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breathless from tellin' you (all the things i'm gonna do)

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Being in Delphine’s mind- being Delphine’s mind- sears you like the sun at first and you reel, dizzy and scared and excited, heat thrumming under your skin, heartbeat skidding to latch to another tempo.

-

Somewhere, so far away and so irrelevant you can no longer fathom it, the two of you mirror each other on the floor of the combat room, half-lotus-legs flush on the dusty mat, those cold little nodes pressed to your temples. Delphine beat the everloving shit out of you during your first few sparring sessions; the feeling now is like a cerebral tattoo, but you’ll consider it an improvement.
The drift breaks, splintering and fizzing across your skull and down your spine when she snags the two of you on a rabbit- a spidery, leering man; dissertation drafts with margins like minefields; accents thick like decrystallizing honey- jumps like a livewire and almost tears the headset off of herself while you lay flat on your back and blink her sparks from your eyes.

When you manage to recompose, she is gone, and you trade the mat for your slightly softer bed; the dark and the cat-silence settle, unbidden motes of something filter under faint golden light, and you feel the painful heave when, a pitted wall away, Delphine sighs.

 

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Delphine’s hands flutter like big birds when she talks- when she’s nervous and her hair shakes loose and lionlike around her face and her accent creeps over her words like fog- and you’d fear them if you didn’t simultaneously want them to be wing-beating and smoothing out over your collarbones and down your ribs. You like to watch her repot plants to go inside for the winter, long fingers tugging small explosions of dirt and stem out of the bright summer-ceramic pots, detangling roots like they’re loose braids and not tight coils of skeleton. Running the shop in the weekend is like your own kind of hibernation: you hole up in the greenhouse, where your glasses fog after a half-hour and Delphine’s hair rises into some big golden mass, where you busy yourself with rechecking soil pH and gripe at Delphine about organic chem midterms as she passes by; the cold fails to permeate the tinted glass and Delphine wears big sweaters that slope off of one shoulder when she bends to grab a pair of sod-soaked gloves and she smiles when you pull faces at her and you feel, briefly, like things will be okay.

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Cosima rises like the tide to meet you, always. Tilts her head to the loose cage of your hands, pivots up on the balls of bare feet to meet you in the dim warmth of the loft, presses her forehead against yours, drowsy and sighing, like you anchor her to the floor when she threatens to drift. She comes to you like an indoor cat, unafraid to roll towards you, easy to draw purrs from, keeping her claws hidden so as not to hurt you- she welcomes you like the sun after a long winter, like land after scrabbling across ice- and you make a stray of her.

The DYAD tosses her out into the night and you can’t retrieve her in time; that easy, open luster she had, so separate from Sarah’s graceful apathy, Helena’s leery endearment, Alison’s nervy smiles, is grown over and stuffed somewhere behind the edge that builds in her voice. You see it again when the cavalry is digging heavy hoofbeats over your grave; she gives you that threadbare, deep and dizzy look when you kiss her under the glow of fizzing street-lamps, and you’re still reeling on it when you slump against your car in the garage, red on your fingers and in your breath and behind your eyes (later, she will come up, quiet and unsteady, to you in the dark to feel for the scar, that coin-size Achilles heel, and you will return that old tidal gesture, and curve toward her like the concave belly of the crescent moon).

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You sink into the idea that the world harbors no softness for you after Delphine arrives in the twelfth ward. 

-
Things are bad enough: your Rc count is in the triple digits, too too low, so low you have to have Felix keep watch while you work; the doves snuffed out Katya, so clean and quick and quiet that none of you ever saw her body, and are still breathing so far down your neck that you can feel their foreheads against the back of your skull. Traitor spills like foam out of Sarah’s mouth every time Rachel is on the news, all vacuum-pressed and knife-edged; Alison remains so inconsolable that you’re afraid to leave her under Donnie’s bumbling gaze. You’re sick and getting sicker and Sarah is losing her hold on Kira- Siobhan can only do so much, and none of you can even fathom what Kira’s existence means.

And then, Delphine:

  • waltzes, bloody and rumpled, into the clinic
  • regards you with a dizzy mix of fear, intrigue, and desperation, like a stray, weighing crooked legs against crookeder people
  • breathes deep and shaky, scans the room for any door, any window left unbarred, shuts her eyes
  • unfolds her kagune, pale and massive and curved like scarab wings, stretching outward so close to your beakers that it takes a moment to notice.

Rc cells regenerate in seconds, minutes at most. Tear a kagune to shreds and it knits itself together like so much visceral yarn. But between Delphine’s shoulder blades, where, she tells you, there should be two more broad, sail-like protrusions, there are jagged, red stumps, impossible monuments to what once grew there. She smiles sadly at you and sits with you- as though you’re the patient, not her- when you stumble and cough up dark, decaying bits of yourself, and later, she’ll lift you, bodily and soft, into her lap to kiss you, but your dreams litter with the steely coos of the doves, spiraling against the winter sky.

Delphine scuds broken wings and Sarah’s eyes roll like a wolf’s, Alison widow-weeps and Kira’s kagune coils around her like no-man’s-land razor wire, and the jaws of the city bear you down with teeth like the CCG’s precious steel.

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You feel guilty; steal yourself into the side box as though Cosima could somehow see you from backstage, could sense you through all those glossy wooden panels.
Leekie grins, wolfish and skin-crawling, as you take a seat. 

“Incredible, isn’t it?” He gestures to the convex slope of the ceiling, the wide belly of the hall full of hanging glass sheets turned toward the stage, to keep sound trapped below. “Cosima must have been talking about playing here for weeks.”

And she had- since you’d met her, actually. It wasn’t the first time, she told you; she’d actually performed here with her youth orchestra, over a decade ago. Her eyes had grown starry with the thought, and she’d tipped her chair back until her boots rested on the table.

“Sixth chair,” she had mused, “We played all of the Seventh (Beethoven’s, you assumed), that big brassy Brahms piece.” A dreamy sigh; her eyes closed. “And Shostakovich. We sounded like heaven.”

You hmmm in affirmation, gaze fixed on the conductor’s stand, spilling over with thick scores. One of which, you know, has that one extra staff, that crawling little print: Violoncello Solo.

Cosima’s favorite concerto in all the world. She’s been practicing it for nine years. 

You’d slip into her dorm- unlocked, you would note, with disapproval- and see her sprawled on the floor, those raw strains spilling from a record player on the coffee table. God, what a purist, you’d think, fondly shucking your coat onto the nearest chair, careful not to disturb her trance. She would sing snatches of her favorite melodies, low and soft in her throat: those sweet horn bars two minutes in, trying to keep up as the winds superseded it; that painful solo cello line at ten and a half minutes, repeating, drifting away from itself only to rise and burn in your chest; almost all of the second movement, her eyebrows drawing together until she looked to be in physical pain; the parts in the finale where Lasst Mich Allein ebbed and flowed over the orchestra like a sorrowful stream, where Dvořák carefully penned his last love letter to Josefina Cermakova and tied it up with big brass chords.

She only practiced the first movement when you were there, and only the roughest, angriest parts, bow raging, scratchy and deep, over two, three strings at once, like she was afraid of something. Like she was afraid of you. 

But she is, and she should be, and you smile wanly and report how happy Cosima was to find out you’d be coming to see her play, blinking hard.

Leekie doesn’t know she’d found out, spit her hurt and anger and self-loathing at you as you scrabbled with your shaky fingers at her furniture, begging her to let you hold on, because for once, you didn’t want to let go. 

You’d sunk to the floor outside her room, head lolling against the wall separating you, all your breath leaving you in desperate huffs. Heard her pluck at her cello’s strings (just a hair flat from the sun streaming through the windows, but she didn’t seem to care), shift chairs and start to play, that swelling line near the end of the second movement, unfettered by the lull of the clarinets, and you turned away.
It was too private, too angry, too much, and it followed you until the elevator doors cut off the last strands of it, as the beginning of the allegro moderato flared out from under her door like fire.

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“That’s not the best part, though,” she’d said, sliding shoe soles down the length of the bleacher so her legs were stuck out, so she was theta and tangent, so she was two perpendicular components of something unseen, something bigger; you could see her like she was pulling together all that made her up, i and j and angles, and surpassing them just by existing. The vibration of rubber on metal made you shiver; she 
grinned and you thought if you were brave enough to measure, she’d map out just right, 3-4-5.


“The best part’s when you stop untangling ‘em for a minute. They’re like, secondary protein structures or somethin’, if you let the hydrogen and water and disulfide work, they twist until they fit perfectly. And it looks like a mess, if you glance, but you zoom out and they do some crazy cool shit.” Cosima looked to where your hands are twisting like polypeptides. “And even the bits you tried to unfold, they fold back again, if you wait long enough, alpha and beta and everything.”


She’d have lost you if she kept on about proteins- the metaphor would’ve turned sad and sour if she skated closer to denaturing, bad like when you run your hands over a smooth surface and your palms tingle like you’re about to fall off something. But she went quiet- you don’t know it, but she was watching how the floodlights behind you formed god’s rays around your hair just before they switched off- and everything went dark and still and good.
When you inhaled shaky and hunched forward and kissed her in the late-summer-warm shell of the sidelines, her hands tangling in your hair made you feel quaternary for the first time. She let you crowd yourself into her, humming at the noise you made when her fingers pressed at the base of your skull, and you let your curling thoughts tell you that you were more than the sum of your parts.

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“So you’re a god,” a hard look, ancient-amber-eyes; a swallow down a prickly-raw throat, “or something like that.”


Her accent, thick with surface tension; foreign-polar bonds that could hold you up, you think, ‘til she tired of wool and hemp and half-full mugs– she speaks like the kombucha you scrape at in mason jars, fermenting, fermenting.


“Something like that.”


She calls herself a Monitor and you drift on cognitive dissonance: regard where her ribs curve in a little too far on the right and look for scales in the sunlight; you blink and she’s sitting, lotus and a half, at the foot of your bed in the dark. She removes your crooking glasses with cool fingers and the air flicks right up out of you, like hypodermic bubbles from the needle. 
She likes your tattoo; a week later you find nautili spinning between her shoulder blades and-
you start believing the “something like that” when she sinks her hands and feet into the sifting Oregon coast with the reverence of the tide for the moon.

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Cosima looks at you with those dark, dark eyes and your heart stirs up a sluggish march, andante con moto, fizzing tambourine and everything.

-
The first night, the palm trees and the room’s lukewarm, velvety coffee, the neon catching on every edge from its parking-lot watchtower, it all caught you by surprise. As though, somewhere along the stretch and fold of the hills on the coast, like rumpled blankets bunched against the ocean, all the energy of the tour had drained from your bones in surreptitious ritardando.
The world tilted right when you stepped out in hopes of a wistful smoke over the balcony, slipped off the axis just so, and you ended up with your legs stuck through the thin columns two floors above the lot, pressing your forehead to the wobbly metal after your hands stopped shaking enough to make any use of your lighter.
And she finds you like that, pressed to the railing, with your bird-limbs dangling out over the tour buses below, inexorably raw, smoke soaking up into your hair. 


Cosima crafts her sentences like bullet-train prototypes, eating up kilometers in a few blinks and thrown on a penny, but she knows when not to talk. She pulls her legs up to her chin like sheets and says nothing, and your shoulders come down.


You’d never heard that sugar-sweet melody in the carnival overture before this season. Playing it never quite stopped feeling so shimmery, not when you could feel Cosima’s repetitive little line buoying you along, when you slumped back to let the violin echo you and you could see her still carrying it, that thin little double-reed motif lodging somewhere in your ribs, her eyes closed except to dart up at the conductor every so often.
You think you hear it when you stub your cigarette embers against the cement and kiss her, heady and slow in the night and the neon, vibrato slipping from your throat and into your hands. 
Her eyes start to catch on yours when she leads into your solo, those two heavy-honey-sweet bars, some kind of quantum entanglement too hazy to wake up from when the rumbles of the cellos and basses float down again.

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Cosima is what you came for, too, the rush of the tide to shore, waves like shifting black glass in the dark.
-
She runs this sleepy little band called Manta Mantra (Sarah hates it, she tells you, tongue poking between her teeth), just bass and drums and electric; staticky-soft beats and deep, dark countermelody lines tossing up her voice. Sings with the husk of sea salt and the hazy steel of clouds over the water, and when the beat and the guitar and the bass drop shut and hold the song centripetal for a moment, her voice goes thin and high and tangles with Sarah's, a third or a fifth above and gravelly like cliff crumbs.
The slow thrum of it, the lines Cosima writes in the dark with her hair in ropy tendrils over the side of the mattress, the swiveling shifts of calloused fingers reaching for familiar chords, it all makes your eyes cross.
They play the fragrant belly of the coffee shop, mostly, absorb espresso and armchairs and the silence of a coast town into their buzzing lull, and it starts to feel a little too much like home.

Cosima lives just a little too far out of town, just a little too close to the cliffs, just out of reach of the harbor and its weird sorrow. Some immeasurable modicum set apart from the dragging tide, some sweet and syrup-slow melt untouched by the broad grey strokes of winter; something of summer never leaves her veins and it makes you want to burn in kind.
You fall into her easy and slow, lying on her living room floor with the thrum of her bass in your ears, warm and warm and heavy in your chest. Her eyes follow you with this wary weight, like she's equal measures terrified and hoping to god for you to do something.

When you reach for her in the dim evening light, the sun a reddish half circle buoyed on the water, when you curve your hands on either side of her face, palms like parentheses bracketing her parted, breathless mouth, she lets you hold her there. Like gravity has brought the two of you to a halt, at some silent zenith.
Bare feet curling on the cold hardwood, big owl-eyes behind thick frames- she crowds in close when you kiss her, all nervous rush and bumping knees, all little breathy noises against your bruising mouth and nervy skin under your fingers, and for once, you feel like the ocean instead.

She makes you warm in the winter, Cosima does, like a fresh-fallen sun in the wet sand. She plays you sleepy songs when you come by, tells you in whiskey-thick murmurs about Sarah's sister and how Alison, the bird-bones barista at the coffee shop, fawns over this one rookie cop who- and Cosima giggles, husky, at this- drives 20 miles over from the next town to see her. Gets in trouble all the time, she tells you, and Beth doesn't even like coffee.
A swoop in the belly, sparks skittering fuzzy and focus-less, when she kisses you on the couch, the air amber-sluggish, her knee pressing between your thighs like the sudden twist of a microscope dial, edges of everything sliding, sudden-smooth, into clarity and out again.

She shifts slow like the sea over you in the dark, rough-edged for a moment when you bring her crashing up against you, receding down, boneless and lulled, again. Your name off her tongue when she digs her fingers, wiry-strong from the years of push and pull for sound, at the divots in your back; her mouth sluicing syllables up against your throat, loose with lost control.
-

The plants take root in the shaky cliffside, and their company, too, salves the quieting sting of grafting like this, cuttings with beading buds even as the shore tilts from the sun.

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"I know, I know."

It's whatever; it's whatever she wants. You're tired and you hurt all over like kissing you in bathrooms, like eating you out all hissing and fingers pressing warnings into your stomach, purple spots of fear that linger too long, in the fuckin' back of your car- because you drove until the fog closed like gates behind you and she squeezed your hand when she wasn't terrified anymore- like Delphine's mouth has been spilling slow-acting poison down your throat all this time.

Her eyes are big and sad and annoying, honestly- where she gets off doing this to you, splitting you like sidewalks and filling up the cracks with dandelions, you have no idea- soupy-gold and leaking over in the tears starting to stain circles on your sweater; her hands slide free of pretense up and over you to worry at the juncture of jaw and throat. Thumbing there until you shiver like she's trying to keep your mandible from cracking like a lid, like she's afraid even your skeleton wants to keep you from her.

"I'm sorry."
It's all she's been saying lately, rolling sleepy and thick off her tongue; when you let yourself breathe in, it settles in your sinuses and makes your head ache even more.
You know she means it, too; you mean it when you surge up to kiss the sorrow out of her mouth; she reminds you how much she means it when she's brave enough to press you into your pillows- never hers, her hands shake too much there to touch you- and nose (warm) at your neck (cold).

"Je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime," Delphine likes to brand you with it; the French she tells you sears down, angry and glittering, to simmer in your belly, too complex to deconstruct.
When she scales down to glances and momentary snarls of fingers, and Felix snips at her retreating back and tells you that you deserve better, Cos, you pray to things you never believed in for an influx of enzymes. For some divine catalyst to help you break down the few things Delphine can give you into something feasible.

Instead, she waits to kiss you until she can't feel whoever's gaze raking lines up and down the gravel in her head, and she tells you to be patient with those big painful eyes, and she falls apart at the joints when you listen to Beach House on the floor in your room and she lets you breathe sweet smoke down at her, and she tries so hard to make it up to you, and the French scrapes down your throat and right through you in tangles of foreign molecules.

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You'll have to teach her how to shoot, to start- you hope the recoil on the fussier of your two pistols doesn't crack those pretty little fingers before you get a chance to feel them on your face again.

The city spit her up just like you, you have to remind yourself- she just took a little longer to get caught up on those big iron teeth. You had a few extra years to get used to the rolling crack of joints when you move wrong, the screech when some little town slides too fast on the rails, nimble enough to dodge London for a while but not smart enough to stay on its toes in the sticky summer nights.

But it's not summer now, and Rachel would have her two stalkers all over you in an instant if you ever showed your face back on her gross, glistening metropolis, and you have no fucking clue where Airhaven's touched down to wait out the spring storms. It's all stick and move 'til you can find something flyable, scoot on back up into the heavens and get Turing back from Sarah's yard.
You're used to the nights in between suburbs, but Delphine stays up too late shivering with her face tipped up to the sky.

It's not too bad, towing her along. You only have one bedroll, and once you halfway-convince her that she can trust you- or, at least, that she has no other choice- she curls up against you like a cat when you stop for the night, big shaky hands that fist in your shirt when she sleeps, golden hair like some rumpled-up lion and soft French words tangled up in her exhales.
She tells you about growing up in Paris, so high above the working districts she never saw the wheels until she was bundled off in her father's airship for the first time, and you hum and imagine her filling up frilly words with her accent, cigarette pants and cigarette breaths and those big eyes all half-lidded and sultry.

Delphine reminds you of the high-society girls who'd stop by the shop to fix up their parents' souped-up little skiffs post-joyride, with ribbons in their hair and soft, pouty contempt painted all across their faces. You'd kissed one out in the garage, pressing her up against the hull of her daddy's ship with your rough-tumble hands and mouth, her long nails scratching lines in your scalp and her cherry-red lipstick catching you under the jaw. She'd trotted back out to the register all prim, like she hadn't had her pale fingers sneaking under your uniform and raking pretty red marks down your stomach, didn't even tip- not that you cared; you were seventeen, you counted your blessings.

You try not to think about it now, though, lest her face in your memory start looking a little too much like Delphine's.
No, you focus on taking a little too much pride in mussing her up, making an alley cat of her.
Pale and sleek and swanlike, all curving throat and soft words and big eyes, but you find out that she holds a gun like someone folded her fingers around one when she was a child, origami lines crisp on the dull metal. Her hair had been glossy-straight that day, but it undergoes some glorious entropy in a few days, into sugar-spun snarls she lets you comb your fingers through, after a while.
-
You find a rollicky little town after three or four weeks, take Delphine up to restock. These people are a little too similar to you for your liking, wiry and hard-eyed, dirty and ragged under Delphine's gaze, the way you must look to her. A few of them leer from windows and street corners at her, and you start to feel like a dog at her heels, snapping when they get too close and loping low and dangerous behind her.
But you get put up for the night, with a little wheedling and some long looks from Delphine, and you don't feel all your edges at once when you collapse on the bed. She presses you up against the thin wall in the cramped shower, deadly and sharp under the lukewarm water, and kisses the dirt from your bones.
Sarah would call you a fuckin' idiot, spending slim pickings to get Delphine something proper to travel in, closing your wary eyes when she tells you she'll take watch, letting her pry up your scales with her thin, aristocrat fingers.

But Sarah still owes you, and you tell yourself in little dizzy-happy bursts that Delphine is different; she slots up against you easy and warm, and she won't tell you about Leekie until it's far too late for you.

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Beth was a dangerous choice for party leader, mostly to herself. You realized about half an hour in that you’d have to remind her to make any sort of check before barreling on through areas you’d spent all of the last week rigging up with the worst monsters in the handbook- you’re not exactly a kind DM, but she would have imm-ediately died had you not so generously suggested to check whether that first cave mouth meant cave or mouth (it just so happened to be the latter). It was not an isolated incident.
But she wasn’t bad. It’s not as though it was really a choice, either, since party leader wasn’t a thing, not properly; something about Beth just made it easy to fall in, to trust.

And so, it was no surprise that she would charge the Demogorgon straight on. This, you thought, might actually kill her, with the sort of low, buzzing excitement of that came from weeks of silent preparation. But Ali could heal her, you knew, and Sarah and Rachel were downright deadly if Beth gave them the time to get in range. Beth could be brazen, and that was a swinging gate straight to stupid, but she had the rest of you to pull her back from the edge.

You crawled for the dice after they’d scrambled back upstairs for their bikes to head home- Sarah always growled about how heavy Helena made the bike and how she made it hard to pedal, but she never stopped bringing her along, letting her dig her long nails into her shoulders for the ride- and herded them carefully into a cluster.
Seven. The Demogorgon would’ve gotten her, and bad.
Something about it made your heart skip just so, like there was the faintest stripe of static behind your eyes. But it wouldn’t count, you decided, sweeping the set into its bag, slumping back in your chair to study the board for a minute longer. You could hear the big autumn clouds shuffling their feet overhead, balking just beyond the trees, big whorls of cold and rain and static.
-

The way you find Delphine makes you feel like the universe had simply flipped a switch- like she and Beth were mutually exclusive, like they were two sides of an hourglass, trading sand.
The rain is coming down hard when you set out, sending your hair into your eyes and trailing down the inside of your windbreaker. Sarah and Ali are silent behind you, intent, tires crunching and sliding on the slick, dead leaves, Helena even quieter with her chin dug over Sarah’s shoulder.

The fences of Hnl web across the conifers at the end of Mirkwood, threatening and indistinct in the dark. You pass where Sheriff Art found Beth’s bike, big muddy footprints and tousled leaves filling up with rainwater, exhale, big and painful, and keep moving. The clouds crack like eggs against the sky and pour fast and cold and runny out over your heads, and Ali makes this high, upset sound in her throat, tugging at her hood.
The dark crowds in close with all the speed of autumn and you can barely see, but you think for a moment that the needle of your compass you’d attached to the handlebar jumps like a live wire in the corner of your eye. Your mouth dries out and you’re trying to detach your cotton-thick tongue to speak when Sarah hisses that she hears something, brakes sounding on the dirt, and Helena growls with her hair down in a big dirty blonde sheet. Ali makes this strangled sob as the bushes rattle around you- not Beth, not Beth- and you’re the only one not making sound but you’re losing the ability to parse it. Water’s running in your shoes and your eyes and all in your scalp and it’s like every sense is slowly draining out of you and into the ground.

When Delphine- not that you know her name yet- steps into the path of your bike lights, she’s barefoot and the big yellow Benny’s t-shirt is plastered to her arms, the prominent bones under her neck, like a skin being shed in reverse. You think she’s crying, but your body is ringing and hollow and her eyes are caverns in the dark and there‘s water everywhere and you‘re cold and she‘s even colder, so any tears bleed into the rain and the ground and the wet, dangerous air.

Her legs are pale and skinny and bent at the knees behind you as you pedal back up Mirkwood- Sarah had Helena to carry and Ali was trying not to choke still, and she’d molded around you easy and silent on the back of your bike, hunched with her forehead tipping against your shoulder blades on every downhill.
-


There’s a word- ORACLE- tattooed on the pale inside of her wrist tattooed in thin, sharp print, and when she catches your eyes she holds that arm to her chest, nervy nervy nervy.

“What does it mean?” You whisper. “Is”- you’re bordering on surreptitious- “is it your name?”

She shakes drying curls out like a dog.
“No.”

“What is your name then? I- it doesn’t have to be your whole name, i just.” She looks through the curtain of damp strands at you, intense. You exhale. “Want something to call you.”

A blink, long, intended, like a cat’s. Like she has third eyelids and doesn’t need to, but wants to show she’s thinking.
“Delphine.” Her tongue is slow and heavy with the pronunciation, like it’s sticking to the back of her teeth, and you realize she has a French accent.

“Delphine. Okay.” You push the backs of your knees out to stand shakily again.
It’s decided rapidly that there is no telling parents- not yet, at least. Everyone can bike back easily without getting caught, but Helena takes up the back of Sarah’s bike and Ali can barely ride without her backpack tipping her over, so Delphine’s staying.
Not like you’d hoped for that, or anything.

You find some loose, dry clothes for her to put on, herding her into the bathroom. Her fingers slot, panicky, into the space between the frame and the door when you try to close it.
She breathes out shaky, dark eyes deep.
“No.”

You swallow uneasiness and something wordless as salivation. “Okay.”
Teachers always praise you and Sarah elbows you for your vocabulary, but you haven’t said a single word longer than two syllables to Delphine. You don’t know if she even can.

When you set up a veritable nest under the big sturdy table against the wall, you have to crawl in first before she joins you. Doesn’t like confined spaces, you think. You’ll have to be careful not to crowd her, especially when you reconvene- Helena likes to examine things close up.
You have to promise, too, that you’ll come back.
“Promise,” you say, pressing your thumb into the center of her cold palm so her fingers curl around yours. “You’re not allowed to break it, or else.”

“Or else?” The whites of her eyes reappear like the receding edges of an eclipse.

“Or else. But friends don’t break them. Ever.” Delphine’s shaky on the definition of friend, too, but she sinks back down.

“And we’re....friends?”

“Yeah,” you breathe. “We’re friends,” and her mouth stretches into a wavering grin like it’s another word you taught her. It always takes hours for your fingers and toes to stop feeling numb and tingly after you’re out in the rain, but your mind tips a little and you’re warm, like all the water you’d soaked in just turned to honey in the little hollows in your bones.
You’re not so certain you want your mom’s help anymore.

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It’s Silent Hill out today, for sure— trees bleak and red and spidery in the fog, leaves splintering into thin shards under the van tires.
This is dumb, this is so, so dumb; you shove the words into the brakes, hard on the asphalt. Delphine’s all pristine in the passenger seat, acrylics trailing little patterns of noise on the dash as your low beams suffuse the periphery all yellow and jaundiced.
“Is this it?”

You bite down on your tongue, just a little— that accent always gets you. Delphine gets under your skin like no one’s business, sliding those eyes over you from across the room, heels sharp on the tile, hair hazy and slick with the pool lights on Monday nights, when you’re tramping your way back to the dorms through the brush— you prefer to walk to your destinations in straight lines, point A to B and all that, until something stops you. And the pool always does, thin fencing and steam rising in the night, all lit up blue and green like glow-stick fluid. Delphine’s not always the only one there for nights, but more and more with the weather, it’s just her when you walk by.
This was her idea, big brash bad girl from across the pond, too good for small town vibes, small town stories. Science type, bright-eyed biology like you; unlike you, lion’s mane and sharp corners, creased clean, harsher smoke than yours curling from the sides of her mouth.
You tended to watch her with a sort of cloying awe from across the lab; now, she volleys with half-lidded looks that send your kneecaps right into the table.

“Yeah. Just a little walk, then you’ll see.” Your nose is raw and stinging with the winter air, and you sniff and fiddle with your keys, increasingly twitchy, while she searches her pockets for a lighter.
You— you’ve never seen a ghost, but Sarah and Helena swear up and down there’s one here. The story reads like magazine fodder—husband takes a chainsaw to his new wife in the middle of the night— but there are curling newspaper articles and files in a corner of the library to prove it. It sent news crews through in a whirlwind of big-city sheen and equipment propped and leering like strange, tall birds.
But that was before you were born, and certainly before Delphine arrived, and you shake your dreads out of your hoodie and kick the van door shut, deft and resigned.

You grew up under these trees, take a little solace in the pattern they brand the sky with overhead, even here. You’ve been drawing invisible boundaries across town, places where Delphine seems, inexplicably, more at home than you. Campus, certainly; you’re always either seeing her or where she’s been, where she’s blown through smelling like chlorine, cigarettes, and flowers.
But here, this place is yours. Step off the cement downtown and onto the soil and it’s your territory; the smoke trailing from between her lips in quick sheets mingles and is lost in the fog, and her heels dig and sink in the wet, dark earth.
-

The house is the sort of big that implies that ghosts have always been here— that there was never a time before, as though headstones were embedded in the foundation; skeletons never not in the closets.
Delphine takes two steps on the hardwood and thinks better of it, kicks her boots to the left of the door, and suddenly sinks down to your level.
It’s quiet, looking at her straight on like this, shadows sliding back towards the windows with the sun. Her cigarette is burning into a string of ash loose in her hand, and your eyes drift upward with the smoke slipping between her teeth and snag on her gaze.

You clear your throat.
“Yeah, so uh. Setup is good.” You spin on one heel and beeline back to the car for your gear— it’s only a dare, but there’s no way you’re risking potential paranormal evidence go undocumented. Ghosts first, then Delphine.
-

It goes the way you expect, honestly.
The two of you end up lying on your stomachs with one hand each resting on the ouija planchette— Delphine with a book in the other, turning the pages with quiet difficulty, and you slowly, repeatedly hitting your forehead against the floor. You’ve surrounded the both of you with a halo of shitty motion sensor lights, and you had the spirit box on for an entire fifteen seconds before you couldn’t bear it anymore.

It’s unexciting at best, wildly stupid at worst, but Delphine had said at least twelve hours. The second floor, with one of those big wraparound railings to look down on the foyer, is darker and colder, with a few windows broken open by someone’s well-aimed rocks to let in the raspy autumn air. A bird had panicked its way out of the master bedroom when you entered, its nest balancing on one of the motionless ceiling fan blades, and startled you enough to reach back and scrabble at Delphine’s arm. She’d huffed out an amused exhale in the dark and plucked your hand from your elbow to lace her own fingers through it before towing you along to the other rooms, in its own merit more frightening than anything you’d seen so far.
So far— it’s all wholly disappointing as you rest your head on the hardwood, watch your hands jitter the planchette just so, sliding it listlessly between YES and NO. You’d given up asking questions, ending with a second go of “Are there any spirits willing to talk to us?”
You don’t want to close the session, though, and so you remain, keeping the avenues open.

Wholly disappointing, and you’re going to use the last of your battery to tell off Sarah.

You, are, at least, until the previously dormant motion sensors flare up all at once in a ring of light and the planchette pulls you both rapidly to slide and hover on YES.
The growl and rush of the spirit box starts up again beside you, and before you can think to ask, as Delphine’s book lands on the floor like a broken bird, you get your answer.

“BETH.”
-
(followed, of course, by “HEY, COS,” as your jaw clicks.)

Chapter Text

There’s something to be said for the way Felix can paint metal, all wide, curving planes of silver so thick with acrylic that they seem mercurial across the loft, gliding in thin, feverish streams down the canvas.
Salvador Dali, you think, not awake enough for anything wittier, and shut your eyes again.

You didn’t get into this business to go to space. You are nature, you’re a cat in the way you fear a vacuum, so intensely you’re driven to the scientific equivalent of the underside of a bed.
That being said, stars are starting to clutter thickly at the corners of your dreams.

They ask you to burst, to stop shuffling your feet around the surface of the Earth, to stop balking at the staticky breath of eternity down your spine.
In your dreams, you are not so afraid. In your dreams you consider it— it’s a natural return to your basest parts, after all, it would make for such lovely symmetry.
But you wake a little too early to cut yourself loose, to the light of a much closer star, to the slow drag of Delphine’s nails (acrylic, again) along your thigh, skimming the charge on your skin backwards, grounding you.

Now, though, the sun has not stolen in quite yet, and Delphine is bracketing your face in her hands; you’re rolling your eyes like marbles tracking paint on the insides of your eyelids, blood in a lazy spill down from your open mouth to the matted bundle of tissue below.

She helps you to the sink and you spit bits of your failing self into it— she’s holding you up with one hand flat along your stomach, the other sweeping your hair into a coarse, incense-thick bundle, cooler legs behind you for you to fall against. It would be hot— it would be really hot: you live for the sunny moments of melding to another, smoother rhythm in the roll of hips, fingers— but you’re stuck forcing your lungs open and shut like a bellows, palms red and numbing on the smooth porcelain, and Delphine is blotting the shoulders of your worn-soft Bon Iver shirt with quiet tears.

You can still hear the stars.

Delphine works her teeth along the straining tendons at your throat for a brilliantly long second, your head meeting the tile with a dim percussive beat and a shock of tinnitus in your ears, before the hands she has bent to match the curve of your ribs still and catch the stutter in you, and you pray for her not to speak.

To her infinite credit— she’s growing taciturn about this along with you, with each day— she doesn’t, just fixes you with eyes almost all pupil, blackbodies boring you with the gold she gives off, teeth pulling at her bottom lip with her hissing exhale.

You press the knuckles of your curled fingers into the shower wall, trying not to wilt, missing an old ease you never could quite bathe in.
“Delphine, please.”

She won’t refuse you this for all the worry that hunches her over, won’t pass up the seconds where she can still make you play, pluck the strings of you that haven’t unfurled in tuneless twists of metal. Delphine has this frayed, infinite sweetness, and it’s all you’re going on these days.
She kisses you with the force of a slow storm, the kind that empties itself out over weeks, buoying leaves along in a constant stream to the gutter, to the bay. Lathes in her own sort of language, an apology, a promise as she plants her heel along the incline of the bathtub wall and guides you to fall forward.
You feel like a dragon, your huffs of breath splitting the steam before you as she helps to grind you down against her thigh, urging up sounds she takes pain to swallow from the infrequent gap between your mouths.

Delphine is demanding in the slowest, quietest of ways, urges you to watch with this languid blink as she sucks her fingers into her mouth, the other hand busied with rolling light scratches along your hipbone. There has never been another so steady to cling to, to fix your eyes on, and it feels like she could make your lungs work again just by guiding the air in and out of you with her hands.

She works the lingering stars from you, meticulous, eyebrows quirked in this aching, melancholic focus and new-moon eyes on you all the while, hair dripping in this glorious sheet down her back and in the divots of her collarbones. It all comes over you in this slow roll, like a low wave slipping endlessly long up along the sand, foam and static in your ears, and you shake with the new cold of the water— heater having given out without your notice— up against her, her gold-thick tongue shushing you at your hairline.

There are several more minutes of a much more sleepy, buoyant exchange in lukewarm water. Delphine works her fingers in this continuous, fragrant press against your scalp, and you start from her wrists down with handfuls of pale lather— god bless Felix’s penchant for LUSH— but as you’re waking up again the temperature grows less and less manageable and you let her towel you off with these sated hums.

The cry of celestial bodies is gone when you press yourself along Delphine under the covers, trap her hands in this warm curl between the two of you and let your hair soak against the pillows. She smiles, finally, breathes and you taste the sadness in it— you wonder if there will always be something unspoken between you, something to see creeping over the horizon in warning issues of smoke, not yielding until your secrets are close enough to bear each other down on the tracks, rattling pebbles, frightening anyone gathered at the station edge.
Maybe it’s okay like that, to be caught in a chase to rival constellations, so long as neither of you grind to that last, full halt.

You dream of the two of you, instead, meeting somewhere nicer, trading smoke on a fire escape and backlit by pink.

Here, you’re green as they come— yeah, weed, ha, but really— you don’t threaten, you’re soft and blurry at the edges like moss, you’re low and you don’t wobble when you’re pushed on.

And Delphine— Delphine is red red red and gold; she grinds the embers of her cigarette out with the heel of her stiletto so cleanly it makes you think of Z-targeting (albeit infinitely more refined)— her eyes are dark and swallowing you alive when she looks up, and for the first time, you’re not scared of the abyss when it reaches for you.

Chapter Text

Cosima likes the more enchanting aspects of biology— the stubborn nature of cells, the propensity everything seems to carry for self-repair, the quiet, smooth consciousness of plants— life, like it says on the tin.

And maybe it’s years with your eye to the dial, maybe it’s the cold truth of politicking your way around the industry— not the kind Bismarck would like, either— but your aspirations are far less pretty.

With each day you resent yourself a little more, each day you let yourself sink a little lower at your desk. The growing rumples in your coat are fitting, a soothing skin to shrug on— reflecting the little twisted parts of you on the outside makes you feel less like a liar— but Cosima is too good to keep you wallowing in the mud of your own boot prints, wheedles Ali into doing your laundry, kisses warm and open when you come home, crawls you in her fierce, sleepy brand of love.

It’s intoxicating to watch her just press on the way she does— Cosima is far from foolish, but there’s something boundless and bright in her, honey-sweet.
Maybe, if things were softer, you’d have time to press adoration into her, to call her glorious in ways she can appreciate, but you’re fallibly dutiful in your work and too frazzled to pray when you feel so low and unforgivable.

Something fails.
Somewhere between that mythical pattern of purine and pyrimidine and its introduction to where it’s needed, there’s a gap too large for affixed phosphate to facilitate, there’s an error in translation, and you’ve grown weak, you’ve made a poor scientist of yourself.

The first of your new ones dies, without fanfare on the floor of its cage and you end up fumbling at Cosima’s door, ungodly both in hour and fashion, tears somewhere between slick-fresh and a reminder in rime down your cheeks. You don’t carry keys here— both in shame at your old misuses of her space, her freedom, and in the anticipation of being invited in— being explicitly, unmistakably accepted is less preference and more need, these days.

You’re not one for self-fulfilling noise, but you let new sounds shake loose from deep in your throat when she guides you along in the dark, big eyes dark and pooling with love and worry over the tremor stuck in your bones.

You’re sitting astride her on the long couch end, hands fisting endlessly in the shoulders of cardigan while she breathes down the length of your stomach.
It’s always quiet like this, slow and reverent in the way Cosima likes to tip forward to touch you, like she’s a cat come up to brush against you in the dark. Like she’s praying in the press of her nose to your belly, like she’s listening for something in the jump of your skin with each inhale.
Your hips jump at pressure within a league of your scar, curling you inward, and you have to breathe hard into Cosima’s hair to sink down again. She tips up to look at you, then, with apology so saturated in her blown pupils that you have to thumb at her cheekbones and smile to steady her.
She doesn’t like to tease, anymore— the idea of rescinding from one another is a little too much these days— but she’ll wait until she pulls sound from you to proceed. She likes you keening up against her, likes you stuttering and desperate on her tongue, but she won’t back away from you to get it. She’ll loosen you so you’re warm and unafraid to run aground, so you roll to shore with the tide.

There’s this lax, unwinding waver in your stomach, pressing up against the skin of your hips and curling your toes, and pressed flat along the sofa you feel fluid and tipping at both ends, hair a languid, unkempt fan down to the carpet.
You let Cosima divest of your skirt with slow fingers— everything feels deep, sleepy and heavy, like you’re drifting somewhere far below angrier waters, where the pull of the moon manifests as a smooth, alternating current, sifting up the sand and re-settling it around you.


She’s saying something into the hollow left of your neck, something syrupy and adoring, love loping up to shiver in your ear, and it’s too easy to remember those days of self-hospice in the loft, where you were the one forever seeking to surround Cosima, wanting her to bury herself in you in hopes of peaceful sleep, cleaning blood from the corners of her mouth with the same thick affection as with kissing her, settling down in a sort of hibernation so she could have a slow, steady heartbeat to match. Taking care.

It feels profoundly as though she’s trying to return the favor, trying to coax some lingering darkness out of you, trying to tug you into the slow, circular wash of healing. There is simultaneously so much and so little to apologize for between you that there’s a second language, a continuous and silent exchange of confession and forgiveness, a flush of granulating wounds, of digging down to find what’s still alive, of cutting new edges for the sake of bringing them together.


(You have been angry in the way of sand trapped deep in mollusk bellies, angry in a way that can’t be directed anywhere and ends rolled over into something smooth and looking entirely different; you have roared and strained, you have stained your mane and taken bloodying kicks to the underbelly, you have slept in the way a victor sleeps when they no longer recognize their spoils.

When Cosima presses you with her palms down into the material of the couch and asks with that voice of hers— let me take care of you, please— you crack open slow and right in two, you run tears into your smile and take up your favorite mantra— je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime.)

Chapter Text

The ocean is good to Delphine. Always has been.
She went south during college summers, slept with the windows open and the air coming in thick and salty-sweet from the beach and its flowers.
The waters were cold, always steel-grey and lashing up at sand and feet like a dog, held back only by the moon.
Delphine knows the ocean only takes, and spits out shells, but she’s not afraid of the cold. At 20, the pull of the tide was not enough to break the skin, and let it never be said, but she doesn’t mind a little pain.

She does not go to the coast of America. There is no salt in her hair when she meets Cosima, and she wonders if Cosima thinks her as hollow and riddled through as she feels.
Cosima is obsidian, Cosima is brilliant and spiraling and sharp, Cosima is searing in short little bursts and cool again, smooth to worry over for a long while.

Cosima burns through Delphine in seconds; she does not leave things unfinished beneath her.

It’s not that Delphine has never been loved, no. There were hot summers with boys who lived in the beach towns— they’d meet her down by the pier, mouths earnest and clumsy, and she’d feel warm down to her toes, warm to match the sun and cement. There were doting boyfriends in college, mylar balloons for Valentine’s Day and those tense fights about the future where both parties know it won’t work but aren’t quite done lying about it— there was love to be felt, before Cosima.

Cosima is not the first to love Delphine. But she is the first to really, properly hurt her.

Things before were laid out smooth: years in college and med school, an internship that carried seamlessly into a job. Years spent in the wash make everything a little less exciting, and lo, she does not go to the beach.
She arrives a little too grating for the part Leekie wants played, and has to practice looking like a student again. Not that it’s hard to be confused by the people, but her intrigue is something cold and frictionless, now. There’s an ice in her veins that keeps her from the jitters that would really sell this.
Cosima is not stupid— the look she gives Delphine that first day in the lab is an immediate alarm— she is not expecting Delphine to cry and fold in the arms of a new friend.
And so she doesn’t, really.
The way to really get to Cosima is to show her something new— Delphine might not impress Cosima alone, but her work can.

Or so she thinks.
Delphine frets that Cosima and her non-Newtonian temper won’t go down easy for Leekie, but he only quirks his mouth in that wry smile at her skepticism, in the way that Delphine knows to mean this is on her head.

She feels like she loses a little of Cosima’s fixation, pretending to fawn over her own work the way she does—tries to remember that it doesn’t really matter, that the more naïve Cosima thinks her, the better, but there’s a part of her that doesn’t want Cosima to see her as anything less than interesting.
And so, when Cosima offers to get her high, Delphine doesn’t turn her down. It puts a gleam in her eye, against the glare of patchy snow, that Delphine thinks about for a little too long. She goes home with her mouth tasting like ash and warm from the sides of Cosima’s face.


There’s something compacted down in Delphine, something primordial and previously silent between her ribs, and it stirs itself up again, warm and sleepy in her chest when she sees Cosima’s dorm. More than anything she’s pretending to be fuzzy on the few glasses of wine— a pitiful offering to her French liver— and Cosima’s eyes are dark and flaring heat out at the edges like eclipses.
The foyer seems even smaller than Delphine had initially found it to be, warmth crowding in close like gondola passengers— hasty and red in the cheeks, to match her— and Cosima’s voice has this gravel to it, bass through a neighboring wall, rattling the windowpanes.
There’s this deep-blue shot of fear that drops in Delphine’s stomach at her words, billowing out like watercolor, but then Cosima’s mouth finds hers and everything is that New-Year’s-red again.

And now, now it is easy to be sophomoric and soft, to fold at the knees.
Cosima’s face burns where she touches it, greedy hands in holy water, and she turns tail.
All the way to the car parked several blocks down, her stomach turns like a bed of snakes.

Leekie only echoes the same frenetic chorus in her head— the last bit of her set on upholding a crueler version of herself is enough to gather up and hiss, “She made a pass at me, Aldous,” with all the authority of a child. It feels bitter on its way past her teeth, like spitting coffee grounds, and Delphine is a liar; she starts at the phrase “dig deeper,” and runs in her heels, and thinks, very simply, that Cosima is not an easy person to be away from.

Delphine drips slow with honey for her, there’s this dark, warm tug in her belly to see Cosima shed that gauzy shawl for Delphine to slip her hands past. Reticence is slipping from her mind like slick plants down the shoreline, she is quietly, fiercely focused on holding all the fire Cosima is breathing down her throat.
It is very fortunate Cosima does not have a roommate, she thinks, heels loud on the floor as she’s guided backwards. Beyond the obvious— there is something intensely silent about the way that churning in Delphine’s stomach has gone, like an angry god finally sated; she has stumbled upon something finally worth protecting. A small flame setting feeling back into her fingers, a numbness receding that is so old it no longer was, warmth so new it burns even infinitesimal.
And there are benefits to being in a space entirely hers, Delphine thinks— she feel deep in the glittering depths of some hoard, amongst the things Cosima finds sacred, and she is suddenly giddy on the idea that she might be one of those things.

Cosima is the most reassuring partner she’s ever had, and there’s a pleasant hush of tinnitus in Delphine’s skull, like the roll of waves, that peels back to hear her speaking up the length of Delphine’s throat.


“You’re so good,” she says with the reverence reserved for saints, and Delphine breaks apart, head falling to bury in Cosima’s shoulder because she is not, because God knows she’s been waiting to hear that for longer than she can imagine, god knows it makes her jump like a live wire and grind down further, and god knows Cosima takes notice, grins with sleepy adoration and doubles down upon making Delphine feel like she is worth the attention she gives.
She cries when she rolls off that last edge with her face tipped up to the ceiling, and tries to pretend she’s felt that much all at once before.

Breaking up has never been this hard, Delphine thinks.
Not for lack of experience— hot summers end, after all— but Cosima is far too many firsts all in one, too close and too hot not to miss.
The look she gives Delphine almost kills her. Like Delphine had broken her in two, not at the heart, but down the center.

Delphine has seen Cosima at her lowest. Cleaned the blood from both of their clothes, gotten tangled in the tubes snaking from her nose, fretted over every catch in her breath when she slept.
But she thinks, now, that Cosima has never looked sadder, never been more pitiful. Like she’s a flower and Delphine, all jaws and teeth and leather, has swallowed the sun.

She has the thought— “I’ve hurt her more than DYAD”— and reels so hard she can’t say I love you, much as she feels it.

Cosima says okay with her mouth and eyes wet and open, like she’s speaking from underwater, and Delphine is left to choke and gasp out in the hallway.
She cries, and watches her hair curl up at the ends under the shower, and dreams of herself in Rachel’s stilettos with her toes planted to the small of Cosima’s back. Her bed is far too big to thrash in alone— sweating and coming awake, she keeps expecting to roll off, but never does.

It feels almost good, to see her with someone else.
Months and months, the cold winter through Delphine has done nothing but break Cosima. Lure her back in, fill up the cracks with honey-gold and press her thumbs against those same lines, again. It seems right that now should be her turn.
She never really talked to Cosima about how it felt to kiss Sarah, how heavy the scales were when they fell from her weary eyes. Knowing someone, and finding another. It was something beyond disappointment, something low and dark red, and Delphine’s fingers stuttered over her Cosima’s face when she saw her again.
Delphine does not like to think herself possessive, but there’s that same, unavoidable dark red in seeing Shay. Less envy and more the same anger she holds towards herself, at not yet discovering that Cosima’s not something the low and fallible deserve.
It feels good to be broken in kind. Cosima still has that boundless energy for what is new, and this shift in their dynamic has her eyes a darker shade of what Delphine loves; she experiments, she tests the waters, pokes all around at Delphine like she’s a specimen, like she’s seeing her, finally, as that caged lion, emaciated and shaved at the ankles, heavy frame held up by nothing at all and weight carried too low along the spine. Tail in the dust.
Delphine would not be proud to admit it, either, but she enjoys that, too.


There is something intoxicating about capturing someone’s interest, and there is none better to be studied by than Cosima.

There is a great deal Cosima will never know about the things Delphine has done for her, and despite all the ways they have gone to soft and rotting rinds of themselves, quiet fermentation in another’s garden, Delphine will not hold it against her.


There was an immediate pride she had at the beginning of all things, before she knew the shifting nature of the sidelines— she was Cosima’s monitor.
There was something to cultivate, something to lose herself in, and in golden afternoon, in a big warm rush, it became someone. She slipped, a few times, but never enough to break. The mythos held, and there was the headiness of falling for someone without knowing them. (Not to say Delphine did not know about Cosima, but there was a great gap between toxicology data and watching Cosima’s pupils dilate, expanding like a cat’s in the dark, blooming like hallucinogenic flowers.)
She learned all too fast, and in all the wrong ways the low, twisted parts of her when her lungs failed, learned that Cosima sleeps sun-drunk in the dusty belly of their lab with cells from her sisters clipped to the microscope stands, found the bounds of her convictions, her foolish little altruistic, calcified streak, by bulling straight for it.
She made Cosima roar by trying to keep her alive, and in that out-of-order way saw the parts of her that still were.
She cried when Cosima seized for the first time, and made damn sure to be around for the rest.
There was a new high to keeping Cosima safe as the difficulty increased— there is something in Delphine that just wants to take care— she knew, from that first night, that she was staking all of herself on this hill with legs too weak to descend.
And so Delphine cannot really regret anything. To love all was something Delphine took up like a plasmid, writing into herself the instructions. She knows she is something beyond herself, now, something preened and serrated, but it was as it would always come to be, in the end.
She pushes back. She fights with closed fists and she wakes up early to straighten her hair because it’s measurable, like wiping down strings, like oiling leather. It’s a mantra beyond maintenance, it’s a reminder, a quota, a promise to no one and to herself.

When she kisses Cosima outside it is like breathing, it is a greeting without fanfare, like coming home in the night to sleep with only the shucking of coat and shoes as unpacking.
Cosima greets her in her catlike fashion, blinking slowly and with a hum; in a moment of grace, Delphine, beginning to cry, chokes and smiles and thumbs at Cosima’s bottom lip, and says goodbye in the way of one pretending to return.


And getting shot is not so much worse than when she was ten and her appendix burst on the way to the family physician— sitting against the cement of the garage, there is some respite to be had, at least for her feet. In Rachel’s heels her legs buckle to sprawl on the ground and slide through the first bit of her blood to spill that far, like a fawn on its belly.


Weary and with eyes welling in pained tears, she thinks, “I am done,” and kicks them off.

It is a very long night when Delphine takes up her old habit of bodily trying to keep Cosima from dying.
She knows the procedure for hypothermia, she has been essentially a combat medic these months, but she has never done this herself. Another first.
It really is disconcerting to feel how cold Cosima is this close— Delphine feels feverish, a furnace in comparison, and she pulls one of Cosima’s legs between her own, trying to press closer.
Cosima makes a startled hum; wiggles her eyebrows and things feel better so immediately that she revels in how good Cosima is at leaching the worry from her.


That she only has a scar (which Cosima eagerly slides a cold palm over), that Cosima is alive in the same glorious way she was when they met, that she’s here, wonderful and smelling of snow, with her heavy limbs and her sleepy eyes and her quiet love, so strong it is almost angry— Delphine ends up crying into her already-wet hair and doing a very bad job of keeping Cosima warm on all sides.
But she’s alive, and it’s been so long since she’s seen Cosima’s eyes so close without glasses, and she’s stopped shivering, the rattle gone from her chest. There is time plenty for Delphine to finally, again be told that she has done well.