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January

Taylor came to visit Rachel sometimes.

She had her excuses, several of them, that she used when somebody had the balls to ask her. After nearly two years it was easy for Rachel to predict when Taylor would show up with her excuses.

Bullshit excuses.

Taylor did the things she said she came to do, but it was all shit she could’ve sent someone else to do. Or just sent a message. It was never shit that the Big Boss herself, as the brats had started calling Taylor, needed to come down for. Rachel wasn’t stupid, no matter what some people thought, she knew Taylor came around to see her.

But Rachel let Taylor pretend, she didn’t care enough to fuck up her little act.

It was weird Taylor visited her more than the others, the others didn’t live in an entirely different dimension after all, but Rachel didn’t care to figure out why. If Taylor wanted to come over, she could. Without having to answer a bunch of annoying fucking questions about it.

Besides, Rachel liked when Taylor came. Her group of fuckers behaved better when the Big Boss was around. And Taylor never made herself annoying to be around, so Rachel never bothered thinking about why Taylor kept coming around.

Then she realized why and felt a stupid it took her so long.

They were just sitting outside. Rachel was brushing a dog, Taylor was doing some shit on her tablet, and Rachel happened to look up to see Taylor was looking at her.

Taylor was looking at her in the same way she used to look at Grue.

Which made a lot of of things make sense.

Rachel was no stranger to sex. She was no Regent with his weird daily orgies but she enjoyed a good fuck when the mood struck her. She wasn’t picky about her partners either. If they could keep up, give her a good time, and didn’t make shit weird then that was good enough.

The idea of Taylor being in her bed instead of any of the usual people wasn’t a bad one. She had a surprising strength and stamina and, from what Aisha had told her against her will back when Taylor and Grue were a thing, didn’t seem like she didn’t know what she was doing. And Taylor was an expert in not making things weird so that was all of Rachel’s boxes ticked.

Rachel gave the idea some thought every now and again as they went through their day. It took a while for people to clear out, when they went to Rachel’s porch to eat dinner was the first bit of privacy they had.

Privacy was in short supply on Gimel, but people usually gave Rachel more of it than others.

“You staying?” Rachel asked. It was a coin flip whether or not Taylor stayed the night when she came over, but usually if she left it was earlier.

“I was thinking about it,” Taylor said. She groaned softly as she rubbed her neck and yawned, “If it isn’t an imposition.”

Rachel scoffed.

Taylor took that as answer enough as she picked at her food.

Eh, Rachel might as well ask.

“My room is open too,” Rachel said. Taylor froze and her smile faded to be replaced with that shadowed calculating look that freaked people out. Not Rachel though.

“To sleep in?” Taylor asked slowly.

“Or to fuck,” Rachel responded with a shrug.

“…I’m good,” Taylor said stiffly, looking confused, “Thank you.”

Rachel snorted at the hesitation.

“I’m not particularly one for casual sex,” Taylor elaborated, as if she thought a simple no wouldn’t be enough to satisfy Rachel.

Rachel never really got what the phrase casual sex meant, other than that she didn’t want the other type considering how weird the people who did got. People had such strange ideas about sex, where they think they have to obsess over and lie about the importance of the people they fuck.

“If I’m going to have sex,” Taylor said, as if in response to Rachel’s thoughts. She didn’t need to, “I want to be… with them, you know?”

Rachel did not. The purpose of the stress on the word ‘with’ escaped her.

“A no’s a no,” Rachel shrugged as she put the thought out of her mind. She leaned down to take another bite of her food, “You don’t need to think about it any harder than that.”

“I suppose not,” Taylor said as she relaxed.

They ate the rest of their meal in comfortable silence and Rachel was satisfied with having asked the question. She didn’t care that much that it was a no in the end.


February

The end of winter was a boring time.

The snow was piled up too high to do anything productive but the sun had started to shine enough to make people antsy. And everybody else being antsy made Rachel antsy.

Between that and the fact that visits from Bet had slowed to a crawl for whatever reason, Rachel made a point to find some ways to burn off some energy. There were only so much chores and busywork available though and Rachel just ended up leaning on an old and reliable way. The same way a lot of people spent their winters.

Fucking.

Biter collapsed on top of her panting form with a satisfied groan and Rachel rolled her eyes as she shoved him off of her.

The asshole was heavy.

He moved with the push and let out a low chuckle as he landed next to Rachel. She just focused on luxuriating in the aftermath of their romp and tried to relax even though there was a body lying next to her.

“Good work boss,” He said with a languid stretch that shifted her mattress enough to cause a spark of annoyance in her.

Rachel just grunted, her eyes closed as she tried to maintain the good mood that came after a good fuck.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know,” Biter groaned as he continued not getting up, “Give me a second, you really ran me through the wringer.”

Rachel didn’t say anything. She dragged him into her room to fuck, not talk.

“Ugh, it’s fucking cold outside,” Biter complained as he stood up and started looking around for his clothes, taking a bit too long for Rachel’s liking, “Really don’t want to walk back to my cabin, mind if I stay in your spare room?”

“…You just want the nice shower,” Rachel said, her voice a low rasp.

“Can you blame me?” Biter asked. He shuffled up next to where she was laying and Rachel cracked on eye open and saw he was staring at her tits, “My water’s shit.”

“Whatever,” she said with a lazy dismissive wave of her arm before she let it flop against her sweaty stomach. She closed her eyes as she saw a look cross his face, “If you poke my tit again I’m siccing Bastard on you.”

He just laughed as he walked out of the room. She heard the door shut behind him with a click.

Finally alone Rachel let herself stretch out on her bed and enjoy the cool air against her flushed skin. A good fuck was always satisfying, but with some people the moments that came afterward were just a pain in the ass.

People wanted to talk or hang out and she just wanted them out. Having someone else in her bed or even her room when she tried to sleep stressed her out and eventually pissed her off.

But that’s what she kept Biter around for, it sure as fuck wasn’t the hard work he was doing for the group. Fucker snuck off for days at a time back to Bet whenever he got bored.

Damn good fuck though, Rachel thought to herself as she felt her heart slow enough to drift off to sleep.


March

“He’s just so funny, Rachel,” Cassie chattered Rachel’s ear off as she tromped through the last remaining snow of the season. The trees around them were massive, and even years after they’d started this whole thing on Gimel they’d barely made passable paths between the important camps, let alone a way to manage the snow on the less used ones, “And I feel like he actually gets me, you know? Not that most people here don’t get me, but not like him, you know?”

Rachel grunted an acknowledgment and let the kid keep going. Not as much of a kid as she used to be at this point, but she still acted like one and hadn’t complained about Rachel calling her one. So kid she was.

Rachel tuned her out after listening just long enough to tell it was just more of the same. It’s not like she had shit to say about her crush. At least the boy wasn’t one of the restless punks who caused more trouble than they were worth, he was shaping up to be a half-decent woodsman.

Rachel raised a hand over her eyes as she squinted down the trail, as if she would see their destination quicker if she looked harder. There was only so much of this chatter she could take.

She never really got why people had to build up the people they wanted to fuck into something stupid and fake.

Just fuck them, it wasn’t hard.

People thought that their partners were so special and incredible as if most of the world didn’t have one. There was just something about ‘romance’ that made people go nuts she supposed.

But she wasn’t going to say that to Cassie, Rachel got the feeling Cassie was one of those people that got weird about sex and that got messy and Rachel did not want to deal with a crying Cassie.

“Look alive, kid,” Rachel said as she crammed Cassie’s beanie down over her head more firmly. The kid squawked indignantly as she looked up at Rachel, her face mostly covered by her scarf. Rachel jutted her chin up at the buildings now visible at the end of the trail, “Call the dogs back.”

Cassie grinned up at Rachel, her upset immediately forgotten as she pulled down her scarf to let loose a whistle. Rachel could’ve done it herself of course, but might as well let the kid do it.

It made her happy.

The dogs burst through the undergrowth onto the path and ran at Cassie as she laughed and dropped down to a knee to greet them. For a moment Rachel hung back and just watched Cassie dote on the dogs more than she should.

“Come on,” Rachel grunted as she nudged Cassie’s side with her boot, “That was the last stop, so as soon as we get back to base we can get a warm drink.”

“Should be about dinner time too,” Cassie cheered, “I think Jim and everyone’s making chili tonight.”

“So hustle,” Rachel said, shoving Cassie forward a little, “Before it’s all gone.”

 

Cassie groaned happily as they stepped into the heat of the longhouse. Taylor had mentioned once, back when it was first built, that it wasn’t technically a longhouse but it was long and it was her house so Rachel had told her to shut up.

It was where Rachel lived, but it was also where the big gathering rooms, communal kitchen, and cafeteria were so a lot of people came through it every day. Rachel didn’t mind that.

“Looks like we made it on time,” Cassie said cheerfully as they saw the people milling around the common area. No plates yet. Cassie nudged Rachel’s side with her shoulder as she leaned in to whisper, “And the lovebirds emerge from their den.”

Rachel looked over at where Cassie gestured and saw a couple sitting together on one chair, curled up in a fond tangle of limbs as they spoke in hushed tones. They were seemingly oblivious to everything around them as they cuddled.

Sherry had taken a pretty bad fall and, according to Cassie’s gossip, that had motivated Alex to finally make a move in order to care for them. Rachel knew more about her group’s private lives than she actually cared to, almost entirely because of Cassie.

Rachel rolled her eyes and cuffed the back of Cassie’s head.

“Stop being a creep,” Rachel groused. Cassie laughed as she objected and moved her hands to protect her head, “Go help out Jim.”

“Yes Ma’am!”

Rachel followed Cassie into the kitchen and stood back as Cassie presented herself to Jim for orders. Her eyes drifted over the assembled cookware and people before freezing on one person who shouldn’t have been there.

There, with a blatantly outmatched hairnet, was Taylor. She was very sleepily stirring a pot of chili as she stared blankly at nothing. She was damn near swaying in place.

“The Big Boss arrived just after you left,” Jim whispered as he came up to Rachel, “She’s pretty out of it.”

“She’s about to fall asleep,” Rachel observed, not bothering to whisper.

“We said she could crash but she said it would be rude to not check in with you first,” Jim continued, “Then she demanded we give her something to do to help out.”

“So she’s stirring your chili.”

“So she’s stirring my chili,” Jim repeated, “Before that I found out she’s also pretty good with a knife for someone about to fall over from exhaustion.”

Rachel grunted acknowledgment and stepped toward Taylor.

Taylor looked up at Rachel, not seeming at all surprised to see her standing there. She yawned as she waited for Rachel to say something.

“How much did you hear?” Rachel asked idly. At this point she just assumed that both Taylor and Aisha heard everything anyone said about them.

“All of it,” Taylor confirmed, “…I’m not that bad.”

“You’re an idiot. If I pushed you over you’d be asleep before you hit the floor," Rachel said, “Go to sleep.”

“I’ve been stirring this chili for thirty minutes,” Taylor said mildly, “And smelling it that entire time. If I don’t get to eat it before I fall asleep I’m going to murder someone.”

“Just waiting on the bread, so it won’t be long now boss,” Jim said as he walked past, he turned to Taylor and acknowledged her, “Big Boss.”

Taylor’s face twisted with annoyance at the now ingrained title.

 

Rachel decided to spare Taylor the stares of her group of misfits and the two of them took their meal in the back, near her room and the spare bedroom. It wasn’t like the door was locked or people weren’t allowed back there, but people tended not to go back without a reason.

So Taylor could stare blankly at the table as she spooned chili into her mouth with an impressive lack of energy without attracting looks.

“Your usual room is taken,” Rachel informed her between bites, “Had some issues with a cabin, so they’re bunking here.”

“I’m sure there’s a couch I can use,” Taylor said as she smothered a yawn, “I don’t make it to my own bed half the time so it’s fine.”

Rachel’s lip curled at the idea.

Taylor looked up and met her eyes, unimpressed.

“I’m not going to kick someone out of their room just to have a bed,” Taylor said, “It’s fine.”

“My room’s an option,” Rachel said, barely paying attention to the conversation as she tore off a chunk of warm bread to dunk in the chili..

“I’m not kicking you out either,” Taylor said blandly.

“No,” Rachel scoffed, “You aren’t. I’ve got plenty of bed for two, you can sleep with me.”

There was a pause as Taylor looked at her as if not understanding before an annoyed expression crossed her face and Rachel belatedly remembered the last time they’d had this conversation.

“No sex,” Rachel said as she rolled her eyes, “Actually sleeping.”

The annoyance faded but Taylor’s expression was still a blank one that Rachel couldn’t get anything from so eventually she stopped looking and turned back to her food as she waited for an answer.

The chili was pretty good.

“…Sure.”

 

It was awkward for Taylor at first, enough that even Rachel noticed it, but eventually exhaustion overtook her self-consciousness and she started to drift to sleep.

Rachel did not like having people in her bed while she was sleeping, and as she felt the bed shift and heard Taylor’s breathing she kept waiting for that stress and annoyance to take hold of her.

It never did.

Rachel rolled onto her side and watched as Taylor’s face fell slack and the rise and fall of her chest got shallower.

…Eh, this wasn’t as bad as she thought.


April

The next time Taylor came to visit, the spare room still wasn’t available and so she stayed with Rachel again.

The next next time Taylor came to visit, neither of them mentioned the newly available room.


May

Rachel tried to avoid going to Earth Bet. She had her place now, and it wasn’t Bet.

But sometimes she had no choice.

Monthly Undersiders meetings that she could only avoid so many of, official alliance negotiations, stuff about Gimel she didn’t trust Lisa not to fuck up, and sometimes Taylor spent the night and then mentioned there was going to be a barbecue at her place and maybe Rachel felt like barbecue.

So she accompanied Taylor back to Bet and back to the annoying loudness of the city. Taylor had cleared out a courtyard next to her weird orphanage house that she held regular neighborhood gatherings and parties in that she sometimes attended.

Taylor always said something about winning hearts and minds. Rachel just thought Taylor liked barbecue.

Rachel and Bastard attracted some odd glances as she sat in a folding chair with a beer in one hand a nicely charred corn cob in her other. She guessed that they didn’t see other Undersiders just hanging out often. She and Taylor were the only two whose identities were public so they could just hang out and eat probably.

It never stepped across the line into stares, so Rachel was fine with it.

She didn’t really do much of anything besides eat and drink, which was actually a nice change of pace. There was always something that wanted her attention in Gimel, even if it was just a needy puppy, but here there was nothing.

Unlike Gimel, where she was surrounded by her pack of idiots, nobody had the balls to talk to her besides Taylor and Forrest who just mildly pointed out where the recycling bin was when she finished her first beer. Taylor was busy managing everything, and Rachel busied herself with watching her work.

What Taylor did wasn’t a lot different from what Rachel did in the end, but it felt different. Rachel usually let people do their own thing once she told them it was their job to figure it out while Taylor actually supervised and paid attention to everything happening around her to an absurd degree.

And none of her subordinates fucked with her nearly as much as Rachel’s did.

Rachel thought that was both boring and exhausting, but it was Taylor’s gang so what did she know?

The odd looks got more frequent as time passed, the sun set, and more and more of the general civilian crowd filed out of the courtyard leaving only Taylor’s underlings taking care of things.

Rachel stood up with a yawn and stretch as they started collecting chairs.

“I assume you’re staying the night?” Taylor asked. Her voice was more cool and clipped than it usually was, her Skitter voice. Rachel shrugged, “Want me to have someone clear out a room for you or are you just going to stay with me?”

“The usual is fine,” Rachel said.

“You can head on in,” Taylor said her voice dipping into a softer register, “Get Bastard settled while I finish up out here.”

Rachel got as far as Taylor’s weird terrarium filled villain room before stopping. Taylor’s actual apartment was just up the stairs, but Rachel looked around at all the bugs and then at the giant-ass chair that she’d never gotten a chance to sit in before. So obviously the first thing she did was plop down and stretch out instead of going upstairs.

It was absurdly comfortable and Rachel turned sideways and kicked her legs over one arm as she rested her head on the other. She settled in with a sigh and closed her eyes for just a moment as she heard Bastard start sniffing around.

“The shower’s free,” Taylor said, making Rachel blink her eyes open to look at Taylor who was already dressed down in pajamas. Her hair was just slightly damp as she looked down at Rachel with a smirk.

…Apparently she fell asleep.

 

Rachel managed to not fall asleep in Taylor’s very nice shower.

Rachel had the best shower in Gimel, but there was a limit on how nice it could actually be considering they were in a different dimension from everyone else and their plumbing.

She walked into Taylor’s bedroom as she finished aggressively drying her hair with a towel and dropped the towel in what she assumed was Taylor’s clothes hamper. Taylor looked exasperated by that fact but didn’t say anything about it.

Taylor was sitting up in her bed, reading a thick-ass book under the light of her bedside lamp. She closed the book and went to turn off the lamp when Rachel grunted.

“You can keep reading, I-” Rachel said, scowling after she got interrupted by her own yawn, “I don’t care.”

“If you’re sure…?” Taylor started when Rachel face planted on the bed beside her with another, deeper yawn. Rachel heard a soft laugh “I guess you are.”

Taylor turned back to her book as Rachel made herself comfortable on Taylor’s stupidly comfortable bed. Why was everything Taylor owned so fucking soft?

Despite what she had thought, the light of the lamp was actually just bright enough to keep Rachel up despite her tiredness. She cracked her eyes open and squinted up at the lamp before looking at the back of the book Taylor was reading.

Rachel could read at that point, it was just enough of a pain that she avoided it at all costs. Still, driven by sleepy curiosity she sounded out the words on the spine of the book in her head.

“It’s The Power Broker,” Taylor said softly, her eyes not leaving her book as she answered Rachel’s curiosity. Evidently she’d seen Rachel reading, “It’s a biography of a man who was in charge of the urban planning of New York City in the early 20th century.”

“Fascinating,” Rachel said sarcastically.

“It’s more about how he gathered and wielded political power without being elected and used that power to manipulate the landscape of his city and the effects seemingly innocuous choices had on the demographics of the city,” Taylor explained, her voice a calm and steady flow, “Given our circumstances it seemed relevant.”

“Hmm,” Rachel thought it sounded boring as fuck, but she wasn’t much one for any book.

“It’s very readable,” Taylor said, which Rachel thought was obvious. All books are readable. That’s the point. Taylor hesitated, her eyes actually stopping their scan across the page for a moment before she spoke, “I’d offer to read some of it but I don’t think it’d make much sense.”

The offer was unsure, with some underlying emotion Rachel didn’t recognize and didn’t care to examine.

“Knock yourself out,” Rachel said. She wasn’t going to fall asleep until Taylor was done reading anyway with that lamp going.

“The lionization was on a scale as vast as the achievement…” Taylor’s voice was gentle and surprisingly calming as she read aloud.

Not many of the words actually registered as anything more than noise to Rachel as she rested her head against the pillow. She was still on her side, facing Taylor and that damned lamp as the low hum of Taylor’s soft voice seemed to pull on her eyelids.

Despite the light that she could see through her eyelids Rachel drifted to sleep with the sound of Taylor’s voice in her ears and the feel of her shirt under her fingers.


June

Summer was always a busy season.

It was the time of year where they could actually get the big things done, when they could clear area for expansion, start building, or renovating at a serious level. There were a hundred different directions they could go in and only so many people and hours to do them and it was unfortunately up to Rachel to make the decisions.

Gimel was hers after all, and everyone in it was hers as well.

So, to her annoyance, Rachel had to do a good job. She couldn’t just do what Biter had done and fuck off someplace with air conditioning. Nobody would really miss him but Rachel did miss her stress relief.

There were others, but none as good. None good enough that she felt like inviting them to her bed when she was exhausted from a long day.

Nobody had been in her bed for a while. The only other person who might was Taylor and, from what she could tell, Taylor was just as busy on Bet.

Rachel didn’t know with what exactly, but her visits slowed to a crawl over the end of May and leading into June. There was one brief visit that barely lasted an hour at the very start of June and then nothing for three weeks.

It would’ve been nice if she’d visited, Rachel could’ve put her to work.

To Rachel’s annoyance, when Taylor actually did arrive it was on a slow day.

“I’ve brought help,” Taylor informed Rachel tonelessly as she stood there with one hand on the shoulder of a young boy who was too busy gawking at the trees to look at Rachel. It was a common thing whenever people make their first visit, there weren’t any trees that big back on Bet, or as many, “This is Aidan, he-”

“Why are there so many parakeets?” Aidan blurted out with wide-eyes.

“Those are Carolina parakeets,” Taylor answered the bizarre question with a surreal answer without blinking, “They’re extinct on Bet. This is Rachel, you’re going to be working with her for a while.”

“He is?” Rachel asked. It was the first she'd heard of it.

“Cassie said he could,” Taylor said with a shrug, a trace of exhaustion appearing on her face, “Felt like a good idea to give him time to adjust somewhere more… quiet.”

“Adjust?” Rachel asked as she watched Aidan’s eyes entirely unfocus as he grew still.

“Right, Cassie didn't tell you,” Taylor rubbed at her brow, “He triggered recently.”

“Ah.”

“He’s… one of mine,” Taylor said with some chagrin, “So it’s… a lot, mentally.”

It took Rachel a moment to catch the meaning of “one of Taylor’s”, but as one of those annoying fucking parakeets flew out of the woods to land on the longhouse roof she realized. The kid was Skitter, but for birds.

…Maybe he’d be useful for getting the damned birds to stop eating their crops.

“Careful kid, those are poisonous,” Rachel said.

“…Birds can be poisonous?” Aidan asked, sounding awed.

“Yeah, so keep them away from the cats and dogs. They’ll get sick if they catch one,” Rachel said as she looked around for someone that wasn’t busy. Of course, there was no such person around. So instead she just sighed and gestured to the kid, “Let me show you around.”

“Have fun,” Taylor said when Aidan looked back at her uncertainly, “I’ll just be in the… longhouse.”

She said the word with that familiar distaste that made Rachel roll her eyes.

“First stop,” Rachel said as she walked with purpose, “Getting you a dog. Everyone here has a dog.”

Aidan’s eyes lit up like she had just become her favorite person in the world.

Rachel tried not to feel smug.

 

It took an hour, but eventually Rachel found Cassie and managed to foist the overwhelmed kid and his new yappy puppy on her. She was the one who agreed to this whole thing, so she was the one who could look after him.

Of course by then the work was mostly done for the day and everybody was trickling into the longhouse for dinner anyway, so she didn’t really get rid of the kid.

Thankfully it seemed like he was fitting in just fine with the rest of her idiots so she didn’t have to actually watch him.

“One of your cabins had a small termite problem,” Taylor said as Rachel sat next to her, “I took care of it, but I didn’t have time to check your more distant sites.”

Rachel just sighed.

“I can check them tomorrow,” Taylor said as she continued reading her book, “And your fields. I hear they’re coming along well.”

“Fuck if I know,” Rachel said, not wanting to think about all the shit that she’s had to care about all month, “Shit’s growing in them.”

“That’s what they’re there for,” Taylor said dryly as she turned a page.

“Fuck off.”

 

Finding Aidan a place to stay the night hadn’t been hard, Cassie had taken enough of a shine to him that her cabin had taken him in. After that decision had been made the only thing left to do was to sleep.

Taylor paused in the doorway to Rachel’s room with a much thinner book in her hand. She looked unsure as she met Rachel’s eyes.

“I don’t know if you would want to…” Taylor said hesitantly as she kind of gestured with the book, “But I brought another book.”

It took a second for Rachel to remember that the last time they’d spent the night together Taylor had read to her. It had been surprisingly relaxing.

“This one is a lot less… unfun,” Taylor said with a crooked smile.

Rachel shrugged.

As Rachel laid on her side and tried to pay attention to the actual words Taylor was reading she wondered if her bed was that much smaller than Taylor’s. Where that time her hand had barely grazed the fabric of Taylor’s shirt, that night she found herself half asleep lightly tracing patterns against the skin of Taylor’s side.

Taylor barely paused in her reading at the first touch, and she didn’t say anything against it as she continued.

Rachel was asleep before she could wonder if that meant anything.


August

They developed a sort of routine that had more regularity than Taylor just coming over unannounced when she felt like it. Taylor came over more often, but for less time. Where before it had been a whole day endeavor where she would set aside the time to go to Gimel with the first group of the day and leave with the last, the reverse was true.

She would just come to stay the night and leave in the morning, something that Taylor was more willing to do as opposed to just leaving her territory for a full day.

So Taylor came nearly every week, and not a single one of those had involved her leaving before nightfall. She also made a habit of arriving the day before something called for Rachel to head to Bet and then using Rachel leaving as her ride out back to Bet. She’d made a joke about making sure Rachel actually showed up that sounded fake to Rachel.

Taylor just liked hanging out.

That was what happened the day before the all hands Undersiders meeting, she’d even brought Aidan and left him back in Gimel.

Which was for the best because if they’d brought him back then he’d have had to witness Rachel murdering Tattletale.

Rachel leaned back in her chair with folded arms as she openly glared at Tattletale. The bitch sounded so annoyingly self-satisfied as she talked bullshit about money, companies, and politics that didn’t involve Rachel and that she didn’t care about.

She didn’t even want to be there, an illness had swept through the dog population that her people hadn’t gotten to the bottom of and being so far away from them made her anxious. But she’d missed the previous two months’ meetings and the last time she missed three in a row Tattletale had made a point of dragging her to the fourth in the most annoying way possible.

Why Tattletale gave a shit, she didn’t know. It wasn’t like Rachel contributed to these things. She didn’t have anything to do with Bet these days and if this dragged on any longer she’d do something that would have Tattletale overjoyed to never see her again.

Her leg bounced up and down with increasing agitation as the meeting dragged on and just as she started grinding her teeth she felt something touch her back.

Rachel froze before she started to snap when she looked to the side to see Taylor absently reaching over to rub her back. She wasn’t even looking at Rachel as she did it, and some of the tension bled out of Rachel as she realized what was happening.

She sighed in aggravation as she slumped back in her chair, and Taylor glanced over at her without turning her head with a curious look. Rachel rolled her eyes as she made a yapping motion with her hand that had Taylor’s mouth twitch briefly into a faint smile.

Taylor turned back to Tattletale, but kept her hand on Rachel’s back as she rubbed gently reassuring circles in the space between Rachel’s shoulder blades.

Rachel noticed Aisha looking at her with an annoying fucking grin, and Rachel bared her teeth at her.

Aisha just laughed.

 

The moment they were done, Rachel wanted to be out the door and on her way but Taylor was busy talking to Parian in low tones and it felt weird to leave without letting her know.

Rachel would give Taylor as long as it took for her to finish the terrible hard candy she’d taken from the jar on the table before she left.

“It’s been a while, Bitch,” Tattletale said as she approached with those annoying fucking squinty eyes and toothy smirk. Rachel scowled, “How’ve things been?”

“Busy,” Rachel said shortly as she looked over at Taylor.

“Busy good?” Tattletale asked as if she didn’t get the reports Rachel had gotten written up and sent over every week, “You’re getting everything you need from us?”

The pointed reminder of how reliant Gimel still was on the shit Tattletale arranged to send them rankled Rachel and she glared at Tattletale. In turn Tattletale just rolled her eyes as she raised her hands in mock surrender.

“Jeeze, chill out, just making conversation,” Tattletale said, her unchanging expression and smirk that only widened made it obviously fake..”

“What do you want?” Rachel asked. She rolled the hard candy around in her mouth in an attempt at not grinding her teeth. Taylor said it was bad for her, “I’m still not doing fucking paid tours.”

“No, I assumed not,” Tattletale said, sounding a bit let down by that fact. Rachel could still see her teeth as she smiled so she couldn’t be feeling that bad, “Let me know when you change your mind though, it’d be good money which helps everybody.”

Rachel hated word games. She was bad at them. Still, even she noticed that ‘when’ instead of an ‘if’.

“Fuck off,” Rachel growled.

“Mmm,” Tattletale said as she did not, in fact, fuck off, “Taylor’s been spending a lot of time in Gimel recently.”

Crack.

Her hard candy shattered into pieces between her teeth, the sharp sound making Tattletale flinch just slightly. Rachel bared her teeth with dark amusement as Tattletale’s expression finally soured a bit.

“Relax Rachel,” Tattletale told Rachel, “I’m not here to interrogate you about this or judge you for whatever it is that’s going on, I’m just… a concerned third party in all this.”

“Nothing to be concerned about,” Rachel said shortly as she ground the rest of the candy to pieces.

“Huh, really?” Tattletale asked humorlessly, “Because I think there is.”

“You always do.”

“…You get along with Taylor pretty well,” Tattletale observed as her smile fully disappeared and she stopped fucking lying with her face. Instead of a fake-ass toothy smile there was just a slightly annoyed analytical expression, “It seemed like a miracle at the time that anyone could get along with you, but in hindsight it makes sense.”

Fucking here they go.

“She was the only one who gave enough of a shit to actually test and figure out your boundaries, and then respect them,” Tattletale explained, “Everyone else gave up after the first five times you tried to maul them.”

“She’s an idiot,” Rachel said gruffly.

“She is,” Tattletale agreed. That pissed Rachel off, it was different coming from someone else, “But she’s weirdly good at that, isn’t she? At figuring out boundaries and then either breaking them or respecting them.”

Rachel shrugged.

“She’s so good at it, that it sometimes holds her back,” Tattletale said, “When boundaries shift and change she might not realize it because she’s so good at not crossing where the lines were that she never realizes they’ve moved.”

Words, words, words.

“Get to the point,” Rachel said.

Tattletale frowned and looked exasperated as if she thought Rachel was an idiot.

“Taylor will never do something she thinks would make you uncomfortable,” Tattletale said with an exaggerated slowness, “So if you have, say, changed your mind about some things that used to be off limits, Taylor will never figure that out on her own. You need to be the one to tell her or make the first move.”

“And you think something changed,” Rachel summed up in annoyance, “With me.”

“This whole dancing around the subject thing you two are doing was cute enough the first couple months,” Tattletale rolled her eyes as she spoke, “But it’s getting tired. You’re both adults, you can talk it out and ‘get to the point’, as you’d say.”

“What point is that?” Rachel asked, her tone low as if she was just daring Tattletale to actually say what she meant.

“You two sleep together,” Tattletale said flatly, “Regularly. You both take time out of your busy schedules to see each other every week. You know where it’s going. I don’t know why you’re playing dumb about it, I’ve thought up a dozen different possible reasons that you might be telling yourself but they’re all bad.”

“She isn’t interested,” Rachel said, annoyed that Tattletale thinks she knows Rachel and her relationship with Taylor better than she did. Taylor didn’t want to have sex, Rachel didn’t do more, that was the end of it, “And it’s none of your business, things are fine.”

“Are they?” Tattletale tilted her head with the question, her voice serious, “Are they, really?”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Rachel snapped.

“Look, you don’t want to hear it from me, I get that,” Tattletale said with an equally annoyed tone, “You don’t like me, I don’t like you. But Taylor’s my friend, I want her to be happy, so here I am, trying to help her, and you, be happy. That’s all.”

“And you think I’m making her unhappy,” Rachel figured out as she glowered at Tattletale.

Tattletale snorted.

“Aren’t you?” she asked snidely as she took an exaggerated look to the side. Before Rachel could respond she turned and started walking away, “Whatever, hope your dogs get better.”

Rachel snarled and, without looking to see if Taylor was free to say goodbye, just stormed out of the room.


September

The thing that Rachel hated about Tattletale, more than everything else, was the fact that the things she said had the annoying habit of sticking. Rachel hated thinking about unnecessary shit, and whenever Tattletale decided to make Rachel a project she ended up thinking herself in circles.

Because Rachel wasn’t an idiot, she knew she wasn’t the smartest.

She was bad with people, she didn’t get them, most of what people cared about was bullshit she thought was stupid. But she knew that was her.

It was Rachel not getting something that was obvious to most people.

Tattletale was different. She was smart and she got people but was the type of idiot Rachel wasn’t. She knew what made people tick, what motivated them, what people wanted. And then she did some stupid shit that pissed everyone off and had to scramble to pick up the pieces. Then she failed at that but recovered enough that she was the only one left standing at the top of the trash heap she'd made to proclaim a plan well done.

Tattletale was an idiot who fucked up constantly. But if she noticed something in Rachel and Taylor then it was probably there.

Rachel just couldn’t see it.

 

Rachel stood in the shade of a tree next to Taylor as she watched Aidan play with his stupid poisonous parakeets. It was a quiet moment. A moment that, only a month ago, Rachel would usually take as an opportunity to relax and not have to worry about anything.

She glowered at nothing as she failed to achieve that.

Tattletale thought something about Rachel had changed.

Things had changed, obviously.

Things always changed. Rachel went from being alone, to a part of a team, to leading a gang, to leading a colony. Things changed all the time, and how she spent time with Taylor was a change.

But Rachel didn’t think she had changed.

Things happened, Rachel adjusted, but she was still the same person who wanted the same things.

She wanted a safe place to eat and sleep. She wanted to be left alone most of the time. She wanted her people and dogs to have the same.

There was nothing she wanted from Taylor that she didn’t already have.

What they had now wasn’t the same as what they had a year ago, but that wasn’t because Rachel was working up to something she wanted. She just enjoyed the moments she spent with Taylor and what the moments were changed over time. There wasn’t any more to it than that, and there didn’t need to be.

But what about Taylor?

Rachel looked down at where Taylor was sitting against a tree, her eyes closed but her form still wide awake. She must’ve been focusing on her bugs.

Was Taylor waiting for something? Did Taylor want something that she was slowly inching toward? Or did she want something but was refusing to work towards it because she knew Rachel didn’t?

Was Taylor unhappy with these moments?

“Any reason for all the staring?” Taylor asked, her voice mellow and content as she didn’t even bother to open her eyes, “You’ve been doing a lot of it.”

“…No,” Rachel answered shortly.

She didn’t stop looking at Taylor.

She kept looking, trying to see the unhappiness that Tattletale apparently saw in her. It had to be there, right? Tattletale would know, she was around Taylor so much more than Rachel was. Tattletale actually knew people and Rachel didn’t. It had to be there.

Rachel couldn’t find it.

But that didn’t make her feel any better.


October

Taylor didn’t come visit for the entire month of October.

Something about some low level parahuman gang causing trouble. It wasn’t serious enough for them to call on Rachel, but Taylor didn’t feel comfortable leaving her territory overnight.

Or at least that’s what Aidan said when he just showed up one day.

It was just as well, because it was harvest season and everyone was put to work.

Between the harvest and preparing for what people told her would be a heavy winter Rachel didn’t really have the time to worry about Taylor.

So she didn’t.

She just got to work and made sure everyone else did the same. The latter wasn’t that hard in the end, slackers didn’t last long, and the former was more mind numbing than arduous so time passed nearly without notice until something happened to break the monotony.

“Bitch!” Cassie called out in a petulant whine as she approached where Rachel was lurking in the corner of the long house, nursing some apple cider. Rachel looked up at the flushed girl as she approached, “Do we have laws about the age limit for drinking alcohol?”

“…What?” Rachel asked after a moment.

“Jim says I can’t have any of the cider that just finished fermenting,” Cassie whined, “But it’s our first real harvest and I spent so long picking apples and I just want to try it now and I’m not really a kid anymore so-”

Rachel held up her hand to stop the chatter as she met eyes with Jim who was guarding his precious apple cider with a sharp eye. She held up her other hand and made a tiny pinching motion. Jim rolled his eyes but nodded and, when Cassie realized what had just happened, smiled fondly as she bound toward him, cup in hand.

Rachel watched just long enough to catch Cassie’s face curl up in displeasure at her first taste of alcohol and snorted before she turned back to look at the crowd.

Everyone was gathered, and the longhouse that had originally felt like overkill three years ago now felt tiny with how packed it was. The din of the crowd was loud and joyful as everybody celebrated.

Celebrated the end of the harvest and celebrated the first birth on Gimel.

There had been other kids born to members of her gang in the time they’d been on Gimel but they’d all crossed back over to Bet to give birth. This was the first time they’d had an established medical facility that was stocked enough that people felt comfortable enough to risk it.

Rachel’s lip was curled up into a smile as she saw Jane being wheeled around in a wheelchair, holding her baby with an exhausted expression that still couldn’t hide her joy. Roy, the father was pushing her around, laughing nearly the entire time as he endured an endless stream of congratulations.

No complications, everyone was healthy and happy. If tired.

Things were good.

Rachel watched them take a winding path around the longhouse to let everyone coo over the baby, her head was devoid of any thoughts other than enjoyment of the clamor of the room. Usually she hated such loud noises, but she guessed she could make an exception.

“Rachel!” Roy called out as they approached, shaking Rachel out of her thoughts, “We have a request.”

“Yeah?” Rachel asked as she nodded down at Jane.

“It’s all out of order,” Jane said, her voice a bit hesitant, “And we know that you don’t do this but we would love it if you would…”

“Marry us,” Roy said when Jane trailed off. He’d been with Rachel since before Gimel was a thing while Jane had only arrived in the last year so she wasn’t as comfortable talking to her.

…Wait.

“What?” Rachel’s brow furrowed as she looked between the two of them in blatant confusion.

“This is my home,” Roy said, his voice loud and strong as it carried over the quieting crowd of people behind them, “It’s our home. Now and forever.”

For however long ‘forever’ lasts, Rachel thought darkly before she shook it off.

She looked down at Jane who just smiled.

“We talked about getting married back in Bet,” she said softly, “But it didn’t feel right. But now that we have her… it feels like the time to do something about it.”

Rachel was utterly out of her depth as a cheer rose out of the crowd.

“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot boss,” Roy said apologetically, “But… it’d be an honor if you would.”

“We wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for you,” Jane added, her eyes soft, “You gave us this.”

Rachel wasn’t good at words. But she knew that that ‘this’ wasn’t just their kid.

She… couldn’t say no, could she?

“You really want this?” she asked them seriously.

“Yes,” “Of course,” came the dual, immediate answer.

What did Rachel say?

She looked at the two of them, Roy was standing behind the wheelchair with one hand on the top of the chair. Jane had one arm up holding the baby up as her other crossed her chest to rest on top of Roy’s.

“…You love each other?” Rachel asked, getting another immediate answer. She hesitated another long moment before just deciding to echo Roy’s statement from before, “Now, and forever?”

“Yes,” two answers as one.

“Then…” Rachel drew out the word as she failed to find anything else to ask or say, “Congratulations.”

There was a moment of silence as everybody waited to see if there was any more, but there wasn’t. As that realization sank in a bunch of staggered laughing and cheers swept the room followed by a single sentence from Cassie.

You may now kiss the bride!” Cassie hissed in an attempt at a whisper that everyone heard and just set off another round of laughter and cheers.

“You may now kiss the bride,” Rachel parroted as she tried to ignore the rising flush in her cheeks that had nothing to do with her drink.

Roy stopped laughing only long enough to dip down and press his lips against his bride’s. When he pulled away it was like he’d infected Jane as her head fell back with a joyful laugh.

Rachel awkwardly stood there as Roy stood up and pulled her into a grateful hug that was accompanied by several harsh slaps on her back. When he pulled away, Jane leaned forward and took her hand. It was cold, she should put on gloves.

Rachel was incredibly uncomfortable.

“Thank you Rachel,” Jane said sincerely. She smiled wide with all of her teeth on display. For once Rachel didn’t mind that, “It was perfect.”

She just nodded as she watched them go, back to another flood of congratulations. Jane’s head was tilted back as she looked up at her husband with a look of such obvious love that even Rachel could read it. She may not get love, but she could recognize it when she saw it.

…Rachel wasn’t an idiot.

She knew what it was that Lisa was talking about.

She knew what Taylor wanted from her, and she knew why Lisa said she was making Taylor unhappy.

Taylor wanted that. Maybe not the baby and the marriage, but the love.

And Rachel couldn’t give it to her.

She looked at the happy couple and, for the first time in her life, really, truly tried to imagine herself as being in their place. She tried to imagine what it would be like to love someone like they did even though she still didn’t know what the word actually meant.

And, for the first time in her life, she resented the fact that she couldn’t.


November

When Taylor learned that Rachel had married a couple, she’d burst out laughing.

Rachel had thrown an apple at her.

“Our lives are weird,” Taylor had said after she dodged the apple, a smile on her face.

Rachel couldn’t disagree.

But she’d still thrown another apple.

 

As the first snow started falling, bringing the promise of so much more in the future, Taylor started visiting more often again.

The winter was the slow season for Rachel.

The chill brought sleep and death and there just wasn’t much to do besides huddle up and keep warm. The days were too short and cold to do all but the simplest and closest work available. There wasn’t enough of that type of work to fill everyone’s days and Rachel was reluctant to take it from others.

It left her with a lot of time to think.

Rachel didn’t appreciate that.

It was apparently slow for Taylor too, because she visited eight times that month.

Taylor had long stopped giving excuses about her presence, she just showed up and was given a plate just like everyone else. The tension about her being The Big Boss had died a long time ago, although the nickname remained.

Even though Taylor brought with her questions that Rachel couldn’t help but dwell on, she did appreciate her presence.

It was easy to be around Taylor.

With Gimel, Rachel had a place she felt truly comfortable and welcome and she never felt that more than when Taylor was there too.

Was that love?

Taylor liked to join her on her trudges across the camp to check in on everything and everyone that she did. They rarely talked during those walks, but having Taylor with her was better than going with just Bastard.

In those moments Rachel was satisfied. But there were so many others where she felt just as content, without Taylor.

She thought about what Taylor wanted from her. She wondered if Taylor was waiting for something more. Something Rachel couldn’t give.

She didn’t know what more there was to give.

 

People tossed around the words love and romance casually, as if they meant something solid and concrete that everyone understood. But whenever she asked what they actually meant the meaning seamed to disappear into nothing. Nobody could explain it.

To Rachel the words seemed hollow.

She sat on a chair and watched Taylor play fetch with Bastard in the snow and wanted for nothing more.

Was that love?

It didn’t feel like it.

From the outside looking in it seemed like love was all about wanting more. More time, more closeness, more touches, more, more, more, more everything.

When Taylor left snow-covered Gimel for Bet and Brockton Bay, Rachel didn’t really miss her.

She would be back soon and even if it took longer than expected that was fine. Rachel had her life and Taylor was a part of it but not an essential one.

Cassie left Gimel.

The kid had hated school, it was part of why she’d sought out Rachel. Criminals didn’t have to go to school.

But Cassie loved Gimel. She loved Rachel, she loved what they were doing, and she loved that boy that she had just started dating. And she decided that she wanted to help them all out to the best of her abilities.

She wanted to do more than just the chores.

Gimel had started to get too big for Rachel to handle by herself with just decisions made on a whim. Too many people, too many moving parts, too many conflicting desires. Some people had talked about the possibility of structuring it like any other town, but Cassie had objected.

They weren’t just some town in America, they were something else. They were all there because they hadn’t fit in in the normal world, they couldn’t just change what they had to be more like everything else.

No one had disagreed but no one had a solid answer of what they should be instead.

So Cassie set out to find one. Rachel wasn’t sure how and where she was looking, but she was learning a lot under Taylor.

Rachel understood the decision. Respected it even. She was fiercely proud of Cassie for it.

Cassie was devastated about her distance from her boyfriend. She cried if you so much as mentioned him.

Rachel didn’t get that.

 

It didn’t take long for Rachel to get sick of all the wondering. She was sick of it before she even started, but eventually it reached a tipping point.

She was being an idiot, like Tattletale.

Thinking and getting stuck in her head instead of just doing the obvious and asking Taylor what she wanted from Rachel.

She didn’t know what Taylor wanted or what Rachel was supposed to want. She still, three months later, didn’t know what it was inside of her that Lisa saw and decided was obvious.

Rachel decided to just ask Taylor what she wanted from Rachel the next time they met. If she wanted anything at all.

Taylor visited.

Taylor stayed the night.

Taylor left.

Rachel didn’t ask.

Taylor visited again, Rachel didn’t ask again.

Because she wasn’t actually an idiot. She knew that Taylor wanted Rachel to love her.


December

“Your hair is too damn long,” Rachel grumbled as she carefully combed Taylor’s hair. For once Rachel had showered first at Taylor’s place and so she had just been sitting there watching Taylor do it once she'd finished her own shower and had gotten annoyed.

“You don’t have to do it for me,” Taylor said dryly, “I’m a big girl. I do it myself, everyday.”

“I want to,” Rachel snapped as she tried her best to not tug at Taylor’s hair as she pulled the comb through it.

Taylor just laughed under her breath before falling silent with a content sigh.

It was annoying how much Rachel had been thinking about her over the last few months and it was weird how easily most of that fell away when she was actually with Taylor.

This was no different, as she combed Taylor’s hair her thoughts just slowly faded away and left her satisfied with the moment.

Taylor started humming under her breath. An absentminded sound that Rachel had heard several times at this point, it was a tune Rachel couldn’t recognize for anything except being Taylor.

Tattletale had said that Rachel made Taylor unhappy.

That had stung.

More than anything else, that had been the source of Rachel’s self-frustration. She had never cared about romance or love before. She had never cared about if she was changing as a person before.

Rachel cared if Taylor was unhappy.

But if Taylor was unhappy, then she sure hadn’t been acting like it. She seemed happier with Rachel in Gimel than she did in her own home.

It was Rachel she went to when she was too exhausted to be Skitter. When she needed to pet a dog or do work with her hands or be somewhere people weren’t scared of her. Rachel had always understood that to be true, since the very first time Taylor crossed the portal to visit her.

She’d always known that and never doubted it before. So why was Rachel taking Tattletale’s word as truth?

Rachel wasn’t a fan of thinking about these things. She’d done so much of it for months and had gotten nowhere. But she gave it a go, one last time, this time without Tattletale’s words rattling around in her head.

What did she want? Not what Tattletale thought she wanted, or what Rachel feared she should want, what she actually wanted.

It didn’t take long for her to arrive at an answer.

…This.

She wanted to sit there and comb Taylor’s hair.

She wanted to be around Taylor when they had the time. She wanted to hear Taylor read as she fell asleep. She wanted to listen to Taylor laugh, she wanted to watch Taylor play with Bastard, and she wanted to feel Taylor settle down to sleep.

She wanted what she already had.

And she really wanted to stop stressing about this.

As she got the last of the knots out of Taylor’s hair, Rachel put aside the comb and leaned forward to wrap her arms around Taylor’s waist and press her face into the crook of Taylor’s neck.

Wet hair stuck to Rachel’s face and the scent of Taylor’s shampoo filled her nose as she pressed herself against Taylor’s back in a tight embrace.

“Rachel?” Taylor asked, her voice curious but unbothered.

Rachel let out a grunt, an unintelligible sound that had to be more sensation than sound for Taylor, but she was done with words for now.

It seemed like Taylor actually understood, because after a moment she relaxed into the embrace and raised one hand up cup one of Rachel’s where it laid against her stomach. She leaned her head against Rachel’s as she sighed.

Rachel didn’t know what love was and she didn’t particularly care.

She was happy with what she had, she didn’t want anything more, and if Taylor felt any different Rachel couldn’t tell.

Maybe she was underthinking all of this, but doing that had gotten her everything she had.

Taylor started humming under her breath again, and Rachel could feel the gentle vibration of it in her chest as the last of her anxiety fell away.

Maybe Taylor wanted something more, Rachel really didn’t know.

If she did then when Taylor mentioned it Rachel was willing to give it a try with actions instead of words. She was pretty sure Taylor wouldn’t mind if Rachel never had to wonder what ‘romance’ and ‘love’ were ever again.


January

Rachel hadn’t bothered explaining her thoughts from the previous months, she didn’t think she had to. Taylor seemed content to not ask.

Time passed, things changed, like always.

When they slept together Rachel didn’t keep to her side as much. More than once she woke up to find she was lying on top of Taylor. Taylor didn’t complain about it.

One time she woke up to Taylor kissing the top of her head, and Rachel didn’t complain about that either.

Cassie had asked Rachel to marry her and her boyfriend. Rachel had rolled her eyes and told her to come back in three years. The kid had pouted for days and the fact that her boyfriend seemed to find it funny made Rachel like him more.

Eventually Cassie got over it.

Taylor told Rachel that she’d given her some advice. She’d told her that there was no point rushing, it was better to take things slowly and figure things out one step at a time.

They had the time.