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"You have a strange way of making people feel like they're being peered at under a microscope without even looking at them, ma'am."

No verbal response. Just a raised brow and a subtle angling of her body to face Dani's.

"Not because you're interested, or anything. Just… like that's the lowest your intensity-setting will actually go. Like everyone's a blood slide or a culture of some sort."

Stella raised a single eyebrow. "Interested?"

"Oh! No, no! I didn't mean-," Dani started, but before her mouth could finish the sentence, her hand had flown up to cover the treacherous thing in what must have been the world's slowest stimulus response. The ship had sailed. The Dani whose cheeks weren't stained a deep red waved at the Dani on the boat. Boat-Dani was utterly, completely fucked.

Stella probably thought she was putting her out of her misery by flashing a smile and briefly resting her hand on her shoulder as she walked away. Dani turned around to watch her strike up a conversation with the emotional-looking man whose imminent retirement was the reason there was alcohol in her system at all. She looked at the empty paper cup she was still holding. One or two drops of red wine clung to the side, still. She wasn't sure if she could blame her sudden candour on the wine, but she decided she was going to have to, because the alternative - insanity - didn't appeal to her very much and was altogether a more permanent sort of thing.

The disastrous conversation was dead, at least. Still, Dani couldn't help but wish for lightning to strike her down on the spot and erase her memory of it. She'd take the collateral brain-damage if she really had to. Anything but this. Without a single cloud in the sky and no chance of a sudden thunderstorm, Dani decided to tear herself away from Stella's magnetic pull and head home. If she hadn't turned and gone in search of her coat just then, they might have made eye contact, and Dani would have stayed.

---

And there was no eye contact the next morning, because even though Dani had given herself a stern talking-to on the way to work, she still felt weak and oddly see-through when she walked into Stella's office with two steaming mugs of coffee. Stella's mug made a loud sound when Dani placed it on her desk, and she couldn't help herself from wincing slightly, as if she'd just slammed it down in front of a sleeping dragon. Stella, however, had taken her pen to a slew of documents like a sword to a horde of orcs and didn't even look up.

"Thank you," Stella said, decimating words and numbers with merciless pen strokes, brow furrowed in pure concentration.

A few hours into the work day, and after a while, Dani found herself able to carry on as if nothing had happened. And really, she thought to herself, barely anything had actually happened. She'd said some words in a certain order. That's all. Happens every day. And when the day had ended and she was gathering her things, Stella appeared in the doorway with the faintest ghost of a smile on her face, leaning against the frame, arms loosely folded across her chest.

"Headed home?"

Dani looked up, brow raised and eyes wide in a questioning look.

"If that's okay, ma'am?"

"That's fine."

Dani smiled, nodded and gathered her coat in her arms, but even after she'd slipped into her coat, Stella hadn't moved from her spot.

"Ma'am?"

"Just peering."

Stella's smile widened almost imperceptibly, and Dani was relieved to feel the blood rush to her face decidedly only after Stella had walked away.

---

"I should have some wine glasses, here, but I haven't used them in ages," Dani said, making her way into the kitchen area of her small apartment, "and I have absolutely no idea where they are."

She could feel - or imagine - Stella's gaze on the back of her head. But she'd somehow grown the slightest bit accustomed to it, which meant that now she could at least act as if she wasn't hyper aware of the other woman every second she spent in her presence.

"Not a big wine drinker, then," came the reply. Not quite a question, not quite a statement.

"Well, no, yes. I mean yes. I am. But…" Dani laughed, her nerves giving her away. "But usually I don't bother with the special glasses."

Stella laughed, and it was all Dani could do to stop herself from swinging around in surprise. The sound sent a strange, chilly feeling up Dani's neck and made her skull tingle pleasantly. Well, this could be addictive, Dani thought, grinning madly to herself as she opened and closed various long-abandoned cupboards.

"Some days you just want to stick a straw in the bottle and be done with it," she added. It earned her another soft laugh, and Dani felt it go to her head as if they'd found the glasses and were halfway through the bottle already.

"I'm not going to pretend I get out the wine glasses every time, myself," Stella said, getting up from her seat in the living area and making her way to where Dani was exploring her own kitchen as if it were uncharted territory, "You don't have to tear apart your kitchen just for me."

Dani shrugged in response, standing on her tiptoes to see into the cupboard above the sink.

"Be stupid not to use them if I've got them, ma'am."

"Stella," she corrected, leaning back against the counter opposite Dani. Dani looked back for a moment, surprised, but smiling, and managed a nod.

"I think I may have stuffed them in the back, here," Dani said, stretching tall in an attempt to feel her way around the cabinet blindly. She'd heard Stella's high heels click closer to her, but it hadn't prepared her for the sudden warmth and the smell of perfume that enveloped her when Stella pressed up against her back, arms over her head, gently guiding Dani's hands away to reach between precariously stacked towers of chipped teacups and mismatched saucers herself. Stella's silky blouse slid against the less luxurious fabric of the shirt she had slipped into the moment they'd arrived. The softness of the curve of her breasts against her made Dani freeze in place. The heat of Stella's breath as she told her to hang on, she almost had them, felt electric against her skin.

And then she was gone.

"I could see them from where I was standing," Stella said, placing two wine glasses on the counter.

Dani closed the cupboard door as slowly as she possibly could without it looking weird, giving herself some time to close her mouth - which had dropped open - and gather what was left of her nerves.

---

The wine definitely helped. Stella's skin glowed in the soft lamp light, and her laughter came more freely now, but Dani was several glasses in, too, and found that she wasn't terrified any more. She even felt comfortable sliding a little bit closer to where Stella was sitting on the sofa so she could listen more closely to the amazing tales of badassery the woman seemed to have an endless supply of.

"So I told him he was full of shit, and that I looked forward to his kind dying out in the next couple of years," Stella said, ending her story with a shrug. She swallowed the last of her wine and placed the empty glass on the coffee table. Dani's eyes, following her every move, were wide in admiration. The sight made Stella laugh.

"What's so funny?" Dani dared ask, faintest trace of a blush reappearing.

"Not funny; endearing," Stella assured. "Am I 'peering' again?"

Dani looked down into her lap, conscious of the heat that was creeping up her neck, and nodded. "You're always peering," came Dani's soft reply.

"You must be my favourite specimen, then."

It was like a hand had reached into her chest and gave her beating heart a good squeeze. Stella wasn't looking away. Normally, she'd have looked away by now, Dani thought. She'd tease ever so slightly, so subtly that anyone who miraculously hadn't fallen for her and her effortless air of distance and indifference, would not have noticed, and then she'd stop and move away. A single pin prick out of nowhere, and then back to work, ignore the bleeding. But this felt to Dani as if Stella had just let down a draw bridge in the middle of the night, no torches lit, no archers waiting in the towers. Could she hear the creaking of a bow?

Gathering her courage, Dani looked up to find Stella studying her. No smile, just a patient, but expectant look. Lips suddenly dry, she swallowed and opened her mouth to speak. Nothing came out for a few seconds, and the thought of what she was about to say made her stomach clench up and her heart race.

"You don't understand. I can't just… make a move. Not with you. That's like making a move on a lion."

"A lion?" Stella interrupted, brow raised and the corners of her lips twitching up despite herself. But Dani, fuelled by alcohol and a treasure trove of repressed feelings and bitten back remarks, paid no heed.

"You should be locked in a room with yourself and see how you react to you. I mean, you were waiting for me to flirt or... lunge, yes? Or maybe you were waiting for me to make a fool out of myself, which I guess I just did, if that's the case. And also if it isn't. So, never mind. I'm an idiot. I need some more wine, and you probably want to leave now, because, like I said, I'm an idiot."

Somewhere in that speech, Stella had started laughing, but Dani only noticed when she'd finished. Face red and brow furrowed almost as if she was angry, the sound barely registered in her racing mind.

"Really? I'm so intimidating that even though you caught on that I was waiting for you to kiss me, you're still afraid to?"

"Yes! Yes, you are! How are you not aware of that? It's maddening! Are you not doing that on purpose?"

Dani was so worked up, Stella's words only sunk in seconds after she'd replied. Kiss her? And just like that, she was frozen to the spot once more.

"Look," Stella sighed, "I was just letting you decide what you get yourself into or not. But if you really, really can't deal…"

Dani couldn't breathe. Stella moved closer. Soft fingertips on Dani's thigh made her look down in surprise, but another set soon touched the skin of her neck and chin and tilted her face up, gently. Stella was close, now. Her blue eyes trapped Dani's in a stare for a few moments, but all eyes fluttered shut when Stella's nose slid against hers and she could feel the woman's breath spill against her lips. Gently but firmly, Stella moved her mouth against Dani's in a kiss. The touch on her thigh and neck dissipated, but soon after, Dani felt the older woman take her hands and guide them to her sides.

"Touch," she said softly, breaking the kiss to whisper the words against her lips.

And then Stella was being pushed back into the cushions of Dani's sofa, because it seemed the softly spoken command had sent the younger woman spilling forth into her lap. She had one hand in her blonde hair, the other traveling down the exposed skin of her neck, tracing her collar bone and brushing past her breast. Stella gasped softly in surprise. Dani deepened the kiss. When Stella reached a hand between their bodies and slipped it between the waist band of Dani's jeans and her goose-bumped skin by just an inch, she moaned and buried her face in the crook of Stella's neck. Breathing hot, kissing the skin she found there, Dani mustered all the strength she could find in her burning body and whispered:

"Bed, maybe?"

"Not yet."

Stella drew her back into the kiss, her hand still flush against Dani's skin and refusing to travel further down, despite Dani's subtle bucking movements against her. Both tasted wine on one another, but nothing more. Dani bit down softly on Stella's already reddened lip, something she instantly regretted, because the warmth on her lower belly vanished. Suddenly afraid that she'd done something she wasn't supposed to, Dani gave Stella her by now familiar wide-eyed look. But Stella smiled, pushed Dani into a sitting position, tugged her own pencil skirt over her knees and halfway up her thighs and straddled the younger woman. Dani unknowingly allowed herself to be peered at under that microscope-gaze, simply because as she was watching Stella's fingers unbutton her silky blouse, she was quite unaware.

"This is sex, Dani. You know that."

Another cross between a sentence and a question, and Dani could only nod. Of course. Whatever. She wasn't going to get clingy or ask her to spend the night. You don't ask a lion to spend the night after you've stupidly made a move on her and she's predictably devoured you. Dani watched, entranced, as soft, pearly fabric slid from Stella's shoulders and fell to a shimmering pool on the floor. She let her hands glide up from Stella's knees, over her thighs, under the bunched up skirt and enjoyed the almost-but-not-quite inaudible moan that earned her.

"I know."

Stella looked quite serious, even with her hair messed up ever so slightly and almost half-naked with her skirt pushed up and her black lace bra being the only thing left covering her chest. For a moment, she stared at Dani as if to read her face for the truth behind a lie, but Dani looked determined. A little petulant, maybe. Annoyed that she was being doubted. Challenging, almost. And so when Stella, satisfied with what she saw, leant back down to kiss her again and slide her tongue against her lips, she unbuttoned the redhead's jeans and slipped her hand in, deeper now, hot between her thighs. Dani gasped and grabbed the blonde woman's wrist as if she was convinced she'd pull away again soon.

"Good," Stella teased, brushing her lips against Dani's slightly parted mouth as she spoke.

“Lead me to your bed.”