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Read your skin

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Kate sleeps in Betty's bed with her sometimes. Betty doesn't talk to anyone about it, not even Gladys. Not even Kate. Kate just slips in when she thinks Betty's asleep, and leaves before dawn. Sometimes Kate nudges one of Betty's limp arms over her, clutches the hand at the end to her chest.

Betty always thought she needed Kate more than Kate needed her. Betty's starting to think she might have been wrong.
Those nights Betty breathes as quiet as she can.

And if Kate rolls over at some point to study Betty's face in the dimly-lit room, curtain never quite closed against the gentle hum of the street light outside it, well. Betty can pass it off at Kate being lonely, or indulging in a bit of hero-worship (Betty took the fall for her, after all)

Betty tells herself a lot of things that aren't entirely true, these days.

And sometimes Kate will come into the lounge room after a bath after a show, wrinkling her nose at the smell of cordite that never seems to dissipate from Betty's skin when she climbs on the couch beside Betty, sticks her head inside the newspaper Betty'd been reading and rests her head on Betty's shoulder. When Kate tilts her head back to look at Betty, Betty reads the newspaper as if her life depended on it. Betty uses the same soap but Kate smells so much better. Betty smells clean when she washes, but somehow Kate smells good. So Betty reads the same section of the newspaper over and over as Kate's wet hair damps Betty's dressing-gown until Kate yawns and nuzzles her face into Betty's chest and Betty has to tell her, very gently, that it's probably time for Kate to go to bed to distract her from the way the newspaper is shaking in Betty's hands.

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Kate still has nightmares, sometimes while Kate's still asleep in her room Betty can hear her stifled terror, and that's when Kate will commandeer Betty's bed. Betty's glad when she does, because the sound of her in pain across the hall is too much for Betty. Betty wants to rise, go to her but she knows she can't; not without having to explain herself and that's a conversation she's still not ready to have. It's a conversation Betty doesn't think she'll ever be ready to have. So it's a relief when her door creaks open and Kate creeps in, cold feet nudging against Betty's.

Sometimes while Kate's in Betty's bed she'll struggle or call out in her sleep, and that's when Betty runs her hands over skin like braille, revealing Kate's past by means of graffiti. It's a language Betty's learnt, over the years. If Kate wakes, she stares at Betty, blinking and wordless, somehow emptily. She'll let Betty bundle Kate into her, inside Betty's dressing-gown (the upstairs of Betty's house is too large to heat properly) and Kate doesn't say a word as Betty mumbles soothing nothings into Kate's hair. Kate clutches at Betty's ribs, and Betty feels tears that aren't hers on her cheeks. Kate won't speak to Betty the morning after, until Betty's made her a coffee. Kate knows that Betty knows that Kate sneaks into Betty's bed like a thief in the night, and it seems like Kate's not ready to have a conversation about that either. But once Kate's had her coffee, she'll smile, make breakfast, and send Betty off to the factory with a packed lunch and a wave at the front gate.

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Betty finds shirts she thought she lost when Kate comes tripping quietly into Betty's room. Shirts Betty hadn't seen for months, thinking she must have lost them, or left them somewhere, or one of the girls took them while she were incarcerated. But Kate had them, all this time. Wearing them so close to her skin at night.

They fit different on Kate, tighter and looser both at once. Betty only notices on the nights she leaves the lamp on to read in bed, or knit a little, trying not to think of the sanctuary that lies behind two solid doors.

That Kate's safe is enough for Betty. That she's across the hall is torture.

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Betty never goes to watch Kate sing, not anymore, but she never came to watch Betty box so they figure themselves even.

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It's been months after Kate started sneaking into Betty's room when one night, as Betty's turning off the downstairs lights, Kate grabs Betty by the hand. Betty waits for Kate to say something, to explain herself, but Kate just looks at Betty nervously, and reminds Betty of the gangly fawn she met whose door wouldn't lock. Kate's fingers brush mutely against Betty's before Kate lets her hand go.

"Can I…" Kate drifts off, looks down, then grabs Betty's hand again, firms her grip on it. "Can I stay with you tonight?"

Betty leaves her hand passive in her own; she doesn't grasp or clutch at it. Betty just… lets it be, the way she tries to when any physical interaction is initiated by another woman; doubly so, if the woman is Kate.

"Might as well," Betty says a little gruffly. "Not like you won't end up there anyway." Kate's face spreads into a tentative grin, not sure if Betty minds or not. "Woulda kicked you out if you weren't welcome." And like that, the uncertainty fades from her face. "You know what I am, don't you?" Betty asks, mouth a little dry. Betty takes a swig from her glass of milk; Marco would never let Betty live it down, that she drinks milk at bedtime, but Kate pours them both a glass every night with expectant eyes and Betty can't disappoint her; not over something so stupid.

Kate's grip falters, then tightens. "You know what I am, don't you?" She retorts.

"Some days, I'm not so sure." Betty puts her empty glass down and lets Kate lead her up the stairs to Betty's (slightly smaller) room. Betty climbs into her bed and Betty's heart pounds as she watches Kate do the same on the other side. Betty should be used to this, but it's the first time either of them has acknowledged this and Betty's so nervous, so tightly wound that she lays there, stiff as a board as Kate arranges her limbs.

She arranges her limbs around Betty.

"I was singing tonight, about being alone, and I was feeling it too, when I remembered that all I had to do was step out of the club and into my home and… not be alone anymore."

When Kate finally kisses Betty, Betty expected her to taste of beer and wine, or surprise and fear. Betty didn't expect her to taste like… home.