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did you ever love her, do you know?

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x 1 x

Deciding on what to wear for the day had been a long and arduous task, even with Nina’s help and especially with Fabian fretting in the corner. He’d turned around as soon as he entered, but they insisted he come up with an excuse as to why Amber couldn’t see a damn thing. He’d done it. He’d worried the whole time and kept insisting he’d rather leave the room, but he’d done it.

Even so, Amber still felt like an idiot as they guided her into the kitchen with sunglasses on indoors. This was the kind of fashion mistake she’d shun someone for.

Predictably, Jerome made the first wisecrack. “And the sun is where, exactly?”

Nina bullshitted something about allergies, giving Amber an easy out. Considering no one challenged it and Alfie immediately jumped in assuming the reaction was to raspberries, she figured she was in the clear. At least until Alfie kept talking, wanting to help but so not helping. 

“No, no, no fuss!” she interrupted, holding her hands up. “All I have left is my dignity.” As in-character as she knew it sounded, it was painfully true. There were three active Sibuna members currently, and she had to be the one to get blinded? She hadn’t even been allowed to revel in the bookshelf discovery!

And then that dignity went out the window when she completely missed her chair, Nina’s guiding hands failing as well. Some of the girls laughed—or was that all of the girls? She didn’t want to know—and she hurried to her feet.

“It’s okay! It’s okay,” she squeaked out, her voice higher than usual. She was glad she couldn’t see the House’s reactions. “Um, th-that happens a-all the time.” She braced herself, and then tried again. This time she hit her mark, the absent laughter replaced by quiet murmurs.

Fabian had told her the blind were attuned to their other senses much more, but Amber figured that didn’t apply to day-old mythologically-blinded people, because it took her much too long to realize when the room had gone quiet. Nina said her name a few times but offered no other comment, so she continued making herself a bowl of cereal. She was just starting to feel good about her blind abilities when Jerome spoke again.

“Good morning,” he said, except it sounded like a question and was much closer to her than before. 

Nervously, Amber pivoted and stuck her hand out, touching an arm, and then a shoulder, and then unmistakably poshy hair. Nina’s tone made sense now, as did Alfie’s “Dude.” Within her first five minutes of a blind school day she’d wound up sitting on Jerome’s lap. If her stomach could drop any lower, it would have done it now. 

“What, so a girl can’t sit on her friend’s knee anymore?” she said airily, putting just the right amount of force behind it to silence any further questions. She went back to searching for the cereal and shifted around in his lap, absentmindedly noting it wasn’t too uncomfortable. She was pretty light; it couldn’t be too bad for him either.

Fabian eventually started a very, very boring conversation, but then Patricia made a joke about Alfie’s eating habits and it turned livelier. Amber felt Nina’s knee knock against hers, sure that was a sign all was forgotten. Well, as forgotten as it could be with her seating arrangement staying for the morning.

She resigned herself to her reality, hoping Nina would help her with food if need be and that Jerome would never bring this up to her after the fact. The rest of the house she could deal with—most of them could easily be told the real reason, although Nina might have fought her on that—but if he held onto this she’d never hear the end of it. Better if he stayed in shock.

x 2 x

The amount of time Jerome had been spending with Mara combined with his upcoming ping pong tournament warranted a team photo op, one he conveniently asked Mara to do. She knew a thing or two about cameras, and he also knew he had to swoop in while he could with Mick out of the picture. He was just glad Amber never turned down a chance to be photographed.

Mara had corralled them into the living room after school, letting Amber pick the time to give her ample room to prepare. As always, she looked flawless, as did Jerome’s hair. They stood in the middle of the seating area, Eddie providing unhelpful commentary from the kitchen as he made yet another disgusting sandwich.

Mara gestured widely. “I was picturing a very stoic tableau, maybe sitting side by side with an air of victory?”

Eddie snorted, hand stilling on the open refrigerator door. “They’re supposed to know what that means?”

While she made a face at him over their heads, Jerome situated himself on the couch, setting his paddle beside him. His eyes practically twinkled as he echoed, “Yeah, Mara, how exactly does that look?”

She glared playfully. “Ha ha, very funny. Now Amber, could you sit beside him? I wanna see how it looks first and then we can build off of it.”

The blonde assessed the couch cushion beside him with more interest than she’d looked at Alfie before, taking entirely too much time to sit down. Jerome was just about to gripe when she stepped toward him, placing herself so they were thigh to thigh, and then swung her legs up and into his lap. 

He barely had time to react before Mara was jumping on the action for him. “Amber, what are you doing?”

Eddie sauntered in from the kitchen, a sandwich in hand but an incredulous look on his face. “Whoa Amber, you switching roommates?” Mara swatted at his arm, but Jerome’s heart thudded against his ribcage at the thought.

He took this as his chance to fix her with a ‘what the hell’ look, but her attention wasn’t on him, muddling his thoughts even further. What was she doing?

Amber merely sighed and flicked a piece of hair out of her face. “I’ve done this before, you know; it’s really not that big of a deal.” 

No one’s reactions changed.

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, it’ll look all cute and athletic!” She smoothed down her skirt and leaned closer to him.

For the life of him, Jerome could not figure out what she was playing at. Aside from the previous year when she assumed anyone and everyone wanted to ask her to prom, this was fairly out of character. Considering he wasn’t the only one regarding her carefully, he had to believe they all agreed.

Mara passed her camera from hand to hand, visibly preparing to address this with all the professionalism in the world. Slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, she said, “I’m not sure how this works with my vision.”

Amber tilted her head up challengingly. “Does this not look confident and relaxed?”

Eddie shook his head, still grinning. “It sure looks like something.”

But Mara was really considering the angle now. She bent her knees a second, aiming the camera for a better idea at what view she wanted. Finally, she sighed. “Okay, fine. But no smiling!”

Apparently this was happening.

Jerome shot Amber a weird look. Not necessarily irritated, but certainly wary. “Not a problem.”

Tuning out Eddie’s barely-muffled laughter turned out to be the hardest part of the photoshoot. Mara was quick and efficient, and Amber was completely silent the whole time aside from the occasional murmured agreement. When Mara told him to put his arm around her—more behind her, resting in plain view of the camera on the couch cushion—he did it without complaining. When Amber motioned for his hand holding the paddle to rest on her legs, he did, thinking very little of the exposed skin he was touching.

The one day she didn’t wear knee-high socks. The one day.

Eventually Eddie passed out on the chair beside Mara, and not long after Victor found them and immediately vacated the area. Mara took that as the sign to wrap things up. Amber daintily got to her feet to examine the photos, only demanding a handful to be deleted. Jerome told himself it was his faith in Mara’s photography skills and not the need to adjust himself that had him retreating to the bathroom.

The little breakfast stunt at the beginning of the term that he still wasn’t sure what to make of was one thing to dismiss, but if she thought he’d forget this? Not a chance in hell.

x 3 x

Amber was busy enjoying a non-wrinkly face and watching Alfie marvel at regular height, but as soon as they heard Nina’s quiet “Oh no,” they turned around.

Huddled around Fabian’s locker, Nina quietly relayed the group text from Mara. “‘Victor’s rounding up the House. Please don’t push his buttons!’”

Amber felt a frown coming on and forced herself to snap out of it. She didn’t need to get wrinkles again so soon. “That is not good.”

“Really not good,” Alfie agreed, sweating already.

Nina’s phone beeped then, another text coming in. She groaned. “And Patricia’s shirts are in the wash, so she’s looking for one to borrow. She won’t be here in time.” She had barely glanced up from her phone before her face went pale. Amber knew what that meant; everyone knew what that meant. If Nina was worried, then they didn’t have a plan.

Fabian spoke first. “Spread out,” he whispered, tossing his empty bag into his locker before slamming it shut. When no one moved immediately, he looked at each of them in turn. “Seriously, it’ll look less suspicious if we’re not all together.”

Then Alfie was nodding, hollering, “Run!” and everyone split up.

Amber’s heels clacked as she headed in the direction she was already facing, not paying much attention to where she was or who she was passing—as long as she didn’t see Victor, then all was well—until Nina made a concerned noise from right beside her. Their eyes locked, but they didn’t stop moving.

Nina’s arm knocked against hers. “Amber, Fabian meant we had to split up too,” she said lowly, keeping her eyes on the students around them. So far they hadn’t passed any Anubis residents who would be perplexed by their attitudes, but that changed the second Nina saw Eddie. 

She made a beeline for him, crossing in front of Amber and nearly tripping her. She heard Eddie laugh cautiously at the sudden attention and then his voice abruptly cut off, Nina’s babbling overlapping him completely. Something about America and weird British humor and a light jab at Joy that left Amber smiling.

Realizing she was alone, Amber ducked into the first open door she saw. Just her luck, there was only one person in the room she could be seen talking to, right at the front of the class messing around in the teacher’s chair. 

Amber stood on her tiptoes and exclaimed excitedly, trying to seem more into this reality than she was, “Jerome!”

Jerome’s head turned toward her, eyebrows raised. “Amber. What are you—”

The problem was, as soon as his name fell from her lips she was moving across the room with a single destination in mind. She couldn’t risk overthinking how it might look to the other students. She didn’t have a better idea.

So before he could finish his sentence, she’d reached him and promptly thrown herself onto his lap. They were in the one chair that had wheels, so for all intents and purposes Jerome seemed to short circuit. They rolled back as one of his arms came to rest unsteadily on her back, the only thing properly keeping her from falling. His other hand hovered in the air, pen stilling between his fingers.

Amber tactfully ignored the snickers and murmurs from the rest of the room’s occupants, assuring herself that Jerome didn’t actually have that many friends. Instead, she carded her fingers through his hair and put an admiring smile on her face. “Your hair looks great today, Jerome. Kind of windswept.”

He blinked a couple times, eyes darting from whoever he’d been talking to before and back to her perfectly nice expression. “Thanks?” he finally settled on, confusion evident. Almost cute, if she were into guys like Jerome Clarke.

The thought made her breath catch, so she played it off like a nervous giggle instead. He looked even more lost, until some of the other guys in the classroom spoke up just enough to reach a conclusion.

Jerome leaned back dramatically, eyeing her practiced posture. “Is this about that—that tournament joke we made? Are you actually trying to push a power couple image?”

Amber leaned back as well, quirking her eyebrows up. She’d heard it too, but was that a real possibility in his mind? “Oh, please!” But she’d seen their promotional photo put up as well; she couldn’t deny she’d made it look much more romantic than it needed to be. He was way off base, but their position definitely said otherwise. So did their position right now. She was partially aware she was blushing, so she flipped it back onto him. “Why, were you?”

He opened his mouth but didn't say anything, eyes flickering over her face intently. By leaving the question unanswered, he allowed just enough time for them to be interrupted. 

“Amber Millington!” 

They both turned toward the door, sending the chair spinning a bit. Amber’s stomach dropped.

Mr. Sweet was staring at her, looking particularly furious—that is, until he noticed who she was with. His expression faltered. “And Jerome Clarke?” 

Jerome’s arm relaxed around her at the same time Amber fixed Sweetie with a hard glare. “Yes?” she said, aiming for an interrupted girlfriend attitude. She didn’t feel as weird about it as she should have.

Words failed Sweetie for another moment before he sputtered, “Y-Yes, you two! Anubis House is conducting a bag check in the theatre room! Now!” And with that, he urged everyone else to get back to work despite the bell not having rung yet, and then promptly walked out the door.

Amber allowed herself to grin now, impossibly pleased with herself. Sibuna could make as many playful jokes as they wanted, but no one thought quicker on their feet than she did.

Apparently Jerome was coming to the same conclusion, because he tapped his pen against her shoulder to get her attention, and she realized she was about eye level with him now that everything had calmed down. He regarded her curiously. “Was I a distraction?”

That was easy enough to dodge. She rolled her eyes. “Oh Jerome,” she said sweetly, patting his arm. “You’re not important enough to be a distraction.” With that, she got to her feet and turned away from him, her hair fanning out like she was shutting the door to the conversation.

Even if Sweetie was rounding up everyone for Victor to no doubt interrogate them, she had faith in Patricia’s sneaking abilities, and even more faith in their misdirection skills. Nina was with Eddie, Amber was with Jerome, Patricia wasn’t on school grounds, and the guys practically bolted away from each other. No way were any Sibuna members caught together. That, she decided, even as she could hear Jerome starting to follow her as the classroom erupted into hoots and hollers, was what made this cover up worth it. Nothing else.

x 4 x

They’d lost track of how long they’d been stuck in the barn, but overexerting themselves on finding exits that probably didn’t exist paled in comparison to taking a break. This left Jerome to watch from his spot on the floor as Fabian paced back and forth and Amber complained about the cold, as well as a splitting headache. Trudy kept to herself in another corner of the structure, undoubtedly feeling overwhelmed.

The more time that passed the more uneasy they all felt, even if Jerome chose to keep his thoughts to himself for once. Amber was doing enough grumbling for the both of them now, albeit her worries morphing into a building pressure behind her eyes rather than Jerome likely snapping at Fabian’s planning skills. Not that it was anyone’s fault necessarily, but projecting was a talent of his. Especially in situations where there was no conceivable out.

Finally, Fabian had had enough of Amber’s comments. “Okay, Amber, Amber,” he cut in, both looking and sounding exasperated. “Why don’t you try to get some rest, hm? Just get comfortable and we’ll be quiet, alright?”

Amber made a noise in agreement, but Jerome noticed how her lip quivered. Either Fabian had made her upset or she was aware that listening to his suggestion still did nothing for their predicament. Regardless, she planted herself on the ground beside him, fidgeting for a moment before crossing her ankles over his legs. 

Jerome didn’t bother hiding his questioning gaze this time—if he’d counted right, then this was the fourth time she did something like this—but Fabian ran with it, barely changing his expression. Honestly, he might not have noticed.

“Great. You rest, and I’ll see if Trudy has seen or pieced together… anything else,” he said, for all intents and purposes appearing ready to tear his own hair out. 

Jerome switched his gaze to him, arching an eyebrow. “You really think she wants to talk about all this now that we’re locked in?”

Fabian sighed. “We don’t really have much of a choice, Jerome.” He nodded once, more to himself than to them, and then walked out of sight.

For the next few minutes, Amber shivered beside him, head tipped back slightly as she focused on calming down. Sibuna hadn’t kept him informed; they never had, especially not after last year’s disastrous attempt. But he knew a lot more was going on than they wanted to get into. Rufus resurfacing both proved that and actively made everything worse than it should have been. The cellar had been one thing, but he hadn’t heard of them getting caught down there in quite some time. Wherever they were, whatever they were searching for, it was really working Amber up.

As for Jerome? He was simply trying not to pay any mind to her legs. 

He drew his cardigan tighter around his body like makeshift armor, starting to worry about Rufus himself. All he wanted was to free Trudy and secure his dad’s gem. Sibuna’s involvement meant when they were found out… it was all downhill from there. And he’d had enough bullshit mysteries to deal with for a lifetime. 

His dad was still in jail, the hunt for the gem even harder to handle on top of all this. Keeping Poppy out of the technicalities proved to affect him more than he’d expected, the brotherly instincts he tried to pretend he’d buried bubbling up to the surface. She couldn’t possibly be put into the thick of things; not on his watch. And then there was the Mara situation—god, did she complicate things. Mara was complicated enough as is, but combining his frustrating feelings for her with the whole gem situation made for a spectacularly difficult term thus far. All he really wanted, right now and for the foreseeable future, was a good distraction. Just to take his mind off things. 

“Jerooooome,” Amber whined, effectively grabbing his attention.

He watched her mouth, waiting for more complaints, but she had gone silent. It unsettled him. Sure, grumbling about the same things repeatedly was bound to transfer her headache onto him, but he’d rather endure that than the quiet they’d found themselves in now. Only when she spoke again did he realize he’d never looked away from her lips.

She mumbled into her jacket again, “It’s freezing, Jerome,” and that was all it took.

Acquiescing, Jerome brushed a knuckle against her ankle, nudging her legs up. Then he scooped her up into his arms, careful with her skirt, and settled her on the floor in between his legs. He’d be stupid if he thought this hadn’t been her intention, but the only move she had made was to throw her calves onto him. He guessed it was enough of a hint anyway.

Amber didn’t hesitate any longer than a second, immediately tucking herself into his chest. Her arms wrapped around his waist, one slipping under his cardigan.

He hissed at the sudden cold through his shirt. “Bloody hell, Amber, you’re ice cold.”

She grumbled against him, nestling her head into the crook of his neck. “Told you.”

He resituated himself, picking the smoothest part of the wall to lean against. It was still uncomfortable for him, but not even his movement stirred Amber. She stayed right where she was, tucked into him, so close she might as well have been a second skin.

After a moment longer, he couldn’t help but ask, “It’ll be really bad if we’re found here, won’t it?”

She made an irritated noise, the most unladylike he’d ever heard her. He almost laughed, but then she said, “Worse than you’re imagining,” and the amusement faded. He decided it was best they didn’t talk about it.

It hadn’t been two minutes before her breathing began evening out, holding his attention even more. How. How had this tiny little blonde fallen asleep on him in under two minutes? He let his head tilt back until it hit the wall as well, a sigh ready to fall from his lips. Something about this moment felt different to him than their previously intimate encounters. Never would he have thought to put the words “Amber” and “intimate” in the same sentence before, but she’d been surprising him. She was full of them, evidently, turning his mind upside down.

A part of him, a very small part, wondered if he’d ever hold Mara like this. If the damage he was doing in pulling away for Trudy’s sake was unsalvageable, if Mick would ever truly be out of the picture. Every step forward with her dragged him back two more, it seemed. Jerome Clarke was nothing if not determined, but at what point did he have to call it quits? When was his pursuing Mara pining and not chasing some miniscule attraction on her part?

He realized he didn’t care much either way when Fabian walked back over, eyeing their new position. Jerome mouthed, “Cold,” making no move to shift Amber out of his arms.

Mara only did these things when they were faking a relationship to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. Most of the affection she gave could easily be pushed onto Patricia, or Joy, or any of their friends. The line between platonic and romantic interactions could be pretty thin, but Mara rarely walked that line. Maybe a step forward didn’t mean steps back in all aspects of his life. Maybe it only happened when he was pushing for something outside the lines.

Amber let out a tiny snore then, nothing more than a short puff of air, but he felt it reverberate through his chest. It instantly brought a soft smile to his face, a warmth spreading to the rest of his body. He never would’ve guessed she’d snore. He never would’ve guessed she’d find this much comfort in him, something she hadn’t even done with Alfie. He never would’ve guessed she’d be interested in the mysteries that Sibuna chased, or the ping pong tournament, or that this moment would feel as normal as it did—for both of them, really. It was then that he acknowledged that the content feeling in his chest wasn’t going away. 

Amber Millington was distinctly within the lines.

x 5 x

After having a final showdown with an evil spirit, involving Rufus Zeno, the Osirian reveal, Nina’s possession, and Joy literally dying, cleaning up at the end of the party wasn’t something Amber was so strongly against anymore.

Everyone was in extraordinarily good moods, all past jealousy and animosity being put on hold for at least the night. Amber had apologized to Alfie for her behavior while they were dating, and they wholeheartedly agreed on being better as good friends. She assumed Joy reached the same conclusion with Fabian, if her excitement over his reunion with Nina was as genuine as it looked. Patricia and Eddie still had a lot to talk about in regards to the whole mythological aspect of their relationship, but they were stronger than ever. The same went for Mick and Mara, a couple Amber had no problem admitting she was thankful for sticking together.

Her eyes had been wandering all night to a certain blond. One who didn’t dance (Eddie was all over the place), otherwise she would’ve lured him onto the dance floor. 

Trudy had tried to help clean once their out-of-House guests left, but everyone could agree she really deserved a break. Mara sent Mick off to grab brooms, Alfie ate anything that was too small to keep but the right size to be thrown out, Joy helped Patricia and Eddie with the trash, and Fabian and Nina pushed the furniture back to its normal layout. Amber carefully handled preserving the leftovers, watching her nails as much as keeping the icing intact. But the one resident who’d taken a seat at the kitchen table and had yet to do a single thing to help was watching her.

Jerome and Alfie joked around the whole time, throwing crumbs at each other and sometimes at Fabian when he got too close. Eddie purposely bumped into Jerome’s chair, muttering an apology with a shiteating grin on his face and Patricia laughing behind him, but even that didn’t put Jerome into a bad mood. Amber mostly succeeded in averting her gaze when others lingered around them, but nothing could stop the way her body hummed with anticipation each time she felt him look her way.

After what felt like a lifetime of putting away desserts, she washed her hands and went to grab a dish towel. But someone must’ve used it on the table, because there it laid, resting unassumingly beside the one person she itched to interact with. Shaking her hands out over the sink, she moved past Joy in the doorway and stepped up to the table, grabbing the rag and drying off her hands. Only when she was about to pass by him did he speak directly to her.

“I didn’t think Amber Millington was willing to get her hands dirty,” he commented from his regular chair, relaxed as ever. She hadn’t seen him help clean, or even fake clean, for one minute. His intentions seemed pretty clear.

She leaned her thigh against the table, only slightly taller than him at this angle. “I’m willing to do a lot of things.” The response held just the right amount of innuendo behind it, if his raised eyebrows told her as much. She bit back a smirk.

He changed tacks. “The Fabian and Nina makeup. That’s your doing?”

Amber lifted a shoulder, a smile gracing her lips. “Courtesy of one Ms. Millington. Pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself.” She used the dish towel to point at him. “And I do. Because I’m always right in the romance department.”

“Oh, are you now?” He was grinning, clearly amused, but not in his usual rude way. She’d seen much more than his arrogant tendencies.

She kept her eyes on his, twisting the towel around in her hands. “Of course. Joy was never going to be more than a friend to Fabian, just like with Alfie and me.” 

His expression didn’t change, but she knew she’d answered a question of his. She could guess what he was about to say next. “So you assumed Mara would stay with Mick?”

I hoped. She shrugged again. “You’re better off where you are.”

The way he was looking at her confirmed it. She didn’t care if she was blushing, or if her hand brushed his when she set the dish towel down, or if she was being painfully obvious with her flirting. Jerome enjoyed the sly remarks, and she enjoyed his reactions.

At some point the others had disappeared. The laundry door was ajar as was the back entrance, a single cabinet left open, so Amber assumed some of their friends were handling the trash while the others headed to bed or to bother Victor or to make out, which she hoped was the case for Nina and Fabian. But she liked where she was right now, so she maneuvered around his chair to clear the crumbs off the table.

Jerome was just starting to point to the floor, teasing her about the mess she was making, but she was focused on making something out of another mess. The second he sat up straight again she planted herself on his lap for what felt like the thousandth time.

All the breath was practically knocked out of him, leaving a blank stare as he got himself together.

Amber’s lips tugged upward, fully intending to tease him back. She tossed an arm over his shoulder, moving even farther into his space. “Do you want to continue yelling at me?”

His stunned silence made her revel in the moment even more, honestly. So rarely was he quiet, just simply watching and waiting and picking things apart right then instead of laughing them off. He’d never once laughed at her on top of him. He’d always regarded her seriously, wondering where she was going with this repeated choice. She wanted him to figure this one out for himself.

She tilted her head to the side, doe eyes looking back at his dazed ones.

Slowly, he shook his head, fascination clear in his expression. “You do this on purpose, don’t you? Always climbing onto my lap?”

She had the audacity to pretend to think about it, but the smile never left her face. Where would she be if she didn’t play with him a bit first? “Well, sometimes—”

It didn’t matter what her answer was, because he was grabbing the back of her neck and tugging her down to his lips. Her surprise didn’t register because she wasn’t really surprised. It felt more like a sigh of relief blooming within her. One of her hands snaked up his chest, keeping herself grounded as much as she was feeling his heartbeat beneath her fingertips as she kissed him back.

When they eventually broke apart, Amber felt pleasantly lightheaded. They didn’t separate much, just enough to see the other’s expression, his staggered breaths ghosting over her lips in an enticing way. All coherent thoughts escaped her when he looked at her like that, wonder and attraction mixed into one. She liked that look on Jerome Clarke. She liked all his looks, because she liked him.

The affirmation coaxed a grin out of her, and he immediately mirrored it. She let out a breathy laugh, tilting her forehead until it touched his. “I was worried earlier, in the tunnels.” Her eyes had drifted shut during the sentence. “He’s dangerous as it is, but with you he’s a—a maniac.”

“No wonder he got dragged to Hell,” he murmured, pulling another laugh from her lips. He chuckled too, but her body only sparked when his hand left her neck, dragging down her side until he grasped her hip. He tugged her even closer, the space between them practically nonexistent. “You showing up, though. That scared the hell out of me,” he admitted, tone growing serious.

Amber leaned back the tiniest bit to make eye contact, feeling her heartbeat speed up even more at the sincere look in his eyes. A year ago associating Jerome with such sappiness would’ve been foregin, but now… “Alfie got the mask out of there. And you are quick on your feet.”

“So are you, yanking me into the crawlspace.”

She laughed at that, throwing her head back. “What else was I supposed to do? That way is so much faster.”

Jerome rolled his eyes playfully. “You just wanted to get me alone.”

Amber smirked at that. “Why would I need to? You made the move just fine all on your own.” Their current position proved her point already, but she wiggled around to really drive it home. And because she wanted to feel him grip her waist more, which he did.

He pulled her forward again, holding her in place. “Don’t you have all those dating rules? I figured I had to step up first or you’d throw a fit.” There was a glint in his eye, clearly challenging her.

She’d take the bait if she got a reward. Ducking until her nose nudged his, she murmured, “The rules seem pretty pointless now, don’t you think?”

That got him to smile, a real, genuine smile that stretched across his entire face. She knew then that this wasn’t a simple fix to him either. This meant something, a term’s worth of buildup leading to this moment. So she took advantage of the lack of House members and pressed her lips to his again, winding her arms around him. He held her even tighter against him, kissing back with a fervor reserved only for Amber Millington.

Even Patricia and Eddie (hypocritically) ragging on them upon reentering the room didn’t make the moment feel any less right.

x +1 x

That summer Nina insisted all her friends needed to visit her country, something Eddie jockeyed for just as hard. Fabian was already set to go as was Patricia (for two entirely separate reasons, obviously), but the rest of the House needed about a month to finalize the plans. During that time, Nina and Fabian grew closer in America while Patricia and Eddie did in Liverpool, hanging around Patricia’s favorite spots and having more father-son-son’s girlfriend dinners with Sweetie. By the time they all gathered for the flight to Nina’s hometown, it had become increasingly clear they weren’t the only couples in romantic bubbles.

Amber teasingly leaned down to lightly mess with Jerome’s hair before she stood back up, prompting Patricia to mime violently throwing up behind them.

“Maybe pump the breaks on the PDA, ‘kay Jerry?” Eddie recommended from beside his girlfriend, but the joking smirk was clear in his voice.

Jerome turned around in his seat, arching an eyebrow. “Wanna tell me what that is, then?” He nodded down to their hands, very clearly interlocked on the shared armrest.

Patricia glared. “Oh, fuck off. This is the only comfortable way to share it.”

Alfie snorted, leaning across the aisle to nudge her arm. “Good excuse.”

“Very believable,” Eddie added, but he was grinning at her. Jerome took that as his go ahead to turn back around.

Amber normally didn’t like loading her own luggage, but there was something to be said about the hunt for the mask renewing her independence. She’d gotten to her feet twice already, carefully stepping over Jerome’s legs and stretching onto her tiptoes in order to reach the overhead compartment. She always needed something, whether it be earbuds or a compact mirror or a face mask for when she got inevitably tired. This proved to be a problem for Jerome because—of course—she’d decided on a miniskirt for the flight. She looked amazing in jeans, but the short skirts would always be the death of him. Maybe literally if she kept moving like that.

He placed a hand on the small of her back when she wobbled for a moment, holding onto the compartment as she dug through the purse she’d brought along. Patricia and Eddie’s bags were mixed in with theirs, making it easier in some ways to rummage around blind rather than bring everything down with her.

His pocket buzzed then, mercily drawing his attention away from his incredibly alluring girlfriend. Jerome pulled his phone out, frowning down at the screen. Poppy texting him was rare enough as it was, but this one was just stupid and reminded him exactly of what he was trying to ignore.

dad says to use protection in america

jk he just raised his eyebrows, i said that

He rolled his eyes, fully intending on ignoring it for a day or two until she sent a follow-up on the topic, at which point he’d make fun of her for missing him and playing it off so weirdly. Unfortunately he wasn’t quick enough in his reaction, because Eddie commented, from right by his ear, “Aweeee, what a nice picture of Amber.”

Jerome’s head snapped to look at him, hovering in between the headrests. Patricia cackled, shoving at her boyfriend’s arm. Jerome opted for rolling his eyes. “Yeah, she’s beautiful so I made it my lockscreen.”

Amber let out a tiny squeal, pausing in her bag search. “That is soooo sweet, Jerome.”

Patricia leaned forward, uncrossing her legs to do so. “What’s your lockscreen, Amber?”

“Oh, it’s a photo of me too,” she said distractedly, distracting Jerome as well when her skirt swished around her thighs, thus providing the perfect opportunity for Patricia to move around Eddie and snag Amber’s phone from her seat.

Jerome only tuned back in when Patricia made an odd noise and said, “Yeah, of you and Jerome.”

He whipped around, his full attention on the goth chick behind him. Grabbing the phone from her, he tapped at it before it lit up again. She did, in fact, have a picture of them as her lockscreen, a selfie taken in their favorite seating position. He couldn’t help the smile that grazed his lips.

He caught Amber smiling lightly up at the compartment before he’d made the split second decision to snake his arm around her waist, receiving another squeal in response to pulling her down onto his lap. She had just opened her mouth when he kissed her, silencing any faux-whiny remark.

She leaned into it, showing her thinly veiled enthusiasm at his spontaneity. When he let her pull back, she narrowed her eyes at him. “That was very rude of you, interrupting a lady while she’s working.”

He grinned, immediately amused. “Rude?” She nodded. “This was rude?”

“Yep,” she insisted, leaning in just to bump his nose with hers. That had grown to become one of his favorite things they did, only ever happening when she was on his lap. It reminded him of after the Anubis party, when they’d finally done something about all the unresolved sexual tension between them. Now, all he could do was smile.

He kissed her again, letting her deepen it even as they finally caught the other House members’ attention. Joy loudly complained and Mick might have excused himself, climbing over Mara to get to the bathroom, but the peanut gallery’s running commentary didn’t bother them. It never did. Her hands moved to cup his face as she resituated herself on his lap, pouring all their affection into one single moment.

Amber was definitely in the lines, but she filled it in with vibrant shades of pink, etching her name into his heart like the physical embodiment of warmth. He figured that was all he needed.