“Is someone there?”
Julia steps slowly through the doorway of her bedroom. She could swear she heard something - a scraping, footsteps, but now… now the place is eerily quiet. She has a knife in one hand and as she takes a look around, her grip on it tightens. After what had happened with VILE, she’s been having trouble sleeping. The knife in her bedside table makes it somewhat easier to breathe at night.
At first, it seems like there’s nothing, no one around, until she spots a familiar flash of red.
A brim of a hat.
Without realizing, her grip slips and the knife clatters to the ground.
It’s been a couple of days since the last time the two of them have seen each other. Days since Julia’s kidnapping. Days during which Julia couldn’t get her mind off the woman now sitting in her living room. When Carmen turns around to face her, her smile is soft and exactly the same as she remembers it.
“But - what are you - what are you doing here?” Of course, it’s the first question that comes to Julia’s mind. She approaches slowly and as she does, Carmen takes off her hat, places it on the coffee table in front of her. She leans back, crosses her legs and her eyes never leave Julia’s face. It’s not the first time Carmen has sought her out, but… it has never happened in her own home, especially not at this hour. “Did something happen?”
Carmen visibly hesitates at the question. She smiles, but it quickly wavers and she drops her gaze. “Not… quite, no. I’m sorry, I know I must’ve surprised you, but…”
Carmen’s uncertainty is far more surprising than her sudden appearance. Julia gapes at her for a moment, a part of her still expecting an explanation, a need, a reason why Carmen would show up unannounced (not that she’s ever announced any of her appearances), but she gets nothing. Realizing Carmen probably won’t say anything more, Julia clears her throat.
“Are you… alright?”
Carmen finally looks up at her. She smiles, but there’s something… sad in her expression.
“I could be asking you the same question,” she says, her gaze pointedly moving towards the pocket knife, still laying on the floor. Julia follows the line of her sight and as the realization hits her, she flusters, bending down to hurriedly pick it up.
“I thought someone was breaking in - well, I suppose you were breaking in, but…”
“You thought it was VILE,” Carmen finishes for her, her voice barely a whisper.
“I… yes. Yes, that’s… right.”
“...have you always kept a knife near your bed?”
Julia glances down at the knife in her hand. She doesn’t respond immediately. “No,” she admits eventually, shaking her head. “No, I… after they… took me, I thought it’d be better to be safe.”
“I never meant to put you in danger, Jules,” Carmen says bluntly. She stands up, prompting Julia to look up at her once more. “I’m sorry.”
“Carm - Ms. Sandiego, it wasn’t your fault.”
“You can just call me Carmen, Jules.”
Julia wonders if she uses her nickname now to illustrate her point, to demonstrate how ridiculous it is that they’re alone, in her flat, and yet she still attempts to remain professional, as if she’s completely oblivious to everything that has been going on between them. Perhaps most of what’s between them has been left unsaid, but Julia is clever, she knows it’s all there and has been for months. She knows Carmen has picked up on it, too.
“It wasn’t your fault, Carmen,” she repeats, firmly. Carmen comes closer to her and Julia can’t take her eyes off her. Despite her signature coat still hanging off her shoulders, she seems smaller somehow, different from how Julia is used to seeing her.
“I was the one who got you involved, Jules,” she points out, reaching out to take the knife out of Julia’s grasp. She lets her, trusting as she’s always been of her. Carmen looks at the knife for a moment then steps away to put it down on a nearby shelf. “If I hadn’t, nothing would’ve happened to you.”
“If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have been able to stop VILE, either.”
It’s hard to read Carmen’s reaction to those words. She’s always been hard to read, Julia has learned as much already. Carmen, with all of her charm, her wit, cunning, clever Carmen, she’s learned to mask her emotions. It makes sense and Julia can relate to it, in many ways. The way each word is measured, calculated, even when it doesn’t seem like it - and often, it really does not, when it comes to Carmen. She appears impulsive and overly emotional at times, but there’s more to it. There’s always more to it. Julia knows, though, that what she said isn’t something Carmen can shoot down instantly. Because as much as Carmen does care about her friends, her found family and - somehow - about Julia, she also cares about taking down VILE. And so, they’re at a stalemate.
Carmen sighs, “You’re right. Of course you’re right, but…” she pauses, long enough that Julia feels as though she’ll be gone in a flash, just as sudden as her entrance has been. She has to do something to keep her there.
“Would you like some tea?”
And Carmen, as surprised as she seems, smiles and says yes.
Julia lets out a small breath. In front of her, on the countertop, are two tea cups. She stirs the water in them and watches as orange-colored swirls seep into the liquid from inside simple metallic tea infusers. Carmen is seated at her small kitchen table, looking around curiously. Of course, Julia hasn’t been expecting guests, so her kitchen is cluttered despite her best attempts to keep it as clean as possible. There are little knick knacks on the shelves, souvenirs from various missions all over the world, a small pile of books on the table. When she picks up the tea cups and turns around to bring them over to the table, she sees Carmen carding through one of the paperbacks. Noticing Julia approaching, she looks up, her expression softens as she carefully puts the book down.
Julia pauses, a couple of steps away from the table. She’s still in her pajamas, with only a cardigan thrown over the top. Carmen, meanwhile, is as gorgeous as ever. Her coat and hat had been discarded on Julia’s sofa and she’s now donning just a black turtleneck and form-fitting trousers. Julia knows she should feel exposed, underdressed in comparison to her, but somehow, she doesn’t. As if Carmen’s presence in her home was completely natural and expected. She inhales deeply and comes closer.
“Thanks, Jules,” Carmen murmurs, a slight smile on her face as she takes one of the cups off Julia’s hand. Julia gives a small nod in acknowledgement, setting her own cup down before sitting across the table from Carmen.
“So… what are you doing here, really?” Julia can’t help but ask, looking up at Carmen as she does. The woman in front of her has her hands clasped around the cup, her gaze lowered towards the tea. It’s not often that Julia has a chance to get such a close look at her, without the two of them chasing after someone or being chased. It’s nice, she thinks to herself, Carmen really is even more beautiful up close. “Do you need anything?”
“No, Jules,” she says with a breathless laugh, “No, it’s - I’ve been thinking…”
I’ve been thinking about you, too, Julia’s sleep-deprived mind supplies. She shakes her head. Carmen couldn’t have been thinking that much about her.
“I’ve been thinking about you.”
Carmen doesn’t seem to realize that Julia has said anything. She’s still looking down, talking fast as if she’s afraid to stop.
“I know I shouldn’t be, because there’s - there’s always something, there’s VILE and I’ve been trying to find my family, my real family, but I just… I worry about you. And we’re friends, I think we’re friends, so of course I’d worry about you, but - I - sometimes I lay in my bed and I keep thinking about what it’d be like to come see you, what it’d be like to have you come with me, to walk through a museum with you and -”
“Carmen,” Julia cuts her off, her eyes wide. She reaches out to place a hand on top of Carmen’s, prompting her to meet her gaze. Carmen gapes at her, all her words suddenly gone. “I’ve been thinking about you, too.” She still can’t believe that she gets to say it out loud.
For a while, Carmen looks at her silently. Julia can feel the warmth of her hand underneath hers and none of it feels real. Perhaps she’s still in her bed, dreaming, because there’s certainly no way that she could’ve gotten so close to Carmen. That Carmen, for once, is so tangible and human in front of her, rather than a ghost that she’s grown so fond of.
“I’ve never felt like this before,” Carmen admits. “I’m - not sure I understand it.”
And as if Carmen’s presence wasn’t enough to make Julia’s heart beat harder in her chest, these words get to her, too. “Never?” she whispers, her fingers curling around Carmen’s hand. Carmen nods in confirmation.
“Never,” she says. “I thought I have, sometimes, but… now I know, I think. I just…”
She twists her hand underneath Julia’s and her thumb brushes over the back of Julia’s hand. Julia’s breath catches in her throat at the unexpected intimacy of the gesture.
“I’ve never thanked you for the roses,” she says, when Carmen doesn’t continue. “They were lovely.”
The way Carmen looks at her, it’s as if Julia had given her the stars. Her eyes are bright, her hand squeezes, a shy smile on her lips. (Shy! Julia can’t believe her words are capable of making Carmen smile like that) “You liked them?”
“Yes. Very much so.”
At the confirmation, she feels Carmen’s fingers thread through hers and then, her hand is being lifted, all the way up to Carmen’s face. She closes her eyes, leaning in to press her lips and the tip of her nose to the back of Julia’s hand. She stays like that for a while and Julia feels her entire face burn with a bright blush. She doesn’t pull away, though. She doesn’t want to.
“I should go soon,” Carmen whispers into her hand. Her eyes are still closed and Julia, despite how flustered she is, keeps watching her.
“Already?” she hears her own voice and the thinly-veiled disappointment in it.
Of course, Carmen notices it, too. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs, finally lowering Julia’s hand and blinking her eyes open. She looks genuinely regretful. “I’d love to stay longer, but…” she trails off.
And there it is, again. That smile, as Carmen brightens up at her suggestion. At something Julia Argent said. She doesn’t think she’ll ever get used to it, the kind of influence her words apparently have on Carmen.
“Yes,” Carmen agrees, standing up. She’s still holding Julia’s hand and so Julia goes with her, up from her chair. She lifts her hand, presses a quick kiss to the back of it. If Julia hadn’t been blushing already, she certainly would have now. “Another time, Jules. I promise I’ll have more time for you, then.”
And Julia believes her. As she’s always done.
What she doesn’t know, though, is that the next time she’ll look into Carmen’s eyes, they will be devoid of the warmth she has just seen in them.