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the unlocking and the lift away

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it’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
your love will be
safe with me

-bon iver, ‘stacks’

 

 

 

3.

Susan Ivanova can be a real stubborn sonofabitch sometimes and she damn well knows it. It takes two lunch dates for her to stop dancing around the fact that she doesn’t flat out hate Talia Winters, and it takes eight accumulative flashes of Talia’s could-charm-the-pants-off-a-Vorlon smile for her to genuinely crack one of her own.

Talia appraises her. “You should do that more often,” she notes in that cavalier voice, the one that hides nothing, but at the same time feels as guarded as Susan’s own mind. Another little talent she must have picked up from the Corps.

“What, smile?”

“Smile, yes.” Talia’s teeth are a dazzling white. “At me, if you can manage it.”

Suddenly she’s not so cavalier anymore, and she’s looking at Susan in a peculiar way, almost like she is…fond of her.

Susan opens her mouth to reply, but it’s no use. She’s already been knocked off-kilter.

Talia is motioning for the check.

 

Susan buys coffee instead of making it, two flashy caramel cinnamon latte something or others from the Zocalo, and she tracks Talia down after her morning meeting in Red 03. Susan’s fingers brush the black leather of Talia’s gloves as she hands the cup over, and she tries not to flinch. Fails. If the telepath notices, she doesn’t say anything.

“What’s the occasion?” Talia’s eyes are steel blue but they’re a surprisingly soft place to land.

“I don’t distrust you,” Susan says. “And I don’t hate you.”

Talia quirks a thin brow, mulling the information over in a quick, business-like fashion. She thinks maybe this is as close to détente as they’ll ever get (but she is wrong).

“Mazel tov,” she says finally, tilting the cup in toast.

 

 

4.

“I get it,” Talia says in-between bites of sliced green apple during their third lunch date when they stop feeling obligated to keep the conversation entirely in the polite and inoffensive realm of small talk. “I do. Your problem with Psi Corps. But believe me when I say that yours is not the common experience, Susan. What happened to you, to your mother, never should h—“

“—stay out of my head, Talia.” Susan warns.

Talia folds her hands and finishes chewing. “I always do.”

“It’s just, I can’t handle it, scans of any kind—“

“—I know.”

Susan meets Talia’s eyes, wondering suddenly why they’ve even bothered to do this, why they are trying so hard to be friends, or not enemies, or whatever it is they’re doing. Susan is stubborn and passionate and self-righteous to a fault and she will never stop being angry, no matter how many times hearing Talia’s calm voice seems almost enough to talk her out of it.

Talia is patient but she is cool like a sheet of ice and she is still decidedly Corps. She is still a telepath. She’s still the woman that Susan has spent the last year and a half clashing endlessly with at every turn.

It’s like rubbing the same ends of a magnet together.

 

 

5.

The coffee is cold and Talia peers at the dregs in her mug as though divining tea leaves.

“Do you ever miss the sunshine?”

Susan is on duty in twenty minutes and she hasn’t quite been able to relax yet. She’s half in work mode she’s trying to remember how not to clench her jaw. She’d seriously considered declining this coffee date.

But the question gives her pause.

“Yeah,” she says. “I suppose I do.”

“The starlight is nice but it feels kind of lonely. I can only see a little slice of space out my window, anyway.”

“Command bay is great for stargazing,” Susan tells her offhandedly, and then adds, before she’s even realizing what she’s saying, almost a residual reflex from parading visitors around the station so often, “the Captain does it at least twice a week. I’ll show you sometime, if you want.”

A split second later Susan is wondering what in the universe made her offer such a thing when she isn't even sure if she can finish her coffee civilly, but the look dawning on Talia’s face chases that wonder away.

“I’d really like that, Commander.”

And just like that, they start to magnetize again.

 

 

1.

Talia Winters was born overseas to military parents who had (she thinks now, all grown up, having been taught enough indifference for it not to hurt much) probably never even wanted a child. She spent the first four years of her life somewhere cold, somewhere in the north, somewhere snow fell constantly. She remembers the cold and she remembers being left alone a lot to watch the snowflakes stick one by one and three by three against glass windows, until there were too many for her small mind to comprehend, and so she simply looked away.

Later, in the Psi Corps, she’d lie in her room every night and watch the stars come out the same way, one by one and three by three. In the same way, she’d turn away from the window when she began to lose count because she’d convinced herself by then and they’d convinced her that she didn’t need any more vastness in her life.

 

Talia Winters watches Susan Ivanova like a mathematician watches an equation without a variable: cautiously, curiously. She steals glances to her across the bar and she catalogues the angle of Susan’s downcast, dark lined eyes and the way she looks so tired of so many things for so many reasons (but even like this, sitting quietly amid the chatter, nursing a stained glass in her hand, shoulders aching from the effort of being a good soldier day in and day out, she could still command the entire casino without lifting a finger).

Talia has never wanted to understand someone like she wants to understand this woman and she’s never really needed to, either. She’s only a P5, special but not special (she’s still not entirely convinced that Jason was right about everything, even though sometimes there is a longing inside of her that seems to be spreading wider, blooming outward and outward, and it's something that is becoming harder and harder to ignore).

Susan has made avoidance her primary tactic concerning possible interaction with Talia, and Talia understands why, of course. Everyone avoids her because of who she is and what she is, and for Susan in particular, that aversion comes like soul fire. It’s something she thinks maybe they have in common (or maybe it’s that Susan is the one avoiding everyone else; either way, nobody dares come close to either of them, and they do not dare come close to each other).

The sheer volume of human contradiction that this stoic, dark-haired woman seems to possess within her is shattering and far too expansive to grasp, like snowflakes on windows or stars in the sky, but for whatever reason, Talia doesn’t look away this time. She keeps her gaze steady and she watches, endlessly, patiently.

When their eyes finally meet, a long look passes between them. There is something sharp in Susan’s eyes that makes Talia’s chest tighten.

Susan looks away first and they spend the rest of the next hour avoiding each other again, a little too intently.

 

 

6.

The night the Underground Railroad breaks up Talia comes to Susan's door, late, holding two glasses and a bottle of alcohol. She calls them gifts and Susan knows they’re meant to be of the apologetic variety. She lets the woman stay because somehow, she thinks they both need it now, although she still won't let herself think about how they have both needed it for a while.

Talia begins to peel her gloves away and she thinks about how when she’d first received them from the Corps they had told her that keeping her skin covered was for her own safety and for the safety of others, but how today, the Resistance had talked about them being just another way to keep her isolated. Talia is a woman who has never had a childhood or a family or a life and she is as alone in her own mind as a glacier in the sea, even when she’s in a crowd. She is always alone because she has to be, because that’s what they’ve taught her and she knows nothing else. She thinks (thought) she couldn’t survive any other way.

So she dresses in these gloves and these long sleeves because that’s what she’s always done, because it makes people feel not as threatened by her, because the Corps had taken her in when she’d lost her voice amid the tumult of a thousand others, and they had taken care of her when she couldn’t take care of herself. They have saved her in a million irreplaceable ways.

But they have also used her and lied to her and terrified her; they have kept her utterly alone and she doesn’t want to be alone anymore.

She lays the gloves out on Susan’s counter and she sets her badge beside them, and it’s not until she looks over at Susan and the woman is smiling at her in a way she’s never smiled at her before that she feels her breath start to steady.

 

Later, Talia lets her head fall against Susan’s shoulder as they talk. Susan lets it, too. It is a gesture more familiar in nature than they are with each other, but Talia is scared-honest and scared-needing. Susan has been right about the Corps all along and somewhere in the back of her mind Talia knew it, too, and both of them cling to this fact like a lifesaver, a truth amid countless uncertainties.

“Lie to me about how brave I am,” Talia says. “Even if it’s not true. I’ll believe you.”

Susan is three-glasses-of-wine sincere and self-imposed-brick-wall lonely. She is a lifelong keeping-everyone-at-a-distance kind of tired.

“I won’t look,” Talia adds for good measure when Susan doesn’t reply right away, even though they both already know she never would, “to find out what you really think.”

So Susan is lonely and tired and the moment Talia Winters removed that Psi Corps badge from her chest and stepped over that invisible line, towards her and away from them, she felt something inside of her start to fissure. She doesn’t have a reason to distance herself anymore, doesn’t really have a reason to pretend she doesn’t want to watch Talia’s mouth rather than her eyes when she talks. She's still a telepath but she is no longer Corps and that makes Talia no more a threat to Susan than her own mother was.

“I understand that these are your roots, and that you are abandoning them,” she says, because she knows, because she has done it herself. Susan Ivanova has looked into her past like a mirror and then shattered it. “And that is one of the bravest things I can imagine doing.” It’s as diplomatic a statement as she can muster.

Talia sighs and the sound is as sweet as it is weary. She leans up and re-fills their wine glasses, sets the empty bottle aside. “You should have seen Bester’s face, Susan. I thought I’d falter under the weight, that I’d slip and give it all up.”

Talia is going through this disillusionment now just as Susan had as a child. Susan has never trusted the organization whose lifeblood runs (ran) through Talia’s veins but despite that there has always been something in the way the woman speaks, the way she moves, something that belongs to Talia alone, that Susan does trust.

“You didn’t though.” Susan says, and suddenly she misses the weight of Talia’s head on her shoulder.

Talia turns her face, peers at Susan through heavy lidded eyes, peers at her through that peculiar gaze she’s always seeming to fix her with, the one Susan has never quite understood.

“I didn’t though,” Talia repeats softly, thoughtfully, like a mantra.

A few moments pass before she speaks again.

“I chose you tonight. I wanted you. I didn’t want anyone else.“

When Susan doesn’t say anything, Talia summons her courage, chances to reach out and brush her knuckles against the other woman’s cheek. The touch is cool and it feels good against Susan’s wine flushed skin. It feels good to Talia, too, because she hasn’t touched anyone’s bare skin to hers in she can’t even remember how long.

Susan does nothing, just sits, stares down into her lap like she’s made of something hard as stone. She’s thinking some pretty heavy thoughts and Talia knows it because the wine has made both their controls slip, like a bracelet from a wrist.

She catches Susan’s chin in her palm and slides herself closer, slowly, inch by inch.

“Don’t think,” she breathes. Susan doesn’t push her away or protest but she still won’t look at Talia, won’t turn her face, and so Talia slides her fingers to her curl against her neck and she brushes the pad of her thumb softly over the woman’s bottom lip. Cautious, gentle, but determined, and Talia feels like she’s trying not to spook a wild horse. It’s a little ridiculous and a lot sweet and she would let herself smile if her heart weren’t beating so fast.

She ignores that wild drumming, though, and leans forward. She lets her lips graze Susan’s temple. “Please trust me, Susan. For just this once, stop thinking. You want this. I know you want this.” Maybe she needs it, too, Talia thinks. Maybe they both do.

Talia’s hair flutters with the long, shaky breath that Susan lets out and she can feel the weight start to ease a little, the weight of all those thoughts, the static, the dark, and something else replaces it, something that makes Talia’s skin burn because it’s raw and it’s honest and she’s so, so close to giving in.

Susan curls her strong fingers into the green fabric at Talia’s collarbone and Talia feels her shoulders hit the back of the couch, feels the weight of Susan’s body press against hers.

They kiss for long, drawn out minutes, charting out the unfamiliar parts of each other’s mouths with moans and heavy flows of tongue like waves crashing together, hot, slow, wet. They cradle each other’s jaws and slip their fingers and hands through hair and pull, gently, trying to be gentle but only barely succeeding, and Talia starts to bare her teeth because she wants, badly, but Susan is so immovable, so infuriatingly paced. She’s still above Talia and she still has the leverage (if Talia has her vulnerability and her mouth, Susan’s damn well taking the rest of the control).

Talia thrusts her hands through Susan’s hair again; fingernails raking again and again against the base of her skull, creeping over higher, higher, and Susan recalls hazily, nearly subconsciously, from college anatomy that that’s near where all her memories lie.

Maybe the touch means something more and maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t matter. It feels far too close, far too much, and it brings the situation crashing down all around her.

“Don’t,” she gasps, and pushes Talia away. “Don’t.”

For a moment, Talia feels chastised, like she’s a child who has done something wrong without even realizing it. She stares at Susan, unblinking, chest heaving. After a tense moment, she starts to understand. She starts to laugh, and the sound nearly splits Susan’s resolve right down the middle. It almost makes her reach for Talia’s mouth again. It almost makes her angry.

“You act like I don’t know you at all,” Talia says. She reaches down Susan’s body, skims her fingertips across the skin that is revealed as the silk rides up. Susan is often wrapped in soft fabric when her body isn’t hidden behind the sharp lines of her uniform, but Talia knows that shouldn’t fool anyone. “You act like we haven’t fought over this since the day we met.”

“You don’t actually know me,” Susan says, and her voice is a little cold because she is scared and Talia is not. She wraps a hand around each of the telepath’s wrists and tugs them away from her, pins them back against the couch, and she thought it’d make her feel better, having all the control, but Talia doesn’t protest in the slightest. She doesn’t struggle like maybe Susan thought she would.

Susan doesn’t know how to face Talia without a challenge. She’d have to be honest with herself for once. She’d have to let down a barrier or two.

“But I do,” Talia tells her, still infuriatingly calm. She’s going to let Susan kick and buck if she needs to but she’s not going to concede the point. Not now. “And you know me, too.”

 

 

2.

They’ve been doing this thing tonight, this thing they do too often, this thing where they sit on opposite ends of the bar and pretend like the other woman isn’t there. They pretend like there isn’t some bizarre thread strung out between them, connecting them, like they didn’t show up tonight hoping the other would already be here, just a little bit.

Susan is drinking more tonight than Talia has ever seen her drink, and she wonders if it’s because of her. If it is because they’d argued and hurled harsh words at each other in Sheridan’s office this afternoon right before Susan stormed out, leaving a deafening silence in her wake.

There are four small empty shot glasses in front of her and she’s nursing a fifth.

Talia stares into the glass of water that she hasn’t touched and breathes out, slowly.

At first, it sounds like she’s just heard her name in a conversation no one is having. It feels...red, and more than a little warm, like a fire building. Warm, warmer. Hot, hotter.

Strong emotions have a way of slipping through sometimes, whether you want them to or not.

She’s not trying to hear it but she does, she’s starting to hear it loudly, she’s starting to feel it, and it dawns on her as quickly as the blush starts to creep across her cheeks. It’s not just knowing suddenly where Commander Ivanova is thinking about putting her mouth right now, the words she’s thinking of hissing into Talia’s ear. It’s the vividness with which she’s trying not to picture it, and the way she is failing miserably. It’s the desire and the anger and the frustration and the confusion and it’s that suddenly Talia thinks maybe Susan doesn’t hate her as much as she thought she did, if she’s thinking things like that.

Or maybe she still does. Maybe this has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with something else, something a little harder to define.

Talia keeps her eyes on the glass in front of her. Her body is starting to feel hot, and it aches with a frustrated desire that matches Susan’s and she wants to bark out a laugh into the buzzing casino because it’s ridiculous, the way they are both pretending they’re all right with the way things are. The way they’ve tried to convince themselves that it’s just dislike, disagreement, causing this heat between them, nothing more. The way they’re avoiding this unspoken thing just as fiercely as they’re avoiding eye contact and the way they’re pretending it’s not big enough or dangerous enough or beautiful enough to mend them, to hurt them, to swallow them whole if they keep looking at it with one eye closed.

 

 

7.

The morning after the wine and the brief lapse in boundaries between them, Talia is at Susan’s door before she has had time to get very far into the oh-god-what-happened-last-night-I-must-run-far-far-far-away thought process.

“We’re talking about this,” Talia says, pushing past her. “Well, first we’re getting coffee and then I am definitely kissing you again but after that, there will be talking.”

 

 

8.

Susan gulps down the scalding black coffee and Talia watches her. Susan thinks she looks vaguely amused. She is cool and calm and collected this morning, the complete opposite of Susan, who didn’t even bother to iron her uniform, and she’s also got the audacity to look blindingly beautiful, like a ray of goddamn sunshine, and so well rested that it is both annoying and unsettling. Yesterday Talia had her world turned upside down and she’s managed to flip Susan’s, too, but the change becomes her.

She's also not even the slightest bit hungover. Susan scowls.

“Susan. This does not have to be stressful.”

Susan makes some weird noncommittal noise and gulps more coffee.

A few beats pass.

“Listen,” Talia announces with an air of deep, deep confession. “I really like you and I have really liked you for quite a while, even when we hated each other. I’d like it if you’d continue to let me.” Her voice is loud and certain and her language is clear and simple and somehow it disarms Susan. Before she can even tell herself not to react, to really think about this, her face has broken into a ridiculous smile.

For once she lets herself respond with her gut rather than her head. For once she looks into Talia’s eyes and sees nothing but the blue.

“Yeah, Talia. I really like you too.”

 

 

9.

Ambassador Mollari is throwing an event (read: rambunctious party that everyone will regret attending in the morning) in celebration of the eight hundred and eleventy-second victory battle march of the Centauri God of Dairy Products or Forested Areas or some other thing that Susan doesn’t necessarily care about. All she knows is that she has to make an appearance.

She goes with Sheridan and Talia goes with Garibaldi, but it doesn’t stay that way.

Ivanova is talking with Delenn and Sheridan when Talia comes up behind her, hands full of shots of some green liquor flowing in abundance tonight. Susan has already had a few drinks but she’s still in uniform, so it makes her feel better about it.

“Captain, Ambassador,” Talia says generously, by way of greeting. “You don’t mind if I steal Commander Ivanova for a moment, do you?” Susan likes the way Talia’s voice sounds wrapped around that title.

Delenn smiles widely because these days she always smiles widely at the slightest provocation (sometimes Susan thinks it must be kind of like the equivalent of trying out an exciting new setting on the Starfury whenever it gets its scheduled maintenance) and Talia returns it. Susan wonders whose smile is actually wider. If she had a ruler, she could—

—stop thinking such ridiculous thoughts and lay off the liquor.

Sheridan is saying something to Talia about the decorations and Delenn is ‘ohhhh’ing in agreement as they glance around at the chandeliers and the small pantheon of statuary scattered about the place.

In the end they let Susan wander off with Talia and as they go, Talia hands her one of the small glasses she’d been holding.

“He probably wanted some alone time with her, anyway,” Susan tells her as they walk. “Thanks for stealing me.”

Talia smiles knowingly but says, “I wouldn’t know,” and then, “it would make two of us though.”

Talia has already taken her shot by the time Susan looks over at her for clarification.

“It would make two of us,” Talia repeats. “Wanting alone time.” Susan squints her eyes.

Talia is very patient. “I wanted alone time with you, Susan.”

Ivanova opens her mouth, closes it, smiles (nervous? suspicious? teasing? Talia can’t quite tell) and then opens it again, this time to take the shot in her hand. It’s strong like gasoline and her mouth begins to burn and tingle and whatever that was, it was way more potent than her usual brand of vodka, and Susan didn’t know that was even possible.

The way Talia is watching her makes it go down sweeter, though.

“Come on,” Talia says, taking the empty glass from her hand. “You’re buying the next round.”

 

 

10.

“No, I know what it feels like, and it feels like a sharp tug against your will, like someone is pushing and pulling you and you’re helpless to stop it and you can’t block anything, you just have to give up and hope it ends soon. It’s a violation, Talia, and I can’t handle it, I don’t know how anyone can.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Talia says. “It can be beautiful, gentle, like...” she searches for the right word. “Like…a caress.”

Susan surveys the other woman over the top of her glass. They are leaning in close to each other, talking above the din of the party. Every once in a while there is a crash or a loud yell or Londo bursting into a Centauri drinking song, but whenever that happens, they just ignore it and lean in closer.

“It can be warm,” Talia continues, meeting the other woman’s reluctant gaze. “With the right person. It’s always going to be a little scary at first, but sharing yourself with someone like that, letting your mind open to them, allowing yourself that vulnerability, that trust, can be the most profound thing anyone can experience.”

Talia’s gaze has become too intense and so reflexively, Susan laughs. Talia softens, looking half-offended. “No,” Susan says, apologetically. “I’m sorry. It’s nothing. It’s just, you talk about it like it’s sex, or something.”

“It is like sex,” Talia tells her. “But it’s deeper than that. And when you finally let go it’s not just your body that releases. It’s like the entirety of your existence stands still and spirals off into infinity at the exact same time.”

Susan cannot think of a single thing to reply with at this juncture, and so she just watches Talia watching her.

“Someday you’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that Psi Corps and telepathy itself are two very different things,” Talia says. “And that I am still very much a telepath.”

A moment later, she leans in close. Closer. Much closer. The woman smells like roses over a hint of cold metal and soft leather. Her gloved fingers are softer though, playing across the back of Susan’s hand. “I can show you,” she murmus. "I can show you how wonderful it can be."

Something inside of Susan is welling up, threatening to spill over, but she doesn’t miss a beat. “The gloves stay off,” she says. “And then we’ll see.”

 

 

11.

While everyone is dancing and yelling late, late into the night, Talia is pressing Susan into the just-closed door of her quarters. The music at the party was loud but here it is so quiet, with just the heavy sound of breaths passing between them to cut the silence, and they waste no time, slipping fingers beneath fabric and tugging, stumbling into the bedroom in the dark. Talia kicks off her heels, fiddling with the last button on Susan’s uniform, pushing it from her shoulders.

“I just don’t understand how you can keep wearing these,” Susan says, hooking her fingers into the waist of Talia’s skirt to keep steady as Talia untucks the white shirt beneath the jacket impatiently. “These uniforms, these gloves, this badge.”

“So take them off,” Talia breathes, and Susan feels something catch in her own throat. “I’ll let you. Anytime. Anywhere.”

Susan winds a hot ribbon of breath and lips against Talia’s neck, and Talia makes a needy little noise in the back of her throat, tilting her head back.

“Is that a challenge?” Susan asks.

“It’s a promise,” Talia corrects. She’s willing herself not to shudder and willing her voice not to shake and she’s not sure how good a job she’s doing. “You can have me whenever you want me, as long as you mean it.”

Susan contemplates this as she strips Talia of her gloves, and then of her badge and dress. She wears little beneath it all but her skin and it’s not until Susan runs her hands along it bare that she stops holding back because this is just Talia, now. Just soft, bare skin and desire and a mouth that will not stop kissing her.

“I mean it,” she tells Talia as she presses her down into the mattress, voice thready against the other woman’s skin. Because she does. She feels like she’s on the tip of some giant precipice, a breath away from tumbling down. “God. I really, really mean it.”

Talia strips Susan of the rest of her clothes, too, but she also strips her of her previous assumptions. She starts to turn Susan’s thoughts without using any talent apart from her lips and teeth and tongue and as her hands slip up and down Susan’s back, between her legs, behind her neck, Susan’s mind starts to slip away, too. The barriers slip, just a little, and Susan lets herself feel something, something she’s been trying not to feel for such a long time.

Talia keeps telling her over and over how beautiful she is and Susan can’t do much more than echo the sentiment dazedly because Talia feels and looks like love blown wide open like this. The way she can focus her attention so intently, the way her blonde hair falls sweeping across her face when she bends, the way her hands know exactly where and how to touch. The way her lips look bee-stung in the mostly-dark from kissing her and the way she makes Susan feel like the center of her entire universe. For one overwhelming moment, Susan wonders if she can even keep going like this, wanting so badly and needing so much, so terrified by how good falling so fast and so deeply feels.

It feels like a reflection of that first night when they hadn’t done anything but edge maddeningly closer to some sort of insanity, coming together and then easing away again until it had felt like something would snap right out from under them. Tonight the same passion is there but there’s also a feeling of security, like if (when) they fall, it’s okay. Something will be there to catch them.

Susan thinks maybe she understands now what Talia meant earlier, at the party (and even earlier than that, even though they’d never really talked about it until tonight). In the silence, amidst the low moans, gasps, breaths, murmurings, skin shifting against skin against sheets, Susan feels a thought that isn’t her own wash gently at the edges of her mind.

She doesn’t freeze because it isn’t scary. Her mouth is caught against Talia’s and the fingers of one hand are entwined with hers while the others are elsewhere and the thought isn’t even really a thought because it doesn’t have any form. It’s not even saying anything in particular. It’s a wordless whisper and it feels like the sort of love that doesn’t demand anything in return. The sort of love that is given freely and openly and it doesn’t care how it defines itself because the simple fact of its existence is enough.

Susan arches her back, bows herself into Talia, kisses her endlessly all over, everywhere, anywhere she can reach and she stops caring about the effort it takes to keep her mind guarded. Maybe she doesn’t have to care, in this moment. Maybe she just needs to concentrate on this rhythm they’ve settled into, on this pleasure, because it’s real and it’s now.

She lets go, and she knows everything will be okay because she’s got enough secrets to fill the sky above Saint Petersburg, and now Talia knows it, too, but she doesn’t say a thing. She doesn’t do anything differently besides open her eyes and smile and something ever-restless inside of Susan immediately settles.

It does feel like a caress and it does feel like Susan’s body and mind release together, like her entire existence stands still and spirals off into infinity at the same time. It feels like she can’t really tell where she ends and Talia begins and it’s heart-stoppingly profound, this experience they’re sharing. It’s all the things Talia had said it could (would) be but Susan thinks maybe it’s not because of the telepathy. She thinks maybe it’s because of Talia, and she doesn’t really know which possibility should scare her more, or if the fact that she doesn't even care is the more terrifying thing.

 

 

12.

“I don’t know why,” Talia says. She lets her palm fall against Susan’s cheek. “I’ve always been tenacious and I was just drawn to you, I suppose. I just wanted to know you.”

Susan breathes out a sigh. “I was trying really hard to pretend I didn’t. You didn’t really permit that to happen.”

Talia smiles, traces the curve of Susan’s mouth with a thumbnail, and keeps listening. She could listen to this woman talk for hours and after all the words had been exhausted she’d still want to hold her for hours after that.

“Sometimes I’d look at you and I’d just...want. I wasn’t even sure what. I guess I didn’t allow my mind to process it. I’m Russian, when I can’t confront a problem I either shove it aside or drink it away. Often both, often in that order.”

There’s a brief silence and then she continues. “Also I didn’t get you, at all.” Talia furrows her brows. “All I could figure at the time was that you were bafflingly persistent.”

Talia’s laughter is low, like a growl. “I wanted in since ‘thank you for coming by’.”

“Weren’t you ever tempted to take a peek inside my mind, see what I was thinking?”

Talia bites her lip. “Yes.”

“But you didn’t.”

“Of course not. You’d have punched me right in the face. And it would have been unethical.”

Susan sighs again. “Sometimes I don’t think it’s fair, on principle. You could have known what I was thinking at any moment. What if I had wanted to know what you were thinking?”

Talia is incredulous. “Did you?”

“Every moment I saw you.”

Talia has to ease the breath out from her lungs, it gets caught so fast. “Sometimes I thought about kissing you. I thought about touching your mind. I wanted to watch you soften, I wanted to hold you. Sometimes I wanted to scream at you and once I wanted to slap you and more than once I thought about fucking you against Sheridan’s desk.”

“Oh, did you now?” Susan feels something hot shoot across her skin and settle in her chest. She drags her foot up Talia’s calf.

“In vivid detail. You know when else I wanted to do that? This morning in the mess hall. I would have, too, if Garibaldi hadn’t walked in.”

“I don’t think he would have minded,” Susan says. “To be honest, maybe I wouldn’t have either.”

There’s laughter in Susan’s eyes, in her voice, and Talia wants to keep it there always. “I wouldn’t mind making up for it right now.”

For her honesty, Talia is rewarded with Susan’s mouth, first in the shape of a smile, and then in the shape of something else as she leans closer. She doesn’t come up for air for a very, very long time.

 

 

.

“I feel a little like a victim now,” Talia sighs. They’re lying on their sides facing one another and neither have looked at a clock in hours.

“You’re brave though, remember?” Susan’s thumb is stroking circles against Talia’s neck and Talia has laid claim to her other hand, tucked it into her own, pressed it to her chest, above her heart. She’s come to the realization that there’s not a whole lot else in her life right now that makes her feel as safe as Susan Ivanova’s hands on her do.

“I don’t know how brave I’d be without you here.”

Susan’s soft smile is infectious. She twists a blonde lock between her fingers and she thinks about how she can’t explain or rationalize or even understand this feeling that’s taken up root somewhere in the very center of her. It’s something she’s never felt before (sinking, yielding, embracing, clinging).

“I’m never gonna get over this,” she says, at length. “Never gonna recover from you.” There’s a hint of familiar cynicism in her voice, but it’s the kind that knows better. It’s the kind that hopes, despite its better judgement.

Talia laughs, mouth curving up and out into a smile like a blossom. She swats out her free hand and Susan nips at her fingers.

“I’m serious, Talia,” Susan says. “Nobody’s ever gotten to me like this before. You changed my mind.”

“I don’t know that I actually changed it,” Talia counters.

“I let you inside of it,” Susan tells her, pointedly. “A surrender if not a victory. And I never surrender, you know.”

Talia grins. “Oh, I know.” And then her voice softens. The way she says what she says next is part of what got them into this trouble in the first place. “You’re safe with me, Susan. As long as I’m here, you can put down some of that weight you’re always carrying. It must get exhausting sometimes.”

Susan’s eyes fall closed and she takes in a deep breath. The air feels warm and still and Talia’s breath across her skin is like something from back home. “It does.”

Talia has become a thousand different things to Susan; she’s closure and she’s a challenge and she’s a soft, safe place to rest. She’s a reminder of all the important things Susan has forgotten because she’s been too busy trying to keep her armor in place.

“How ‘bout you get some sleep,” Talia says, soothingly.

“You’ll stay tonight?” Susan is nearly asleep already, voice muffled against the pillow.

“Just try to make me leave."

Susan is just as many things to Talia, but they all fall away to the only thing that seems to matter anymore. She thinks about the long, crazy road it took to get here and about how perfect each and every step along the way has been, in a strange, heartbreaking way.

“I think I love you,” she says, quietly.

Susan’s breathing has evened out and Talia thinks she may be asleep, but then she mumbles something so softly that Talia almost has to stop breathing herself to hear it.

"I know," Susan says. "Maybe I love you, too."

Talia thinks she can feel those words stretch out infinitely all around them, winding into all the empty spaces between them and inside of them like they'd just been sitting and aching, waiting for this moment to be filled.

 

 

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