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Effy catches Emily staring, because Emily is either too intoxicated or just too tired of it all to be bothered anymore. And she doesn’t blame her, really, because her shirt dress barely covers anything of consequence, and from what she’s seen, Emily has finally decided to accept her gayness with abandon. No one seems to want to accept it back, or at least Naomi – who is really the only one who matters – doesn’t seem to be able to admit she’s not oblivious nor uninterested, though Effy sort of appreciates the way all that rejection and uncertainty seems to make Emily almost luminous. She practically shines with it; Effy would think it was the drugs that makes her glow and throws the rest of them into shadows, but she’s been fucked up so many times she doesn’t think she’s even truly capable of it anymore.

It’s a sort of morbid curiosity that draws her, the same kind of thing that makes a bird with a broken wing so fascinating. It’s cliché, or would be, if her desire was to actually fix anything.

She spends the evening shooting Emily sly glances. They elicit confusion at first, and Emily twists to look behind her, first to the left and then to the right, sure that they’re meant for someone else. When she starts to believe that they’re not, the confusion shifts over into muted interest. Effy leaves it for a while, wanders out of sight and has a drink, before reappearing just when Emily’s started to look dejected again.

It pleases her.

This time, it doesn’t take nearly as long for Emily to start returning her looks. The other girl is decidedly direct about it. She stares openly, and her eyes trace over Effy with frank appreciation as she moves through the party. It makes Effy wonder how Naomi has managed to stand it, with the focused attention of the supposedly shy and beaten down twin burning so brightly in her direction. Emily has secrets, and Effy likes that.

She waits for Emily to come to her, because it’s no fun if it’s the other way around, but Emily seems content to hide in the corner and watch. Someone starts making noises about moving on, because this party’s shit now and there’s always a better place to be, and Effy thinks about how they all just flow from one meaningless moment to another. Only, she’s as bad as all the rest of them because she does it too, and doesn’t care. None of it means enough to matter.

The air outside is cool. It feels good, and she realizes she’s gotten feverishly hot. Hair is sticking to the sides of her neck, so she lifts it up with one hand, the other bringing a cigarette to her lips.

“Hello.”

The word almost startles her, and she turns, surprised to see Emily standing there. She’s got her eyes focused on the ground, but she keeps shooting looks up at Effy that are half hopeful and almost oddly seductive, and Effy wonders if Emily would be the brash one if Katie wasn’t around.

Effy doesn’t say anything. She extends her hand wordlessly, and Emily looks at the lighter she’s holding for a moment, confusion writ clearly on her face, before seeming to understand. She takes it, stepping closer to Effy in a way that makes Effy feel deliciously trapped against the brick of the building behind her. One of Emily’s hands cups the cigarette while the other flicks the lighter to life, and Effy inhales deeply.

She’s pleased when Emily stays where she is, not stepping back when the task is through. Cutting words run through her mind; she thinks about saying something about the fleeting fancy of Naomi, but it’s clearly not in her best interests. She’s got a list of reactions she’d like to provoke and anger and guilt are not chief among them.

They seem stuck there for a moment; Effy wonders why the momentum has stopped, but the restraint she can see in Emily, the way the strain of keeping just out of reach is clear in the tension in her shoulders, finally gives her a hint.

“Go on, then. Do it,” she says, because all Emily has been waiting for is permission.

Emily surges into her desperately.

Effy’s startled by it, by the way Emily presses her back against the brick wall and kisses her with no hint of hesitation. She wonders if it’s pent up desire or if it’s just Emily, because there’s a single-mindedness to the other girl that would be frightening if it weren’t tempered by sweetness and a general lack of menace or threat.

Emily surprises. She winds her fingers in Effy’s hair and takes control of the kiss. It’s her teeth that find Effy’s bottom lip, her tongue that sweeps its way inside, and Effy’s never been controlled without being overpowered before.

She likes it.

Emily’s got her hand under Effy’s shirt dress, working its way up her rib cage. There are fingers brushing the underneath of her breast, and Effy starts, because it’s sort of gentle and tentative, nothing like the way Emily is kissing her – so full of desire and confidence. It’s disconcerting, and not in a good way, so she makes a hissing noise of frustration and pushes Emily’s hand back down, guiding it so it’s between her legs.

“Better,” she says, then bites Emily’s upper lip.

Emily seems to pause, as if she’s somehow not thought this far ahead. Her fingers flex, wiggling tentatively, and then she begins to rub, concentric circles with not enough pressure behind them, and it tickles through the sheer fabric of Effy’s underwear.

Effy thinks about just showing Emily what she wants, about shoving Emily’s hand aside and providing a first rate tutorial, but it’s been a long time since she’s felt anything this innocent. There’s something heady about the way Emily is touching her, slowly growing bolder, until finally she slips her fingers under the fabric separating them and starts the process over.

Her head falls back against the brick when Emily starts pressing kisses down her neck, and she’s astounded to find that she’s already starting to thrum. It’s going to be quick, she thinks with surprise, because Emily’s regained her confidence, and it’s the way the innocence fades away to be replaced by something more that’s so heady. She’s pressing Effy back into the brick and is almost humming into the kisses she’s trailing across her skin. And then she’s tangling her fingers in Effy’s hair and pulling her head down so that they’re kissing again; Emily’s fingers slip down until they’re just teasing at pushing inside of her, and Emily waits until Effy’s pushing her hips forward so desperately it’s as if she’s begging before she follows through on the implied promise.

“You’re lovely,” Emily says a moment later, her voice scratchy and pleased. She’s pulled back a bit, shifted so she can take better advantage of the physics of the thing, momentum and torque, and Effy leans her head back against the brick and stares sightlessly into the night sky.

“Lovely,” Emily says again, when Effy comes and the sounds all get choked up in her throat, squeezing it tight so that the only one that emerges is low and almost pained.

When she looks at Emily again, she’s licking her fingers clean, watching Effy carefully.

“Your turn now,” she says hoarsely, her throat still aching. She likes the way that Emily takes a small step forward, cautious and almost shy, and the way she presses up on her tip-toes to kiss her again. Effy tastes herself on Emily’s lips and smiles against them, even as her fingers slip under the hem of her shirt.

She’s halfway up Emily’s ribcage, soaking in the way Emily is straining up against her, when she pauses. “Do you really want to do this here?” she asks curiously, smiling down.

After a moment’s hesitation, Emily shakes her head no.

******

She takes Emily home. She pushes her down on her bed and licks her way up Emily’s thighs until she’s at the place where they meet; she smiles, then licks her there, too. Emily comes with her fingers tangled in Effy’s hair, a hoarse cry echoing around the room, and Effy’s smile widens, unseen.

******

They’re stumbling back in from a night out, exhausted and only just coming down from all of the various things they’ve consumed, when Effy presses Katie against the wall and kisses her. She’s surprised when Katie kisses her back, because she was expecting anger and hands pressing hard against her shoulders. She gets those a moment later, when Katie realizes what she’s doing.

“What the fuck, Effy?” she asks, but her voice is a little hoarse and there’s not as much indignation in it as Effy had expected, so she leans forward again.

Katie stops her with a firm hand on her sternum, and she holds it there until she’s sure that Effy understands that she’s not to touch. She swipes the back of her free hand across her mouth slowly, keeping her eyes on Effy all the while.

“I’m not like that,” she says quietly, and it’s so unlike Katie that Effy begins to wonder whether she’s hallucinating the whole thing. But, Katie had felt real, so real that it had to be real, and it hits her that Katie must know the truth about Emily, or at least suspect, because she’d said the words as if distancing herself from a fact. Emily may be like that but I’m not, she may as well have said.

It’s altogether much more interesting than she’d been expecting.

“You don’t have to attach meaning to things,” Effy says, her smile surprisingly gentle.

Katie glances away. When she looks back at Effy, her expression is hard. “I don’t want to be the mouse in one of your games. No matter what you’re playing at, I’m not interested.”

“I’m not playing at anything,” Effy replies guilelessly. “You want to be friends, don’t you Katie?”

“Yeah,” Katie snorts. “Friends. So fuck off Effy, before you do something to change that.”

Effy shrugs, and it’s galling because Katie knows that it doesn’t really matter one way or the other to her if they’re really, truly friends. She’s not sure Effy has the capacity for it, neither the friendship nor the caring, and it’s not as if she’s even envious of her any more – at least, not all that much – because unlike Effy, at least she’s not fucking miserable.

“Right,” Effy says, and her smile turns a little mean. “I’ll see you around then, Katie.”

She leaves her there in the hallway, wondering if that means she’s been dismissed.

******

Effy spends the next day smirking at her, and by the time classes are over, Katie has had well enough of it.

“You need to stop it, yeah,” she says, catching up to Effy as they round a corner, and Effy keeps walking as if she isn’t there. “I mean it, Effy,” she continues, her voice growing in volume. “Stop it.”

Effy rounds on her slowly, looking as bored as ever. “Stop what?”

Katie fumbles for a moment, because what’s she supposed to say? Stop staring at me? Effy stares at everyone, and besides, she doesn’t like the way it sounds.

“You know what I mean,” she ends up muttering instead, and scowls.

She knows the look that creeps across Effy’s face. It’s mostly vindictive and only a hint mischievous, and she doesn’t like it. “No, Katie. I don’t, actually. Why don’t you explain it to me?”

Her anger builds up inside of her, to the point where her fingers itch and she has to curl them into loose fists. She waits a moment, trying to understand why Effy infuriates her as much as she does, before hissing, “This is why you don’t have any real friends.”

Effy’s fingers are cool against her cheek, and she flinches and one of her fists tightens, but all Effy does is trace a line down her jaw and then back up, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “You’re prettier without all this,” she says, her eyes flitting over Katie’s face, up over the smear of her eye makeup and further, to the way her hair is ever so carefully styled. When they meet Katie’s eyes, their journey stops, and she stares at her with an intensity that is nearly disconcerting. “And you’re my friend, aren’t you? Isn’t that what you wanted?”

For a moment, Katie stiffens. She can’t seem to escape Effy’s gaze – but then again, none of them can – and she’s vaguely aware that they’re standing in the hall in a ridiculously intimate pose.

“Christ,” she says finally, reaching up to catch Effy’s arm. She pulls her into an adjacent empty classroom and closes the door, pushing them to the corner so they’re out of sight. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“I don’t think I’m doing anything.”

Katie wonders if this is one of Effy’s many riddles, and tries again, her voice thick with frustration. “What do you know you’re doing, then?”

Effy seems to smile at that. Her head tilts to the side, and she looks at Katie with something like affection. “I don’t know anything.”

“You’re fucking ridiculous. You know that, right?”

Effy’s almost smile broadens into a real one. When Effy smiles a proper smile and not one of her snide smirks or insinuating grins, she looks as young as she is for once. It makes her beautiful in a way that thick black eyeliner and miles of bare skin will never quite manage, because it’s organic and not artifice.

“I guess I do,” she says softly.

******

Katie’s not even sure why they’re out again, except that maybe it’s because there’s shit to do in this town if she tries to find something that doesn’t involve them, this group of people who aren’t quite her friends but will just have to do. So she snorts a little MDMA and grabs a drink and dances, because when she does those things and in that order, she can imagine that she’s anywhere with anyone. She can imagine away the way her sister’s always making doe eyes at that cunt Naomi Campbell, and can wipe the smirk off of Effy’s face.

It’s fucking mint, that. Imagining.

She wears down after a few hours. She starts to realize that her feet hurt and that she’s sweaty, and that the strobe lights are making her sort of nauseous. If she was going to party another few hours, she’d have more MDMA and touch up her make-up, but it’s not that kind of night.

Emily’s off fuck knows where, and she knows she should look for her, pull her away from whatever stupid thing she’s going to do, but Katie’s through, for the moment, with preventing Emily’s messes. So instead she stumbles out into the night, shivering when the wind hits her, and tries to steady herself on her heels. She has to blink to bring things in focus, because her eyes can’t quite make the transition from in the club to out of it, and by the time she’s able to see again, she’s not alone.

“Tired of it, then?”

“Aren’t you?” Katie challenges, because of course fucking Effy Stonem would be there. Effy’s always there when you don’t want her to be.

“I don’t know, really.”

“Yeah, well, you know fuck all, apparently, even if everyone thinks you’ve got all the answers, babe.”

“I don’t have any answers, Katie. You should know that.”

Katie rolls her eyes and sighs, because she’s too tired for this. She’s coming down hard and is ready to crash, and as soon as she sees a bed, she’s going to fall straight into it.

“Why don’t we walk,” Effy murmurs, as if they’d been discussing transportation options.

“Because there’s a fucking bus. Or a taxi. I’d rather take a taxi.”

She hardly notices that Effy’s managed to twine their fingers together until she stumbles off after her.

“Is this in any way going to help me get a taxi?” she questions sharply, but it’s not as if Effy has any intentions of listening to her. She’s got their fingers twined together hard, the pressure she’s using enough to send a dull ache through Katie’s hand, and they’re headed off into the darkness, going fuck knows where.

It sort of becomes clear, though, when Effy drags her against the side of a building just out of view of the main thoroughfare, what’s going to happen.

“I told you…” is all Katie manages to say before Effy’s kissing her again. And it’s one of the side-effects of MDMA, isn’t it, to kind of want to fall into these types of things? Effy doesn’t help, with the way she’s kissing Katie slow and deep, doing something with tongue and suction that’s sort of making her a little weak in the knees.

When she pulls away, she presses up against Katie fully, wrapping her arms loosely around Katie’s waist. “Come on,” she murmurs, her lips just beside Katie’s ear. It makes Katie shiver, the way the warmth of her breath seems to skate along her skin, the way her words seem to be coming from inside Katie’s own head. “Come home with me, Katie.”

“It’s not a good idea,” Katie says, but she sounds breathless and out of it, and she blinks, trying to pull herself together. Effy’s managed to slip a thigh between her legs and is pushing up against her, just a constant pressure that won’t let her forget that Effy is right there, and it’s making it hard for her to keep even a single thought in mind. The words seem like a jumble in her head, but come out only as slightly confused. “Why do you keep doing this?”

“You can be better than you are,” Effy says softly, with a slight smile on her face. “So can I. I’ll show you and you show me.”

Katie finds Effy shoulders with her hands, and gives a weak push that does nothing to dislodge her. “I don’t know what the fuck that means,” she says irritably, then gasps when Effy’s lips find the curve of her neck. They trace along the skin just under her jaw line, and Katie’s hands stop pushing weakly at Effy’s shoulders and instead clutch at them for support. She’s surprised when Effy’s hand comes up to cover one of hers. Effy’s skin is burning hot, or maybe she’s just gone cold, and she shivers with it. She lets Effy pull her hand down, going boneless, letting Effy be her marionette. She’s surprised when her hand is pressed flat against Effy’s breast; her mouth opens but nothing comes out, as Effy continues to guide her hand so that it’s rubbing and pressing, and she can feel the hardness of Effy’s nipple against her palm. “Why do you have to be such a cunt?”

Effy looks down at her with a small smile. “Me, Katie?”

“You think I can’t see it on your face?” Katie asks coldly, the words cut in half by a sharp gasp when Effy sucks hard on her earlobe. “You can’t stand me. You think I’m stupid.”

“Just the parts you show me,” Effy says against her skin, the words muffled and barely audible. She’s pulling Katie’s hand down further, slipping across her belly and past the edge of her shirt dress and then back up, so that her hand is cupping Katie’s, and Katie is cupping her. “So show me something different.”

For a moment, Katie doesn’t move. She goes stiff, and her breathing becomes labored, and Effy’s patience starts to wane. “Whatever,” she mutters angrily, just when they’re nearing the breaking point – it’s seconds away from all falling apart – and her fingers finally twitch into motion. “You’re so fucking miserable. That’s what this is, isn’t it? You being so fucking miserable that you’re gagging for it, gagging for me to fuck you so you can pretend to feel something. And you’re so pathetic, yeah, that I might even do that for you.”

Effy blinks, taken aback by the sudden, vicious undertone in Katie’s voice.

“So tell me, do you feel that?” Katie asks, and Effy gasps sharply as a finger finds her clit and presses hard against it. “Can you live now, Ef?” The finger starts to move, the pressure too much, and Effy is squirming, not sure if she wants to pull away or press closer. Katie’s lips twist into a smirk, and she slides her free hand from Effy’s shoulder up to the back of her neck and clamps down hard, because Effy is finally at her fucking mercy instead of the other way around. “Can you?” she sneers, demanding, digging her nails into the skin of Effy’s neck.

Effy’s lips part, as if she’s going to say something, but Katie cuts her off. “You’re so much better than me, yeah?” She’s rubbing hard and fast now, using the tips of three fingers, and it’s messy and rough, and sometimes her nails catch a bit of skin, making Effy gasp, then whimper. “Everyone falls at your feet and you don’t even fucking try, you miserable whore. You just… just…”

She trails off suddenly, like she’s finally managed to take all of the bitterness inside of her and set it free. Effy looks up at her, biting down hard on her lower lip, wishing that Katie hadn’t stopped talking, because it was the first thing that had felt right in longer than she can remember. She’s surprised by the look in Katie’s eyes, questioning but not cold, as if her brain has finally caught up to what she’s saying and doing. Her shoulders are slumped and she’s edging over toward defeated, and Effy digs her nails into Katie’s forearm, because she needs her angry and spiteful, needs her to not stop.

Katie seems to catch on. She laughs shortly, and smiles. “Well, hurry up, then,” she says, her thumb stroking over Effy’s pulse point almost gently. “I don’t have all fucking night.”

Effy’s never needed permission before. She’s always taken without asking, but this time, she can’t. She waits until Katie grows impatient again, until eyes narrow and her lips pull back in a scowl, and she hisses an angry, “Effy…”

She’s lucky Katie catches her, because her knees buckle. Instead of sprawled out in front of her, she ends up plastered against Katie, her face buried against Katie’s neck, almost sobbing with the effort of catching her breath.

Katie sighs, pushes her away, and stares at her, eyes dark and unreadable. Her hand comes up to capture Effy’s chin; it’s still wet, and Effy breathes in the scent of herself. Katie turns her face first right then left, as if she’s looking for something, but the dissatisfaction in her eyes makes it clear she doesn’t find it.

“Don’t do this again,” she says finally, her hand slipping away from Effy’s chin to the front of her shirt dress, and Effy can feel the swipe of it against her as Katie wipes it clean. “Fuck’s sake, Effy. I told you I’m not like that.”

Effy nods silently then takes a step back, her eyes cutting back to the road. It’s an invitation, and Katie accepts it with a sigh.

“You’re paying for the taxi,” Katie mutters. Effy smiles – it’s a real one, but Katie doesn’t see it – and laughs.

******

It’s finding her at Freddie’s shed, plastered against him, her voice syrupy sweet, and the way she looks at Effy with put upon pity. She regrets it later, because Effy knows the value of keeping secrets, but she’s never claimed to be a saint.

“You should tell your sister to stop giving you shit for liking to fuck girls,” she says easily, as if Emily isn’t immediately mortified by the words, “especially as she’s so good at it herself.”

She doesn’t stick around to see the devastation.