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“See where that takes us,” Dani mutters. “Sure. Yeah. Smooth.”

She’d said it like it wasn’t nerve-racking in the least, like she does this sort of thing every day. Get up at the asscrack of dawn, trying to remember how to make a pot of coffee she personally feels out of her mind even considering putting in her own mug. Coffee makes her crazy, spikes her already-wild anxiety straight through the roof; she hasn’t tried to brew the stuff since she was fifteen and making a last-ditch effort to get on Mom’s good side.

And, still, it was the best idea she had for Operation Fix Things With Jamie. Four days laying awake thinking, four days with her brain half on the kids, half on making Jamie smile the next time she turned up at Bly, and this was the best she could do. A cup of coffee that, to her untrained eye, looked like muddy water more than anything else. 

And she had handed it to Jamie. Just pasted on a smile and thought, Maybe the stars have aligned, and I woke up good at this today. Whether good at the coffee or the talking to Jamie, she wasn’t quite sure--but soon enough, it appeared the answer was “neither”. Terrific. Jamie, still stung from the other night. Jamie, clearly still not ready to leap off a cliff just because Dani reached out a hand. 

Who could blame her? Jamie’s maybe the most patient person Dani has ever met, so long as you’re not shredding her gardens behind her back, but she is still a person. A person who has shown Dani an extremely unexpected willingness to listen, but not so much the desire to be jerked around. Dani gets it. There’s nothing she wants less in the world, than to make Jamie feel like a chew toy to be picked up and discarded again on a whim. 

Hence, the world’s most insulting attempt at coffee.

And the invitation.

Dani does not have what a thinking man might call “a strong history” with dating. Part and parcel of being with the same person since you were ten, she supposes, and even if Edmund wasn't...right, he was still simple in his own way. The bravest she ever had to be with Eddie was in daring him to kiss her, a desperate, futile bid toward understanding all the girls at school who sighed and groaned over boys. Dani didn’t get it then, didn’t get it when Eddie closed his eyes and puckered his lips and gave her the most exaggerated dry kiss a human mouth can produce. Didn't get it, either, as he improved over the years, though she was tactically aware of him doing so. On a strictly data-driven level, she watched him get better at kissing, at smiling without nerves, at leading her by the hand wherever he felt they should go. And never, not once, did she feel it.

But one night in a greenhouse, wine in her blood and guilt on her lips, and she gets it now. She gets all of it. Jamie’s hands in her hair, Jamie’s mouth opening beneath her own--a symphony only they could hear. 

And then she’d gone and ruined it. 

So, now she’s here. Standing awkwardly in a small room in a huge manor, poking through the approximately ten outfits she’s been carting across Europe for half a year. She’d been brave with Jamie in ways she’d never considered with Eddie--brave to take her hand, brave to follow her into the dark, brave to kiss her, brave to ask her out on a...on a..

“Date,” she mutters, holding up a pink blouse and remembering Jamie saying wryly, There we are. She shuts her eyes. “Just a date. Normal person thing to do. Nothing to worry about.”

Jamie’s meant to be back here in--she flips her wrist, winces--less than an hour now. Jamie’s meant to be here to pick her up, like they’re teenagers heading off for a Friday night on the town, and Dani must genuinely be losing her mind. She didn't come here for this. She works with Jamie, works here watching the kids, and if she leaves...if she leaves, who knows what will...

A light rap at the door, so soft, she almost misses it. Hannah, gently smiling. 

“Everything all right up here? Haven’t seen you in quite some time...”

“The kids,” Dani interjects. “Of course. I’m so sorry, I’ll just--”

Hannah raises her palms in a placating gestures, slipping into the room with a nearly unearthly grace. Why, Dani wonders helplessly, can’t I be like Hannah? So elegant and serene and sure of every step? 

“I did not,” Hannah says, taking her by the shoulders and giving her a sisterly little shake, “come up here to scold you. The children are perfectly fine; Owen is running them through the finer elements of...” Her brow creases, some mix of affection and distaste. “Baking chemistry.”

“Oh.” Dani sinks onto the bed, head in her hands. “Of course. So you’re...”

“Here to make certain you aren’t, perhaps, talking yourself out of a nice evening out on the town?” Hannah supplies. She’s too kind to make fun, at least where this level of anxiety is concerned, and Dani is grateful. 

“Not talking myself out, exactly,” she says. “Just trying to decide what to wear. I mean, what does a person wear to a pub in Bly with...with...”

“A perfectly charming young woman whose primary uniform involves denim and potting soil?” Hannah’s voice is just a little too innocent. Dani grins. 

“I just don’t want to embarrass myself.”

“I don’t think,” Hannah says carefully, “there’s much chance of embarrassing yourself so badly, she leaves you alone in that pub. Or fails to return to Bly, perhaps, tomorrow?”

Color floods Dani’s cheeks. Her choice of sweater is suddenly the most interesting thing that has ever happened in this room. 

“The children will be just fine with us here,” Hannah continues, blessedly ignoring the way Dani’s shoulders go rigid with mortification. “Owen’s already planning to stay, and you know how Flora goes on about sleepovers...”

She’s smiling, but Dani thinks there’s a bit of distance behind her eyes that wasn’t there last week. A beautiful, kind woman, Hannah; it’s strange to see her even the least bit detached from the goings-on of the house. 

“You’re sure,” she presses. “I could still tell Jamie--”

“You could both use the night off, I think.” Hannah pats her shoulder lightly. Dani bites her lip. 

“Well, I can definitely make sure I’m back before--”

“Lunch tomorrow?” Hannah interjects. “Yes, I quite agree, that would be perfect timing. Rumor has it Owen’s planning a feast fit for kings and very small children.”

Dani is out of arguments, and she suspects Hannah knows it. Her shoulders slump. “Okay. Okay, good. Glad that’s all...handled. Now...”

“This one, I think.” Hannah pats the light purple, her hand possessed of such surety, Dani is briefly envious. “Brings out your eyes nicely.”

She makes her escape with another smile and a very small wave, and Dani gives herself a minute. Just one minute, sitting on the edge of the bed with her face in her hands, to really process the situation. A date. An actual real date with an actual real person she actually likes. Not just likes, but feels...slightly insane around. Insane in the best way. Stomach in knots, fingertips sweaty for no good reason, ears going hot at the sight of her insane. 

Jamie kissed her back. Jamie kissed her like there was nothing she’d like more in the world. Jamie kissed her, and then let her go the minute she didn’t seem ready for it, and even with the worst coffee in England as a peace offering, accepted the idea of a drink with her. 

Which means...

“The sweater doesn’t matter,” Dani mumbles, feeling very much as though nothing has ever mattered more.

***

Jamie has never quite done this before, either; she thinks of telling Dani so, thinks of taking a quiet moment before leaving Bly Manor to get ready for a date and come back, sweet Lord, she must be out of her mind, to say, “Hey, no worries, Poppins, this is brand-new territory for the both of us.”

But Dani is busy with the kids, and also sort of looks like she’s going to combust should Jamie stand too near her, so she skulks out to the truck alone instead. The date--it is an actual fucking date, I cannot believe she did this to us, what am I going to do on an actual fucking date with this woman?--is slated for seven in the evening. Jamie’s done working at four-thirty.

She spends about an hour of that in-between time showering, picking out a clean t-shirt--nothing too snappy, don’t want to scare Poppins off again--and jeans and a jacket that ensures she’ll look presentably-cool, and mussing her hair somewhat badly. The rest, she spends pacing. 

You know I live above that pub, right? Told you that already. And Jesus, how Dani had smiled, like she’d been thinking of nothing else for four fucking days. Four days Jamie had spent planning ways to distance herself, to stop feeling all of this flappy butterfly nonsense at the mere sight of the woman, and the first thing--first goddamn thing--Dani did upon her return was ask her on a date. 

To which she had...said yes. She’d said yes, and now off she goes to pick up her actual, real-live human woman date.

It’s one thing, she thinks as she strides up the drive to the door, to take a woman to bed. It’s a very natural, easy thing, in fact, to take a woman to bed. Strip off your clothes, strip off your inhibitions, get used to the notion of never seeing her again once the sun is up. But this? Dani? Jamie’s never been here before. Never wanted something so badly before. 

“Don’t,” she mumbles, pushing the door open, “fuck this up.”

She expects to have to go on a bit of a hunt to track Dani down--maybe to the kitchen, or even (heaven help her) up to her room, but no: Dani is right there. Dani is standing in the foyer in a black skirt and loose-knit sweater, looking for all the world like Jamie just caught her running a trench into the floorboards. 

“Hi,” she says, all deer eyes and suddenly grinning mouth. Her hair is up, so very blonde and perfect, Jamie’s mouth goes a little useless at the sight of it.

“Hey. Uh. Are we meant to be speaking with the chaperones, or...”

Dani shakes her head, looking just a little punch-drunk. “Hannah made it sound like we’d be in trouble if we went back there. Owen’s doing something with chemistry?”

“All the angels couldn’t help those kids and their empty bellies now,” Jamie says, “if Owen is fixated on another goddamn chemistry lesson.”

Dani laughs, and suddenly, it’s like a sheen of ice cracks open and all the warmth she’s come to associate with Dani Clayton comes rushing into the room. Jamie reaches out a hand, slides palm along palm until Dani is fitted neatly against her lifeline. 

“Shall we?”

She doesn’t say, I’ve never done this. Doesn’t tell Dani any of that. It doesn’t seem important, all of a sudden, not with the way Dani squeezes back and follows eagerly into the passenger seat of her truck.

Jamie, looking at her out of the corner of her eye as she prepares to back out, is struck with the wild idea that maybe they don’t have to leave at all to do this. She could just reach across the seat, lay a hand lightly over Dani’s knee, tell her she’s never met anyone like her. Never met anyone who makes her want to tell sad stories and bad jokes and goodnights that are only acceptable because there will be a good morning to follow. 

Date, she reminds herself firmly, though there’s a perfectly nice kitchen, a perfectly nice bedroom, a perfectly nice hidden spot out on the grounds that would do the job just as well. Maybe next time. There are flowers she’s certain Dani can’t go her whole life without seeing. 

But tonight: it’s a pub in the tiny village of Bly, where Jamie has lived for years without ever really caring to get to know its secrets. Now, watching Dani look around like she’s just stepped into Oz, she sort of regrets that. 

“Usually not too busy on a Thursday night,” she says, guiding Dani with a light hand at the small of her back past what she thinks of as the Attention Grabbing section--the tables up near the bar proper, where the denizens of Bly most like to congregate after work--and toward her own preferred spot. It’s in the back, near a near-secret exit that leads straight up to her flat, and Cal is charitable enough to keep most folks away from it unless the place is full-up. Not a bad guy, Cal; he’s about four hundred years old and insists on calling her Janey, but he’s still got the back for long nights serving bad drinks, and he keeps the rent cheaper than dirt. 

“You live here?” Dani sounds like she’s never been more delighted at a prospect. Jamie can’t help but laugh, slinging her jacket over the back of her chair and settling in. 

“Thought about asking for a job when I moved in, but luckily Lord and Lady Wingrave got to me first. Not sure it’d suit me, spending every night with the town layabouts.”

She winks at Cal as he shambles past to let him know this is a joke. He snorts. 

“Like I’d hire you anyway. Too damn short. Couldn't reach the good stuff.”

“Wasn’t aware you carried the good stuff,” she fires back. Dani, watching this exchange with delight, laughs. Cal raises an eyebrow. 

“Your friend’s pretty. Poor sense of character, to be spending her night with a felon, but there’s no accounting for taste.”

The smile on Dani’s lips dies instantly. Jamie swallows a curse. 

“Yes, thank you, Grandfather Drunkard, I hadn’t quite gotten to that part of the tale yet. Round to make up for it, if you please.”

He has the good grace to look slightly ashamed, patting her on the shoulder as he winds back to the bar in search of clean glasses. Jamie leans back with a sigh.

“Well, it was bound to come up eventually, I suppose. Frankly, probably for the best he spilled those beans before I could lose my nerve and put off telling you.”

Dani’s brow is creased, less like someone horrified by a glimpse into Jamie’s storied past, more like a white knight ready to draw a sword in her defense. Jamie finds herself reaching across the table, glancing over her shoulder, and touching the back of her hand with two cautious fingers. 

“Easy, Poppins, Cal’s a good sort. Our sort, even, if there is such a thing.” It’s a bold stroke, a shot in the dark, but given that Jamie’s already had this woman’s tongue in her mouth, she supposes it isn’t so dangerous to assume. Dani raises her eyebrows high enough to make her laugh.

“He’s--I mean he doesn’t--”

“He’s kind, and he knows the value of a closed mouth,” Jamie confirms. “Says things are better than they used to be around here, but there’s no point courting trouble. Anyway, he won’t say a damn thing when we--if we--”

Cal takes pity on her, delivering a pair of beers and a platter of cold chips, “on the house, as penance for fuckin’ up your evening.” Jamie raises her glass in a salute to his retreating back.

“Did he?” Dani asks. Jamie, glass halfway to her lips, pauses.

“Did he what?”

“Fuck up the evening.” Jamie’s not sure she’s ever heard Dani say the word fuck before, and suddenly feels as though it’s the best single syllable ever to cross her lips. 

“Nah. Not unless you’ve, ah, got a problem with felons sharing your table?”

Lifting her own glass, Dani shakes her head. “Not as a rule. I’d like to hear about it, though. If it’s something you’re all right sharing.”

And so Jamie shares. All of it. It isn’t the plan, exactly, but when she gets started, she finds it increasingly difficult to locate a logical place to stop. To explain the prison time, she first has to explain how a young woman finds herself in such a situation; to explain that, she first has to paint a picture of a particular kind of home life. Before she knows what’s happening, she’s leaning across the table and saying names she hasn’t spoken in years. Telling about the coal mine. The other men. The baby. The burn. 

Dani listens to it all, enraptured, never interrupting with so much as a question. She makes small noises, nods encouragement whenever Jamie falters, takes small sips of her drink when Jamie pauses for breath. 

She doesn’t ask what Jamie did. This, above all else, strikes Jamie between the eyes. She doesn’t ask if Jamie lied, or cheated, or stole, or bloodied anyone along the way (yes, yes to one and all, and if she did ask, Jamie would tell her; they're old scars, the life of someone she feels she barely knows now, and if she’s ashamed, it’s the shame of a distant dream). She only listens, nods, takes it in.

“I figure,” Jamie says when she’s run out of history to unfold between them, “you showed me yours, yeah? It’s only fair.”

Dani raises her glass. “To not being defined by the sins of the past.”

Jamie chuckles, obediently following suit. “To people being the most goddamn exhausting concept on the planet, and trying anyway.”

They drink. They drink, and Jamie thinks, Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ve exhausted the conversation topics for one relationship already. Maybe she’ll finish this glass and we’ll head back to the house, and that’ll be that. 

“I’ve never done this before,” Dani tells her. There’s something relaxed about her, something Jamie finds new and deeply interesting. Relaxed is the last word she’d generally used to describe Dani Clayton. 

Jamie gestures for Cal, refills following suit in short order. “Been to a pub?”

“Been on a date with someone I...” Dani hesitates. For a split second, Jamie’s sure she’s about to look at someone Jamie can’t sense over her shoulder. Instead, she shakes her head, smiles ruefully. “Someone I felt things for.”

“Things, huh?” She leans across the table, props her chin on one hand, makes a show of tilting her head. “What sorts of things?”

“I think you know.” Dani is blushing. This is maybe the best night of Jamie’s whole life.

“Think you should tell me anyway.”

Dani swats at her, and they’re both laughing with an ease Jamie can’t wrap her head around. It’s one thing to flirt; Jamie’s good at flirting. Comes easy, comes naturally. She’s good at watching for the little buttons in people, the little signs of what makes them laugh, what makes them squirm. Promised herself a long time ago never to use this power for anything less than leaving a room warmer than she found it. 

But this isn’t flirting. Not the way Jamie’s done it before. This is something entirely new, entirely specific to Dani. It’s in the way Dani watches her, eyes too blue, jaw held taut like she’s trying to keep something dangerous from spilling out. It’s in the way Dani lets her fingers linger when she reaches for a chip, allows Jamie to brush against her in a fashion that looks utterly innocent from the outside and feels anything but. 

Jamie swallows hard, liking the weight of Dani’s gaze more than she’s prepared to admit. Liking the way Dani very slowly, very carefully, moves a hand under the table to press against her knee. 

“Bold, Poppins,” she breathes. Dani smiles, so clearly proud of herself and so clearly terrified that it’s all Jamie can do not to lean all the way across and kiss her. 

Best not. Cal’s a good man, their sort, but there are others in the pub now. People who wouldn't take kindly to a sight like that. And this night is going far too well for Jamie to waste where it’s going on a bar brawl.

***

Jamie’s flat is nothing like Dani expected. Admittedly, she isn’t sure what to expect when Jamie drains the last of her glass and gives a knowing glance to the exit. A very small part of her thinks this is all going entirely too well--her hand has been under the table, pressed with a confidence she hadn’t known she possessed to Jamie’s knee, for almost fifteen minutes. Even as her thumb traces small circles into the denim, even as Jamie’s eyes go a little darker, her lips parting in a way Dani finds entirely too interesting, she thinks, This isn’t me, is it? She can’t be feeling it, too. No one has ever understood this. 

Even so, here’s Jamie, standing a little too quickly. Her chair scrapes back, her jacket swung over her arm, and she’s reaching out. Dani accepts the hand, lets Jamie pull her to her feet. A good idea. A bad idea. The kind of idea that will get them out of the public eye in short order, either way, and Dani can’t think of anything wiser in this moment. 

There’s a set of stairs just outside the door, leading up to a second door. Thick brown wood, with double locks Jamie works without really looking. She’s staring at Dani even as her hands move, staring from inches away, and Dani suddenly thinks how good it is, that they came out tonight. How good it is to be away from the house, the kids, anyone else in the world. 

“After you,” Jamie says, pushing the door open with a flat hand and gesturing for Dani to enter. Her voice is a little raw, a little huskier than usual. Dani moves past her, arm brushing arm, and just about jumps out of her skin at the contact. 

The space is small, sparsely furnished, with a curtain hung to break up the room. In one far corner, a tiny bathroom. In the closest corner, a tiny kitchen, barely broken from the living space by a change in flooring. 

Jamie, wearing an expression Dani has not yet learned to decipher, says, “This would be it. The castle, as it were.”

Does she sound embarrassed? Dani can't quite tell. She wants to say there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, this place is small and quiet and somehow perfectly Jamie in its easy nature. There are books, though not many, on a small shelf. There are plants, considerably more, lined up like soldiers guarding Jamie from loneliness. 

“It’s a place to lay my head, anyway,” Jamie says, and that is definitely a touch of embarrassment in her voice. Dani shakes her head, moves to join her at the front door, takes her hand. 

“It’s yours,” she says, unable to clarify quite why that is so special. “Thank you. For bringing me here.”

It sounds better in her head than it does ringing between them in a space so silent, Dani imagines she can hear the echo of her own voice. Jamie is just looking at her, the way she’d looked the night Owen’s mother passed, like if Dani were to give the word, she’d make a move that would light them both aflame. 

She’d been too afraid that night. Was carrying far too much. Even the simple act of touching Jamie at all, of running her thumb across Jamie’s hand, had felt like heroism. 

Now, things are different. 

She’s got Jamie by the sleeves, hands gripping Jamie’s t-shirt just above the skin of her biceps, and this is what going over feels like. This is what it feels like, Dani thinks, to just let go. 

***

Kissing Dani is different here. Back in the greenhouse, Dani had been largely somebody else, Jamie thinks; still Dani, but a version carrying too much on her back. A desperate, hopeful, sorrow-laden Dani who had grabbed at her jacket like it was a life preserver. 

This Dani, sighing and squeezing her arms, feels like freedom. 

Jamie finds herself spinning them both, pressing Dani against the locked door, liking the convulsive way Dani’s hands fist around her shirt sleeves. Liking the way Dani slides one arm around her neck and leans back just a little, just enough to gaze into Jamie’s eyes, and this is almost too much all on its own. No one has ever looked at Jamie while she was trying to kiss them. No one, not even once, has looked at her with such profound affection.

And want. So much want, Dani’s eyes are stormy with it. Jamie’s grinning, but there’s a fist around her heart squeezing so hard, she worries it might burst. 

“All right?” she breathes. Dani could say no. Dani could say no at any time, and Jamie would understand it. Would lean back, comb her fingers through her own hair, offer the bed while she sets up on the couch until the alcohol’s out of both of their systems and the sunrise gives them another chance at it. 

Dani, rather than answering, makes a low sound at the back of her throat and finds Jamie’s mouth with an eager, open kiss that sends Jamie’s pulse through the roof. 

She hasn’t done this before, she’s told Jamie, but she’s coming to it naturally enough. Her lips are soft, parting for Jamie’s tongue, her hips pushing against Jamie’s body in slow, easy motions. When Jamie rakes her nails down her scalp, fingers pulling the scrunchie from her hair, she responds with such a low groan, Jamie has to bury her face in Dani’s neck for a moment to breathe. 

“Sorry,” Dani mumbles. Jamie, shaking her head, laughs against her skin. 

“In no universe, Poppins, are you to be sorry right now. About anything.”

She raises her head, looking for signs that Dani is sorry in a more important way, a way that will say stop, back up, let this go for now. Dani takes her face between trembling hands. Kisses her slowly, sweetly, tongue tracing Jamie’s lower lip like the only thing in the world is to memorize her in tiny, hopeful doses. 

Jamie sighs, one hand buried in blonde hair, the other finding purchase on the sleeve of a too soft, too tearable sweater. She feels too large for her body all of a sudden, too much adrenaline coursing through her system, and every time Dani turns her head just a little, every time she brushes her nose against Jamie’s and makes that tiny, soul-searing little sound under Jamie’s kiss, she thinks she gets a bit closer to plunging off the edge into something she won’t be able to forget about in the morning. 

“You sure?” she asks against Dani’s lips, the words lost when Dani moves an arm around her neck and digs her fingers in hard. She can feel Dani nodding, breathless, and it’s enough. More than enough. Jamie finds she’s walking them backwards, navigating carefully around her small table, her small couch, the shelf upon which she keeps a few precious plants. 

With every step, Dani is kissing her. 

With every step, Dani is tracing shapes into the back of her neck.

With every step, Dani is pushing in close, like if Jamie breaks for even a second, some beautiful, perfect spell will break with her. 

They’re past the curtain now, in the little space where Jamie sleeps and wakes and hasn’t taken anyone since moving in. Dani, forehead pressed against hers, lips swollen, opens her eyes. 

“This is--”

“Not much,” Jamie says. On the one hand, she’s glad they came out tonight, glad she’s getting to hear all the little sounds Dani makes as she’s kissed without worrying about eavesdroppers. On the other, there’s nothing inspiring about her flat, nothing to say Jamie can take care of someone. It’s just walls. Just walls and a couple of plants, and for some reason, Dani is looking around like they’ve walked through a mirror into a land of magic. 

“Anyway,” Jamie says. “We don’t have to--if you don’t want to--”

***

“Don’t you?” Dani’s heart is in her throat, pounding in her wrists almost painfully hard. Jamie, one arm around her waist, leaning back with flushed cheeks and her bottom lip between her teeth, raises her eyebrows. 

“Want to? God, yes.”

Relief, flooding Dani’s body almost hard enough to knock her over. She grips at Jamie with both hands, the slide of dark t-shirt soft under her fingers, and kisses her again. She feels so good kissing Jamie, so good she forgets how nervous she is about the whole thing. Jamie, her hand strong at the small of her back, her fingers brushing just under the hem of her sweater, leans back again. 

“Just don’t want to pressure you into anything. S’all right if you’re not up for--”

"I’ll tell you,” Dani promises. If Jamie keeps doing that with her hand, if Jamie keeps tracing the base of her spine with small, reckless movements, she thinks she’ll go crazy. “If it’s too much. I’ll tell you.”

She pushes gently against Jamie’s chest, feeling bold and brave and absolutely petrified of her own actions, and Jamie lets herself fold backwards until she’s seated on the edge of a thin, clean bedspread. Dani follows her down, knees on either side of Jamie’s thighs, sitting carefully in her lap. 

“Now what?” Jamie teases, even as she’s sliding both hands up Dani’s sides, firm enough not to tickle as she brackets Dani’s ribs and lets the next ragged breath push against her palms. Dani closes her eyes for a beat, swaying, untethered until Jamie tilts her head and kisses her again. All at once, it’s like being caught at the end of a string. All at once, it’s like being handed serenity. 

She realizes she’s moving her hips, rolling them forward against Jamie’s lap, liking the way Jamie’s hands tighten on her body and begin gently pushing her back and forth. There isn’t enough friction to really accomplish anything this way, but it hardly matters; it’s still so much, so much she feels like she’ll come apart anyway. Something this new, a feeling this big, reaching across the expanse of her, consuming her--she thinks she’ll lose something here tonight. Gain something. Tie the two together and be something different come morning. 

She used to worry about that, with him. Used to worry that if she ever gave in, ever tried that one last thing to feel how she was meant to with him, she’d be different the next day. She’d be someone else. 

This is something else entirely--so much so, she almost can’t breathe around the realization. That she will be different tomorrow, and that she will not be less Dani because of it, but more, somehow. Something more Dani than she’s allowed herself to be in her whole life, because it was chosen here, tonight, with Jamie’s hands on her body and Jamie’s mouth under her own. 

***

With Dani in her lap, skirt riding up around her thighs, hips moving restlessly, Jamie thinks for a second they’ve hit a wall. A very good wall to hit, she thinks hurriedly. If this is as far as they go tonight, it’s still worlds past anything she really expected from Dani. 

So long as she doesn’t regret it, doesn’t run from me, I could stay here forever. 

Dani, who has been kissing her for what feels like forever, breaks contact and just looks at her. Her hand, soft and cautious and more certain than Jamie expects, presses against Jamie’s breastbone. Pushes again. Jamie shifts backwards, inching up the mattress, pulling Dani with her until she’s flat on her back with Dani looking down. 

“Up to you,” she says. She likes the simple pressure of Dani’s body atop her own, of soft curve fitting all the spaces where Jamie doesn’t usually think of herself as lacking anything at all. Now, though, knowing what it feels like, how the whole of Dani is pressed flush to her, she wonders if she’ll ever feel complete in this bed again. 

“You still--”

“Want?” Jamie’s lips curve. “If you’re asking, there’s something I’m not doing right.”

“I’m sorry,” Dani says, then seems to catch herself. She sighs, smiles, laughs a little in that dizzy, self-conscious way that breaks Jamie’s heart. “This is...as far as I know. This is...”

Jamie nods, understanding. “You trust me?”

***

Dani is nodding, too, liking the way her body is moving almost of its own accord against Jamie’s. She hadn’t even realized she was doing it, hadn’t even realized she was still rubbing lightly against Jamie even as nerves pound through her system. 

“Tell me,” Jamie says in a low, urgent tone. “If anything changes.”

She rolls, then, a quick flash of movement that makes Dani shriek-giggle. From this new vantage point, back pressed into Jamie’s mattress, head on Jamie’s pillow, she feels suddenly so much more intimate than while straddling Jamie’s lap. Doesn’t make sense, she thinks with a thrill of such powerful lust, all she can do is grab again at Jamie’s shirt and hold on. But this is hers, and I’m here, and she’s...she’s...

“Tell me,” Jamie says again, a quiet command that drags soft nails up Dani’s back. She shivers, nodding, and Jamie takes the lead at last. 

***

She hadn’t thought, somehow, about this part. Not in so many firmly phrased words. She’d thought about the shape of it, of Dani in her flat, of Dani in her bed, of Dani kissing her, touching her, but somehow, this part slid away every time it tried to rise in her mind. 

The part of the show where clothes go away. The part of the show Jamie has always liked the most, and the least, at the same time. 

Dani is kissing her when she slides both hands beneath the sweater, easing it up, giving Dani ample time to pull away. Dani, instead, sits up just enough to allow the sweater to rise over breasts, shoulders, head. Jamie drops it off the bed, leans back on her knees, smiles. 

“Is there...” Dani isn’t covering herself, exactly, but there’s a sort of nakedness to her expression that has nothing to do with clothes disappearing. “I mean, am I--”

She leaves it unspoken, a bit embarrassed: right? okay? enough? 

“Perfect,” Jamie tells her. “Absolutely gorgeous.” 

She takes the hem of her own shirt in her hand, waits, pleased when Dani sits up and covers that hand with her own searching fingers. She doesn’t want to go anywhere Dani isn’t willing to take her, and she certainly doesn’t want to deprive her of the small moments that make a first time with someone else so electric. When Dani guides the shirt up over her head, it’s like Jamie’s never done this, either--no woman has ever just looked at her, eyes steady and searching, in a moment like this. 

Women are usually the fast, nervous, lights-off-don’t-talk kind of souls in Jamie’s bed. Touch me, kiss me, don’t look, don’t ask questions, don’t act like you want to be here. But Dani is looking at her with lips parted, hands tracing the lines of Jamie’s neck, collarbones, the dip between her breasts. Her fingers are shaking so hard, Jamie covers them with her own, pulls them to her lips. 

“One thing at a time,” she says quietly. “Anything’s too much, we pull back.”

Dani pulls at her, guiding Jamie’s hands back to work the clasp of her bra, to cover her skin with soft, careful strokes. She arches into Jamie’s hand and whimpers, and Jamie thinks there was no way, no way she could have predicted any of this. Not as it is. Not as Dani is letting it be. 

***

She’d thought, back in the greenhouse, that Jamie’s kiss was enough to drown in. That Jamie’s lips traveling from her mouth to her throat to her ear was enough to drive her wild enough that she’d forget her own name. 

It’s nothing compared to Jamie kissing her now, holding her with gentle hands as she explores every inch of skin she can reach. She is all tongue, all soft bite, all lips on shoulder, on pulse, on everything Dani has never been able to imagine letting someone else even look upon. 

Here, Jamie’s jean-clad legs intertwined with her own bare ones, her skirt rucked high, Dani thinks maybe this is the best it could possibly be. To be in Jamie’s bed, with Jamie’s hand light on her breast and Jamie’s kiss burning hot as she travels lower, as she moves like they’ve got all the time in the world, is maybe the best the world could ever get. 

Every so often, Jamie raises her eyes, and Dani feels something hot and tight clutch in her stomach. Jamie, asking if this is all right. Jamie, sucking a mark into the skin of her belly. Jamie, one hand moving lower so slowly, Dani sort of thinks she’s going to scream. 

***

She’s trying to go slow, trying to take this as easily as she possibly can, but every inch of Jamie is on fire. Part of her is hyper-aware of the reality of the situation: that Dani is nervous, that Dani is special, that Dani is someone Jamie couldn't bear hurting even on accident. And, more: that Jamie’s scar is out on display, that Jamie’s home is out on display, that Jamie is more visible and vulnerable with shirt off and jeans on and mouth pressed to the smooth arc of Dani’s stomach than she’s been in years. 

When Dani takes her by the wrist, she’s sure they’ve gone far enough--that the heat between her own legs will have to wait, that Dani is going to roll off the bed and scramble back into her sweater and away from--

Her hand, wrapped around Jamie’s, slides beneath her skirt. 

Her fingers, wrapped around Jamie’s, guide her to press against damp underwear. 

Her back arches. Jamie groans. 

“Okay,” she breathes, looking up at Dani’s too-blue eyes. “Okay, getting the picture.”

***

She didn’t know. Didn’t have the first idea what this would feel like. Didn’t have even the remotest frame of reference, and if she were anywhere else, if she were with anyone else, maybe she’d still be too keyed-up to find out.

But Jamie is sliding back up the bed, hand rubbing soft, testing circles between Dani’s legs, and yes--she thinks she’s starting to understand at last. 

She kisses Jamie hard, without care of how she looks or being even the least bit smooth, her own hand fumbling toward the zipper of Jamie’s jeans. No time like the present, she thinks with a truly unexpected delight, pleased when Jamie spreads her legs and shifts her hips to help her ease between cloth and skin. 

“Right for it,” Jamie pants in surprise, and Dani is too invested to feel embarrassed. Jamie is soft under her hand, wet, hips jerking to match her clumsy movements. She closes her eyes, concentrates on trying to mirror what Jamie’s doing with her own considerably more nimble fingers. Tries to match her in slow, gentle pressure--then a little faster, as Jamie sucks breath through her teeth--and faster yet, when Jamie presses up in a way she doesn’t fully expect. 

She doesn’t even realize she’s losing control until she’s already halfway gone, her hand tripping and fumbling as Jamie uses two fingers and a series of quick, rhythmic motions to set a pace Dani can’t help but follow with her hips. She realizes she’s rolling onto her back, arching, making noises she’s never heard from her own lips, and Jamie rolls to follow, kissing those noises into muffled joy.

Jamie rides out the spasms with her, keeping her hand exactly where it is, slowing to a gentle rest of fingertips against ruined underwear. Dani’s vaguely aware her own hand is still down Jamie’s pants, no longer moving. She exhales. 

“I--”

“S’all good,” Jamie says, her smile edged with something Dani thinks looks rather smug. “First time. Takes practice.”

***

It doesn’t surprise her, Dani falling asleep soon after. There were some mumbling sounds about reciprocation, about fairness, about wanting to feel Jamie twitch and groan under her fingers--but Jamie, jeans unzipped, feeling rather good about herself, only pulled her in close. Kissed her slowly. Let her fade into a gentle doze against Jamie’s shoulder. 

Good, Jamie thinks, though her skin is buzzing and there is an ache she hasn’t felt in a long time low in her belly. Rest, Poppins. There’s always tomorrow. 

If pressed, she couldn’t say why she feels such pride, such easy pleasure, watching the way Dani sinks into sleep in her arms. Maybe because Dani hasn’t looked like someone with the benefit of a good night’s sleep since Jamie met her. Maybe simply because Dani feels perfectly safe, perfectly notched against Jamie in this small bed. 

Either way, it feels right, Dani’s warm breath spilling across her bare skin. It feels right, even in this dumpy little flat above the only pub in Bly, though Dani is surely too good for a place like this. 

Maybe not for someone like me, though, Jamie thinks blearily, too pleased and too tired to pile upon that idea the weight of a lifetime not being good enough. Past doesn’t matter, not with Dani. It’s different, with Dani. 

She drifts. Tomorrow, they’ll wake to sunlight streaming through thin curtains, and maybe Dani will be a little embarrassed about everything they’ve done--maybe she’ll want to talk about it, or want to pretend it never happened, and Jamie will figure out how to handle the pain of that then.

She falls asleep thinking this is possible--but somehow knowing it isn’t likely. Isn't Dani. It’s too early to know a thing like that, but all the same, Jamie is pretty certain there will be no mortified scramble for clothes, no pushing her aside as Dani runs for the door, no awkward small talk on the ride back to the house. 

She does not anticipate, upon waking, Dani kissing her cheek. Kissing the corner of her lips. Kissing her neck and murmuring, “Morning...” with a question on the end of the word Jamie can’t help but laugh at before she’s even fully awake. 

“First thing, huh?”

Dani smiles at her, the smile of a woman who selected this very date venue not out of any polite curiosity about a small village pub, but because this particular bed existed above it. “Takes practice, you said.”

Jamie inhales sharply as a hand cups very lightly against the front of jeans that feel entirely irrelevant. “I did. Yeah. I definitely did.”