Okay, so that was maybe, kind of, possibly, most definitely stupid.
And dangerous. Ludicrously, impossibly, stupidly dangerous.
Shit. But… shit.
Cosima couldn’t chase the smile out of her lips and eyes. Couldn’t rid her skin of that ridiculous glow or temper the silly bounce in her step. Couldn’t stop herself from acting a fool in front of the convenience store cashier, all stupid giddy smiles and ecstatic, fumbling fingers digging for change in coat pockets. Because Delphine wanted her. She wanted her, and right now she was in her bed. The thought of Delphine sprawled out half-naked and twisted in her sheets turned Cosima’s cheeks all hot and crimson. Couldn’t she have just that for a moment, without all of the rest? The rest could come later. The rest she would deal with. She would, when she had to. But not now. Why should it have to be now?
Because you are supposed to be monitoring her, you idiot. Not getting her ice cream.
She thought of Sarah. She thought of I’ll obviously approach Delphine way more logically than that. She thought of No, you won’t. She thought of Delphine, arching and trembling beneath her.
The icy air bit sharply against her flushed skin. She burned.
Okay, maybe Sarah had been a little more right than she’d wanted to admit. Maybe.
And anyway, Cosima thought, I don’t even know what her deal is. She could still totally just be a student. A neolution groupie, a freaky Leekie. A huge dork (Cosima smiled at that). She may not even be my monitor.
(But she remembered Delphine, face half-masked by her wine glass, eyes glowing ruby with the reflection of it. She recalled the growing tension of her grip and the slow widening of her eyes as Leekie had so self-assuredly steered the conversation to the subject of human clones)
Except that she totally is. Shit.
But Delphine had kissed her. Delphine had kissed her. Was that within the realm of her duties as monitor? What were the parameters of this experiment? Were the monitors meant to engage in this way? Sarah jumped Paul. They still didn’t know who Alison’s monitor was. Beth slept with her monitor, but… Shit, why had she never asked Beth how she and Paul had met? Had he initiated everything? Had she? Were the rules consistent? Did it matter?
Could she trust Delphine?
Did it matter?
Because Delphine was stunning. Stunningly intelligent, stunningly goofy, stunningly sexy.
And Delphine wanted her. That part was not a lie.
Cosima’s stomach twisted and burned.
No, you won’t. No, you won’t. No, you won’t.
Sarah’s voice echoed its unheeded warning in her head.
But Sarah could shove it. She could handle this.
She was a scientist, wasn’t she? She was accustomed to approaching a problem from every conceivable angle. And anyway, she’d always been a bit obsessive, especially when it came to research. Collect the data, sort it, analyze it, rearrange it. Challenge your hypothesis. Make fifteen new ones. Challenge those. Repeat.
Delphine was no different.
Delphine begged to be solved, and Cosima had turned over a thousand versions of her in her head. Delphine the monitor. Delphine the student. Delphine the scientist.
Delphine was a great many things at once (too many things), and Cosima couldn’t suss out the ones that were merely playacted from the ones that were truly Delphine (but maybe Delphine couldn’t, either?). Everything about Delphine was too something.
Too friendly, too eager, too afraid.
Delphine the foreigner. Delphine the neolutionist. Delphine the liar.
Cosima burned through lens after lens (Delphine the blackmailed, Delphine the curious, Delphine the willing), re-examining the same interactions over and over. Always seeing them tinted a slightly different shade. Never feeling that she was seeing things in quite their true color.
No, that doesn’t make sense. Maybe she meant to… but why did she? Oh, maybe that. That could be it. Maybe she was… But....no, damn. I don’t want that to be true. Couldn’t it also be that she…? But shit… it kind of…shit…
Cosima craved knowledge. It was that thirst that set her mind off at such a dizzying pace, manifested in enthusiastic gesticulations and in words all tumbling over one another in their fervor to be shared. Solving problems was all passion and play for Cosima
But this whole Delphine thing? Well. This one she couldn’t quite solve.
And never before had she been so afraid of an answer.
So could Sarah - or anyone, really - blame her if she was maybe, just a little bit hesitant to put all of these pieces together? If she just wanted to step back and admire the few bits she had managed to fit together before she had to rearrange this Delphine she had pieced together into a being (possibly) far more sinister?
Because Delphine was terrifying. Delphine was dangerous. Delphine was warm. Because her need for Delphine had washed over her all sudden and scorching and uncontrollable and woah. Well. This was new. Cosima was no stranger to need, but this was an entirely different shade of the thing. The burning red she could control, but this thing glowed hot-white and blinding and had hit her in a way that sunk her insides like lead into the earth and floated her mind all light and wispy into the ether. It was heady and intoxicating and entirely disconcerting. This was maybe more than she could control.
No, you won’t. No, you won’t. No, you won’t.
That unrelenting mantra landed heavy with each step.
No, you won’t. No, you won’t. No, you won’t.
Cosima had been absorbed in her research, the end of a pen wedged between her teeth while her ink-smeared hands painted lines of text with shocks of yellow. She didn’t usually make a habit of studying in coffee shops, but since Scott had lately made a habit of finding her in the library she’d become suddenly motivated to alter her routine. Today she’d tucked herself away at a table in the back corner of the coffee shop, hunched over a stack of scientific journals with her feet stretched out onto the opposite chair. She paid vague mind to the ebb and flow of students, professors, and visiting lecturers meeting around her, catching bits of promising new theories and flashes of criticism on lackluster papers. The place reeked of academia.
She’d pretended not to notice when she heard the soft click-click of heeled boots approaching her table, but her ears had pricked up at the sound of a soft “merci” moments earlier at the counter. She trained her eyes on the page in front of her, scanning over lines but absorbing nothing. The highlighter rested useless against her palm. The pen wavered between her clenching teeth. Her free hand gripped the binding of one journal just a bit tighter, thumb creasing the page. She listened as Delphine settled herself at the table just across from her, allowing herself a furtive glance before adjusting her glasses and dipping her gaze back down to her work.
Don’t engage, she thought. Wait and see what she does.
And then: This is insane. I’m totally being paranoid. She’s probably just a student.
Her spine stiffened a bit and her nerves lit up. She looked up to see the beaming Immunology student.
“Hey, Delphine,” she replied with a lopsided smile, quickly grasping the pen from between her teeth, “What’s up?”
“I am sorry to bother you, but do you mind if I borrow this chair?” she asked, gesturing timidly towards where Cosima’s feet rested.
“Oh! Yeah, yeah. Of course,” she stammered, scrambling to readjust herself.
See? She just wanted a chair. Student, not monitor. Student.
“Thank you,” Delphine smiled warmly, wrapping her fingers around the back of the chair and beginning to turn, but she hesitated. Cosima noticed her fingers tense.
“W-What are you studying?” Her stutter was nearly imperceptible, masked by the borderline overzealous confidence of the inquiry, but it was not lost on Cosima.
“Oh, this? Just going over some articles on epigenetics. For my thesis.” She displayed her ink-stained palms, fanning her fingers, “Sometimes I get a little overenthusiastic with the highlighting.”
Delphine leaned over to glance at Cosima’s work, smiling at the heavily highlighted pages and the margins crammed with clusters of seemingly indecipherable notes.
“Ah, I can see that,” she teased. “Do you mind if I ask, what is your thesis?”
Cosima’s eyes lit up in spite of her wariness.
“Oh, well I’m kind of like, crazy fascinated with epigenetic influence on cells, especially as it applies to…” she hesitated for a moment, hands uncharacteristically still, before continuing.
“Well, especially as it applies to clone cells,” she finished.
Delphine’s eyes might have widened. Cosima rushed on, hands reanimated and dancing about with her words.
“I don’t have the exact wording of it down yet, but I’m trying to do something on that. Still working it out, ya know?”
“Hm, clone cells. Really?” Delphine asked, apparently intrigued by the idea. If this was dangerous territory for her, she didn’t let it show.
“Yeah. Why, does that interest you?” She said it playfully, one eyebrow raised, but Cosima suspected that Delphine’s interest in this subject might be more than mere ironic coincidence.
“Yes, very much,” Delphine gushed. “Have you read-” she hesitated, suddenly shy. Cosima cocked her head inquisitively. “Actually, do you mind… do you mind if I sit here? With you?”
“Um, yeah. Of course,” Cosima faltered, the warmth simmering beneath her skin contrasting sharply with the heavy emptiness that had carved itself so abruptly into her belly. The strange, forced quality of Delphine’s request told her everything she needed to know.
This woman was not just a student.
But her stilted movements, her elegant hands that twisted into themselves and couldn’t seem to rest comfortably anywhere she tried to set them, the absurd shyness that alternated so peculiarly with her overconfident inquiries into Cosima’s life; that was all interesting. Now that intrigued her.
This woman was clearly not just anything.
“Thank you,” Delphine answered, gathering her things. The immensity of her smile nearly broke Cosima, who could only bite her lip to keep from smiling too broadly in return.
“It’s just, it is difficult to make friends here, I think,” Delphine continued as she sat across from Cosima, “I have not met very many people.”
“Hey, me neither,” Cosima assured her. Monitor or not, she liked this woman. And as long as she didn’t know for sure, what could it hurt to be friendly?
“You know I’m new here, too,” she continued. “Haven’t exactly had a lot of time to go out and make friends, you know? The work load is crazy.”
“Oh, yes, I know,” Delphine responded, hanging on a bit long to the ‘s.’ She leaned over the table, resting a hand on Cosima’s notes. Cosima flushed at the proximity.
“So, tell me about your thesis,” Delphine requested, eyes sparkling. “What are you reading?”
Cosima snapped out of her reverie, Delphine’s image fading into the present. She turned abruptly, tucking the box of eskimo pies under her arm, and smiled at the gangly, bespectacled boy lumbering toward her, all long limbs and staccato movements.
“Heeeey, Scott!” she greeted him, managing a sideways smile, “What’s up?”
“Oh, you know. Just taking a break to grab some much-needed caffeine,” he replied, smiling foolishly, his sentence punctuated by an overenthusiastic, stilted laugh. “I thought you said you were staying in all day? Lots of research?”
“Ohhh, yeah. Way busy. But, ya know. Ran out of ice cream. Total emergency,” she joked.
Scott guffawed, tapering off awkwardly. He shuffled his feet. Cosima simply waited patiently for him to recover; by now she had learned that it was best to ignore the evidence of his all-too-obvious crush.
“Oh, I meant to tell you!” he exclaimed suddenly. “I have that DNA you asked me to sequence. I haven’t looked too closely at it, but it looks like there’s some weird stuff in there. What did you say these samples were for?”
Cosima’s eyes lit up. “You have it?” she asked, completely ignoring his questions. “With you? Now?”
“Oh, no. No. I, um. I have it at my, um, at my apartment,” he stumbled, the reddening of his cheeks contrasting harshly with their dull, wintery surroundings. “If you want you could, uh, you could come over and we could discuss it?” He smiled. Sheepish, hopeful.
Cosima hesitated, but then considered it for a moment. She wanted desperately to know what “weird stuff” Scott had found, but this wasn’t exactly the ideal time. She supposed she could run back and make her apologies to Delphine; could tell her that something had come up, could tell her that... But then she remembered Delphine in her bed, and the slowly melting Eskimo Pies tucked beneath the warmth of her arm, and I think I already am, and… well, what was one more day? Plus, the thought of spending the afternoon at Scott’s apartment and pretending not to notice his over-obvious attempts at flirting sounded kind of majorly unappealing.
“Dude, no, that’s awesome, and like, thank you so much. Really. But I’ve got a ton of stuff to catch up on, so I’ve really gotta get back,” she explained, jerking her thumb in the general direction of her own apartment and smiling apologetically.
“Yeah, yeah. Of course. You’re busy. No problem,” he stammered, waving it off. “Maybe tomorrow?”
“Yeah, definitely. You wanna just meet me in the lab?,” she suggested gently, “We can go over it there.”
Scott’s face fell a bit, but he forced a smile.
“Yeah, yeah. Definitely. Awesome. I’ll see you then. Okay.” He wavered, obviously not quite ready to end the conversation.
“Great! I’ll text you,” Cosima concluded, waving a quick goodbye and skipping off towards her apartment.
“R-right. Bye!” Scott stammered, ducking into the convenience store.
Cosima wished that she could discuss her research with Delphine. Delphine was intelligent, that much was glaringly apparent. You couldn’t fake intelligence or passion like that. And as lovely as her mind was, it was her passion that really pulled Cosima in.
Still, she had to be realistic. She didn’t know what Delphine knew, or if she could trust her, or… anything about her, really. Not for certain. She only knew how easy it was for her to follow the peculiar pattern of thoughts that formed in Delphine’s head and tumbled out in lightly accented English. She knew that she adored the way her eyes lit up and how her English became a muddle of disordered, overenthusiastic phrases when she became too enamored with a topic. She knew that she loved Delphine’s perspective, her willingness to play devil’s advocate, the vastness of her knowledge. These things couldn’t be fabricated. These things she was certain belonged to Delphine.
She had barely started back towards her apartment when her pocket buzzed. She pulled out her phone, a small grin manifesting when she read “Delphine Beraud.” She opened the message.
DELPHINE: Where are you? Almost back?
DELPHINE: I miss you.
The ridiculous grin that spread across Cosima’s face warmed her down to her toes. She couldn’t stop smiling, not even after she’d typed a response and shoved her phone back into her coat pocket.
Screw Sarah. Screw Sarah, because she believed in this. She believed in Delphine. Even if something deep in her gut was telling her that it was too much, that Delphine was too much, too perfect. That Delphine had kind of bypassed the whole gay panic thing entirely and gone straight from losing her gay v-card to sending ridiculously cheesy texts. Something about I miss you and I think I already am and But that’s why I like her seemed slightly off, although Cosima clung to these things; believed in them just a bit too earnestly, just as they were offered a touch too ardently. It was too much, too soon. And something about that rang false. Something about that screamed counterfeit.
But Delphine was not all perfection. It was the imperfections that sped Cosima’s heartbeat and muddled her senses. The imperfections that spelled danger. Delphine clumsily pawing Cosima’s sweater off of her shoulders. Delphine, crimson down to her chest, stumbling over her own tangled feet to fall onto the bed. The sharp widening of eyes when Cosima had dipped her fingers between her legs and felt her, slick and hot; the hitch of breath, as if Delphine couldn’t quite believe it either. As if it were all some sort of accidental truth that she had never intended.
It was those things that had dismantled Cosima’ defenses and planted that stupid seed of hope within her. Those things that rang impossibly, improbably, imperfectly honest. And if Cosima – against her better judgment – was now allowing Delphine’s too-perfect I think I already am to replace the mantra of No you won’t, no you won’t, no you won’t that pounded over and over against her temple, then what did it matter? What did it matter if this woman was trying a little too hard because of the all-too-probable spying thing? The rest was real. And the rest made her giddy. Impossibly, stupidly giddy.
She finally came upon her apartment building, stopping momentarily to wipe her feet on the doormat there. The ground was dirty with old snow. Cigarette butts and old flyers littered the doorway.
“Join the Literature Club for a Reading of George’s Orwell’s 1984!”
Delphine the liar. Delphine the spy. Delphine the neolutionist.
She could be all of those things, Cosima thought.
Delphine the student. Delphine the curious. Delphine the willing.
Yeah, she could be all of those things.
She reached for the door handle and continued onward, reluctant to dwell on it.
Cosima entered her apartment to find Delphine half-sat on the window sill, smoke billowing from the cigarette cradled between her middle and forefinger.
“Hey,” she said, smiling as she closed the door behind her.
“Hey,” Delphine replied, half-turning and smiling warmly. She wore Cosima’s robe, and as she turned it fell open to reveal her bare midsection. Her legs stretched out, long and bare, from underneath the flimsy fabric. Cosima warmed, a strange feeling settling itself unbidden into her bones. It was the first time since she had moved to Minnesota that she had come back to her apartment to have it feel truly like home.
She could think of nothing more dangerous.
She could think of nothing more wonderful.
Delphine glowed, and the way she seemed to fit so easily (into her robe, into her apartment, into her life) terrified Cosima. This could be Delphine. This could be a Delphine she could love.
(stupid, stupid, stupid)
But why not this Delphine? There were many possible Delphines, so why couldn’t it be this one? Even just for today? Just for today. She could handle this. Would handle this.
…when she had to.
Delphine chewed on her lower lip, gaze locked with Cosima’s.
Cosima moved towards her, tossing the box of ice cream carelessly onto the desk.
Yes. When she had to.