The best part of Christmas is when it’s over.
Annalise isn’t one for holiday decorations and exuberant cheer, and she has a low tolerance for fake kindness. She usually has someone hang a wreath on her front door, and that’s the extent of her decorating. Bonnie and Frank get a bonus if it’s been a particularly good year, and the so-called Keating Five have a more favorable grading curve for the semester if they haven’t fucked up. That’s all.
But this year she’s in for a New York City holiday.
She’s here for Christmas and hopefully the New Year as well. Annalise needs a vacation, a respite from the shadows and ever-expanding list of responsibilities in Philadelphia. Her teaching position, her recovery, the firm, keeping five idiots out of prison, Bonnie, everything that seems to compound with each passing day.
Eve had proposed several weeks ago that Annalise come to the city for the holiday, and Annalise stalled. But things had fallen into place, and here Annalise stands at Eve’s door four days before Christmas, nervous and grateful.
Annalise had forgotten just how much Eve revels in the holiday spirit, but it’s more than evident as she steps inside and sees the wall to wall decorations. There’s a tall evergreen in one corner – live, Annalise can tell by the fresh scent just beneath the other notes of sugar and spice – and it’s fully decked out with white lights and glittering baubles, topped with a gold star. Tinsel and red stockings line the bookshelf along with little figurines and a Menorah. It’s all tasteful but very…abundant.
She scoffs, and it earns her a poke in the back as Eve pulls in Annalise’s luggage and closes the door.
“I heard that.” She stops next to Annalise, and her eyes are bright as she surveys her handiwork. “You know I love this holiday, and you will, too, when this week is over.”
“I do.” Annalise nods, ignoring the last part, and flashes of memories come to her: Eve coming to class in bold reindeer-covered sweaters; teaching her how to make the best sweet potato pie; an impromptu snowball fight in the parking lot that left them shivering and breathless. Of course, they’d warmed each other up plenty when they made it back to Eve’s apartment. “How could I forget?”
She hasn’t thought about any of that in years, but Annalise smiles now thinking of those good times and how easily the memories returned.
“It really is beautiful,” Annalise says, admiring the way the city lights coming in through the large windows create a perfect glow.
“Alright, so I’ll let you get settled first. I set up the guest room if --”
“Do you want me to stay in the guest room?”
Annalise’s voice drops in a way that makes it clear where she intends to spend her nights. Neither of them is in the habit of asking questions they don’t already know the answer to, but she can’t resist the moment to be coy, seductive.
Eve swallows, shaking her head. “No. It’s the exact opposite of what I want.” She shrugs one shoulder. “I just didn’t want to assume.”
The thoughtfulness is very much appreciated, and somewhere in the back of her mind it feels romantic. Annalise leans into Eve’s personal space, a smooth grin in place as she tastes soft lips.
“I’m not staying in the guest room,” Annalise whispers.
Annalise sits on the edge of the bed, contemplating her phone. She’d come to unpack, but somewhere in the middle of setting aside some clothes for tomorrow Annalise had paused. Her mind was on Philadelphia.
There are no calls.
She doesn’t have any missed calls or urgent text messages from Bonnie or Frank, for which she is grateful; no cryptic voicemails from Michaela or Wes. Work is not calling for her long distance.
But there also isn’t any contact from someone that a part of her does want to hear from.
It’s not like he would know that she had left the state and call to check on her. Nate had his plans for the holiday, and Annalise hadn’t wanted to seem desperate – to be invited along? to have him think about her? – so she’d been evasive about her own plans. Just polishing off some old case work, relaxing without law students and clients constantly underfoot, she’d said.
Annalise sighs and puts the phone down for now. She decides to get her nightly ritual out of the way and slip into to some warm, comfy clothes.
It’s been a long day, but a night in with Eve sounds perfect.
“Hey, menus are on the counter, and,” Eve teases as she turns from the refrigerator holding a pitcher, “I’ve got eggnog.”
Annalise props her hip against the island, happiness sneaking onto her face as she watches Eve’s bouncy demeanor around the kitchen. It’s infectious, she has to admit.
“Is it spiked?”
Eve’s smile rivals any Christmas lights, and she nods. “Liberally.”
When Annalise takes her first sip, she licks the taste of nutmeg and bourbon from her lips. The drink is cool on her tongue and strong. Another cup or two and she’s guaranteed to sleep deeply tonight.
“So do I get a kiss?”
“For spiking the eggnog?”
Hiding behind her glass, Eve just points up.
Mistletoe. Of course Eve Rothlo would have sprigs of mistletoe hanging around.
Annalise rolls her eyes, contradicting her incredulous laugh.
“How many of those are there?”
Eve steps closer to Annalise, bottom lip caught between her teeth trying to reign in her smile.
“A few,” she answers.
Warm eyes lower until they’re locked on Annalise’s mouth. Eve tilts her head, bending down, smothering Annalise’s grin as their lips meet.
Mornings don’t tend to be anything special. Annalise isn’t in the habit of encouraging affirmations or peaceful meditation. She comes into consciousness, opens her eyes, and goes about another day.
This morning she wakes up lighthearted.
She and Eve had eaten dinner and talked. They avoided anything too serious, simply staying in good friends mode. They made plans to go out for a nice dinner on Christmas Eve, and the night ended with them watching local news and some forgettable talk show. Annalise remembers a yawn nearly cracking her jaw and apologies to Eve for the way her eyes refused to stay alert. Eve had declared she was tired as well, and they called it a night.
Now Annalise is cozy and rested, relatively at peace. It’s in this sunrise tranquility that she focuses on a particular feeling. She’s horny.
Annalise nuzzles Eve’s neck, lips feathering across her jaw. She kisses Eve’s chin then parted lips. Slowly she retraces her kisses, going back down the supple body with her mouth and tongue and bringing her hands into play. Blunt nails lightly scrape against Eve’s hip, bringing their bodies closer. Annalise feels the exact moment the brunette wakes as her chest and ribs expand with a deep breath and her heart thumps wildly.
“You’re having naughty thoughts early this morning,” Eve teases, voice raspy from sleep.
Long fingers tip Annalise’s head back, and Eve cups her face to pull her into a kiss. Annalise moans at the caress of Eve’s tongue against her own. She holds Eve back with a hand against her breast.
“If you lie back,” Annalise drawls, hands gently urging Eve to do just that, “I’ll be nice.”
She descends Eve’s body leisurely, mouth watering at the way Eve writhes and pushes up into her hot mouth. At the apex of Eve’s thighs, Annalise spares a glance up. Chest heaving from anticipation and arousal, Eve is spread before her, and Annalise wants nothing more at this moment than to make her come.
“So is this still what you do every year? Binge sappy movies?”
Annalise’s legs are thrown across Eve’s lap, and Eve gives a playful squeeze to her calf. After spending a lengthy time in bed – where Eve’s passion was just as strong as Annalise and she reciprocated multiple ways – they’d planted themselves on the couch at Eve’s insistence. Her DVR was a never ending list of Yuletide cheer.
“A Christmas movie marathon is an absolute tradition. Every year, beginning December first really.” A toothy grin is her response to Annalise’s nonplussed expression. “I don’t always stay in New York though. I went home for Thanksgiving, so I decided to just send cards and gifts to my nieces and nephews and stay in the city this year. ” Eve bites her lip, eyes flitting away for a moment before looking back at Annalise. “I was kind of hoping to have plans.”
Heat rises to Annalise’s cheeks as the focus of such affection. She can’t help but smile back.
“What about you? Any traditions?”
“Come on,” Eve prods. “None?”
Annalise shakes her head again. “No, not really. I get a break from babysitting law students. And I hope that any client who could afford me doesn’t do anything catastrophically stupid until the next year. That’s enough.”
“It sounds absolutely wonderful.”
“Oh stop it,” Annalise orders, chuckling at Eve’s sarcasm.
Eve turns her attention back to the television, some animated rainbow of color flashing across the screen. Dark eyes are pinned to Eve although Annalise isn’t really seeing. She thinks of holidays past, years of being thankful for fruit baskets and cookie tins but ashamed of hand-me-downs; the more recent years of stilted dinner parties and jewelry that was as meaningless as it was expensive. None of it she enjoyed, but it all made a mark on her nonetheless.
Annalise detests the charity part of holiday gift-giving and volunteering. If she’s going to donate things, money – and she does quite generously – it’ll be with purpose. Give people new things to call their own or things they can use to build for their future and actually be proud of.
“I like donating,” she says quietly. “I’m not a total Grinch.”
Eve’s face softens as she gazes back at Annalise.
They return to watching the cartoon in comfortable silence until a loud snort comes from her companion. Annalise waits wondering where she missed a joke.
Struggling with a choked off laugh, Eve looks at Annalise then just shakes her head. “Nothing.”
“No, what is it?” Annalise pokes the other woman with her toes. “You can’t burst out laughing and not share.”
“You like to give out presents.” Eve’s shoulders are already shaking with laughter. It makes it more difficult to understand her, but Annalise gets it loud and clear. “Anna Claus.”
The recoil is immediate, and Annalise literally groans. Eve has tears leaking from her eyes.
Anna Claus. Ugh.
“I’m so done with you,” Annalise deadpans.
She stands from the couch, resisting Eve’s attempt to grab her hand and pull her back down. Annalise turns her back to the other woman as she walks to the kitchen, disgusted at the corny pun and at herself for her tiny bit of amusement.
Naturally, Eve doubles over with laughter.
“It’s A Wonderful Life?”
“That boy would’ve gotten an ass whoopin’ where I come from. No.”
Annalise keeps scrolling through the list of movies saved on Eve’s television. Eve hadn’t been lying when she said that her DVR put in its most work during this time of the year; there are nearly two dozen movies to choose from.
In the kitchen, Eve laughs while she gets more snacks.
“Are we going to end up watching The Preacher’s Wife again? So you can ogle Denzel,” Eve teases. She holds up a glass, and Annalise nods for her to pour a refill.
“Right, because you didn’t have a crush on Whitney Houston back in the day,” Annalise throws right back. Eve just chuckles.
Returning to playlist, Annalise comes across an odd title. “I thought A Nightmare Before Christmas was a Halloween movie.”
Dark hair swishes over her shoulders as Eve shakes her head. “No, it’s definitely a Christmas movie. I’ll explain it to you.”
Annalise puts that one off for now.
She’s just picked the next selection when a hollow buzzing sound fills the room. It stops then starts again, and Annalise realizes that someone’s phone is vibrating with an incoming call. She puts down the TV controller and stretches over the couch to find the device.
The call is on her phone. Annalise’s heart starts beating from her throat as she reads the name projecting on the screen. Nate.
“Is it mine?” Hands full, Eve pads back across the open floor.
Annalise mashes the decline icon quickly and grabs up her phone. It’s doubtful that he’ll call again right away, and Annalise could turn off her phone and leave it at that. But in the split second that a hundred thoughts fill her mind, she settles on the most prominent one. She wants to hear Nate’s voice.
“No,” she repeats. “It’s mine.”
Just as Eve sits down, Annalise stands. Her voice is calm, movements smooth.
“I’ll be right back.” Annalise contemplates going into Eve’s bedroom or the guest room, but she’s too conscious of the sound of her voice carrying so she steps toward the door instead. One hand on the knob, she turns back to Eve. “Go ahead and start the movie. I’ve seen this one.”
Eve wears a minor frown but nods and says okay.
A deep breath. That’s the first thing Annalise does once she’s out in the hallway – take a deep breath. Annalise presses the call button and steadies herself against the wall as the phone rings.
On the third ring, Nate picks up and rumbles, “Hello.”
“Hi. I’m sorry I missed your call.”
Annalise keeps her voice low. She doesn’t want their conversation to be heard through Eve’s door or any of her neighbors’, for that matter. Her words are soft, so unlike the authoritative tone that gets her through most of her days. It’s a quality that she can’t help, the way certain feelings that she keeps bottled up often find a way of mellowing her tone.
“No problem. I figured you were working or something. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“It’s fine,” she assures. “Actually, I’m just watching a silly Christmas movie.” Annalise presses her lips together, but it does nothing to stop the happy expression filling out her cheeks. She’s tempted to say Eve’s name but lets the thought pass.
“Oh really?” Nate laughs a booming sound that she feels in her own chest.
It’s a sound that she’s rarely heard, and the joy of it can’t erase the guilt in the back of her mind. After all, it’s mostly her fault that the man hasn’t had a lot to feel happy about over the last year.
“Who are you, and what have you done to Annalise Keating?”
She huffs, but her grin widens.
Her forced passive expression when she reenters the condo isn’t nearly as successful as she hopes.
Eve turns her attention from Christmas Vacation for a moment as Annalise sits on the couch beside her again. Annalise catches her worrying her lip with her teeth, a sure sign that she’s considering something.
The other woman’s voice is pleasant, curious when she finally asks, “How is Nate?”
Annalise closes her eyes for a second, taking a deep, silent breath. She wants to keep avoiding this conversation even if she is the one who set the wheels in motion.
When Annalise doesn’t answer, Eve glances at her again. “You don’t have to sneak off to talk to him.”
“I wasn’t sneaking,” Annalise immediately defends. She folds her arms, eyes pinned to the TV screen.
“Okay.” She waits. “So how is he?”
Sensing that Eve won’t drop the conversation, Annalise says “He’s fine” with less irritation than she feels. “Out of town visiting his parents. And he’s spending time with Nia’s family for Christmas.”
She regrets it even as it leaves her mouth. It’s the first Christmas since Nia…passed, and she can’t help thinking about it. That guilt shoves its way to the forefront of her mind.
Annalise sees recognition in Eve’s eyes just before she looks down then straight ahead. The vague things-just-fell-into-place reasoning becomes more clear.
“I can see how that would’ve been awkward for you.” The corners of Eve’s lip turn down, and she nods. “Good thing you always have backup plans.”
It’s a warning and a plea, and thankfully, Eve backs off. Annalise doesn’t need her sassiness or another cross-examination right now.
“I meant what I said earlier. You don’t have to hide that you’re talking to him. I like Nate.” She pauses the movie and tucks one long leg beneath her, turning her body fully toward Annalise. She waits patiently for Annalise to look back at her. “And I’m not really upset. I’m just happy you’re here.”
A gentle hand covers Annalise’s knee, and Eve flashes a half smile. Annalise studies Eve’s lips, her deep eyes, the relaxed slope of her shoulders. She exhales.
“Me too. I want to be here.”
Annalise covers the hand on her knee. Eve turns her palm up and interlaces their fingers. She brings their joined hands up to her lips and presses them against Annalise’s skin.
She wants to reassure Eve that loneliness isn’t the only thing that drove her to New York City. She wants to call up Nate again and explain that she’s spending a week with a woman who is so much more than just someone from her past. She’s navigating her place in the lives of two people she deeply cares for – a place she doesn’t fully believe she deserves – and Annalise feels lost.
“Are you going to pretend you don’t know anything about this package?”
Annalise dodges Eve and the medium-sized box in her arm to head toward the kitchen. She puts her own haul – a bag of groceries – down on the countertop and turns back toward Eve with a shrug and a gleam in her eyes.
They’d gone out for some fresh air and a grocery run. There was a little window shopping and watching ice skaters in the park, but neither of them was too keen on braving the winter frenzy for long. It felt nice to be able to talk casually as Annalise pushed down the awkward feelings from yesterday.
Eve shakes the box with both hands, but it makes no sound. The manager at the front desk had cheerfully handed over the delivery as they crossed the building lobby, and Eve practically vibrated on the elevator ride up to her floor.
“Maybe it’s from one of your girlfriends.”
“Funny.” She squints dark eyes in Annalise’s direction trying to get her to crack. “You don’t like surprises,” Eve accuses, “unless you’re the one behind them.”
Unpacking the grocery bag, Annalise watches fondly as Eve goes to place the box underneath the tree. She really is an overgrown child at this time of the year.
She walks back across to the kitchen and plants a sweet kiss on Annalise’s cheek. “Thank you.”
Annalise shrugs again, handing Eve a couple cartons to put in the fridge. “You don’t even know what it is yet.”
She’d kind of broken their twenty-year-old rule of not buying expensive gifts, but Annalise had been going through old emails – deleting junk and saving others – and an unexpected sentimentality hit her. With a few taps on her laptop, she had opened a new tab and ordered the gift without second thought. What she hadn’t expected at that time was to actually be in New York to see Eve open it.
But seeing Eve now, all wide eyes and carefree smiles, Annalise is really glad to have these moments.
Hands smoothing over the waistline of her dress one more time, Annalise studies the woman looking back at her from the mirror. Her wig is shiny and sleek, gently framing her face, and she decided on a simple smoky look for her makeup. She fingers the beaded necklace draped over her neck and chest, silver contrasting nicely with the crimson of her dress. Annalise takes a deep breath. She likes the way she looks.
Normally she wouldn’t dress in such a festive color this close to the holiday, but she feels the color red and embraces the power of wearing it.
“Hey, are you…?” Eve starts, peeking her head in from the doorway only to stop short. “Wow.”
Heat rises to her cheeks, but Annalise can’t contain her grin. Eve obviously appreciates the dress as well.
She carries her purse in one hand and her heels in the other as she gets closer to the other woman.
Eve looks magnificent as usual, and Annalise’s eyes rake over every inch of her legs wrapped in snug, dark pants. The bluish-green notes of her shirt play well with Annalise’s dress, and Annalise admires the smooth skin the open buttons reveal.
“You look pretty wow yourself.” Her voice is sultry, and a faint blush colors Eve’s cheeks.
Familiar hands settle on Annalise’s hips and pull her closer until they’re both standing beneath an arch in the hallway. A spot noticeably adorned with mistletoe.
Eve moistens pink lips, but Annalise leans her head back before she can make her move.
“You’re gonna smear my makeup.” She watches Eve smirk because there’s no real conviction in the denial. “Fine, one kiss,” she concedes.
Annalise parts her lips, sighing at the first contact. It’s a slow, intimate caress and she damn near melts.
When they pull away, Eve drops the hold on Annalise’s body and takes a step back. She exhales loudly. “Let’s go before we waste a reservation.”
The restaurant isn’t very far from Eve’s place, but they opt for a taxi despite the mess of Christmas Eve city streets. Annalise’s heels are for style not comfort and certainly not meant to brave frozen sidewalks.
It’s a nice restaurant without being stuffy, the kind with a plentiful wine list and French-inspired dishes but also gourmet burgers and fries. Although tonight it seems that everyone is experiencing only a handful of holiday-themed menu items.
Annalise gazes at Eve over the rim of her glassware as she takes a hearty sip of red wine. “Do you come here a lot?”
Eve shakes her head, taking a moment to finish the bite of food in her mouth. “Not really, maybe a couple times a month. Work meetings sometimes but usually I come alone. I’ve met the chef a few times actually.”
Eating alone in public is something Annalise absolutely hates, which is one reason she doesn’t go out much. Of course, she doesn’t particularly care to be around groups of people either. But being with Eve tends to find her in new situations and actually enjoying them.
The meal is delicious, conversation pleasant, and everything goes along fine. Annalise is sipping the last of her second glass, their shared dessert plate left in the center of the table. It’s nearly seven in the evening when the chef starts making his rounds in the dining room in light of the early closing time for the holiday. Eve gets a Good to see you! and a friendly hug.
The waitress brings out the bill, and Eve takes it without question. Normally Annalise would protest, but Eve had already asked so kindly to let this be her treat and Annalise accepted. Long fingers are scrawling her signature, and Annalise is watching the various people in the room with a detached sort of interest. Her thoughts are on the last few days.
“So this is what it’s like,” she thinks out loud, barely over the din of scraping utensils and lively chatter.
Eve pushes dark hair from her face, looking at Annalise with a relaxed expression. “What what’s like?”
Dark lashes flutter and Annalise looks down at the table then back at Eve. She hesitates, sucks the inside of her cheek, stalling as she calculates the consequences of revealing the truth or creating a lie.
She goes for truth.
“What it’s like,” Annalise draws out, “to be Mrs. Rothlo.”
For someone who makes a successful living using precise words and playing things close to the vest, Annalise’s innermost thoughts have a way of being drawn out when she’s with Eve.
A flip book of emotions pass across Eve’s face. Her eyebrows lift, mouth falling open slightly. Then she closes it, and her eyes suddenly find fascination with anything other than the woman opposite her. It all happens in fleeting moments, but Annalise regrets giving voice to the thought.
Focus settling on her glass, Eve reaches for the stem of it and swirls the last dregs of the dark liquid but doesn’t make a move to drink it. She finally looks back at Annalise.
“Well, my mother is the only woman who’d know.” She flashes a crooked smile. “But I guess it might come with some perks.
The conversation stalls after that, but Eve’s hand is steady on the small of her back as they summon another taxi. The car is pleasant, filled by the faint sound of carols. Eve’s hand rests casually on Annalise’s knee, and the bright lights shining through the windows highlight a woman in serious thought.
Annalise parts her legs wider, not enough to be indecent but suggestive enough that Eve turns toward her. She flicks her eyes between smoldering brown eyes and kissable lips. Eve’s fingers and palm, still cool from the evening air, practically sear the warm skin of Annalise’s inner thigh. A thumb goes back and forth over the smooth skin, teasing.
Eve leans in. She tucks a lock of hair behind Annalise’s ear then tilts her head until catching full lips. They kiss, just lips and quiet breath, and Annalise curls her fingers in the fabric of Eve’s coat to hold her close.
Eventually Eve pulls away but only to drive Annalise crazy with lips against her ear. Her whispered words send shivers down Annalise’s spine.
“What is it with us and cars?”
Annalise’s reaction is part laugh, part moan.
Making out is a wonderful distraction.
They barely control themselves on the elevator. Eve presses tightly to her back even though they’re the only ones inside.
Annalise counts each floor as they go up. She shifts impatiently, already slick with desire.
At the eighth floor, Annalise slides her hand into Eve’s and follows her lead. Before the condo door is even fully closed, they’re fused together – lips and tongues and teeth. Coats get dropped somewhere along the way. Annalise tugs up Eve’s shirt until she can slide her hands beneath it to feel warm skin.
Slowly they find their way to the bedroom, the smack of their lips and the click clack of high heels the only sound punctuating their combined heavy breathing. The way Eve removes her dress – practically peels it from her body, leaving her mark on every new inch of exposed skin – makes her vibrate with want.
Both naked, Eve settles over Annalise and it’s a comforting weight. She grins down at her sharply, eyes hooded. Eve’s hair curtains their faces until she flips the curly strands over her shoulder. Narrow hips press down against her, and Annalise’s eyes fall shut. Her own hips seek contact, first from Eve’s body then from relentless hands that touch her like no other.
Her first orgasm comes like a bolt of white heat, making her body arch from the pleasure.
Annalise grabs Eve’s face in her hands, bringing their mouths together. It’s hungry and wet, panting as she is. She can feel Eve’s heat but when she reaches for her, Eve pulls back and promises Annalise will have her turn. Much later.
Starting at Annalise’s shoulders, Eve works her way down with licks and kisses and careful bites. Her breasts, her stomach, the insides of her knees all receive thorough attention. There’s a dark intensity in Eve’s eyes, and even before the first touch of her mouth to Annalise’s core, Annalise knows she’s about to be devoured.
The bed is empty.
That’s Annalise’s first thought when restlessness hits her at – she rolls over and looks at the digital clock – 10:27 that night. She can’t say that she was actually getting much sleep anyway, just holding her eyelids closed and suffering the images playing inside them. She waits a few more minutes for Eve to return, but it’s in vain. Annalise sighs heavily.
She should have lied.
A quick cleansing of makeup makes her feel more alert, and she throws on her headscarf and robe as she silently pads across the hardwood floor.
Eve is standing in front of the window, one arm wrapped around her middle and propping up the other as she chews her thumbnail. She looks out into the night, illuminated by flashing city lights and their own ignited tree. Eve turns and sees Annalise as she crosses the room.
“Hey. What are you doing up?”
“I came to ask you the same question,” Annalise answers.
Eve smiles dimly. “Got up to lock the door, turn on the tree.” She stares at the decoration in question until the joy fades then she purses her lips. “And I don’t know, I was just…thinking.”
Annalise merely nods, going over to sit on the edge of the couch, eyes downcast. She can sense Eve’s gaze on her, but she doesn’t look. Not yet. Annalise swallows several times searching for words.
Eve shifts. “Come on, let’s--”
“I didn’t mean to upset you earlier.”
She forces the words out, blunt in the quiet room. Annalise doesn’t look up, but she can hear Eve shuffle her stance, although she doesn’t make a move to sit down.
“You didn’t upset me. I think I just took your words more seriously than you intended.”
As much as she dreads this conversation, Annalise is thankful that Eve doesn’t play dumb. That’s really Annalise’s strong suit anyway – denial, avoidance, lying. Running away when things get hard, Eve had said. It’s all true, but maybe now is the time to face something head on and pierce the pretty Christmas-themed bubble they’ve been in.
“You can’t blame a girl for getting a little sentimental this time of year,” she jokes.
Annalise doesn’t grin with her, doesn’t relax her stiff posture. She turns her head enough to see legs and bare feet but doesn’t look up. “Do you ever think about it?”
It. That sounds infinitely less dangerous than saying the words. Commitment. Marriage. Love. A future.
Eve inhales then exhales loudly before saying in a careful, hushed tone “I don’t think you’re ready for me to answer that, Annalise.”
Finally Annalise looks up, pinning Eve with her glare. “You don’t trust me.”
“Of course I trust you.” She sits across from Annalise, eyebrows knit in confusion. “I wouldn’t have come back to Philadelphia if I didn’t.”
“That’s just business,” Annalise counters. She shakes her head. “I mean us, this,” she pauses then finishes more subdued, “relationship. You don’t trust me. I don’t blame you. You shouldn’t. Not after everything I’ve done…the way I am….”
Eve maintains that they’re good friends as long as that’s what Annalise wants. The status quo has held for months now, yet even though Eve clearly desires more she never pushes the issue. They just tread the same ground, and the doubt stuck in her mind is that Eve – for all her pretty words and unassuming presence in Annalise’s life – is waiting on the other shoe to drop, expecting Annalise to ruin things again.
“I’ve forgiven you for all of that, Annalise,” she soothes. “Everything.”
A gentle hand reaches out for her, but Annalise shies away. She can’t understand why Eve doesn’t hold it against her. She’s fucked up so many times. Isn’t that what brought Eve back into her life? Annalise had nearly destroyed someone else’s life and needed help to try to fix it. She ruins, and nearly every person in her life can attest to that. Eve. Wes. Bonnie. Nate.
And even if it isn’t her fault, it’s still her responsibility. There’s a scar that constantly tugs at her side to remind her.
No, maybe Eve doesn’t blame her, but Annalise blames herself.
“You can do better.” She tugs the robe tighter, wishing she’d put on more. She still feels the ache in her muscles from their earlier lovemaking, the stickiness on her skin, and it makes her feel even more exposed.
“Let me be the judge of that, okay?”
“You could,” Annalise insists, looking at Eve seriously. Then her eyes drop along with her voice. “Lord knows I had what I deserve.”
“Are you talking about Sam?” Annalise doesn’t answer, but Eve takes that as confirmation. She sniffs wetly, but her voice comes out strong. “We’ve all done questionable things, bad things – me, you, everybody has – but that doesn’t make you a bad person. You didn’t deserve whatever terrible things he did as – what? – some sort of punishment.”
Eve extends her hand out cautiously and touches Annalise’s knee. “You didn’t deserve it, and you certainly didn’t make him do those things.”
There isn’t any part of her anymore that regrets his death, but once upon a time, they did have some relatively happy moments. That feels like a long time ago. Maybe she – no, Annalise knows she didn’t ruin him, but she didn’t make their situation better either.
A tense silence stretches between them. Out of the corner of her vision, Annalise can see Eve wipe at her eyes. She looks at Eve fully but glances away again before she looks back.
“So answer my question,” Annalise eventually demands. Might as well add selfishness to the list of faults tonight. “Do you think about it? Is that what you want?”
Annalise remains behind her wall of silence.
“No, of course you won’t answer that,” Eve says under her breath. Pushing long hair from her face, Eve taking a few tenuous breaths. She looks directly at Annalise and waits for her to eyes to lift. “Yes, I think about spending the rest of my life with you,” Eve says, completely unguarded. “When I think about the future that I want, it always includes you.”
Annalise doesn’t know what to say, how to react. Her mind fights against it even though it’s the answer that she anticipated. It’s the answer that a part of her wanted. These were her thoughts at the restaurant, after all. But that doesn’t make things less scary.
They sit silently for what seems like a long time. When it’s clear that they’re tired and out of words to speak, Eve pushes to her feet and offers Annalise her hand.
One corner of her mouth turns up, a sweet attempt to comfort. “Let’s go to bed. Things will be better tomorrow.”
Annalise shakes her head, so Eve leans down and kisses Annalise on the cheek then again on top of her head.
“Please don’t stay up all night,” Eve murmurs. With one last glance, she returns to her bedroom.
Alone, Annalise lets the tears fall.
She wants to drink until she can’t think. She wants to leave and not turn back.
Instead she curls into herself and shuts her eyes tight.
She believes that Eve wants to be with her; that she wants New York and Paris and everything in between. Honestly, Annalise does too. But that’s the dangerous part: to hope.
What if she doesn’t love Eve enough? What if her messy life becomes too much? She’s setting herself up for disappointment to expect Eve to stay through the lying and secrets, the drunken stupors, and the nightmares. Eve has seen her through some bad times, for sure, but not day in and day out. It wasn’t so long ago that her body and spirit were nearly broken, and she’d still fought Eve nearly every step of the way. They’re back on more stable ground, but inevitably Annalise will fuck it up and be worse off than before.
Everything in her wants to run, but sometime before midnight she collapses in bed. Eve is on her back, arm thrown across her eyes, and Annalise watches her sleep. I still love you.
Sometime later, just before oblivion claims her, the bed shifts and Annalise feels a gentle hand rest on her skin.
I want to try is the last thought going through her foggy mind.
Christmas morning finds their roles reversed. It’s a little after eight, and Annalise sits mutely on a barstool sipping a mug of Eve’s fancy coffee as she stares outside. Snow flurries float down from the gray sky rapidly. Even though the accumulation on the ground is probably already soiled and gross, the snow is a beautiful sight from this vantage point.
The sound of running water alerts Annalise that Eve is awake, and a few minutes later she shuffles into view. She’s yawning and rubbing her eye with a closed fist, and Annalise thinks she has no right to be so cute. When she lowers her hand, Annalise can see that she looks a bit tired, the lines around her eyes more pronounced than usual.
“You look like hell,” Annalise grouses for no other reason than she’s also tired.
Eve doesn’t hit back, but she narrows her eyes at Annalise and sarcastically mutters, “Good morning to you, too.”
She picks up her favorite mug and pours herself a cup. Her back is turned, but Annalise watches every movement as she cradles the cup in both hands and brings it up to her face for a moment before taking a healthy sip. Eve’s shoulders noticeably relax. She turns and leans back against the countertop, relishing another sip.
“I needed that. Thank you.”
Annalise nods. “You’re welcome.”
They drink in silence, and it’s more peaceful than Annalise expected. But being in such close proximity, she’s confused about what to do or say. She reaches the bottom of her mug and stands, drawing Eve’s attention away from the snow.
As she walks around the island, Eve smiles at her and something in Annalise’s spirit says stay. She hesitates, fingers reaching out to tap the counter nervously. Eve puts down her cup slowly. In one long step, she’s in Annalise’s personal space, making the shorter woman inhale deeply. Eve covers Annalise’s hand with her own.
Like a flower seeking sunlight, Annalise looks up and meets the warmth of Eve’s gaze. Eve moves closer still, hand trailing up Annalise’s arm until she has Annalise wrapped loosely in the circle of her own.
Annalise sighs, uncharacteristic bashfulness spreading across her face. “Merry Christmas.”
Eve beams from ear to ear. “Merry Christmas.”
She caresses Annalise’s cheek, and Annalise tilts her head up, letting Eve find permission in her eyes. Eve first kisses her nose then the corner of her lips – the left side where she lingers, then the right, still taking her time – and finally she kisses them full on. The touch is soothing, a balm for raw emotions.
Before they get to exchange gifts, Eve’s phone rings. Annalise feels a small pang of jealousy watching the love and excitement on Eve’s face seeing a call from home.
“Give me just a second,” she says, but Annalise waves her off.
“No, take your time.” Annalise presses her lips together hard, making a decision. “I should go call Mama anyway.”
As Annalise walks by, Eve squeezes her hand. Annalise opts for the privacy of the bedroom to make her call. Sitting at the foot of the bed, she wills air into her lungs and moisture to loosen her suddenly dry mouth. She shouldn’t be this nervous to talk to her own mother, but it’s been a long, bumpy road to even get to this place. A place where they keep in contact and Annalise is even willing to speak to her. On today, of all days, Annalise is thankful for that progress.
Ophelia answers quickly, and it sounds like she’s already having two conversations in the background before she even says hello.
“Hi, Mama. Merry Christmas.”
“Well,” Ophelia says, surprised. There’s the sound of rapid metal clanging, and Annalise smiles fondly, knowing her Mama’s already up stirring pots and filling baking pans. “Merry Christmas, Anna Mae. It’s good to hear from you, child.”
Annalise only winces slightly at the use of her old name.
“’Course, it would’ve been better to actually see your face, but I’m glad you gave your old mama a call.” Ophelia sighs. “How you doin’, baby?”
She doesn’t immediately respond. Annalise takes stock of all that’s been going on in her life – her job, her relationships, recovering – and it’s so much more than she could ever tell her mother even if she could find the words.
Instead she chooses to say, “I’m good, Mama.” Because right now she means it.
“And now for the presents.”
Eve is giddy as she sits cross-legged on the floor in front of the tree. She hands Annalise a package – rectangle like a paperback book but heavier – but Annalise just lays it on the couch cushion for now.
She smiles down at Eve. “You should go first.”
Without a second of hesitation, Eve pulls her gift closer. She looks up at Annalise once more before slicing neatly into the decorative paper. When she has it opened, Eve turns beet red. She hides a laugh behind her hand.
“These are your sheets.”
Eve rubs her hand over the clear plastic of the package as if she can already feel the softness of the thread count. She glances at Annalise again, this time her smile growing mischievous.
“So you want me to think about you when I’m in bed.”
Annalise hums and stifles her grin. “I’m sure you do that already.”
Biting her lip, the brunette nods slowly. “Touché.” They both chuckle. Eve reaches out to squeeze Annalise’s leg. “Thank you, thank you.”
It’s not a big deal, but Annalise says You’re welcome and tries to shrug off the heat in her cheeks and the odd stutter of her heart. Eve has meant so much to her this year – she probably wouldn’t have gotten through it without her support – and she just wanted to say thanks.
She clears her throat. “Is it my turn?”
“Yep. Go ahead.”
Carefully, Annalise pulls the paper away then turns it over to see the front of a picture frame.
It’s Paris, the Sacré Cœur.
Annalise thinks it fitting that the name means Sacred Heart as the thought of it essentially beats at the center of their dream.
“That’ll be a nice view from our flat. I thought you might like to keep a picture of it,” Eve speaks gently, wishing with every word. “I don’t know. I could’ve gotten you something more practical but...,” she trails off, nervously chewing her lip.
“No, this is beautiful.” A hesitant finger traces the outlines of the domes and ornate windows, and she imagines a lovely breeze floating around her through open balcony doors. She can picture Eve looking up from her book, eyes like honey, smiling as the church bells ring in the distance.
Annalise mentally shakes off the daydream but still reaches out for Eve. “Come up here,” she beckons softly. When Eve is next to her, watching her carefully, Annalise takes her hand. “Thank you. I mean that.”
Eve finds interest with their joined hands. She plays with Annalise’s fingers, not saying anything for several moments. When she meets her eyes, Eve blinks slowly.
“I need to tell you something.”
Annalise just nods.
“This isn’t easy for--”
A phone buzzes.
Reaching behind Annalise, Eve picks up the phone, rolling her eyes mildly. One corner of her mouth turns up. “Perfect timing really. This does involve him,” she says, holding up the screen to show Nate’s name flashing.
“I can call him back later,” Annalise offers, taking the phone. A thrill runs through her at the prospect of talking to him, but she fights that urge to sneak away. Eve seemed really intent on telling her something, and she doesn’t want to ruin the moment. But Eve casually shakes her head.
“No, go ahead. I’ll give you some privacy,” she says, standing from the couch. Eve smiles genuinely. “Give him my best.”
“Hey. Merry Christmas.”
There’s a good dose of cheer in Nate’s booming voice, and it tickles Annalise. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
“I hope I’m not bothering you,” he says a little more quietly. “I was just thinking about you and wanted to call.”
The butterflies in her stomach flutter wildly. Annalise shakes her head even though he can’t see. “No, it’s nice to hear from you.” She presses her lips together, willing the butterflies to calm down, but they only multiply. She inhales deeply. “We were just opening gifts. I’m in New York. With Eve.”
Nate goes silent, and Annalise can hear the sounds of a basketball game and men in the room cheering. The sounds die out, and the short wait for Nate’s reaction has her frozen.
“That makes sense,” he finally says. “I came by a couple times, but you never answered, obviously. Nothing seemed out of place, so I thought you just wanted to be alone.”
As much as she’d thought about him the last few days, it didn’t really occur to Annalise that Nate would be thinking about her for more than a passing moment here and there.
“I think we need to talk,” Annalise says, and she has to loosen her grip around her phone she’s so tense.
Nate just laughs softly. “Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, it’s not bad,” she rushes out. “I promise. We just need to--”
“Talk,” he finishes. He sighs. “Yeah. I think we do.” There’s another stilted pause, and Annalise is anxious to know what he’s thinking. “There are some things I should say to you.”
They talk for a little while longer, about nothing really, and it feels good that they can manage it. Annalise wishes him a Merry Christmas from Eve, and it makes him laugh again.
“Tell her the same.” Annalise says she will and is prepared to say their goodbyes when his next words take her by surprise. “And could you tell her something else for me?”
Annalise finds Eve reclining on her bed comfortably, ear buds blocking outside noise and brown eyes focused on her laptop screen. Annalise leans against the door frame, and the movement draws Eve’s attention.
“Nate said Hi and Merry Christmas,” Annalise informs her as soon as the devices are pulled out of her ears. But she frowns trying to decipher the next part of the message. “And he told me to tell you that he was right.”
It takes a moment for the meaning to dawn, but when it does Eve snorts and kind of smiles to herself. “Okay.”
Annalise waits impatiently for more but doesn’t get it.
“That’s all you’re going to say?” she huffs.
“What else do you want me to say?” Eve shrugs, her smirk growing.
“Stop being difficult please. Just tell me what he means.”
They’re just staring each other down across the room, Annalise agitated and Eve enjoying the reaction far too much. Annalise is seriously considering just calling Nate back and asking him herself.
“It’s going to drive you up the wall not knowing, isn’t it,” Eve says. She knows that for sure, yet she waits another second anyway. “He didn’t think that the two of us talking was weird. Well, no more weird than everything else.”
“How much have you two talked?”
“Only a little bit. And don’t worry, it was nothing really personal,” she assures.
That does make Annalise feel slightly better. The thought of these two people that she cares for – who she knows intimately and who have seen some of her ugliest episodes – comparing war stories, sharing…personal details; it makes her ill. She’d brought them together when she gave Eve’s number to Nate – when Eve actually came – and she’s been trying to juggle two pins without the other hand knowing ever since. Of course, they’d passed the point of no return long ago, but Annalise had tried to ignore that.
What does it mean that Nate thinks he’s right? That, apparently, he doesn’t find their situation uncomfortably odd?
Sometime later Eve gets really quiet, a look of concentration on her face, and it makes Annalise’s stomach drop. She really doesn’t want to revisit last night. It’s been a lovely day, and she just doesn’t want to go to that dark place again.
“If this is about last night, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Eve hesitates, unsure, but then says, “Okay. Will you just listen then?” Her voice is low, serene as it fills the space of the bedroom. She holds out both hands and waits until Annalise latches on as a sign of agreement.
“I need to say that I love you. I’ve wanted to say it for the last few months, but I kept going back and forth – fighting myself, not wanting to put pressure on you, especially with everything going on. And I’m not expecting anything from you now,” she hurries to add, squeezing one of Annalise’s hands. “I just really want you know.”
“It’s not just a part of me that’s in love with you. I love you, period. I mean, we were close friends long before we became girlfriends, and that meant so much to me. It still does. I love being able to talk with you about work and laugh with you; that you trust me with important things in your life. That means more to me than who you sleep with.”
“Are you ending this or…?” Annalise trails off, willing the sudden panic away.
“No! God no. I’m messing this up,” she worries. Eve clenches her jaw, choosing her words carefully. “What I’m saying is, you don’t have to choose. You have me however you want me; and if you want Nate in your life, too, then it’s okay with me. Not that you need my approval, but I really do like him. You obviously really care for him, and it seems like he really cares about you. That’s all that matters.”
Annalise studies her, searching for the truth of her words. Eve’s an open book, and Annalise does believe her. But she still wonders.
“So you would be fine with us not being more? Just good friends?”
“Let’s try not to look at it as more or less. Sex doesn’t necessarily mean better; it just adds something different. But the fact that you want me in your life at all,” Eve starts thickly, her lashes fluttering as she looks away. She swallows and looks back at Annalise again. “That means the most to me.”
Annalise is trying to wrap her head around all of this. First Nate with his cryptic message and now Eve surprising her again with practically unconditional acceptance. It’s hard to believe. Annalise shakes her head, saying, “I just don’t understand why you’d accept that. I don’t get it.”
“Well, love means wanting another person to have what they need, right?” Eve goes silent along with Annalise, waiting for her to react. She reaches up to cradle her jaw, thumb stroking her wet cheek. “I really am okay with this, Annalise. If at some point my needs change, I’ll tell you. And I want you to feel comfortable enough to do the same.”
Sniffing back tears, Annalise nods. She focuses on what Eve just said. “What do you need?”
Eve’s stare is penetrating, vulnerable. She answers plainly: “You.” She purses her lips. “I’m not saying I don’t have reservations, because I do; but they don’t outweigh the good. Honestly, I…don’t know if this scares you more or if I’ve--”
“It helps,” Annalise whispers just loud enough to prove that she said it aloud. She looks at Eve whose eyes are shiny with unshed tears, and Eve sags with relief. “It helps.”
Smiling tenderly, Eve says, “I love you.”
The words are spoken like Eve invented the phrase herself, and in a way that’s true. Annalise certainly never took the words to heart until they first passed Eve’s lips a lifetime ago. She yearns to say it back, but her fear is stubborn. There are only so many of her walls that she can tear down at once without crumbling.
So Annalise gives her the most she can at the moment – “I want a future with you, too” – and Eve holds her tight like that’s the greatest gift.
She has doubts and questions sitting at the forefront just waiting, but all things considered, on December 26 Annalise feels good if she stays in the moment and doesn’t dwell on ideas that tend to overwhelm her.
Annalise wakes up in a warm embrace, and Eve kisses her shoulder as she wishes her a good morning.
It feels good to simply let Eve drag her to the couch to watch Miracle on 34th Street, and they debate the best arguments to keep Kris Kringle out of prison. Her ears ring with laughter when Eve accuses her of having lost all her Christmas cheer at exactly 12:01 last night.
Eve shakes her head dramatically, but she wears a warm grin saying, “You’re unbelievable.”
And that evening her knees go weak when Eve asks her to dance by the glow of twinkling lights. Annalise buries her face against Eve’s neck and they dance all night.
The magic can’t last forever.
Bonnie calls with an urgent case, and despite the beauty of the last few days, the work isn’t something she would ever turn down. Eve is clearly disappointed but she stays composed, and Annalise doesn’t have to act detached. She was really looking forward to seeing in the New Year with Eve by her side. But if anyone can understand the demands of her work, it’s Eve, and Annalise is so thankful for that.
Hazy sunshine peeks around the clouds in the sky, and the wind is biting as Annalise prepares to go. Eve pulls her in tight, and Annalise kisses the curve of her jaw.
“This was the best Christmas. Thank you.”
Eve’s laugh is breathy and warm right against her ear. “I knew I’d get you on my side.”
Annalise rolls her eyes fondly.
Leaning down, Eve touches her forehead to Annalise. “Be safe. Let me know when you get back.” When Annalise assures her that she will, Eve opens her eyes. They’re vibrant with happiness. “I love you,” Eve promises.
Annalise accepts the words more comfortably each time she hears them. She parts her lips, nestling closer as they share the last kiss for now.
“I’ll see you soon,” Annalise says quietly.
With a final wave, Annalise goes, but even as the physical distance stretches between them, her smile refuses to fade.