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.