forced herself into extra circuits to atone for it, bruising and––

It happens again, higher now, keening.

Dani, Jamie thinks, it’s her job to protect Dani.

She has to protect Dani.

She sets the soap down, movements slower, more careful, determined to make as little noise as possible, so that she can hear if it––

The next one is louder, longer, accompanied by a muffled thunk against the wall, and Jamie moves, her only coherent thought Dani’s name, over and over, in time with the amplifying beat of her heart: Dani, Dani, Dani.

Jamie has just enough sense to grab the closest towel from the hook on the door and then she’s twisting open the lock, fingers stumbling at first, clambering, and pulling it open, barging into Dani’s room.

She scans the room, hears a sharp gasp and a frantic rustle, and when her eyes finally come to rest on Dani, she’s flushed, panting, blanket pulled all the way to her chin.

“Christ, Dani, are you okay?”

Dani only stares at her, wide eyed and startled, shoulders heaving, ragged, under the blanket.

“Dani,” Jamie says again, firmer this time, and Dani breathes in sharply, a mewling sound birthed and dying in her throat all at once, and then Jamie says it a third time, and it’s desperate now, too, its edges jagged and wanting, “Dani.”

Dani’s eyes fall from Jamie’s face to her hands, her knuckles white where they clutch at her towel––Dani’s towel, some part of Dani notices dumbly––and then drag back up her arms, contoured and glistening, thick, full drops falling from Jamie’s hair to roll down her shoulders, down her arms, and to the floor.

She’s tense, Dani realizes, so tense, her body a bowstring, waiting to loose a volley, calamitous and fatal, if need be.

Her eyes snap back up to Jamie’s. “Knocking, Jamie,” she manages finally, and if she can’t control her flush or her breath or the way she has to press her thighs tight, together, under her blanket, at least, Dani thinks, she can control her voice.

“I heard…” Jamie casts around the room again, and Dani watches her shoulders relax, watches Jamie melt, just a little bit. “You’re okay, though?”

“I–– Yeah? Why… Why wouldn’t I be?”

Jamie swallows, nods. “No, uh, no reason. Good. Good.”

Dani’s eyes rake over Jamie again, and Jamie stares, intent, at the floor between them.

“What were you…” Dani speaks again, determined, even as her voice wavers, her breath coming short and fast. “What were you going to do?”

Jamie blinks, her brow furrowing. “What do you mean?”

“You were going to… If I had been… You were going to burst in here wrapped in a towel and what? Fight someone?”

Jamie’s eyes start to find Dani’s, amused and curious, halfway to teasing, but they’re stuttering, stopping at Dani’s hands, tangling into the sheet just under her chin.

“Overalls are questionable at best, Jamie,” Dani continues, grinning now, breathless, pleased with what little control she’s managed to wrestle from the situation, “but… A towel? Really?”

Jamie’s eyes find their way to Dani’s, and she’s taken aback with what she finds there, shock razed by crystalline fire.

Dani arches a single, finishing eyebrow.

It’s devastating. 

“Last time I look out for you, then,” Jamie mumbles, ducking her head, her eyes drawn, inescapably, back to Dani’s a moment later.

Dani shifts under her blanket, her lips curling slowly, dangerously into a grin. “Definitely not the last,” she chirps. “It’s your job, remember?”

“Thought you didn’t want me to do my job.”

Dani hums, shrugs, and her blanket slips down, revealing the blush blooming across her collarbone, the lace collar of her nightgown flopping to one side.

Jamie laughs.

“What?”

“It’s just…” Jamie nods at her, turning back towards the bathroom. “That nightgown, Poppins, really? Haven’t been able to stop bloody thinking about it since it first graced my presence earlier tonight.”

Dani’s eyes widen, comically so, and Jamie almost laughs, and Dani's glancing down again, blanching, scrambling as she tugs her blanket back up. 

Jamie’s halfway back into the bathroom when she pauses again, craning her neck back into Dani’s room––her neck, Dani thinks helplessly, biting back a whimper––and grinning. “You’re really sweaty, by the way. Might wanna turn a fan on, yeah?”

And then the door closes, finite, and Dani lets the blanket fall as her head flops back onto her pillow, resigned to a sleepless night thinking about Jamie, in her sports bra, Jamie, in the shower, Jamie, in a towel, thinking about her.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s debating whether or not she should knock.

It’s six in the morning, she’s been up for an hour already, and she’s been standing in the hallway outside Dani’s bedroom door for seven minutes now, but…

It feels different.

It feels different, and Jamie still isn’t sure.

She’s debating turning around, debating going back to her room, debating going back to bed––she deserves a lie-in, she tells herself, after the night she’s had, after the sleep she hasn’t––when the door opens, and Jamie, one hand supporting her weight, leaning, against Dani’s doorframe, the other fiddling absently with the chain around her neck, is greeted by a startled gasp and a half-suppressed “Jesus!”

Jamie pushes herself backwards, away from the door and away from Dani’s eyes, wide and shadowed, in the dim of the hallway. They’re like embers, Jamie notices dully, burning, somehow, still.

Dani, for her part, only stares, eyes wide and jaw tight.

“What?” Jamie raises her eyebrows at her, rocking up onto the balls of her feet and shoving her hands into the pockets of her sweatpants. “You’d rather me barge in again?”

“No,” Dani says, recovering, her shoulders sinking slowly, warily, into the moderate tension Jamie knows is Dani Clayton at her most relaxed, “you just–– Scared me, is all.”

“You? Scared?” Jamie scoffs, the corner of her mouth arcing lazily upwards, and things feel, she thinks, almost normal again. “I don’t think anything scares you.” 

Dani scowls, tugging her door shut behind her as she steps in towards Jamie. “You did, just now.”

“Not scared of Peter Quint,” Jamie muses, waiting to move until Dani takes a step, matching her pace, “but you’re scared of little ol’ me, huh?”

“Peter Quint isn’t here,” Dani yawns, dragging her feet as she shuffles towards the stairs, “you are.”

Jamie hums. 

They’re quiet, the silence tight between them as they make their way down the stairs, Dani’s fingers tight around the banister in the predawn shadow.

Jamie can’t take her eyes off them.

“I think you’ll find,” Jamie says eventually, broaching, her eyes sliding along Dani’s waist, Dani’s hips, Dani’s thighs as Dani steps off the stairs, “I’m not too scary once you get to know me.”

Dani stills, unturning, at the foot of the staircase. “And I don’t?” 

“Don’t what?”

“Know you.”

It’s new, Jamie thinks, the thickness of the air around them. It’s thick and it’s sticky and it’s solid and everything feels, suddenly, so much harder to navigate. To move through at all.

“Dunno,” Jamie’s voice is low, quiet, “you tell me.”

Silence again.

Silence, and then Dani’s turning to Jamie, her expression, still hazy with sleep, tempered by the edge of amusement. “You attacked me in the kitchen yesterday, Jamie.”

It’s a semblance of normalcy, and Jamie laughs. “Attacked you, did I?”

“Mmhm,” Dani waits until Jamie resumes walking this time, following her lead and stifling another yawn.

“Firstly,” Jamie pauses at the front door, unlocking it and motioning for Dani to step through, “I didn’t attack you, and secondly, I seem to remember asking you…” She furrows her brow in mock thought, “a grand total of three times if I could touch you before I actually did.”

“It was four.”

“It wasn’t four.”

“It was.”

“Poppins, I’m pretty sure I know how many times I asked you, and it was––” Jamie relocks the door behind her, and when she turns back around, she finds Dani, lips parted, flush gleaming, backlighting the gentle splay of freckles across her nose. “What?”

“You’re right,” Dani mumbles, ducking her head to look at her feet, toes of her sneakers flexing into the gravel, “you’re right, it was three.”

Jamie stares at her.

Any other day, Jamie thinks, she would gloat. 

Any other day, she would grin.

Any other day, she would prod, she would smirk, she would ask Dani just why, exactly, she had thought it was four when Jamie knows Dani knows it was three, knows Dani remembers every angle, every shadow of that moment just as vividly as Jamie does.

Any other day, she would ask Dani exactly what she had meant, what she had been thinking about, when Dani had thought about Jamie’s rasped “can I touch ya?” a fourth and final time.

Any other day, Jamie thinks, when she hadn’t walked in on Dani sweating and splayed and halfway to undone the night before.

Any other day, when it hadn’t taken every ounce of restraint she’d had not to break, to overflow, to overrun levees constructed of a careful conscience, cool and controlled and never conceding.

Any other day, when Jamie hadn’t wanted to drop her towel, hadn’t wanted to tug the blanket out of Dani’s hands and climb into her bed and into her lap, hadn’t wanted to slip trembling fingers under that nightgown and––

Any other day, when she hadn’t slipped them between her own legs instead, when she hadn’t found herself back in her room right after, sagging, helpless, against her door, when she hadn’t even been able to make it back to her bed, when she had come moments later, lips wrapped, ragged, around Dani’s name.

Any other day, Jamie thinks, when they’re not moored in an undeniable almost, all control lost to the thing, flaring, surging, between them.

“Right then,” Jamie says, swallowing, “three.”

Dani’s still staring at her feet, and Jamie’s still staring at Dani, when––

“Look, are you sure you wanna––” Jamie starts.

“So, what now?” Dani says at the same time, looking up. 

Her eyes, Jamie thinks, in spite of it all, are steelier than ever.

That’s all Jamie needs.

“Right,” she says, nodding once, twice, “right,” and then she’s moving again, traipsing across the front drive, across and to the left this time, through the grass, and she doesn’t need to look back, doesn’t need to check that Dani’s following her.

Jamie knows that she is.

They’re quiet again.

“Where, uh… Where are we going?”

“Other side of the lawn.”

“Oh.”

Jamie doesn’t say anything else.

“Never been on this side of the lawn before,” Dani mumbles after a moment, underscored by the soft squelch of sneakers meeting morning dew.

“Never brought you to this side of the lawn before.”

“Oh.”

There’s a pause, then––

“Are you… Taking me out here to kill me?”

“You know I can’t,” and Dani can hear it, can hear the grin, rousing and reluctant, across Jamie’s face, smiles herself, “wouldn’t be doin’ my job if I did. Not,” she adds quickly, a stutter too late, “that I don’t think about it. Often, in fact.”

“Mm.”

Jamie’s head jerks around. “What?”

“You like me too much to kill me.”

“Oh, you’re back on that, are you?” 

“Don’t give me grief for being back on it, Jamie, when you’re the one who’s never off––”

“I’m off just fine!”

“I’m sure you are.”

“Don’t… You’re doing that thing!” 

Jamie’s brow is furrowed as she turns, pivoting, to walk backwards through the fog blanketing the grounds, glaring at Dani, and Dani is gleeful, more gleeful than Jamie’s ever seen her so early in the morning, arms swinging happily by her sides. “What thing?”

“The… The teacher thing!”

Dani raises an eyebrow, and Jamie’s grateful for the dusk, grateful for the way it dulls the sharp of it. “The teacher thing?” 

“Yeah, the… You do this thing,” Jamie explains, hand sliding out of her pocket, gesticulating helplessly at Dani, “you do this thing, and––”

She cuts herself off when Dani gasps, and had she not known what was behind her, had she not known exactly where she’d been leading Dani, she would throw an arm out, would whirl around immediately, would prepare for the worst.

Instead, she grins.

It is, a part of that she instantly tries to silence points out distantly, much more hopeful than she’d intended. 

“You like it?”

“I didn’t even…” Dani breathes, “I didn’t even know this was here.”

“Lesson one,” Jamie raises her eyebrows pointedly at Dani, “observation.”

Dani’s brow furrows, her eyes darting to Jamie. “I would’ve observed it just fine,” she says mildly, “if you would’ve let me. ‘Never brought you to this side of the lawn before,’ right?”

“And just when,” Jamie’s eyebrows inch higher, “has that stopped you before?”

Dani gives her a look, and then she’s pushing forward, past Jamie, their shoulders jostling, and into the greenhouse behind her.

“Dani––” Jamie’s quick to follow, slipping through the door before it can close behind Dani, “Christ, Dani, you can’t just go barging into places like that––”

“See?” Dani bites back a grin, wandering deeper into the space, lined with ramshackle shelves and half-pruned pots. “Told you. You like me too much.”

“It’s not that I–– Dani,” Jamie says again, following her, “you can’t just wander into places that haven’t been swept. That are dark. That could,” she waves an arm around the room, open and looming, surrounding them, “collapse at any moment.”

“But I didn’t,” Dani’s turning, leaning back against a table, grinning widely at her, “did I? You brought me to this place for a reason. Led me all the way here. Of course,” her voice softens, eyes darting to the floor and back up again, “it’s going to be safe.”

Jamie stares at her.

Dani shrugs.

“Did you…” Dani looks around the greenhouse again, her eyes meandering, eventually, back to Jamie. “Did you fix this place up? Since we’ve been here?”

Jamie’s jaw clenches once, twice. 

“You did,” Dani presses, “didn’t you?” She laughs then, unexpected and joyful. “Practical Landscape Gardening,” she murmurs, awed, to herself, shaking her head.

Jamie huffs, and, turning around, bends over, collecting cushions from a couch resting, snug, across from the door. 

Realization dawns. 

“Jamie,” Dani squints, leaning forward to peer at Jamie as if seeing her for the first time, “this is where you’ve been going at lunch, isn’t it?”

“You,” Jamie says, unanswering, “can carry these. Take them out to that clearing, yeah? Just beyond the trees. I’ll be right behind.” 

“Jamie––”

“I’ll be,” Jamie says again, “right behind.”

She’s thankful, Jamie thinks, for the hour, for the dark, for Dani Clayton, shuffling dutifully out of the greenhouse, unable to see the blush blooming, bright, on her cheeks.


The sun is starting to come up.

The sun is starting to come up, and Dani’s miserable.

“How many…” she pants, toes dragging through the gravel as she reaches Jamie, smiling, a portrait of patience, at the treeline, “how many more of these do I have to… Have to do?”

“Four more.”

Dani splutters.

“Are you going to waste your breath talking? Or are you going to use it sprinting?”

“Pretty sure,” Dani mumbles, turning on on the ball of her foot alongside Jamie, “sprinting is the waste.”

Jamie chuckles. Smirks.

Waits until she pushes off.

“Hey, Poppins,” she calls out once Dani has sprinted a third of the way down the drive, “you forgot to tap.”

Dani ignores her. Keeps moving.

“It only counts,” Jamie calls again, “if you tap.” She waves her hand, arm extended outward, in a wide arc.

“Yeah, but you know I reached the end,” Dani calls back once she’s reached the other end of the drive, “you were just…” she gasps, “talking to me there.”

“I told you the rules,” Jamie shakes her head, “and you agreed. It only counts,” she waves her hand again, “if you tap in at the end of each lap.” 

“You’re really… Gonna make me… Do it again?”

Jamie shrugs.

Dani stares at her, incredulous, and Jamie can feel the heat of it from all the way down the drive. 

Jamie swallows. “You mad at me?”

Dani nods.

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Do something about it.”

“Like what?”

Jamie shrugs again. “Take it out sprinting.”

“Take it out… Sprinting?”

“Show me how fast,” Jamie waves her arm again, “you can come.”

She can’t tell if the noise Dani makes is a laugh or a groan, but then she’s barreling towards Jamie and it’s terrible form, Jamie thinks, and not sustainable, not for any long term running, but then Dani’s colliding with her hand, running straight into it and wrapping her hands around Jamie’s wrist as she goes, tugging Jamie with her into the grass just beyond the end of the drive.

Dani’s toe catches and they stumble, careening forward, and Jamie’s free arm shoots out to wrap around Dani’s waist, towing her backwards, pulling her, forcing against the momentum of the moment.

Jamie stumbles back, arm wrapped, firm, around Dani’s middle, and Dani rocks back with her, and they’re teetering once, twice, before stilling.

“Not bad,” Jamie breathes smoothly, uninterrupted once they do, “might’ve been your best time yet.”

“Oh really? Glad to hear,” Dani’s reply is, in spite of her labored breathing, even smoother. “I could come fast enough for you.”

Jamie doesn’t drop her arm.

Dani doesn’t let go of Jamie’s wrist.

“Might I suggest,” Jamie continues, “not falling next time, though?”

Dani chuckles softly, then leans back into Jamie’s grasp, relaxing, melting, into her.

Jamie stumbles, tripping backwards before catching herself, catching the two of them.

Dani’s fingers flex, gently, around her wrist.

“And just how,” Dani inquires smugly, Jamie’s arm readjusting, tightening, around her, “would I do that?”

Jamie doesn’t miss a beat, and the corner of her mouth, pressed against Dani’s hair, twitches. “It’s actually quite easy,” she murmurs, “when you don’t have an off-kilter center of gravity.”

Dani’s fingers flex again, harder, testing. “Jamie…” 

“Yeah?” Dani can feel Jamie’s lips moving, can feel her hesitate, can feel her pressing, open-mouthed, against her.

“You’re still holding onto me.”

Jamie swallows. “Could say the same about you.”

“What,” Dani whispers, her thumb dragging slow, easy strokes along the line of Jamie’s wrist, pressing, further, despite the tremor of her voice, “happens now?”

“Now,” Jamie shifts, pressing her cheek to Dani’s hair, her lips grazing Dani’s ear, “you still have three laps left.”

She lets go then, stepping to the side, and Dani stumbles backwards with a gasp, brows pinching together as she turns, gaping, at Jamie.

“Better get to it, then,” Jamie chirps, her hands coming to rest on her hips, “we’ve lots to do yet.”

Dani looks at her, long and hard, and then her hand is shooting out, swatting, hard, at the back of one of Jamie’s.

And then it slides, carefully, quickly, across the back of Jamie’s hand.

It glances, carefully, quicker, across the swell of Jamie’s hips.

It dips, carefully, quicker still, below Jamie’s lower back.

And then it’s gone.

“Had to tap,” Dani shrugs, smiling widely, and then she’s off, sprinting away down the drive.

Jamie doesn’t hesitate.

Jamie doesn’t hesitate, only shakes her head once, grins, and takes off behind Dani.

She passes her handily, smirking when she catches Dani’s eyes narrowing out of the corner of one of hers.

“You, uh…” Dani huffs, otherwise unfazed, her voice trapped somewhere between tired and teasing, “you got something… To sprint out… Now too?” 

Jamie waits for Dani to catch up to her in front of the entryway, grin lazy as she watches Dani’s elbows methodically pump behind her. “Maybe I just thought you needed company, Poppins.”

Dani manages a single laugh, brash and bright, as she comes to a stop next to Jamie.

“Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Do you want company?”

Dani’s brow furrows again.

Jamie grins wider, shrugs, and pushes off.

She’s waiting for Dani at the other end of the drive, arm out, when Dani gets there.

“You’re not…” Dani calls as she approaches, “very good at it, you know.”

Jamie blinks. “Good at what?” 

“Keeping company.” Dani reaches out, slapping Jamie’s hand to mark the lap, and before Jamie can say anything else, she’s off again.

Jamie blinks. Frowns. Sprints after her once more.

All she manages when they get to the other end of the drive is an “and why is that?” before Dani, eyes sparkling, is turning, sprinting back up towards the treeline.

Jamie beats her there again.

“It’s just”––Dani bends over, gulping for breath when she catches up, ignoring Jamie’s pointed “one more” and reaching up to tap her open palm––“you’re not keeping me company, not really. Not when you’re…” She stands up, shaking her head, turning to face the manor. “Not when you’re trying to show off, outpacing me like that.”

Dani’s right.

Jamie hates it when Dani’s right.

This time, when Jamie takes off after her, she stays half a step behind, matching Dani’s pace.

She doesn’t say anything, and neither does Dani, but Jamie swears she sees the corner of Dani’s mouth quirk up as she’s running. 

This time, when they reach the front of the manor, they don’t speak; they only pivot and turn and sprint, together.

It feels like being a kid again, Dani thinks, running, ferocious with youth, down the O’Maras’ street, flats of her feet slapping against the asphalt, lungs burning and legs burning and welcoming the feeling. Reveling in it.

Dani doesn’t know the last time she’s felt that.

Dani doesn’t know the last time she’s felt as free as she does, sprinting down the driveway of a country manor in Bly, Jamie Taylor by her side, and when a laugh bubbles up and out of her as she runs, it feels natural, easy, all the freer, when Jamie laughs with her.

Dani doesn’t know if she’s ever felt so free.

This time, when they reach the end of the drive, Jamie’s stretching out her arm and Dani’s bridging the distance between them, reaching out to meet her and wrapping her fingers around Jamie’s, tangling them together as their pace winds down and out, the two of them slowing to a stop. 

This time, they’re laughing as they gasp for air.

This time, it’s Dani who pulls Jamie into her.

“I take it back,” Dani manages, breathless, between giggles, “you’re not bad company after all.”

“Good,” Jamie murmurs, smile broad and unabashed in the afterglow of their shared laughter, “don’t think I could live with myself if I was shit company to Dani Clayton.”

Dani giggles again, tugging Jamie in closer, chastising. “Stop it.”

“I’m serious!” Jamie’s eyebrows shoot up, and her other hand finds Dani’s between them. “I’m so serious, Dani.”

Dani hums, but it’s content, not skeptical, and Jamie realizes all too suddenly that Dani’s eyes are on her mouth and Dani’s thumbs are wandering across her knuckles and Dani––

Dani wants to kiss her.

Dani wants to kiss her, and Jamie wants her to, too.

“What happens now?” Jamie whispers, turning Dani’s words back around onto her and hoping.

“I think,” Dani bites her lip, failing spectacularly to clamp down on a grin, “you said we’ve lots to do yet?”

“Jesus,” but Jamie doesn’t let go, doesn’t move, “you’re insufferable.”

“You like it.”

“Don’t push it, Clayton. Now,” Jamie drops Dani’s hands and she looks almost regretful, Dani thinks, when she sets off, “let’s put that color-coordinated pink sweatsuit to use, yeah?”

Dani follows her, trailing Jamie closely as they make their way back to the clearing by the greenhouse, cushions meticulously arranged and waiting for them on the grass. “We can’t all pull off grey sweatpants, can we?”

Jamie snorts. “Is that a dig at my sweatpants?”

“No,” Dani’s voice is soft, bereft of teasing, “I like your sweatpants.”

“Oh.” Jamie swallows, looks down. Reaches up to scratch at her forehead. “Right. Well.” She clears her throat. “First thing’s first.”

Across from her, Dani raises her eyebrows, amused and expectant.

“We should, uh, set some ground rules. Keep each other safe and all that.”

“Safe? From what?”

Jamie’s head jerks back up, and she’s wary again, already planning out a counterargument for Dani’s impending protest.

“You can’t possibly think we need even more rules when it’s just––”

“Just what?”

“Just… Us. Me and… You.”

Jamie fixes her with a look. “Thought you were scared of me.”

“I––” Dani flushes.

Jamie waits.

“Okay,” Dani finally says, eyes dropping from Jamie’s to flit across the lawn, “fine. Rules.”

“Safe word,” Jamie says, and the word sounds so businesslike coming out of her mouth that Dani has to laugh, “pick one.”

“Jamie…” 

“What?”

“A safe word?” Dani glances skyward and Jamie can’t tell if it’s an eye roll or out of embarrassment. “Really?”

“Thought you just agreed to having rules.”

“I did, but––” 

“Look,” Jamie sighs, “it’s self-defense. If I’m ever… I dunno, Grabbing you too tight, or holding you too tight, or you me, we just… Say the safe word and immediately drop it, no questions asked.” She shrugs. “Wouldn’t wanna pinch ya.”

Dani’s still staring at the sky, quiet and concentrating, her lips pursed.

“Honeybee,” she finally says.

“Honeybee?”

“When I was little,” Dani’s still staring, determined, at the dawn-tinted blue above them, “I had a teddy bear. His name was Honeybee. Because bears like honey,” her eyes flicker to Jamie before casting back skyward, “y’know? He was… One of the only things that…” She presses her eyes shut, continues. “Made me feel safe. So. Honeybee.”

“Honeybee,” Jamie says it softly, thoughtfully. “Honeybee it is, then.”

Dani opens her eyes, and she smiles. 

Jamie smiles back.

“Were there…” The moment is lost, and Dani looks, askance, at Jamie. “Any other rules?”

Jamie whistles. “Look at you, Dani Clayton. Asking me for rules. If I didn’t know any better––”

“Do you have any,” Dani says again, and what happens next, Jamie thinks, is definitely an eye roll, “other rules?”

Jamie shuts her mouth.

Dani raises her eyebrows.

“Safe word,” Jamie holds up a finger, ticking it off, then holds up two more, “always fall on the cushions, and when you do, always make it a breakfall. I’m not about to have you getting hurt learning how not to get hurt.” 

Dani’s nose crinkles. “What’s a breakfall?”

“A breakfall,” Jamie announces, “is exactly what we’ll be working on today. But first,” she holds up a fourth finger, “one more rule. And I’m serious about this one, Poppins.”

Dani looks at her expectantly.

“No,” Jamie says seriously, “getting into trouble. If anything happens, anything serious, I mean, dangerous, like… If you see anything, if I see anything, I need you to listen to me. Do exactly what I say. I don’t carry my gun out here in the mornings––don’t need it going off while I’m trying to do wind sprints––so try not to act out too much, yeah?”

Dani gapes.

Jamie blinks. “What?”

“You have a gun?

“I–– Yeah. Of course I have a gun.”

“What… What could you… What could you possibly need a gun for?”

“To protect you, for a start.” Jamie sighs, reaching up to rake a hand through her hair. “Look, it’s not like I like having it, or ever even use it, but… You understand why it’s necessary, don’t you?”

“I… I mean, I do, I guess, but… A gun, Jamie?”

“A company-licensed firearm that I’m required to take with me on all assignments,” Jamie’s voice is paced, patient, “that lives, mostly, anyway, in a locked safe under my bed.” 

Jamie waits for the suspicion, for the recoil. 

It was, Jamie supposes, inevitable.

Dani had tolerated her, in spite of it all, through conflicts of interest, through the poking, the proding, through the tortuous and intentional degradation of her classroom management, through learning about Dennis, and Louise, and now… There had, Jamie lets herself think, finally, letting herself sink into the lukewarm familiarity of resignation, to be something.

There’s always something.

This is why Jamie keeps her distance. 

This is why Jamie likes the temporariness of short-term assignments.

This is why Jamie likes when she gets to leave.

There’s always something, Jamie accepts, but still… 

She kicks at a clod of grass and dirt on the ground in front of her. Curses company policy. Curses Lloyd Security Enterprises. Curses that it doesn’t matter that she avoids even carrying her gun if she can, that she’s only ever used it one time, in Panama. Curses the fact that for once, it’s not her fault, it’s actually not her fault and it doesn’t matter because Dani… 

Dani’s watching her, expression curious.

“What?” Jamie’s voice is harsh, harsher than she means, but Dani doesn’t even flinch.

“Will you teach me?”

Jamie blinks. “What?”

“Will you teach me?” Dani’s voice is inquiring, pleasant. “Will you teach me how to use it?”

“You… Want me to…” 

“Mmhm,” Dani nods, her ponytail bobbing behind her.

“I’m not gonna,” Jamie barks out a laugh, all at once rough and relieved, and Dani scowls, “teach you how to use a gun, Dani.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t like them, first and foremost,” Jamie says, shaking her head, “and I’m here to teach you self-defense besides. Now,” she steps in closer to Dani, the corners of her mouth curling into an easy smile, “can I touch ya?”


Dani’s sweating through her sweatsuit when they make their way back up to the manor an hour later. 

“I, uh…” she says when they make it up the stairs, coming to a stop across from each other outside their rooms, glancing down at the damp blooming across her chest, “I know you like to brush your teeth around this time each morning––I hear you, sometimes,” she adds quickly, by way of explanation, eyes casting around the hallway, “but I think…” Dani flushes. “I think I may need to shower, so… Is it–– Is it okay if I… I mean, I can shower, maybe, and I’ll just… Leave the door unlocked? And I’ll keep the shower curtain closed and that way you can… You can still…” She trails off, biting her lip, her eyes settling on, tracking, Jamie’s.

“Uh, yeah,” Jamie ducks her head, smiling, shoving her hands into her pockets before glancing back up at Dani, “yeah, okay.”

“Thanks,” Dani nods, lingering.

“Yeah,” Jamie inclines her head back, “‘course.”

“So…” Dani sways slightly, tipping towards her door, “I’m gonna…” 

“Sure,” Jamie swallows, “sounds good. I’ll, uh… See you in the bathroom, yeah?”

“Will you?” 

“I–– No, I mean… I’ll–– Shit,” Jamie reaches up to scratch at her forehead, “you know what I mean.” 

Dani only grins. “Sure did. See you there, Jamie Taylor.” 

Later, sometime between Jamie watching, thoughtful, from the back of the classroom as Dani wrestles muffled yawns to explain plasma as a state of matter and Dani staring, weighty and blatant, at Jamie over a plate of shepherd’s pie at the dinner table, Hannah corners Jamie in the hallway.

“How was it? This morning?”

Jamie shuffles her weight from one foot to the other. “It was, uh… Fine. Fine, I guess, yeah.”

“Where exactly were you two going?” Hannah leans against the classroom doorframe, eyes mild, curious. 

“Going?”

“Outside, earlier.” Hannah waves a vague hand towards the foyer.

Jamie blinks. “What?”

“When you,” Hannah raises an eyebrow, “asked Dani to show you… How fast she could come, I believe? Where were you two going?”

Jamie flushes.

Hannah’s smile is serene.

“You, Hannah Grose,” Jamie says finally, shaking her head, “much as you insist otherwise, are a gossip.” Hannah’s eyes widen in faux affront, and Jamie laughs. “We were just sprinting. Promise.”

“Just sprinting,” Hannah muses. “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

Jamie rolls her eyes, fond, and takes a backwards step towards the kitchen. “Just sprinting. Cross my heart, Hannah. Swear.”

Hannah hums.

“Would I lie to you?” Jamie grins, throwing her a wink, and then she’s disappearing around a corner.

“Sprinting,” Hannah scoffs, turning back to the wall, and raises the feather duster in her hand.


When Jamie opens her bedroom door the next morning, she finds Dani, smiling and expectant, leaning against her doorframe.

When Jamie doesn’t so much as blink, Dani frowns.

Jamie raises her eyebrows. “I know I’m not your cup of tea, Poppins, but you don’t have to look so disappointed to see me.”

“I’m not–– You’re not even surprised?”

“Why would I be surprised? We have a standing morning…” Jamie purses her lips, “thing, don’t we?”

“A standing morning thing.” Dani’s voice is dubious.

“Yeah.”

“But I’m… Here. Awake. Before you.” Dani puffs her chest out. “That has to count for something, right?”

Jamie doesn’t acknowledge her, only pauses, her eyes sweeping up and down Dani’s frame.

“What?”

“You really fancy a matched set, huh?”

“I…” Dani glances down at her sweatsuit, the same one she’d had on the previous morning, and flushes. “Laundry day isn’t until Thursday.” 

“And you don’t have any other workout clothes?”

“I didn’t exactly come to Bly thinking I’d”––the ghost of a grin flickers across Dani’s lips––“have a standing morning thing.”

Jamie purses her lips, her eyes drifting, considering, to Flora and Miles’ doors across the hall. “Right,” she says after a moment, and starts down the stairs, “c’mon.” 

Dani follows her, padding softly through the hallway, traipsing across the lawn, watching Jamie curiously all the way to the greenhouse, then to the clearing, the two of them dropping armfuls of cushions unceremoniously on the ground in front of them.

Jamie stares at the cushions, brow furrowed, and then she looks up at Dani.

Her jaw is sharp, Dani thinks, resolute. It’s the face Jamie makes when she’s made up her mind about something. 

And then Jamie’s reaching down, wrapping her fingers in the hem of her t-shirt, and tugging.

It isn’t the first time Dani’s seen Jamie in her sports bra––and, a voice whispers distantly, somewhere in the back of her mind, she hopes it won’t be the last––but she stares all the same.

Jamie’s voice jerks her out of her reverie. “Here,” she holds her shirt out towards Dani. “I know you… Don’t mind wearing the same thing again, but,” she shrugs, “doesn’t mean you should have to.”

Dani stares at her.

“Seriously, I’m fine in this. You know I am. Work out in this every night, don’t I?”

“I… Yeah,” Dani swallows, her mouth suddenly dry, and when she reaches for the t-shirt, her fingers graze Jamie’s. “Yeah, thank you. I can’t say anyone’s,” the corner of her mouth twitches, her fingers knotting into the fabric of Jamie’s shirt, “ever given me the shirt off their back before.”

Jamie shrugs. “No trouble.”

Dani stares at her a moment longer, then reaches for the bottom of her sweatshirt. Pauses. “Can you…” Her eyes, cool and steady, find Jamie’s, and she raises a hand, gesturing for her to turn around.

Jamie obliges, even as she says, “Dani, you know I’ve seen you––”

“Uh-uh.” Another pause. “You’re already turned around, anyway.”

Jamie chuckles. “Suppose I am.”

Dani takes her time pulling Jamie’s shirt over her head, tugging her ponytail gently out of the neck, smoothing the front carefully over her stomach.

It smells, she notices, like Jamie.

Earth.

Sweat.

A little bit of rosewater.

Dani wonders if she’ll smell like Jamie, too.

“Okay,” she says, and her voice is quiet, bordering on a whisper, and Jamie turns around.

Dani is standing in front of her in Jamie’s faded Blondie t-shirt, smiling softly, a flyaway strand of hair framing the side of her face.

“What?” Dani cocks her head.

“What what?”

“You’re… Looking at me funny. Did I put it on backwards, or…” Dani cranes her head backwards, twisting to get a look at the back of Jamie’s shirt.

“No,” Jamie clears her throat. “No, you just… Not sure I’ve ever seen Debbie Harry look so good, is all. Giving her a run for her money, Poppins.”

Dani starts to smile, shaking her head, but then she stops. Purses her lips. Peers at Jamie, assessing. “Why d’you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Call me that. Poppins.”

Jamie blinks.

“It feels…” Dani looks at the cushions, at the trees, at the buildings behind them. “Condescending, almost. Sometimes. Like… I never know where I stand? With you, I mean.”

“You don’t know where you stand,” Jamie echoes. 

Dani shakes her head.

“I’ve not… Made that clear to you?”

“Made it clear to me? Jamie, we never… We didn’t… We still haven’t talked, we keep just––”

“Didn’t realize I was giving you the shirt off my back to talk,” Jamie’s tone is clipped, and Dani’s not sure how they got here, how they found their way back to this, “thought we were here to work.”

“Jamie––”

“Look,” Jamie sighs, “it’s just a nickname, right? I’m not condescending you, promise. I wouldn’t…” She purses her lips, looking around the lawn, her eyes eventually, begrudgingly, finding their way back to Dani’s. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Wouldn’t you?” Dani’s eyes are shining, playful, in the pre-dawn light, and just like that, they're back.

Jamie’s answering grin is rueful. “Can I touch ya?”

At least, Jamie thinks idly, arm darting out the second Dani nods, her fingers wrapping around Dani’s wrist, what they’re doing today actually keeps Dani at arm’s length.

It isn’t, Jamie thinks, explaining how to break a grasp, wrenching gently at a pinky finger, breaking down how to leverage one’s own weight, like she wants to. If she wants anything, it’s the opposite.

“No, your weight, Dani. Not mine. Yours. That’s still–– Yeah, okay. There you go. Now… Ah, yeah. Right. And then twist it like––” Jamie hisses. “Yeah, just like that.”

She has to be honest with herself. It’s undeniable now. 

“Other way. Yeah. You tend to… Fuck, Dani, lighter, yeah? You tend to favor… Your right side. Need you to get used to using your left. Good. Again.”

She wants Dani as close as she can get her, as close as possible, not… 

“Running away, Poppins. Don’t forget about the running away. The most important part of self-defense is not being there.”

“It’s just,” Dani feigns turning away, takes a handful of indolent, barely jogged steps in the opposite direction, “Poppins is fine, I…” she flushes, “like it, sometimes, but… What happened to keeping my name all to yourself?”

“Why?” Jamie watches Dani as she turns around and strolls back to the cushions, Jamie shaking her head in mock disappointment at Dani’s poor show of escaping. “D’you want me to?”

And that’s the thing, Jamie tells herself, has told herself again and again: every time she tries to deny herself, every time she tries to honor the carefully constructed covenant that’s kept her alive, kept her safe, Dani immediately upends it.

Dani only bites her lip, grins, and proffers her arm.

Fill in the holes of a background check? Jamie wraps one hand around Dani’s wrist. 

Fill in the holes of a background check, and Dani flat-out refuses. Dani steps in, uses the momentum to break Jamie’s hold. Runs.

Fill in the holes of a background check, Dani flat-out refuses, and then, when she finally wants to share, Jamie tells her she doesn’t have to. Dani comes trotting back.

(Dani tells her anyway.) Proffers herself again.

Keep Dani at arm’s length? Jamie wraps two hands around Dani’s wrist.

Keep Dani at arm’s length, and Jamie ends up in the center of the kitchen with two arms wrapped around her. Dani reaches one hand over and between Jamie’s wrists, grabs her own hand, and yanks, over and up. Throws in a quick elbow strike, stopping just shy of Jamie’s temple. (Jamie scowls.) Runs.

Keep Dani at arm’s length, Jamie ends up in the center of the kitchen with two arms wrapped around her, and Dani’s asking if they can do it again. Dani comes trotting back. 

(Jamie says yes, every morning.) Proffers herself a third time.

Get too close? Get scared? Jamie shakes her head. Holds her arms open instead.

Get too close, get scared, and fall back on a nickname, only ever teasing at best, to create distance. Dani nods, barely suppresses a grin, and lets Jamie grab her. 

Get too close, get scared, fall back on a nickname to create distance, and Dani’s asking her to drop it. To call her as she sees her, two syllables saved, burning and bare, just for them. Dani’s heel to Jamie’s foot. Dani’s hips to Jamie’s hips. Dani’s elbow (almost) to Jamie’s nose.

(Jamie doesn’t know what happens next.) Jamie lets go.

Jamie wants, more than anything, to talk about it, but––

“What if,” Dani’s turning around, her eyes shining, catching, reflecting the morning light, and Jamie’s nervous, “someone does this?”

“Does what?”

(Jamie doesn’t know what happens next.)

But Dani’s already stepping, angling herself into Jamie, arm flashing outwards, one finger hooking under the thin chain gleaming against Jamie’s collarbone and tugging.

Jamie pitches forward, wholly and entirely imbalanced, and careens straight into Dani. 

For once, Dani doesn’t stumble.

Dani doesn’t stumble, only grins, delighted, pleased, the rest of her fingers curling around Jamie’s chain, holding fast, her other arm snaking, steadying, around Jamie’s waist.

They’re nose to nose, and Jamie can feel the specter of Dani’s breath against her lips. 

(Jamie doesn’t know what happens next.)

“Managed not to fall this time,” Dani whispers, assured even as her voice shakes, even as her fingers, skittering through sweat to rest against the small of Jamie’s back, tremble.

“Doesn’t count,” Jamie’s hands, sandwiched between bare skin and Blondie, have nowhere to go, and she realizes far too late that they’ve come to rest against Dani’s chest, rising and falling with each shallow breath, “when you got the jump on me.” 

“I’ve been thinking about doing that since day one,” Dani breathes, and she's closer, bumping her nose against Jamie’s now, “not sure I’d call it getting the jump on you.”

“I would,” Jamie eyes dip, catching on the pink of Dani’s lips, “how was I supposed to know what you were thinking?”

Dani grins, and Jamie knows she’s made a fatal mistake.

(Jamie doesn’t know what happens next.)

“I haven’t…” Dani’s fingers crook, and Jamie’s tugged further forward, her forehead bumping softly against Dani’s, “made that clear to you?”

“Let me ask you again,” Dani murmurs, and one of Jamie’s hands is moving, sliding up Dani’s chest and over her shoulder, “what if someone–– What if… I… Did this?”

She curls her fingers then, and Jamie presses her eyes shut, her hand slipping, gliding down, across Dani’s back.

(Jamie knows what happens next.)

“Dani…” Jamie breathes, and then her eyes are fluttering open and Dani’s are flitting down to her lips and Jamie’s hand is moving, finding Dani’s ponytail, tangling into it and (carefully, so carefully) tugging.

Dani pitches backwards and whimpers––Jamie’s heard that sound, she realizes with a jolt, Jamie knows that sound––and Jamie immediately lets go.

“Sorry,” she’s saying, her mouth running a mile a minute, “sorry, it’s just… You asked what I would do if someone… So I thought I’d… No, shit, I didn’t think, Dani, I’m––”

But Dani’s laughing. 

Dani’s flustered, but Dani’s laughing.

“Dani?”

“You… I did,” and Dani snorts, her hands immediately flying up to cover her face, glowing pink in the morning light, “I did, I asked for it, and you… You showed me, alright.”

“I didn’t… You’re… You’re good?”

“Better than good,” Dani runs her hands over her face, trying to catch her breath, “I’m… Better than good, yeah.”

Jamie realizes, all at once, where she’s heard that sound before.

“I think, uh…” she reaches up, scratches at the back of her neck, can feel the heat there, spreading, already, “that’s enough for today. Let’s get this cleaned up and hit the showers?”

Dani scrubs at her face again. Peers at Jamie through a crack in her fingers. Considers. “Okay,” she says finally, “that sounds good.”

“Hey Jamie?” She asks later, raising her voice over the rush from the showerhead. 

They’ve been laughing since Dani had started earlier, back to the greenhouse and across the lawn, up the stairs and into the bathroom, Jamie staunchly defending her honor the whole way.

(“You have to admit,” Dani’d accused, “you played a little dirty.”

Jamie had been aghast. “I’ve never played dirty a day in my life, I’ll have you know.”

“Not once?”

“Not once.”

“Not even––”

“Said ‘not once,’ didn’t I? What is it you say to the kids? Better check to make sure your listening ears are screwed on, yeah?”

“My–– My listening ears are just fine, thanks!”

“Not sure they are.”

“What?”

“What do you mean what?”

“I’m sorry, I… Wasn’t listening.”

“Okay, now I really regret apologizing to you. For anything.”

And so on.)

“Yeah?” Jamie peers at herself in the mirror, reaching up to clear away the condensation there with a swipe of her hand. “What’s up?”

Behind her, the shower stops.

“Can you pass me my towel?”

A moment later, Jamie’s hand slips around the shower curtain, offering Dani her towel. “Hot towel, ma’am?”

Dani laughs, taking it and bending over to blot her legs dry. “You know I hate to criticize your hot towel service, Miss Taylor, but…” 

“But?” Jamie, standing just outside the shower, her other hand clasped over her eyes, grins.

Dani finishes drying off and, wrapping her towel around her torso, tucks the corner up and into the top and steps out of the shower. “It’s a little lukewarm, I…” she realizes, suddenly, that Jamie is still there, a few feet away from her, still in her sports bra and waiting patiently, her hand over her face, “…think.” 

“Yeah,” Jamie agrees amiably, oblivious to Dani’s sudden reticence, “figured as much. Don’t have a fuckin’ heater in here though, do we? Wonder if I could ring Vi and–– Dani?”

Dani freezes, her fingers outstretched, halfway to Jamie’s arm. “Yeah?”

“I just realized I haven’t brushed my teeth yet.”

Dani drops her arm. “What?”

“I usually… Brush my teeth, before you get out. That way I’m done and out and you can just…” Jamie tries to wave her free hand around the bathroom and ends up slamming it into the wall. “Do whatever it is––Christ, that hurt––that you do.”

“Oh.”

“If it’s okay, I can just… Won’t be more than two minutes. I’ll skip flossing, so––”

Dani hesitates for a split second, then she’s reaching back up again, her fingers wrapping around Jamie’s shoulder and squeezing softly. “No, it’s okay. We can brush together.”

Jamie’s brow furrows underneath her hand, the corner of her mouth slanting upward. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jamie can hear the smile in Dani’s voice, “you can look now, by the way.”

Jamie’s dropping her hand and turning, grinning mischievously as soon as she sees Dani.

“What?”

“Equilibrium, isn’t it?”

“What is?” Dani crosses to the sink, crease etched between her brows as she reaches for the floss, passing it to Jamie, who settles in next to her.

The sink is small, the mirror above it smaller, and their arms press together as Jamie unspools some floss, passes the container back to Dani. 

“You saw me in my towel,” Jamie squints at her teeth in the mirror, “now I’m seeing you in yours.” 

“Pretty sure,” Dani mumbles around a mouthful of floss, “I saw you in my towel. It’d only be true equilibrium if you saw me in yours.”

Jamie laughs, holding a hand wordlessly out to Dani—Dani gives her a look that’s dubious at best but acquiesces, dropping her used floss into Jamie’s outstretched palm—and dumps both strands of floss into the trash can alongside the sink.

“Plenty time to get there, Poppins,” Jamie says, grinning at Dani in the mirror as Dani, giving her a look, passes her her toothbrush, a dollop of toothpaste situated perfectly center, “plenty of time to get there.”

Chapter Text

Jamie wakes up the next morning to knocking.

It’s loud and it’s insistent and Jamie only knows one person with the requisite audacity to pull it off.

She’s still in her pajama shorts when she wrenches open her door, scowling.

She’s greeted by an equally disgruntled, nightgown-clad Dani Clayton. “What did you do to me?”

“What did I… Do to you?”

Dani sweeps past Jamie and into her room, crossing all the way to the center before turning, arms crossed and glowering, to face Jamie. “The whole left side of my body hurts, Jamie.”

“Right,” Jamie mumbles, “make yourself at home, then.”

Dani barely spares a glance around Jamie’s room, barely looks once, let alone twice, at Jamie’s bed, hastily made even as she must’ve just rolled out of it; at the line of books neatly spanning Jamie’s nightstand, seven in total but alphabetized nonetheless; at the wine bottles lining Jamie’s dresser, each containing a handful of perfectly mismatched flowers, each plucked by fond hand from the grounds.

Dani barely imagines herself a similar staple in Jamie’s room, barely imagines making a mess of Jamie’s sheets, kicking her comforter, crumpled, to the foot of the bed, Dani’s fingers knitting into the fitted sheet, desperate for even the semblance of a grip, the two of them smoothing it all back over in the morning, grinning, laughing with each other from across the mattress; running her finger along the titles, bound and embossed, that make up Jamie’s makeshift library, shifting up and along a spine to tip one out of line and into her careful palm; surprising Jamie with a new flower here, a new sprig of leaves there, tipping up and onto her tiptoes to slip them into a bottle, brightening, beaming and proud when Jamie notices.

“The whole left side,” Dani says again, voiced raised, pitching.

“That’s… Not my fault.” Jamie tugs the door closed behind her, and, eyebrows raised, leans back against the doorframe.

“It is. It didn’t start… Hurting,” Dani huffs, “until we started our standing morning… Our standing morning… Thing.”

“Our standing morning thing that you asked for.” 

Dani crinkles her nose at that, and Jamie feels herself, just a little bit, melt, sagging backwards against the cool wood behind her. 

Jamie sighs. “Look, I told you, Poppins. You favor your right side.”

“Yeah,” Dani scoffs, “nice try, but it’s my left that hurts.”

“Yeah, because your left is overcompensating to make up for your right.” 

Dani blinks. Stares.

Jamie sighs again, then glances at the clock on her bedside table. “How long until the kids are awake?”

“A while yet.”

Jamie makes a split-second decision. “Okay,” she says, pushing herself off from the door, “okay.”

Dani breathes in sharply. “What’re you… What’re you going to…” 

“You want help, right?”

“I… Sure, yeah.” Dani pauses, purses her lips. Tries again, Jamie thinks, with more conviction this time. “No, of course. Of course I want help. Who wants to feel like,” Dani gestures to herself, flapping her hand helplessly up and down, “this? This, all the time? It’s… Exhausting, Jamie.”

Jamie hums, taking another step closer and raising an eyebrow. “You sure we’re still talking about your left side?”

Dani’s answering “yes” is flat and stout and entirely Dani.

“Hmm.” Jamie stops then, quiet and surveying.

Dani’s brows pinch together. “What’re you… What’re you going to do?” 

“Already asked that, didn’t you?”

“Didn’t answer it,” Dani parrots back, feigning a British accent so abhorrent, Jamie momentarily forgets herself, “did you?”

Jamie stares.

Dani grins.

Dani grins, because Dani’s pleased with herself, and Dani’s pleased with herself because––

Jamie immediately ducks her head, mumbles “s’awful, Dani, just awful,” but it’s too late.

“You liked it,” Dani accuses, “you’re smiling, and you liked it.”

“Would like for you to get out of my room, yeah.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I would,” Jamie looks back up, one eyebrow quirked. “I’m not the one who came in here… Telling me what I do to her body. Telling me I need to… Do something about it.” 

Dani flushes. “What you did, Jamie, not what you… Not what you do, you don’t––” She stops herself, and, her fingers finding each other in front of her, wringing together, takes a deep breath. “I didn’t tell you you need to do something about it.”

“Didn’t you? Said it feels exhausting all the time, feeling like you do. Said you wanted help. Asked twice what I was going to do.”

“I––” 

“Because if that’s not true,” Jamie takes a step back, reaching her arms up over her head and stretching, craning her head towards one shoulder, then the other, “I don’t have to do anything. Can get on with my morning. Could get back into bed, even…” she angles her head, jutting her jaw, towards the bed behind her, “without you here. Unless,” she lets herself fall back onto her bed, sitting, sinking, softly, into the mattress, her toes grazing the floor, “you’re keen on staying.”

Dani breathes in, sharp and short. “And if I were?”

“You wouldn’t want to,” Jamie shrugs, “that’s a whole new set of rules.” 

There’s a flicker, Dani wavering on the balls of her feet, swaying, Jamie thinks, towards the bed, before stilling again. “Try me,” she whispers.

Jamie purses her lips. “Curtains open, for one. Don’t mind the dark, but on days I’m not up before it, I like to rise with the sun. Not one to,” her eyes dart over to Dani’s, the corner of her mouth quirking up, “sleep in.”

Dani shrugs, benign. “Fine by me.”

“No babbling,” Jamie says next, leaning back onto her hands, “I take my sleep very seriously. Like to get my eight hours. Don’t like it…” she glances to the door, then back to Dani, “interrupted.” 

“Too late for that one,” Dani offers placidly.

Jamie gives her a look, continues. “Anyway,” she says, tilting her head, her legs swinging beneath her, “last rule. My side of the bed is mine. No… Starfishing.”

“Starfishing,” Dani echoes, dubious.

Jamie nods, and it’s a marvel, Dani thinks, the way she can keep a straight face. “Keep all your… Appendages out of my space.”

“What if I want to be in your space?” There’s that flicker again, and this time, Dani’s taking a step closer. “Wouldn’t that be the point?”

“Thought the point was to do something about the whole left side of your body, but,” Jamie reclines further, tilting her head the other direction, “you tell me.”

Dani stares at her, eyes steel and situated, square, on Jamie’s, before dragging down her frame, all angles, wide and open, and catching on her lap, exposed and inviting as Jamie leans back.

Jamie swallows.

“Right,” Dani chirps, her eyes flitting back up to Jamie’s. “Fix me, then.”

“Fix you?”

“The whole left side of my body. The point,” Dani’s eyes are shining, “wasn’t it?”

Jamie only grins, sitting up and chuckling softly through her nose. “As you wish.” She slides off the edge of the mattress, hopping to the floor and looking pointedly at Dani. “On the bed, then.”

“What? I just said––”

“I know what you just said.”

“So why––”

Jamie raises her eyebrows. “You trust me, don’t you?” 

“Starting to regret it,” Dani mumbles, mouth stumbling over a nascent smile.

Jamie shakes her head, her own smile widening. “Now, Dani.”

Dani stands, holding her bluff a moment longer, and then she’s exhaling, shaking her head, smile undeniable now as she crosses to Jamie’s bed.

“On your stomach.”

“On my––”

“Are you going to question everything I say?”

“Maybe,” and it’s muffled, Dani already acquiescing, crawling up the bed and nestling, face-first, into Jamie’s pillows. 

“Brilliant.” Jamie crawls up after her, then pauses, hesitating. “Can I, uh…” she swallows again, eyes stuttering over Dani, stretched out in front of her, “can I touch ya?”

Dani takes a deep breath, and it smells like Jamie, she realizes, the sheets and the pillows and the entire bed. It smells like Jamie.

When Dani answers, it’s soft, softer. “Yes.”

Jamie nods. “Okay,” she whispers, “okay,” and then she’s positioning a careful knee alongside Dani’s waist, swinging her other leg up and over to straddle her, her hands coming to rest, hovering, just over Dani’s shoulders.

“You can touch me, Jamie,” Dani whispers, and so Jamie does.

She wraps her fingers, softly, gently, around the tops of Dani’s shoulders, pressing her thumbs into the swollen muscle alongside Dani’s shoulder blades.

Dani sighs into the pillows, relaxing under Jamie’s grip, and some part of Jamie, some distant, reckless part, realizes this is the most relaxed Dani Clayton has ever been.

Jamie doesn’t think about it, chooses not to think about it, just rolls her thumbs forward into Dani’s shoulders, dragging them back over the tight muscle there, kneading.

They’re quiet save for Dani’s sighs, Dani relaxed and Jamie tense, and Jamie doesn’t know if it’s been two minutes or ten when her hands, slowly making their way down Dani’s back, meet fabric.

Dani can feel Jamie hesitate, feels the way Jamie's thighs tense around her waist, feels the absence of Jamie's hands when she lifts them, hesitating.

“Can I…” Jamie starts, tugging her bottom lip between her teeth, but Dani’s already humming, already moving, towing down the straps of her nightgown and pulling her arms up and out of them, resettling them up alongside her head.

“Jamie,” Dani turns her head, resting a cheek on the backs of her hands, glancing backwards at Jamie, “you’ve had your hands all over me for the past two days. I think we’re past this point, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Jamie nods, “yeah, okay. Right.” She hesitates a moment longer, Dani holding her gaze, patient, Jamie thinks, for once, and then Dani’s eyes are drifting shut, a smile stretching lazily across her face as they do.

Jamie stares, and Jamie swallows, and Jamie moves.

Her hands are clumsy when she gently tugs at the sides of Dani’s nightgown, easing it down her the curve of her waist, of her hips, but Dani doesn’t seem to mind––if anything, her smile stretches wider––and leaving it, finally, bunched just below the small of her back.

Her hands are lighting back to Dani’s shoulders, when Dani feels her shift, and Dani’s eyes flutter open.

“Just… One sec,” Jamie’s stretching, leaning over Dani towards her bedside table, fingers grazing her drawer just enough to pull it open and fumble inside.

Dani feels the soft material of Jamie’s tank top against her back as she does, feels Jamie’s chest pressing into her through it, feels Jamie’s own breath, shaking, as she rummages through her drawer. Dani closes her eyes. Breathes.

“Here we go”––there’s the sound of the drawer closing and the feeling of Jamie righting herself––“I’m gonna try to… Warm it up between my hands a little, but it might still be cold, okay?”

Dani nuzzles back into Jamie’s pillows, nodding.

And then Jamie’s touching her again, fingers tender and firm all at once, smoothing lotion across Dani’s waist, up Dani’s back, around Dani’s shoulders, and Dani’s humming, sighing again. “That feels nice,” she breathes into the pillows below her.

“Cool,” Jamie mumbles, then: “good. I mean–– Yeah, good. You, uh… Yeah, it should. It should feel nice.” 

“Jamie?”

“Mm?”

“You don’t have to… Hover like that, you know.”

“Like what?”

“You’re… Hovering. On your knees, above me. You can… Sit? I’m not going to break. I know,” she adds, her voice dropping to a murmur, muffled by the pillow, Jamie catching Dani’s creeping amusement all the same, “you’ve seen my hips. They’re not exactly fragile.”

“Your hips are fine,” Jamie mumbles, “perfect.”

“Hmm?”

“Not worried about breaking you,” Jamie says, audibly this time, “been throwing each other around all week. Tell me,” and she digs her thumbs into the small of Dani’s back, “if this hurts.”

Dani grunts, but shakes her head. “No, it’s… It’s good. Sit, Jamie.”

Jamie sits.

Jamie sits, and her knees splay further around Dani, sinking into the mattress as Jamie lowers herself, flush, against the swell of Dani’s backside.

They both gasp, sharp and simultaneous, as Jamie settles, and Dani stretches, pressing herself deeper into the pillows, her back arching, pressing, up, into Jamie.

“See?” Dani breathes. “Not broken.”

“Yeah,” Jamie swallows, her voice strangled, “I see that.”

Dani hums.

Jamie’s not sure how much more spectacularly she could fail at keeping Dani at arm’s length.

“So,” she says after a moment, words sticky, cotton in an already arid mouth, “honeybee, right? If it hurts?”

Dani’s answering “mmhm” is soft, muffled.

“Right,” Jamie murmurs, shifting her weight, pressing the heels of both hands into the curve of Dani’s back, to the left of her spine, rolling upwards, “so. You tend to favor your right side, and your center of gravity is low”––she lifts her hands, dragging them back down, presses her thumbs into Dani’s hips, rocking gently––“here, in your hips. It’s a good thing,” she adds quickly when she feels Dani start to tense underneath her, “good for self-defense. Means you’re not going to be knocked off balance as easily. Keeps you grounded. You,” she pinches Dani’s waist, and Dani squeals, one of her hands flying back, swatting harmlessly at Jamie, “could use some help staying grounded.”

“Says the pot to the kettle,” Dani mumbles, the tips of her fingers glancing off of Jamie’s knee, her arm falling, resting, just shy of Jamie’s bare skin.

Jamie tuts, her thumbs working their way back to Dani’s hips, and then she pauses. 

Searches.

Dani breathes in sharply.

“There we are,” Jamie offers, cheerful, in reply, “your first knot. Your back,” she lowers her voice, almost confiding, “is full of knots, Dani Clayton. Told you a long time ago. You should try lightening up a little bit.”

“You should try,” Dani groans, clenching her teeth, “letting me.”

“And let you have all the fun? Never.” Jamie grins, rueful, and pulls her hands away. “Seriously though, relax, yeah? It’s just going to make it worse otherwise. You don’t…” her grin widens, “fully regret trusting me yet, do you?”

“No,” Dani sighs again, and Jamie feels her relax again, melting into the mattress beneath them, “not yet.”

“Good. Now,” Jamie presses her thumbs, hard, into the center of the knot, leaning into it with her whole body, “as I was sayin’. You have a low center of gravity. Good thing. But,” she leans forward, smoothing the knot, centimeter by slow centimeter, putting the whole of her weight behind it, “the way you favor your right side, it means all your muscles there are stronger. Better equipped to handle whatever load you’re giving them. And so,” she pulls back, presses, full, again, “your left overcompensates. You do something with your whole body that your right can handle and your left can’t, your left recruits other muscles,” she leans forward again, smoothing, concentrating, “to help carry the load. Muscles that aren’t made for it. Hence––” The knot gives under her fingers, and she slips forward, catching herself just above Dani’s shoulders, and Dani…

Dani moans. 

Dani moans, and Jamie freezes, straddling her, Jamie’s stomach pressed to Dani’s back and Jamie’s breasts grazing Dani’s shoulders and Jamie’s arms bracketing Dani's head, holding herself up.

“You, uh… You good?” Jamie rasps. “Feel okay?”

Dani nods into Jamie’s pillow, one of her hands searching out Jamie’s and squeezing gently.

Jamie’s still, her breath soft between Dani’s shoulders. “Good,” she whispers, “good.”

Dani squeezes her hand again. “Hence?” she mumbles.

“What?”

“You were saying,” Dani turns her head to glance back at Jamie, and if she’s surprised by their proximity, Jamie thinks, she doesn’t show it, “other muscles on my left side help… Help carry the load. Hence…” She squeezes a third time.

“Right,” Jamie lets her head fall for a moment, a splay of messy curls grazing Dani’s back, and then she’s pushing herself back up, “hence. Your left side gets muscles that aren’t made for helping to help, hence,” she runs her fingers softly over Dani’s left hip, satisfied with the smoothness she finds there, “the whole left side of your body hurts.”

Dani’s hip arcs softly upwards, rocking into Jamie’s touch.

They both ignore it.

“How do I fix it?” Dani asks.

“Fix what?”

“That I… Favor one side over the other.”

Jamie shrugs. “I mean… It’s natural, on some level. Everyone favors one side. It's a fact.”

Dani turns back into the pillow, a noise of displeasure low in her throat.

Jamie laughs. “Here, look,” she glides her hands up along Dani’s spine, kneading softly, feeling for that telltale tightness as she goes, “if you wanna do something about it, you can… Start small, I guess. Challenge yourself. Push yourself,” she smooths her hands across Dani’s back, her fingers sliding down and around Dani’s ribs.

Beneath her, Dani shivers.

Jamie watches a trail of goosebumps spring up under her fingers. “Push yourself,” she continues, her voice dropping, “to use the side you’re not used to using. Muscles that have,” her fingers dip lower, grazing, barely, the sides of Dani’s breasts, and Dani’s breath hitches, “been neglected.”

Jamie’s hands slide away, back up to Dani’s shoulders, and Dani exhales, slack against the mattress.

“How d’you…” she says when Jamie finds a knot along the ridge of her left shoulder, “how d’you know so much about this stuff? No offense but,” she grits her teeth, “you don’t… Seem like the type.”

Jamie grins. “Observant.”

It’s uncanny, Jamie thinks, how, even with Dani’s face buried in a pillow, Jamie knows she’s preening. Knows Dani’s smile is wide and smug against her pillowcase. Knows Dani’s shoulders, relaxed under her ministrations, would furl back if they could. 

“I’m not,” she continues, working at the knot. “Would much rather spend my mornings over in the greenhouse. But,” she purses her lips, sighs, “it’s, uh, kind of a requirement for my job. Peak physical fitness and all that. A lot of private security companies are more lax about it, but Vi, she…” Jamie draws her hands back, presses her thumbs into Dani’s shoulder again, “she makes us take these physiology classes. Part of our training. Why we’re elite,” she draws back again, her brow furrowing, putting more of her weight behind her press this time, “and all that.”

This time, when the knot gives, Dani whimpers.

Jamie doesn’t slip, but Dani whimpers.

Dani whimpers, and Dani arches, and Jamie, suddenly and unintentionally grinding down into Dani’s back, isn’t sure which is worse.

“Okay?” Jamie asks when Dani relaxes again, muscles giving underneath her.

“Mm,” Dani nods, her hair catching the rays, early and breaking, sneaking in through Jamie’s window, “better than okay.”

Jamie’s stomach surges.

“Great,” she says, ducking her head, eyes trailing, mapping, over Dani’s back as her hands slide back down, plying, feeling for any straggling knots.

No more knots, Jamie finds, but…

On Dani’s right hip: a spot that makes Dani gasp, a small sound, perfect in its roundness, with every press.

Across Dani’s shoulders: freckles, splayed and fading after her months in England, morning star after morning star, disappearing into a coming dawn.

Along the bottom of Dani’s ribcage: an arcing, easy path that makes Dani shiver every time Jamie’s fingers skim along it, tracing idly from spine to side and back again.

“You’re not gonna,” Dani starts to turn her head, to look back at Jamie, once more, over her right shoulder, then stops herself, and, turning to her left side instead, grins, “make me do wind sprints after this, are you?”

“Thought about it,” Jamie admits, grinning back, hands making another sweep up Dani’s back, “would be funny if I did.”

Dani crinkles her nose. “Funny to you, maybe. Miserable for me.”

“Miserable for you,” Jamie agrees, “and all the funner to me for it. Lucky for you,” Jamie’s thumbs hook into the grooves just below Dani’s ear, the rest of her fingers threading into Dani’s hair, “this is your workout for the day. S’called recovery.”

Dani opens her mouth to reply, but then Jamie’s pressing in with her thumbs, massaging, digging into the knots in Dani’s neck, her fingers flexing softly against Dani’s scalp, and Dani’s moaning again instead, turning, pressing her face desperately back into Jamie’s pillow.

“Yeah,” Jamie murmurs, her fingers working, “thought that might happen.” 

“Why d’you–– God, Jamie, that–– Why’d you say…” Dani moans again, lower this time, nestling her face deeper into the pillow, her fingers scrambling for purchase on Jamie’s comforter. “Jamie, that feels…” 

Jamie can only bite the inside of her cheek and press her thumbs in harder, rocking them softly against the tight muscle of Dani’s neck. “You, uh, bunch your shoulders up,” she manages, “only ever seen you relax… Twice maybe?”

“Twice? That’s not––” Dani gasps, sharp and keening. “I’m relaxed, Jamie, I––”

“Not relaxed enough,” Jamie tilts her head, concentrating, and, pursing her lips, leans forward, pressing harder, rolling her thumbs up and along the top of Dani’s neck, towards the base of her skull. “You’re carrying”––Jamie feels a knot twist beneath her left thumb, and Dani whines, pitchy and insistent––“all this tension, Dani. You have to find an outlet. Let it go.”

“Have an… Outlet. Jamie,” Dani’s fingers twist into the comforter, “please, I… I need…” 

“Yeah?” Jamie dips her head, leaning down and in towards Dani, the press, push, drag of her thumbs steady and unrelenting, all control ceded, lost, to the woman beneath her, Jamie’s thighs tensing, tightening around Dani’s waist. “Tell me what you need, Dani.” 

“I–– I need… Jamie…” 

The knots give.

The knots give, and the scraps of control, of Jamie’s, of her own, that Dani’s been clinging to combust, and she’s saying Jamie’s name, over and over and over, and Jamie’s name is on her lips, and Jamie’s scent is on the pillows, and Jamie’s weight is overlaying her own, and for one, glorious moment, Dani isn’t sure where she ends and Jamie begins.

And then Jamie’s pulling away.

“Good?” She’s saying, leaning back and shifting her weight, her voice breaking as she slides off of Dani’s back.

“I…” Dani turns, brow furrowed, her head murky and buzzing, flush blazing from chest to neck, across cheeks and nose, “yeah. Yeah, I’m… Jamie?”

Jamie pauses, halfway through slipping off the edge of the bed, her head snapping up, eyes finding Dani’s. “Yeah?”

More, Dani wants to say, I want more.

“Thanks,” she says instead, all wide eyes and small smile.

“Yeah,” Jamie nods, “‘course. Recovery is… Important, y’know.”

Dani nods, staring, still, and Jamie bites the inside of her cheek again, shifting underneath the weight of Dani’s gaze.

“I might… I might go do some… Sprints, just for me, so…” Jamie glances at the bathroom door, “shower’s yours, if you want it.” 

“Yeah,” Dani nods, “okay. Thanks.” She stays, unmoving, for a moment longer, content to watch Jamie as she crosses to her wardrobe, rummaging around for a sports bra and a pair of shorts. 

Watches as Jamie pauses, thinks.

Watches as Jamie glances back over at her.

“You, uh,” Jamie clears her throat, “still have my Blondie shirt, yeah?”

Dani props herself up on an elbow, leaning a cheek against her first. “Yeah.”

“Cool,” Jamie nods. “Just––”

“Do you want it back? I was hanging onto it until laundry day, but––”

“No, it’s… It’s fine. S’great. Laundry day is great.”

“Cool.”

“Cool.”

Dani still doesn’t move.

“Were you, uh…” Jamie glances from Dani to the bathroom door again.

“Oh! Oh,” Dani jerks, blinks. “Of course. Just…” She pauses for a minute, glancing over her shoulder at her nightgown, bunched around her waist. “Just gimme a…” She purses her lips, thinking.

“D’you…” Jamie takes a tentative step towards her.

“No,” Dani shakes her head, her decision sudden and resolute, “no, it’s fine.” 

This time, Dani doesn’t ask Jamie to turn around. 

This time, Dani scrambles up onto her knees and, pressing one arm over her chest, tugs her nightgown up with the other.

This time, Dani keeps her eyes steady, on Jamie’s, the whole time. 

Jamie doesn’t dare look away.

“Why’re you doing sprints, anyway?” Dani peers at her out of the corner of her eye as she slips off the bed, her feet landing with a soft thunk against the hardwood. “Thought today was about recovery.”

“For you, maybe,” Jamie shrugs a shoulder, tossing her clothes onto her bed, one hand wrapping into the hem of her tank top. “I'm good. Don't need recovery.”

Dani’s brows pinch together. “Everyone needs recovery.”

Jamie raises an eyebrow. “You didn’t know what recovery was until twenty minutes ago.”

“So? That doesn’t mean I can’t… Recognize it’s something everyone needs. What,” she slips into the bathroom, one hand wrapping around the doorframe, leaning back out to grin at Jamie, “are you overcompensating for, Jamie Taylor? I’ll get you back, by the way,” she calls, and Jamie hears the door to Dani’s room open, “next time.”

It closes.

It closes, and Jamie drops her tank top, flopping backwards onto her bed.

It closes, and Dani collapses face-first into hers, finding the Blondie shirt shoved hastily under her pillow and inhaling deeply.

It closes, and the two of them overcompensate, alone.

Chapter Text

Overcompensating.

Jamie positions herself neatly between the planters in front of the manor, and pushes off.

She is, she knows, overcompensating.

Gravel crunches under her sneakers, and she gulps, her lungs burning already. 

She is overcompensating, but it’s rich of Dani––Dani Clayton, who’s never taken a day off in her life, who has barely ever even used a sick day––to chastise her for it.

Jamie reaches the treeline, is about to hold her arm out, anticipates the feeling of Dani’s fingers sliding across her palm, and then remembers she’s alone.

It’s rich––

She shakes her head.

––and it’s audacious––

She starts running again.

––and the worst part of it is that she can’t even call it self-righteousness, can’t even write it off as painfully unselfaware, because it’s just Dani––

She stumbles, pitching forward, skidding on the gravel before righting herself.

––it’s Dani, all selflessness and resolution and burning desperation, giving herself to everyone, relegating herself, happily, to whatever ashes are left––

She rights herself, digging the balls of her feet deeper into the gravel, propelling herself forward harder, faster.

––it’s Dani, with her blue eyes and pink lips and soft whimpers, with her fingers tangling into Jamie’s sheets, with the freckles, splayed, across her shoulders, an infinite number of constellations that Jamie just wants to––

She makes it back to the planters, turns, starts again. Faster. Harder.

––it’s Dani, insufferable and absolute and unrelenting, upending every rule Jamie’s set at every turn, cupping Jamie’s cheek in the hallway before breakfast, tugging Jamie in by the chain hanging around her neck, staring Jamie down from the center of her own room––

She makes it to the treeline. Slaps her own hand this time. Turns.

––it’s Dani, just Dani, has only ever been Dani––

She takes off again.

––but it’s Jamie too––

She pushes.

––it’s Jamie, playful and adamant and infallible, inexplicably compromising to Dani’s every whim, on the floor and taping together a pair of paper binoculars, falling asleep on the couch after sharing a bottle of wine, fingers trembling as they trace the dips and curves of Dani’s back––

She feels her chest tighten, throb, but doesn’t stop.

––it’s Jamie, feeling everything else instead, anger and pride and contrition, all flexing in the service of a secret, more delicate whole––

She keeps running.

––it’s Jamie, overcompensating.

She surges past the planters, reaching out to stop herself, hand colliding hard and fast with the heavy wood of the manor’s front doors.

She has got, she tells herself again, sinking against the door, chest heaving, to stop smoking. 

She will, she decides.

Tomorrow.

Before breakfast, but after Dani’s next self-defense lesson.

She will, she guesses, need it.


“Why are you two being so weird?”

Jamie is bent over Miles’ desk when Flora asks, her brow furrowed in concentration, the tip of her finger trailing along the sloping lines of text scribbled in his notebook.

Dani, meanwhile, is leaning back against her own desk, fingers wrapped around the lip, her knuckles white, staring, unabashed, as Jamie, gentler than Dani’s ever seen her, points out a misspelling here, proposes an adjective there.

Miles, for his part, just nods, scrubbing at the offending word with an eraser, brows knit in concentration.

“Jamie,” Flora says again, louder this time, “Miss Clayton. Why are you two being so weird?”

Jamie turns her head slowly towards Flora, arching an eyebrow. “Weird?”

Flora hums her assent, head snapping over towards Dani. “You both,” she says, and Dani’s eyes widen, flitting frantically from Jamie over to Flora, “aren’t quite being yourselves today.”

“And what,” Jamie straightens, casting her eyes heavily, carefully, over towards Dani, who meets her gaze readily, “would you say we’re being instead?” She looks back to Flora, tilting her head, ignoring the feeling of Dani’s eyes lingering, blue and burning, on her face.

“Well,” Flora says matter-of-factly, “usually Miss Clayton is the one teaching, and you’re the one staring at her from the back of the room.”

Jamie feels all the color drain out of her face.

Dani grips the desk tighter beneath her.

“But today,” Flora’s smile is dreamy as she looks between the two of them, “right now, you’re helping Miles with his poetry and Miss Clayton, you’re…” 

Dani’s eyes are desperate and her fingers look like they’re about to either shatter or splinter the desk beneath them and all Jamie can think about is how taut Dani seems, how easily Jamie’s earlier attention has been undone, how much Dani needs––how much Jamie needs––Jamie’s hands on her again.

Press.

Jamie can feel Dani’s muscles, tight, tighter, beneath her fingers.

Push.

Jamie can feel the release, sharp and sudden, can hear Dani’s moans, Dani’s whimpers, Dani’s gasp, Jamie’s own name, slipping, sinking, somewhere between Dani’s breath and Jamie’s pillow.

Drag.

Again. Again, and again, and again, until––

“…absolutely moon-eyed,” Flora finishes.

“Moon-eyed?” 

Jamie can’t help the smile that cracks her lips when Dani says it, all indignity and impudent vowels.

“Yes,” Flora nods seriously, surer of herself now, “moon-eyed. Staring at Jamie like… Like… Like you want her to be writing you a poem instead.”

Dani scoffs, and Jamie watches her relax, just a bit. “Jamie wouldn’t write me a poem.”

Flora’s brow furrows, and she glances over at Jamie, who’s staring, patient, at Dani.

“Jamie,” Dani continues, “doesn’t like poetry. She told me herself.” 

“Told you,” Jamie clears her throat, rocking up onto the balls of her feet, “I wasn’t too keen on it.” 

“And that’s what I just––”

“However,” Jamie continues pointedly, looking at Dani, “I’m… Coming around to it. Have found myself enjoying it, actually.” 

Dani stares at her.

Jamie shrugs. “Turns out I like baffling American women.” 

“She’s talking about Emily Dickinson,” Dani supplements hastily, glancing quickly, volleying, from Jamie to Flora to Miles.

The corner of Jamie’s mouth twitches.

“Right,” Miles mumbles, still focused on his notebook.

“Of course,” Flora offers demurely.

“You know what?” Dani’s voice pitches, her eyes still scanning between the three of them, and she glances up at the clock. “How about we break for lunch?” 

Flora grins, whooping, and scrambles off her chair, bolting towards the kitchen, any alleged weirdness, Dani hopes, momentarily forgotten.

Miles, closing his notebook and resting his pen gingerly alongside, glances up at Jamie. She nods, and he nods back, and then he’s gone, too.

Jamie stares, focused, at the floor, ankles crossed as she sinks back against Miles’ desk, lips tempered, arcing and amused.

“Coming around to it?” Dani pushes herself off of her desk and crosses to Flora’s, crossing her arms across her chest, leaning back against it and scowling at Jamie. “What do you mean, ‘coming around to it?’ You told me… You told me you didn’t like it, Jamie.”

Jamie looks at Dani, raises her eyebrows. Shrugs. “Didn’t think I did. Turns out I do. Not allowed to change my mind, am I?”

“I–– No.”

Jamie’s eyebrows inch higher. “No? I’m not?”

“No! No, no–– Not… Not no, you’re not allowed to change your mind, no, like… Like that’s not it, like you are, but…” 

“But?” 

Dani stares at her. Starts to speak, sputters. Pivots instead. “You’re enjoying this,” she accuses, her brows pinching together as her lips purse, “you’re doing this on purpose, and you’re enjoying it.”

Jamie laughs. “Dani––”

“Don’t ‘Dani’ me!”

“Don’t ‘Dani’ you? What am I supposed to say, then? You don’t want me to say Poppins, you don’t want me to say Dani, just…” Jamie reaches up to scratch at her forehead, eyes sliding from Dani to the blackboard to the windows, across the room in a slow loop as she thinks. “Just… Tell me what you want,” her eyes find Dani’s again, her gaze lighter now, flighty, something prone to shatter. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want you,” Dani says, and it’s so immediate, so ready, that Jamie wonders if Dani had already known what she was going to say, had had it ready and waiting should Jamie only ask, “to stop asking me that.” 

“I–– What? Christ, Dani,” and Jamie hadn’t been irritated, she thinks, had been enjoying herself, enjoying this, whatever this had been, this thing she and Dani had fallen into, but now she is, “you’re impossible, you know that?”

I’m impossible?” Dani’s voice starts to raise and she catches herself, glancing at the door. “You never… Talk about anything, Jamie. I have no idea what you’re feeling or when you’re feeling it, and you just… You expect me to just know, and I don’t. I think… I think I do, or I will, and then you’ll… You’ll… You’ll go and do the opposite of what I’m expecting, or pull away, or…” Her eyes drop to the floor, pacing, agitated, left, then right, and she reaches up, raking a hand through her hair. “What do you,” she looks back up, eyes wide and desperate again, “want, Jamie?”

It’s an invitation. It’s an open invitation for Jamie to tell her, to speak it, but… 

There’s no going back, Jamie knows. Once those floodgates are open, there’s no going back.

You can’t, Jamie thinks with utmost certainty, unraze a forest after flood. 

That kind of damage control is out of her league.

Besides, she tells herself, it’s her job to prevent anything requiring damage control in the first place.

Jamie is good at her job.

Jamie likes her job.

And in a dwindling number of weeks, Jamie’s job will be to leave.

“Look,” she says instead, “I didn’t… Lie to you, Dani. About the poetry. I really did just…” she purses her lips, shrugs, “read more of it, and, I dunno, change my mind. Just had to… Give it a chance, I guess.”

Dani watches her, jaw clenched, her eyes dubious.

“I hope…” Jamie glances away, eyes skimming the classroom as she continues, “I hope you know this, but I don’t… I never say anything I don’t mean, yeah? It’s… Important to me, in general, but… Also when it comes to you. Especially,” she swallows, her eyes finding Dani’s again, “when it comes to you.”

Dani blinks. Her eyes soften. She wavers, teetering gently towards Jamie, her arms falling to her sides. 

“You mean it?” Dani whispers.

“Yeah,” Jamie whispers back, “I do.” 

They’re quiet then, the charge dissipating, evaporating between them.

“I’m gonna go,” Jamie murmurs after a minute, “gotta make use of that lunch break,” she grins, lopsided, and it makes Dani’s stomach feel like it’s doing a somersault, “before I’m needed back here.”

Dani blinks. “Oh.”

“If that’s…” Jamie leans forward, pushing herself off of Miles’ desk, her grin, soft, widening, “okay with you?”

“I… Yeah,” Dani blinks a second time, a third, her eyes dropping down to Jamie’s lips and back up again, “you don’t… Need to ask, you know.”

“Know I don’t need to.” Jamie shoves her hands in her pockets and starts towards the door, still grinning. “Wanted to, though.”

Dani’s eyes are heavy, tracking Jamie all the way across the classroom.

“And Poppins?”

Dani, in spite of herself, feels her lips curling into an answering grin. “What?”

“If you want me to write you a poem, all you have to do is ask.”

And then Jamie’s gone, vanishing out the door and around the corner.

Dani’s only regret, she thinks, shaking her head, grin wide across her face, is not throwing a book at Jamie before she disappears.


Jamie looks almost nervous when they square up alongside the cushions the next morning. 

Dani grins, wide and toothy, surveying her, and throws an arm across her chest, pulling it close. “Wishing you would’ve taken that recovery day yesterday?”

It’s more performance than stretch, and Jamie rolls her eyes. “Told you I didn’t need recovery, didn’t I?”

Dani hums.

“‘M fine,” Jamie clears her throat, “just fine.”

“I don’t know,” Dani tilts her head, scrutinizing Jamie, “you were awfully happy keeping pace with me this morning.”

“Thought you wanted me to keep you company.”

“Never said I didn’t.”

Jamie scowls.

Dani grins wider, toothier.

“Let’s just get to it,” Jamie says, tensing, fighting the urge to squirm under Dani’s scrutiny. “Chokeholds today.”

It has the desired effect.

Dani’s face flushes, immediate and bright, and then it’s Jamie’s turn to grin, glinting and dangerous in the morning glow.

“Chokeholds?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie offers, nodding coolly. 

“You think I’m… In danger of getting choked?”

“Not so much when your boss hires a private security specialist, no,” Jamie’s eyes are bright as she takes a step towards Dani, “even less so when you follow the rules she sets.”

Dani narrows her eyes. “Why teach me about… About chokeholds, then?”

“Because you,” Jamie takes another step in closer, watches as Dani’s breath catches, stalls, in her chest, “don’t like following my rules, do you?”

“I…” Dani swallows, her eyes dipping down to Jamie’s lips, “I don’t…” 

Jamie takes another step closer, raising her eyebrows.

“Jamie…” 

“Yeah?”

Dani raises her eyes to Jamie’s, and they’re hard, Jamie finds, determined, even as Dani’s hands clench into fists at her sides, even as her breath is shallow in her chest. “Are you gonna choke me now?”

“That depends,” Jamie murmurs, stepping in, almost toe-to-toe with Dani now, “can I touch ya?”

Dani’s nod is small, certain, her jaw jutting and proud.

“Okay,” Jamie whispers, and she nods too, her eyes finding Dani’s, settling there, fixed, as she reaches up, lifting her hands carefully to the column of Dani’s throat. 

Jamie’s fingers are soft, Dani recognizes distantly, and she knows that, has felt Jamie’s fingers against her skin before, has felt them there plenty, has thought about them even more, but this is… Different, somehow. Softer, Dani decides, for the knife’s edge upon which they rest.

Jamie keeps her eyes trained on Dani’s, and they’re tender, Dani thinks, assured and unabashed and unflinching, and Dani wants, just a little bit, to pitch forward, to drown in them.

The blunts of Jamie’s nails scrape, soft, slow, across the back of Dani’s neck, and Dani sways, her neck arching back into Jamie’s touch.

Her eyes don’t leave Jamie’s.

Jamie swallows, and her thumbs press gently against the hollow of Dani’s throat.

Neither of them move, until:

“Hey Jamie?” Dani’s whisper is hoarse, the pressure from Jamie’s hands negligible around her neck. 

“Yeah?”

“You,” Dani sways again, arching deeper into Jamie’s touch, her eyelashes fluttering, “take my breath away.”

Jamie’s attempt to bite back a grin, to stifle a laugh, is valiant.

It’s also futile.

Jamie erupts––fully erupts––into laughter, her hands slipping past Dani’s neck as she does, her arms slipping with them, coming to rest, draped and loose, around Dani’s neck.

Dani only grins, pleased with herself, her arms, moving without thought, moving of their own accord, moving as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, snaking around Jamie’s waist as she does.

“I ought to send you right back to the front drive for that one,” Jamie finally manages between bouts of laughter, tipping forward as her shoulders shake, her forehead falling to Dani’s shoulder, “make you sprint the rest of the morning.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Dani declares, pulling Jamie in closer, her grin wider, more confident, “and you know it.”

“Wouldn’t I?” Jamie mumbles into the fabric of Dani’s t-shirt––Jamie’s t-shirt––as she leans against Dani, catching her breath, her laughter slowing.

“No,” Dani purses her lips, thoughtful, and Jamie sighs, Dani’s hands sliding lightly, nonchalant, down her back, “because then I wouldn’t know how to get out of a chokehold.”

Jamie hums, her fingers knitting into the fabric of Dani’s shirt.

“Besides,” Dani’s fingers dip beneath the waistband of Jamie’s sweatpants, coming to rest just below the small of her back, and Jamie shivers, “you––”

“Don’t start,” Jamie groans, clutching tighter at Dani’s shirt, “don’t you dare start.”

“Start what?”

“You know what.”

“Jamie,” Dani presses her fingers into Jamie’s skin, pulling her closer, Jamie’s hipbones bumping softly against her own, “start what?”

“I’m not gonna say it,” Jamie lifts her head, resting her cheek along Dani’s shoulder and watching her closely. “So you can stop––”

“Stop what?” Dani’s voice is innocent, lilting, her fingers flexing against the bare skin beneath Jamie’s sweatpants.

“Whatever you’re… Playing at, Dani, seriously”––Dani’s nails bite into Jamie’s skin and she gasps, turning to press her face back into Dani’s shoulder––“because it’s not… Gonna work.”

“Who says I’m playing at anything? I’m here,” Dani flattens her voice, affecting it, serious and matter-of-fact, “to learn, Jamie. Professional development, remember?”

“Professional development,” Jamie groans, “right. In that case…” 

When Jamie lifts her head, it’s slow, regretful, and when she lets go of Dani’s shirt, her hands linger, smoothing, once, twice, three times, across the plane of Dani’s shoulders.

“Let’s get to work then,” her voice is low and soft and she reaches down as she speaks, wrapping her fingers around one of Dani’s forearms, prying it gently away from her waist, “yeah?”

Dani sighs.

Lets her other arm drop.

“Yeah,” she says finally, “okay.”


“You,” Jamie says later, settling down onto cool tile, reclining back against the bathroom cabinets, “are spending too much time with Owen.”

“What? No way,” Dani’s voice drifts, underscored by the rush of the showerhead, around the shower curtain, “you spend more time with him than I do.”

“Maybe I do,” Jamie stretches her legs out in front of her, squinting at her socks, “but I haven’t started spouting truly god awful puns, have I?”

There’s a pause, the only sound between them that of splash on ceramic.

“Who said that was a pun? That I was joking?”

Jamie leans forward to pick at a piece of fuzz stuck to the toe of her sock. “You sure weren’t telling the truth.”

“Excuse me?” Dani’s voice pitches, high and scratchy, and Jamie grins.

“No way I can take your breath away,” she offers easily, “you talk too much when we’re together, Poppins.”

“You’re miserable,” Dani retorts, and Jamie can hear the smile in her voice, “absolutely miserable.”

“Yeah,” Jamie grins, “all thanks to you. Now,” she lets her head fall back against the counter, staring up at the ceiling, “can you hurry up? I want to brush our teeth. Feel like my tongue’s gone all fuzzy.”

(Dani, she’s sure, does the exact opposite.)

When Dani does finally say “towel, please,” Jamie’s quick to oblige, stopping mid-floor tile count to jump to her feet, scrambling for Dani’s towel, offering it, one hand hovering over her eyes, around the shower curtain.

When Dani takes it, there’s a pause.

Jamie waits.

“Jamie…” 

Jamie grins.

“How did you heat my towel?”

“Would you believe me if I said by sheer power of will?”

Dani steps out of the shower, towel wrapped, snug, around her torso, and looks askance at Jamie.

Jamie shrugs, stepping up to the sink, her shoulder knocking softly against Dani’s as she does. “Radiator, then,” she mumbles, offering her the spool of floss.

Dani laughs, threading her floss between her teeth. “Turns out everything you needed was right here all along. For your… Hot towel service,” her eyes skim across the mirror to Jamie’s, “I mean.”

Jamie snorts. “You know you sounded like you were gargling marbles just now, yeah? Talking with floss in your mouth,” she glances sideways at Dani. “You’re lucky,” she adds, mouth twitching, “I’m fluent in Dani Clayton.”

“Oh yeah?” Dani huffs out a laugh, pausing, floss twined around her fingers. “Was that part of your orientation? Learned it to decipher my background check?”

“Nah,” Jamie turns her eyes back to her own reflection, her smirk shy, spreading, “just spent enough time together to know you by now is all.”

Dani’s quiet, but when Jamie glances back over at her, she’s blushing, her lips pursed around a smile as she busies herself squeezing a dollop of toothpaste onto Jamie’s toothbrush.

“Can I, uh, ask you something?” Jamie asks when they finish brushing, passing her toothbrush back to Dani.

“Sure,” Dani says, concentrating, her tongue peeking out as she situates Jamie’s toothbrush next to hers in a cup alongside the sink.

“How come you never… Do your hair? In here,” Jamie clarifies, waving a hand around the bathroom, “I mean.”

Dani glances up at her.

“The, uh…” Jamie glances down at the sink, then at the lightbulbs above the mirror, and the open window next to it, “light’s better, isn’t it?”

Dani’s peering at her, her lips pursed to the side.

She’s trying, Jamie realizes, to figure out if Jamie’s poking fun.

“I just…” Jamie flushes, reaching up to scratch at her forehead, “I know it must take time, and… It’s important to you, I figure, so I thought you might… I dunno,” she shrugs, “scratch that, actually, forget I asked.”

“I can do it without a mirror,” Dani’s voice is soft, “so the light doesn’t matter, and besides, I… I don’t wanna… I know you need the bathroom too, so…” she trails off, watching Jamie carefully, eyes wide, shining.

“I don’t… Mind,” Jamie says slowly, deliberately, too attentive in her nonchalance. 

“No?”

Jamie swallows. “Nah.”

“I can do it fast,” Dani drops her gaze, staring at the sink, before it skitters back to Jamie, “if you’re sure it’s okay? I’d just…” she tugs her bottom lip between her teeth, “need a little longer? Is all.”

“Take all the time you need,” Jamie reaches for the mouthwash, “seriously, Dani, I don’t need much.”

She pauses, mouthwash open in her hands, then––

“Can I watch?”

“Can you…” Dani’s brows pinch together, and she turns to face Jamie, their elbows bumping gently into each other.

“I’m not being a dick,” Jamie says quickly, reassuring, “really, I just…” and she looks so open, Dani thinks, so curious, “it’s not anything anyone’s ever showed me before.” She asks again, her voice smaller this time. “Can I watch?”

Dani ducks her head. Bites her lip, looks up at Jamie. Beams.

“Sure,” she says, “just, uh… Sit over there. On the tub, maybe? I’ll go get my… My curling iron.” She makes for the door to her room, opening it and pausing, glancing over at Jamie. “Stay put,” she grins, “I’ll be right back.”

And Jamie stays.


“Been doing this for a week now,” Jamie says on Friday morning, “so I thought we’d try something different today.”

Dani raises an eyebrow, her hands, tugging absently at the hem of Jamie’s t-shirt, stilling.

(“Thought you were only keeping it until laundry day,” Jamie had said, opening her door to find Dani leaning, one arm up, against her doorframe that morning.

“I was,” Dani had replied, too agreeably, suspiciously agreeably, Jamie’d thought, for someone who had only so recently begun waking up so early.

“Laundry day,” Jamie’s eyebrow had arched, “was yesterday.”

“It was,” Dani had grinned, letting her arm drop, reaching out, instead, to take Jamie’s wrist in her hand, tugging her towards the stairs, “and I washed it. And now,” her hand had slid, drifting to hold Jamie’s the whole way down the stairs and to the entryway, Jamie’s fingers squeezing, softly, with each skipped step, “it’s clean again, so I’m wearing it. Why else,” she’d dropped Jamie’s hand, coming to a stop in front of the door, grinning, waiting for her to unlock it, “do you wash clothes, Jamie?”

“To give them back to their original owners in good shape, I reckon,” Jamie had mumbled, holding the door open for Dani, “but what do I know?”

“Not enough,” Dani had slipped past her, her fingers sliding against Jamie’s as she did, “I think. I reckon,” Dani’d continued, glancing over her shoulder at Jamie, grin turned smug, “you need a little more teacher time.”

Jamie’s stomach had clenched at that, and, hastily locking up the door behind them, she’d swallowed. “Wind sprints,” she’d gruffed, “go.”

Dani Clayton, Jamie had decided then, matching her pace stride for stride, has no business looking so smug. Especially not––an arm outstretched, a tap, a tangle of fingers in hers––when she hates sprinting so much.)

“If,” Jamie nudges the cushions with her toe, glancing up at Dani, “if you’re up for it.”

“And why would you think I’m not?”

“Dunno,” Jamie shrugs, “intimidated maybe. Nervous.”

Dani scoffs, flapping her lips. “Of you? Never.”

“Ouch, Poppins.” Jamie’s hands fly to her heart, clutching at the expanse of skin just above her sports bra.

Dani rolls her eyes. “Oh, please.”

Jamie fakes a backwards stumble. “Another arrow in my heart.”

“Might not get shot in the heart so much,” Dani offers blithely, “if you actually covered it up.”

“You saying you want me to cover up?”

Jamie, Dani has noticed, has forgone shirts, meeting her every morning in her sports bra, since giving Dani hers earlier that week.

(Jamie, Dani knows, has plenty of other shirts.)

“No,” Dani counters hurriedly, “no, I didn’t say that.”

Jamie hums, grinning.

“What,” Dani says, blinking, shaking it off, “were you thinking we’d try today?”

“Well,” Jamie says, business-like, her hands slipping, clasping, behind her back, “it’s like I said. We’ve been doing this for a week now. You have a solid… Toolkit of techniques to ward off any oncoming attackers. Can take care of yourself…” the corner of her lips quirks up, “a little better than before.” 

The corner of Dani’s mouth curls in kind, and it catches Jamie, her eyes stumbling, dropping, before she continues. 

“So I was thinking,” Jamie says, her eyes––and Dani knows, she thinks, Dani saw––meeting Dani’s again, “we have a sort of… Freestyle. Spar. See how you…” Jamie’s foot shoots out, her toe nudging Dani’s, teasing, “handle it.”

Dani raises her eyebrows. “Think I can’t?”

“Didn’t say that.” 

“I,” Dani says, ignoring Jamie, tone falling solidly somewhere between cheerful and challenging, “can handle it. I,” she steps in, her stride longer than usual, calculated, and Jamie can feel Dani’s breath on her lips when she speaks next, “can handle you.

“Can you?” 

Dani doesn’t respond immediately; she takes in Jamie’s raised eyebrows, takes in the slant of Jamie’s lips, takes in the telltale rise and fall of Jamie’s chest, shallower, faster, than usual.

Dani takes, Jamie thinks, all of her in.

Slowly.

Thoroughly.

Leisurely. 

And then Dani speaks.

“Can I,” she murmurs, hand hovering––and when had it moved, Jamie wonders, muddled, at all?––just along Jamie’s wrist, “touch you?”

It feels like an ember, Jamie thinks, leaping from Dani the way it would a bonfire, blazing and broaching of its borders, stones carefully laid to prevent its spread, to keep it contained, made futile by a burning infallibility, a spark, small against the backdrop of a greater blaze, determined to spread.

“Yeah,” Jamie’s voice is hoarse, dropping to a whisper, “please.”

Jamie wonders if this is what it feels like for Dani every time she says those words.

The movement of Dani’s arm––fast, hard, wrapping around Jamie’s waist and pulling her roughly in––is immediate, its realization of action a formality amidst a mind made up, days, weeks ago.

Jamie wonders if Dani feels like this, like a wildfire, sudden and unstoppable, any other piece of her devoured, wholly, before it’s even begun.

Jamie’s arm snakes up between them, over Dani’s shoulder, around the back of her neck, finds her ponytail. Pulls.  

Jamie wonders what else you can do, once it has, besides let it burn.

Dani veers backwards, and Jamie takes advantage of her shifting feet, of her low center of gravity, of her weight, resting on an ill-favored left side, and sweeps her foot easily, quickly, looping a toe around the inside of Dani’s left ankle.

Dani falls.

She tumbles back, laughing already, arm reaching out to slap the cushions as she does, absorbing the brunt of her fall.

Jamie, heart pounding in her chest, can’t quite find it in herself to laugh. 

Instead she swallows. Offers a hand. Manages a “nice breakfall, Poppins.”

Dani’s smile is dazzling.

“Thanks,” she says, fingers wrapping around Jamie’s as she lets herself be pulled to her feet, “had a good teacher.”

“Must not be good enough,” Jamie drops her hand as Dani rights herself, glancing down to smooth fruitlessly at her shirt, “all that talk and you still couldn’t handle it.”

Dani snorts. “I can handle–– What?”

Jamie’s looking at her, head cocked and brows furrowed. 

“Jamie, what?”

“Here”––Jamie lifts a hand, reaches out, hesitates––“can I just…?”

Dani doesn’t ask.

She doesn’t need to.

She only nods.

“Thanks,” Jamie says, voice barely more than a sigh, and then she’s reaching up, her hands lighting against the hair pulled loosely back against Dani’s temple, carding softly through it.

Dani’s eyes flutter closed.

“Leaves,” Jamie offers by way of explanation, voice an outbreath, offending leaves floating from Dani’s hair to land at her feet as Jamie’s fingers move, slowly, delicately, through Dani’s hair.

“Thanks,” Dani breathes. 

“Yeah,” Jamie whispers.

The last leaf drifts to the ground.

Jamie’s hand drifts to Dani’s cheek.

Stills.

“There we are,” she murmurs.

And they don’t move.

They don’t move, until––

Jamie’s on the ground before she knows what’s happened, on her back and staring up Dani, grinning, above her.

“Observation,” Dani tuts, grin too big for her face, “wasn’t that lesson one?”

“Did you just,” Jamie refuses to give Dani the satisfaction, raises an eyebrow instead, “sweep me off my feet?”

Dani smirks, full and wide, shaking her head and opening her mouth to retort, but then Jamie’s hand is shooting out and grabbing Dani’s ankle and yanking her down.

Dani’s falling again, squealing, gleeful and aghast all at once, and this time when she falls, she doesn’t need to do a breakfall.

This time, when Dani falls, Jamie breaks her fall instead.

“What was that,” Jamie boasts, grinning, as Dani squirms, struggling to push herself up onto her hands over Jamie, “about observation?”

“You cheated,” Dani protests, gasping sharply as one of Jamie’s hands finds her ribs, tickling, “you cheated and–– Jamie!”

“S’not cheating,” Jamie grins wider, laughing, her hand darting away from Dani’s, swatting haplessly at her own, to slip under Dani’s t-shirt, finding, gliding along, the bottom of her ribcage, eliciting a shiver, “all’s fair, isn’t it?”

“All’s fair in––” Dani whines, twisting away from Jamie’s hand, “in what, exactly–– Jamie–– Jamie, please––”

“What?” Jamie’s other hand curls around Dani’s hip, fingertips pressing into her hipbone, holding her still. “You want me to stop?”

“I didn’t,” Dani gasps, “say that.” 

“No?” Jamie’s hand crawls higher, nails scraping, slowing, dragging along the edge of Dani’s sports bra. “You don’t want me to?”

“I didn’t,” Dani groans, shifting her weight to one hand, her other wrapping around Jamie’s wrist, tugging it out from under her shirt, hefting, pinning it to the cushions above her head, “say that either.”

“Sure seems,” Jamie doesn’t protest, doesn’t fight, as Dani reaches for her other hand, pinning it above Jamie’s head, too, “like you want me to.”

Dani hums, her fingers dragging up Jamie’s crossed wrists to tangle with Jamie’s, shifting her weight as she does, pressing, down, into Jamie. “Maybe,” she murmurs, leaning down, “I just wanted to win.”

“Not sure those things have to be mutually exclusive,” Jamie whispers, raising her head to Dani’s, their foreheads bumping softly together, “not sure we have to stop for that to happen at all.”

“No?” Dani’s voice wavers, trembling for all of its certainty, and she inches closer still, bumping her nose to Jamie’s, nuzzling softly.

“No,” and this is it, Jamie thinks, this is the flash point, this is the moment before everything burns, before the landscape between them is changed irrevocably, before the air between them, dense and hanging, ignites.

Dani’s eyes dip down to Jamie’s lips.

Jamie’s fingers flex against Dani’s.

Owen’s car is turning, rumbling onto the drive, and they’re holding, unmoving, staring, and then Jamie’s rocking upward and twisting, sliding easily out of Dani’s grasp and springing to her feet just as Owen rolls by them. 

He raises a hand, waving, from the driver’s seat, and Jamie offers an overly cheery smile back, her “bit early for breakfast, isn’t it, mate?” called after him a little too loud against the easy quiet of dawn.

It’s punctuated by a groan from Dani, still on the cushions and rolling, flopping onto her back, behind her.

They’re quiet after that, gathering up the cushions and returning them to the greenhouse.

“Good, uh, instincts there,” Jamie says, breaking their silence as they trudge back to the manor, “dragging me down like that.”

Dani’s smile is placid, her eyes mischievous, when she responds. “You were able to get out of it pretty easily.”

“Thanks,” Jamie starts to say, but Dani continues before she can finish speaking.

“You get pinned often?” Dani continues, finishing with a smirk, a flourish to her self-satisfaction, indulgent and unabashed.

Jamie flushes, keeps walking.

Dani raises her eyebrows.

Jamie glances at Dani out of the corner of her eye as they near the entryway, and when she finds Dani watching her closely, Jamie leans in, knocking their shoulders together. 

Dani bites her lip, and, grinning, follows her inside.


“Will you teach me?”

Jamie, seated on the bathroom floor and slouching back against the counter, glances away from her nails and up at the shower curtain. “What?”

“Will you teach me,” Dani says again, “to do… That. Get out when… When someone… Pins you.”

There’s a pause.

In the shower, Dani holds her breath. Waits. Wishes she could steal a glimpse of Jamie’s face.

When Jamie finally speaks, her voice is wry, deliberate. “You plan on getting pinned often?”

Dani hums to herself.

Lets Jamie wait this time.

Does not expect to hear Jamie’s voice a moment later, so much closer, drifting in, from just the other side of the shower curtain.

“You plan,” Jamie says again, voice lower now, but softer, somehow, almost pleading, “on getting pinned often?”

Jamie’s met by Dani’s hand, flicking a handful of water at her from around the shower curtain, and immediately recoils, dancing backwards with an “oi!” 

Dani’s laugh, loud and bright, is amplified by the tile around them.

A beat.

“Poppins,” Jamie says, an edge seeping into her voice that leaves Dani, rinsing conditioner out of her hair, on alert, “why are you taking a cold shower?”

Another beat.

“Have you been taking cold showers after all of our workouts?”

“I––”

“Is that why you were so excited when I finally figured out how to actually heat your towels?”

“No,” Dani says, but it’s too forceful, too fast, and Jamie knows her, unfailingly, all too well. “It’s not hot yet,” Dani adds, frantic, her hands scrubbing at her scalp, “the water. The water isn’t… It’s still heating up.” 

“I’m sure it is,” Jamie muses, leaning back against the wall alongside the shower. “I hope you know, though,” she says, grinning as she crosses her arms, waiting, content, “just for that, I’m gonna pin ya as soon as you’re out of the shower.”

“Hey,” Dani reaches down, shutting off the water, tone cutting, fond, “just because you’re dumb enough to hypothetically fight wrapped in a towel doesn’t mean I am.”

Jamie’s brow furrows, even as she grabs the nearest towel from the radiator, passes it to her. “Did you just call me dumb?”

“Maybe.” Dani grins as she pats herself dry, toweling her hair before wrapping the towel, snug, around her middle.

“Now I’m really gonna do it.”

“Yeah,” Dani huffs, chuckling as she steps out of the shower, “okay.”

She should’ve expected it, really, Dani thinks, the balls of her feet spinning against the bathmat as soon as she’s out of the shower. What was it Jamie had said, her mind wonders dimly, any capacity for thought slipping away, her gasp sharp as her shoulders collide with the cool tile of the bathroom wall. 

I never say anything I don’t mean, yeah?

She had said, Dani thinks, she would pin her.

As soon as you’re out of the shower.

When Dani had entertained the thought before, under the cold rush of the showerhead, fingers tangled in her own hair, she hadn’t imagined herself wrapped in a towel.

“Told you,” Jamie murmurs, leaning in, her lips grazing the shell of Dani’s ear, “I would do it.”

Dani’s wrists press against Jamie’s fingers above their heads. “Didn’t doubt you,” she whispers back. 

Was hoping you would, she thinks.

Jamie makes a noise, satisfied, hungry, low in her throat.

“Jamie…” Dani whispers again, turning her head, bumping Jamie’s cheek with her nose, urging her back, just enough to find her eyes, desperate and shining in the light of the bathroom.

“Yeah?” Jamie’s voice is rough, her fingers tightening around Dani’s wrists.

“Technically, you’re not… You can’t… Teach me to… To do what you did,” Dani tugs the corner of her lip between her teeth, eyes wide, “not when we’re… Like this.”

There’s a flicker of doubt, of worry, across Jamie’s face, her brows furrowing.

“I’m not… On my back,” Dani continues, “not like you were. Then, I mean.”

Oh, Jamie thinks.

“So I think,” the words spill out of Dani now, teetering and determined, “you should take me to your bed. Show me there.”

Oh.

“Take me to bed, Jamie,” Dani breathes, and never, Jamie thinks, has a breath felt so corporeal, so resolute, “please.”

Neither of them register moving, neither of them know when exactly it is that Dani’s hands drop, when Jamie takes one of them in her own, wrapping hers around it and leading Dani slowly, carefully, through air thick and unmoving, through the bathroom, through the doorway, into Jamie’s room.

They only know Dani, sinking slowly down onto the edge of Jamie’s bed, eyes locked, crystalline and sure, on Jamie’s, sliding, backwards and up, along the mattress. 

They only know Jamie, crawling carefully up Dani’s body, a knee settling on either side of her waist, leaning forward as her fingers find, wrap around, Dani’s wrists, lifting them, pressing them into the pillows above her head.

They only know each other, leaning in, each pressing into the other, Dani’s back arching, warm towel meeting the bare skin of Jamie’s abdomen, Jamie’s fingers threading into Dani’s as she leans, stretching, against her, Jamie’s breath warm on Dani’s lips.

“Like this?” Jamie whispers.

“Like this,” Dani whispers back.

And then Hannah screams.

Hannah screams, and it shatters, and Jamie’s off of Dani and off of the bed and out of the room before either of them can breathe again, a rushed “stay there!” hurled over her shoulder towards Dani, Jamie’s bare feet echoing against the hardwood as she sprints towards the wing across the manor, towards the master bedroom, towards the sound of Hannah’s voice.

And Dani stays.

Chapter Text

Two weeks. 

Dani had stayed.

Two weeks, the visiting doctor tells them outside of Jamie’s bedroom, Hannah listening, nodding, Dani anxious and agitated and hanging onto his every word.

Dani had stayed, hadn’t bolted after Jamie, had only leapt, immediately, across the hall to stand positioned outside Flora and Miles’ rooms, knocking, insistent, at Miles’ door, stammering through the wood that he and Flora should lock their doors, should stay away from their windows, should wait, safe, until one of their grown-ups told them to come out again.

Two weeks of rest.

Dani had stayed until she hadn’t, until Hannah had screamed again, screamed that it was safe, that he was gone, vanished beyond the treeline, but that Jamie… Jamie––

Two weeks to recover from the concussion––“and she’s lucky that’s all it is,” the doctor had disclosed, leaning in towards Hannah, glancing sideways at Dani, Dani’s thumbnail trapped between her teeth, “taking a spill off the parapet like that”––with no reading, TV, or physical exertion of any kind. 

Dani had stayed until she hadn’t, had skidded down the hallway of the old wing, into the Wingraves’ old room, feet slapping against the stone of the parapet, and Hannah had been leaning over the edge, staring down, horrified, and there had been Jamie, on the ground.

(“If she were one of the children,” the doctor had confided with a wink, “I’d make up for the television ban with a ‘no schoolwork’ rule, but…”

Dani couldn’t begin to explain that “no schoolwork” would very much apply to Jamie, that it would be the first thing Jamie would protest, before physical exertion, before reading, and that Dani, chest tight, would want to protest it too.

She would, however, she assures herself, be quick to quip afterwards that Jamie herself is very much one of the children. That Jamie, with her marker dumping and her grape throwing and her hair pulling, might be worse, actually.)

Dani had told Hannah, words spitfire and thoughtless, to go back to the kids, to call for Owen to call the doctor, had already been halfway out of the room, halfway down the stairs, halfway out the door, and only then had she stilled, waiting, kneeling, alongside Jamie.

Two weeks.

This, shuffling her weight from one foot to the next, listening desperately to the doctor and glancing nervously through Jamie’s open door every few words, is the culmination of the first time Dani has left her side since. 

Dani can handle two weeks.

Dani doesn’t want to leave her again.

On the first day, she shows up.

The doctor’s barely come and gone, Dani refusing to see him out the door, Hannah walking him out instead, suppressing a grin and without so much as a second glance at Dani, whom she’d left, hovering, just over Jamie’s bed.

Jamie’s barely turned heavy eyes, mischief, despite her fall, intact and shining, to Dani with a “you hear that? No physical exertion… Of any kind,” Dani rolling her eyes and grinning in spite of herself.

Dani’s barely acquiesced when Jamie pats the bed next to her with a lazy “c’mere, Poppins,” hopping up onto Jamie’s bed and barely hesitating once she’s there, crawling to Jamie’s side and leaning, knees hugged to her chest, back against her headboard. 

She’s barely let Jamie’s head fall, softly, shameless in her concussed daze, to her shoulder, has only just ducked hers to whisper an “I was so scared, Jamie” into dust-mussed curls, when there are footsteps outside and hushed voices and why, Dani wonders, not quite frantically enough to move, to leave Jamie to hold up her own head, is Hannah back so quickly––

“…just up here. Oh,” Hannah stops, eyebrows raised, in the doorway.

The woman next to her, however, a picture of perfect precision––somehow, despite the stain on her pale pink blouse––doesn’t even blink. 

Instead, she sweeps in, barely acknowledging the weight of Dani’s gaze, glued to her as she crosses the room, and settles, perched, on the other edge of Jamie’s bed.

She folds her hands in her lap, grins wickedly down at Jamie, and, Dani’s throat feels tight, tighter, looks right at home.

Jamie, for her part, barely moves; she only drags her eyes up to those of the woman next to her, glinting and sharp in the afternoon light. 

It’s tense, Dani realizes dumbly.

Her eyes flick to Hannah, standing, stoic, in the doorway. Her smile is serene, and when Dani’s eyes find hers, she betrays nothing, only shrugs, nodding back towards the woman opposite Dani on the bed.

No one says anything.

Jamie fidgets next to her, her hand slipping under the covers, coming to rest, unmoving, along the bend of her waist.

Silence, still.

And then the woman laughs.

The woman laughs, throwing her head back, and it’s delighted, Dani thinks, delighted and musical and hanging, ringing, in the air long after she’s finished. 

Whoever she is, Dani decides sourly, delight looks good on her.

Next to her, Jamie rolls her eyes.

That, Dani considers, clenching her first, unclenching it, sliding her hand under the sheet next to her, is a small blessing.

“Rebecca,” Jamie’s voice is smaller than Dani’s used to, tired, “fancy seeing you here.”

“Hey, you,” Rebecca grins, lilting and conspiratorial, “you’re looking well.”

Jamie huffs, her hand splaying sideways beneath the sheet.

Dani swallows.

“Nice of you to notice,” Jamie’s eyes fall back, away from the woman––Rebecca, Dani corrects herself––and she presses them shut, breathing in deeply.

“A little bird told me you might need some help out here,” Rebecca says, grinning wider, “told me you took a little tumble.” 

“A little bird,” Jamie’s laugh is strained, hollow, and Dani feels herself tense at the sound, “huh.”

Rebecca hums.

Dani’s hand slips against the sheet beneath it, drifts sideways.

“Not sure any little bird I know,” Jamie continues, pacing herself, “would take well to being called a little bird.”

Rebecca sniffs. “Always the teacher’s pet, aren’t you, Three-Toed? What Vi doesn’t know isn’t going to––”

Jamie’s hand, inches away, doesn’t move.

“What,” Dani interjects, impatient and brash, “does that mean?”

Rebecca looks at Dani for the first time, eyebrow raised. “Which part?” 

Dani blinks.

Underneath the covers, Jamie’s pinkie grazes, nudges hers.

“Th– Three-Toed,” Dani’s voice skips, and she forces herself to hold Rebecca’s gaze, “why’d you… What’s it mean?”

“Three-Toed Taylor,” Rebecca replies easily, unfazed.

Dani stares at her.

Jamie keeps her eyes closed, breathing slowly, methodically, between them.

“I’ve seen her toes,” Dani’s counter is belated, and her voice is rising, challenging, her eyes trained, unblinking, on Rebecca, “and she has all ten.”

Rebecca, Dani thinks, looks even more delighted than she had before. “Have you, now?”

There’s a tiny, strangled noise in the back of Jamie’s throat.

“Three-toed,” Rebecca says again, slower this time, “like the sloths? Usually slow, cuddly little things? Hang out in trees?”

Jamie’s pinkie slides over Dani’s slowly, deliberately, dragging along the length of her finger.

Dani sucks in a breath, holds Rebecca’s gaze. “I know what sloths are. I just… I’m not sure I understand the connection.”

“Oh,” Rebecca’s eyes float from Dani to Jamie, then back again, the corners of her mouth curling upwards, “did she not… Did she not tell you about Panama?” 

“Panama?” Dani’s voice pitches, cracks.

“Haven’t had the chance,” Jamie grumbles, “to talk about Panama. Been too busy,” she opens her eyes, turning her head to glare at Rebecca and making it halfway before she lets it fall, flopping, back onto Dani’s shoulder, “doing my job.”

“Your job,” Rebecca muses, eyes flitting over to Hannah, leaning against the doorframe, listening, her hands clasped loosely in front of her, “right. Been working overtime, have you?”

Jamie’s pinkie curls around Dani’s.

“Overtime,” Jamie echoes.

Dani’s pinkie curls back.

“Early mornings…” Rebecca looks at Dani now, both eyebrows raised. “Doing wind sprints?”

“Do wind sprints every morning, on every job,” Jamie murmurs, eyes drifting shut again, “done wind sprints with you.”

“Dani,” Rebecca says abruptly, and Dani clenches her teeth, her shoulders rolling instinctively back, “tell me. Are you a nurse?”

Dani blinks. “I–– No, I’m a––”

“Then why,” Rebecca folds her hands neatly in front of her, leaning across Jamie to smile prettily at Dani, “are you here at Jamie’s bedside?”

Dani opens her mouth to retort––she knows Rebecca knows everything about her, knows by now Rebecca must have read her background check and then some––but Jamie’s voice, louder and steadier than it’s been all morning, interjects.

“Can’t do anything for myself, can I?” She pushes herself up with her free hand, sitting up against her headboard and turning, cringing, to face Rebecca. “Concussion protocol and all. Need someone to…” She pauses, purses her lips.

Thinks.

“Read to me,” she says finally, resolutely. “I need someone to read to me.”

Rebecca’s eyebrows inch higher. “And since when has concussion protocol ever stopped you before?”

Dani’s brows pinch together, and she squeezes Jamie’s pinkie tightly with her own. 

Jamie, Jamie can practically hear Dani saying, knows she would be hissing it in her ear right now if not for Hannah and Rebecca and the unspoken standoff charging the air, how many concussions have you had, exactly?

Jamie squeezes Dani’s pinkie back, one, two, three times.

Next to her, Dani squeaks.

Scoots closer, just barely.

Jamie watches Rebecca watch it happen.

Hannah watches Jamie watching Rebecca.

“What is she reading you, then?” Rebecca says after a moment, eyes drifting back to Jamie.

Jamie narrows her eyes, puffing out her chest the best she can. “Emily Dickinson.”

“Jamie,” Rebecca laughs, “you hate poetry.”

Across from her, Dani watches carefully, eyes darting between Jamie and Rebecca with every volley.

“Maybe I learned I don’t hate it after all,” Jamie shrugs. “Maybe your… Opinions can change.”

Rebecca hums at that, considering, and leans in to peer, inquisitive, at Jamie. “Are you sure,” she says, eyes twinkling, “we’re still talking about poetry?”

Jamie flushes. 

“Rude,” Jamie mumbles, slouching back against the headboard, her head finding Dani’s shoulder again. “Rude is what you are, Rebecca Jessel.”

“Never rude,” Rebecca grins, “only keen.”

“Too keen,” Jamie groans, turning her head to bury her face in Dani’s shoulder, “always have been.” 

“Well I’d have to be, wouldn’t I?” Rebecca stands, smoothing her blouse. “To keep up with the likes of you. Always in her head, Jamie Taylor,” Rebecca says to Dani, “have to be a bloody mind reader to know where you stand with her.”

“Know where I stand just fine,” Dani says evenly, meeting Rebecca’s eyes over the mess of Jamie’s curls, “she’s made it perfectly clear to me.”

Rebecca looks, just for a moment, surprised. “Perfectly clear, has she?”

“Perfectly,” Dani repeats, harder, surer, “clear.”

“Well,” and Rebecca turns, sweeping around the corner of Jamie’s bed to cross to Hannah, by the door, “I suppose one is always learning, aren’t they?”

“Suppose so.”

“I’m…” Rebecca hesitates, continues, “going to go meet the children. I’m happy to keep them occupied today,” her voice dips, strays softer, lower, “if you want to stay with our Jamie. You can…” She pauses again, and the corner of her lips curls upwards, “read to her. Emily Dickinson,” she nods at Jamie’s bedside table, at the books there, waiting, in their tidy row, “and all.”

And then she’s gone.

She’s gone, Hannah wrapping an arm around her waist and ducking her head, murmuring excitedly as she leads her to the kitchen, and Dani feels like she can breathe again.

“I take it you two know each other?” The two of them are alone, together, in Jamie’s bed for the second time that day, and Dani’s voice breaks, steel and surety cast finally, needlessly, aside.

She feels Jamie’s laugh more than she hears it, a warm breath against her shoulder through the cotton of Jamie’s t-shirt, pulled hastily on somewhere between Owen, her toes biting his heels as he’d hefted Jamie up the stairs and to her bed, and the doctor, calling her back in after finishing Jamie’s examination, having shooed her, hovering, away.

(She had barely, Dani had thought then, glaring at the doctor as she’d stalked out of the room, been hovering.)

“Becca and I have been friends a long time,” Jamie mumbles into Dani’s shoulder, “worked together even longer. She’s my,” she turns her head, staring up at Dani, eyes shining, “work wife.”

Dani’s pinkie tenses around Jamie’s.

“You’d never say ‘work wife.’”

“No?”

“You,” Dani narrows her eyes, whispers, “are just trying to get a rise out of me.”

“Is it working?” 

“No.”

“That no,” Jamie grins dazedly up at her, “sounds a lot like ‘yes,’ Poppins.”

Dani scoffs.

“Becca’s a good person,” Jamie continues, and Dani’s pinkie loosens, “you two’d actually… You have a lot in common. Think you could be friends, even, if…” 

“If?” Dani arches an eyebrow.

“If you weren’t so…” Jamie pauses. Furrows her brow. Glances, nervous, up at Dani.

“So what?”

“Nothing,” Jamie says quickly, “never mind.” 

“So what, Jamie?”

Jamie ignores her. Pivots.

“You,” she says brightly instead, scooting in closer to Dani, grinning again, “were awful worried about me, Dani Clayton.” 

“And you,” Dani lets her head fall onto Jamie’s, “were awful reckless, Jamie Taylor.”

“Yeah, well,” Jamie huffs, “my job to be reckless, isn’t it?”

Dani’s voice is flat. “Reckless? Jamie, Hannah told me you jumped off the parapet.” 

“I did,” Jamie says proudly, and Dani feels her inflate, proud, next to her, “I did, and I would’ve been fine if––”

“But you weren’t fine.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Mm.”

“Besides,” Jamie continues, nudging her foot against Dani’s, “I’ve made bigger jumps before.”

“You have, have you?”

“Mmhm. Made them just fine. Made a massive one in-–” Jamie feels Dani tense again, can sense the scowl spreading, petulant and scorned, across her face.

“Panama?” Dani arches an eyebrow, and Jamie feels, despite the pounding in her head, that she's in more danger now than she's been all day.

“No,” Jamie says slowly, “Amsterdam actually.”

Dani sighs, and Jamie feels her relax again.

“My job,” Jamie says, softer this time, “sometimes, is to not care about myself so you can be okay.” 

Dani’s quiet.

“Okay?” Jamie whispers.

Under the covers, Dani’s pinkie shifts, and her hand slides over Jamie’s.

“Then it’s my job,” she says, slowly, carefully, “to care enough about you for the both of us. Okay?”

Jamie bites the inside of her cheek.

Dani waits.

“Okay,” Jamie whispers.

They’re quiet again after that, and Dani thinks Jamie’s fallen asleep, is about to let her own eyes drift shut, when:

“The both of us?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re saying… You won’t just care about me for me, but for… Me and you?”

“That’s what I said, Jamie,” Dani’s voice is patient, dozing.

“So you care about me?” It’s sleepy and smug and strung with hope, and Dani, head still resting on top of Jamie’s, isn’t sure if the woman next to her is smirking or beaming.

“Sure looks that way, huh?”

“How embarrassing,” Jamie murmurs, stifling a yawn, and her eyes drift shut as Dani’s fingers close around hers.


On the second day, Jamie finds herself wondering, briefly, if she misses waking up to Dani’s shamelessness, her room all the emptier without the relentless rap of Dani’s knuckles against the door. 

(No, she quickly corrects herself, she doesn’t.)

She’s just rolling over, curling back into herself, to face the door, eyes heavy, when there’s a clatter, a “goddammit!”, its edges rounded, its vowels flat, and the sound of metal and glass, clinking savagely together.

Jamie makes a mental note to herself to be careful what she wishes for.

“Breakfast,” Dani announces, stumbling into Jamie’s room clutching a tray almost as big as she is, bright and brash as she shoulders the door open, “for the happy––” She pauses, peering at Jamie. “Well,” Dani sweeps into the room, kicking the door shut behind her with her heel, “I thought you’d be happy, I guess–– Patient.”

She drops clumsily down onto the edge of Jamie’s bed, balancing the oversized, overstuffed tray on her lap, and grins widely, all teeth and candid pride. “Bon appetit.”

Jamie stares at her.

“Go on,” Dani nods down at the tray, wobbling as she sinks deeper into the mattress, “dig in.”

“You,” Jamie says finally, eyeing Dani as she pushes herself up, “woke me up.”

“I didn’t,” Dani retorts blandly, eyes skittering down to the hem of Jamie’s tank top, sleep-tangled around her torso, “you were already awake.”

Jamie scowls. “You don’t know that.”

“I do,” Dani’s eyes flick back up to Jamie’s, and she adjusts the tray on her lap. “Your eyes were open when I came in.”

“Because,” Jamie shoves her tank top back down, and Dani’s eyelids flutter, “I heard a noise. Sounded like someone was trying to break into my room.” 

“Good thing,” Dani chirps, smile pretty and predatory all at once, “you have Rebecca looking out for you now.”

“Oh, don’t start, Dani, really––”

“You’re no different than Flora,” Dani continues, wistful, “or Miles, or Hannah, or Owen. Or,” her tone drips, and she reaches for a biscuit, arranged carefully on a side plate, “little old me. Really Jamie,” she reaches across the bedspread, proffering it to Jamie, “you should eat.”

“Getting crumbs on my bed,” Jamie mumbles.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to speak up. I can’t––”

“You’re getting,” Jamie says louder, too much louder, attempted antagonism backfiring, and she cringes, “crumbs on my bed. Have a plate right there, don’t you?”

Dani withdraws her hand, delighted, and lifts the biscuit to her own lips instead. “You,” she announces, crunching happily into it, “are grumpy.”

Jamie crosses her arms. “M’not grumpy.”

“You are.”

“I’m not!”

Dani raises her eyebrows. “No?”

Jamie surveys her for a moment, taking her in. “No,” she says finally.

“Fine,” Dani says, “suit yourself.” She takes another bite. Grins.

Jamie watches her.

Dani ignores her, nibbling happily at what’s left of her biscuit.

“What?” Jamie says finally.

“What what?”

“You didn’t argue with me.”

Dani raises her eyebrows.

“You accepted my answer,” Jamie says, needling, “and you didn’t argue with me.”

“Did I?” Dani glances back down at the tray, and when she turns back to Jamie, she’s met with a faceful of pillow. “Hey!”

“Thought this breakfast,” Jamie says as she tucks her pillow carefully back behind her shoulders, “was for me.”

“Thought you,” Dani leans in towards Jamie, tray tipping precariously in her lap, “didn’t want to get crumbs on your bed.” 

“Won’t,” Jamie says, reaching, wrapping her fingers around the handle, lightly tugging, “if I’m eating over the tray.”

Dani tightens her grip around the handles, resisting Jamie’s pull for the briefest moment, and then she’s grinning, leaning over with the tray, settling it, scrupulous, in Jamie’s lap.

“There,” she whispers, lingering, and then she’s pulling away to resettle herself, scooting up to lean against the headboard, watching Jamie, alight and expectant. 

Jamie glances at her out of the corner of her eye and then peers at the tray, appraising, eyes flitting from sausage and bacon to beans and toast to tomatoes and eggs, settling, finally, on the kettle resting in the corner.

She glances at Dani again.

“Hannah did the tea,” Dani says quickly, words spilling, reassuring, out of her, “so you don’t have to, uh, worry about that one. Figured,” she ducks her head, shy, suddenly, Jamie thinks, biting her lip, “you’d want to wait until I’d… Mastered? It a bit more. Which will happen,” she adds, bravado rushing back into her voice, her jaw, her shoulders, “in time. You’ll see. You’ll see, and… You’ll… You’ll like it. Just you wait.”

Jamie doesn’t realize she’s staring, doesn’t realize she’s watching Dani grinning, proud, until Dani’s tilting her head. 

“Are you… Gonna eat?” Dani prods. “Because if you’re not…” Her fingers drift towards Jamie’s lap, towards the tray again, and Jamie swats at them.

“Don’t bring me breakfast,” Jamie picks up her fork, a smile begrudging, teasing, the corner of her mouth, “if you’re just gonna try and eat it.” 

“Hey,” Dani knocks her foot against Jamie’s, “I only tried to eat it because you weren’t.”

Jamie hums, cutting into a piece of sausage, and Dani watches her, the two of them quiet as Jamie eats.

Jamie’s two sausages, one egg, and half a tomato down, mopping up beans with her toast, when she pauses. Glances over at Dani again.

Dani, still watching her, eyes laden with a softness she seems to only reserve for the children, doesn’t look away. 

Jamie puts her fork down. “Why’re you doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Taking…” Jamie swallows. “Taking care of me.”

Dani looks at her.

Jamie looks back, brow gently furrowing the longer Dani stares.

“Well,” Dani finally speaks, pursing her lips, “who else is going to?”

Jamie blinks.

“I mean,” Dani flaps her hand uselessly between them, and Jamie’s not sure if she’s gesturing at herself or the tray or something else entirely, “who else knows you sneak two biscuits every morning after breakfast?”

Jamie’s first defense is a block, a raised eyebrow, then a counter. “But you didn’t bring me two biscuits, did you? You ate one and left me another.”

Dani’s answering smile is softer, Jamie thinks, than it has any right to be. “I didn’t,” she says. “Look again.”

Jamie looks.

There are two biscuits left on the side plate.

“I brought you three.”

Jamie desperately hopes Dani doesn’t see her blush, blushes all the more when Dani does, her eyes glued to the spread, blazing from Jamie’s chest, across her collarbone and along her neck, tipping her ears and filling her cheeks.

“How’d you…” Jamie’s mouth is dry, her voice brittle, “how’d you know I sneak two biscuits? And how’d you know,” she glances down at the tray again, then back at Dani, “which kinds?”

This time, Dani blushes, and she doesn’t look away.


On the third day, Dani realizes nobody’s called Mikey.

Jamie hasn’t been out of her bed. Doesn’t have a phone in her room. Is too out of it, maybe, Dani thinks, to realize.

Dani braves asking Rebecca for his number.

Rebecca braves calling Viola––”doesn’t like to be disturbed,” she explains, picking up the phone, “but she’s always had a soft spot for old Three-Toed”––to get it.

When Dani slips away to call him after Jamie’s fallen asleep that night, he doesn’t sound the least bit surprised to hear Dani’s voice on the other line.

When Dani tells Jamie about it the next morning, she only grins languidly. “S’not that I forgot,” she sighs, settling back into her pillow after finishing her second biscuit, “it’s that I knew you wouldn’t, either.”

When Dani calls him back that night, and then the next, and when the state of their conversations begins to change, to shift from updates about Jamie’s condition to stories, swapped over bellyfuls of laughter, about the woman fast asleep upstairs, Mikey, Dani muses as she drifts off to sleep, the bathroom doors between her and Jamie bared, wide open between them, is kind enough not to acknowledge it.


On the fourth day, Dani realizes it.

She’s lecturing Flora and Miles about gravity again, about orbits, and the endless circle, the slow pull, infallible and absolute, of one body to another, when it hits her.

She misses Jamie.

It’s not like Jamie’s gone, she reasons with herself; Dani had seen her earlier that morning, Jamie rubbing sleep and stray curls out of her eyes as Dani had let herself into her room, toting another heaping breakfast tray and depositing it into Jamie’s lap with a wink and an “and you thought I was done with my morning workouts.”

(Jamie had only rolled her eyes and told her to stand up straighter next time. “Bad form,” she’d mumbled, “and you’re already short. Don’t wanna make yourself any shorter, do you?”

“Jamie,” and Dani had sounded bored, “we’re the same height. Honestly,” she’d shaken her head sadly, dipped towards the bathroom door connecting their rooms, “I expected more from you.”

And Jamie had watched her, incredulous over her eggs, as Dani had promptly busied herself in the bathroom, plugging in her curling iron, door left wide open.)

She misses Jamie in the classroom, splayed across the floor or the science desk or the piano bench, grinning mischievously up at her, scissors tucked haphazardly into the front pocket of her overalls.

She misses Jamie cornering her before lunch, backing her into a desk or the door, smirking and smug. 

She misses Jamie, bent over Miles’ desk or perched on the edge of Flora’s, thoughtful as she guides Miles through iambic pentameter or staring blankly, confused, as Flora explains, for the second time, how to multiply fractions.

She misses Jamie, smiling softly at her from the back of the classroom when she thinks Dani’s not looking; grinning easily at a joke floating, unnoticed by Miles and Flora, between them; smirking, infuriating, as she presses Dani, once again, not quite to boiling.

She misses Jamie in the morning, and she misses Jamie in the afternoon, and she misses Jamie in the evening, dragging Dani along as she traverses the grounds, fingers wrapped confidently around her wrist, crickets a quiet cadence to their murmurs, everything and nothing shared between sweeps and snipes, careful jabs never quite cutting, underscored by a softness seeping slowly in, too bright to peer at directly.

It isn’t that Rebecca makes for poor company.

(If anything, Dani figures, reluctant, Jamie had been right: She can see a bit of herself in the woman, can see the two of them being friends.)

It’s that Rebecca fits herself neatly into the classroom, smooth and unobtrusive, settling, straight-backed, on the piano bench, her hands folded in her lap as she listens, curious, to Dani, eyes sweeping attentively across the windows every half hour.

It’s that Rebecca is always the first to slip out of the classroom before lunch, a polite smile and a nod sent in Dani’s direction, her laugh lively as she walks the children to the kitchen.

It’s that Rebecca smiles over Flora’s shoulder, shoots Dani a “Flora’s quite good at fractions, isn’t she?” before drifting over to Miles, hovering over him as she watches him work.

It’s that Dani doesn’t want Rebecca to look at her at all, and that Rebecca doesn’t, not outside of a friendly smile each morning; a nod of camaraderie when Dani successfully articulates a concept particularly difficult for an eight-year old; a keen look of satisfied appraisal when Dani informs Miles they have to wait for Rebecca to join them if they want to go outside, if they want to hunt, happily, for tadpoles.

It’s that Rebecca is there in the morning, and that she’s there in the afternoon, and that she’s there in the evening, poking her head into Jamie’s room as Dani sits with her at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, even as Rebecca offers to stay with Flora and Miles so that Dani can stay with Jamie, even as meals shift into after school shift into evenings, even, Jamie confides to Dani one afternoon, as it “sounds to me like she’s coddling them a bit, yeah?”

Eventually, Dani snaps.

Rebecca’s poking her head into Jamie’s room for the second time in one night, innocent smile belied by the gleam in her eyes as she slips through the cracked door. “You two doing alright? I know I checked up on you before dinner, but Hannah and I thought perhaps––”

“I’ve got this,” Dani interjects, and she couldn’t, Rebecca thinks, be offended if she wanted to, taking in the way Dani, small and ferocious, is curled around Jamie, “thanks.”

Rebecca smiles softly, and stepping backwards, slips back through the open door. “So you do,” she murmurs, ducking her head, and it’s the closest, Dani thinks, she’s seen Rebecca come to apologetic yet.

“Taylor was,” Rebecca muses then, just loud enough for Dani to hear as she pulls the door softly shut behind her, “right about you, wasn’t she? Stubborn little thing.” She chuckles again, and Dani listens, waiting, as her footsteps start to fade.

Jamie’s grinning when Dani rounds on her.

“You told her about me?”

“I––”

“When did you even have the time?”

“I told her about you before she even got here, Dani, before all this––”

“How long,” Dani narrows her eyes, fists clenching, tight, around Jamie’s sheets, “have you been talking about me?”

Jamie grins wider. “Wouldn’t you like to––”

Dani swats at Jamie’s arm. “How long, Jamie?”

“Oi!” Jamie presses a hand to her arm, feigning injury. “You can’t hit an injured woman!”

“You have a traumatic brain injury, not a… Broken arm, or… Or something.” Dani rolls her eyes, unrelenting, and pokes at Jamie’s hand. “How long,” her voice drops, and it's a friendly danger, Jamie thinks, a familiar danger that she, traumatic brain injury or not, wants to dive freely into, “have you been talking about me?”

Jamie remains nonplussed. 

“Your hands are cold,” she remarks mildly. “Let me see them.”

Dani blinks, and Jamie’s reaching out, grabbing her hands, pursing her lips as she turns them over in her own.

“What are you––”

Jamie sits up straighter, shifting both of Dani’s hands into one of her own, reaching her other up to run along her arms, to press its back to Dani’s cheek. “You’re freezing,” she mumbles. 

“You’re avoiding––”

“You’re freezing,” Jamie says again, decidedly, and then pushes at Dani’s shoulder, nudging her off of the bed. “Up.” 

Dani obliges.

Jamie furls her covers back, then looks expectantly at Dani. “Back in.”

“I–– What?”

“Back in,” Jamie repeats, waving a hand at the empty space next to her. “For someone so intent on taking care of everyone, you’re doing a shite job taking care of yourself. Staying cold when there are perfectly good blankets right here.” She scoffs. “Paragon of hypocrisy, you are.”

“Says the pot to the kettle,” Dani mumbles, toeing her socks off and climbing back into the bed next to Jamie, sliding seamlessly in next to her as Jamie stretches across her, pulling the covers back over them both.

“Here,” Dani’s grumble is gone, her voice stilted, dropping to a whisper as she scoots closer to Jamie, “this way you can reach.”

Jamie swallows, her hand stilling, hesitating, as she tucks the duvet in around Dani’s waist. “Thanks.”

“You can…” Dani starts, her jeans pressing, tentative, into Jamie’s bare thigh next to her.

“Yeah?” Jamie breathes, her hand sliding across Dani’s torso, her thigh pressing back, insistence burgeoning, into Dani’s.

Dani takes a deep breath. Teases Jamie’s calf with her toes, and, sliding her feet under Jamie’s legs, opens her mouth.

Before she can say anything, Jamie yelps.

Jamie yelps, and Dani recoils immediately. “I’m sorry,” she says quickly, already pulling away, already sitting up, her babbling frantic, “I’m sorry, I just–– I thought–– You said––”

“Jesus, Dani,” Jamie reaches out, wrapping sure fingers around Dani’s arm, tugging her back down, “you’re fine, yeah? Breathe.”

Dani freezes.

Stares.

And then, Dani lets herself breathe.

Dani lets herself breathe, a deep, shuddering inhale, and Dani lets Jamie pull her back to the mattress, eyeing her skeptically as Jamie tugs her closer, closer still than they’d been a moment ago.

“Your feet,” Jamie gives Dani a final yank, pulling Dani into her, and reaches under the covers, “are like bloody ice buckets. Here,” her hands loop under Dani’s knees and Dani shivers, Jamie easing Dani’s legs back down and guiding them, gingerly, to tuck back under her own, “okay?”

Dani lets herself breathe, eyes dropping to the silhouette of Jamie’s hands, blanketed, under the covers, over Dani’s legs.

Jamie’s fingers linger, wrapping, tightening, around Dani’s knees.

Dani lets herself breathe, slow and shaking, as her feet press, testing, against Jamie’s calves.

Jamie inhales sharply, but squeezes, reassurance and plea, at once, for Dani to stay, and drags her fingers up, pressure light, firm, against Dani’s leg, swerving across the swell of her thighs, dipping just inside before arcing back out again, ghosting across the crease, dimpled in the denim of Dani’s jeans, of her hip. 

Dani lets herself breathe, her eyes dragging back up to meet Jamie’s, fixed and heavy on hers.

Jamie’s fingers press cautiously into Dani’s hip, and Dani sighs, her eyes fluttering shut.

Jamie’s hand starts to drift inward, but then there’s a noise from the hallway––Rebecca, Dani makes out dumbly, ushering the kids into their bedrooms––and Jamie jolts, withdrawing her hand, tucking it, instead, into her own lap.

Dani opens her eyes, and looks away.

They don’t move for a moment––Rebecca sees Miles to his room, Flora to hers, and then it’s quiet again, Rebecca's footsteps receding back down the hallway––and Dani’s staring, concentrating, at the covers, crinkled over her own lap, when Jamie’s head flops onto her shoulder.

“You told me,” Dani murmurs, turning her head, bumping her nose softly against Jamie’s curls, “to get under the covers. Because I was cold.”

“The covers,” Jamie mumbles into her shoulder, a hand slipping from her lap to fall between them, “not me. I’m not your personal blanket, Poppins.”

Dani hums.

Jamie makes a noise, disgruntled and delighted, low in her throat.

“Shh,” Dani’s hand slips from her own lap, “my feet are already warmer. You won’t even notice them in a minute.”

“I’ll definitely notice the frostbite,” Jamie grouses, and then her hand finds Dani’s, and their fingers tangle together between them.


On the fifth day, Dani makes a mistake.

She’s settled against the headboard at the end of the day, watching as Jamie, Dani’s backpack plopped in her lap, peers at her Italy patch and purses her lips.

“Still dunno how you sewed this one on backwards,” Jamie mulls, “school teacher and all.”

Dani flushes. “I told you, I––”

“Not criticizin’,” Jamie’s quick to point out, “just observing. Thank god,” she adds, puffing her chest out, “one of us knows how to sew.”

“I know how to sew,” Dani protests, but Jamie’s already shaking her head.

“You don’t,” she says, waving a dismissive hand in Dani’s direction, “or you would’ve fixed it as soon as I pointed it out in the first place. I know you, Poppins,” she glances sideways at Dani and grins, “about time you learn to live with it.”

Dani huffs. Crosses her arms. Stares, sulking, at the wall across the room.

Jamie grins wider, and reaches for the pocket sewing kit between them.

Dani, staring stubbornly at the wall, yawns.

Jamie raises her eyebrows, and reaches for the seam ripper.

Dani’s asleep, her head tipping backwards, her mouth open and snoring softly, before Jamie’s finished removing the stitches.

Jamie glances over.

(Feels a clench, tight, in her chest. Ignores it.)

Another snore.

Jamie glances back over. Watches her. Thinks.

Goes back to Dani’s backpack.

Stops, turns back to her.

Grins.

Dani’s awakened a moment later by Jamie’s finger, poking curiously at her cheek. 

“Hey!” She jolts up, scowling over at Jamie.

Jamie shrugs. “Fell asleep with your mouth open. Didn’t want a… Fly, or something, getting in there.”

“A fly, huh?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie nods, turning back to Dani’s backpack, “a fly.”

“Remind me,” Dani shifts, laying down, and rolls over, curling up with her back to Jamie, “never to sleep with you.”

“Wouldn’t want to,” Jamie replies easily, pulling out the last stitch and lifting the patch, realigning it against Dani’s bag, “you’d be too chatty. Probably starfish, too. Not that it'd matter. Your limbs are too short to be much of a bother.”

“Please,” Dani huffs again, reaching down to wrench the duvet up, “you should be so lucky.”

Later that night, it’s Jamie who shakes Dani awake, Jamie who sends Dani back to her room with her backpack, Italy patch newly reoriented, and Jamie who, watching Dani shuffle sleepily through the bathroom, backpack dangling in the air as she stretches, wishes she hadn’t woken her at all.


On the sixth day, Jamie doesn’t.

On the sixth day, when Dani yawns, when Dani sinks lower into Jamie’s bed, deeper into Jamie’s covers, Jamie lets her.

On the sixth day, when Dani’s head falls against Jamie’s shoulder, Jamie shifts, and Dani shifts with her, nuzzling into Jamie’s chest.

On the sixth day, when Dani, sleep creeping closer and closer, sighs, it’s Jamie’s name that falls from her lips, and Jamie whispers back.

“Yeah?”

Dani tenses, starts to sit up, but Jamie’s hand is already on her back, its weight calming, easing her back down.

“Nothing,” Dani murmurs, letting herself be pulled back against Jamie's chest, be pulled closer.

“Nothing, huh?” Jamie’s already drifting, is halfway to sleep herself, “didn’t sound like nothing.” 

Dani slides a hand up Jamie’s stomach, toying, just for a moment, with the hem of her tank top. “Oh yeah?”

Jamie's breath hitches. “Mmhm.”

“What’d it sound like then?” Dani's hand slips, softly, underneath Jamie's shirt, sliding slowly, dragging, up her sternum, between her breasts, coming to rest, finally, over her heart.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Jamie murmurs, her free hand reaching up, covering Dani’s, holding it in place.

“If you didn’t have a concussion, I’d––” Dani can feel Jamie’s heart underneath her hand, beating harder, harder still.

“You’d what?” Jamie squeezes her hand, grin sleepy, pleased, even as she drifts.

“I’d… I would… I’d… I… Jamie––” 

On the sixth day, Jamie doesn’t, and when Rebecca pokes her head into Jamie’s room after dinner, she finds the two of them, curled into each other and fast asleep.

Rebecca smiles, and closes the door.

Chapter Text

Dani’s gone when Jamie wakes up. 

Jamie’s not sure what she expected; thinks she should feel something, anything, about the sudden realization of any expectation at all, but instead all she feels is hope, clinging to it with a familiar, long-shuttered desperation as her hand reaches over, as she feels the warmth, lingering, on Dani’s side of the bed.

She can still smell Dani’s shampoo––lavender, though “that, uh, rose? Is really nice,” Dani had admitted the other morning, the shower her own cleansing confessional, “sometimes I just wanna reach out and… Well,” the thought bubbling up, then drifting, like the suds in her hair––on the pillow next to her, on her own, stained, she thinks, across the neckline of her tank top.

She can still feel the weight of Dani’s hand, solid and sure, over her heart, can feel the gentle flex of Dani’s fingers against her chest; she can feel the weight of Dani’s head, nuzzling softly into her shoulder, can feel her nose nudging sleepily at the strap of her tank top, Dani’s lips soft against the freckles dotting her shoulder; she can feel the warmth of Dani’s breath, short, contented sighs as she’d slept, mouth open, against Jamie’s neck. 

Dani’s gone when Jamie wakes up, but Dani had been there.

Dani had been there all night.

Dani had been there all night, had left her own landmarks, indelible in the geography of Jamie’s bed, that she had, that she could, again.

That she might come back.

I was here, says the second pair of pillows, shoved, crumpled, up against Jamie’s.

I was here, says the uneven splay of covers, pulled slowly, all at once, away from Jamie, lopsided and melting over Dani’s side of the bed.

I was here, says the scrunchie, neon aqua and in repose on the bedside table. I was here, and I’ll be back.

Jamie’s never, she thinks, been happier to see something so obnoxious as one of Dani Clayton’s scrunchies.

There’s a shuffle, frenzied and familiar, outside her door, and––

“I’m here,” Dani’s stumbling in, triumphant and alight in the morning sun streaming in through Jamie’s window. “Sorry it took so long,” she ducks her head, shifting her weight to her left foot, “Owen wanted to try to explain how to poach eggs again. I wanted,” Dani glances up at Jamie, biting her lip, and her gaze skitters over the unmade bed between them before settling on the floor again, “to be back before you woke up, but…” 

Dani looks different, Jamie thinks, in the light of day. 

(The light, some part of her whispers, some small, quiet part, of this day.)

Her freckles shine in the waking morning, dusted across her nose, her cheeks, their presence insistent, declarative without the overlay of––Jamie squints, thinking back to watching Dani in the bathroom, carefully dotting her cheeks, her nose, her forehead––CoverGirl Natural Ivory.

Her hair is loose, sleep-tousled––Jamie-tousled, Jamie realizes, her stomach flipping giddily over itself––around her shoulders, the sun’s glow a laurel, its canonizing leaves an untamed compliment to the soft ruffle of blonde framing her face.

Her eyes are clear, but not the hard, impermeable crystal Jamie’s grown used to meeting on the other end of a carefully executed counter; if anything, Jamie determines, scouring back to a DIY physics lesson with Miles and Flora, they’re like prisms, welcoming the sun and holding it, sparkling, before letting it go.

Before letting it go, all light and warmth and joy, refracted, suddenly, in a million tiny, shining pieces, when she looks at Jamie.

Who, Jamie wonders, taking in Dani’s smile, small and suffusing in the sunlight, could ever bar Dani from windows when this is the result?

“But?” It’s all Jamie can manage, smile breaking, wide, unrestrained, across her face.

“But…” Dani dips her head, bobbing as she makes her way back over to Jamie, settling next to her on the bed, “I hope this is close enough.” 

“Close enough,”Jamie’s subsequent chuckle is an afterthought, her eyes finding, settling on, Dani’s, “yeah.” 

Dani holds her gaze, and it’s soft, Dani thinks, impossibly soft.

“How’d, uh,” Dani can’t bear it, swallows, looks away, “how’d you sleep?”

“I slept well,” Jamie’s voice matches her eyes, and Dani’s flutter shut, “really well.”

“Go–– Good,” Dani’s fingers clench, unclench, around the handles of the tray. “I’m glad.”

“How about you?” Jamie’s fingers smooth over hers, easing them, carefully, away from the tray. “How’d you,” she slides it over, onto her own lap, and her fingers linger, briefly, on Dani’s, “sleep?”

Dani’s quiet.

Jamie’s fingers squeeze hers.

It’s almost scathing, Dani thinks, how painfully tender Jamie is.

“I… I can’t remember,” she whispers, eyes pressed tightly shut, “the last time I slept this well.”

She doesn’t see the twitch, immediate and ecstatic, of Jamie’s lips, only feels the glide of her fingers, hesitant as they pull away to wrap around her fork.

They’re both quiet again, the easy tinkle of silverware on ceramic and Dani’s breath, deep and paced, the only sounds passing between them.

Jamie breaks the silence. “Poached eggs, huh?”

“Poached eggs,” Dani confirms, her eyes opening, finally, and sliding over to the tray, “and toast.”

“Don’t know the first thing about poaching eggs,” Jamie offers amiably, gingerly forking an egg onto a piece of toast, “might have to teach me.”

“Not sure you have the temperament,” and it’s easy, Dani thinks, sliding back into their repartee, easier, somehow, when made complicated by the thing between them, undeniable even as they dance around it, even as as its flames lick at their feet, at Jamie’s sheets, at a Blondie shirt, its new ownership a pledge unspoken, “requires a certain level of patience. A delicate touch.”

Jamie scowls at her. “I have a delicate touch, I’ll have you know,” she reaches for her toast, “and besides, I’m not the one who’s nearly broken three teacups this week.”

“It was four,” Dani replies, unfazed, “and I’ll believe in this delicate touch of yours when I see it.”

Jamie raises her eyebrows. “Is that an invitation?”

“That depends,” Dani’s answering tone is unforgiving. “Is that an offer?” 

“Do you want it to be?”

“What I want,” Dani reaches across the tray, wrapping her fingers around a biscuit, “is for you to stop asking so many questions.”

Jamie tuts. “Thought you were supposed to be a teacher. Thought you were supposed to nurture curiosity in your students.”

“You,” Dani brandishes her half-eaten biscuit at Jamie,”are an adult.”

Jamie reaches for her tea cup, drinks deeply. “An adult seeking a continuing education.” 

Dani rolls her eyes.

“I’m serious!” 

“You’re always serious,” Dani pops the rest of her biscuit into her mouth, “but fine. What kind of continuing education,” she turns, adjusting, tucking her feet underneath her legs, to face Jamie, “are you seeking, exactly?”

Jamie purses her lips. Reaches up to scratch at her forehead. “I’m still weighing my options,” she says slowly, thoughtfully, “but there’s a couple of things I’m considering.” 

“Oh?”

“Mmhm.” Jamie lifts a slice of toast to her mouth, confident as she balances the egg on top, as she bites into it, markedly less confident when the yolk breaks, when it dribbles down her chin.

“What,” Dani bites back a grin, reaching across the tray for a napkin and bringing it up to the corner of Jamie’s mouth, “are you considering, then?”

“Well, I’m thinking––”

“Jesus, Jamie,” but Dani’s laughing, “maybe swallow your food first?”

Jamie swallows, grins. “You asked.”

Dani throws the napkin at her.

“Anyway,” Jamie grabs at it, crumpling it in her fist before it hits the bed, then smooths it across one of her legs, continuing, “gardening, maybe. Landscaping. But lately, y’know, I’ve been thinking a lot about…” The corner of her mouth quirks up, her eyes sliding to find Dani’s, “anatomy.”

Dani doesn’t even blink. “Don’t you have a… A certificate, or something, in physiology already? For work?”

“I–– Yeah, but––”

“Then why bother with anatomy?” Dani gets up, brushing biscuit crumbs off of her lap––Jamie cringes, eyes following them, as they tumble to the floor––and crosses to the bathroom. “Stick with physiology. You’re not bad at it,” she flashes Jamie a grin over her shoulder as she makes her way to the sink and grabs Jamie’s toothbrush, squeezing a dollop of toothpaste onto the middle and dampening the bristles, “and besides, it’s way more useful anyway. What could you possibly need anatomy for?” 

She crosses back to Jamie, proffering her her toothbrush, and raises a single, daring eyebrow.

“I can brush my own teeth, you know. Get up to go to the bathroom, don’t I?”

Dani hums, shrugs.

“You’re enjoying this,” Jamie accuses.

“And you,” Dani turns, and, crossing back to the bathroom, busies herself with her own toothbrush, brandishing it at Jamie, “are avoiding the question.”

“Am not!”

“Then what,” Dani says again, taking a few steps to lean against the doorframe to Jamie’s room, sliding her toothbrush into her mouth, “could you possibly need anatomy for?”

Jamie stares at her for a moment, then, lifting her toothbrush, shoves it frantically into her mouth. Shrugs apologetically. 

Dani laughs.

“You’re all talk, Jamie Taylor,” she says, turning, padding back to the sink, “all talk and all bluster and nothing to back it up.” 

Jamie scowls, and, swinging her feet off of the mattress, shuffles over to the sink herself, bumping her shoulder against Dani’s and knocking her lightly to the side. “I back it up,” she mumbles, looking petulantly up at Dani after she spits, rinsing her toothbrush and dropping it back in the cup next to the sink. “Back it up just fine.”

Dani, hip resting against the countertop, arches an eyebrow. “Do you?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie reaches for the mouthwash, trying––and failing––to open it.

“See, I’m not sure you do,” Dani reaches for the bottle, opening it easily on her first try and passing it back to Jamie. “It feels like you don’t back anything up without me asking you to first.”

Jamie narrows her eyes at Dani, takes a swig of mouthwash. Passes the bottle back.

Dani only grins, shrugging, and takes a swig herself, locking eyes with Jamie as she swishes it around her mouth.

Jamie raises her eyebrows.

Dani cocks her head.

Jamie purses her lips.

Dani narrows her eyes.

Jamie sticks her foot out, nudges at Dani’s with her toe.

Dani shakes her head, lips, pressed together, starting to curl.

Jamie’s eyes catch the light, twinkle, and her toes drag up Dani’s foot, around her ankle.

Dani’s still shaking her head, vehement now, her smile clamped and wide.

Jamie grins, taking a measured step inward.

Dani watches her carefully.

Jamie takes another step.

Dani doesn’t dare take her eyes, unblinking, off Jamie’s.

Jamie raises her knee, and it’s slow, Dani thinks, painstaking, and then it’s grazing Dani’s thigh.

Dani’s eyelids flicker, but she doesn’t blink.

Jamie’s knee slips between Dani’s thighs, nudges them apart.

Dani’s eyes are wider now, desperate, locked, still, on Jamie’s.

Jamie’s knee inches higher.

Across the bathroom, through the doorway to Dani’s room, there’s a pounding––it’s heavy and it’s demanding and it’s accompanied by a “Miss Clayton!”, supplemented quickly with a chiding “Miles, please, not quite so loud”––and Dani jumps.

Dani jumps, and Jamie springs back, and they’re both looking away, both blinking, and Dani’s shaking her head, clearing it, as Jamie spits her mouthwash into the sink. 

“I should, uh, get back into bed,” Jamie jerks her head backwards towards her room, watching as Dani takes her turn at the sink, reaching up to run a hand through her hair as she rights herself again. “I’ll… See you later though, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Dani echoes, blinking, eyes only floating back to Jamie as she turns, apologetic, back towards her room, “later.”

“Later,” Rebecca Jessel discovers, knocking, slipping into Jamie’s room through a crack in her door when she doesn’t get a response, finds the two of them laughing, gleefully poking at each other, Jamie’s dinner tray finished and forgotten on the floor next to her bed.

“That’s not fair!” Dani’s squealing, one hand wrapped around Jamie’s wrist, her other scrambling frantically for Jamie’s, nudging under her sweater.

“It is!” Jamie laughs, leveraging her weight, sitting up onto her knees and angling her wrist, her free hand disappearing under the hem of Dani’s sweater. “Dani, it so is. It’s fair, and it’s true, and you know it.”

“Jamie!” Dani gasps, squirming, “Jamie, it’s not–– It’s not fair and you know it, and you––” Jamie’s free hand finds her waist, tickling, and Dani whines, pulling, futile, at Jamie’s wrist, captive in her hand.

It’s enough momentum, however, to pull Jamie, imbalanced in her invalidity, down, and Rebecca watches, amused and wholly unsurprised as she pitches forward, tumbling down onto Dani.

“Now this,” Rebecca observes, her voice wry, “doesn’t seem like refraining from physical exertion now, does it?”

Jamie groans.

Rebecca watches as Dani’s fingers tighten, then release, around Jamie’s wrist.

Jamie, for her part, doesn’t move her hand.

Rebecca watches, instead, the telltale flex of Jamie’s forearm against the hem of Dani’s sweater, knows Jamie’s thumb is gliding slowly, easily, back and forth along the dip of Dani’s waist, can see it in the part of Dani’s lips, her breaths shallower, shorter, can see it in Dani’s eyes, wavering, for all their fierceness, as they hold Rebecca’s.

“Aw, c’mon,” Dani says, nonchalance cool and forced, looking up at Rebecca, eyes wide, brows pinching together, “it’s not like we’re doing cardio or anything.”

“Yeah, Becca,” Jamie adds, chiming in from where she’s splayed across Dani’s middle, thumb steady and stroking underneath her sweater, “just some friendly conflict resolution, isn’t it?”

“Conflict resolution,” Rebecca echoes, “right. And you,” she rounds on Dani, Dani’s eyebrows shooting up as she does, “those eyes might work on Three-Toed, but,” she leans down, picking up the tray and righting herself again, “I’m not so easily swayed. Takes much more than a pair of blue eyes,” she crosses to the door, glancing over her shoulder one last time, eyes shining, “to have any kind of hold over me.” She pulls the door shut behind her with a foot, and they hear her turn, start to head down the hall, when––

“And no cardio,” she calls back to them, her voice laughing, ringing as it drifts back through the door, “of any kind.”

Rebecca’s voice fades, her footsteps follow, and then they’re both laughing, Jamie’s fingers curling around Dani’s waist, Dani’s free hand finding Jamie’s, tangling their fingers together.

“You’re more than just a pair of blue eyes, you know,” Jamie says once their giggles start to dissipate, her voice warm, the embers of laughter smoldering in her chest, “she’s wrong about that.”

“Oh yeah?” Dani grins up at Jamie, shifting underneath her to sit up against the headboard. “What else am I, then?”

Jamie scrambles to follow suit, pulling her hands away to push herself up, one hand knitting itself into the bottom of Dani’s sweater as she resettles, next to her, against the headboard. “Well,” she lets her head loll to the side, grin askew as her eyes flit over Dani’s frame, “you’re a pretty mouth, too, to start.”

“Hey!” Dani swats at her, laughing.

“And,” Jamie continues pointedly, “a smart one. Smart ass, sometimes, and a pain in mine, but. Smart,” she inclines her head, “and caring. A force,” she purses her lips, “to be reckoned with. And I should know,” Jamie’s head dips, her forehead nudging Dani’s shoulder, “since I’m the one usually doing the reckoning.”

Dani bites her lip, flush brazen across her face, eyes shy and shining, finding Jamie’s in the evening dim.

“You’re a good friend,” Jamie continues, voice lower now, “and you love,” she swallows, “hard. And,” she clears her throat, “you’re loyal. To a fault, sometimes, I think, but,” she smiles, “I, uh… Happen to have a soft spot for faults. Have a few of ‘em myself.”

“Jamie…” Dani’s whisper is low and drawn out, a plea falling from her lips as her fingers reach across the sheets between them.

“So loyal,” Jamie’s grinning again, sitting up straighter, shoulders dancing as she leans back against the headboard, “you would… What was it? Be dumb enough to… Hypothetically fight wrapped in a towel?”

Dani immediately withdraws her hand, groaning, reaching out to swat at Jamie again instead. “We’re not,” she squirms, Jamie’s fingers dropping Dani’s sweater, grabbing her wrist before she can pull away, “doing this again. I already told you, it’s not fair.”

Jamie grins wider. “Seems perfectly fair. You made fun of me for bursting into your room in naught but a towel––your towel, if memory serves. Called me dumb for it, later. And then last week…” 

Dani’s eye roll is belied by the smile, lurking, in the soft curl of her lips.

“Last week, you ran through the whole house in a towel. My towel. Spent all that time kneeling in the gravel in it, too. Hannah told me,” Jamie lowers her voice, eyes twinkling, “she still can’t get all the dirt out of it.”

“First of all,” Dani tempers her voice the best she can, and it wavers anyway, “it’s the towel you gave me, so that’s not on me, and second, I was…” She turns to Jamie, biting the inside of her cheek, and her voice catches. “I was scared, Jamie. I didn’t want… I didn’t…” 

Jamie’s face softens, and she ducks her head again, avoiding Dani’s gaze. “You didn’t want what?” she murmurs, her hand, wrapped around Dani’s wrist, falling to the bed, their fingers sliding easily, thoughtlessly, together. 

Dani puffs out her cheeks. “I didn’t want to lose you.”

“You were never going to lose me,” Jamie’s voice, for all her bravado, is small, her fingers stroking aimlessly, busily, along Dani’s knuckles, “was always gonna be just fine.”

“Mm.”

“I was!” Jamie’s head jerks up, her eyes determined, petulant, and she finds Dani watching her, smile small, soft, on her face. “I was,” she mumbles, and then she yawns, startling herself, scowling, bodily betrayal lazy and unwelcome.

“You should sleep,” Dani’s voice is quiet, feather-light, and she pulls her hand carefully away from Jamie’s, her other meeting it, unbuckling her watch and sliding it off of her wrist, “and so should I. I should,” she leans over, arranges her watch neatly on the bedside table, next to her scrunchie, “get back to my room. Don’t wanna accidentally…” she flushes, “well. I should let you have your bed to yourself. While you’re… While you’re getting better.” She tilts her head to the side, unclasping an earring, hooped and shining in the low light. “Let you get your rest.” 

“You… Don’t have to,” Jamie says, voice hoarse, eyes tracking Dani’s fingers as she pulls her earring slowly out of her ear, “you could… Stay.”

“Stay?” Dani’s eyebrows raise, even as she tilts her head the opposite direction, even as she starts on her second earring.

“Yeah. We could,” Jamie clears her throat, “talk. Or something. I mean,” Dani turns back to the bedside table, her earrings sliding out of her palm to rest alongside her watch, and Jamie’s eyes trace the angle of her jaw, the slope of her shoulders, the arch of her back, “if we’re both still gonna be up, anyway, we might as well…” 

“Tell me about Panama?” Dani’s eyes are bright when she turns back around.

“Reckon I could do that,” Jamie grins, “yeah. Could also tell you,” she leans in, bumping her shoulder against Dani’s, “about Amsterdam. When I made that jump.”

“Mm,” Dani leans back over towards her bedside table, flicking off the light there. “I’m sure you will.”

“I will,” Jamie promises, slinking down into the sheets and curling in towards Dani as Dani resettles, tugging the duvet up to her chin, “right now. So it was me and Becca, right––”

Dani’s questions are interrupting and incessant, and Jamie’s subsequent answers are disgruntled and delighted.

“I went to Amsterdam once,” Dani mumbles, stifling a yawn as she curls against Jamie, tucking cold feet between Jamie’s ankles. 

“I know,” Jamie sucks in a breath, tensing, relaxing as she tugs at one of Dani’s arms, slinging it casually across her middle, “I’ve seen your passport.”

“You’ve seen my–– Jamie,” Dani pokes at her middle, “you looked at my passport?”

“Told you,” Jamie grins, her eyes drifting closed, “background check. Standard procedure.”

“Standard procedure,” Dani yawns again, “you know what you can do with your standard procedure?”

“What?”

But they’re asleep before Dani can say, and they’re asleep before Jamie gets to her jump, and they’re asleep long before either of them make it to Panama, sunkissed and swathed, eternal in the fog of Jamie’s memory.


On the eighth day, Jamie acknowledges it.

They’ve had dinner, and Rebecca’s come and gone, and Dani’s pausing between poems, sliding a bookmark between the pages of Dickinson’s Selected and leaning over to her bedside table, reaching for her glass of water when Jamie says it.

“Hey, uh, Dani?”

“Mm?” 

“D’you…” Jamie furrows her brows, reaching up to scratch at her forehead. “D’you maybe want to, uh… I mean…” 

Dani settles her glass back on the table, and, sitting back up, turns to look at Jamie.

There’s no pressure there, Jamie finds, or skepticism. No judge, nor jury. Only a calm curiosity, eager and open, and most of all, Jamie thinks, there’s patience, too. Dani’s patient, so patient, and Jamie… 

No one’s ever, Jamie thinks, been patient with her before.

Dani tilts her head and smiles, encouraging, nudging a foot against Jamies’ under the covers.

“I just mean… I know you’re…” Jamie presses her eyes shut, “good, and all, but… If you want… I mean… To have something more, uh… Comfortable?”

Dani watches her, listening, flush radiating slowly out of the neckline of her t-shirt as she realizes what Jamie’s offering.

“To lounge in, I mean,” Jamie continues, “now that you’re… Done with the kids, and all. So you can be… Comfortable. Tonight.”

Dani could, they both know, easily go to her room, get her own pajamas.

Dani could get her own pajamas, just like she could, they both know, easily go back to her room at the end of the night, sleep there.

Dani could––both bathroom doors yawn open across from Jamie’s bed, Dani’s room, recently become a temporary stopover, a place for her to get dressed each morning and nothing else, in clear view––but Dani doesn’t.

“Yeah,” Dani swallows, nodding, “yeah, I… Sure. I, uh… Thanks. Thanks.”

Jamie nods, and, slipping out of the bed, pads over to her dresser. Tugs open a drawer. 

Dani watches her the whole way.

Jamie rifles through her drawer for a minute, and when she crosses back to her bed, she proffers Dani a white tank top and a pair of plaid pajama shorts. “They might be a little tight, but… They should fit well enough.” Jamie shrugs. “No pressure though, yeah? If they’re uncomfortable?”

“I’m sure they’ll be great,” Dani murmurs, taking the pajamas out of Jamie’s hands, their fingers brushing as she does, “thanks.”

“Yeah,” Jamie nods, rocking up on the balls of her feet, “‘course.”

Dani watches her for a moment, considering, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.

“You, uh, need anything else?”

Dani’s eyes are focused, her fingers clutching the pajamas tightly to her chest.

“Dani?”

“No,” Dani replies, sudden and decisive, “nothing else.” 

And then she reaches down, and tugs her sweater over her head.

This time, there’s no exclamation, no “Jesus!”

There’s no Jamie, clapping a hand over her eyes. 

There’s only the two of them, staring at each other, wide-eyed and unmoving.

“Dani…” Jamie starts after a moment, at the same time as:

“You don’t… Have to cover your eyes. Okay? Please,” Dani sways on her feet, “don’t cover your eyes.”

“Okay,” Jamie whispers, and she doesn’t. 

Jamie holds Dani’s eyes as Dani unbuttons her jeans, fumbles with the zipper.

Jamie holds Dani’s eyes as Dani squirms out of them, easing them down her hips, her thighs, her ankles.

Jamie holds Dani’s eyes as Dani pauses, standing in front of her and biting her lip, and Dani holds Jamie’s, shameless and unselfconscious, and, just for a moment, it feels like the Earth has stopped spinning, that everything else, time-etched and sure, has melted away around them. 

Jamie wants nothing more than to reach out, to graze her fingers along the smooth skin of Dani’s sternum; to slide tender arms around her waist and pull her in; to reach, cautious, for the strap of Dani’s bra, their eyes never leaving each other’s as Jamie slips it off of her shoulder, and down, down, down.

“Jamie?”

Dani’s voice is small, heavy, and pulls Jamie immediately back in.

“Yeah?”

“You see me,” Dani whispers, “right?”

“I see you,” Jamie whispers back, and she’s never, some part of her intuits, quiet and certain and awake, finally, terrifyingly, awake, been more sure of anything in her life, “I see you, Dani.”

And then the Earth moves again.

The Earth moves again, but Jamie…  

Jamie’s still holding Dani’s eyes when Dani swallows, moving again, and pulls the tank top down over her head.

Jamie’s still holding Dani’s eyes when Dani’s hands slip underneath her shirt and up, smiling shyly as she clambers for the clasp of her bra, slipping it off and tucking it, carefully folded, onto the bench at the foot of Jamie’s bed.

Jamie’s still holding Dani’s eyes when Dani bends, stepping into her pajama shorts, shimmying them up her thighs and over her hips.

It’s only when Dani looks away, glances down at her legs, that Jamie drops her gaze, too.

“Does it…” Dani looks back up at Jamie, purses her lips. “Does it look okay?”

Jamie swallows. “Yeah, you… You look… You look, uh…” 

Jamie had known it was coming. Had known what to expect. And yet––

How many times, she wracks her brain, her eyes drifting back to the swell of Dani’s thighs, to the stretch of cotton there, has she sized Dani up over the last three weeks?

“Jamie?” Dani’s tone is nervous, a stark contrast to the woman who’d stood before her a moment ago, Dani’s thumbs tucking into fists, curling at her side.

“Great, Dani,” Jamie finishes, “you look great.” Her own hands, hanging uselessly at her sides, twitch, desperate to move, to reach, grasping, forward. “The… The plaid. It, uh… Suits you,” she offers, unconvincing. “Looks nice.”

Dani’s brows pinch together.

Jamie bites the inside of her cheek. 

Dani’s looking at the floor, eyes searching, darting from the foot of the bed to the door to every corner at the room, and Jamie hadn’t wanted this, Jamie doesn’t want this, not now, not after the last three minutes, not when it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“It’s not that it’s bad,” Jamie says, stepping forward, taking one of Dani’s fists carefully between her hands, starting the gentle process of loosing Dani’s fingers, then her thumb, Jamie’s dipping expertly between Dani’s, “it’s the opposite, really.”

Dani’s head snaps back up.

“You look,” Jamie purses her lips, guiding Dani’s hand back to her side, reaching for her other one, still balled in a tight fist, “good, Dani.” Her voice drops, quieter. “Really good. It… Might be the concussion talking, but,” she looks up, offers Dani a small smile, and when she continues, Jamie’s voice trembles, and Dani’s fingers thread between hers, “I think I like seeing you in my pajamas.”

Dani flushes, her eyelashes fluttering, but she doesn’t drop Jamie’s gaze. “I don’t think,” she whispers back, smile stretching across her face, “it’s the concussion.”

“No?” Jamie follows Dani as she takes a step backwards, tugging Jamie back towards her bed.

“No,” Dani says, and she lets herself fall back onto the mattress, scooting backwards toward the headboard and tugging Jamie with her, settling there, legs crossed.

“What is it, then?” Jamie follows, climbing onto her knees to crawl up next to Dani, and turns, plopping down next to her.

“It’s like I’ve been telling you,” Dani shrugs, reaching for the blankets, pulling the duvet over their laps, “it’s that you like me too much.”

Jamie groans.

Jamie groans, and Dani laughs, and for the rest of the night, they sit together, cross-legged on the bed, in pajama shorts.


On the ninth day, when Dani wakes up, Jamie wakes up with her.

Dani’s groaning, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes, rubbing vainly at the vestiges of sleep there, when she feels Jamie’s arm slink leisurely across her waist.

She freezes.

“Don’t have to get up right away, you know.” Jamie’s laying on her stomach, one leg hitched up between them, mumbling, face-first, into her pillow. “Could stay a little longer. In bed,” she adds, clarifying, otherwise unmoving, “if you want.”

“If I… I want…” 

“S’what I said, isn’t it?”

Dani’s hands plop, heavy, to the mattress on either side of her.

“Can wait a little for breakfast, yeah?” And it’s impressive, Dani muses, peering over at Jamie’s head, a mess of curls and not much else, that she can breathe at all––let alone talk––with her head as buried in her pillow as it is.

“I… I guess, yeah––”

“And do you want to?”

Dani’s voice dips. “Do I want to what?”

“Stay.”

Dani glances over at Jamie, letting her head fall to the side, and bites her lip. “I do, but…” 

“But what?”

“It’s… Hard for me to sleep,” Dani says, almost bashful, “with the sun. And I know you… You like to keep your curtains open, and… Well, I have to be up to get breakfast anyway, so…”

“Close ‘em,” Jamie says, and it’s the most decisive mumble, Dani thinks, she’s ever heard.

“What?”

“Close ‘em,” Jamie says again, stretching, arching against the mattress and nuzzling deeper into her pillow, “it’s not like I’m waking up with the sun right now, anyway. I have,” Jamie lowers her voice, and Dani can hear it, can make out Jamie’s smirk like it’s the most familiar sound in the world, “six more days until I can partake in physical activity, Dani. No morning workouts for me.”

Dani grins, flexing her toes, her legs, her arms, and, reaching her hands above her head, stretches. “Six days, huh?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie’s head moves, nodding, against her pillow, “not that I’m counting.” 

“Of course not,” Dani rocks her hips, using the momentum to scoot across the mattress and closer to Jamie, draping a leg over the backs of hers, “not sure why you would.”

“You,” Jamie mumbles, her arm tightening around Dani’s waist, tugging her closer, “are being cheeky.”

“Am I?”

“You are. And it’s too early,” two of Jamie’s fingers hook into the waistband of Dani’s shorts, tugging, “for cheeky.”

“Oh no,” Dani replies blithely. 

“Mmhm,” Jamie says again, “now c’mere,” she gives Dani’s waist another tug, “and go back to sleep.”

Dani groans. “Jamie…” 

“What?”

“I want to, but…” 

“But?”

“Someone has to close the curtains.”

Jamie laughs, the sharp edges of her shoulders shaking against the sheets. “Someone?”

Dani hums.

“Tell you what,” Jamie’s already pushing herself up, swinging her legs off of the bed, “I’ll close the curtains if you do one thing for me.”

“What?” Dani rolls onto her side, and, propping herself up on an elbow, watches Jamie as she crosses to the window.

“You know how you bring me three biscuits in the mornings?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you make sure,” Jamie pulls the curtains shut with a flourish, turning back around, “the third one is a custard cream?”

The curtains, Jamie thinks as she crosses back to the bed, don’t matter. Not when the look on Dani’s face could light up the room all on its own.

“Why, uh,” Dani watches as Jamie climbs back into bed, curls onto her side to face her, “why one custard cream?”

Jamie closes her eyes, the ghost of a smile arcing across her face in the newly darkened room. “You know why, don’t you?”

“Maybe I just want to hear you say it.”

“You’re lucky I like you,” Jamie murmurs, starting to drift.

“Too much, probably,” Dani agrees.

“The third biscuit is for you,” Jamie sighs, exhaustion winning out over her desire to poke at Dani, if only for a little longer, her arm sliding sleepily back around Dani’s waist, “and custard creams are your favorite. You eat them,” she yawns, “whenever you’ve had a shit day. Or when you’re happy. Especially,” Jamie’s words are slow, sleep-slurred, “when you’re happy.”

Dani smiles to herself, curling into Jamie, and Dani thinks she’s asleep, Jamie’s breathing steady, her arm solid around Dani’s waist, when:

“I know I give you lots of shit myself,” Jamie mumbles, and Dani’s not sure Jamie even knows she’s saying the words, “but I hope I make you happy, too.”


On the tenth day, Jamie wakes up twice. 

Jamie wakes for the first time in the morning—and she’s not sure what time it is, can’t tell what time it is with the curtains closed, cloistering them snugly together, sleeping and waking, in a timeless dreamland—with Dani’s arm wrapped around her. 

She can feel Dani’s breath on the back of her neck, warm puffs of air between happy snores, Dani’s feet, endothermic as ever, tucked between hers. 

(Maybe it’s that, Jamie thinks, a trick of the circulatory system, bodies all-knowing in their immediacy, that keeps Dani from blazing out of control.)

Jamie doesn’t realize she’s shifted closer, doesn’t realize her hand has found Dani’s, draped loosely over her hipbone. 

Jamie only realizes that she’s never been held before. 

She thinks back to her parents, thinks back to Brixton, thinks back to Viola, to Becca, to Panama, to an entire life before Dani. 

A whole life, Jamie thinks, her breath shallow and savage in her chest, coming faster, tighter, and no one has held her until Dani Clayton. 

No one has held her until Dani Clayton, arms easy and forgiving, light for all their weighty certainty, fitting neatly over the jut of Jamie’s hip, tugging her softly, freely, back into their rapidly dwindling orbit.

No one has held her until Dani Clayton, Dani’s fingers flexing softly against Jamie’s, a gentle response to an unspoken need, even as Dani sleeps, her breath a steady rhythm against Jamie’s neck.

No one has held her until Dani Clayton, because until Dani Clayton, no one has ever stayed long enough.

But Dani’s been surprising her from the beginning, hasn’t she?

No one has held her until Dani Clayton, has challenged her like Dani Clayton. No one has listened like Dani, or laughed like Dani. No one has cared about her the way Dani has, vicious and kind all at once, the audacity of Dani’s jaw, Dani’s brow, Dani’s shoulders a dare, a promise to anyone who broaches their shared atmosphere.

No one has looked at her the way Dani Clayton has, wonder and exasperation and want all at once, tenderness unbound, shining in the watery depths of clear blue eyes. 

No one has ever seen her until Dani Clayton.

And until Dani Clayton, no one has ever let Jamie see herself.

How could anyone, Jamie wonders, a telltale heat pricking at the corners of her eyes, not love her before?

How could anyone––and Jamie thinks it before she can stop herself, poking already, urgent and clamorous, at a bruise not yet formed, nascent and blooming, under her skin––after compare?

Jamie cranes her neck, glancing at the clock on her bedside table.

3:03 am.

She pulls Dani’s arm tighter around her, and she sleeps.

She wakes for the second time later that night.

The day’s behind them, passed in a daze of Dani, murmuring a sleepy “good morning, Sloth Girl” (“it’s Three-Toed, actually, and, for the record, you’re the sloth girl”); of breakfast; of Dani, tossing her a wink as she slips out of Jamie’s room and across the hall to Miles’ and Flora’s; of staring, listless, at the ceiling; of Dani, swooping into her room and collapsing onto her bed in a flurry, exhausted from half a day’s worth of explaining inertia (“if nothing will happen,” Dani had waved her hands furiously above them as she spoke, confounding her point further, “nothing will keep happening until something happens to make nothing not happen. Something,” Dani had turned to Jamie, widening her eyes dramatically, and Jamie hadn’t had the heart to tell her she could, in fact, understand why an eight and a ten year-old had been confused, “has to butt in, something… External, has to interfere”); of lunch; of staring out the window, counting the number of trees she can see from her bed; of Dani, laughing, nose crinkling as she swats at Jamie, sharing an argument toothless at best; of dinner; of Dani, wiggling back into Jamie’s pajama shorts, grinning goofily over at her as head pops through the neck of her tank top.

Jamie wakes for the second time later that night, and Dani is starfishing.

Dani is spread out in the center of the bed––“off-center, Jamie,” Jamie can practically hear her saying, “technically. I only have an arm and a leg over the centerline, not half of my trunk––” and it’s amazing, Jamie marvels, how she wants Dani to simultaneously stop and never stop talking, even when she’s not even speaking at all––her right arm splayed up and over, tucked underneath Jamie’s pillow, her left leg hitched up, foot tucked, as ever, underneath Jamie.

Jamie, who’s stretched out along the edge of their bed, Dani’s foot shoved gracelessly underneath her hip, one of Jamie’s own feet dangling back, off the mattress.

Jamie, whose head rests on the corner of her own pillow, Dani’s nose nudging closer to hers with every stirring, Dani’s snores a midnight metronome, buzzing in the dim.

Jamie, who doesn’t push back, doesn’t press her legs softly against Dani’s, doesn’t do anything at all.

Jamie wakes for the second time later that night, and Dani is starfishing, and Jamie only smiles, and, turning over, slots herself carefully against her.


On the eleventh day, they wake up together.

“You were starfishing,” Jamie mumbles, and Dani can hear the way Jamie’s smiling into their pillow as she does, smiles into it herself, “all night.”

Dani’s arm, having drifted overnight, tightens around Jamie’s middle. “Was not,” she murmurs back.

“Mm.”

“I can get up, you know,” Dani says, voice clearer, firmer as wakefulness slips in, and wholly unconvincing, “if you don’t want me to be here.”

Jamie chuckles. “Didn’t say that.”

“Didn’t you?”

“No,” Jamie’s fingers find Dani’s hand, tapping softly, chiding, at the top of it, “I didn’t. Might even be the contrary is the case.”

“Oh?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie sighs, “might want you to stay another minute.”

Dani hums.

Jamie smiles, lets her eyes start to drift shut again.

“I should get up,” Dani’s arm is going slack a moment, and Jamie can feel her start to withdraw, pulling away, behind her, “and get you your breakfast anyway, we’ve been––”

“What?”

“Well…” Dani bites her lip, “it’s… It’s been a minute.”

“Has it?”

“You know it has,” Dani says, voice dropping, eyes fond as Jamie turns over to face her, reaches for her. 

“Could be another one,” Jamie’s voice is hoarse, her fingers closing around the fabric of Dani’s tank top, and Dani isn’t sure if the roughness she hears is the grate of sleep or something else, “don’t you think?”

“Jamie,” Dani whispers, and she lets herself be tugged back, lets Jamie’s hand curl into her tank top, lets her own find Jamie’s waist, a thumb slipping, stroking, under Jamie’s sleep shirt.

“How long,” Jamie breathes, shifting closer to Dani, their knees bumping together under the covers, “‘til the kids are awake?”

Dani swallows. “An hour, probably, still, but Jamie…” 

“Yeah?”

“Your head,” Dani’s furrowed brow is belied by the way she lifts a knee, angles it, just as one of Jamie’s slips between hers. “We can’t.”

“Can’t we?”

Dani’s breath hitches. “We shouldn’t. Not now, not like––”

“Like what?”

“We haven’t… We need to… Jamie ––” Dani’s brow furrows, and she huffs, pouting as she leans forward, pressing her forehead against Jamie’s.

Jamie opens her mouth, knots her hand tighter into Dani’s tank top.

Her stomach growls.

She freezes.

Jamie’s eyes press shut and she groans as Dani grins, bright and broad, leaning back. “See?”

Jamie’s stomach growls again.

“Sit tight,” Dani leans back in quickly, clumsily pressing her lips to Jamie’s forehead, then pulls away, biting back a grin. “I’ll be back soon. Try not to miss me too much.”

Dani’s cheeks are burning when she slips out the door, burning as she makes her way down the stairs, burning, still, as she strolls into the kitchen to pick up Jamie’s breakfast tray, smiling widely, cheerfully, at Hannah and Owen and Rebecca, all seated around the table.

They stare at her as she sweeps in, stare at her as she takes care to grab three biscuits and a side plate, carefully arranging them on Jamie’s tray, stare at her as she chirps a “good morning!”, already halfway out the door.

They stare long after she’s gone, and then Hannah speaks.

“You… Checked up on them last night?”

Rebecca nods, eyes still glued to the empty doorway. “Always do.”

“And they were just… Sleeping?”

Rebecca nods again, staring, and lifts her mug to her lips. “Every night.”

“But she was in…” 

“Jamie’s pajamas,” Rebecca fills in, “yeah.”

Hannah shakes her head, clicking her tongue. 

Next to her, Owen grins, takes a swig of tea.

“What?” Rebecca finally looks away from the door, glancing, suspicious, between the two of them.

“That’s another two pounds I owe Owen,” Hannah reaches for her mug, wraps both hands around it, “he’s going to clean me out if the two of them don’t give in by the end of the week.”

Owen’s brow furrows, and he looks at Hannah over his mug. “Clean you out? Hannah,” he takes another sip of tea, “I don’t want to take everything you have. Can’t have you…” His mustache twitches, “owen me too much.”

Hannah laughs, and Rebecca starts to smile, to laugh with her, and then she stops.

Owen blinks.

“He’s running you two pounds a day?” She asks Hannah, eyebrow raised, Hannah’s laughs echoing, fading, around the kitchen.

Hannah nods.

“You’re running her two pounds a day?” She turns to Owen, eyebrow arching impossibly higher. 

“I am.”

Rebecca turns back to Hannah, affronted. “He offered me in at three.” She leans across the table, narrowing her eyes. “What,” Rebecca tilts her head, appraising, “is with the discount, Hannah Grose?”

Hannah only smiles, and sips her tea.


On the twelfth day, Dani’s acting weird.

Jamie tells her as much.

“You’re acting weird,” Jamie points out, propping herself up on an elbow, watching, sheets bunched around her waist, as Dani pads towards her bedroom.

“Am I?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie ducks her head, eyes sliding down Dani’s waist, low, lower, lingering as Dani crosses to the bathroom. “More so than usual.”

Dani stops, halfway across the bathroom floor. Turns. “Excuse me?”

Jamie looks up, grins. “You heard me. Bit of a weirdo, you are, Dani Clayton.”

Dani rolls her eyes, and resumes walking. “Takes one to know one.”

“I resent that.”

“You don’t get to resent it,” Dani replies mildly, crossing to her dresser, “you started it.”

Jamie huffs.

Dani laughs.

“Don’t go starting,” Dani calls to Jamie, voice muffled as she changes, pulling a sweater over her head, “fights you can’t finish. I feel like that,” she crosses back across the bathroom once she’s finished getting dressed, tossing her pajamas carelessly at Jamie, “should be one of your rules, don’t you think?”

“Never start anything I can’t finish,” Jamie mumbles, extricating herself from Dani’s tank top, scowling as Dani retrieves a scrunchie from her nightstand, pulling her hair up into a ponytail, “you should know that by now.”

“Should I?” Dani crosses to the door, grins. “Not sure you’ve shown me that at all, actually.”

Dani’s out the door before Jamie can respond.

It’s taking longer, Jamie deduces after a few minutes, than it usually does for Dani to reappear.

She’s trying to decide if she should slip out of bed, should brave the stairs and broach the kitchen after so many days, when there’s a sudden patter, hard and fast, of feet down the hallway, and Flora and Miles are tearing around the corner and into Jamie’s room, launching themselves into her bed, giggling wildly.

Hannah’s quick to follow, her chiding “children!” futile as Flora skids across Dani’s side of the bed, across open sheets, and clambers into Jamie’s lap, breathing a starry-eyed “we’ve missed you” as she does. 

Miles is propping himself up on his knees at the foot of Jamie’s bed, grinning shyly up at her, and Rebecca’s quick to follow, laughing, sinking onto the mattress next to him, Owen filing in behind her, tea kettle clutched to his chest, a wooden spoon sticking, haphazard, out of the pocket of his apron.

Dani’s last to come in, beaming as she totes Jamie’s breakfast tray, laden with extra mugs and extra biscuits, dropping carefully onto the mattress next to Flora. “We thought,” she starts, glancing around the room, her gaze settling finally, lastly, on Jamie, smiling improbably wider as it does, “you might want some company.”

Jamie looks at her for a long time.

Looks at Hannah, at Owen, at Miles. Looks at Rebecca, at Flora.

Finds Dani’s eyes again.

“I do, I think,” she says, “I do want that.”


That night, Dani’s staring, wide-eyed, when Jamie climbs back into bed, having tugged the curtains closed behind her, shrouding the room in a close and familiar darkness.

Jamie looks at her, head tilted, her brow furrowing softly as their feet tangle together beneath the sheets.

Dani doesn’t need to speak, only tilts her head the opposite direction, her eyes shining in the dark.

Jamie understands, nods.

It’s quiet in Jamie’s room, in the manor, so quiet, and the only sounds are those that leak in from the grounds: the quiet cacophony of crickets, mingling with a heavier silence, a weighty one, seeping in through the cracks in the windows, settling in a haze over the two of them, even as the mattress creaks softly, Dani turning over, onto her other side, even as the sheets rustle, muted, as Jamie shifts in closer, lights a tentative hand on Dani’s waist.

Dani breathes in sharply, a short breath through her nose, muffled, immediately, in the thickness of the air around them. 

Jamie’s eyes flutter shut. 

They’re still.

It’s been minutes, Jamie thinks, minutes stretching into hours stretching into what feels like an endless time, spent staring, unsleeping, at the shape of Dani in front of her, hand weightless and weighted all at once, as if Dani’s hip is evaporating under her, over and over, dissipating into the dim the second Jamie realizes it’s solid.

That it’s real.

That Dani’s there, with her.

Jamie watches the shallow rise and fall of Dani’s shoulders, her own breathing falling in with, matching, her pace.

Jamie wonders if she’ll ever sleep. Wonders if Dani, just within reach and somehow still so out of it, is awake too.

Jamie wonders if Dani is wondering the same thing.

Jamie’s fingers flex, barely, against Dani’s hip, and Jamie shifts closer, pauses.

Waits.

Is about to give up, to assume Dani’s asleep––hope Dani’s asleep, even though she knows better, even though Dani’s breathing is still so shallow, even though Dani’s not snoring, even though Dani’s body is still so, so tensed––when Dani shifts.

Dani shifts, pressing herself cautiously, experimentally, back into Jamie.

Jamie freezes.

Jamie freezes, and the air freezes around her, stilled, for all its weight, hanging, hesitant, between them.

The house, Jamie thinks, is holding its breath.

And then Dani’s fingers slide over hers.

Neither of them speak.

Dani isn’t sure if it’s minutes or hours that have passed, is only sure that she’s been holding her breath, somehow, through all of it, when Jamie’s fingers flex, slowly at first, into her hips.

Dani sighs, and it might be the softest thing, Jamie thinks, she’s ever heard.

Jamie’s fingers flex again, braver this time, dragging, tracing, against the crease of Dani’s hip.

Dani presses her eyes closed, and this time when she rocks her hips back into Jamie, it’s braver, too. 

This time, when Dani rocks her hips back into Jamie, it’s braver, and Jamie rolls hers to meet them.

Dani gasps, and Jamie presses her eyes shut. Swallows.

Waits.

Dani rolls her hips back into Jamie again.

Dani rolls her hips back into Jamie again, and Jamie meets her, and this time, they don’t stop.

The only sounds between them are the silence, pressing into them at all angles, pressing them into each other, and the soft rustle of body on blanket as Jamie presses closer, as Dani’s fingers slot between Jamie’s over her hip.

They’re slow at first, pressing into each other, their hips meeting in the middle of the bed, Dani’s exhales low shudders, drawn out, with every press, Jamie’s fingers pressing, digging, into Dani’s hip the longer it goes on.

The only sounds between them are the silence, and the rustle, and the gradual creak of the mattress underneath them, squeaking softly as they speed up, louder, it seems, for the silence that’s settled over them.

Dani’s fingers clench, tightening, around Jamie’s hand, a plea too delicate to voice, and Jamie nods, lets her head fall forward, and ducks it, pressed, to the back of Dani’s neck, rolling her hips, meeting Dani’s, harder this time. 

The only sounds between them are the silence, and the rustle, and the creak, and Jamie, her forehead slipping in the sweat shining on the back of Dani’s neck, her whimpers ragged, torn from her throat and painting the flush of Dani’s skin.

Dani rocks backwards harder, urgent and tugging at Jamie’s hand as their hips move faster, as the rustle grows louder, the creak more insistent, pulling until it’s pressed, tight, against her stomach. She smooths her fingers over Jamie’s, desperate and rushed, urging them flush, urging Jamie’s hand into a splay, pressed against her stomach, pressing Dani closer, impossibly closer, into her.

The only sounds between them are the silence, and the rustle, and the creak, and Jamie, and Dani, her moans pitching and choked, frantically grabbing at the other end, the empty end, of her pillow with her free hand, curling it up and over her face, smothering the sound.

Jamie’s thrusting now, Dani’s hand an anchor over hers, and Dani’s grinding back into her, Jamie’s breath hot against the back of her neck, her whines insistent, her fingers clenching around the material of Dani’s tank top, determined to pull her closer, still, by the fistful. 

The only sounds between them are the silence, and the rustle, and the creak, and Jamie, and Dani, together, panting and groaning and sighing as they chase after the thing between them, faster and faster, before it’s gone.

The creak is the first to go.

It stops when they slow, coming down from the high and the chase and the feeling, forever and fleeting, and finally still.

The two of them are the next to go.

Dani lets her pillow fall, heavy, from her lips, her pants dispersing in the darkness, Jamie’s gasps slowing, her breath evening, her head dropping, further, to rest between Dani’s shoulders.

The rustle is the last to go.

The two of them are frozen, unmoving––each so unsure and so scared of what happens now, of where they go next––and then melting at once back together, Dani sinking lowly into her pillow, Jamie nuzzling, carefully, into Dani’s spine.

The only sound left is the silence.

The silence, and their hands, clenched, tighter than before, together.

The silence is the last thing Dani remembers before falling asleep, the silence and the blunt of Jamie’s nails, digging into her palm.


On the thirteenth day, Rebecca slips into their room after dinner.

Dani grins up at her from where she’s laying, her head resting in Jamie’s lap.

Jamie doesn’t look up, is distracted instead by her hands, carding softly through Dani’s hair. “Fancy seeing you here,” she offers, the corner of her mouth quirking up.

“Doin’ your nightly sweep?” Dani sits up, propping herself up on her elbows, and Jamie’s hands fall away, displeasure low and quiet in her throat.

“Yeah, I…” Rebecca glances at the ground, then back at the bedroom door. “Mind if I…” She gestures to it, closing it softly behind her when Jamie shrugs her assent. 

“I need to talk to you, Jamie,” Rebecca crosses to them, lighting on the edge of the bed, folding her hands, fidgeting, nervous, in her lap, “and… Dani too, I think, since you’re here.”

“Anything you want to say to me,” Jamie pushes herself up, sitting up straighter against the headboard, her brow furrowing, “you can say to Dani.”

Dani’s eyes dart to Jamie’s, and they meet, briefly.

Rebecca’s not sure she knows what they’re saying, isn’t sure she could understand anyway.

Dani pushes herself up too, adjusting, and sits, cross-legged, on the bed next to Jamie.

Rebecca looks between the two of them, presses her eyes shut. Sighs.

It’s better, she thinks, to rip the bandage off.

“Vi isn’t… Going to extend your contract, Jamie,” it comes out in a rush, and Rebecca’s hands tense in her lap as she says it, fingers clenching.

“What do you mean?” Dani’s interjecting, speaking first, looking from Jamie to Rebecca and back again. “Jamie, what does she mean?”

Jamie holds Rebecca’s gaze, her eyes hard.

The look Rebecca gives her in return is half imploring, half unapology.

“I was contracted for this job for four weeks with the option of an extension,” Jamie explains, still fixed on Rebecca across from her, “pending the apprehension of one Peter Quint. And tomorrow,” she grinds her teeth, “marks four weeks.”

“But they haven’t caught Peter yet,” Dani says quickly, reassuring and doubtful, her voice at odds with the breath trapped in her chest, “they don’t have him.”

“They don’t,” Rebecca acquiesces, glancing at Dani before turning back to Jamie, “but Jamie, with your injury… And she’s already been generous, keeping you on, paying you through it…” 

“I thought she wanted the two of us on,” Jamie swallows, “even once I got better. Big house for one person anyway, even before that bastard showed up.”

Rebecca hesitates. “She… Didn’t want you to worry while you were recuperating. Y’know,” the smile she flashes Jamie doesn’t reach her eyes, and it’s the first time, Dani thinks, she’s seen Rebecca look so strained, “teacher’s pet and all. Plus,” it fades, and Rebecca looks away, “that way I could… Learn the lay of the land. Get to know everyone. Build…” Her eyes flit up to Dani, “relationships, and all.”

Dani’s jaw clenches.

“Look, I’ll… I’ll help you pack tomorrow, alright?” Rebecca looks back up, eyes landing, apologetic, not on Jamie, but back on Dani.

“Tomorrow’s my last day of bedrest,” Jamie says stubbornly, pinning her arms across her chest, “I can’t pack––”

“I think we all know,” Rebecca’s interruption is soft, drifting into the breath between Jamie’s words like a cloud passing over the sun, “you’ve been fine for a while now, haven’t you, Jamie?”

Neither Dani nor Jamie speak, and Rebecca’s eyes drift to their hands, clutched tightly together, knuckles white, over the blankets between them.

“I’m not her fucking property,” Jamie’s outburst is sudden, sharp, and where Rebecca flinches, Dani doesn’t, only turns heavy eyes to Jamie, seeking hers, “she can’t… Fucking control me like that, Becca, she can’t.”

“Jamie, she’s our boss, technically she-–”

“I’m not one of her… Possessions,” Jamie continues, voice heightening, fingers tightening around Dani’s, “not one of her bloody assets, or whatever she wants to call them, she can’t just pull me off a job when the job’s not––”

“Jamie,” Rebecca’s voice is louder when she cuts in this time, “she doesn’t want you to get hurt any more than you already have. She loves you, you know that––”

“First of all,” Jamie interrupts, “don’t you dare tell me what I do or don’t know. And don’t,” she snaps, “tell me this has anything to do with love. With care,” she waves her free hand between the two of them, “when the entire reason we’re on her bloody payroll is because we don’t have the sense, or the self-respect, or… Or… The love, at all, to treat ourselves with any kind of grace. We’re mortal, Becca,” Jamie’s voice pitches, “we’re mortal, and we’re meant to die, and that’s natural, beautiful, even, but… Christ,” she shakes her head, “don’t say asking us to, expecting it, demanding it, even, has anything to do with love.”

Rebecca opens her mouth, but Jamie’s brow only furrows deeper, and she continues, fighting her voice as it breaks, “it has to be a choice, doesn’t it? She doesn’t get to tell me if I get to stay or if I get to go or how I get to put my entire life on the––” Jamie sighs, and it shakes. “She doesn’t get to do that and turn around and have you pitch it as love.”

Next to her, Dani’s staring at Jamie like she’s never seen her before. 

“I get to choose,” Jamie says again, resolute, her voice shaking, “I get to choose, and that’s… That’s it, isn’t it? That’s love.”

Rebecca stays quiet, lets Jamie finish, lets her rest, chest heaving and eyes, glassy and burning, boring into hers.

“I didn’t… Tell her, you know,” Rebecca finally says, voice quiet, glancing between the two of them, from Jamie, red-faced and threatening to spill over, to Dani, staring and still. “I wouldn’t do that. It’s not hers to know.”

Dani’s eyes drop at that, and she blinks once, twice, three times, eyes skating from the sheets to the floor to the far wall.

Rebecca watches, then: watches as their hands drop, watches as Dani’s hastily tuck underneath her own leg, watches as Jamie’s creep back to rest in her own lap.

Rebecca’s brow furrows. “It’s not… Mine either, I suppose,” she says, moving slowly, carefully, and it feels almost as if she’s trying to avoid spooking a wild thing as she gets up, “I just… Wanted you to know. I’ll uh,” she opens the door, slips through the crack, “see you in the morning, Jamie.”

And then she’s gone.

Chapter Text

It’s prolonging the inevitable, Dani thinks, spending the morning in bed with Jamie.

They’d stayed awake until they couldn’t anymore, tangled together in the middle of Jamie’s bed––their bed––a mess of limbs and desperate fingers unwilling to cede the purchase they’d found along a hip, along a collarbone, in each other.

“Don’t wanna fall asleep,” Jamie had murmured, sleep-saturated, across a shared pillow, “don’t wanna lose any more time.”

“Don’t wanna lose you,” Dani had whispered, “not now.”

Jamie had grinned sleepily. “You wanted to lose me before?”

“Stop it,” and Dani had tightened her fingers around Jamie’s, “you know I didn’t.”

“Sure seemed like you did,” Jamie had nestled in closer, “seemed like you wanted me out of the classroom and out of the manor and out of”––she’d yawned––“your hair.”

Dani’d been quiet for a minute. “I… Thought I wanted it,” she had finally said, and then, a small smile breaking across her face: “I would’ve missed you too much, though. Miss you too much already.”

Jamie’s eyes had fluttered open. “Don’t say that,” she’d murmured, pressing her forehead to Dani’s, “not yet. You can’t… Miss me when I haven’t even gone. It’s not…” She’d swallowed, pressing her eyes closed again, “it’s not fair. Not when we still have tonight left.”

“Tonight,” and Dani’s eyes had drifted shut too, “you and me.”

“Us,” Jamie had breathed.

“Us,” Dani had agreed. 

This morning hasn’t been any different.

It’s late when Dani finally forces herself up, pinkie wrapped around Jamie’s as long as the length of their arms will allow, and even then, once her arm drops, untethered, at her side, Jamie’s slipping out of the bed across from her.

“She’s right, y’know,” Jamie’s voice is dull, unlilted, “been fine for a while now, haven’t I?”

Dani’s eyes find hers from across the mattress. 

“I should,” Jamie says, inclining her head, voice landing, finally, back in the realm of Jamie Taylor softness Dani’s come to know so well, “come to breakfast. See Owen, Hannah. The kids.” 

Dani musters a smile. “I think they’d love that.”

Jamie eyes Dani at that, her gaze lingering as Dani fumbles for yesterday’s sweater, rose-scented and maroon and folded, resting on a nearby chair, waiting for an addendum that never comes.

Instead, Dani’s quiet, tugging on her clothes as Jamie does hers, carefully pulling her hair free of the neck of her sweater, and when it’s finally time to go downstairs, Dani doesn’t say anything; she only offers Jamie her hand, and a small smile.

Breakfast, Dani thinks, is almost normal.

Across the table, Flora and Miles chatter happily away about the passage of tadpole season; Owen makes the crossing back and and forth, stovetop to table, bearing batch after batch of Scotch pancakes; Hannah watches him out of the corner of her eye, smile lines etched happily along the corners of her mouth.

Breakfast feels almost, Dani thinks, like the way they were.

Almost, except for:

Rebecca, her presence warm, settled, if to Dani unfamiliar, at the table.

Dani’s right hand hanging beside her, hovering just under the table, fingers knotted with Jamie’s as she fumbles her way through cutting into a Scotch pancake, smearing it into a splay of syrup, with her left.

The thing lurking, just out of sight, waiting, a caprice smothering and made all the more inevitable by the slow creep of time, the day melting, already, away around them.

Eventually, Rebecca’s turning to look at Miles and Flora, the two of them meeting her gaze, wide-eyed and expectant. “What do you two say,” she glances over at Jamie, at Dani next to her, then turns back to the children, “we get out onto the lawn for a bit? Get some sunshine?”

Flora and Miles are rushing to their rooms, stumbling up the stairs as they race, betting excitedly on which of them will catch the most frogs, while Rebecca waits, lingering, in the kitchen doorway. “I know I said I’d help you pack,” her eyes find Jamie’s, “but I’m starting to think I might be more help down here. I’ll,” she turns, her eyes finding Dani’s, her tone polite, if brisk, “watch the children today. You two will be fine in here,” her eyes flit to Hannah and Owen before finding their way back to Dani, “and I have no doubt you’ll be with our Jamie well into the afternoon.”

Across the table, Owen and Hannah glance at each other. Nod.

“Yeah,” Jamie clears her throat, “that, uh, sounds good. Thanks, Becca.”

Dani nods, murmurs a low “thanks,” and Rebecca’s nodding back, glancing from Dani to Jamie one last time, brow furrowing, thoughtful.

She’s opening her mouth to speak when Flora and Miles clatter back down the stairs, Flora screeching about Miles stepping on her toes, and the moment evaporates, Rebecca disappearing down the hall to meet them.

When Jamie excuses herself from the table shortly thereafter, Dani’s on her heels, immediately pushing herself up to follow.

“Dani?”

Dani pauses, glancing from Jamie, hovering in the doorway, back to Hannah, cozily cupping her mug and peering at her, pensive, from across the table.

“Yeah?” Dani glances back at Jamie, then turns, mustering a smile, and wraps her hands around the back of her chair, leaning in towards Hannah. “What’s up?”

“Can we… Talk to you? Just for a moment?” Hannah glances just over Dani’s shoulder, her eyes finding Jamie’s. “You can go on, dear. We’ll send Dani right up to you when we’re finished.”

Dani twists around in her chair, watching as Jamie inclines her head, their eyes meeting just for a moment, and then Jamie turns, trudging towards the stairs. 

Dani turns back to Hannah and Owen.

“What’s, uh… What’s up?”

They glance at each other, and Owen sighs, splaying his palms out on the table in front of him. “Rebecca… Told us this morning. About Jamie leaving. And we just… We wanted to make sure, I guess…” He glances over at Hannah, who smiles encouragingly at him. Bolstered, his eyes find Dani’s again. “Are you okay?”

“I–– What?”

“With… All this. Jamie getting hurt, Jamie getting better, Jamie leaving. It’s a lot, all at once. For anyone,” Owen raises his eyebrows, lifting a hand to gesture at Dani, “let alone for… Well,” he lowers his hand, looks down. “We just want to make sure,” he says again, firmer, and Hannah’s hand finds his, squeezing, “you’re doing okay.”

Dani’s brow furrows and her eyes immediately drop, skittering over the table.

She knows why they’re asking. Appreciates their asking. 

If she’s being honest with herself, she wants nothing more than to break down, to tell them that no, she’s not okay, and she’s not sure how she could be again, to let herself feel the inundation of feelings crashing down upon her, threatening to drown her, to pull her into their muddy undertow.

But she can’t do that. Not today. 

Tomorrow, she tells herself. She’ll do it tomorrow.

Today, she pivots.

Deflects.

“I’m, uh… I’m okay,” she forces a smile, “but what about you two? I mean, you’ve… You’ve known Jamie longer than I have.” Dani nods at Owen, at Hannah, watching her curiously over the lip of her mug. “You both have. She got here… What? The day before me?”

Owen looks at her.

Dani looks back.

Hannah, placid and poised, watches them both.

“You, uh…” Owen finally speaks, his mustache twitching, his words deliberate in their opacity, “you know her best, though, don’t you?”

It’s nothing new. It’s not even a question.

It’s simple and it’s careful and it’s an allegation to whose veracity Dani’s been able to attest for weeks now.

It’s an absolute, just as much as is geometry, or inertia, or gravity.

Just as much as Jamie knows her.

And that, Dani thinks, that’s new.

Dani has always been an absolute––to her mother, to Eddie, to Flora and Miles––but no one, she thinks, has even been one for her. 

Not until Jamie.

It’s a rush of air, immediate and invigorating, and Dani feels like she can, for the first time since Rebecca had slipped into their room the night before, breathe again.

It’s a rush of air, immediate and invigorating, and it bowls Dani over, the blustery realization of the thing ballooned between them.

It’s a rush of air, immediate and invigorating, and Dani is a backdraft.

Dani is a backdraft, and Owen’s words are a rush of air, and the fire that’s been burning inside Dani her whole life––combustion started again and again, at boarding school, at the grocery store, at the tailor’s, interrupted and arrested twice that––is exploding, inexorable and insatiable all at once.

You know her best.

The words blaze in her head as Dani leaps to her feet, her chair clattering backwards. “I… I have to go, I think,” she says, and her hands shake as she wrestles the chair back under the table, “I’m okay–– I–– I will be… I’ll be okay,” her brows pinch together and she shakes her head, once, twice, “but I… I have to go.”

Dani’s halfway into the hallway when she remembers herself, ducking back in to flash a smile at the two of them, a “thank you” tossed warmly over her shoulder as she turns again, elbows pumping, and makes for the stairs.

“Well that certainly worked,” Hannah muses after a moment, her gaze sliding to meet Owen’s over her mug, “didn’t it?”

Owen purses his lips thoughtfully. “Only time will tell, dear Hannah,” he lifts his mug to his lips and winks, “only time will tell.”


Jamie is good at her job.

Jamie likes her job.

Jamie’s favorite part of every job, she thinks, standing absently in front of her bureau, staring down at the shirts, neatly folded, carefully arranged in a drawer, has always been the end.

Jamie has always liked leaving people before they can leave her.

There’s a knock on her door, and, for all its uncharacteristic gentleness, Jamie knows it immediately. She presses her eyes shut.

Dani’s voice is hopeful. “How’re, uh… How’re you doin’ up here?” 

Jamie is good at her job.

Jamie has kept Flora and Miles and Owen and Hannah and Dani safe.

Jamie has given them the tools––rules, common sense, self-defense––to keep them safe even after she’s gone.

She hears Dani step inside, hears the soft click of the door locking behind her.

Jamie likes her job.

Jamie has liked helping Miles with his poetry, and entertaining Flora’s long-winded bouts of fancy. She’s liked laughing with Owen over splatters of batter, and lounging in the garden (“it’s not lazy if it’s photosynthesis, is it?”), with Hannah. She’s liked her own moments, squirreled away in the greenhouse, all peace and pots and privacy in the afternoon sun.

Jamie has liked Dani. Jamie has liked Dani from the first moment she saw her, bumping her head on the door of Owen’s car, stubborn and solidifying in front of her. Jamie has liked Dani in the classroom, through a pair of paper binoculars; in the kitchen, over half-peeled potatoes; in the chapel, piousness traded for dogged petulance. Jamie has liked Dani in her arms, in the kitchen or over a pile of cushions on the lawn or in her bed, all cold feet and warm breath. 

“Jamie?”

Jamie turns. Breathes.

Jamie is good at her job.

Jamie likes her job.

Dani is standing in the middle of the room, sunlight streaming from the window to her face, her eyes wide and desperate and, for the first time, Jamie thinks, truly terrified.

“You haven’t started packing,” Dani whispers.

“Yeah, I…” Jamie purses her lips, looks back down at the drawer in front of her, “got distracted, I guess.”

“Distracted?” 

“I’ve been thinking.”

Jamie earns a small smile. “That’s never a good thing.”

“No,” Jamie meets Dani’s smile with her own, “probably not.”

“Do you wanna…” Dani purses her lips, and, swaying, takes a step closer. “Talk about it? What you’ve been thinking?”

Jamie ducks her head, and, taking a breath, looks shyly up at her.

Dani raises her eyebrows.

“Bet you’d like that,” Jamie takes a breath, a step in towards Dani, “wouldn’t you?”

Dani shrugs. “Thought I’d offer. It’s the…” the corner of her mouth twitches, “friendly thing to do.”

“Friendly, huh?”

“Mmhm,” Dani takes another step in, her fingers knotting together in front of her, “friendly.” 

“That’s what we are, then? Friends?”

“Jamie…” 

Jamie steps closer. “Yeah?”

Dani’s voice drops. “You and I both know that’s not what this is.”

Jamie looks at her for a long time.

Dani looks evenly, patiently back.

“I was thinking,” Jamie says abruptly, “about… What I said last night. About choice, and… And love.”

Dani watches her closely.

“Because that’s it, isn’t it?” Jamie’s restless, suddenly, rocking up onto the balls of her feet, crossing to the window overlooking the grounds. “Love is… It’s giving someone a choice at all, and it’s… Choosing to take it. Choosing to do the stupid thing, to jump, to lay down your…” Jamie presses her eyes closed, swallows. “It’s choosing all those things, again and again, day after day. It’s choosing them… Choosing them even when days are all you have, and knowing that it’s worth it. All the effort, all the…” She looks down at the floor, biting her cheek. “All of it. Every moment.”

She looks back at Dani, beseeching.

Dani watches her still, glassy and steady.

“I can’t… Stop thinking about something, Dani,” Jamie’s outbreath is shaky as she turns back to the window. “Not since I first realized it”––she reaches a hand to her face, and Dani can’t tell if she’s scratching at her forehead or swiping at her eyes or both, somehow, one in service of the other––“and I’ve known it for a while, I think, but I…” Jamie lets out a sound that’s half-laugh, half-sob, and Dani’s moving without thinking, stepping in closer, a hand rising and falling in the space spilling out between them.

“Christ,” Jamie turns, sliding her hands into her back pockets, her eyes finding Dani’s. “I just… I have to ask, okay? I have to ask, and I… Then I’ll know.”

Dani swallows. Takes a deep, shuddering breath. Smiles. “Ask away.”

“You, uh…” Jamie looks at the floor. “For as much as you tend not to listen to me,” a grin creeps into her voice, the corners of her mouth curling upwards, “you really… When you do, you…” She frowns, shaking her head. Looks up at Dani. “You listened, when I told you how to sleep better. That first… That first bloody day, when you wanted nothing to do with me, you listened, and you remembered it. You asked me to celebrate after our first week, invited me to a drink, even after I’d been… God,” she groans, “I was such a shit to you, Dani. And even when you… When you didn’t listen, when you ran into the chapel after me, you still… It was because…” Jamie stops, shaking her head again, clearing it.

Dani’s lip is caught between her teeth, her eyes wide, her fists clenching.

“And then you… Came back. Asked about it, when you needed help sleeping. You actually,” she laughs, and Dani feels a tug at the corners of her own mouth, “read Practical Landscape Gardening. Cared enough to ask about drought tolerance on top of it. Showed up morning after morning even though you…  Even though you hate mornings, and then, after the…”

Jamie stops, and Dani waits.

“Every day, Dani,” Jamie’s voice breaks, returns in a whisper, “you stayed with me every day.”

Dani can’t take it anymore.

She crosses to Jamie, steps short and fast, closing the distance between them.

Jamie’s voice is hard when she speaks again, concentrated, her eyes fixed on the grounds outside, the late morning sun bright and insistent and easier to look at, she thinks, than Dani’s eyes, shining next to her. “You chose to do all those things, Dani. Chose to listen,” she swallows, her words slow, deliberate, “to ask. To give me chance after chance, and to see me––I mean… See me. When you ran into that chapel,” Dani steps closer, her fingers hesitant, lighting along Jamie’s arm, “you made a choice, and when you met me outside every morning, you made a choice, and when you stayed…” Jamie’s breath hitches, and she turns to Dani.

Jamie’s eyes are soft and fragile and more open, Dani thinks, than she’s ever seen them before.

“You chose to stay,” Jamie whispers, and Dani knows what she’s asking. “You chose to stay with me.”

“You,” Dani’s fingers tighten around the fabric of Jamie’s shirt sleeve, and when she says it, voice shaking and certain, Jamie knows that Dani’s answer is a precipice, final and finite, that Dani isn’t going to say it again, that this is it, “could choose to stay too, you know.”

Jamie is good at her job.

Dani watches her, waits.

Jamie likes her job.

Dani tenses, clenching her teeth, and her lower lip trembles anyway.

Jamie’s job has always been to leave.

Dani’s eyes are wide, pleading.

Jamie’s job is bullshit.

And Jamie says it.

“I want to stay.”

Dani is burning next from her, a barely-contained blaze, and when she speaks next, her voice is taut, pitched and breathless. “And what else do you want?”

“This,” Jamie says, and the whole of her overflows, and next to her, Dani Clayton gives into the blaze, “I’ve only ever wanted this.” 

And then they collide.


They collide, Dani’s fingers wrapping around Jamie’s biceps, squeezing, tugging her roughly in.

They collide, Jamie’s hands finding Dani’s cheeks, one hand splayed, the other gliding desperately back, threading into Dani’s hair.

They collide, and Dani gasps against Jamie’s lips, and Jamie’s eyes flicker closed, and then they’re kissing, lips moving against each other’s in an unyielding push-pull, relieved and desperate. 

“It’s you, Dani,” Jamie manages between kisses, her breath heavy, her hand, cradling Dani’s head, pulling her in closer, “from the moment I first…” Dani sucks Jamie’s bottom lip into her mouth, and Jamie gasps, “from the moment I first saw you, I…” 

One of Dani’s hands slides up Jamie’s shoulder, Dani’s arm wrapping, tightening, around her back. “And you couldn’t,” Dani breathes, kissing Jamie eagerly, “have told me sooner?”

“Are you really,” Jamie’s fingers flex against Dani’s scalp, smiling, wide and in spite of herself, into Dani’s mouth,  “arguing with me right now?”

Dani pulls away, her answering grin is guilty and glittering. “Can you honestly say,” she murmurs, hand dragging from Jamie’s arm across her body to rest against her chest, “you wouldn’t do the same?”

“Not now,” Jamie murmurs back, dipping her head to press a kiss to the corner of Dani’s mouth, Dani’s eyes fluttering shut, “not when I’ve been waiting this long to kiss ya.”

“You’re lying, Jamie Taylor,” Dani breathes, her head tipping back as Jamie presses a second kiss to the opposite corner of her mouth, as Jamie ducks her head, her lips dotting the line of Dani’s jaw, “you’re lying and––” 

“Am not,” Jamie’s hand drops from Dani’s cheek to her waist, sliding down and around the curve of her hip, “I’m not a liar.”

“You’re arguing with me,” Jamie’s hand slips into the back pocket of Dani’s jeans and squeezes, and Dani gasps, delighted, “right now. Do that again,” she orders, her voice dipping, hardening, and she groans when Jamie obliges.

“I’m not arguing,” Jamie presses a kiss to the hinge of Dani’s jaw, pulling Dani into her, denim meeting denim as their hips bump together, “I’m defending my honor.”

“Funny,” Dani’s fingers bunch around the collar of Jamie’s shirt, tugging her back face-to-face, “I thought you were kissing me.” 

Jamie shakes her head, grinning. “You’re incorrigible,” she retorts, and then she surges forward, kissing Dani again.

Dani has just enough time to whisper “and you love it,” and then Jamie’s lips are on hers, hungry and harder than they had been before, and Dani never wants it to stop.

Jamie doesn’t argue, only hums her assent, and Dani grins, nudging Jamie’s mouth open, her tongue darting inside as her fist tightens around the collar of Jamie’s shirt. Jamie’s tongue meets Dani’s, sliding against hers, and Dani moans, Jamie chuckling as she does, her fingers tangling themselves deeper into Dani’s hair.

Dani loses herself in Jamie’s mouth, a symphony of contented hums and needy sighs as their tongues swirl together, and this, Jamie realizes, is the most relaxed Dani Clayton has ever felt. Dani melts into her as Jamie pulls her closer, as they press urgently into each other, Dani’s knees bumping clumsily against Jamie’s as she leans in, desperately seeking out whatever points of contact she can find. 

Jamie doesn’t realize when Dani’s hands drop from her back, from her chest, doesn’t realize when they scramble, instead, for the bottom of her shirt, doesn’t realize she’s yanking it untucked from her jeans, until Dani pulls away.

“Is this okay,” she whispers, pressing her forehead against Jamie’s, her words warm against Jamie’s lips, “that I’m… Can I…”

Jamie’s hands find Dani’s, wrapping into the hem of her shirt. “You can do,” she whispers back, thumbs seeking out, tracing, the ridges of Dani’s knuckles, “anything you want.” 

“Anything,” Dani breathes, and her eyes find Jamie’s. “Jamie…” 

Jamie leans back in, and when she kisses Dani, it’s soft. “Anything,” she says.

“I want you, Jamie,” it spills out of Dani in a rush, “I’ve wanted you for so long, and it… It hurt, it goddamn hurt, not having you…”

Jamie’s hands, wrapped around Dani’s, tug gently, guiding them upwards, Dani pulling up Jamie’s shirt as she goes.

“Being so close, you… Looking at me, like you would”––Dani leans back, the two of them tugging Jamie’s shirt up and over her head––“knowing, but… Not knowing because you wouldn’t… You wouldn’t say it, Jamie,” her eyes find Jamie’s, imploring, as Jamie guides her hands backwards, around her back, to the clasp of her bra, “and then I realized, you… You were. It was like you said, you––”

Jamie guides Dani’s fingers, unhooking her bra, and Dani gasps.

“You made it clear to me,” Dani breathes, eyes wide, hands slow, reverent, Jamie’s dropping to loop into the hem of Dani’s sweater as Dani reaches for the straps of Jamie’s bra, nudging first one, then the other, carefully down her shoulders.

“You made it clear to me,” she whispers again, stepping back in to duck her head, pressing her lips to Jamie’s shoulder, “every day.”

Jamie swallows, her breath catching, shallow, in her chest.

“You told me about Mikey,” Dani presses another kiss to her shoulder, lips creeping inward, “and your parents,” and another, “you shared your mornings with me,” Dani’s head dips lower, kissing her way across Jamie’s collarbone, “brought me to the greenhouse,” she pauses at the hollow of Jamie’s throat, nuzzling into the bow of her collarbone, breathing in deeply, and Jamie’s eyes flutter shut, her hands finding, flexing against, Dani’s shoulders, “you… Touched me, Jamie,” Dani’s lips broach Jamie’s opposite shoulder, “you touched me so much, and I… All I’ve ever wanted to do,” Dani’s lips find Jamie’s neck and her hands drag down the line of her sternum, stumbling over the button of Jamie’s jeans, slipping it out of its buttonhole, “is touch you back.”

Jamie runs her hands up Dani’s arms, sliding them into her hair, holding fast as Dani sucks at her neck. “So touch me, Dani,” she rasps, “please.”

Dani whines, low in her throat, and nods against Jamie’s neck, shoving hastily at her jeans, Jamie helping, shimmying, kicking them off as she does.

When Dani pulls away from Jamie’s neck, red splash blooming across Jamie’s skin in her wake, she stops.

Takes her in.

She’s seen Jamie in a bra before; has watched her, Dani fascinated and unabashed, Jamie with a delicate blush spreading across her face, change into her pajamas; has seen her in her underwear, even, but this… 

“Jamie,” she breathes, “you’re beautiful.”

Jamie’s brow furrows and she opens her mouth to retort, but Dani shakes her head, her voice firm as she steps closer. “You’re beautiful,” she says again, hands slow, careful as she reaches up, running a thumb over the swell of her breast, pinching a nipple between her thumb and forefinger.

Jamie gasps, the sound high and pitching in her throat.

She wants to squirm under Dani’s touch, wants to take the scrutiny off of herself, wants to turn Dani’s doting back onto her––

No one has held her until Dani Clayton.

Dani’s fingers drift, feather-light, to trace the scar underneath her left breast, her brows pinching together, her eyes flickering up, questioning, to Jamie’s.

Until Dani Clayton, no one has ever stayed.

“And you’re strong,” Dani whispers, her hands floating down, further still, palms sliding along the plane of Jamie’s stomach.

No one has ever seen her until Dani Clayton.

Dani drops to her knees in front of her, her fingers looping into the waistband of Jamie’s underwear.

“It’s my job,” Dani had told her once, “to care enough about you for the both of us.”

Dani looks up at her, and she looks so patient, Jamie thinks, Dani’s thumbs tracing loose circles into Jamie’s thighs, the sunlight canonizing the delicate features of her, streaming in through the window beside them.

Jamie holds her eyes, and she nods.

Dani smiles widely, blindingly, and leans in, pressing a kiss to Jamie’s hipbone. “Okay,” she breathes, and tugs, sliding Jamie’s underwear down and off, easing her out of it, lifting one foot, then the other.

Dani takes her time getting back up to her feet.

She kisses the side of Jamie’s knee, wraps her hands around the backs of her thighs, savoring the smoothness and the swell as she slides them upwards. She drags her tongue along the muscled groove of Jamie’s thigh, and nuzzles into her hip, sighing happily.

Jamie watches her the whole way. 

Dani nips at her belly button, detours, meandering, to kiss each freckle, every mole. She spreads her hands across Jamie’s hips, slides them up along Jamie’s waist, bracketing her ribcage, and ghosts the tip of her nose up the midline of Jamie’s abdomen.

Dani’s eyes find Jamie’s.

It’s terrifying, Jamie thinks, her head tipping back, gasping as Dani sucks a nipple into her mouth, being so exposed. 

It’s terrifying and it’s dangerous and she’s built a whole life around avoiding it, has crafted a future curated by the lives of everyone, anyone, else, each with its own built-in ripcord, each of which she is perfectly, handily in control.

It’s terrifying, because with Dani, that future––that meticulous, careful thing, job after job after job, all routine and all repeated, and never at the risk for hurt, not the real kind––is gone.

It’s terrifying, Jamie thinks again, because Dani sees her.

And it’s beautiful, Jamie thinks, Dani finding her lips again, kissing her deeply, because Dani sees her.

Dani sees her––

Jamie stumbles backwards, Dani pushing her back towards their bed.

––Dani sees her because Jamie lets Dani see her––

The back of Jamie’s knees hit the mattress.

––because Jamie chooses to let Dani see her––

Dani pulls away, and her eyes find Jamie’s.

––because Jamie chooses Dani.

“Please,” Jamie whispers, and Dani’s pushing her backwards, following her as she falls back into bed, slotting herself neatly, easily, between Jamie’s thighs.

They fit so perfectly, Dani thinks, so seamlessly together, and she’s known this––they’ve known this––for a week now, curled together every night, but there’s something about them now, in this moment, equal and opposite and inextricably bound.

Dani kisses her again.

Dani kisses her again, and there’s no hesitation, no preamble; Dani kisses her, and Dani’s tongue slides into her mouth, and Jamie moans, her hands wrapping around her waist, slipping up and under her sweater, pulling her closer.

“You taste so good,” Dani whispers between kisses, awed, “you taste so good, and I… I want––” Jamie digs blunt nails into Dani’s shoulders and Dani whimpers. “I want to taste you everywhere, Jamie,” Dani props herself up on an elbow, dipping her head, mouthing her way down Jamie’s throat, “I want to taste you everywhere and touch you everywhere and I”––Dani nips at Jamie’s collarbone and Jamie’s hips jerk, pressing up into her––“don’t want to stop.”

“Then don’t,” Jamie arches, pressing her head back into the pillow behind her, “don’t–– Fuck, Dani, don’t stop.”

Dani whines into Jamie’s skin, her hand skimming along Jamie’s ribcage, tracing the angles of her as she kisses her way across Jamie’s chest, around a nipple (“Jesus, Dani, can you just… Your mouth, please, right–– Right there, yeah––”), tugging it softly, finally, between her teeth. Jamie gasps, and Dani savors the pitch of it, the sharpness of it, grinning as she soothes it with her tongue, her hand wrapping, squeezing, around Jamie’s hipbone.

Jamie’s hips jerk again, twitching, up into Dani, and Dani grinds down, meeting them as she mouths her way across Jamie’s chest, to her other nipple, savoring the clutch of Jamie’s fingers against her shoulders. “I thought…” Dani breathes, nuzzling into the underside of Jamie’s breast, her hips rolling to meet Jamie’s again, “I thought it felt good the other night, but…” She drags her lips across Jamie’s sternum, resting her chin there, eyes heavy, finding Jamie’s. “This is so much better,” she whispers, and when Jamie nods, breathless, Dani grins, pressing her face back into Jamie’s skin, rising and falling with each heavy breath. “So much better,” she whispers again, her tongue darting out and dragging, tortuous, to lap at a hipbone.

“Fuck,” Jamie’s hands are scrabbling for purchase, clutching at the sheets, at Dani’s shoulder, “Dani…” 

Dani rakes her teeth across the jut of Jamie’s hip, her eyes flicking upwards. “You can touch,” she murmurs, her words painting Jamie’s skin as her lips dip into the crease of Jamie’s thigh, and Jamie groans. “Touch me, Jamie,” Dani says again, firmer, and Jamie lets go of her shoulder, her hand finding Dani’s head, her fingers tangling into her hair, “and don’t,” her tongue drags further inward, towards Jamie’s center, “worry about me. You don’t have to,” she loops an arm around Jamie’s leg, lifts her knee, “be gentle. I trust you,” she adds, voice soft, her eyes finding Jamie’s again, “okay?”

Jamie takes a breath, and it trembles. She nods.

Dani looks at her a moment longer. Bites her lip, grins. 

And then she ducks her head.

Jamie moans when Dani runs her tongue between her folds, Jamie’s fingers flexing against her scalp, her hips arching up and into Dani’s mouth.

Dani moans too, her fingers wrapping around Jamie’s thigh, pressing into it, pulling her closer.

“Dani…” Jamie’s hips buck into Dani’s mouth as Dani swirls her tongue around Jamie’s clit, flicks at the center of it, sucks.

Dani hums, her free hand slipping up Jamie’s thigh, wrapping around her hip, holding tightly. Jamie’s hips rock harder against the newfound resistance, and Dani turns her head, huffing out a laugh into the inside of Jamie’s thigh, punctuates it with a nip.

Jamie groans, tugging at Dani’s hair, tugging Dani back to her center, and Dani gasps, her own hips jerking into the mattress as she does, her nails pressing crescents into Jamie’s thigh.

“Your mouth, Dani,” Jamie pants, “please,” and Dani’s quick to oblige, dragging her tongue down to Jamie’s center, moaning into the wetness there.

“So good,” Dani manages, and Jamie lets go of the duvet, scrambles to find Dani’s hand, their fingers twining together over her hip, “you taste,” her tongue dips inside, curls, “so good, Jamie.”

Jamie’s fingers tighten around Dani’s, tighten in her hair, and she presses her head harder back into the pillow, a whine building, low, in her throat as her hips cant against Dani.

“Let me take care of you,” Dani murmurs, her tongue dragging back up to press against Jamie’s clit again, Jamie rocking steadily against her, “let me make you,” she drags the flat of her tongue along Jamie’s clit, sucks it into her mouth, “feel good.”

“You–– You do,” Jamie gasps, hips faster, more insistent, “you do, Dani, you make me feel so––”

Dani flicks her tongue against Jamie again, and Jamie makes a strangled noise in her throat. Jamie’s hips are stuttering, losing their rhythm, and Dani lets go of Jamie’s thigh, slipping her hand carefully up, pulling back the hood of Jamie’s clit, and she’s barely lit her tongue against it, swirling around it, dragging upwards, when Jamie tenses around her and under her and cries out, her back and hips arching up, holding as she comes. 

Jamie squeezes Dani’s hand as she does, her knuckles white, and Dani squeezes back, lapping softly at Jamie, pressing light kisses between her legs, easing her down as Jamie rides out the aftershocks. 

“So good,” Dani whispers, turning her head to press a kiss to the inside of Jamie’s thigh, “so good, Jamie,” and she kisses her again and again, Jamie’s name a refrain on her lips as she makes her way back up Jamie’s body, leaving a trail of kisses as she goes.

“Fuck,” Jamie breathes, her arms wrapping around Dani when she reaches her chest, settling there, Dani’s head rising and falling as Jamie catches her breath. “Fuck, Dani, I…” 

Dani beams up at her, eyes bright. “I’ve been wanting to do that,” she pushes herself up, hovering over Jamie, “for a long time.”

“Can’t believe,” Jamie presses her eyes closed, grinning widely when Dani ducks down, kisses the tip of her nose, “you beat me to it.” 

“Pretty easy,” Dani murmurs, kissing one eyelid, then the other, “when you’re all talk.”

Jamie laughs, breathless. “Did you just call me easy?”

Dani scoffs. “You’re the most difficult person I’ve ever met.”

Jamie grins, slipping her arms around Dani’s waist. “I believe that honor actually belongs to you.”

Dani clicks her tongue, shaking her head. “It was all worth it,” she whispers, leaning down to bump her nose against Jamie’s, “for this.”

Jamie hums. “You’re good at this,” she mumbles into Dani’s hair, Dani nuzzling into her neck.

Dani sighs, and Jamie can feel her preening, Dani’s grin stretching wider against Jamie’s skin.

“Too good at it,” Jamie continues, “I think.”

Dani snorts.

“Oi!” Jamie jumps, recoiling. “That tickles!”

“Serves you right,” Dani pulls back, propping herself up onto her elbows, “telling me I’m too good.”

“Y’know,” Jamie raises her eyebrows, “most women would take that as a compliment.”

Dani arches a single brow in response. “Most women, huh?” 

“But,” Jamie continues pointedly, fingers gliding up and under Dani's sweater, along the easy arc of Dani’s spine, “you’re not most women.”

“No?”

“No,” Jamie’s fingers reach Dani’s shoulders, press softly into them, “you’re much more smug.” 

“You really know how to win a girl over, don’t you?”

Jamie’s fingers relax against her skin, drag back down the arch of her back. “Won you over a long time ago, didn’t I?”

Dani hums, sinking down into Jamie, Dani’s lips ghosting against hers. “Who’s smug now?”

“Looks like we both are,” Jamie murmurs back, chuckling when Dani’s teeth rake over her bottom lip, “so it works out, I think.” 

“Works out pretty well,” Dani agrees, whimpering when Jamie slides a hand around the back of her neck, pulling her back in to kiss her deeply.

Jamie’s threading her fingers into Dani’s hair, her knee creeping up between Dani’s legs, when Dani pulls away again.

“Did you mean it?”

Jamie’s brow furrows, her thumb tracing easy strokes along Dani’s waist. “Mean what?”

“What you said about…” Dani flushes, and she looks, Jamie thinks, almost shy. “About me being good?”

Jamie looks at her. Takes in Dani’s lips, swollen and pinched between eager teeth; Dani’s cheeks, stained red with exertion and excitement and anticipation; Dani’s eyes, wide and hopeful. 

Jamie smiles, reaching up to cup her cheek. “Never say anything I don’t mean, do I?”

Dani beams, turning her head to nuzzle into Jamie’s palm. “I just… After Eddie, I… It was like starting over. After so long. And I’d wanted to, I’d wanted to so badly for so much of my life, but…” Her eyes flicker over to Jamie’s. “It’s terrifying, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Jamie whispers, her thumb grazing the swell of Dani’s cheekbone, “it is.”

“I did, you know,” Dani says, pride creeping into her voice, “in London. Found a bar, and… And met some women. A few women,” she admits, her eyes dropping to the sheets beneath them before flitting back up, “but it feels like I’m still… Figuring it out, I guess.” She pauses then, eyes wide, and leans back down, peering at Jamie. “You don't…” she starts, hesitant, “know that from my background check, do you?”

“Oh,” and Dani would almost buy Jamie's gravity, is almost convinced, if not for the way her eyes twinkle in the afternoon light shining in through the window, “just their names and National Insurance numbers. You, uh… You do remember their names, right?”

Dani only grins, assuaged, her retort easy and immediate in its wake. “Of course I do. You want the list, or…?”

Jamie groans, and, rocking her hips to the side, flips them, pinning Dani handily, pressing her wrists into the pillow above her head. “You think you’re clever,” she accuses. 

Dani bites her lip, grinning widely around it. “Maybe.”

“You think you can get a rise out of me.”

“Do I?”

“You know you do.”

Dani bats her eyelashes. “Is it working?”

“No.”

Dani hums, grinning, and arches up into her. “I think it’s working.”

Jamie presses her eyes closed, breathes in deeply. 

“It’s definitely working.”

“It’s not–– It’s not working, Dani.”

“Are you sure?” Dani snakes a foot up and around, looping it around Jamie’s ankle, dragging it up.

“I would know,” Jamie opens her eyes again, her voice rough, “if it was working.”

“I dunno,” Dani muses, hitching her leg higher now, “technically you’re still coming back from a traumatic brain injury. Isn’t today supposed to be your last day of bedrest?”

“In bed, aren’t I?” Jamie murmurs, gasping when Dani’s leg wraps around her waist, pulling Jamie flush against her.

Dani’s lips find the shell of Jamie’s ear, murmur back. “But are you resting?” 

“I’m––” Dani’s teeth tug at Jamie’s earlobe, and she groans. “Dani…” 

“Yeah?”

“Christ,” Jamie’s forehead falls to Dani’s shoulder, and Dani giggles. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing, huh?”

“Mmhm.” Dani’s leg tightens, tensing around Jamie’s waist.

“If it’s nothing, then,” Jamie presses a kiss to Dani’s shoulder, pulls back, “I could stop right now. Seeing as you like…” she lifts her hips, angling them away from Dani’s, “nothing so much.”

Dani whimpers, digging her heel into Jamie’s back, arching desperately up.

Jamie raises an eyebrow.

“I didn’t…” Dani huffs, “I didn’t… Say that.”

“Kind of is what you said, isn’t it?”

“I… No… Jamie, ” Dani whines, squirming under Jamie’s grip.

“Yeah?” Jamie’s grinning now, her eyes dipping down to Dani’s lips, pressed, concentrated, together.

“It’s not nothing,” Dani breathes, “it’s not nothing, so don’t…” her breath hitches, shudders, “don’t stop, okay?”

Jamie grins wider, leaning back down just enough to brush her nose against Dani’s. “What is it, then?”

Dani groans.

Jamie raises her eyebrows. “Who’s all talk now, Dani Clayton?”

Dani whines, low in her throat, her wrists twisting under Jamie’s fingers.

“What is it?” Jamie’s voice drops, but it’s earnest, so earnest, and Jamie lets her head duck lower, her lips grazing Dani’s. 

“Can you…” Dani’s brows pinch together and her leg flexes and she arches upwards, nuzzling into Jamie. “Can you… Touch me?”

“Can I touch ya?” Jamie flushes, her eyes alight. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Jamie shifts Dani’s wrists into one hand, her other dropping, cupping Dani’s cheek as she ducks her head, pressing a kiss to Dani’s lips, her thumb stroking an easy arc across Dani’s cheek. Dani sighs, pitched and shaky, as she kisses Jamie back, hips already canting, pressing up into her.

“Easy,” Jamie murmurs, “haven’t even got you out of your clothes yet, have I?”

“So,” Dani’s whine is frustrated, petulant, her heel digging into Jamie’s back, “get me out of them.” 

Jamie groans, pulling away to press her forehead against Dani’s, her eyes dropping to follow her hand, already between them, fumbling with the button of Dani’s pants. “You’re lucky,” she mumbles, “m’not making you keep them on, just for that.”

“You wouldn’t,” Dani’s leg drops and Jamie yanks at Dani’s zipper, tugging her pants down her waist, and Dani lifts her hips, “I’ve…” Jamie pulls her pants the rest of the way off, tossing them behind her to start on Dani’s underwear, and Dani gasps, “I’ve seen the way you look at me, Jamie. You would never.”

“I wouldn’t,” Jamie agrees, dropping Dani’s underwear behind her too, then starting back up the bed, pausing halfway to pull one of Dani’s legs up over her shoulder, “not now. Can’t imagine,” she turns her head, presses a kiss to the inside of Dani’s thigh, then another, sucking softly at the swell of skin there, “you any way else.”

Dani’s voice is rough. “Have you…” she swallows, eyes fixed on Jamie as Jamie lowers her leg carefully, starts to push the hem of her sweater up, “have you imagined me?”

Jamie ducks her head, kisses Dani’s stomach. “You know I have,” she murmurs against her skin.

Dani’s breath catches. “Jamie…” 

Jamie’s eyes flick upwards. “Yeah?”

Dani swallows. “I don’t want you to just imagine.”

Jamie’s answering sigh is full, wanting, and, pressing another quick kiss to Dani’s stomach, Jamie pushes Dani’s sweater up, tugging it over her head.

Dani’s chest is flushed underneath it, her breath shallow and fast already, and she watches carefully as Jamie sits back onto her heels, smoothing Dani’s sweater over her thighs.

“You, uh, take care of your clothes,” Jamie explains, hands shaking as she starts to fold Dani’s sweater, “want to make sure I do, too.” She leans back, resting it on the bench at the foot of her bed, and when she turns back around, Dani is waiting for her, propped up on one arm.

“Jamie,” Dani breathes again, and before Jamie can move, Dani is reaching for her, sliding a hand around the back of her neck and pulling Jamie in, kissing her hard.

Jamie moans into her mouth, deepening their kiss, and her other hand slinks up behind Dani, stumbling over the clasp of her bra before slipping it open. Dani hastily tugs one arm free, refusing to break their kiss, then the other, throwing her bra aside and pulling Jamie back down onto the bed with her.

Dani gasps at the feeling of skin on skin, arching into Jamie as she wraps one arm up and around Jamie’s back, pulling them closer together. “I want to feel all of you,” she whispers, her other hand sliding up the back of Jamie’s neck to tangle into her hair, “all over me.”

“Wanna feel you, too,” Jamie slips a thigh between Dani’s, and Dani moans into her mouth as Jamie presses up, “so bad, Dani.”

“So feel me,” Dani grinds herself down into Jamie’s thigh, and Jamie groans at the wetness there, reaching for Dani’s leg as Dani grinds against her harder, hitching it back up and around her waist. 

Dani starts to whine, starts to protest the loss of friction, but Jamie’s hand is sliding over the rise of Dani’s thigh, dipping between the two of them, and then Dani’s gasping as Jamie’s fingers slip between her legs, slipping down through the slick, circling her entrance.

“How’s that?” Jamie’s voice is hoarse, her forehead pressed to Dani’s.

Dani whimpers, nodding, hips jerking up into Jamie’s fingers. 

“Good,” Jamie murmurs, nuzzling into Dani as she drags her fingers up, slowly, through Dani, circling her clit.

“Jamie,” Dani sighs, her fingers tightening in Jamie’s curls.

“Yeah?” Jamie presses a kiss to Dani’s cheek, circling Dani’s clit again, dragging two fingers down along either side of it.

“You feel so…” Dani shudders, “so good, you…” 

Jamie’s fingers dip back down, teasing Dani’s entrance as Jamie’s free hand finds Dani’s breast, her fingers pinching at a nipple.

Dani whines, rocking her hips up into Jamie’s fingers. “So good, Jamie, please––”

Jamie ducks her head, presses a kiss to the crook of Dani’s neck. “I want you so bad, Dani, want to make you”––she slides her fingers back up, around Dani’s clit––“feel as good as you made me feel. Make you feel as good as good as you deserve––”

“You do,” Dani’s fingers dig into Jamie’s shoulder, urging her closer, “you do, Jamie, you make me feel so…”

Jamie slides her fingers back down, and this time when she presses into Dani, Dani’s heel digs into her back and Dani rolls her hips and Jamie’s fingers sink, easily, into her.

Dani sucks in a breath, sharp and keening, cut off by a whine.

“Christ, Dani,” Jamie gasps against Dani’s neck as Dani starts to rock her hips into Jamie’s fingers, “you–– You feel…” 

“So good,” Dani breathes, turning to press a sloppy kiss to Jamie’s head, burying her face in her hair, “so good, Jamie.”

“Yeah,” Jamie breathes, pumping her wrist into Dani, slowly at first, Dani’s hips rolling to meet her, “you’re so good.” 

Dani whimpers again, her hips meeting Jamie’s thrusts, indulging in the fill of Jamie’s fingers, in the slide of them against her, inside her as Jamie thrusts in and out. “Right…” she gasps, “right there, don’t–– Don’t stop––”

“I won’t,” Jamie promises, rolling her hips in time with her wrist, thrusting harder into her as she kisses her way back up Dani’s neck, across her cheek, to the corner of her mouth.

“Jamie,” Dani gasps, turning her head to find Jamie’s lips, “Jamie, please––”

“I’m right here,” Jamie manages between kisses, “right here, Dani, and you’re so–– You’re so fucking––” Jamie thrusts harder, and Dani moans, her hips bucking, eagerly meeting the force of Jamie’s fingers. “You’re so fucking good, Dani,” Jamie whispers, “you’re so fucking good, and I––”

Dani’s nodding, keening, her hips relentless as they rock into Jamie’s fingers. “Yeah,” her fingers tighten in Jamie’s hair, tighten as they grip her shoulder blade, “yeah, Jamie, yes, just like–– Like that––”

Jamie can feel Dani tightening around her, can feel the cant of her hips grow more and more erratic, can hear the tremors in Dani’s throat as she whines against her lips.

“Jamie–– I–– Tell me again,” Dani gasps, “tell me again that you… That you…” 

“I’ve got you, Dani,” Jamie kisses her, “and I choose you,” she kisses her again, “and I’m not going anywhere,” and she kisses her again and again, pumping faster, harder, and when she finally curls her fingers, when she murmurs a final “I’m here, Dani,” Dani clenches around her and Jamie kisses her hard and fast.

Dani cries out into her mouth, shuddering, climax wracking her body, hips jerking into Jamie’s fingers, and Jamie rides it out with her, thrusting steadily into her, curling her fingers softer, slower, easing her down with each stroke.

Jamie leans down, peppering Dani’s face with kisses as Dani’s breath slows, evens, and when Jamie slides her fingers out, Dani sighs, sinking back into the pillow behind her. Jamie grins, and, wiping her fingers on the sheets next to them (“laundry day,” she mumbles, winking up at Dani), stretches out, resting her head between Dani’s breasts.

“This is nice,” Dani murmurs after a few minutes, one hand dragging up and down Jamie’s back, the fingers of her other aimlessly fluffing Jamie’s curls.

“Been doing nice,” Jamie mumbles from where she’s resting on Dani’s chest, eyes closed, “for a while, haven’t we?” She smirks against Dani’s skin. “Canoodling every night, me and you.”

Dani rolls her eyes and props herself up on her elbows, Jamie’s eyes flying open as she slips down Dani’s sternum. “This,” Dani says, gesturing at the nakedness between them, “is nice.”

Jamie grins, repositioning herself, resting her head in Dani’s lap. “If you wanted to try it naked, you could’ve just said as much.”

“Keep talking like that,” Dani gives her a look, poking at her cheek, “and you’ll never get to try anything naked again.”

Jamie snorts. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would!”

Jamie only hums, closing her eyes, and a minute later, Dani’s fingers are finding hers, tangling together. “Hey Jamie?”

“Yeah?”

“It never… I didn’t know it could… Feel like this? Before, I mean. It was good,” Dani clarifies, and Jamie chuckles, squeezing her hand, “it was really good, even, once I was with other… You know, in London, but it wasn’t… Like this. Not like it is with you.”

Jamie opens her eyes, smiling lazily as she finds Dani’s. “You know what, Dani Clayton?”

A crease springs up between Dani’s brows. “What?”

“You,” Jamie’s smile broadens, proud, “like me too much.”

Dani doesn’t even fight it. “Yeah,” she melts, a smile stretching across her face to match Jamie’s, “I do.”

Jamie smirks and, reaching up to cup Dani’s face, tugs her down, kissing her.

Dani hums, and meets her.

They shift between kisses, Dani tugging Jamie hastily back up and into a straddle, Jamie settling, legs splayed, across her lap. Jamie slides her arms around Dani’s neck, grinding down, and Dani’s moaning, sucking Jamie’s tongue eagerly into her mouth, when Jamie pulls away again, brow furrowed. 

Dani whines, leaning in to follow, to kiss her again, but Jamie holds a hand up to her chest, stopping her.

“Dani?”

“Mm?” Dani’s brow furrows in kind. “What is it?”

“I don’t… I don’t think I just like you.” 

Dani feels her heart crackle. Spark.

“I don’t think I just like you, either,” she says.

A grin arcs across Jamie’s face, and she’s leaning back in, Dani grinning with her, and they’re kissing again, their teeth clacking together, hard and fast and sloppy.

“Jamie,” Dani manages between kisses, “Jamie, I––”

“Yeah?” Jamie urges, grinding down, gasping sharply as Dani’s hand nudges between her legs.

“I––”

“Jamie?” They freeze at the sound of Rebecca’s voice, accompanied by a knock, just outside the door.

Jamie lets her forehead fall forward, bumping softly against Dani’s. “What’s, uh… What’s up?” 

“You’ve got a phone call,” Dani bumps her nose against Jamie’s, grinning mischievously as Rebecca talks, her hand slipping, teasing, against Jamie’s center, “Hannah’s holding it for you down in the foyer.”

“Can’t you,” Jamie bites the inside of her cheek, stifling a gasp as Dani slips a finger between her folds, “take a message for me?”

“Can’t, I’m afraid,” Jamie gives Dani a look as Rebecca continues, “sorry to interrupt your packing, but you have a very insistent caller, Jamie Taylor.”

“Right,” Jamie tempers her voice, her breath, brows pinching together as Dani slides two fingers easily into her, “packing.”

Outside the door, Rebecca hums.

“Look,” Jamie says, grinding down onto Dani’s fingers, shaking her head at the grin stretching slowly across Dani’s face, “just tell… Just tell Mikey that I can’t right now, that I’ll…” her breath hitches and she clenches her teeth, one hand finding Dani’s shoulder and pushing her backwards until she’s lying on the bed again, “I’ll call him back later, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Rebecca sighs, and Jamie arches her back, rolling her hips as Dani thrusts into her, using her own hips as leverage, “it’s not that kind of call, Jamie.”

“What do you mean,” Jamie looks at Dani, Dani’s pupils blown as she watches her fingers thrust up, disappear into Jamie, then reemerge, shining, and can barely contain a groan, “it’s not that kind of call?”

“It’s not Mikey.”

Jamie meets Dani’s thrusts harder, fucking herself down onto Dani’s fingers. “Christ, who–– Who is it, then?”

Jamie’s about to come, can feel herself tightening around Dani’s fingers, Dani grinning smugly up at her.

“You,” Jamie mouths at her, shaking her head, hips stuttering against Dani’s hand, “you––”

“Me?” Dani mouths, grinning wider, curling her fingers, watching as Jamie’s eyes press closed, as her head tips back.

“It’s Viola,” Rebecca says.

Chapter Text

They’re all in the foyer, crowded around Jamie as she picks up the phone.

There’s Owen, arms folded across his chest, head cocked and brow furrowed as he watches Jamie, flour dusting the tips of his hair.

There’s Hannah, smile bemused and poorly hidden as she stretches up onto her tiptoes to whisper into Owen’s ear. (“Judging by the look of Miss Clayton’s backwards jumper and Jamie’s… Well,” Hannah had hummed, eyes lingering on the blossom of red peeking out of the collar of Jamie’s flannel, “my finances appear to be secure.”) 

There’s Flora and Miles, seated and squirming on the stairs, watching the gaggle of grown-ups in front of them carefully: Miles, taking in the lingering flush on Jamie’s cheeks, the blush crowning the tips of Dani’s ears, and Flora, watching Dani’s eyes, fascinated by the way they drink Jamie in, attention and desperation twined inextricably together. 

There’s Rebecca, lips pursed and watching Jamie through narrowed eyes, her thoughts a mishmash of tallies and retorts, already calculating the best possible return she can get out of her latest grievance with Jamie, buffered as it may have been by a locked door.

And there’s Dani, shifting her weight nervously from side to side, a half-step closer to Jamie than everyone else, fingernail snug between her teeth as she watches her, mind waylaid somewhere between Jamie’s legs and Jamie’s lips, wrapping around Viola’s name as she picks up the phone.

“Hey, Vi,” she says easily––easily, Dani thinks––curling a finger around the cord. “Fancy seeing you here.”

Next to her, Rebecca snorts, and Dani glances over in time to see her rolling her eyes.

Jamie laughs, and Dani’s eyes snap back to her. “Yeah, you got me there. Fancy hearing you here, then.”

Dani watches. Listens.

“Yeah, I’m… I’m doing great. Feeling great,” Jamie’s eyes flick over to Dani’s, “getting some real, top tier care down here.”

Hannah scoffs politely into her hand. 

“No! No, uh, no, the doctor didn’t… It was a visiting doctor, this was…” Jamie presses her eyes closed and reaches up to scratch at her forehead. “You know what,” she says quickly, distracting, “thank you, too. For, uh, taking care of me.” Jamie cringes, nods. “Yeah. Mmhm. Keeping me on while I recovered and all. That was,” she clears her throat, “really great of you. Yeah, no, I know it’s part of the––” Jamie barks out a rough laugh, squirming a little, spiral cord tightening around her finger. “Benefits , Vi, right. I mean, where else,” her eyes drift to Dani again and she grins slowly, wilily, “could I get paid to lay about in bed for two weeks?” 

Owen sniffs, his mustache twitching.

“What did I… Oh, you know me,” Jamie’s grin stretches wider as she leans back, slouching against the wall beside her, “always find ways to keep myself occupied, don’t I?”

“Why doesn’t she just tell her,” Flora’s whisper, barely aimed at Miles’ ear, echoes through the foyer, “she spent most of her time with Miss Clayton?”

Miles shushes her.

“Oh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Lots of sleep. I had,” Jamie’s voice lilts, “a traumatic brain injury you know, Vi.” Jamie rolls her eyes. “Yes, I remember when I–– And you–– Yes.” She furrows her brow, eyes dragging towards the ceiling, thinking. “That was the… Second one, I think? Yeah.” She purses her lips. “Dunno. Hate to say it, but I got much better care here. Much…” her eyes find Dani’s again, “better care.”

Dani bites her lip, smile spilling out around it, her cheeks pinkening. 

Jamie blinks suddenly, standing up straighter. “I… Yeah, okay. Let’s, uh,” she clears her throat, “let’s have it then.” 

Rebecca purses her lips.

Jamie listens for a long time. Frowns. Nods. Says, finally, “I do hear you. And I… Understand what you’re saying, where you’re coming from. But I’m fine, Becca can attest to it, and I’m sure the client would too, and–– What, you don’t trust my judgement?” The cord twines tighter around Jamie’s fingers. “I know I said I had a traumatic brain injury, and I know you know it was said in jest. It’s been two weeks, Viola, I’m–– Look, I’ll… I’ll take a test, whatever you want me to do, but I’m not…” 

Dani wavers, swaying forward, her thumbs tucking into fists at her side.

“I’m not leaving.” 

Hannah glances sideways at Owen.

“It wasn’t a question, it was–– Look,” and Jamie’s voice hardens, “respectfully, Vi––and I mean that, you know I mean that––I will not go. I hope you understand that.” Her voice drops. “I know you understand that.”

Owen raises his eyebrows, glances back.

“Peter Quint is still at large, for one. And no one else has even come close to finding him, to nabbing him. Rebecca hasn’t even seen him, not up close. You said you wanted two people for the job, and when I’m the only one who’s–– What,” Jamie laughs again, and it’s like sandpaper, “are you gonna come down here and work with Becca yourself?” Jamie scoffs. “You don’t know the half of it.” 

Miles cocks his head. “Peter’s not––” 

This time, Flora shushes him.

“Jesus, you don’t need to… I was joking,” Jamie glances over at Rebecca, rolling her eyes, her knuckles whitening as she grips the phone. “Honestly, the… The au pair would be more equipped than you, Vi, she’s learning, and she knows Peter better than–– No. No. Christ, Viola, you sound… Where are you–– Okay, yeah. Fine.” She rests the phone against her chest, looking, wide-eyed, at Rebecca. “She… Put me on hold.”

Rebecca’s laugh is bright and full, cutting through the weight of the air as it floats between them. “Now you’ve really done it.”

“Done what?” Dani’s brows pinch together as she looks from Jamie to Rebecca and back again. “What’s happening?”

“Old Three-Toed here is getting treated the same as all the rest of us.” Rebecca laughs again. “Probably on hold while she orders her lunch. What do you think, Jamie? Is she going for a martini or a G and T today?”

Jamie glares at her.

“Unless you think she’s just raiding the minibar…” 

“Why would she be raiding the minibar?” Dani cocks her head at Rebecca, looks back at Jamie. “Jamie, why would she be raiding the minibar?”

“She’s just taking the piss,” Jamie grumbles, and when she glances down at the floor, the back of her neck is flushed. 

“Speaking of G and Ts,” Owen clears his throat, “who wants one? Hannah?”

“Oh…” Hannah purses her lips, eyes drifting thoughtfully between Dani, Jamie, and Rebecca, “no, thank you. Not for me. But, uh,” she tears her gaze away from the slow curl of Rebecca’s lips and turns, smiling, to Owen, “how about I join you?”

“Join little old G and me?” Owen grins as he says it, and Hannah scoffs. “It’d be an honor.” 

Flora and Miles watch them go, Flora tilting her head, giggling, as she watches Owen offer Hannah his arm, poking insistently at Miles’ knee when Hannah takes it. 

Miles sighs.

Dani starts. “Do you two, uh…” she glances over at the two of them, waiting, squirreling, on the stairs, “wanna go play in your rooms, maybe? I can’t imagine all this grown-up talk is particularly interesting––”

“Oh,” Flora leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees and propping up her chin, “it’s quite interesting, actually. I find it perfectly––”

Miles shakes his head, already climbing to his feet. “C’mon, Flora,” he mumbles, tugging at her sleeve.

Flora sighs, overwrought and underwhelmed, and climbs slowly to her feet, footfalls heavy as she follows Miles up the stairs. She pauses at the landing, turning, looking mournfully down at Dani below. “Really, Miss Clayton,” she says, wistful, “it was perfectly splendid.”

“Not sure splendid,” Jamie mumbles when Flora’s footfalls resume, fading as she trudges to her room, “is quite the word for it.” 

Rebecca laughs again, turning away from the landing to look back at Jamie. “Are you still on hold?”

Jamie gives her a look.

“Can’t imagine you’re going to be getting good news when she gets back,” Rebecca muses, “name dropping this one like that.” She nods at Dani.

“I didn’t–– It wasn’t like–– I didn’t name drop her, Rebecca. I said the––”

“I heard what you said,” Rebecca shakes her head. “You can’t have imagined she’d take that well, Jamie.”

“There’s no way for her to take it! It’s an… An illustrative example to show how well-suited I am and she isn’t to finish this job, and if that’s the example it takes…” Jamie trails off, her eyes drifting to Dani.

Dani, looking a little smug and a little proud.

Jamie feels a little like she wants to kiss her.

“An illustrative example,” Rebecca echoes, and Jamie looks back at her, “right. Illustrative of what, exactly, Jamie? I know you’re used to getting away with…” she pauses, arching an eyebrow, “cheekiness, but… You’re not exactly currying Viola’s favor telling her she can’t do her job when she’s the one who founded the company, are you?”

“Okay,” Jamie purses her lips, considering, “but what’s she going to do? Fire me? Becca, I’m her best employee.”

Rebecca scoffs, tossing her head back. 

Next to her, Dani giggles.

There’s a muffled sound coming from the handset of the phone, still pressed into Jamie’s shirt, and Jamie shoots Rebecca a look before lifting it back to her ear. “What’s up, Vi?” She grins, raises her eyebrows. “Ah, a G and T? We’re about to have a round of those here oursel–– Jesus, Viola. Right into it, huh?”

Dani sucks in a breath.

Rebecca clicks her tongue.

Jamie’s quiet, listening. Hums. Nods. Listens some more.

Murmurs, the sound of glasses clinking, of laughter, float in from the kitchen.

“Right, then,” Jamie finally says, “that’s all well and good, Vi, and I appreciate it very much, but it won’t be necessary.”

Rebecca gasps, and Dani’s head jerks over, scrutinizing. Rebecca shakes her head, nodding back to Jamie.

“It’s not, actually,” Jamie’s voice is hard, her eyes shining, “I won’t be requiring your… Severance.” 

Dani’s stepping in, reaching for Jamie––

“Because,” Jamie’s voice is harder still, a diamond, glittering with gall, “I quit.” 

Rebecca sighs, her head dropping in quiet resignation.

––Dani’s hand closes around Jamie’s wrist, and she looks at her, wide-eyed. 

“I appreciate all you’ve done for me, Viola,” Jamie continues, her eyes finding, settling on, Dani’s, “and I appreciate the opportunities, but…” She sucks in a breath. “Consider this my resignation. Effective immediately.” She starts to continue, and then pauses, cut off, pursing her lips. “I can tell him myself if you’d like. Save you the trouble. And I’ll have Becca bring you my firearm when she finishes her contract, yeah? Great.” 

Rebecca hums her assent, but Jamie doesn’t drop Dani’s gaze.

Dani’s thumb slips under the sleeve of Jamie’s flannel, marking long, slow strokes along her wrist.

Jamie laughs. “Sure, Vi. When I’m back in London”––Dani catches an edge in her voice, a point to its teasing lilt––“we’ll get drinks. Just drinks,” Dani’s fingers slip, catching on Jamie’s, and Jamie wraps hers around Dani’s, squeezes, “okay?”

Rebecca’s shaking her head, a grin spreading slowly, in spite of herself, across her face as she watches the two of them in front of her: Dani, shamelessly shuffling closer into Jamie, and Jamie, reaching over to hang up the phone, tugging Dani into her as she does. 

“You’re staying,” Dani whispers, eyes darting around the foyer, seemingly satisfied when the only person they have to glance over is Rebecca, and leans in, bumping her nose against Jamie’s. 

“Yeah,” Jamie breathes, her free hand finding Dani’s waist, “I am.” 

Dani leans in, laughing, beaming, and Jamie chuckles, leaning in to meet her.

Behind them, Rebecca clears her throat.

Jamie groans, pressing her eyes closed, and Dani sighs, her forehead falling against Jamie’s.

“If you two are going to do that again,” Rebecca looks politely down, smoothing, distracted, at her shirt, “may I suggest somewhere the children won’t walk straight into you?”

“Not doing anything,” Jamie mumbles as Dani drops a quick kiss alongside her nose.

Rebecca laughs. “I think,” she says, crossing past them and towards the kitchen, clasping Jamie’s shoulder as she goes, “you’re well past the point of denial, aren’t you? At least take the liberty,” she makes her way down the hall towards the kitchen, glancing over her shoulder to call back to them, “of keeping it behind a bedroom door again, hmm?”

Jamie opens her mouth to retort, but Dani shakes her head, glancing behind her as she tugs Jamie backwards, across the foyer and into the drawing room.

They’ve barely stepped inside, have barely wheeled themselves around the angle of the doorway when Dani kisses her.

Dani kisses her hard and fast, pushing Jamie against the wall, stumbling over the pair of chairs positioned there, her lips insistent and her hands everywhere, smoothing along Jamie’s arms, cupping Jamie’s face, tugging at Jamie’s shirt.

Jamie moans into her mouth as her back collides with the wall behind her, one hand finding Dani’s cheek, the other wrapping around her hip, fingers digging into her hipbone.

“You’re staying,” Dani whispers again, panting between kisses, her mouth desperate against Jamie’s, “you’re staying, and we’re… We’re doing this, and––” Jamie’s hand slides around to the back of her neck, pulling her in closer, and Dani grins against her mouth, kissing her again. “We don’t have to stop,” Dani manages, her hands splayed against Jamie’s stomach, “Jamie, we don’t have to…” Jamie tugs Dani’s bottom lip between hers and Dani gasps, “we don’t have to stop.” 

Jamie grins back, whispers, “thank fuck,” and then Dani’s tongue is sliding against hers, and Jamie’s not saying anything at all. 

Dani whimpers into Jamie’s mouth as they kiss, her hands sliding inside Jamie’s flannel, bracketing her waist, holding, fast and unbreakable. 

She’s staying, Jamie thinks distantly, she’s staying, but Dani holds her like she’s not, and they kiss like she’s not, like they have to make up for every moment spent scowling, spent scrapping, every moment spent anywhere other than here, tangled and urgent and coalescing, finally, into something wholly unknown.

One of Jamie’s hands is tangling into Dani’s hair, her other sliding across the small of Dani’s back, slipping lower, when Dani pulls away.

“Jamie?”

Dani’s fingers stay splayed across Jamie’s ribs as she leans back, her thumbs dragging softly, steadily, against the thin fabric of her tank top.

Jamie swallows. “Yeah?”

Dani cocks her head. “What was that?”

“What was…” Jamie blinks, shaking hers, trying vainly to clear it. “What was what?”

“That,” Dani chirps, her eyes flitting over towards the foyer, towards the phone, then back to Jamie, “with Viola just now.”

Jamie blushes.

Dani hums.

“Dunno what you’re talking about,” Jamie huffs after a moment.

“No?”

“She’s my boss,” Jamie pivots, shrugs. Corrects, “was my boss.”

“Your boss.” Dani’s voice is light, incredulous, even as her thumbs move, up and down, slow and steady, creeping towards Jamie’s sternum.

“Mmhm.”

“So you’re saying,” it’s the same even, paced tone Dani uses when she catches Miles or Flora in a particularly bold-faced lie, and Jamie’s immediately regretful, even if she’s not sure of what, “if I were to talk to Henry the way you just talked to Viola, you wouldn’t find it…” she purses her lips, “odd?”

Jamie looks at her.

Dani looks back.

“It wasn’t,” Jamie blurts then, spilling, stumbling over the words, “like that. It was just… It was one time, and it was stupid, and––”

Dani watches her, browsed raised, amused.

“She just…” Jamie continues, babbling, “I was new and just out of prison and she took me under her wing and… Gave me a shot, right? And then we were working this job, and we were at this hotel, and we just… She was so…” 

Under Jamie’s flannel, Dani’s hands inch higher, the stroke of her thumbs even, uninterrupted as they graze the underside of Jamie’s breasts.

“Working a job? Now that,” Dani muses, tilting her head in the opposite direction, “doesn’t sound very professional, does it?”

Jamie’s blush deepens. “Sound just like Viola,” she mumbles. 

“No way,” Dani crinkles her nose, “and besides,” she adds, smug, “you would take me to more than just drinks if I asked.”

Jamie gives her a look.

“Drinks are kinda boring, anyway,” Dani murmurs by way of explanation, shrugging a shoulder, her thumbs tracing easy arcs into the swell of Jamie’s skin, “and I think we’d… See where they take us,” the corner of her mouth quirks up, “at least.”

Jamie, distracted by Dani’s hands, hums her assent. 

“But don’t let me interrupt,” Dani’s fingers flex against Jamie’s ribcage. “You were saying?”

“I was… Saying?”

“You were at this hotel,” Dani repeats, ever-patient, “and you just… And she was so…” 

“There’s…” Jamie glances nervously around them, first left, then right, “not much else to say, is there?”

“No?”

“I’m not going to give you a play-by-play of the whole night, Dani.”

Dani’s eyebrows shoot up. “The whole night?”

“Dani...”

Dani sighs. Pouts. “Can you at least tell me,” her thumbs drag higher, and Jamie gasps, “how it was?”

“I’m not…” Jamie’s chin is stubborn and proud and entirely belied by the way she arches, shameless and wanting, into Dani’s touch, “going to tell you that… Right now… Christ, can you––”

“Mm,” Dani smiles widely, innocently, taking in Jamie’s face, turning redder still, “I think you’re telling me anyway. And here I thought,” she adds, feigning thoughtfulness, “Rebecca was calling you a teacher’s pet because you had a thing for teachers.” Dani pauses, pursing her lips, struck by a sudden idea. “Did you and Rebecca ever…” 

Jamie looks at her.

Dani looks back.

Jamie doesn’t answer.

Glances back at the doorway, at the empty hallway and the foyer beyond.

Tugs Dani in closer instead. Dips her head to kiss her neck.

Dani stifles a whine, low in her throat. “This isn’t… You’re not…”

“It doesn’t,” Jamie murmurs, deflecting, backtracking, “mean I can’t still have a thing for teachers, you know.” She nips at Dani’s neck, continues. “Maybe I do.”

“Lucky me,” Dani breathes, letting Jamie’s teeth rake across her pulse point before pulling her back up to her lips, “tell me about it?”

“How about we,” Jamie grins, sliding a hand to Dani’s cheek, “go back upstairs? Turns out I’m staying, you know. Lots of unpacking to do. Can, uh, talk. While we work on it.”

“Unpacking, huh?”

“Mmhm,” Jamie watches as Dani turns her head, nuzzling into her hand, “all that… Packing we did this afternoon, and all.”

“Not sure,” Dani presses a kiss to Jamie’s palm, “I wanna undo any of that.” 

“Dani––”

Owen’s voice drifts in from the kitchen. “Hey, you two,” he calls out, “last call for G and Ts, yeah?”

Jamie groans, her head falling back against the wall in defeat.

Dani laughs. “We should go.” 

“Don’t want to.”

“Me neither,” Dani lets her hands drop, and, reaching up to her cheek, takes Jamie’s hand in hers, “but we should.” 

“We should,” Jamie sighs, “shouldn’t we? Alright,” she pushes herself off of the wall, “but let me just call Henry first. I’ll meet you in the kitchen?” 

“Mmkay,” Dani tightens her fingers around Jamie’s, tugging her back in, “but first…” She kisses her again, softer now. “Don’t wanna stop doing that,” she murmurs.

“Wouldn’t ask you to,” Jamie murmurs back.

Dani hums, contented, and leans back in.

Jamie chuckles. “Dani…” 

“Mm?”

“Kitchen,” Jamie breathes, “yeah?”

Dani whines.

“Won’t be more than five minutes. You’ll be stealing sips of my drink before you know it.”

Dani doesn’t argue. “Promise?”

“Promise.” 

Jamie smiles, crooked, and, dropping Dani’s hand, slips out from between her and the wall, making her way back to the phone.


“The good news is,” Rebecca’s saying, laughing, when Jamie saunters into the kitchen, “I really am her best employee now.” 

They all laugh, and Jamie sinks into the open chair next to Dani, shaking her head, rueful, and reaching for the glass, ready and waiting, in front of her. 

“You spoke with Henry?” Rebecca asks once their laughter subsides, leaning down the table towards Jamie.

Jamie, taking a deep sip, nods, her eyes flickering to Rebecca’s over the rim of her class.

“And?” Hannah leans in too, across the table. “What did he say?”

Jamie doesn’t respond, only purses her lips, swirling her glass contemplatively over the table, its condensation shining, buffed, onto the table’s surface.

Dani glances at Rebecca, at Hannah and Owen, and angles herself in her chair, turning to face Jamie. “Jamie,” she says, her voice stern, dropping, and Jamie’s eyes shoot up to hers. “What did he say?”

“Well,” Jamie says evenly, “I told him I was calling to offer a final report on behalf of Lloyd Security Enterprises, and that Becca,” she nods down the table, towards Rebecca, seated at its head, “would be his primary point of contact with the company from now on. Similar enough,” she takes another drink, “to how it’s been over the course of these last two weeks.”

“And?”

Jamie raises her eyebrows at Dani, and when she speaks, it’s slower, deliberately so, Jamie grinning as Dani clenches her teeth next to her. “He said he had expected as much, that he understood Viola wouldn’t be continuing my contract, and would likely be sending another specialist down in my place. Also said,” Jamie tilts her head, considering, “he’d been disappointed to hear it. Liked my work––as much as he’s heard anyway,” Jamie shrugs, “as much as he could, I think, all things considered––and would be sorry to see me go. So,” and the corners of Jamie’s lips quirk up, “I made a proposal.”

“A proposal,” Dani echoes.

“You bargained,” Rebecca’s voice is laced with disbelief, “with Henry Wingrave?”

Jamie shrugs, smirking now, fully realized as she takes another sip of her drink. “I did,” she offers plainly. 

“What was it you proposed?” Owen’s brows scrunch together over his glasses, his hands smoothing over the table in front of him.

“Well,” Jamie looks from Owen to Hannah to Rebecca, “I told him I wasn’t interested in leaving. That I’d tendered my resignation with Viola because I disagreed with the way she was handling this contract.”

“Jamie…” Rebecca’s voice is taut, warning.

“I told him,” Jamie continues, pointed, “that Rebecca Jessel, currently on contract, is the best Lloyd Security Enterprises has to offer, that he would be a fool to waive her services, and that the Wingraves––and Mr. Sharma, and Mrs. Grose, and Miss Clayton––are in good hands so long as she’s on contract. I also told him,” Jamie’s eyes find Dani’s, “that having worked on this case for the past four weeks, having lived here for the past four weeks, I have a certain knowledge of the grounds and persons involved that is in his best interest to maintain.” Jamie pauses, takes another drink. “I told him that, if he wants a second specialist living on and securing the property––and it’s my recommendation he does have one, given both its sheer size and the recent developments with Peter Quint––I do believe I’m the most well-equipped candidate.”

Dani’s listening intently, carefully, and without taking her eyes off of Jamie, Dani reaches for Jamie’s glass, bringing it to her lips, drinking deeply.

“And,” Jamie grins, continuing, “I told him that, as a newly unattached security specialist, he could solicit my services as an independent contractor at a discounted rate. Given my familiarity with the assignment,” she casts her eyes around the table, grinning wider, “and all.”

“But,” Rebecca leans in, pressing, “Viola has a clause in all her contracts prohibiting the simultaneous solicitation of her competitors. It’s a brilliant effort, Jamie, but legally, Henry can’t take you on. He’d be the first to know that.”

“That,” Jamie reaches out, slipping her glass out of Dani’s hand and bringing it back to her lips, drinking, “is where you’re wrong. Vi’s let me look over all her contracts before. I’ve seen them. They prohibit the solicitation of competing agencies, competing organizations, but not…” Jamie puffs out her chest, plucks at the collar of her flannel, “independent contractors.” 

Across the table, Hannah watches as the glass passes from Dani’s lips to Dani’s hand, from Dani’s hand to Jamie’s hand, from Jamie’s hand to Jamie’s lips.

Rebecca opens her mouth to interject, but Jamie shakes her head. “And,” she continues, “your contract was independent of mine––you know she prefers having control of individual assets––and is binding, so she won’t yank you off the job, even if she finds out I’m staying on. It’d be a legal nightmare, Becca, and even Viola’s not stupid enough to litigate against Henry Wingrave.” 

Rebecca’s brow is furrowed, her eyes cast upwards, concentrating, visualizing the play of checks and balances as laid out before her.

Jamie watches her, waiting, the slant of her mouth hopeful and smug.

Dani reaches for Jamie’s glass again.

Hannah nudges Owen, nods across the table. 

Owen’s mustache twitches.

Finally, Rebecca sighs, her chin dropping to her chest, her hands smoothing out along the table in front of her.

Jamie’s voice is low. “How’s my math work, Becca?”

“It’s…” Rebecca huffs out a laugh, looking up. “It’s good, Jamie. It’s good. It actually…” she laughs again, disbelieving, “it checks out.”

Jamie’s face breaks into a wide grin.

“I, uh… Can’t believe it, but,” Rebecca grins back, “you did it. And Henry, he said yes, I’m assuming?”

Jamie inclines her head. “He did. Sending over a courier with a new contract as we speak.”

Next to her, Dani beams. Jamie finds her eyes, winks.

“Well this,” Owen stands up from the table, pushing in his chair, “calls for a celebration. What do you say we go big tonight? Four courses, some wine from the cellar?”

“Four courses,” Hannah’s laugh is fond, her eyes shining as she looks up at him. “Owen, it’s already…” she glances at the clock, “four pm. How are you possibly going to put together a four-course dinner over the next couple of hours?”

“You say that like he doesn’t have any help,” Dani grins over at her. “C’mon, Hannah. Have a little faith.”

Any affront on Hannah’s face is immediately betrayed by her laugh. “I suppose you’re right, aren’t you?” she muses.

“Always has to be,” Jamie quips, and Dani shoots her a look, “doesn’t she?”

Dani ignores Jamie otherwise, her head bobbing as she nods at Hannah. “He’s got six other pairs of hands,” she supplies, grinning up at Owen now, “don’t you, Owen?”

“Five,” Jamie cuts in again, reaching over to cover one of Dani’s hands, resting on the table, with her own, “you’re on leave from your sous chef duties.”

“What? That’s not… That’s not fair!” Dani’s voice is indignant, and she looks, pleading, to Owen. 

“You nearly sliced your finger off last time,” Jamie replies smoothly, “seems fair enough to me.”

“It’s not,” Dani turns on her, sitting up straight, her shoulders arching obstinately back, “it’s not fair, and you know it. You’re the one who distracted me, and I didn’t… I didn’t nearly… I didn’t nearly slice my finger off!”

“Your fault for getting distracted,” Jamie counters, “isn’t it?”

“You winked at me Jamie, how is that––” Dani huffs, folding her arms across her chest, and looks back to Owen. “She winked at me!”

“I have half the mind,” Hannah cuts in, “to ban you both from the kitchen. Have you take your bickering someplace else. But I think,” she glances knowingly from Dani to Jamie, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth, “we might have trouble getting you two back, then, wouldn’t we?”

Dani flushes, and, next to her, Jamie scowls. “Don’t see why I have to get punished,” she mumbles. 

“You’re not,” Owen supplies readily, tying his apron, “you’re on potato duty.” He tosses a hand towel over his shoulder, turning to Dani. “And you, Miss Clayton, can dip down to the wine cellar, be our sommelier for the evening. Does that sound sommeli-right?”

Dani laughs, smiling brightly. “I’ll go and grab the kids and then I’m on it. You know I can’t say pinot to you, Owen,” she tries, and Owen beams.

Next to her, Jamie groans.

“And to think,” Rebecca laughs, “you’re stuck here now.” 

“Two more hours until that contract arrives,” Hannah murmurs, winking across the table at Jamie, “there’s time to leave yet.” 

“Nah,” Jamie stands up, crossing over to the prep table, her fingers lighting along the slope of Dani’s shoulders as she goes, “have to whip these potatoes into shape, don’t I? Couldn’t bail on that.”

“Of course not,” Hannah acquiesces, eyes drifting to Dani, watching Jamie with shining eyes and a soft smile, “couldn’t bail on that at all. Although…” she hesitates, her eyes drifting lower, to Dani’s sweater, still snugly backwards, “Miss Clayton?”

“Mm?” Dani turns, smiling. “What’s up?”

“You might want to, uh…” Hannah’s voice is warm, conspiratorial, “fix your jumper before fetching the children. I believe it’s backwards.”

Dani blinks, glances down.

Hums.

Glances back up at Hannah, unfazed. “Thanks,” she replies coolly, “you have some batter, by the way. Right here.” She taps the corner of her own mouth, adding, “you might want to fix it before they come down,” and grins, sweeping out of the room, her shoulder knocking haplessly into the doorframe as she goes.

“Batter?” Rebecca chimes in. “When were you baking?”

“Uh, earlier,” Owen’s busied himself with the oven, carefully calibrating the stovetop dials, “when you were outside with the kids and Jamie and Dani were packing––”

“Could’ve come and offered us some, couldn’t you?” Jamie interjects.

She’s met with three voices, each offering a resounding “no” in response. 

“You two were just… Baking,” Rebecca clarifies, “in here. By yourselves.”

Owen, adjusting the front right burner for the fourth time, nods. 

“At least,” Rebecca sighs, “we won't have to make dessert.”

“Look at that,” Jamie agrees, grinning mischievously over at Owen, “one course down already, isn't it?”

Hannah, meanwhile, reaches up, dabs at the dried splotch of batter on her face. “You know,” she declares fondly, finally, staring off after Dani, “I do like that young woman.”


It’s different, Jamie thinks, seeing Dani’s back this way.

There’s the freckles, certainly, and the sensitive spots along her ribs, and a newfound lack of tension, melting across long-knotted muscles, but now… 

It’s different, Jamie thinks, because she’s not just seeing Dani’s back. 

Dani’s freckles are a dot map of once and future kisses, her sensitive spots sirens, her tension long passed, dissolved somewhere, earlier, after the two of them had stumbled, giggling, into their room after dinner, after Jamie had helped tuck Flora into bed and Dani had Miles; it had dissolved somewhere between Dani’s thighs, clenching around Jamie’s head, and Jamie’s mouth, moaning lowly into Dani’s shoulder as she’d come; it had dissolved somewhere, and recohered into now, Dani sighing into a pillow while Jamie’s lips blaze a trail across her shoulders.

It’s different, Jamie thinks, because she’s tasting Dani’s back, too.

Dani tastes like salt and sweat and something else, and Jamie takes her time as she mouths her way across the crest of Dani’s shoulders, attentive lips and indulgent tongue unhurried and unashamed, lavishing as they go. 

Jamie’s tongue slides, dips down between Dani’s shoulders, along her spine, and Dani shivers, giggling, into her pillow. 

“Okay?” Jamie murmurs.

“Mm,” Dani noses deeper into the pillow, “it tickles.”

“I can stop,” Jamie’s tongue drags lower, “if you want.”

“No,” one of Dani’s hands clambers, seeking, for Jamie’s, “I don’t want that.”

Jamie hums, squeezing Dani’s fingers, and her mouth strays, ducking down to nip at the side of Dani’s hip. “I like these,” she muses, sitting up onto her knees, her hands coming to rest alongside Dani’s hips, curling softly around them. 

Dani chuckles into her pillow. “I know you do.”

“What?”

“You’re always… Looking.” Dani lifts her head enough to toss Jamie a grin, self-satisfied if shy, before nuzzling back into her pillow. “You’re not as subtle as you think you are,” she adds, muffled. 

“Always…” Jamie’s voice is indignant. “So are you!”

“I am,” Dani agrees, arching her hips up into Jamie’s touch, “but I don’t try to hide it, do I?”

“Who says I try to hide it?”

“You’re polite,” Dani says, voice smiling, “it’s cute.” 

“I’m not––” Jamie flushes, tightening her hands around Dani’s hips. “I’m not cute.”

Dani exhales, soft and giddy, pressing her hips back towards Jamie again. “No?”

“No,” Jamie says, and yanks Dani’s hips, pulling back onto her knees.

Dani gasps, delighted, grinning into her pillow.

“Is this okay?” Jamie whispers, dropping her head to press a kiss between Dani’s shoulders.

Dani’s answering “mmhm” is strangled already, followed by an impatient “please,” Dani’s fists finding, twining into, the bedsheet crumpled below them.

One of Jamie’s hands drops from Dani’s hip, slipping between her legs, and Jamie’s fingers ghost up and along the inside of Dani’s thigh. Dani whimpers, pressing back towards Jamie again, and Jamie chuckles, her breath warm against Dani’s skin. “Tell me,” she whispers, “if it’s too much, okay?”

“It won’t be,” Dani whispers back, “it won’t be, Jamie, please––” Jamie’s fingers slip against her center, and Dani gasps, whining as Jamie trails two fingers up through her folds.

“Christ, Dani,” Jamie’s fingers slide against Dani’s clit, circle once, twice, drag up it, “you’re so… Jesus, you’re wet.”

“You’ve…” Jamie’s fingers drag back down, teasing her entrance, and Dani’s breath hitches, “had me this way all night, haven’t you? Don’t be”––Jamie’s fingers slide back up, around her clit, and Dani gasps, her hips canting backwards––“so surprised.”

Jamie grins, nipping at the base of Dani’s neck, her fingers gliding back down, dipping, barely, into Dani. “Had you like this this afternoon too, didn’t I?” She pulls her fingers back out and Dani groans, Jamie tracing them down the swell of Dani’s thigh, leaving a trail of Dani’s slick, shining in the low light as she goes.

“All afternoon,” Dani gasps, “even when we–– When you were on the phone, when we were making dinner… I…” Jamie drags her hand back up the inside of Dani’s other thigh, slides two fingers through her, stroking up, then down. “I couldn’t stop thinking,” Dani sighs, “about kissing you. About––” her breath hitches, “tasting you. About… Jamie, please––” 

Jamie pauses, her fingers light, tracing Dani’s entrance. “About?”

Dani whines, angles her hips, tries to push herself back onto Jamie’s fingers.

Jamie only chuckles, her fingers tightening around Dani’s hip, holding her in place. “Dani,” she asks again, her voice lower, “about?”

“About being inside you,” Dani breathes into her pillow, “about you being inside me.” 

Jamie exhales, pleased, her murmured “me too, Dani,” punctuated by her fingers, sliding slowly, finally, into Dani.

Dani keens, her hips immediately rocking back into Jamie’s fingers, her pillow muffling her cries.

“How’s that?” Jamie drops a kiss to Dani’s shoulder and Dani nods, managing a “Jamie, please,” before Jamie’s fingers are moving, and Dani’s face is pressing deeper into the pillow below her.

Jamie’s fingers are slow at first, and Dani whimpers, savoring the drag of Jamie’s fingers inside her as Jamie pulls them leisurely out, Dani’s hips twitching, stuttering and eager, back towards Jamie’s fingers, desperate for the thrust, the stretch, the fill that comes with each press.

Dani rolls her hips back into each stroke, each time more insistent than the last, pressing herself harder, faster, back onto Jamie, Jamie’s fingers reaching deeper with each rock of Dani’s hips. They can hear it now, the wetness of Jamie’s thrusts muffled in the silence laying heavily in the room around them, the sound of skin meeting skin as Dani cants her hips urgently back into Jamie’s.

“Fuck,” Jamie breathes, her fingers slipping in the sheen of sweat collecting on Dani’s hip. “Dani, I’m gonna… Is this…” She slides her hand up Dani’s back, along the curve of her spine, her fingers hovering at the edge of Dani’s scalp. “Can I…” 

Dani doesn’t bother answering, only nods hastily into her pillow, rolling her hips back into Jamie’s fingers. 

Jamie’s fingers slide into Dani’s hair, and she swallows, her eyes catching on Dani’s fingers, knotting further into the bedsheet. “Right,” Jamie husks, “okay,” and then her fingers tighten, and she yanks.

Dani’s hips jerk, slamming back into Jamie’s fingers, and Dani cries out, has to press her pillow roughly, harder, against her face, has to dampen the sound even further.

Jamie’s fingers pause, hesitating, but Dani’s shaking her head, her hips persistent. “It’s okay,” she pants, “it’s okay, Jamie, please, don’t”––Jamie thrusts again, harder, and Dani gasps––“don’t stop, you can… You can do it again––”

“It was okay?” Jamie’s breathless, her own hips thrusting now, lending her fingers momentum.

“Jamie,” Dani groans, “I’ve been thinking about you pulling my hair for three weeks now, please just–– God, Jamie–– Please just let me…”

Jamie’s lips twitch, the corner of her mouth quirking up and into a smile, and she thrusts again, tangling her fingers deeper into Dani’s hair and pulling again, harder, surer.

Dani whines, her knuckles white against the sheets, and Jamie can already feel her getting tighter, can feel Dani clenching around her.

Jamie tugs again, scissoring her fingers inside Dani, and Dani’s hips buck, her cries higher, longer, keening into her pillow, and Dani’s losing her rhythm, her hips spasming.

“Please,” she whimpers, “please, please, please, I’m––”

Jamie tugs her hair again, once, twice, thrusts again, hard, and then Dani’s coming, falling apart around her fingers, and Jamie’s getting ready to slow, to ease her down, when Dani shakes her head again, mumbles a “don’t… Don’t stop?”

She couldn’t, Jamie thinks, nodding, voice hoarse as she manages an “I’ve got you,” deny Dani. She couldn’t deny Dani anything.

Dani’s breath is staggered as she nods, squirming, and Jamie understands, easing her hand out of Dani’s hair, maneuvering them both as Dani flips over, her wrist pumping steadily still as Dani looks up at her. Dani’s face is flushed, creased slightly from the pillow, her eyes a dark blue that Jamie’s never seen, and Jamie wants to fall, to drown, to sink, happily, into the fathoms she sees there with Dani.

Jamie’s lost, fixed on Dani’s eyes, her fingers thrusting readily into Dani, when Dani’s whimpering, mewling out a “here, Jamie,” and reaching up, her fingers closing around Jamie’s necklace, tugging her down and into a needy kiss.

“Oi,” Jamie gasps, “mind the––”

“Like you haven’t been thinking about it,” Dani wraps her arms around Jamie’s neck, pulling her in closer, tighter, her lips tracing the shell of Jamie’s ear, “since I first–– Jamie–– Since I first did it. As long as I’ve been…” Dani’s breath catches, and she whines lowly, “thinking about you… Pulling my… Jamie…” 

Jamie shifts on top of her, sliding a leg over one of Dani’s, grinding down onto her thigh as she thrusts. “Yeah?”

“What happens,” Dani asks, breathless, her hips rolling to meet Jamie’s wrist, “what happens when you–– Right there, please, don’t–– Yeah… What happens when your… Oh God, I can… I can feel you, too, you’re so…” 

Jamie’s hips are rolling against Dani’s leg, faster now, reckless and smearing arousal along Dani’s thigh. “What happens…” Jamie pants, “what happens when?”

“When your contract is up,” Dani’s fingers weave into Jamie’s curls, flex against her scalp, “I don’t wanna… Lose this.” She presses her face into Jamie’s cheek, moaning lowly. “Don’t wanna lose you.”

“Don’t wanna lose you either,” and Jamie rocks her hips harder into Dani’s thigh, biting her lip, trying desperately to hold in a moan. Her pace picks up, her hips rolling, grinding, to match Dani’s, their shared rhythm tentative and straining. 

“Jamie…” Dani presses a kiss to her cheekbone, to her jaw, to the corner of her mouth, and they’re sloppy, desperate. “I don’t wanna…”

Jamie turns her head, finds Dani’s lips. Curls her fingers. “One day at a time,” she murmurs between kisses, and Dani whines, her hips canting, needing.

“I know,” Jamie whispers, and kisses her again, once, twice, three times, thrusting, curling, grinding, “and it’s… Dani, it’s… One day at a time,” and she feels her own thighs start to twitch, to stumble, feels Dani feel it, feels the way Dani tightens around her as she does.

Jamie gasps and Dani pulls her down, pulls her in close, presses her head into the crook of Jamie’s neck, moaning into the skin there, and they come together, Dani crying out into Jamie, Jamie gasping, shaking, her hips spasming against Dani’s thigh.

“Even when I’m incorrigible?” Dani manages after a moment, breathless, smiling widely, sleepily, into Jamie’s shoulder, sighing softly as Jamie slides her fingers out.

“Especially,” Jamie presses a kiss to her neck, “when you’re incorrigible. As long as those days are with you, Dani,” Jamie murmurs. “One day at a time is,” and Dani’s nodding against her, her arms loosening around Jamie’s neck, fingers twining idly into Jamie’s curls, “what we’ve got.”

Dani nods again, once, twice, and then she relaxes, letting Jamie sink, solid and assuring, into her, and they sleep.

Chapter Text

Everything yields, Jamie’s always thought, to time. 

Even the most rigorous of routines, Jamie knows, born of necessity and maintained by the sheerest desperation cloaked in the strongest discipline, honed by years of repetition, of dedication, will be undone in more years still.

It is, more so than matter, more so than axes and orbits, more so than combustion, the way of the world.

No force is untouched. No force is exempt. No force is stronger, except:

Dani Clayton, reshaping Jamie’s routines right and left, slowly at first, between sunup sprints and shared bathrooms, and then wholly, from breakfast biscuits to goodnight kisses. 

Dani Clayton, rebuffing time, beating it, stubborn enough to rewrite the way of things herself, to build something new, something distinctly––even before they had realized it, even before the shape of it had sunk in––theirs. 

Dani Clayton, the whole of her body flush against Jamie’s, her chest snug against Jamie’s back, her brow pinched in concentration, one of Jamie’s legs lifted, tucked behind Dani’s, Dani’s wrist pumping steadily between her legs.

“God, Dani, right–– Right there––” Jamie rocks her hips down onto Dani’s fingers, her hand scrambling as her breath hitches, reaching back and around, her fingers threading roughly into Dani’s hair, pulling her closer. 

Dani hums, ducking her head and thrusting harder. “Yeah?” she murmurs, grin wide against Jamie’s shoulder. 

“Yeah,” Jamie gasps, rolling her hips faster, urging Dani’s fingers deeper, “fuck, you feel… You…” Dani curls her fingers and Jamie groans.

“Just think,” Dani muses, mouthing the words against Jamie’s shoulder, thrusting her fingers faster, “you could’ve been feeling like this for so much longer if you would’ve just,” she curls her fingers again, grins wider, “said something sooner.” 

Jamie whines, canting her hips into the bend of Dani’s fingers. “You could’ve,” she pants, “said something too, couldn’t you? Instead you were just… All… Hands and…” she sucks in a breath, “and backtalk.”

“I can stop right now,” Dani nips at Jamie’s shoulder, “if you want. Be no hands at all.”

Jamie cranes her head back, her fingers, splayed across the back of Dani’s head, tugging her forward, pulling her into a sloppy kiss. “You wouldn’t,” she mumbles, voice taut, her hips bucking, insistent, into Dani’s hand.

“Wouldn’t I?” Dani kisses her back, sliding her fingers slowly out, leaving them hovering, teasing, just outside of Jamie’s entrance. 

There’s a strangled noise low in Jamie’s throat, her hips jerking at the sudden emptiness, towards Dani’s hand.

“And what,” Dani drags her fingers lazily up between Jamie’s legs, collecting wetness as she goes, Jamie’s hips jumping even as Dani stops, pulling away again, before reaching her clit, “do you think now?”

“I think,” Jamie grits her teeth, fingers flexing, tightening, against Dani’s scalp, “you’re still all backtalk.”

Dani hums and withdraws her hand fully this time, dragging her fingers down Jamie’s ribcage instead, along the angle and dip of her waist, and when her fingers find Jamie’s hipbone, when her nails press into her skin, Jamie drops Dani’s head and her hand shoots to Dani’s wrist, her fingers wrapping, tight, around it.

“Dani,” Jamie’s voice is higher than she’d like, pitching, “please.”

Dani bites her lip, hesitates.

Jamie’s fingers tighten around Dani’s wrist. 

“Dani,” she says again, her voice stretching, thin.

“Tell me I’m all backtalk again,” and for all her giddy pride at the prospect glittering between the tightness of Jamie’s voice and the desperate flex of her fingers around Dani’s wrist, Dani’s voice wavers, “I dare you.”

“You are,” Jamie grinds her hips backwards, angling herself into Dani, “but I… Dani, Christ, can you–– But I love… I love it, please––”

“Are you sure?” Dani’s voice solidifies, finding its form, steely and sure, as she speaks. “Because from what you’ve shown me,” she leans forward, tugging Jamie’s bottom lip between her teeth, and Jamie moans lowly, “you don’t like my backtalk at all.”

“You… You know I do,” Jamie protests, and when she pulls at Dani’s wrist, Dani resists, holding firm, “even when I… Even when you’re insufferable, I–– I just want to… It just makes me want to… Kiss you.”

“Not… Lecture me?” Dani raises an eyebrow, her wrist finally, blessedly, skidding along the jut of Jamie’s hip. “Act all… Holier than thou?”

“Dani,” Jamie gasps, one of Dani’s fingers painstakingly tracing Jamie’s folds, “just want to… Jesus… I–– Want to kiss the smug right… Off of your face, Dani, fuck––”

Dani grins widely, and sinks two fingers back into Jamie.

Jamie gasps, her hips jerking forward onto Dani’s fingers. “Yes, right there, please––” 

“Tell me how much you want to kiss me,” Dani murmurs, dragging her fingers painstakingly out, pressing them in again. “Tell me how long you’ve wanted to.”

“I’ve wanted to… Since… Since the beginning, Dani––” Dani presses deeper, and Jamie’s words catch, thick, in the bottom of her throat.

“Yeah?”

“From the… Fuck, from the first moment I… Dani…” 

“Mm?”

“Can you… Just… A little… More?”

“Mm,” Dani punctuates her next thrust with a curl of her fingers, maintains her pace, “you give me more first.”

“It’s… You…” Dani curls her fingers again, compelling, and Jamie groans, her hips rolling to meet Dani’s hand. “You… Bumped your head getting out of the–– Out of the car and I just… God, Dani, just like that–– I immediately wanted to just… I’ve never wanted to… Not like–– Like that–– Just wanted to take your face in my hands and… Kiss your…” Dani curls her fingers again and Jamie gasps, her fingers tightening around Dani’s wrist. “Can you… Faster?”

Dani’s smile is wide against Jamie’s cheek, and she wants to oblige, wants to give Jamie everything she wants, but:

“Why didn’t you?”

“Why–– What?”

“Maybe not right away, but…” Dani speeds up, thrusting faster once, twice, three times, before slowing down again, “why didn’t you kiss me sooner? If you wanted to that first day?”

“I… Fuck–– You went and… Opened your bloody mouth, and… God, I still wanted to kiss you, but…”

“But?” Dani presses a lingering kiss to the corner of Jamie’s mouth.

“In the classroom,” and Dani raises her eyebrows, picking up her pace, “in the kitchen,” Dani rewards her again, pumps her wrist faster, “in the… In the hallway. All the time, Dani,” Jamie groans. “You’d… Open your mouth and I’d just want to kiss you––” Dani thrusts into her, hard and fast, and Jamie gasps, “every time. Shove you against the wall and… Shut you up, Dani, fuck––” Jamie’s breathing is shallower now, her gasps frequent, strangled with every drive of Dani’s fingers.

“So let me ask you again,” Dani whispers, nuzzling into Jamie’s cheek, “why didn’t you?”

“Dani––” Jamie’s grip tightens around Dani’s wrist, and Jamie’s body coils in the bend of hers, and Jamie starts to clench around her fingers.

And Dani stops.

Dani stops, and Dani pulls away again.

Dani stops, and Dani pulls away, and Jamie cries out, Dani’s free hand is snaking underneath Jamie’s neck and over her mouth before Jamie has time to catch herself. 

They’re still for a minute, breathing heavily, Dani’s chest, sweat shining in the moonlight, sliding against Jamie’s back, rising and falling as they breathe. 

“Now tell me,” Dani’s voice is a breath, teetering between them, one finger ghosting up and between Jamie’s legs, her other hand loosing around Jamie’s mouth, “why you didn’t.”

Jamie sighs, heavy and wanting, and when she speaks, her thumb gives along Dani’s skin, charting long, graceful arcs across the length of her wrist. “I was scared,” she whispers finally, and Dani’s hand is moving immediately, meeting the rock of Jamie’s hips with slow, assuring strokes. “At first it was just… It was fun, and…” Jamie sucks in a breath, “it was fun and then it was real and when it’s real…” Dani curls her fingers, and Jamie whimpers.

“Wasn’t it always real, though?” Dani murmurs, her thumb grazing, swiping across, Jamie’s bottom lip, nudging her head back. “Even before we saw it,” she drops a kiss to the corner of Jamie’s mouth, curling her fingers, and Jamie’s eyes flutter closed, “even before we knew it,” she drops another, curls her fingers again, “it was always there.” Dani curls her fingers into Jamie one more time before slowing down again, pacing herself, two strokes, slow and easy, for every thrust, every curl. “It was always,” Dani presses another kiss to the corner of Jamie’s mouth, longer this time, and her breath catches, “real.”

There’s a sound almost like a whimper in Jamie’s throat, strangled as she presses her lips together, holds it in. Nods. “Dani,” she manages, ragged, after a moment, “Dani…” 

“I know, Jamie,” Dani whispers, her fingers moving faster now, pumping harder into Jamie. Her forehead falls against Jamie’s temple and she lets it, nuzzles closer into her, her lips skidding along the dip of a cheek, the rise of a cheekbone. “I know.” 

No force, Jamie thinks, wrapped up in Dani as she comes, frantically tugging Dani’s hand back to her mouth to stifle her cries, is stronger than Dani Clayton.

No force is more relentless than Dani Clayton, Dani’s fingers moving steadily inside Jamie as she comes, helping her ride out her orgasm even as Jamie clenches around her. 

No force is more constant than Dani Clayton, her arms steady, firm around Jamie as her cries turn to shudders, her shudders to gasps, and her gasps to breaths, as they turn from shaking to steady.

No force is more static than Dani Clayton, happily at rest once Jamie comes down, the only movement her own breath, sucked hastily in as Jamie presses a kiss to each of her fingers, slipping from Jamie’s mouth.

Most of all, Jamie marvels, no force is, in spite of it all, gentler than Dani, peppering Jamie’s face with kisses as Jamie rolls onto her back, Dani’s lips following the flush down her neck and across her chest. 

“This,” Dani murmurs as she mouths underneath one of Jamie’s breasts, her tongue peeking out to trace the thin scar so snugly situated there, “is… Is it okay? Can I ask about… This?”

Jamie shifts, propping herself up on an elbow, and looks down at Dani. “You can ask me anything,” and one of Dani’s hands slips up to find one of Jamie’s, squeezing, “yeah?”

The smile that blazes across Dani’s face is new and glowing and so overwhelming Jamie feels like she needs to look away, to avert her eyes.

Instead, all she does is meet it, smiling widely back.

“Yeah,” Dani whispers, her eyes flitting back down to Jamie’s scar, her free hand drifting up, her fingers light, following the neat stroke of skin, gloss on cream.

“Wasn’t that serious, really,” Jamie starts, her thumb tracing the peaks of Dani’s knuckles, “got in a knife fight with–– Well, got in a fight, he had a knife, I didn’t–– This guy. Got me, uh, pretty good,” she leans forward, craning her neck, “but he was, uh… Dispatched,” Jamie swallows, “quick enough. Only time anyone’s ever landed a hit on me. Besides Becca,” Jamie adds, then, grinning, adds again, “and you.” 

Dani doesn’t acknowledge the addendum, only stares at the delicate mar of skin, her jaw clenched, her brows setting, furrowed, her voice clipped when she finally speaks. “Someone stabbed you?” 

“Yeah,” Jamie says slowly, cautious, suddenly, “but I’m––”

“Someone stabbed you,” Dani says again.

“Yeah.”

“Who?” Dani’s voice is direct, demanding.

“This guy, Dani, I told you––” 

“Do you know him?”

“I… Couldn’t tell you his name, no. Dani,” Jamie’s voice softens, and, squeezing Dani’s hand, she drops it, reaching up to cup her cheek. “It was years ago. It’s okay. I’m okay.”

Dani stares at it a moment longer, her jaw clenching tight, tighter, and then Jamie’s thumb is moving, smoothing gentle strokes along Dani’s cheekbone, and Dani’s deflating, her fury, sudden and sure, blown away in a quiet exhale. When her eyes find Jamie’s, they’re wide and soft and a little bit scared, and whether it’s for Jamie or of herself, Jamie thinks, she’s not sure. 

“Didn’t realize,” Jamie whispers after a moment, “you cared so much.”

Dani blinks, fear fading away, the corners of her mouth curling upward, even as her brows pinch together. “The last… Forty-eight hours didn’t help you come to that conclusion? What about the rest of the last two weeks?”

Jamie groans, letting herself flop back onto the pillows behind her. “You’re gonna get cheeky with me now?”

“One of us has to,” Dani grins, squirming up to rest her head on Jamie’s collarbone, nuzzling into her neck, “and you’re too busy being a sap, so…” 

“M’not a sap.”

“Mm.”

“I’m not!”

“Of course you’re not,” Dani runs a hand up Jamie’s sternum, smoothing it across her chest. “And I always have, you know.”

“Always have what?”

But Dani’s quiet, her breath slowing, steadying, and when Jamie lifts her head enough to glance down, she finds Dani fast asleep, her smile soft, against her breast.

I always have, you know.

Dani Clayton is a force that’s timeless, one that burns, one that’s been burning longer than she’d, for so long, known, a quiet kindling kept alive for this moment, here and now, a wildfire blazing through Jamie’s past and present and future, a wildfire that always has been and always will be and will never go out.

Jamie isn’t a wildfire.

Jamie is cool and still and deep, endlessly deep, and yet:

“I always have, too,” she whispers, ducking her head, pressing a kiss to the top of Dani’s, “I always have, too.”


Rebecca Jessel prides herself on a lot of things.

She’s right to, she thinks, balancing her heel on the edge of a planter and leaning forward, savoring the stretch in her hamstring. She’s worked hard enough, worked long enough. Studied enough. Had graduated university early, and, unable and unwilling to bring herself to stoop to the level required of women seeking a pupilage, had resigned herself to seemingly lesser endeavors. 

It’s that unwillingness, she’ll maintain, she prides herself on most of all. 

She pulls her leg down, lifts her other to the planter. Stretches.

Viola had found her by virtue of her CV, had offered her employment with Lloyd Security Enterprises and an opportunity to help people, to protect them not through the law, but through the liberties of acting outside of it. 

“Practical skills,” Viola had explained, her smile shining and serpentine as the sun shone in through the window behind her, swathing her in shadow, “can be learned. You, my dear,” and manicured fingers had pushed a contract across her desk, polished and gleaming, towards Rebecca, “have something else. Something that can’t be taught. Something that would very much be an asset to this company.” 

Rebecca lets her leg fall to the ground, glances at her watch. Tugs an arm across her chest.

She’d cut her teeth with Viola early and spectacularly, dropped into her first assignment as backup and emerging with a newfound reputation as Lloyd Security Enterprise’s star fixer, possessing a comprehensive knowledge of all of the firm’s highest-tier contracts and ready for deployment at the slightest drift of Viola’s whims. 

Rebecca sighs, lets her arm drop. Lifts her other to her chest.

“It’s because you’re an opportunist,” Jamie had told her once, the two of them shoved tightly together in a booth at the back of a pub in Charing Cross, “you love… Looking at a thing and finding the angles, right, of how to make it work for you. And helping other people in the meantime, sure, but…” Jamie had shrugged, sipping deeply from her pint. “Fixer,” she’d chuckled, “Viola Lloyd’s star fixer.”

Rebecca had only laughed, raising her wine glass to her lips. “Out of the two of us, I’m not sure I’m Viola Lloyd’s star anything,” she’d challenged, ignoring Jamie’s flush and the accompanying scowl, “and you have foam on your lip, by the way.” She’d reached up to brush it off with the quick swipe of a thumb, continuing, “but I think we all have to be a bit of an opportunist, don’t we? In our line of work? C’mon, Jamie,” she’d nudged her shoulder softly against Jamie’s in the cramped space of their booth, “don’t act like you don’t like the perks of the job. When else would people like… How else could we, you and I, travel the world? Meet half the people we meet? Stay in some of the places we stay, live off per diems…”

“You sound just like her,” Jamie had mumbled.

“And is that such a bad thing?”

Jamie had given her a look.

“Okay, but entirely? She’s a woman who runs her own company, Jamie. She answers to no one, calls all of her own shots. Don’t you want that?”

Jamie had shrugged, staring down at her drink, thoughtful.

“Listen. You’re good at your job–– Don’t give me that look, it’s not a question. You are. You’re better than me, even if you don’t fancy yourself half the opportunist I am. You’re good at your job, and you like your job, don’t you?”

Jamie had said yes then, but, Rebecca had thought, it didn’t take an advanced degree, or intuition, or even the most reputable fixer to know that the woman next to her, twenty-something and almost alone and shoved together with her only friend in the dim light in the back of a pub in Central London, barely even knew herself. 

Rebecca looks at her watch again––it’s five-fifteen now––and is weighing the pros and cons of slipping back into the manor and up the stairs to fetch Jamie herself when the door creaks open and Dani emerges, grinning, toting Jamie along behind her.

“Sorry we’re late,” and Dani’s babbling already, “Jamie insisted that we had to be here right at five, and I’ve always believed that if you’re early you’re on time and if you’re on time you’re late, but––”

Rebecca raises her eyebrows at Dani.

Behind Dani, Jamie makes a face that’s half-apologetic, half-resigned. 

Rebecca doesn’t believe it for a second. 

Rebecca prides herself, too, on her punctuality.

It’s a trait that’s always served her: honoring the precision of a registration time had earned her a coveted seat in a singular Russian poetry course at SOAS; knowing the exact moment at which to swoop on an assignment, to scoop it, sinking, out of the murk, has consistently guaranteed her success.

Despite her own commitment to timeliness, though, tried and trusted, it’s by Jamie that Rebecca’s always sworn you could set a watch.

Jamie, who’s always the first to every meal; Jamie, who’s picking up the phone at the same time every evening, assignment permitting, to call Mikey; Jamie, who beats the sun outside every morning, warming up in the deep blue before the dawn, waiting, feet tracking lap after lap in the dirt or the gravel or the sand, for Rebecca.

Jamie, fifteen minutes late and sporting a neon aqua scrunchie, smiling, suddenly, as Dani’s fingers squeeze hers.

“I’m not sure why,” Rebecca appraises, taking in Dani’s ponytail, high and tight, flyaways tucked securely away by a purple hair clip resting, snug, against her temple, and the Blondie t-shirt, its wrinkles divulging the haste with which she must have tugged it over her head, “but I didn’t expect you to join us.” Her eyes drift back over to Jamie, dart down past her sports bra to her bare midriff. “A silly mistake on my part, I think.”

Dani, bent over and tightening her shoelaces, beams up at her. “No offense taken. I think Jamie’s still surprised to see me every morning.”

“Is she?” Rebecca arches an eyebrow. “And how long, exactly, have you two been doing this now?”

Dani shrugs, straightening, and smiles mysteriously over at Rebecca. “Depends,” she offers mildly, “on what exactly you mean by ‘this.’”

And then Dani pushes off, sprinting towards the end of the drive.

Rebecca looks at Jamie. “Does she do this often?”

Jamie looks back. “Every time. Always has to have the final say, that one.” 

Rebecca laughs. “You two have your work cut out for you, don’t you?”

Jamie’s brow furrows. “Not sure what you––” 

But then Rebecca’s running too, and Jamie’s left to follow. 

Dani’s waiting patiently at the end of the drive when Rebecca and Jamie get there, and when Dani looks at Jamie expectantly, when Jamie proffers Dani her hand, when Dani slaps it playfully, grinning, Rebecca is quick to bite.

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?” Dani cocks her head, her brows pinching together.

Next to Dani, Jamie’s eyes widen, and Rebecca understands immediately.

“Your little… High five,” she continues, ignoring Jamie’s eyes, imploring, across from her. “Why do you do that?”

“Why do we…” Dani blinks, glancing over at Jamie, who attempts valiantly to temper her expression. “Jamie,” Dani says then, voice dropping, and it’s a delight to watch, Rebecca thinks, as Dani grows taller, tenser, and Jamie––willing or not––melts in front of her, “why is Rebecca asking why we tap in after every lap?”

“Tap in?” Rebecca turns to Jamie too, eyebrows raised. “You told her to tap in after every lap?”

Jamie, floundering between the challenging heat of Dani’s gaze and the amused chill of Rebecca’s, stares at her feet. 

“Why did you tell me,” Dani presses, and she’s a marvel, Rebecca realizes suddenly, command and congeniality compounded, “I had to tap in at the end of every lap for it to count?”

“Jamie and I work out all the time in the mornings,” Rebecca supplements, eyes trained on Jamie and glinting in the predawn glow, “and she’s never asked me to do that. I’m hurt.” 

Jamie digs her toe into the gravel in front of her. “Didn’t think you’d want to hold my hand, Becca,” she mumbles, and Rebecca knows her well enough that she doesn’t need the sun, knows without it the scope of the blush creeping up the back of Jamie’s neck.

“But you thought,” she replies cooly, “Dani did?”

“You…” Dani’s voice is flat, disbelief and delight all at once, satisfaction and skepticism in improbable harmony. “You just wanted to hold my hand?”

Jamie’s grinning sheepishly at the ground now, and when she finally looks up, she can only glance between the two of them, shrugging, and then it’s her turn to bolt, sprinting away from them and back down the drive. 

Rebecca Jessel prides herself on her discretion.

Beyond the boundaries requisite to their line of work––beyond NDAs and confidentiality agreements and relationships, their natures carefully sidestepped, conflicts of interest avoided––her keenness has been a constant in her life, at once sword and shield, an insistence, imperative and innate, to parry. To strike.

It’s another tie to Jamie, another binding mutuality, carefully honed together and apart, whether in the field and by cold expectation, or by the failures of fatherhood and the veneer of justice.

They’ve always been alike, Rebecca thinks, watching Dani and Jamie tumble, laughing, onto a pile of pillows scattered along the grass near the greenhouse, her and Jamie.

“You wanted to hold my hand, huh?” she hears Dani murmur, giggling over Jamie as Jamie reaches up to tug at her scrunchie, Dani’s hair falling in a curtain around the two of them as she leans down.

The difference, though, Rebecca considers, jogging past them, raising a hand, her acknowledgement unnoticed, has always been the stakes to Jamie’s caution, her withholding mandated, Rebecca’s merely calculated.

Jamie’s is defensive, protective of the thing, soft and secret and so alive, growing invariably inside her, her discretion wrought over years and, Rebecca had so long suspected, rusted over. It’s owing only to their constant closeness that’s Rebecca has been allowed a glance at the thing, Jamie’s closedness become collateral:

A mumbled “for a family I’ll never have,” Mikey’s address scribbled onto an envelope containing the heft of Jamie’s first paycheck, offered in companionship to Rebecca’s “for a job I’ll never do,” hers sinking into a collection of leather-bound legal books, a proud commitment, made even in resignation.

Shaking hands, Jamie’s fingers frantic, fumbling for a needle, a match, a bit of string, tender and tremor-tempered as she’d stitched up a gash in Rebecca’s thigh. “Never done this before,” she’d murmured, kneeling between Rebecca’s legs in a hotel bathtub, and Rebecca, fingers tight around the tub’s ceramic edge had only gritted her teeth, grinned. “Never a better time to learn,” she’d managed, “than the present.” 

A head tucked under a chin, the tops of Jamie’s curls blowing freely back and forth with each one of Dani’s snores, arms hung comfortably around each other’s waists, legs tangled happily together, Jamie nestling in closer with a sigh as Rebecca had withdrawn her head, pulling the door shut, softly, behind her.

Jamie is still cautious, Rebecca knows, jogging alongside the lake, past the gazebo, her judgement exacting and her consideration conscientious.

But Jamie is no longer withholding.

Here, Rebecca determines, with Dani, she’s not sure Jamie needs to be.

Here, with Dani, she thinks that Jamie knows that, too.

Here, with Dani, the softness so closely guarded at the heart of Jamie is still growing, Rebecca thinks as she circles the statue garden, then cuts inside, making a pass through it. It has been, and it will be, in perpetuity, but it’s outgrowing its confines now, their purpose outlived, wrapping, rampant and flourishing, around them, its bloom improbable and beautiful. 

It looks like Jamie, showing up late despite having woken up a flight of stairs and a foyer away, bun bound in a scrunchie blinding in its brightness.

It looks like Jamie, thinking up excuses to hold Dani’s hand, even if just for a single, sweaty post-sprint second.

It looks like Jamie, grinning into Dani’s lips as they kiss on the lawn between self-defense sets, a murmured “and what if I did?” a distinct non-denial of Dani’s accusation, pointed and playful.

Rebecca finishes her first lap, a sweep of the interior of the grounds, to find Jamie pressing Dani into the doors of the manor, face buried in the crook of her neck as Dani, head thrown back, laughing, fumbles frantically for the doorknob. 

She watches as the two of them stumble inside together, Dani’s fingers wrapping around Jamie’s wrist and tugging, Jamie laughing, beaming, dragged happily away by Dani.

Rebecca doesn’t remember ever seeing Jamie like this.

Rebecca prides herself on her memory, a steel trap of knowledge and context, infallible even after an unlucky blow––her singular concussion had been mild, an easy few days’ recovery, and she’d been able to finish her job readily even so––or a few pints. (She can still, to Jamie’s chagrin, recall every detail Jamie had told her about Viola, the two of them three bottles of wine deep at Rebecca’s flat a few nights after the fact, Rebecca all commiseration and loving derision.) 

Rebecca can remember the exact moment her father started looking at her differently: she’d been fourteen and proud, eyes hard and shining, when she’d looked him in the eye and declared she would leave.

She hadn’t meant that day, hadn’t even meant soon, had only meant that she would, eventually, determined to exist outside of a mother marred by distance or a father, doting and disallowing of it.

She thinks sometimes that it’s worse, remembering: for all the joys at the prospect of existing by herself, as herself, for all her anticipated liberation, she’d become subject to his slights, his unending implications of inferiority. 

Rebecca can remember the good things, though, too.

She remembers Viola’s smile when she’d signed her contract, the satisfaction in her voice at Rebecca’s promise of reciprocity, of commitment, of rigor; the weight of Viola’s arm, slung comfortably over her shoulders, as she’d introduced her, boasting, to the Board of Directors; the nods, pleased and proud, that have come with every debrief, every finished assignment.

She remembers the day she’d met Jamie, shoved together during self-defense training by virtue of their shared stature, Jamie’s thumbs slung low in her pockets, the sturdiness of her handshake, the restrained warmth of her smile.  

She remembers common assignments and morning workouts and nights at the pub, a relationship expanding and constricting, shifting, constantly, to meet the changing needs of its participants, emaciated and abstaining all at once.

She remembers the shared beds and stories swapped, remembers trying, failing, to figure out whose blood was staining whose clothes. Remembers their first promotions, and their first vacation, and remembers the promise, inherent in all of it, to protect each other at all costs.

She has seen Jamie in so many ways, Rebecca thinks, but she has only ever seen her because Rebecca exists outside of the presupposition of absence that permeates their lives, shared as they are. Rebecca is a law of Jamie’s universe, as Jamie is of Rebecca’s, the two inevitable constants in each other’s lives as they continue growing, expanding, spinning on through the seeming unassailability of time. 

Everything the two of them have been to each other––and everything they haven’t, for as long or as short as they have been––has been out of convenience. It’s not an ugly truth, Rebecca thinks, matter-of-factly, or even a sad one: “don’t do people,” Jamie had mumbled to her once, curled up in the backseat of a boat on their way out of Panama, her head in Rebecca’s lap, one eye swollen shut and Rebecca’s fingers skimming softly through her hair, “but this… Supposed to trust you with my life, aren’t I? S’our job.” Jamie’s other eye had drifted shut then, punctuated by a yawn. “And you’re… Always going to be around, aren’t you? Makes me feel,” her words had blurred, drifting, “almost safe.”

They have been friends, and they haven’t, and they have been something else, and they haven’t, and it has always been the two of them, together, trapped in mutual orbit, bound by past and present and bound, most of all, by Viola Lloyd’s gravity. 

Viola had been there after, waiting in a hotel room in Colombia––there had been a moment, Rebecca had noticed, when Viola’s guard had slipped, a shade of fear flickering into her eyes as Rebecca had stumbled in, Jamie’s arm drooped over her shoulder and hers wrapped firm around Jamie’s waist––and had watched, lips pursed, appraising, as Jamie had insisted to Rebecca that she was fine, that she could shower on her own.

Rebecca remembers wanting to argue, but Rebecca remembers knowing better.

Rebecca remembers the way Viola had clicked her tongue softly, had turned to her once the bathroom door was closed and the shower running.

“My daughter,” Viola had murmured, and Rebecca had turned to her, too, “Isabel. She… Wants nothing to do with me. With my line of work.”

Rebecca had been quiet, intent, and so had Viola, for a minute.

“I’m leaving it to her, you know,” she’d said at last, eyes casting from Rebecca back to the bathroom, “when I’m done.”

“And when,” Rebecca had only asked, “will you be?”

When  Rebecca had wondered, thinking about Jamie, alone and curled up in the corner of the shower, knees pulled tight to her chest, letting the warmth of the water rush over her, letting it wash off the blood and the sweat and the rest of it, will it be enough?


“This is nice,” Dani sighs, arching her neck backwards, leaning into Jamie’s touch.

“Yeah?” Jamie’s voice is hopeful, “it, uh, it feels okay?”

“Mmhm,” Dani lets her eyes flutter closed, one of her hands reaching back and around, slipping down the dip of Jamie’s waist to find her hip, tugging her carefully closer.

New routines, too, Jamie finds, are subject to Dani Clayton, those long-established collections of habit into which Dani has happily settled, demanding, politely, their reformation, are just as at risk for reconstruction as are those previously untouched. 

Dani’s avoidance of the bathroom in the morning, her original cessation of their shared space to Jamie, had become an easy mutualism, towels and toothbrushes traded back and forth, and now it’s evolved again, become something else entirely, a homology all the more intimate.

“I’ve never, uh,” Jamie clears her throat, her fingers, attentive and thorough, working shampoo through the waves of Dani’s hair, “done this before.”

“Showered?” Dani’s tone is gentle, if amused, and Jamie can practically see the arch of her eyebrow under the rush of the water.

“You know,” Jamie chides, and, sliding her fingers higher, massages the crown of Dani’s head, “I’ve showered before.”

Dani chuckles. “I guess I do.”

“It’s, uh, this,” Jamie runs her fingers through the length of Dani’s hair, raises her hands back up. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Showered with someone?”

“No, I’ve…” Jamie flushes, sheepish, her brow furrowing. “It’s more… It’s–– I’ve never… Cared for someone, I think. I mean,” she shakes her head, “I’ve… I’ve cared for people before, I care about people a lot, it’s my job, but…” she mulls it over for a moment, then continues, quieter, “not like this. Not without… Here,” her hands glide back down Dani’s scalp, and wrap around her shoulders, turning her, gently, under the spray of the water. “Sorry,” she mumbles, reaching up to rinse Dani’s hair, the blunts of her nails scratching softly against Dani’s scalp, “I’m not really sure what I’m trying to…” 

It’s a tenderness Jamie’s never experienced before, caring for someone else like this. Jamie’s had to be agile, deft, has trusted her life to and been entrusted with the lives of others, has shared nakedness, a shower, even, with someone else before, but… 

Nothing, she thinks, has ever felt like this.

She’s never felt like she does now, washing Dani Clayton’s hair in a shared bathroom in an aging estate in the southern countryside, Dani sighing happily as Jamie’s fingers work, rinsing rose-scented shampoo out of soft waves.

It feels natural to her, this tenderness, the way her fingers feel in Dani’s hair, the way her fingertips press against Dani’s scalp. It feels like something for which she was born––more so than anything else, Jamie thinks before she can stop herself, more than self-defense, more than physiology, more than security––something of which she’s been denying herself, whether out of fear or out of obligation or both.

She feels, Jamie realizes, free.

“Jamie,” the balls of Dani’s feet squeak against the floor of the tub as she shuffles out of the water and closer to Jamie, her eyes impossibly soft as they drift open, “can I ask you something?”

Jamie blinks, her arms dropping to Dani’s shoulders as she moves, looping, loose, around her neck. “Of course.”

Dani’s knees bump clumsily into Jamie’s and Dani reaches up, finding one of Jamie’s hands, tangling their fingers together. “Has anyone,” she whispers, “ever taken care of you?”

Jamie swallows.

Dani’s eyes are wide and watery, watching Jamie closely, and there’s something almost like sadness there, Jamie thinks, and then it dissipates, replaced by the softest of steel.

“Will you let me,” Dani whispers then, her fingertips finding, lighting against, Jamie’s stomach, splaying her palm across the toned muscle there, before sliding it slowly, reverentially up, “take care of you?”

Jamie’s breath hitches.

Dani’s hand comes to rest over her heart.

Jamie presses her eyes closed, wills the telltale bob out of her throat.

Dani’s hand is solid over her heart, her thumb tracking lazily back and forth through the droplets streaming around it. “Jamie,” she says again, her other hand squeezing Jamie’s softly, “will you look at me?”

Jamie opens her eyes. Finds Dani’s.

“Let me,” Dani whispers, leaning in, pressing her lips to Jamie’s cheek, along her nose, to the corner of her eye, and Jamie’s not sure how Dani can so easily differentiate tears from the spray of the shower, “take care of you.” She pulls away, finds Jamie’s eyes again. “Okay?”

Jamie nods, her movements slow, jerky.

Dani’s smile is soft. “Okay.”

And Dani takes care of her.

Dani takes care of her, her touch gentle as she wraps her hands around Jamie’s biceps, maneuvering her around and underneath the showerhead, dipping Jamie’s head back into the rush, wetting her hair.

Dani takes care of her, pressing a kiss to her forehead as she murmurs a “one second, okay? I’m just gonna get some shampoo” before leaning backwards to reach for the bottle resting on the back shelf.

Dani takes care of her, quiet and concentrating as she combs her fingers through Jamie’s curls, massaging her scalp as she goes, working Jamie’s shampoo into a careful lather.

Dani takes care of her, turning Jamie slowly back around as she rinses her hair, and Jamie’s eyes flutter back open, drops of water clinging to her eyelashes, and she watches Dani anyway, drinking her in, committing her every move to careful memory.

Dani takes care of her, posing an easy “do you want conditioner?” when she’s done, smiling and nodding and humming to herself when Jamie nods, busying herself with the bottle as Jamie turns back around.

Dani takes care of her, letting Jamie lean back into her this time, carding her fingers through Jamie’s hair as she does, ducking her head to drop a kiss, whole and unassuming, onto the shell of her ear.

Dani takes care of her, reaching for the soap while the conditioner sits, collecting the lather in her palms, then pausing, her arms halfway around Jamie. “Is this okay?” she whispers, and Jamie nods again, her sigh shaky when Dani’s arms circle her waist, when Dani’s hands graze her skin.

Dani takes care of her, her touch delicate and deliberate as she washes Jamie’s stomach, Jamie’s chest, the swell of Jamie’s breasts.

Dani takes care of her, dropping to her knees, lathering soap along the length of Jamie’s legs, fingers certain as they slip around an ankle, duck behind a knee, skate up the inside of a thigh.

Dani takes care of her, her hands finding, bracketing, Jamie’s waist, easing her back under the showerhead, and even though the rush of water, cleansing and warm, would be enough, Dani rinses her anyway, her hands smoothing, considerate, over Jamie’s stomach, Jamie’s arms, the wealth of Jamie’s skin.

Dani takes care of her, and when she’s done, Jamie turns around.

Jamie turns around, and she’s crying, and Dani holds her.


Rebecca is finishing her final sweep, jogging along the packed earth trail lining the grounds, rounding the bend along the southernmost edge of the property and passing the stone markers delineating its edge––“your commitment to going above and beyond,” Viola had once noted, lips pursed as she’d reviewed one of Rebecca’s reports, “is exceptional”––when she’s stopped, suddenly, in her tracks.

There are footprints.

There are footprints along the edge of the path, next to the ferns.

Jamie had said it might happen in her original assessment of the grounds: “likely prone to ramblers,” she’d written, “should people want to have a look at the gardens.” Rebecca had laughed, smirked, when she’d first read it––Jamie had left her cheek planted firmly in the footnotes, a “though not as many, perhaps, as there would be would should said gardens not be so lamentably neglected” buried at the bottom of the page––but now she’s wracking her brain, accounting for the likelihood of Jamie’s ramblers against that of Peter Quint.

Rebecca wishes now the gardens hadn’t been so lamentably neglected. Knows, without doing the math, which odds she prefers.

Still, she stays calm. Follows procedure. 

Measures the footprints against her hand, commits the ratios to memory.

Surveys the surrounding area, footpath and foliage. 

Some ferns are crumpled, pushed aside, but others have sprung back; the footprints fade, meandering back off the property, their edges sunken and rounded, in the mud. 

They’re old.

Peter Quint is a threat lacking in immediacy––he is not a threat now, not today, not yet––but Peter Quint has been back to Bly since Jamie’s accident.

Rebecca thinks back.

It had rained five days ago, she remembers.

Peter Quint has been back to Bly sometime within the last five days.

She peers at the footprints one last time. Surveys the area around them. 

Satisfied, she starts the jog back to the manor.

She doesn’t see the second set of footprints.

She couldn’t: they, trailing alongside Peter’s, are already gone, faded easily, given their lesser depth, in a few days’ time.

Rebecca never could have seen them.

She’d never had the chance.