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Taste of Home

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Vianne is more than happy to know that Josephine and her cafe thrive, and if she can't help missing the other women, well nobody, not even the best person in the world is completely free from selfish impulses. It's good enough to know that Josephine is happy and well, and enjoying her work, and if the house feels a little more empty she can't help that. She's there in the morning though to pick up a tray of chocolate croissants that Vianne has taken to making as a sideline, and she usually arrives early to help with the heavy work- the chopping and mixing of the raw ingredients, helping pour the cream and make the ganache, and gradually Vianne realises that Josephine has never really left.

At nights, Vianne will sometimes pour them hot chocolate and they talk late into the night, Anouk drowsing by their feet; leaning her head against them, until Vianne touches her hair gently and tells her to sleep. Anouk kisses them both dutifully on the cheek, and tumbles into bed drowsily, and Vianne will turn to see Josephine's face, warm with affection watching them both. The warm weather is well and truly here, July melding seamlessly into August, and so the days fall into each other. When Roux returns, Josephine fades away, gradually, lets Vianne come to her to suggest chocolate milk drinks for the children, chilled and fresh from the icebox, ceases her still strangely shy visits at all times of day and night. Josephine's hair is limper now, (though her bow remains jaunty) and strands of it cling to her face in the limpid heat, and Vianne brushes them away without a second's thought, catches the strange faint surprise in Josephine's eyes, feels it echo through herself.

That night after Roux has kissed her and Anouk both and left for newer pastures with no promises, as she lets Anouk sprawl on the bed, (she's trying with the greed of youth to capture every cool breeze that even hints at being born,) she wonders about it. Lies flat on the floor and presses her face to the cooler stone beneath, trying to sort through the fevered thoughts of high summer and isolate them. She idly half wishes she were with Roux (though he never slept at the chocolaterie, preferring the water's gentle lap, the tiny winds that skip over the surface,) but it dies a death before it's ever fully formed. Roux listens to the North Wind that she is trying not to. Though she will regret his company, his warm hands and laughing eyes, she couldn't ask for him to stay. This is her home now, not his, and she cannot force that to change.

Home, she thinks and breathes in deep to contain her joy and her fear. Red cloaks hanging unworn in the cupboard, the burnt mark on the floor where a red hot poker tumbled out after being absently stood up too long, Josephine letting her hair swing forward to conceal her still incredulous smile of happiness when Vianne comes by the cafe. Cool stone under her cheek, the glad sounds of church bells ringing out, and the ungrudging bow the Comte de Reynaud gives her when they pass in the street. This is what home is. She can't rest anymore, sticky in her night dress, and the small clock chimes out two in the morning. She feels like the whole town must be sleeping, but it eludes her.

She's not surprised when she finds herself outside Josephine's cafe, slipping round the back, the silent full moon her only light and guide. Nor in her state of joyous realisation is she surprised that Josephine is awake as well. In this half dream-state anything feels possible, light and free, and it's Josephine who stretches a hand out to her. Vianne dares and creates, but Josephine knows the village. She knows the hidden places, and though her face doesn't darken Vianne guesses they were once a refuge for her. Now they're just tiny spaces- big enough for two and a secret.

Now, they're paddling in the tiny river outlet that feeds into the big river, and the water is so cool against the clammy heat of the night that Vianne almost shivers with glee, toes flexing in the mud, tiny silvery fish darting, and Josephine wades deeper into the river, still in her night dress, and Vianne follows, their roles reversed for once, Josephine seeking, Vianne following. When they're thigh deep, it's almost cold beneath the smooth surface- the river is broad and flat here, more difficult for boats to traverse, perfect for swimming, and Vianne loses her footing on a stone slippery with seaweed, and with a sharp gasp is submerged, mouth filling with river-water before she has the presence of mind to shut it. Her head is only a little below the water, and it's so cool and sweet against her that she lies back, lets herself float to the surface where Josephine waits.

It's as little a surprise as anything else tonight, when Josephine kisses her, lips dry and cool against Vianne's which are still wet from the river, but as right as she can imagine. Josephine is sweet as sugar against her, and Vianne wants this like she's wanted little in her life, bar Anouk being happy. Presses closer, pulls Josephine against her until they tumble down again into the water, and Vianne doesn't wonder anymore about how to define home.