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transatlanticism

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Transatlanticism

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Disclaimer: the vast majority of the characters in this story (notably, Emily Fitch, Effy Stonem, and Naomi Campbell) are being ‘borrowed’ from Skins; consequently, all creative rights to these characters belong to Company Pictures and their other respective owners.  The story title, chapter titles, and all the descriptions underneath the chapter titles are lifted from Death Cab for Cutie’s 2003 album transatlanticism, which is © Ben Gibbard and Barsuk Records.

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A dedication:

To my lovely beta brigade:


Cheers to all five of you for sticking around
Even when Naomi was nowhere to be found
(And I had threatened to put her in the ground)

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four years in 11 songs

 

1.       Tiny Vessels
 “I wanted to believe in all the words that I was speaking as we moved together in the dark.”

2.       Lightness

“Oh, instincts are misleading; you shouldn’t think what you’re feeling.”

3.       The Sound of Settling

“And I’ll sit and wonder of every love that could’ve been if I’d only thought of something charming to say.”

4.       Title and Registration

“So here I rest where disappointment and regret collide.”

5.       Passenger Seat

“When you need directions then I’ll be the guide, for all time.”

6.       Expo ‘86
“I am waiting for something to go wrong; I am waiting for familiar resolve.”

7.       The New Year
“There’d be no distance that could hold us back.”

8.       Transatlanticism
“I need you so much closer.”

9.       A Lack of Color

“But I know it’s too late; I should have given you a reason to stay.”

10.    Death of an Interior Decorator
“It felt just like falling in love again.”

11.    We Looked like Giants
“And I held you closer than anyone would ever get.”

Chapter Text

She’s been in love with Naomi Campbell for longer than she can remember; honestly wakes up some mornings from yet another sweaty, unfocused dream and thinks, when did this all start? and nothing comes to her—nothing aside from the painful memory of not only having been brutally rejected, which had been bad enough, but then also caught by her sister, and every single feeling about Naomi that she’s ever had has been locked away inside since then.

College was meant to be a chance to do over; to get away.  Bristol’s not, like, huge, but large enough for the chances of them continuing on at the same college, let alone ending up in the same form, to be bloody ridiculous; one of Naomi’s long, spiteful eyerolls in her direction later, though, and Emily wonders why she ever thought she would get a clean break.

By the end of the day, it’s only gotten worse, because Naomi’s made it clear that she’s not forgotten—even though she is keeping schtum, which is more than Emily has any right to hope for, really, after pawing at a very obviously lashed Naomi right before exams just because she assumed she’d never have to see her again and a little bit of liquid courage had gone a long way—and then there’s this other girl.  Effy.  Doesn’t say much, but looks at Emily in a way that makes her distinctly uncomfortable—like she’s telegraphing everything she’s feeling, somehow, and Effy can read it all effortlessly.

She lies awake in bed at night and doesn’t want to go to sleep, because all she’ll dream about is Naomi, and reality is only going to get worse if she keeps doing that.  It’s got to stop, one way or the other; they’ve got to get past it and just be friends, learn to exist in the same space, or Naomi will eventually tell Katie the truth, and Emily’s life will be—

It’s just got to stop.

----

It’s not that easy.  Katie just won’t fucking let it go, and after the eighth or so “who invited that fucking lezza bitch” she just can’t take it anymore; tells a version of the truth that Katie might be able understand, what with her having accidentally shagged her old best mate’s boyfriend when on MDMA once, and Naomi—well, she doesn’t exactly expect gratitude, but she expects more than what she gets.

Naomi actually recoils from her; says gay like Emily just said that she has leprosy, or wants to molest small children, or something else incredibly horrible, and any valiant hopes she had of building a friendship are destroyed in the three seconds it takes for Naomi to walk away, leave her standing there feeling like the world’s biggest loser. 

Shit, is all she can say, and when she turns around Effy’s there again.  Smiling at her, like anything that just happened is even a little funny, and right when she’s about to snap at her to just either say something or fuck off, Thomas interrupts, and she calls herself gay in the mother of all Freudian slips.

Effy’s disappeared by the time she realizes that to Thomas—whose grasp on English is tenuous at best—it means nothing, but to Effy—

Christ.  She just came out to someone, and it was a complete fucking accident.  She barely even knows Effy.  Just knows that she’s shagging Cook, sometimes, and that she doesn’t give a fuck about much of anything.

Exactly the kind of person that you want carrying your biggest secret around.

----

She spends days trying to decide if she wants to talk to Effy about it—if she needs to, really, because Katie thinks of Effy as her best friend and that, more than anything, is what scares her.  She sees Effy looking at her, at all of them, all the time, but it’s always with a carefully kept-blank expression that Emily starts to loathe a little bit more every single time she sees it.  She just can’t read her at all.

And then, somehow, they end up setting next to each other at some fucking stupid party Katie dragged her to—and of course, Effy’s staring at her some more, just says “hey” and never looks away.

Emily’s just drunk enough to just get it out there, just about.  “Okay, seriously—why are you always looking at me?”

Effy blinks in surprise but then just shrugs.  “Not looking at anything in particular,” she says, before sticking out her tongue and showing a half-dissolved tablet of something.  “Fucks you up, this stuff,” she says with an odd little smile, and Emily can’t really help herself—she smiles back, because Effy’s real fucking weird but always surprisingly nice to her.

“Want some?” Effy offers, very casually, and Emily thinks about it for only a second, but, yeah, why not, drugs, and so she nods, just once.

Before she can do anything else, Effy’s wrapped one hand around her neck and has pulled her in close, presses their lips together and takes advantage of Emily’s surprised gasp to just really kiss her, proper kiss her, while slipping her the remains of the tablet.

MDMA, Emily thinks mutely after Effy pulls away and wipes away a little bit of smeared lipstick near Emily’s mouth.  She’s on MDMA, and she knows she’s staring at Effy—like a dumbstruck imitation of the way Effy stares at her, and before she can think of anything sensible to say, at all, Effy tilts her head and goes “hmmm” with a smile.

She still hasn’t figured out what to say when Effy gets up and disappears back into the crowd; all she can think is that Effy’s got a really fucked up sense of humor, because everything that just happened must’ve been some twisted shout-out to that stupid fucking lie she told them all about kissing Naomi.

It’s only later, in bed, that she realizes that she’s kissed a girl for the first time, and it’s not the one that she’s thought about, all these years.  She closes her eyes and tries not to think of Naomi, because even though Naomi wouldn’t care if she fell off a cliff and like, died, Emily feels like she’s betrayed her, somehow.

It doesn’t count.  It was just a drunken party gag, and it doesn’t count.

----

It’s not that hard to pretend it never happened.  She’s almost forgotten about the party altogether when Effy sidles up to the lockers and leans against them a few days later, all casual-like, and says, “I read somewhere that lesbians shouldn’t wear lipstick, just gloss. Makes kissing easier.”

Emily almost drops the stack of books she’s trying to cram into her locker, but manages to shove them in at the last second.   “I’ve told you, all of you, I’m not—” she says, slamming her locker shut in frustration.

“Yeah,” Effy agrees, lips quirking into a knowing half-smile.  “And I’m not Katie, so why don’t we just drop the bullshit.”

Emily considers just walking away, for a second, but Effy knows too much and the accidental coming out, that stupid not-counting kiss, it’s all going to bite her in the arse eventually, because girls like Effy are friends with girls like Katie, not girls like her. And besides, what kind of friend just randomly drops off kissing advice, anyway?  It’s all just—

“What do you want from me? I mean, really—you’re not,… you know,” she says, annoyed at herself for sounding afraid, more annoyed for actually not being able to saying the word.

Effy laughs and pushes away from the lockers, and it’s so deliberate that Emily almost feels like prey being hunted.  She’s so out of her depth, even with Effy not circling her but just standing in front of her, silently appraising.   

“Really, what are you—“ she tries again.

“You can’t even say it,” Effy says, and then shakes her head. “Christ, Emily. I don’t give a fuck. I also don’t believe in limiting what I can and can’t do. Neither should you.”

It’s ridiculous, this conversation.  “So, you want to—you want to kiss me, then,” Emily haltingly suggests, even though it sounds completely inconceivable.

Effy just stares some more.

“Even though you know that I, well, I—“ and that’s where it locks up completely.  Effy might know some things, but this—this she doesn’t talk about, really just can’t.

“Fuck her, she has no idea what she wants,” Effy interjects, gently, and then tilts her head again—looks at Emily like she’s going to kiss her, or maybe like she just has (because it’s the same thing she did right after the kiss that doesn’t count).  “I’ll let you know when she figures things out, if ever.”

And it hurts.  It really just hurts, being told so blankly that it’s hopeless. “What the fuck does that mean? You don’t—you barely even know each other.”

Effy just smiles. “Doesn’t mean I don’t see things.”

“Great, fucking great,” Emily mutters and then actually starts walking away, but before she’s even taken two steps, Effy yanks on her arm, spins her around so fast she doesn’t really know what’s happening, and then it’s just lips on hers, lips she instinctively responds to—and this time, Effy’s tongue isn’t vaguely powdery, and Emily can feel a noise climbing up her throat, wanting to escape, and fuck, it counts, it’s still not right but this has to count, because Effy isn’t stopping it and neither is she.

“I see everything,” Effy murmurs against her lips before finally pulling away, finally giving Emily a chance to just—think about what she’s doing, and where they are.  “Mostly, I see you wanting. Don’t you think it’s about time you had something?”

“I—“ Emily says, and nothing else comes out—not quickly enough, anyway, and so Effy just leans in and kisses her quickly, one last time, before smiling and walking off.

Emily swallows hard, watches her go and then closes her eyes, tips her head back against the lockers and tries to stop her heart from racing.  She nearly has a heart attack when Katie shows up barely a minute later: “What the fuck are you doing here, stupid? Danny and I have been waiting for you outside for fucking ages.”

She considers telling Katie the truth, because Katie is a stupid bitch and would deserve to have the shit scared out of her with the knowledge that her best friend has now twice tried to snog her sister and whatever, Katie probably wouldn’t believe her anyway; Effy is the greatest, and most definitely not some fucking lesbian like Naomi Campbell, so Emily can just fuck off with her stupid lies.

But she doesn’t do it, because she knows Effy isn’t done with her yet—hasn’t made her point, whatever it is, and she can’t do anything about it.  The next move is Effy’s; it will always be Effy’s.

----

She doesn’t talk to Effy for ages, almost forgets they’ve ever kissed, and then actually forgets because it finally happens.

She wants to thank her sister for being an inconsiderate twat, kiss Pandora’s mum for wanting to bake in the first place, hug fucking everyone, because it was probably mostly the brownies, a little having Naomi just not be so goddamned afraid of her for a change, but whatever—there has been some magical alignment of events and she’s done it.  She’s kissed Naomi, and more than that, Naomi has let herself be kissed; is kissing back still, and only haltingly pulls away with an almost-funny look of shock on her face. 

It’s just a second until she pulls herself together and stares Emily down with a somewhat smug smile, but so what if Naomi’s won, so what if she is gay—she got to kiss her, and Naomi fucking liked it.

Emily doesn’t deny the accusation this time; doesn’t confirm it to Naomi’s face, but they’ve been necking and it’s fine, now that it’s not being used as an insult anymore—maybe it’s just a fact, now.  She’s Emily, she’s gay, and she’s kissed a girl, so nothing else really matters, she thinks, touching her lips with a silly smile and watching Naomi precariously amble over to the bouncy house.

And then, out of nowhere, her stomach folds on itself completely, because it’s a lie.  She’s not just kissed a girl. 

She’s kissed two.

Her mind’s too fuzzy for self-control and so the comparing starts without her permission, and it’s not good, not good at all, even though it’s not really surprising that Naomi kisses her like they’re twelve, or about to be walked in on by someone, or like it’s the most frightening thing she’ll ever do. 

It’s just not at all how Effy kisses, which she can’t even really put into words beyond overwhelming and knowing, and she hates that she knows the difference, between a good kiss and a great kiss.  Hates that Effy has made her know this, and hates that she can’t even be happy kissing the girl she’s been in love with for years because it didn’t make her feel like she was going to faint, didn’t make her lean heavily against lockers trying to get her heart to calm down.

Naomi waves her over before flopping over in the bouncy house, bottle of Pinot Grigio slipping out of her hands and rolling onto the grass, and she steels herself—she’s going to make it happen again, and this time it’s going to be like it was with—it’s just going to be better, because at some point Naomi will have to admit that she likes it—likes kissing girls, or maybe just a girl, and when that happens, it’ll be—there won’t even be a comparison, not at all, because just having Naomi look at her without a scowl makes her heart beat faster.  It can’t possibly compare.

Minutes later, they both tip over in the bouncy house and Naomi doesn’t stop Emily when she kisses her again; Emily sighs into Naomi’s mouth when she feels hands rest on her shoulders, barely pressing down but there, and all she can think is yes God finally. 

Then, stupidly and completely unintentionally—just fucked up, like they both are, which is why it’s so unfair—she accidentally brushes her hand against Naomi’s breast—who freezes completely, pulls away almost frantically before seemingly remembering where she is and who she’s with.  It’s worse than a recoil, it makes Emily feel so incredibly dirty that she gets off without another word and just nods when Naomi says she’s got to go, she forgot she—and then can’t even come up with a decent excuse.

She doesn’t cry.  She’s kissed the girl she loves, today, and it’s a start—maybe not the one she hoped for, but it’s a start.  She spends the rest of the evening watching Danny’s friends demolish Panda’s house, with Katie desperately trying to keep some measure of control on the situation before she, too, just gives up; watches as Cook comes downstairs, which means that that’s where Effy is—and she doesn’t like knowing that, either, but after three cans of cider she’s not really liking knowing much of anything, and so she just closes her eyes and tries to forget about everything. 

When she wakes up, it’s with a pounding headache and a bottle of Pinot Grigio clutched in her arms like a child, and it’s fucking freezing even though it’s light out.  She doesn’t want to be around when Panda’s mum finally wakes up and realizes what has happened—none of that was her fault, so she shouldn’t have to take the blame for something that Katie, technically, did.

She takes the fucking Pinot; why the hell not.

For once, she spots Effy—sitting on the corner of Pandora’s street—before Effy spots her, and Effy looks incredibly messed up, like she’s been out all night in her stupid little leather jacket and far too much make-up.  She looks almost like a drunken raccoon.

“Hey,” Emily says, because with the day she’s already had it’s unlikely that Effy being a total freak can make it any better or worse—she’s kissed Naomi, she’s got a bottle of wine, and the rest of it is just, whatever.  She’s fucking exhausted.  “Are you all right?”

Effy twists to look at her, with incredibly wide, shattered eyes that can’t be explained away by drugs or anything, because they’re not bloodshot, and Emily realizes with some surprise that she’s not just curious, but that she’s worried.  Like she and Effy are friends, or something.

Effy sighs, gets up, and then holds out a hand for the Pinot, which is handed over silently.  “Too fucking sober,” she says after a hearty swallow, and it doesn’t sound like Effy, at all, because Effy never sounds like she gives a shit; never really sounds real.

Emily doesn’t know how to deal with this Effy other than by letting her have the wine, and so they walk silently for a few minutes, until she can’t stand it anymore.

“I kissed Naomi,” she blurts out, and then braces herself for a bad reaction even though, well, Effy’s kissed her and it would be kind of hypocritical.

It doesn’t come, though.  Effy just takes a deep breath, and then smiles in a way that Emily instinctively knows to be sincere.  “Good for you.”

“Yeah,” Emily says, and then just looks away, because Effy’s making her uncomfortable for reasons she can’t put into words.

“Was it nice?  Everything you’d dreamed of?” Effy asks a few seconds later, and it thankfully sounds a little bit sarcastic, which means she can stop worrying about her.

“Yeah,” she finally says when the silence is starting to speak for her, because maybe it hadn’t been—perfect, but it hadn’t been horrible, either.  “It was—nice, until she ran off anyway,” she continues, because Effy’s making it easy to be honest just by not judging, and it’s been an incredibly long day; she doesn’t have the energy to lie about any of it anymore.

Effy passes back the Pinot wordlessly.

“People are cunts,” she says after long moments, and then motions for Emily to stop walking.  They sit down on a wall barricading off someone’s miniscule front lawn, passing the Pinot—which is vile, now that it’s not properly chilled, but it’s what they’ve got—back and forth between them. “My parents, for instance. I know they love each other, but they don’t know how to be together.”

“I don’t think she loves me,” Emily says unwillingly, before looking at the bottle with a frown and cursing herself for being so pathetic.

Effy just laughs.  “Not really what I meant.”

“Right,” Emily agrees, and takes the cigarette that Effy is silently offering, leans in for her to light it and then sighs deeply.

“Frustrated?” Effy asks, watching Emily smoke quickly and silently, before stealing the bottle back and finishing it off.

“No more so than usual,” Emily mutters somberly, because it’s true, and then looks up in surprise when Effy sticks out her hand, runs her fingers through Emily’s incredibly messy and fucked up hair just once.

“Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to give up on being happy,” Effy says, and even though it comes out in that same neutral, composed tone that Effy says everything in, her eyes are filling with tears.

Emily doesn’t know what to say, and it’s just been that kind of day—where being with someone who isn’t running away is just—and so she takes the bottle from Effy’s hands, lets it drop to the ground before leaning in and kissing her softly.  Just once.

“All right?” she asks, after pulling away, and Effy blinks rapidly a few times, takes a deep breath, and nods.  “How far away do you live, from here?”

“Not far,” Effy says, and kicks the empty bottle of Pinot out of their way before getting up.

----

She walks Effy home, to a normal-looking house that on the inside looks almost like a shrine that used to be right.  The room Effy lives in is quite obviously not hers—it’s so obviously a boy room that even Emily, who’s never met him, can feel Effy’s brother’s absence like a physical lacking in the space they are in. Effy had flinched when opening the door, like she’d expected to find him there—and like it still hurts every time when he’s not.

No parents, though after what Effy had said earlier it isn’t all that surprising, but Emily can’t help but wonder what it would be like, to be so unsupervised; if it would’ve made her as fucked up as Effy obviously is, or if that’s just Effy, no matter how hard other people tried.

She spent most of the walk over wondering what the hell she was doing, and what she was going to do when they finally got to Effy’s—if she was reading this correctly, if she could even go through with what she thinks is happening even though there is a part of her that apparently feels for Effy (and, grudgingly, likes kissing her). 

Now that they’ve arrived, and she’s awkwardly standing in Effy’s bedroom, she still doesn’t know, but it seems needlessly cruel to leave Effy by herself and just leave.  This isn’t even really about Effy as such; on the walk over she had to resist the urge to hug Effy several times over, maybe even hold her hand just to offer some comfort, because that’s just who she is.  She’s a fixer, can’t help but respond to people who need fixing.

It’s the only common ground between the girls she’s been kissing, but looking at Effy now, she can’t help but feel like it’s destined to go tits up, because she can’t possibly fix both of them.  Not really.

Effy slips off her shoes, shrugs out of her jacket, and then motions for Emily to lie or sit down next to her, on top of the covers.  Emily puts her purse on the nightstand before sitting down hesitantly, but Effy’s just lying there and she’s really, really tired—maybe just sleeping together, in the same space, will be enough for both of them.

She settles next to Effy somewhat stiffly; looks up at the ceiling, which is so white that it would drive her insane to look at it night after night—like sleeping in an insane asylum, this entire room.

“I’ve never done this before,” Effy says, just when Emily has relaxed enough to close her eyes.  When she blinks them open and looks at Effy’s face, Effy’s staring again.  Openly, and hungry in a way that Emily knows isn’t purely sexual; she’s seen that look directed at Katie often enough, and this is more, somehow.  Effy needs more.

“With a girl, you mean,” she finally responds, because Effy doesn’t do anything else and it preys on Emily’s inability to say no.  She’ll never just tell Effy to fuck off and get it together; doesn’t know how to leave someone in a state like this.  So they’re going to do this.  God, they are going to do this, and she doesn’t—

Effy weakly rolls her eyes in response and still doesn’t say anything, just watches with painfully honest eyes and waits.  It’s the exact opposite of how girls like Effy approach sex in Emily’s mind, where they are always proactive and slightly aggressive and just, not like this.  This is so helpless that Emily can’t stand it, doesn’t know any quicker way to make it better than to just kiss Effy again, before anyone can say anything—something like that she technically doesn’t owe Naomi anything in the first place, because that would only makes it hurt more, that she’s here, doing this.

She’s the bad guy, she thinks guiltily, even as Effy slowly starts kissing back, accidentally catches her teeth on Emily’s lip, and it makes both of them laugh tiredly.  When Effy pulls away, Emily stiffens; can’t help but worry that Effy’ll bring up one of the many things she shouldn’t—but all Effy ends up saying is “I’m assuming you know what to do.”

Emily blushes involuntarily.  “Yeah, well—in theory,” she says awkwardly, and Effy snorts and then just grins.

“In theory?”

“Shut up,” Emily says, not really offended but just—she doesn’t want to think about how she’s not done this before, because it would make it more meaningful than she wants it to be.  This isn’t meaningful: they’re both upset, it’s just her and Effy and apparently they’re going to make each other laugh a lot before they get anything else done.  It seems fitting, somehow, after the day she’s had, that even sex turns out to be nothing but a joke, and she can’t help but smile again, watching as Effy’s lips quirk in response.

“Hmm,” Effy says, and Emily can’t really believe that it can be this unworried, being with someone, being on the verge of having sex.  Even kissing has never been this easy, and—

“Are you sure about this?” she asks, because they’re just looking at each other with Effy running her fingers up and down Emily’s arm.

Effy smiles knowingly for a second but doesn’t take the bait—probably knows that Emily’s not been sure of much of anything, lately.  No, she sidesteps the question completely; just purses her lips at Emily, thoughtfully. 

“I’ve always wondered—about tasting pussy, other than my own,” is her response, and it’s followed by a quick lick at her own lips.

Emily’s stomach drops completely involuntarily, because Effy’s managed to take this from being about comfort to something else entirely with just six words, and she can’t help but be grateful because now—now it’s simple, much simpler.  She’s gay, she’s incredibly gay, and Effy has basically just said that she wants to—oh, God.

She feels Effy’s leg shift between her own before it presses upwards just once, but it’s enough to make her swallow hard, vaguely worried about being too—responsive, or something, but mostly not really knowing what the hell to do.  Please, she thinks, looking at Effy’s dilated pupils and her wicked smile, please just fucking help me.

“I think you’ll be sweet,” Effy says, and none of this is turning out how Emily expected it to when she first thought maybe on the walk over to Effy’s house, but she doesn’t even get time to think about that, really.  Effy punctuates her guesswork with a gentle rock of her hips, which just—she groans, she can’t really help it, she’s been on edge ever since lying on top of Naomi almost an entire day ago, when it looked like she might actually get somewhere, but of course she didn’t.

She closes her eyes because it’s too much, looking at Effy and thinking about Naomi, and then gasps when she feels a finger being pressed against her lips.

A wet finger.

“I am,” Effy says in a low voice, before brushing the finger along Emily’s lips; and Emily's tongue snakes out without permission, gets that first taste. The last thing her mind tells her is that she’s tasting a girl

“Yes,” is all she manages to say in response, before she crushes Effy to the mattress and forgets to think about Naomi or anything else altogether.

----

It’s meant to just be that once, but it’s not—it isn’t just twice, or just three times, either. 

She’d like to blame Effy for the fact that it goes on—because Effy knows her secrets, and that’s some power, there—but she can’t, because it doesn’t continue out of blackmail or anything else that would absolve her of any responsibility she has.

No, she just has no self-control, and it’s really fucking unfair, that Naomi won’t even talk to her, and that Effy loves fucking her—just really, loves it, and maybe she just likes it so much because they both know it’s wrong, that it shouldn’t be happening because they’ve both got other people—since Effy is still fucking Cook, just less regularly—but they always find a way to stop thinking when they’re together.

She’s so fucking gay.  Effy’s not, not even a little—says as much when Emily’s fingering her, asks Emily to fuck her harder, “really, just pound into me, it’s not going to hurt” and this is why she has no self-control: Naomi won’t even look at her, and Effy just smiles and spreads her legs, lets her do whatever she wants to.  Says her name almost like a constant litany every time Emily’s thumb brushes by her clit, and maybe she’s just trying to remind them both that they shouldn’t be doing this, but it makes her feel a little bit wanted anyway.

She’s fucking Effy, and Effy lets her know that she knows.  Always.

----

The third time they fuck, Effy presses her against a sink and finger-fucks her from behind; makes Emily watch it happen in the mirror, and all Emily can think of every time Effy’s fingers slide back inside her, rub against her clit, is Effy’s eyes—the way she’s still staring, like she’s never going to get enough of seeing Emily, seeing them.  By the time her eyes finally slip shut and her legs start to shake, she hears Effy’s low-voiced, breathy yesssss right next to her ear and sees nothing but her eyes—blue, and yet so different.

It makes her feel like shit, and instead of looking at Effy she slips down onto her knees, tears a hole in Effy’s tights and laps at her clit until Effy painfully pulls on her hair, humps her face until it starts to hurt, and it makes things okay again—just a fuck, like it’s meant to be between them, some practice before the real thing just in case that’s ever going to happen.

She gets up when Effy lets go of her hair, knees a bit sore and lips a bit swollen, and flinches when Effy looks at her strangely before reaching for her face.

“What,” Emily says defensively, and takes an involuntary step back.

Effy shrugs. “Don’t want people to know what we’ve been doing.”

“Right,” Emily agrees quickly, and turns to wash her hands before backing out of the washroom as quickly as possible. She doesn’t see Effy for a week, and some part of her is incredibly relieved.

----

It doesn’t last; she can’t stay away, and it’s not like Naomi is giving her any fucking reasons to even try.

----

The sixth time they fuck, she’s bent over a desk; Effy’s licking at her clit while pumping two fingers in and out, and Emily can’t see her face. It makes it easier, and then when it’s over she feels horrible anyway, because she’s using Effy and she knows it.

She goes home shortly afterwards, and runs into Naomi, who looks at her curiously and asks if she’s okay because she’s looking a little flushed—first fucking thing they’ve said to each other in weeks, and Emily still feels like a traitor.

She stutters something about having a fever and ignores Effy for another week.

----

The tenth time they fuck, it’s in Effy’s bedroom, in front of the mirror.  She sits on the edge of the bed and Effy kneels behind her, opens up her legs and just softly commands her to watch. 

She comes incredibly hard, and it was because of the angle, she tells herself afterwards.  It was most definitely not because of the way Effy’s eyes had followed Effy’s hands, or the way Effy’s eyes had slipped shut when she'd felt how wet Emily was.  It was the fucking angle.

----

The twelfth time they fuck, Effy says no thanks, I’m fine.

Emily isn’t hurt.

----

The eighteenth time they fuck, it’s the most wrong it’s ever been. 

Naomi’s finally talking to her again, and they’d kissed a little—not like she and Effy kiss, not with the foregone conclusion that they’re going to fuck, but shyly, tentatively, and it had all tapered off into smiles and an incredibly warm feeling in her chest that she knows she’ll treasure for weeks, if not the rest of her life.

She can’t help that it’s also made her incredibly horny, that her knickers are soaked just because she got to spend three minutes kissing Naomi’s neck, and it’s not her fault that Effy’s so fucking available, either.

Her punishment is inherent to the act, for once, because she can’t just forget and enjoy it—not like she normally does.  No, it’s incredibly jarring, being with Effy after being with Naomi, because Effy actually responds to her, looks at her, and fucking wants to fuck her, too.  It makes Naomi look like a prude, it makes her feel like a slut, and Effy—she doesn’t know how it makes Effy feel, but she can’t do it anymore.

She leaves immediately after Effy comes and texts her the next day, saying they have to stop and that Effy has to leave her alone, because she’s in love with Naomi and this, it can’t continue.

Effy doesn’t text back, which is how Emily knows that she’s been right about her all along: Effy only loves fucking her because it feels dirty and wrong, and nothing they’ve done together has meant a thing beyond that.

----

For weeks, Emily feels like throwing up and she can’t even say why, beyond the fact that Naomi is still hot and cold and Effy looks at her a little too intensely whenever she happen to cross paths, which is all the fucking time—same friends, same classes.  She just can’t get away from any of it and lies awake at night, wonders how to just forget about both of them, because she can’t keep on like this, feeling this heartsore all the time.

At some point, Naomi asks her—what do girls do, then—and she almost chokes up laughter, tries to swallow the mouthful of vodka in her mouth desperately while thinking about something to say that isn’t all about Effy’s thighs around her face, Effy’s head tipped back into a moan, Effy’s smile right before she says something like harder or oh, fuck yes.

She ends up stuttering out something about masturbation and oils and can’t help but relieved when all Naomi does is laugh at her, because at least that means her thoughts aren’t showing on her face.  And it feels like progress, like it always does, but the next Naomi ignores her again; doesn’t even wait for her to wake up, just fucks off to school leaving Emily alone with her mum to try and explain why she’s in her knickers in Naomi’s bed.

She’s going to quit it.  She just can’t keep on being constantly rejected; doesn’t even want to be with someone who is so unhappy about maybe liking her back.  She even tells Naomi as much, who looks relieved at not having to figure shit out on her end, and when she’s done crying about it she spends an entire weekend working in the garden, digging into the soil so hard that her fingernails bleed.

And then, only a day after having told Emily to fuck off for the ninetieth time, Naomi calls her—calls her—and asks to go somewhere.  She suggests cycling out to a lake she sometimes goes to when she needs some time away from her family, and they jump in even though it’s freezing.  Naomi having made that first step makes Emily feel ridiculously brave for the last time—brave enough to strip in front of her without blinking, brave enough to hold her hand, and Naomi lets it all happen, softens around her considerably and has never looked more beautiful, hair messy and wet and eyes shining in the dark.

They finally fuck.  No, she …she doesn’t know what to call it, but it’s meaningful, and different, and everything that she has ever hoped it would be; the fact that they’re freezing and a little bit drunk, vaguely high, doesn’t do anything to destroy the moment. Naomi looks at her and actually sees her, finally, and then leans in to kiss her, lets Emily act out whatever fantasy she’s had about this, and tangles a hand in her hair when Emily slides down her belly, so fucking nervously aroused that she doesn’t even know if she can make it all the way without sitting up and taking a few deep breaths.

They flow together effortlessly, and when Naomi closes her eyes with a smile, falls asleep still touching Emily’s hip, she feels like her life is finally starting to fall into place—like she’s been proven right at last, and Naomi has been worth all of it.  Perfect, she thinks right before falling asleep as well, and it’s the first night in week that she hasn’t woken up with a panic attack in the middle of the night.

----

Perfect, it had been perfect.

It’s why she can’t believe Naomi is leaving her again.

She wakes up almost alone—just in time to try and get Naomi to stay, and it is completely fucked up that she has to plead with someone to not leave her after they’ve made love, how she’s still begging for scraps even after all this time, all this waiting.

Her heart shatters, already so close to breaking that it feels like a foregone conclusion.

----

She ends up on Effy’s doorstep without meaning to, just drops off her bicycle at home and goes for a long walk which ends in her asking Effy's mum where Effy is, and just like that she’s in the boy room again.

Effy doesn’t ask questions, just pats the bed and she crawls onto it and falls asleep because as it turns out, crying your eyes out is exhausting.  She doesn’t feel much of anything anymore when she wakes up, just watches as Effy sits back down on the bed with some horrendous shades of nail varnish. 

“This is what Panda and I do, when things are fucked up,” Effy says quietly.  “Pick a color.”

Emily paints Effy’s fingernails a bright yellow, and when she’s done, Effy reaches for her hand—the one that had been—and she hears Effy offer to do her nails and it’s just too much.

“I can’t,” is all she can say, to explain, but Effy seems to get it; just nods, holds her hand silently.

Emily looks at their fingers, laced together, and realizes that they’re still the only fingers that have ever been inside her, and this is how it’s going to be.  This is her life.

Effy holds her when she cries, and they fall asleep again, huddled together like puppies on a pile of oddly colored nail varnish.

----

She leaves before Effy wakes up.

----

She forgives Naomi.  Of course she does.

And to be fair to Naomi, things are getting a little bit better; they pull a lot more regularly since their conversation on the doorstep, since their night out by the lake, but only when they can find an appropriately dark corner and when, to Emily’s mild dismay, Naomi is a fair bit off her tits.  It never goes beyond pashing, though, as the minute she starts to move hands under clothing, or dares to suggest that they go somewhere else, Naomi seems to sober up immediately and puts a stop to it, makes them rejoin their friends.

Their friends; what a fucking stupid term, that.  She doesn’t know anyone well except for Effy, and Effy’s most definitely not her friend right now; every time she’s snuck off somewhere with Naomi, she returns only to find Effy’s eyes darkly on hers—challenging, almost  asking her if it had been good, as good as they were together.

She’s asked Effy to stop it—to stop staring at her, to stop trying to get her to play this game they now play, but it’s been fruitless.  Effy marches to her own beat and the fact that they’d been in step for a while, well, that had been a freak accident, and it’s not like she can explain to anyone else why she doesn’t want to be in a room with Effy, why it’s pretty much horrible for her. 

She knows it’s just her, too; Effy doesn’t stay away, because Effy likes things that are wrong and messy.

She’s helpless to stop reacting to her, to stop this from happening.  It starts with Effy basically giving Cook a handjob in public, watching Emily’s face half the time; Emily tries to ignore her, gropes Naomi almost reflexively, who of course tells her off about propriety and being in public, and when Effy arches back with Cook licking her neck, Emily has to excuse herself before she just molests Naomi on the spot.  She doesn’t even understand what the point of it is, but the only thing that makes what Effy is doing any better is trying to mount Naomi, who doesn’t cooperate in the slightest.

They still haven’t fucked a second time, she and Naomi, and Effy’s smile, her own frustration, it all just becomes too much—and so she gets out before she does something stupid.  Effy has her trained, Effy had been ridiculously available, and her body’s gotten used to it.  So it’s probably just the fact that she’s drunk, and generally incredibly frustrated because she’s not getting any, and it doesn’t mean anything that watching Effy suck on Cook’s tongue had---or that Naomi’s fucking hard to get nonsense is getting on her last nerve. 

She’s just drunk and horny, and whatever, it’s not like wanking is going to be the craziest thing she’s ever done in a bathroom stall, not since that one time when Effy had climbed up on the toilet tank, taken off her dress and sprinkled about 15 quids worth of MDMA all over her own body for Emily to lick off.

So she tells herself that if she gets off, she’ll be able to stop it; it’ll be out of her system, and she’ll stop responding to Effy’s stupid fucking game, will stop playing it.  They’ll just stop.

She bites down on her hand when she comes and refuses to think about what just got her off, if it was the game or thinking about Naomi; doesn’t want to think, doesn’t want to know.  Her legs are a little shaky when she walks out of the cubicle, and of course Effy is there washing her hands, enigmatic smile on her face.

“Having fun?” Effy asks mildly and Emily doesn’t know if she can respond with anything other than violence or sex, so just lowers her eyes and goes back to inside to find Naomi.

It hasn’t helped; she gets off by herself nightly, when she’s sure that Katie’s fallen asleep, and that’s done nothing to stop her from being tense all the time, so she feels like an idiot for thinking it would be different just because she needed it more tonight.  Her hands have a mind of their own, don’t want to listen when she tries to tell herself to just dance and get drunk and have a good time—and it’s probably for the best that Naomi thinks she’s already properly pissed, because nothing about what she’s doing is even an attempt at subtlety.

When Naomi stops Emily’s hand in its path up to her tits, for the umpteenth time that month, Emily says fine, then and goes home, completely torn between being mad at everyone else and mad at herself.

She sees Effy one last time on her way to the exit, and the worst part of it all is that Effy doesn’t even looks satisfied, knowing that she’s ruined Emily’s night with Naomi completely.

No, she looks incredibly lonely without Cook crawling all over her, and Emily can’t help but stare at her for two long seconds, until Effy turns and disappears into the throng of people.

----

Effy doesn’t basically fuck anyone in front of her again, not after that last time, which Emily is starting to think of as the time when nobody won.  For two weekends, they ignore each other altogether, but even that isn’t sustainable, because Emily needs to be able to talk to someone about Naomi and Effy’s the only person that even knows about them.  It’s fucked up, but she can’t help herself. 

They run into each other in a bathroom, and Emily tells Effy about sleeping with JJ after an aborted attempt to snog Naomi, who had left after informing Emily that she needed to think about some things (like there hadn’t already been eight fucking months of thinking), and Effy just shrugs before admitting that she has fucked Freddie and that he’d leave Katie in a heartbeat if she’d let him do it again.

Friendship based on shared secrets.  It works for a while, too—first show, now tell, in the bathroom—until one Friday night, when Naomi finally just fucks things up too much, finally bends Emily’s tolerance so far that it breaks.

The night starts pleasantly enough, and then out of nowhere, Naomi demands that they can’t be seen coming and going together because someone might start thinking they’re a couple.  Emily is a little drunk and so fucking angry that she starts crying in the middle of a club.  Katie is appalled, not least of all because Emily’s standing around sobbing about another fucking girl, and so somehow Effy’s the only person in their entire group of friends who follows Emily outside, to offer her a cigarette and a sip of vodka and to let Emily cry until she doesn’t need to anymore.

It doesn’t take much; after that first time, it never has.  Just one look passes between them, once Emily’s stopped sniffling for the most part, and then they’re kissing almost frantically—Effy’s fingernails digging into her arms, her teeth biting at Emily’s lips—and all of it is just too much, too—

“Don’t,” Emily says, pulling away harshly, forcing herself to, and it’s so unfair that she’s doing this because she’d been into it as much as Effy had been, had had a hand on Effy’s tit before pushing her away. 

Only Effy would manage to react to this kind of ridiculous rejection with a shrug.  “All right,” is all she says, and wipes her lips on her arm, taking both of their shades of lipstick with it in an ugly smear.

They stare at each other silently, and Emily is the first to break—like always.  “Effy…” she says, pleadingly, before looking away.  She doesn’t know what else to say, but unlike Naomi, Effy doesn’t need more than this—just closes her eyes and sighs.

“If you honestly think it’ll help,” she says, finally. “I’ll stay away.”

Emily watches her walk away; touches her lips and wonders why they hurt so much.

---

Effy keeps her promise, and Emily tells herself that she doesn’t miss her—doesn’t miss their conversations, because she can’t even let herself thinking about other things she might be missing, that she’s not getting anywhere else but she shouldn’t be missing from Effy anyway.

Things with Naomi are—what they are, what they have been. Katie has stopped asking hopefully if it’s just a phase, them hanging out together too much, and it’s just too fucking right that she’s dropped it; after all, “a phase” implies that there’s something going on, and despite what Emily’s seen on the telly she’s quite sure that being in an actual gay relationship involves a bit more than sneaky hand-holding in places where nobody you know can see you.

----

Without any warning, it all falls apart.  Naomi gets drunk to the point where she forces Emily’s hand down her knickers, lets Emily touch her, and Emily isn’t nearly fucked up enough to not feel incredibly filthy, touching someone this shamefully and this—

She doesn’t know why, doesn’t want to know why the first thing she does when she finishes throwing up is go look for Effy.  Effy isn’t hard to find, though; everyone knows where Effy and her harem of boys can be found, and as soon as she sets foot in the door their eyes lock.

She goes to the bathroom without a word and waits; Effy joins her there a few minutes later, hopping easily onto the counter and crossing her legs, dangling them.

“So,” she says, and that’s all it takes. Emily feels her eyes water up and Effy clears her throat uncomfortably.

“I don’t—“ Emily starts saying, but can’t continue without rubbing furiously at her eyes, trying hard not to cry.  Her make-up’s all over her fucking face, she knows she’s a proper sight, but it’s better than crying in front of Effy, who doesn’t deserve to just get this, constantly, and nothing else.

And maybe Effy’s finally tired of it, of Emily, because all she says is, “Yeah, you don’t”, before pulling down a paper towel, wetting it and pressing it into Emily’s hands..

“Fuck,” Emily mutters into the towel before wiping off her face and binning it, not really knowing where to look—but definitely not at Effy, because this is a mistake.  Maybe the biggest one yet.  She shouldn’t be here, and she doesn’t even really understand why—

“She’s not the only one,” Effy finally says, after long minutes.

“What?”

“Why are you here, Emily?” Effy asks, sounding almost exasperated for the first time ever, and she’s also never used Emily’s full name before, not like that anyway.

Emily can’t help but feel stung and rejected.  “I—“

“Forget it,” Effy interjects, before walking off.

----

Days later, she spots Effy in the bathroom, smoking, fixing her make-up—which really means just messing it up more, because Effy likes looking like she just got fucked even if she didn’t, and yeah, maybe she’s just pissed off because Effy humiliated her, made her feel like a fucking idiot, but it doesn’t matter.

“I thought you were staying away,” Emily hisses at her, pretending to wash her hands.

“It’s a free world,” Effy says blandly and Emily resists the urge to just turn around and slap her, but only barely.

“You know I’m here with her tonight, and you fucking promised; she’s your friend, Effy,” Emily bites out angrily, giving up any pretense of fixing her own make-up and just glaring at Effy instead.

“So?” Effy asks, calmly, blows some smoke into Emily’s face. “It’s not my problem that neither of you can figure out what you want.”

Emily splutters.  “What—fuck you, I know perfectly—” 

“And don’t fucking talk to me about promises; you came looking for me, remember?” Effy finishes, sharply, and Emily finally realizes that Effy’s angry too—that it isn’t just her that’s all fucked up inside over this, but that she’s doing this to all of them.

It’s not like Effy is any more right than she is, though, and so she shoves any compassion she might have aside.  “God, are you trying to make sure she finds out?  She’s going to—”

“What? Going to work you up all night long, and then leave you hanging? Like she always does?” Effy smiles, almost gently for a change, and then leans over so close that Emily can feel her breathe. “She’s not worth it, and I say that as her friend.”

“If she finds out—” Emily starts, and then takes a step back to put some distance between them.

“Then don’t let her,” Effy suggests, tossing her cigarette before walking out of the bathroom.

Emily stares up at the ceiling and sighs; waits a few seconds before following after Effy, and it’s the so-many-eth time she’s done it that by now she doesn’t even have to think about the waiting-then-following.

----

By the time she leaves the bathroom, she can see Naomi on her way over, probably wondering what took her so long, and it’s not really fair, how spending even a minute with Effy makes her resent Naomi, because she's sure that she still really loves her but Naomi needs to stop being such a wishy-washy cunt already because there’s only so much of this Emily can take.

It’s another one of their usual nights; half-glances, Naomi being a bitch to everyone else and Emily apologizing for it, Naomi being coy and shy and desperately uncertain when it’s just the two of them, and then that moment when Naomi finally gets drunk enough to want to pull, and Emily more or less gets taken advantage of—and she’s finally gotten honest enough with herself to just accept that that’s what it is, because it never goes as far as Emily wants it to, and that’s a whole lot like being used.

Naomi panics eventually, as she always does, and Emily doesn’t even have to look past Naomi’s hurriedly retreating back to know that Effy is right there, smirking, leaning against a wall with her hair falling down her shoulders in messy, tangled waves. One foot up against the wall behind her, and her hands loosely in her pockets—the kind of thing that Emily imagines lesbians, or well, dykes work on for years, as an appropriate like, sex move in gay bars. Effy’s just Effy, though, and somehow that only makes it more appealing.

Emily ignores her, or at least tries to; settles for sticking up two frustrated fingers in Effy and Naomi’s general direction, and of course Effy just laughs at her—and she only just manages to turn around before she smiles as well, because all of this is just so fucking stupid that they have to be able to laugh about it.  She can’t stay mad at Effy; not when Effy’s right, or at least just as wrong as she herself is.

It would be easier to just stay away if she doesn’t usually genuinely get along with Effy; if she hasn’t already been missing her, these past few weeks. Neither of them is happy with what they’re doing, but even this, fighting and looking at each other from afar, is better than just not talking to each other at all.

----

It’s hopeless.

She’s so sick and tired of it all that she can’t bring herself to be strong and after the fifth alcopop she knows that Effy knows that she’s about to cave spectacularly.  She’s too drunk to feel guilty already, but not nearly drunk enough to actually go through with it yet, and so round six and seven follow in short order.

She gets totally fucked up; that’s how it always starts. She gets so monumentally fucked up that it doesn’t bother her to be stuck in a crowd full of people that probably think she’s Katie, and that in any event just think of her as a body, something to press close to and ride up against, because that’s what the night turns into her when Naomi’s gone and all that’s left is Effy—dark, secretive near-orgies with crowds of strangers, until she finally catches a glimpse of those fiercely focused blue eyes (no matter how fucked up they are, they’re always focused) and she hates herself for always, always thinking they’re the wrong eyes, but not being able to bring an end to it anyway.

Effy weaves through the crowd, presses in closer, until there’s just one body left between them and she can see Effy driving some stranger insane by touching her own body all over the place, so fucking obviously, but it’s all just for her, like it has been for months now. Emily knows that Effy’s still fucking Cook, might be fucking Freddie again as well, but Effy’s told her that she’s bored with it, bored with everything, has been bored with it for a long time, and so it doesn’t mean anything—it’s all for her, and she knows it. 

She likes to tell herself that it’s only because she’s fucked up that she can’t stop watching, that just like Effy, she starts staring when she’s lashed or high, but really it’s because she’s so fucking gay.  She’s seen Effy naked from just about every angle, and watching her helps even though it’s not enough—Effy isn’t Naomi, they’re not even really the same species most of the time, but Effy is on offer and when she’s this fucked up she’s honest with herself: she really just fucking loves tits, even when they’re small like Effy’s.

More than that, she loves what she can do to Effy, the way Effy’s cunt clenches around her fingers, the way Effy just melts underneath her, and it doesn’t matter in the slightest, never has, that she suspects that the only reason she can get Effy off so well is because what they’re doing is wrong.  Besides, Effy gets her off, too—but that’s a dangerous thought, and Emily doesn’t want to think too much about what it means.  Not right now, when she’s this fucked up and Effy is willing, is putting up with her.

Effy discards the boy toy and sidles up to Emily after five minutes or an hour and she’s got such sly hands—they touch Emily without every really staying, so that to anyone not paying attention it’s like they’re not quite touching, but every lick of her fingers is egging Emily on a little bit further.

Effy enjoys trying to break her, likes watching her lose the fight completely; more so this time than any of the previous times they've done this, and Emily feels like she deserves it, deserves to be punished, for being an asshole to everyone. For not knowing how to put a stop to it, a real stop, or to just —

It’s the first time she’s ever entertained the alternative.  It makes her nauseous.

Effy laughs somewhere behind her, and Emily turns to see what she’s seeing, and it’s—not how this is supposed to happen; this isn’t supposed to happen at all, but there’s Katie, watching them almost sway together.

She takes a step away from Effy, who of course will have none of that and swings an arm around Emily’s shoulder, grins widely, and twirls them both until for maybe the first time, they’re actually dancing.

“What the fuck are you—she’s right there,” Emily hollers, over the bass, but her voice doesn’t carry and Effy ignores her. “Fucking—let me go, just let me go, we can’t—“

Effy pulls her in close by the hips and then leans in dangerously close, presses their noses together. “She knows, Em.”

Emily freezes and shakes her head furiously. “No, she doesn’t—she’d never—“

“Except she would. Because it’s me,” Effy says, sounding completely amused by it and kind of disgusted at the same time. “She’d kill you if it were anyone but me, if it were her.  Be happy she thinks it’s mostly me.”

Emily tries to step away again, but Effy just laughs and holds her close. “Emily, she found my fucking bra in your purse. She knows.”

Emily’s heart stops in her chest, just for a second, but when she hazards a glance at Katie and sees that—there’s some sort of look on her face, and she can’t really make out what it is because her head is spinning, but Katie’s not coming closer. She’s letting it happen. She’s letting it happen.

“Shh,” Effy whispers in her ear, and then turns to also look at Katie while her hand travels up Emily’s thigh. “Just forget about her. Think about this.”

Hand sliding up her thighs, and there’s her sister, averting her eyes before turning away. It’s too much, Effy knows too much, and she has to leave.

Stop—why are you doing this to me?” Emily snaps, exasperated, before forcibly jerking away, because all she wanted to do was fucking forget for a few hours—not be reminded of how Effy knows all of her secrets, could choose to destroy her completely if she wants to—maybe already has.

“What—“ Effy starts to say, for once sounding genuinely surprised.

“Just leave me alone, Effy,” Emily repeats, before running out of the club.

----

Katie finds her outside and immediately says, “I don’t want to hear about it, or talk about, and I think it’s fucking vile, but at least you have decent taste, I guess. Though I’d get tested, because I know what she gets up to and really, Ems—”

“Fuck off,” Emily responds, incredibly wearily.

“So what’s going on with Naomi, then?” Katie asks, and Emily turns to her with a nearly threatening look. “What, I’m not fucking stupid, ‘I was on MDMA’ my ass, and you're together all the time, usually fighting about something.”

“Right, together,” Emily mumbles, and then jerks when Katie gives her an awkward hug.

“Fuck, I’m trying, okay?” Katie says, and scowls before taking a step back. “Don’t be—I’m not the one doing anything, here.”

“I know,” Emily says, and they stand together silently as Katie reapplies her lipstick and fixes her fringe.

“You’ve got to learn to be more discreet, you silly cow,” Katie finally says, giving Emily a critical look. “You two might as well have been fucking right there, and if I can see it—“

“Thanks, Katie,” Emily says, and closes her eyes with a sigh; leans back against the wall, wonders what the fuck else could go wrong today.

“If you hurt—know you’re—best friend—but—fuck’s sake—“ she hears Katie say, distantly, and when she opens her eyes a few seconds later, Effy’s in front of her, offering a lit cigarette.

It’s the closest thing to an apology Emily will ever get.

----

They walk home to Emily’s together, and Emily realizes with a pang of regret that Effy’s never seen her house, her room; nothing that is real on her side of things.

“Why do we keep doing this,” Emily says, eyes fixed to the ground, as it’s the end of one thought and the start of most of her other thoughts.  “Why can’t we just—not do it?”

Effy exhales silently and tips her head back to watch the stars, walks backwards for a few paces with a quirky smile. “Because there’s no good reason to stop.”

There are reasons, though.  “You don’t love me; sometimes I wonder if you even like me,” Emily says, refusing to look at her, scuffing her feet instead.

Effy laughs. “Don’t be petulant; it’s unattractive.”

“And I don’t love you,” Emily presses on, fixing her eyes on Effy for the first time since they’ve left the club—just in time to see Effy almost flinch.

Almost.

“No, you don’t,” she agrees, blandly, and flicks her cigarette onto the pavement a few feet over, a trick that Emily’s tried to perfect and still can't do without burning her fingers.

“Effy—we don’t, though.”

Effy doesn’t say anything for long minutes, until they stand in front of her house, and Effy snorts—maybe at how normal-looking it is, maybe at the catflap, Emily doesn’t know, but it’s not unexpected.

“Sometimes I wish things were different,” Effy says, and kisses Emily goodnight so gently that Emily goes inside feeling like she’s finally had her first kiss, and even though it’s at the wrong time, it’s fixing and she can’t help but appreciate that, in some way.

Only when she changes for bed does it occur to her that she didn't think that her new first kiss was with the wrong person, and Katie finds her sitting on her bed with her tights half off, tears trickling down her face.

----

Naomi is waiting for her on the school steps, in some sort of vaguely ironic role reversal of the past two years, and Emily just can’t help but sigh at how fucking ridiculous this is all turning out to be, what a gigantic mess she’s made of things.

“All right?” Naomi asks, and Emily shrugs and walks in with her, too many years invested in this to not be slightly curious about what’s going to happen.

“I’m sorry about last night,” Naomi murmurs when they’re by their lockers, waiting for Politics to start, and Emily again just shrugs, because Naomi’s always sorry even if she can’t bring herself to say it, and she’s just tired of it all.

Effy strolls past them, doesn’t really look at either of them, but Emily can’t help herself—wonders where Effy went last night, because she’s still wearing what she was wearing yesterday, and then curses herself for wondering at all, because obviously the answer isn’t any of her business.

“I’m worried about her,” Naomi says, and Emily almost snaps at her, because she’s got it covered, thanks, but manages to bite her tongue just in time.

“She’s fine,” she says instead, slamming her locker shut before Naomi can say anything else, and then turns to face her. “And by the way? I don’t care if you’re sorry. Make up your mind.”

Naomi’s shocked look, and then almost visible recoil, because this isn’t something they talk about in public, only serve to annoy Emily even more and she walks into the classroom without a backwards glance.

She sits next to JJ so she doesn’t have to see either of them.

----

Two weeks later, she finds herself outside Effy’s house and rings the doorbell after only a bit of hesitation, and it’s probably the STUN but she doesn’t really give a fuck, it’s time for some honesty, maybe.

Effy opens the door in one of those ludicrous shirts of hers; the kind that make her look even ganglier than she is, and Emily resists the urge the take off her jacket and swing it around her shoulders.

“Been a while,” Effy says, even though they saw each other yesterday at college, and Emily looks away uncomfortably before bracing herself.

“I miss being your friend,” she says, and when Effy doesn’t react in any visible way, she presses on, clenches her fists and shakes her head. “No, that’s not what I mean—I mean I miss you.”

Effy opens the door further, and Emily steps inside. They end up drinking tea together, which is something they’ve never done before, while Effy tells her—sounding very tired—that Cook is a dickhead, Freddie is an idiot, and for some reason JJ’s convinced himself that he’s also in love with her.

“Everybody loves you,” Emily says with a cheeky smile, and Effy chuckles.

“Almost everybody,” she agrees, before lighting a cigarette.

----

Effy makes decent tea, as it turns out, and Emily hasn’t ever really thought about Effy as a conversationalist before, but as it turns out Effy is pretty much fun in every way other than sexual, as well—why the boys love her, why everyone loves her.

Emily confesses to liking gardening and Effy just shrugs, notes that it’s a saner hobby than setting everything in sight on fire, and they laugh at that like it’s actually funny.

Effy swallows the last bit of tea in her cup before asking after Naomi.

Emily flinches, because it’s too close to the bone, all of that, but then says, “same as always” anyway, because it’s not like Effy hasn’t already seen them; doesn’t already know.

To her credit, Effy just nods and gets up for a refill, but credit—no, Emily has had enough of all of them, herself included.

“What, you aren’t going to tell me she’s a cunt again?”

Effy doesn’t react in any way, just steadily pours them both more tea, and then sits down again. “Didn’t seem to impress you all that much the first twelve times,” she says, placidly, and Emily rolls her eyes.

“Why are you like this?”

Effy smirks. “My parents are paying a hearty sum each month for professionals to find out; shall I call you when the verdict is in?”

Emily sighs and drops her forehead in her hands. “Effy…”

Effy stirs some sugar into her tea silently, and then sighs as well. “I don’t fucking know, okay? I don’t know. I destroy things; it’s what I do.”

“No, I don’t accept that—it’s too simple,” Emily retorts, angrily, and pushes her cup in Effy’s direction. “Two spoonfuls, and for next time, I like English Breakfast with milk.

Effy silently complies and then smiles. “Next time, hm?”

Yeah. Next time,” Emily agrees, still vaguely perturbed.

Effy blows onto Emily’s tea before shifting it back over, and then licks at the sugar spoon.

“You’re so fucking weird,” Emily says with a frown.

“Yeah,” Effy agrees, spoon still in mouth, and something inside Emily just snaps at the sight of it.

“Really, why can’t you just fucking say that you like me?”

Effy freezes for maybe a millisecond, but it’s Effy—so quick on her feet, and almost impossible to grasp, quicksilver in action at the best of times, and Emily thinks she knows her pretty well so she can’t even imagine what it’s like for other people—so it really is only a millisecond, before she relaxes again.

It’s also Effy, though, so there’s no room for bullshit.

“There’s no point in doing that, or is there?” she says, managing to sound disappointed without sounding bitter.

Emily hesitates for a second before saying "no, I guess not"—but one look at Effy’s almost-smiling eyes, and she knows she just made this so much harder for all of them, by finally being honest for just a fucking millisecond.

It’s not just a game.  It hasn’t been in longer than she can remember.

----

Emily apologizes to Naomi at the first possible opportunity, but then calls it off, their non-thing.

“Figure out what you want, okay?” she says, as gently as she can, and in some ways is gratified to find that Naomi appears to be trying not to cry. But it’s not enough, somehow.

Effy knows without having to be told, and they share a cigarette out on the steps.

“I’ve stopped fucking Cook,” she tells Emily when she’s stubbing it out, and Emily tells herself that this, too, doesn’t mean anything, other than that they’re both wising up at the same time.

Katie throws a party in the woods, to which Cook isn’t invited, and Naomi has no real reason to show up without Emily talking to her; Effy finds some shrooms, and spends the entire evening sitting next to Emily, giggling and pointing at things that probably aren’t real but are beautiful anyway—laughing at Freddie and JJ horsing around, talking to Katie about blowjobs and fashion, and Emily is left alone to just soak it all in, being in the shadow of someone who doesn’t mind sharing the attention.

When it becomes dark out, Emily watches Effy, the shapes and colors around her, and thinks that she’s never been prettier.

They sleep under the stars—not touching, but when Emily opens her eyes it doesn’t seem surprising that Effy is already awake, looking back at her with a smile.

--------

They’re lying on a grassy field, that hill where Emily spewed a few months ago, but not near that spot, obviously.

“We don’t have anything in common,” Emily says, staring up at the sky.

Effy twists her mouth and rolls over onto her stomach, picks at a few blades of grass and looks like she’d like to set them on fire—but only briefly. “I like the way you lick my cunt; you like the way I work my fingers in you.”

Emily laughs. “That’s awful—and also not a shared activity.”

“It could be,” Effy responds, mildly, and then rests her head in her hand, tilts it to look at Emily. “If you’re flexible, anyway.”

Emily chuckles again and prods at Effy’s side. “Stop it—be serious.”

Effy smirks and then flicks some grass at Emily. “What’d you have in common with Naomi, then?”

“Nothing,” Emily confesses, after a second. “God, I really thought that I—“

“I know,” Effy interjects, and smiles. “You probably did. Maybe you still do. It doesn’t matter.”

Emily nods, because sometimes Effy just knows more—it’s random, that knowledge, but it’s powerful, and she’s learning to rely on it a little. Effy’s been right about nearly everything so far, after all, so maybe she deserves that much.

“I’m not giving up, on being happy,” Effy says and then looks away. “That’s what we have in common.”

Emily shifts closer, rests her head on Effy’s shoulder and squeezes her hip, until Effy gets restless—which she does, frequently—and flips over on top so quickly that they almost roll down the hill; Emily’s resultant squeal is drowned in a kiss.

It’s as close to a confession as she’ll ever get. Maybe it’s enough.

Chapter Text

Effy doesn’t give a fuck who knows. It should be simple, but the contrast between Emily’s life then and her life now is almost enough to make her feel like she’s going to be throwing up constantly. Effy was a secret, and now she’s not; it’s that easy to Effy, like her entire world is just varying shades of black and white and she doesn’t believe in gray, just hops from one non-color to the next and deals with the consequences by ignoring them.

Emily finds out that Effy doesn’t give a fuck who knows when Effy sits down next to her during assembly, so close that it’s not even a little inconspicuous, and Emily isn’t—she’s not worried about people knowing she’s gay, she’s not ashamed or anything, but it’s just too much out of nowhere.

“What are you doing,” she hisses at Effy without looking at her, and Katie leans around her to also direct a critical look at Effy and the way Effy’s thigh is pressed up to Emily’s—Effy’s nearly bare thigh, because of course she’s not wearing anything that normal people would leave the house in.

“Sitting,” Effy replies without blinking. She picks at a cuticle for a second and then casually puts her left hand on Emily’s knee. Emily jerks so hard she almost elbows Katie, who manages to twist away just in time and mutters “uncoordinated cow” under her breath.

Just like that, all three of them are laughing, but Emily chokes on the laughter when Naomi walks in.

Effy rolls her eyes and takes her hand back. “Jesus.”

Emily is on the verge of getting defensive—because it isn’t this easy, like, it was never as complicated as Naomi wanted it to be, but she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Doesn’t know how to, will spend the rest of her days running back and forth between the two of them, apologizing for something she can’t even verbalize, like, how there aren’t two of her to go around, how they can’t all share. Something.

“Effy, don’t be a twat,” Katie says quietly, to Emily’s surprise, and instead of lashing out at Effy she looks at her sister, who just rolls her eyes and closes her make-up mirror.

“Fine,” Effy says and scoots over minutely, but it’s just enough for it to look like they’re just friends. Naomi studiously avoids looking at Emily, but sticks up a hand in greeting at Effy, who smirks in response.

Katie starts laughing.

“It’s not funny,” Emily says and Katie shakes her head, “’course it fucking is”, before launching into an incredibly off-kilter rendition of Milkshake with appropriate gender changes.

Emily feels Effy shake next to her, obviously trying not to laugh, and she thinks seriously about just skipping assembly altogether.

Effy knows—of course she does, and right when Emily's reaching for her bag, Effy’s hand shoots out, grabs her wrist. “Don’t,” is all she says, but it’s the tone in which she says it, quiet and intimate, that makes Emily sigh and sit back down.

“I hate you both,” she mutters, and staunchly looks straight ahead until assembly actually starts.

----

Naomi and Effy are still friends. It’s the really fucked up thing, here. And well, it’s not like Effy set out to sabotage her whatever with Naomi, because that was all Naomi’s doing, for the most part, but Emily still doesn’t understand how Effy can be friends with Naomi without feeling guilty.

Effy puts it simply: “If she’d really wanted you, she wouldn’t have taken no for an answer.”

Except it’s not like that, with Naomi, who has such immense levels of pride and self-control that she’ll never fight for someone, as far as Emily can tell, and so that’s an unfair thing to say.

She tells Effy as much in the gloom of Effy’s bedroom, stretched out on her stomach with her arms curled around a pillow. Effy is smoking, blowing crooked rings to the ceiling and Emily watches them travel, thinks about how easy things are when it’s just the two of them, and how that shouldn’t be the case, at all. Some part of her is still so uneasy, but then Effy doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t ask for much of anything. Seems pleasantly surprised every day when Emily doesn’t tell her to fuck off, almost like they’re walking on a tightrope together and Emily’s balance is basically shit. Like they both think this is meant to go wrong.

“I want this to work,” Emily says, dismising her unpleasant thoughts and shifting her head away so that she doesn’t have to look at Effy. She hears the cigarette being crushed out, the ashtray put back on the nightstand, and then feels the bed dip when Effy stretches out next to her on her side—almost touching, but mostly just amplifying the tiny bit of space between them.

“Isn’t this working?” Effy asks, and Emily sighs when a few fleeting kisses are dotted on her shoulder and a too-thin arm wraps around her waist.

“You know what I mean,” she says and twists until she’s backed into Effy, who makes an approving noise at the contact, uses her deceptively strong arms to pull them tightly together, until that whisper of space that existed before is long gone, squeezed up towards the depressingly vacant ceiling.

Effy inhales deeply, smells Emily’s hair and kisses her neck, and it’s all of these things that are truly frightening—like Effy’s been enabled, now. Like their non-conversation about their maybe-relationship made these kinds of things okay, and it’s just not things Emily’s ever associated with Effy. Effy fucks, fucks up, fucks off. That’s Effy. Effy doesn’t cuddle.

Except she does, sometimes, and sometimes she also says things like, “Do you want to go on a date?” and Emily thinks she’s being sarcastic but can’t tell; couldn’t tell even if she was looking at Effy’s face. Effy should go into professional poker or the mafia or something; her ability to deceive is second to none, so well-honed and unapologetic.

“I thought you didn’t do dates,” she says, because it’s the closest way she can come to admitting that she doesn’t know if Effy is fucking with her without actually saying as much.

“I don’t date people I fuck occasionally,” Effy responds and nuzzles Emily’s neck until Emily involuntarily arches into her. Effy’s hand slides up her stomach, between her breasts, holds her prisoner.

“Right,” Emily says, because Effy is one of two people she’s ever fucked—three, if you count JJ, which according to Effy she doesn’t have to because she’s gay—and with her it’s never been about occasional fucking, just, desperate and needy. Not that that leads to dating, though.

“We could go out to dinner, if you like,” Effy offers in a very casual tone of voice.

Emily decides to take it at face value. “I think I’d like that,” she says, and turns over until she can see Effy’s face; those lethal eyes, and the way they know everything about her.

Effy isn’t smiling, but Emily is starting to get used to it—the fact that Effy doesn’t smile when she’s happy, but only when she’s secretly been hurt, or a little bit surprised.

----

“I’m starting to like your sister,” Effy says over lasagna one night—Emily made it, took it over, and Anthea told her that she’s Effy’s favorite “friend” before taking a huge portion and leaving to watch the soaps.

Emily almost chokes on the bite in her mouth. “That’s disconcerting,” she finally says, after Effy's pushed her water glass across the kitchen table and Emily's downed half of it, dislodged whatever was caught.

“I know,” Effy responds with a faint smile. “I think it’s because she’s stopped shitting all over you.”

Emily laughs. “That’s only stopped because she’s afraid of you, you know.”

Effy sticks her fork in a bit of pasta and holds it in the air, eyes it carefully before blowing on it and swallowing. “As she should be. I could take her.”

Emily laughter bubbles up spontaneously, and every time she looks at Effy's bland, straight expression, she starts laughing again. Her dinner is cold by the time she gets back to it, and they make out next to the microwave, waiting for it to warm up again. Effy tastes like basil and oregano, tomatoes and vodka and Effy, and all of it is delightfully heady.

When the timer goes off, Emily starts so abruptly that she stumbles; she clutches at a kitchen chair but just drags it with her. Effy's laughter and the resulting clang are both so loud that Anthea peers around the corner to see if they’re all right, and finds Emily sat on the floor next to the table with Effy cursing and laughing, burning her fingers while trying to pick up the reheated plate.

----

“You two are disgusting together,” Katie tells Emily one night as they’re getting ready for bed.

“What?” Emily asks, genuinely confused, because she and Effy still only barely see each other at college and well, Katie isn’t usually around when they hang out elsewhere. Effy seems to understand without asking that any time away from Katie is heavenly for Emily and doesn’t push it; has settled into her status as popular BFF without any additional bitching about it, and only occasionally mentions to Emily that her sister is a vapid cunt these days. So really, disgusting seems a bit harsh and unwarranted.

“Yeah, you heard me, Jesus . The way you look at her when she’s in a room—like, just fucking write it on your forehead, Ems.”

“But—“ Emily starts and then shuts up when Katie glares at her.

“And Effy’s not much better. I’m starting to miss the days when my biggest concern was when my best friend would finally contract the clap and I’d need to be there to hold her hand while they like, fumigated her, or whatever.”

Emily laughs despite herself. “Jesus, Katie, she wasn’t that bad.”

Katie straightens up and looks at Emily with a barely raised eyebrow.

“Fine, she was—whatever, I don’t want to talk about this, okay?” Emily says and pulls back her covers with a yank. She can hear Katie doing the same thing on the other side of the room and then it’s angrily quiet for a few minutes.

“Fucking hell, I was just talking about the past—she’s obviously completely into you.”

Emily’s heart clenches and she doesn’t know how to respond to that. It seems kind of unfair that Katie, who is oblivious to everything except her own tits about seventy percent of the time, can say it with such certainty, when Emily herself still doubts it almost every other day.

She tells herself it can’t last, won’t last. Because it’ll be easier when it doesn’t, if she’s ready for it.

----

Naomi walks in on them snogging in the girls’ bathroom next to Politics one day, and Effy doesn’t take a step back, not even a little, just turns her head and nods to acknowledge Naomi.

Emily wants to die.

Naomi’s face contorts into millions of things until she just looks simultaneously gutted and incredibly pissed off. “Right; is this what you meant when you gave me some time to figure things out?” she says with an angry sniff, and it’s so fucking unfair that Emily hates that it hurts her.

Effy raises her eyebrows and finally steps away, but not before kissing Emily again and whispering, “I think this is all yours”. She then sidles past Naomi, staring directly at her, and Naomi is the one who ends up averting her angry, sad eyes, instead.

Effy wins fucking everything, Emily realizes, and being in the wake of that is incredibly exhausting sometimes. Especially when Emily herself loses nearly always.

“This is just—“ Naomi says before shaking her head. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“Naomi,” Emily says pleadingly, but Naomi stiffens and hikes up her huge bag.

“How long have you been—“

Emily knows, knows she doesn’t owe an explanation, but she gives one anyway, or at least apologizes, says, “I’m sorry” like she always does.

Naomi stares at her for another few seconds and then takes a deep breath. “Yeah, me too,” she finally says, and then walks out of the bathroom as well.

Emily skips Maths, spends the entire class in the bathroom, smoking and crying. Effy finally finds her shortly after the bell rings and just takes her by the hand, pulls her up.

“C’mon,” she says, quietly. “Let’s get out of here.”

----

Effy thinks things are resolved after that, and in some ways they are. They go out on the occasional sort-of date, but it's never a formal thing; they just meet up in the early evening, and nobody dresses up. They go to restaurants that serve weird ethnic food that Effy likes, which is surprising to Emily as much as anything else because she’d always assumed Effy had an eating disorder of some kind, but watching her tuck into edamame or falafel with barely hidden delight has dispelled that notion completely.

It’s nice, but nothing like what she expected. Effy isn’t all that talkative; at some point, over Lebanese, explains that she used to not talk at all and it’s sometimes still hard, finding words, and Emily kind of likes the quiet—it’s a nice change from Katie, after all—but then sometimes, the long silences just make her think of that one night by the lake, when everything still looked like it was going to turn out the way she wanted it to.

One day, they’re having Ethiopian and when Emily puts down her water glass she looks out the window and sees Naomi stroll by outside. Either Effy’s seen her too, or there was something particularly bad about the last mouthful of food she’d eaten—but Emily is trying not to fool herself so often, not anymore, and Effy’s obviously reacting to whatever look Emily has on her face.

“I’m sorry,” Emily says, and sighs, looks down at her plate. “I don’t even know—“

“I said it was okay,” Effy responds quietly, and takes a sip of water before pushing her food around her plate a bit. “You can’t help how you feel.”

Emily starts to object, but Effy looks up at her sharply and she drops it, doesn't talk for the rest of the meal.

Effy doesn’t finish her food for the first time since they’ve started doing this. They go see a movie so they can be quiet together, and when Effy kisses her in the alley next to the movie theater, at the end of the night, her lips are angry, bruising.

----

“God, what the fuck is wrong with her,” Katie says at lunch, pointedly staring at Naomi, slinking by in the background while avoiding looking towards their table.

Effy excuses herself and goes off to smoke somewhere away from the food.

Emily throws her lunch in a bin and skips Politics; goes home and angrily de-weeds the garden.

----

Emily corners Naomi in the hallway the next day, which is easy after all the years she spent tracking Naomi’s movements, and says that they need to talk.

Naomi huffs and tells her to fuck off, but Emily isn’t so easily deterred—not when angry, not when close to losing all of them, which isn’t how this was meant to go at all.

“I really don’t have anything to say to you; fuck’s sake, we don’t even know each other that well,” Naomi says, and it’s so petulant and childish that Emily rolls her eyes.

“Sure—we don’t know each other well, we’ve only fucked each other and snogged dozens of times, but we’re virtual strangers, aren’t we, and how dare I presume to know how you feel about anything, at all.”

Naomi looks taken aback, but Emily doesn’t even really care—needs to lash out at someone, just once, and then it’ll be over.

“Did I leave anything out? Oh, right, the part where you’re not gay, and we shouldn’t be talking about this in public,” she snaps, and notes with some satisfaction that they are being watched by a few people.

“Emily…” Naomi says, a little bit wounded but mostly just astonished.

“I didn’t do anything to you. That would’ve required us being together, but we weren’t. Were we?” When Naomi doesn’t immediately respond, Emily flinches despite herself. “That’s what I thought.”

“I didn’t—“ Naomi starts saying and then just starts backing away, away from Emily and her anger, from the embarrassing scene she’s causing.

“I’m sorry, that I didn’t tell you,” Emily says, before looking away with a sigh. “But you made it clear that you’re none of my business. And well, it goes both ways.”

Naomi bites her lip and finally nods. “Okay.”

“So…” Emily starts, and takes a deep breath. “Can we please just try to be friends? Because, I don’t know how to do this—how to have everyone be upset with me.”

Naomi nods again, and then anxiously looks around her. “Look, I’ve got to—“

“Yeah,” Emily says and watches her walk away.

She finds Effy outside, smoking, and kisses her—bites at her lips, ignores the hollering and hooting going on around them, just makes her point, and Effy looks at her quizically when the kissing stops.

“Don’t do it again. I don’t like being manipulated, least of all by you,” Emily warns, and Effy barely nods, just enough to let on that she got the message; links their arms together, drops her off at her French class—almost like they’re a real couple, Emily thinks, and then swallows hard to dislodge the lump in her throat.

----

Effy buys her flowers, later that week, and deposits them in Emily’s locker sometime before classes start. Emily finds them at lunch, wilting ridiculously because Effy didn’t think to put them in water, but laughs at the attached card—a picture of a wet cat, with the word MEOW written on the back—so hard that it gets Katie’s attention, who of course doesn’t get the joke at first and then drops the card like it’s burned her.

It’s a good day, and so Emily smiles at Naomi and half-waves in assembly, and feels her chest loosen up considerably when Naomi offers a small smile in return.

She takes Effy home, later that day, and introduces her to her parents, who seem torn between wanting to feed and adopt Effy and put her in some normal clothes on the one hand and wanting to send her away to a military boarding school because surely she can’t be a good influence on Emily on the other.

Effy is on her best behavior, though, and James is so blatantly impressed with her that Emily spends half the dinner trying not to snicker.

“Are you two going to kiss?” James asks from the doorway, when Emily’s sat on her bed and Effy’s standing in front of it, between Emily's legs, and while they had been planning on kissing, James has made it impossible; instead they just look at each other and start laughing.

They play a few games of Cluedo after dinner, with even Katie joining in, and Effy wins every time. James calls her a cheater but informs her that she’s forgiven because she’s incredibly lush, which earns him a slap on the head from Katie and a shocked, “James…” from his mum.

“Your family’s fun,” Effy says at around eleven, on the porch, and the only reason Emily isn’t crushing her against the door, giving her a proper goodbye, is because James is probably lurking somewhere and watching them.

She smiles at Effy instead, takes her hand loosely, and says, “Thank you for the flowers. And the incredibly considerate, romantic card.”

Effy’s eyes crinkle and Emily decides to be daring, stupid, just once. They kiss under the porch light with fireflies buzzing around them, and Emily feels her heart twinge in way that isn’t new, but completely unexpected anyway.

----

They go out as a group, and Naomi’s with them again because she’s gotten over it; Emily is in great spirits because for a change, nobody is fighting—not even Katie—and they’re all so silly drunk that Effy’s hand has been halfway to her knickers for most of the evening and she doesn’t even care if anyone can see.

Naomi joins her at the bar, slides in behind her, a bit close but it’s crowded, Emily thinks, and so that’s fine. She’s tall, can reach over and get things, like straws—which she sticks behind her ear, and it’s so ridiculous that Emily starts giggling helplessly.

They try to remember the drink orders, but end up just buying everyone snakebite & black because all the individual wishes were too hard to remember—except for Effy's, which is Jack Daniel’s and coke on nights when she’s not trying to forget , when she’s just enjoying herself.

The ice in Effy’s glass clinks warningly when Emily tries to grab one of the pints as well, and Naomi’s hands shoot out to steady Emily's, to stop the drinks from spilling more.

“Thanks,” Emily says, as clearly as she can, but her voice is failing her, and she can't think about anything except the cold cider running down her fingers and her balance, when Naomi’s fingers squeeze hers, stroke past her hand and circle her wrist.

“I miss kissing you,” Naomi says quietly, just once, before straightening up and shaking her head. “Fuck, I’m sorry, I am—well, nevermind. I’m sorry, okay?” and before Emily can even blink, she’s grabbed two pints and is on her way back to the table.

Emily is frozen in place, watching bubbles in Effy’s drink slowly make their way to the surface, before they burst.

When Effy reaches for the glass, back at the table, and their fingers brush past each other, it’s chilling; like someone ran over her grave, Emily thinks, and then realizes she’s not dead, so that’s not technically possible.

She doesn’t look at Naomi again; buries her face in Effy’s neck, runs her hand along Effy’s stomach, and tries not to feel guilty, about any of it.

----

“Talk to me,” Effy says, straddling Emily’s waist. Because it’s dark, all Emily can see is her eyes, shining dangerously—but dangerous in a good way, because all it takes is one particular glance from Effy and she’s halfway to coming, even in public.

They had been in Politics a few weeks ago listening to Naomi drone on about the American elections and Effy had just given Emily one sideways glance that barely even dipped down to her cleavage, but it had been enough to soak her knickers. She’d shifted uncomfortably for the rest of the class, which had been endless because of Naomi and her fucking hobby horse, and Effy had known, obviously, because by the end of the class they’d met up at the nurse’s office and Effy had pulled down her tights without any conversation, just straight to it, intense licking and sucking that had Emily quivering after mere seconds.

Effy’s giving her one of those looks now, and Emily has to think hard, work hard on a proper response. “About what?” is what she manages, because Effy’s hands are spanning her ribs, slowly moving up and down, and she’d never have guessed that her ribcage is an erogenous zone but Effy’s fingers, down her sides, God, every time.

“Just talk—I like your voice,” Effy says, and it’s in that tone that Emily has learned to interpret as massively understating something; like she’s deliberately trying to downplay how important something is. So clearly, Effy really gets off on hearing her talk, and while it’s kind of a weird thing to be told—it’s her voice, after all—she can’t help but be secretly pleased, that she’s got this power; that Effy trusts her enough to surrender it.

“You’re wearing too much,” is the first thing she says, and Effy whips off her dress and takes out her hair elastic, until it’s just knickers and a bra and lots and lots of dark, wavy hair. The hair used to throw Emily more than anything when they first started fucking; Effy’s was like a wild mane, something to genuinely play with and pull on and it felt incredibly good, trailing down her stomach when Effy was kissing her way down. She loves it, now, and sits up until she can tangle her hands in it, rubs her fingertips on Effy’s scalp, whose eyes narrow appreciatively, but she mouths “talk” again anyway, before they kiss again.

“Remember that one night, with the MDMA,” Emily says, between kisses, and Effy laughs. “Right, okay, I meant the one in the bathroom.”

“Ah,” Effy says, and then grins—it makes her look younger and more predatory all at once, and Emily closes her eyes, kisses her again, runs her hands through Effy’s hair before loosely wrapping her arms around Effy's shoulders and sinking back down onto the mattress.

“I—“ she starts, and then blushes, because talking when she’s not thinking about what she’s saying is another, but this is so deliberate, it’s exposing, moreso than what else is happening—like Effy slowly unbuttoning her shirt, kissing new bit of flesh that she’s revealing, until she pauses and looks up quizzically, eyes burning into Emily.

“Yeah?”

“I—it made me feel like a total slut, but I fucking loved it,” Emily blurts out, and is rewarded by Effy yanking down her skirt, pressing kisses to her ribs and her belly and her thighs, and none of these places should be turning her on this much, making her this wet, but Effy likes to look at her when she’s slowly working her tongue around Emily’s skin—likes to make sure that Emily knows she’s being watched, and maybe there’s something to this talking thing, after all.

“We can do it again, sometime,” Effy says, sitting up long enough only to hike Emily’s legs over her shoulders, and Emily closes her eyes with a shuddering breath, gathers Effy’s hair and holds it out of the way, clenches when Effy settles with a loud, content sigh.

“The fact that there were other people just behind us, and God, you were so loud—so fucking loud,” Emily sighs, and Effy chuckles before bending her head, kissing Emily’s cunt just once before pulling back and licking her lips with an appreciative moan.

Emily groans, always does, and it’s not like this is new—Effy’s always liked the way she tastes, comments on it frequently, likes pointing out that girls are better than guys in this way, and still. It’s the ultimate approval, and it makes her feel part of something in a way that things like holding hands and having long conversations about feelings never really could.

Effy knows it, too, and continues licking and sucking on Emily while Emily’s babbling about how hard Effy came that night, how fucking high she was by the time she was done eating Effy, how she literally saw stars when Effy fingered her up against the stall door, and she has no real idea what she’s saying—just focuses on making sounds, words, while listening to Effy's mouth and fingers in and on her cunt. She finally forgets to speak when Effy’s fingers curl up inside her, press and rub delicately, just once.

She shatters, thinks she might cry out Effy’s name, honestly doesn’t fucking know, but holds Effy in place, and Effy just soothingly strokes her thighs, gently kisses clit until her legs relax, splay out. Effy gently moves them back onto the bed before kissing her way back up, letting Emily feel how wet she got just going down on her, and kissing her until all Emily can taste is herself on Effy’s tongue.

“I didn’t realize you’d liked it that much,” Effy says, hours later, when Emily’s stroking her hair in a more gentle way, just for the sake of it, and Effy’s eyes are half-closed and she looks like a tiny, sleepy tiger, curled up into Emily’s side.

“Hm?” Emily says, looking up at the ceiling and thinking again that she should buy something to put on it; anything to make it less sterile, less alienating.

“That one time, in the loo. I was trying to shock you,” Effy says before pressing a kiss to Emily’s breast, nuzzling it.

“Oh,” Emily says, and blushes, because it’s not the type of thing she can talk about when things are this quiet, this gentle between them.

Effy’s fingers trace circles on her stomach, and Emily doesn’t remember feeling this relaxed, ever. Like whatever wasn’t right between them before has been put in its correct place, now.

“What was it like, with Naomi?” Effy asks, just when Emily thinks Effy’s fallen asleep.

“I—“ Emily starts saying, and then frowns. “Ef, why—“

“I don’t need to know,” Effy says, before stretching and rolling over onto her stomach, one arm splayed out on Emily’s chest. She blinks sleepily, and then sort of, almost smiles. “I just figured it would be different, you know, if you love someone that much.”

Emily doesn’t know how many times her heart can break, but somehow she’s still around to witness it.

She slides down the bed and folds Effy into a hug. There’s no words, but maybe this will be enough.

----

She finds Naomi out by the steps, and kisses her without further warning; really kisses her, and tries to clinically examine how it’s making her feel, other than slightly embarrassed because of Naomi’s muffled sound of surprise.

When she rips her mouth away, there’s a wet smack and Naomi’s touching her lips like they’re burning.

“Sorry, I’m—I’m sorry,” Emily stutters, before almost running away.

It’s not like it was before.

----

She buys Effy flowers—black roses, because she thinks it’ll make Effy laugh—and invites her to join their family for a barbeque, because the weather's good for it for a change and her dad’s completely inept when it comes to firing up the grill, so perhaps Effy’s love of all things burning will come in handy.

James questions Effy on what boyfriends do to their girlfriends, because he can’t ask Katie without getting slapped and has come to the conclusion that Emily wouldn’t know what boys did if they fell on her; Effy takes it in stride and only sneaks off for a cigarette that Ma and Da wouldn’t approve of once the entire day.

They laze about in bikini’s, with Katie listening to some horrible fucking gangster rap on her iPod and wiggling her toes, and Effy and Emily staring up at the clouds, next to each other on a blanket, not touching anywhere but it’s like it usually is—Emily feels like they’re touching, just because Effy’s near her.

“Do you think there’s different kinds of love?” she asks and Effy doesn’t say anything for long minutes.

“Yeah, I do,” she finally says and Emily reaches out for her hand.

It’s a bit frightening, the gleam in Effy’s eyes when she’s lighting a safety match, but by the time she’s dropped it into the grill she’s back to being Effy: cool, composed and shockingly, weirdly interested in the loser twin. And there's something about that, the way Effy's eyes seek her out even when there are other, more interesting people around, that makes it worth the risk, Emily decides.

By the time they’re all sat down at the table with a few sausages and some French bread, Emily steels herself, looks at Katie briefly with something akin to panic in her eyes, and Katie just nods, once.

“Mum, Dad. Effy and I are girlfriends,” is how she finally puts it, because Effy and I are fucking isn’t any more correct and though it would amuse Effy endlessly, Emily knows her parents would never forgive her.

Her dad starts laughing, and her mum just goes, “Of course you are”, and Emily looks at Effy with a bit of confusion. Effy just bites her lip, tries not to laugh.

Katie finally sighs and taps the table with the flat of her hand. “She means that they’re lesbians, Mum.”

Effy looks like she’s about to object to that label but thankfuly shuts up when seeing Emily’s face and minute head-shake.

The table is dead silent, until finally James decides to ask what, exactly, they do with fanny since they haven’t got anything to stick in it. Emily’s jaw drops, Katie and Effy start laughing hysterically, and her parents are too busy berating James for his appalling manners and sending him over to the naughty bar to ask any further questions.

When Effy thanks Emily’s mum for a lovely day, it’s only a little bit awkward, what with her mum going, “Yes, well—“ before saying it had been her pleasure, but all in all, it couldn’t have gone much better.

“Interesting,” Effy says, out on the porch, lighting a much-needed cigarette.

Emily steals it from her and inhales almost desperately, before exhaling with a sigh. “Jesus, that was—“

“Thanks,” Effy says, and her eyes smile. “Maybe we can do my mum next week; should be easier.”

Sometimes, Emily is sure that nobody has ever gotten this right, in books, and real love is just an overwhelming desire to suffocate someone, never let them breathe independently of you again.

----

Naomi avoids them both, even though things are technically okay, and Emily has given up on making an effort; is tired of trying to fix it. Effy could never be bothered to fix it in the first place, and so Naomi is back to being the quintessential loner who scoffs at all of them and ignores them all whenever possible.

She’s unfortunately also a vicious drunk, and so when they run into each other in a club, unexpectedly, Naomi sneers at both of them.

“Ladies,” she says, but it sounds more like fuck you.

“Naomi,” Effy says without moving a muscle, and Emily wishes she was that composed—wishes she knew how to care less.

“Surprised to see you’re still together; I’d think it was harder to give up on being a whore than this, Effy,” Naomi says, wobbling unsteadily. However drunk she is, though, it’s not impairing her ability to be a bitch.

Effy at the best of times is like gasoline, and Naomi just threw a match on her just for the hell of it; Emily flinches at the entire situation, and takes an involuntary step back before this gets really ugly.

“With the right motivation…” Effy says, trailing off, and then finally directs what can only be described as an incredibly sultry and oddly possessive look at Emily. “I know you only got to experience it once, but she’s fantastic, isn’t she.”

Naomi blanches briefly but then her eyes narrow. “Yeah, fucking great. Real fucking loyal, too, our Em—or did you really think that she wouldn’t screw around on you just like she did on me?”

Effy doesn’t visibly react, just stares at Naomi blankly, until Naomi backs away, rolls her eyes before finally leaving with a muttered "whatever, you cunts".

“Is there anything there you think I should know,” Effy asks flatly, not turning around but instead watching Naomi retreat.

“I kissed her, just once, a few weeks ago,” Emily says, and steps forward until she’s in Effy’s line of sight. “I just—I had to know.”

Effy’s nostrils flare, but it’s the only sign that any of this is bothering her, and on some level this is the hardest part of being with her; the reason why Emily’s never really sure if she cares, about any of it.

“And do you? Know?” Effy asks, quietly.

Emily bites her lip and reaches for Effy’s hand, tangles their fingers together.

“It's not less just because it's not the same,” Effy says, looking at their hands, before pulling hers away. “I wish you’d just get that.”

Emily goes to her own house at the end of the evening, and Katie doesn’t ask why she’s back, even though she clearly wasn’t expecting her.

----

She buys Effy a new long t-shirt (with Farah Fawcett on the front) because she thinks Effy would like it, immediately thinks of Effy when she spots it in H&M; wraps it up in gift paper, sticks a small bow on it and leaves it in Anthea’s care without a note—forcing herself not to think about what Effy does when she’s hurt, where she goes when she’s upset, who she’s with.

She trusts her; she does.

The next day, Effy shows up at her house wearing the shirt, with a picnic basket, and a somewhat anxious look on her face.

“You need to stop expecting me to be things that I’m not,” she says, and drops the picnic basket, which, as it turns out, just contains alcohol.

“I never expected you to—“

“Just be happy, Emily,” Effy says, cutting off whatever the rest of that thought was

They proceed to get incredibly drunk out back. Effy helps her garden, meaning that she accidentally kills three plants before Emily spots her doing it and yelps that those are not weeds, but they’re working side by side, dirty knees and sunburned faces, and if this is Effy’s idea of showing that things are okay, between them—drunken gardening—it only intensifies the feeling Emily already had about herself: that she’s a twat with totally ridiculous desires.

“I kissed her because I needed to be sure that I didn’t still love her,” she says, first bottle of wine long gone and the second one half-finished. Effy’s got on this ridiculous sunhat, and it’s tipping off her face; the twin braids she’s wearing only make her look more demented, and Farah Fawcett’s face is covered in grime.

Effy licks at her thumb and reaches to wipe some mud off Emily’s nose. “All right.”

Emily rocks back onto her feet and stands up, unsteadily, holds out a hand for Effy, who manages to get up without help while holding two bottles of wine even though she's obviously not sober either.  Effy’s a little bit awesome, sometimes, and Emily knows it’s ridiculous that it makes her proud, but no matter how complicated things are—she is with Effy, and Effy is a little bit awesome.

They shower together before Emily’s parents come home or James returns from football camp; Effy turns out to be in a bit of a mood, after all the wine and sun, and fondles Emily under the pretext of washing the hard-to-reach spots. Emily comes dangerously quickly while pressed up against the shower wall, with Effy stroking her from behind and kissing her neck. They dry off quickly and finish the rest of the wine while waiting for their hair to dry.

“Aren’t you going to ask—if I still love her?” Emily asks, finally, because it does bother her a little, how Effy just seems to accept things without prodding; makes her feel twice as invasive, because she has to prod all the time just to stop feeling off balance.

Effy stops combing her hair, and just looks over at Emily while raising her eyebrows. “What makes you think I don’t already know?”

“You’re reprehensibly smug,” Emily informs her, and then they both laugh. “And maybe you’re wrong, for the record. You won’t ever know now.”

Effy scoots behind Emily, starts brushing her hair, and Emily closes her eyes at the feeling, considers asking Effy for a massage or something else, because they are dating and it's the kind of thing that you do, for your girlfriend. Maybe she can trade it for sex, or something.

“Your life would be simpler if you didn’t feel the need to put everything into boxes all the time,” Effy says after a bit and Emily sighs.

“It’s just how I am; I don’t know how to stop being myself.”

“It’s simple,” Effy says, and kisses Emily’s cheek before wrapping her into a loose hug. “Just don’t think so fucking much.”

----

They go out dancing together, sometimes, just for the sake of it. It’s weird to think of being drunk and groping in public as something that inspires nostalgia, but sometimes when Emily sees Effy cutting a direct line to her through a throng of people, she wishes that she’d just stay behind one of them for a bit—to tease her, like she used to.

Only sometimes, though, and in general there is something incredibly liberating about not giving a fuck who’s watching, and just spending long summer nights engaged in endlessly frustrating foreplay. Effy laughs and accuses Emily of being a teenage boy, because she honestly can’t keep it in her pants for more than half an evening, not if they can’t at least snog a little. Sometimes, Effy lightly fingers her through her knickers while they’re dancing, and Emily’s breath lodges in her throat until she thinks she’s starting to see strobe lights just from lack of oxygen. Other times, they swap drugs back and forth by kissing, like that first time, smiling at each other in a way that’s both demented and kind of lovely.

Then there's the nights when they don't go out; the kind of nights that Emily terms 'couple nights' in her head. On one of them, when Anthea’s off at some sort of relationship counseling course, Emily decides to make it an event—decides to act out some of those insipid fantasies she had for years about Naomi, where there was no fucking but just making love, and they’d hold hands and talk about the future, cuddle while listening to music, read books and cite poetry at each other. Not all of those fantasies, obviously, because Effy would roll her eyes indefinitely at the poetry idea for sure, but some of them—the simpler ones, the ones that translate to her now and don't just linger in her past.

She draws a bath for Effy, who is downstairs with the explicit instructions to not let the rice boil over, and when the tub is full she joins her in the kitchen.  She sidles up behind Effy, having put on one of Effy's bathrobes—it's a ridiculously short robe that doesn’t serve any purpose but to hint at the nudity underneath it.

“There’s a bath upstairs with your name on it, Elizabeth,” she says, dropping her voice deliberately and poking Effy in the ribs, and Effy flips her off without turning around. She's eyeing the rice almost murderously, like she’d kill it if it overcooked at this point. Emily slides a hand down Effy's arm and disarms her; takes away the fork Effy's got in a death grip and then kisses the corner of her mouth. “Get in, I’ll be there in a second, once I’ve got this sorted.”

Effy turns around and almost says something, but then just looks at the robe and raises her eyebrows before disappearing up the stairs. Emily can’t really help the ridiculous smile on her face, because Effy is being a surprisingly good sport about all of this (though she obviously thinks it’s all ridiculous, candles and baths and a romantic dinner for two when they could just start fucking) and whatever, maybe she can force a little bit of fantasy-come-to-life here, since reality is being awfully cooperative these days.

Effy’s put on some Rolling Stones, which is not exactly what Emily would consider mood music but she decides to let it go, because there’s only so much of Enya she could force on Effy before being faced with a whole lot of sexual frustration anyway. Besides, it’s kind of nice, a bit of Effy mixed into the evening, as opposed to it just being her thing.

She slips out of the robe and settles behind Effy in the bath, who is playing absently with the flame in one of the many tea lights Emily's spread around the tub, and Emily finds herself stupidly thinking that Effy would’ve made an adorable pyromaniac, whatever that means. It makes her wrap her arms around Effy’s incredibly slender waist, though, and Effy leans back to rest her head on Emily’s shoulder.

“Not the worst idea,” Effy concedes after a few minutes, and then lifts the tea light and tips it gently, until a tiny dollop of wax drops onto her abdomen. Effy hisses, but it’s not—

“You liked that,” Emily notes, not really surprised but just interested.

Effy doesn’t respond, but just hands the tealight over to Emily, who looks at it with pursed lips for a few seconds.

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want,” Effy says simply and twists her neck to kiss Emily’s collarbone.

Emily dips her finger in the wax, notes that it’s hot but not dangerously so, and then blows out the flame. “Not here; cleaning the bath would be a nightmare.”

Effy’s eyes slip shut, and it’s almost unbelievably sexy, the way her lips shift into a smile. “We’ve got some actual candles downstairs.”

Emily nods, and it's only when she towels herself off that she realizes that she's shockingly, deeply wet.

----

They eat the risotto, and Effy compliments Emily's housewifing skills in a way that seems simultaneously mocking and sincere, but Emily doesn’t really care—there’s an unending fluttering in her stomach now, because she feels like she’s been trusted with something Effy doesn’t talk about but would really like.

She’s nervous. More than that, she’s still incredibly wet, and Effy’s ridiculously small robe isn’t doing either of them any favors; it’s so sheer that her nipples might as well be considered the third dinner guest, what with how prominently they’re on display.

When they've finished, Effy leads her upstairs, kissing on every third step, until they finally arrive in the bedroom. Emily’s set it up hours ago—more tea lights everywhere, and a few fluorescent stars on the ceiling, finally, and she's a bit worried about how it'll go over because it is kind of cheesy and childish, but Effy doesn’t say anything, just lets her eyes wander along the ceiling before pulling Emily in close and kissing her hard.

Effy isn’t usually noisy, not beyond words like yes and more and harder, but something else has shifted between them today, something that Emily can’t put into words, and every time her nails scrape along Effy’s torso, it results in a slightly surprised-sounding moan. Effy’s eyes are wide, and for once, not actively focusing on Emily—just trying to stay open, and it’s not really working, not really.

“You’re so wet,” Emily breathes, feeling Effy shudder against her fingers and she's not able to resist tasting; it’s always good, that first taste, and she knows Effy loves watching her lick her fingers clean.

Effy groans and Emily laughs, pleased even though it’s so predictable.

“Em, you really—“ Effy finally says, when they’ve engaged in about as much nervous foreplay as two people who have fucked hundreds of times can, and Emily smiles, shakes her head.

“No, honestly, I want to—I'm just being stupid,” she says, and then looks around the room. “Do you have any scarves?”

Effy’s eyes widen imperceptibly, but the hitch in her breath is obvious.

Emily shrugs, vaguely embarrassed. “What, I’ve seen—I mean, I figured…”

Effy laughs and slips off the bed, rummages in a drawer and comes back with three scarves. Emily looks at the third one quizzically for a moment until Effy winks slowly and deliberately, and then they laugh again.

“I’m really sorry, this has got to be the least sexy—“ Emily starts saying and Effy leans up, kisses her deeply for a long time before finally grabbing Emily's hands and guiding them up to the top of the headboard, where she tugs gently on the scarves. They kiss the entire time it takes for Emily to loosely fasten them; she tests them several times to make sure they’re not too tight and then pulls back with a final nip to Effy’s lips—examines her handiwork.

“Not bad,” Effy comments, flexing her hands, and then arches up towards Emily, pressing their lips together the best she can, before falling back down onto the mattress.

Emily considers the third scarf, and finally discards it, drops it off the side of the bed. Effy looks at her questioningly and Emily shakes her head.

“I like it when…” she starts, before swallowing and looking directly at Effy. “I like when you’re watching.”

Effy’s eyes soften and her lips almost smile, but then she just tips her head towards the nightstand. “Shall we, then?”

Emily clears her throat, which feels sore and full, and she’s so fucking turned on just by having Effy this—this exposed that she doesn’t honestly know how she’ll get through another long session of teasing.

She lights the candle and digs into the wax with her fingernail, softening it, until she can see it turn liquid—the flame at the front of her vision, and Effy’s eyes, a stormy sea of blue, in the background.

“Yeah,” Emily says, roughly. “Watch.”

----

By the time they’ve blown the candle out and Effy’s wrists have slipped out of the scarves, Effy's body is covered in small white blotches and a thin sheen of sweat. Every time Emily peels a bit of wax off Effy's torso she winces even though Effy assures her it doesn't, won't hurt; she then soothes the red welt beneath it with her tongue. The soothing makes Effy sigh and dig her nails into Emily's back; she's wriggling beneath Emily more and more because all of this has been far too much foreplay—and Emily is so careful, so attentive, and so slow.

She deliberately works her way down Effy’s body to the sound of Effy’s low, frustrated moans and she feels incredibly important, like she’s been given a gift of some kind; a thousand bruises that she gets to heal all at once. Like she's making Effy a better person, a more whole person, just by paying a little bit of attention.

She keeps her eyes locked on Effy’s whenever she can, and Effy stares back relentlessly, almost fucks Emily just with her eyes, makes her stomach clench and makes her want to never, ever stop doing this.

When she finally swips her tongue along Effy’s cunt, Effy’s legs spasm in response, and it's incredibly flattering—Emily feels herself get wet all over again just thinking about how turned on Effy must be. She looks up as Effy’s eyes roll back into her head and Effy reaches up, clutches at the pillow.  It’s oddly reminiscent of—except it’s so different, because Effy isn’t ashamed, isn’t embarrassed, isn’t in denial about who's eating her.

No, Effy looks back down, meets Emily’s eyes, and fucks up to her mouth—makes this a moment they share rather than something that is just happening to one of them.

Emily works three fingers into Effy, gently trills her tongue against Effy’s clit, and Effy moans her name just once before arching up with a painful-sounding keen. She comes in hard, long waves that last for minutes, and it almost hurts Emily’s fingers, but she doesn't notice the slight crushing—is far too focused on the look on Effy's face, the way her eyes clench shut every time another spasm hits her, the way her eyelashes flutter aimlessly when it's finally over.

She kisses Effy’s thigh, gently pulls her fingers out, and Effy sucks in deep, heaving breaths before squeezing her legs together, not saying anything beyond a repeated, wavery "God". Emily knows it’s probably not the best sex Effy’s ever had—she’s had so much of it and Emily isn’t that conceited—but it was something, something incredibly special.

Effy’s eyes blink open slowly, after long minutes, when she’s finally caught her breath and her muscles have relaxed into bonelessness. Emily just smiles at her, softly kisses Effy’s stomach before looking her in the eyes again.

“I—” she starts saying, and then pauses, wonders if it's okay, now.

“I know,” Effy says with a soft, tired smile, before closing her eyes and falling asleep.

----

Days later, Effy drops a book of poetry by someone named Elizabeth Bishop off with Emily's mum. It's accompanied by a card of a small kitten—purring, curled into a ball—with a messy Thanks scribbled across the back . Emily doesn’t know whether to roll her eyes or to be pleased and flattered. It’s a bit of both, like it usually is with Effy.

She may never really understand Effy—her girlfriend—and she’s still having an incredibly hard time letting go of those first, stupid ideas about how something can only be meaningful and forever if it feels like your insides are being torn apart, but maybe, things aren't so doomed after all, Emily thinks as she's pinning the second card on her wall, next to the one of the wet cat.

James shows up in the doorway as she's pushing down on the bluetack, sticking the card in place. “That cat’s well ugly,” he says, pointing at the wet cat. “And dinner’s ready. When’s Effy coming over again?”

“Stop perving after my girlfriend, worm,” Emily says out of habit, and James cowers away from like she’s going to kick him, but instead she just ruffles his hair. “And she’ll stop by soon.”

“Cool,” James says, sounding almost like Effy, and Emily laughs.

----

Sometimes, she still thinks about Naomi, just for seconds at a time—when she sees short blonde hair across the street or someone is angrily ranting about something on the news.

But then, she’s come to realize that she’s not all that partial to blondes; that she’s developing a bit of a soft spot for long t-shirts serving as dresses, and messy-curly long brown hair, and being rewarded with unexpectedly genuine smiles, stupid postcards, and non-picnics where they both just get lashed in the garden on a few bottles of good wine they pilfered from Anthea.

Effy never brings over Pinot Grigio; when Emily finally realizes that they’ve literally gotten drunk on everything but Pinot together over the course of the summer, her heart convulses—it’s a bigger declaration than any of the words Effy doesn’t say could ever be.

She puts the bottle they’d just finished down and crawls over to Effy, slides off her sunglasses and searches her eyes before kissing her.

“You all right?” Effy asks, breaking the kiss and squinting at Emily’s face.

“Yeah,” Emily says with a smile. “Just—wanted to kiss you.”

“How romantic,” Effy says dryly, but her eyes are smiling.

Emily kisses her again, just because.

Chapter Text

On the first day of the second year of sixth form, Emily finds herself wondering what to wear, just like the year before, but the difference is that Katie doesn’t pilfer whatever outfit she’s laid out and just looks her sister up and down and says, “yeah, not bad, but I’d push my tits up further if I were you.”

Emily suppresses a smile and doesn’t remind Katie that she’s not trying to get anyone’s attention; is well sorted in that department, thanks, but instead wriggles around in her bra until Katie nods approvingly and they’re off together, walking, because Katie’s new fuck friend (“hasn’t bought me anything expensive yet, so he’ll have to work for boyfriend”) doesn’t have a car and besides, Effy’s agreed to meet them halfway, on the way to town.

She spots Effy smoking against a lamppost, and she’s wearing trousers—granted, they’re cut up all over the place, but somewhere along the way Effy has started taking Emily’s discomfort with the non-outfits to heart. Perhaps it was finally just acknowledging, “Look, it’s not that you don’t look good, in what you normally wear; it’s that you look too good, and I’m not the only person who notices”; Effy’s lips had curved into a smile unwillingly, and their fucking later that night had been particularly one-sided, almost like she was being rewarded for saying the right thing.

Emily tries not to look at Katie, who of course will interpret Effy wearing trousers as an indication of a necessary radical fashion overhaul, because if Effy’s wearing it then it must be cool, and sometimes, Emily doesn’t mind admitting, it’s nice watching Katie squirm and make a fool out of herself.

Effy flicks away her cigarette when they arrive and tilts her head, looks Emily up and down. “Nice,” is all she says, but the way Emily’s stomach flutters in response, she might as well have told her she was beautiful. Being with Effy, as it turns out, isn’t hard at all as long as you can read between the lines well.

They walk to school together, Katie chattering all the way, and occasionally Emily’s hand brushes against Effy’s and their fingers almost tangle. She’d never considered it, the way that it becomes possible for feelings to grow like this, where even fleeting contact between them sets her heart on fire.

----

She hasn’t seen Naomi in months. Not since that last fall-out in that club, where Emily had felt like an asshole and like an incompetent idiot all at once, and so it’s gutting, being reminded that she’s still around. She’s grown out her hair, Emily sees, and has a very unlikely tan—the kind that nobody lingering around Bristol all summer would have, what with her and Effy’s last few wine parties ending in a lot of muffled cursing and laughing and frantic running inside because of unexpected rainfall.

Naomi locks eyes with her and for a second Emily holds her breath; ignores Effy next to her, turned around to talk to Panda, tries not to feel guilty for the way that just locking eyes with Naomi still makes her feel unsettled, kind of horrible in an overwhelming way.

And then Naomi smiles and mimes using a cellphone, tilts her head in a way that can only be considered apologetic, and Emily clutches at Effy’s knee as a reflex.

“What,” Effy says, without turning around, and covers Emily’s hand with her own.

She squeezes Effy’s fingers, hard, but nods at Naomi anyway.

----

Naomi, as promised, calls after college—seems to not want to make a scene, or something, or maybe still fears being put down horribly by Effy, who can be scathing when particularly inspired, but that’s not it really—Naomi isn’t usually afraid of people.

So she calls when Emily’s on her way home, Effy having lingered to help Panda convince her mum that they are most definitely not going to some horrible party this weekend but instead are doing missionary work somewhere, and Emily stares at the caller display for long seconds until she fumbles the phone altogether, and curses while trying to stop it from going to voicemail.

“Hmm, for a second there I thought you weren’t going to answer,” Naomi says, a little bit awkwardly but mostly just teasingly, familiar in a way they haven’t been with each other in at least six months. Not since Emily made a decision, which should’ve been the end of it.

She doesn’t really know what to say but Naomi’s nervous laughter covers the silence. “Jesus, Em—I don’t bite.”

Emily sighs. “I know, I’m just—I’m sorry. This is a bit—“

Naomi’s laughter tapers off, and she clears her throat. “I know. Can we meet somewhere? To talk—I mean, I have some things to say, I think you should hear them.”

Emily hesitates for only a second, but it’s hard, not to be a little bit curious about what happened; what caused this change. “Yeah, okay.”

It’s not cheating. She has no idea why it feels like it’s cheating, anyway.

----

She arrives before Naomi does, wrings her hands together nervously and drinks her coffee so fast that it results in a headache; she orders a cup of Chai tea to deal with that, and then just becomes uncomfortably aware of needing to go to the bathroom instead.

Naomi slides down into the booth across from her with an apologetic smile. “Sorry; got held up, Mum’s organizing some sort of charity drive for Africa and of course everyone else meant to be helping with her is an unreliable louse.”

“It’s okay,” Emily says and tries not to stare; Naomi’s hair is messy, falling into her eyes a little bit and it’s almost curly, in a way she never thought it would be.

“Right, so—“ Naomi starts and clears her throat. “I’m not great at this, obviously, but I wanted to say I’m sorry, about—“

“It’s okay,” Emily says again, because she doesn’t want to think about Effy, or talk about how things could’ve been different. “It wasn’t my finest moment, or, well, year, either.”

Naomi smiles and shoves her fringe behind an ear, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to stay put. “I didn’t mean that, really. I meant the way I’d—“ She sighs deeply, and then taps her fingernails on the table. “Bollocks, Em, I basically just wanted to say I’m sorry, for being such a mess, and for not being honest with myself.”

Emily’s breath hitches and she digs her nails into her own thighs, wonders how any times she can say that it’s okay before she starts actually believing it. “Are things better, now?”

Naomi’s smile turns mysterious, unreasonably attractive and she nods. “I went away for the summer; Cyprus, did some thinking, by myself. Realized I’d been a spectacular cunt, and I’ve been counting the days for college to start, really. Just so I could say I’m sorry.”

Emily looks down at the table and finally smiles, but it’s pained. “Thanks, I think.” At Naomi’s hurt look, she bites her lip and shakes her head. “No, I mean that. Thanks.”

“Friends?” Naomi asks and Emily wonders how she’d ever forgotten just how beautiful Naomi was when she wasn’t too busy denying and running away.

“Yeah,” she squeezes past the lump in her throat before taking a desperate sip of tea.

----

Effy knows something is wrong, but Emily can’t put into words what it is, and so of course Effy just says things, things like, “Friends, then?” without sounding bothered by it one way or the other and for someone who fucking knows everything, Emily wishes that Effy would just understand that it’s not possible—what she’s suggesting, and that this really and truly is gray and they can’t make it simpler than this just through sheer willpower.

And then when she’s with Effy, just Effy, it’s summer again and everything is all right between them—for long, unhurried moments at a time, reveling in Effy’s unwavering attention and her implicit understanding. The silences between them have almost become more intimate than anything else they do and she doesn’t know how to reconcile this, the peace and the quiet, with the torrent of feelings that she’s caught up in every time she catches a glimpse of Naomi somewhere, thinks about being her friend, like they were ever friends before. Like they can be.

There’s too much quiet, sometimes—sometimes it almost hurts, and so she buries her face in Effy’s neck, breathes her in and presses against her thigh almost desperately. Effy just hums in response, arches her back and traps Emily’s hand between her thighs. They both tip over the edge awkwardly, and Effy smoothes out Emily’s sweaty fringe so tenderly that it feels she’s being bruised, all over.

She wants to say that she’s sorry—but she hasn’t even done anything to be sorry for, yet.

----

Emily doesn’t feel like dancing. It feels too much like rubbing salt in someone’s wound, dancing with Effy, if Naomi’s out with them, and even though she’s incredibly torn up inside about how things are now, she doesn’t want things to go back to how they were.

She’s never thought about this before, but parts of her genuinely enjoy Naomi’s company for what it is. When she’s not too busy pushing away, Naomi’s quite hilarious and this new, relaxed, unwound version of Naomi isn’t at all the one she was in love with for years—she didn’t even know she existed. She doesn’t think about how she feels about this Naomi; can’t.

She’s watching Effy dance with Panda, and it’s some sort of goofy, childish dance that makes Effy seem her actual age, as opposed to like the mythical creature that she likes to put on most of the time. Sometimes, Emily is sure she’s the only person who really knows Effy, but then she blinks and realizes that maybe that’s Panda, and it’s not a role she’s meant to take on, anyway. She’s not the only one watching; Cook and Freddie have sorted things out over the summer, too, but somehow all of them are looking at Effy anyway, and Emily feels her gut fill with a sick form of possessiveness, wanting to slap them all for trying to take what’s hers.

It’s an incredibly awkward time for Naomi to say, “You know, I slept with a girl, in Cyprus” and so of course it’s what she does, right when Emily’s on the verge of telling everyone to stop fucking staring already. Instead, Emily’s hand clenches around her alcopop so tightly that for a second she worries it might shatter, but it doesn’t. She doesn’t look at Naomi, can’t, just says “oh?” like this is the kind of conversation they usually have, and she can see Naomi shake her hair out of her eyes from the corner of her eyes—can see Effy laughing straight ahead.

“Yeah, several times, actually. She was—oh, I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I guess I just wanted you to know, that I’m—“ Naomi says, before giggling and shaking her head again. “Christ, I don’t know. But I guess we’ve got something in common, now.”

Emily wants to scream that they’ve always had something in common, that they could have been having lots of things in common right now, but what is the fucking point, really—clearly Naomi’s talking about this because she’s over it, and clearly she doesn’t consider for one minute that what she’s actually saying is “someone else could do what you never could”.

“Yeah, guess so,” she says, voice incredibly rough and tired, and she offers Naomi a weak smile without looking her in the eyes. “I’m going to go dance, okay?”

Effy seems pleasantly surprised when Emily’s arms wrap around her, and she leans her head back onto Emily’s shoulder, licks at her neck. “Want to get fucked up and fuck in a bathroom?” she whispers, and Emily inhales sharply, dismisses the sting of tears, twists both of them around until they’re facing away from Naomi and their friends.

“No,” she says, and Effy turns around in her arms, looks at her carefully before gently pressing a kiss to her forehead.

“Want to go watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and braid each other’s hair?” is her second suggestion, and Emily thinks she might start crying after all because it’s not fair, how Effy knows her so well and how Naomi doesn’t know her at all. It’s not fair at all.

She nods without saying anything else and Effy gently navigates them both out of the club. She doesn’t look back to find Naomi; doesn’t know if she could leave if she did, or what she’d do if she didn’t leave right now.

Maybe she’d go back and punch her, start a huge argument, because if Naomi hadn’t been such a fucking idiot she wouldn’t be here right now, in this horribly uncertain place. But a larger part of her suspects that she’d go there, with every intention of hitting her in the face, and would end up kissing her instead.

Later, Effy’s hair is almost animal-levels of soft, easy and pliant between her fingers. They drink hot chocolate and Effy pretends that she hasn’t seen this movie five times in the past few months at Emily’s request; pretends she likes black and white cinema in general, and pretends to not know that something is wrong. Just brushes Emily’s hair, smoothes it behind her ears, and holds her in a loose hug.

Effy doesn’t trap her, not ever. Sometimes, Emily wishes she would.

----

She can’t let it go. Tries for weeks, to not wonder, to not be incredibly wounded and angry, but she can’t let it go, and so it’s only a matter of time and circumstance—right amount of privacy, right amount of being fucked up before he confronts Naomi about it. In a bathroom, in the irony of ironies, and why the fuck not, Emily thinks, taking a deep breath.

“What did I do wrong?” she says, hoarsely, and Naomi almost stabs herself in the eye with her eyeliner pencil, because it’s out of nowhere and yet they both know what she means. Naomi isn’t that stupid.

She finishes redrawing the line under her left eye and then caps the pencil, looks at Emily in the mirror while blinking. “It isn’t like that. It’s nothing you did, or didn’t do.”

“I can’t accept that,” Emily says and knows she’s going to cry; wishes she’d had the foresight to borrow Katie’s waterproof mascara, but this is going to show all over her face. “What did Cyprus do for you that you didn’t have here? Did I not give you enough space, or time? Did—“

“Emily,” Naomi says softly, and reaches out to grab Emily’s shoulder, gently. Squeezes it just once. “It just wasn’t the right time, okay? That’s all. I didn’t know what I wanted.”

Emily swallows the next words that come to mind—because she doesn’t need to know what Naomi wants now, it’s going to destroy her either way, and just averts her eyes. Stares mutely into the sink, waits for her vision to clear all the way, waits for whatever comes next.

“And I’m sorry, that I didn’t just—I know I fucked you around, and it was stupid. I think…” Naomi says, and then trails off into nothing.

“What?” Emily asks despite herself, and wonders how much longer they can be in the bathroom without anyone noticing they’re both gone.

“I think that I’d treat you better, now,” Naomi finally says, bluntly, and then gets out her lip gloss like it doesn’t mean anything and like she didn’t just deliberately ruin Emily’s entire life. Like it’s just a fact, like it won’t lead to a horrible place that Emily couldn’t stop running to if she tried. Like it’s something as simple as the Earth being round, or Bristol being in England, or—

She crushes Naomi against the wall and kisses her forcefully, kisses her while crying, and then finally steps back and slaps her across the face.

“Why would you do this to me,” is all she can manage, all that she can think with Naomi’s face is swimming before her eyes, almost entirely unrecognizable except for her eyes, those fucking eyes.

She runs out of the bathroom and doesn’t stop running until she finds a bus stop; sits down there, and wonders if she’ll ever stop crying, if she’ll ever stop fucking up.

----

And just like that, they’re back to avoiding each other. Or rather, Emily’s avoiding Naomi, because if there’s one thing she’s not it’s a deliberate cheater, and she and Effy are a thing now, they’re not like she and Naomi were before, where it didn’t have a name and didn’t come with rules.

Emily’s lips feel bruised constantly, more so every time she spots Naomi’s hair, or her bag, or those ludicrous floral shirts that do nothing for her figure.

She also avoids Effy, who probably knew something like this was going to happen all along—just like she knows everything—and she can’t handle Effy’s non-judgment anymore than she can handle Naomi’s presence. They’re tearing her apart, and they aren’t even doing anything.

----

Effy shows up at her house a few days later, holding a DVD and a bottle of vodka, and Emily lets her in silently. They sit miles apart on the sofa, with Effy just mildly looking at her and Emily trying not to fidget uncomfortably.

“So. What happened?” Effy finally says, curling her legs underneath her body, waiting patiently.

Emily looks down at the floor and sighs. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Try,” Effy says, sharper than Emily’s used to hearing from her, and it’s just one sign—just this once—that Effy actually does give a shit, and even though she’s always thought that that one sign would make it easier, it doesn’t. It makes her feel worse.

She doesn’t bring up the conversation, because it’s not the point. And maybe, that’s just terrible knowledge for her to hold; not something that needs to be lorded over Effy as well. “I kissed her.”

“You have a habit of doing that,” Effy says, carefully neutrally, and then snorts. “What were you testing this time? Her feelings?”

Emily winces and then shakes her head. “No. She made those clear.”

“Ah,” is all that Effy says, before unscrewing the vodka and drinking it like it was water. Effy hasn’t been this—this Effy in months, and Emily feels like she’s being punished with a prequel of what will happen if she continues on this path.

“I’m sorry,” she finally says, still looking down at the ground, and the couch dips as Effy moves closer, offers the bottle of vodka, and presses a kiss to Emily’s temple.

“I know you are,” Effy says, and they finish the bottle while watching Monsters Inc., holding hands the entire time.

----

Naomi pursues her, this time around, in an almost comical reversal of last year. Calls regularly, leaves messages, questions, offers, and invitations. None that imply that Emily needs to leave Effy, but lots that imply that Naomi wouldn’t mind if she did.

Emily doesn’t know how to stop resenting her for it, let alone how to stop wanting something that she never really believed she could have.

----

She’s just finished getting one of Effy’s wrists tied up when Effy looks at her with too-bright eyes before reaching under the pillow, wrapping her hand around something that Emily can’t see.

She looks at Effy questioningly, and Effy, for once, looks moderately uncomfortable with what she’s about to do; which wasn’t the case with the wax, really, or the spanking, or that first intensely ridiculous experience with the strap-on, and so Emily holds her breath while waiting for Effy to make up her mind.

What she’s finally handed is a small switchblade.

“What…” Emily says involuntarily, and then presses the button, watches it flick out and gleam, almost as sharp as Effy’s eyes.

Effy’s free hand covers her own, brings both of their hands down towards Effy’s neck, and Emily startles so abruptly that she almost drops the knife; almost, but thankfully not really, because it would’ve landed in Effy’s throat. It might have killed her.

Effy chuckles and arrests Emily’s wrist. “Careful.”

“Eff, what…” Emily asks, because whatever she wants, Emily’s never seen it in porn, doesn’t have a frame of reference, and if she’s totally honest, Effy is scaring her a little—no, a lot.

“Hold it against my neck,” Effy says with levels of calm that seem completely surreal, and Emily wonders if she’s on something, just failed to mention it, but Effy seems to catch on and just reaches for Emily’s hand—and the knife—again; kisses Emily’s knuckles. “I trust you. Hold it against my neck.”

Emily wants to refuse, but Effy’s staring at her intently, and this is some sort of test. She brings the knife down, gently, resists the urge to test how sharp it is, but just rests it by Effy’s jugular, tries to stop her hand from shaking.

Effy swallows hard and closes her eyes, just for a second, but then smiles. “Now fuck me.”

“Effy, what the hell—“ Emily starts saying, looking at the knife the entire time because she doesn’t trust how steady she is, doesn’t understand what is happening or even objectively, what the erotic appeal of this is, and like, she’s always thought of spanking as being kind of hilarious but gets it, in terms of sex. This, not so much, probably not ever.

“I trust you,” Effy says, harshly, and then takes a deep breath before shifting a little. “Do you get that? I trust you.”

Emily freezes completely, and then pulls her hand away, closes the knife and flings it across the room, slaps Effy across the face, too, for good measure (and some awful part of her thinks it creates balance, balance she needs). “What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you—“

“I trust you,” Effy just says, again, like it’s more of an explanation the second time around, and then pulls Emily down into a kiss with her free hand, kisses her so softly that it’s almost like the past five minutes didn’t happen, and Emily’s insides revolt completely. She pulls away, struggles to get out of the bed, and only barely manages to make it to the bathroom before throwing up.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she says when she gets back, Effy is still lying there—having somehow managed to light a cigarette with one hand, which she stubs out gently as Emily sits down next to her again. “I don’t—I don’t need demonstrations.”

Effy sighs, seems to relax a little, and then accidentally hits her elbow against the headboard and flinches. “I thought I’d make a point of it. Since you apparently don’t trust yourself.” It’s the clumsiness that gets Emily, that makes her drop it altogether; Effy is never clumsy, never awkward, and this is levels of fucked up and guilt that they can’t resolve with conversations.

They fuck like enemies, like they’re equally let-down somehow, and Emily claws long, almost-bleeding marks into Effy’s too-thin back, watches with a sense of satisfaction as Effy moans when she then brushes her fingers over the streaks. Sometimes they’re so fucked up together that Emily doesn’t understand at all how they ended up here; how this is her relationship, alongside hot chocolate and hair-braiding and ironic cat cards, how it can all be part of the same package.

Effy bites down on Emily’s lip when she comes, grinding down on Emily’s four fingers—more than they’ve ever had before, and when Emily pulls out Effy winces, bites her own lip, bleeds.

“Why are we like this?” Emily asks later, sitting on the edge of the tub, Effy having opted for a soak so as to minimize the extent of her bruising and chafing the next day.

“I don’t know,” is all Effy says in response, before dipping under the water to rinse out her hair.

----

Naomi finds her crying randomly, a few days later, and she cries so fucking often these days that it was only a matter of time before one of them caught her at it. It’s the wrong one, because Naomi doesn’t fix things by pretending they aren’t happening, offering alcohol and cigarettes; Naomi gives her a hug, and strokes her hair and tells her that things will work out, somehow.

They kiss, long and slow, with tears running down Emily’s face the entire time, before she can finally muster up the right amount of self-sacrifice by pushing Naomi away.

Naomi finds a bruise on Emily’s wrist, and kisses it better; asks if Effy is—if everything’s okay.

Emily shakes her head. “She’s—we’re—“ is all that she can say, without feeling like she’s selling Effy out completely.

Naomi looks at the bruise a second longer, and then finally sighs. “It’s none of my business, is it.”

Emily wishes she could say no.

----

“I don’t do drama,” Effy tells her; they’re just randomly outside one day, skipping a class, smoking a cigarette and drinking something that might be brandy or might be port, but is in any event rather vile.

Emily thinks about making a joke, but it’s Effy. “I know,” she says, because she does.

“Figure it out, Ems,” Effy says, and kisses her with cold, smoky lips before heading back inside.

----

She can’t.

----

Effy breaks up with her through a cat card; it’s a tiny cat crawling over a piano, and she can’t figure out what the symbolism is meant to be, this time. A kitten on a piano, stepping on uneven keys, and it means nothing to her—other than that maybe, she just finally can’t follow Effy where Effy is going, not anymore.

The back of the card just says No hard feelings, like that somehow can make an entire year disappear, like that somehow makes it okay that Emily can’t choose and one of them has to choose for her.

----

Naomi doesn’t seem to care, one way or the other, if there is an appropriate amount of time for them to not be together—if a grieving process is involved. Emily feels like she’s been grieving for something for two years now and so it seems stupid to make it explicit at this point, to pretend that she wasn’t almost instructed to do this by Effy, like there’s not a large part of her that just has to know, what it will be like.

They go back out to the lake, on their first real date, and Emily puts on make-up and matching underwear and spends three hours trying to decide what to wear. Katie just looks at the process and sighs, rolls her eyes, mutters something like “fucking failure” under her breath and then finally just leaves the room with a disgusted-sounding huff.

She’s fucked Effy so many times now that it shouldn’t be awkward, being alone with a girl, even if it’s one that’s all tied up in longing and guilt, but she can barely get herself to hold Naomi’s hand; it’s as hard as it was that first time. They drink whiskey and it warms Emily’s chest, makes it feel like her heart is still beating, for the first time in weeks.

Naomi is being oddly considerate; doesn’t ask what happened, just lets them sit, quietly, and somehow it’s fitting that they don’t even kiss.

“This is how it should’ve been, the first time,” Naomi says, right before the sun sets altogether and it’ll get far too cold for them to stay out without at least putting on coats.

Emily doesn’t know how to agree without feeling like shit; just squeezes Naomi’s fingers, closes her eyes.

----

Effy is always around, and somehow, it hurts more than anything else has so far that Effy can act like nothing’s wrong; like they didn’t see each other for months on end, like they didn’t share some of the happiest moments in Emily’s life. Like they weren’t ridiculously compatible, didn’t have great sex, didn’t share a shitton of things that other people wouldn’t understand.

Like it wasn’t a real relationship after all.

“Let’s get out of here,” she says to Naomi after going out for a drink and finding Effy there with Cook, like Emily just imagined everything that happened between them or they’re in some sort of timesuck, back in last year, except now Naomi is holding her hand and Effy and Cook are laughing together, Effy isn’t fucked out of her mind, isn’t on the verge of fucking him. Maybe just not yet. She doesn’t want to stick around and find out.

“Sure,” Naomi says, gently, and they go out for milkshakes instead. They hold hands, talk about the few things they have in common, listen to each other talk about things they don’t have in common, and as far as dating goes it’s pretty good; pretty nice, actually.

When they step outside, Naomi smiles and reaches out with her thumb, starts saying, “you’ve got a—“ but then just bites her lip, leans in and kisses Emily.

It’s got the quality of a good first kiss, and when they break apart, Emily can’t help but confess, “I wish I could do everything, everything over.”

Naomi just smiles and kisses her again.

----

She turns 18. Effy leaves her a ridiculous postcard with a cat wearing a party hat on it—toying with a balloon—in her locker. She puts it up on her wall without thinking, and then lies in bed at night, wishing she could see these three cards without thinking of the other one, the one that isn’t up on the wall, because it hurts too much.

To celebrate, Naomi takes her out to dinner to a Greek place right next to Effy’s favorite Ethiopian, and Emily’s eyes well up without her consent.

----

When they finally make love again, Emily’s heart is locked in her throat, hammering away the entire time. Naomi undresses without much modesty, none of that someone might see attitude that pervaded the last time she saw her naked; and Emily’s irrationally jealous of some unnamed girl in Cyprus, who did this to Naomi, for her, skipped over Emily altogether.

They decide on Naomi’s room because Emily can’t bring herself to revisit any other spaces, like the lake, or her own bedroom, or even a random bathroom in public; all of those spaces are off limits somehow, and if it wouldn’t distress her so much, she’d think of them as sacred, even. For now.

Naomi’s eyes follow Emily’s movements as she undresses, slips out of her shoes and wiggles out of her skirt, and Emily doesn’t—it’s—

She’s relieved when they huddle under the covers together, keep the lights turned low, hold each other close and kiss for long, uninterrupted minutes.

“I—let me,” is all Naomi whispers against her lips, and Emily rolls over onto her back, closes her eyes, lets Naomi make up for months of hurt and confusion with her lips, carefully mapping a path down Emily’s body.

When she comes in Naomi’s mouth, kisses herself off Naomi’s lips and hugs her, fingers still tangled in her hair, it feels a lot like love. Too much, almost.

----

She runs into Effy in a bathroom at school, and Effy just smiles, says “Hi”, goes back to fixing her lipstick.

Emily feels like an asshole but can’t help herself. “I miss you,” she says, quietly, and then tries to leave as quickly as possible, without waiting for an answer.

“Is she making you happy, this time?” Effy asks, side-stepping any drama, reminding Emily of what her place is.

“Yeah,” Emily says, and swallows the but not like you that rings in her head, backs away before it slips out without her permission.

----

She suggests tying Naomi up once, who just snorts and looks at her like she’s suggesting the cheesiest, most ridiculous thing ever. She doesn’t bring it up again, and besides, Naomi’s so into the stuff that Emily can only think of as normal sex that it’s not really necessary.

Once, they undress a little too hurriedly, and Naomi accidentally tips over a lit candle on her nightstand. Emily reaches for it and catches the hot wax without thinking, just peels it off her skin and drops it, when Naomi frowns at her and catches her hand, kisses it.

“There, all better,” she says, and Emily closes her eyes, hears Brown Sugar the entire time as Naomi goes down on her, thinks about Effy’s eyelashes when she climaxes.

----

It’s early December and Effy is out on the steps, smoking without a coat on. Emily shrugs out of hers without thinking and puts it around Effy’s shoulders, who just rolls her eyes.

“It’s cold out, you’ll get sick,” Emily says dumbly, because it’s such a mum thing to say and yet, having met Anthea, she doubts anyone will notice if Effy gets pneumonia and dies.

“I’ll live,” she says, and somehow it means more, more than just the weather, and how Effy appears to have given up on food after all these days.

They stand silently while the rest of the students arrive, and when the cigarette’s finished, Effy hands Emily back her coat without a second look. “So will you,” she says, before disappearing inside.

Emily waits for Naomi to cycle up, struggle with her bicycle lock and that ridiculous bag, and watches her make her way up the stairs; Naomi frowns at Emily’s unbuttoned coat, and does the buttons up one by one, ending the whole with a soft kiss to Emily’s lips.

“Better,” Naomi says, looking up at Emily like she needs to hear that it's true; like she needs the approval.

“Yeah,” Emily says, almost meaning it.

Chapter Text

By December, Emily’s side of the room has turned into a uni application fallout zone; preparations for her interviews on one end and all the brochures and open day information on the other. Katie’s side of the room is almost ridiculously bare in comparison, but then Katie isn’t sure she actually wants to go to uni; doesn’t know what to study there, really, since her real interests are in men and fashion, and neither of those things are best studied at university, or so she maintains. [She’s applied to some things just because their parents would kill her if she didn’t; but everyone’s focus is on Emily, who put in her application to Oxford in October, is interviewing at Lincoln College in the next few days, and when she's not having a heart attack about that, is frantically trying to narrow down which of her alternatives she'd actually go to, if things didn't go so well.]

Consequently, in order to get a real break—because not actively looking at information doesn't mean it's not sat in her room, almost daring her to ignore it—she has to go to Naomi's.  She's getting to know Gina, who is nothing like Anthea but according to Naomi—who sometimes is just so ungrateful it’s unattractive—positively useless anyway. Gina takes the whole gay thing in stride even without Emily bringing over food (which, she suspects, is what swayed Anthea; if not just the sure knowledge that she couldn’t knock Effy up) and just seems generally pleasant about it. Like, sure, Naomi likes girls now. Why not. Does Emily care about the swine flu situation in Mexico? Would she like to help raise some money? Which is, of course, what really matters; not that she’s shagging Naomi.

It’s black and white. Painfully so.

They spend a lot of time in Naomi’s bed, playing with each other’s hands and just laughing about nothing, and a lot of it soothes old hurts; until Emily gets to a point where she almost trusts Naomi, almost believes that she made the right decision after all.

They watch black and white movies, which Naomi loves as much as Emily does, and she doesn’t miss watching them with someone who just watches them for her sake. Not really, because it’s equally satisfying seeing them with someone who’s already seen them all, and who likes them for the same reasons you do.

----

“I’m starting to lose my mind completely,” Emily confesses, lounging on Naomi’s bed and taking a huge swallow of vodka. “I just can’t decide on where I'd want to go. I really—like, they’re alternatives for a reason, but what if I don’t get in to either UCL or Oxford?   I just, honestly, how are you so calm? Why aren’t you freaking out about this?”

Naomi just shrugs. “Dunno, really. I mean, I’ve known for yonks what I wanted to study; I don’t care so much about where, can't really do anything but wait and see anyway.”

“Christ,” Emily says and takes a hasty sip, spills a bit of vodka on her dress, screws the cap back on before dropping the bottle on the bed. “Worst Christmas hols ever, this, and just when I thought the worst of it was already behind us, what with the UCAS site crapping out every third time I'd try to click on ‘next page’.”

“Just calm down,” Naomi says, before stretching out next to Emily and tangling their hands together. “You’re fucking clever and you know it. If anyone’s going to get into Oxford, it’s you; the only reason you’re so frantic is because you haven’t spent more than ten minutes thinking about your other choices, which is pointless anyway, since you'll get in.  The letter'll come any day now, honestly.”

Emily sighs. “Yeah, I know. God, I'll look at them again tomorrow. I have time.”

“Lots of it,” Naomi agrees, and they spend the rest of the afternoon making out drunkenly, with Emily trying not to think about how little time they actually have; how she’s not sure how to bring up what happens after college, because she doesn’t want to seem too eager—they’ve only been together for weeks, even though it feels like years to her—and at the same time, she doesn’t want to wait, can’t handle not knowing.

Naomi is ridiculously blasé about all of it. Emily wishes she could talk to someone about the uncertainty and how much it bothers her, but Katie’s just—if it wasn’t for their parents, Katie wouldn’t be bothering with uni at all, and she doesn’t understand these kinds of problems to begin with, because her idea of a good time is local. And cock.

It leaves one other person to talk to in her mind, but that's not an option. Not even a little.

Some part of her feels incredibly guilty that she has no idea what Effy wants to do, after college, but mostly it just hurts, knowing that she has no right or reason to ask.

----

She gets the letter on a horrible January morning, when Katie’s at the height of her PMT and James is being an absolute fucking nightmare, wanting a packed lunch but not wanting anything with peanut butter in it, and she throws a banana at his head with her free hand, clutching the letter in her other hand, her heart nearly beating out of her ribcage.

She’s seen too much American television, where little envelopes are bad signs, and she obviously looks so close to throwing up that Katie sighs and takes the envelope from her, slides it open with a “for fuck’s sake” and then glances over the letter inside.

“It’s good; conditional on results,” is what she says, not congratulations or anything like that, because Emily getting into Oxford means Katie is once again the stupid one, but she doesn’t ruin this moment, doesn’t dare ruin this moment, and Emily squeezes the letter to her chest and resists the urge to jump up and down a few times.

She takes out her phone and clicks through the address book, and has almost pressed call already when she realizes she hasn’t gone down far enough down the alphabet yet—not by a mile.

“Fuck,” she whispers, and it ruins the moment completely. She ends up just telling Naomi at college, who confesses to not having received her own letter yet, and just says, “yeah, it’s nice” when other people congratulate her.

----

Spring is unnaturally tense and everyone is waiting for the end of March, when they find out for certain where they’re all going; everyone except Emily, who already knows. The time leading up to that week is spent in an odd sort of stasis, nothing moving forward or moving back; Effy is usually outside smoking, ignoring everyone but Panda and rolling her eyes at boys who flirt with her, like sometime over Christmas she finally realized she was too good for all of them, and good on her, Emily thinks, walking past her into college without actually looking at her, or at least trying hard not to.

Naomi waits for her by her locker, most days, and sometimes they even kiss, just because they can.

She’s not really disappointed that there are never flowers in her locker anymore. It’s such a stupid thing to care about, really, when Naomi holds her hand in public and stares everyone down who might want to say something to them about it.

----

They don’t have to go to the same uni. Plenty of people don’t, and Oxford isn’t that far from London anyway, so.

Emily gets conditional acceptances to three of her alternatives and waitlisted for Durham; Katie doesn’t talk to her for a week, refuses to accompany her to Oxford to check out the city, hates her a little bit more when Doug calls out Emily's name in assembly, draws a little more attention to her success than even she's comfortable with.

Naomi doesn’t mention anything about her situation, though, and so Emily hesitantly asks, one evening, when they’re out by the lake getting high together just because so close to their exams, there's no real point in worrying about being sober and awake for classes.

“Oh, yeah,” Naomi says, sounding distracted. “I got into LSE; conditional on results, obviously. I found out on Monday.”

“It’s Wednesday,” Emily says and it’s accusing, and she can’t tell if she is upset because Naomi didn’t think to tell her or because she doesn’t care. Either is unattractive, and bullshit. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Naomi sighs, turns her reddened eyes to Emily’s face and bites her lip. “Em… It’s not a big deal, okay? I just forgot, don’t turn it into a thing.”

“Fine,” Emily says and knows she sounds like a prick, but she’s genuinely kind of offended, and wonders if she’s even a better person than this, if she should call—

She throws away the remains of the spliff and lies down, closes her eyes, wonders if this will ever stop being so hard.

----

One day, she finds Panda sitting in Politics long before class starts, a sad look on her face and—like she’s just forgotten about what to do, why she's even there in the first place.

“All right, Panda?” Emily asks and lingers at her desk, hesitantly reaches out to put a hand on her shoulder.

Panda looks up with those sad eyes and says, “Yeah, bloody great.”

“What’s happened?” Emily asks, because something is obviously wrong, and when something is wrong with Panda—well, she just needs to make sure, is all.

Panda sighs. “Effy’s gone and gotten herself accepted to some bloody arts programme somewhere, and it’s great, real whizzer, but—“

“Art?” Emily interjects, not being able to help herself. “Do you mean like, art history?”

“No, stupid, photography, of course,” Panda says, looks at Emily like she’s an idiot. “And anyway, that’s not the point. She’s gone and left me, is what she’s done. Like there’s not anything to do in England, like she has to go to Scotland for her stupid degree.”

Emily feels her stomach sink. “Scotland?”

“Yeah,” Panda affirms, sadly, before looking down at the desk. “And really, what am I supposed to do without her? I’m useless, even more useless without her.”

Me too, Emily thinks unwillingly and then gives Panda an awkward hug, assures both of them that it’ll be okay.

----

She sends Effy a text message, hours later, because she doesn’t know what else to do.

Photography, huh? I don’t know why I didn’t know, but it makes sense.

Effy replies in the middle of the night, like it’s taken her hours to decide if she wanted to text at all, and then even longer to decide what to say, or maybe she just finally got back to her phone, and Emily doesn't want to overanalyze, doesn't want to know.

You never asked. Congrats on Ox.

----

Naomi gets weirder and antsier by the start of May, and it’s not because of their exams—obviously, because Naomi herself has said that she doesn’t have all that much to worry about, being a virtual encyclopedia on anything they could possibly have come up in Politics and knowing that an average amount of preparation for English and Maths should be enough to ensure that she'll satisfy the conditions for her LSE offer.

Since it's not exam stress, Emily has no idea what’s going on, but a lot of their conversations these days come to an abrupt halt when she realizes that Naomi has no idea what she’s said, or just generally doesn’t know how to pay attention to it.

One night, after fantastic sex—half an hour of delicate foreplay first, which left Emily in a state of such fine-tuned arousal that every time the sheets brush up against her skin she clenches around Naomi’s fingers—and the appropriate period of quiet snuggling, she runs her hands through Naomi’s hair and just asks.

“What’s wrong? And don’t lie to me,” she says quietly, and Naomi stiffens slightly before exhaling loudly.

“Promise you won’t—promise you won’t get mad,” Naomi says, and rolls over onto her back, looks at Emily with a vaguely frightened look.

Emily’s never understood the point of that question; how the hell is she supposed to promise that, when she has no idea what’s coming, but the end result of it is the same—it sets her hair on end, being warned off like that, when clearly she’s done nothing wrong. “Sure,” she says, trying not to frown, but crossing her arms on top of the sheets anyway.

“I—“ and she pauses again, closes her eyes. “I applied for VSO.”

It only rings a vague bell, but by the time Emily opens her mouth to ask a follow-up question, Naomi's already gone on  to explain that she’s applied to go to Sierra Leone to work as an HIV/AIDS information adviser, on a volunteer basis, and that she finds out in the next week or so if she’s gotten it.

“How—“ Emily starts saying, and has to clear her throat, force the words past it. “Is this for this summer, then?”

Naomi stays silent for a long time before shaking her head. “No. It’s a year; next academic year.”

“Okay,” Emily says, doesn’t have to check to know that her eyes have filled with tears, just slips out of the bed, pulls on her underwear and shrugs back into her shirt.

“Em… I’m sorry, I just didn’t know how—it doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t change how—“ Naomi starts saying, and then reaches for Emily’s hand, pulls her around until they’re facing again. “I love you, okay? This is not about us.”

“You should’ve told me,” Emily says, rubs angrily at her tears. “You should have told me. I shouldn’t have had to ask.”

Naomi lowers her head and nods, watches silently as Emily bends down for her shoes, and doesn’t even put them before leaving the room because she can’t just be there.

When she gets home, Katie looks at her face in surprise. “Jesus, what the fuck—“

“She loves me,” Emily says, and then starts crying in earnest.

Katie clumsily pats her on the back a few times before sighing and pulling her into a real hug, whispering promises about beating the crap out of Naomi, and Emily shakes her head even while her fingers dig into Katie’s back, squeeze far too hard.

It’s not how she ever wanted to be told; it was so fucking wrong that she can’t even remember now if she was waiting to hear it at all.

----

They don’t break up; Emily calms down, pulls herself together one last time, because it’s only a few more months before Naomi goes off—and she's going, of course she is, because she’s fucking brilliant and has got to be the most qualified 18 year old they’ve ever had apply—and she just doesn’t see the point in it. She already can pinpoint the exact time at which her life will sever itself from the past, when she'll get her second chance, and there has just been too much hurt for her to create more now when she doesn't have to.

Naomi apologizes and means it; looks so torn about it all that Emily briefly feels like it was somehow her fault that Naomi didn’t tell her. Then, Naomi shows up at her house with an Oxford hoodie and Emily doesn’t have to work so hard on not feeling guilty and angry anymore. It’s not like Naomi at all, she thinks, and that makes it easier for her to not to be a twat by pointing out that she's actually going to Lincoln College and, more generally, isn't an American tourist.

When Katie looks at the hoodie on Emily's bed, hours later, with a smug smile and a "did you like it, then?" Emily realizes to her dismay that it really, really isn’t like Naomi.

It doesn’t matter, she tells herself, because they’re in the middle of a count-down to zero.  Doug had given them all a stack of example personal statements or university application essays to try out before the real deal, sometime back in September, and one of them had asked what she’d learned about herself in college that she hadn’t yet figured out beforehand.  She’d written something about being gay, and changing perceptions, but if she had to do it all again she’d write something about the total stupidity of love, and how even being in it doesn’t make it any more comprehensible.

How love hurts, more than it heals.

And how sometimes, it really is possible to love in more ways than one, ways that hurt differently but no less.

----

On the last day of classes, she finds an envelope in her locker with her name on it in a messy scrawl that she recognizes instantly. They still don’t talk, not outside of their group context, and the most recent thing she's said to Effy is "thanks" after having borrowed her lighter, which is not exactly meaningful; but she knows through Panda that Effy is okay, fairly excited to be going to Glasgow, and that she doesn’t spend so much time with boys anymore. Emily can’t help but be relieved.  [She knows, deep down, that she’s not relieved because she’s worried about Effy’s wellbeing, but for much more selfish reasons than that.  Even though it's none of her business.  Not anymore.]

She puts the envelope in her purse before Naomi shows up, doesn’t know how to explain it even though Naomi isn’t particularly jealous and in general just doesn’t seem all that threatened by Effy—and why should she, as far as Naomi knows she won, which makes Emily the prize, and all of it is just a bit disgusting when put in those terms.

It was never a competition. Only one out of three of them got that, and so the envelope goes into the bag without another thought. Emily’s heart beats unsteadily the rest of the day, skips every time she brushes past it while looking for a pencil or a notebook, but it’s okay—it’s just the not knowing, like it was with the Lincoln College envelope. It’s just not knowing.

----

The envelope contains a pile of pictures, with Effy’s jagged, near-illegible handwriting supplying near-explanations on the back.

The first picture is one of a collection of empty bottles of wine; it reads Summer 2009 on the back and Emily laughs, thinks about where to put it on her wall for a minute before realizing she’s going to have to clear out her wall one of these days, anyway, and so there’s really no point in doing that.

It’s followed by other pictures that she doesn't turn over because they don’t need any explanation: Cook with a tablet of MDMA on his tongue and JJ making a silly face next to him; Katie with a foam mustache, flipping off the camera; Freddie, Cook and JJ, with Cook pulling the other lads into a hug from behind; Katie and Panda filing each other’s nails; and then, surprisingly, a picture of Naomi doubled over with laughter at something—the something being Emily, gesturing at something next to her locker with an equally big grin on her face.

It’s the only picture Emily has of herself and Naomi, she suddenly realizes, and when she turns it over and sees that all Effy’s written on it is Happiness she feels her hands start to shake. She puts the picture down on her nightstand, resting against her lamp, and doesn’t dare look at it again.

The rest of the pictures are improved by the scribbles on the back, but they don’t require an explanation, not really. There’s a picture of the girl’s bathroom next to Politics, which is titled Drama Class; a picture of a lit cigarette in someone’s hand—she thinks it’s probably Cook’s, but it could be Freddie’s—just as they’re flicking ash away, entitled New Tricks; a picture of Effy’s wardrobe, doors slid towards the centre, so that to the left there’s a collection of shirt-dresses and to the right, two lone pairs of trousers, entitled Small Victories; and a picture of a knife, entitled Stupidity, which makes Emily smile even though it's still not really funny.

The last picture is one of her; it’s black and white, grainy, and she's sleeping on her stomach on Effy’s bed, legs splayed out almost indecently if not for the small bit of sheet covering her arse and a tiny bit of her thigh.

Emily doesn’t dare look to the back of it; doesn’t want to know what it says, because it might break her.

----

After all the build-up over the past two years, their A-level exams are uneventful and actually rather anti-climactic, and they finish without any fanfare.  When they're done, along comes one of the rare times when the entire gang gets together again, at Katie’s prompting.

“Effy’s cool,” is all she’ll say on the subject to Emily, who nods and looks at Naomi briefly, who just shrugs, because she trusts Emily.

Trust has become such a fucking stupid, meaningless word that it’s started to bleed hatred into the whole concept, which now makes Emily incredibly uncomfortable, not just with herself, but with the people who place such reliance on it. What good is being able to trust someone when the real damage they’re doing is inside them, in their thoughts, after all?

Naomi’s not much of a dancer, prefers playing pool with the boys, and so Emily sits back and watches for a while, while Katie and Effy are putting on one hell of a show on the dancefloor, and in some ways it’s completely ridiculous that they’re friends now; real friends, not just the kind of friends where it amuses Effy to just not correct Katie’s mistaken assumption that they’ve got loads in common because they're both fit.

JJ sits down next to her after a while, holding a Coke. “All right, Em?” he says with a nervous smile.

“Hmm,” she responds and tries to follow the game of pool, but she’s a bit too drunk, and it’s easier watching the dancing—Katie and Effy are now dancing too close, but it’s obviously at Katie’s initiative, and probably for the sake of some bloke that Emily can’t quite spot yet.  Her sister's such an idiot sometimes, and yet, it's a bit like seeing her own past from the third person perspective.  She’s not surprised when Effy suddenly looks up and smiles at her, shrugs a little bit and then continues dancing.

She bites her lip not to smile, and then looks at JJ. “Corpus Christi, right?”

JJ takes a sip of his drink and nods, and then sighs. “Look, I know we’re—that things, I mean—“

“It’s nice, the idea that I’ll know someone else there,” Emily interjects gently, and reaches out to squeeze his knee.

“Is it? Yeah, it is,” he says, and Emily smiles at him. “I think it’ll be good, to leave,” JJ continues, only barely glancing at Freddie and Cook but Emily catches it, and can’t help but respond with her own look, in two different directions—the way her looks have been directed for longer than she can remember now.

“I agree,” she says, before finishing her drink. “Want to come see how badly Naomi is beating them?”

Pretty badly, it turns out, but then Naomi usually gets what she sets out to get, Emily thinks—and it’s harder, these days, to not be bitter about it.

----

In June, she looks at the Oxford hoodie and thinks about where all of this is going; if she wants to have this many expectations riding on her, because she's not lived up to a single one of them so far, and she can only keep letting everyone down by just not being that together, that wonderful, for so long.

Her parents don't understand but are supportive; Katie doesn't understand and is a bitch about it; Naomi is too worried about getting inoculated in time before her travels to mind too much one way or the other, just says "it'll make you happier, yeah?", as if there's ever a guarantee of that when making difficult choices.

Effy would get it, but Effy is still not an option.

----

Naomi comes with her to Coventry in July because it's such a big change that Emily doesn't know how to make it without some justification, like the city is nice or I like the halls or even there was good weather, once, plus season tickets to Warwick Castle for James.  Just anything, really, to prove to herself that she isn't making a huge mistake.

Naomi spends most of the afternoon excitedly pointing out architectural highlights and commenting on the nice weather, and they catch a bus to take the first of what Emily already knows will be many, many trips for her to the Castle together, arriving just in time for a demonstration with the birds of prey which is simultaneously impressive and terrifying.  Naomi approaches the entire affair with such relentless sarcasm that Emily finds herself enjoying what she'd normally consider a childish day out just to spite her.

“Bollocky tourist shite aside, it’s going to be nice, visiting you here,” Naomi says, at the top of what a shitty map informs Emily is Guy's Tower, looking out over most of the county. “You know, when I’m back; it’s only about two hours, from London, makes a nice change of scenery.” She pulls something out of her purse and it turns out to be a print-out of train schedules, the route they’ll be traveling 16 months from now, and it might as well be a map to another lifetime as far as Emily’s concerned.

“Yeah,” is all she says, and tries to stop wishing she was exploring by herself, or with Katie, or—.

When she gets home, she goes on the internet and finds out the cheapest and quickest way to get to Glasgow, respectively; bookmarks them both, just in case.

----

Emily spends August learning more about Sierra Leone than she ever wanted to know, and Naomi's mum assures her that Naomi isn’t much more likely to get killed there than she would have been in Northern Ireland during the Troubles (which is how Gina puts it) and Emily has to search her GSCE history knowledge before deciding if that’s statistically good or actually quite horrible.

Naomi buys something approximating factor 1 trillion sunscreen and is still constantly worried that she’s going to burn alive, so they spend a lot of time by the lake, soaking up sun and getting drunk or high or just lying around, reading books—fiction for Emily, while she can still enjoy reading English literature and before it starts being the bane of her existence, and non-fiction about all the horrible ways in which mankind can die for Naomi, which leads to many impassioned and inarticulately drunk debates about which came first, the Earth ending or mankind.

They make lots of slow and gentle love, and every time feels a little bit more like saying goodbye; one time, Emily bites down on Naomi’s shoulder just to see if they can’t stop leaving each other prematurely. It shouldn’t result in a “what did you do that for?”, but it does, and when Emily brings Naomi to a climax, she whispers bye into her neck.

----

On a Sunday afternoon in September, around the time when the weight of days passing almost starts crushing Emily and even Katie is starting to pull posters off her side of the room with a somewhat disconsolate look, she goes downstairs to the computer and looks up everything she can about the Glasgow School of Art.

She doesn’t feel guilty, not really; no, the only problem is that Naomi hasn’t physically left yet, but Emily’s heart—well.  It's completely on strike, and she doesn't know how to bring it back to the present.  Maybe it's for the best, not hurting for a change.

She sighs, shuts down the computer and goes upstairs to find Katie looking at the cat cards.

“You made the wrong choice,” Katie says without turning around, and Emily closes her eyes before taking a deep breath and nudging Katie aside.

“Shut up,” she says and takes the cards off the wall under Katie’s watchful eyes, who just shakes her head sadly when Emily folds them together neatly and puts them in her box—the one that used to contain fannies, but now just contains things that are even harder to explain and to think about.

----

They pack up Naomi’s clothing together with Naomi’s mum, and it’s so fucking hot in Bristol that Emily wonders out loud why Naomi is taking any clothes with her at all, since clearly the weather in Africa is just going to kill her dead the minute she lands.

Naomi laughs and goes downstairs to get some more iced tea for all three of them, and Emily folds a few more vests, puts them in a neat pile on the corner of Naomi’s bed for Gina to transfer to a suitcase.

“Don’t be offended,” Gina says after a few minutes of comfortable working silence.

“What?” Emily asks, having almost forgotten that anyone else was there with her, and not knowing what to do with that remark anyway.

“She’s—she’s very single-minded. She gets it from me, I’m afraid, and I’ve not done too great a job teaching her to be more considerate of others,” Gina says, with a sigh. “If she falls out of touch, don’t be offended. It’s not because she doesn’t—“

“Oh,” Emily says, and then forces a smile. “Yeah, I know. I know how she gets.”

Gina looks at her for a few seconds with a fond smile. “You’ve been good for her, Emily. I hope I’m simply not giving her enough credit.”

“Me too,” Emily says, and they go back to folding, because there is no earthly way to explain that it doesn’t matter one way or the other; that it will make Emily’s life easier if Naomi just forgets about her altogether.

----

“I love you,” Naomi tells her plainly, the last time they make love, and Emily turns away from her, doesn’t know how to say the words in kind without feeling like a traitor, a fraud.

She doesn’t know any way to respond, other than this: “I think we should break up.”  She whispers it into the dark, away from Naomi, because she’s such a fucking coward.

Naomi doesn't even sigh; doesn't move, just lies there for long minutes in which Emily gets closer and closer to leaving. “Is this about Effy?” Naomi finally asks, and it’s more intuitive than Emily thought Naomi was capable of being, makes her feel just a bit worse.

“No,” Emily says, and squeezes her eyes shut because it’s not, it’s just not. “This is about me.”

They’re quiet for a long time, before Naomi sighs again and puts a hand on Emily’s shoulder, squeezes. “It wasn’t the right time now, either, was it.”

“No,” Emily whispers, and for the first time in weeks she feels just how much she once loved Naomi; how much this would’ve meant to her, then.

Naomi rolls over and hugs her again, tightly, and then presses one last kiss to Emily’s neck. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” Emily manages before starting to cry, because it’s all so much time wasted. She’s never said the words, and this is only the second time Naomi has.

It’s what she’ll remember about them, hopefully: that one night, without being prompted, Naomi told her that she loved her after they made love. Maybe one day, she’ll be able to forget the rest.

----

“I’ll miss you, you stupid cow,” Katie whispers into her hair, hugging her almost painfully hard, and sometimes Emily has a hard time remembering that she loves her sister, but not this minute; not right now.

Her dad’s downstairs in the hallway, impatiently waiting to get started on the drive to Warwickshire.  She's not bringing much; just a few boxes of personal items to make her room in the halls less frighteningly unfamiliar the first few days that she’s there, but it's enough to make her room at home look like it's been abandoned altogether. 

She looks around her bedroom one last time—sees the bluetack stains on the wall, the sheets that she’s not bothering to take because they’re so childish, and turns to examine Katie’s equally-stripped half of the room. Katie, who will be going to London in a few days time, and then their poor parents will be at home alone with the worm.

It would be a bit ludicrous, this parting ritual, if not for the fact that parts of it genuinely hurt; it’s never really hit her before, how weird it will be to not have Katie around constantly, but now that it's actually happening Katie looks a little afraid, looks like Emily feels.

“I’ll call, often,” Emily promises awkwardly.

“Oh, fuck off,” Katie responds with an eyeroll before gently pushing Emily out the door.

Her dad’s in such high spirits about how well she and Katie have done for themselves that he can’t stop talking about it and Emily wonders how she’s going to get through this car ride; it’s not like it’s even all that fucking far, but God, he's just—

“Hang on, turn left here, please,” she says, and then forces down any feelings of wrong she might have, any guilt because Naomi only left a week ago, and fuck it, it doesn’t matter, this is her life, too.

“Emily, love, that’s not where the motorway—“ her dad starts saying, and she silences him with a “Dad, please.”

There’s something to be said for being your dad’s favorite, Emily thinks, as they're idling in front of Effy’s house.  She hesitates, finger hovering in front of the doorbell, looks back over her shoulder at the car where her dad is impatiently looking back at her, and then sighs. Presses it, once, hard—braces herself, expects Anthea, knows Effy might already be gone.

But she’s not gone, as it turns out—opens the door with a toothbrush in her mouth, because it is bloody early, and Emily hadn't even considered just how ridiculous a time half eight was to be calling at anyone’s house, but it doesn’t matter now—she’s there, and she’s got not a single idea what to say, having actually found Effy.

“Hey,” Effy mumbles, mouth still a bit white with toothpaste, and she swings the door open further without further prompting.  It’s only barely shut behind them when Emily reaches, just blindly reaches, and pulls Effy into a crushing hug.

Effy lets go of the toothbrush and it crashes to the ground, lands with a loud splat and Emily can feel drops of water and toothpaste splash up against her calf, but more than anything, can smell Effy’s shampoo, her soap, feels Effy’s arms wrap around her, and she starts laughing.

“What,” Effy asks, pulling back just enough to look at Emily’s face.

“I just—this is the first time we’ve ever hugged,” Emily says, and just like that she’s crying as well as laughing, and Effy tilts her head, seems to think on it, and then finally laughs as well.

“Does it not count if you’re lying down, then?” she asks, and Emily snorts helplessly, shakes her head, watches as Effy lifts up her shirt-dress and offers the end of it for Emily as a makeshift hanky.

Emily blinks away the last few tears before wiping off her cheeks, and then sighs deeply.  “Naomi—“ she starts saying, maybe offering an explanation, and Effy shakes her head.

“I don’t need to know.”

Emily hesitates for a second but then nods; remembers why she came, and her lips stretch into a smile. “I just wanted to say, I loved your pictures. I loved them; I had no idea how to tell you, but they’re—I had no idea you were so good.”

Effy quite obviously suppresses a pleased smile of her own, almost forgetting to look cool and aloof for a second, but recovers with a shrug.  “It’s just a hobby.”

“Yeah, but—“ Emily starts protesting again, and Effy shushes her with a finger.

“You knew other things, much more important things, when it mattered.”

Emily swallows hard. “And now? Doesn’t it still matter, now?”

It’s the first time Effy’s ever looked like she didn’t already have the answers, Emily thinks when she looks at Effy's face;  the first time she's ever caught Effy off guard and put them on equal footing, however briefly.

“We’ll find out,” Effy says after a few seconds, and it's firm, final—completely open, but with promise.

In the doorway, as Effy bends over to pick up her toothbrush with a grimace, Emily hesitates one last time.

“I—“ she starts saying, and Effy just looks at her with a faint, knowing smile.

“I know,” she says, and just like the first time they kissed, it’s not really unexpected this time, either.

----

There’s all sorts of orientation activities and some part of Emily desperately misses Katie, who would drag her to all of them as a way of meeting people, but without Katie here it's all on her, really, and with the week she's had, she just can't make herself do it.

Instead, she sets about decorating her walls. First, she puts a large map of the world up above her desk and sticks a red pin in Sierra Leone; she’s quite sure it’s not the last pin she'll stick either, because some part of her will always rest easier knowing that Naomi is at least still out there, somewhere. [Part of the relief will be seeing the physical distance between the UK and wherever the red pins are—but the rest of her just genuinely cares, probably always will.]

She puts the cat cards above her pillow—all four of them, just as a reminder.  She knows she’s going to look like a huge lesbian if she has a dedicated cat shrine above her bed but she doesn't give a fuck, really; her life is going to be different here anyway, and she doesn’t care if people assume, if people know.

Finally, she fills the space around the cats with Effy’s photographs; all of them except the one of her and Naomi, which she sticks on a continent-less corner of the map with a smile, and the black and white one of herself, which she finally dares turn over.

Home and other 4 Letter Words is what it says, and Emily slides it under her pillow, hoping that it has a transitive effect somehow.

Chapter Text

Emily wonders how she could’ve possibly been this unprepared for the amount of work being thrown at her; names like Hardy, Chaucer and good old Will S. now sound like curses, rather than things that she would gladly delve into and lose herself in. The only saving grace is the Poetry course, which involves less intense bursts of reading, just short snippets of beauty that make her think as well as feel.

She’s found the nearest-by Costa Coffee and it thankfully has a somewhat hidden couch that she can fold up on; it helps a lot, being able to relax in a place that’s at least slightly familiar. Life without Katie is turning out to be fairly lonely, because she can’t help but shake the idea that it’s not her responsibility, seeking out a group of friends—that any minute now, Katie will show up and tell her who they’re hanging out with this year, and every day that it doesn’t happen it becomes a little bit harder for her to go out, try to mingle, which just feels like obnoxiously inserting herself into pre-existing groups of friends, really.

The other people in her hall are friendly, invite her to go out drinking with them, and she does, sometimes, but the uncertainty of what makes for proper social behavior leaves her on the sidelines even when she does go along with them.

Warwick Pride leave a flyer in foyer of her hall; she looks at it covertly, before remembering that nobody here knows nor gives a fuck about who she is and if she’s gay, and then examines at the attached events calendar in more detail. She spends all of Thursday thinking about what to wear, if there’s such a thing as too gay, before settling on an outfit. Outside of the Kami Lounge, she takes a deep breath, and right as she’s about to open the door, telling herself I can do this, someone else brushes by her and opens the door.

“Coming?” the girl asks, and Emily freezes completely, doesn’t know what to do.

“No—no, sorry, I forgot something,” she says and goes back to her room, feeling like a failure.

----

Naomi’s first letter is a card, just saying that she arrived all right and it is hotter than sin (which isn’t surprising but “there aren’t words to make this comparable to English weather, honestly”) and asking after Emily’s first few weeks, if uni is everything she’d hoped it would be. She pins the card on the only wall that isn’t covered with anything yet and thinks for long days about how to respond to this normal, casual Naomi, who is almost like a stranger to her but one she thinks she might grow to like.

Effy’s first letter is an envelope containing a cat card—a cat wearing a bonnet of some kind, or maybe a knit cap, it’s hard to tell—without any words on it; also in the envelope is a picture of a pea coat of some kind, hanging from an open closet door that Emily doesn’t recognize. All it says is on the back is WTF but when she pins it to the wall, just a few inches over from Naomi’s card with a generic map of Africa on it, her new home feels like a home for the first time.

----

Her second outing to a Coffee Social goes better, in that nobody scares the hell out of her right before she makes it inside, and so after getting some tea she finds a seat and wonders what to do next. After a few minutes of sipping at her drink, she settles on getting a book out—knows it’s antisocial and counterproductive to making friends, patently so, but she feels rude looking at other people without talking and doesn’t really know how to talk, so it’s what she’s got. [It’s Katie’s voice in her head that tells her that she’s too old for a security blanket and she shoves it aside, because Katie hasn’t called her in days and the last time she did, it was at a party, loud and incomprehensible shouting about how there was an incredibly fit guy; it was a reminder of the Katie she doesn’t miss.]

“Oh, God, a Lit student—the one thing we were missing,” it suddenly sounds from her left and she jerks in her chair, looks up as a girl with long blonde hair, messily pinned up, winks at her and elbows the person sitting next to her. “Hey, Liz; we’ve got new fish, here, I think, but I don’t think it’s going to bite—it’s too afraid.”

“Don’t be a twat, Phoebe,” the other girl—Liz—responds, and then peers around Phoebe to look at Emily curiosly, but with a soft smile. “Hi. Don’t mind her, she’s got no manners; heterosexuals, what can you do, really.”

Emily smiles in response, forgets to be vaguely affronted at being called fish of any kind, and then looks back at her book, unsure of what to do next.

Liz, who’s got short-ish brown hair—a length Emily will forever associate with Naomi, even though Naomi’s hair has done nothing but grow over the past year or so—seems to have a better grip on being a normal person, though; gets up and moves over to the empty chair between Emily and Phoebe and sticks out her hand. “I’m Liz. You are new, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Emily says, and clumsily introduces herself, still finding it incredibly weird to do because she can’t remember a time when Katie didn’t just “and that’s my sister” her.

“Cool. What are you reading?” Liz asks, nudging Emily’s copy of The Secret Histories and Emily blushes.

“Sorry, I’m being incredibly rude,” she says, putting the book back in her purse.

Liz shrugs. “Whatever; nothing much happens on these nights anyway.  Luce—my best friend—just insists on coming by here on the off-chance that I’ll find the woman of my dreams, you know, as opposed to the same people that were here last week, and the week before.”

Phoebe’s gotten up to join another brunette (this one with long, curly hair) at the coffee table and Emily feels a bit trapped, a bit cornered, and can’t really help but blurt out, “So, you’re gay, then.”

Liz chokes on a sip of coffee before raising an eyebrow. “Bi, actually, but—duh. Aren’t you?”

It’s this easy, apparently, coming out to strangers. “Yeah, yeah—right. Of course, why else would I be here, right?”

Phoebe and the other brunette make their way back over before Emily can say anything else stupid, and the other brunette spits a mouthful of coffee back into the cup. “Christ, I don’t know how they manage but it’s more vile every week; we’ve got to find you a new pulling spot, Liz, this is just—“ and then, as she spots Emily, “oh, hello, well. I see you’ve got yourself sorted, then, so is it all right if Pheebs and I get the fuck out of here? I’ve got a bottle or three of Chardonnay calling my name.”

Emily blinks and blushes profusely some more. “Er, I don’t think—“

“Luce, don’t be such a cock,” Phoebe says and elbows Luce, who curses and spills the apparently-shit coffee all over her hand.

“My friends, perhaps better known as the reason why I’ll never get any,” Liz says with a sigh, and Emily laughs, a genuine laugh, because they’re all a bit odd but they’re friendly enough, no stranger than her old friends, and at least this time she gets to decide if she likes them.

Luce eyes her critically before dramatically shaking her hair out of her eyes and then pursing her lips. “So, fresh meat—“

Emily,” Liz supplies, helpfully, with a half-hearted kick at Luce’s shins.

“Yeah, sure—but does it drink?”

Phoebe smirks and tilts her head, critically examines Emily for a second who is about to object to being discussed like a thing when, “I don’t know, Lucy—I think this one might surprise you, might actually have some stamina.”

Lucy smiles and raises her eyebrows at Liz. “Yeah?”

“Sure,” Liz says and pats Emily on the knee. “Let’s get out of here and get fucked up; go dancing somewhere. What do you say?”

It’s the only offer directed specifically at her that she’s had in weeks, and she’s getting kind of sick of reading love poetry in her room by herself, surviving on lots of coffee and wondering if she’ll ever get used to having to read three novels with critical analysis all at once.

“Yeah, okay,” is what she says, and before she knows it they’re off together, like a group—a new unit.

----

I can’t believe I have to address you as Elizabeth; I feel slightly perverted doing it, like I’m accidentally sending a letter to someone else entirely (and it doesn’t help that one of my only friends here actually goes by Liz), but whatever.

The good news is that I have finally managed to make some friends—and oh, that sounds about twelve times more pathetic than I wanted it to, but it doesn’t matter, I never wanted to be like Katie anyway, and escaping her flock of admirers or minions or whatever you’d like to call them is nothing short of a relief. They’re an odd bunch, though, my new mates—but I think you’d get on with them well, I daresay that Phoebe in particular may actually give you a run for your money in terms of that whole “I don’t give a fuck and just want to get fucked up” thing that you’ve honed to perfection. :-)

This weekend, I woke up in a bathroom (fully clothed, thank you) with Lucy lying next to me; someone had written “hot shit” on her tits, above her bra, and none of us could remember it happening at all, let alone figure out where her shirt had gone. Really, I am more grateful to you than I can say for Summer 2009, because it’s only because of our rampant wine consumption back then that I have even half the tolerance I need to keep up with these girls.

Classes are generally drab (except for Introduction to Poetry, which makes me feel like I am dying half the time, and not just because Professor Graham is incredibly lush and possibly gay) and so I won’t bore you with them—but I read this, the other day, and it made me think of you:

I am moved by these fancies that cling
Like some infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing

PS: I believe I’m meant to infer that you purchased an actual coat, but the real question is, are you wearing it, too? Good lord, what is happening to you in the North!

----

Naomi’s second letter is an actual letter, explaining the work they have her doing, complaining loads about the heat, and asking Emily for an update on how the Tories are destroying England since it’s hard to get a copy of the Financial Times, let alone anything that offers “quality liberally-biased” reporting near their clinic. Emily spends a day weeding through the recent issues of the Guardian and the Independent for sensible articles; spends an hour on the Daily Mail website, and prints off a few things that she suspects will set Naomi’s head on fire once she receives them. It costs her over 30 quid to send the entire package, but if anyone asks, she’s fairly sure that this is why she got an overdraft.

[Katie wasn’t allowed to get one, and Emily sometimes spontaneously starts laughing when remembering the look on Katie’s face upon being told that “unlike your sister, we know you won’t spend it on anything sensible.”]

Effy’s second letter is a stack of photographs of random Glaswegian scenes—mostly panoramic shots of water, lots of water from all sorts of angles, and a threesome of pictures showing groups of students out on grassy patches somewhere—without commentary and one lone picture of Effy (face hidden behind the camera) wearing her coat, which just has :( :( :( as an addendum on the back.

Emily almost misses the little post-it that was probably meant to be on top, but it says Not suffering so much, these days. x and Emily wishes she had a locket or something else appropriate to keep it in, folded and secure.

----

Her friends like to tease her about her near-constant reading, but it’s all good-natured, and when the weather’s all right—chilly, but not raining—they go out to War Memorial Park as a group.  Phoebe and Liz play a variation on ultimate Frisbee (“without the ‘ultimate’ part, obviously” Luce comments dryly as they sit underneath a tree, watch as Liz ducks frantically out of the way when Phoebe almost decapitates her with a friendly warm-up throw) while Emily reads novels and Luce reads Cosmo and Heat, interrupting Emily’s place from time to time with glorious information about how to give a bloke 3 orgasms in one evening on the one hand and pictures of Katie Price on the other.

It’s incredibly relaxing, reading in the park, and Emily finds her mind drifting frequently, to the point where Jane Austen actually blends in with her real life and she can’t help but compare Elizabeth Bennett to Naomi, so stubborn and obnoxious and judgmental (and yet ultimately clever, funny, rewarding); nor can she help but wonder how it is that girls like Effy don’t show up in the great romances, as if none of the great writers of the 19th century could appreciate a good cat card (and it’s their loss, it truly is).

“Liz fancies you,” Luce says suddenly, flipping the page from an instruction on how to make your own facials to some of this week’s best finds in Top Shop, and for a second Emily doesn’t think she understood right; thinks she’s just too daydreamy and is starting to imagine things.

But Luce doesn’t stop there, just looks up and out over the field, towards Liz and Phoebe who are now wrestling each other for the Frisbee. Emily follows Luce’s line of sight and snorts, right as Luce says, “You know that she does, don’t you?”

“What?” Emily asks, because nothing of the sort has ever occurred to her and before she has time to consider whether there’s merit to the idea, or if Lucy is just fucking with her, Luce sighs and flips the page again.

“Nevermind, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Later that night, when they’re out dancing, Liz slides up behind Emily and hugs her loosely, kisses her on the cheek. “Hallo gorgeous, refill?” is all she says, but they’re suddenly loaded words, and she nods more to get Liz to back off a little than anything else.

“You know, if I were to shag a bird, ever,” Phoebe later slurs, drunkenly slumped against Emily’s shoulder with a fag in her hand, “I reckon it’ll be someone like you, yeah. I bet you’re a tiger and all this nun bollocks is just an act, to throw us off.” She finishes with a giggle that turns into a playful growl and then falls asleep without any further ado.

Emily goes home and thinks about Effy, about Naomi, about knowing when someone likes you; realizes that she doesn’t have a clue how to tell, not really, and calls Katie to talk about what it means to have people like you, how to deal with it, in vague abstract terms that irritate the piss out of Katie and result in her snapping, “I thought you were going to get back together with Effy, you stupid bint” before hanging up.

Which wasn’t the point, at all.

The only useful thing that Katie’s said in all of it is “well, s’about time someone noticed you’re not a minger”, which makes Emily examine herself in the mirror, critically, and there’s just a few things there that she doesn’t quite like; doesn’t know how to change them, exactly, but it wouldn’t kill her to show a bit more cleavage, be a bit more daring (like Katie), if there’s people out there fancying her already anyway.

----

I’ve dyed my hair. No more twin thing, not ever again. I’m not sure if I like it yet, though, because it’s scary; I don’t think I’ve been a brunette in about five years now, and sometimes I still don’t really recognize myself in the mirror, but I think it’ll be all right. Plus, I’ve gotten rid of the fringe; not like it ever helped anyone tell us apart anyway and I don’t know, I just wanted something different. I’d send you a picture, but the only photographer I know lives in Glasgow, that cunt, so you’ll just have to imagine it the best you can.

Should we become Facebook friends? Are you even on Facebook? I don’t know, maybe it’ll be nice, seeing what you’re up to a little more often, though I doubt that if you are on Facebook that you update your status regularly. I’m getting used to it, the idea that people give a toss whether I’m studying, walking home, or sitting in my room reading; apparently it matters loads, stalking all your friends. Trust is such a weird thing these days, and I don’t know, maybe I like it better, this way; not knowing what you’re doing.

This is getting convoluted and I’m sorry, I’m just a bit out of it; Fresher’s Flu is what they’re calling it here, and I could do with some rest and Lemsip and maybe some chicken soup, instead of Twelfth Night and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (neither of which I am enjoying in the slightest, which makes it worse).

I feel like a fraud, for still really liking J. Alfred Prufrock after all these years, but Phoebe assures me that it’s just an inevitable consequence of me “being a lez”, since all queer women she’s ever known like it. I don’t know if it’s true—do you even know what I’m talking about?

I shouldn’t write when I’m this incoherent; I’ll stop now, before I sneeze all over this and pass my germs to you, which I’m sure you’d love. [Only good news is that they might not survive the weather. Who’s winning the fight, here—you or the coat?]

----

Effy responds a week later with two pictures; one is of a map of the United Kingdom, covered with a trail of coffee spoons leading from Birmingham to Glasgow and Phoebe’s got a point scribbled on the back.

The other is of Effy’s coat, wrapped around a homeless lady leaning against a wall; the Shut up on the back makes Emily laugh so hard that it turns into a sniffly coughing fit. The smile following the words is implicit, the way she remembers Effy’s being, most of the time.

----

She doesn’t hear from Naomi for a month and tries not to worry; wakes up staring at a red pin, which suddenly seems like it’s just swimming in a vast ocean of nothingness.

----

Katie visits right before exams, which they apparently “don’t really do” over at the London College of Fashion because “art takes time, obviously” and so she’s just got stuff to hand before leaving on hols; Emily, on the other hand, is cramming frantically, and has by now spent so many hours staring at poetry that she can’t tell a single Song of Innocence from a Song of Experience anymore.

[What’s worse, it’s starting to kill her eyes, all this reading for whatever the opposite of fun is—must do is nothing like want to, as it turns out—and when she goes to bed with a pounding headache for the third night in a row, she begins to suspect it might be more than just stress that’s causing it.]

All in all, it’s typical Katie, really—coming when it’s convenient for her and absolutely nobody else, but all her mum would say on the subject was “she misses you, Em” and that, as always, was that.

“Your friends are coming, yeah?” Katie asks. Emily’s told her hundreds of times what their names are and at least ten times that everyone would be busy preparing for exams, but Katie remained undeterred, wanted to go dancing, and in the end Liz rallied together the other girls for a grateful Emily (who still doesn’t know how to ask for these kinds of things, even of her close friends).

Luce exclaims, “Get the fuck” when she spots Katie and Emily together, even though they don’t look all that much alike, anymore; Katie hasn’t changed at all, but Emily’s hair is swept to the side, away from her forehead, and it makes them look as non-identical as they ever will. She’s put on a relatively old-Emily outfit out of habit and Liz frowns at it, at her.

“What, no pencil skirt today?” she asks and it’s obvious to Emily that it's just light teasing, but Katie doesn’t get it; looks at Emily quizzically.

“Yeah, I’ll miss the suspenders,” Phoebe says with a grin. “Guess I’ll just have to figure out another way to get you close to me, eh Fitch?”

Katie, for once, seems to have absolutely no idea what to say, and Emily clears her throat. “Um, this is Phoebe, and despite what she’ll be suggesting later this evening, she’s not actually gay.”

“Right,” Katie says and some part of Emily revels in it, having Katie out of her depth; having Katie dependent on her to meet people.

They get absolutely lashed; before the night is over Katie has tossed up twice, looking at Emily with utter shock when she’s still holding her liquor, just weaving arm-in-arm with Luce (who hasn’t managed to get over the twin thing all evening, is still just sort of dumbly staring back and forth between them). Phoebe flirts with their 50-year old Pakistani cab driver on the way home and Liz presses in close to Emily, wraps an arm around her shoulders, kisses her cheek when saying goodnight.

“We’re just friends,” she says to Katie as soon as they’re back in her room.

Katie just rolls her eyes and kicks off her shoes.  “Yeah, like you and Ef are just friends,” is all she says, and Emily doesn’t know how to respond to that, because it’s both true and not true, all at once.

When Katie wakes up in the morning, make-up everywhere but on her eyes, she stares at Emily with a curious look on her face.

“What,” Emily says, immediately prepared to start fighting just because it’s been too long since she’s seen Katie, and she isn’t so ready for her anymore—but it goes both ways, this not knowing how to deal with each other.

“You’ve changed a bit,” is all Katie says, before getting up with a groan. “And your friends are fucking beasts. Jesus.”

Coming from Katie, it’s a compliment, and Emily can’t help but be pleased with herself; be proud, like she’s done something that Katie expected her to fail at well.

----

Naomi’s next letter is a card, and all it says is “Don’t have ebola—YET!!!!” and Emily laughs, prepares a care package that contains some Cadbury chocolate and some Yorkshire tea, because it’s the two things that she suspects Naomi misses the most out of all of England.

Effy doesn’t send an envelope; sends a text message instead, just one day after Katie leaves.

Will be in Bham next Sat. Would like to know more about this person Katie thinks is nearing your knickers.

----

As it turns out, being overly interested in novels that only come in ridiculously small print comes at a cost; Emily went into Specsavers just thinking she’d need reading glasses, but thirty minutes of poking and prodding and trying to compare two otherwise identical looking circles have revealed that she’s very mildly nearsighted and will need to wear corrective lenses all the time.

It’s ridiculous that the first thing she thinks when she looks at her prescription is that Katie would be mortified and demand she gets contact lenses immediately.  She doesn’t, for cost reasons more than anything, but also in part because it would piss Katie off, having her sister walk around looking like an even bigger swot than she is.  Besides all that, she’s just plain curious to find out if she’s a glasses person at all, or if she herself will think she’ll look demented.

She's told that she has a small face and gets guided to the teenager’s section, which is a little bit embarrassing in principle, but she forgets to be upset because she spots them immediately; they’re red-rimmed, oval, and perfect. On top of all that, they fit.

It’s pure coincidence that Effy turns out to be the first person to see them on her; an unplanned combination of Emily being forgetful, the optician being relatively far away, and Emily not having any other reason to go into Coventry during exam time because she’s too bloody busy just trying to keep track of when she’s actually got an exam. But, she thinks as she steps out of the train onto the New Street platform, there’s probably nobody else that she’d trust more to handle this right, to not make her feel like an idiot, so maybe it’s a bit more than just a coincidence. Maybe it’s one of those four letter words that Effy is so fond of not saying.

She spots Effy before Effy spots her, and laughs when she sees that Effy’s wearing not only her coat—so much for giving it to the homeless and thank God, Emily thinks—but a pair of jeans, and it’s her laughter that makes Effy turn her head the right way.

Effy doesn’t bother to suppress a smile for once. No, Effy smiles at her, wide and open and with a hint of teeth (like she can't even contain it to a smile), and it’s so unexpected that Emily completely forgets just how much she wants to hug her.

“You’re wearing jeans,” is all she says instead, and she has no idea why her tear ducts react to that, at all, but Effy just reaches out, cups Emily's cheek, and bites her own lip with a grin.

“Yeah—hot,” is all she says, and Emily has no idea if she’s referring to the fact that she’s wearing a coat in a warmer part of the UK, Emily’s haircut, the glasses, or the carefully selected black pencil skirt and top that she actually bothered ironing, for God knows what reason—but it doesn’t matter, not one bit.

“I’ve missed you,” she says, watching as Effy pulls back her hand and shoves both of her hands in her coat pockets, and then finally tilts her head with another smile.

“Katie’s full of shit, isn’t she,” she says, which isn’t an appropriate response at all, but Emily smiles so wide she feels like her face is going to separate anyway.

They go to an exhibit of architectural photography and Effy, in very brief and concise laymen’s terms, explains to Emily why it’s relevant for her; why, even though she doesn’t want to take pictures of things but of people, there’s so much she can learn here, because the real trick is the same in either case: “it’s just about recognizing the precise moment at which you can capture something at its most beautiful.”

Emily mostly just spends the afternoon watching Effy’s hands gesture animatedly even as her voice stays flat; thinks about Effy’s fingers, all the places they’ve been, all the places they know.  She finally corners her in the gallery’s bathroom and kisses her slowly, just presses their lips together until Effy’s stop being cold and her own start feeling like they’re melting altogether; then, when Effy finally licks at her lips, draws her in closer, Emily relents with a sigh.

Minutes later, Effy pulls away gently, rests her forehead against Emily’s. “I didn’t make a reservation,” she says, sounding as worried as Effy ever does and a little out of breath.

“Don’t be stupid,” is all Emily says in response and kisses her again.

----

As it turns out, all Effy brought with her is a toothbrush—which Emily declares “cheeky” with a laugh—and it’s much too warm in the halls for what she’s wearing. Emily’s prepared for this, a situation she didn’t dare put a name to before now, but gets distracted watching Effy undress; Effy, who isn’t so deadly skinny anymore, who's never been more surreal and gorgeous than in this moment.

She’s caught staring and Effy clears her throat with a smirk, only barely lifting her hands in time to catch the item of clothing that Emily throws at her.

“Ha,” Effy says, looking at it with a smile before shrugging it on. “Did you—“

“Obviously,” Emily says, with a blush, because she’d never be caught dead wearing a shirt-dress herself. It looks almost comical on this new Effy, still wearing her jeans, and Emily has never considered just how good jeans could look on someone, but her hands are gravitating towards Effy’s arse without any prompting; have been for most of the day, except now she doesn’t have to stop herself anymore.

“Hmm,” Effy says and looks at her own chest for a second, until Emily nudges up her chin, kisses her again. She’s not spent a lot of time letting herself think about a direct comparison, pushed those thoughts away when they snuck up on her before, but it somehow is okay now—and there’s definitely something to be said for snogging someone her own height, because her hands can comfortably slide into Effy’s back pockets, pull her in close, without anyone craning a neck or standing on their toes.

She vaguely hears the knock on the door but ignores it, is too busy maneuvering Effy backwards towards her bed—which is a single, and it’ll be the only single she’s ever had sex in, because they never did quite manage to do it in her old bedroom—one slow step at a time. She takes her time because she’s missed Effy’s lips, and the way Effy smiles into the kiss when it's just barely beginning, and the way Effy’s tongue teasingly licks at hers until she manages to trap it; has missed these things more than she’s missed most other things.

No, that’s not right either, she thinks, pushing on Effy’s shoulders and losing her train of thought altogether. Effy sits down on the edge of the bed easily enough, but then shocks Emily by leaning forward and resting her cheek against Emily’s waist, arms wrapping around her back.  Emily doesn’t really know what’s expected of her; just rests one hand on Effy’s shoulder and runs the other one through Effy’s hair and waits for what happens next.

At least two minutes pass before Effy finally sighs and unbuttons the bottom two buttons of Emily’s shirt, pulls it open and kisses her stomach, just once.

“All right?” Emily asks, and to her own surprise her voice is a little bit hoarse; almost choked up.

“Yeah,” Effy says, and then does tug on Emily’s waist, pulls her on top, lets herself be crushed.

----

They’ve never taken more time undressing each other, and Emily revels in the opportunity to discover everything all over again—it’s easier, now, to pay attention to the small, inconsequential details that she missed the first time she ever saw Effy naked: the trail of freckles down Effy’s ribs and how her chest flushes when Emily sucks on her nipples, the way Effy blinks every three seconds when Emily’s fingering her and much, much more rapidly when she gently bats her tongue against Effy’s clit, the way Effy rythmically digs her nails into Emily's shoulders a little harder every time she gently sucks.

Most of all, she pays attention to the way that Effy lets Emily break her (completely), and lets Emily watch her break without any reservations—but that isn’t a detail, not really, that’s something else entirely (and the words stick in her throat, but she feels them, and maybe that’s all that matters).

Effy makes a small clicking noise, long minutes later spent quietly with Emily tracing her own name on Effy’s hip. Emily looks up, becomes noticeably wetter just at the expectant look on Effy’s face, even before Effy jerks her head upwards with a slight smile. She shifts up Effy’s body without further prompting; finds herself face to face with the cat cards, which she knows will just make her laugh and so she looks down, instead—rests her forehead against the wall and stares into Effy’s eyes as long as she possibly can.

They kiss, when Emily’s no longer panting and straining above Effy’s mouth; kiss so long and so deep that Emily clenches unexpectedly, a final time, just from thinking this is it—what we taste like, and it’s not just her; simple, sated kisses rile them both up so much that they fuck twice more before collapsing together like boneless heaps.  They're too tired to even laugh, though Emily can’t help but smile into Effy’s neck and kissing it softly and deliberately, marking the end to this new beginning.

Half an hour of utter, total quiet passes before Effy gets up with a squeeze to Emily’s arm, shrugs the shirt dress back on. Effy smokes while leaning out the window so far that Emily gets dizzy just looking at her, and so she rolls onto her back and closes her eyes with a silly smile that just won't go away. She remembers a random line of Elizabeth Bishop that’s never felt more appropriate: the shooting stars in your black hair in bright formation are flocking whe—

The knock on the door startles her but not Effy, who just looks over her shoulder to make sure her bum is covered by the shirt; Emily, on the other hand, shoots upright and yanks the covers up to her chest.

“Em? You in yet? We’ve picked up some Chinese and are going to watch Bruce Willis blow some shit up at Phoebe’s, fancy joining in?”

“Fuck,” Emily whispers and reaches down to the floor, grabs for a shirt, but is stopped by Effy stepping back from the window and petting her hair.

“Don’t fret,” Effy says, throwing her cigarette out the window without looking back and then ambling over to the door.

“Shit!” Emily exclaims, because she still only has her knickers in her hand and is left no choice but to crawl back under the covers and pray that Effy is—oh, God, is all she can think, squeezes her eyes shut as Effy opens the door.

“Hey—“ Liz starts saying and then there’s an awkward silence. “Oh.”

“Holy shit, our little swot is nailing someone” Phoebe exclaims in the background before Luce shuts her up with a very loud “Shhhh”, and they’re so blatantly drunk already, dissolving into helpless giggles, that Emily can't really be upset with them.  And besides—they obviously don’t care, they’re not the issue.

It’s Liz, still at the door, that she’s worried about, and so she bends down over the edge of her bed again, wonders where the hell Effy threw her shirt, or why she can’t even find her bra, which would be better than nothing.

“We’re a bit busy, but thank you,” is what Effy ends up saying, and it could be so much worse—Emily can’t even really contemplate how Naomi would’ve handled this situation, really, this is the preferred version of her nightmare—but it still isn’t very good.

“Right, sorry,” Liz says, after another awkward pause, and then Effy closes the door.

“Fuck,” Emily exhales again, and Effy sits down on the bed next to her, looks at the door pensively for a few seconds.

“Well. At least she knows your knickers are off-limits, now,” is all she says, with a studiously kept-straight face, and Emily can't really help herself; is already laughing by the time she's grabbed her pillow and hit Effy in the face with it.

----

Effy declines meeting everyone under more normal circumstances for Sunday brunch; says it might be better to give them all a bit of space.

“I didn’t—you’re not a secret, I just wasn’t sure—“ Emily says and Effy shuts her up with a kiss.

“Tell them whatever,” she says after pulling away, before wriggling back into her jeans and asking where the bathroom is.

It’s not the conversation Emily was hoping to have, but she can’t bring herself to force the issue; not when Effy’s arse looks so good in her new jeans, when she’s still this good at making Emily feel things.

----

“Well played, lass,” is all Luce says before offering her hand up for a high-five, when they meet for coffee the next day.

“Yeah, really,” Phoebe agrees. “So which one is she then—the photographer, or the one who’s doing fuck knows what in Africa?”

Emily blushes despite herself, didn’t mean to lie about any of this, but it’s hard to make a clean break when all your history comes back with you, when you give it a name and introduce it. “Photographer,” she says, and Phoebe looks at Luce for a second.

“I’d go there,” she finally says, and Luce rolls her eyes, throw a sugar packet at Phoebe’s cleavage, who just laughs in response.

“What’s her name?” Liz asks, much more quietly than the others, and Emily can’t help but feel guilty; can’t help but wonder if she led her on, somehow, because clearly Lucy wasn’t just messing with her head.

“Effy,” she says, and then slides her glasses back up her nose; hasn’t figured out how to keep them at the top, not yet. “It’s short for, um, Elizabeth.”

Liz’s face contorts but only for a second, and then she laughs. “Well, that’s—“

Don’t say it’s ironic, because it’s not,” Phoebe interjects, and Liz flips her off.

“Keep it in your pants, Pheeb, nobody else gives a fuck about linguistics,” Luce says with an eyeroll.

“So, how long have you been together, then?” Liz asks when they’re done telling Phoebe not to be a hopeless bore, and the question surprises Emily, catches her completely off guard; makes her realize that she’s never had people to tell about Effy before, just people to hide her from and people who knew all along that they were a thing.

A thing. It’s such a stupid phrase, and it’s not quite enough, not really, and as Emily tries to decide if that means she can confirm that they are together, it hits her that Effy gave her permission to make this, them, whatever she wants it to be.

“Two days,” is what she says and when they all look at her astonished, she smiles. “It’s a long story.”

----

Naomi writes her a short, haggard letter that arrives in December; talks about how gut-wrenching it is to think of Christmas in Bristol when there are people dying around her all the time, sometimes because they’re forced not to use condoms, sometimes because they just can’t afford them and the volunteers get there too late to hand them out. “It’s not ever going to feel like Christmas,” she writes, “when it’s this bloody warm, and besides, the only present I can give to most of the villagers is telling them that had they been a little bit smarter, this wouldn’t be happening to them.”

Emily can’t think of anything to send over to make this better, and finally just sends a postcard of a Christmas tree, because she suspects most people in Sierra Leone have never seen one and maybe Naomi can explain to them what it means, what it should mean—maybe it will make all their lives a little bit better.

----

Effy sends her another picture of herself sleeping; it’s also in black and white, but this time, she’s curled around a pillow, looks less obviously like she's just been fucked.  It's not really an improvement in terms of her comfort levels, though, because a few strands of her hair are clinging to her mouth, which (to her horror) appears to be a little bit open. The only thing that’s missing is drool, she thinks with a bit of dismay, and for the first time actually needs to turn the card over to understand what Effy is trying to show her.

The picture is called A Textbook Moment, and Emily puts it in the back of Elizabeth Bishop’s collected works with a helpless sigh; wonders why she’s the one studying English literature, since clearly Effy’s the one who thinks in pure poetry.

She doesn’t hesitate to call her, can't help but smile even as she waits to be sent to voicemail—because Effy’s antipathy towards conversation starts and ends with her mobile—but to Emily’s surprise, Effy picks up after only two rings.

“Hey,” Effy says, exhaling audibly as a seagull screeches in the background.

“Christmas, yeah?” is all she says after a beat, like two weeks doesn’t feel like decades after the past weekend; like her time won’t be monopolized by Katie, by her parents, by everyone else who wants to know about it’s like to be going to one of the best universities in the country; like she doesn’t secretly just want to say fuck it all and go up to Glasgow, spend a week huddled together in large coats while walking past the Clyde, holding hands inside one of their coat pockets, forgetting anyone else is alive.

“Bit cold for outdoor wine; any thoughts?” Effy replies, sounds like she's smiling, and Emily bites her lip to not ruin things by getting ahead of herself; the intermittent distance is giving them all the time they need, until all that’s left is the time they’ve earned.

“We’ll figure it out,” she says instead; for once, believes it to be true.

Chapter Text

James has grown is the first thing Emily thinks when she spots him lurking in the hallway.  He's the first person she's seen, the only one home—and it's odd how, after three months, her parents' house already feels less like home than her room in the halls, full of pictures and postcards and recent, rather spectacular memories does. And sure, it’s only been three months but James has grown, somehow, and it won’t be long before she won’t be able to ruffle his hair anymore without reaching up.

“Did you fix it?” is all he says, lingering on the staircase with an accusatory look, and Emily pulls her suitcase inside with a sigh and a curse, glares at him for not helping, and then snaps, sick of travel and the cold and the not even really wanting to be home, “Fix what?”

James frowns at her some more and finally comes down the stairs, helps her put the suitcase upright, and says, “With Effy. Did you fix it.”

It’s been almost a year since Effy was last at their house, since he last saw her, and it’s beyond bizarre that the only thing she’s got in common with her pervy brother is how hard she falls, sometimes.

“There wasn’t anything to fix, James,” she tells him even though it’s not of his business, and he scowls some more, blocks the way to the stairs and so she sighs. “Yeah, I fixed things.”

“So she’s coming over, then?”

“I think so,” Emily says, and the openly excited look on his face is completely ridiculous. Puberty, she thinks, before dragging the suitcase up the stairs, one torturous step at a time.

----

As it turns out, Katie is home; just dyeing her hair, completely slopping up the bathroom as per usual, and James follows up his only cute moment in history by asking if it was nice, fucking Effy, so things are back to normal quicker than she likes; almost like she never left at all. After unpacking half-heartedly, she finds her mum in the kitchen, contemplating a macrobiotic Christmas dinner alternative that makes Emily want to vomit just in theory, and she offers to take care of the cooking just so they’ll actually have something to eat; so that Christmas for once won’t end in her and Katie sneaking out to a chippy around midnight because they’re bloody starving.

She stops by the gym, is hugged so enthusiastically by her dad that it’s a little bit embarrassing, but not nearly as bad as the way he calls attention to her by announcing to the entire gym that she’s “my daughter, Emily, goes to Warwick, bloody brilliant this kid”—and fuck it if she doesn’t get a round of applause for it to make the humiliation complete.

“Emily, love,” her mother says later that night, during dinner. “Do you—would you like some money for Christmas, so you can buy contact lenses?”

Katie starts answering for her, probably to say that it’s a bloody brilliant idea and of course she does—but Emily kicks her, hard and says, “No, thanks; I’m fine like this.” She thinks about adding that she wouldn’t mind the money for books, as next term's reading list is mental, but it’s like telling her mum that she’d rather watch a wildlife documentary than re-watch the good Katie and Peter series for a third time (with Katie constantly going, “Oh, this is good—this is a good one” as if any of them haven’t seen it before). It’s basically just not a goer, to put it as Naomi would.

She really is fine, though, and doesn’t understand why they’re all making her so uncomfortable because it’s not like she was expecting anything different. Only when she crawls into bed—in their empty room, and her dad has put some sort of elliptical trainer in the middle of it like they don’t own a gym, which hurts even though it’s stupid to care—at the end of an exhausting evening does she realize that the problem is that home won’t ever change—it’s just her that’s fitting in less and less.

----

It rains heavily the next day, but she doesn’t care; goes for a walk just to get away from them, feels horribly guilty about doing it on some level—they’re her family, she loves them—but if she’s being honest, there’s only one real reason for her to even be in Bristol for anything more than a weekend and she’s not yet arrived.

Not that Emily’s counting the minutes, or anything—no, now that she's here it's actually it’s kind of nice, being in a much-more familiar city (because Coventry’s still a bit of a maze to her, what with having been massively inebriated most of the times she’s been there) and yet still getting some time to reflect. And she knows the quiet won’t last long; Katie has called the entire old gang, has got them all to agree to go out on New Year, and she’s sure that she’ll be dragged along on some ‘fun’ activities with various segments of the group until then.

She doesn’t know how to make clear to Katie that she doesn’t want to share just because it’s all too new again, silly as that sounds, and it’s probably just all the Lake Poets from last term, but she can’t help but think of her and Effy, their connection, as a new-born kitten that needs lots of warmth, love and attention or it may not make it through the winter. She needs the reassurances that she didn’t get last time; her uncertainty just doesn't feel like it can be fixed with cat cards, unless they explicitly spell out a few promises on the back.

The stretched silence between them, the distance such that she can’t see Effy’s face and read it to make up for the lack of words, have made her revoltingly insecure—to the point where she has to force herself to not call, because Effy wouldn’t understand why, they have plans after all.  Two weeks ago she was absolutely sure that nothing would go wrong, ever again, and yet somehow today she’s counting the minutes until Effy doesn’t smile at her, makes everything feel sorted without saying a damn thing.

----

Katie bumps into her when she’s elbow-deep into a turkey and Emily kicks at her sister's ankle reflexively, years of habit.

“Bitch; I was just telling you that your phone is buzzing,” Katie says and holds it up with a sick little smirk. “It’s your lover.”

“Fuck off,” Emily retorts and then realizes that her one hand is covered in stuffing and the other is in the turkey. Well, fuck. “—shit, Katie, I obviously can’t answer it like this.”

“All right,” Katie says with a shrug and puts the phone down on the counter, where it vibrates aimlessly.

“No, fuck, she wouldn’t call unless—just fucking answer it and hold it to my ear, okay?” Emily says with a sigh, shakes her hair back until her ear is mostly visible and then tilts her head away from her sister.

Katie rolls her eyes and presses the accept button before thrusting out the phone, almost hitting Emily in the face with it.

“Em?” Effy says, and it’s hard to hear because Katie has the coordination of a drunken ape, placing the phone nearer to her eye than her ear.

“Yeah, hey,” Emily says, frowns at the total lack of privacy—which is weird because Katie’s seen them together more than anyone, really, and doesn’t give a shit, but it’s different now—it’s less of an accident this time around, and she really wishes Katie would fuck off.

“Hi,” Effy says and Emily thinks that it’s idiotic, being so happy just hearing someone’s voice, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel something inside of her lift just on account of two half-words.

“All right?” she asks, with Katie impatiently motioning next to her, all get to the fucking point, I have important telly to be watching.

“Yeah, just a slight change of plans,” Effy says and Emily is slightly mortified by how her response just slips out, gets away from her before she can contain it.

“You’re still coming though, right?”

Katie snorts and Emily considers briefly if she can lift the entire turkey one handedly and just use it as a giant glove to punch her sister, but Effy’s voice softens considerably, even though all she says is, “Duh.”

“So?” Emily asks, and flicks some stuffing at Katie in retaliation.

Bitch, Katie mouths with a smile as Effy goes, “My brother’s coming home, so he said he’d get me.”

Effy’s brother. Emily’s only heard stories, and only from other people, but Tony Stonem is somewhere near the bottom five of people she has any interest in meeting, because apparently he almost got Effy kidnapped and killed once and that aside, he’s reputedly a prick of mountainous proportions.

The only thing Effy’s ever actually said about him that wasn’t communicated through odd looks on her face every time she enters what’s now her bedroom, is “yeah, Tony; he’s cool, usually.”

“Oh, okay,” she says plainly—tries not to sound disappointed, is relieved she hasn’t had time yet to go buy flowers, because well, giving them to her somewhere outside of arrivals would just be lame.

“Let’s meet up later, yeah? Get drinks, the three of us?” Effy says and it’s almost a casual invitation.

“Sure,” she says, and then clears her throat because it came out a little too flattered—the tone of her voice has made Katie look away, and it’s probably for the best that Effy just hangs up without saying anything else at that point.

“She not coming?” Katie asks, and Emily rotates her wrist and slides it out of the turkey before stepping away and washing her hands.

“She is, yeah,” she says, rinsing off the soap and then finally looking at Katie with a pensive look. “Kay—“

“Yeah, what, come on, Real Housewives is on in like two minutes.”

“What do you know about Tony Stonem?” Emily asks, drying off her hands; she goes for casual, but doesn’t quite make it there.

Katie actually gasps—gasps—and then goes, “She’s introducing you to Tony? Fucking hell.”

“Shut up, it’s not a big deal,” Emily says, not really sure who she’s trying to convince.

“Yeah, well,” Katie says, gets a faraway look on her face for a few seconds and then smiles flirtatiously and leans into the counter. “If he’s as fit as people say, yeah—do you think he’d fancy a bit of a romp with me?”

Emily sighs and tosses the towel back onto the counter. “Real helpful, Katie. Thanks.”

----

Katie comes up to their room a bit later and apologizes by straightening Emily’s hair for her; helping her pick out an outfit for dinner, and then telling her some more things about Tony, like how he was in a coma for a while, and how Effy apparently disappeared from the public eye the entire time, and how they are close, “very close”, which is equal parts useless and overly informative; all it does is make Emily more nervous.

“Is it weird that I—I didn’t feel this way about meeting her mum,” Emily says as Katie paints her fingernails, blows on them gently before looking up pensively.

“Not really; you were just shagging her occasionally when you met her mum, weren’t you,” Katie says, and Emily sighs.

“Yeah, but I don't know how—"  she trails off and watches as Katie blows on her nails for the last time.  "How do you know that it's—well, more?”

They switch hands, and Katie gets out the file, picks painfully hard at a cuticle before rounding off Emily’s nails. “Surely you’ve talked about this by now.”

Emily laughs, even though it’s not really funny. “I don’t know who you think I’m—well, whatever. It’s Effy, Katie. What’s the longest conversation you’ve ever had with her?”

Katie snorts. “Yeah, okay.”

They’re quiet for a bit, the only sound in the room the scrape of the file against Emily’s fingers and Katie’s occasional blowing, clearing the view.

“Can't we just see how things go?  Do we need to talk about it?” Emily finally asks, and Katie doesn’t look up from what she’s doing, looks down a little bit more, in fact, before taking a deep breath.

“No,” she says sharply, after a few seconds, and then gets up abruptly, glares at Emily out of nowhere. “You could just say nothing some more and fuck it all up like you did last time; is that what you want?”

“Katie…” Emily starts saying, though it stops at her name, because she’s not even really sure what she owes Katie an apology for, here.

Katie tosses the nail varnish at her and actually looks pained, says, “You broke her fucking heart, you stupid cow—don’t you know that?” before leaving the room, slamming the door behind her.

Emily falls back on the bed and stares at the ceiling. She’s never really noticed how white it is, before.

----

Christmas dinner is a stilted affair, too forced by everyone except James, who wouldn’t know how to have a tactfully polite meal if someone paid him, and the highlight is quite obviously the turkey, which her dad compliments her on profusely and even Katie grudgingly calls “all right”.

They play Monopoly when dinner’s done, Katie and James playing as one team because the game plays through quicker when he doesn’t have to do all the maths himself, and her mum wins easily; but it’s probably just because Emily isn’t paying attention, can’t focus on much of anything when she’s just waiting for the doorbell to ring.

When it finally does, James is out of his chair before she can even react and he shoots off to the hallway in front of her. She yells at him; realizes she’s also running and then stops abruptly once she reaches the hallway, takes a deep breath and watches as James pulls the door open.

“Woah, you’re wearing trousers,” is the first thing he says, and Effy leans down, kisses him on the cheek, and while it’s nothing but cute, Emily can’t help but think that she just gave him wank fodder to last an entire month.

“James. All right?” she says to James, who goes “yeah, all right” in an attempt to sound laid back; it’s so comical that Emily has to work very, very hard to not smile.

Effy finally looks up past him and spots her, more or less hiding by the stairs, and then ruffles James’ hair. “Fucking cold, yeah? Let’s go in.”

James’ face is 100% hilarious when he walks by Emily—all she kissed me on the cheek, and then she said fucking—and she kisses Effy hello briefly, looks at her with a smile before rolling her eyes. “You are the coolest; he’ll never get over you now.”

Effy just shrugs and looks at Emily’s clothes—lingers on her cleavage with a slight smile, before looking back at her face. “What d’you say I make nice with your parents, say hi to Katie, and then we get the fuck out of here?”

“Please,” Emily almost sighs, and then rests her forehead on Effy’s shoulder, just for a few seconds, before stepping away. How do you make everything better, she almost asks before they go back into the living room—but Effy isn’t looking at her, has already slipped inside and is offering a solemn “Happy Christmas, Mr. Fitch” to her dad.

Emily watches her schmooze—with as little words as possible—from the doorway, and realizes that maybe, some things are better kept a mystery.

----

Effy drove and so within 10 minutes they’re back at Effy’s house. “They’re watching a movie,” she says without further explanation, and then unclasps her seatbelt, leans over the gear shift to properly kiss Emily, who twists until she can wrap a hand around Effy’s neck, just to hold her in place in whatever little way she can.

“I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever,” she says when they pull apart, and it might’ve been the red wine with dinner, or maybe just the fact that Katie’s words haven’t stopped twisting in her gut all day, like some infinite chorus of her own failures, but she doesn't even really care that she's said it out loud.  Yeah, saying things like this to Effy, who doesn’t say them back—it makes her feel incredibly exposed, but sometimes, they just need to come out. “I know it’s only been two weeks, but—“

Effy leans forward and kisses her again, softer this time, and reaches down for one of her hands before squeezing it. Emily sighs into the kiss, rests her forehead against Effy’s when it ends.

“I’m sorry, I’m being—“ she starts saying, because Effy’s done nothing to make her feel this way; nothing at all.

“Just because I don’t say things doesn’t mean you can’t,” Effy tells her, incredibly gently, and Emily is so pathetic tonight—just so not herself, that she can’t help but ask for affirmation.

“Yeah?” she says, hesitantly, and Effy rolls her eyes so dramatically slowly that Emily forgets all the things that are rummaging around in her gut; just leans in with a laugh and kisses her again, because maybe she doesn’t really need to say things after all.

----

Tony is tall, composed and talkative. Emily wasn’t quite sure what she was expecting, but not the incredibly polite and huge stranger standing in front of her, only barely reminiscent of Effy when he’s introducing himself. Then, he spots Effy and his somewhat smarmy smile turns devious—and Emily finds herself reacting to it almost instinctively, recognizing that exact look, having seen it in a wide variety of uncouth situations that she really shouldn’t be thinking about right now.

“You somehow failed to mention she was pretty,” Tony tells Effy over Emily’s head and Emily doesn’t have to turn around to know she’s flipping him off; knows it from watching him laugh in response. It’s so surprisingly familial, the way they interact with each other, that Emily almost misses what he said—and then blushes belatedly.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Tony says and steps back, opens the living room door for them and waves them in. “Surely I’m not the first person you’ve ever met with eyes.”

“Don’t be a cock,” Effy says warmly from behind her, and then places one hand in the small of Emily’s back as they step forward; it’s barely enough to make Emily not feel like she’s horribly intruding.

Anthea is curled upon the couch in what may be a dress, may also be a fluffy bathrobe, holding a tissue to her nose and watching what looks like A Christmas Carol, and it’s ridiculously unexpected—Effy’s home being a home, even if it's just for the holidays, just this once.

“Hi, Mrs. Stonem,” she says, not really wanting to interrupt but knowing she'd feel incredibly rude if she didn't say hello.  "Happy Christmas."

Anthea sniffles one last time and then blinks at Emily. “Emily!  What a surprise—and what a bloody shame, if I’d known you and Effy were back together I would’ve made you cook our Christmas dinner. Christ.”

“We had Chinese, as per usual,” Tony supplies, but then slings an arm around his mother and it takes the sting out of the words, for the most part.

“We’ll leave soon,” Effy whispers in Emily’s ear before pushing her towards the couch, to the space next to Tony, which is about the last place Emily wants to be sitting, but she doesn’t know how to do anything about that without offending Effy and so she sits down—stares the telly, doesn’t know where else to look.

“So. You’re a bit more intelligent-looking than Effy’s usual fare,” Tony comments mildly from her right, and she can feel him examining her a little bit—and Christ, it’s the kind of thing that she thought parents did, the way her dad used to examine Danny when he first started coming around, and she must’ve just been lucky until now because Anthea and Gina, well, really just not. But this is a test, she finally knows, and if Tony doesn’t approve somehow—

“Thanks,” she says, blandly, mostly because she can’t think of any real other way to respond, but Effy’s snort probably means that it was the right thing to say.

“Better endowed, too,” he continues, and Emily watches somewhat astounded as he mimics a breast on his own chest with a wink.

Effy snorts out laughter at the same time that Emily blushes, and it takes a weary “Tony” from Anthea to finally make them all laugh.

On their way out, Tony puts on a jacket and a scarf and then reconsiders; takes off his scarf and wraps it around Effy’s neck with a flourish, and Effy pushes him away while he smirks at her. This is what Effy’s home used to be like, Emily thinks, shrugging into her own coat, and it explains so much about Effy—the underlying sadness that just never goes away.

----

They go out for drinks at a local that Tony remembers as having been decent, once, and it’s the weirdest date she and Effy have ever been on, what with someone else filling all the silences for them. And yeah, maybe date just isn't the right word at all, Emily thinks as Tony covertly quizzes her on all sorts of things to such an extent that he might as well whip out a shotgun and ask her what her intentions are.

She learns things about him, too—how he spent the last summer in the United States at a singing camp, and only a bloke with Tony’s immense levels of self-confidence and natural charm could make that not sound gay.

"I've always wanted to go to America; it sounds like you had a great time," Emily says,thanking her mum for all those unintended lessons she got in polite small talk, because there's never been more of an occassion for it than this evening.

“Hmm, I did,” Tony says after a sip of lager, licks his lips and looks at Effy with a half-smile. “Not as much as I'll have this summer, though.  We’re going East—not the far, mind, but the cheap, which means—“

“Total anarchy,” Effy supplies, and they clink their glasses together with wild grins.

Emily doesn’t have to ask how long they’ve had this planned; doesn’t have to ask why Effy didn’t tell her, because it would have come up eventually, and they’ve only been together for two weeks and two days now, so there would’ve been plenty of time. There is, still, plenty of time for her to make her own plans and it shouldn’t—

She takes another sip of her cider and swallows hard; forces herself to snap out of her head, because they both look at her expectantly for a reaction, and she can’t come up with one like this. “Sounds great,” she finally says, and she knows it sounds flat—knows Effy probably caught it, but Tony glosses over it completely.

“Ef, get us another, will you?” he says, shoving a tenner across the table at her, and Emily unwillingly tenses—knows this is going to get to the heart of things now, and from everything that Katie’s told her, she is more than a little afraid.

Effy slides out of her chair without another word and Emily watches her walk away—the trousers thing, yeah, that’s not gotten old yet at all, and then she remembers she’s not alone and the look on her face is really not suitable for someone’s brother to be seeing.

Tony just laughs, though, and looks at Effy fondly as well. “You know,” he starts, and puts his empty glass back on the table for continuing. “The fact that she’s mentioned you at all is fairly huge.”

Emily just nods, doesn’t know how to disagree with him and just wants him to get the point already, because there obviously is one, somewhere.

“Yeah,” Tony says, and looks at Emily; no, stares, and she tries not to wriggle uncomfortably, but he’s not helping. “And she mentioned you for the first time about a year and a half ago.”

“Oh,” Emily says, and looks down at the table, because—well, she just didn’t know; but this is not then, and they're okay again—they're past all that.  Aren't they?

“Mmhmm,” Tony goes. “And then, she didn’t mention you at all for almost an entire year. In fact, she didn’t mention anyone.”

Emily swallows hard and stares at the table some more, can't look up at him or at Effy.

“I don’t think I need to go on, do I?” Tony says, and Emily mumbles “no” right as Effy shows back up with drinks, sits down next to Emily and covers her knee with a cold, wet hand.

It’s as big a shock as any that the last thing Tony says to her, as they get ready to leave—and he’s not coming back with them, says he’s got other plans, and Effy doesn’t ask, just smirks, so Emily never finds out what they are—is, “I like you.” The don’t fuck it up is implicit, but Emily won’t need the reminder—not ever again, not after today.

----

They’re silent on the walk back to Effy’s and it's probably because Emily is wound incredibly tight—doesn’t know how to let go of her discomfort even though she can’t even pin down exactly what’s caused it. It’s no real surprise that Effy picks up on it, though, and so they don't talk—just silently share the same space, but for once it’s not enough.

The real problem is that she can’t ask the question that’s lodged in her throat—how do you ask if you broke someone’s heart when you’re still with them? “Did I destroy you, the last time?” A real answer, from Effy—no, she doesn’t know how she would move forward from that, because the guilt is bad enough with her just finally being made to suspect that it happened.

She has no idea how she didn’t know; can’t help but admire the casual way in which Effy made sure to fool her, but apparently her alone.

“Talk,” Effy says, when they’re shrugging out of their coats in her bedroom—and it’s her bedroom, ludicrously colorful and childish and deliberately decorated for a girl that Effy never really has been.

Emily opens her mouth as if to say something, but can't think of any way to start; just stares at Effy hesitantly, who lies down on the bed and pats it for Emily, who sits down more gingerly.

“It went fine; so talk,” Effy repeats; shifts up on an elbow, just stares at Emily who deliberately doesn’t look back.

“I don’t know how,” she confesses, after a few more seconds of awkward silence.

“You’re not me,” Effy reminds her, again, but Emily bites her lip and shakes her head.

“I don’t know how to say what I need to say, and not say too much.”

Effy seems to think about that for a minute, and then shifts in closer, puts her head on Emily’s shoulder and wraps one arm around her waist. “Just start, anywhere.”

“Effy…” Emily sighs, and then closes her eyes, tries to relax enough to just voice even a single part of what she’s thinking, but her worries from yesterday and her fears of today aren’t even close to being the same thing.

Effy stays quiet, just brushes her fingers down Emily’s side, rests her hand on Emily’s stomach and breathes quietly, and Emily hates that she can’t enjoy it—this is her favorite Effy, the one that is miles beyond any bullshit and can just be with her, and now she can’t enjoy it at all because of something she fucked up ages ago.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” she finally asks, and it’s exactly what she didn’t want to start with—God, this was supposed to be a relatively brief conversation about just agreeing how this will work in the future, and it’s not going to be—it can’t.

“Tell you what,” Effy responds, still stroking Emily’s stomach, but it’s not helping like it normally does—isn’t making her any less agitated.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me just how much I hurt you by not choosing you?” she blurts out, in a rush, because if she thinks too much she won’t ever ask, and this will hang between them forever; the not knowing, and the not trusting.

Effy stiffens, and then pulls away. “What did Tony—“

“No, Ef,” Emily interjects, and bites her lip. “He didn’t say anything. Though Katie did, earlier today, but that’s not the p—“

“Would it have made a difference?” Effy asks, not quite angrily, but as close to angry as she’s ever heard Effy.

“I don’t know,” Emily says emphatically, because that’s the entire point—it’s not fair that she didn’t know, that she thought it was okay.

“Yes you do,” Effy says, and then sighs. “It would’ve just made you feel guilty, but you would’ve made the same choice.”

Emily can’t deny it, doesn’t, because that part—it hurts, to have her selfishness thrown back at her, but it’s done. It has to be done. “And what about now?”

Effy doesn’t say anything, and when Emily turns to look at her face she's got her eyes closed and is clenching her hands together almost painfully, knuckles turning white.  She looks wounded.

“Are you ever going to be able to believe that I chose you? That you’re not just—“

“What’s left?” Effy supplies flatly and Emily’s stomach sinks completely.

“Eff…” she says, and Effy takes a deep breath, twists her head and looks directly at Emily, with those gutting, honest eyes that Emily’s never been able to turn away from; especially not now, when they’re this easy to read.

“How much more power do you think you need, Emily?” Effy just asks, waits just one beat before rolling off the bed and rummaging through her purse for her cigarettes.

“Effy, babe—“ and the endearment slips out without her consent, but she doesn’t miss the hitch in Effy’s shoulders at it, and she clambers off the bed, pulls Effy into an awkward hug from behind.

“Just—“ Effy starts saying, with a shudder, but they've reached one of those times when the words don’t want to come—Emily can tell, can sense Effy’s frustration, and knows it's now completely up to her to fix this.

“I’m sorry,” she finally says, and kisses Effy’s shoulder, closes her eyes, prays she can get it right. “I’m sorry that I didn’t want to know, that it made it easier not to know, okay? Thinking that you didn’t—it was the only way I could believe that I made the right choice, but I didn’t. I know I didn’t. You made me so fucking happy and I didn’t even know it until you left.”

“Okay,” Effy says, and exhales slowly, slumps into Emily’s arms a little bit, and Emily has never felt like a bigger cunt.

“I thought you knew. You’ve always known everything, long before I ever did,” she says, rests her head on Effy’s shoulder, squeezes her tight.

“But it doesn’t mean that I don’t need to hear it from you,” Effy says, and then turns around, looking so incredibly sad and relieved all at once that Emily’s breath catches. “It doesn’t matter what I know if you don’t know it, too.”

“I made the wrong choice, Ef,” she says, deliberately, and watches as Effy’s eyes grow shiny, feels a lump build in her own throat. “And I’m so sorry that I had to make it.”

“And now?” Effy says a few seconds later, voice catching on the last word.

“I can’t believe you have to ask,” Emily says, not sure when she, too, started crying, but it doesn’t fucking matter. “The only reason we’re having this conversation is because I’m so fucking worried that you’re just that good at giving up, and because I’m not sure that things will ever be easy—not with you in Glasgow, and me somewhere else.”

“You didn’t want me to fight for you,” Effy says, blinking rapidly and Emily sniffs, rubs at her eyes before sitting back down on the bed.

“No, maybe I didn’t—but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t need you to.”

----

It’s the second time they’ve slept in the same bed without fucking, but when Emily wakes up in the morning, her arm is flung across Effy’s waist, and their faces are so close together that she can feel Effy exhale on her cheek with every slow, sleeping breath that she takes.

She sighs and Effy’s eyes blink open slowly.

“Are we okay?” Emily asks, and it pains her to realize that the question isn't just a formality.

Effy just shrugs and then rubs at her face. “Can we just—there was far too much talking last night, and I—“

“Yeah, babe,” she says, and it comes out easily this time—like it’s meant to, and the corners of Effy’s mouth lift just a little bit, which means it will be okay, eventually. “We have time.”

Effy shifts in closer for a hug, and Emily slides her arm around Effy’s back, tangles it in her hair and closes her eyes again.

“I like your brother,” she says, and feels Effy curl into her just a little bit more.

“Good,” is all she says, but it’s enough for now.

----

Tony, as it turns out, is a fucking legend; tells Anthea with a completely straight face that Emily’s family is going to church and it is important that Effy goes with them, so surely they can be excused, and Anthea eats it all up, goes so far as to offer to braid Effy’s hair for her so that she looks “presentable to Christ, and all that”, and suddenly Effy’s rampant, ridiculous past makes a lot more sense to Emily.

He doesn’t stop there, though; they sit on Effy’s bed together and watch Tony pace in front of them as he calls Emily’s mum, charms the pants off her with just a few choice phrases on her lovely daughter—and Emily rolls her eyes at his bullshit, ignores that she's kind of flattered—before informing her that sadly, he made a dessert that didn’t pan out so well and everyone’s got a mild case of food poisoning, but Emily will be absolutely fine if she just gets some rest. It goes so swimmingly that somehow, her mum ends up thanking Tony—who supposedly poisoned her daughter, mind—for taking such good care of her, and just like that, they’re free.

He tosses Emily’s phone back at her and she catches it; tries to remember to close her mouth. “That was—“

“Ah, don’t worry about it; old habits, eh Ef?” Tony says with a small smile.

They leave the house with Effy dressed up in the few things in her wardrobe that could be considered church-appropriate, and funnily enough, a large part of the outfit is bits and pieces of her old school uniform. Effy changes the minute they’re out the door; dumps most of what she's wearing in a bin bag she produces out of nowhere; the clothing bag goes in the bin, and then she shivers—because all that she’s left in is her coat, skirt and a t-shirt, and Bristol decided to bless them with a real Christmas for a change—it’s fucking freezing out.

It’s as good a time as any, Emily thinks, to hand over the present that’s not had her lying awake for at least three nights in the past week. Effy’s not the girl for conventional presents, but she knows she's gotten the balance of caring and making her laugh with this present; no, it’s the other gift that’s worrying, that may be too much.

“Here, wait,” she says and pulls a rectangular, wrapped package from her purse. “This’ll help.”

“Ah,” Effy says, and then scratches at her temple. “Mine are—“

“Later, don't worry about it,” Emily says, not needing to know anything more than that, because there’s a lot of relief in the fact that she wasn’t the only one who thought an occasion-based present would be appropriate, after all this time.

Effy carefully unwraps and then holds up a black knitted shirt-dress. Knitted—because apparently “short and sleeveless” doesn’t matter one bit; wool means suitable for winter. Emily had laughed almost embarrassingly loudly when she spotted it in H&M a few days before the journey home, but the complete impulse-buy had been worth it if the baffled look on Effy’s face is anything to go by.

“Hideous, and yet, fantastic,” she says, suppressing laughter before shrugging it over her head.

“Yeah, against all laws of God and man, right?” Emily agrees, and then tilts her head, watches it curve around Effy's figure in a way that—well. “So it’s fucking ridiculous really, that it looks good on you.”

Effy holds it away from her body, looks at it quizzically, but then finally just smiles. “Well.”

“There’s something else, too,” Emily assures her, and Effy rolls her eyes.

“Please. Like this isn’t exactly what I've always wanted.”

----

They catch a bus to town and aimlessly wander around for a bit, but most everything is closed, and all they find open—in desperate need of some warmth—is the ice-rink. They buy two winter Pimm’s in the bar and Effy presses her head against the window separating them fron the rink, looks at a group of young kids engage in skate-off after skate-off.

Emily blows on her drink and tries not to laugh at the way the shirt-dress only halfway covers Effy’s school skirt, resulting in an incredibly Bohemian and yet kind of appealing combination; both skirts are short, and she’s nothing if not aware of her own turn-ons: one short skirt is good, two is better.

Effy catches her staring and just winks, says, “Hold that thought” and they sit next to each other in silence, watch the remainder of the ice hockey practice, and it’s unintentionally funny—the way all the kids cluster together to chase after the puck as the coach desperately tries to remind them to stay in their positions.

“I used to figure skate, when I was about six,” Effy says after a bit, and Emily tries to picture it.

“I wouldn’t have thought,” she says, and Effy’s lips quirk lightly before she continues, “Not before last night, anyway; seeing you with your family.”

Effy’s face doesn't change, but the way her fingers whiten around the glass are telling. Emily takes the glass from her, puts it on the table, and holds Effy’s fingers in both of her hands until they stop being so cold.

“Tell me about your dad,” she finally says, because Effy’s given her permission—to talk, to ask, and if she’s told to fuck off she won’t be offended.

Effy purses her lips and then sighs. “He cheated on her for ages. I didn’t know, Tony told me years later. I hated her so much, for Steve, but as it turns out it wasn’t really her fault.”

It’s not what Emily meant to ask after, at all, but the fact that this is what comes out—not his job, or where he lives now, or what her favorite memory of her father is—

“They’re just people, Ef,” she says instead. “They’re not meant to be perfect.”

Effy nods vaguely and picks up her drink again; drinks it quickly, and Emily feels like a prick for ruining what had been a nice moment, for discouraging Effy from sharing.

“Do you ever worry—that you’re just like your parents?” Effy asks when they’re done with their drinks, eyes still thoughtfully watching the rink, where the young hockey players are piling off the ice towards their waiting parents.

“Not really. I sometimes wonder if I’m adopted, though,” Emily replies, deliberately lightly, and it’s enough—Effy laughs.

“Tricky, that, since Katie’s clearly related to your mum.”

“Yeah, I know,” Emily says somberly and Effy laughs again.

----

Tony texts in the early afternoon, lets them know that the house is clear because he’s gotten Anthea to go for a long, brisk walk with him "which will end in pub".  They catch a bus back and Effy tosses Emily her keys before dipping into the bin, pulling out the bag with her "church" clothing, and Emily involuntarily thinks about the skirt and everything else just a little too much while trying to find the right key.

“I’m fucking freezing,” Effy says when they’re inside and starts undressing on the stairs, litters items of clothing all the way to the shower. It takes a few minutes to heat up and Emily hugs her in the wait; then watches as Effy gets under the water with a huge, pleased sigh.

Later, when they’ve settled on Effy’s old bed, two mugs of tea on the nightstand, Emily looks at Effy's skirt—now draped over her dresser—again, and not quite covertly enough.

“You are such a boy,” Effy informs her, but starts stroking Emily's thigh in a way that's definitely not casual, not just affectionate. “Really?”

Emily swallows and sighs at herself. “Yeah, really.”

“Secondary must’ve been a challenge—Naomi’s really long legs in that incredibly short skirt,” Effy says, and Emily feels her chest lift at the easy teasing; Effy seems to have understood at least some of what she tried to do last night, the way she tried to put Naomi firmly in the past. “How’d you get through it without exploding?”

“I hate you,” Emily tells her and tries to scowl.

Effy smirks. “Do you? Really?”

“Completely.”

“Hmm,” Effy says, bites on her finger and then coyly looks over at the dresser. “What about if I put it on, would you still hate me then?”

Emily tries to stop the instant visual, but it’s hard—harder when Effy leans in and whispers, “It comes with a hat… and a tie.

“You’re awful,” Emily tells her, and Effy grins widely—but then slides off the bed and starts changing, just when Emily thinks that she is just trying to embarrass her, but that's Effy; she doesn't shy away from anything, really, least of all in bed.

As she watches Effy change, Emily thinks back to how she used to imagine kissing girls in those days—how it always involved tugging someone forward by a tie, and the thought is still shockingly potent five years later.

“No, wait, stay there,” she says when Effy—silly round hat perched precariously on her head—seductively crawls over until she’s almost on top of Emily again. She looks puzzled, but only for a second—exactly as long as it takes for Emily to reach for her tie and gently pull on it, just hard enough to bring Effy’s lips in range.

“Should I have put on knickers?” Effy asks, and Emily pushes the hat off her head, watches Effy’s long, thick hair tumble down her shoulders, feels as it brushes past both of their faces when she tugs on the tie again.

“God, no” is the last thing she says for a very long time, trapping all other possible words between their lips.

----

They exchange presents naked and in Emily’s mind, it’s got all the qualities of a good tradition in the making—the way Effy’s hair is mussed, or really, the way she just generally looks pleasantly just-got-fucked right before handing over a present of some kind. Really, once a year isn't enough—every day should be like this, and the knowledge that it can’t—

Not now she tells herself, even as she hands over her other present—the one that she still doesn’t know is right, but can't really not hand over without feeling like an idiot at this point.

Effy’s first present is just a cat card, and it’s naturally a cat with a Santa hat on, sitting in half-opened present box with a huge blue ribbon wrapped around it, and all Emily can say is, “Really—where do you find these?”

Effy just smiles mysteriously, turns it the card over in Emily’s hands, and Emily blushes even as she laughs at the Will you still like my box if I don’t wrap it for you? neatly printed on the back. “Classy,” she says, and Effy just grins, hands over the next present.

It turns out to be a soft, red scarf, and Emily fingers it for a few seconds before looking at Effy with a smile. “To go with my glasses?”

“University is making you so clever,” Effy says, cheeks vaguely pink, and she's so clearly a little embarrassed about handing over so pedestrian a gift that Emily has to squeeze the scarf tight to not hug the hell out of her just for being so adorable.

The last present is both hard and rectangular, so it can only be a book; the only book she’s gotten for Christmas, and it seems oddly appropriate, that the only person who truly understand what she loves in life manages to get it so right.

It’s not something she’ll ever find on a module reading list and that somehow makes it a real gift, not just a token present. “I laughed, a lot,” Effy says, even as Emily flips the book over and reads a description of Good Omens that is unlikely to be as funny as the book itself. “You’ll like it,” Effy assures her, and it’s said with such confidence that Emily stops thinking about her total lack of interest in fantasy as a genre—just believes, because it’s that kind of day.

“Open yours,” she says instead of thanks, and it’s good that she’s holding something solid, because her heart beats so hard that it's almost painful—can't shake the feeling that it's too much, or just not right.

Effy isn’t so careful, this time; tears through the packaging, and finally holds up the frame—shifts around until she’s facing away from the glare of daylight, and so she studies her present with her back turned to Emily, who can see her own naked body—so much larger now, as if the original picture wasn't cringey enough for her to look at—over Effy’s shoulder.

She doesn’t offer an explanation; it just seemed like a good idea for reasons she can't articulate, but Effy looks at the picture silently for a long time and it’s not helping, makes her want to say anything just to get a response, good or bad.

“I’m not sure where you can put it,” Emily finally says and Effy seems to finally remember she’s there—twists her neck and looks at Emily with an expression that is so intense that she fumbles the book she’s holding and swallows hard.

“The wall opposite my bed,” Effy tells her, and then looks at the picture again; says, “Obviously” in a tone of voice that is thick with promise, and Emily feels herself soak at what Effy doesn’t say, doesn’t have to say—the implication is enough.

She leans around Effy and takes the picture from her, gently puts it on the ground, before pulling Effy on top of her.  Effy doesn't need any encouragement—just reaches for Emily’s glasses, plucks them off and puts them on the nightstand without looking, already kissing Emily so hard that she feels like completely overwhelmed by the level of want that she’s being subjected to.

Effy’s mouth sucks on her neck, working down it at a rate that Emily can only barely keep up with, but something about Effy’s desperate focus—the way she only looks up once, and it’s with her lips slightly parted and an expression that says that she wants to say something but doesn’t know how—resonates somewhere within her.  It takes her to a place she’s visited frequently lately, usually when touching herself night after night in her empty bed in the halls, thinking about all the things they’ve already done and the things that she really wants them to do, and just like that, a feeling becomes a tangible idea—the best way she can think of to let Effy take her, the way Effy seems to need to.

“Ef,” she says, surprised at how hoarse her voice is, because they’ve only barely gotten started—but then she just got so wet just thinking about it that, yeah, maybe it’s not all that surprising. It takes a small tug on Effy’s hair to get her to look up again. “Is it—do you have it here?”

Effy looks slightly confused but when Emily blushes the question becomes clear without further words, and just like that Effy sits up much more alertly than Emily would’ve thought possible; perks up, almost, and the gnawing sense of anticipation in Emily's stomach blooms completely, makes her even wetter.

“Yeah, do you—“ Effy says and raises her eyebrows, knows how Emily gets when either of them say too much about this, respects it for a change as opposed to teasing her specifically by being rampantly explicit.

“No, not like that,” Emily says, because there’s only one way this has gone down in the past and Effy frowns at her in confusion, is going to make her say this out loud, and she can’t think of any better way to do it than by just saying “Do me" with as little blushing as possible.

Effy’s jaws clench, and Emily can see her swallow—and it’s just enough to make her say it again, because it's easier the second time. “I want you to fuck me.”

Effy’s off the bed so fast that it’s more like falling than anything else and runs naked to her own bedroom; she's back so fast that Emily barely has time to sit up against the headboard, and then laughs when Effy skids to a stop by the side of the bed.

"Shut up," Effy says, already fumbling with the harness, and Emily can't help but laugh a little more.

“Jesus,” she says, thickly, and Effy rolls her eyes.  It's ridiculous, really, how she manages to do something so inherently unsexy—fastening buckles, tightening straps—in a way that somehow manages to be completely fucking hot.

The thing itself—well, the less said, the better, because it’s never going to stop being funny, but Effy shoots her a warning look before scooting back onto the bed and it’s enough to for once not make Emily dissolve into giggles. She ignores it altogether; looks at Effy’s face instead, and watches as Effy reaches out gently, just brushes her thumb past Emily’s lips once, who kisses it.

“Sure?” is all she asks, and Emily says “yeah”, watches as Effy’s eyelids droop a little, just for a second.  Then, Effy pulls on her hips surprisingly hard, tugs her back down the bed, and then lies between her legs carefully, holds herself up on her elbows and just smiles at Emily.

“Interesting 24 hours, this,” she says before reaching for Emily’s arms and trapping her wrists both above her head with one hand; it makes Emily’s back arch involuntarily, and just like that there’s contact between them—and it surprises her that she thinks of it as between them, not just her and it, but somehow Effy’s total confidence makes this completely—

“You’ve not done this before, have you?” she asks suddenly, because Effy’s just so relaxed about it all, has worked her other hand between Emily’s legs and is just gently stroking her clit, dipping inside of her occasionally while pressing long, slow kisses to Emily’s neck.

She feels Effy shake her head and then feels her hand tremble—and it's clear, then, that Effy's confidence comes mostly from a place of general experience, but they’re in this together; Emily doesn't think she's really done this before, because the only other time anything resembling cock was inside her was just—doesn't count, according to Effy, which means this, here, does.  Counts double, even, because it's not just happening to her; she's surprised to realize that she wants it, more than she's ever wanted it when just trying to fall asleep, touching herself while thinking about Effy's willingness to experiment.

Effy presses two fingers inside her, just curls them lightly while shifting down even further and lightly sucking on a nipple; she's so stretched out that Emily genuinely feels like there’s not a single place on her body that Effy isn’t somehow touching, and even as her hips start to press up against Effy's fingers, she can’t believe how intimate this is—how unlikely it is, that something that is so blatantly fucking can just be so much more, with the right—

Effy's third finger burns, but pleasantly so, and even though Emily winces as Effy gently works it inside, she can't help but bear down on it, to help her along, because it’s not enough; somehow it’s just all not enough.

“Ef,” she says, is all she can think of saying, and Effy shifts back up, finally lets go of Emily's wrists with only “stay put” as a warning. Emily nods and is kissed in reward, so slowly and lovingly that she almost doesn’t notice Effy shift her hips again, but the press forward is unmistakable and she tightens involuntarily.

Effy freezes instantly, pulls back to look at Emily’s face, but Emily shakes her head, tries to relax. “Just—slow.”

Effy nods and buries her face in Emily’s neck, and when Emily digs her heels into the mattress, just to change the angle a little, she can feel Effy's entire body tremble from holding still, and so she takes a deep breath; whispers, “go” so softly that she’s surprised Effy has even heard, but she can see Effy’s hips cant just a little bit more, and it’s just so—

“God,” she exhales, and Effy presses up onto her hands, studies her face so carefully for anything that may resemble no that Emily pushes her hips up almost involuntarily, just to get closer to her.

“Yeah,” Effy says, eyelids fluttering as she bites her lip, arms so tense that Emily can't help but reach down and stroke them, gently.

It doesn’t take long for her to get used to it, the extra pressure inside of her, and so after maybe twenty seconds, but more like a lifetime, she clears her throat and says, "I'm good."  Effy sighs in relief, pulls almost all the way out before slowly sliding back in, and Emily’s so fucking wet that she blushes involuntarily at how loud they are, together, but that too is just making this hotter, and God, her skin is on fire, every single part of it.

“Okay?” is all Effy asks, the second time she rocks her hips, shorter and a little harder this time, and Emily inhales shakily, says “yeah, but can you—“ and Effy wraps her arms around Emily’s shoulders without asking, presses their bodies together so that Emily can feel every second of Effy's movement even before she wraps her legs around her back; it’s like being loved all over, all at once, and while she’s always loved Effy’s fingers inside of her, this is so much more and she has no idea how her body is going to cope with it all.

Effy’s shoulders are still shaking, and it’s a familiar problem, this—wanting to do it so much (and Emily remembers her first time, how oddly entrancing it was to have something other than fingers to fuck with) but just not having the upper body strength for it, and so she kisses Effy’s cheek, the corner of her mouth, finally just says, “roll over, yeah?" and Effy bites back a moan that seems to come out of nowhere—but clearly, this isn't just good for her, and Emily worries for just a second that she’s going to climax before she even gets a chance to really enjoy it.

She doesn’t, though, and Effy slips out of her and rolls over with more grace than anyone should have with a fake, black cock jutting out from between their legs, but it’s Effy—Emily doesn’t even know why she’s surprised anymore, just climbs on top of her and shifts her hips until it’s brushing against her clit and she shivers.

Effy watches her intently, balls her hands into the sheets and Emily realizes that this is now up to her, that Effy can't really help all that much, and so with a deep breath she reaches down between them, shifts up just high enough to create the necessary angle, and then slides back down.  It's easier, this time, but it’s still surprisingly large, and so it takes her a few seconds to think yeah, okay and look down at Effy with a slight nod. Once she’s settled, Effy sits up and kisses her sternum, puts one hand between their bodies and places one finger next to Emily’s clit.

“Grab my shoulders,” she suggests quietly, voice incredibly rough but also just tender and most of all knowing, and Jesus, Emily doesn’t want to start thinking about how much Effy knows about getting off like this, even though it'll probably help to have someone talk her through it, because Effy’s finger feels so fucking good just brushing past her clit that she can’t really think about anything else she needs to be doing. “Just shift your hips,” is Effy’s second instruction, and then she kisses Emily’s shoulder, ducks her head to kiss her breast. “Your body will figure out the rest.”

She struggles with finding a rhythm at first, but once it happens it’s incredibly good—to the point where she chastises herself for having kept this at a mere thought, even though Effy offered a few times back when they used to fuck like rabbits over the summer, and she just—part of it was that she hadn't felt ready, in general, but there had also been a large part of her that just hadn’t want it to be with Effy then; had wanted to keep at least something for Naomi, should it ever come to that, and she closes her eyes with a wince even now, just remembering about how unfair things had been back then, how unequal she'd made them.

Effy’s lips continue moving over her chest, and it's only contributing to Emily's complete overload of sensations.  One of Effy's arms has been loosely wrapped around Emily’s waist the entire time, but it's her other finger that Emily's worried about, because she's getting closer every time it gently, rhythmically presses against her clit at the exact moment she sinks down—and it’s building fast, now that she’s figured out how to do this.  It's going to be fast and incredibly hard, she knows, helpless to stop her nails from digging into Effy’s shoulders, who just sighs when it starts to hurt and sucks on Emily’s nipple a bit harder.  It's only second later that she gently squeezes Emily's clit between two fingers, just for a moment, and Emily only just manages to warn her by inhaling sharply and saying, “Oh, fuck”.

Effy halts her fingers, just sits and holds Emily in place, and even without the added pressure on her clit, she's coming crazy hard; maybe it would be too much, maybe Effy just knows these things, or maybe Effy just knows her.  It's just so fucking—her entire body jerks so hard with every contraction that she doesn't get a chance to catch her breath at all until it's over, and she finally slumps forward and rests her cheek against Effy’s hair.

“Sit up,” Effy whispers after a few beats, gently strokes Emily’s hips. “I've got to—“ and it’s enough, Emily uses her last bit of leg muscle to create just enough space for Effy to pull away; it takes Effy just seconds to wriggle out of the harness and kick it off the bed, even with Emily more or less crushing her in place, and when it's done they fall back to the bed together.

“God,” Emily says a second time, and then laughs tiredly. “You could’ve told me it was this good.”

“It usually isn’t,” is the last thing Emily hears before falling asleep.

----

When she finally gets home, red scarf wrapped around her neck, her parents have already gone to bed and Katie greets her with a snort. “Food poisoning, my arse.”

Emily just shrugs with a smile and then ambles over to the bed—tries not to walk too funny, but Katie huffs anyway. “Christ.  Try to remember that some of us aren't getting any, Captain Obvious.”

“Sorry,” Emily says, not meaning it in the slightest, and changes into a pair of sweatpants and a vest before digging around her purse for her new book. She opens it, but then reconsiders; keeps it for later, when she can use a tangible reminder of Effy.

She slips off her glasses and turns off the light on her side of the room, but Katie’s watching something on her laptop—probably one of the past seasons of Project Runaway that Emily ordered for her—and it’s too bright, even with her eyes closed.

“Katie,” she finally says, when it’s clear that she’s not going to fall asleep anyway.

“Yeah?” Katie says, absently, before going, “That is fucking disgusting, God, I could sew something less ugly in my fucking sleep” at her laptop.

Emily smiles and stretches, winces at how many muscles are hurting but the minute she relaxes it’s just a pleasant ache again.

“What, Em?” Katie asks, hitting the spacebar and looking over somewhat crankily.

Emily takes a deep breath, and then can’t help but look down with a smile. “I love her, you know.”

Katie scoffs, “Yeah, well, duh” before going back to her show, but Emily can see a small, pleased smile that Katie tries and fails to hide, and rolls over feeling like a world of damage has been undone in just one single day, just because for once she managed to not make a mess of things.

It was just a practice run, just a chance for her to actually say the words, but on the good days, she’s beginning to feel like the real thing will be just as easy.

Chapter Text

In the week leading up to New Year’s Eve, Katie determines the social calendar—seems convinced that since Emily had Christmas, Effy is fair game for the rest of the week, and given how exhausted Effy had been after their—well, their first ever fight, maybe—it only seems right to take a little bit of space.

On Thursday, Katie announces that she and Effy are going shopping, and Emily isn’t invited, in that same snotty voice that she used to adopt right before stealing one of Emily’s dolls or going out rollerblading with her friends when they were still in primary school.  Emily just rolls her eyes, bakes some cookies, and takes them over to Naomi’s house because even with everything that’s happened, Gina’s always been completely cool to her and Emily can’t stop thinking that it must be incredibly lonely, Christmas without family.

Gina’s sat in the kitchen when she cycles up, and looks up almost hopefully when she hears the clang of a bicycle against the porch.

“Sorry,” Emily says, after Gina’s opened the door with a slightly sad smile.  “I just—well, I don’t know.  I made cookies.”

“Come on in, sweetheart,” Gina says and opens the door a little further.  “You’ve picked a good day; Naomi’s sent over a shitload of pictures, and I obviously don’t have anyone else to look at them with.”

Emily sighs in relief, not having known that she was a little worried about—well, things being different now that Naomi’s in Africa, or now that they’re not together anymore, but as it turns out it was unnecessary, and her instincts had been right.

“Tea?” Gina asks and pulls out a mug before Emily even says “yes, please” and it’s odd, how Naomi’s home is almost as familiar to her as her own, how she’s had breakfast with Gina more often than with her own mother, who’s always already halfway out the door by the time Emily’s even taken a shower.

She’s missed it, she realizes suddenly, and has to take a deep breath to not get ridiculously, randomly emotional.

Gina sets down a mug in front of her and then opens the tin, takes out a cookie and takes a hearty bite.  “Delicious—Christ, it must be nice to have a daughter that’s actually adept in a kitchen.”

Emily laughs.  “It must be nice to have a mum who isn’t constantly dieting, too.”

Gina finishes the cookie with a smile and then looks at Emily, head slightly tilted.  “How are things, then?  I’ll get the pictures in a minute, don’t worry—but Naomi is the worst bloody correspondent in the world, and I haven’t seen you since, well.”  She raises her eyebrows lightly.  “Since you set her free?”

Emily looks down at the mug and shifts, before sighing.  “That’s making it sound a lot better than it was, to be honest.”

Gina just chuckles and finishes her own tea, putting the mug back down with a smile.  “Ah, Naomi can take it—and since she’s not here, I might as well add that  I admire you for putting up with all of her nonsense as long as you did.”

“She’s a great person,” Emily says.  “I mean, look at her.  She’s like, off saving the world and I’m reading Yeats, like that’s going to help anyone.”

Gina gets up and walks out of the room, but not before saying, “You’re very kind, Emily, but great person doesn’t mean great girlfriend, and I think we both know my daughter is a bit of a selfish shit at the end of the day.”

Emily laughs.  “As long as we can agree those were your words, not mine.”

“But you’re happy, then?” Gina asks, sitting back down and motioning for a refill, but Emily shakes her head, just takes one of her own cookies instead.

“Yeah,” she says, not quite sure how to bring up the reasons—or how to even summarize them, because a lot of it is being away from Bristol in general, but then so much more of it is—and Gina is completely awesome, but also Naomi’s mother.

Gina just looks at her for a few seconds, fond smile on her face, and finally pulls her chair around to Emily’s side of the table, says, “Now, you’ll appreciate this—she looks like a bloody lobster in the first half of these, until it all finally turned into a tan.”

----

Naomi looks radiant, doing something she loves, and Emily can’t help but be a little bit sad that she never looked quite this alive with her—maybe that first time they made love, but ever since then, the same spark hadn’t quite been there, for either of them.

She can’t help but feel something, though, seeing Naomi lift up a baby with a grin or holding up some unidentifiable item of food with a tortured look on her face—the back saying can’t believe I’m saying this but would kill for Spotted Dick right now!

“She looks incredibly happy,” is what she finally says to Gina, who just sits next to her silently as she goes through all the pictures.

“Mmm,” Gina agrees, and brushes her finger past Naomi’s face with a smile.  “I remember being her age; God, I could not wait to get out of Britain, see something real for a change, experience some bloody magic.”

“With Naomi’s dad,” Emily says, because Naomi’s told her a few things here or there, about her dad being a bit of an absentee tosser and her mum’s pregnancy not being even a little bit planned.

“Oh, don’t mention that bastard,” Gina says with a sigh.  “She’s lucky, really, doing this on her own—means it’s unlikely she’ll be made to stop it before she’s seen enough.”

The idea of Naomi being ready to settle down someday stings surprisingly much, and some part of Emily can’t help but feel like she’s a horrible person for not waiting for Naomi’s restlessness to wane, because at some point, she’s going to make someone incredibly bloody happy.

Her face must be showing some of what she’s thinking, because Gina looks at her curiously before smiling wryly.  “Sorry—I didn’t mean to—”

“No, it’s fine,” Emily says, clears her throat and shoves everything aside before stacking the pictures back together.  “I—I was the one who said this wasn’t the right time.  It wasn’t her.”

“And you’ve moved on,” Gina notes, so casually that it takes Emily a second to react, but she does—feels herself stiffen on the chair, like she’s done something she shouldn’t have and has gotten caught.  Gina just laughs.  “Sweetheart, I know it might not feel that way now, but you were just kids.  Those things rarely last.”

It sounds so factual, almost like they never really had a chance to begin with, but that’s not true; if it is, then it means she and Effy, who have been doing something, at least, for just as long, also don’t stand a chance.

“I’ve—” and Emily can’t help but laugh, at herself more than anything.  “It’s not really moving on, actually.  More like moving back.”

Gina raises her eyebrows.  “The infamous Effy, then?”

Emily just blinks, not knowing how to deal with the fact that Naomi apparently had cared that much, at some point—enough to mention Effy, in some context.  Enough to want to compete.

 “I never—it wasn’t like that.  When I was with Naomi, I was with her—just her,” Emily tries to explain, and Gina leans in and kisses her on the cheek.

“I’d like to meet her someday,” she says, before getting up and putting the chair back on the other side of the table.  “She’s got to be something, if she’s managed to deserve you.”

Gina’s already left the room when Emily agrees, but returns in time to see the faint smile on her face.

----

Effy and Katie are back by the time Emily returns home, and she ignores Katie completely—just lifts one knee onto the chair Effy’s sitting on and kisses her, hard and deep.

Fucking hell,” Katie says, kicks at Emily’s ass but she ignores it completely and feels her airways ease when Effy, muffled laughter escaping into her mouth, just kisses back and doesn’t seem to give a fuck either.  “Get a fucking—oh, fuck both of you,” Katie sighs, incredibly exasperated, before just getting up and leaving the room with one final kick at Emily’s shin.

“Hi,” she says, after shifting more fully onto Effy’s lap, who just holds her by the waist and looks at her curiously.

“Everything ok?” Effy asks, and Emily nods.

“Sometimes—” she starts, and then shrugs a little helplessly.  “Dunno, really.”

Effy seems to be okay with that, as a response and squeezes Emily’s hips, looks up at her with a smile.  “I made Katie buy a knitted shirt-dress.”

Emily starts laughing even though she’s fairly sure Effy’s not serious, and then leans in and kisses her again.

“Let’s get a bottle of wine and go lie in the garden together, like old times,” she suggests, already kissing over to Effy’s ear, who just tilts her head and looks up at the ceiling, contemplates the offer.

“What are you going to do to me there that’s going to make the subsequent bladder infection worthwhile?” she finally asks, and Emily laughs again.

“You’re in a funny mood; how was shopping?”

Effy rolls her eyes and makes a slit-my-throat motion, and Emily chuckles.  “Fuck off, you loved it.”

“She’s got good taste,” Effy says, looks down at Emily’s top—a tight, white short-sleeved blouse that does wonders for her tits, courtesy of Katie this Christmas—and raises her eyebrows.

“You know, she’s always been in your camp,” Emily tells her, for no real reason, other than that Katie’s been a better sister in the past year than in the eighteen preceding it, and maybe Effy should know, too, that she’s a real friend.  Not just an annoying twat that they both like to annoy.

“Like I said—good taste,” Effy says, but it’s with a soft smile that Emily can’t help but kiss.

“Fuck the wine—want to get incredibly stoned and fuck in slow motion?” Emily suggests, and Effy just laughs.

“Does that mean you’re planning on lasting for more than five minutes, for once?”

Emily shrugs before slipping off Effy’s lap with a smile.  “Maybe you should try tying me up, see if that makes a difference.”

Effy’s eyes narrow unexpectedly and a little bit of air hisses out between her teeth.  “Let me call Tony; something tells me you’re going to be incredibly loud, so we should probably get my mum out of the house.”

“Promises, promis—” Emily manages to get out with a laugh, before Effy pulls her in close and kisses her again.

----

They’re both incredibly baked, and it’s why Emily at first can’t place the sounds—too focused on running her fingers up and down Effy’s arm, feeling the small hairs respond almost individually, and she’s so incredibly content that the loud yelling—the slamming of a door, it just doesn’t make sense.

The yelling finally becomes recognizable as “Anthea” and Effy sits up, blinking rapidly as if trying to snap out of the stupor, leans over quickly and hands Emily her blouse back before slipping into her own t-shirt again as well.

“Ef, what—” Emily starts saying, annoyed with how slow her mind is catching up with what’s happening, but Effy just shakes her head.

“My dad,” is all she says, and then slips out of bed, pulls on a pair of gym shorts that probably belong to Tony, and just looks back at Emily once, with wide, scared eyes.  “He’s not—nevermind.  Just stay here, okay?”

She leaves the bedroom and Emily looks for her skirt, puts it back on before rummaging through Effy’s underwear drawer for a pair of knickers to borrow, since Effy had fingered her through her own—like horny teenagers, it’s how they fuck when they’re high, just petting and touching as much as they can—and they’re in no state to be put back on.

“Dad,” she hears Effy say, loudly, and it’s followed by a “Effy—where the fuck is your fucking mother?” that makes her incredibly uncomfortable, and she gets up, straightens out the covers just in case her dad decides to come look for Anthea in here, and it’s ridiculous—Anthea obviously knows they’re shagging, doesn’t seem to care much one way or another, so this shame is just—

She doesn’t know anything about Effy’s dad, other than just like Effy’s mum, he’s a cheat.  The shouting is not promising, though, and it’s—

She moves over to the window because it’s as far away as she can get from the yelling, and after a few minutes she sees a station wagon pulls up, which means they’re back.  Tony looks up at the window and waves, and Emily desperately shakes her head at him in warning, but he just looks confused and she doesn’t have his phone number—can’t send him a text.  By the time it occurs to her to just use Effy’s phone, they’ve already gone inside, and that’s when the yelling starts in earnest.

A large part of her is desperate to go downstairs, get Effy, and just get the fuck out of there—because this can’t be right, her own parents might be nutters but they love each other in the right way, don’t fight like this—but it’s not her place, she can’t interfere, and if she were in Effy’s shoes she’d just be mortified that someone else was hearing this.

It’s only about five minutes before the front door slams again and Effy’s dad leaves, but it feels like a lifetime.  The door to Effy’s bedroom opens quietly and Effy slips inside, eyes still painfully red but none of the earlier relaxed happiness left in them.

“You should go,” is all she says, and silently hands Emily her coat, before looking down at the ground.

“Ef, is—” Emily starts to ask, but Effy shakes her head.

“Later,” she adds, and Emily doesn’t know what else to do but nod and kiss her.

“I’m—well, if you need anything,” she adds awkwardly, and Effy closes her eyes, nods as well, before guiding Emily quickly down the stairs and out of the house.

----

Effy doesn’t call.  Emily isn’t very surprised, but can’t help but be worried anyway, and she wishes she had Tony’s phone number—who would probably appreciate her showing an interest, take it as a sign that she cares.

She doesn’t know how to show that she cares without interfering, though, and maybe the best thing to do is to wait for Effy to call her.  Katie seems to intuit that something is wrong, but Emily doesn’t even feel like she can explain what little she witnessed without somehow betraying Effy, who keeps her family so close to her chest that Emily sometimes forgets that they’re even there.

“Help me plan it, then,” Katie finally asks, tired of watching Emily nervously wring her hands together, stare at her phone like it’s going to explode.

“Plan what?”

“New Year’s, you knob,” Katie says and turns around her laptop with a scowl.  “I’ve been working on what we’re doing for a whole bloody week, you know.  You could at least pretend to give a fuck, it’s not like I don’t know you’d just as rather spend just it alone with Effy.”

Emily feels guilty, which is unsurprising because Katie excels at making her feel like a prick even when she’s not being one, but maybe the distraction will help a little.

“I am excited,” she says, not even completely lying because the list on Katie’s laptop involves something being described as an “underground foam rave” which, well, why the fuck not.  “I’m just—I’m being stupid, nevermind.”

“Glad we agree,” Katie says mildly, and then looks back at the laptop with a sigh.  “We need something between dinner and the male strippers.  Any thoughts?”

Emily takes a deep breath; pushes thoughts of Effy aside, because she said she was there for her and Effy would call, if she needed to.  “I’d suggest dessert, but it seems inappropriate,” she finally says and laughs when Katie elbows her.

----

The next day, Effy still hasn’t called; Emily lurches for her phone when it rings, instantly ready to be the best girlfriend ever (sort of), but it’s just Phoebe, who wishes Emily a belated happy Christmas, notes cheerfully that she and Lucy bought Liz a vibrator for it “because we’re all a little tired of her being a sexually frustrated cunt because of you, agreed?” and then says that she’s spending the New Year in Paris, with some friends of her father who may or may not be in the Russian mafia.

“You’re making absolutely all of this up,” Emily says, laughing anyway.  Phoebe pretends to be offended before hanging up, and it makes Emily feel just about relaxed enough—like she needed the reminder that other people aren’t having a rough time of it, that it’s just Effy—to head over to the Stonem’s.

The car is gone, which could mean any number of things, but what she doesn’t expect is to find Tony at home alone.

“Mum’s at—ah, shit, Emily, I really shouldn’t be the one telling you this,” Tony says, scratching at his hair kind of awkwardly, and this isn’t helping her feel better.  “Effy drove her, though; she’s not home.”

“Tony,” Emily says, pleadingly.  “I heard—whatever it was, I already heard the first bit of it, so please just tell me what’s going on.”

Tony sighs and lets her in, sits her down at the kitchen table before silently making some coffee and putting it in front of her.

“She’s not going to want to talk about it,” he says, and looks at Emily warningly.

“Talk about what?” Emily just repeats, and Tony stares down into his coffee a little too intently, so this isn’t just about Effy—and just like that, something inside of her lets go, lets her take a deep breath.

“Mum’s filed for divorce,” he finally just says, stirring the coffee for so long that there’s no point in it anymore, and then sits back in his chair.  “She—we hadn’t gotten around to telling Effy yet, but—”

Emily doesn’t know how to respond.  Effy’s parents have been separated for as long as she can remember, at least since halfway through the first year of college, but she thinks about her own parents giving up in such a final way and—

“Is she—will she be all right?” Emily finally asks, because if anyone knows it’s Tony.

He looks back at her and smiles, vaguely.  “You know, back when I was in a coma—and don’t pretend you haven’t heard, I’m sure there’s all sorts of bullshit flying around Roundview about what happened… anyway, when I was still in the hospital, Effy used to sit by my bed and read Greek tragedies every day until I woke up.”

It seems rude to ask what the fuck that has to do with anything, so Emily says nothing, and hopes that Tony has a point.

“Maybe she needs someone to do that for her, now,” Tony says, before getting up and starting on the dishes.  “Care to give me a hand with these?”

----

She waits up in Effy’s bedroom, who comes in without saying anything and then just lights a cigarette, leans back against the door smoking it.

“You’ve heard, then,” she finally says, after bending over and stubbing it out in the ashtray by her bed, and Emily’s heart constricts at the obvious amount of pain that Effy is trying to hide.

“I’m so—” she starts saying, but it’s patently the wrong thing to start out with and she stops herself.  “Tell me what you need, babe.  Just—tell me what I can do, right now.”

Effy moves over to the window and looks out onto the street, doesn’t say anything, and Emily feels without being told that this isn’t a time to touch her, to try to comfort her.

“I always thought—” Effy says, not looking Emily’s way, and then closes her eyes, takes a deep breath.

There’s so many things Emily wants to say, and a good two third of them are platitudes about how this doesn’t mean anyone loves Effy less; the other third are even more complicated, because they’re suggestions about how Effy should have seen this coming, and how at least she’s got her own life now, so it isn’t that bad.

The other thing she thinks and can’t say is, please don’t start believing that this is inevitable, because Effy’s hinted at it once before and it chills Emily’s heart, the feeling of fighting against a completely misplaced conviction.

“Want to get fucked up,” Effy asks, flatly, and Emily can’t think of anything else she wants to do less than that, but nods anyway.

They drink two bottles of wine, one of which is a fucking Pinot, out on the front steps of Effy’s house, sharing cigarettes and not talking.  By the end of the second bottle, Effy doesn’t flinch when Emily puts an arm around her; lets it happen.

----

“What’s wrong with her?” Katie asks, when they’re out shopping together for a New Year’s dress for Emily, who doesn’t really think she needs one now that Effy couldn’t be less interested in—well, anything, other than forgetting, but Katie isn’t to be deterred so quickly and so they’re out.

Black is Emily’s new color; she looks good in it constantly, to her own surprise, and it goes well with both her hair and her glasses (which not much does), and Katie doesn’t have any objections because her own dress is “full-on bangin’, like, if I don’t get fucked tomorrow I will voluntarily sit and watch you and Effy slobber all over each other for dogs, is all I’m saying” and she’s finally gotten over the need to be a package deal altogether.

It’s short; it’s tight; it’s completely wasted on this evening, which is going to be spent mostly making sure that Effy doesn’t overdose on anything—and she doesn’t even know how she knows that, other than that Tony actually bothered asking her to keep an eye out, and if Mr. “Total Anarchy in Romania” thinks there might be a problem—

“It’s not my place,” she tells her sister, who just looks annoyed at being kept out of the loop, like this is good gossip.  “She’ll eventually talk about it, I’m sure.”

“Will she?” Katie asks sarcastically, and Emily pinches her nose.

“Katie—please just don’t, okay?”

“You need shoes; I’m not going to be seen in public with you if you’re wearing bloody ballet flats,” Katie says after a beat, and Emily sighs in relief.

----

The male strippers are … interesting.  Emily finds herself sitting with Cook, Freddie and JJ, who are looking on with a bit of horror, until Cook finally just starts laughing loudly when one of them reveals to be wearing a cow-print thong.  At that point, they all lose it, and it doesn’t get any less funny when Katie whoops loudly and shoves a fiver down the side of it.

Effy’s not participating; just sits between JJ and Panda and, well, it’s not really nursing a drink if you’re downing it that quickly, but so far, it hasn’t been much different from Effy out during college, or Effy in the past week.

Her eyes have been a little bit dead, but Emily is convinced she’s the only one who’s noticed, and between Katie and Cook everyone seems convinced to just have a great fucking time, so she doesn’t want to draw attention to it—to how fragile Effy is, and how ugly it’s going to be when she breaks.

----

Effy holds up the baggie with a faint smile.  “For old time’s sake?” she says, nodding towards the bathroom, and even though it’s been a very long night already, not to mention a long week, Emily can’t help but flush—thinking back to that first time, her tongue tracing up Effy’s stomach, tingling with clusters of MDMA until she reached Effy’s mouth and passed them on.

“Let’s go,” she says, because she hasn’t—Effy hasn’t touched her, or shown much of an interest in doing so, in the past three days and it is making her more worried than anything.  Maybe this is a good sign, then—they’ll get real fucking high, hook up sloppily in public just like they used to, and when it’s all over, maybe Effy will finally let Emily hold her—maybe she’ll finally be real about what’s happening.

It seems to be going fine, too—they’re kissing, just pressed up against the stall door, Effy’s fingers working underneath Emily’s dress, and she’s hit by an overwhelming wave of affection, not just for Effy now, but for Effy all those years ago, who had taught her everything she knows about sex (even now) just by being willing to try things.

But then the baggie comes back, and Effy takes Emily’s palm, sprinkles a thick line of MDMA on it and snorts it up in one go.

“Fuck, Ef, are you—” Emily starts to say, because they’ve already had a fuckton to drink and on nights like that, well, Effy is usually more careful; sticks to just a fingernail, at best a fingertip.

“Go,” is all Effy says, in response, and offers out her own hand for Emily.

“I’m—no,” Emily says, dipping her finger into the baggie instead and licking at it instead.

Effy’s eyes grows cold.  “If you’re not going to play—”

“Effy, this isn’t playing,” Emily interjects, as quietly as she can while still being heard over the crowd, and she reaches out to brush a bit of foam out of Effy’s hair, but Effy swats her hand away.

“Don’t fucking mother me,” Effy says, and her voice almost chokes on the word.  “I’ve already got one of those, and I’m not interested.”

Emily doesn’t know what to say, just looks her straight in the eyes.  “Are you done?”

Effy stares back for a long beat before finally averting her eyes, and for a second Emily thinks she’s won, but she never wins; at best they both lose, and she’s reminded of it when Effy says, “Not even close” and unlocks the stall door, opens it just enough to slip out.

----

She’s keeping her promise to Tony, which is how she almost misses that at two minutes to midnight, Cook pulls Katie to him and kisses her deeply—appears to slip her a tablet of something, and Katie seems to sputter in protest before pulling away for a second.

Then dives back in.

It’s not the weirdest fucking thing that’s happened around them all evening.  Emily’s soaked through with foam, her hair’s a complete fucking disaster, and she’s in relatively good shape compared to everyone else there.

Especially compared to Effy, who hasn’t stopped drinking and hasn’t stopped dancing since leaving the bathroom, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s just dancing with Freddie and Thomas, Emily would’ve slapped her by now.

Freddie’s looked over at her apologetically more than once, but there’s no—she did this, really, by pushing Effy away at the wrong time, and she knows who she’s dating, deep down inside.  Knows that no matter how tame Effy may seem, this is always there, threatening to happen, and just this once, she’ll let her ride it out.

Freddie looks at her worriedly when one minute to midnight is being announced, and she rolls her eyes at him; steps into the space he’s created behind Effy, and wraps one arm loosely around Effy’s waist, who (and she notes it with some satisfaction) subconsciously leans back into her.

“I don’t give a fuck that you’re mad at me,” she says, pushing Effy’s hair aside with her nose.  “This is our first fucking New Year’s Eve, and you will kiss me when the clock strikes.”

Effy stiffens but then turns around, puts her own hands around Emily’s shoulders and smiles, a little meanly.  “Or what?  You’re going to try to have as little fun as possible some more?”

The countdown has started and Emily squeezes Effy’s sides tightly, stares her down.  “You have about five seconds to make this a good memory, as opposed to a rubbish one.”

Effy flinches—like something’s finally gotten through to her, and it’s the opening that Emily needs.  They’re already kissing by the time the countdown finishes and people around them start cheering—she can taste the rum on Effy’s tongue, her cigarettes, her gum, and Effy presses up to her so tightly, squeezes her so hard, that it’s like they’re just settling the rest of whatever this argument is with their bodies.  Effy’s hand is already palming her tit, and she doesn’t give a fuck—doesn’t care what their friends think, doesn’t care what anyone thinks, because this isn’t about other people.

This is about them, and Effy pulls away with a gasp, looks at Emily with clouded eyes that—even blunted with a haze of drugs and alcohol—can’t hide just how much she hurts.

“Please,” is all Effy says, and because this time, it’s right, Emily nods—takes her by the hand and pulls her outside.

----

She doesn’t know how to do this, how to be loving up against a wall when still mostly dressed, but she does the best she can; spends long minutes just kissing Effy, who just squeezes her eyes shut and knits her hands into Emily’s hair so tightly that it hurts, but it’s a reminder of how much Effy feels underneath the surface and she can’t dismiss it, can’t ask her to take it away.

Not tonight.

She covers Effy’s body with her own the best she can, hides them from anyone who might be watching, but at the end of the day this is a private moment anyway because only they know what it’s really about; and so Effy just sighs when Emily tugs her thong to the side, just shifts one leg over a little bit more until Emily can reach, and then finally bites down on her lip when Emily manages to get one finger inside her, just barely.

It’s isn’t the right time, but she’s done caring about that, done waiting for a magical moment when it will ‘feel right’ because every minute feels right, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy, to just press her cheek up against Effy’s and start saying it without any hesitation.

“I lo—”

 “Don’t,” Effy says, her voice breaking completely on just one word, and then her body starts to shake.  “Please don’t say it.”

She pulls her hand back, just squeezes Effy’s thigh with it instead and holds her as she cries.

----

It takes them twenty minutes to find a cab, and Effy hasn’t said a word since “don’t”, hasn’t given Emily any indication that it’s okay that she’s taking charge and making decisions for them.  They’re already on the porch by the time Effy gives an opinion on their destination.

“Won’t—your parents,” Effy says, before clearing her throat, and her voice is still so thick that Emily hurts just listening to her.

“I don’t give a fuck, Ef,” she tells her gently, and then slips off her shoes and leaves them outside, to make as little noise as possible.  “They’re—they are used to it, and you’re not going anywhere.”

Effy’s breath hitches at that simple statement of fact, and Emily ignores any guilt she feels over not spelling these things out before—because it’s not too late, to make her intentions clear, and to prove to Effy over and over again that she’s not just a choice, but the only choice.

In bed, she spoons Effy from behind, who takes at least half an hour to finally relax into the embrace, before getting up and padding to the bathroom.  Emily follows, just to make sure, and ends up holding her hair while she throws up—so quietly that Emily wonders how regular a thing this used to be, purging drugs and alcohol without anyone finding out.  She gets out a washcloth and wets it with cold water, holds it against Effy’s forehead while she sinks down onto the bathroom floor, and then finally hands her a spare toothbrush with some paste on it, watches silently as Effy pulls herself back together.

Finally, Effy just looks at her and her lips start to tremble again.

“You don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want, and I won’t tell you that it’s going to be okay because you already know that,” Emily tells her quietly, and reaches out to grasp her knee, just to touch her somewhere.  “But I need you to know that you’re not like them, okay?  You’re nothing like them.”

Effy squeezes her eyes shut, reaches for the hand on her knee and clasps it tightly and then just nods.

“We’re going to be okay,” Emily tells her—because for once, she doesn’t have to tell herself as much; actually just knows it, in her gut.  “We’re going to be fine, okay?  Even with the distance.”

“I’m not—” Effy starts to say, but her voice rasps and it ends in a cough.  Emily gets up to get her some water, which she drinks quickly before handing the glass back.  She finally just looks at Emily again, hesitates for a second before saying, “I don’t talk, and I don’t know how it’s going to be enough for you.”

“It has been, until now,” Emily says, shifting until they’re sitting next to each other, touching along their sides.  “What makes you think that—”

“Because you need more,” Effy says, and then sighs.  “Because I’m still here, and you’re already worried about how things are going to be, aren’t you.”

“I can’t help that I worry,” Emily says gently, before resting her head on Effy’s shoulder with a sigh of her own.  “But it doesn’t mean that I have any—that I ever really think that—”

“I’m sorry, that I stopped you,” Effy interjects, before exhaling shakily.  “It’s just hard enough, knowing we’re leaving again soon, and actually hearing you say that—” and as her voice catches, Emily’s heart swells completely at the world of meaning that Effy manages to inject into the absence of those three little words.

Effy clears her throat and Emily leans in—pulls her into an awkward hug, ends up lying halfway on her lap just to be close to her.

“I’ve been thinking about this,” Effy mumbles into her neck, and she pulls back just to look at her—watch what’s going on in Effy’s head, because she doesn’t normally get a chance to see it at work in this way.  “And, I don’t—you know I don’t do phone calls, but—”

“Ef, it’s honestly okay,” she tries to say, but Effy shakes her head.

“No—what I mean is, let’s e-mail each other.  One question a week.  Ask anything you want, and answer honestly.”

It’s a game on the surface, but behind it lies the biggest concession Effy has ever voluntarily made, and Emily doesn’t know how she’s not going to tell her, how she’s ever going to keep everything she feels inside herself, and some of what she’s thinking is clearly showing on her face right now, because Effy gazes back with so much affection that putting any of it into words would make them meaningless.

“Thanks,” Emily whispers after a while, and it’s not even close to what she means to say, but Effy just ducks her head and pulls her back into the hug. 

They fall asleep together on the bathroom floor.

----

At some point, Emily wakes up because of the crick in her neck, and gently rouses Effy, pulls her back into their bedroom. Katie isn’t back yet, and there’s an almost-joke about Katie meeting Jordan somewhere hovering somewhere at the back of her mind, but she can’t quite figure it out—doesn’t want to think about it, not with Effy shivering under the blankets and looking vaguely clammy, like all the throwing up did very little to expel what’s actually wrong.

She wakes up again hours later because Effy’s pushing up her t-shirt and kissing her stomach, other hand gently scratching at her inner thigh, and it feels like an apology that she doesn’t need.

“Ef,” she says, quietly, and watches as Effy looks up blearily, still obviously sick with something.  She reaches down and cup her cheek, smiles.  “Not here, okay?”

Effy nods and just rests her head on Emily’s stomach, exhales softly before falling asleep again.  Emily gets out Good Omens and reads the first chapter while stroking Effy’s head; it’s a moment she’ll hopefully be able to recall when reading the rest of it.

----

“Not a word,” Katie says when she finally comes home, and Effy’s curled up near the wall with Emily’s hand just lightly resting on her back.

“I wouldn’t dare, and I don’t want to know,” Emily responds quietly, nodding her head at Effy.

Katie frowns.  “Too much drink?”

“Too much everything,” Emily says with a sigh.  “It was —” and she stops herself, because Katie put a lot of effort into things.  “Intense, last night.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Katie says, and blatantly adjusts her knickers with a bit of a wince.

Emily just stares at her blandly, and Katie finally flops down on her bed with a sigh of her own.  “Whatever.  He’s fucking good at it, okay?”

It’s not the weirdest coupling to come out of her group of friends; some part of Emily will always think that that’s her and Effy, who had always been such a manwhore, and then just gave them up without a second thought.

“I’m not judging,” she assures Katie, who slips under the covers without undressing and just rolls over.  “I’m not in a position to judge.”

----

They spend the remainder of their week together at Effy’s, Emily on going home occasionally for dinner and specific family activities—board games, trips to the ice rink—that her mum assures her Effy is invited to, but Emily thinks it would hurt too much, to even be asked, and so she cycles from house to house, develops a terrible headcold because of it, and doesn’t give a fuck one way or the other because it’s worth it.

She’s taken maybe a too literal interpretation of Tony’s advice, because Effy isn’t in an actual coma, just kind of emotionally dead—but reading seems to help, and so she plows through everything that she’s still got at home, that hasn’t made it with her to Warwick, to try and find something that Effy likes.  Effy asks her to stop Dorian Gray after thirty pages, but lets her read the entirety of The Count of Monte Cristo, which she absorbs while lying flat on her back, smoking from time to time—Emily’s free hand tangled gently in her hair.  Sometimes they drink, sometimes they get high, but most of the time they just lie next to each other, barely touching, as Emily’s voice strains and Effy’s eyes close.

When Effy’s had enough, she rolls over and unsubtly starts taking Emily’s clothing off, and they fuck less than they make love these days.  There’s a lot of catharsis in it for Effy, and a lot of relief for her—eyes closed, fingering each other reactively, and when they climax (usually only seconds apart) it’s generally with a sigh that gets softer, more satisfied, every time.

After The Count, Emily considers Kafka—thinks Effy would normally like it, but isn’t sure this Effy would, not really.  She gets out The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay instead, which grows on her more every time she reads it, and Effy stops lying on her back—turns to look at her anxiously, hands her water fast when her voice dries out completely.

“I like this,” Effy tells her, when Emily rubs at her eyes under her glasses and puts the book down, just for a few minutes.

“Yeah?” Emily asks, and tries to stop herself from sighing in relief—it’s the first spontaneous thing that Effy has said in days, and maybe it’s a sign, that what she’s doing is working.

“It would make a good film,” Effy muses, and then almost smiles.  “Black and white, perhaps.”

Emily takes off her glasses and shifts down the bed until they’re side by side.  “Would you still watch it, even if it was black and white?”

“Yeah,” Effy says, and pulls Emily’s hips in close, looks at her with an inscrutable expression, before finally relaxing into a real smile.

----

They don’t say goodbye.  They kiss, and Effy cups her neck and squeezes it a little hard, but they don’t say goodbye—and Emily’s not following her to the airport, doesn’t want to be there to watch her leave.  There’s no point.

Effy pulls away from the kiss with a small sigh and then puts her hands into her pockets—jeans again, as if she can feel the cold up North coming before she’s even gone back there, and Emily looks her up and down, tries to memorize as much as she can, to fill in the spaces that they’ll not be able to fill with words.

“First question,” Effy says after a beat, and Emily blinks at her silently.  “What’s it really like, being Katie’s sister?”

Emily laughs, because it’s not at all what she suspected Effy would ask—thought it would be something either awkwardly asinine, or incredibly explicit.

“You’ll find out in the next week,” she says, proud of herself for keeping her voice from cracking.

Effy smiles and steps back after tugging on Emily’s red scarf one last time, and there’s really nothing else to say for either of them.  Emily gets back on her bicycle; pedals home so quickly that her lungs hurt, but all in all, it’s not so bad.

----

When she gets back to the halls, there’s an envelope sat up against her door.  It contains just one picture: Effy leaning against a lamppost, smoking while looking off in the distance somewhere.

She’s your fucking girlfriend—HOW DO YOU NOT HAVE ANY PICTURES OF HER!! Katie’s attached note reads, and Emily can’t help but laugh at how invested Katie is in this, in them, no matter how much she pretends that she thinks they’re gross together.  She’s filled with an overwhelming burst of love for her sister and it reminds her of Effy’s question from two days ago.

She puts the picture up on the side of her closet—opposite her bed—and then digs out her laptop while she still thinks she can satisfy Effy’s one condition about these e-mails they’re going to be exchanging.  Confessions about how much Katie has continually saved her hide spill out without warning and they’re followed by explanations for Katie’s shortcomings that, to her own surprise, she actually is starting to understand rather than just repeat.

When she’s done, she feels oddly relieved, and then realizes it’s her turn, to ask.  There’s so much that she wants to ask, so many things that Effy never talks about, that it takes her almost an hour to narrow it down to just one question: when was the last time you were really, truly afraid of something?

By the time she presses send, though, it doesn’t feel so much like she’s being punished unnecessarily anymore; and she can’t help but think that without the distance, she might not ever have been given a chance to truly get to know the person she’s madly in love with.

It’s a new year; it’s their new beginning.

Chapter Text

January, Week 3

Subject: Dream Vacation Destination

Haven’t really given this much thought, can’t remember last time I went on vacation outside of UK (Spain? Age 11?). No place too warm. Maybe somewhere with skiing, which I’ve not done, but it looks just dangerous enough to be fun. Climate-wise, Vancouver, but I don’t know what I’d do there.

Revised answer: any place where I can fuck you with the right amount (ie, occasional) of privacy and a wide variety of surfaces to stretch you out on. No beaches; sand up minge is overrated.

Final answer: a cabin in Alaska. Because.

——

Naomi sends a card, thanking Emily for the Christmas tree card and noting that trying to explain the idea of the tree itself (how it sustains itself, that it sheds) was almost half the fun. In the envelope there’s a picture of her with an 8 year old boy lying on a cot—Naomi with a book in hand, obviously reading to him—and the attached note reads, “There’s something really fucked up happening in a world where this kid is going to be dead within the next 3 months.”

Emily wonders how she ever doubted that Naomi cared.

——

Subject: Best Birthday Present

From my family, this is rather simple; it was the first time my parents realized that I needed a present for me, and not just whatever Katie also got, and you’ll be amused and horrified to know that it didn’t happen until I was 14. I’d always make a list for them of things that I wanted, but at the end of the day Mum and Katie would go out shopping a few days before our birthday and Katie would just point at something and two of it would be bought. I finally got sick of it when I was 14 and joined them, and told both of them that I had no interest in leopard-print tights or blouses or headbands, or more make-up (because between the two of us Katie and I could start a business to rival Mac, obviously), or ludicrous (straight) rom-coms on DVD (which has become funnier in retrospect).

Mum ended up buying me a W.H. Smith gift certificate and handed it over looking entirely displeased, but I think she realized she’d done the right thing when I spent an entire hour telling her what I’d spend it on and why.

——

“It looks good on you,” Phoebe tells her, walking out of the only lecture she shares with any of her friends, and it’s some mandatory rubbish class for everyone who’s an English major (even tangentially) that neither of them have ever spent even 3 minutes paying attention to.

“What, the scarf?” Emily asks and fingers it instinctively; she can’t help but smile every time she touches it.

Phoebe just looks at her for a few seconds and then says, “Yeah, the scarf.”

——

January, Week 4

Subject: Do you Ever Miss Sex with Men

Had to think on this for a bit because you’re coming at it from the wrong (incredibly gay) angle. You think of blokes as a category: people with cocks, who fuck in a certain way, and that entire category has been taken away so I must be missing something? I think of it as having traded one person (male) in for another person (female), which is a much smaller choice, obviously.

An alternative answer: unlike nearly everyone else, you’ve made sex not only good but also fun(ny); what’s to miss?

Final note: v. relieved that you are not opposed to silicone. (Appropriately demure enough for a non-pervy e-mail?)

——

“Do you think that February’s too early to go up to Glasgow?” Emily asks Lucy over lunch one day, when Phoebe and Liz (whose feelings she’s trying to spare, whenever possible) are still queuing with their trays.

Luce just looks at her with a frown. “Emily, pet. You’ve been nailing this bird for what, two years now—”

“God, really?” Emily says and blinks rapidly, thinks about the passage of time.

“—and you’ve met her family, she’s met yours, you’ve tried seeing other people and came back to her anyway, and you’re worried about moving too fast?”

Emily cringes. “Right, well, when you put it that way it sounds a little—”

“Ridiculous, yes,” Lucy agrees and takes a demonstratively huge bite out of her sandwich.

“So I should just do it,” Emily muses. “Surprise her.”

“We all like you better when you’re not sexually frustrated, and moreover, a little afraid to knock on your door when there’s about a seventy percent chance that you’re fapping to that picture on your wardrobe,” Lucy says, ending in a sly wink.

Emily flushes. “What—I don’t—oh, my God, I hate you,” she says, when Lucy starts laughing; tosses a chip in her direction and tries to stop blushing.

“What have you done now?” Liz asks, pulling up a seat and plunking her tray down on the table.

“Oh, nothing—Emily’s just been telling me about how she enjoys a bit of private time about four times a day what with her loverrrr being up in Scotland and all,” Lucy says, blandly, and Emily feels her jaw drop.

“Shit, she’s not alone,” Phoebe says from somewhere behind her, and then winks. “Sisters doing it for themselves, eh Em?”

Liz, cheeks vaguely pink to Emily’s horror, finally clears her throat and says, “Well. I’m surprised you can still walk.”

“Yeah, really, and you've have made it to all your lectures—bravo,” Phoebe agrees, and Emily purses her lips.

“At least my neighbors haven’t sent a noise complaint to my hall tutor… Lucy,” she finally says, and watches as Lucy gapes at her.

“How the hell—”

Emily smirks. “It pays to be friendly, sometimes.”

——

Subject: Five Celebrities I’d Shag

This is a completely ridiculous question for reasons I won’t expound on too much (other than by stating: we are monogamous, right? I can’t believe I’m bloody asking this, but in light of the honesty code, why not), and I can’t even think of more than two because well, the question is rubbish! I’ve decided to change it to “Five Fictional Characters I Have Had a Crush On” so as to not simply completely forego answering.

1. Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) – because no matter how hard she works at being difficult, she is in fact, the perfect woman.

2. Beverly Marsh (It) – once upon a time, aged 11, I stumbled across this work of literary genius (joke) at my aunt’s house, and fell completely in love with the only female character in it after five pages of reading. Not that I knew at the time, but in retrospect it's all started making sense. 

3. George (Famous Five) – because she was bloody daring and fantastic and got into all sorts of trouble, thus introducing me to a type of girl I’ve not been able to resist since then… obviously.

4. Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar) – I’m not sure if this can really be described as a crush, but nothing has made me want to go back in time and change the course of history more than this book, which is rampant with fictional Sylvia’s potential and I felt incredibly empty when it all amounted to nothing.

5. … I can’t actually think of a fifth one, here, either. I simply don’t spend too much time thinking about people I will never meet; though (and it helps that I am not entirely sober at the moment, so enjoy my relentless honesty) if you were to take my four literary crushes and put them I’m a blender, I’m fairly certain something close to you would come out.

——

Re: Five Celebrities I’d Shag

1. New rule: no mocking the set question.

2.Monogamy: I'm rolling my eyes at you, for the record.

——

She wakes up in the middle of the night, heart pounding erratically, and something about what she’d been dreaming (and it’s vague, distant, but she remembers sucking on fingers and just thinking those words is enough to make her realize she’s completely tangled up in the sheets, obviously having twisted her hips together to try and get some friction) has made her incredibly horny, to the point where there’s no way she’ll be able to fall asleep without doing something about it.

Sometimes, she looks at the picture when she touches herself, but most of the time she just closes her eyes and thinks of abstract things that turn her on—a mouth on her neck, a hand skirting past her breast—and then not so abstract things, like Effy hovering over her with that intently focused expression on her face, the one that means that she’s not going to get a chance to touch back until she’s so tired that she can barely manage, and Effy just has to help herself along. Effy’s eyes, always Effy’s eyes, and it’s not really all that surprising that she has to bite back a moan just thinking about how they squeeze shuts when she makes Effy come, how they squeeze shut when she’s coming.

She’s so wet, it’s almost impossible to actually touch herself with any accuracy and God, she’s been spoiled—it’s only been two weeks, but it feels more like months since Effy’s fingers have been inside her, since Effy’s mouth has worked all over her cunt, trying to draw it out but just knowing what’s coming is usually enough to bring Emily to the point of orgasm.

She can’t last; she never does, and just thinking about trying to hold off, deliberately keeping her fingers off her clit and just stroking around it for a few minutes, she can feel that it’s inevitable, just as hopeless as when Effy is actually around and deliberately stops her from holding back.

Her hips rock upwards and she’s so incredibly sweaty, woke up that way from whatever she’d been dreaming about, and only fleeting parts of it come to her—Effy murmuring, “Bend over for me” in her ear, Effy’s nails scratching down her back and arse, Effy teeth clamping down on her shoulder and fuck, she misses it so much, the way that Effy seems to get that sometimes she doesn’t want to feel like her girlfriend, just wants to feel like they’re getting each other off in the quickest and filthiest way they can.

After all those months of sneaking away moments, quickly and frantically rubbing up against each other in places where they could’ve easily gotten caught, some part of Emily has been hard-wired to fucking love anything that’s a little less romantic, a little less proper, and she’s so fucking lucky that Effy’s the same way. Just thinking about trying to be quiet gets her wetter, and when she imagines Effy's ragged breathing, the way she tries to swallow her moans, her hips jerk up to her hand almost violently.

How they feel has nothing to do with how they fuck sometimes, and sometimes, when Effy gets impatient and just yanks Emily’s hand where she wants it, or forcefully holds her head in place and fucks up to her mouth, Emily wonders what it says about her, that she can’t help but get off on being treated like she’s just a shag and nothing more.

But then, when it’s over—and it’s not going to take long, because she still has no self-control, her fingers can’t help but drift over to where they feel best, where they remind her of Effy’s the most, where they’re quickly and deliberately circling and just occasionally dipping inside but that’s just not enough, not with how she feels now, and so she foregoes it altogether, focuses on her clit, thinks of Effy’s tongue and feels her cunt contract when she gets to the point where it almost, almost feels like Effy’s touching her—Effy will look at her with shuttered eyes and exhale incredibly shakily, before reaching to stroke Emily’s arm, or hair for a second, and—that’s what really matters. It's the only time she’s ever really been sure of something that she otherwise can only hope is true.

In those two seconds, Effy loves her, and she knows it.

When she’s caught her breath, she rolls over, taking the sheets with her. 

——

February, Week 1

Subject: First Time

Interesting mix of q's so far... 

I was 14, had taken Speed, and his name was Matthew, maybe Michael? Took about 5 minutes. 

Have made it sound much more horrible than it was; I think it was just average.

For the sake of completeness, the first time that I know you're 
not asking about:

I was almost 17, still vaguely on MDMA and lukewarm Pinot Grigio, and her name was Emily. Don't remember how long it took, which is a sign that it was good, even though she was incredibly nervous (and so was I).

Do I get points for that answer? I ought to.


——

Re: First Time

There may be a reward inbound sometime soon.

——

"Guess who's got a daa-aate," Phoebe sing-songs when she walks into the room, and Emily takes off her glasses and turns around.

"Martin bloody Luther," Lucy mumbles, flicking through her Religion text; Liz just grins.

"Is he the one who was into like, spanking and bollocks like that?" Phoebe asks, easily distracted as ever, and then shakes her head. "No, nevermind—surely you want to hear all about this?"

"Absolutely," Emily agrees, because it can't be any worse than reading Dubliners.

"Right, so, important things first—I heard from Vanessa that he's not only got money, but he's hung like a horse—"

"Oh, Christ," Liz interjects and rolls her eyes.

"God, Phoebe—" Emily says almost simultaneously; Lucy just snorts.

"Well, just checking to see if everyone was actually listening. His name is Chris, and he's taking me out to dinner and then swing dancing—can you bloody believe that?" Phoebe says, ending in a spontaneous hand-clap.

"Break a leg," Lucy says, and tries not to smile. "I mean, you probably actually will, what with your complete lack of coordination."

Liz laughs and high-fives her.

"Whatever—bloody singletons, you're both useless. But you," Phoebe says deliberately, before rounding on Emily. "Let's go out for Martinis and talk about how fabulous it is to know you're getting shagged on the 14th."

Emily feels her face stretch into a cringe that she can't stop, but, "Actually—"

At this point both Lucy and Liz look back up. 

"No," is all Phoebe exclaims.

"I—" Emily starts saying and then sighs. "She's just not—I mean, I don't know. She'd think it was—"

"Oh, for the love of Christ," Lucy says and throws a wad of paper in Emily's direction. It hits her in the temple. "You really are—I have no idea how you've managed to have not one, but two long-term relationships, since you've about as much sense as a bloody hamster about anything to do with dating."

"Seriously, Em," Liz agrees. "It doesn't matter if you both think it's stupid, you've got to do something."

She starts responding by noting that she's got quite a lot of coursework to prepare before Easter and that she really wasn't planning on doing anything like visiting until the end of February, to space out the distance better, but then she looks over at her wardrobe and sighs.

"All right, fuck off, all of you—I've got some travel plans to make, I guess," she says, rolling her eyes at herself for sounding a little bit excited despite trying hard not to.

——

Subject: Dream Job

I've always wanted to be a children's librarian. I learned to read before Katie did, and when Dad realized that I could read to her, he stopped reading to both of us. I think it's the time when we got along best, really, because she knew she depended on me to continue the story and if she was mean to me I wouldn't.

Sounds silly, but I've never really even considered an alternative. I know I'm going to be a bit past 
The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I'm finished with, well, currently Dubliners (do not pass go, do not collect 200 quid), but I just think that'll be part of the appeal: going back to a place where I legitimately enjoyed reading, and wanted to get that feeling across to other people (like my sister, who's never had an attention span or an imagination worth mentioning).

If I can't do that, well—sex slave? Yours, obviously. I have 
some standards.

——

Re: Dream Job

Will work incredibly hard on making you unemployable.

——

February, Week 2

"Woah, there, slugger," Lucy says, as Emily tips forward precariously, before holding the door open the rest of the way. "You sure you don't need to toss up, Em, love?"

"'m fine," Emily mumbles and drops her purse on the ground. "No shoes, though."

"Right, darling. No shoes it is," Phoebe agrees and bends down to slip them off Emily's feet.

"Should we stay with her?" Liz asks, with a grimace as Emily drunkenly sways backwards once again, collides with her.

"No, she'll be all right," Phoebe says, looking Emily over. "I've been in worse states."

"That's not exactly—" Liz starts to say, when Emily gasps out of nowhere.

"I need to call Effy. She doesn't know."

"Know what, pet?" Lucy asks, helping Liz maneuver Emily towards her bed. 

Emily giggles. "That I'm coming to see her on Friday."

Phoebe starts laughing and Liz just looks at Lucy, a little helplessly.

"Right, well, you can tell her tomorrow, okay?" Lucy says, and sits Emily down on the bed.

"Ok," she agrees and curls up on her pillow.

——

Sleep isn't that easy, though, and the first thing that she realizes is that she's really hot—struggles in her clothing, starts taking some of it off, and the only thing that's running through her head is that she needs to call Effy. She can't actually remember why, though, but it was really important.

All she can really remember about the evening is the dancing; she doesn't do drugs anymore, not really, not when Effy's not around, but sometimes afew well-placed shots of tequila can go a long way in feeling just like speed, and something about the thrumming bass lines, the pressed-together crowd, and the fact that nobody really knew her worked incredibly well tonight; set her skin on fire, made it burn a little brighter with every additional lick of salt off Liz's hand and every lime snatched out from between Phoebe's teeth.

They all get a little gay together, sometimes, when they go crazy. 'cept Lucy, who doesn't really get any way other than just pleasantly dazed—staresa lot, kind of like Effy, but doesn't see much of anything, which isn't like Effy at all. But Liz and Phoebe, well, they get a little gay when there's a lot of liquor being tossed back, and tonight had been one of those nights; Phoebe had been wearing a silk bow-tie and at some point unwrapped it from her own neck, tugged it around Emily's and tied it into a neat little knot, fingers brushing past Emily's clavicle, and all she could think was hands, hands, hands.

And as shy as Liz is normally around her, these days, as awkward as things have been since Effy showed herself that one and only time, Liz with afew gin & tonics in her is an entirely different creature, and some part of Emily always flashes back to Cook—random touching, but oddly effective when they're all this drunk, and none of it will ever go anywhere so it doesn't matter one bit. They're her mates.

Doesn't mean she's not human, though.

She has to call Effy and tell her something incredibly important, and it's probably something to do with how hot it is, and how wet her knickers are, and how her friends took ages getting the fuck out of her room when all she wanted to do was just strip naked and call Effy and—

She reaches for her phone and speed-dials 2, which is silly because she never really calls Effy but it's important also, and in the midst of "I'm not talking right now" she sighs deeply; runs a hand down her own stomach, drags her nails back up it and sighs again.

"I am cunting pushing one," she mutters at her phone and then finally gets the beep, and she has an important message to leave—it's a little like this.

"Fuck, I'm so fucked up, and I'm so wet. There were girls grinding up against me all night tonight, do you know that? And you're up in bloody Scotland and I really am starting to get a little bit sick of just fucking myself all the time, because you're so much better at it. Well, that's not true, I'm quite fucking marvelous at it myself, but it's better when you're touching me. I think about that loads, you know, you touching me, and how fucking good it feels. Sometimes all you have to do is just grab my arm or my hand and it's like," and there she has to pause, just for a few seconds, because she knows the word she's looking for but fuck, her nipples are so hard, and it's distracting, completely ripping her out of what she was saying, but no matter. "Whatever, it's just fucking good. I wish you were here right now, because I am so fucking ready for you, babe, it's not even a little bit funny, and I don't even need you to say anything but just if you were on the line, that would be—" and it trails off into a moan, because everything is just so fucking sensitive and just brushing her thumb over her nipple sets her off.

She accidentally squeezes the phone too tight, drops it; hangs up. "Bollocks," she says out loud, fumbles for it, and ends up knocking it off the bed altogether. That's when she starts laughing, and looks at the picture of Effy on the wardrobe; offers it a little wave.

"I am well classy," she tells it. "Stop judging."

The phone rings; she tips halfway out of bed and blindly touches around for it, finally ends up grabbing it and presses the big green button with a "'lo?"

"Don't stop," is all Effy says, but the tone of her voice is just—

"Oh, fuck," Emily exhales and flops back down on to her back. "I'm—ok, wait, I need to get the phone on my shoulder, because I think I want to use both hands, just give me a second."

Effy doesn't say anything else, just breathes, but it's so fast that Emily can't help but smirk a little. "You're well into this, aren't you."

"Depends on what happens next," Effy says after a beat, and Emily feels her nipples tighten even more when it's followed by a slight hitch.

"What happens next is," and she giggles, just for a second, but then clears her throat. "I am going to touch myself, and you're going to listen. And you're going to touch yourself, for me."

"You better catch up," Effy says, in an incredibly strangled tone of voice. "You—surprised me, and, fuck—"

"Jesus," Emily whispers in response, because she's the one who's been thinking about this all night, and yet Effy's the one who's.... "This is bloody unfair; I've spent the entire night wishing that you'd press up against me, and you're just—"

"Tell me," Effy interjects. "These girls, what were they doing."

Emily closes her eyes and swallows hard, hand running down her own body at an alarming speed. "They were just dancing; fuck, it was just my friends, but they're—and I miss you, God, I can't stop thinking about how much I miss you, miss being near you."

Effy responds just by making a small noise; almost like a whimper, and Emily sighs, slips her hand into her knickers and fuck, she's wet. She says so: "Oh, God, Ef—I'm completely soaked through, I'm as wet as that time you fucked me with the strap-on over Christmas, remember?"

Effy hisses, goes "God" and then just waits; waits for more, apparently.

"I wanted you so fucking much because I gave you that bollocks present, I was all fucking nervous about it too, but you're so fucking wonderful, just, yeah," Emily says, and slides a finger inside herself, arches up towards it when it feels good, but it's just not good enough. "God, you were so—I've never felt more close to you, more like you were a part of me, and I—"

"Yeah," Effy just says, but her breath is catching all over the place, every two or so seconds, and Emily can almost taste what Effy's doing, can picture it perfectly, even though they've never.

"I want to watch you do this," she says, and then moans just as the thought of it. "Will you let me?"

"Will I—oh," Effy responds, and then whimpers again. "Jesus, Em—"

"Will you let me watch you fuck yourself?" Emily asks, and saying the words just makes it more potent, so close to her that she can't stop her fingers from rubbing faster, dipping inside more regularly. "I have no idea how you do it, and I want to know. I want to watch you fuck yourself, I want to lie between your legs and just watch you fuck your own hand, and when you're done, when you've come all over it, you're all mine—"

Effy starts saying something, but all that comes out is a groan, and Emily tips her head back, laughs shakily.

"You're completely fucking mine. You know that, don't you?" and she does need both hands; the palm of her right hand isn't enough, not enough friction, not enough pressure, and so she shoves down her knickers and spreads her legs wider.

"Yes," Effy manages.

"The next time I see you," Emily says, and some distant part of her brain reminds her that there's something worth mentioning about that, the next time, but most of her mind is just not there; only remembers soon. "I'm going to fuck you so hard you won't be able to stand, let alone sit for two days."

"How," Effy asks and Emily's eyes roll back into her head, her feet dig into the mattress and she twists her hips; it's almost enough, it's enough to make her breath catch, to make her curl her fingers, to just fucking stop thinking about it altogether and do what feels good.

"Fuck, on your hands and knees, from behind; I don't even—" Emily starts saying, but then stops abruptly when Effy inhales incredibly sharply and comes, with shuddering breath and painfully quiet whimpers; seconds later, it's all over for her too.

She's panting; knows she might toss up, because it was hard and fast, and her head is spinning.

"Jesus," Effy says, distantly, and she has to remember to hold the phone to her head.

She can't say anything in response yet, and a second later, Effy goes, "Em? Are you all right?"

"Yeah," she squeezes out, in between heaving lungfulls of air. "Just—wow."

"I—" Effy starts saying, and then laughs abruptly. "Your phone call woke me up."

"Sorry," Emily says, because it feels like the thing to say, but her mind's too fuzzy to really pay much attention to what's going on.

"Ha," Effy says, and then it's quiet for long seconds, as Emily swallows and brushes her hair out of her eyes, wipes her fingers off on the sheets.

"Ef," she finally asks.

"Hm?" Effy says, sounding sleepy again, and Emily curls up in response; wraps herself around her second pillow, Effy's pillow, and sighs deeply.

"How many minutes have you got left on your contract?"

"All of them," Effy says after a second, and then yawns.

"Can we stay on the line?"

Effy's quiet for a few seconds but then just sighs, softly. "Yeah."

"Thanks," Emily mumbles, and this time, sleep comes easy.

——

Subject: Valentine's Day

I smell a set-up. Thanks to the damn honesty policy I can't even make something up that would sound less ... ugh. Whose bloody brilliant idea was that, then? 

Wake up next to you; fuck incredibly slowly and for a long time first thing in the morning, before getting up and making breakfast together (ie: I'll watch), and eating it back in bed, crumbs be damned. Reading, preferably out loud, your choice. Long hot shower, more frisky business, lunch. Afternoon bottle of wine with a film, something appropriately leading into more sexy time (so sadly, again your choice; Pixar just doesn't work that way). Dinner. Maybe at home, maybe not, doesn't really matter. Drinking, dancing. As for ending the day, well. You know me.

How's that?

PS: Feel free to come in my ear anytime. 

——

Re: Valentine's Day

Sounds perfect; if you'd like to actually do any or all of it, come get me at Central at 4 on Friday.

PS: GRIM, and stop trying to make me blush, it's too easy.

——

Re: re: Valentine's Day

..... ?!?!

You'll recognize me by the bells!

——

Re: re: re: Valentine's Day

Charmer. ;-)

——

Naomi sends a long letter and Emily wishes she could hug her, just once, but tight—because there's too much happening in Africa that she doesn't know how to process or deal with in any other way. Naomi talks about being sick just distributing information, and having gone to volunteer in the local clinic, but they don't have enough drugs to go around and the entire thing is just so bloody corrupt that it's never the people who need them most that get them first.

She doesn't need to say it, because it's clear that the kids hurt her worst, and there's more pictures of her reading to them, but her eyes aren't shining anymore and the circles under them speak for themselves.

Emily calls Gina, doesn't know what else to do. "I'm worried about her. Are you—is she writing to you about the same things?"

"There's nothing we can do for her, love, except be there for her when she comes back," Gina tells her, and it's so dissatisfying that Emily can't help but feel like she's failed Naomi in every single way, just by letting her chase a dream.

 

——

Subject: Top or Bottom

I'm blushing the entire way through this, but I suppose it can't be helped. 

I don't really care either way; I like doing what I think you need the most at any given point in time. The best sex between us has always been the sex where I didn't have to ask what you wanted from me, but could just figure it out.

[It's like that more and more often.]

Though, and I can't believe I'm saying this, I was honestly surprised at how much I liked it when you fucked me with the strap-on, and I guess it's a bottom thing to admit, that I'd like for you to do it again when I'm tied up, sometime.

... I'll be returning the favor on this line of questioning at some point, don't you worry. 


——

Effy's leaning against a wall, hands in her pockets, and Emily stupidly thinks that after two years, really, the way Effy leans is still just crush-worthy. She's got more in common with James than she thought, apparently.

They kiss hello; Emily intends for it to be just a peck but Effy holds her by the waist, kisses her thoroughly before finally stepping back. "It's been a month," is all she says and Emily thinks, not for the first time, that it's probably a good thing that Effy speaks so little; if she said things like this all thetime, Emily would just be swooning all over the place.

"Have you decided what we're eating tomorrow?" Emily asks and watches as Effy swallows and clears her throat.

"Like I wrote—up to you," she says in response, and Emily smiles.

——

It's funny how just a bus ride can change things; fifteen minutes ago, all she wanted to do was hug the life out of Effy, but somehow being denied that has turned her mood around completely, and with every passing second that she can't touch her Emily starts wanting to more.

She doesn't say anything as Effy unlocks her door, just drops off her overnight bag and then grabs Effy by the beltloop, yanks her close and crushes them both against the door. Effy makes a surprised noise but it doesn't take long for her to kiss back, hard and deep, and Emily moans low before shifting until she's got one of her legs between Effy's, presses up against her until Effy bends her knees just enough for a bit of friction.

"Ah, God," Effy says and tips her head back against the door, tips her hips forward onto Emily's thigh, and it bares the column of her throat. Emily wastes no time leaning forward, nipping at a bit of skin right by Effy's clavicle before laving it with her tongue, sucking on it hard. It's going to mark, this. She finds she doesn't give a shit.

Effy groans shakily and runs her fingers through Emily's hair before clutching at her skull, still twisting her hips forward, faster and faster—and then she pushes her back.

"What—" Emily starts asking, and Effy just shakes her head, shrugs out of her top before unbuttoning her jeans.

"On my hands and knees, remember?" she then says hoarsely, and Emily feels a ball of desire implode in her belly, settle there even as her knickers soak through.

"Oh, God. Where—where is it," she asks, and slips off her own shirt even as Effy trips out of her jeans and stumbles over to the closet. Emily traps her there, again, starts kissing her shoulders even as she wiggles out of her shirt and then just presses in close enough for Effy to feel how wet she is, how hard her nipples are; scrapes them against Effy's bare back, lips moving up and down the back of her neck.

"Fucking hurry," Emily breathes, biting down none too gently while Effy shudders in front of her, soothing the bite with a lick before biting again. "I want you so fucking bad, I've been—God, just hurry."

Effy finally finds it, turns around and presses it into Emily's hands before kissing her deeply, sucking on her lip so hard that it actually hurts and Emily pulls away with a wince.

"Fuck," she exhales and they look at each other wordlessly for a few seconds, until Effy reaches behind herself and unclasps her bra and shrugs out ofit, and Emily's spare hand—the one not gripping the harness—shoots forward relentlessly, wraps around one of Effy's tits and pinches her nipple.

Effy's eyes roll back in her head and she tips forward slightly, and Emily smiles—can't help but smile, at how quickly she's completely unraveled Effy.

"Nobody else has ever been able to do this to you," she says out loud, and then pinches harder when Effy doesn't respond. "Tell me."

Effy's eyes pop back open and they're so fucking feverish, so bright that Emily feels like she can't breathe, and when Effy opens her mouth as if to say something she braces herself; wonders if maybe, finally—

"You're the best I've ever had," Effy says, voice thick with want, and she grabs at Emily's hand and shoves it between her legs; Emily gasps at how wet her knickers are.

"And now what, Effy?" Emily asks, curling her fingers, just rubbing them lightly back and forth and Effy has to reach out, grab Emily by the shoulders just to not fall.

"Bed," she groans out, and Emily feels her heart and her cunt react in similar ways to the idea that she's about to completely break Effy.

"Go on, then," she says, has to clear her throat because her voice gives out on the last word. "Hands and knees."

Effy trembles but gets on the bed without another word, just bends over and raises her arse so unselfconsciously that Emily inhales sharply at thesight of her. Effy turns her head around halfway and watches as Emily shrugs out of her own underwear and works the harness on, and by the time she's done with it—with a fair bit of cursing, because it never goes on smoothly and it's even harder when she's this fucking wet—and she looks over, Effy is touching herself.

"Oh, no you don't," she says and steps up to the edge of the bed, yanks Effy backwards by her hips and it dislodges her hand—she has to reach out just to steady herself and not fall on her face. "Can't even wait a fucking minute, can you."

"Apparently—not," Effy manages, and then laughs shakily when Emily smacks her on the ass, just once.

"You're fucking filthy," Emily notes, and then leans forward until Effy can feel the toy press up against her, just slides it back and forth a few times. "Being this fucking eager, liking it when I smack your arse—you're depraved, babe."

"You love it," Effy says, and Emily can't help but grin, slaps her ass again.

"Shut up," she says, and then takes the toy in her hand, slides into Effy smoothly in just one go. "Just shut the fuck up, and enjoy this."

——

Effy comes with a keening wail, nothing like any sound that she's ever produced before, and Emily's legs are so fucking tired that she slumps forward against her, almost forgets to pull out and has to remind herself to let go of Effy's hair because pulling on it while fucking her, that was good, butholding on to it when they're both just ready to collapse is a bit much.

She just undoes one clasp and the harness falls down her legs; she steps out of it and then clambers over Effy to lie on her other side. Effy is still breathing heavily, eyes lidded, and Emily just watches her face for a few moments.

"That—it wasn't too much, was it?" she asks, when Effy's blinked a few times and looks a little more like she remembers where she is, and what's going on.

Effy chuckles tiredly and reaches for one of Emily's hands, presses it up against her lips and kisses her palm. "I don't know what got into you, but no complaints."

"Sure?" Emily asks again, and then bites her lip. "I just, I don't want you to think that I, well—"

"Sex isn't always about feelings," Effy interjects gently, and then winces into a stretch.

"It is, though," Emily blurts out unexpectedly, and then averts her eyes when Effy looks back at her. "It—with you and me, it's—"

"Emily," Effy says and closes her eyes with a smile, before shifting in closer and murmuring the rest into Emily's hair. "Why do you think you're thebest I've ever had?"

——

February, Week 3

In the morning, they make love, slowly and gently since Effy's still a little bit sore, but Emily's tongue makes up for a lot of yesterday's aches and when Effy comes and sighs her name, Emily feels her heart burst a little, like she's been handed a present of some kind, and the words ache to come outbut she can't quite make them happen.

"I love this," she says instead, and when Effy agrees with a small humming noise before running a hand down Emily's belly, initiating round two, it feels like she's said it after all.

——

Emily produces a fry-up while Effy makes coffee—and it's almost cooperative, really—and they slowly work their way through it in bed.

"How's your mum?" Emily asks, because Effy's relaxed enough for it to not rub her the wrong way now, and Effy just stills—forkful of bacon halfway to her mouth—for a millisecond before taking a bite.

"Okay, I think," she says, and Emily leans over, kisses her softly. "What?"

"Nothing, bit of food on the corner of your mouth," Emily says, because it's easier than explaining.

——

Emily brought To the Lighthouse and only after three chapters, with Effy's head on her lap—and it's a little bit crazy, how every time they're together Effy manages to surprise her just by letting go of a little bit more, to the point where Emily wonders if it stops somewhere, or if she's destined to go on feeling like something is squeezing her heart apart indefinitely—does she realize how oddly appropriate a book it is, not just for Effy but for them.

“Can you leave this, if we don't finish it?” Effy asks.

“Yeah, babe, of course,” Emily responds absent-mindedly, and that's all it takes for Effy to shift up and kiss her.

“Time for a shower,” she says and then slips out of bed without waiting.

——

Emily comes in Effy's mouth, one leg hanging over her shoulder, water trickling down her body for so long that she feels like her entire existence is just one long hot, wet pulse.

——

Effy's bought stuff for a goat cheese salad that they do actually prepare together, because of course Effy knows how to speedily work knives. Emily rolls her eyes a little and Effy bites her lip, smirks.

“C'mere,” she says, takes Emily's hand without waiting for a response, flattens it out on the table.

“I know where this is going, and I've never liked this game even when people just did it to themselves,” Emily says, somewhat sternly, but Effy ignores her and shifts the knife up in her hand until she's loosely fisting it, then slams it down unexpectedly between Emily's thumb and forefinger.

The only reason Emily doesn't jump is because Effy's covering her wrist, so she can't move. “I think you're lying,” Effy says, voice so close to Emily's ear that it sets off goosebumps all over her body.

You're scaring me is on the tip of her tongue, but Effy moves the knife between her fingers at a gradual place and she can see it, would probably beable to pull away if she needed to. She doesn't.

“The idea that it can go wrong at any second,” Effy continues, softly and suggestively, and Emilys's breath catches at the sound of it, “is making you incredibly wet. Just like it did when we were seventeen. It always will.”

When Emily twists her head to protest just a little, she realizes what Effy isn't even watching what she's doing.

“You're fucking mad,” she whispers instead, and Effy slams the knife down hard, unexpectedly; leaves it sticking into the kitchen table.

“If I am, what does that make you?” she says, and it's almost too serious before her face relaxes into a smile.

Emily can't help arching forward into Effy's hand; hates that Effy knows her this well almost as much as she loves it sometimes.

——

They eat the salad with the bottle of wine and the movie, and even though Effy's chilled the hell out again and there's no knives in sight, some part of Emily stays uncomfortable.

“Ask me,” Effy finally says, head resting on Emily's shoulder, bottle of wine between her legs. “Consider it your email of the week.”

“I don't—” Emily says, but changes her mind. “What do you get out of knowing that I'll always be a little afraid of you?”
Effy's silent for a long time, probably because Emily deliberately did not ask the most obvious question.

“Balance,” she finally says. It comes out sounding oddly pained and makes Emily forget all about her own discomfort.

“Balance in what?” she asks, leans forward until she can see Effy's face.

“That's two questions,” Effy says after another few beats, with an attempt at a smile that falls a little bit short.

Emily doesn't know how to handle this non-response to her half-question. “If it helps, you were right.”

“I usually am,” Effy agrees, and then sighs. “I was just fucking around—I didn't mean to ruin—“

“You didn't,” Emily says; realizes it's true only after she's said it, and at that point there's not much else to do but hug Effy. “You can't, you stupid twat.”

——

Plans for the day change unexpectedly because some part of what's expired between them has drained them both, and so they sleep instead of watching a movie.

Emily wakes up with Effy staring at her, and for just one second her expression isn't shuttered.

“I—” Emily starts saying and Effy shuts her up with a kiss.

——

Things are back to normal by the time they have dinner; Effy having requested risotto somewhere between kisses, as if kissing could distract Emily completely from how sentimental a request it is.

“What's your question of the week?” Emily asks Effy, who finishes chewing with a pensive look on her face.

“If you weren't here right now, what would you be doing today?”

Her initial response lodges in her throat uncomfortably and she's so sick of it, thinking and feeling things that she doesn't get to say—and so fuck it, honesty policy, and she forces her hesitation back down with a sip of wine.

“Missing you like crazy.” It comes out self-assured and the look of shock on Effy's face is worth it.

“Good thing you're here, then,” Effy finally says, after chewing another bite much more slowly than she needs to. 

——

They go out dancing and get mildly sloshed, but it's such a pleasant contrast with New Year's Eve that Emily feels completely sober and just happy. She finally gets to meet some of Effy's new art school friends, who are every bit as talkative and normal as Effy is, and it explains why Effy's been so generally better since coming to Glasgow. They don't expect her to be someone she's not, whereas in Bristol she'll always be Tony's sister, Katie's best friend, the only daughter.

When they get back home, Emily takes off her dress and starts when Effy just wraps two arms around her waist and kisses the back of her neck.

“I change my mind about how today ends, if that's okay,” she says quietly.

“Yeah?” Emily says, before letting Effy tug her back towards the bed—and it doesn't seem like a different ending from the one the had planned, until Effy throws one leg and one arm over Emily's waist and buries her face in Emily's neck.

It means more than the original ending could have.

——

February, Week 4

Subject: Why the Shirt-Dresses

a. Less constricting than a regular dress;

b. Similar advantage in terms of number of # of clothing articles in way of nudity.

Simple!


——

Katie calls. “I fucking miss you. Fuck, I talk to Effy more than I talk to you, and I can barely get her to say more than two words to me.”

Emily sighs, but some part of her misses Katie, too; the hypothetical Katie that sends her pictures of her girlfriend, at least. “Next weekend?”

“Thanks for just expecting me to drop everything to see you, Ems,” Katie snaps, but it comes out sounding a little bit too pleased to be insulting.

——

Subject: Cooking Challenge

Truth be told: I'm much better at baking than at cooking generally, so there's quite a few things that totally aggravate me; at the top of the list, however, is a proper roux. Which is so basic it's almost embarrassing. It's also HARD, though.

Nerdiest thing I've written in weeks; good thing I don't wear glasses or you'd start thinking of me as a geek! Oh, wait...

——

“What's it like?” Lucy asks underneath the tree one day, when Phoebe and Liz are too drunk to be playing frisbee and have started playing some kind of mentally challenged form of tag instead.

“What's what like?”

“Having found your person,” Luce asks.

Emily doesn't answer; doesn't know how to, because the idea that there's only ever been one still hurts, even after all this time.

“Sorry, cheese-tastic question,” Lucy says, a little bit snappily, before turning the page.

“No, I'm sorry,” Emily says, but she still can't figure out how to answer that question.

Doors are permanently closing all around her.

——

March, Week 1

Subject: Favorite Toy as a Child

Tony had this chemistry set. I loved it because things fizzed, crackled, and burned.

My parents took it away from me when I set my duvet on fire. Alas.

——

The first thing that Emily thinks when Gina calls unexpectedly is that Naomi's dead.

Her heart doesn't slow down for most of the conversation, in which Gina explains that she's setting up a children's literacy summer school project and that she could use some extra, interested hands.

Gina's never going to be her mother-in-law and while there's nothing wrong with Anthea—from Emily's perspective, anyway—it still feels like a giant loss sometimes.

“I'd love to,” she says, because she has nothing better to do this summer and the idea of 3 months of constant Katie time is enough to make her skull throb. “It'll look great on my CV, plus it's what I want to be doing anyway, so—thank you, for thinking of me.”

“Darling, who else would I think of?” Gina says and as they say goodbye, Emily wishes there was a proper word for almost-mother-in-law; something to make it real, and meaningful.

——

Subject: Easter in the Land of Coats

I don't even know what to thank you for—rescuing me from my family, or fulfilling a desire I didn't even really know I had.

I feel like this is a wasted question: but a MILLION TIMES YES, babe. See you in two weeks.

——

Katie picks her up at St. Pancras and looks her up and down; she's put on a New Emily outfit and yeah, it feels kind of good, getting Katie's grudging approval, even if that just takes place in the form of pursed lips and a, “you're fucking late” (like Emily's personally in charge of the train schedule somehow).

They go shopping together and Emily sees things she wants to buy constantly; feels ridiculous for all of it, doesn't follow through even though it's probably okay to do so now.

They're in Zara, trying on not-quite matching argyle dresses, when Katie looks at her watch and goes, “oh, fuck, we're going to be late.”

“For what?” Emily asks and Katie shrugs out of her dress with an eyeroll.

“I fucking told you I couldn't just drop everything. Christ.”

It's so Katie, to just not tell her what's going on, that she can't even really work up the energy to get pissed off about it; it's much easier to just fall in line.

“Hurry up then, fucking hell, he'll be waiting,” Katie snaps and reaches around to zip Emily back up, who just reaches for her purse with a sigh and follows along.

——

The first odd thing is Katie's near-blush when they stroll into the pub.

The second odd thing is who's waiting for her; kisses her hello on the bloody cheek and then leans forward to peck Emily as well.

“Long fucking time, eh Em?” Cook says.

All she can do for the first five minutes is try not to stare at him. At them. But Cook's—well, as non-fucked-up as she's ever seen him, wearing a nice short-sleeved button-up shirt and pressed slacks; he's gotten rid of the earring and his hair's grown out even more since New Year—which is Katie, who likes longer hair on blokes, and he's doing it for her, obviously.

Her sister's dating her girlfriend's ex-boyfriend.

The ludicrousness is complete when Cook asks after Effy.

“She's well,” Emily says as plainly as she can.

“It took me some time, but I fucking get it, you know? You and her. Feels right,” Cook says, and it's the nicest thing that anyone who's known Effy that long, who knew Effy that well, can say.

“Perve,” Katie says, but it's so gentle that it barely even sounds like her and Emily starts feeling a little bit claustrophobic. “You're just saying that because you're thinking of them naked.”

Cook grins and shrugs, and it's enough to make Emily feel like she still knows both of them.

——

The next day, after a night that Emily doesn't want to think about because Katie looks a little too happy about something that happened only five feet away from her, Cook has to leave—back to Bristol, where he's selling insurance or something totally fucking ludicrous like that—and Emily just stares at Katie for a long time.

“What,” Katie finally snaps.

“Next time you want me to meet your boyfriend, why don't you just fucking ask?”

Katie scowls. “It's not like that.”

Emily chuckles and shakes her head. “Things don't always need to be complicated.”

“That's rich, coming from you,” Katie responds crabbily and before angrily buttering some more toast. “How's Naomi doing these days, then?”

It's a low blow. “Why does everyone think I'm fucking cheating on her? Jesus.”

Katie takes a big bite and chews it quickly, swallows it hard, and then sighs. “I'm being a cunt; and nobody thinks you're a cheater.”

“Whatever,” Emily says, and catches an earlier train back to Coventry.

——

March, Week 2

Subject: Cheating

Think I'll use my question this week to ask what brought this on, because, wtf?

Cheating isn't about sex. It's about wanting to be with someone other than who you're with. Acting on it just makes it more obvious. Have I done it? Not deliberately. Not knowingly.

The same way you have, I guess.

——

She finally calls Katie back.

“I'm sorry,” she says and then has to fight tears all over the place. “I know it isn't fair to either of them, that I care so much about both of them, but Ican't help it.”

Katieis silent for a few seconds. “So what happens when she comes back?”

“Nothing,” Emily says and closes her eyes, feels another door close. “It's not the same, the way I feel about her, and the way I feel about Effy.”

“Of course it isn't,” Katie says, sounding exasperated. “Jesus. Are you just now figuring that out?”

“I don't—”

“Nobody thinks you're a cheater except for you, Emily, and all because you were fucked up when you were seventeen and didn't know what you wanted then,” Katie says in a rush.

It's one of those times where it hits her very hard, that she's a twin, that someone knows her very well. “I wish I'd talked to you back then.”

Katie sighs. “No, you don't, because I was a homophobic cunt back then. We're not the same people anymore, Em.”

It's easy for Katie to say, who's managed to cut ties with everything that made her a seventeen year old.

——

Subject: Q on Cheating

Katie said something, I took it incredibly personally because I won't ever stop feeling guilty about screwing both you and Naomi around. Even if itwasn't real cheating, it wasn't fair on either of you.

I'm glad we get some weeks off after this, because I'd like a hug instead of a question.

——

She doesn't even really know why, but goes to find Liz before Easter. There's a white ribbon tied around the doorknob and Emily stops to consider whatit means for just a few seconds, but then decides that it's unlikely to mean anything. Knocks, and apologizes as soon as Liz's head peeks around thecorner.

Liz almost smiles. “Emily, you've never done anything to—”

“Just let me apologize, okay?” Emily interrupts, and then sighs. “It's who I am. I feel guilty about things I can't control, and then I try to fix them.”

Liz hugs her spontaneously when sober for the first time since Christmas. “It's why people fall so hard, when they fall for you.”

“I'm so—” Emily starts saying again, but Liz gently cuffs her in the head.

“I'm over it. Mostly. And you're one of my best friends, so let it go, okay?”

It's only on the train to Glasgow that Emily realizes that she's seen the ribbon on the doorknob before. She considers telling Lucy, just for the sake ofthe gossip, but decides to let it be.

——

March, Week 3 until April, Week 3

The first day, they spend in bed, just lying next to each other, because never before has that been possible without it feeling like a waste.

“We have time,” Effy says quietly, looks at Emily quite seriously before tangling their fingers together. “Let's actually take it, for once.”

“I can't believe we have an entire month,” Emily sighs and squeezes Effy's hand, tightly. “It's a little surreal, you know?”

Effy just smiles; barely, but it's there. “Maybe we've earned it, by now.”

——

The rest of their days are spent doing things that they've never done before, either because they weren't a real couple,or because they didn't have thetime to spend on being out in public, dealing wth other people.

After the fifth day, when Effy announces they should go to the Necropolis because she needs to take some pictures and it's generally a gorgeous place, Emily kisses her without any explanation; doesn't know how to say that this is a preview of the life she wants for herself without risking scaringthe hell out of Effy.

They swing by an off license and grab a bottle of something mysterious that Effy won't show her on the way over, and when Emily sees their destination, she starts laughing.

“Effy. Are we getting pissed in a cemetary?”

Effy just grins. “Don't worry; made by monks. That makes it non-sacrilegious, doesn't it?”

“I'm not sure I'm totally okay with this,” Emily mildly protests but Effy just grabs her by the hand, tugs her between the haphazard collection of tombstones until they're well out of sight, hidden away between fucked up architecture of the dead, but can nonetheless look down over most of Glasgow, which feels tiny and insignifcant in comparison.

“I see what you mean; gorgeous,” Emily says gently, after a sip of what is revealed to be Buckfast.

“Hmm,” Effy says and takes the lens cap off her camera, snaps a picture of Emily looking bemused so quickly that Emily can't do anything to stop it, and then leans back against the tombstone they're sat by—J. Smith, 12 January 1883, beloved—with a distant smile. “I don't know. I find this place relaxing. It doesn't pretend there's order in death, you know?”

“Morbid, yet deep,” Emily says with a half-smile and then sighs when one of Effy's arms wraps around her back, tugs her in closer.

“I like the idea of being buried crookedly; gravestones jauntily growing together,” Effy murmurs, takes a sip of the ludicrously sweet wine and then closes her eyes. “Don't you?”

She can picture it; two mementos leaning towards each other, almost shoulder to shoulder. “Like touching after death,” she mumbles and Effy looks at her with a bit of surprise.

“Yeah,” she says after a beat, and they think on that silently for a while.

——

On the way home, hours later and slightly tipsy, Effy spots a dead crow on an unmarked, flattened gravestone. She takes a picture before Emily canexpress any dismay and doesn't flinch when Emily looks at her in horror.

“It's beautiful because it's broken, Em,” Effy just says and then looks back at the bird again.

Just like you, sometimes, Emily thinks and can't suppress a shudder, watching Effy watch the bird.

——

They play the question game even though they're together and it pushes the questions forward at a ridiculous pace, to the point where there's only a few things Emily feels like she can't ask and even fewer that Emily doesn't ask.

They're out in Kelvingrove Park one day when Effy, head on Emily's stomach—who is reading the last chapters of To the Lighthouse—just looks up and asks, “Will you still want to be doing this five years from now?”

Permanence, Emily thinks, and for once it feels like a door opening.

“Always,” she just says in response, not looking away from the novel because they're in public and there's no telling what she'll do if she sees Effy's face right now.

——

Occasionally, Effy disappears for a few hours—of to the school's dark room, working on her coursework. Emily's asked to see it and Effy just got a strange look on her face.

“Eventually,” is all she said and Emily dropped it, entirely cuted out by the idea of Effy being nervous about her art or whatever the problem here was. Eventually with Effy doesn't mean never, anyway. It means when she's ready.

Effy's little flat feels a lot like home and sometimes she looks around it; contemplates where she'd put her things, if need be. It's small, because her Dad feels guilty but not guilty enough for a large apartment,, Effy had said with a quality eyeroll, but it fits Effy—the space is comfortably confined, does not force her to get too personal, but all the minor touches blend together to make her think that this little flat is Effy.

The more time she spends in it, the more she starts thinking it could be a little bit Emily as well.

When Effy gets home, Emily's looking around the even-tinier kitchen with a frown on her face. “You don't have a cast-iron skillet. Nor do you have any cumin or marjoram. We should go buy some.”

Effy leans against the doorway and smiles. “I don't cook, Emily.”

“Yeah, and?” Emily says, not bothering to turn around. “You're not the only person using the kitchen, so what's wrong with properly stocking it?”

“Nothing,” Effy says after a second, and then presses her up against the hob, kisses her deeply. “Let's go buy some herbs and spices.”

 

----

 

On the nights when they can be bothered—when it isn't just nicer to lie in bed with a bottle of vodka, talking or not talking—they head to Ashton Lane. Effy's stopped wearing anything other than trainers—sloppily tied-together black converse and with her black jeans she's just fucking gorgeous in something that simple, Emily thinks before sliding a hand into Effy's back pocket and squeezing—but the first time they go, she fails to consider that Emily's heels are not particularly grandly suited for prancing around on cobblestones the first time they went.

The way to goes all right, but on the way home—surprisingly lashed, but probably moreso because of the hours of sunshine they'd soaked up earlier inthe day than anything else—it's a bloody disaster. Emily takes about two steps before tipping over and laughing her head off.

“Barefoot,” Effy says, also laughing, and Emily wrinkles her nose.

“Only if you take yours off, too.”

They amble home arm in arm, holding a pair of shoes each, and get such demented looks from people they pass on the street that every time theythink they're done laughing it sets them off again.

“My feet are black,” Emily says when they're finally home.

“They're perfect,” Effy responds and they kiss before laughing again.

“My feet. Seriously?” Emily giggles and wraps her arms around Effy's shoulders.

“As a starting point,” Effy agrees and makes a half-hearted attempt to pick Emily up by the waist, who squeals in surprise before clutching at Effy's neck.

“You are not strong enough to do this,” she says, even as Effy's hands slip further down her back and grab her by the arse.

“Probably not,” Effy says and kisses Emily's neck, lifts up her skirt and just cups her arse directly instead. “But let's find out for sure.”

They fall over in a heap and fuck on the floor; the next time, before they leave the house, Effy hands over a pair of Vans that almost fit.

——

“Want to go see a loch or something?” Effy asks halfway through the third week. “Mountain?”

“I feel like I should,” Emily says but then looks at Effy—radiantly lazy and relaxed on her bed, flipping through a textbook on lighting and looking like she doesn't have a care in the world. “But I don't want to.”

“No?” Effy asks and turns another page.

“No,” Emily says before closing the book and taking it from Effy. “Remember that time I rang you and was, um—”

Effy's eyebrow lifts slowly. “Obviously.”

“And I said something about—” It's ridiculous; they've had so much sex, and so much of it kinkier and weirder than this, but she still finds it hard to say.

Effy's lips twist into a quick smile. “You want to watch me wank.”

“Yeah,” Emily says, or tries to, but it comes out more like a croak and the tips of her ears feel red. “If—I mean,it's okay if you don't want—”

“Emily,” Effy says mildly and leans forward, presses a kiss to her nose. “When have I ever said no?”

“Right, okay,” Emily says and then closes her eyes and swallows hard.

“I have an idea,” Effy asks after a second, before shrugging out of her shirt.

“What?” Emily asks, blinking her eyes back open and watching with a light gasp as Effy trails a hand down her own body.

“Get my camera,” Effy says calmly, and then teasingly snaps the elastic on her own knickers.

——

She'll never be able to think of photography in the same way again; a technical lesson on how to appropriately calibrate and set up the lighting in themidst of Effy's hand slipping down her own knickers.

“How is it?” Effy asks, and it would be such a normal question if it wasn't followed by a surprising wet sound.

“Good; you're clearly visible, not too dark—what else am I looking for?”

“Shutter speed,” Effy responds with a slight wince, before her legs relax again. “Dial on top; set it to 30 or 15 seconds, it'll stop my hand from blurring.”

Emily moans unwillingly but follows the instructions, looks at Effy over the camera and licks her lips. “All done.”

“Let's do this, then,” Effy says, and Emily watches as her hand slides down further, her wrist bends upwards and her legs strain. 

She doesn't have to remind herself to take a picture—just reminds herself to reward Effy appropriately later, for suggesting this, for doing it.

“Thank you,” she breathes and snaps two quick pictures as Effy twists her head and squeezes her eyes shut.

“Not a worry,” Effy manages, before biting down on her lip. “I like you—watching.”

“Are you normally this into it?” Emily asks and it's the fucking camera, pleasantly detaching her from whatever is going on and for a second she feels like she gets what being Effy is like, but then Effy wriggles out of her knickers and spreads her legs wider and the feeling fades away.

She doesn't know what to focus on; there's too much going on, and she shifts a bit further away until she can get Effy's entire body in the frame. Effy feels her move and opens her eyes just for a second, and her lips part into a moan right as Emily takes another picture.

“Beautiful,” she says and Effy's eyelashes fan back down to her vaguely flushed cheeks, and it's so true that she ignores whatever else is going—zooms in so close that all she has is Effy's strained neck, her teeth digging into her lip, and the faint wrinkle on her forehead.

“God, keep talking,” Effy says after a few seconds and Emily snaps back to what's happening, and suddenly it's too much—all sense of detachment runs away from her without warning. She puts the camera down and shifts until she's sitting between Effy's legs, watches her fingers work forcefully for that last little bit and she's had enough.

“Effy,” is all she says and when Effy looks up, shifts forward and licks between Effy's fingers.

“Oh, thank you,” Effy breathes and wipes off her hand before tangling it in Emily's hair, pulling her in closer.

She comes within seconds, jerks for so long that Emily doesn't dare move, not until Effy's hand relaxes in her hair and her legs slump back down ontothe bed.

When they're huddled together afterwards, Emily's hands rubbing slow circles on Effy's still trembling frame, Effy sighs.

“No.”

“No what?”

“No, I'm not normally that into fucking myself,” Effy says, and presses a kiss to Emily's forehead. “You've broken me completely.”

She wishes she could make Effy see that it's not a bad thing, but can't think of the words; just holds her tight and waits for her to stop shaking.

——

They fuck less; but when they do, it means more.

After a night of dancing in some pulsing, hot cavern called the Subclub—with a few people nodding hello at Effy but none that Effy seems to feel theneed to talk to—they start fucking like they normally would, after night of going out and doing whatever they can get away with in public (and in thebathrooms, where Emily hit her head so hard against a stall door that she literally saw stars when she came), which is a little roughly, without much finesse.

“No,” Effy says out of nowhere when Emily is tugging Effy's knickers off with her teeth and a wild grin. “No, slow it down.”

She's never asked anything like that before and Emily lets the elastic snap back down without another thought, shifts up Effy's body until they're face to face.

Effy reaches out with her hand, almost hesitantly, and then cups Emily's face.

They look at each other for long moments without saying anything, until Effy's eyes close and she pulls Emily down for a kiss that's so gentle that Emily can barely feel it at all, until she does and then it squeezes the air out of her lungs.

“Effy,” she finally says, when Effy just kisses the corner of her mouth with a sigh, before flopping back down onto the pillow and looking at her some more.

“Yeah,” she says quietly, and blinks a few times.

“If you still don't want me to say it, you have to stop this right now, because I don't think I can help myself.”

Effy doesn't move, stays looking at her with wide, serious eyes, and if Emily couldn't feel her hands shake she'd think this wasn't happening, but it is.

“I love you,” she says; it falls out of her in rush, and Effy inhales so sharply that it's almost like she's swallowed the words, like they've literally transferred between them.

She takes one of Effy's shaking hands and kisses it. “Okay?”

Effy barely manages a nod, finally looks away with her eyes closed, and Emily leans into her neck, reaches out with her hand and starts lightly rubbing Effy through her knickers.

Effy can't stop shaking, and says nothing more—just lets a tiny whimper escape her, and Emily closes her eyes, kisses Effy's neck, and says it again; knows she won't be able to stop saying it, because she feels it so much.

“I love you” and even though they're important words, words she's been choking on for months, they don't even come close to conveying what is goingon inside her head, inside all of her.

She says it again and again as Effy slowly stops shaking for the wrong reasons; starts trembling for the right ones instead, when she clumsily pulls her knickers down just far enough for Emily to slip her hand inside, and it's punctuated with another “I love you” and a shaky sigh from Effy.

She stops saying it after Effy's climaxed—suspects it'll be too much for her to handle in the quiet moment afterwards, and instead just rolls over until she's holding Effy, who squeezes her tightly with one arm and buries her face in Emily's neck.

Only a very small part of Emily worries about the silence; the rest of her knows better than to expect Effy to be like everyone else, and thinks of this moment as a gift that's long overdue.

——

In the last week, following many more days of them just being together with Effy gripping Emily's hand tightly at nearly any point in time—like saying it out loud means it's going to be taken away, and Emily's heart just hurts for Effy, who doesn't know how to believe in longevity but wants to so badly—Effy clears her throat in the middle of dinner.

“I have a bit of a problem.”

Emily takes a sip of water and looks up with raised eyebrows. “Yeah?”

Effy looks away uncomfortably and then sighs. “Yeah.” She's silent for a few moments, just digs her fork back into the pasta Emily made, but then puts it down and looks at Emily. “I—my coursework is due in less than a month and I think I'll do well, but I haven't done one crucial thing and I'm running out of time.”

“Well, what is it?” Emily says and tries not to think about her own exams, because Glasgow is a place were the real world doesn't exist and just, ugh. “A month seems like a lot of time?”

Effy looks down at her plate and sighs. “Yeah, this won't take very long, but if I don't get it I have to start over.”

“Get what, Ef?” Emily says and pushes her glasses up without wanting too; bloody stupid nervous habit, that.

“Subject permission,” Effy says quietly and then picks up her fork, stares at it instead.

“Subject per—” Emily starts asking, but stops herself when she sees the vague discomfort on Effy's face, adds it to the way that she's not looked directly at Emily for long minutes now, and gasps unwillingly. “Oh, no.”

“Yeah,” Effy confesses with a sigh.

“The—of me sleeping,” Emily says, just too be clear and watches as Effy flushes before nodding.

“I'm sorry—it was completely unethical and I didn't really plan for—“ Effy starts saying.

“Show me what you've done,” Emily says and Effy looks up in surprise. “Show me, and I'll sign off on it, okay?”

Effy doesn't seem all that relieved, and they eat dinner silently.

——

It's just four large pictures.

A Year is what Effy's called it and it becomes clear why when she examines the pictures critically. The first one, a variant on the first picture Effy showed her, is clearly summer—she's naked, on her stomach, and her back is patterned with sunlight filtering in through Effy's blinds.

The second one is autumn, and it's a picture of Emily reading up against a tree in Bristol, last year of secondary, and there's leaves fluttering down towards her head even as the book is slipping out of her hand.

“When did you take this?” Emily says and Effy looks away uncomfortably. 

“Two days before ending it,” she says and Emily feels her heart lurch, looks at the picture again and how it tells her that—

“Oh, Effy,” she sighs and looks away—moves to the third picture.

It's winter; last Christmas, by the looks of it, and she's fallen asleep with her glasses still on on Effy's bed, the corner of Kavalier and Clay visible at theedge of the frame. She's completely out for the count, and her hand appears to be reaching for someone next to her—the impression of a second body still visible on the mattress, almost.

The last one must be spring and it can't have been taken more than a few days ago, because it's the sheets they're using now, and she must sleep like the dead because Effy's set this one to auto-time, because they're both in this picture—sleeping next to each other, with Emily's hands curled under her pillow and Effy's one hand on Emily's hip.

“I know the first one is—” Effy starts saying when Emily doesn't say anything for a long time.

“They're incredible,” Emily interjects softly. She steps in closer to the fourth one and reaches out to touch it, only stops when Effy gently captures her wrist. “Is this—is this how you see us?”

Effy looks at the picture for a second before looking back to Emily. “I try to.”

“God, babe,” Emily says; feels tears jump into her eyes unexpectedly.

“Thanks,” Effy says softly and then wraps her into a hug.

——

One day before Emily leaves, Effy says, “Oh, by the way—if you like, we can go develop those pictures you took before you leave”, so casually that for a second Emily thinks they're talking about different pictures altogether.

“What, together?” Emily says.

“Hmm,” Effy says and then smiles faintly. “Dark rooms lock, you know. For obvious reasons. Aren't you curious?”

Emily swallows. “I don't think that curious is the right word.”

Effy grins and reaches for Emily's hand. “C'mon, then. Let's see if a career change lies in your future.”

——

The dark room smells faintly like turpentine but mostly is just unintentionally sexy; moreso when Effy starts hanging up the first few pictures to dry and then insists on critically evaluating them.

Emily draws the line at, “Good angle, but the focus should've probably been on my lips, here” at a picture of Effy arching up to her hand with her lips parted.

“It's fine the way it is, you nerd,” Emily says, vaguely disgruntled, and then gets handed the next picture; it's one of the close-ups of Effy's face, and Effy looks at it with her over her shoulder.

“That one's good,” Effy says, quiety, and Emily just nods.

“Can I take it with me?”

Effy laughs. “Your friends are going to think you're a pervert; it is quite clear what I'm doing.”

Emily shrugs and smiles. “Now ask me if I care.”

Effy just chuckles and reaches for the next picture. “Ballsy. I was just planning on using some of these for when we—”

When Emily turns around Effy's still staring at the picture almost blankly.

“When we what, Ef?” 

Effy sighs deeply and drops her head, but Emily just smoothes her hair back behind her ears and repeats the question.

“Em—” Effy says and she sounds so fucking scared that Emily almost backs down, but it's been long enough—these tiny steps towards progress.

“Effy, just say it, whatever it is.”

“When we move in together,” Effy says after long moments, so quietly that Emily has to strain to hear it.

“After uni, you mean,” she says in response, even though her heart is hammering out of her chest, and when Effy looks up it's with wounded,embarrassed eyes.

“Yeah, something like that,” Effy admits and it comes out like it's shameful, a dirty secret she got caught at.

“I think that'll be wonderful,” Emily says gently; reaches for Effy's wrists and tugs her hand away from the picture. “In our bedroom, right?”

Effy just nods and then clenches her eyes shut, until Emily takes a step forward and hugs her tightly.

“You silly twat,” she murmurs into Effy's hair, whose breath hitches suspiciously. “It's okay to want things—hasn't anyone ever told you that?”

Effy doesn't respond immediately, but after long minutes of holding each other in the dark, she takes a shaky breath.

“I want you to stay,” she mumbles into Emily's neck and then squeezes her so tightly that Emily can barely breathe.

“Oh, babe,” she sighs. “I want to stay. And one day—”

Effy squeezes again, and then leans back, presses a kiss to Emily's forehead.

“I don't do promises,” she says, warily, and Emily just cups her cheek in response, feels her heart contract when Effy leans into the gesture almost automatically.

“We don't need promises. We know things, remember?” Emily responds a few seconds later, and watches as Effy almost smiles in response.

——

Back in Warwick, she finds a nearly three-week old letter from Naomi.

Have just buried a ten year old; third one in two weeks. Don't even know how to cry about it because there will always be more ten year olds.

Tell me something normal. Like who it is you're seeing, because you're obviously seeing someone, and I could do with five minutes of feeling like I'm not in hell right now.

-N


She calls Gina. “I'm not just worried about her anymore, now. This—what happens when she gets back, exactly?”

Gina doesn't respond for a long time.

“Gina?”

“We hope that we can make her forget she was there,” Gina finally says.

“And will we be able to?”

“I don't know,” Gina says with a sigh.

She doesn't write back about Effy; doesn't know how to explain that without twisting the knife in Naomi's back just a little bit further.

——

May, Week 1

Subject: Three Years from Now

I see myself as:

—hopefully as far away from Bristol as I can be
—making money doing something I enjoy
—no longer wearing a bloody coat
—waking up with you, coming home to you, going to bed with you.

[Am trying this 'wanting' thing.]

——

Phoebe picks her up for Lit Theory and spots the picture of Effy. “Ooh, Jesus. That should be illegal. By which I mean, replicated and sent around this entire bloody campus.”

Emily just raises an eyebrow. “I'd watch it if I were you.”

“What? What's a little girlfriend sharing between friends?” Phoebe says and wiggles her eyebrows in the direction of the picture. “Lord knows I could do with some wank fodder.”

“Ignoring for the moment that you supposedly like boys, sweetheart,” Emily says and picks up her glasses, casually puts them on, “I'd think that Liz is keeping you busy enough.”

Phoebe takes about a second too long to start protesting and Emily just rolls her eyes. “Relax. I could care less, as long as you're both happy.”

“Thanks,” Phoebe says after a beat, and then frowns. “And I'm not gay.”

“Mmhmm,” Emily says with a smile. “Neither is my girlfriend.”

——

Subject: Regrets

I try not to have any but you know me better than to believe that it's true.

I regret not having known myself better in college, and not listening to you more carefully when you proved over and over again that you did know me.

I regret having tried to make things work with Naomi so badly when they werent, and I regret even more that I didn't have the guts to tell her until right before she left to Africa.

I regret not having called you when I found out about Oxford, because I wanted to.

I regret not having told you I love you sooner. I think it would've helped us immensely if I'd just ignored your sage advice on this one minor point. Agreed?

All of these are non-issues at the end of the day, because everything that I truly regretted I've remedied, with a litte bit of assistance in some places. [Katie is destined for a career in dictatorship, I swear.]


——

“Okay, thanks. Love you,” she says before hanging up and then watches warily as her friends all stare at her. “What.”

“That your mum?” Lucy asks.

“No,” Emily says and frowns. “Why?”

“Your sister?” Phoebe offers.

“No,” Emily says slowly. “It was Effy. What the fuck is wrong with you two?”

Lucy turns around to look at Phoebe and then they start clapping. Slowly.

Phoebe wolf-whistles after a few seconds and Liz takes off her headphones with an amused look on her face. “The hell?”

“She said I love you,” Lucy says with a grin.

“I'm ignoring all of you,” Emily says and rolls her eyes.

Liz just smiles. “Hey, wow. And thanks, I picked Easter, so these two here now owe me twenty quid each.”

“You—what?” Emily says and takes off her glasses. “Guys—“

“I thought this summer, when she gets back from her trip, and you're so desperate to see her that you forget you're emotionally stunted,” Phoebe says with a grin.

“Thanks, dickhead,” Emily says and flips her off; Phoebe just blows her a kiss. “Et tu, Brutus?”

Lucy just sighs. “I picked never. Just because you've clearly already been in love for two years, like, really—how much time can you possibly need?”

“You're all twats,” Emily says mildly, but can't quite stop from smiling. “Oh, and so we're even—Luce, they've been shagging for about two months now. You owe me dinner.”

Liz flushes while Phoebe gasps and Lucy just sighs. “I'm never betting on anything again.”

——

May, Week 2

Subject: Family

On the whole: disappointment. 

My parents have just served as the wrong example for years, and I guess it's done more damage than I thought. It's the one thing they've never sent me to therapy for—got sent in for not talking, for burning things, for almost dying, but not for not knowing how to be a member of my family. Perhaps ifthey'd switched the order around...

And then there's Tony, who's always been there; and you, today and two years from now.

You two make me hope that it'll be different, someday.


——

She's in the middle of her notes on Joyce when her phone buzzes.

Can we get a dog

It's a lot like I love you.

——

Subject: Naomi

You're asking me to hypothesize on something as inherently unanswerable as “do first relationships ever last”. I dont know if I honestly believe that we stand a better chance because this is not the first, but the second. It's working because it's the one that's working, and she was not.

Would you have ever believed that I'm not leaving if I hadn't left? Can't answer that, Ef, especially not since I'm still not sure that you actually believe me.

But I know you're trying. And yes, we can get a dog.

——

Katie calls to ask when she's coming home, and if she'll see Effy again before then.

“No,” she says, and starts crying spontaneously.

“Jesus Christ. She's not going to like, fucking Af—” Katie starts saying and then cuts herself off abruptly.

“I know. I'm just being stupid,” Emily assures her and then sighs. “Things are good. They're so good that I feel like I'm not awake half the time.”

Katie processes that for a few seconds. “It's nice, isn't it. When things are easy.”

“Yeah,” Emily says.

——

May, Week 3

Her phone rang in the middle of her Classics final and she finds the message hours later, when she's nearly done packing and on the verge of calling Effy, to say hello more than goodbye, but a little bit of both.

She checks her voicemail and immediately calls Gina back.

“What's—she's not meant to becoming back until August, is she? What's happened?” she asks, and doesn't even know why she went from zero to panic, but it's Naomi, who manages to get herself into trouble in everything she does, from kissing girls to winning school elections to having a friendly debate.

“They apparently can't give me specifics but she's been injured somehow and they're sending her home. She'll be here next week.”

“Injured?” Emily repeats and tries to forget everything Naomi showed her about Sierra Leone, the civil war, the child soldiers, all the fucking machine guns.

“I don't know, love. The bloke who spoke to me only got the information second-hand and they're not supposed to tell us more over the phone.” Gina pauses for a second and then sighs. “Though they did recommend I arrange for a psychologist to see her as soon as possible.”

“Oh, God, the kids,” Emily sighs and then feels her eyes fill with tears. “Something must have happened with the kids.”

“I know that you're not her girlfriend anymore, Emily,” Gina says after a few beats. “But she doesn't have very many other people and—“

“I'm going home tomorrow. Call me if anything happens, please?” Emily interjects and sits down heavily on her bed.

“Thanks, love,” Gina says with a sigh and then hangs up.

All they can do is wait.
——

She calls Effy later that evening, when she's finally convinced herself that there's no point in worrying, but in the midst of that she's forgotten that she doesn't know what to tell Effy.

“Naomi's been hurt,” she just says, because she can't think of anything better. “She's coming home two months early and they want to put her in counseling.”

“Jesus,” Effy says after a few seconds.

“I wish you weren't—“ Emily says and then swallows the rest of the sentence because this isn't Effy's fault and making her feel guilty will help nothing. “Gina's asked me to help her and I don't know how to say no—”

“You don't have to explain, Em,” Effy says softly and it hurts Emily's heart.

“I love you, okay?” Emily says, can't stop herself from talking more even though all it does is make her sound guilty, somehow. “And our house, andthe dog, which we are not naming Azrael, for the record—” 

“Stop,” Effy just says, and then laughs a little, but it's so pained. “Go and save lives. See you in August, yeah?”

——

Her phone clatters to her desk as she looks at the world map.

Taking out the red pin feels like defeat, and she can't bear to look at Eastern Europe, either.

Wonders how she fooled herself into thinking any of this would ever be easy, when they all return to Bristol eventually, and she feels like she's being forced to pick sides all over again.

Chapter Text

Katie glares at her and she hasn't even done anything yet; is just unpacking. “You're going to go see her, then. When she's back.”

It's a completely fucking insane question. “What—of course I'm going to see her. What's wrong with you?”

“What's wrong with you?” Katie snaps back. “Jesus Christ. Do you not—you really just don't understand girls at all, do you.”

Emily sits down on her bed with a sigh. “What have I done now, then? Please, tell me, oh wise one; since you apparently get my girlfriend better than I do.”

Katie crosses her arms. “It's not fucking rocket science. You and Naomi, you twat—it's never going to be okay with her, no matter what she does or doesn't tell you.”

“I really think—“ Emily starts saying but Katie silences her with a look.

“Imagine if she and Cook were best mates.”

Something horribly jealous and sick twists inside Emily unexpectedly and she flinches.

“Yeah. So that's what's wrong with me. You can't have both of them, and you keep choosing the wrong one,” Katie finishes and it hurts more because it sounds like such a foregone conclusion.

It also makes her angry, because who comes up with these fucking rules? “She's—we have no idea what she's been through, and I'm not turning myback on her just because you ask me to.”

“And what if Effy asks?” Katie asks quietly.

“She won't,” Emily says.

They both know that that doesn't mean anything. 

----

She sends Effy a text message because it's the best she's got.

Do you think you and Naomi could ever become friends again?

Effy texts back maybe which probably means there's no honesty policy to extend all the way to Eastern Europe—maybe sounds a lot like never, without any expression to affix to Effy's face.

----

James has started making his own lunches, which is the only good thing about being back home; she's fucked up with Katie for the however manieth time and can't even be self-righteous about it because she knows on some level that Katie's probably right.

It doesn't mean that what she's doing is wrong, though, and the only place she can think to go where nobody will make her feel like shit about it isNaomi's.

Gina is carrying boxes of books into the house when Emily cycles up and Emily gets a box of her own out of the back of the car without asking.

“Anything yet?” she asks when Gina passes her in the hallway and presses a kiss to her head.

“She's coming in three days.”

“And the injury?” Emily says, putting the box down with a wince. “Anything—do we know what to expect, at all?”

Gina just shakes her head and then looks so unexpectedly distraught that Emily steps in and gives her a hug.

“I'm so sorry I didn't try harder to make her stay,” Emily can't help but say, because some part of her has thought it for months and she can't say it toanyone else.

“So am I, darling,” Gina says, and then braces herself admirably. “No point in thinking that; tea, instead?”

----

“How's the girlfriend, then?” Gina asks, when they've exhausted talking about the preparations for the summer project and Naomi is filling the silence between them thickly.

Emily sighs, plays with her mug. “In Romania right now, I think.”

“For how long?” Gina asks, before passing the sugar in Emily's direction, who adds some more just because she can.

She smiles wanly. “Too long. I'd feel better if—“

Gina looks at her intently for a few moments and then sighs. “Either she's exceptionally understanding, or this has to be causing some tension.”

Emily takes a deep breath. “Sometimes I honestly don't know—if it's just that she doesn't trust me, or that I don't trust myself. Not that—I mean,” shesays, and then curses herself because this is why this situation is still not resolved, years later; because she can't just say how she feels, always fumbles at the last minute. “I don't know.”

“If Naomi had been here all along, would you be with Effy?” Gina asks, and Emily hates that she has to consider the question seriously.

“No,” she responds and then smiles sadly. “But I'd be with Naomi for all the wrong reasons.”

“Why don't you tell Effy that, then?”

Emily takes a sip of tea and feels it burn on the way down. “Because I don't think she'd really hear it.”

“You're making me very happy that I date men,” Gina says after a few seconds. “This sounds bloody complicated.”

Emily finally laughs. “You have no idea.”

----

James finds her in the garden and sits down next to her silently. It's so unlike him that she doesn't ask him what he's doing; just waits to see what happens.

“I've met someone,” he says, deadly seriously, and she averts her face to stop her smile from showing.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. She's got excellent lunches, and likes good music,” James says, which is high praise indeed.

“Sounds like a winner, James,” she says, firmly, and he looks at her worried for a minute.

“Does this mean I can't fancy Effy anymore?”

She doesn't know how to answer except by giving him a quick hug.

“I hope you don't grow up to be like me, buddy,” she says.

He looks pensive. “Rather be like you than like Katie. Though I don't just want to stick my finger—”

“Stop talking right now, or I will tell Effy that you've found someone else,” she interjects.

It thankfully works.

----

She doesn't know how she falls asleep each night. Just knows it doesn't happen until Effy has texted, has let her know in a roundabout fashion thatshe and Tony are all right, have found some place to sleep, haven't ended up in mortal danger or anything yet.

The messages are short, and she hates how nervous they sound. They all end with any news? and there isn't any. There won't be until tomorrow.

----

Cook has lunch with them and looks at Emily questioningly. “Think she'll be up for seeing us?”

“You, maybe,” Katie says with a snort. “I think she'd rather go back to Africa than see me.”

Cook grins and Emily can't help but laugh, even though it isn't funny.

----

Gina calls when they're back from the airport.

“She's all right,” is what she tells Emily first, and then amends that to, “Well, no, she's not, but she's intact.”

“Has she said what's happened, at all?” Emily asks hesitantly.

“No,” Gina says, and then sighs. “She hasn't said anything.”

Emily can't help but wish that Effy was around, that Effy was still Naomi's friend, because she's the only person Emily knows who would understand that.

----

The first thing she notices is the bandage on her cheek. It's so fucking massive that her fringe doesn't come close to covering it, and Emily reaches out without thinking.

Naomi doesn't flinch. Doesn't really do anything except turn her head and look away.

Emily can't talk about her with her in the room even though it's not entirely clear that she'd notice, and when she gets up off the bed Naomi rolls over onto her side—the non-bandaged one—and Emily spots a matching bandage on her lower back.

She closes the door behind her and looks at Gina anxiously.

“What—do—oh, Christ, I don't even know where to start,” she says and then looks back at the door.

“She hasn't said,” Gina says and runs her hands through her hair. “Obviously. But I had the GP come in last night. He said that the only thing he'd ever seen like this was in a spousal abuse case; a man who hit his wife with a belt.”

Emily barely feels the sick coming on before it does, and only makes it to the toilet because it's right next to Naomi's bedroom.

Gina pours her a glass of water and puts a hand on her back, and it's a little soothing, but only barely.

“When they said injured, I thought—maybe a broken foot, or something, but it's not anything like that, is it?”

“I wish I knew,” Gina says, handing over the water. “Her counseling starts tomorrow. I—there's not much else we can do beyond that, other than be here.”

Emily takes a deep breath and runs her fingers through her hair. “Okay. I just—I wasn't prepared, but I can do this. I'll read to her. Do you haveanything—”

“Check underneath her bed. I've saved a year's supply of National Geographic for her, almost,” Gina says.

“Okay,” Emily says, and then says it again before opening the door.

Naomi hasn't moved at all; looks so lost on the bed that Emily struggles not to reach out somehow. She gets out the magazines instead, and starts with October.

----

It's been three days and she's made it to December when Naomi finally says something.

“Skip anything on Africa,” she says into the pillow, and when Emily quietly agrees she flinches, makes herself even smaller.

----

“She still catatonic, then?” Katie asks when they're clearing up after dinner. It's a dick thing to say, but it lacks venom.

“It's not that bad,” Emily says, but it kind of is.

----

The only thing keeping her sane is reading to the kids. Naomi's been home for a week and still won't leave her bedroom unless Gina drags her, andEmily doesn't really see anyone else until the reading project starts.

The kids all get their own copy of the book and she reads it loud to them as they follow along. It's a group of ten to twelve year olds today and she's selected Redwall because more than half of them are boys, and there's enough action in the book to not bore them to tears.

One of the kids pats her leg in the middle of reading and she looks up, surprised.

“There's a lady over there, staring at us,” the boy whispers and points behind her.

Naomi's already disappeared back up the stairs by the time Emily turns back around.

----

“Nae, do you want to—“ Emily asks that night, when Naomi's turned away from her and lying in the dark again.

“No,” she says, and that one word sounds like it hurts so much that it has to be progress somehow.

----

She wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes, thinking she's made a horrible mistake and she can't remember what it is.

She slips out of their bedroom and pads downstairs, sits out in the garden and clutches her phone. It's four am. She doesn't know if it's okay.

Effy picks up; probably thinks it's a fucking emergency judging by the somewhat slurred but urgent way in which she says “Emily?”

“I just—please just talk to me for a minute,” she says and rests her head against the side of the house, closes her eyes.

“Tony got mistaken for a gay prostitute today,” Effy says after a beat.

Emily laughs, as quietly as she can, until her lungs hurt. “Thank you. I needed that.” 

“Naomi?” Effy asks and Emily feels her breath leave her in a rush.

“It's not good, babe. It's really not good.”

“Just stay near her,” Effy says, softly. “This is what you do, Em.”

Emily sighs and rubs at her face. “I don't deserve you, you know.”

“What a stupid thing to say,” Effy responds, and they both laugh.

“I'll let you go; tell Tony I said hi.”

“Em?”

“Yeah.”

“This was worth the ten quid it probably cost us both,” Effy admits; almost sounds comfortable saying it.

“Love you,” Emily says in response, because it's the right one.

----

The bandage on Naomi's cheek is gone in the morning and Naomi's sat downstairs at the kitchen table with a bowl of Ready Brek in front of her.

It's a thin, red line that cuts down from her ear, almost to the corner of her mouth, and Emily winces when she sees it.

Naomi almost smiles at her, but her eyes—they don't follow along. “I've always wanted to look like a pirate.”

“It'll fade,” Emily says and Naomi loses the smile, just stares out the window instead.

“Will it?”

Emily doesn't know what to say.

----

Gina is reading a book on PTSD when Emily finds her.

“Is counseling helping at all?” she asks; can't quite keep the dismay out of her voice.

Gina sighs. “Apparently it would, if she'd stop resisting it. She refuses to talk about what happened and just—well, you saw her this morning.”

“She sounds more like herself,” Emily says hesitantly. “Except that's not right, is it?”

“No,” Gina agrees and puts the book down.

“What happens if—if she never talks? Does she just stay like this?”

Gina flinches—only barely, but it's there. “No. She wouldn't just stay like this.”

----

The scariest thing about Naomi is how fucking compliant she is. Doesn't protest anything except going downstairs when the reading groups are around, which nobody brought up after her first episode about that.

Like calling it an episode explains anything about what happened; does justice to the way Naomi's face had pulled back and gone unnaturally pale before she'd grabbed it in her hands and started shaking her head. It taken her 15 minutes just to start breathing normally again and Emily hadn't dared talk to her the rest of the day.

Today, however, it's back to the same old thing, and when Emily suggests they go out to the lake Naomi just shrugs blandly. “I don't care.”

It doesn't help anyone, getting mad at her, and Emily feels like a horrible person for sometimes almost losing patience. But then Naomi voluntarily goes out back and gets her bicycle and even remembers to check the tyres and Emily feels like a horrible person for being proud of her, like she's not really fucking clever, like this is all that's left of her now, all they can hope for.

She probably shouldn't drink, not in this state, but talking and waiting have done nothing for her and Naomi doesn't seem like she can be arsed to buy alcohol anyway. Emily spreads out the blanket and hands over a bottle of vodka wordlessly, and then lights a cigarette before passing it over, too.

“Like old times,” Naomi says dryly. “How nice.”

“I'm trying, okay,” Emily says and it comes out snappier than she intends to, but Naomi just takes a deep drag and stares out over the lake.

They've sat silently for almost an hour; Emily knows because she can't stop looking at her phone, wishing for something to happen, but she truly can'tread anymore—it's all she does—and so all they have is this horrible, destroyed quiet between them.

“You never told me,” Naomi says suddenly; follows it up with a swig of vodka that brings the bottle down to a quarter.

“Told you what?”

“Who you're seeing,” Naomi says, and it comes out absent like the rest of her is somewhere else entirely.

“Oh,” Emily says and reaches for the bottle; drinks two swallows so large that she feels like her throat is a large chemical burn, and it doesn't make it any better.

“It's Effy, isn't it,” Naomi says, before lighting another cigarette and tossing the lighter back down on the blanket.

Emily just nods; doesn't know what else to say, if this is going to turn out to be a big deal or not, because there's no telling with Naomi these days.

“Typical,” Naomi says; blows smoke towards the lake with a blank expression.

“Are—I'm sorry,” Emily says, and then flinches when Naomi looks at her with a bitter smile.

“What makes you think I give a shit?”

“I—“

“You haven't changed at all,” Naomi says and flicks the cigarette into the lake. “Still can't see the bigger bloody picture, can you.”

It's unfair, but it's the most Naomi has said since she's been back and so Emily sits back and says nothing.

“Your whole life is this,” Naomi says, vaguely gestures at the lake or the trees surrounding it, maybe just Bristol. “So I guess I shouldn't blame you, for thinking I'd care.” 

“You cared once,” Emily says, quietly, and Naomi looks at her sharply.

“We were seventeen. Not to mention stupi—“

“What happened to you out there, Naomi?” Emily blurts out and watches as Naomi's eyes grow distant, as her mouth sets.

“I grew up,” she says and gets up without another word.

----

Parts of Naomi come back after that; she talks again, says the same words she's always said but whereas before her caustic barbs were tempered with gentle irony, these days she sounds like she means every word.

Emily doesn't know how to let her be; doesn't know how to be near her, either, because Naomi can't make it much clearer that she looks down on Emily's attempts to befriend her, if not just on Emily's entire life.

Cook is the only person who can handle it, and it's only because he's always found Naomi hilarious. Maybe he deliberately doesn't see the differences; Emily wishes she knew how to do it.

----

One day in late June, Emily reaches for the next pile of National Geographics under Naomi's bed and finds a folder on top of them. It's not even thatshe's curious or nosy; just assumes that it's something of Gina's that she might need and checks to see what's in it automatically, since Gina has herdoing most of the managing of their little summer school as it is.

It's not Gina's work, she realizes when the first picture falls out, but then it's too late and she can't stop herself from looking.

Picture after picture of small African children with dates written on the back.

She doesn't need to see any beyond the first three, when she figures out what they are, but goes through them all anyway; feels her heart tear with every additional small, smiling face and what it stands for.

“What are you doing?” Naomi asks from the doorway and Emily almost drops the entire folder; then just guiltily puts it down on the bed.

“I'm so sorry—“

“Get out,” Naomi says and takes two long steps, shoves the pictures back into the folder without looking at them and deposits it back under the bed.

“Nae, I really didn't mean—“

Get out,” she repeats, and this time it's shrill, painful. Emily's already taken an involuntary step backwards by the time she sees Naomi's face, watches as her hands shake.

“Sorry,” she whispers and flees; there's no other word for it.

She's not even made it down the stairs by the time she hears the crash, just pauses on the landing before realizing she can't go back in; doesn't know what Naomi can do to her like this.

She's not just afraid for Naomi anymore. Afraid of her might be a better way to put it, and she doesn't understand how it feels like a personal failing, that Naomi just isn't dealing at all.

----

She's incredibly fucked up and I don't know how to help her, she texts to Effy, after she and Gina find her dresser completely bare and the mirror broken into five or so large pieces.

Effy doesn't respond for hours. When she finally does, all it says is Just be yourself.

She doesn't know how to take that.

----

Naomi doesn't apologize to anyone, but when Emily suggests going out to the lake again a week later, she shrugs and gets her bag without sayinganything.

They drink silently and Emily just can't stand it anymore.

“One of my kids read an entire page without pausing yesterday,” she says quietly. “I know it's stupid, but I got a litte bit emotional; you know, it's a big moment, for him, and the silly look on his face when he realized what he'd done—“ She trails off when Naomi ignores her completely and sighs. “Sorry. More of my pedestrian, boring English life, I guess.”

Naomi says nothing for a long while and then closes her eyes. “His name was David.”

“His—?” Emily asks hesitantly and Naomi shrinks in on herself.

“My favorite kid. He loved being read to; biggest fucking smile on his silly mug every time I'd even so much as show up with a book.” She pauses tolight a cigarette and then stares at it for a few seconds, watches it smolder. “Didn't seem to matter that it was the same books over and over again because there weren't any others.”

Emily stays silent, but dares, for once, to reach out for Naomi's hand. Naomi flinches at the first contact but then seems to steel herself; grasps it tightly.

“He was already in the later stages of the disease when I arrived. What the clinic staff refers to as a waste; no point in shifting drugs to someone whose prolonged life still wouldn't take them far. It's a pretty fucking stupid classification, though, when at least half the people there fall into the category.” She sighs and takes a deep drag. “But they had to do something, to pick and choose, to prioritize. So many sick; so few drugs, and an eight year old doesn't need to stay alive to provide for his family.”

Naomi's hair falls forward into her eyes and she lets it hang there; lets it curtain her face and maybe it's enough to keep things going, Emily thinks, before squeezing gently.

“But no matter how objective the system they designed was, it was bullshit. They couldn't even pass around pain killers—and by the end, his lungs...” The cigarette is burning to quickly; burns through the filter, reaches her fingers by the time she remember she's holding it. “I couldn't—“

“Naomi,” Emily breathes softly and Naomi's lips flicker in and out of a smile.

“Injustice, right? That's what you'd called it, that bloody stupid election. I guess you're right. I knew where the drugs were kept; had a key for the locker as a volunteer, but they closed the clinic off at night, patients only. So I gave my key to David; explained to him which ones to get, and how to inject himself if it got really bad.”

Naomi holds out her spare hand and Emily hands over the bottle of wine wordlessly, watches as she drinks almost a quarter of it in one go.

“One morning, when we got in, they'd caught him. The security staff, privately contracted bastards to make sure that nobody fucked over any part of the aid agreement. He still had the bloody syringe in his hand, didn't drop it the entire time,” Naomi says and squeezes her eyes shut. “They were beating him with a belt, asking him where he got the key.”

“Oh, hon,” Emily breathes.

“He didn't say; I watched for about thirty seconds as he didn't say anything and they hit him twice more, and then couldn't help myself.”

“You got in the way,” Emily says and closes her eyes; tries not to picture it.

“They couldn't pull back in time, or maybe they just didn't give a fuck. I might as well have told them it was me, anyway, it was that fucking obvious what I was doing,” Naomi continues, before reaching up to her cheek absentmindedly. “It stopped eventually, but they'd hit him so hard and he was so sick that—”

Part of Emily is desperate to get her to stop talking but she can't, knows she can't, and if hearing it is this awful then living it must've just been— 

“They made me leave,” Naomi says after a few seconds and her voice breaks on it, completely crumbles. “His lungs were failing and they wouldn't evenlet me stay. Locked me in my room until the could put me on a flight back for violating some fucking protocol. A protocol, can you believe that?”

She looks over at Emily and her mouth starts trembling, and Emily shifts in closer; tentatively puts an arm around Naomi's back and squeezes her armwhen Naomi appears to be letting her do this much.

“I didn't get a chance to—“ Naomi says, and then has to stop because her entire frame starts trembling.

“Shhh,” Emily says, helplessly and incredibly sadly, and Naomi shakes her head.

“They didn't even let me say goodbye,” she says, and then finally, finally starts crying about it.

“I'm so sorry,” Emily whispers before shifting up to her knees. It's not nearly enough and all she can think of doing beyond that is clumsily wrapping herarms around Naomi's shoulders, tugging her forward into an awkward hug.

Naomi is muttering something against her shoulder and it takes Emily long minutes to realize that it's an apology, over and over again, and she strokes Naomi's hair and shushes her, but none of it seems to be helping at all; not even a little.

“I never should have given him the key,” Naomi says, when she's stopped saying she's sorry, and then pulls back to look at Emily, tears still streaming down her face and her hands still shaking. “It's my fault that this happened. My fucking fault for being so—“

“Hon, no,” Emily says and reaches for Naomi's face. “You did what you could. And you helped him, okay?”

“I killed him,” Naomi says instead and Emily feels her chest contract, runs her fingers over the scar and then Naomi turns her head away. “He's dead because of me, Emily. How am I supposed to—“

She shifts forward without thinking, presses her lips against the scar and feels Naomi's hands clutch at her back almost desperately. “You didn't kill him. You were his friend, Naomi; the best friend he could've had.”

“I killed him,” Naomi repeats again and Emily can't think of anything else to do but to kiss her firmly, to force her to stop saying it, because maybeshe'll stop thinking it.

Just be yourself echoes in her head and she pushes it down, can't think about Effy or what this means right now, can't think of anything beyond Naomi needing someone.

Naomi's fingers knit into her shirt and Emily swallows her sob, kisses her again instead and gently pushes Naomi down back onto the blanket, untilshe's lying on top of her and their lips press together over and over again.

Naomi doesn't respond the first three times, but out of nowhere kisses back desperately, and Emily feels something inside of her give way at the concession. It's not a victory because nobody's winning at all, but if this stops Naomi from thinking that she killed an eight year old child that was doomed long before she even went to Africa, then this what they'll do.

They don't bother taking clothes off and Emily tries to forget how familiar what she's doing is; and nothing Naomi is doing is making it more than it is,thank God.

“You're a wonderful person,” Emily whispers into her ear when her fingers find their mark and Naomi shakes her head almost violently at the words. “No, you are. You're a wonderful, kind, and loving person, and I am so happy that I know you. That you're still in my life.”

“I don't know how to live with this,” Naomi breathes, clenching her eyes shut which does nothing to stop the tears from flowing, and Emily kisses herforehead, works her fingers back and forth gently.

“One day at a time, okay?” she responds quietly and presses another kiss to Naomi's cheek, to the scar, and only seconds later Naomi gently shudders before trapping Emily's hands between her legs.

“It will get better,” she says, long moments later, after Emily's shifted to her side again and the only way they're touching is by holding hands. “It hasto.”

They're both questions, on the inside, and Emily nods. “Yeah.”

Naomi closes her eyes briefly, but then looks at Emily with a pained look on her face. “I—don't know what to say. Effy—“ 

"She can never, ever know," Emily says with a sigh, presses a kiss to Naomi's knuckles. "You understand, don't you?"

"This wasn't—I mean, it wasn't like that," Naomi responds before rubbing the last tears off her cheeks. "I think she'd understand, if you just—"

"She shouldn't have to know. I love her, and this—"

"Yeah," Naomi says, and rolls over to press a kiss to Emily's temple. "Thank you.”

----

They're no longer touching anywhere when they wake up, and Emily rouses Naomi gently.

Naomi blinks at her blearily, eyes still faintly red, and then smiles. “Hey.”

Out of nowhere, Emily feels like shit. “I don't—I have to go home,” she says, and doesn't know why her throat feels like it's closing up, but she can barely breathe.

Naomi just nods; appears to for once understand what Emily is saying without needing more words.

“You'll be okay?” Emily can't help but ask, even though she's already getting to her feet and blindly reaching for her purse.

“Yeah,” Naomi says quietly, and then takes a deep breath. “I think I will.”

----

Katie's quite obviously waiting for her to get home; the issue of Heat in front of her is upside-down, which is as good a tip-off as anything.

She starts saying something but then stops—as if the look on Emily's face makes it clear that no, they won't be having a conversation about this.

“It's not—“ Emily starts to say and then can't say anything else, starts crying helplessly and the stupidest thing is that she doesn't even know for what,her own stupid mistakes, the way that Effy almost encouraged her to make them, or an eight year old boy named David who will never make another mistake again.

Katie gets up wordlessly and for a second Emily thinks she's going to be hit in the face, but to her surprise Katie starts crying, too. “Jesus. Why doyou have to make everything so fucking complicated?”

“I'm so sorry,” she manages to say, before Katie steps in and holds her tightly.

----

She told Naomi that Effy could never know, but doesn't know how she's going to keep it a secret.

Katie strokes her hair and sighs. “I don't even know how to be mad at you, you stupid twat.”

Emily closes her eyes and tries not to resent either of them for putting her in this situation in the first place; tries not to hate herself for still not knowing any better solutions.

----

Gina calls that night. “I don't know what you did, but—“

“I just listened,” Emily says and thinks that if she tells herself often enough that that was the part that mattered she might be able to forget the rest.

“Thank you,” Gina says after a beat.

“Anytime,” Emily says, and after she's hung up her mind responds with cheater.

----

Effy texts. Are things better?

Emily's heart feels so bruised that she doesn't even know if the answer is yes or no.

Sends back I miss you instead.

----

Naomi seeks her out a few days later. She looks like she's finally slept; not much, but maybe some.

They sit out in the yard together and smoke silently; Emily keeps a careful few inches of space between them and when Naomi notices she laughs.

“You know what fucks me up the most?” she says, and laughs again. “The way everyone acts like I'm going to break. I guess being treated like a sexual predator is an improvement, in some ways.”

Emily flinches. “Sorry, I—“

Naomi just snorts. “Yeah.”

“It's not anything you're doing,” Emily says with a sigh.

“When's she due back, then?”

“Next week,” Emily says and swallows hard, closes her eyes and tries not to think about that.

“Hm,” Naomi says and then flicks the lighter, the harsh click forcing Emily to blink her eyes back open. “Well, here's how things are, right now. I'm obviously monumentally fucked up” and she follows it with a vague smile, it's the most Naomi thing she's done in ages and Emily can't help but smileback, “and will remain so for some time, because my therapist reminded me yesterday that I hugged a dying child with AIDS with an open cut on my body. So, you know, I've got about four more months to wait before we find out if that's something else I have to be sent to therapy for, and in the mean time I think I'd feel better if someone would just tell me something normal. Fucking gossip with me, or something. You know? Remind me that this isEngland, and you had a magical second first date and Effy's secretly profusely romantic or whatever.”

Emily laughs despite herself and then bites her lip. “Jesus, I'm sorry—”

Naomi chuckles and then rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Imagine what my karma will be like after this bloody year. I'm obviously due to marry a Sheik or whatever.”

They sit silently for a bit and then Emily looks at Naomi's profile; the fading cut, the way her hair's so long now it doesn't fall into her eyes, and the wayher eyes have gotten older. “You're really—you're truly over it, aren't you?”

Naomi doesn't turn to face her but the corner of her mouth quirks up. “It seems like a waste of time; being upset because someone else is happy.”

Emily tries to process that but doesn't get very far before Naomi turns to her with a raised eyebrow. “So, profusely romantic?”

“Sometimes,” Emily says with a faint blush, and then feels a bubble of laughter come up and can't stop it. “Other times, she takes near-nude pictures of me when I'm asleep and then guiltily tells me that they're part of an art project and it won't matter if the entirety of her school sees them, because I don't live in Glasgow.”

Naomi bursts out laughing and Emily grins, picks at grass with her fingers and then smiles.

“She's changed,” Emily says, and for the first time in a week can think about Effy without it hurting. “But I think you'd like who she is now.”

Naomi doesn't say anything for a while and then takes a deep breath. “I've never not liked who she was, Em. I just didn't like how much you liked it.”

“Yeah,” Emily sighs. “Sorry.”

Naomi smiles after a few seconds. “Think I can get one of those near-nude pictures if I ask her nicely? Since it's art, and all that?”

“Not on your life,” Emily says.

Katie finds them laughing together, with two inches of space between them.

----

She sees Tony first, looking incredibly hungover with sunglasses almost falling off his nose.

“Emilyyy,” he says and lifts her up into a hug.

“You're drunk,” Emily says and then laughs when he cheerfully agrees.

She spots Effy—freckled, wrecked, beautiful—over his shoulder and pats Tony on the back until he puts her down.

It's not quite a run, but she can't pretend it's not at the very least a mild jog, and she crashes into Effy so hard that they almost fall over.

“I'm so glad you're back,” Emily breathes into her neck, squeezing her in tight, and feels Effy exhale shakily before arms wrap around her back.

“You're still—“ she hears Effy start to say, but nothing follows it and she just holds on tight.

“No more two month long trips without me, okay?” Emily whispers into her ear and then swallows hard.

Effy pulls back and just reaches for Emily's hair; smooths it out gently. “Come with us, next time.”

“Yeah,” Emily says. “Yeah, I will."

Effy reaches for her knee on the drive back home without prompting; squeezes it just once, and it feels like absolution.

Chapter Text

For a short while, Emily thinks that she's gotten away with it.

----

They curl up on Effy's bed together after she's taken a shower; face cleanly freckled and tan, eyes serious and tired.

"She's better, then?" Effy just asks, and Emily doesn't know what her face is showing, can't really stop it anyway and Effy knows her so well. Effy justknows.

"Effy," Emily says, her voice breaking down completely. "I swear I—"

"Stop talking," Effy says, and then kisses Emily so softly that she feels like she's been slapped.

----

They fall asleep on opposite sides of the bed without touching.

They wake up with Emily's head pressed up against Effy's ribcage and Effy's hand in her hair.

“I love you,” Emily breathes quietly, before pressing her lips to Effy's skin, absorbing her sigh.

“I know you do,” Effy responds softly, and when Emily looks up there's tears in her eyes.

They shift until they're face to face and Effy just stares, blinks away tears rapidly.

“Please just trust me,” Emily whispers. “I am where I want to be.”

Effy doesn't say anything in response; just kisses her achingly hard, sucks on her bottom lip until it bruises.

Emily lets her.

----

Tony corners her in the kitchen the next morning. “She'll never say it, but you need to know. She's terrified that you're going to leave her.”

“It's not like that,” Emily says softly.

Tony just looks at her for a few moments. “Maybe it's about time you prove that, then.”

----

She calls Naomi when Effy's gone out to buy fags.

“We need to spend some time together,” she says, and when Naomi doesn't immediately responds, adds, “all three of us.”

“Well,” Naomi finally says. “At least I'm already in therapy.”

“Please, Naomi,” Emily says and hopes that Naomi won't make her add the you owe me that she can always use as a last resort.

“Yeah, okay,” Naomi sighs. “Let me know where and when.”

----

When Effy gets back Emily pats the bed next to her.

Effy looks at her warily. “You've... plotted.”

“Just sit for a minute,” Emily says; reaches for the ashtray and holds it out as a peace offering.

Effy lights a cigarette and perches on the edge of the bed.

“God dammit, will you stop being so afraid of me?” Emily snaps frustratedly and then takes a deep breath.

Effy snorts. “Is that what you think this is?”

“I don't know what this is,” Emily says and runs her hands through her hair. “You won't let me explain, have stopped me every time I've tried to—but now you want to punish me for whatever it is you think I've done, is that it?”

Effy smiles faintly. “Apparently I'm translucent today.”

“Fuck you, Effy,” Emily says, so tiredly that it barely even sounds like an insult—just like disappointment. “I can't believe that we're still here, still arguing about the same things.”

“And whose fault is that, exactly?” Effy asks sharply. “I'm not the one with an ex-girlfriend that I just can't—“

“I have gotten over her,” Emily interjects, throws her hands up. “What the fuck else can I do but tell you, Ef? Do you want me to promise I'll never talk to her again? Cut her out of my life completely? Would you like to move into a cabin in the woods somewhere so that I can never look at another person again and you can finally trust me?”

Effy's mouth pinches, barely, and then she slips away; goes back to being who she was before Emily felt she knew her in just a second. Like it's thateasy to forget. “Do what you like, Emily. I don't care,” she says, and then smiles. “But do us both a favor, and stop pretending that you didn't fuck her.”

Emily's breath lodges in her throat; any explanation she might have had disappears completely because not once had she expected Effy to be this cruel about it.

Effy takes another deep drag before getting off the bed. “I can't help that I'm incredibly familiar with that look you get on your face when you've cheated.”

“Effy...,” Emily says and watches as Effy squares her shoulders and moves towards the door; looks back at Emily with a faint smile on her face.

“You did it for me once, too, you know,” she says, and then swallows visibly; closes her eyes for a second. “I get that it's who you are, that you just care too much. But I'd hoped that—“

“Effy, it didn't mean anything. I lov—“ Emily starts saying but Effy winces, holds out her hand.

“Don't; you'll make it completely meaningless.” She shudders and then leans her head against the doorframe. “Just—give me a few days, okay?”

Emily can feel tears well up in her eyes but tries desperately to ignore them because she's so completely in the wrong, she hasn't earned them. She just nods instead; watches as Effy slips out the door.

----

Summer school goes on and Naomi is slowly starting to come around to it, but only to the extent that she's willing to help clean up when things are done. One day at a time, Emily thinks, and sighs when she realizes that that holds true for all of them.

“All right, Em?” Naomi asks after her a stack of books to be put back into one of the cases.

“No, not all right,” Emily says and then slumps against the bookcase. “Effy—oh, God, I don't even know. She knows mostly everything, doesn't trust me in the slightest, and it's not like I can even be upset about it because I haven't exactly ever given her a reason to trust me.”

“She thinks you still have feelings for me, then,” Naomi concludes and shrugs when Emily looks up at her in surprise. “What, it's Effy, I don't think she'd get all fraught up if you just shagged some random at a club or something.”

Emily chuckles and then sighs again. “No; it's because it's you.”

“And do you?” Naomi asks after a beat.

“Do I what?”

“Still have feelings for me?” It comes out just lightly enough for it to not be an incredibly awkward question and then Naomi wiggles her eyebrows, making both of them laugh.

“I'll always love you, you know?” Emily says after a beat, and Naomi ducks her head for a second before smiling. “I just don't think she gets at all thatit's not the same thing.”

Naomi tilts her head for a second and then pats Emily on the shoulder. “She must love you very much.”

Emily just blinks in response.

“Only time I've ever been that bloody irrational about anything was when I first fell for you,” Naomi says with a smile, squeezes Emily's arm before walking away.

----

Tony cockblocks her at the door, for lack of a better term. “You've—really fucked up, Emily.”

“Tony, please. I'll spend the next bloody week apologizing to you for what a cunt I am if it makes you feel better, but I think I'm better off just doing it to her, okay?”

Tony doesn't react for a second but then smiles, moves aside. “You make it hard not to like you, Fitch.”

----

Effy's sitting on the edge of her bed in a shirt-dress, and it's such a fucking throw-back to when they were still proper teenagers that Emily feels her heart sink. She takes a deep breath and gets on the bed behind Effy, leans in close and then wraps her arms gently around Effy's waist.

“I'm tired of waiting for you to get ready to hear me apologize,” she says, and Effy exhales shakily, closes her eyes.

“Go on, then,” she says after a beat.

“A lot of it isn't my story to tell, but there was nothing about it that you need to feel threatened by, and it won't ever happen again,” Emily says.

Effy twitches in response. “Okay.”

“She cried the entire time, Ef,” Emily says and watches as Effy swallows. “It wasn't—“

“Okay,” Effy repeats and then turns her cheek, just enough for Emily to be able to kiss her temple.

“I want all three of us to talk about this. She's not—I'm not cutting her out of my life, and if it weren't for me you two would probably be best friends today. So please, Ef. Hear us both out, okay?”

Effy just nods, and then turns around until they're properly hugging.

“Don't give up on us this easily,” Emily whispers and Effy trembles momentarily. “I want our smutty bedroom, our unidentified unnamed dog, reading in parks five years from now; I want all of these things, all right?”

She feels Effy nod again and then feels her lips, smoothing over the bruises she left a week ago that have gotten an ugly, putrid yellow by now.

“I'm sorry,” she says again, and Effy pulls back to kiss her. This time, it's just soft enough to feel like forgiveness.

----

Effy agrees to come to Naomi's house to sort this out, because it's not a conversation Emily fancies having in public and there's not enough privacy at anyone else's house.

They've finished up for the day and Emily starts feeling slightly nauseous; tries to focus on as many menial tasks at once just to not think how horribly awkward the next hour or so of her life is going to be.

"Is that her, then?" Gina asks, gently elbowing Emily, who's still stacking up the alphabet cards and putting them back in their box.

She looks up and watches as Effy spots Naomi, and—nobody else would ever notice the faint flinch, but Emily has.

"Yeah. That's her," she says, far too late, because Gina's already walked over with a welcoming expression.

Naomi looks at Emily and raises her eyebrows.

She feels like she's in college again.

----

Gina tells Emily that Effy's “gorgeous” right before they all move into the kitchen, and it's just about distracting enough for the first three minutes to not be super weird.

“Tea?” Naomi asks and Effy nods as Emily says, “yes please.”

She reaches for Effy's knee under the table and squeezes it; tries not to smile when Effy starts unexpectedly, but it's kind of nice knowing that this is tripping everyone out equally.

“So,” Naomi says when they're all settled. “First things first. The first thing I think when I see Emily is not I want to fuck that girl, as someone once told me back when I was 17.”

Emily almost spits out a mouthful of tea but swallows it just in time. Effy doesn't move for a few seconds but then can't stop from smiling. “To the point.”

“Yes, and unlike the pervert in question, I actually mean it,” Naomi says before sitting back with a vaguely smug expression on her face.

“Okay, then,” Effy says and takes a sip of tea, but Emily can feel her legs untangle and relax, and seconds later her hand is covered by Effy's.

“We've always been straight with each other, Effy,” Naomi says after few seconds and then purses her lips. “So, truthfully? Two years ago I wanted to strangle you for having something that I thought should've been mine, and today all I can think is that two years was a long time ago.”

“A lot has happened,” Effy says mildly, raises her eyebrows lightly while looking at Naomi's scar. “For some of us.”

“I'm not seventeen anymore either, Ef,” Emily says gently. “And it's a bit fucking unfair that you think that you and Naomi have both grown the hell up, but I haven't changed at all.”

Effy inclines her head for a second and then sighs. “So this thing between you two—“

“Oh, get off it,” Naomi scoffs. “What, do you want some bloody speech on how I think you're meant to be?”

Emily laughs. “Why, do you have one ready?”

“No, but I imagine it would allude vigorously to how the deeply stupid deserve each other,” Naomi says.

“Touché, Scarface,” Effy says dryly, and before Emily can so much as start kicking at her shin, Naomi has started laughing.

----

“Did that help?” Emily asks when they're on their way home.

Effy reaches for her hand in response.

----

Things feel slightly better; except for the part where Effy sometimes will randomly just pull her into a hug and squeeze incredibly tightly without saying anything, and Emily's heart breaks a little each time it happens.

“I'm so sorry that I've hurt you so much,” she says one morning, after they've made love. “I'm not sure if that was on my list of regrets or not, but it's the biggest one.”

Effy just closes her eyes and shifts in closer; falls asleep with one arm around Emily's waist, and everything else is just going to be one day at a time.

----

“Meet my friends,” she finally asks, one morning over breakfast. “Liz and Luce have asked me to come to spend a weekend with them in London, and all they've ever seen of you is, well—“

“My almost bare arse?” Effy says with a grin. 

“Will you come with?” Emily asks, ignoring her completely.

Effy frowns slightly and then pushes the butter towards Emily. “I'm not—good with talking. You know that. They'll probably think I'm a bit of a cunt.”

“Don't care,” Emily says and after another few seconds Effy says, “all right then.”

----

“Oooh, and you've brought Elizabeth,” Phoebe says with a grin. “Lovely to finally meet you, darling; though I feel like we already know each other, whatwith that fantastic picture of you that Emily likes to fap to.”

Effy honestly looks like she's going to freeze up completely for a second, but then relaxes. “You're the straight one that's shagging a girl, right?”

Lucy cracks up. “I like her already, Em.”

“Whatever, Noise Complaint,” Phoebe says mildly and they all start laughing. “C'mon in, Liz is preparing dinner since we decided we ought to at least be full before we imbibe.”

They follow Lucy and Phoebe into a large open kitchen where Liz is tinkering with something in an apron.

“Hallo love,” Liz says and pecks Emily on the cheek quickly before sticking out a hand to Effy. “And nice to meet you again, under more clothed circumstances.”

Effy smiles. "Likewise.”

“Em, Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Pinot?” Lucy calls from the living room.

“No Pinot,” Effy and Emily say simultaneously.

“Oh, God, they've mind-melded,” Phoebe says somewhat more quietly and Emily rolls her eyes before shooting a quick glance at Effy.

“All right?”

Effy makes a drinking gesture with a deep sigh and Emily kisses her, just because.

----

Liz and Phoebe, as it turns out, are still hilarious together when out drinking, because they pretend they're not seeing each other. Instead, Emily is the intended handsy victim for a few minutes while Effy's off getting another bottle of wine, and it's pretty common, that, so she doesn't think to mind.

Effy raises her eyebrows for a second but then hangs back once she returns; watches what happens.

It feels like a game—the kind of shit they used to get up to before, and Emily feels her lips curve into a smile even as Effy takes a swig of wine, eyes burning into Emily's the entire time. She plays; always has played whenever Effy has suggested a game, and so she tugs Phoebe in closer by her loosely dangling tie and leans up close to her ear. All she says is, “I wonder what's keeping Effy” but knows that to Effy it'll look different, much more intimate, with one of her hands on Phoebe's shoulders and the other still wrapped in the tie.

“I think someone's gunning for a spanking,” she hears Liz mutter behind her, who can of course see what she's doing (unlike Phoebe), and she twists her head with a wild grin.

“Care to help me secure it?” she asks and Liz's mouth falls open in surprise, but only for a second; then, she steps in even closer and presses forward, until Emily is truly and well sandwiched between them.

“How far can you take this before she snaps,” Liz asks and Emily fingers Phoebe's tie, runs her other hand down Phoebe's back achingly slowly; watches Effy's nostrils flare in response.

“Depends...” Emily says, and then grins right at Effy. “Grab my arse, we'll find out.”

“Ahh, wish fulfillment,” Liz sighs, and goes for it with such obviously faked glee that Emily snorts.

When she squeezes, Emily accidentally takes another step forward, and that's how Emily's leg ends up between Phoebe's, who just goes with it—as she goes with everything and yeah, it's not Effy, she hasn't forgotten about the reason for doing this, but two girls this close to her and seemingly not giving a shit?

She's lost track of Effy for only a second; but then feels a tug on her arm. 

“Bathroom,” Effy says, hoarsely, and then hands over the bottle of wine to Liz.

Emily follows wordlessly and then curses when there's a small queue; feels Effy's nails dig into her palm, feels her own nipples grow hard in response, and it takes five fucking minutes but then they're in a cubicle.

“What the fuck,” Effy says, turns them around until she can press Emily against the door.

“Just teasing you,” Emily says; lifts one leg and wraps it around Effy's knee, pulls her forward. “I know you like games.”

Effy stares at her intently. “Games.”

Emily blinks in surprise and then strokes Effy's arm. “What—“ 

“Don't talk,” Effy says and then crushes Emily against the door, kisses her so hard and long and deep that by the time she pulls away Emily's lips tingle and she can't even remember where they are anymore. 

Effy's hands slide up her thighs, knot in her tights and then yank on the sharply; the loud ripping echoes throughout the bathroom but it's hard to remember to be embarrassed when Effy's mouth is on her throat, sucking and biting so quickly that all Emily can do is press back against the door, feel it rattle every time Effy moves in even closer.

Her lips move even further down and she yanks open Emily's shirt so quickly that Emily gasps, gasps Effy's name for a different reason when she can hear her buttons clang on the concrete floor, but then Effy's mouth finds her nipple and she forgets what the hell she was on about altogether.

Effy's mouth is rough; she bites down almost hard and then hisses when Emily tugs on her hair, just does it again in retaliation and Emily groans even as Effy's fingers find her clit, stroke past it quickly a few times before slipping inside of her.

She bites down on her own hand pre-emptively; needs to when Effy curls her fingers and sucks hard all at once, but then lets go when Effy looks at her straight—fingers still thrusting in and out rapidly and Emily's hips bucking towards them almost desperately looking for some kind of rhythm.

“Don't fucking do it again,” Effy says; presses her palm against Emily's clit, and she rocks up against it even as she's trying to process what Effy's saying.

“Do what?”

“I don't share,” Effy says, and shifts in closer, braces her hand with her own knee so she can fuck Emily even harder, and they're so close now thatevery time Effy exhales, Emily can feel it on her skin.

“Ef,” Emily manages and tries to pay attention but fuck, her fingers know so much, are rubbing so deliberately that she just can't.

“I don't share you,” Effy repeats, almost desperately. “Okay?”

“God,” Emily says and hits her head against the stall door again, hard, when Effy adds a third finger unexpectedly.

“Say it,” Effy demands; repeats it with every inward thrust.

“Oh, Jesus, Effy,” Emily breathes and digs her nails into Effy's shoulderblades just so she can hang on.

"Fucking say it,” Effy snaps and Emily inhales sharply, knows how close she is and knows that Effy is just holding off deliberately; one swipe past her clit with anything and she'll melt, completely evaporate into Effy's arms.

“I'm yours,” she breathes, and opens her eyes just in time to see Effy's mouth tremble in response.

Then, Effy kisses her, and she climaxes so hard that she bites through Effy's lip.

She catches her breath while Effy wipes at her mouth, and then they look at each other silently. Her head hurts from where she banged it and other parts of her chafe, but what hurts the most is the embarrassed look on Effy's face.

“We are not okay, are we,” Emily says, and Effy lowers her eyes.

----

It doesn't get better. In the days following London, Emily can literally feel Effy pull away from her, second by second, until she wakes up one morning and Effy is looking at her with such a devastated look on her face that Emily feels a sudden onset of panic.

“I'm not going anywhere” is all she can think of saying, and when Effy just rolls away from her in response, she realizes it wasn't the right thing to say.

----

They can't be alone together anymore, and so they go out for drinks with Tony; run into Naomi on the way over, who is invited along with a shrug from Effy.

“Everything ok?” Naomi asks discreetly when they slip inside and Emily has to bite her lip to not start crying.

Tony turns out to be a proper antidote for their malaise; even manages to make Naomi laugh once or twice, which is still exceptionally difficult these days, and really, if not for the fact that Effy can't quite muster up that vague half-smile she normally has when they're all together, it would be a good day out.

At some point Tony seems to clue in to the fact that something's not quite sorted with his sister and he drags Naomi off to play pool; gives them time to talk, as if they haven't already had plenty of that, and it just didn't go anywhere.

“Effy,” Emily sighs, and Effy turns to her with that same lost expression from before. “What can I do? How can I make this better?”

“I don't know,” Effy says quietly, but reaches for her hand after a second, which only makes it hurt worse.

It feels like she's losing everything, except for once, it doesn't mean that Effy's winning.

----

“Come with me to Glasgow,” Effy says when they wake up the next day. “I need—I can't be here right now. There's too much—“

“Yes,” Emily says, and when Effy presses a shaky kiss to her lips it feels like she's breathing again for the first time in days.

----

Effy falls asleep on her shoulder on the endless train journey they catch simply because they can't be bothered to wait for a flight. Katie drops them off at the train station and hugs them both tightly; shoots a warning look at Emily who just nods, because this has to be fixed.

Distance has an immediate effect; Effy opens her eyes and doesn't forget to not smile, but instead leans in for a soft kiss and Emily feels her heart sigh in relief.

----

She makes scrambled eggs and a salad for a late night dinner snack and starts when Effy rests a hand on her upper back.

“You look like you belong here,” she says quietly.

“What, in the kitchen?” Emily says lightly. “That's a bit sexist.”

Effy smiles and pours them both a glass of wine.

----

They spoon together in the dark later that night and Emily runs her knuckles up and down Effy's stomach.

“We can't just be okay if we're alone, babe,” she says quietly, and listens to Effy sigh.

“No. But please, for now,” Effy responds after a few minutes.

“For now,” Emily agrees and runs her hand further down Effy's stomach even as Effy twists around to kiss her.

----

Emily finds a copy of Annie on my Mind in a second-hand bookstore one afternoon and brings it home. Effy reads the back bemusedly and says, “biographical?”

“You'll love it,” Emily promises. They finish the whole book in one afternoon, drinking homemade Pimm's out of canteens in Kelsingrove Park, and by the end of it Effy's eyes have gotten suspiciously shiny.

----

“Will you let me tie you up and fuck you, later?” Effy asks when they're on their way home from a quick trip to the store—more spices, so that Emilycan attempt some unpronounceable Moroccan later in the day.

It's the middle of the day, she's in public, and she can't believe how quickly Effy dismantles her with just a few choice words or a vague suggestion. She blushes furiously and Effy half-smiles.

“That a no?”

“I just love you,” Emily says, blushes even more, and but then laughs when she sees Effy's cheeks pink up a little.

“Right, then,” Effy says, almost casually, and Emily forgets for the first time in ages that things aren't perfect between them.

----

The dinner turns out surprisingly well for a first attempt; better when Effy actually licks her fingers clean afterwards with a satisfied little noise.

They dump the dishes in the sink and then Effy presses Emily up against the kitchen counter, kisses her soft and deep, tongue swiping past hers lazily and—there's another word that comes to mind, but she gets distracted by Effy's hand, lazily scratching at her side.

“Ready for your reward?” Effy asks, voice unintentionally low, and Emily starts unbuttoning her shirt before they're even moving.

----

It's only the second time they've done it and Emily can't help still feeling a little awkward about it in principle, but Effy just drops the toy on the bed before pushing Emily back on it and settling on top of her. They make out for an incredibly long time, Effy's hands curved around her shoulders and her own just lightly running up and down Effy's back, before Effy pulls back.

“I never thought I'd love it this much,” she says, presses another peck to Emily's lips and then smiles.

“Love what?” Emily says, and just that one word out of Effy's mouth sets her pulse racing.

“Fucking a girl,” Effy says, bites her lip for a second and then tilts her head. “Fucking you.”

Emily thinks back on their first time with a smile, just long enough to remember Effy's wet finger pressed up against her lips, and it makes her laugh. “You seemed fairly determined to enjoy it all along.”

Effy reaches up with one hand, rubs her knuckles down Emily's cheek. “It was just a game. All I did back then was play games.”

Emily turns her face just enough to kiss Effy's thumb. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. But you—“ Effy says, pauses and then faintly smiles again. “I can't win with you.”

“Ef, this isn't about winni—” 

“But please,” Effy says quietly, closes her eyes with a sigh. “Please don't make me lose, Em. I don't know how I'd handle it a second time.”

Emily presses up on her elbows and kisses Effy's mouth, softly, just once. “I won't.”

Effy's eyes blink open again and stay on her face the entire time that her hands reach for Emily's wrists, gently guide them upwards towards the headboard, and then finally wrap her fingers around the bar.

“Stay,” Effy whispers, still looking at her intently.

Emily has to swallow hard before she can nod in agreement.

----

She can't do a fucking thing about it; maybe bruise Effy's kidneys if she kicks hard enough, but she doesn't think it would stop her.

It's taken Effy at least half an hour to work down her body; her nipples are so raw that every time the curtains flap with a bit of breeze the twinge, andit's worse when Effy reaches back up every so often and just thumbs past one of them unexpectedly; her hips jerk so hard that Effy has to duck awayevery time with a soft laugh before bending down again.

And God, her mouth. Emily had warned her, about twenty minutes ago, that she wasn't going to last but Effy had just narrowed her eyes before deliberately licking—so slowly that Emily could follow the movement of her tongue inch by inch—and pulling away just before she would've touched her clit. Which is how it's been ever since; tongue swirling next to it, below it, dipping inside her briefly every once in a while, but doing nothing to get her off.

She's gotten so fucking wet that she can see the result of it on Effy's face, which is shiny when she finally sits up and shifts back up Emily's body before slipping two fingers inside her.

“Oh,” Emily manages before her head falls back, and then Effy's wet lips are kissing down the column of her throat. “Oh, God, baby, please,” she says when it becomes clear that Effy's deliberately avoiding touching her anyplace that might trigger an orgasm.

“Trust me,” Effy says quietly, before sucking long and hard on a pulse point on her neck, at the same leisurely pace that she's fucking her with what has to be three fingers by now.

Emily just groans and accidentally yanks on the scarves again, resulting in another low chuckle before Effy finally looks up; licks her own lips, andEmily starts wondering if Effy is trying to make her lose consciousness.

“If I so much as breathe on your clit right now, you'll come,” Effy says after a second and Emily feels her entire cunt throb in response.

“Yes,” she sighs when it's clear that Effy's waiting for a response.

“Good,” Effy says, and slips her fingers out; sucks on them before reaching for the harness and quickly wiggling into it.

Emily closes her eyes; can't watch Effy settle between her legs again, just mouths please for the fourth time on the off-chance that Effy will pay attention to her this time.

She feels her legs being lifted and then feels Effy's fingers, holding her open while she works the toy inside and God, she's so fucking open and wetthat Effy only barely has to nudge her hips forward and then she's in.

“Yeah?” Effy asks and before Emily's even nodded she's started moving, slow languid thrusts that make her toes curl but just aren't enough to bring her closer to orgasm.

She reaches with her hands again unthinkingly and winces when the scarves dig into her wrist again; her eyes snap back open when she can feel Effy's hair brush past her face.

“No touching,” Effy says breathily, balancing on her hands above Emily's body before she cants her hips down and their stomachs slap gently together every time she shifts back in.

“God, please,” Emily says again, tries to get some sort of purchase on the sheets with her feet but it's not happening and besides, she'd rather have them wrapped around Effy's back, because there's more than one way to get her to come closer.

Effy chuckles when she realizes what's happening, breathes “cheeky” into Emily's ear and starts thrusting a little bit faster in response. Her lips traceEmily's ear and she shivers involuntarily, feels her cunt tighten around the toy and suddenly it's too impersonal; just not enough Effy into the mix.

“Ef, please,” she says again; groans when Effy twists her hips in a slow circle but then shakes her head. “Kiss me; please just kiss me.”

Effy moans softly in her ear, and then shifts down onto her elbows, sucks on Emily's lower lip for a few seconds until Emily whimpers and then kisses her deeply.

“Love you,” Emily whispers against her lips and Effy smiles, kisses her again and again while her hips work in and out ever faster, until she finally slips one hand between their bodies and brushes it past Emily's clit.

----

When she opens her eyes, Effy is balancing on one elbow next to her, holding out a glass of water.

“What—“ she starts saying, and then realizes her hands are untied and the toy is nowhere to be seen; the only thing that indicates sexual activity is her thighs, which are wet and shaky.

“You blacked out,” Effy says as she takes the water and carefully sips at it.

“Jesus,” Emily breathes and then lets her head fall back to the mattress. “I think you almost killed me.”

“Sorry,” Effy says, sounding vaguely contrite, fingertips dancing across Emily's thigh.

“Don't ever apologize for l—“ Emily starts saying and then stops, because it's still a fucking assumption and maybe it's just because she came so hard, but suddenly it's too much. Her eyes tear up and she rubs at them, feels Effy shift in closer and stroke her arm, then her cheek.

“Sorry,” Effy says again, voice suddenly rough, and Emily starts crying in earnest.

----

She wakes up alone and for a second her heart stops altogether, until she spots the note on the nightstand with her name on it.

Have gone to get some spliff; figure we could use the relax later.

PS: “I want this to work” -- Emily Fitch, Spring 2009


She sighs deeply and goes to the kitchen to make some tea.

----

They get incredibly baked and curl up together on Effy's old ratty sofa, watch MTV video clips that make less and less sense the more they smoke, and then finally Effy just hums and rubs her cheek against Emily's chest.

“I am so in love with you,” Emily whispers.

When Effy looks up at her she forgets whatever else she wanted to say.

----

“I've never been jealous of anyone or anything,” Effy confesses when they're taking a shower together; says it casually before rinsing out her hair and then blinking a few times. “Before now.”

“I'm glad that you are,” Emily says and fruitlessly runs her soapy fingers over Effy's body; cleaning is overrated. “Because the idea of you with someone else makes me want to vomit.”

Effy stares at her for a few seconds. “If you get it, then why—“

“I'm fucking stupid, okay? And I panic when people need comforting.” Emily hangs her head, shakes it. “You weren't there. You wouldn't have had any idea what to do for her, either.”

Effy takes a deep breath. “You need to learn to not care so much.”

“Yeah,” Emily says. “And you need to stop being so afraid.”

“Okay,” Effy says after a beat.

“Okay?” Emily repeats, a little baffled.

“Yeah. Okay,” Effy says again and kisses her.

----

When Effy says okay in the shower, she apparently means it, because they don't bring it up again—any of it. They enjoy the last days of summer in alazy lull, until Emily has to go back down to Bristol to pick up everything that she's taking back to Warwick, and it seems like a ridiculous task until Effy smiles and says, “I'll call Tony; he'll give you a lift.”

They read pulp detective romances together, placing sexual bets on who committed the crime by the tenth page—works fine until the time they're both wrong, at which point Effy just twists her lips at the book and tosses it to the other side of the room. 

“Fuck that, then,” she says and bites teasingly at Emily's thigh until she squeals and spreads her legs. “Everyone's a winner if we're all wrong, yeah?”

“Definitely,” Emily agrees.

----

It's not long now and they're sharing a cigarette in the kitchen, trading sections of a newspaper back and forth until Emily sighs.

“Are we doing e-mails again?” she asks; hates how needy it sounds, but since she feels that she does need them, it's only appropriate.

Effy blinks up. “Yeah, 'course.”

“Okay then,” Emily says, and pretends to look at the Sports pages some more.

----

On the last night, at dinner, Emily looks up because she feels Effy staring at her.

“What, babe?” she asks and Effy blinks, seems to snap out of a stupor almost, and then blushes.

“Nothing.”

Emily scoops a bit more salad onto her plate, pricks through some cucumber.

“Em?”

“Hm?”

Effy takes a really deep breath. “Just. I wanted to say—I love your glasses.”

Emily blinks and then touches them involuntarily. “You know, sometimes I forget I'm wearing them. Isn't that silly? I'll go looking for them and they're on my nose.”

Effy clears her throat and then smiles. “Yeah, well. They suit you.”

“Thanks,” Emily says with a smile; goes back to her salad.

So does Effy, a few seconds later.

----

“First question,” Effy says inbetween soft, gentle kisses. “What breed is our dog?”

Emily's eyes well up without her consent, and Effy takes off her glasses and kisses away her tears.

“Visit soon,” she whispers, kisses Effy once more and then walks away without looking back.

----

Tony picks her up at the airport.

“Effy all right, then?” he asks and Emily suppresses a smie at the dad-like question.

“Getting there,” Emily says.

“That seems to be the way of things,” Tony says with a faint smile, and then turns to her. “Naomi offered to help you move back. We've got room forher; do you mind?”

Emily blinks and Tony laughs.

“Oh, fuck, well, that was about as subtle as a sledge hammer,” he says and scratches at his skull before switching gears.

“You're seeing her,” Emily says; tries out the words almost and then grimaces. “You're seeing my ex-girlfriend.”

“Not—not really,” Tony says gently. “We just, uh. We had a good night that one time we went out for drinks together, and I ran into her at Sainsbury'sa few weeks after that. We've just been hanging out.”

“You're seeing my ex-girlfriend,” Emily repeats.

“No,” Tony says firmly, and then smirks. “But I will be, hopefully. When she's gotten there.”

Emily doesn't say anything for most of the drive back, but grabs Tony's arm when he parks in front of her house.

“Have you—do we tell Effy?” she asks, and Tony looks at her with a mildly surprised expression.

“No,” he says after a few seconds. “Not unless it becomes serious. Because before then, it's just—“

“Fucking weird?” Emily finishes.

“I was going to say unnecessary, but I'll accept weird,” Tony says.

The minute she sees his face when they spot Naomi out on the porch with a fag and a cup of coffee, she knows it's just a matter of time.

Can't quite decide if she's jealous or just relieved; they're two oddly similar feelings.

----

Subject: Dog

A collie mix of some kind. Enthusiastic, trainable and fun; kind of like you!

Also, and don't let this scare the ever-loving shit out of you: good with children.

What are your thoughts?

----

Re: Dog

Am looking at collie/terrier mixes on Youtube. Suddenly very happy I don't have roommates; imagine what this could do to my reputation.

re: children, am under strict instructions to be less afraid. Am I still allowed to say “God, please no”, though? Because that's not fear.

----

Re: re: Dog

I find that children are an unnecessary barrier to an otherwise healthy sex life, so don't worry. I know what my priorities are.

For now.

----

Re: re: re: Dog

That looks suspiciously like a threat! 

I demand you ring me right now and elaborate on this 'healthy sex life' you mentioned. Perhaps through a demonstration of some kind.

-----

They climax seconds apart.

Emily laughs shakily. “I think I need to switch my contract over to more minutes, less texts.”

“Please do,” Effy says, then also laughs. “God.”

“I love you, Ef,” Emily says; closes her eyes just to mean it a little bit more.

“Yeah,” Effy says back.

Chapter Text

Living in a house with three other girls and one bathroom is proving to be a challenge for everyone but Emily, who—thanks to sharing a house with just one Katie—is completely prepared for it and just laughs in the hallway when invariably someone is banging on the door, trying to get someone else to hurry the hell up.

It's nice, though; the constant company. It makes it easier to be away from the people she loves, especially since they all seem to think of her as needing lots and lots of hugs.

It unexpectedly becomes clear why.

----

“Emily,” Lucy says in greeting, as Emily walks into the kitchen on a Friday morning. “There's coffee.”

“Yes please,” Em says and pours herself a cup.

“No worries. But do me a favor; next time you have extensive phone sex, wear a gag or something, yeah?” Lucy says without looking up from the paper.

“Oh, God, I'm so sorry,” Emily says with a cringe. “I didn't think the walls were that thin.”

“They're not,” Lucy says, and then finally looks up at Emily and starts laughing. “Gotcha.”

“Oh, you minging bastard,” Emily says and then can't help but laugh a well.

“How are things, then?” Lucy asks when Emily's sat down at the table and is reaching for the arts section of the paper. “Better than they were when you came to London?”

Emily's hand stops mid-grab. “What do you mean?”

“Well, leaving aside for a minute that you disappeared for about 20 minutes and when you came back, Effy's lip was bleeding and you both looked like you were going to toss,” Lucy says and folds her hands together, looks at Emily with a bit of a frown. “She just—she seemed very sad. Generally.”

Emily blinks. "Where is this coming from?"

"Coin toss," Lucy says with a sigh. "We've been wondering how to ask for ages; I lost, obviously, which is why you're getting the subtle treatment."

"It's none of your business," Emily says with a frown.

"Don't get so fucking defensive; we're just trying to help," Lucy says mildly; pushes the creamer towards Emily, like some twisted white flag.

Emily takes a deep breath. “Fine. I cheated on her. I mean, not by either of our definitions, but I was with someone who matters a lot to me and it's—well, it doesn't matter. Things are better now.”

“Naomi, yeah?” Lucy asks and then shakes her head. “Emily. Things can't possibly be better.”

“It wasn't—like, God, Lucy. She just needed someone and I happened to be there,” Emily says, and there's something twisting in her gut that makes that a less plausible explanation every time she has to bring it up to someone new.

“And what about Effy? And what Effy needs?” Lucy asks, pointedly, and Emily starts.

“It isn't—what happened wasn't about Effy,” she protests and Lucy rolls her eyes.

“Emily, I love you, but you're a stupid cunt if you actually believe that,” she says, before getting up.

----

She sits alone in the kitchen with a cup of coffee that has grown cold by the time Liz finds her.

“Em?” Liz asks carefully and Emily finally looks up, blinks and then feels her eyes well up.

“What's wrong with me?”

Liz doesn't ask any questions, just sits down next to her and rubs her back.

----

Subject: Explain to Me How You See What Happened

You slept with Naomi because she needed someone.

(I think I'm going to scrap the one question a week rule because this seems important. So one in turn: why?)

----

Re: Explain

I ask because that's how I see things but I don't really think you do. So if you stop listening to what I've said about this: what, in your experience, did I do?

----

Re: re: Explain

Made it impossible for me to trust that you won't sleep with other people you care about if they need you and I happen to not be around. [I assume you would not have ‘comforted’ Naomi had I been 3 streets over.]

----

Re: re: re: Explain

So this isn't really about Naomi at all, then.

----

Re: re: re: re: Explain

No, it's not; this is about you. [Are you just now getting this?]

----

She stops e-mailing at that point and just calls.

“I don't think of it like that. Choosing someone else over you,” Emily says, and then closes her eyes. “But that is what I'm doing every time, isn't it.”

“You can't have us both,” Effy says softly. “Not like that, Emily.”

“If you and Naomi both figured this out ages ago, why has it taken me so long?”

Effy is silent for a long time and then sighs. “Because neither of us have ever made you choose before.”

“And is that fair?” Emily asks, a little desperately. “Letting me think for so long that I could fit both of you into my life, fix you both somehow, when you knew better?”

Effy laughs softly. “I guess it's about as fair as not being able to be upset about your girlfriend cheating on you because she's doing it for compassionate reasons.”

“What do you need me to assure you of, here? Will I choose you make a difference?” Emily asks, exasperatedly. “Because I love you hasn't helped at all thus far.”

“Maybe that's because you love us both,” Effy says quietly.

“I've never said it to her,” Emily says forcefully, and Effy doesn't respond. “She told me twice, and I never said it back, because I knew I couldn't stay with her. You're the first person I've ever told, and if you would just start treating it like it means something, you will be the only person I'll ever tell.”

Effy stays silent on the line and Emily is on the verge of checking if the connection dropped when she hears a sniffle. Just once.

“Ef?”

“Why don't—why does it take this much to get you to make these things clear?” Effy says, voice thick and broken.

“Because you've always made it clear that you know everything. I thought that meant that you understood that how I feel about her can't compare in the slightest to how I feel about you; however stupid a choice I made this summer,” Emily says with a sigh.

Effy exhales shakily after a few seconds. “Em.”

“Yes?”

“Thank you. For trying to understand,” Effy says, and Emily closes her eyes, feels tears burn in them.

----

She calls Naomi not long thereafter.

“I want to be your friend, but it needs to be different than it always has been,” she blurts out.

Naomi starts laughing. “God. Is Effy finally sick of your inability to stop helping strays, then?”

“No,” Emily says, feeling like an idiot because Naomi's making fun of her and it's apparently been a big joke for some time now; she just hasn't been privy to it. “But maybe I am sick of letting her down.”

Naomi stops laughing and makes a small noise in the back of her throat; finally just says, “Good on you, Em.”

----

Subject: Hair

Consider it done.

----

“Lovely” is Phoebe's final verdict, after she rinses out the last of the dye.

Emily agrees; every time she passes herself in the mirror she can't help but feel like she's finally looking at herself again; like she can handle looking at herself again.

All red, just like you ordered she texts back to Effy, and goes out to get a new pair of glasses that doesn't clash horribly with the rest of her head.

----

Effy calls in the second week of October.

“You turn twenty next month. What do you want to do?” she asks, and it's a funny question because for Effy's twentieth, they got incredibly fucked up and went dancing, which is not unlike how they spend most of their time.

“See you,” Emily says after a beat. “I don't care what we do, as long as we're together.”

“All right,” Effy says easily, but then clears her throat. “I'll come down your way, okay?”

“Actually—“ Emily says, and then sighs. “Katie's throwing a huge bash; twins turning twenty, that kind of thing, and I think she'd murder me if I didn't show up. So—“

“Bristol, then,” Effy says, and it sounds a little nervous, insofar as Effy ever sounds nervous.

“It'll be all right,” Emily says, with a wince, and then laughs awkwardly. “I promise to not throw myself at Naomi or JJ, if that helps.”

Effy sighs. “Perhaps I'll just put you on a leash,” she says, after a few seconds, and only Emily would be able to prick through the bland tone of her voice to get that she's teasing.

“Hm, now there's an idea,” Emily responds and Effy starts laughing.

----

Cook calls her on Katie's phone a few days later.

“Right, so, I want to do this right, yeah?” he says and Emily laughs. “What do I get her? I don't have a fucking clue what to do; bought a gateau once for Effy and that didn't go over well, 'cept with her mum, who ate the whole fucking thing.”

“It's not that hard, Cook,” she tells him. “Just buy something shiny that looks expensive even if it isn't. Katie is a simple girl.”

“Right, but, then wouldn't I be doing just what that fucking football-playing wankjob she used to date did?” Cook responds after a second and Emily finds herself smiling unwillingly.

“You're really serious about this, then,” she says.

“What, about getting her something good?”

“About her, you knob,” Emily says and the line remains silent for a bit.

“Yeah, I guess I am,” Cook says, sounding very confused. “Fucking hell.”

“Scary, isn't it,” Emily says; thinks back to tickets to Avenue Q and the vaguely baffled expression on Effy's face when she'd handed them over on her nineteenth birthday.

“Scary? Fuck, it's blowing my fucking mind,” Cook says, and then laughs. “Your sister's a proper handful but I dunno, Em, I guess that's just what I like in a bird.”

“Common theme, that,” Emily says. “You know what, though? Get her something that'll surprise her. The rest will work itself out.”

----

It takes Phoebe and Liz exactly one month to pretend that they're not sharing a bed every night, and after that Liz's room becomes a place full of books and papers and other things gathering dust.

“I'm happy for you,” Emily says one afternoon, when she and Liz are cleaning the kitchen. “She might be a bit of a nutter, but her heart's in the right place.”

Liz smiles. “Sounds like experience there, Fitch.”

Emily blushes involuntarily; thinks about Effy's more unusual suggestions for having a good time, and then shrugs. “All worth it in the end, as far as I'm concerned.”

“Things actually sorted then?” Liz asks, carefully, and then lowers her eyes when Emily looks at her. “Lucy reported back to us, obviously, and it took most of our manpower to keep Phoebe from knocking your skull in, is all I'll say.”

Emily sighs and puts down the wet rag she's holding; leans heavily against the kitchen counters instead. “I just—I've never really stopped to think that maybe it's not okay for me to want to help people, you know?”

“I get that,” Liz says, but then purses her lips anyway. “And now?”

“Now,” Emily says with a sigh. “Now, I think I'm lucky I haven't lost her completely.”

“She told you she loves you yet?” Liz asks gently.

Emily can't stop a faint laugh from bubbling up. “No; just that she wants to move in together after uni, get a dog, spend at least the next five years of our lives doing everything we've been doing so far.”

“Wow. Maybe she'll just skip the words altogether, go straight to a proposal,” Liz says, teasingly.

Emily blushes furiously. “Don't be absurd.”

Liz just smiles before throwing a wet sponge at Emily's face. The kitchen ends up twice as messy as when they started cleaning it before they just give up and crack open a bottle of wine instead.

----

She's never cared less about her schoolwork. She can't bloody focus on anything to do with literature because a shared trait among all famous protagonists is royally fucking up, so she has too much in common with all of them; mostly just wants to drop out and move to Glasgow and say sod it all, because there's too much she can't fix from Warwick.

She calls Effy after another fruitless day of staring at an Austen novel and sighs deeply when Effy picks up.

“Hang, I'm still wearing trousers,” Effy says in response and Emily laughs despite how lost she feels.

“Not that kind of phone call, I'm afraid,” she says and Effy makes an exaggerated sound of disappointment that makes her laugh again.

“Everything all right?” Effy asks.

“I miss you,” Emily says and lies down flat; looks at the ceiling and then finally at the wall, by now covered with several pictures of Effy as well as cat cards. “And I keep feeling like—like I've messed up too bad for you to ever trust me again.”

She hears some rustling on the other end of the line, before Effy says, “You haven't, Em. If things were that bad I wouldn't still be here.”

“But there's still something... I don't know, Ef, I don't feel confident about us like I used to, and I hate it,” Emily confesses. “Like, I can't see your face, I can't see what you're doing, and so much of what I believe in comes from being with you.”

Effy sighs deeply. “Emily—“

“I'm sorry,” Emily says and then rubs at her forehead. “I don't—like, don't feel pressured to say things—“

“Em,” Effy interjects gently. “I'll be there in six hours, okay?”

----

It's past midnight when Effy finally steps off the train; looks bedraggled and exhausted, but still manages to spot Emily in about three seconds and faintly smiles before walking towards her.

“I don't know why I'm crying,” Emily confesses when Effy frowns as they stop hugging.

“It's okay,” Effy says and reaches for Emily's hand, gives it a solid squeeze. “Let's go home, yeah?”

“You just came from home,” Emily says shakily, and then closes her eyes. “Is it stupid that I—“

Effy silences her with a kiss. “No. It's not stupid at all.”

----

They're lying together in bed, Emily curled up on Effy's chest with Effys hand rubbing slow, soft circles on her back.

“I don't know where this came from,” Emily says quietly. “I thought—we were fine, right? After Glasgow?”

“Yeah,” Effy says; presses a barely-there kiss to Emily's forehead. “We were. Maybe you weren't, though.”

“I feel—“ Emily starts saying and then just sighs. “I feel like I almost lost you.”

Effy squeezes tightly and pulls Emily in closer. “You need to stop thinking that I have something to gain from leaving you.”

“Why—“ Emily starts to say, and then closes her eyes. “Why can't you just get mad at me, for fucking up so badly?”

“I was mad,” Effy says, after a beat. “But I've never been able to stay mad at you. Not even after you broke my heart.”

Emily shifts up to look at her, question on the tip of her tongue but she can’t quite voice it; just feels her heart speed up out of nowhere and her jaw go slack without warning.

“I should have said it months ago,” Effy says quietly, then faintly smiles. “But you keep finding ways to make me feel like I'm jumping headfirst off a cliff if I let you have this much.”

“Effy,” Emily says, so faintly that it's almost inaudible, and Effy silences her with a finger to her lips—so reminiscent of the first time they ever fucked that Emily gets a little lightheaded.

“I love you, Em,” Effy says. The words come out a little awkwardly but all Emily can think is that it—Effy—is perfect.

It's not the moment to start crying again, but maybe they’re the other kind of tears, Emily thinks even as her mouth starts to tremble.

“The idea of you—with anyone else is not even nearly as bad as the idea of you no longer being with me,” Effy says; averts her eyes, looks down at the mattress instead of at Emily. “So, no; you didn't almost lose me.”

“Say it again,” Emily whispers, not giving a fuck how needy and wrong it sounds to ask for it.

“I love you,” Effy says, blinks her eyes open again and then smiles—so embarrassedly that Emily can't help but reach out, to touch Effy's cheek with trembling fingers.

“Yeah?” Emily asks. She can barely make Effy out through the tears but it doesn't matter in the slightest.

“Yeah,” Effy says and kisses her.

----

They whisper it at each other a total of five times the first time they make love; then three more the second time, until Effy rolls her eyes when Emily starts saying it again, and then they both just start laughing.

“Fred,” Emily says, when they're finally done, and she's just playing with Effy's fingers while Effy's flopped out on her back with a dazed smile on her face.

“Hm?” Effy responds, as her eyes slowly blink open. “Fred?”

“Our dog. Fred.'

Effy's smile turns into a grin. “After our Freddie?”

Emily shrugs. “Stupid, loyal, tongue wagging at you constantly...”

“Fred it is,” Effy says and squeezes Emily's fingers tightly.

----

Emily doesn't quite know what to do with herself when she wakes up in the morning; spends at least half an hour aimlessly running her fingertips along Effy's hip and thigh, but aside from the occasional sleepy twitch it doesn't wake her up.

Some parts of her wants to call and tell everyone who cares—so, Katie—and then there's a much larger part of her that wants to hold the words inside her forever, in a space that's just hers and Effy's and that other people may not even be able to glimpse at from afar.

It's not that simple, though, keeping it inside. She doesn't even realize she's singing while making breakfast until a bleary-eyed, bed-headed Phoebe shows up after about ten minutes.

“Jesus Christ, I thought someone was slaughtering a cat in here,” she says, and Emily flips her off without turning around, attempts to flip over a pancake without a spatula and laughs when it almost lands on her head. “Well then, someone's in a good mood. If I didn't know better—“

Phoebe steps in coser and takes a look at the plate next to the stove. “Okay, either you've got a tapeworm or you did get lucky last night.”

Emily just shrugs with a grin.

“My God, you're glowing,” Phoebe says, sounding vaguely disgusted.

“I am not,” Emily protests. “Only pregnant women glow.”

Phoebe stares at her critically for another moment and then starts making coffee. “Well, whatever it is your lady friend did last night, get her to tell Liz about it. I'd like some of that sugar in my bowl.”

Emily chuckles. “Noted, you perve.”

Effy stumbles into the kitchen moments later, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of ridiculous shorts that Katie once got for them when they were 15, and heads directly for the coffee.

“Ah, Magic Fingers herself makes an appearance,” Phoebe says lightly.

“Don't bother; she needs at least one cup of coffee before becoming responsive,” Emily says, and takes one long step to the left to just kiss Effy on the head, who merely grumbles in response.

“Milk in the fridge if you need it,” Phoebe says and then watches in horror as Effy drinks a cup of black coffee in two big gulps.

“Better,” Effy says and then eyeballs the pancakes. “Mine?”

“Half, yes,” Emily says and spoons the last pancake on top.

Effy leans in closer and inhales. “With cinnamon?”

“Mmhmm,” Emily confirms and then swats at Effy's hand when it snakes out to tear off a piece of pancake. “Barbarian.”

“Ngh,” Effy responds, but obediently goes to sit at the kitchen table.

Phoebe snorts. “Dear God; ladies and gentlemen, the world's most nauseating monosyllabic couple.”

Effy just smirks, then yawns, and then turns to Emily. “Hey, were you singing earlier?”

“Maybe,” Emily says, balancing the plate of pancakes and some syrup.

“Ah,” Effy says and then winces. “If I pay you, will you promise to never do it again?”

Phoebe starts laughing even as Emily flips her off.

----

“When do you have to be back?” Emily asks when they've taken a shower and Effy is toweling her hair dry.

Effy shrugs in response. “Not missing anything important.”

“Stay until tomorrow, then?” Emily asks.

“I was thinking until Sunday, actually,” Effy says, then pauses. “If that's okay.”

“Babe, what the fuck,” Emily says before getting up off her bed and pinching Effy in the side. “Of course that’s okay; more than, obviously.”

“Hm. But your classes?” Effy asks, drops the towel and pushes Emily back to the bed. “Part of what makes you so appealing is that you're this big clever nerd. Nobody would suspect what a little harlot you are beneath it all,” she continues, before straddling Emily and running her hands up Emily's ribs.

“Of course nobody knows; I'm only a harlot for you,” Emily says, and then laughs. “I can't believe I just called myself a harlot. Well done, Elizabeth.”

Effy winces. “That's just low.”

“You know what else is low?” Emily says, wiggles her eyebrows.

“I worry about the quality of your education if that's the best wordplay you've got after a whole year of studying English,” Effy responds, but pulls Emily's shirt out of her skirt anyway.

“Want to come examine?” Emily asks spontaneously.

“What, your down low places?” Effy looks down their bodies and smirks. “I was planning on taking a bit of time before going there, but okay.”

“No, you relentless pervert; my classes.”

Effy smiles devilishly. “Can I finger you in the midst of Shakespearian poetry or whatever you'll subject me to?”

Emily literally freezes mid-thought and then just feels herself grow hot, even as Effy's fingers deftly slip inside her knickers and find out what the results of the suggestion are.

Harlot,” Effy whispers in her ear, before they both start laughing.

----

“Let's go out dancing,” Effy suggests on the second night. “I'm—dunno, energetic. Let's slip some X and fuck some place we're likely to get caught.”

Emily laughs. “What a flattering proposal, babe.”

“If you like, I can tell you I love you when you're desperately rubbing up against my hand,” Effy says, and then shrugs with a quirky smile. “Life's all about compromise, right?”

“I hate you,” Emily says, but she can't keep the laughter out of her voice.

----

On Saturday, Effy says that she wants to help cook something.

“Without killing us both, right?” Emily asks, just to be sure, and gets prodded in the ribs for her cheek.

Cooking together turns out to mostly imply Effy reading instructions out loud, lining up spices in a completely unexpected anal-retentive way, and cutting anything that needs dicing at a speed that Emily can barely handle watching.

They make a supposedly Argentinian roast that's so spicy that Emily gives up after about five bites and Effy works her way through about three more before bounding for the sink and hanging underneath it.

“Everything you imagined?” Emily asks, after about 3 gallons of water and a lot more cursing at the instructions.

Effy starts rolling her eyes but then stops; smiles instead. “Yeah, actually.”

----

Sunday comes too quickly, as it always does.

“Mm,” Emily says when she opens her eyes and finds Effy staring at her with a small smile. “Like old times.”

“What?” Effy asks, shifts in closer and tangles them together legs first.

“All of this; my hair's red again, you're watching me and not saying anything...” Emily wrinkles her nose and shrugs with a smile. “I don't know. Sudden wave of nostalgia.”

Effy smiles. “I remember the first time I saw you very clearly.”

“Yeah?” Emily asks; presses a kiss to Effy's nose, just because.

“Yeah. First day of college; Katie was making a complete arse out of herself talking about Danny, and you were stood behind her, trying to get as far away from her as possible,” Effy says, eyes crinkling. “Then she called you a loser, and the look on your face...”

“Oh, lord. What a first impression,” Emily says, rolling her eyes.

“You hated her that day; it took me months to figure out that you and Katie are just not like me and Tony, but you still care.”

Emily rolls over onto her back and pulls Effy in close. “She's changed a lot. I'm not so sure I have, but Katie's changed a lot. You know, I never told you this because I figured it would pass, but when I first told my parents—you know, you were there. My Mum sat Katie and I down later that night and told me that if Katie was straight, there was nothing stopping me from being it as well.”

“Nice,” Effy says.

Emily sighs. “Yeah. Well, a lot's changed, obviously—my mum adores you, my dad will never stop treating you like my boyfriend, and let's not talk about James, but after I left the room crying that day, Katie must've said something, because Mum never brought it up again.”

“She's really been an unexpected help, hasn't she,” Effy says, sounding pensive. “I've been thinking about what to get her for her birthday—“

“Excuse me?” Emily says, pulling back to look at Effy with a mock-horror look. “Her birthday?”

“Don't worry, you're sorted... needy cow,” Effy says with an eyeroll. “Anyway, my point: shall we get her a joint present? I think her head would explode with joy even if the actual gift was a three quid necklace from Peacocks.”

“You know, it is okay for you to be considerate,” Emily says, reaches up to ruffle Effy's hair, who scowls in response. “You don't have to hide it behind sarcasm all the time.”

“Whatever,” Effy says, forcing a bored look on her face and Emily just laughs.

“You're so precious sometimes,” Emily says with a grin, and then squeals when Effy rolls over on top of her and teasingly bites her neck.

----

Subject: Can Fred be a Bitch?

How do I love thee; let me count the ways...

[Look what I learned in Shakespearian Poetry! And you accused me of not paying attention… tsk.]

----

Naomi calls at the end of October.

“Guess who's not dying!” she blurts out before Emily can even say hello.

“Oh, bless,” Emily says. “What a relief, hon.”

“I didn't think I was actually worried, but Jesus, I haven't slept for more than three hours in a week,” Naomi says with a deep sigh.

“But all clear, so you'll catch up on it, yeah?”

Naomi laughs smugly. “Well, I don't know about that, exactly...”

It takes Emily about three seconds to put that in context. “If you are referring to an activity you are now safe to engage in with someone who will one day be my brother in law, please say no more,” she says with a cringe.

Naomi chuckles softly. “I was just taking the piss, obviously, but—wow.”

“What?” Emily says.

“I think you just implied marriage there, Em,” Naomi says, still sounding surprised.

“Oh,” Emily says, and then blinks. “Wow, yeah, I guess I did.”

Naomi is silent for a few minutes. “This is really it then, isn't it.”

“What—“ Emily starts saying, and then stops herself because for once, she can tell that things are going in a direction they shouldn't.

“No, I mean, I know you're serious about her, but God. You met the love of your life at age 16.”

“Don't be—“ Emily starts objecting, but then fleetingly thinks of Effy just once, stretched out on her belly with a satisfied, happy smile, and she can't. She just can't. “Yeah. I think I did.”

“Well then,” Naomi says, takes a deep breath, and then laughs faintly. “At least I got unceremoniously set aside for something grand. Feel free to reference my noble acquiescence in your wedding vows.”

Naomi's deliberately making light of things, and Emily lets her after barely any hesitation, because this is the only way they can stay in each other's lives. “Noble acquiescence? You fucked off to Africa without even consulting me!”

Naomi laughs. “Wow, I didn't know that rewriting history was something they focused on in English Lit degrees these days.”

“Natural talent, dear, just like your mastery of the art of bollocks,” Emily retorts with a smile.

Naomi chuckles again. “You sound radiantly happy. It's vaguely nauseating.”

“As is the idea of you banging Tony, so I guess we're even,” Emily says with a grin.

“Later, little Fitch; send my love to your future wife,” Naomi says; hangs up.

It's different like this, but when Emily looks at the picture of her and Naomi by her lockers, she thinks it might be better to care a little less.

----

She curls her hair for the birthday party without asking; it's the first time she and Katie have looked vaguely alike in close to two years now, but sheknows without asking that it’s the nicest thing she can do for her sister, who’s always hung onto the idea that she’s one of two in a much grander way than Emily herself has.

Katie doesn’t comment; just gives her a brief but tight hug in passing and then says, “Still don’t understand why you won’t just fucking get contacts.”

Their parents have agreed to bugger off after the traditional family cake and candle-blowing, which is always done by Katie while Emily just sort of rolls her eyes in the background, because twenty is apparently old enough to be able to throw a large house party without wondering.

JJ is the first person to arrive; ridiculously prompt, really, and gives Katie an H&M gift certificate and Emily a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies before introducing them to his girlfriend: a pixieish Chemistry major at Corpus Christi named Zoe, around whom JJ doesn’t stammer in the slightest.

“Cute,” Katie says offhandedly and then starts at herself. “I mean, it’s nice, you know. Knowing that people like him end up—“

“Stop talking, Kay,” Emily says mildly. Katie just purses her lips in response but manages to shut up, for once.

Cook and Freddie arrive at the same time; still mates after all these years, but less close than they used to be, what with Freddie living in London with Karen and doing fuck knows what—something to do with sound production, but every time they’ve asked him to explain he just shrugs and says that it’s boring, not nearly as cool as it sounds.

Freddie brought booze and spliff, and grins with a shrug before saying, “Old times’ sake, yeah?” even as Katie kisses him on the cheek and says, “Tosser.”

“Hands of my girl, Fred,” Cook says mildly in the background, and then leans in to kiss Emily hello.

“All sorted?” she asks and he narrows his eyes at her.

“If this makes me look like a cockhead, I am blaming you,” he says, and Emily does what she can to not start smiling.

After them, the arrivals become more dysfunctional—a bunch of Katie’s schoolmates pile in all at once, and Emily’s never seen a larger collection of more obviously gay men in her life—but they all kiss Katie’s hand and call her darling, and she eats it up like it’s a fucking gift.

One of them eventually turns towards Emily and goes, “Oh! Family!” and before she can do anything she’s being lambasted with questions about how fabulous Katie was when they were younger and where this fabulous girlfriend that they’ve heard so much about is, then.

It’s a little overwhelming and Emily can’t help be relieved when her own friends show up.

“I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere,” Phoebe says with a sigh. “Like, really, where are we?”

“Hush, Bristol isn’t that bad,” Emily says with a faint scowl, and Liz gently elbows Phoebe.

“She’s just being a bitch because she had to drive. Never you mind her.”

“Happy birthday, Fitchface,” Lucy adds and hands over an envelope. “We didn’t really know what to get you this year, but someone else helped out. We’re under instructions to not let you open this until later, for the record.”

“World’s flattest strap-on?” Emily asks, shaking the envelope.

“It inflates,” Phoebe retorts, with waggled eyebrows.

“Well, thank you, in advance—and for coming, I know it was a bitch to have to drive,” Emily says, before hugging them all. Right when she pulls away from Lucy she hears Phoebe say, “Well, I guess there’s something to be said for Bristol after all.”

“I’m right here, you know,” Liz says mildly and Phoebe chuckles. “But I am not going to disagree with you. Wow.”

She turns away from Lucy and looks around the room to find out what they’re seeing; sees JJ and his girlfriend, Cook with an arm slung around Katie, who is gesturing emphatically about something with a bottle of vodka in her hand, and then finally spots Naomi, shrugging out of a coat and handing it to Tony, who leans in to say something that makes her laugh.

“Ah,” Emily says and swallows. “That’s, um…” and it’s weird, really, because of course Naomi is gorgeous but she hasn’t thought of her like that in God knows how long. Everyone else’s reaction is just making her think of all those years ago in middle school, feeling faint every time she so much as caught a glimpse of her, and she only snaps out of it when Naomi spots her and raises her eyebrows before winking, which would’ve never happened in middle school.

“Oh, geez,” Liz says, putting it together. “Well, you’re still a stupid twat, but I see what the dilemma was, now.”

Lucy laughs. “Don’t be an arsehole. Emily’s repented enough, I think.”

“Yeah, between the legs of hotness. God, I wish my life were this difficult,” Phoebe says, and then wraps an arm around Liz’s waist. “Instead all I have is one very compliant and willing partner.”

“Guys, please,” Emily says, feeling very faint out of nowhere. “Don’t, okay?”

Naomi’s making her way over slowly but Tony reaches her first, picks her up and kisses her on the forehead. “Happy birthday, Em. I talked to Effy right before we got here; says there’s a huge queue at baggage but she’ll be here within the hour.”

“Good,” Emily mutters and then leans up to kiss Naomi on the cheek. “Hey, you.”

“Still short, I see; so much for growing bigger,” Naomi says teasingly and then hands over a small box. “Nothing fancy, don’t worry.”

“You didn’t have to,” Emily says and fingers the ribbon a bit nervously. “But thanks, anyway.”

Tony watches them stand silently for a second and then pats Naomi on the shoulder. “Shall we get ourselves some liquor, then?”

“Absolutely. See you in a bit, Em,” Naomi says, smiles faintly at Emily’s friends and then directs Tony to the kitchen with a hand at the small of his back.

“Well, that wasn’t weird,” Lucy says after a beat. “And who’s the bloke?”

“Effy’s brother,” Emily says; she looks at the package some more and then takes a deep breath. “I’m just going to go put this away, okay? Help yourselves to whatever, and if you need anything just ask Katie.”

She doesn’t wait for a response; just makes her way up the stairs and sits down on her old bed, takes a deep breath and puts the box on her nightstand.

It’s maybe ten minutes before someone comes to find her.

“You okay?” Tony asks, before sitting down on Katie’s bed and folding his hands together, leaning forward onto his knees. “That was a bit—“

“It’s weird; realizing you’re over something,” Emily says, and then rubs at her nose. “I’ve never—I didn’t even realize I was until my friends pointed out to me that she’s very pretty, you know, and I had to think to remember when I last thought of her like that.”

“So this isn’t about…” Tony says hesitantly.

Emily shakes her head. “No. It just threw me to realize that I—I am okay with not caring that much about what she’s doing. I thought I’d have to try harder.”

Tony smiles faintly. “You know, I still see my ex-girlfriend from high school all the time; and not to long ago, we hooked up whenever we were both in Bristol. But I’d always leave feeling in the morning like I’d spent some time with a ghost, you know?”

“Yeah. That sounds about right,” Emily says, and sighs. “I don’t know why it’s making me a little bit sad.”

“Because it’s never easy, saying goodbye to something,” Tony says kindly. “No matter how—”

A knock on the door interrupts them, and seconds later a weary Effy drops her bags on the floor, takes two long steps and collapses on top of Emily, who just chuckles.

“Right, on that note,” Tony says, after clearing his throat. “I think I could use another drink. See you two—in a bit.” He frowns at the last bit and then chuckles, closes the door behind him.

“No more travel,” Effy says with a deep sigh; then fumbles with the buttons on her coat and shrugs out of it.

“Rough day, love?” Emily asks, and Effy lifts her head just to look at her, eyes softening after a moment.

“Getting better,” she says, and then kisses Emily softly—barely a peck, but with a smile. “Happy birthday.”

“It is now,” Emily says and runs her hands through Effy’s messy hair, smooths it out a bit before kissing her again.

“Should we go—“ Effy asks after a third kiss, but Emily’s hand slip down to her trousers in return, work the button open quickly.

“Later,” she says, and kisses Effy’s forehead. “I don’t care what they think; this is what I wanted for my birthday.”

Effy doesn’t respond; just pulls down her own zipper and kisses Emily again, with a little more intent this time.

----

Effy laughs when Emily gets out of bed and walks directly to the mirror; starts patting down her own hair. “Em, I don’t think anyone doesn’t know what we were doing up here. Honestly.”

“Whatever,” Emily mutters; pulls on a faint curl until it bounces back up. “You know what Katie’s like. Have to look perfect or I’m putting her to shame.”

Effy gets up and steps in behind her, puts her hands loosely on Emily’s hips and rests her chin on Emily’s shoulder. “You always look perfect,” she says softly, presses a kiss to Emily’s neck.

Emily stares at them both in the mirror; imagines them doing the same thing five years from now, ten years from now. It’s not even a little bit frightening.

“I love you,” she says unexpectedly; feels it hit her like an anvil after she’s said it.

“Ditto,” Effy says, with a soft smile.

----

Freddie’s spliff appears sometime close to midnight and Katie ushers them all out to the garden. Emily smiles when she and Effy step outside together holding a bottle of wine, and when Effy passes it over with a faint smirk she knows they’re thinking the same thing.

The spliff makes its way over for a second time eventually and Effy inhales deeply, then closes her eyes and slowly exhales again.

“I want to go down on you for hours when we’re done this with this,” Emily says, takes a small hit herself and holds the spliff up before someone else takes it from her.

Effy lies down on the grass and pulls on Emily’s arm, and even though there’s hordes of people around them, it feels like it’s just the two of them, lying down and looking at the stars.

“My place, then,” Effy says after a few minutes.

“Yes. Unless you want to permanently scar Phoebe, Liz and Luce,” Emily says with a small wince.

Effy turns to her with soft, red eyes and smiles. “How quickly can we leave?”

“It’s my party,” Emily says; can’t think of the rest of the song, but it’s only half a minute more before they both get up and disappear.

----

“I like that I’m the one getting fucked on your birthday,” Effy says breathily, and then moans softly.

“You’re my favorite,” Emily says, bites at Effy’s thigh playfully until Effy pulls at her hair and then leans back down for long, slow teasing licks.

“You’re lucky I’m so fucked up,” Effy says, then laughs. “If I wasn’t high I wouldn’t be putting up with this.”

Emily grins, licks her own lips. “Putting up with?”

“Yeah, bloody torture,” Effy says, lifting up on her elbows and looking at Emily challengingly.

“I think I’m being rather nice, seeing as how you haven’t even given me a present yet,” Emily says, extending her tongue slowly and watching as Effy’s eyes roll back in her head in anticipation.

“It’s in—the bag,” Effy says, strangled laughter following. “I can—show you if you—stop doing that.”

“Not a chance,” Emily says, and keeps her eyes on Effy’s face as she settles down to lick her with purpose. It only takes a few seconds of concentrated sucking before Effy pulls on her hair so hard it hurts and then arches off the bed.

“Oh, God,” she says, about twenty seconds later, followed by a shaky sigh.

Emily just smiles and kisses Effy’s stomach, slowly crawls back up her body before straddling one of her thighs. “Up, please.”

Effy reaches for her hips after brushing some hair out of her eyes and then smirks. “Can’t wait?”

“Fuck, no,” Emily confesses and bears down on Effy’s thigh; bites her lip at the soft, wet slide they make together and then at the look on Effy’s face, which is both frustrated and pleased. “You’re so—God, I love the way you taste,” she says. Effy’s eyes narrows in response and without further warning a hand slips between her legs, curls up and strokes very deliberately.

“Go on, then,” Effy says softly, voice a little rough; slips a finger inside when Emily lifts for just a second. “Come for me.”

“Fuck,” Emily sighs and cants her hips just twice more before climaxing with a shuddering moan.

She slumps forward on Effy, who just wraps her free arm around Emily’s back and rubs at her neck, slowly and soothingly.

“No stamina. You old bat,” Effy says after a few seconds and then laughs when Emily reaches for Effy’s own hand and flips her off with her own wet middle finger.

----

“Present,” Emily murmurs after a bit, then smiles when Effy pinches her in the waist before getting up.

She’s handed an envelope and a small box; it’s so small that for a minute all she can do is look at it, but then hears Effy snort.

“It’s not that, don’t worry,” Effy says, and Emily doesn’t know how to explain—how worry was maybe only two percent of what she was feeling, and the rest of it, she doesn’t have words for.

“Envelope first,” Effy instructs, and when Emily slides a finger underneath it, Effy settles behind her; wraps an arm around her waist.

It’s a hotel reservation, and as Emily scans down it quickly, she sees the word Paris.

“Ef—” she says; is on the verge of saying that it’s too much, but Effy presses a kiss to her shoulder and it’s enough to silence her.

“For after Christmas. When you’re ready to strangle your entire family, and it won’t be nearly as sodding awful weather-wise in France.”

“I don’t even—” Emily starts to say, but then just rolls over and kisses Effy, hard and intently.

“Good choice, then?” Effy asks, a little breathlessly, after Emily pulls back. “I got your friends to pay for our Eurostar tickets.”

“Baby, you could’ve taken me to a bloody tent out by Stonehenge to watch rocks grow for three days and it would’ve been a good choice,” Emily says, watches as Effy’s eyes crinkle faintly. “This is just—wow.”

“Good,” Effy says, and then leans over and grabs the small box, holds it out like an offering. “Part two.”

Emily attemps to look at the box without any trepidation but can’t quite manage, because the size is just throwing her off. She fumbles in trying to get it open, until Effy gently takes her fingers and presses them into the sides.

It pops open and reveals a key on a necklace. Emily lifts it out without saying anything, and then finds the small tag tied around the body of the key.

“I—” she starts saying but can’t find words to follow it.

“Anytime you want to,” Effy says, softly. “Okay? You don’t have to call and ask. Just come.”

Emily hangs the key from her neck wordlessly, watches as it gently sways between her breasts, and feels her chest swell with so much emotion that there’s only one way to properly express it.

She slips her hand between Effy’s legs again and gently pats. “Are you good?” It’s meant to come out casually, but it doesn’t, and she’s already leaning forward to kiss Effy by the time a response comes.

“Never better,” Effy says, before Emily presses her down onto the mattress, small, cold key labeled home crushed between their bodies.

----

The next day, they head back over Emily’s house and collect everyone who slept over for a late brunch at a carvery a few blocks down.

“Where’s Lucy?” Emily asks, looking around the room and not spotting her.

“Slipped off somewhere with tall and skinny,” Phoebe mumbles into her pillow before rolling over with a groan. “God, what the fuck are you so chipper about? Is being 20 proving to be that fantastic?”

“Yeah,” Emily says after a beat. “It’s going to be a great year.”

----

Tony, Naomi and Effy have already arrived by the time Emily hustles the girls out of her house, and it’s still faintly jarring—seeing the only two girls she’s ever seen naked sit maybe three inches away from each other, engaged in what looks like small talk. It makes her realize what a big person Effy is—maybe Naomi too, really, since she doesn’t think she could do it if she were either of them.

Effy turns her head before she’s even said hello—just seems to know she’s there, and slides the chair next to her back with one hand. They last saw each other maybe forty minutes ago, but it’s forty minutes too many.

“Hey,” Effy says. She keeps her arm around the back of the chair even as Emily scoots it back in and starts unwrapping her scarf, and it’s so understatedly possessive that Emily can’t resist turning her head and just pressing a quick kiss to Effy’s lips.

“Morning,” she then says to the rest of the group, but her hand stays under the table, and her finger traces I love you on Effy’s thigh. They could be anywhere, with anyone, and it wouldn’t make them any less together, she thinks; feels the teeth of the key around her neck rub up against her breastbone, and draws a huge heart with her finger, until Effy snorts and pokes her in the shoulder.

“Excited about Paris?” Tony asks, pushing a menu in Emily’s direction but all she really wants is coffee so she passes it on to Liz wordlessly.

“Who wouldn’t be?” she says. She feels a ridiculous grin come on and it’s amplified by Effy’s fingers rubbing small circles on her shoulder.

Naomi is oddly quiet, but she only realizes as much after about twenty minutes of slowly waking up and watching everyone else do the same.

She starts asking what’s wrong, and then stops herself, just kicks Tony under the table and faintly raises her eyebrows.

He shakes his head at her, and just like that, she realizes it’s not her business anymore.

“These eggs are shit,” Effy says with a slight frown.

“Worse than mum’s,” Tony agrees.

Emily laughs. “We are talking about Anthea, right? Because I don’t think that’s actually possible.”

Tony smirks at her. “Cheeky. You’re not a part of the family yet, you know.”

Effy looks up sharply for just one second, but then goes back to mutilating her omelette without saying anything else.

Emily squeezes her thigh. Sometimes, they truly don’t need words.

----

It’s less than three weeks until Christmas and she’s incredibly busy; somehow her birthday revitalized her energy for school which means she has a metric ton of things to catch up on if she wants to actually obtain the grades she needs. From Effy’s sporadic texts and even shorter e-mails, she gathers things aren’t much different in Scotland, but she wakes up every night holding the key around her neck and Scotland’s never felt closer.

----

Her last exam is on the 18th and there’s at least four more torturous days until Effy finishes. She goes home anyway; spends some time just hanging out with Katie, who takes her out shopping for Christmas presents and actually pauses at a nice collared shirt that she wouldn’t have so much as deigned stand near a few years ago.

“Effy would look good in this,” she says, and when Emily raises her eyebrows, she sighs. “Look, I’m not saying I’d ever wear it, but she’d look good in it, all right?”

Emily holds the shirt in front of her and thinks about Effy; thinks about taking the shirt off Effy. “Yeah, she would.”

It’s bought.

----

When they’re done, Katie drops the bags off at the base of Emily’s bed and then looks at her with pursed lips.

“Right, I don’t want to be a cunt about this or anything,” she starts saying and Emily laughs.

“Kay, I’ve been your sister for 20 years. What do you want?”

“Cook’s just come back from a trip to Cardiff; I haven’t seen him in two weeks, and I want to have him over, make a night of it. Can you bugger off somewhere?”

Emily smirks and shakes her head. “Let me ring Tony. I might be able to crash in Effy’s bedroom.”

“Thanks, babe,” Katie says, and then runs a hand through her hair. “Right, I need to go to the butcher’s; get some filet mignon.”

Emily thankfully manages to hold off on laughing until Katie’s already left the room.

----

It’s strange, being in Effy’s room without Effy there, because the entire place feels different—like a normal, talkative fourteen year old lives there, complete with lava lamp and school uniforms. It’s a place locked in time, and the only thing that makes it not entirely bizarre is the fact that the sheets still smell vaguely like Effy, or maybe like both of them, since it’s where they slept in November.

Emily presses her face into the pillow and closes her eyes; opens them only when someone knocks on the door, and then realizes it’s only 7pm.

“Hey,” Tony says in the doorway. “Naomi and I are going to play some Trivial Pursuit; special rules, every time you bollocks up a question you take a shot of tequila. Fancy joining?”

Emily laughs. “Why not.”

----

Only after the bottle is halfway done does the game turn anything other than violently competitive. Tony and Naomi are both relentless know-it-alls about everything, constantly arguing about wrong and right answers, whereas Emily fully accepts that outside of literature and history she can’t answer a damn thing.

“I’m not reading all of that again. Just tell me who was the German chancellor in 1880,” Tony asks—looks blearily across the table at Emily, who sighs and just reaches for the bottle.

“Your mum,” she responds, and they all laugh hysterically.

Tony wins without too much trouble after it becomes clear that Naomi doesn’t handle tequila nearly as well as she does vodka, and she has such a petulant look about it on her face that Emily and Tony just look at each other and start laughing.

Tony gets up even as Emily is still putting pie pieces back in their little bag and manhandles Naomi out of the chair, who drunkenly protests until he just lifts her up and she squeals.

“Let’s go, Scarface,” he says with a smirk even as Naomi pounds on his back and calls him a tosser. “Emily—see you tomorrow, yeah?”

She laughs and puts the game away; reaches for her phone and calls Effy.

“Hey,” Effy says, souding sleepy.

“Hey. Just wanted to say that I’m drunk, and I love you.”

Effy snorts. “Because you’re drunk?”

“Noooo,” Emily protests, struggling out of her skirt before flopping back onto the bed. “I love you more when I’m not. Less dizzy means more love.”

Effy laughs. “Go to sleep, Em. I’ll see you tomorrow, all right?”

“Mm,” Emily says, and falls asleep with covers that smell like Effy pressed up to her nose.

----

She wakes up in the morning with a pounding headache and a missed call from Effy. She goes to brush her teeth first and then returns it, wincing as light filters in through the windows.

“What gives, babe?” she asks, cursing when her own voice pounds into her head.

“Just wanted to check—you’re meeting me at mine, yeah, but Tony is coming to get me?”

“That was the plan,” Emily agrees. “Though I still don’t understand why I can’t just come pick you up myself.”

“You’ll see,” Effy says.

The bedroom door swings open after barely a knock and reveals Naomi in a huge t-shirt and some basketball shorts, yawning violently before offering a bleary smile. “Hey hon, breakfast’s ready if you’re up for it.”

Emily feels her heart drop.

“Ef—Effy, shit, wait, this is totally not what it sounds like,” she says, frantically, even as Naomi looks at her a little bit stupefied.

“Of course it’s not. I’ve got to go,” Effy says after a second, and hangs up without waiting for the rest of the explanation.

Emily stares at her phone in horror, and then hurls it at Naomi without thinking. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?”

“Jesus, Em,” Naomi says, and takes a step backwards. “I just invited you to—”

Fuck,” Emily moans, drops her head into her hands. “I can’t believe what just happened.”

“God, just call her back and explain,” Naomi says after a few seconds. She bends down and tosses Emily’s phone back onto the bed.

Emily dials Effy’s number off memory, and listens as it goes to voicemail. “Son of a bitch, what time is it?”

“Around ten,” Naomi says quietly. “Emily, just—just tell her what happened when you see her, okay?”

“You don’t understand,” Emily says, shaking her head and flinging her phone back across the room. “We were past this,we were finally fucking pastthis—she finally believed me when I told her that you don’t—oh,fucking hell,” she finishes and starts crying helplessly.

“I’m sorry,” Naomi says before closing the door, and for the first time ever Emily realizes how pointless an apology is from someone who doesn’t understand what they’ve done.

----

Tony tries calling but Effy’s phone goes straight to voicemail either way, and Emily sighs. “She’s turned it off in preparation for flying. Right?”

“I’d say so,” Tony says, before clumsily wrapping one arm around her. “Hey—just take it easy, all right? I’ll explain what’s going on. It’s more or less my fault anyway, for not telling her sooner.”

“I can’t imagine how much this hurt her,” Emily says and closes her eyes, burrows into Tony’s arms. “I’m so sorry, Tony.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Em,” he says.

She doesn’t say for once but can’t help but feel that this is just the sum of her past mistakes coming back to haunt her.

----

She goes home after a shower, at Tony’s suggestion, since Effy might need a few hours to think on his explanation. “You know how she gets. Give her a bit of space, just in case,” he says.

Emily can’t bring herself to say that even a bit of space feels too much like letting go and so she goes home; walks the entire forty minute walk in a relentless torrent of rain and snow, until Katie spots her from their bedroom, taking off her sodden heels before just sitting down on the front steps and crying.

----

I really am sorry Naomi texts back sometime in the early afternoon, after Emily’s taken a shower and feels vaguely more human. Katie hasn’t asked what’s wrong; just put in Mr.Smith Goes to Washington and sat next to her with a mug of hot chocolate.

The minutes are ticking by so slowly that she doesn’t even notice that the movie has finished, because she wasn’t watching it in the first place.

Katie sighs deeply. “Come on, you. Let’s go bake something fattening. That’ll make you feel better.”

----

They’re almost done with the batter for the first tray of cookies when the doorbell rings. Emily’s hands are covered in flour but Katie’s are knuckle-deep in chocolate sauce, and so she sighs. “I’ll get it.”

She opens the door distractedly, still halfway thinking about the correct proportion of sugar to add as the very last step—which she and Katie argue about constantly—and only then sees who it is; covered in a thin layer of snow, hair soaking wet, and shivering helplessly on the front step, big box in her arms.

"I love you," Effy says, so hastily that Emily almost misses it. "I've loved you for longer than makes sense, for much longer than you've loved me, and if I’m going to love you this fucking much that means I have to trust you. Okay? So whatever it was this morning—"

"She's sleeping with your brother," Emily interjects gently, feeling like she's going to throw up and cry all at once. "I slept in your bedroom last night, because Katie asked me to bugger off so she could shag Cook, and she asked me if I wanted some toast for breakfast. Which Tony was making. That's all you heard."

Effy sucks in a breath and then lets it go, closes her eyes before laughing helplessly. “And of course neither of you told me, because God forbid doing something that will avoid unnecessary drama.”

"What Naomi does isn’t any of our business, Ef,” Emily says, dusting off her floury hands on her sweater. “And as to why Tony didn’t tell you, I don’t know.”

Effy shifts uncomfortably in response and then leans heavily against the doorframe, teeth chattering. “You really don’t care, then.”

Emily takes off her glasses and folds them, hangs them from the V in her sweater. "I’ve let it go. I’ve let her go. You can't hold me accountable for choosing her once when I was seventeen forever.”

“I just find that—” Effy starts saying, and then sighs deeply and averts her eyes. “I find that nearly impossible to believe, because I can’t imagine ever being able to let you go.”

"Effy, babe, just listen to me. I'm not in love with her. I don't count the minutes until I get to see her again, I don't lie awake at night and think of her when I'm, well, you know," Emily says, trying not to blush. "Just being with her doesn't—she doesn't make me feel like I'm the luckiest person in this pissing country."

"You're not in love with her," Effy states, looks at Emily questioningly, who shakes her head.

"At best, I was in love with the idea of her once," Emily says, and watches as Effy's face works through the math until it finally relaxes. “And babe?"

"Yeah," Effy says, sounding exhausted.

"This has to be the most romantic thing ever. What’s in the box?"

Effy half-laughs and puts the box down. “Open it.”

“In a second,” Emily says, before stepping outside in her socks, pulling Effy close by the lapels on her coat, and kissing her.

The box makes a small noise. Like a whimper, and it takes Emily a second to realize that it doesn’t come from Effy.

“Babe—did it just—”

“Open it,” Effy says again, this time with a soft smile before resting her forehead against Emily’s shoulder.

Emily bends down and unfolds the top covering flaps and gasps loudly when something inside licks at her fingers. “Oh—Ef, tell me you didn’t.”

“I couldn’t think of anything else,” Effy says, looking down at the box. “I called Liz, who checked your tenancy agreement. You’re good to keep him in Warwick, for now.”

Emily reaches into the box blindly and comes out with a squirming, soggy ball of black fuzz that pants at her face before licking at the flour on it.

“Fred,” she says, and watches as Effy reaches out to gently tickle him under his chin, which produces a satisfied growl so soft that it’s almost like a purr.

“Fred,” Effy agrees, and Emily feels her heart burst into a million pieces at just one thought.

This is my family.

She hugs Fred close to her chest and reaches for Effy’s face, blindly—pulls her in close for another kiss that ends in a shaky sigh. "Even after all this time, you are so good at catching me off guard. It's one of the many, many things I love about you,” she says, and it comes out sounding incredibly solemn even though she can't stop smiling. 

“Happy Christmas, Em,” Effy says, before leaning in closer and hugging Emily so tight that she can barely breathe. “I love you” is murmured into her neck, and Emily feels like she's going to liquefy completely, because nobody should be able to mean those three words as much as Effy does.

Fred whimpers and tries to squirm out of Emily’s arms, but they barely notice.

Katie finds them long minutes later, still holding each other in the snow.

----

Close, close all night

the lovers keep.

They turn together

in their sleep,

close as two pages

in a book

that read each other

in the dark.

Each knows all

the other knows

learned by heart

from head to toes.

“close close all night”, by Elizabeth Bishop