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Just the Beginning

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Catherine dithers.

The realization smarts. She’s used to being decisive, driven, focused, and strong and she is decidedly not accustomed to being the type of woman who dithers, who is indecisive and who mopes around like a schoolgirl with a crush. She is not a schoolgirl by any stretch of the definition. Right now, she’s about the furthest thing away from being a schoolgirl with a crush that she can possibly be, but even so it seems like the only metaphor that even remotely fits isn’t at all correct. Catherine has started to wonder, in the long summer months that follow Jackie’s departure, if such a metaphor even exists and if the English language has any hope to adequately explain what it is that she feels. She knows that she should probably find a metaphor that explains the whole thing a little more maturely, as is fitting for someone of her stature. She knows that the vampire daughter of a mobster family should be… more. Should be that strong, decisive, driven, focused individual with a metaphor to match. But she isn’t, and yet she is, and this is the exact problem that the two sides of herself have been fighting over for these weeks, these months. As a professor of psychology, Catherine is no stranger to the incredible strength that a character flaw manages to wield, but even though she knows better she finds herself surprised at the vivacity of the struggle. Somehow she had thought that her moments of weakness wouldn’t be quite so difficult to squash with a lifelong history of strength. After all, what was a year, and a school year at that, when compared with a lifetime, even when one considered how young she was by many standards. But against all expectations the weakness grows stronger as time goes on, instead of weaker, in the face of strength, and so she struggles while one half of her wars against the other half. Weakness against strength, schoolgirl against vampiress, and maybe that’s the only metaphor that fits Catherine.

Catherine wars.

By the time Jackie leaves Bloomington, Catherine is wholly destroyed. And yet she knows she was telling the truth when she told Jackie that she didn’t hate her. She can’t hate her. But she wants to be able to, as if hating the young woman will make the losses she has suffered any less devastating. As if hating Jackie will give her back her job, will make her not only respected but almost feared on campus, will make her a successful teacher whose class will once more hold the largest waitlist, and will enable her to start a new year with a new target, continuing on as things have always been. Fortunately, in this instance her logic is able to override her impulses, because Catherine is smart enough to know by now that there is no fixing pure devastation. It’s perhaps not the most sound tenet to hold up as truth for a psychologist, whose job and very nature is about fixing the broken, but there are things that cannot be fixed. There are losses that cannot be recouped.

Which is why, when she answers a knock on the door to find Professor Hecht standing on her front stoop, she invites him in. Wanting to hate Jackie hasn’t made her any more able to do so, and Hecht has been a family friend for so long, since there was a whole family to be friend to, that she simply doesn’t have it in her to hate the man any more than she has it in her to hate the child actress that she had fallen in love with just scant months ago.

"I would have come by sooner but I got the impression that you, understandably, wouldn't be ready to see me just yet," he tells her without preamble as he settles himself on her couch. His smile is patient, kind, and holds no judgement, remaining as open as his words. "I suppose it's possible that you still don't," he adds, when her head snaps up and she pierces him with a guarded look, "But I felt as if enough time had passed for me to at least make the effort." What he leaves unspoken is that he has made a living for as long as she can remember teaching people how to determine these types of things, how to read situations like the one they are in right now, and that he has gotten incredibly good at it over the years. He's right, she wasn't. She's not sure that she is now, but... he's here, and she has let him in mostly out of habit, so she just shrugs. "I will consider that an encouraging sign that I haven't yet lost my touch," he says in response with a congenial grin, expression going suddenly somber in the next moment. "I cannot apologize enough for recent events Catherine," he says softly, and she stiffens at the apology.

"No you can't," she says harshly, seeing the opportunity to finally voice at least some of her frustration and concern at her unceremonious termination, during which she had stood silent, struck dumb and uncomprehending at the sudden turn of events, at pictures she'd thought she would never see, and at the looming truth that she was going to be forced to face fully. And then all of the things she wants to say won't leave her lips, as she realizes that a good half of them are a brilliant start to an argument of morals and the other half are simply too incriminating to give voice to.

"But I have given the state of affairs quite a lot of thought," Hecht continues when the pause goes on for long enough that it is clear she won't be offering any further scathing rebuttals. "And I think I may have found quite a perfect solution, if you'll allow me to present it to you." She nods sharply, veins still singing with anger and a wounded sense of injustice, but mind clear enough to understand that she may as well let the man speak. They are adults, and even more than that they are students of psychology. She isn't sure that there is any way for them to speak to each other, to hash out a problem, that isn't at the very least civil and polite. "You aren't a small town Psychology Professor, Catherine, and I think we both know that. You're meant to be so much more than that. I understand the draw of a place like Bloomington, but I think it has become clear that it is time to move on, at least for now.

"It seems that the official records of your tenure indicate that your contract was terminated voluntarily, with proper notice, by yourself, and was not in fact terminated for any reason by the University." He says the words carefully, as if hoping she will understand what he is saying. She does, but the words don't make very much sense.

"But what about those pictures, the affair--" she hates the words but she also knows that Hecht, on behalf of the university, had terminated her employment, granting her the remainder of the year as a courtesy. She had agreed to go without a fight in exchange for that courtesy, so she is certain that something significant must be missing from the University records.

"I didn't find it pertinent to the matter at hand when I reported it to the University, my dear, as I'm sure you'll understand. The pictures are no longer in play, the affair has ended and the student has moved on, and as a result of a simple conversation you agreed to tender your resignation, effective at the end of the school year. You were not formally let go by the University. I think you'll find that it would seem rather suspicious to anyone looking if all of a sudden, with no official incidences requiring disciplinary action be taken, the single-most successful Professor in residence at Bloomington were fired. There would be a public outcry."

Catherine can't help but snort in disbelief at that last bit, but understands now what he is trying to say. The lack of any proper documentation of the incident which caused her to lose her job will allow her to find a job virtually anywhere else, without having to worry about explaining away such a ghastly scar on an otherwise exemplary teaching record.

But Hecht isn't done. "That said, I am of course quite disappointed to be losing such a brilliant member of the department. As a family friend however, I do understand that there are times when we need to move on and I am quite willing and ready to support you through this transition. I've taken the liberty of contacting a few colleagues on your behalf in regards to you taking on a new teaching position at an institution more worth your considerable talents as an educator and as a psychologist, and I think I might have found the perfect opening. In Los Angeles." The smug smile on his lips has a wicked twist to it and Catherine knows, with a sudden flash of insight, that he knows much more than she could have thought about the whole affair. She knew then that her silence had helped him to practice this deception in her name, enabling her to move on freely and without repercussions, but that his silence was not due to a lack of knowledge or a lack of questions, but rather the full knowledge that she could not be best served by telling him everything at that precise moment.

Still, she is just resentful enough of this whole charade to want to play dumb for a moment more. "Los Angeles?"

He is undeterred. "Yes, the dean at the University of California there owes me a favor and my reference was hardly necessary once they saw your teaching record. It speaks for itself, as you well know."
"What makes you think Los Angeles is a good fit for me?"

"I think L.A. can be surprising," is all Hecht says in response. "There is a certain air to it, and the brightest stars flock in droves to be in the city. I daresay it is waiting for a woman such as you, and that you'll be in good company in such a city."

She swallows hard at the words, which strike a chord in her but leave her trembling in fear. There is no pretending she doesn't know exactly what he has done.

"Shall I give them your contact information?" Hecht questions gently after a few moments of silent observation.

"I think I would like that very much," Catherine responds, gratitude washing over her in waves even as she can feel herself wanting to shrink away in fear from the possibilities.

She has no idea if taking this opportunity, this wonderful opportunity, is strength or weakness. Right that instant, she doesn't care.

Chapter Text

She's been in Los Angeles for months already. She's been through the ornery process of moving her life halfway around the country, of flying across the country not just once or twice but several times, of finding a place to live and eking out a life in this city of angels and still it doesn't seem any different from Bloomington. Sure, no one knows her. She quite deliberately maintains a certain air of mystery when it comes to her past tenure but she also deliberately is more open with her colleagues and neighbors. Now that she knows how quickly a community can turn on someone who is aloof, no matter how alluring it was, she is loath to make the same mistake. Not that she has any plans that will cause that sort of reaction, but it never hurts to be safe. She definitely doesn't plan to be the type of professor that seduces any more students. The women of UCLA are safe from her advances, her propensity and talent for bringing about utter ruin. Not a single one of them could be Jackie.

 

Jackie is everywhere in this city, on billboards and on the TV and even on the radio and yet Catherine hasn't seen her once. She knows, a month and a half into the semester, that it would have been a miracle for she and Jackie to just bump into each other as they had at Bloomington - small town colleges are practically microscopic when compared to the sprawling expanse of Los Angeles, and even UCLA alone is three times as large. Even though the portion of the student body that she's exposed to is fairly large, considering that Psychology is one of the more popular majors, she knows she can't even hope to teach every single Psychology major in the current Freshman class by the time they graduate, let alone see a single student who might not even be taking a single psych class. And she has no reason to believe that Jackie would be enrolled in college at all, let alone UCLA. After all, USC is likely as tempting an option, though perhaps that is the sort of out-of-town thinking that will mark her as an outsider for years to come as the cross-town rivalry between the two universities is quite legendary.

 

She deliberately has not gone in search of Jackie, has not looked for her (truly looked) in this town that still feels not much different from Bloomington. In fact, Catherine is pretty sure that the only way to make this town feel any more like Bloomington would be to go in search of Jackie, to once again pursue her as she had before. She cannot help herself from looking for blonde hair in a crowd, but she can stop herself from actively looking and trying to get in touch with the younger woman and she is aware of how slim the possibilities are of her actually running into the other woman.

 

It’s late Autumn, and Catherine is beginning to think that they are fated to live for years in the same city, but never meet. Which is why, when she walks into an afternoon class that she normally doesn’t teach, she practically trips over her own feet when she looks up to find Jackie Kirk staring at her from the front row. For a few moments after she’s caught her balance it’s all she can do not to burst out laughing like a lunatic, remembering well the last time she had subbed for a class that Jackie was in. The professor had been sick that time as well; Catherine figures that even in LA, where the seasons hardly seem to change at all as the weather goes from warm to vaguely chilly, late fall is the perfect time for everyone to get sick. She also figures that this is proof of the Universe’s sick sense of humor, since it’s the absolute worst time for students and professors alike to be getting sick, and a terrible time to be having to fill in for another professor. But with the semester almost over, with finals so close around the corner, Catherine really doesn’t have the luxury of being able to sit in a filled classroom and laugh like a lunatic. Although, she muses, if she did it was probable that the entire school would remain more or less ignorant of the entire episode. But she has not become the type of professor she is, nor the type of woman, by giving in to temporary bouts of insanity in the middle of a class, Jacqueline Kirk or no Jacqueline Kirk, and so she marches up to the table at the front of the room, casually slinging her bags on the table, and turns to the board behind her, marker in hand.

 

“My name is Professor Stark,” she says when she turns back around, the room having quietened as she got herself comfortable at the front of the room. Behind her, large letters proclaim what she has just stated, as if anyone wouldn’t know how to spell ‘Stark’. This is Hollywood, and the Avengers are popular these days. “Professor Foster is out sick today and asked me to fill in for him; I understand you have a lot of material to cover between now and the final and he wanted to make sure you would have enough time to go over it in class.” She has walked around in front of the small table that doubles, somewhat, as a lectern, and she only barely manages to resist sitting on top of it, déjà vu hitting her with the force of a thousand lightning bolts for the briefest instant. This hour and a half long lecture will be the death of her if she doesn’t manage to get a grip, soon. Standing awkwardly in front of the table, she manages to force out a mostly normal sounding, “Who can tell me where you are on the syllabus?”

 

For the next 90 minutes Catherine strives to do everything as different as possible from how she would have done them, and from how she had done them that one day, what seems like a lifetime ago. If Jackie notices, Catherine wouldn't know, because she is also studiously ignoring the presence of the one girl who can cause Catherine Stark to show an ounce of hesitation. So instead she tries her best not to make the poor person who volunteers their progress cry, and tries to be as engaging and lively as possible, rather than making the entire class piss their pants. That's not a hugely different teaching style from her own, as she truly enjoys the subject she teaches and she also enjoys connecting with the students in her classroom, but in Bloomington she had played a bit more to her reputation than she can do, or wants to do, here. It had earned her respect, to be thought of as a vampire mobster, but it had also earned her a lonely place with no allies when things had gone south. Here, if things are to go poorly again, as the still overwhelming sense of deja vu suggests they will, at least she hopes to be less feared by the time things are said and done.

 

She thinks she succeeds, but the effort is more draining than even a first day full of new classes, and by the time it's over she is most definitely not succeeding at ignoring Jackie Kirk because the blonde is right in front of her, again, when she looks up after putting her things back in her bag.

 

"Jackie," she says before she can stop her mouth from running, not wanting to have given in to even that much familiarity with the starlet so soon, and in a room that is slowly emptying.

 

"Catherine," Jackie says, like she doesn't care who will know that they knew each other before that day, but also like there is so much to be said that she honestly can't come up with any other words to say than the older woman's name.

 

"You kept up with your schooling, I see," Catherine says, voice neutral as she indicates the classroom with a vague sweep of her head. "Still the interest in Psych?" She knows that, for whatever the reason is, Jackie is definitely interested in Psych. What classes she had taken at Bloomington would have likely transferred over seamlessly, so whatever requirements for Psych she would have had to take as part of her general ed requirements would have already been met by the time she even set foot on the UCLA campus. And definitely wouldn't account for the younger blonde sitting in this particular 200 level class.

 

"They keep me pretty busy on set but I've managed to force them to keep me in a class or two a semester. It's a little hard to do college while on set, but I've managed to avoid anything too involved since Neptune wrapped," Jackie relays, as if by rote as she absently takes in the almost empty classroom. "I, uh, wasn't expecting to see you here," she adds, voice quiet enough that it won't carry to anyone else in the room but her.

 

"I know the feeling," Catherine responds with a wry smile as she shoulders her bag. "For a moment I was convinced I was in the wrong school." Jackie smiles too, but Catherine knows she isn't fooled. "I didn't think it was possible to manage to run into any one person in this city," she adds, with a touch of earnestness that isn't hidden by humor as it had been before. "What are the odds?"

 

"I didn't know you'd left Bloomington," Jackie offers, "But it's really good to see you here."

 

"I'm glad you think so," is all Catherine can say. She doesn't want to ruin their chance encounter by reminding Jackie that she had been fired, and that she had been all but forced from Bloomington. That she had ended up in LA was only the back half of the story.

 

"I do." The classroom is empty now, and Catherine can feel the silence and emptiness pressing down on her in a way that makes her want to do the type of thing she knows she will regret. "Catherine," Jackie begins, and Catherine can see that she's fighting with herself, finds herself wondering if Jackie fights with the same thing that Catherine herself fights with. "I never wanted things to be like they were," she says after a slight pause, and Catherine raises an eyebrow. "It wasn't a good situation for either of us. I wish it could have been better."

 

"Me too," Catherine says softly. And she does, with all her heart. That is, after all, the main reason she is in this city, though she wonders if that will begin to taint the whole experience. "I've been following what pieces of your career I've seen on the tv and on billboards. Looks like you've got a good thing going here, porcupine." And Catherine really hopes the younger woman gets to keep it, gets to have something nice that is hers and untarnished, although she knows already that Jackie's career is already not entirely rainbows and butterflies and unicorn stickers.

 

"I do," the younger woman admits easily, "but it's not everything to me like it was before. It was easy to come back, but it wasn't easy to leave other things behind like I thought it would be."

 

"Like Bloomington?" Catherine tries to clarify.

 

"Right, yeah, like Bloomington," Jackie says, but something about how she says it makes Catherine think that she really meant something else. "I guess something about the place really grew on me."

 

"It does that." Even when the whole town had been the most miserable place Catherine could think of, she had loved it as somewhere special should be loved. She can only imagine what Jackie is getting at, but even her rudimentary understanding makes the phrase make sense.

 

"How long are you supposed to be subbing for this class?" Jackie asks abruptly.

 

"Just today. Hopefully Professor Foster will be up to teaching by Tuesday."

 

"So you won't be my teacher anymore?"

 

"No, I don't typically teach this module," Catherine answers with a slight frown, definitely confused.

 

"Good, because I'd like to see you again, and I'd like to try and do things right, this time." Catherine blinks, unused to Jackie being the bolder of the two of them, even as she can see the same signs of hesitance in Jackie that she had that very first night. In fact, she's fairly certain that the young blonde is holding her breath.

 

"I don't teach on Fridays," she offers, lips twisting into a teasing smile.

 

"Great. Awesome. Cool," Jackie stutters.

 

"Breathe, porcupine," Catherine reminds her playfully and Jackie looks up at her.

 

"Can I call you?"

 

"I'd like that," Catherine offers with a sincere smile.

 

Jackie's answering smile is bright enough to light the city.

Chapter Text

Catherine’s phone rings right as she’s got half of her body shoved into the upper reaches of her closet, several steps up a ladder and bent awkwardly over one of the shelves, in the middle of a very involved search for something she hopes hasn't been lost in the move. She glances at the number on the screen, noting the local area code, and answers with a slightly muffled, slightly distracted, “Hello?”

 

“Catherine, hi,” comes Jackie’s voice and Catherine squeaks in surprise, bolting upright with enough energy to hit her head with a dull thwack on the ceiling and fumble the phone for an agonizing minute before she manages to recover. “Catherine?” Jackie’s voice coming down the line sounds concerned now, and rubbing her head, Catherine once more hunches awkwardly over the shelf, mindful of the close ceiling.

 

“Jackie,” she breathes out in what she hopes is a tone of voice more dignified than her previous squeaking. “Sorry about that, hi.”

 

“Are you okay? It sounded like… well I’m not really sure what that sounded like but it certainly sounded interesting. Is this a bad time?”

 

“No, no this is great, you just surprised me,” Catherine tells her, debating whether or not she should climb down from her (apparently) dangerous perch or stay where she is.

 

“Don’t recognize my number anymore?” Jackie asks, teasing, but Catherine isn’t sure if she can detect a slight thread of actual hurt or disappointment running underneath it.

 

“Well there’s a lot more LA area codes in my contacts list these days, porcupine,” Catherine says, trying to be gentle while also not making a huge deal of it, “And I never saved your number just in case…” Well, there goes keeping the conversation light. Something about this girl had somehow managed to turn Catherine entirely upside down. She couldn’t remember when she had last felt so out of control.

 

“Yeah, I get it,” Jackie said, silence settling over the pair of them awkwardly before Jackie broke the silence again. “You could always save it now, though,” she hesitantly offers.

 

“I could.” Catherine forces the words to be neutral as she climbs down the ladder, folding her long legs under her as she settles on the bed.

 

“You could,” Jackie parrots, sounding more secure in the idea now that it hasn’t been utterly turned down. “Things are different here. I’d like for things to be different here.”

 

“I’d like for things to be different here, too,” Catherine affirms, “So consider it saved, porcupine.” She can practically hear Jackie grin through the phone, and she can't help but return the unseen smile with one of her own. Still, silence presses its way into the connection, and Catherine shifts slightly before deciding to take the plunge. They've come a long way since Jackie was calling her and hanging up the instant the phone was answered, but they haven't come so far that Jackie actually says what she wants without a little prompting. Even before... Catherine winces. Well, even before they had never really gotten to the point where Jackie was able to just spit out what she was thinking when the two of them were on the phone.

"Something on your mind, Jackie?" Catherine prompts gently, not wanting to push the other woman too hard but seeing quite clearly that Jackie was prepared to sit, however incidentally, on the other end of the line terrified of whatever words were bouncing around in her skull.

"I was, uh, well I was just calling because I hear you have no classes on Friday," Jackie manages, but it still doesn't really help Catherine out at all. Not only is this information she already knows, it's information she's already told Jackie, and Catherine knows it's just another way of filling the silence without actually saying much of anything. Catherine has seen interviews with Jackie featured in them, in this city it's hard to avoid the younger woman on every tabloid cover, talk show, and billboard, but Catherine has never understood how the younger woman manages to be as utterly charming, poised, and chatty in front of a reporter or talk show host and yet an utter dork on the phone.

"You must have an extremely accurate source," Catherine says, when it's clear that Jackie is waiting on her to respond.

"She's pretty awesome," Jackie says, seemingly enthused by the topic of conversation. Catherine can't say that she's not somewhat thrilled to discover this, given that she's the topic of conversation at this particular moment.

"So you called to tell me that you're stalking me, porcupine? Smooth." A pause. "Jackie, whatever it is you want to say, you can say it."

"I called to ask if you'd go to dinner with me on Friday," Jackie blurts, as if all she needed was permission, and Catherine's breath catches in her throat. There must be something that makes Jackie start to panic because she's suddenly talking so fast that it's as if she's trying to retroactively fill all of the moments of silence from earlier in the conversation.

"Jackie, relax," Catherine tells her, cutting into an earnest reassurance from the younger blonde that Catherine needn't feel obligated to accept and that Jackie would understand if Catherine had other plans. "I haven't said no yet."

"I- sorry. You're right, I'm relaxed."

Catherine snorts. "I doubt that very much, porcupine, but at the very least I hope you'll stop twisting yourself up in knots over this. Dinner on Friday sounds perfect." And somehow, it truly does. She has no idea what Jackie's grand plan entails, if it even entails anything specific at this point in time, but she also knows that time spent with the blonde, when they are truly together and focused on that, rather than other external factors, are almost always pleasant. Given that Catherine had left her life in Bloomington and moved to Los Angeles, half-hoping that she would run into Jackie and could fix things with the young actress, the professor wasn't inclined to turn down a dinner invitation due to whatever risk there might have been associated with the whole endeavor.

"Awesome," Jackie breathes down the phone line, and Catherine can feel a warmth start to grow in the pit of her stomach. Legs uncross and re-cross and she is mostly listening when Jackie follows up her earlier assessment with a chirpy, "I know of a great place that's a bit of a hidden gem. I'll pick you up around 7?"

"I'll text you my address," Catherine confirms, focusing at last on the conversation. Perhaps it's a bad idea to let Jackie pick her up, as that means she will either have to call a cab in a city where a, there are no cabs and b, nothing is just a short cab ride away, but in this very moment she feels inclined to trust the shorter blonde. At the very least, Jackie has always proven herself to be a good conversationalist, and Catherine can't imagine that they won't be able to pass the evening in a relatively pleasant manner.

"Great," Jackie confirms, though the word draws out into a hesitant pause. "I must admit I'm a little bit interested to see how a vampiress manages to live comfortably in Los Angeles."

Catherine laughs at that. "I do okay for myself. My mafia connections really helped me out in finding a place, and I'm not doing too poorly for myself."

"Good, I'm glad. Because it would be a shame if you had to move back to somewhere a little less... coastal." The sentence is everything that Jackie is: sweet and a little bit clumsy.

"I have no plans to go anywhere, porcupine," Catherine assures her seriously.

"That's, that's good," Jackie says, and then there's a burst of noise over the line that makes Catherine frown in confusion.

"Jackie, where are you?"

"Uh, on set," the young woman confesses, voice now carrying an odd auditory quality as if the young actress is speaking as directly into the phone's mouthpiece as possible. "Apparently some people don't believe in knocking." That last bit is clearly not directed at the professor, but rather at someone on her end of the line.

"And apparently some people think they're too famous to go to hair and makeup," comes a jaunty voice from off the speaker, just audible despite the distance from the mouthpiece, and Catherine's frown deepens. "So we brought it to you instead."

"You sound busy," Catherine ventures a guess.

"I guess so, I'm sorry," is the response from the still noisy trailer. "I didn't realize what time it was."

"It's no problem." But Catherine's frown hasn't quite vanished as she tries to maintain her presence in what's left of the conversation instead of falling, as she wants to, into pure analysis. "I'm sure I have some grading to do anyway," she adds, trying to make Jackie feel a little less guilty over the interruption. "I'll see you at 7 on Friday?"

"7pm on Friday," Jackie confirms. "Don't dress too fancy."

Catherine is fairly certain that she hasn't the faintest idea of what that could possibly mean, and knows that she will spend at least twice as long as she would have otherwise (and that that would have been no small period of time either) searching through her closet for something to wear. It had never been a particular concern of hers before, in Bloomington, that she and Jackie didn't tend to pair well together in terms of style since the two of them rarely attended the same functions. Jackie had done well enough for the department mixer, and of course they had paired together for Jackie's Hollywood function, but aside from that the pair had never been at the same event, unless class counted, in which case their wardrobes were, expectedly, vastly different. She had no idea what to expect from this scenario, what to expect from someone that she had spent months with, courting in her own home in loungewear, while out in an entirely different setting.

"I'll try not to," is the best she can get to a promise, which makes Jackie laugh.

"Relax, Catherine. I can hear you overthinking from here."

"Guilty as charged," Catherine admits wryly. "I'm looking forward to it. To Friday, I mean," she blurts, wanting to keep the blonde on the phone for just a moment longer.

"Me too," Jackie says, and Catherine can hear the surprised pleasure in her voice. "I'll see you then. Goodnight." And then before Catherine can even remove the phone from her ear, Jackie says, "And hey, Catherine?" Catherine makes a noise to indicate that she's still on the line. "Thanks for picking up the phone."

"Any time, porcupine," she responds with a smile of her own. "Goodnight."

True to her promise, when she hangs up, the first thing she does is add the phone number to her contacts list, staring at the screen for a long moment before locking the device and tossing it on the bed. True to her other promise, implied though it may have been, she does her best not to think too hard about what exactly she might be getting herself into until she's staring into her closet two days later.

Chapter Text

Catherine spends several hours rummaging around in the depths of her closet in a way that she hasn’t really done since she was in college. One of many thing she has an abundance of, it can hardly be said that she has nothing to wear and typically an outfit for the day is picked out with relative ease but instead she stands before her closet on Friday evening in a silk robe and tries not to panic. The longer she has spent in front of the open closet doors, the more aware she is of the serious gaps in her wardrobe that need to be addressed, though realistically, they needed to be addressed already. Catherine and Jackie have done many things and have been many things to each other and with each other, but dining out in Los Angeles on a Friday night is not one of them. Catherine comes prepared for teaching in all seasons (though LA only has two), for meetings, for conferences, for weekend trips to the store and the farmer’s market, for lounging around the house, for casual company, even for gala and charity events, but nowhere in her closet is “don’t dress too fancy”.

When Catherine has finally made a wardrobe decision and is looking at herself in the full length mirror in her bedroom, still ready a decent fifteen minutes before Jackie is supposed to arrive, she finds herself looking at someone unfamiliar. Catherine might have owned the clothes, but she was often without a reason to dress up in quite this manner. What small dating life she did have, outside of school hours, had mostly involved bars or fancier restaurants, and so the dark jeans and tan leather jacket don’t quite seem familiar. For a moment she thinks about changing – Jackie had seen her in many varied states of dress, but this middle ground between comfortable and dressed up is uncharted territory and for a moment, Catherine worries that it’s too much for them to have diverted so thoroughly from tradition. Between dinner, wardrobe, and the city itself almost nothing about this night will be something Catherine deems as normal. At the same time, she marvels at how, impossibly, she is so nervous for something as simple as dinner with someone whom she had effortlessly built an everyday intimate domesticity. Cooking together was apparently much less stress than letting someone else cook for them, and Catherine tries not to laugh as she realizes how silly that is, given Jackie’s mediocre cooking skills, and even more dubious ingredient prep skills.

She’s almost convinced herself that she should change clothes, something that she really doesn’t have time to do considering the state of her closet and the fact that this was the first remotely suitable thing that she’d managed to throw together, when there’s a knock at the door. Frowning, Catherine looks at her watch and then at a digital clock across the room, further confused when both appear to show the same time. Jackie was typically punctual, or at least she had been in Bloomington, but this was atypically early.

Any minute fear that it wouldn’t be Jackie at the door fades as she swings the door open, nudging Ethan aside with her leg as he moves to investigate, and Jackie’s smiling face is revealed.

“I’m early, I know, and I’m sorry,” Jackie says without preamble, words leaving her mouth almost before the door has even fully opened. “Wow, you look great,” she says a second later, having clearly taken that much time to even really look at the older woman.

“Thank you,” Catherine says, resigning herself to spending the rest of the evening in the outfit since she wouldn’t have the chance to change. “Come on in,” she adds, stepping back to allow the shorter blonde enter. “You do too.” Jackie glances back at her quizzically and Catherine blushes. “Look great, that is.” Jackie smiles a response, waving an excited Ethan out of the entryway so that she can actually make it all the way in the door and the golden retriever rushes into the next room ahead of her, tail wagging furiously. Following behind the shorter blonde as she heads for the closest chair so that she can pet the dog, Catherine takes the opportunity to enjoy just how good the blonde does look. Jackie isn’t dressed dissimilarly from what was common for her in Bloomington, wearing ankle boots, boot cut jeans, and a slightly dressier top, but the curves on display in the tight-denim-clad silhouette is still just as enticing as it always had been and, now that they’re not in a classroom any longer, Catherine finally allows herself to drink in just how good it is to be back in the younger woman’s presence.

“Oh Ethan I’ve missed you,” Jackie is saying to the golden, who has laid his head in her lap and is whining pathetically while Catherine looks on, amused, from the doorway.

“He’s missed you too,” Catherine says and then clears her throat before adding a quiet, “we both have.”

“Well I’m not going anywhere, big guy,” Jackie says to Ethan in the slightest hint of a baby voice but she looks up at the last moment to lock eyes with Catherine and time seems to stop until Jackie clears her throat and looks away. “Anyway, I’m sorry I’m early. I’m in no hurry to leave, if you’re not ready to go yet,” Jackie says.

“No, I’m almost ready. Let me just grab my purse,” Catherine says, feeling Jackie’s eyes on her back as she crosses the room. “Will you and Ethan be okay for a few moments?” she asks, though she’s mostly not serious considering how the golden retriever has practically turned into a puddle at Jackie Kirk’s feet and Jackie doesn’t seem to mind in the slightest. Catherine knows that Ethan is her dog, but she’s also pretty sure that Ethan had missed curling up with Jackie much more than he would miss curling up with her, and the golden had been pretty mopey at the start of summer, much like his owner.

“Yeah, we’ll be fine, huh buddy?” Jackie says, directing the tail end of her sentence to Ethan. She looks up and flashes a smile at Catherine. “Seriously, take your time. Oh, and Catherine?” The taller blonde turns slightly to show that she’s listening. “Don’t change your outfit, I promise you look fine.”

“I don’t even want to know how you knew that,” Catherine says after a brief moment of stunned silence. “But because you asked, I won’t change,” she adds over her shoulder.

“You might be the analysis extraordinaire, Professor Psych, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve to catch you by surprise,” Jackie says with a laugh that follows Catherine from the room. The elder blonde is forced to concede the point; every time she had thought that she’d figured Jackie out, the other woman had proven her wrong or made her second guess herself. Catherine was fairly sure that Jackie had that art down to a science and only changed enough, and often enough, to catch people off guard without actually having to change at the very core of who she was. In a way, Catherine couldn’t help but admire the trait; on the other hand, it made the blonde infinitely more difficult. Catherine was still adjusting to a life in which things weren’t entirely predictable because, of course, having Jackie in her life had totally tossed her entire existence for a giant loop.

Keeping to her word, she only frowns into the mirror a few times as she needlessly adjusts the drape of her slightly loose blouse, tugs at the lapels of her leather jacket, and holds up three different earrings options before settling back on the ones she’s already put on. Dark denim provides a contrast to the neutral, earthy tones of the rest of her outfit, though her jeans are cropped at the ankle and hug her legs all the way down to showcase the length. Selecting a pair of tan flats that match her jacket, she runs a hand through her hair, makes a final silly face in the mirror (enjoying the twist to crimson lips as she does so) and turns off the light on the way back to the front of the house. She’s already set aside a cream clutch and filled it with the essentials, which she grabs off the kitchen table on her way back to the front room.

Pausing in the shadows of the doorway, she takes a moment to drink in the sight of Jackie and Ethan, who appear to be in a world of their own, before she clears her throat and steps over the threshold.

“Ready whenever you are, porcupine,” she announces, and Jackie springs to her feet in response with an enthusiastic smile.

There's a sleek black car parked in her driveway, and Catherine instantly knows that this is one of the many perks that make this Jackie, in this city and in this moment, so different from the Jackie she knew back in Bloomington. While it's unsettling to always be so reminded, it's not entirely a bad thing. The younger blonde opens her door with a flourish and a jaunty grin, and closes it gently once Catherine has folded her long limbs entirely into the low sedan.

Catherine can't help but make a crack about Jackie driving, but the starlet simply reminds her that a car can't possibly be harder to fly than a plane, and together, the pair of them head off down the street. Placing slender fingers gently across the back of Jackie's hand, draped over the gear shift, she strokes over the smooth skin, smiling softly when Jackie glances at her.

"In case I don't say it, porcupine, I'm glad we're getting to do this." And Catherine is; she can't imagine having spent too much more time not knowing what it was like to be with, truly be with, Jackie Kirk, and she knows that this has little to do with Jackie being famous and has much more to do with Jackie simply being herself. Being with her again, even if only for the night, feels like coming home, like getting back something that she'd lost, even though she knows that she had never had this, had never called this home, before, and that she'd only had a pale facsimile of the blonde driving her down city streets bright with the glow from the streetlights.

She never wants to let it go and they haven't even made it to the restaurant yet.