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Ech si frou mat Dir

Chapter Text

The anticipation in the room was slowly rising, with some people shuffling around in their seats, others quietly talking to each other in the small groups that had formed across the sections. Every now and then, an unexpected noise would lead everyone to turn their eyes towards the double doors on the right side of the room. Any moment now.

Yaz, already dutifully seated at the first desk, her score open on her stand and a pencil behind her right ear, had the perfect view. Her left hand was casually holding the neck of her violin, two fingers wrapped around the bow that was crossed over it, the bottom of the instrument resting against her upper leg. Yaz was quiet, tuning out the excited babbling of the guy sitting next to her and keeping her eyes glued to the doors. Of course, she had done her research on the woman that was supposed to have walked in about ten minutes ago. She had quite the reputation: young and extremely talented, one of the very few women able to make a name for herself in this field that was so widely dominated by old, white men. Her career had skyrocketed over the past two years, and nobody had dared to call it into question. At 32, she had not only managed to become a celebrated conductor, the woman had somehow also done the impossible and casually gotten a PhD in musicology as well. Yaz hadn’t found a single interview with her, so she figured that the young prodigy was either too busy or too shy, because journalists must be pushing each other over to talk to her. But Yaz had seen pictures, and all of them showed a large, warm smile on her lips, and a quiet determination in her eyes.

“Everyone, places please!”

Yaz was pulled out of her thoughts by Peter, the orchestra’s manager, who suddenly stood in front of them all, waving multiple times at the people in the back to quiet down. Percussionists, Yaz thought and had to fight the urge to roll her eyes. She loved them all, but they were the most disorganised bunch she’d ever met, and it drove her insane sometimes.

“I want you all to give a very warm welcome to your conductor for the next five weeks, Dr Joan Smith!”

At that, the people in the room starting clapping as a small blonde walked in through the doors, wearing that same smile Yaz had seen on all of those pictures. Her white shirt was tucked into her dark blue trousers, and as she shrugged off her light blue coat, yellow suspenders appeared. Yaz smiled; she already liked the woman’s clothing style. The blonde stepped in front of the conductor’s stand, and gave everyone an awkward wave, before she pulled her baton and a large, tattered orchestra score out of a small bag.

How the hell did that fit in there?, Yaz wondered.

As if having heard her thoughts, the woman turned and stretched out a hand towards Yaz.

“You must be my concert master”, she said, still smiling. Her voice was soft and melodic. Yaz rose halfway out of her chair, and shook the offered hand. “Yasmin Khan - Yaz to my friends.”

She didn’t know why she had added that last part - she had literally just met the woman, and they were here to work together, not strike up a friendship.

A twinkle appeared in the blonde’s eye, and she gently squeezed Yaz’ hand while replying “I’m Joan Smith - Jo to my friends.” At that, she winked and let go.

Yaz did not understand what exactly had happened, but she could feel all eyes on her and a blush was rapidly rising from her neck all the way up to the tip of her ears. Thankfully, Joan quickly brought all the attention back to herself.

“Right, first of all I’m terribly sorry for being late - traffic was quite something. Secondly, I am very excited to be here and work with you all. This is the first time I have the pleasure of conducting Stravinsky’s Firebird, and I am very much looking forward to bringing us all together for this fantastic piece, as well as the rest of the program. I’m sure you are all aware of the challenges it brings, and that’s why I suggest we jump right into it! You had time to tune while I was on my way I assume?” She glanced over at Yaz, who nodded. “Right then, let’s get a shift on!”

 

An hour and a half later, when they broke for tea, Yaz knew two things: One, Dr Joan Smith was a musical genius with an insane amount of energy, and two, she could watch that woman’s hands for hours. There was a particular elegance to them that was not to be found in male conductors, who tended to move their hands as a whole. Joan, however, at times seemed like a gentle puppeteer, separate instruments attached to each of her fingers by invisible strings, and all that was needed was a slight change of movement for them to follow in any way she desired.

This was exactly the kind of person Yaz wanted to be working with. Above all else, Joan seemed to be genuinely kind - which didn’t mean that she wouldn’t put her foot down when it came to it, as the cello section had learned very quickly today.

Pondering all this, Yaz had made her way to the break room and headed straight for the tea section. She poured herself a mug of steaming water and absentmindedly pulled a bag of chai out of the pocket of her jacket, opening the packaging and lowering the bag into the water.

“I see someone’s particular about their tea.”

Yaz frowned and started to turn towards the voice. “This is the best and if Pete would finally stop buying that cheap stuff instead I wouldn’t have to - ”

She stopped mid-sentence as she came face to face with Joan, who was casually leaning against the table, hands in pockets, regarding Yaz with a raised eyebrow and a general look of amusement on her face.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise…”, Yaz started to mumble awkwardly.

Joan raised her arm and waved it, as if to swat Yaz’ apology away. “Don’t worry. I like it when people talk frankly! It’s refreshing. Maybe I should dedicate a part of what Pete’s paying me to getting you that tea if it’s that delicious.” Again, that wink, and again, heat rose to Yaz’ cheeks with incredible speed. “Do you want to try it?”, she blurted out, and could have slapped herself a second later. Why was she behaving like an idiot around this woman?

To her surprise, Joan’s whole face lit up at the suggestion. “Really? I would love to! I love tea. Tea from Yaz. Brilliant.”

Yaz felt a laugh bubble up in her chest, both at the woman’s enthusiasm and at the use of her nickname, and she reached into her pocket to pull out another bag of chai, handing it to Joan. “There you go! Enjoy.”

She watched as Joan gleefully lowered the bag into her mug and then proceeded to stare at it intently, as if pure concentration was going to make it steep more quickly. 

“You know, a watched pot…”, Yaz started, smiling.

“I know, I know!”, Joan replied, not taking her eyes of the mug. “I’ve never been one for patience.”

Yaz cocked her head to the side, frowning. “Don’t you need a lot of patience as a conductor?”

At that, Joan briefly glanced up from her tea into Yaz’ eyes, then looked back. “Hm. Once I concentrate on something big, I can do it for hours and don’t mind at all. It’s the small every day things that I have no patience for in the end, I guess.”

Yaz nodded. “I get that.”

Joan continued to stare down at her tea a while longer. She finally looked at the watch on her wrist, then proceeded to pick up the mug and lift it to her lips.

Alarm bells went off in Yaz’ head. “I don’t think you should - ”

Too late. Joan pulled her head back from the mug, and grimaced as her tongue darted over her upper lip, trying to ease the pain of the burn.

“See,” she hissed, “no patience.”

 

Some ten minutes later, Yaz watched everyone file back into the rehearsal room with a smile on her face. She had watched Joan burn her mouth twice more, and every time Yaz’ warning had come just a moment too late. Finally, Joan had been able to drink the tea and she had closed her eyes at the first real sip, humming with contentment. The sight had been so lovely that Yaz had silently decided to always pack some extra tea from now on.

 

As Joan raised her baton to start their work on The Princess’ Round, Yaz found herself so mesmerised by the woman’s hands again that she almost missed her small solo right at the beginning. The quiet snicker that sounded out from behind her, no doubt coming from Izzy, her least favourite colleague, was sobering and made Yaz turn her concentration back to the music in front of her. She had a duty to always be at the top of her game, as the whole orchestra depended on her, and she was determined to not let her thoughts get in the way.

But as she looked up at Joan to follow her through a particularly challenging bit, the blonde flashed her one of those warm smiles and Yaz had a feeling that somehow, this whole thing was going to be much harder than it usually was.

Chapter Text

“Soooo, you’ve been sharing your tea, eh?”

Ryan was grinning like a school boy and nudged Yaz’s shoulder while she was trying to rosin her bow equally, passing the bow up and down over the block of sticky substance.

“Oi!”, she complained and gave him a stern look. Carefully, she put both the bow and rosin back into her case before she reluctantly replied.

“She liked it and doesn’t know where to get it, so I figured I’d share. That’s all.”

Ryan kept wiggling his eyebrows at her, causing Yaz to let out an exasperated sigh as she took out her violin and fixed her shoulder rest onto the back, the fingers of her left hand gently strumming the chords reflexively.

“Don’t you have chairs to move or something?” she grumbled, confused by Ryan’s sudden antics.

At that, Ryan gasped and proceeded to mock stab himself in the chest, stumbling backwards and ended up almost knocking over a trumpet player that was walking by.

Yaz let out a laugh, but immediately stopped as she saw the annoyed look on her colleague’s face, who was clutching her trumpet defensively with both hands.

Ryan apologised profusely before walking away to fulfil his duties, but not before turning to Yaz once more. He proceeded to pull the non-existent dagger out and mimed a fountain of blood bursting out of his chest. Yaz shook her head at him, but could not keep herself from smiling all the same.

 

When she was hired, Yaz had been so happy when she realised that the orchestra had also employed Ryan, whom she had gone to school with. At first a little bit of confusion had mingled in at the thought of Ryan in an orchestra - she remembered that he had dyspraxia, which must make learning an instrument that much more difficult. But he had quickly explained to her that he was was actually working as the orchestra attendant. In short, Ryan was the oil that kept the orchestra’s motor going; he made sure everyone had the right scores, that the booked venues were ready for rehearsals, that seating was arranged correctly, that the pianos at their venues were tuned, and a myriad of other things that made sure the rest of them could do their jobs in the best possible conditions. Once, as they had sat down for coffee, Ryan had admitted to Yaz that, one day, he wanted to move up the ranks and become an orchestra manager - and seeing all the hard work and love that Ryan put into his job, Yaz firmly believed that one day, he would.

 

Since starting this job a year ago, Yaz had played a number of concerts, however, this would be the first time she would lead the orchestra on a tour; four weeks of back-to-back performances all across Europe. The excitement had slowly risen during the past three days of rehearsals and now, only two days away from the start, it was all anyone could talk about. People across the room were babbling on about the cities they’d never been to, which ones they were most looking forward to discover, and the best places to visit in the cities they already knew.
Watching them all, Yaz felt excitement bubble up in her own chest. She had never been anywhere outside of the UK, so this whole trip would be one big journey of discovery - if she had any time between preparations and performances.

 

At this very moment, however she needed to concentrate on getting everyone in order. Joan had just walked in (as always, a tad late), signature coat flapping behind her, hair dishevelled and nearly stumbling over her own feet as she tried to take off her messenger bag which had somehow gotten all tangled up in her coat.

I am surrounded by uncoordinated dorks, Yaz thought, smiling, then walked over to her seat and waved at everyone to do the same.

Once her colleagues had settled down, Yaz stood and signalled the oboist, who played a long-held natural A. Yaz used it as a guide to tune her own violin - something that had cost her quite some nerves during the first rehearsals. It wasn’t exactly the most relaxing thing to finely tune an instrument when fifty professional musicians were watching you do it.

Satisfied with her tuning, she sat back down and let the winds and woodwinds tune. As they fell silent, she stood back up again, faced the string section and led them through tuning.

 

When the last cellist had finished Joan hurried to her stand and laid down her score. Yaz was sure she could see loose pages peaking out and wondered how Joan managed to not send them flying around while conducting; the woman turned pages with the energy of an angry person trying to swipe everything off a desk.

That’s probably how those pages got detached in the first place, she mused.

 

“Alright, Debussy today, everyone!” Joan chirped as she opened the score in front of her. Looking up, she smiled at the flutist, whose solo started off the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. “Ready?”

 

At that, she raised her baton, and everyone lifted their instruments in one big, coordinated motion.

 

—————-

 

Over the past few days, the breaks had become Yaz’s favourite part of the day. She would never admit it out loud, of course - she was a perfectionist, some might even say a workaholic, but then weren’t all violinists? The singers at uni, a much more relaxed crowd when it came to practice hours, had always looked at the violinists’ marathon rehearsal sessions with both guarded admiration and slight terror.

But now, Yaz found herself inconspicuously checking the time way too often, impatient for the moment when she could have a chat with Jo. The two women had hit it off after their first meeting, and by now had fallen into some kind of routine; something that tended to happen quickly when you spend eight hours a day cooped up in a rehearsal room together.

The moment the break was announced, Yaz would hurry to put her violin back in her case and go to the break room where she prepared two mugs of tea. By the time Jo had managed to get away from instrumentalists bombarding her with questions about phrasing or dynamics, the tea had had enough time to steep. When she finally made it to the breakroom, Yaz greeted her with a smile, mugs in hand. Yaz had never felt too good at making friends, and she loved how easy it was talking to Jo.

 

Today, Joan - or “the Doc”, as the orchestra members were now affectionately calling her because of her PhD - let out a deep sigh as she sunk into the chair next to Yaz. “I swear to you I am going to murder your whole viola section before this tour has even started,” she hissed, lifting a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose.

“They’re violists, it’s really not their fault. Next time you want them to play piano, just tell them it’s a solo passage. They’ll be too frightened to play loudly.”

Joan snorted. “I didn’t take you for the musician jokes type of person.”

“Ah well, don’t tell the others. They’ll end up thinking I believe violinists are above them”, Yaz replied with a cheeky smile.

 

Joan laughed, letting her hand fall from her face and slowly scanned the room in front of them.

“They’re all really excited, aren’t they?” she said, that twinkle reappearing in her eye that Yaz had noticed the very first day. 

“Yeah. They hired a lot of young people this season and most of us have never really been abroad much.”

Joan turned towards her, surprised, before her face suddenly filled with excitement.

“There are so many places I’m going to show you!” she exclaimed.

The notion that Joan wanted to spend time together outside of performances filled Yaz’s chest with an unexpected warmth, and she couldn’t keep herself from smiling broadly back at her.

“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot” she replied. 

They were silent for a while, content with sipping their tea and watching the people around them.

“So wait,” Jo suddenly asked. “You’ve never travelled for competitions and such?”

“Nah, not really. I did some in the UK, but, to be honest, I couldn’t really afford travelling much.”

At that, Yaz felt a blush creep up her cheeks, suddenly chastising herself for being so candid with the woman who was technically her boss right now. But Jo just nodded, understanding written on her face.

“I get it. I had, like, three jobs while I was studying. Even spent some time cleaning loos and all that. Got pretty insane at some point.”

Yaz’s eyes widened. “Really? They didn’t mention that in any of the articles!”

It had slipped out before she had really thought about it, and now she wanted to mentally slap herself.

Jo let out a sudden, loud laugh, leading some of the people around them to briefly pause in their conversations and look over at them.

“Yasmin Khan, you researched me!”

“Well, I…” Yaz started, completely flustered and feeling her face turn fifty different shades of red in a matter of seconds. “I thought, as concertmaster… I should…”

Jo’s hand on her shoulder made her stop. “It’s alright,” she laughed, leaning closer towards Yaz. “I would have done the same thing if I were you.” She let her voice drop to a whisper. “You’ll have to tell me which secrets of mine you’ve found out about, though.”

She winked and squeezed Yaz’s shoulder.

“Right,” Jo said, letting go and turning to put her mug down on the table. She jumped out of her chair with fresh energy and stood for a moment, hands on hips. “Let’s try and teach those violas how to count.”

At that, she turned and walked towards the door, giving the signal for everyone to put their drinks and snacks away and get back to work. 

 

For a moment, Yaz sat alone in the suddenly quiet room. Slowly, she lifted her hand to where, just a minute ago, Jo’s hand had been. She wondered at the tingling sensation it had left behind and felt a warmth in her chest. Shaking her head, she snapped herself out of it and got up to hurry after her colleagues.

 

The warmth didn’t leave her as she sat down for the second half of rehearsal and continued to glow inside her chest as she drove her car home later. It tingled in the background as she brushed her teeth, and she felt it bubble up again after she put down her book and switched off her reading light.

 

And when Yasmin woke up the next morning, that wonderful warmth in her chest was the very first thing she felt.

Chapter Text

“Did you pack your concert shoes? What about that lovely belt you like to wear with your nice trousers?”

“Mum, we went through this, like, three times already.”

“I just don’t want you to forget anything! Do you remember that time you left your bag at home and I had to bring it to school for you?”

“I was twelve!”

“It feels like yesterday. Hang on a moment… Your dad is asking if you’ve got some snacks packed, otherwise you can still come by and pick something up.”

“I’m good.”

Yaz had spent the past twenty minutes on the phone with her mum, who had insisted on making sure Yaz had everything she needed. It had been cute for the first five minutes, but once both her dad and her sister Sonya had started shouting things to her mom in the background, Yaz had begun to wish she were already on that plane. Slowly, she had worked her way through her flat and was now standing at the door, impatiently glancing at the clock on the wall.

“Mum, I’ve really gotta go.”

“Alright, then. You be good okay? We’re all very proud of you Yaz. And call from time to time, okay? We love you.”

“Love you, too, mum.”

Yaz hung up, then tossed her phone into her bag. She checked one last time to make sure that she had all the other essentials in there: passport, wallet, headphones, and charger. Then she opened the zipper on top of her violin case and looked through her scores for the fourth time that morning. All there. Her family had apparently been successful at making her completely paranoid.

Closing the zipper, she slung the case over her shoulder and picked up her bag with the same hand, grabbing the handle of her suitcase with the other. Taking a deep breath, she walked out the door and, for the first time, she really let her excitement about the upcoming travels take over.

 

——-

 

The bus was parked in front of their regular rehearsal place, together with the small truck that would hold their instruments. Most people seemed to have gotten there before Yaz - she would have made it earlier if her mom hadn’t insisted on going over her packing checklist on the phone. Reluctantly, Yaz handed her violin case over to the truck driver, who smiled at her and carefully put it down in a corner.

She was extremely wary about this part of the trip; she knew that handing her violin over to various drivers was a necessity during a tour, since it was much more efficient for all the instruments to be transported together. Still, this was the first time she was letting her 1864 Vuillaume truly out of her sight.

She had received the violin on loan, from the bank that sponsored the orchestra, after she had been proclaimed concertmaster. Yaz knew of such invaluable instruments sometimes being placed at the disposal of musicians, but she had never dreamed of being among the lucky few to receive one. The day she had been handed the Vuillaume, she had been so moved as she held it in her hands for the first time that later, when she was alone, she cried.

She threw a final glance at her case. See you in Paris, she thought before she managed to finally tear her eyes away from it. She walked over to the bus, handing her suitcase to the driver, and waved at Pete standing next to the door, clipboard in hand.

“Morning!” he called out, then looked down at his clipboard.

“Khan, Yasmin,” Yaz told him, mock serious.

Pete made an exaggerated tick on his list and replied “Check! Please proceed to your seat, Miss Khan.” He waved her onto the bus and Yaz quickly got in.

Inside, the air was buzzing with excited chatter and most seats were already taken. Thankfully, Yaz spotted a free seat next to Ryan and went to join him.

“Morning!” she said as she sat down.

Ryan gave her a sideways glance and grumbled something in return. He looked like someone who definitely hadn’t slept enough; his jacket was draped over his upper body and his head was leaning against the window. 

“This is no time to be awake,” he mumbled, shuffling to find a comfortable position.

“It’s eight-thirty!”

“That’s what I said.”

At that, he pulled his jacket up under his chin and closed his eyes.

Yaz sighed and pulled her book out of her bag. Opening it, she tried to concentrate and tune out the chatter of her colleagues for the next hour and a half.

 

 

———-

 

 

They arrived at the airport barely on time, because someone had been very late and so they had ended up being caught in traffic.

For a conductor, the woman really does have incredibly terrible time management skills, Yaz had thought as Jo was running across the street towards the bus, one arm flailing wildly in the air and the other one barely holding on to her suitcase. 

Their late arrival had led to them being assigned random seats for their flight at the gate, which put a dampener on Yaz’s excitement. She had hoped she would get to talk to Jo some more on the flight, but now the chances of them sitting close to each other were very slim.

She was among the first on the plane and kept looking down the aisle to see if Jo had already found her seat.

“I guess this is me.”

She turned and saw that Graham had stopped next to her, smile on his face and ticket in hand.

Damn it. She immediately felt bad at the thought; Graham, their only tuba player, was a nice guy and had kind of become the orchestra members’ shared grandpa. Everyone, she had been told, ended up turning to him for advice at one point or another.

She made an effort to look excited at his company and made some space so he could get to the window seat.

“Aw, we’re sitting next to each other, Jo! How wonderful.”

Yaz’s head shot up and she caught herself clenching her teeth at the sight three rows ahead of her. Izzy Flint, of all people, had scored the seat next to Jo. Izzy had a saccharine smile on her face, and Yaz wanted to wipe it right off. Joan was already sitting down, and all Yaz could see was the back of her head.

“Yeah, that’s nice,” she heard Jo say and felt something burning deep in her chest.

Izzy Flint had been the bane of Yaz’s existence all through uni. The woman had applied for every single audition, competition, masterclass, and whatever else that Yaz had done, too. To a certain degree, it was normal to keep running into the same people over the years, since the pool of classical musicians wasn’t that big. With Izzy however, it had always felt like she was trying to make a point. When the rumours about Yaz had started going around uni, she had been innocent enough to believe it was all a big misunderstanding. But when she suddenly kept being rejected from uni projects despite being among the best students, she had quickly learned that all the rumours had originated from the same person: Izzy Flint. It had taken all of Yaz’s courage to tell her violin professor about it. After Izzy had received a talking-to from the department head, she had continued to make Yaz’s life hell in more subtle ways. Yaz didn’t really make any new friends for a while.

Trying to tune out the conversation that had started between Jo and Izzy, Yaz turned to Graham.

“So, this your first time in Paris, Graham?”

“Well, actually I’ve gone a couple of times; back in the day when I first started working. Always wanted to take Grace there, but never had the chance.”

Grace was Graham’s deceased wife, and Ryan’s grandmother. Yaz had never met her, but she had heard lovely things about her from the orchestra’s other members. Grace had used to bring the snacks for their breaks. The first time Graham had walked into the break room after she’d died, he had turned around and walked straight out again and hadn’t come back to rehearsal for two whole weeks. Pete had hired a temporary rehearsal replacement and never said a thing about it to Graham. To this day, nobody really knew where he had gone. “Everywhere and nowhere,” he used to say whenever someone tried to find out.

“Food?” Graham asked with a smile, pulling two cling-film wrapped sandwiches out of the pocket of his jacket. “You never know if they’ll feed you on the airplanes these days.”

Yaz laughed. “No thanks, Graham. I’m good.”

“Alright, love.”

Yaz heard the unmistakable sound of Izzy Flint’s obnoxious laugh suddenly ringing down the aisle and cringed. 

“I’m going to listen to some stuff” she said, and grabbed her headphones.

Graham nodded and turned to look out the window, happily munching away on his first sandwich.

Yaz put her headphones on. As she heard Joan laugh at something Izzy must have said, she suddenly felt incredibly grateful to have sprung for the more expensive, noise-cancelling headphones. Selecting Dvorak’s American String Quartet from her playlist, she leaned back and closed her eyes, trying to think of Paris.

Chapter Text

The day had passed in a haze. They had arrived at the hotel, had a quick late lunch, then had been driven to the venue for a short acoustic rehearsal. After that, it had been off to their dressing rooms to change and, before they knew it, they were all standing together, waiting to enter the stage of the Philharmonie de Paris. 

Yasmin’s eyes widened as she saw Jo walk out of her dressing room in her concert clothes. The blonde had chosen to wear black trousers and an open frock coat, which was softly flowing behind her as she walked down the corridor. Underneath the frock coat, the sleeves and collar of which were lined with velvet, Jo was wearing a white shirt with a banded collar and the heels of her shiny black oxfords were clicking with each step she took.

Yaz had never seen anything more elegant in her life, and she silently promised herself that she would invest in a similar garment as soon as they’d get back to the UK. As Jo walked by, Yaz realised she had been staring. In passing, the blonde leaned closer to Yaz and whispered “I love myself a swishy coat” before she shifted one side of her coat just far enough to reveal only to Yaz that she was still wearing her bright yellow suspenders underneath. She let go of her coat and pulled back with a grin and a moment later, disappeared around the corner. Yaz realised that, for whatever reason, she had been holding her breath the whole time.

The speaker above her head started to crackle and a male voice with a heavy french accent was heard a moment later.

“Members of the South Yorkshire Philharmonic Orchestra, this is your last call; please proceed to the stage. Bonne Merde!”

A young man dressed all in black and equipped with an earpiece went to hold the door open for them, and, in front of Yaz, the orchestra slowly filed out onto the stage. She could hear the rising applause from the audience outside, accompanying their entrance. 

Yaz, however, stayed behind. They had decided to stick to the British tradition of the concertmaster entering last and on their own, followed by the conductor. Yaz, fiddling nervously with the little silver screw at the bottom of her bow that was used to tighten its hair, went to look around the corner for Jo. Letting out a sigh of relief, she saw the blonde hurrying towards her, baton in hand. Yaz was thankful that, for once, the woman was on time. 

“I don’t speak a lot of french, but did the stage caller just wish us ‘Good shit?’” Yaz asked, perplexed.

“Yeah, he did,” Jo replied with a smile. “The French do that because they don’t want to jinx it by wishing you good luck.”

“Huh, I didn’t know that.” She glanced over at the door and saw that the last instrumentalist had filed out. “Ah, I guess I should get going.”

“See you out there, Yasmin Khan!”

With a deep breath, she checked herself over one last time. She was dressed all in black, but her long skirt had a slight sparkle to it when she moved and the sleeves of her shirt fanned out when she lifted her arms to play. She adjusted her shirt at the shoulder and smoothed a non-existent crinkle out of her skirt. Satisfied with how she looked, she nodded at the technician who held open the door once more. Squaring her shoulders, she put on a smile.

As she walked through the open door, she was greeted with polite applause and found herself briefly blinded by the spotlight. For a moment she could barely make anything out, but she trusted her feet to guide her and walked on as her vision slowly returned to normal. Yaz nodded at her colleagues in the string section and saw some of them giving her applause in their traditional ways: some were shuffling their feet on the ground, others were using their bows to make a quick, soundless movement against the stands, as if they were hitting the wood against the metal - except that the two never touched. A few others were actually tapping their bows against the stands, very gently of course, producing a soft clicking noise.

Yaz faced the audience and gave a quick bow, then proceeded to lead her colleagues through the familiar tuning process. Once they were all set, Yaz sat back down and waited in silence for Jo to walk on stage.

“The Doc” did so with a couple of swift, energetic steps, her right arm making a “let’s go” motion towards the orchestra members, who quickly got up on their feet and turned to face the audience. They stood until Jo had taken a bow and sat back down once she had turned towards them.

Jo raised both of her hands, holding up her baton, and smiled while she quickly looked over their faces. She glanced down to her left at Yaz, who gave her an imperceptible nod. Hunching slightly forward, Jo concentrated on the bass section, then gave two beats and off they went, diving headfirst into the first movement of Firebird.

 

———-

 

By the end of the first half a thin layer of sweat had formed on Jo’s face, gleaming slightly in the spotlight. Yaz thought that Jo, as everyone else, had done a fantastic job so far. Her feelings were confirmed when the audience, a moment after the last note had rung out, broke out into loud, enthusiastic applause. She could even hear a Bravi here and there, especially as Jo turned around to face the audience after having put her hands together in front of her, miming a silent “thank you” to the orchestra.

Some of them stood together in the corridors after having left the stage; talking about the first half of the concert, what they were happy with, and what they thought they could improve on next time. Yaz headed straight for her dressing room - as concertmaster, she was given her own and didn’t have to share - as she preferred some quiet in order to concentrate on what still lay ahead of them. Carefully, she put her violin into its case and then sat down at the small table in the middle of the room, opening her personal copy of Dvorak’s From The New World Symphony. It was the sole piece of the second half and one of Yaz’ favourites; the cor anglais solo in the second movement always touched her. Nonetheless, it was a challenging opus in many aspects and she wanted to make sure she had a good last look at some of the more difficult passages.  

She didn’t get very far, however, as she was interrupted by a knock on her dressing room door.

“Come in!” she called out, continuing to look at the music in front of her with a frown on her face, slightly annoyed at the disturbance.

“Hiya, Yaz.”

“Jo!” she called out, feeling her previous annoyance evaporate into thin air. As she tore her eyes away from the score to look at Jo instead, she suddenly felt like something was stuck in her throat.

Jo was leaning against the open door frame, arms crossed over her chest. She had taken off her frock coat - no doubt to air it out for a moment. The sleeves of her shirt were rolled up messily and she had unbuttoned it at the top. 

Yaz gulped, trying to get rid of whatever it was that had settled in her throat.

“What’s up? Anything went wrong in the first half? I thought we did quite well,” she finally managed to say.

“No, no! You guys were brilliant. I was just wondering, we did the last movement of the Dvorak a bit faster in rehearsal today. It kinda felt right to me, so if you give me the ok I’ll stick with that tempo for today.”

“Oh sure, yes! I think we all did very well with the faster pace.”

Jo grinned, and clapped her hands together. “Brilliant!”

“Do you want to sit with me during the break? I have a coffee machine in here,” Yaz heard herself blurt out.

Jo cocked her head to the side, and squinted. “Hm, I think I’ll have to pass on the coffee. I tend to get a bit… hyper, if you know what I mean.”

Yaz could only imagine - Jo was a whirlwind already without the added caffeine. Giving her coffee probably turned her into a catastrophe waiting to happen. Still, Yaz couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed.

But before she had time to dwell on it, Jo had already stepped into the room and closed the door behind her.

“I won’t say no to the company, though,” she said, walking over to the small couch in the corner. She sank down on it with a content sigh and briefly closed her eyes.

“You guys really don’t know how good you have it, doing this whole thing sitting down.”

She opened her eyes again and stretched her feet out, putting her hands behind her head.

“If I remember correctly,” Yaz countered. “Someone refused to use a high chair during rehearsals.”

“That’s because I always end up throwing them over or falling into them!”

“Hah,” Yaz snorted. “Yeah I can see that happening.”

“Oi!” Jo called out, wiggling a finger in the air. “I’m still technically your boss!”

Yaz blushed and looked back down at the music in front of her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to -”

“Nah I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” Jo interrupted her, waving a hand dismissively. “You know me; I like a flat team structure.”

She suddenly sat up straighter and leaned forward. “Hey, I was meaning to ask you something, but it’s kind of personal.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, if it’s alright with you.”

Yaz felt simultaneously curious and nervous about whatever was going to come next. But she nodded, waiting for whatever it was that Jo wanted to know about her.

“So, I don’t mean this in a condescending way or anything, I am just genuinely curious. How did you end up becoming concertmaster straight out of uni? Without having done many competitions nonetheless? I mean, don’t get me wrong, you are amazing at what you do, but it’s just not the way things usually work in this business, in my experience.”

A slow smile had spread over Yaz’ face while Jo had been talking. This was not the first time someone had asked her this question, and she understood the curiosity behind it.

“Ah. Don’t worry, I’m not taking this the wrong way. The orchestra held blind auditions.”

Jo looked surprised. “All the way through? Not just preliminary rounds?”

“All the way through,” Yaz nodded. “They are one of the few orchestras who are doing it that way these days. I played all the audition rounds behind the screen. They had no idea who I was until they called me in for a final interview when they had already pretty much decided on me.”

A satisfied smile crossed Yaz’s face at one particular memory.

“What?” Jo asked, having caught the brief expression.

“There was this older guy on the panel. The look on his face when I walked in and he realised whom they had picked gives me life some days.”

Jo looked confused for a moment before a belly laugh broke out of her as she understood what Yaz had meant. “Wonderful,” she chuckled. “It’s about time we showed them we can get the job done just as well as them.”

“Dear members of the SYPO, this is your five minute stage call. Please proceed to the doors.”

“Well then,” Jo said, standing up and letting a hand glide over her trousers to smooth them out. “I better go and make myself look presentable again.”

You look very presentable to me.

The thought came and went before Yaz could make proper sense of it. Jo, standing in the door frame, turned around once more and grinned. “Good shit for the second half, Yaz.”

And with that, she was gone.

 

——-

 

As the last note of the symphony’s final movement rang out through the concert hall, they all sat with their bows triumphantly raised, waiting for the applause to wash over them. And how it did! The audience was even more enthusiastic than they had been after the first half, and Jo, still turned towards the orchestra, slowly raised a hand in front of her chest to form a thumbs up.

With a flourish, she then turned to Yaz, who rose out of her chair to shake her hand. At Jo’s signal, the whole orchestra followed suit and they all stood there, bathing in the sound of well deserved appreciation. As Jo took her bow, Yaz could hear some Bravas! directed specifically at her. Smiling and raising her hand to her chest in a gesture of heartfelt thanks, Jo nodded, then took another bow before she humbly gestured to the musicians to her left and right. They played two encores that night.

Later, as they sat on the bus back to the hotel, exhaustion finally overcame most of them and some even dozed off during the brief ride. Jo was one of them - she had gotten on first, sat down in the front row, and promptly fallen asleep. She had looked so peaceful that Yaz hadn’t wanted to disturb her by taking the place next to hers, so she went to sit with Ryan again, happily chatting away until they reached their destination.

At the hotel, Yaz was thankful that being concertmaster granted her the privilege of a single room. She needed to get all the rest she could, because tomorrow morning after breakfast they would all have to get back on that bus again, headed to their next venue.

Yaz’s last thoughts before she fell asleep were of Paris, which she hadn’t really gotten to see anything of except the Eiffel Tower from a distance as they had driven in from the airport that morning. And then, just as sleep overcame her, an image of Jo leaning against the door frame, her smile lighting up the whole room.

Chapter Text

Jo was showing off a dance move that none of them had ever seen before. In fact, they weren’t altogether sure if she was indeed still dancing, or if there was maybe a medical emergency going on instead. Her arms were raised high above her head, and she kept shaking them vigorously from side to side, her head following suit and hair flying everywhere.

“You haven’t lived until you’ve danced the drunk giraffe,” she had called out before running onto the dance floor.

It was the first night they had off since the tour had begun. Since Paris, they had played concerts in Nantes, Toulouse, Lyon, and finally a matinée in Metz. After the afternoon performance, some of the orchestra members had decided to make the best of their free evening and go out, since there was no concert planned for the following day.

Yaz had felt unsure, at first, when Ryan stopped her in the hotel lobby to ask if she would like to join. Standing with Ryan was the usual party crowd; most of the brass section and the percussionists. However, Yaz’s decision was then made surprisingly fast when Jo, who had overheard their plans, exclaimed, “Party? Did somebody say ‘party?’ I love a good party!”

Which had led to Yaz currently standing in the middle of a French club, bottle of coke in hand, watching this crazy woman dance her heart out. As she glanced over her shoulder, she saw her colleagues sitting along the bar behind her in various states of shock: eyes widened, jaws practically lying on the floor. It made her chuckle. Until now, they had mostly only seen the concentrated professional, albeit a bit clumsy, side of Jo. The dorky, hilariously funny part of Jo had been hers alone. She felt a tiny pang of sadness in her chest at the realisation that this was no longer the case. She was pulled from her thoughts when she saw Jo walking towards her, hair completely disheveled and visibly breathing heavily.

“So?” she asked, sinking down onto a free barstool. “Are you ready to try it out for yourself?” She was grinning and wiggling her eyebrows.

“I, ah… think I’ll pass for now,” Yaz replied, sitting down next to her.

Seeing Jo’s shoulders immediately drop and a pout starting to form, Yaz decided to give her at least a little bit of hope. “Maybe later,” she conceded, winking.

Jo’s face immediately lit up again, and she turned to face the others. “Anyways, whatcha all having?”

Since most of their colleagues seemed to still be mentally recovering from the “drunk giraffe,” Ryan checked up and down the bar and replied, “Mostly beer, Doc. Want one?”

Jo scrunched up her face and shook her head at the suggestion. “Nah, thanks. Never liked beer much.”

She turned to wave at the bartender, who came over with a smile and asked what he could do for her.

“Could you mix me something up, if it’s not too much trouble?” Jo inquired.

“Sure thing. What do you want?”

She started rattling off a list of ingredients that Yaz thought could never ever go together. The bartender seemed to agree with her, as his polite smile slowly morphed into an expression of thinly veiled horror.

“Are you… are you sure?” he stuttered, and Jo nodded enthusiastically in response.

“Trust me,” she grinned, leaning over towards Yaz as the bartender started chucking things into a shaker, looking more and more disgusted with each ingredient. “Best drink ever!”

When the bartender finally put the glass down in front of her, the liquid inside was a vibrant blue.

“Enjoy?” he said and took the ten euro bill that Jo held out to him. 

“Keep the change!” she chirped, and took the first sip.

“Ah,” she sighed, leaning back. “Perfect!”

The bartender had watched, looking like he was ready to see her fall over and die as soon as the liquid hit her lips. At Jo’s expression of contentment, he shook his head and went to take care of some other customers.

“Doc, what the hell is that?”

Ryan had bent down towards the glass, scrutinising it with a look equal parts confused and intrigued. 

“Try it!” Jo said, holding the glass out to him.

He took it from her and sniffed carefully at the liquid first. “Hm. Doesn’t smell that bad.”

Slowly, he brought the glass up to his lips and Yaz noticed Jo watching him with obvious delight.

As soon as he swallowed, Ryan started coughing violently, quickly setting the glass back down on the bar. 

“Bloody hell!” he managed to choke out.

Jo patted him on the back a couple of times and suddenly he stopped coughing, eyes going wide.

“Oh,” he breathed, delight appearing on his face. “That’s brilliant.”

“Told you so,” Jo grinned.

“Okay,” Yaz chimed in. “Now I wanna know. What’s it like?”

Ryan shook his head, searching for the right words. “It’s like… fireworks going off in your mouth. There’s just so many different tastes at once, but you can’t really properly pick them out individually…” He cocked his head to the side, eyeing the glass. “It’s almost more like they remind you of something, but you can’t put your finger on what it is. Like something that happened a long time ago.”

Jo grinned, obviously delighted at Ryan’s description of the drink. “It’s a little bit different for everyone. Always interesting to hear what somebody new says. Yaz, you wanna give it a try?”

She reached over and pushed the glass towards Yaz, looking excited.

“No, thanks. No alcohol for me, sorry.”

Jo looked slightly confused for a moment, but then Yaz saw something click in the other woman’s expression and the confusion was quickly replaced by guilt. She leaned towards Yaz, her hand coming to rest on the brunettes upper leg. “I’m sorry, I forgot. Didn’t mean to be inconsiderate.”

“No worries,” Yaz replied, smiling, and for a moment they just looked into each other’s eyes. Then, almost abruptly, Jo pulled back and Yaz immediately missed the warm contact on her leg.

“I’ll be right back,” the blonde said, slipping off her chair. “Ryan, you enjoy that drink as much as you want to!” Yaz watched her head towards the bathroom until she disappeared into the crowd.

“So,” Ryan said, switching over to the chair next to Yaz. “You and the Doc?”

Yaz shot him a quizzical look. “What about me and her?”

“You know, are you guys… ?” He wiggled his eyebrows.

“I’m not gay, Ryan.”

He looked surprised. “You’re not?” he asked. “I figured you were, or maybe bisexual. I mean, after all, you had that thing at uni.”

Yaz’s insides froze. “Who told you about that?” she snapped, grabbing Ryan’s arm.

“Ouch, Yaz! Calm down, I’m not judging!”

She immediately let go, feeling bad about her outbreak. “For your information, it’s not true,” she hissed. “It was just a stupid rumour, and it almost ruined my life and my career.”

Guilt draped over his face, Ryan looked away and started fiddling with the label of his beer bottle. Yaz’s expression softened at the sight of him all abashed.

“It’s ok, Ryan,” she told him. “I’m not mad at you, it’s not your fault. I do really want to know who told you about that, though.”

He looked up, and she made sure to give him an encouraging smile.

“I’m not sure. I think some of the woodwind guys were talking about it? They weren’t, like, judging you for it, though. If anything, they seemed impressed.”

Yaz let her head sink into her hands and started rubbing furiously at her face. “I’m going to kill her.”

“There is always another solution and we should never resort to violence,” Jo’s voice rang out behind her.

Yaz dropped her hands, trying not to let her embarrassment show. She really didn’t want Jo to ask what they had been talking about, so she tried to laugh it off, instead. “We were just joking around.”

“I see. Well, I for one demand that you dance with me now. You promised you’d try the drunk giraffe.”

“I said “Maybe later!”

“It is later!”

“Fine,” Yaz conceded, jumping off the barstool. 

“Brilliant!” Jo exclaimed, grabbing her hand to pull her onto the dance floor. Yaz cast a quick look down the bar at her colleagues, then looked back at Ryan. “At least tell them it’s not true next time, please?” 

Ryan nodded. “Of course.”

“What isn’t true?” Jo had to scream the question into her ear once they were standing on the dance floor underneath the speakers.

“Nothing!” Yaz shouted back, forcing a smile.

Jo looked worried for a moment, but then the music changed and her face lit up. “This is the perfect song for the drunk giraffe!”

At that, she threw her arms up once more and starting convulsing. Yaz found that everyone around her was just drunk enough for her to not completely feel like an idiot as she did the same, and she soon realised that the whole thing was actually great fun. As they were both laughing and shaking over the dance floor, she found that right at this moment she didn’t have a care in the world about what anyone was thinking. She was happy dancing with her new friend, and decided to concentrate on that.

She never even noticed Izzy Flint, standing pensively on the other end of the dance floor with a drink in her hand, eyes never leaving the two women.

Chapter Text

There was a faint smell of alcohol wafting through the bus the next morning and most people looked terribly hungover. One of the cellists had laid down in the aisle as soon as he had gotten on the bus and promptly fallen asleep, and it had taken three of his colleagues to wake him and move him over to an actual seat.

As always, Jo had been the last one to get on, looking a bit more unkempt than usual with her shirt half untucked and her hair in a messy short ponytail, which Yaz thought looked endearing. Jo sat down in her usual seat in the front row, and, judging by the light snoring heard a moment later, she was also out like a light.

Next to Yaz, Ryan looked surprisingly well. “The liver grows with its tasks,” he replied proudly as Yaz had made the remark upon seeing him at breakfast.

As soon as the bus was rolling, Pete got up and grabbed the microphone from the driver.

“Good morning, everyone,” he started, and a loud screeching noise reverberated over the speakers, causing everyone to shout out in protest. Pete frowned, quickly adjusting the mic and holding it farther away from his mouth as he continued speaking.

“Right. I see you all went out and enjoyed yourselves last night.” He gave them a stern look. “I hope you’ll use the day off to get your strength back for the upcoming concerts.”

He paused to look at them, visibly annoyed. “Also, I would kindly ask whomever drank that two hundred euro bottle of champagne last night and put it on my tab to come forward and pay me back.”

Laughter roared through the bus, causing the sleepers to grumble. Pete, obviously not amused, grimaced. “Please,” he hissed into the microphone, then handed it back to the driver and returned to his seat, sitting the rest of the drive out with his arms crossed as he waited for the culprit to come forward.

The drive was short and as they got off the bus a while later, Yaz closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on her face. The weather was quite nice, so she thought she’d have a walk around town. She hadn’t really gotten around to exploring in any the other cities, so she was looking forward to actually doing a bit of touristing today.

She followed her colleagues into the hotel lobby and immediately saw Jo walking up to her, blinking sluggishly.

“Hi,” the blonde said, offering a tired smile. “I thought I’d make good on my promise today and show you around a little.”

“You sure you’re up to it?” Yaz asked, bracing herself for a no.

“Yeah! Just give me a moment to take my stuff upstairs and have a coffee and I’ll be good as new.”

Yaz rose a questioning eyebrow. “Coffee? You sure that’s a good idea?”

Jo laughed. “I think right now it can’t do much damage.”

“I see that. Alright then, should we meet back here in, let’s say, half an hour?”

“Sounds perfect.”

They both went to collect their keycards and parted ways at the elevator.

Walking into the small but comfortable room, Yaz dropped her suitcase next to the bed and decided she had enough time to shower before meeting up with Jo. She always felt a bit icky after the bus rides, and it didn’t help that she could still smell the lingering whiff of alcohol on herself after their latest one.

She went to look into the bathroom and silently fist pumped as she saw the large rain shower. She quickly unpacked her toiletry bag, undressed, and headed back into the bathroom, sighing as the warm water hit her tense shoulders a moment later. It was a violinist’s eternal problem, especially on a tour like this where you couldn’t always get the ideal chairs to play in; sometimes, they just wouldn’t adjust the right way and the tension was inescapable. Yaz took her time, letting the water soothe her tired muscles.

As she finally got out, she felt refreshed and ready to explore. She wrapped herself in a fluffy white towel and decided she would just let her hair dry out naturally, so she put it up in a messy bun. As she was looking through her suitcase for what might be best to wear, she heard a knock on her door. Without thinking, she went to open it, and saw Jo standing there. Jo’s eyes went wide and, at the same moment, Yaz realised she was only clad in a towel.

Heat rose up in her cheeks, and Jo, now all of a sudden heavily concentrating on a spot on the door frame, stuttered, “I just wanted to tell you that you should probably wear sneakers or, you know, other comfortable shoes. There’s lots of cobblestones in Old Town.” Her gaze flickered over Yaz for a split-second. “Seeyoudownstairs,” she sputtered and practically ran down the corridor.

Yaz stood there for a moment, still holding the door open, before a draft hit her legs and caused her to realise that she was still, in fact, half-naked. She slammed the door shut and let her back fall against it, covering her face with her hand. “What the hell,” she muttered, wishing the floor would just open up and swallow her whole. 

It took her a full minute until she was finally able move again and actually get dressed, and, all the while, embarrassment kept flaring up inside her. Eventually, after burying her face in her hands once more when it came to picking out which shoes to wear, she was fully dressed and pulled the door to her room shut behind her as she walked out into the corridor.

Jo was sitting in a comfy looking chair in the lobby, legs crossed and chin in her palm, gazing out the window to her right with an unreadable expression. As Yaz came closer, she realised the other woman was wearing earbuds. Deciding that the best course of action would be to just ignore whatever had happened before, Yaz walked up to Jo and gave her a small wave, smiling.

“Hey!” Jo said, taking out an earbud while turning to smile at Yaz, a slight pink apparent on her cheeks. She immediately let her gaze fall again.

“Hey,” Yaz replied, determined not to let the awkwardness take over and ruin their day. “What are you listening to?”

“Oh, just some Purcell. Dido’s first aria.”

Yaz thought for a moment, then remembered the piece. “Peace and I are strangers grown, right?”

Jo looked surprised. “You know your operas! I haven’t met a lot of violinists who do.”

Dido was my first big orchestra project at uni.”

“Ah, I see,” Jo paused for a moment, then looked back out the window. “I love this piece. I’ve always thought it expressed so perfectly the pain of falling for someone you shouldn’t and not being able to tell anyone about it.”

Something impalpable passed through Yaz’s chest at Jo’s words, and she took a moment before replying. Deciding to break the tension, she gave a small laugh. “Isn’t that a little gloomy for a beautiful day like this?”

Again, Jo stayed silent at first then spoke softly, not taking her eyes off the square on the other side of the window. “I think sometimes we just need to let ourselves long a little. There’s beauty in that kind of pain, too.”

Yaz was stunned at the sudden show of emotion from the woman in front of her. Her usual goofiness was all but gone, and there was something in her eyes that made Yaz think that maybe the lightheartedness she usually showed was just a way of covering up a tremendous amount of hurt. Like a reflex, Yaz found herself stretching out her hand towards the other woman, wanting nothing more than to tuck the loose strands of hair behind Jo’s ear and let her palm rest on her warm cheek. But before her hand was even half way between them, Jo suddenly jumped out of her chair, wide smile on her face and a different woman once more.

“I have so much to show you. This is gonna be fun!”

Jo turned and started walking decisively towards the exit, leaving Yaz behind for a moment and staring at her hand like it belonged to somebody else.

“Yaz! Are you coming?”

“Yes!” she called back, letting her hand drop back down to her side.

What the hell is wrong with me? she thought as she hurried to catch up with Jo, hoping that a bit of fresh air would finally sort her out again.

Chapter Text

Yaz had been right; the fresh air was doing wonders for her. She was beginning to feel more like herself again, enjoying the bubbly company of Jo. They had walked out of the hotel through a busy square named after an old monarch, past the cathedral and a statue of the late Grand-Duchess Charlotte. 

“It’s the only Grand-Duchy in the world,” Jo had explained.

“How come?”

“Oh, it used to be a Duchy, but after a European war the country ended up being significantly smaller. The other countries thought they’d give them something else instead. So, less land, but they get to call themselves a Grand-Duchy. Poor Luxembourgers. Luxembourgesians? Luxembourgish people. See, I’m never quite sure about that one.”

They eventually ended up standing on an esplanade overlooking a green valley, eating the last bites of the sandwiches they had bought from a bakery around the corner.

“I’ve never seen this much green in the middle of a city,” Yaz said.

“They planted it when the city’s fortress was destroyed. Everywhere where they’d had fortifications before, they either designed full parks to go in their place or they just planted a lot of trees. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? A perfect exchange, in my opinion.”

“It’s beautiful.” Yaz let her eyes roam over the trees, the river that ran through them, and the old houses on cobblestoned streets in between. “Have you been here often?”

“A couple of times. I conducted my very first concert outside of the UK here, in fact.”

Yaz smiled. “Your parents must be really proud.”

A shadow passed over Jo’s face, and Yaz immediately knew she had said something wrong. Not knowing how to get herself out of this again, she decided to act like she hadn’t said anything in the first place. She was about to ask a question about a bigger building she could see in the valley when Jo suddenly spoke up.

“They’ve never really been around much. We disagreed a lot when I was growing up. Still do, in fact. They didn’t want me to become a professional musician, so they’ve never seen me perform; not on the piano or as a conductor. It’s a miracle they let me take piano lessons as a kid in the first place. I guess they thought it looked good. I had to find a way to pay for my studies myself though, as you know.”

Yaz was unsure how to react to this revelation, and ended up just putting a hand on the other woman’s arm. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, and meant it. She couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been to take a road like this in life without parents who had your back. The life of a musician was stressful enough as it was; never really knowing what came next, and to do it all on her own must have been incredibly difficult for Jo.

“It’s ok,” Jo shrugged it off. “We’re not in contact much these days anymore.”

“Still. It’s family.”

“Hm. I think we make our own families,” Jo said, still looking out over the valley, and Yaz realised that the blonde’s hand was now covering hers. It somehow made her feel safe, despite her being the one who wanted to comfort Jo.

When she turned towards Yaz, Jo was smiling again, yet it seemed more honest than before; like she was no longer trying to hide that there was another side to her, too.

“So, Yasmin Khan, why the violin?”

“Ah. I’m afraid this is going to sound cliché, but it was love at first sight - or at first hearing, rather. My dad listened to a lot of classical music when I was a kid, and he loved dancing. Believe me, you wouldn’t believe that if you met him, but it’s true. He was always humming something, tapping his feet, or dancing around the kitchen while cooking. Which he’s a lot worse at than dancing, don’t ever come over when he’s making his pakora.”

Yaz blushed when she realised the underlying assumption that they would still be in contact after all this. “Anyway, once I was sitting in the kitchen with him--I must have been around five years old--and this piece came up on the radio; Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher. And he just picked me up, put me on his feet, and danced with me all around our flat. I was so entranced by the music, it was like a spell. I asked him afterwards what instrument it had been, and he told me it was the violin.” Yaz smiled fondly at the memory. “Two weeks later, I was standing in our living room with a rented violin from my local music school practicing my heart out.”

“That’s lovely.”

Jo was smiling and Yaz realised their hands were still together on Jo’s arm. She was about to gently pull hers away, but before she could do so Jo had slipped Yaz’s hand off her arm and intertwined their fingers.

“We need hot chocolate!” Jo exclaimed and the next moment she was pulling Yaz behind her through the streets. And all Yaz could do was let the laughter fall freely from her lips, just as free as she felt holding the other woman’s hand.

 

——-

 

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Yaz asked.

Jo was already holding a chocolate spoon in her left hand, to dunk in hot milk as soon as it was served, and was now bent over the counter looking at the ridiculously large slices of cake the café offered. “Why not?” she frowned.

“Well, you do have a tendency to get a bit, how shall I say, overenthusiastic?”

Jo looked back and forth between the chocolate spoon in her hand and the frankly massive slice of Black Forest cake behind the glass. Sensing the other woman’s dilemma, Yaz quickly jumped in. “How about we share that piece of cake? I will never be able to eat one on my own and that way you don’t get hit by the full sugar bomb by yourself.”

Jo beamed. “Yasmin Khan, you are brilliant!”

A couple of minutes later, they were seated at the last free, small table upstairs, in between a family with two kids and what looked to be a young couple. By now, Jo was practically inhaling her half of the cake slice, stopping only briefly between bites to stir her chocolate spoon. Yaz could have watched her all day.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” Yaz started. “Only if it’s alright, I know it’s not the easiest subject for you, but what was it that brought you to classical music?”

Jo had just shovelled a forkful of cake into her mouth and coughed slightly as she tried to answer Yaz’s question at the same time. 

“Hey, hey!” Yaz tried to stop her. “We have time, no need to hurry.”

Jo took a sip of water, washing down the leftover cake in her mouth. “Sorry, I tend to forget about the whole “no talking while eating” thing.”

“I can see that.”

The comment earned her a playful slap on the arm from Jo, who took a sip of her hot chocolate before starting to speak again.

“I went over to a friend’s house as a kid, and they had a piano. Her parents encouraged me to try it out, and much like you with the violin, I fell in love. I begged my parents for weeks until they finally relented. There was no going back from there, I suppose, although my parents always hoped I would go into physics instead.”

“Why physics?” Yaz asked, surprised.

“Well, I suppose physics had always been my second greatest love - particularly astrophysics. Anything to do with the stars! But as much as my parents wanted me to go down that road, I realised that it would have never been enough just theorising about all those distant universes. I would have always wanted to touch them, see them, hear them. And with music, I actually can.”

Jo was gesticulating with her hands now, face lighting up, cake and hot chocolate completely forgotten.

“All those pieces, it’s like they open doors to worlds we’ve never seen before, and all of a sudden we can feel them in our bones. A whole new universe!” She smiled at Yaz. “Take Palestrina, for example. When the Catholic Church was seriously considering prohibiting polyphonic music, he told them that his dead wife had come to him as an angel in a dream and dictated his Missa Papae Marcelli to him. That whole story, and the genius of his Missa, swayed the church to let music stay polyphonic instead of changing it all back to just one single voice intoning sacred text. So we all think the same thing, right? He made the whole thing with his wife up so they would accept his music. But if you listen to the piece, if you close your eyes and let yourself be engulfed by it, can you really believe that all of that beauty, that transcendence, that incredible, haunting sound just came out of nowhere?” She leaned back, eyes gleaming. “No, I think the universe is full of music. In fact, I think all of the universes everywhere are filled with sounds and sometimes there are souls that are attuned enough to hear them.”

Yaz stared at the woman in wonder, unsure how to reply to the speech she had just been given. “Wow,” she finally breathed. “I think we’ve lost a poet in you.”

Jo laughed and swatted the suggestion away. “Nah, I’d never have the patience to sit down and write something.”

“You wrote a PhD thesis!”

“Yeah and, boy, was that a nightmare for everyone involved.”

They laughed, and soon went back to enjoying their cake and hot chocolate together. It was a wonderful afternoon and Yaz wished it would never have to end, but the watch on her wrist was telling her something else. She kept trying to ignore it.

As the young couple at the table next to them got up to leave, Jo suddenly started smiling again.

“What?” Yaz asked.

“Hm. It’s just they were quite cute. I think they said their first ‘I love yous.’ Well, the Luxembourgish equivalent anyway, they don’t have a literal ‘I love you.’”

“Wait,” Yaz stopped with her fork midway to her mouth, carefully setting it back down on her plate. “Are you telling me they can’t say ‘I love you’ in their language?”

Jo shook her head. “The verb ‘to love’ doesn’t exist in Luxembourgish.” She paused. “Do you want to know what they say instead?”

Yaz nodded, curious.

“They say ‘I am happy with you.’”

Yaz thought about it for a moment then a smile started spreading slowly over her face.

“That’s actually beautiful,” she replied and felt that now-familiar warmth rising in her chest again.

“Yeah,” Jo said, smiling back in a way Yaz had never quite seen her do before. “Yeah, it is.”

Chapter Text

Yaz’s fingers were flying up and down the fingerboard of her violin; her right hand manoeuvring the bow through the complicated ricochet passages, letting it jump over the chords in a controlled and precise fashion. Quickly, she changed the hold on her bow in a way that allowed her index finger to stretch out and, after a short glance at Jo for her cue, she started to pluck the chords in a fast pizzicato passage. 

Those were the moments she loved. Nothing in life could ever quite compare to the feeling of being a part of this cumulative passion and concentration pressing forward like an unstoppable force. Sometimes it felt like magic, the way everyone suddenly came together with the same interpretational purpose; every note, every silence timed exactly the same, as if they were all physically connected by the music that flowed through every single one of them. The moments where everybody was completely attuned to the people surrounding them, they were what Yaz had gone through years of hard work for; all those hours sitting alone in a room, practicing until her throat showed the tell-tale red marks they jokingly called “violin hickeys,” they payed off right here, right now and she loved it.

Jo was soaring to new heights tonight, as well. Standing in front of them in her raw silk suit, she was the channel through which all of their collective purpose was directed. She had led them into a daringly fast tempo for Firebird’s fifth movement this time and it had definitely been the right decision. Completely absorbed by the music around her, she alternated between big, sweeping movements for the louder passages and almost humorous smaller movements for the quieter ones, sometimes even lightly bobbing up and down on her feet. By the end of the first half, her hair looked like she had just rolled out of bed and her cheeks were tinted red from exertion. Her face, however, was covered with the biggest, happiest grin, and she couldn’t stop herself from saying a not-so-quiet “brilliant” to the instrumentalists as soon as the music had stopped.

A couple of minutes later, Yaz was sitting in her dressing room, waiting for the knock on her door she knew would come. Like with the tea breaks during their rehearsal week, they had fallen into a routine for the concerts, as well. At first, Jo had come by to ask specific questions about some musical thing or another she wanted to change in the second half and then stayed afterwards. By now, Jo would usually just come over to sit with Yaz either way, talking not only about the music but also the random little things that happened during their time on the road. Sometimes she brought pastries she had found in a local bakery and insisted on Yaz trying them, who usually ended up with very impractically sticky fingers.

Impatient, she stretched to look at the clock on the wall. Maybe she isn’t coming today, she thought. Yaz tried not to let the disappointment settle inside herself just yet; after all, even if Jo wouldn’t come, they had practically spent the entire day together, just the two of them. She probably just needed some alone time, which was perfectly understandable.

So, Yaz tried to concentrate on the sheet music in front of her, even went to pick up her violin again to play through a couple of passages. After five minutes, she gave up, and looked at the clock again. Half of the break had passed, and, by now, Jo would have come by for sure if she had wanted to. A thought suddenly crossed her mind. What if Jo was waiting for her in the break space that could be accessed through a corridor from both of their dressing rooms? She decided to at least go and have a look, and if Jo wasn’t there, then she presumably just needed to concentrate on her own stuff and be alone. 

Yaz put her violin back down in its case, carefully draping the protective cloth over it, and walked out the back door of her room.

As soon as she stepped out, she heard the unmistakable voice of Izzy Flint drifting down the corridor. Unconsciously gaining speed, she soon arrived in the room that was supposed to be just for her and Jo to a sight that made her grit her teeth. Jo was leaning against the small counter, laughing as Izzy leaned over towards her and whispered conspiratorially into her ear. Izzy’s arm had slid behind Jo’s back on the counter, making the whole scene look just so natural that it made Yaz’s stomach turn.

The two of them hadn’t seen Yaz yet, and she used that fact to just turn around and walk back into her dressing room unnoticed. As soon as she arrived there, she started pacing. She was fuming.

Why can’t she let me have one single thing for myself?

Yaz knew that a thought like that was childish at best, but still she could not keep it from running through her mind. She was well aware that Jo wasn’t a possession she could claim ownership of and the other woman was free to befriend whomever she wanted. Still, the fact that it had to be Izzy Flint, of all people, made the situation almost unbearable.

“Hey.”

Yaz whirled around and saw Jo’s head poking in through the now open door. Lost in her own thoughts, she must have missed the knock.

Jo was smiling apologetically. “I’m sorry, I got held up. And I had even gotten those delicious little Portuguese pastries just before the concert!” She held out a bag towards Yaz, who was trying not to look like a petulant child.

“It’s ok,” she managed to croak out.

“We could share them on the bus after, what do you think?”

Yaz felt her anger slowly leave her. Jo had made an effort to bring something for their meeting, so she clearly must have intended to spent the time with Yaz. She smiled. “Yeah, that would be nice.”

“Members of the SYPO, places please.”

They locked eyes for a moment and Yaz had the feeling there was something Jo still wanted to tell her. However, the blonde just pulled back the hand holding the pastries. “See you out there,” was all she said before disappearing and pulling the door closed behind her.

Yaz went to pick up her violin and scolded herself for her behaviour. She was starting to wonder what was going on with her lately; her emotions seemed to be playing tricks on her, changing wildly at a moment’s notice. She was not used to this at all, having always felt in control of herself, even throughout the whole ordeal at uni. Her poise was what made her such a good leader and to be losing it frankly felt scary to her. 

Trying to find her calm, she went to pick up her instrument and the words of her old violin teacher suddenly echoed in her mind. “You won’t find the answers to your questions written on the faces of the people around you. You will only find them in your own soul.”


Sighing, she took her bow out of the case and walked out of her room towards the stage. Looks like I am in dire need of some soul-searching, she thought as she stepped out into the lights a moment later, but the words in her head were soon drowned out by the thundering applause that greeted her.

Later, sharing pastries with Jo on the bus, she finally started to feel more like herself again. The blonde had made good on her promise and waited for her outside the dressing room, grinning and holding out the open bag of pastries towards her. Still, despite sitting next to Jo and listening to the woman ramble on about seemingly random things, she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that had settled in her stomach upon seeing Izzy with Jo. It had bothered her throughout the entire second half of the concert, making it hard to concentrate.

“Are you okay?”

Yaz suddenly realised that Jo had stopped talking and was now looking at her, frowning. “You haven’t eaten your last custard tart and you’ve gone very quiet.”

“I think I’m just tired. Sorry for being such a killjoy.”

“No, it’s fine. We should be arriving any minute now and you can go get some rest.” Looking guilty, she continued. “I’m sorry if I wore you out today with all the touristing, I should have gone easy on you. It’s just that I tend to get so excited about things and - ”

“Jo,” Yaz interrupted her. “I had a great time. Please don’t apologise.”

“Alright,” Jo replied, looking unconvinced.

The queasy feeling in her stomach didn’t stop as they got off the bus, nor once she had sat down on the bed in her hotel room after having said good night to Jo in the lobby.

I just need some sleep to sort myself out, she thought as she was climbing beneath the covers and hoped that it would be true.

Half an hour later, when she found herself on the cold bathroom floor emptying out her stomach into the toilet bowl, she wasn’t so sure that sleep was going to cut it after all.

Chapter Text

“Food poisoning,” the doctor said with a sympathetic smile on his face.

Yaz groaned. She had been throwing up in more or less regular intervals throughout the night, unable to call for help or do anything else except sit on the bathroom floor, waiting for the next wave of nausea to hit her. Sometime in the early morning hours she had fallen asleep on the cold tiles, curled up into a ball.

When she hadn’t showed up for breakfast, Jo had come to her room to check on her. Yaz had woken up from the insistent knocking at the door and immediately felt sick again, dry-heaving into the the toilet. At the sound of that, Jo had run to the reception and called for a doctor. They had let her into the room soon after and she had breathed a soft “Oh, Yaz” at the sight in front of her.

Jo had helped her get back into bed, positioning a bin from the bathroom next to her. She had brought her a toothbrush afterwards, which Yaz was incredibly thankful for. Then, with a damp cloth, Jo had helped her clean her face, causing Yaz to become so entranced by the feeling of soft fingers against her skin that it had almost made her forget how sick she felt. Afterwards, Jo had sat down next to her on the bed, holding her hand and gently stroking the back of it with her thumb.

The doctor administered an injection, promising that it would relieve her of the worst symptoms soon enough. All the while, Jo made an effort not to look at the needle that was piercing Yaz’s skin.

“Squirmish much?” Yaz managed to croak out, her throat raw and burning.

“Yup. Never been able to deal with needles and such,” Jo briefly looked at Yaz while replying then quickly turned away again and pulled a face.

“Good thing you never wanted to become a doctor.”

“Yeah.”

The doctor left with a promise from Yaz that she would drink a lot of water and try to eat something dry and simple when she felt up to it again. Jo left with him, saying she would be right back.

Yaz closed her eyes for a couple of minutes, dozing as the injection slowly worked its way through her system. When she opened them again and saw the clock on her bedside table, she realised with a jolt that she was supposed to play a concert tonight. Deciding that she would probably feel better soon enough, she pushed herself up to sit. After a brief moment of dizziness, she carefully swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slowly stood up.

It was a mistake. Immediately the room started spinning and she had to quickly drop back down onto the bed before she would land on the floor once again.

“Yaz! What are you doing?”

Jo was standing in the room again, a large bottles of water in each hand.

“I just thought I’d better start to move around again. The bus leaves in about an hour.”

“Yaz,” Jo said, walking over to put the water down on the nightstand. Something in her tone made Yaz nervous.

The blonde sat down next to her on the bed, concern still apparent in her eyes, but also something else; like she was uncomfortable with what was about to come next. “You’re not playing tonight,” Jo finally spoke.

Yaz blinked, confused. “Yes, I am.”

“You’re not,” Jo replied, her voice sterner now. “I’m sorry Yaz, but you’re not well enough to play, let alone lead.” She must have seen the hurt in Yaz’s eyes and her voice became softer again. “You need to take care of yourself, Yaz. We all want you to be healthy. Pete has already talked to hotel management and you’ll stay here for the time being and join us again when you really feel better again. Ryan has already volunteered to stay here, too, to keep an eye on you and make sure you’re okay.”

Yaz let her head sink in defeat. She knew Jo was right, of course, but her instinct was still to somehow try and be a part of the concert tonight. She felt the bed next to her shift and all of a sudden she was wrapped up in a hug. Surprised, she just sat there motionless for a few seconds, then finally lifted her arms around Jo’s waist, burying her face in blonde hair. Orange and basil, she thought as she breathed in the other woman’s shampoo then quickly pulled back, suddenly feeling somewhat awkward about the physical contact.

They sat in silence for a moment, just looking at each other. An unreadable expression drifted over Jo’s face and Yaz wondered what the other woman might be thinking. 

A soft knock on the door interrupted the moment. “Come in!” Yaz called out, her voice still rough.

Jo gave her one last look then turned to greet Pete as he walked into the room, hands in his pockets and a sympathetic look on his face. “Yaz,” he said. “How are you doing?”

“A little better, thanks. The doctor gave me an injection and it seems to be doing its job.”

“Alright, well I guess Joan already brought you up to speed. You can stay here for as long as you need to get better and Ryan will be here for you to make sure you have everything you need, alright? And I don’t want you to worry about the concerts, ok? I know this is difficult right now, and we all know how dedicated you are, but it’s all taken care of and I’m sure we’ll be in good hands with Isabelle.”

It felt like someone had poured ice into Yaz’s veins. It took her a moment to recollect herself before she felt anger surging up inside herself.

“Izzy? She’s the assistant, not the associate! This is Jeff’s moment, Pete. He’s second chair, he should be concertmaster tonight!”

Pete looked confused at Yaz’s angry tone and took his hands out of his pockets to make a calming gesture. “Woah, it’s ok, Yaz. Jeff told me himself that he didn’t feel confident enough to take over. You know he’s still having trouble with his tendons and he felt safer handing it over to the third chair.”

Yaz felt herself deflate and closed her eyes, lifting her hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I’m still not feeling great and I’m just upset that I won’t get to be with you all.”

“It’s ok, Yaz,” Pete replied. “I’m sure you’ll be better soon. Now, lie back down and get some rest, will you?”

Yaz gave a defeated nod in return and made Pete promise he’d tell everyone good luck from her and let them know she was with them in her thoughts. He assured her that of course he would and left the room shortly after.

“Give me your phone,” Jo suddenly said.

Frowning, Yaz pulled her smartphone out of the drawer of her nightstand and handed it over to Jo, who immediately started typing. “There,” she said with a smile, holding the phone out to Yaz. “Make sure to give me a quick call so I have your number, too, ok? I’ll be pestering you about your fluid intake.”

Yaz laughed for the first time that day and took the phone back. “I will,” she replied and held it close to her chest.

Again that unreadable expression crossed Jo’s face as she looked at Yaz, but before she could ask what was up, Jo was shooing her back under the covers.

The blonde stood up and smiled at Yaz once more. “You got everything you need?” she asked, looking over the room to see if there was anything that could still be done to make Yaz more comfortable.

“I’m good, thanks.”

“Alright then. I’ll see you soon, ok?”

“See ya, Jo.”

The blonde walked to the door and left the room after turning to look at Yaz one last time. Hearing the door fall shut with a soft click a moment later, Yaz closed her eyes and sighed. Realising she was still holding her phone with Jo’s number in it, she decided to quickly give her a ring before she forgot to do so later. To her surprise, Jo picked up.

“You still lying in bed, yes? Not getting up to any trouble?”

“I’m on my best behaviour, boss,” she replied with a laugh.

“Good. See you in Germany, Yaz. Take care.”

“You too.”

She hung up and put the phone back in the nightstand. Pulling up the blanket, she suddenly realised how tired she really was; she had not gotten any real rest the previous night, after all. Soon she was drifting off to sleep, and, once more, she saw the expression on Jo’s face and caught herself wondering what it all really meant.

Chapter Text

The rain was drumming against the rooftop of the bus, intensifying the headache that was starting to form just behind Jo’s eyes. Usually she would just doze off on the bus rides, seeing as she never found much sleep during the night; she had a tendency to read until late and somehow always managed to completely lose track of time.

But today, a worry kept nagging at the back of her mind and she found herself unable to relax. The image of Yaz, curled up on the floor and looking absolutely miserable, had burned itself into her brain.

Yasmin Khan. Letting out a frustrated sigh, Jo angrily rubbed at her temples, but it did nothing to soothe the ache. 

A ping sounded from the pocket of her coat on the seat next to her and she hurried to pull out her phone, smiling as she saw Yaz’s name flash up on the screen. Opening the message, she found a photo of Yaz in her hotel bed, bag of dry crackers in her lap. Yaz was showing a weak smile in the picture, flashing the camera a thumbs up. “Making progress!” The caption read.

Jo felt a familiar giddiness flare up in her chest. No, she thought firmly and pushed the feeling away, trying to chase it back to wherever it had come from. But it was like trying to stuff an oversized blanket into too small a drawer; it kept spilling out at the edges the more she tried to make it fit.

She locked her phone screen and squeezed her eyes shut. Three more weeks, she thought. Three more weeks and she would be back to her life. Three more weeks and she would be able to move on, forget.

Her only problem was that she didn’t really want the three weeks to be over. In fact, she desperately wanted them to last forever.

 

————

 

“Guys, guys! I appreciate your enthusiasm, but please. It would be a shame if nobody could hear the lovely flute solo over here, right?”

Jo was slowly growing frustrated. What was supposed to be a short acoustic rehearsal was beginning to morph into a full-blown work session, as nothing seemed to fit the right way. Like a machine being put out of order by a crack in the smallest gear, the whole orchestra dynamic had shifted with Yaz’s absence.

It didn’t help that Izzy was clearly not used to leading. She kept forgetting to give her section important cues as Jo was busy conducting a different part of the ensemble. Jo couldn’t even really blame her for it, either; she and Yaz had had the time to become a perfect team over the past two weeks and a single rehearsal would never fully be enough to make up for that. Still, something about the blonde sitting in Yaz’s chair rubbed Jo the wrong way.

At the sound of the celli to her right entering a full beat too early, she stopped the orchestra with a wave of her hand. Slowly placing her baton down onto the stand, she took a deep breath.

“Alright everyone. I know that we’ve all been thrown for a bit of a loop today. Can I ask all of you to put down your instruments for a moment and close your eyes, please.”

Her request was met with a disgruntled murmur from the musicians in front of her.

“Just do what the Doc says, guys!”

Jo looked up at the brass section and gave Graham a thankful smile as he nodded back at her.

After the nervous shuffling around her had stopped, she looked out over the orchestra to find everyone with their eyes closed and proceeded to do the same.

“Breathe,” she told them softly. “And listen.”

It was an old trick she had learned from an actor friend. He had told her once that at the beginning of a rehearsal they would sometimes stand absolutely still in a room with their eyes closed, just listening out for each other. After a while, he had explained to her, you would be able to feel the people around you, growing an awareness for their presence as well as your own. It could make all the difference in a group scene, and Jo hoped it would make a difference in this case as well.

After a couple of minutes, she could almost hear a click as something in the room shifted. She let herself enjoy the silent harmony, drawing out the moment for as long as she could, then opened her eyes and softly asked everyone to do the same.

They were blinking at her sheepishly, suddenly aware of the change in the room. Jo silently picked up her baton and this time the movement of rising instruments in front of her came in perfect and absolute unison.

 

————

 

Sighing, Jo tossed her frock coat over the chair in her dressing room and grabbed one of the water bottles from the table. She took a large gulp, then plopped down on the couch in the corner and closed her eyes. The headache from the morning had dulled down over the course of the evening, yet was still somehow persisting, making it more and more difficult to concentrate.

A sudden knock on the door caused her heart to speed up and beat hard against her chest. “Yes!” She called out, and sat up with a grin.

It dropped down into a polite smile when she saw the blonde tuft of hair peeking around the door. Of course it couldn’t have been Yaz.

“Hi,” Izzy said. “I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions?”

Jo really wasn’t in the mood for company and had kind of been looking forward to twenty minutes of peace and quiet. But knowing that Izzy was obviously having trouble leading and probably wanted to make sure she had all the necessary information for the Dvorak Symphony, Jo couldn’t exactly chase her away either. So she nodded, inviting her to sit on the chair opposite the couch.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to crinkle your wonderful coat,” Izzy said and walked straight towards the couch. “Do you mind?” she asked, looking at the space next to Jo.

I do, thank you very much.

“Go ahead,” Jo answered instead, forcing a smile.

Izzy sat down and started firing off a number of questions about timing, cues, and dynamics for the Symphony, and Jo made sure to answer them all with as much patience as she could muster;  however, she repeatedly caught her thoughts wandering off to Yaz, wondering how the woman was doing right now. She was potentially already asleep, catching up on the rest she hadn’t gotten the night before. Jo had actually wanted to try and call her during the break, or at least text to see how she was doing, but, as her eyes kept darting past Izzy’s face to the clock on the wall, she saw her time running out.

“Right,” Izzy finally said after what felt like an eternity. “I guess that was everything. Thank you so much for your help, Jo. I really appreciate it.”

Jo found herself subconsciously recoiling into the arm of the couch as Izzy put a hand on her shoulder.

“I really hope we can work together more often in the future.”

Instead of giving an answer, Jo just forced another smile and already felt relief sinking in when Izzy got up and walked towards the door. But then the woman turned around once more, frowning and chewing on her bottom lip. 

“Is there anything else?” Jo said, lifting an eyebrow.

“Well,” Izzy said, shifting her weight from one foot to another. “I just… I’m not sure I should be saying anything.”

Then don’t.

“But?”

“It’s just… about Yasmin. She has a tendency to, how shall we say,” she cocked her head, as if searching for the right words. “Latch on to important people. I thought that maybe you should know.”

And with her usual sugar-sweet smile back in place, Izzy turned and walked out the door.

What the hell was that supposed to mean? 

Shaking her head, Jo picked up her phone and, in the exact same moment, she heard the tell-tale crackle of the speakers above her head. Sighing, she threw it back onto the table and went to put on her frock coat. 

The pounding at the back of her head was increasing once again, and she tried to steel herself for the forty minute symphonic marathon that lay ahead of her. Adjusting her shirt, she pushed any thoughts of Yasmin Khan to the very back of her mind, where they, as always, stubbornly refused to stay.

Chapter Text

“There are no flights until tomorrow afternoon, which means I’ll miss that concert, too.”

“What? Come on, there has to be something!”

“There is, but not to an airport close to you guys. We would have to fly somewhere else and take a train, or spring for a ridiculously expensive flight via Frankfurt, which Pete isn’t too thrilled about. I’m sorry, I’ll have to join you guys in Leipzig.”

Jo sighed into the speaker of her phone. This meant she had to make do with Izzy for two more concerts instead of just one. She had hoped that Yaz would be able to catch a flight tonight, since food poisoning was usually a twenty-four hour thing and she was mostly back to her old self after a day of rest and a good night’s sleep.

“I’m sorry, Jo,” she heard Yaz repeat, sounding defeated.

“It’s not your fault. The most important thing is that you’re better, and there’s still a bunch of concerts ahead. Try not to worry, okay? We can manage.”

There was a moment of silence before Yaz gave a quiet “Okay” and Jo wished she could do more than just speak comforting words into her phone. She suddenly remembered the hug they had shared in Yaz’s room. It had been a slip up on her part; Jo had tried to be careful not to initiate too much physical contact between them until then. Not that it had worked, she thought, remembering how she’d held Yaz’s hand in Luxembourg, or the way she sometimes couldn’t stop herself from touching the other woman’s arm or shoulder. Still, up until yesterday morning she had managed not to get closer than that, even evading Yaz’s attempt to touch her face back in that hotel lobby. But seeing her sitting on the bed, all tired and distraught, had caused Jo’s resolve to melt away in a single instant. She could still smell Yaz’s shampoo when she closed her eyes. Coconut and a hint of lemon.

She shook her head, trying to rid herself of the memory.

“Try to enjoy your extra day off, ok?” She finally said.

“Huh, I’ll try, yeah. Maybe you can get Ryan to stop making me watch his sci-fi shows. Honestly, an alien travelling through time in a blue police box? Come on, they could make it a bit more realistic than that.”

Jo laughed and hung up with the promise to send Ryan a text demanding to let Yaz pick the next thing they watched.

 

——-

 

The next morning, Jo woke up with a giddy excitement in her chest and she had to remind herself that she would not see Yaz until after the concert tonight, or quite possibly the next morning, depending on what time she and Ryan would manage to get to the hotel. Either way, tomorrow morning they would be on their way to Berlin, where they would have two full days off before their next concert. She knew she wanted to spend that time with Yaz, yet tried to contain her excitement about it. After being ill and then a day of travelling, Yaz would likely want to get some more rest by herself.

Stretching, she turned to look over at the clock on the bedside table and jumped upright with a jolt. Breakfast was undoubtedly her favourite meal of the day and she had exactly ten minutes until they stopped serving, and then only half an hour before she had to be on the bus with her suitcase packed. She gave her room a quick once-over, wondering how she always managed to strew the entire content of her suitcase all over the room in a single day.

She rolled out of bed and grabbed an empty pastry bag from the desk on her way to the door, deciding to quickly run downstairs and fit as much as she could into it to have on the bus later. Halfway down the corridor, she realised that she was still wearing her pyjamas - the blue ones with the yellow ducks on them. She stopped for a moment, looking back and forth between her room and the staircase, then continued her way down the corridor, knowing that she would be cranky for the remainder of the day if she skipped breakfast.

Thankfully, most of the orchestra members had already gone back upstairs to their rooms. Still, a few of them remained. Deciding that it was probably best to just go with it, she put a big, careless grin on her face. “What’s up, guys?” she called out, waving, and found herself kind of enjoying the looks on their faces as their jaws nearly hit the floor.

She hurried along the buffet, ignoring the disapproving looks from the staff, and stuffed a bunch of mini croissants into the paper bag, along with some chocolate rolls. Then she jogged over to the other end of the table in order to pour herself some tea. “I’ll bring this right back,” she told the waitress standing next to her and rushed out of the breakfast room before anyone could protest her taking the mug with her.

Thirty-five minutes later, and therefore only five minutes too late, she got on the bus, greeted by an exasperated sigh from Pete. He opened his mouth to say something to her, but she just shot him a look and he thought better of it. She hadn’t eaten her breakfast yet and was not in the mood to be reprimanded. 

She settled down and opened the bag of pastries, inhaling the mini croissants in just a couple of minutes. Her first hunger satisfied, she then took her time with the chocolate rolls, savouring every bite of the sugary goodness. She was halfway through her final roll when she heard the familiar ping of an incoming message on her phone.

It was a picture from Yaz, showing her packed suitcase standing in the hotel room, plane ticket lying on top.

“Can’t wait!” Jo messaged back. “Me neither!” came the reply a second later, and she desperately tried to stop her heart from skipping a beat. She had hoped she would be able to get a grip on herself after spending a couple of days away from Yaz, but somehow it felt like the whole thing had just gotten worse instead.

She turned her head to look out the window, and watched the Old Town of Dresden passing by as they drove out of the city. We’re almost down to two weeks, she thought as the spire of the Kreuzkirche disappeared somewhere in the distance behind them, and, this time, she couldn’t stop herself from feeling the pang in her chest.

 

———

 

Walking into her dressing room after the concert, the first thing Jo did was pick up her phone and dial Yaz’s number. The other woman picked up on the second ring and, without a greeting and a grin audible in her voice, just said, “On my way, Jo.”

“Brilliant!” she replied, hanging up and hurrying to pack her things up, not bothering to change out of her concert clothes for the short drive back to the hotel. For once, she managed to be among the first out. She shuffled past Izzy, who was standing in front of the bus with a couple of other violinists, and managed to ignore the look the blonde shot her way.

Ever since she had made that cryptic comment about Yaz, Jo had become wary of Izzy Flint. She had successfully managed to avoid her after that one break, which didn’t mean that the other woman hadn’t tried to get her attention. At the concert the day before, Jo had picked up her phone straight away when the break began, not hesitating to dial Yaz’s number. When Izzy had knocked on her door, Jo had just given an apologetic smile and shrugged, gesturing with her free hand towards the phone on her ear. Today, being unable to call Yaz since she was already on the plane by that time, she had resorted to walking up a couple of floors and sitting on the lighting bridge, telling the technicians that she didn’t want to be disturbed. Hiding like that hadn’t been her proudest moment, but she had quite enjoyed the bird’s view of the stage. It had a calming effect on her, and she promised herself she would search out those places more often in the future.

As they drove up to the hotel, Jo stretched her neck to check if she could see Yaz anywhere. Walking into the hotel, they were told that she hadn’t arrived yet and, since they had the next two days off, people decided to get drinks from the hotel bar and hang around the lobby to give their concertmaster the welcome back she deserved.

A glass of red wine in hand, Jo was bobbing up and down, trying to concentrate on the discussion she was having with Graham (fried egg or cheese and pickle sandwich?), when suddenly applause erupted around her. 

Jo spun around on her heels, nearly spilling her wine all over the floor.

Inside the lobby, in front of the two huge glass doors, stood Yasmin Khan, grinning sheepishly at her colleagues and blushing from the unexpected welcome. Her hair was down - something Jo wasn’t used to seeing - and it fell in soft curls onto her shoulders. As she turned, her eyes suddenly found Jo and the shy grin was replaced by a wide smile that made her eyes twinkle. As their gazes locked, Jo saw the soft light of the setting sun hit Yaz’s back, enveloping her in a warm glow. She found that for a moment, she could no longer breathe, and like her feet did not belong to her anymore, they started walking towards the other woman of their own accord.

“Hi,” she breathed as she stopped in front of her.

“Hi,” Yaz replied softly.

They just stood there for a moment, neither woman saying another word, and just as Jo was about to break her own rules again and wrap Yaz into a hug, a bunch of instrumentalists pushed past her to welcome the concertmaster back with pats on the back and sideway hugs, telling her how happy they were that she was healthy again.

Jo took a step back and just watched it all for a moment, seeing Yaz radiating happiness at her colleagues’ affection. Slowly, Jo turned around and started walking towards the staircase, setting her half-full wineglass down on the lobby desk in passing. She didn’t catch the disappointed look from Yaz that followed her up the stairs until she was out of sight.

As she got to her room, she quietly closed the door behind her and sank down against it until she was sitting on the floor. Pulling her knees close to her chest, she buried her face in her hands, finally realising how much trouble she had gotten herself into; finally accepting that there really was no way back from this. And so she let the feelings wash over her freely for the first time since Yasmin Khan had blushed in front of her, smiling shyly as she held on to her hand in a rehearsal room in Sheffield, Yorkshire, on a Monday afternoon.

Chapter Text

Yaz woke up the next morning a lot later than she usually did, exhausted from the travelling and then staying up way too late chatting with her colleagues. The memories from last night washed over her, making her smile. She was surprised by how much her colleagues really cared about her and she felt that for the first time since becoming their leader, she had really bonded with them. Not that she hadn’t gotten along with her fellow musicians before; she had just always been the silent, concentrated type of person and was well aware that it made her seem difficult to approach. It’s why she was so excited about how easily she had hit it off with Jo.

Realising that she now had two full days of free time ahead of her without being confined to her bed, Yaz thought of Jo’s promise to show her around some more and pulled her phone out of the nightstand drawer.

She was halfway through typing out a message when she remembered the moment she had spent most of last night trying not to think about. Seeing Jo walk up to her through the lobby, Yaz had been so sure the woman would greet her with another hug. In fact, that first hug they had shared had been on her mind quite a bit during the two days they had spent apart. But then Jo had just stood there, looking at her like she had never seen her before, and before Yaz knew what was happening she had been watching the blonde walk away. At first, Yaz had hoped Jo would just be picking up something from her room and then return, but after spending the better part of an hour eyeing the staircase from her seat at the hotel bar, Yaz gave up and tried to concentrate on the conversations going on around her.

Frowning, Yaz deleted the half-finished message and threw her phone on the covers next to her. Somehow, it suddenly felt awkward to text Jo. She decided to just head downstairs for breakfast and hope that she would run into her instead. Asking Jo in person if she wanted to spend the day with her seemed safer, as it would allow Yaz to assess the situation given the other woman’s reactions. Right now, all she felt was confusion and communicating via text was probably just going to make that worse.

Surprisingly, Jo was nowhere to be seen downstairs. Yaz kept scanning the room, but there was no sign of the blonde anywhere. As she was about to head out into the lobby and check for her there, too, she saw Ryan waving her over from a table across the breakfast room.

“Morning Yaz,” he sputtered through a mouth full of food.

He was half-way through a bowl of some kind of sugary cereal that Yaz would never be able to understand the appeal of.

“Morning,” she replied, sinking down on the chair next to him. “You don’t happen to have seen -”

“The Doc?” He finished. “No, she hasn’t been down yet I think. Unless she got up super early, which you and I both know would never happen.”

Yaz looked around the room one more time, frowning as she saw no familiar faces except that of Izzy, who was wearing an unreadable expression, holding Yaz’s gaze for a brief moment before quickly looking away. Shaking her head, Yaz sighed and decided to just have her breakfast and wait. Jo would show up at some point, after all, the woman was physically unable to survive without breakfast.

A bowl of fruit salad and a cup of tea later, there was still no sign of Jo. Seeing the staff starting to clean up around her, Yaz glanced at her watch and realised they only had about five minutes left until the hotel stopped serving breakfast.

“Go upstairs and have a look.”

Ryan was nodding towards the staircase with a half-smile. “306.”

“I’ll be right back,” she replied, feeling slightly guilty. She hadn’t exactly been good company this morning.

Ryan nodded and went back to his third bowl of cereals, hurrying to finish it before the staff would want to close the room in order to prepare everything for lunch.

Yaz, in turn, stood up and made a beeline for the door. Taking the steps two at a time, she ended up being a bit out of breath when she arrived on the third floor. She took a brief moment, then checked the signs opposite the staircase and headed down the corridor on the right, counting down the numbers on the doors.

Stopping in front of room number 306. She raised her fist to knock, but dropped it again immediately after. She didn’t know why it felt so awkward all of a sudden to search the other woman out. The only thing she did know was that in that single moment last night, something had changed between them, and she could neither say what it was nor could she understand what she might have done to bring that change about.

She was just about to jump over her own shadow and knock when she heard someone walk down the corridor towards her. Smiling, she turned around, but it was Pete.

“Hello, Yaz. Are you looking for Joan?”

“Good morning. Yes, yes I am!”

He pulled his key card out of his wallet and turned to open the door to his own room next to Jo’s. “I’m afraid you’ve missed her.”

“Really?” Yaz asked, confused.

“You did. She was up very early this morning, I saw her when I left for my run. She said something about “going exploring” and was off. Sorry.” With an apologetic smile, he opened the door to his room and stepped inside. “Have a nice day, Yaz.”

“Yeah, you too,” she mumbled in response. Once the door had fallen shut, Yaz couldn’t stop the hurt from taking root in her chest and she closed her eyes. After two days apart and all the texts they had exchanged, she had been sure they would spend the time off together. But apparently she had been wrong. 

Remembering Ryan, waiting for her downstairs, Yaz straightened her shoulders and decided not to try and reach Jo over the phone, instead just enjoying her day with Ryan. She had her excitement over making a new friend take over way too much and it was time she got a grip. Heading back down into the lobby she pushed all thoughts of the blonde conductor aside, determined to discover some hidden corners of Berlin without her help. 

 

——

 

Ryan had ended up pulling her from one tourist attraction to the next and it had been wonderfully chaotic and fun. At first, thoughts of Jo had been lingering in Yaz’s mind, but soon enough Ryan had managed to chase them away with his usual humour. The beautiful sights that Berlin had to offer had done their part as well. After spending the morning on the famous Unter den Linden alley, visiting the newly renovated opera house and finally standing in front of the Brandenburger Tor, they had taken the underground out to the Hackesche Höfe, where they had had lunch in a small hipster café. Bellies full and satisfied, they had decided to just march out and go wherever their feet took them, finally stopping in the evening at a cosy looking pub.

“Yaz,” Ryan said as they sat at the bar, looking out over the crowd.

“Ryan?”

“I think we’ve managed to end up at a gay bar.”

Yaz scanned the crowd again and realised that Ryan was right. She laughed and nudged him in the shoulder. “Maybe we’ll find the man of your dreams.”

“Yeah right,” he laughed. “Or we’ll find the woman of yours.”

Yaz blushed and gently slapped Ryan’s shoulder.

“What can I get you lovely people on this fine day?”

Yaz turned around and saw the bartender leaning over the bar towards them. The woman had short, brown hair and was wearing a shirt and vest with a tie. She winked at Yaz, who blushed and  looked away, busying herself with the drink menu.

“Beer for me, thanks. Yaz, your usual?”

Yaz nodded, looking up again. “Yeah, just a coke, please.”

“Coming right up,” the bartender smiled and quickly turned to fix their drinks. Setting the bottles down in front of them a minute later, she leaned over once more.

“So, you’re not locals. What brings you here?”

“We’re on tour, actually.” Ryan replied.

“Oh, musicians. Nice. What kind of stuff do you guys play?”

Yaz looked away again. The way the brunette was casually crossing her arms on the bar irritated her.

“I’m not a musician,” she heard Ryan speak again. “But Yaz here is a violinist, actually. Aren’t you, Yaz?”

She felt his leg nudge hers under the table and jumped slightly at the unexpected contact. “Yes, yes I am. I play for a philharmonic orchestra and Ryan is our attendant. He takes care of organisational stuff.” She patted Ryan on the shoulder, who shot her a look like he wasn’t sure if she was completely alright.

“That’s really fascinating!” The bartender said, leaning farther over towards Yaz. “Some of the students from the music university come by here sometimes. Lovely bunch. Maybe you’ll get to meet them tonight. Oh, I’m Alice, by the way.”

She held out her hand and when Yaz took it, the handshake lasted just a tad too long. It made her uncomfortable.

Alice was just about to open her mouth and say something else when her eyes darted to the door and she slowly started pulling away from Yaz, who felt relief at the reestablished distance between them.

“No way!” Ryan exclaimed and Yaz’s eyes went from him to the door that he was staring at, eyes wide.

At the door stood Jo, hands in pockets and eyes glaring like she was about to throw a chair through a window. It took Yaz a moment to connect the dots and realise that Alice had withdrawn because the look had been directed at her. Something stirred inside of Yaz. Pride? She thought, confused.

In the time it took Yaz to look back and forth between the two women, the look had disappeared from Jo’s eyes, leaving no trace of it behind. Smiling shyly instead, the blonde was making her way over to the bar towards them.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Yaz heard Alice say and in the corner of her eye saw the woman walking back to the other end of the bar.

Jo stopped next to Yaz. “May I?” She asked, gesturing towards the chair.

“Sure,” Yaz said, nodding.

“What’s up, Doc,” Ryan said, getting up from his chair. “I’ll uhm… be right back.”

He headed off towards the bathroom, leaving the two women to sit alone in awkward silence.

“You left early last night,” Yaz finally said, deciding that it was probably best to get this out of the way.

“Yeah.” Jo paused and Yaz noticed that the other woman was wringing her hands in her lap. “I’m really sorry. I wanted to come back down but I was so tired I fell asleep immediately. That’s why I ended up waking up so early this morning and I decided to just head out into the city.”

“I see.”

Yaz was playing with the label of her coke bottle, not looking up. She felt Jo leaning closer to her.

“Yaz, I -”

“One TARDIS coming right up.”

Surprised at the glass of familiar bright blue liquid being put down between them with an unexpected amount of force, the two women jumped apart. 

“Thanks, Alice,” Jo muttered and the bartender walked away without another word.

“Wait, wait,” Yaz called out, finally looking up at Jo. “You’ve been here before?”

The blonde blushed slightly. “Yeah. I did my Master’s at the uni here, remember? Some of the articles mentioned it, I’m sure. I used to come here with a couple of friends pretty regularly. We stopped when Alice…” She glanced down the bar, checking if the brunette was out of earshot. “We stopped coming here when Alice broke one of my friend’s heart. It was pretty brutal. She’s not a good person, you should watch out for her.”

Yaz hadn’t been planning on running of with a random female bartender from Berlin, but Jo’s concern touched her and she felt the leftover anger from this morning slowly fade away. “TARDIS?” She asked, pointing at the drink in Jo’s hand.

“Oh yeah,” Jo grinned. “Didn’t I tell you last time? The Absolute Raddest Drink In Space. I need to find a way to make a non-alcoholic version for you that has the same effect, I really want to know what you’d think.”

Yaz smiled, then decided she would be brave enough to ask the next question. “So, you really know your way around Berlin, then.”

Jo nodded and Yaz took a deep breath.

“Would you want to show me around tomorrow? I did all the touristy stuff with Ryan but I’m sure you know some hidden corners.”

Jo’s face immediately fell. “I’m sorry, Yaz, I can’t.”

Trying to hide her disappointment, Yaz waved off the excuse and smiled. “That’s fine, I’m sure I can find some nice places on my own. I get that you want some peace in between all the concerts.”

“No, no, that’s not it!” Jo called out, putting a hand on Yaz’s shoulder. “I would love to. It’s just, I have an interview scheduled in the morning for a local radio station and then I’m supposed to have lunch with my German agent after. Knowing him, that will probably take over most of the afternoon, as well.”

The fact that Jo would be spending the day with her if she could made Yaz feel better. Still, a hint of disappointment remained.

Jo must have seen it in her eyes, because she suddenly turned fully towards her, almost falling off the bar stool in the process.

“Do you want to come to the reception with me?” She blurted out while still trying to regain her balance on the chair.

Yaz, who had instinctively reached out for the other woman and was helping her stay seated by holding on to her shoulders, frowned in confusion. “Reception?”

“Didn’t I mention? I got invited to a reception at the British embassy tomorrow evening. It said on my invite that I can bring someone. Would you want to be my plus one?”

Yaz let the words rest in her thoughts for a moment. Plus one. Feeling a grin spread over her whole face, she nodded. “Yes. Absolutely. I would love to!”

“Fantastic,” Jo replied, her face lighting up.

“What did I miss?”

Yaz let go of Jo’s shoulders at the sound of Ryan’s voice. He had come back to join them and  picked up his beer from the bar.

“Yaz and I are going somewhere fancy,” Jo replied, still grinning, and lifted her glass to toast the both of them.

Yaz couldn’t stop smiling for the entire rest of the evening.

Chapter Text

Yaz spent the next morning on her own, wandering the halls of the Pergamon Museum. The awe-inspiring sights inside had finally managed to pull her thoughts away from the evening’s event. She stood on the seemingly endless, pristine white steps of the rebuilt altar front and found that it took her breath away. To her left and right, magnificent friezes showed ancient Greek Gods fighting monsters and taming wild animals. It took Yaz a moment before she was able to finally pull her eyes away from the history surrounding her and continue her way through the rest of the museum. She took her time looking at everything, especially when she got to the part of the museum dedicated to Islamic Art. Once again, she found herself in awe as she took in the sight of the Mshatta Facade, a restored part of an ancient Jordanian palace. 

When she finally stepped outside the museum into the sunlight, the grumbling in her stomach made her realise that it was well past lunchtime. She wondered if Jo was still stuck with her agent and felt her nerves flutter as the thought of tonight’s reception crossed her mind again. Deciding that she should better find something to eat, she set out to find her way back into the city centre.

 

 

 

Jo had started to nervously tap her fingers against the table about twenty minutes ago. As predicted, her agent had prolonged lunch into coffee and cake, and while she usually didn’t mind a good dessert, she really wanted to get back to the hotel in order to get ready for the reception. She hadn’t even decided on what to wear yet.

“Jo. Joan! Are you listening to me?”

Snapping out of her reverie, Jo almost managed to knock over her tea cup and only narrowly escaped making a fool out of herself in this very expensive restaurant she had been taken to.

“I’m sorry, Benjamin. So, you were talking about conducting my first opera, yes?”

The older man opposite her looked irritated, but continued after another sip of his coffee.

“Yes. Hamburg wants you, actually. They were thinking The Mikado.”

Jo grimaced. “Are you serious? Gilbert and Sullivan? You want me to start my opera conducting career with the musical equivalent of a cheap novelette?”

Benjamin carefully set down his mug, frowning. “You were always so adamant about not being a classical music snob, “like the others”, as you put it yourself.”

“Benjamin, you know I’m not a snob, but come on, even I got my limits! I can’t make a name for myself in opera if this is what I start out with.”

“Fine, fine!” Benjamin called out, throwing up his hands in defeat. “I’ll look around for something else.”

“Thank you.”

Glancing at her watch, Jo realised she had originally planned to be heading back to the hotel at the latest half an hour ago.

“Ben, I’m sorry but I really need to be heading out now.”

“I get it, you’re busy as always. Well, that’s good for me I guess.”

Jo smiled and patted him on the shoulder as she headed towards the door.

“You take care!” Benjamin called after her.

“You, too!” She replied as she put her coat back on. “And thank you for looking at other options!”

He waved her off, shaking his head and returning to the rest of his chocolate cake.

 

 

 

Standing in front of the mirror, Yaz was holding yet another dress in front of herself. Sighing, she threw it over onto the bed on top of the others. She felt at a complete loss. Jo had let her know that the event was black tie, but Yaz had no idea what that entailed dress wise. She felt insecure about just wearing one of her concert outfits. They were all very nice, for sure, but were they fancy enough for a reception at an embassy? Yaz suddenly felt nostalgic about the blind auditions her orchestra had held; she hadn’t even really needed to dress up for those.

Her eyes fell on the last item of clothing still hanging in her closet. Feeling unsure, she reached out to feel the fabric between her fingertips. She had wanted to keep that one for their final concert, finishing the tour with a bang. Thinking about it now, she thought that it would probably be a bit too risqué for the stage anyway. The question was, would it also be for an official reception?

Letting the fabric slip through her fingers, she decided to just go for it. Feeling a bit of alarm as she registered the time, she quickly headed into the bathroom for a shower, hoping the warm water would do its thing and finally calm her down.

 

 

 

Jo was nervously adjusting her bow tie for what felt like the tenth time that evening and looked herself over one last time in the mirror. Patting her hair with her hand, she tried to flatten the stubborn mess on her head and finally decided to just give up, sighing in defeat. At least her ear cuff looked good.

She realised with a jolt that she was supposed to have met Yaz downstairs in the lobby five minutes ago and quickly walked towards the door, patting her pockets to check if she got her phone and wallet safely inside them.

As she jogged down the stairs, she kept nervously alternating between running a hand through her hair and checking the knot on her bow tie. Distracted like that, she was not at all mentally prepared for the view of Yasmin Khan standing in the lobby, looking radiant in a revealing black dress, and she almost slipped on the polished floor as she came to an abrupt halt.

Yaz’s concert outfits had always been quite conservative, which meant that Jo had not at all been expecting what she was seeing right now. It didn’t help that Yaz was turned away from her, showing off what was undoubtedly the main selling point of the dress: Two thin straps crossing over an otherwise open, very low cut back. Jo swallowed as she saw the other woman’s exposed muscles and drew in a deep breath after she realised her lungs had completely run out of air.

The sound prompted Yaz to look over her shoulder and a single lock of her hair, which was otherwise put up in a simple yet still elegant bun, fell over her temple. She smiled upon noticing Jo, who found herself struggling to breathe once more.

What in all of time and space have I gotten myself into?

Yaz walked towards her, closing the distance between them in a couple of steps. She glanced over Jo’s tuxedo and said nothing, just stood there with her eyes wide, searching Jo’s face. That’s when Jo realised she had been staring with her mouth wide open.

Heat burning on her cheeks, she quickly took a step back and stretched out her arms. “Look at you! You look…”

Gorgeous. Amazing. Like the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.

“Great!”

She finished, winning the battle against her instincts even though her brain had seemingly been reduced to a pile of unusable mush upon seeing Yaz.

“Thank you,” Yaz replied, smiling shyly. “You look… fantastic.”

“Shall we?” Jo asked, holding out her arm for Yaz, who linked her own through and nodded.

 

 

 

The car ride was torture. Why, Yaz wasn’t sure. But it felt like she was sitting on hot needles the whole time. She had seen Jo in a number of different suits during their concerts, but that tux was quite something else. It was a lot more form fitting than what the blonde usually wore, after all, she needed her freedom of movement while conducting. The tux jacket, however, was hugging her in all the right places and the bow tie was just the icing on the cake, making the outfit complete and absolutely perfect. 

They ended up barely talking, both looking out the car windows, with Yaz occasionally stealing a glance at Jo out of the corner of her eye.

When they finally made it to the reception, it turned out to be not half as bad as Yaz had expected it to be. In fact, the ambassador and his husband were a lovely couple, who made sure that Jo and Yaz felt welcome, taking the time to chat with them in the foyer for quite a while.

Eventually, the couple sent the two women off into the next room, each with a drink in their hand. The noise of chatter was a lot louder in there, only slightly subdued by a small chamber orchestra playing on a platform in the corner. Yaz tensed up as she realised how crowded it was, but then felt Jo’s hand around her own.

“I got you,” the other woman whispered and Yaz instantly felt her nerves settle a little.

 

 

 

Jo was in awe of how Yaz was handling the whole situation. She knew the other woman had never been to an event as official as this, but no one would have been able to tell. After some of the original tension had left her, Yaz switched in and out of conversations about different topics with ease and soon enough everyone wanted to know who the wonderful woman by Jo’s side was. Watching Yaz laugh and make conversation, Jo felt her heart warm. It came with a pang of sadness, but she no longer tried to fight any of it off. She had somehow come to accept her fate after that evening, realising there was nothing she could do about it either way, except sit it out until the tour was over.

“Joan Smith!” A voice boomed through the room and Jo cringed, earning her a confused look from Yaz.

Forcing a smile, Jo turned them both around and started to urgently whisper while an older man was making his way towards them through the crowd.

“Yaz, I need you to point out someone very important we need to see on the other side of this room in about five minutes. Can you do that, please?”

Yaz nodded, following the man with curious eyes.

“Joan Smith, I thought it was you!”

“Professor Jackson, how nice to see you.”

Jo shook his clammy hand and tried to keep her face neutral. Jackson had been her music history teacher during her time in Berlin and was known for taking particular interest in his younger, female students. Jo herself had not always managed to escape his inappropriate comments.

“Well, aren’t you ladies looking splendid. Any special gentleman accompanying you tonight?”

Jo felt herself freeze under his leering look, but suddenly realised a movement around her waist. Yaz was casually slinging an arm around her, almost in a protective manner.

“Oh!” Yaz exclaimed, pointing to the other end of the room. “Look who it is over there! We should definitely go say hello, shouldn’t we, sweetheart?”

Jo’s eyes went wide and it took her a moment to react, but she managed to regain her composure, turning to smile apologetically at her old Professor.

“So sorry. Gotta dash. I’ll see you around!”

And with that they whirled around and fled.

 

 

 

Yaz was laughing so hard she was almost out of breath, leaning against the pillar they were now both hiding behind.

“Yaz,” Jo started. “Those were not five minutes.”

“Well, you didn’t tell me he was a sexist jerk!”

Jo smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Language.”

“Hey!” Yaz gently nudged her in the side “I saved you!” They broke out into a fresh bout of laughter at that, only stopping when they realised that the orchestra was now playing a very familiar tune.

They looked at each other, grinning. “Shostakovich,” they said simultaneously.

Stepping out from behind the pillar, Yaz crossed her arms in front of her chest and watched the small orchestra that was now directly in front of her. “Let’s see who plays it better.”

“I have a better idea.”

Taking Yaz completely by surprise, Jo spun around with a flourish, suddenly standing in front of her in a sort of half-bow, hand outstretched.

“Yasmin Khan, may I have this dance?”

Yaz felt heat rise to her cheeks as Jo lifted her eyes and smiled at her. “Jo, there’s no dance floor,” she mumbled, looking around. “I don’t think -”

But before she could finish, Jo had gotten a hold of her hand and pulled her close. She winked, her eyes twinkling. “There is now.”

And before she knew it, Jo was spinning her around, the crowd making space for them. Yaz felt awkward at first with all those eyes on her, but then Jo put a finger under her jaw, lifting her head. She felt her skin prickle under the unexpected touch.

“Just look at me. Relax! We’re just having fun.”

So Yaz looked into Jo’s eyes and realised for the first time that their colour wasn’t hazel as she had always thought. Instead, they were the most beautiful mix of green and gold Yaz had ever seen and depending on how the light of the chandelier was hitting them, they even seemed to change colour. She was acutely aware of Jo’s hand on her back, while the other one was gently holding her own, and felt warmth blossoming wherever the other woman touched her.

Yaz realised that she had never felt so safe in her life as she did right that moment. The other woman somehow managed to make her forget all the worries that were usually crowding her thoughts. Instead, she was able to just let go, laugh, and feel absolutely free.

As more and more people slowly started dancing around them, Yaz had the sudden urge to rest her cheek against Jo’s and was surprised at herself when she realised she was actually leaning in. She could hear the other woman’s breath hitch as their cheeks touched and closed her eyes at the soft feeling of Jo’s skin against her own. She could have stayed like this forever, her heart swelling with a deep joy, the two of them swaying gently to the music that surrounded them, until a single thought remained, glowing inside her like an unwavering truth.

 

I am happy with you.

 

The thought hit her like a lightning bolt and her mind was assaulted by a stream of memories washing over her. Jo leaning against the coffee table, laughing. Jo taking her hand, pulling her through the streets. Jo folding her arms around her, pulling her in for a hug and the smell of her hair hitting Yaz’s nose. The warmth inside Yaz’s own chest whenever Jo touched her. The smile she could never stop from spreading over her face whenever the tuft of blonde hair appeared somewhere in the crowd.

 

I am happy with you.

 

It couldn’t be. Out of a sudden reflex that took her by surprise, Yaz pulled herself free from Jo’s embrace, pushing the other woman away. They stumbled apart and Yaz looked up into Jo’s eyes, widened and confused, as the other woman tried to regain her balance.

All of a sudden, looking at Jo hurt. It hurt unlike anything Yaz had ever felt before in her life, and after just standing still and staring at her for a moment, the only thing Yaz felt she could do was turn around and run, run as fast as she could, ignoring the other woman calling out her name behind her.

She pushed past irritated guests and ran outside the building, down the street, hurrying towards a taxi stand like it was her only lifeline on a sinking boat.

 

I am happy with you.

 

The thought kept hammering into her mind relentlessly during the whole ride, torturing her with its undeniable truth. All the while, images of Jo’s smile, Jo’s hands, Jo’s hair kept flying through Yaz’s mind, each one of them burning into her chest and making it hard to breathe. As soon as she arrived back at the hotel, she stumbled out of the car, clumsily handing the driver a couple of bills. Her feet were suddenly aching, so she just took her shoes off, not caring what anyone would think. She just needed to keep going, holding the shoes in one hand, using the other to run it over and over again through her now dishevelled hair.

 

I am happy with you.

 

She screwed her eyes shut during the last couple of steps, as if blinding herself would make the feeling go away. When she made it to her door, she heard a movement down the corridor. She froze, then turned towards it, thinking for a moment that Jo might have miraculously been able to follow her wild flight. 

But standing at the end of the hallway was none other than Izzy Flint, looking Yaz up and down with a smirk on her face. She walked up to her, and in passing, just before she disappeared into her own room two doors down, leaned in to whisper into Yaz’s ear.

“Sleeping our way up again, I see.”

And with that she was gone, like a ghost from Yaz’s past that was still haunting her, still torturing her with the same old stories. For the second time that evening, Yaz felt like someone had punched her in the gut. She barely managed to open the door, fumbling with her key card for what felt like an eternity.

Walking into her room, Yaz dropped her shoes onto the floor and turned around, the built-up emotion inside of her finally breaking free, leading her to bang both fists against the door. A sob escaped her as she just let her forehead sink against the closed fists, letting the tears she had been holding back since running out of the embassy fall free.

 

 

 

Jo didn’t know what was happening. She was terrified. Terrified that Yaz had realised, had heard her breath hitch, terrified that she had finally understood what it was that Jo was feeling for her, and now she was gone, running scared.

Still, Jo hadn’t been able to keep herself from running out after her, afraid the other woman might get herself in trouble walking around Berlin on her own in the middle of the night. She had seen her get into a taxi down the street, and hurried to jump into the next free one. They had lost track of Yaz’s taxi at some point, so Jo had just told the driver the address of their hotel, hoping the other woman had gone back there. 

She sprinted through the lobby, barely stopping at the desk to confirm that Yaz had indeed come back. Taking two steps at a time, she arrived at the top of the staircase just as she heard a bang coming from somewhere down the hall. She slowed down, walking over to Yaz’s door. Lifting her hand, she wanted to knock, wanted to make sure the other woman was alright, but found that she couldn’t. If her fear turned out to be true, if Yaz had figured it out and was in some kind of shock, it would probably be better to give the woman some space. So instead of knocking, she just let her palm rest softly on the door, leaning her forehead against it.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered and just kept standing there, losing track of time as she combed through her memories of the night, desperately trying to figure out where it was that it had all gone wrong.

Chapter Text

The blonde’s hands were everywhere, trailing over Yaz’s body and leaving searing hot skin in their wake. Yaz arched her back off the mattress and grabbed the other woman’s hair, moaning as the kisses slowly descended towards where she most wanted those lips to be.

“Jo,” she breathed, holding on to the covers with her free hand. “Please.”

 

Yaz jolted upright in her bed, sweat covering her entire body. It took her a moment to take in her surroundings, freeing herself from the grip of sleep. She buried her face in her hands and felt the heat rise to her cheeks.

“Not again,” she mumbled, rubbing at her face as if that could erase the lingering images in her mind. As a flash of naked skin appeared in front of her inner eye, she threw the covers to the side, groaning in frustration. She hurried into the bathroom, switching on the warm water and stepping into the shower.

The first dream had happened the same night she had realised what her feelings meant. After that one, two more had sneaked up on her, today marking the third time in the week since the reception that she had woken up feeling ashamed and guilty for imagining her friend like that.

She had spent most of the week trying to avoid Jo at all costs. When it wasn’t her dreams waking her up early, she couldn’t sleep at all, and so she had gotten into the habit of leaving the hotel early, oftentimes skipping breakfast. She would just head out into the city, letting the beauty of history distract her from the raging war in her head.

It didn’t help that she knew she was being unfair to Jo. Whenever they had inevitably run into each other, be it at the concert halls or in the hotels, Yaz had made up excuses and disappeared as quickly as she could. The look of utter confusion and hurt in Jo’s eyes wasn’t exactly making things easier, either. But at the end of the day, being in Jo’s presence hurt more than hurting Jo did, which was a cruel thought but nonetheless true.

She wondered sometimes what the other woman was thinking about her abrupt change. All Yaz had said, in the longest conversation she had been able to muster, was that she had suddenly felt sick and therefore needed to get out. She knew Jo didn’t believe her story, but there was nothing she could do about it. 

Stepping out of the shower, she wrapped herself up in a towel and just sat on the closed toilet seat, unsure of what to do next. She suddenly saw Izzy’s malignant smile again as she passed her in the corridor, and shook her head. The fact that the woman who had been the nightmare of her adolescence had at least been partially right about her all those years ago did nothing to soothe the whirling storm of confusion and pain inside Yaz’s mind.

As the water dripping down from her skin started to form a small puddle at her feet, she decided to get dressed and just head out to the concert venue already. They were playing a matinée today and she would find a practice room and kill the time until the acoustic rehearsal there. She hadn’t properly worked on her concert repertoire for far too long anyway. Her limbs feeling heavy and tired, she finally managed to get up and get herself ready for the day.

 

————

 

It wasn’t going great. At some point, Yaz had given up muddling her way through Bach’s partitas and sonatas and had ended up just sitting in front of her violin in its case, staring at the instrument like that was going to magically make her able to play like she usually did. It was like a wall now existed between her and the instrument, and when she tried to push against it, trying to express something through the music, it just wouldn’t budge. The violin had always been an outlet for her emotions, but this time it felt like even her own instrument had turned against her.

Her gaze settled on the photographs she had tucked into her case behind her bows. Every instrumentalist had them: the pictures of moments with colleagues, old friends, and families. If you opened a musician’s case and looked at the photos, you would see the basic structures of their lives, the things and people that made them who they were. Yaz’s case had three pictures in it: One of her and the guys that she had formed her very first string quartet with, one of her Nani from her 65th birthday, and one with her parents and sister taken after her final exam at uni.

Her eyes lingered on the face of her mother in the last picture and without letting herself think about it any further, she just pulled out her phone and dialled her mum’s mobile.

It barely took two rings before the other woman to picked up.

“Yasmin! How are you doing? We haven’t heard from you all week.”

Yaz sighed. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I was just busy with the tour.”

“Well just write me a text next time, alright? I was worried you’d gotten ill again.”

“I’m fine, ma.”

“You sound tired, Yasmin.”

Of course. Her mum had the for mothers typical sixth sense for the well being of her children, and Yaz should have known that she would not be able to hide from her. She took her time before she answered though, not quite ready yet to really talk about what was going on inside of her.

“There’s a lot on my mind.”

“Wha -”

“But I can’t talk about it, not yet. I’m sorry, ma. I will tell you, eventually. But I need some time.”

There was a beat of silence on the other end of the line before her mother spoke again, much softer this time.

“Alright, Yasmin. Just please know that you can talk to me about anything, alright? I love you, no matter what.”

There was something about the way she said it that made Yaz feel like maybe, just maybe, everything was somehow going to turn out alright after all.

 

————

 

It was during their handshake on stage that Yaz made the decision to break the silence and go talk to Jo during intermission. Maybe if she just walked into her dressing room like nothing had happened, she could just go back to laughing with her friend. She realised, as the contact of their hands lingered, how much she actually missed talking to the other woman. Jo had become more and more stiff and awkward during those brief moments they shared on stage, and Yaz found that despite her earlier resolve, she could no longer bear the hurt she was obviously causing her friend.

Once they had finished the first half, Yaz briefly popped into her own dressing room to put down her violin and bow, then took all her courage together and walked over to Jo’s door. She paused for a moment as she heard the laughter inside.

She wasn’t prepared for the sight in front of her as she quietly opened the door.

Jo and Izzy were sitting together on the couch, with the latter having a hand casually draped on Jo’s forearm, leaning in towards her. They were so close to each other that it made Yaz feel nauseous. Then, suddenly, Jo must have noticed the open door and she looked up, her face falling upon seeing Yaz standing there.

For the second time in a week, all Yaz could do was turn around and walk away, letting the door fall shut behind her. Rushing down the corridor back to her own dressing room, feeling like an absolute fool, all she could see was red.

 

———-

 

Yaz had never felt the urge to drink, yet right now she wanted nothing more than a glass of burning strong alcohol in her hand. Determined not to cave and call the bartender over, she clung to her glass of coke instead, sitting all alone at the hotel bar.

She should have seen it coming, really. It had announced itself weeks ago, when she saw them so casually talking in the break room, and had probably really started during the days that Yaz had been out sick. That thought alone made her stomach turn.

It was the irony of life that just a day ago, Yaz had been hellbent on avoiding Jo, even going as far as knowingly hurting the other woman with her distant behaviour. And now, now that she knew the other woman probably with someone else, she heard the steady cracks of her heart breaking bit by bit.

As she realised how hard she had been holding on to her glass she slowly let go, stretching out her fingers and watching her knuckles regain colour once more.

It was ridiculous, really. One week ago, Yaz hadn’t even understood what it was that she was feeling. But now that she was aware, she realised there was no going back from it. Her feelings where there to stay, and there was nothing she could do about it, no matter how hard she tried.

“Yaz, are you ok?”

She turned around to find Ryan standing behind her, a worried look on his face.

“Yeah yeah, sure, why you asking?”

He sat down next to her and signalled the bartender for a beer.

“It’s just, you don’t look so good?”

“Gee, thanks, mate.”

“No. I mean, you look like you haven’t been sleeping. And today after the concert you were all broody and silent, didn’t even come to sit with me. Did I do something wrong?”

Sighing, Yaz dropped her head. Now she had managed to make Ryan feel bad, too.

“No, Ryan, you haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve just… there’s something on my mind and I can’t really… Never mind.”

She shook her head, feeling tired and defeated.

“Is this about you and Jo?”

Yaz’s head shot up, alarmed. “What about me and her?”

Ryan sighed and took a swig of his beer before continuing. “Well, I know you guys were becoming really good friends, and all of a sudden you act like you don’t even know her. At first I didn’t think much of it, but then you started looking so exhausted all the time.”

He glanced at her, frowning.

“She’s been asking about you, you know. Saying she’s sorry and she doesn’t know how to make things right again.”

Yaz pulled back, Ryan’s statement taking her completely by surprise. What on earth does she have to be sorry for? I was the one who

“Has she said anything else?” She finally asked.

Ryan shook his head.

“Yaz, I think you should just go and talk to hear. Whatever she has done, she’s clearly very sorry about it. She cares a great deal about you, I can see it. Just try and take the first step, will you?”

Yaz felt herself nodding, still confused. “I will.”

“Good. Now,” he said, putting his beer down on the bar and turning towards her. “What do you think about me and Eve?”

“The trumpet player?” Yaz laughed. “No way, man. No way.”

“Oh come on, I think I’ve got a shot there!”

Yaz, shaking her head, continued to laugh and slowly felt her spirits lift again. Maybe she had misinterpreted the situation; after all, it wasn’t like she had caught the two women in a kiss. Maybe all she needed to do was talk to Jo, and it would work itself out in the end. Even if they would just be friends again, Yaz realised that what she wanted more than anything else was to simply have the other woman back in her life, no matter how.

Chapter Text

It happened two days later during their last concert in Italy. Yaz hadn’t found the right moment to talk to Jo; or rather, she had neither found the courage nor the right words. After all, what was she supposed to do? Just walk up to the other woman and declare her feelings? She couldn’t do that; she was still too confused about them herself. It didn’t exactly help that she kept seeing Jo and Izzy everywhere, now that she was looking for it. The two women were constantly talking to each other and whenever Izzy noticed Yaz looking, she would hold her gaze, almost like a challenge. It drove Yaz up the wall, making it hard to concentrate on anything. 

And then, that evening, Jo had walked out of her dressing room in an outfit Yaz had never seen on her before. She was wearing tight, high-waisted, black trousers, and a silky black blouse with the transition between the two being made by a shiny cummerbund. Yaz had become used to the suits and frock coats and tuxes, but this was somehow a lot more feminine than what Jo usually wore.

It had been downhill from there. Yaz had barely managed to find her way through Firebird, her sleep-deprived mind suddenly confused by the familiar changes in rhythm and bow techniques. The Faune had been relatively safe and for a moment she thought she had finally regained her wits, but then it came to Shostakovich’s Ballet Suite and all hell broke loose. 

Yaz had made it through the first two movements without messing anything up, giving cues to her section when needed. But then, as the first notes of the Romance rang out, she made the mistake of looking up at Jo.

Suddenly, she was overwhelmed by memories of their dance together. For a moment, it was almost as if she could feel the other woman’s cheek against her own once more and for the briefest of moments, Yaz closed her eyes, relishing in the warmth blossoming in her chest.

She realised a beat too late that she hadn’t given the next cue. Panic rose inside her at the unmistakable sound of individual parts no longer fitting together. Struggling to find her way back into the sheet music in front of her, she looked up at Jo, silently begging for help.

Jo’s eyes had gone wide, but she somehow managed to remain calm, conducting the rest of the orchestra as if nothing was happening. With a short glance into her partitura, she leaned over and whispered urgently, loud enough for all the first violins to hear. “42!”

Yaz’s eyes flew over the score and found the right bar just in time, lifting the neck of her violin to show her colleagues when to come in.

It worked. It felt almost like a miracle to Yaz that they had managed to find their way without having to stop and start the movement anew - a scenario that would have been an embarrassing disaster. 

Thankfully, they played the rest of the Shostakovich without any further incidents. Still, the applause was a little bit subdued at the end of the first half and Yaz knew that it was her own fault. 

She didn’t expect however, as she walked off the stage, to see Jo standing directly next to the door, arms crossed and looking furious.

“My dressing room. Now,” she hissed through clenched teeth and spun around on her heels, marching down the corridor.

Yaz tried to ignore the looks of her colleagues and followed after Jo, looking as dignified as she could while all the blood in her veins had completely frozen over. She didn’t know what she had expected; she knew she had really messed up, but she had not been prepared for Jo to be fuming like this.

The door to the dressing room was slightly ajar and Yaz opened it apprehensively. Jo was standing with her back to her, arms crossed, and spun around as soon as the door had fallen shut.

“What the hell was that?”

Yaz almost took a step back as she saw the other woman’s face. She had never witnessed Jo this angry, and she had certainly never heard her raise her voice.

“I… I’m sorry,” Yaz stuttered, unable to form a coherent sentence, faced with the other woman’s rage.

“Sorry?” Jo pressed out, taking a step towards her. “Sorry doesn’t cut it, Yaz. The whole concert could have gone to the dogs because of you! I don’t care what is going on between us personally, but you cannot, under any circumstances, let it affect our concerts! You are responsible for every single musician out on that stage and you owe it to them to do your best. And if you can’t do that, then you need to step aside.”

All the colour had drained from Yaz’s face during the other woman’s speech, but as soon as Jo had spoken the last sentence, Yaz felt her own anger bubble up inside. Step aside. Of course.

“I am not going to step aside because I made one single mistake, Joan.”

Jo froze. It was the first time Yaz had ever used the conductor’s full name and she knew it must have hurt, but in her anger she couldn’t care anymore.

“I am not going to just hand over my position, if that is what you were gunning for. I have done an excellent job all throughout this tour and you know I will continue to do so! Besides, you are not the boss of me. Pete is.”

“Believe me I won’t hesitate to talk to him, and he won’t hesitate to do what I say.”

“Oh so now we’re threatening, huh? This is all your fault to begin with, anyway!”

“How on earth is it my fault when you mess up?”

Yaz looked at her, disbelief written all over her face.

“You,” she seethed, clenching her fists. “You just come into my life with all of your charm and take over! Making me feel important and special when you really don’t care about anything. Did you just want some entertainment for the tour? Some poor girl from Sheffield to keep the star company while she takes the next steps towards an even bigger career? And then when you get bored of her you just move on to the next one in line.”

Yaz had come closer and closer while speaking, backing the other woman into a corner, her voice rising with each sentence. She could hear Jo’s breathing become more and more shallow as the distance between them shrunk.

“Yaz, I don’t understand what you’re -”

“Oh, to hell with it.”

Yaz did the only thing she could think of. Her hands reached out, grabbing Jo’s blouse as she pushed her back into the wall and crushed their lips together.

For a moment, Jo didn’t react and Yaz thought she had just made the worst mistake of her life. But then the other woman started kissing her back and Yaz’s world exploded around her.

Jo slipped an arm around her waist, pulling their bodies flush against each other as her lips hungrily searched out Yaz’s. Her other hand found its way into Yaz’s hair, getting tangled up in the thick curls. Before Yaz knew what was happening, Jo had spun her around and she couldn’t help the soft moan that escaped her as her own back hit the wall.

It was over as quickly as it had started, with Jo stumbling backward, clasping her hand over her mouth and looking shocked. Yaz felt dizzy as she tried to take in her surroundings, but as soon as she saw Jo’s face, she felt her heart sink.

“Jo,” she started weakly.

The other woman slowly dropped her hand. “I’m sorry, Yaz. I am so sorry, but I can’t… I can’t do this to you.”

“What do you mean?” Yaz’s heart beat hard in her chest as she waited for the blonde to answer.

Jo was wringing her hands and shaking her head, eyes trained on the floor.

“The implications… Yaz, if people were to even think there was something… I can’t do that. I can’t be the reason your career… I’m so sorry.”

And with that, Jo turned and stormed out of the room, leaving Yaz behind, still standing with her back against the wall, lips still tingling. She was well aware of the irony of the situation, as this time it was her who had been left behind, confused and alone, not knowing what to do next.

She was still in a haze as she left the dressing room and, by some miracle, succeeded in not making any more mistakes in the Symphony. Jo pointedly avoided making eye contact throughout the whole second half, but their handshake at the end of the concert still managed to set Yaz’s skin on fire.

As they walked out towards the bus, Yaz tried to catch up with Jo, but by the time she got on the woman was already sitting in her usual seat, eyes closed and jacket draped over herself like a blanket. And as they drove up to the hotel, Yaz saw Jo jump up, being the first person to make it into the lobby before she immediately disappeared up the stairs.

All Yaz could do was find her way to her own room, all the while her heart jumping back and forth between pure elation at the memory of their first kiss and shattering pain at the realisation that it might very well have been their last.

She fell asleep that night with her fingers on her lips, trying to ignore the aftermath of the kiss; instead enveloping herself in the fantasy that it had all meant what she wanted it to.

Chapter Text

By some miracle, Jo had finally managed to shake off Izzy Flint. The woman was persistent, that much could be said for her, and attentive as well. As soon as she had noticed that there was something off between Jo and Yaz, she had started to worm her way back into Jo’s everyday life. There she was at breakfast, casually sitting down next to her without really asking; in the evening finding her at the hotel bar; and finally during their concerts, inviting herself into Jo’s dressing room whenever she could.

The last one had proven to be particularly annoying. Not only did she take away the quiet moments in between that Jo enjoyed so much, but she had also chosen to invade her personal space at the worst possible moment. Jo grimaced as she remembered Yaz’s face upon seeing them together.

Jo was sitting on the rooftop terrace of their Salzburg hotel, overlooking the city and enjoying the clear view of its surrounding mountains. It was a Tuesday night and it had been raining during the day, which meant she was practically alone out here. On the one hand, she was glad about it; being able to finally enjoy a cup of tea in peace, letting her thoughts wander. On the other hand, the way her thoughts kept circling back to one particular memory almost made her wish she were surrounded by people again, distracted by their chatter.

Kissing Yasmin Khan had, without a doubt, been the best thing she had ever done in her life. She had been in relationships before, some quite serious, one of them even going as far as marriage becoming a serious thought. But Yaz…Yaz was something else. Jo had this irrepressible urge to show her the world and tell her everything about anything, not only about the places they visited but also about her own life. She remembered how easy it had been to talk to her about her parents, a topic she usually avoided at all costs. 

Jo had felt passionately about other people before, but she realised the difference between them and Yaz was that, somehow, the other woman made her feel like she had come home. Like she could finally stop running around in her own head and could just stand still, if even just for a moment. It made her feel fiercely protective of Yaz, which had ultimately led to a sobering realisation coming to her at the worst possible moment; as she was pushing the other woman against the wall, kissing her hungrily.

She blushed at the thought of that kiss, of how they had both completely lost control in a matter of seconds. When she closed her eyes, Jo could still feel Yaz’s lips on her own, incredibly soft yet strong, and the warm hands on her hips setting her skin on fire.

“Mind if I join you, Doc?”

Jo opened her eyes to look up and was surprised to see Graham standing there, wearing a cosy looking vest and holding a mug of steaming hot tea in his hand.

She smiled at the sight of him and nodded, gesturing towards the chair opposite herself.

Graham had become one of her favourite instrumentalists in this orchestra over the course of their tour, as he was always kind and ready to help the people around him. Jo also appreciated that he was somehow able to keep the brass section in line - a near unachievable feat in any orchestra. 

He sat down with a content sigh, turning his head to look over the city.

“It’s beautiful,” he finally said, smiling. “Don’t get why people don’t come and sit out here all the time. I mean, what a view!”

“Yeah,” Jo replied. “It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Especially after the rain.”

Graham nodded. “I think I’m going to have a walk up to the fortress tomorrow, what do you think, Doc? Should make the most of our last day off.”

“Sounds great, Graham.”

She looked over at the fortress sitting on top of the mountain almost directly opposite them, frowning. Tomorrow was off. After that, they were left with only three concerts before they would all get on a flight back to the UK. She had tried to put the thought aside, knowing what their departure would mean.

Graham must have noticed that she had spaced out, as he glanced at her from the side and spoke his next question softly, almost carefully.

“Doc, if you don’t mind me asking, is everything alright with you?”

Jo didn’t say anything for a long time, her eyes still fixed on the fortress. Then, dropping her head, she finally replied. “No,” she said, almost a whisper, and shook her head.

“Want to talk about it?”

Somehow, Jo realised that she did want to talk about it with Graham. The man had something fatherly about him, something Jo hadn’t really known in her own upbringing. It made her feel safe.

“I just… I’ve gone and done something stupid, I think,” she finally replied.

“Ah, I’m sure it can’t have been that stupid, Doc. You’re a smart cookie, after all.”

He was smiling, and Jo felt herself give a short, weak smile back in return.

“I hurt someone,” she said. “I hurt someone that I actually care about very much. But at the end of the day, the hard thing is that it’s probably better that way.”

“Why?” Graham asked, frowning.

Jo took a sip of her tea before continuing. 

“Well, being with me would not have been good for that person. You know how it is in our industry, right? You get told very quickly that you only got somewhere because you were…” She hesitated, searching for the right words. “Handing out favours to the right people.” She glanced at Graham before she continued, feeling herself blush slightly. “You know, the… casting couch and all that. And once you’ve got that reputation, it’s over; certain places will never hire you.”

She swallowed, holding tightly onto her mug of tea before she continued, her voice much quieter. “And what if it doesn’t work out? What if it turns out that they risked their career for a happiness that couldn’t last?”

Graham took his time before he answered, staring down at his tea. Finally, he ran a hand over his face and looked up.

“Has anyone told you about Grace?” he finally asked.

Surprised by the sudden change in topic, it took Jo a moment to reply.

“I’ve heard. I’m so sorry, Graham.”

He nodded. “The reason I’m asking is, because, well, I loved her very much, but we didn’t have a lot of time with each other. I met her when I was going through chemo. She was my nurse, in fact, and boy, that woman could make my day just with a smile. Made everything easier. I knew what I felt for her but I kept thinking, I can’t let this happen because what if I don’t make it, you know? In the end, she made me see that I was being a stubborn idiot. Being with her ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. When she died, I lost it; disappeared off the face of the earth. Went travelling with a new friend, actually. I saw… nah, you wouldn’t believe.” He waved his hand dismissively, a fond smile briefly passing over his face.

“My point is,” he continued. “I ran away from my grief, because I was so upset by how little time we had been given. But then I started remembering what Grace had made me see all those years ago. That it didn’t matter how long we had with each other, you know? The only thing that mattered is that we let ourselves feel and made the best of the time we had. Regret would have been much worse an emotion to feel than grief, Doc. I accepted that in the end.”

He picked up his tea, wrapping his hands around the source of warmth.

“Doc, does she feel the same way about you?"

Jo was confused at first; she hadn’t expected the question, and her thoughts were still clinging onto what Graham had told her.

“I’m sorry?” She asked, frowning.

“The woman you have feelings for. Does she, you know, like you back?”

Jo didn’t miss the change in pronouns, but decided not to comment on it. He had guessed right after all.

“I think she does,” she replied, nodding.

“Well then,” he said “It should really be her choice, too, shouldn’t it? Whether or not she wants to take the risk for the chance of being with you. You should give her a say, at least.”

He took a final sip of his tea, throwing his head back and emptying the mug.

“Talk to her, Doc. You both deserve it.”

Letting his words sink in, she turned her head towards the city again. So many people were running around in the busy streets, hurrying from one place to the next. She watched them cross the bridge over the river, biking along the banks. How many of them had regrets? How many of them were thinking right now of everything they wished they’d said. She didn’t want to be one of them. And in the end, Graham was right. It should be Yaz’s choice, too. She should at least give her the chance to make a decision for herself.

Finally, she felt herself nod.

At that, Graham stood back up, gently patting her shoulder as he stood next to her. “Allow yourself the chance to be happy, Doc. We all deserve it.”

And with that, he walked back inside, leaving Jo alone once again as a new sense of hope carefully made its way into her heart.

Chapter Text

Yaz woke up at the crack of dawn with her heart pounding and her mind full of memories of Jo’s lips on hers. Tossing and turning, all the while trying to suppress the images in her head, she finally accepted that there was no way she would be able to go back to sleep. As she started to fight back the tears that were about to blur her vision, she decided to get up and get some fresh air.

Ten minutes later, she was walking out of the hotel, cosied up in her favourite jumper and leather jacket, headphones plugged into her phone and playing The Lark Ascending.

She realised quickly that this was probably her favourite place so far. Enjoying the city waking up around her as it was slowly blinking and stretching its neck like a sleepy giant, she got herself a cup of coffee to go and walked wherever her feet took her.

There was something about being out and about this early that always made Yaz feel oddly at peace with herself. It reminded her of a new chapter being opened, as so many stories all around her were about to unfold. There was also a fresh smell in the air, especially since it had been raining the day before. 

She quickly made her way onto one of the many bridges, since she had read about the Old Town being on the other side of the river. The railings were hung with a myriad of small padlocks and she bent down, wanting to inspect them from closer up. They all had initials engraved, as well as a date. She felt the familiar sensation of tightness in her chest and quickly stood back up, not wanting to give room to her thoughts.

She soon realised that Salzburg was the ideal city to lose yourself in, both mentally and physically. Once having crossed the river, there was what felt like an endless option of passageways, both small and large, seemingly placed haphazardly between the shop fronts. Yaz weaved in and out of them at will, sometimes passing through only to walk back into the next one that presented itself to her, ending up back on the same street she had started from.

As the shops around her started to open their doors for the day, Yaz popped into an adorable little café she had stumbled upon in one of the passageways. The inside looked like a dollhouse, with small tables and delicate white chairs. She found it so charming that she spontaneously decided to stay in for breakfast instead of just getting a snack to go.

It proved to have been the right choice, as the old lady behind the counter was more than happy to give Yaz plenty of tips about what to see in the city after realising that she was not from around.

“You have to see the city from the Mönchsberg,” the woman spoke with a heavy Austrian accent. “It is the mountain over there.” She pointed in the direction which, if Yaz remembered correctly, would lead away from the river. “But not from the fortress. Go right, not left, towards the museum. The view is better, especially in the evening.”

Yaz smiled and tried to make a mental note of everything the woman was saying.

“During the day you can go out to, I don’t know how to say… Botanischer Garten.”

Yaz frowned. “Botanic… Gardens?”

“Yes!” The woman replied, delighted that she had been understood. “It is beautiful to walk around. And free!” She laughed as she rubbed her thumb and index finger against each other, making the universal sign for money.

“Do you have a map?” She asked a couple of moments later, as she put a second chocolate roll down in front of Yaz, who nodded and produced the one that she had found in her hotel room.

The woman sat down opposite Yaz, pulling the map towards herself and taking a pen out of her apron.

“Here,” she said, making a cross on the map. “Best Austrian food. I recommend! And this,” she continued, marking another spot on the paper. “Walk through here and look at the fountain! You can see a special trick.” She winked at Yaz. “This is, how do you say… tourist trap! Don’t go there.” Her face turned stern and Yaz nodded, trying hard not to smile at the woman’s seriousness. She found it incredibly sweet that she was looking out for her.

After pointing out a couple more spots to see, the woman finished by marking out the way to the botanic gardens, explaining that it would take Yaz about forty minutes to walk there, but that it was well worth it because of the beautiful scenery she would get to see. As more people slowly started to come in, the small place quickly got crowded and Yaz decided that it was time to leave, folding up the map and safely tucking it away in her pocket. She gave the woman her heartfelt thanks and was back out on the streets of Salzburg a moment later.

She strolled in the direction of the fountain that the lady had talked about and passed the Festspielhäuser, the festival halls in which the famous summer festival took place every year. Although it was mostly known for operas, Yaz was well aware that it was also an important platform for instrumentalists, and she was very much looking forward to getting to play in the Large Festival Hall tomorrow evening. As she caught a glimpse of a poster showing the profile of a familiar face, she spun around on her heels and walked away towards the cathedral.

As she drifted up to the church through the passageways the older woman had recommended, she couldn’t keep herself from smiling as she looked at the fountain. The two angels on top of it were holding a crown, and as she walked on, it looked as if they were slowly setting it down onto the head of the statue of Mary placed in the middle of the cathedral’s facade behind the fountain. It was a wonderful architectural quip and Yaz felt glad not to have missed it.

Although she was curious to see the botanic gardens, Yaz found that she liked the city too much to leave it behind just yet. So she wandered the streets some more, even looking into some shops that seemed interesting, until it was lunch time and she found her way to the recommended Austrian restaurant.

“What’s a typical Austrian thing to eat?” She asked the waiter, smiling.

Something that looked suspiciously like a smirk appeared on the waiter’s face as he gave his one-worded reply. “Beuschel.”

“Is that made with meat? What kind?”

“Beef,” he replied.

“Alright, I’ll go for that, then.”

As he brought out a plate twenty minutes later, Yaz instantly regretted her choice. Swimming in a thick cream sauce, the meat looked like it was definitely some sort of innards and although Yaz wasn’t usually squirmish, she decided that it would probably be better not to ask about which animal parts specifically she was eating right now.

“For your stomach,” was all the waiter said as he put down a cup of strong herbal tea in front of her after she had finished. Yaz was quite thankful for it.

Walking out of the restaurant after another coffee, she decided that now was as good a time as any to get to that mountain-top view. She strolled back into the heart of the city and searched out the staircase behind the festival halls that was marked out on her map.

The woman hadn’t oversold on her promises; the view from the promenade that ran along the side of the mountain was gorgeous. As Yaz found a free bench, she decided to sit down for a little while and breathe in the moment. 

The downside of that was, of course, that her thoughts finally got a chance to latch onto the parts of her memory she had been trying so hard to push down. She screwed up her face and closed her eyes, but it only made the memories more vivid. For a moment, it was like she was back in that room, the feeling of Jo’s lips on hers fresh and real. Yaz had thought that pushing Jo away had hurt, but now that she had been the one rejected, she realised that nothing in her life would ever compare. It didn’t exactly help either that she didn’t fully understand what had happened. 

“The implications…”

On the one hand, it somewhat made her heart swell that Jo wanted to protect her. On the other, it didn’t really make up for anything. If she really felt the same… Yaz had to stop herself from going there. It wouldn’t change anything now, the blonde had made things clear enough.

“I can’t…”

Her mind jumped to the situation she had caught Jo and Izzy in and she felt her stomach turn. She still wasn’t fully convinced that it wasn’t the true reason Jo had pushed her away; although the way Jo had pulled her close when… No, she didn’t want to remember any of it.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket. Seeing a message from Jo flashing on her screen, she almost ignored it and stuffed her phone back into her pocket. But her curiosity got the better of her and she unlocked her screen.

“Yaz, I need to talk to you. I’m sorry.”

Yaz frowned. What was there to talk about? She shook her head and put her phone down on the bench next to her. As it vibrated again, she glanced at it, then turned it around, the screen now lying against the wood. When she heard the third message coming in five minutes later, she picked her phone back up.

“Where are you? I’ll come meet you if you’ll let me.”

“Please give me a chance to explain.”

There was something about the last message that made Yaz’s resolve melt a little, no matter how hard she tried to stay strong. She awkwardly fiddled with her phone, running her fingers along the side of its case while she looked out over the city once more. Did she want to understand? Was the woman just going to explain her rejection, or was there something more? Yaz didn’t like the small flame of hope flickering inside of her. At the same time, she knew there was no use trying to extinguish it, either. If she talked to Jo, then at least this whole thing would finally be over, one way or another. She would be back in Sheffield in four days and then she could leave it all behind and hopefully move on.

With a newfound determination, she turned the phone around in her hand and after a couple of moments, she hit send.

Chapter Text

Jo jumped up as her phone pinged, tipping over her mug and attracting the disapproving glances of the other customers around her. She threw her arms up, muttering “Sorry, so sorry” and quickly started to pat at the spilled liquid with her napkin. She left the cloth lying on the table, half-soaked in tea, and pulled her phone out of her coat, almost dropping it in her eagerness to check what message she had gotten.

Her heart sped up as she saw that it was a reply from Yaz. She opened it with trembling fingers, then grinned wildly. It was a pin drop.

“Excuse me?” She called out to the waitress who walked over with a smile, although it wavered for a second as she quickly eyed the mess on the table.

“How do I get there?” Jo asked, holding out her phone.

The waitress explained to her that she would need to find a staircase behind the festival halls, walk up the mountain and then go right.

“Brilliant, thank you!” Jo replied, shoving a ten euro bill into the woman’s hands. “How long will it take?”

“About thirty minutes.”

Jo’s face briefly fell, but her eyes quickly lit up again. “I can do it in twenty. Really good at running, you know.”

And with that, she was out of the café, jogging in the direction of their concert venue.

She was delighted to find the staircase on her first try and practically flew up the steps, taking them two at a time. Briefly pausing at the top to catch her breath, she quickly turned right and made her way along the promenade. She was no longer running, because she didn’t want to barge past Yaz in her hurry to find her.

Her heart was beating in her throat by the time she caught sight of a familiar leather jacket. Walking up to Yaz, she stepped on a twig, prompting the other woman to turn around at the sound. The half-smile she got did nothing to hide the pain in Yaz’s eyes, along with a soul-deep weariness, and Jo felt a pang of guilt in her chest knowing that she was suffering all because of her actions.

She stood next to the bench, awkwardly gesturing towards it, silently asking for permission to sit. Yaz nodded.

“Hi,” Jo breathed as she sat down.

A weak smile was all Jo got in response and she felt her gut twist at it. She had to resist the urge to pull Yaz into a tight embrace, but she knew it wouldn’t be fair to her. No, she had to explain first and give the other woman the chance to make a choice.

“Thank you for letting me know where to find you.”

Again, all Yaz did was nod.

“I want to talk to you about what happened. I know what I did was unfair and I want to make up for it by explaining.”

Jo watched the other woman’s face and saw a quiet storm brooding behind her eyes. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“Why?” Yaz finally asked, looking down onto the leaf-covered ground beneath their feet.

Jo took a deep breath, her nerves fluttering. “Because that kiss was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Yaz’s head shot up, eyes wide and searching Jo’s face, no doubt to make sure the other woman really meant what she had just said.

“I don’t… I don’t understand,” she stammered. “You pushed me away.”

“So did you, a week ago,” Jo couldn’t stop herself from answering.

Yaz turned away, blushing at the memory. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

“So am I.”

Jo wanted nothing more than to put her hand on Yaz’s cheek and gently turn the other woman’s face towards her. Instead, she desperately tried to find the right words for what she was about to say.

“The reason I pushed you away is… well, it’s because I’m scared, Yaz. If something were to happen between you and I - something more - the rumours around it, they could crush your career. People like to talk and they will most likely pin your successes down to…” Jo felt heat rise to her cheeks and she looked down, awkwardly fiddling with the edge of her coat. “To you being close with a famous conductor. I’ve seen careers die that way, Yaz, and you don’t deserve that. You have no idea what those kinds of rumours can do to you.”

She glanced up and saw something suddenly harden in Yaz’s eyes. For a moment, she worried that she had somehow managed to hurt her again and she was about to reach out for Yaz’s hand when the brunette started speaking, so quietly that Jo almost missed it.

“Actually, I do.”

Jo froze and couldn’t help it when a memory suddenly echoed through her mind; Yaz has a tendency to… latch on to important people. She frowned and subtly shook her head, trying to chase the memory away.

“How?” she finally asked.

She noticed that Yaz had started wringing her hands in her lap and this time she couldn’t stop herself from reaching out, gently putting her own hand on top of Yaz’s, feeling the fidgeting slowly calm down.

Yaz took a deep breath, then it all came flooding out of her at once.

“My first year at uni was really good. I made a bunch of new friends, I worked hard and quickly became well respected for it. I got chosen for a lot of uni projects that were actually geared towards the higher semesters. The teachers liked me, and I felt like I was making great progress. And then I came back after the summer and everything had changed. Suddenly, people wouldn’t talk to me anymore. Whispers were everywhere when I walked down the corridors and worst of all, I stopped being chosen for projects or concerts. They didn’t even pick me for the ones meant for my own semester anymore. I was so confused and hurt, constantly stuck alone in practice rooms, until the day I overheard them talking for the first time.”

Yaz swallowed hard, eyes brimming with tears, and Jo gave her hands what she hoped was a reassuring squeeze.

“They said… they said that I was sleeping with my professor. She had a lot of influence in the strings department and was on most of the panels that decided who would get to do what projects. So people were saying the only reason a first year had kept being chosen for concerts was that I was… sleeping my way up.”

She paused to take another breath.

“How long did this go on for?” Jo asked softly.

“I kind of endured it for the entire year, hoping that people would get bored and it would all go away at some point. But it didn’t. Izzy made sure of that.”

Jo frowned. “Izzy? Izzy Flint?”

When Yaz nodded, Jo felt anger rise up inside herself like a storm. Clenching her teeth, she had trouble keeping her temper in check. “How dare she,” she growled and Yaz looked at her, surprised.

“Jo?”

“She came to me when you were ill and told me I should watch out for you, because she said you latch on to important people. I should have thrown her out right then and there.”

Yaz’s whole body tensed up and Jo immediately realised the mistake she had made.

“Yaz, I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean to upset you! I really shouldn’t have told you about this…”

“No,” Yaz replied, shaking her head. “I’m glad you did. I had a hunch she was still… at least now I know for sure.”

Yaz slowly turned one of her hands around, carefully intertwining their fingers. Jo watched their joined hands for a moment, thinking about how she would never want to let Yaz’s go ever again, before she decided that it was time to finally clear something up once and for all.

“You know there is nothing going on between me and her, right?”

She watched Yaz try to hide her surprise at the sudden statement. “I thought…” Yaz started slowly.

“No,” Jo interrupted her with a firm voice. “Never.”

A small smile spread over Yaz’s face and it made Jo’s heart skip a beat. Neither of them said anything for a couple of minutes, just enjoying each other’s presence and the feeling of their hands joined together. Then, slowly, Yaz started talking again.

“I finally talked to my professor about it, you know, when I realised the rumours were still going around at the beginning of my third year. Took my courage in both hands and just let it all out.” A small laugh escaped her. “It was the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had in my life, but she was wonderful about it. Went to the department head and had it all taken care of. I wish I would have talked to her sooner.”

“Did it get better after?”

“A little. Although the stories never really stopped, even though Izzy was no longer spreading them. But others were.”

“I’m so sorry, Yaz. I had no idea.”

Yaz shrugged. “There was no way you could have known.”

A beat of silence passed between them before Jo started speaking again.

“These kinds of rumours… I’m scared, Yaz. I wouldn’t forgive myself for putting you through something like that a second time.”

“You know,” Yaz started quietly. “I’m really tired of stuff like that dictating my life. Back then, I hadn’t done anything and I still had to live with the consequences. I spent so much time afterwards trying to fit in, trying to be like everyone else in order to have a place again. But guess what? I stopped being myself along the way. I pushed everything down; all my feelings and who I really was, because I was so scared of being even more different. I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to do the things my heart wants. Because I have spent so much time ignoring what it was telling me that I didn’t even recognise the feeling when I fell in love with you.”

Both women froze as soon as the words hit the air between them. Yaz’s mouth formed a silent “oh” as she realised what had just slipped out, and Jo’s heart was beating so loudly she was sure the other woman must be able to hear it. Her own hands starting trembling now and she barely managed to speak her next words. When they did come out, they were almost inaudible, full of disbelief as well as a silent hope.

“You’re in love with me?”

She could hear her blood rushing through her body as she waited for Yaz to reply.

Finally, the other woman nodded. “Yes,” she whispered shyly. “Is that ok?”

As she looked up, her eyes filled with such shyness and vulnerability, Jo could no longer restrain herself. She reached out with her free hand, softly touching Yaz’s cheek. Her heart swelled as the brunette closed her eyes, leaning into the touch.

“Yes,” she breathed as she leaned forward. “Yes, it is.”

She hesitated for a moment, before she spoke again.

“Can I kiss you?”

For a moment, everything was suspended in mid-air. Then, Jo felt Yaz nod softly and she leaned in, closing the remaining distance between them. As soon as their lips touched, Jo was reminded again that there was no better feeling in this world than kissing Yasmin Khan. Where their first kiss had been hungry and almost desperate, this one was soft and slow. They took their time, carefully disentangling their intertwined fingers to touch each other almost reverently. Yaz’s hands came to rest on Jo’s waist, underneath her coat, and Jo never wanted her to take them away. She ended up with her free hand once more buried in Yaz’s full curls as their lips danced against each other. And finally, when Yaz’s tongue softly demanded entrance, Jo obliged happily, feeling the world around her dissolve and melting as a thousand colours ran down around them like heavy rain.

Their kiss seemed to last forever, but they finally had to break apart, both of them a little short of breath.

Foreheads resting against each other, Jo couldn’t stop herself from asking. She had to, or she would never forgive herself if it all went wrong.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” came the immediate reply.

“No matter the consequences?”

“We’ll deal with them together.”

Jo hesitated.

“And if it doesn’t last? If we can’t make it work?”

“Then I’ll be happy for every single day I had with you.”

Jo’s face softened, and she pulled back a little in order to put a finger under Yaz’s chin, lifting her head up like she had done back at the embassy what felt like an eternity ago.

“Yaz?”

“Yeah?”

And as the other woman looked into her eyes and smiled at her; that wonderful, trusting smile that could brighten up a whole room, it felt like the weight of an entire world had fallen off Jo’s shoulders. She leaned forward once again and, just before their lips touched, she was finally free to speak the words that she had wanted to say for weeks.

“I’m in love with you, too.”

And this time it was Yaz who closed the distance between them, slipping her hand behind Jo’s neck to pull her in for another kiss.

Chapter Text

Yaz woke up with a warmth spreading through her chest, feeling like she was floating. She blinked sluggishly and used the sleeve of her pyjama top to wipe away some of the grit in her eyes, all the while still cherishing the soft and toasty hotel blanket. As she pulled her sleeve away from her face, she frowned. She usually slept in a loose shirt and sweatpants, and she could not remember owning any blue pyjamas with bright yellow ducks on them. Her mind still slowed down by sleep, she scanned the room around her and registered voices coming from the door.  It was then she remembered that she had been woken up by the sound of knocking and the subsequent shifting of the mattress next to her as someone had left the bed.

Jo.

She could not stop the wild grin from instantly spreading over her face as the memories came rushing back to her. Jo had kissed her. Jo was in love with her. The blonde had suggested they watch a movie together in her room last night and Yaz had ended up falling asleep cuddled up against her. She remembered now, the way Jo had awkwardly offered her what she had called her “favourite pyjamas” so Yaz could achieve “maximum cosiness”. Sitting up in bed, she pulled the blanket up and buried her face in it, hiding her blush and trying to contain the laughter that was bubbling up in her chest.

A clattering noise drifted into the room as the door was closed and a moment later, Jo’s head poked around the corner.

“Morning,” she smiled, eyes still small from sleep and hair completely disheveled.

“Morning,” Yaz replied, dropping the blanket from her face. “Who was that?”

“Oh yeah, so… You know I don’t sleep that much, right?”

“I do.”

“Well,” she continued, and Yaz loved the faint blush that was creeping up her cheeks. “Last night, you looked so peaceful and beautiful and I kind of decided that I don’t want to share you today.”

Yaz lifted an eyebrow. “You don’t?”

“I don’t. Which is why,” she disappeared around the corner and there was clattering again, which made sense as soon as Jo reappeared, pulling a breakfast trolley behind her. She positioned it in front of the bed, then turned back with a grin. “I ordered us breakfast.”

The gesture was completely adorable and Yaz stretched out her hand towards Jo, saying, “Come here.”

Jo hesitated for a moment, awkwardly shifting her weight from one foot to another. “Did I do something wrong?”

Yaz laughed. “No, silly. I just want to kiss you.”

“Oh.” Her face lit up and Jo hurried towards the bed, sitting down next to Yaz, and pulled her in for a kiss.

Yaz didn’t think she would ever get used to this feeling, nor did she want to. The blonde’s lips were so soft, much softer than those of the men Yaz had kissed before her. The way Jo was always so careful, gently cradling her face like she might slip away any moment, made her melt into her arms.

She sighed softly as Jo finally pulled away, smiling. “As much as I would like to continue this, I think your tea is getting cold. Shall we?”

Yaz nodded, eager to see what Jo had ordered for them. As the blonde rolled the trolley towards her, parking it next to the nightstand, Yaz laughed.

“Jo, did you order the whole buffet?” She asked, incredulous.

“I didn’t know what you liked!”

Yaz frowned, then grinned. “Wait, you’ve never actually seen me eat breakfast, have you? Sleepy head!”

“Oi!” Jo replied, giving Yaz’s arm a playful, light slap. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

They spent the whole morning in bed, eating their way through everything Jo had ordered until they were barely able to move. Putting away her empty tea cup, Yaz turned towards Jo, who opened her arms to invite her into an embrace. She more than happily obliged, letting her cheek rest against the blonde’s chest, an arm lazily slung around her waist while Jo nuzzled her nose into Yaz’s hair.

They sat like that for what felt like forever, content with feeling each other’s warmth, neither of them wanting to ever leave this little bubble of theirs ever again.

“Hey Jo,” Yaz finally said.

“Hm?”

She nuzzled deeper into the other woman’s chest, smiling. “You called me beautiful before.”

Jo responded by putting a hand on Yaz’s cheek, slowly guiding her head up. She smiled, her eyes twinkling. “That’s because you are,” she replied, just before leaning down to kiss her softly.

When Yaz finally pulled back, a thought came to her. “Hey, what time is our acoustic rehearsal scheduled for?”

Jo scrunched up her face, obviously having been happy with ignoring their responsibilities. “At 3.”

“Mmh,” Yaz mumbled, tightening her grip around Jo’s waist, pulling her closer as she let her head rest on the blonde’s shoulder. “I don’t want to.”

Jo chuckled softly. “Yes, you do. You love your work.”

“Not today.”

“Well, I guess I could cancel the rehearsal. I mean, I’m the boss after all.”

Yaz’s head snapped up, eyes wide. “You can’t! We need to figure out what the sound’s like, adjust the solos, make sure everything is in order with the instruments and -”

She stopped herself when she saw the grin on Jo’s face.

“Gotcha,” Jo said.

Yaz laughed, shaking her head. “Alright, alright, I want to do the rehearsal. But I don’t want to let go of you.”

“Neither do I,” Jo replied before brushing her lips softly against Yaz’s temple.

 

——

 

Yaz slipped out of Jo’s room about two hours later, figuring that everyone was probably already in their own, getting ready to head out. She was wearing her clothes from the day before, figuring that if she were to run into anyone after all, it would definitely look a lot more inconspicuous than Jo’s by now-famous yellow duck pyjamas.

They had decided not to let anyone know for at least a while, in order to figure things out first and give themselves a chance to just enjoy being with each other, without any of the pressure of the gossip they knew would come soon enough.

Yaz managed to make it to her room without bumping into anyone. Closing the door behind her, she leaned back against it, smiling. It had taken them almost an hour to finally be able to let go, even though they knew they would see each other again on the bus soon after. Jo had followed Yaz to the door, holding on to her as they kept kissing. Finally, when there was barely half an hour left before they would have to leave for the concert hall, they had reluctantly agreed that they would both have to get ready now.

Yaz took a quick shower, then hurried through her room collecting everything she would need for the concert, finishing up by putting the violin case on her back. A quick look at her watch told her that there was enough time for Jo to probably still be in her room, so she decided to walk over and pick her up.

She rushed down the corridor, passing some of her colleagues, most of the men already donning their suits trousers and shirts. Yaz waved and smiled at them, hurrying past.

As Jo opened her door moments later, already fully dressed, Yaz held her breath and wordlessly stared at the woman in front of her.

“What?” Jo asked, frowning.

“You’re… You’re wearing the tux.”

Jo looked herself over and a sudden realisation dawned across her face before it was taken over by worry and guilt. She started nervously fidgeting with her bow tie. “Should I take it off?”

Yaz quickly looked up and down the corridor - there was nobody - then turned back to Jo.

“Don’t you dare,” she whispered, before gripping the blonde’s lapels with both her hands, pulling her down into a searing kiss.

As she pulled back, she saw Jo, still hunched forward, blinking at her slowly. “Oh,” she breathed and then, a moment later, “Oh!” Yaz watched with delight as a furious blush took over Jo’s whole face.

Taking a deep breath as she straightened up, Jo smoothed out her jacket then cleared her throat as her cheeks slowly regained their usual colour. “Shall we?” she asked.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Jo looked confused for a moment, giving herself a once-over. “No?”

“Jo, you’re a conductor.”

She looked up, understanding suddenly apparent on her face, then turned around and sprinted back into her room. “Yes!” she called out from behind the bed. “Yes, me, conductor. Conducting, that’s what I do!”

She came back a moment later, the bag holding her partituras and baton in hand.

Yaz just shook her head, grinning, and started to walk towards the staircase.

“She going to be the death of me, isn’t she,” she heard Jo mutter behind her, but not quiet enough for Yaz to have missed it.

Laughing, she looked back over her shoulder and threw the blonde a wink, enjoying the fresh tint of pink it caused to appear on Jo’s cheeks.

 

——

 

“I’ve decided I don’t like being away from you,” Jo declared as she closed the door to Yaz’s dressing room, walking straight up to the that couch she was sitting on. The blonde plopped down, then swung her legs up, lying down so that her head was resting in Yaz’s lap.

Yaz stroke her hand through the blonde hair, nails gently scraping the other woman’s scalp. She watched as Jo closed her eyes, humming with content.

They had literally just spent an hour out on the stage together, yet Yaz knew exactly what Jo meant. Now that she could actually kiss the other woman, she wanted to be close to her all the time. 

Yaz sighed. “I wish I could at least come sit next to you on the drives.”

Jo opened her eyes, looking up at her with a half-smile. “Me too. But we can’t.”

“I know, I know. Haven’t done it until now, would look funny if we started doing it all of a sudden. Not to mention you wouldn’t be able to keep your hands off of me.”

“Me?” The blonde called out in mock indignation.

Yaz laughed and bent down to place a soft kiss on Jo’s forehead.

The knock on the door had them both jumping apart at the speed of light, creating as much distance between each other as they could on the small sofa. As Yaz called out “Come in!” she briefly glanced over at Jo and felt panic rise as she realised the other woman’s hair was completely dishevelled.

As the door opened, both women let out a collective breath as Ryan’s head poked in. “Hey guys,” he said, his gaze flickering back and forth between them, a slight frown creasing his brow. “Just wanted to let you know that we’re extending the break to twenty-five minutes, a bunch of people are apparently still in line for their drinks, so they’ll get a bit more time to come back to their seats.”

“Alright,” Yaz said, plastering a big smile on her face.

“Thank you, Ryan!” Jo called out.

Ryan nodded at both of them then left, a frown still on his face.

As the door closed, the two women exchanged a silent, worried look.

 

——

 

Ryan hadn’t mentioned the moment in the dressing room at all on their drive back to the hotel, instead just chatting away as always, telling Yaz about his newest gaming successes. Yaz felt instant relief, figuring that he had probably not thought anything of what he had seen after all.

As they got back to their hotel, Yaz went to her room straight away; putting on her pyjamas and sitting down on the bed, nervously watching the minutes on her watch pass by.

She jumped up as soon as she heard a knock on the door. Rushing to open it, her heart warmed when she saw Jo standing in the now deserted corridor.

They greeted each other with a short kiss, both women melting into the touch a little. Smiling, Yaz took Jo’s hand and pulled her inside.

Neither of them noticed the door down the corridor that had been slightly ajar closing quietly as soon as the two women had disappeared into the room.

Chapter Text

The moment was incomparable. Everyone on the stage was throwing their last bit of energy into tonight, all of the emotions of the past several weeks filling their souls to the brim. Yaz looked across the faces of her colleagues as they played out those majestic last bars of the Firebird’s final movement and saw tears shimmering in the eyes of some. She herself was barely able to contain them, pouring all she had into the music in front of her. And when Jo’s hands stretched out towards them, shaking with emotion as she waved off their final note, applause erupted around them like thunder.

 

——

 

The room around Yaz was buzzing with chatter and a general sense of relief. Four weeks of touring through Europe, bus rides that had seemed endless some days, and a concentration that had to be held almost constantly throughout had all taken their toll on them in the end, as was only natural.

Sitting at the hotel bar, which was completely crammed because the whole orchestra had rushed into it twenty minutes ago, Yaz just couldn’t get herself to join in the fun. Especially not since Jo had reminded her of what the end of this tour would mean. She rested her chin in her hand as she remembered the conversation they’d had the evening before and that she had spent the whole day trying not to think about.

 

They were lying in bed, facing each other; their fingers intertwined and hands resting between them on the pillow that they shared.

A dark cloud passed over Jo’s face. Noticing the sudden change, Yaz asked, “Are you okay?”

“No,” Jo replied quietly. “I don’t want to leave”

Yaz smiled. “You don’t have to. We can stay like this all night if you want.”

“I don’t mean right now.”

Yaz frowned, confused. 

“What do you mean, then?”

“Asia.”

Yaz felt her heart sink through the floor as she suddenly remembered a conversation they’d had weeks ago, during one of the breaks in their Sheffield rehearsal venue. 

“When?” She finally asked, her voice barely a whisper.

“In five days.”

 

Until Jo had mentioned it, Yaz had completely forgotten the fact that the conductor was supposed to leave for another tour almost right after this one would end. She had concerts scheduled with another orchestra, a good month-long trip through Asia. They would fly back to England tomorrow, and then they would get three days with each other before Jo would have to get on a plane to Tokyo. Yaz hated the mere thought of it.

“Yaz, why don’t you join in the fun!”

She turned as Ryan clapped her on the shoulder, grinning.

“In a moment,” she replied.

“Oh come on now, don’t sulk. I’m sure the concert today wasn’t as perfect as you wanted it to be, but we’re all done now. Time to celebrate!”

Yaz smiled weakly in response and Ryan suddenly looked worried. Sitting down next to her, he pulled the chair as close to her as he could and leaned over, his voice dropping to a whisper.

“Trouble in paradise?”

Yaz’s heart immediately picked up speed and she could feel cold sweat starting to coat her hands.

“Yaz,” Ryan said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I won’t tell anybody.”

“How do you know?” She whispered back, not moving.

“Yaz, you guys weren’t exactly… good at hiding what had been going on before I opened that door yesterday.” 

Yaz glanced over at him, seeing the insinuation on his face, and coughed as she turned bright red. “We didn’t… that’s not what was going on!”

He pulled back, lifting his hands in a gesture of surrender, his face screwed up. “Yeah, yeah, whatever, I don’t want any of the details.” 

As Yaz’s heart rate slowly calmed down again, she saw Ryan smiling at her, something shining in his eyes that she couldn’t quite place. “What?” she asked.

He shook his head and continued to smile. “I’m just really glad that you’re happy. Although it didn’t look like that a moment ago. You guys fighting again?”

“No,” she sighed. “It’s just… she has another tour coming up in four days, so I won’t get to see her for a month.”

“Ah man, that must be tough.”

“Yup.”

“Where is she, anyway? Shouldn’t you guys be spending this time together, considering?”

Yaz took a sip of her soda before replying. “We figured it would be super obvious if we both didn’t show up to this. She pretended to have a headache and said she had to make it an early night. I have to sit this out for another half hour and then we’ll meet up.”

“You guys got this all figured out, Mission Impossible style, huh?” Ryan grinned, wiggling his eyebrows, and Yaz couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“At least make the most of the time you have left with your colleagues, ok? They all really like you and you’ll be on break for two weeks after this.”

“I guess you’re right,” she finally relented. “Just let me finish my soda and I’ll start mingling a little, okay?”

“You better!”

He wagged a finger in front of her face, before jumping off the chair and immediately bumping into one of the violists. He apologised then disappeared back into the crowd. Yaz sighed, draining her soda with a last, big gulp. I guess there’s no way out of this now.

She was just about to get up when someone tapped her on the shoulder. “Ryan,” she sighed. “I told you I’d be right -”

Looking up, she froze as her eyes met with blue ones that were watching her coldly.

“Yasmin.”

“Isabelle.”

“May I?”

She was wearing that smile, the one Yaz hated so much. It was always just a tad too sweet, which gave it a bitter taste of condescension. 

Izzy didn’t bother to wait for her answer before she sat down next to her. It was an annoying habit of hers.

Yaz shifted uncomfortably in her chair, suddenly sweating. It felt like the air around her had gone stuffy and she could see Izzy out of the corner of her eye, lips still twisted into that awful smile of hers.

“What do you want, Izzy?” She finally hissed.

“Oh, I don’t want anything, Yaz,” Izzy replied, drawing out the nickname in a way that made Yaz never want to hear it again.

Finally, the woman turned towards her fully. Casually resting her elbow on the bar, head cocked to the side and propped up against her closed fist. “I was just wondering what’s up for you next, I mean, now that you’re banging a famous conductor.”

The barstool fell over as Yaz jumped out of it, clattering to the floor loudly enough to cause everybody around them to stop talking.

She stood frozen next to it, gripping the wood of the bar with her hand and feeling like somebody was choking her. Her vision started to blur slightly around the edges and she was sure she was going to end up unconscious on the floor, right next to that chair.

“Woah, woah, Yaz, careful there! You alright?”

Ryan had appeared out of nowhere, quickly picking up the chair and placing a reassuring hand on Yaz’s back. He looked at her until she nodded, then turned around towards the rest of the room.

“Alright everyone, we’ve all witnessed the clumsiness of our dear concertmaster, back to partying!” He called out and dashed over to a group of cellists, pulling them into a conversation. Everyone else quickly followed suit, the room filling with chatter once more. Yaz could see Ryan, who kept glancing at her, and it made her feel a little safer as her vision returned to normal.

“How do you know?” She asked, deciding not to sit back down on her chair, giving herself the advantage of looming over Izzy, even though she couldn’t bear to look at her.

“Oh, you guys are really not as great at sneaking around as you think you are.”

Yaz clenched her jaw, a storm brewing inside of her that was threatening to take over.

“You know what,” she finally said, glaring down at Izzy. “Fuck you, Izzy Flint.”

For the first time since Yaz had met her, she saw a crack in Izzy’s mask. It was small, yet it was still the most satisfying thing she had ever seen. Encouraged by this, Yaz leaned down, their faces now mere inches apart, and watched as Izzy’s left eye started to twitch nervously.

“You can say whatever you want about me,” she forced out through her closed jaw. “I don’t care. If that’s the thing that finally makes you feel anything in your poor, wretched heart, then by all means go ahead and knock yourself out.”

The movement was so quick that Yaz almost missed it. For a split second, Izzy’s mask fell and Yaz saw. As Izzy’s eyes flickered to her lips for the briefest of seconds, Yaz saw something so clearly in her gaze that she could not understand how she had never noticed it before.

“Izzy?” she said, dumbfounded. “Izzy, are you...I mean, do you like-”

Before Yaz could finish, Izzy had jumped off the stool, knocking her drink off the bar in the process. “I am not like you!” she cried out, panic written all over her face and her eyes flying over the room, unable to focus on anything in particular.

“Izzy!” Yaz said, taking a step towards her. “Calm down!”

But the woman backed away, shaking her head furiously.

At that moment, an emotion moved deep inside of Yaz that she never thought she would be able to feel towards the woman in front of her: a deep, honest sense of pity.

“Izzy,” she spoke softly, finally managing to get a hold of her arm. “It’s going to be okay.”

“No, y-you have no idea,” Izzy spat out, wrenching her arm from Yaz’s grip. “My family… they’re not… they would never talk to me again.” Her breathing had grown irregular and she was clearly at the verge of a panic attack. “I am not like this. I wish I’d never met you, it’s all your fault, you make me… You make me feel… It’s your fault!”

And with that, the woman spun around and ran from the room. “Izzy!” Yaz called out after her, but she had already disappeared.

It was then that Yaz realised that the room had gone dead quiet and everyone was staring at her. Screwing her eyes shut for a moment, she took a deep breath then turned to face everyone.

“Right,” she started speaking, voice slightly shaking. “Guys, I know you’re going to want to talk about this, I get it. But can you try and be respectful of her feelings? There’s obviously a lot going on and we should support each other. Can we do that?”

Slowly, the people around her started nodding and she saw Graham step forward on her right. “I’m going to go look after her, she probably shouldn’t be left alone right now.”

Yaz smiled at him, nodding. “That’s a very good idea, thank you Graham.”

She looked at the others as Graham walked out, their faces still filled with disbelief, some even with shock. “Oh go on then, get drunk, will you!” She called out. “And please don’t anybody drink on Pete’s tap again, he’s starting to threaten taking it out of everybody’s paychecks.”

A small wave of laughter passed through the room and she watched her colleagues slowly break up into groups again, continuing their conversations. She knew some of them would inevitably be gossiping about what had just happened, but she knew that it couldn’t be helped. Sighing, she realised she was supposed to have met Jo fifteen minutes ago, so she grabbed her jacket off the hook underneath the bar and made her way out into the hotel lobby.

 

——

 

“Internalised homophobia,” Jo said as they were sitting next to each other on her bed, Yaz’s head resting on her shoulder.

“Yup. I never would have guessed.”

“Me neither. I mean, she was definitely flirting with me.”

Yaz lifted her head off Jo’s shoulder and sighed. “I guess she just wanted to get between us, but didn’t realise why. Or didn’t want to know.”

“Are you okay?”

Yaz thought about it for a moment. “You know what, I think I am actually. I feel like a lot of stuff finally makes sense. I never understood why she had done any of this; at least I have an idea now.”

Jo nodded. “Do you think she’ll tell anyone about us?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Yaz replied. “And honestly, I don’t really care right now. All I want is to be with you.”

She watched as something suddenly changed in Jo’s eyes. Yaz wanted to say something, but before she knew what was happening, Jo’s lips were on hers.

The kiss was different from the ones they had shared the past few days; hungrier, almost desperate, and it reminded Yaz of their very first one. The air between them seemed to be charged with electricity and she couldn’t stop herself from burying her hand in Jo’s hair, tugging at it lightly. She heard the blonde’s breath hitch, then felt her shift. A moment later, Jo swung one of her legs over both of Yaz’s, effectively straddling her.

They hadn’t gone further than making out yet, wanting to take things slow. This, however, was clearly heading in a new direction as their kisses grew more and more heated, Jo’s hands grabbing fistfuls of Yaz’s shirt, trying to get impossibly closer. Their tongues explored each other’s mouths, and as Yaz’s fingers finally found their way underneath Jo’s jumper, grazing the skin just above her hip bone, the blonde moaned. 

After that, it was like an invisible seal had been broken. Jo’s hands were everywhere, leaving a searing trail all over Yaz’s skin. With a few quick movements, their shirts were tossed onto the floor next to the bed, their trousers following after a brief moment of frantic fumbling with buttons and zippers. It eventually left them wearing nothing but their underwear as Jo hungrily kissed the exposed skin of Yaz’s chest, hands working behind the brunette’s back to unclasp her bra.

“Yaz,” she muttered in between kisses. “My Yaz.”

The words made Yaz’s heart beat even faster and she dug her nails into Jo’s shoulders, panting and feeling an impossible heat building at her core. And when her bra was finally gone, thrown carelessly to the side as Jo’s mouth moved over her breast, Yaz felt like her entire body was on fire.

“Jo,” she said breathlessly, suddenly feeling strangely aware of the situation. “Jo… wait… wait!”

The blonde immediately pulled back, looking up. “Yaz?” She said, eyes full of worry. “Did I do something wrong? Do you want me to stop?”

“No! God, no…it’s just…” She felt herself blush and quickly turned her head to look away. “It’s just that… I’ve never actually done this with a woman before.” 

She felt vulnerable, lying exposed beneath the woman she loved and admitting her complete lack of experience. But then Jo carefully placed a hand on her cheek, guiding her face slowly back to look at her. As the blonde smiled, she felt her heart warm and closed her eyes, leaning into the touch. “That’s ok,” Jo spoke softly. “We can take it slow. Or we can just sto-”

“No,” Yaz blurted out, eyes flying open, suddenly knowing exactly what it was she needed. As their gazes locked she added, more firmly this time, “I want you.”

At that, Jo’s eyes turned a shade Yaz had never seen before and a second later the blonde crashed her lips back against hers, kissing her fiercely. Yaz fumbled nervously with the clasp of Jo’s bra, taking a moment to figure out how to open it from this unfamiliar angle. Once it slipped down Jo’s shoulders, she held her breath as she saw the woman's exposed body for the first time. She couldn’t help but stare at the gorgeous, milky white skin, toned stomach, and perfect, perfect breasts, and she noticed Jo blush slightly under her gaze.

“Jo,” she whispered as she leaned forward. “You are so beautiful.” Kissing one breast, she felt the blonde’s back arch as Yaz’s free hand brushed over the other one. Jo threw her head back as she closed her eyes and let out the most beautiful sound Yaz had ever heard in her entire life.

She realised, in that moment, that no music in the world could ever compare to the sounds of making love to Jo.

And later, when Jo’s hand finally slid down between Yaz’s legs, making the world around them explode into rays of bright light, she knew that she didn’t want Jo to stop touching her ever again.

Chapter Text

Jo was well aware that she was grinning like an idiot. She was sitting in the breakfast room, her eyes glued to Yaz walking along the buffet preparing her usual fruit salad.

At this point, she assumed that her feelings would probably be completely obvious to anyone who took even the shortest glance at her, but she couldn’t find it in herself to care. She was happy in a way she hadn’t felt in ages and nobody was going to rain on her parade today.

Images of last night kept flashing through her mind, accompanied by fresh memories from this morning.

They had fallen asleep all tangled up in each other, Jo holding Yaz close to her chest while resting her chin on top of the brunette’s head. They were still lying that way when Jo had woken up earlier than usual from a sleep as deep and restful as she rarely got. As soon as she had fully realised that she was holding Yaz in her arms, inhaling the scent of the other woman that was all around her, a grin had spread over her face that just wouldn’t go away anymore. Yaz had woken up shortly after, placing soft kisses onto Jo’s chest.

Both of them had been reluctant to leave the bed, the heat from last night quickly returning, but they had finally compromised on a prolonged, shared shower. 

“Jo? Jo!”

Prising herself from her reverie, she looked up to see Yaz now standing in front of her, two mugs in hand.

“Hm?”

Yaz raised an eyebrow, smiling.

“I asked if you want some tea.”

“Yes, sure,” she smiled in response.

Yaz returned a moment later, putting the mugs filled with hot water down in front of them and dipping her own tea bags in, as always.

“Thanks, honey.”

Jo watched the other woman blush at the term of endearment, followed by a quick look around them, scanning the people at the tables closest to theirs.

“Too much?” Jo asked.

“No,” Yaz whispered in return, her blush intensifying. “I love it.”

They had breakfast in relative silence, enjoying each other’s company as they sometimes briefly held hands under the table. Aside from being in a hotel, there was something so domestic about the situation that made Jo’s heart bathe in a warm glow, and she realised she wanted mornings like this every day, preferably for the rest of her life.

She wasn’t sure she had ever fallen this hard this quickly for anyone before Yaz. She’d had some companions over the years, even some passionate affairs, but none of them had ever felt like home the way Yaz did. It had led to Jo feeling completely distraught at the thought of her next tour, something she wasn’t used to at all.

The thought alone of a month away from Yaz felt like pure torture. Sure, they still had three days, counting this one, but today would be filled with travelling and then there were only two more left. Two days Jo was sure would be flying past them in no time. They hadn’t discussed what they would do, but she hoped the other woman would agree to stay over at her place during that time. She just hadn’t asked her yet, feeling unusually shy about it.

She saw Yaz glancing at her watch. “I think you should get going, pack your suitcase and everything.”

“Why only me?” Jo replied, pouting a little. “You have to pack, too.”

“I do, but unlike you, I didn’t open my suitcase when I got here and then throw everything out all over the whole room.”

“Oi!” Jo protested. “Not fair.”

“But true,” Yaz replied, winking.

“At least come with me and sit on the bed while I take care of stuff.”

“Jo, you know we’ll never be on time if I do that.”

“True,” Jo grinned and leaned in, whispering. “You didn’t mind being late for breakfast, though.”

Yaz cleared her throat. “No,” she said. “No, I definitely didn’t.”

 

——

 

They arrived at the airport on time, thanks to Yaz’s supreme time management skills and convincing arguments; Jo was sure she would have been late again without them. She had brought up that they might actually be able to snag places next to each other on the plane this time. After that, Jo had packed faster than ever before in her life.

The general mood that morning was one of relief and excitement. Funnily enough, tours always started and ended with almost the exact same sentiment; after having spent weeks driving around, constantly being crammed together with sixty other people, everyone was looking forward to getting home just as much as they had been to leave everything behind a month ago.

Thanks to their early arrival - and Ryan picking up the tickets, thus being able to tweak the seating arrangement a bit - they actually managed to sit next to each other.

They stayed together at the gate then, waiting for boarding to start. Jo spotted Izzy, sitting away from everyone else, typing away on her phone. This morning, as she had gotten onto the bus, everything had fallen quiet. It was only thanks to Graham, who had stood behind her and shot everyone a stern look, that people started talking again, pretending nothing had happened.

Despite everything Izzy had done to Yaz, Jo couldn’t help but somehow feel sorry for her. She knew what it was like to have parents that didn’t approve of the life you were leading; and for herself, it was only her choice in career. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to be forced to spend years hiding an essential part of who you are, even ending up hating that very part of yourself this much.

“Hey, Jo.”

She turned around to face Yaz, and immediately noticed that the other woman was nervously wringing her hands in her lap, not really looking at her.

“What’s up?” she asked, worry apparent in her tone.

“I just thought… we haven’t really talked about the next two days, like, what we’ll be doing.”

“Oh. That’s true. I was actually going to ask…”

Now or never, Jo.

“Yeah?” Yaz looked up, something shimmering in her eyes that Jo thought might be hope.

“Would you want to come stay over at my place until I leave? I mean, we can also go to yours, if your prefer. I just thought I’d like to, you know, treat you a bit during the time we still have left. But if you don’t want to, that’s totally ok. We’ve spent so much time together over the past few days, if you need a little break or anything we can just go to dinner tomorrow or something, whatever you prefer, I really don’t want to-”

“Jo,” Yaz stopped her with a gentle hand placed on top of her leg. “I would love to come stay over at your place. Well,” she smiled. “Under one condition.”

“Anything!” Jo blurted out.

“You do take me out to dinner tomorrow evening.”

A grin spread over Jo’s face. “Deal,” she replied, putting her own hand on top of Yaz’s and squeezing it softly.

 

——

 

After the bus ride from the airport, Yaz had headed home first, needing to take care of some things, like picking up some clothes for the next two days. 

Jo had hurried home, knowing she had very little time to get her apartment - which looked as it always did, like it had been hit by a bomb - in order. She couldn’t really help it; her chaos was like an organic mass that no matter how much she cleaned, always ended up spreading out over her whole flat again in a matter of days, sometimes hours.

She ran through the flat, desperately throwing things into drawers and cabinets, rubbing at stains on her kitchen table, and putting used shirts into her laundry basket. She was very happy that she had decided to put fresh sheets on her bed just before she had left, as she had no clean ones in her drawers anymore. Opening the door to her study and seeing the piles and piles of partituras all over the floor, she decided to not even try, letting the door fall shut immediately. 

Finally, she hopped into the shower and dressed quickly after, leaving her hair to air-dry, thus creating little wet spots on the shoulders of her favourite rainbow t-shirt.

She had just put the kettle on when the doorbell rang. As she spun around, she knocked over the mugs she had put out for both of them, but just managed to catch them in an impressive show of dexterity.

Putting them back down on the counter, she had to keep herself from running to the door, throwing it open with what she knew must look like a very goofy grin on her face.

“Yaz!” She called out, taking in the woman on the other side of the door. She was wearing that leather jacket again, the one she looked so especially good in. “Come in, come in.”

Yaz took a tentative step inside, putting her bag down and slipping out of her sneakers. She looked around curiously, immediately noticing the signed partitura hanging on the wall opposite the door.

“Ethel Smyth?” She asked.

“Oh, yes!” Jo said gleefully. “One of my favourite composers. Do you know her?”

Yaz shook her head, stepping closer to examine the signature on the cover of what she now saw were songs for voice and piano. “I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Oh, she was great. And feisty! Marched with the Suffragettes, even wrote their hymn. You know, once they locked her up after one of those protests, but the Suffragettes marched past underneath her cell window, singing her “March of the Women”, and Ethel conducted them through the bars of her cell window - with her toothbrush! Great woman, really.”

Yaz laughed at the anecdote. “I see. I should get to know some of her stuff, then.”

“You should! You know there’s some sonatas for violin and piano, if you’d ever fancy playing something together.”

She watched as a smile lit up the other woman’s face. “I would love that.”

“Alright then,” Jo said, stretching out her hand. “Want me to give you the grand tour?”

“I do. But I forgot to do something when I walked in.”

Jo frowned. “What?”

Yaz reached out, taking Jo’s hand in hers and pulling her close. She let her other hand rest on Jo’s chest, then reached up to place a soft kiss on her lips.

“Hm,” Jo murmured. “Please never forget that again, will you?”

“Never,” the brunette replied, smiling softly.

Chapter Text

“Honey,” Yaz said as she was sitting on the couch sipping her coffee, legs swung over Jo’s thighs, wearing nothing but one of the blonde’s shirts. “Why is there a cabinet in your kitchen filled entirely with boxes of custard creams?”

She watched a blush creep up Jo’s neck.

“Well,” she finally started. “I kinda just… really like them? I mean, they are, like, very nutritious and stuff. Can’t risk running out of them.”

Yaz leaned over to ruffle blonde hair with her free hand. “You know you’re crazy, right?” she laughed.

“Normal is totally overrated,” Jo replied defiantly.

“It definitely is,” Yaz agreed before planting a soft kiss on the other woman’s temple.

She sank back into the couch and let her gaze roam over the living room in front of her. Yaz hadn’t seen much of it last night; their tour had been quickly interrupted once Jo had stepped behind her in the kitchen and started kissing her neck. After that, she had only seen the bedroom and bathroom. What she saw now was a desperate attempt of Jo’s to somehow look organised. Despite the chaotic conductor having obviously tried her best to make things look in order, her personality just couldn’t be contained. There was sheet music everywhere; on the dining and coffee tables, on some of the chairs, even resting on the dvd player underneath the small tv. And, oddly enough, Yaz could spot piles of electronics here and there, too.

I’m so going to curse all of this the day we move in together.

For a moment, she was surprised at her own thought. They hadn’t talked about anything like that, and Yaz knew that it was way too soon. Still, she felt deep inside of herself that Jo was somehow right for her, and for the first time in her life she was able to imagine a real future with someone.

She took another sip of her coffee and hummed in contentment. She had slipped out of bed early that morning and put on one of Jo’s shirts lying on her chair. Hoping that the blonde wouldn’t wake up, she had made them coffee and taken the Portuguese pastries, which she had bought on her way over the day before, out of her bag. On her quest to find mugs, she had opened the custard creams cabinet and had to put a hand over her mouth to keep herself from bursting out into loud laughter, potentially waking up the woman upstairs.

Her surprise hadn’t quite worked out, as Jo had indeed woken up before Yaz could bring the breakfast to the bedroom. The blonde had sleepily padded down the stairs into the kitchen just as Yaz had poured out the coffee. Turning around, Yaz had forgotten how to breathe for a moment.

Jo was wearing nothing but simple black underpants and Yaz’s favourite orange sweater. Standing there, eyes small and hair mussed from sleep, the sleeves of the sweater drawn over her hands, she looked like the most beautiful woman Yaz had ever seen in her life.

Then Jo had walked up to her, slipping her arms around her waist and nuzzled her cheek into Yaz’s shoulder. “I want to wake up to this every day,” she had sighed, and Yaz knew that she wanted the exact same thing.

“When do you need to leave for lunch at your parents?”

Yaz looked around, checking for a clock.

“Oh, here,” Jo said, nudging what had looked like a useless pile of electronics on the coffee table. It lit up blue and a time appeared in the air just above it, floating like a hologram.

“Woah!” Yaz gasped. “Where did you get that?”

“Actually, I made it. I like to tinker with electronics and stuff, keep my hands busy when I’m not making music.”

Yaz leaned forward, examining the futuristic clock up close. “Joan Smith,” she said as she leaned back. “You are full of surprises, aren’t you?”

 

———

 

The ticking of the clock on the wall was starting to feel like somebody was continuously hammering the tiniest of nails into the side of Yaz’s skull. Silence had fallen after they had finished lunch and made tea, everyone happily sipping away and interrupted only by the more or less regular chiming of incoming messages on Sonya’s phone. 

What her parents and Sonya no doubt perceived as a pleasant quietness after a chatty lunch where Yaz had told them everything (well, almost) about the tour, was starting to feel for Yaz like someone was breathing cold air down her neck.

She had known the moment she’d stepped foot out of the bubble that was Jo’s apartment that she had to tell her parents and that she’d better do it sooner than later. The only trouble was, she still wasn’t sure what to say. I’m gay? She didn’t know if she was maybe bi or pansexual, or if she even wanted to put a label on it at all; there was still so much she had to figure out about herself. The only thing that she knew with absolute certainty was that she loved Jo, that beautiful, chaotic ball of energy, with all her heart. So she finally decided that that was what she was going to go with.

“I’ve met someone.”

The reactions from the three people around the table couldn’t have been more different. Najia eagerly sat up in her chair, immediately buzzing with curiosity. Sonya only briefly looked up from her phone, eyebrow raised in a perfect image of incredulity. And finally, Hakim had gone completely stiff, looking like he was about to go get a shotgun and put it to the head of whomever was daring to romance his daughter.

“Go on then, Yasmin,” Najia smiled. “Tell us all about him.”

“Yes, I would like to know who this new… gentleman in my daughter’s life is,” Hakim added, face stern.

At this point, Yaz was sure she was either going to faint, throw up on the kitchen floor, or her heart would explode out of her throat.

Her distress must have been visible, because her father went straight into protective mode. “Is he not treating you well? Is he hurting my daughter? If he is a bad man, I swear I will-”

“No, no! Dad, calm down!” Yaz said, throwing up both of her hands.

“Actually,” she continued, dropping her hands onto the table, smiling as she thought of her Jo. “Actually, she’s, like, the best person I’ve ever met. And… I love her. Very, very much.”

Again, the kaleidoscope of reactions would have been interesting if Yaz wouldn’t have felt like she was dying inside.

Sonya just glanced up from her phone once more, shrugged, then continued typing. Their mother looked a lot more surprised, her mouth forming a silent “oh”. Hakim’s face, however, had become void of any emotion whatsoever. It was the reaction that scared Yaz the most.

Time seemed awkwardly suspended for a moment, then Hakim abruptly stood up and walked out of the room, not saying a word. Yaz could instantly feel the tears threatening to spill and it was taking all of her willpower not to start sobbing right there and then, in the middle of her parents’ kitchen. She bit her cheeks, clenching her fists, then looked up at her mum, eyes pleading, and felt hope as the woman’s expression suddenly softened. Pushing her chair back, Najia stood up to walk around the small table, pulling Hakim’s now empty chair close to Yaz. In one swift motion, she sat down and pulled Yaz into the warmest, most comforting hug.

The moment she felt her mother’s arms around her, Yaz felt the tears spill.

“I’m sorry, Yasmin,” Najia said, softly stroking Yaz’s hair. “I’m sure he’ll just need a moment.”

She just held her for a bit, then leaned back, placing a hand atop of Yaz’s and used the other one to wipe away the tears on her daughter’s cheeks. “In the meantime,” she continued, smiling. “Why don’t you tell me all about her, then? Is she a musician, too? Oh, is it someone from the orchestra? Someone I know?”

Yaz was still shaken, yet her mother’s reaction made her feel a little bit lighter again. As she started telling her about Jo, she realised she was smiling, in spite of everything.

“She’s honestly so great, mum. She is a musician, yes, but nobody you know. Her name’s Jo; Doctor Joan Smith.”

“The conductor?” Najia said, surprised. “Won’t that look…”

Yaz immediately cut her off. “We’re keeping it quiet for now, mum. She doesn’t want my career to get hurt, either. She really cares about me so much. She’s just so brilliant and smart and so kind and beautiful and… It feels like I’m home when I’m with her.”

“Gross,” Sonya mumbled next to her and Yaz felt her heart sink again.

“Sonya!” Najia admonished. “You don’t talk to your sister like that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with her being with a woman.”

Looking up from her phone, Sonya scrunched up her face, obviously annoyed. “I’m not homophobic, ma.” She shook her head, then leaned back and waved her free hand in the air, disgust on her face. “I don’t care who she’s with, but I really don’t want to hear about all that gross, mushy stuff.”

For the first time since they had sat down for lunch, Yaz felt a real laugh break out of her. Najia looked confused for a moment then smiled at her.

“I’m happy for you, Yasmin,” she finally said once Yaz had stopped laughing. Then, more earnestly, “I’ll talk to your father. Don’t you worry about that for a second, alright? We love you. He was just surprised is all.”

Yaz nodded, trying to believe what her mum was saying. “Thanks, mum.”

“Now,” Najia said, lifting an eyebrow. “When can I meet this girlfriend of yours so I may judge if she is indeed good enough for my daughter?”

“Not for a while, actually,” Yaz sighed. “She has to leave for another tour the day after tomorrow and will be gone for a whole month. But maybe after that, she could come over for tea?”

“I would love that,” Najia said. Then suddenly, she lifted her arms and started shooing Yaz away. “Now off you go, Yasmin.”

“What?” Yaz asked, confused at the sudden change.

“She leaves the day after tomorrow you said? Then you’d better go and be with her as much as you can. You can come see us whenever you like.”

Yaz smiled as she stood up. “Thanks, ma. For… everything.”

Najia looked up at her, love shining in her eyes as she nodded. “We’ll see you soon.”

Yaz walked out the kitchen and stood at the door for a moment after grabbing her jacket off the hook, swallowing as she saw that her father still hadn’t come back out of his study. She was just about to turn and open the door to leave when she heard a commotion in the kitchen.

“I got it! I got it!” Hakim called out, half-falling into the kitchen as he yanked open the door. “Is she still here?” 

“Hakim Khan!” Yaz heard her mum say. “Don’t you dare make our daughter feel any worse than you already -”

But Yaz saw him wave her off and walk towards the door instead. She braced herself for whatever she might have to face now - anger, disappointment, disgust? But once her father stopped in front of her, there was something completely different in his eyes, and he softly reached for her hand to hold it out palm up towards himself, placing a small wooden box into it.

“Dad?” She asked, confused.

“Open it,” he replied, smiling.

With a shaking hand, she reached for it, gently pressing a small clip on the side of the box so it sprang open. When she saw what was inside, she gasped.

“Dad, that’s -”

“My mother’s engagement ring,” he said softly, tears in his eyes. “Well, her mahr. I was starting to think I’d have to give it to one of your cousins.” At that, he pulled a face and a small laugh escaped Yaz.

Looking at the ring that she had spent many a moment of her childhood admiring on her grandmother’s hand, Yaz was at a loss for words. It was a simple, yet elegant gold band with a small, round ruby set in the middle. She snapped the box shut again.

“Dad,” she finally said. “We just started going out, I don’t think that -”

“You said you love her, right?” he interrupted, looking serious.

“I do, yes.”

“And does she love you, too?”

Yaz smiled, relishing in the warmth spreading through her chest. “She does, yeah.”

“Then you will need it one day,” he finished, closing Yaz’s hand over the box. “I love you, Beti.”

For the second time that day, albeit for very different reasons, Yaz felt herself choke up and stepped forward, throwing her arms around her father’s neck. “I love you, too.”

“Uuuuugh,” Sonya called out from the kitchen. “Can this whole family just stop being so grossly emotional?”

Yaz laughed, but as she glanced over her father’s shoulder into the kitchen, she swore she could see some tears in Sonya’s eyes, too.

Chapter Text

Yaz was nervously waiting in Jo’s living room, constantly fidgeting with her short, dark red dress. She had picked it up on her way home from her parents, as she had stopped at her flat to put her grandmother’s engagement ring into her safe - the one that held her violin when she had to leave it at home. 

Suddenly, she asked herself if the dress was maybe too formal; after all, Jo hadn’t said where they’d be going for dinner. All she had said was that she wanted to take Yaz somewhere nice.

Yaz’s fears dissipated, however, as soon as Jo stepped into the living room a moment later, wearing a simple but elegant white blouse tucked into the front of her black trousers. To Yaz’s surprise, the blonde was wearing heels.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear heels before.”

“Oh,” Jo said, looking down at her feet. “They’re just not very comfortable for conducting. Or, well, I tried once and it turned into a bit of a safety hazard.”

Yaz chuckled, shaking her head. “They look good on you. So, where are you taking me?”

“Ah well, since we probably wouldn’t feel too free at a regular restaurant, I had to think a bit outside the box. Would the lady be so kind as to walk with me?”

Jo held out her arm for Yaz, who took a tentative step forward and linked it with her own. The confusion she felt at Jo’s words only grew once the blonde started walking her up the stairs. For a moment, Yaz felt her stomach drop as they walked towards the bedroom. She had not dressed up just to be undressed again immediately after. Not that she would be opposed to it later in the evening, but this felt very unlike the gentlewomanly behaviour Jo usually exhibited.

“After you!” Jo said, and Yaz stopped abruptly. She had been so focused on her thoughts that she hadn’t realised that at the end of the hallway, foldable attic stairs had been pulled down.

She looked over at Jo, frowning. This was definitely not what she had imagined either.

“Go on,” Jo said excitedly. “I promise you’ll like it.”

So, Yaz took a tentative step towards the stairs and climbed up. There was a small corridor in front of her, walls of concrete to her left and right. She walked towards the door and gently pushed it open, feeling surprised as a gentle breeze suddenly caressed her skin.

There she was, standing on top of Jo’s building and in front of her was a small table with two chairs and a tray with food and wine next to it. She took a step forward, and as she took in the music softy coming from the speaker standing next to the door, she realised that there were candles all around her, bathing the air around them in a warm, orange light. 

“Jo,” she gasped as she turned around, facing the blonde who has standing in the door with a sheepish smile on her face. “Jo this is amazing. I… I don’t know what to say.”

Jo stepped towards her, holding out her hand. “You don’t need to say anything. Just dance with me.”

Yaz happily reached for Jo’s hand, letting the woman’s other arm slip behind her back as she pulled Yaz close. Their foreheads resting against each other, both women closed their eyes and Yaz couldn’t help but be transported back to that very first dance they shared.

She remembered how she had felt then, scared and confused, and how she had run from Jo despite the one thing that she had wanted to do was to hold the other woman even tighter. And so she did just that now, tightening her grip on Jo’s hand and shoulder, further shrinking the space between them. They swayed like that for a while, no one else besides them existing in the world, until Yaz felt like she still wasn’t close enough to Jo. So she slowly brushed her nose against the blonde’s, skimming her lips over the other woman’s cheek, until finally they met in a kiss.

Home.

It was in that exact moment that Yaz knew that if, one day, she was to take that little wooden box out of her safe, it would be for Jo.

 

——

 

It had never before felt like time was Jo’s enemy, yet now she wanted to curse it for running through her fingers like sand. No matter how much she tried to hold on to every moment she still had left with Yaz, she could not manage to slow time down enough to avoid feeling like she was running towards her impending departure at full speed.

The previous night had been the most beautiful of Jo’s life. They had laughed and talked over their dinner that had been generously prepared by her friend Clara, a wonderful chef who had agreed to help Jo out with her plan. After the food, Jo had brought some blankets up onto the roof and they had lied down, watching the stars above their heads and holding hands while they talked about their childhoods, their dreams, their secret passions; anything and everything that came to their minds. Later that night, they had made love beneath the starlit sky.

Yaz had fallen asleep in her arms once again, so Jo had gently picked her up and carried the brunette back down to her bedroom, sitting beside her as she slept peacefully. Jo had wanted to take a mental picture of the moment: Yaz’s hair delicately framing her face, the soft rise and fall of her chest, her hand slowly drifting towards Jo’s on the blanket, finally finding it and never letting go throughout the night. Her heart had felt so full of love and happiness and a sense of having found something that she hadn’t even known she’d been looking for. She realised now that her entire life up until this very moment; in every smile, every laugh, and every twinkle in an eye she had been searching for Yaz. So overcome with emotion, Jo had cried sitting next to this incredible woman, not out of sadness, but out of true, profound bliss.

The next day had felt like somebody had accidentally put their lives on fast-forward, rushing them through a morning spent listening to Jo’s favourite LPs while sipping their coffee in bed, through a lunch at Yaz’s favourite restaurant, and finally to the park about an hour’s drive away from Sheffield.

“Yaz,” she said softly as they were walking, holding hands. “I wish you could come with me.”

“Me, too,” Yaz replied, looking out wistfully over the pond in front of them. “I feel like time is just slipping through my fingers.”

“I do, too,” Jo replied, and held on to Yaz’s hand a bit tighter.

 

——

 

“If I keep you from packing, will you have to stay?”

Jo was sitting next to her suitcase on the bedroom floor, trying to figure out how to best fit the last pieces of her clothing inside. Her concert suits, picked up from the dry cleaner on their way back from the park, were already in her suit bag, hanging on the closet door next to the bed. The blonde looked up and smiled weakly at Yaz, shoulders sagging. “I really wish it would work like that.”

Yaz picked at the blanket draped over her legs, suddenly unsure of what to say. A gloomy silence had started to hang over their heads ever since they’d driven back from the park and they had been unable to chase it away. Both of them had started to glance at clocks and watches way more often, feeling increasingly desperate at their inability to stop time.

Overtaken by a sudden urge deep in her chest, Yaz flipped the covers off her legs and jumped out of the bed, moving to kneel next to Jo and bury her face in the blonde’s hair.

After a while, she pulled back, only for Jo to suddenly grab a hold of her waist and pull her forward to crush their lips together.

I guess packing can wait, Yaz thought as they stumbled over toward the bed.

 

——

 

Jo had never liked getting up early in the morning. Today, however, she really hated it. She had woken up with Yaz’s naked body pressed into her back, an arm slung over her waist and firmly holding on. A glance at the clock on her nightstand told her that she had to get up and get ready soon, but she couldn’t bear to let go just yet.

It hadn’t helped soothe her pain when she had realised late last night, as she was lying awake, that she and Yaz hadn’t really talked about what would happen after the tour. Sure, they had confessed their feelings for each other back in Salzburg, and it had always felt until now like Yaz wanted a long-term relationship, just like Jo. But they had never actually defined what they were doing, and once the nagging doubt had settled itself in Jo’s mind, she had started to feel anxious. What if Yaz didn’t want to wait around for her for a whole month? What if she wanted to date other people in the meantime? It was only four weeks, but at the same time, it was four whole weeks.

She realised that Yaz must have woken up when she felt soft kisses being placed between her shoulder blades, and she gasped as Yaz’s hand slipped from around Jo’s waist down between her legs.

“Yaz,” she moaned as she closed her eyes. Maybe I don’t have to think about all of this right now.

 

——

 

Yaz clenched the steering wheel so hard that her knuckles were starting to turn white, all the while feeling like something was caught in her throat. After a shower and a quick breakfast, they had loaded everything into Jo’s car and driven off towards the airport. They had roughly two hours in the car ahead of them, then another hour at the airport before Jo would have to pass security. A grand total of three hours she had left to spend with Jo.

They tried talking about random, everyday things, both of them forcing a laugh now and then, and yet both of them aware that neither of them actually felt like laughing at all. At some point, they just listened to the radio, Jo’s hand coming to rest softly on top of Yaz’s leg.

Lost in her thoughts, Jo had to resist the urge to lean over, grab the wheel and just turn them around. A question was lying on the tip of her tongue, burning a hole into it, yet she couldn’t bring herself to speak the words. Instead, she savored the warmth of Yaz’s leg beneath her palm, wishing she wouldn’t have to let go so soon.

 

——

 

As they drove into airport parking, Yaz felt the lump in her throat thicken. They unloaded Jo’s suitcase and went up into the hall to check the luggage and get her ticket. Once it was all taken care of, they just stood there, looking at the floor between their feet, neither woman knowing what to say.

“Yaz-”

“Jo-“

A small laugh rang in the air between them, before Yaz gestured for Jo to go first.

The blonde tentatively reached out to hold one of Yaz’s hands, intertwining their fingers. She looked at their joined hands for a moment before she spoke quietly, voice full of vulnerability.

“Yaz, I was wondering… I just… I don’t know how to ask. I don’t know if you want the same thing I want. But God, I really hope you do.”

She looked up into Yaz’s eyes and squeezed her hand. “I guess what I’m trying to say is… I know I’m going to be away for a while and if you want to see other people during that time, I uhm… I guess I’d get that. No, actually, scratch that. I wouldn’t. Yaz, I want to be with you, for good. Will you wait for me?”

Yaz’s eyes had gone wide during Jo’s little speech, surprised at the blonde’s sudden nervous ramble. It took her a moment before she actually caught up with what Jo had said.

“So,” she finally replied. “What you’re saying is, you want me to be your girlfriend.”

At that, Jo nodded eagerly, a soft blush colouring her cheeks as she waited for an answer.

“I would love nothing more,” Yaz finally said, ignoring the fact for a moment that they were in a very public place as she leaned up to place a soft kiss on Jo’s lips.

“Now Joan Smith,” she said as she pulled back slightly. “I have a question for you, too.”

“Yes?” Jo asked, suddenly looking nervous again, like she was about to face some sort of test.

“Will you always come back to me?”

Jo’s expression softened and she smiled, the skin around her eyes crinkling in that adorable way that Yaz loved so much.

“Always,” she answered firmly. “Because you know what, Yasmin Khan?”

“What?”

Putting her hand gently against Yaz’s cheek, Jo leaned down, her eyes shining with such honesty, warmth, and kindness that Yaz wished she could disappear into them and never know another sight ever again. Jo’s lips ghosted over hers and Yaz closed her eyes, forgetting the world around them just for the moment as she heard Jo softly whisper five words:

“Ech si frou mat dir.”

“I am happy with you.

Chapter Text

Two years later

 

The speaker over Yaz’s head was crackling, the tell-tale sign of her soon-to-begin walk to the stage.

“Miss Khan, this is your fifteen minute call.”

Taking a deep breath, she closed the sheet music in front of her. It was no use trying to look over it anymore, anyway. She knew her score, and she knew it well. Now all she needed to do was get a grip on her nerves.

She had never really had a problem with them before, yet they had been bothering her ever since she had gotten on that plane yesterday morning. It wasn’t even like she had never played a solo with an orchestra before; in fact, she had already done so at uni.

This, however, felt entirely different. She had gotten one rehearsal with the orchestra yesterday, and it had gone by all too quickly for Yaz’s liking.

“Will you calm down?” she muttered to herself, taking her violin out of its case.

The Vuillaume had been her constant companion over the past three years and she was incredibly grateful the bank hadn’t wanted it back when she gave up her position as concertmaster. In fact, they had been delighted to know it was in the hands of someone with a soloist career ahead of them.

Gently strumming the chords with her left hand, she realised that it had been a year already since she’d left her job at the orchestra behind. A year in which she’d given solo recitals all over the UK and now, finally, she stood at the beginning of her very own solo tour.

The agency had approached her a couple of weeks after she had come home from that very first orchestra tour; they had liked her performance as a concertmaster and wanted her to audition solo for them. She went in thinking that nothing was likely going to come from it; the agency was a small, prestigious institution and just being asked to audition was more than Yaz could have ever wished for.

When the phone call had come a week later, she’d cried.

And when they had sat down to negotiate the terms of her contract and her first tour a couple of months after that, she made only one request.

“Miss Khan, please proceed to the stage.”

Smiling, she looked into her violin case - how the pictures in it had changed! - before snapping it shut.

As she walked down the corridor towards the stage, she heard the thundering applause from outside. The orchestra had just finished their piece, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony , and it was no doubt the conductor’s turn to take a bow right now, before walking off stage to enter again together with Yaz.

After greeting the stage technician with a smile, Yaz looked herself over one last time, smoothing out her skirt. Funny how those little habits never change , she thought to herself as the door in front of her suddenly opened.

The smile on the face of the woman in front of her was wild and contagious. Her blonde hair dishevelled from twenty minutes spent energetically leading an orchestra, it made Yaz think of those very first days they had spent together.

“Ready?” Jo said, as she stretched out her hand towards Yaz, the red stone of the small golden band on her ring finger flashing as it was hit by the light.

“Ready,” Yaz replied, squeezing Jo’s hand before both of them walked out through the doors into the blinding spotlight of the Philharmonie de Paris .


 

One year later

 

“They’re not coming.”

Jo stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, holding a thick piece of paper in both hands.

“What?” Yaz immediately jumped out of their reading chair - a cosy, red wing chair they had found at an antique shop after they’d first moved into the house.

Nodding, Jo held out the paper towards her. She had found it in the pile of mail a minute ago as she had come back from a morning rehearsal. Seeing it, she had immediately known that it was her parents’ reply to the invitation, but she’d frozen as soon as she saw what box they had ticked.

She watched as Yaz turned the piece of paper around, searching for an explanation, looking incredulous. “Did they say anything to you about this?”

Jo shook her head and saw fiery anger starting to blaze behind Yaz’s eyes. “Where’s my phone,” the brunette growled, looking around the living room.

Before she could find it, Jo gently put a hand on her arm. “It’s fine,” she mumbled.

“Honey, it most definitely is not . They’re not even giving you an explanation! It’s their only daughter’s wedding for fu -”

“Language,” Jo interrupted, raising an eyebrow and smiling weakly.

She watched as Yaz calmed her breathing down and slowly unclenched her fists.

“You know,” she continued. “I even think I kind of expected this. Can we just let it be? Getting upset about it won’t change things, I’ve learned that much over the years.”

She looked into Yaz’s eyes, those kind, chocolate brown eyes she loved so much, and watched her gaze soften.

“If that’s what you want, I will say no more about it.”

“Thank you,” Jo replied, turning around to walk back into the kitchen.

It was two weeks later, when she sat down to practice at the piano in the living room, that it all came flooding out. Her fingers were working against her and she just couldn’t seem to get herself to play that one passage without mistakes. Growing more and more frustrated, she clenched her teeth as she forced herself through the usual slow - fast - slow - fast routine. When she stumbled through the fast version for the third time, she stood up abruptly, knocking over the piano stool as tears formed in her eyes.

“For God’s sake!” she called out as the chair loudly clattered to the floor behind her.

She just couldn’t keep the tears inside anymore. All because of a stupid sonata , she thought, sinking down on the floor. Suddenly, she saw her parents’ faces, disappointment shining in their eyes, and a sob broke out of her, shaking her whole body.

“Oh, Jo.”

Yaz was at her side a second later, wrapping her up in the tightest hug, softly rocking her back and forth while whispering words of love into her ear.

“It’s my wedding,” Jo cried into her chest. “It’s my wedding and they won’t come.”

Yaz held her through it all, until there were no more tears to shed and Jo became limp in her arms, breathing in the scent of her fiancée as she tried to regain control over her breathing.

“Jo,” Yaz said softly, letting both of her hands rest on the blonde’s cheeks, pulling her face up to look into her eyes. “Jo, I am so, so sorry. I don’t know how to make this pain go away. But what I can do is promise you one thing.”

“What?” Jo asked, her eyes full of vulnerability and pain.

“I will never leave you alone. Never. We’ll be our own little family, you and me.”

And with that, Yaz leaned down and kissed her.

Our family , Jo thought as their lips touched and felt herself smile a little into the kiss.

 

One year later

 

Yaz was leaning her arm on the balustrade of her box, letting the last notes from the first act of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly wash over her. From the proscenium, she had the perfect view; it was the only box in the house placed on the same level as the stage, directly above the orchestra pit. Admittedly, she hadn’t seen much of the staging, being too busy watching Jo lead the opera house’s orchestra through this monumental piece, pride swelling in her own chest every time the blonde managed to pull a new colour out of the sound surrounding them.

As the applause in the room slowly died down, she watched Jo weave through the orchestra members towards the door to the pit, briefly looking up to wink at her. After all this time, Yaz still found herself blushing.

She made her way out of the box and into the foyer, deciding to forgo a drink at the bar for some fresh air. Just as she stepped into the evening light, breathing in the cool air, she suddenly saw an all-too-familiar face standing just a couple of steps away. Yaz blinked, trying to focus her eyes and making sure her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her.

There, her once-long blonde hair cut short and her arm casually slung around the waist of a ginger woman, was none other than Izzy Flint.

From the look on her face - eyes wide and mouth open - Izzy had definitely not been expecting to run into Yaz, either. Yaz watched Izzy lean over to the woman at her side and speak to her, and she was just about to turn around and walk back into the theatre as quickly as she could, when she realised her former colleague was walking towards her.

Izzy smiled shyly as she stopped in front of Yaz and awkwardly held out a hand. “Yaz,” she spoke softly in a tone that seemed entirely new for her.

There was something different about the other woman, like a disguise had been ripped off of her.
Pulling herself out of her stupor, Yaz took the offered hand and shook it once, before letting go. “Izzy.”

They looked at each other for a moment, neither woman entirely sure what to do next. Just as Yaz was about to excuse herself, Izzy started to speak once again.

“I’m sorry, Yaz. I am so, so sorry.”

Yaz froze and looked at the blonde in utter disbelief. However, before she could say anything, Izzy continued.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make up for what I put you through. The only thing I can say is that I was hiding who I was, and I didn’t know how to handle my life anymore. That’s not an excuse, of course.” She nervously looked down at her hands, clasped tightly together “I just… I was overwhelmed by my feelings for you. I had just started at uni, and then there you were and I… I fought it with all I had, and I ended up hurting you in order to protect myself. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to make up for that.”

Yaz was speechless. She remembered the moment, what felt like a lifetime ago, as she had looked into Izzy’s eyes in that bar, realising the truth for the very first time. Still, she had never expected to actually hear the words come out of the blonde’s mouth.

“I’m better now. I mean, personally, but also as a person, or I hope at least. I’ve been seeing a therapist, and Amy,” she paused awkwardly, gesturing behind herself. “My girlfriend, she’s helped me find kindness inside myself again. Showed me it’s ok to forgive myself for the awful things I’ve done, though I’m not sure I’m quite there yet.”

She looked up into Yaz’s eyes, and it was like seeing an entirely new person. In that moment, Yaz realised that she had never truly met Izzy Flint.

“Did you…” she started, tentatively. “Your parents?”

Pain flashed across Izzy’s face, and Yaz knew the answer before it was spoken. “Chased me away. I haven’t talked to them in two years.”

“I’m sorry,” Yaz heard herself say, surprising herself by really meaning the words.

Izzy shrugged, smiling nervously. “It’s ok. I mean, it’s hard, but at the same time, it’s not as hard as trying to be someone I’m just not.” She sighed. “My whole life, I tried so hard to make myself fit into a mould that I simply wasn’t cast for. It turned me into an awful human being, and I really am sorry, Yaz.”

Yaz nodded, unsure of what to say. She wasn’t quite there yet, she knew that telling Izzy that she had forgiven her would still be a lie. Nonetheless, she found herself wanting to reach out to the other woman, maybe have a chance to truly find out who Izzy actually was.

“Here,” she finally said, fishing a card out of her purse and quickly handing it to the blonde before she could change her mind. “Call me. We could go for drinks, the four of us, sometime.” She gestured towards the ginger woman and watched surprise appear on Izzy’s face, quickly replaced by a smile.

“I would like that,” she replied. “Thank you.”

The two women stood quietly before the gong rang out from the opera house behind them, announcing the end of the intermission. Yaz nodded at Izzy, wishing her a nice evening, and just as she turned around, heard the other woman call out after her.

“You make a great couple.”

When Yaz turned around, she saw Izzy taking a tentative step towards her, smiling an honest, true smile without any fake sweetness or bitterness lurking in her eyes. For a moment, it looked as if she was about to hug Yaz, who felt herself freeze, but then the blonde just stretched out her hand once more, and Yaz slowly reached out to take it into her own.

“I am happy for you,” Izzy said, and Yaz knew in that moment that she really meant it.

With a final nod, they let go, each turning around and walking back to see the women they loved.

 

 

Six months later

 

They bowed together, smiles wide on their faces as they joined hands, relishing in the applause washing over them.

After letting each other take a single bow, they walked away from the piano together, their hands rejoining as soon as the doors to the stage closed behind them.

“You were brilliant!” Jo called out as she turned towards Yaz, grinning wildly.

“So were you,” Yaz replied, squeezing the blonde’s hand softly. “Dressing room?” she asked, suddenly feeling tired from being on her feet for forty-five minutes straight.

“Of course.”

Yaz had to suppress a smile as Jo took her by the elbow, guiding her down the hallway as if she were an old woman who couldn’t walk on her own.

As soon as they walked into the dressing room, Jo ushered her to the couch, propping up a pillow behind her back. She then proceeded to scurry around the room, grabbing a bottle of water from the shelf.

“Right, you comfy? Do you need something to drink? You should probably drink. Fluid intake, very important. Are your feet hurting? I can rub them if you want.”

“Jo.”

“You’re good for the second half, right? We can always prolong the break by a couple of minutes if you aren’t.”

“Jo!”

As there was no sign that the blonde would stop anytime soon, Yaz got up from the couch and walked towards her.

“Maybe we should have cancelled this tour after all, I mean we shouldn’t risk - umph.”

Yaz did the only thing she knew would surely work to shut Jo up; she pulled her in by the waist and kissed her deeply.

As she pulled back, she pushed a loose strand of hair behind Jo’s ear.

“Honey, you know I’m pregnant, not terminally ill, right?”

“Hmph,” Jo replied, pulling her face into a pout. “I just don’t want anything to happen to her! I want to do this right.”

“Her, hm?” Yaz asked, grinning.

“Yup, I’ve decided.”

“I don’t think that’s how that works, Jo,” Yaz laughed, placing another small kiss on the blonde’s lips.

She turned around, walking back to the couch and sat down on it with a sigh. Leaning back, she closed her eyes.

“Do we have to do the autographs after?”

“I’m afraid we do. Contractual obligations and all.”

“Ah, here we are at the peak of our careers, slaves to our agents. Do you think they’ll ever forgive us for taking all of next year off?”

“Not just next year.”

“Hm?”

“I cancelled America.”

Yaz’s eyes shot open and she leaned forward, frowning. “You what?”

“I cancelled America. It was too close to your due date.”

“Two weeks, Jo!”

“Not risking it. I’m not missing this for the world. Besides, I want to be there for you, before, too.” Jo walked over to the couch, kneeling down on the floor in front of Yaz. “You remember what you said, that day… when I cried about the thing with my parents.”

Yaz frowned, nodding. “I do.”

“Well, I’m making the same promise to you. Both of you. I will never leave you alone. Our little family.”

“Jo,” Yaz breathed, feeling tears starting to form in her eyes. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Jo replied before leaning forward and pulling her wife into a soft kiss.

“Besides,” she said as she pulled back, scrunching up her face. “If I missed the birth, you’d probably use the chance to brainwash her into liking Bach better than Tchaikovsky, and I can’t let that happen.”

“Oi!” Yaz called out, slapping her playfully on the arm.

A soft knock on the door interrupted them. “Come in!” Yaz called out, smiling at Jo still kneeling in front of her.

“Guys, we really have to stop meeting like this… Break’s over in five minutes.”

“Oh, Mister concert hall manager himself announcing the breaks, that’s new,” Yaz said, laughing as she got up to walk towards the door, pulling Ryan into a hug.

“Only the best for my favourite musicians,” he replied, winking. “And my godchild!”

“God daughter ,” Jo corrected, walking up behind Yaz.

“What, really?” Ryan asked, looking back and forth between the two women. “You already know? I thought it was too soon to -”

“It is,” Yaz interrupted, sighing. “But she’s made up her mind. I think somebody needs to explain  human biology to my wife.”

Ryan threw up his arms, screwing up his face. “Nope, definitely not me.”



Six months later

 

“I can’t believe you were right,” Yaz groaned. She felt completely drained of any energy, unable to move.

“I don’t want to say it, but I told-”

“Joan Khan, don’t you dare! I might be physically unable to move right now but I will smack you over the head later.”

“Shh, Sophia,” Jo cooed, softly cradling their baby and leaning down to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Your ma’s very tired from bringing you into this world, she doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

“That’s it,” Yaz said, using all of her leftover willpower to reach for her phone on the nightstand.

Jo frowned. “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting on my Bach playlist. And you have no right to complain, because I just spent the last six hours giving birth to our daughter.”

Feeling a smile spread over her face, Jo watched Yaz grab her phone and press play. A moment later, the room around them was filled with the sound of a violin. She looked down to marvel at the tiny human she was holding in her arms; the perfect little nose, the hands and feet, all miniature versions of her own, and the little bit of fluffy brown hair on her head. “She’s perfect,” she mumbled.

“She’s ours,” Yaz replied softly.

Jo looked up, warmth spreading through her chest at the sight of her wife smiling at their baby. Even with all the exhaustion of labour visible on her face, she was still radiant; the most beautiful woman Jo had ever seen.

“Our little family,” she said.

“Yeah,” Yaz replied, smiling while stretching out her arm, gently letting her hand come to rest on Jo’s cheek. “Our little family.”


 

Seven years later

 

“Is she sure?”

“I don’t know, I mean she says she loves it.”

“Maybe it’s just a phase.”

“Do you think we’ve done something wrong?”

“There has to be something we can do.”

“I don’t know, I mean… she looks happy .”

They were standing next to each other in the doorway to their living room, watching Sophia practice her heart out next to the piano, smiling broadly as she worked her way through a new piece. The instrument was still a bit big for her, even though she had gotten a smaller, kid’s version of it.

Both women sighed, resigning themselves to the undeniable truth in front of them.

“So, the viola it is, huh?”

“Yup. The viola it is.”