Work Header

a very mancala christmas

Work Text:

The last bit of sunlight slipped through the window into the apartment. The thick curtains caught most of it right away, but some rays magically made it past them. The light wasn’t particularly bright, and it only lit the room very dimly. Cosima, however, couldn’t bear it. She squinted involuntarily, thus protecting her eyes from it.

Usually, on cold winter days like this, the warmth of the sun made her feel safe, made her feel a sense of security not much else could, especially knowing just how cold it was outside. On this particular December day, however, it did not comfort her. No—it felt like a slap to the face instead, and she could not help but quickly shuffle away from it. So she did; she turned her head and redistributed her weight on the bed.

As she moved slightly to the right, the mattress, of course, did so, too—as well as her glass of water, which she had placed there a mere few minutes ago. She got a hold of just in time to prevent it from spilling all over the blanket. She grimaced as her fingers gripped the material tightly, and a noise that somewhat resembled a snort left her mouth. “Thank God,” she breathed.

For the first time since they’d started playing the game, she could feel Delphine’s eyes on her. “Ça va?”

There was concern in her voice. There was nothing to worry about, though, so Cosima expressed just that, saying, “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Just—you know how the sun gets.” A weak chuckle accompanied the words.

“Are you sure?”

Cosima’s eyes had been glued to the game board in front of her, practically piercing it, for what felt like hours, so it was strangely like ripping off a band aid when she finally did take a second to glance up at Delphine. She’d been right, her girlfriend’s forehead was scrunched up, and she was clearly trying to figure out whether Cosima was telling the truth, whether she really was feeling okay.

And Cosima was. So she hummed in agreement. “Yeah—I’m okay, really.”

A quick reassuring grin, an awkward thumbs up—that’s what she framed her words with—was everything Delphine needed to be convinced. A beautiful smile finally replaced the frown, and Cosima took that as her cue to shift her gaze back to the game board in between them. On it were small pebbles which had been lying there untouched since the light’s rude interruption of Cosima’s turn.

As usual, about three fourths of the stones were across from her, on Delphine’s side. Now, while that did not necessarily mean that Delphine was inevitably going to win, Cosima knew that she herself had no chance of doing so, and that Delphine was , in fact, inevitably going to win.

It would not have been the first time. Quite the opposite, really; Cosima had lost more games of Mancala—or Kalah , as some called this specific version—than she could count at this point. So why was this still going on? , you may have asked.

Well, there were exactly two reasons. The first: Her girlfriend loved the game. (Of course she did—she was the one to suggest it, and she was the one constantly winning). And no matter how often she almost lost her head trying to figure out a way to win, it melted her heart to see green eyes light up as they set up the board on their bed. Case in point—the smile still on her face was so breathtaking that it was hard to say Okay, let’s stop , and just continue with life as if Mancala had never been a thing. Cosima wanted to see the happiness on Delphine’s face—the happiness that playing, that winning so obviously caused—forever. So what if she kept losing?

Cue the second reason: She wanted to win. She really, really wanted to win—just one game. Just once, she wanted to be triumphant in this game from hell. It did not have anything to do with being a sore loser in the slightest. She wasn’t one. She prided herself on never having been one. She thought there was something enjoyable about seeing people—Delphine especially—laugh as they finished first in Ludo, about hearing them talk excitedly of how much it meant to them to guess the right colors in Hit and Blow. It was the visible happiness. She loved happiness.

But she was also a scientist. And it was in scientists’ blood, she thought, to want to do everything right. It was vital for them. They wanted, needed to complete the tasks and achieve the goals they or someone else had set for them; it was necessary to manage, lead, supervise and ultimately successfully wrap up a project.

(The devoted scientist part was clearly to blame for her desire.)

Really, it hadn’t been supposed to be this way. See, when Cosima had agreed to playing Mancala for the first time, she had imagined it to be completely different. In her mind, it had gone something like this: They would play one game, maybe two. Delphine would win the first one—again, she had been the one to make the suggestion, so she’d had to be good at it—and the second one, she’d let Cosima win. That was it.

Half an hour later, it would have been over.

It hadn’t been over half an hour later. It hadn’t even been over two hours later. In fact, it still wasn’t over one week later. Oh, they’d finished their first round, yes, and their second one, and their third. Their fourth, too. And Delphine had remained unbeaten. Delphine was unbeaten, seven days and an uncountable amount of games played later.

Cosima’s head rested on her hands, now, with her elbows digging into her thighs. She was back to her daily staring contest with the wooden board—it was her way of figuring out what to do next. Or trying to figure that out, anyway. Something inside her, she noticed, mocked her for being so adamant, for refusing to stop the madness when it was clearly useless, for chasing what was almost definitely an impossible goal. Yet something else inside her, something that was quite strong, too, applauded her for sticking to her scientist ways of going at things. Because, in the end, it was a good trait, being determined. It defined her. She always had been determined, and she always would be.

Still—what seemed like a piece of cake for the woman across from her was one entire big mystery to her. After an infinite number of rounds, Cosima had progressed about as much as a two year-old had at receiving its college degree.

She felt exactly as lost as she had they’d first filled the holes with the glass.

How had anyone in the history of, well, history figured any of this out? How had Delphine ? Had it been pure luck? Had it been bad luck for Cosima? So many questions, all of which unanswered.

Her eyes scanned the entirety of the board for the thousandth time, hoping it would somehow give her an advantage. Or a small fraction of an advantage, at least.

There were little stones involved here, that was clear; four of them per one hole at the beginning of the game. Both her (long) side and the one across her had seven of those small holes. That made fifty-six stones, or seeds , in total. And, somehow, they had to be moved into their respective ‘stores,’ the bigger pits on either short end of the board. Whoever ended up having more seeds in their store won the game.

Any more than that, she didn’t understand. How could there be a solution to all this? How could there possibly be any kind of strategy? You could only ever move the pebbles one pit at a time. Oh, and you had to move all pebbles from the pit you picked. So if Cosima took, for example, all four from the hole furthest to her left, the first pebble went into the second from the left, the second went into the third from the left… and so on. She sighed and took off her glasses to rub the bridge of her nose. It didn’t ease any of the frustration. “It just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t get it.”

She felt Delphine’s eyes on her again.

“Like, if it was synthetic sequencing? That’d be fun.” She put her glasses back. “I’ve got that all figured out. Clone DNA? That’s great, I love that. But this?” This was exhausting. Trying to wrap her head around this was way harder than any job she’d ever done, including the clone DNA she’d just mentioned. “Seriously.” A frustrated groan left her mouth, emphasizing her speech.

Muffled laughter rang through the air; Delphine had apparently hidden her face behind her hands to stifle it. “You make it sound like I’m making you fly a plane,” she chuckled.

Cosima shifted her gaze onto her girlfriend. Delphine was sitting there with her head on her hands, and she was still laughing through her fingers.

She’d always liked the sound, but also, how dared she? “You might as well be,” she muttered. It might have been a slight bit dramatic, she gathered, and being dramatic really, honestly wasn’t her. Except right now, it was. Blame Alison .

“I think you’ve been talking to Alison too much,” her girlfriend echoed.

Cosima growled. “Can’t believe you read my thoughts now. Wait, hold on—is that why you’re constantly winning?” She eyed her girlfriend, feigning suspicion. Maybe Delphine had secretly found a way to telepathically connect minds, without her, in the dark, in a lab far away from her.

The grin on her girlfriend’s lips grew bigger—and more conspiratorial.  “Of course, mon amour.”

She squinted as she looked deeper into Delphine’s eyes. “Hm…”

Suddenly, she remembered the game. And as she got ‘ready’ to take her turn, Delphine, too, reminded her, “Vas-y, c’est à toi, ma chérie.”

Cosima’s squint turned into an eye-roll followed by a scoff. “Alright, I guess I better get my shit together and beat you.” It wasn’t going to happen. They both knew it. It was just a matter of time before another twenty stones magically found their way into Delphine’s designated area, her ‘home.’ Which meant that there was going to be yet another match sometime later in the day. That, in turn, meant that she was going to lose again, which meant that she’d want to play again, and again, and again—and it was never going to end. With that incredibly positive prospect in head, Cosima took  five stones from a random hole—the one on the left—and placed all five of them into others. One stone at a time, just as she’d learned, until none was left in her hand.

The fifth landed in the second hole from the right. “There you go,” she gestured towards the board, “I’ve brought you closer to winning once again.”

Delphine hummed. “I’m impressed that you’re still going, even though you’ve made it more than clear that you don’t like this. I love your determination.” It was genuine. It didn’t really help Cosima get closer to winning, though. “Must be the scientist in you.”

I swear she’s reading my mind.

A quick glance up told her that Delphine was blushing as she said, “I admire that. I admire you .”

Her heart skipped a beat. Unfair. “You can’t say things like that while you beat my ass for the umpteenth time at a game I don’t understand.” She couldn’t help but smile along with her girlfriend. Delphine had always had that effect on her heart, on her body, on her . There was this magnetic pull she felt whenever they were close together. Even now, while they were busy, while they were doing something else entirely, it was ever so present. And that meant that she simply couldn’t stop herself—Cosima’s hand found her girlfriend’s next to the Mancala board. She placed her own on top of Delphine’s, squeezed it gently. As expected, the touch instantly sent tingles down her spine. Every single time she touched her girlfriend, her body went crazy. It was great. “I love you so much,” she sighed.

The pull was stronger than before, now that they were connected. She wasn’t sure how she was ever able to let go of her girlfriend; it was like invisible magnets needing to stay together, an invisible rope wrapping itself around their wrists, keeping them close together. It felt impossible to escape.

(Not that she wanted to.)

They silently sat there for a while, with the game erased from their mind, enjoying the feeling of each other’s hand in their own. Sometimes, that’s all they needed. To intertwine their hands, to rest alongside one another, to enjoy listening to one another’s heartbeat. It was calming, relaxing, so wonderfully comforting to be in such close proximity. All they needed was their love. And they basked in it.

Until Cosima cleared her throat. She of course enjoyed spending her time with Delphine and nothing else, but she was also determined. And the game board was still there for a reason. This needed to be finished.

She just—she needed a plan. Something had to happen. So she suddenly untangled herself from the blanket and got up. “Sorry, I just have to pee. Be right back.” Again, the water glass just barely made it—but it did. After saving it—again—she ran to give Delphine a kiss, then excused herself again and walked towards the bathroom.

As soon as she was sure that the door was properly closed, locked , and Delphine couldn’t hear her, she fished her phone out of her pocket and dialed a familiar number. It had just dawned on her that she could technically use someone’s help without cheating , so she immediately went to work. Without telling Delphine. It was a bit embarrassing, she supposed, so being secretive was the way to go here. She couldn’t even grasp how weird this had to look to anyone uninvolved in… Mancala.

It was a damn game.

After pressing dial , she quickly held the phone up to her right ear. And waited. Damn, she waited. The few seconds of beeping felt like hours. After all, her cover-up was peeing , and that usually took—well, not long. Her finger nails were tapping down onto the white sink.

Finally , she answered. “Hello, this is Alison!” the chipper but grim voice greeted her—a mix that was very Alison.

“Alison, I need your help. I’m losing my mind,” Cosima whispered in a pressing tone.

“Why do you sound like you’re about to ask me for help in burying a body? If you are, I have to inform you I’m not properly clothed for the occasion. I’ll have to change into something else, and if you’re already in front of the door—” Alison was already in the middle of a rant, not to be interrupted by anyone but herself. The unmistakable sound of a curtain being removed from a window replaced Alison’s voice for a few seconds. Then, she continued. “I’ll need you to wait a couple of minutes. Also, I hope you brought the proper materials. I’m on a budget.”

Cosima had absolutely no idea what to say to that. She just blinked. Her nails stopped the tapping, too. What the hell kind of life was this woman leading ? Even now, after everything that she had been through? That they had all been through?

“Wait, why are we whispering?”

She still hadn’t quite found her voice yet. “Um—”

“You’re not in my house, are you? That’s a Sarah thing to you. You’re not Sarah.”

She really wasn’t. And she also definitely didn’t need help burying a body— or anything, really. Jesus Christ. “Alison—no. I don’t need anything buried. No body, no secret, nothing. It’s something else.” Cosima pushed her glasses up. “See, I—”

“I already have a gift.”

Eye-roll. “It’s not about that. Listen—” She waited again, fearing she’d be interrupted yet again, with yet another strange assumption. When there was none, she seized her chance and started explaining what was really going on. “Delphine suggested we play this game, okay? That was last week. I’ve been losing at it ever since. We’ve played, like, twenty times and I keep losing. I don’t want her to know I’m doing literal research about it, but I just really want to win and—”

“Huh.” That’s all Alison made. Nothing else.

Of course. “Can you please—look, I don’t want much. I just—can you please google a strategy for Mancala —” she made sure to pronounce it correctly to avoid any misunderstandings— “and send me a link? I’ll be forever grateful.” After finishing her still-whispered speech, she sat down on the toilet and anxiously waited for a response. Surely it wasn’t too much to ask for, seen as burying bodies was in her list of things she would have done—then again, with her, you never knew.

Alison suddenly let out a puff of air, and it was followed by the distant sound of pages turning in a book. Other than that, there was nothing. No background noise. The silence was maddening to Cosima. She bit her lip.

Come on.

“I guess I could arrange something between picking Gemma up from training and preparing dinner.” The boom was audibly being closed now.

A sigh of relief left Cosima’s mouth. “God! Thanks so much, Alison.” Right after she finished her sentence, she realized her exclaim had been a bit loud. She instantly lowered her voice again, hoping Delphine hadn’t heard her. Even though that was very unlikely. “Why does your daughter have training on Christmas eve, anyway? Isn’t that, like—

“I have things to tend to, Cosima,” Alison snapped, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Um—sure. Just please don’t forget—”

There it was again, the beeping. Confused, Cosima took the phone from her ear and looked at it. Call ended. “Okay.” She rolled her eyes at her sister, then flushed the toilet. It was just for good measure, Delphine probably didn’t even believe she’d actually gone.

Because there’d been talking, for one.

She did go on to pretend to wash her hands, and then left the bathroom as fast as possible.

She came back to Delphine standing in the middle of the room right next to their tiny Christmas tree, waiting for her. With a questioning look on her face—why had she gotten up?—she walked towards her girlfriend, carefully approaching her, slowing her pace more and more the closer she got, and only stopping altogether once she was mere centimeters away from her.

There was a kind of nervousness in her stomach. It was bubbling up, slowly, was subconsciously making its way to the surface. So far, however, Cosima had been doing a decent job of keeping it just below it. And it would stay that way, for now.

Instead of getting into that particular matter, she focused on the beauty right in front of her. “Hey,” she smiled at her, “Why aren’t you on the bed?” Well, that was one way to start the conversation. Cosima blushed. “I mean— why did you—”

Ignoring the ambiguity of the statement, Delphine smiled back at her. And, oh, how bright it was once again. The smile had the power to light up every room she stepped into. Not only that, but the city, too, the sky ; and it put the sun, the galaxy, no, all the stars in the universe combined, to shame. When she was around, Cosima saw nothing else. Only her . Nothing else was of importance, it was only ever Delphine.

Delphine, Delphine, Delphine.

Nobody, she thought, could ever not be affected by the way she shone.

And—just like that—Cosima had the explanation as to why she hadn’t been able to win Mancala. It wasn’t her inability to understand the game. It wasn’t her ignorance to the rules, or her inattentiveness. It was Delphine. It had been her from the start. She was too elegant to be ignored for a turn in a simple game, too smart. Just so, so breathtaking . Too much so that, as soon as they were together, as soon as they were close to one another, all Cosima could think about, all that Cosima wanted was to dive into the ocean that was her eyes, to wander around in the universe that was her mind. She wanted to feel her, be with her in every way, all the time. Like a magnet, she was drawn to her, now, always. It was so strong, so overwhelming. She had no words to describe just how much love she felt for her.

Cosima could not think straight, could not think at all , when she was near Delphine. No—no clear thought could be found whatsoever. So maybe it was time she let go of her will to think at all.

“I love you, Delphine Cormier,” she whispered. That was the only way she could remotely express the crazy amount of emotion inside her. A simple I love you did not suffice, she knew that, but she hoped she could convey it via actions .

That was it, though—she loved Delphine. So, so incredibly much. And what an insane amount of love it was—something like this, she had never felt before, not with anyone. Not ever. And she was fairly certain it was never going to happen again. She wanted to keep Delphine, forever. Always.

With nothing but love in her mind and body, the pull became too much , couldn’t be resisted anymore. Just like the Earth couldn’t help orbiting the sun, couldn’t resist its gravitational forces, Cosima couldn’t overcome the attraction she felt towards her sun, towards her Delphine. And she didn’t want to, either. Because she loved it so much. She loved her .

I love you, I love you, I love you —that’s all she heard echo in her mind before the urge to lean in to feel her girlfriend’s lips against her own became unbearable. And so she gave in to it.

Felix’s apartment was, hands down, the best place to spend Christmas day. It wasn’t that he set up the biggest trees, or owned the brightest fairy lights, or bought the most presents—although he did also do all of those things. No, it was something different. The second you stepped into his flat, you were sent straight into Christmas heaven. The mixture of scents in the air, the cinnamon and the mandarin, the lovely warm colors, the various shades of orange and green, the little figurines displayed on counters and tables, they created such a warm atmosphere that it took you in, surrounded you, swallowed you. It was incredibly cozy; you wanted to stay forever.

It felt like a hug, really, was there for you; it supported you like a family, like a friend. Once you were in it, once you experienced it, you did not want to let it go. You did not want it to let you go.

It was hard to describe, really, just what an insanely positive energy it radiated, and it would be even harder to leave it behind later in the evening.

That was why, on the first Christmas Cosima had celebrated with her sisters years ago—that she had celebrated with them all, that she had celebrated with her family —they had collectively decided to make their Felix Christmas a tradition. Being there meant feeling at peace.

Mostly, anyway.

Because, of course, with Sarah, Helena, Alison, Donnie, Felix and them being in one place at the same time, there was also inevitably going to be stress. There would not necessarily be fights, and the stress would not be constant, but someone always managed to freak out—about one thing or the other. Be it about the present they received, or about the way the dinner was being cooked—it had all happened before, and it had all caused issues.

With Christmas being the time of love, the time of peace, they were usually quickly resolved. However, the smallest bit of the energy would always remain in the air. Like a tiny little cloud, it would float above them; thought it would eventually dissolve once enough time had passed. It never ruined Christmas.

So, again, for the fourth time, they were all in Felix’s living room together: Alison and Donnie awkwardly—at least before the first sip of alcohol—sitting on the couch, Sarah and Felix leaning against the counter in the kitchen, Helena trying the food they’d made and approving of everything , and them chilling either on the floor or on Felix’s bed.

They had a thing about beds, Cosima noticed. And there was nothing sexual about it whatsoever. The reason they always seemed to end up on a bed was simply the way it comforted them. The mattress, the blankets, the pillows—it all gave them a sense of security that was hard to imitate anywhere else in a home. Although she had to admit that, to people whose houses they went to, it had to have looked at least a tiny bit weird; instead of doing the normal thing—plopping down into a chair or resting on a sofa, or even standing—they went straight for the bed.

It only really came to her then that someone out there had probably thought her—them—to be incredibly rude in the past. Beds, she mused, were private , a place that one would get into to be with oneself or one’s partner; a place to think from, a place to enjoy the silence in, to enjoy the darkness, the night. They weren’t quite something you’d offer a guest a seat on.

But never mind all of that. Felix had never said anything about the particular issue to them, so she just—rightfully, she hoped—gathered that it was fine.

No, her concern in that moment was a completely different one. What she was really thinking about, what was on her mind—except Delphine, as she’d just recently established—was, once again, the game.

She’d spent most of the previous night reading through the various webpages Alison had, as promised, sent her the links to. It had been work, hard work, trying to stay concentrated. Especially in the post-coital bliss she’d been experiencing. Unsurprisingly, trying to get things done while Delphine was around her, was close to her—even when the French woman was, say, sleeping on the other side of the room—almost always ended up being fruitless. There was no thinking with such longing inside her.

Still, she’d done her best in scanning every single detailed strategy her sister had found online. The descriptions had been quite elaborate. Writing down only the main keywords had proven to be impossibly difficult. She had ended up with about ten pages full of Mancala, Mancala, Mancala. So, yes, it had been hard. Doubly so.

Eventually, she had gone to bed, if only at around two a.m. Her anxiety had kept her awake for some more time, even after taking her sacred place next to Delphine. She’d kept blinking at the dark grey ceiling, remembering the words and phrases she’d written down into her notebook.

Cosima’s fingers tightly gripped the worn-out leather of it as she thought back to how long it had taken her to slip into slumber. Jesus , she thought, this was really getting to her in every way; so much so that she could feel a drop of sweat drip down the right side of her temple. As quickly as it formed, it disappeared, as Cosima quickly wiped it off with the back of her hand before opening her notebook back up.

“You look so busy,” Delphine—was sitting cross legged across from her, and setting up the Mancala board once again—observed, “so distracted. Need I be jealous?”

This time, it had been Cosima’s ‘idea’ to play. Because of her mission . “No,” Cosima replied truthfully. She knew it had been a joke rather than anything else—if her girlfriend’s amused tone had been any indication—but she wanted to take away any possible, any real doubt. When she saw her girlfriend beam at her in response, she knew it had been the right choice to answer the rhetoric question. Oh, how dizzy that smile made her, how worth it it made everything. It was crazy. She truly was totally and utterly in love with her.

“Hey, Cos,” Felix suddenly called out from behind them, “just please make sure my bed doesn’t reek of lesbians when I go to bed later, yeah?”

Cosima rolled her eyes so hard it hurt. Without looking at him, and with one hand still holding on to her book, she flipped him off. In the most annoyed tone of voice, and thus reflecting the exact emotion she felt for him, his words, she retorted, “Aren’t you doing something?”

"Yeah, indeed, I’m unfortunately looking at my sister’s sister getting it on in my bed."

Cosima turned around, then. Looked at him. He’s really pushing it now. “We’re not—“

Before she could finish her angry rant—or begin it, rather—her girlfriend had already interrupted her. Cosima knew Delphine really did not like being distracted from playing, and she rarely let anything keep her from finishing her move. She also knew Delphine rarely ever snapped at people, even when they deserved it, so it was surprising for her to suddenly look up from the board between her and Cosima to respond in an equally annoyed tone as he had used before, “Arrête, Félix. Tais-toi et laisse-nous tranquilles.” 

Cosima’s eyebrows raised along with everyone else’s. She didn’t dare say anything—and neither did Felix. Sarah was most likely boiling, but there was never a word from her, either.

Felix’s annoyance, she supposed, had resulted from nothing but jealousy, anyway. According to various sources, it had been a while since he’d gotten it on with anyone, or even since he had been on a date. So she turned back around to face Delphine.

It was comforting to see, now, that Delphine had already calmed down. And, well, seeing her like this made her feel calmer, too. So by the time Delphine finished her turn and motioned for her to go on, Cosima was grinning at her. “ Merci .”

“De rien, mon amour. Je ferai tout pour toi.”

Delphine leaned over to caress her cheek. She reacted instantly; a blush painted her face. Not only because of the proximity between them but because she knew Delphine meant what she’d said. Because she always did.

And Cosima appreciated it. A lot. Not just the meaning behind the words, but the words themselves. She loved when she was spoken French to. It just—it did something to her. Of course, anything Delphine said was—but French was just so— ugh . “Now you’re just being unfair,” she pouted. This wasn’t just being distracted now, it was torture. She bit her lip—when she knew her girlfriend was watching her. If she could be the torturee, she could also be the torturer. 

She knew her lip bite had had the desired effect when Delphine suddenly took her hand off of her cheek and cleared her throat. Eyes fixated on the Mancala board, she stated, “It’s your turn.”

Had they been home, Cosima would have climbed on top of Delphine by now.

But they were in Felix’s apartment, and Felix had already made a terrible ‘joke,’ and Cosima had a notebook to get back to and a game to win. So she shook her head to get rid of any thoughts not suitable for her current situation—it didn’t work great but it at least offered her a slight path back into reality—and shifted her view back onto what was supposed to be her main focus, anyway.

Surprisingly, so far, it seemed that her hard work the night before had paid off. Finally! More stones lay within her designated area than in Delphine’s. They had, admittedly, only played for a few minutes, but usually, even at that point, there would have been a big advantage for the blonde. Cosima bit the inside of her cheek as she made her next move. Six stones, five holes to put them into. Which meant— yes , the last one landed in the area furthest to the right, its home .

“Incroyable,” Delphine murmured, “you’re suddenly so good at this.”

Yeah, she was. Kind of. Well, okay, maybe not necessarily good , but better, anyway. She was beating Delphine, at least for the moment.

It didn’t look right, though, to either of them. The majority of stones always lay on the opposite side of the board, ready to be claimed.

Lay the solution to her success really in the notebook that Cosima had not let go of since earlier that day? She had read the words in it, the words she had very neatly written down the previous night, a hundred times, had repeated them over and over in her head, had made sure to imprint them on the back of her eyelids. Metaphorically speaking, of course. 

(How cool would that have been, though?)

The impatience that had risen inside her while going over the same passages in the book again and again had not prevented her from doing as she had planned, either. Not so far. Her eagerness fueled her, and, yes, she was winning. Despite her anxiety.

For that exact reason, Cosima had expected to see her girlfriend more lost puppy than she was. It was good, though, that Delphine didn’t seem phased by it. Cosima hated when she was sad, or feeling low, she hated the feeling of helplessness it caused. So, yeah, that was good.

She actually allowed herself to be proud.

Just as Delphine was to grab her next few stones, they were called. “Presents!”

One word. That’s all it took for most in the room to jump up from their seats and run towards the tree. Not so much them. Instead, all at once, Cosima panicked. Her heart started beating much faster, and she swallowed the lump that had very suddenly formed in her throat. 

Jokingly, her girlfriend said, “Can’t believe they’re ruining this for you. Peut-être on finira plus tard?” With this, and without actually waiting for an answer, Delphine stood up from the bed and made her way towards the rest of the gang who had already gathered in the middle of the room. Cosima blinked a few times. She couldn’t move, couldn’t stand up.

God, she felt like she was going to choke. Or cry. Or both. She didn’t understand why nobody had said anything about presents before; why was it announced out of nowhere?

Or—had Alison maybe said something and she hadn’t heard it? Had she been too intensely focusing on her writings? Maybe she should have checked the time, or listened in on the conversation every now and then, or asked—

Oh, this was quite a lot all at once. The game had almost been won, by her, for the very first time. Maybe. And now there she was, still sitting in front of a basically abandoned Mancala board, and she wasn’t sure whether she would still have the chance to finish, to win, to—


This was it. She had to get up, too. She blinked again, once, twice, three times, to stop any tears from forming, from falling , to stop any more anxiety from filling her head, her heart, her bones. “Yeah,” she finally choked out in response to Sarah’s call, and as she got up from the bed, her fingernails all but dug into the brown color which covered both the notebook’s front and back. 

“Yeah, I’m here, sorry.” The words were as cool as Cosima was steady on her legs at that moment, which was not steady at all, but nobody asked any questions; and so she went ahead and took a seat on the wooden floor right next to Delphine. All without loosening her grip on the book. 

“Are you feeling okay? You looked a bit wobbly on your feet there.” Donnie hadn’t spoken to her yet. “If you need any, you know, mood enhancers…” He trailed off. He hadn’t spoken to her yet at all, and now, he was offering drugs. Very Donnie of him.

Cosima barely managed a quiet, “Thanks.”

“No problem at all.”

She also couldn’t physically handle looking up, but she just knew from his voice that he’d emphasized his words by winking. As much as she appreciated his humor—and his concern—she had to concentrate on getting her shit together, so she immediately turned her back to him when she had the chance. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Jeez, she was sweating now.

She bit her lip, and opened her eyes—right along with notebook.

Delphine placed her hand on her back, then. “You’re so tense. Do you want to leave? Is this too much?”

Crowds were a lot sometimes, even when they consisted entirely of people one was close to. And Cosima loved that her girlfriend knew that, sometimes, it all became too much, it all became unbearable. But right now, it wasn’t that . Yes, she was incredibly anxious, she was shaking, she was unable to stop looking at the specific pages she’d filled the previous night— but not because— “No,” she eventually replied almost inaudibly, “It’s okay.”

She managed to unglue her eyes from the pages for a second, just long enough to lean up and kiss Delphine. To look at her, silently vowing that she was doing fine. That it was okay. It was enough, for now, as Delphine nodded at her, smiling, before going back to listening to whatever Alison was saying. 

The second Delphine’s attention wasn’t on her anymore, she dove right back into them: into the words, into the strategy, into the solution. And she sat there, cross legged, anxious, with her notebook in her lap, anxious, and her thumbs forcing the pages down, anxious, and her knuckles turning white—

“Delphine, you’re up next.”

Cosima’s heart stopped at the words. Her breath caught in her throat.

Breathe, in, out. Keep it up.

The addressed laughed as she was asked to come towards the tree.

You got this . Cosima looked up again, only to meet her girlfriend’s glance right as she settled between the tree and Alison. She smiled, and Cosima tried to smile back, but with all the panic inside her, it looked more like grimacing than anything else. In any case, it didn’t bother anyone, and Delphine simply went along with what she had been asked to do: search underneath the tree for her personal gift.

Cosima’s eyes, in the meantime, could not focus on one spot for longer than a second. They were as nervous, as unsettled as the entire rest of her. By pure chance, they stopped on Alison long enough to catch her come here gesture and—yes, she knew deep down, somehow, that it was very much aimed at her.

In the corner of her eye, she noticed Delphine become increasingly frustrated as she assumingly checked present after present without finding her own. 

Alison, too, seemed to become somewhat nervous now, as she motioned for Cosima to come there twice more, with the gestures getting bigger each time. 

It dawned on her that they were all cues. It was happening. For real. Oh, God. This was it. This really was it. Her heart rate accelerated even more—how that was possible, she had absolutely no scientific explanation for—but she did finally stand up from her place on her floor. “Jeez,” she almost silently muttered to herself in response to feeling her still very unsteady legs. Whether they could take her to where she needed to be—the next few seconds would tell. 

The notebook, for the first time in literal hours , lay discarded beneath her feet. She’d dropped it before getting up. 

Step after step , she reminded herself. Don’t fall . It was damn hard, but after what felt like an eternity, she made it and was now standing in front of the circle of family that had gathered. She looked at Alison. A smile mixed with a growl met her, but not for long. Sooner rather than later, Alison walked away in a very Alison fashion, her heels clicking on the wooden floor.

She sat down next to her husband.

Cosima took a breath. The left-behind notebook seemed so far away that the words contained within it were almost vanished from her brain, too. She’d formed a connection with them, were they now completely out of her grasp? So many seconds, minutes, hours, taken to write them, read them, memorize them. And now, when it was time to use them—

Another step. In another direction, this time. To her right. Closer to the tree.

Another breath. Deep, long.

Exhale .

Delphine was right there, still figuring out where her present lay, what spot under the tree had been chosen for it.

This was it.

Before Delphine had another chance to look into the last few gifts, Cosima cleared her throat. She was shaking, at that point. Delphine would look at her, she’d have to say something. But she wasn’t sure whether she could. Everything was quivering. Her lips, her legs, her hands. She clenched her fists to try to hide that particular fact, but she had to speak soon, and then—

“I haven’t found it yet, are you my knight in shining armor to come and help find it?” There it was again. The smile, the laugh. As if it hadn’t been hard enough already.

God, she really had to do something more than stand there. It‘s now or never.

“Uh—“ Great . “Um.” Say something. Say it.

“I—“ She took another very shaky breath, then finally dared look up. At Delphine. Beautiful, stunning Delphine. Who, right now, who always looked so breathtaking. Her hair was— and her make-up— “Your hair.” 

Delphine chuckled in response. A light blush soon covered her cheeks, too. A wonderful addition to the colors she’d chosen earlier. “My hair?” she questioned.

That really hadn’t been the best way to start it, but— Here we go . “Yeah,” she confirmed, voice still shaking, “your hair. I—” Breathy laughter met breathy laughter. “I love that.”

Good. Keep going

She glanced quickly to her left, and saw Donnie give her a small thumbs up. That small gesture gave her the boost of confidence she needed. She looked back at Delphine, whose eyebrows were now scrunched up. Clearly, she was trying to figure out what was going on.

Right . Cosima had a mission, still. 

Before attempting the final step of it, she took another deep breath and pushed up her glasses one more time. Then, she continued. “But I don’t just love your hair.”

She was now slightly less shaky, and not quite as worried about losing her voice altogether as she had been before.

“I love your eyes, and your nose, and your lips, and your ears, and—and I love everything about your body.” Her voice echoed through the apartment. Everything was still; only her words ricocheted off of the walls. For just a moment, it felt like nobody was even breathing. There was, it seemed, a collective agreement not to disturb her, not to interrupt this .

Still focused on her girlfriend, she went on. “Delphine, I— I’m pretty sure I fell for you the second we first met. I fell for your mind, your intelligence, your knowledge. It was so refreshing to have someone around me who felt the same way about—about society, about science, about the issues we faced. It was—it was crazy, and it still is, that I found someone so perfect for me.” She took Delphine’s hand in her own, stepped closer towards her. Closer, closer, closer. She never wanted to step away from her ever again. “But nothing is ever easy, and even though we both knew, deep down, that we were made for each other, it took a while. Thinking back to everything that happened still makes me—” Her voice broke. But she swallowed, quickly, and cleared her throat. Kept going. “I’m just so glad we found each other again. That we got our second chance. I am so grateful to have you by my side.”

She felt a single tear fall down onto her hand. Whether it was her own or Delphine’s, she didn’t know.

“After everything that happened, here we are. Making crazy science together. Playing games that I don’t understand. Spending Christmas with my sisters for the—the—I don’t even know how many times it’s been. I just—I couldn’t be happier. You changed my life for the better. You, Delphine, make my life better every single day that you’re in it. Every day I wake up, and every day I fall asleep next to you. And it’s perfect. You’re perfect. I—I never want that to change. I want to keep waking up next to you, I want to keep laughing with you, and I want to be with you.” She squeezed Delphine’s hand tightly before slowly letting go of it. She carefully let go of Delphine’s hand.

Then she got down on her right knee. Several gasps could be heard from behind her. She didn’t pay any mind to them, however. Her focus was on Delphine, and Delphine only. She had arrived at the most critical part of her speech , of her mission . It really was now or never. 

“Delphine Cormier, you’re my everything. I want you, forever.” One more pause. This was it. She inhaled sharply. “Will you marry me?”

The addressed instantly broke out into tears, happy tears. Cosima felt herself being pulled up by the hands and then received what was probably the tightest hug in her entire life. It felt good, it felt great. It made most of the anxiety disappear, made the nervousness dissipate, for the most part, and made her able to concentrate on the woman in her arms rather than try to remember the words she’d read five hundred times in the past half day.

She hugged Delphine back, of course, reveled in the warmth. This was it, what she wanted. To feel Delphine. In every way possible. To hear her laughter, to laugh with her, to bury her face in those blonde curls—exactly as she was doing right then and there. She wanted to be dorky with her, wanted to be serious with her, wanted to—

She wanted Delphine. She wanted everything with her. Forever and always

And she was desperately hoping that Delphine wanted the same—a question yet to be answered for good, at least officially. She softly whispered into Delphine’s ear. “So—”

The hug ended abruptly, and Cosima was left facing Delphine with a few inches between them. Her girlfriend’s hands were on her upper arms, gripping her. 

“Oui!” she exclaimed, “Yes, of course I will be your wife.” And just like that, they were back in the warm embrace, this time with Delphine’s lips on her own. They molded together perfectly, like they had done many times in the past. This time, however, it was different.

They were going to be wives.

Cosima had never in her life been happier than she was in that precise moment. Delphine wanted to be her wife. They were going to be married. 

Hang on—

“Wait,” Cosima suddenly murmured against her fiancée’s mouth, “I forgot the ring.” She awkwardly reached into the pocket to fish out the round object. “Here,” she offered it. 

It fit Delphine perfectly, of course. “It’s beautiful.” Another tear was shed. “Elle est presque aussi belle que toi.”

Cosima bit her lip as she watched Delphine admire the ring. This was heaven to her. All the anxiety, all the nerves had been absolutely worth it. Just seeing her fiancée so happy, being so happy—it was incredible. Cosima had never expected to find a love like her, to find beauty like her, to find something so special. Yet here she was, and she was going to marry her. She almost couldn’t believe it. And so, to make herself believe it, to feel the realness of it, she leaned forward again to kiss Delphine. It was a promise, their lips together, a vow. To be strong, to be loyal, to be honest, to be there . As long as this world gave them.

“Alright, that’s enough.” Felix clapped, very obviously intent on interrupting them. “We have a turkey to eat.” 

They broke apart to scowl at him. “What is it with you today?”

He looked them over. “Maybe I’m not into lovey-dovey . Also, who’s going to get rid of that mess you left on my bed?”

“Well, I guess you can take that off now. Right?” Delphine raised an eyebrow at Cosima. It wasn’t really a question, it was rather to get confirmation for something she’d already answered. 

“No way.” She had also written down Mancala strategies, and she wasn’t about to forget them and never play again. Or lose. “I still want to win. Can’t miss my chance after spending one week with that game from hell.” She pointed to the board. “And I am so winning that.”

“Tu es trop mignonne.” Delphine laughed out loud in response to her words. “Okay, Félix, you heard her. We’re finishing after dinner.”

“So, was what you had in your notebook a proposal speech or a strategy to win Mancala?”

“You’ll never know.”