She can’t always explain it.
There isn’t always a reason.
In fact, more often than not—these days, the days where time feels too fast for fairness, an unjust plodding onward that makes her feel as though her skin is stitched together all wrong—there is no reason at all for how she feels. No reason at all for how the world seems to press in tight around her, the sun too hot, the air too cold.
She can feel this kind of day coming like a storm--a sizzle on the air that builds over time, days piling up with progressively more aggression along the ridges of her spine, the pads of her fingers, the tension lining her jaw. When it all started, she would warn Jamie: I feel wrong. I feel like...like I can see her, out of the corner of my eye. Like she can see me, no matter where I hide.
S’all right, Jamie always said, with that stable, easy method of taking Dani’s hand and leading her out of the shadows. It’ll pass, Poppins.
And for a while, she was right. Pass it did--often with the rising of the sun, or the arrival of some new distraction on the calendar. It would pass, and Dani would breathe freely again for a while.
Except time plods on. Time stacks up. Time dissolves from the abstract into days, weeks, years, and suddenly, things aren’t quite so quiet inside her head anymore. Things aren’t it’ll pass, Poppins so much as we’ll face the next one together. Ride it out. One day at at time.
She’s truly not sure how she’d be handling it, without Jamie. She thinks sometimes of who that woman might be, what she might look like: at home with no home at all, bolting out of each town as soon as she finds a new one to take her in, weaving and dodging through the trees in an effort to find invisibility. Never letting anything land. Never letting anything in. What a life that would be, empty and hollow and terror-struck.
Life with Jamie is none of those things. Life with Jamie is, she thinks, a kind of saving grace she never would have wished for. Never would have thought to expect, an unearned gift that sets tears in her eyes and strength in her breast. Life with Jamie is singular, because Jamie isn’t looking forward. Jamie is only looking at her.
Give it to me, she urges. Give as much to me as you can. I can carry it for us both.
Pretty words. Romantic ideals. Jamie, a quiet hero in dented armor, trying her best. Dani won’t ask that of her, not ever, can’t imagine a world where she would give Jamie even half of what she’s carrying. The very act of asking is enough to ensure that much. The very act of Jamie taking her hands, offering herself up, is enough to solidify the one oath Dani has been making at the start of every day for years. Jamie has taken more than enough. Jamie has carried things she can’t fathom. This? This thing she walked into herself, without asking Jamie’s opinion on the matter? This is Dani’s alone.
She can’t give it up. No matter how tightly Jamie holds her, whispers against her hair that she doesn’t have to go it alone, she can’t. Some brands are meant only for her skin. Some ghosts are meant only for her bones.
She can’t give it all to Jamie.
But some nights--storm nights, nights where her skin is too tight and the air is electric with the sense of a spiral she can’t stop--she can do something else. Jamie offers. Jamie offers with a smile, with a kiss, with soft hands and endless trust.
On these nights, the nights she can’t breathe for the binds around her wrists, her heart, her throat, Jamie offers a kind of return to balance.
Dani can accept that much.
She doesn’t remember finding their way onto the floor. Most nights, moving with Jamie this way is an art--each step seamless, blended from one to the next as soft kisses become touches become undressing become rhythm. Most nights, they could pause anywhere in the process, and she’d know exactly how they got here.
These nights, these specific nights, it’s like one great leap into whipping winds. One swift choice to close her eyes and let pure instinct take over.
She’s asked Jamie, time and again, if she’s different--if Jamie can read it in her kiss, in her hands, in the desperate push-pull of her body--on these nights. Jamie, leaning back against the pillows with a cigarette between her fingers, looks her over, answers carefully. It’s like she can tell what Dani is deliberately not asking, what Dani is terrified to find out: that, one of these days, Jamie is going to look up at her and find a stranger grinning back. That, one of these days, the woman coaxing Jamie towards the edge will be someone else entirely.
No, she says on these days. No, it’s not different. It’s just...more.
But you know, Dani pushes. You know when it’s coming. When I'm going to have one of those...one of those nights where I--
Where you need a little extra? A smile. A gentle hand on her cheek, a thumb brushing her skin with such care, she has to close her eyes. Dani, I don’t mind. Really, I don’t. It’s right, no matter what kind of night we’re having.
There’s more she doesn’t say, more she doesn’t need to put into words. That these nights are the ones where she feels Dani is the closest to letting her all the way in. That these are the ones where Dani edges up to the line. Almost, almost brings her beyond the border, into the trees, into the thicket where the eyes watching are hungriest.
Dani won’t take her all the way. Dani won’t turn her deliberately toward the mirror, risking the wrath of whatever lays behind the glass. She won’t, not now, not even if it gets worse than she can imagine.
But this--these nights--these days where the electricity builds and the thunder roars and she finds herself on the floor with Jamie writhing beneath her--these nights, she grants herself the space. These nights, wearing straps Jamie’s more comfortable getting into, sweat running down her back, hands clawing for Jamie’s hips. These nights are as close as it gets.
Jamie is soft, her arms around Dani’s shoulders, her hands digging in as she muffles sounds of desperation into Dani’s neck. Jamie is soft, her throat bared for Dani’s mark, her eyes fluttering as Dani matches each hard swipe of tongue and sharp graze of teeth with a pump of her hips. Jamie is soft, and she is raw, and she is real, legs tight around Dani, pulling her deeper. She groans as Dani works a raised bruise into her shoulder, her hands gripping Dani’s hair, her voice a steady drum alongside Dani’s need.
Dani doesn’t have space in her head for the demons, with Jamie under her like this. With Jamie looking at her as she did tonight, Jamie opening the box under the bed, saying softly, “D’you want me to--” She’d let the question linger on the air, both of them knowing Dani’s been flinching from reflections all week, both of them knowing Dani has spent days watching herself unravel as if from a great distance. Both knowing Dani, on nights like these, can’t lay back and let herself exhale.
Most times, the position is reversed: Jamie sliding into this harness, Jamie sliding between the sheets, Jamie positioning herself carefully and waiting for the signs that Dani is ready and willing and eager. Jamie, who is gentle, even when she’s not; Jamie, who is sweet, even when she’s hungry.
Jamie, who does not require the same sweetness in return. Not on this sort of night.
They’d started on the couch, and she’d felt...tense. Tense, and a little nervous, in that way she gets whenever the storm boils over. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to-- She never says what she means, but she knows Jamie can hear it on her voice, anyway. The reticence to give her ghosts a shape. To give them any power at all.
“It isn’t her,” Jamie assures her. Jamie, moving slowly on her lap, kissing her with such gentle patience. Jamie letting her head fall back with a sigh as she shifts and rolls her hips, hand wrapped around silicone, fingers wrapped around Dani’s. Together, she says with the pressure of her hand around Dani’s grip, gently guiding Dani in. “It’s only you. It’s only ever you.”
Dani wants to believe that. Wants to believe it so hard, she’s not sure there’s room in her for anything else. Jamie’s hands in her hair, cupping the back of her head, tipping her back until Jamie can meet her eyes, are certain.
“Only you,” she repeats, with such calm, even as her knees are pushing against the couch cushions, her voice sharpening as she allows Dani to rub against her. She is warm and wet, open and inviting, and even as she’s spreading for Dani--even as she’s arching her back--even as she’s pressing herself down, her breath hitching as her body acclimates, she’s saying, “It’s all right. I promise, it’s all--”
It’s permission, and it’s desire, and it’s the moment Dani needs each time. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how hard the lightning strikes, she needs this from Jamie before she can really let herself sink. Before she can let her hands grip hard enough to bruise, her nails scratching sharp heat down Jamie’s back, dragging across her clavicle, digging into her hips until Jamie cries out. First, the permission. First, Jamie granting whatever she might need in the form of a long, deep kiss, the press of a palm against her racing heart.
And now, somehow, this: not fully conscious of how she’d wrapped an arm around Jamie’s waist, Jamie rocking slowly against her on the couch, and pushed them both down to the rug. Not fully conscious of how she’d leaned back, watched Jamie watch her with dark eyes, watched Jamie reach to guide her inside again. Not fully conscious of anything except how Jamie had felt, how Jamie had wrapped a hand around the slick addition between her own legs and pressed it into herself with a low sound of such want, Dani had felt her whole body shudder.
Slow, she’d told herself, somewhere beneath the need, and she’d intended to follow through with Jamie’s usual brand of sweet care. There had been an image in her mind of skin on skin, of Jamie accepting this addition as though it were Dani herself, of the minutes melting away as they moved together. She’d intended--but Jamie had dug insistent fingers into her neck, Jamie saying her name like a plea, and she’d given over to the storm. Had given in to pushing deep into Jamie, to hard, rough thrusts that made Jamie repeat her name again, again, her voice rising.
She is all need now, wholly desperate to taste the salt of Jamie’s skin, to drive Jamie toward making those noises no one else hears. She is solid so long as she is here, painting stripes of heat along Jamie’s shoulder, her neck, her breasts with hard, sharp bites. She is solid so long as she is here, each thrust of her hips calling forth a cry. She is solid so long as she is here, filling Jamie, pushing Jamie higher, dragging from Jamie raw sounds of absolute pleasure even as she grasps Jamie at the small of her back and drags her close.
“There,” she hears Jamie pant, “there, don’t--don’t--”
She slows, deliberately easing back, deliberately meeting Jamie’s eyes. Jamie, whose breath is ragged, whose hair is disheveled, whose expression is glazed as she cranes her neck and bites her lip.
She presses a hand down on Jamie’s chest, grips tight to Jamie’s hip, holds her to the floor. She can feel Jamie pushing at her in return, tiny jerks as she strives for Dani to pick up the pace again. This is the hardest part. The part where she wrests control back, not from Jamie, but from herself. The part where, sliding almost entirely free, she leans back and just looks at her.
Jamie, chest heaving against her hand. Jamie, thighs slick, body flushed, hands reaching. Jamie, who looks at her with arousal, with understanding, with love.
“It’s you,” Jamie breathes through hitching gasps. “Just you. I promise.”
Dani nods. Dani nods, presses a finger to the glistening mark just beneath the silver of Jamie’s chain, and reminds herself, I did that. I left that. She gripped at my hair and pulled until I bit harder, and she said my name, and it was me.
“You,” Jamie repeats, reaching to cup her face. “Just you.”
Me, Dani thinks with dim certainty, and then she isn’t thinking anymore. Is only feeling the eagerness with which Jamie accepts her in, the desperate grip of Jamie’s hand clenching at the back of her neck as she stretches out atop her, as she rocks between her thighs with increasingly frantic force. She’s never felt particularly graceful, particularly one with her body, but with Jamie arching under her, Jamie urging her deeper with one leg wound tight around her hips, there is a steadiness she can rely upon. This part belongs not to the beast, not to the storm, but to her alone--to the woman who has been hanging on for dear life.
She bows her head against Jamie’s shoulder, buries her face in Jamie’s neck, allowing herself to vanish inside the starburst shatter of Jamie’s pulse under her lips, the clench of Jamie around her, the insistent reminder of Jamie’s nails scratching down her own back. Jamie, shifting restlessly, letting Dani rock her entire body with the weight of each thrust. Jamie, heedless of her own volume, her desire as wordless as it is unapologetic. Jamie, giving herself over as Dani pushes her to the edge with relentless momentum.
“It’s you,” Jamie repeats, almost whimpering, her eyes rolling back. “It’s you, it’s always you.”
Dani wants to believe. Needs to know it’s the truth. Needs to trust that every time the storm breaks, every time she spreads Jamie beneath her like this on the floor, pushes her up against the wall, grinds against her in bed, that it is only her. Only her, and nothing else, nothing made of rage and fear and such a terrible loneliness, she can’t breathe around its grip.
She reaches down, slides herself free, feels Jamie shudder and groan as she rolls aside.
“Okay?” she asks when Jamie has been silent a long while, her breath evening, her hand groping for Dani’s. Jamie, eyes closed, makes a low sound in her throat.
Dani turns her head, looks at her, liking the spill of her across the floor this way: naked and spent, sweat running down her neck, her expression blissful. “I got, uh...”
“What you needed,” Jamie finishes, and though those weren’t the words Dani had been looking for--carried away, had been her intent--she isn’t wrong. She smiles, aware of her own blush, aware of her own sheepishness creeping in as the storm abates at last.
“I did. Yeah. Can you, uh, help me out of this thing?”
Jamie does, gladly, and Jamie kisses her, and Dani feels the world return to its natural state. Jamie, tossing toy and harness aside, bowing between spread legs to kiss her with slow, open strokes until her eyes close and her breath quickens. Jamie, letting a hand tease up her stomach, reaching for the fingers Dani offers. Jamie, licking her slowly clean, drawing forth hitching cries, rocking hips, a slow build to a different sort of release.
They fall asleep on the floor, Jamie pulling a blanket over them both, and in the morning, Dani feels solid. There is a comfortable ache in her muscles, a less comfortable stiffness to her back. Jamie, shifting on top of her, lets out a low groan.
“Getting too old for sleepovers on the goddamn floor.”
There is a comfortable silence to go with the comfortable ease of morning routine: Jamie brewing tea with a blanket draped around her shoulders, Dani taking a shower in peace. Her mind is quiet, save for the memory of Jamie grasping around her shoulders for purchase, Jamie groaning for more, Jamie’s back skidding hard against the living room rug.
She’s going to feel that today, she thinks with idle amusement, and sure enough, Jamie’s shower is christened with a hiss of pain, hot water dragging hard across her back.
“All right?” she calls through the curtain as she eases a brush through her hair. Jamie laughs.
“Excellent. Never felt so alive.”
Alive is certainly the word for it--and if Jamie feels invigorated by the memory of last night, by the scorch of rugburn up her back and the throb of marks left on neck and chest and thigh, she isn’t alone. There’s something Dani can’t quite describe about watching Jamie shift into a shirt, breath easing past clenched teeth as the material drags across raw skin. Something about knowing every stain on Jamie’s skin was the result of the storm in Dani, and of Jamie urging her on, Jamie begging her to transfer some of that energy to her own body.
The world is on an even keel now, the air the right amount of warm, her skin fitting properly over her bones--and Jamie looks at her with surreptitious desire. Jamie, who leans back and stretches her arms above her head at the shop, catching Dani’s eye with an expression that says she likes the way the cloth pulls against reddened skin. Jamie, whose collar slips aside just enough to reveal a dark imprint of Dani’s teeth, who reaches up to brush a finger almost absently against that spot with her gaze heady on Dani’s face.
Give it to me, Jamie always says. Give as much to me as you can. I’ll carry it. Dani can’t. Dani won’t give her what she’s asking for. Some kinds of sacrifice are nontransferable.
But Dani gives her this. Dani gives her the fallout of each storm, and Dani watches the pleasure in Jamie’s smile the day after. Watches her close her eyes and sigh when Dani lays a hand at the small of her back and forces her shirt to rub against the memory of skin on rug, bumping hard against solid floor. Watches her groan softly when Dani locates the spot just above her waistband where she’d dug in her nails particularly hard, leaving behind small half-moon indentations. Watches her shift her eyes to Dani’s mouth when Dani smiles, both of them too aware of how Dani had bitten down as she’d rocked relentlessly deep, rough enough to make them both cry out.
Dani gives her the fallout, when she can give nothing else, and Jamie takes it gladly. Jamie, who is sweet even when she is not, who is gentle even if her body offers something fierce and fast. Jamie, whose love is steady, but not stationary--who seems to expand with her as mirrors grow dangerous, as the heavy drift of another creature’s fury blankets Dani’s good sense.
A day goes by, normal as any other--there are customers and there are conversations, and every so often, there is Dani remembering how good it feels to breathe. How good it feels to stand near Jamie and inhale the same air, to idle a hand near Jamie’s hip and feel Jamie straighten. To lean around Jamie, chest pressing fleetingly to Jamie’s back, and feel her lean eagerly, instinctively backward.
How good it feels to be her--and only her, nothing else tapping at the window or fiddling with the lock. Only her, with the innate, simple power to make Jamie smile with little more than a look. Only her, with the innate, simple power to make Jamie sigh with the briefest kiss.
Only her, who--even without the reckless sweep of a storm beneath her skin--can take Jamie by the collar in the back room. Can press a thumb to the bloom of bruise on Jamie’s chest, the one which suffers every thump of Jamie’s necklace as she walks about her day. Can watch Jamie’s eyes grow dark with a storm of her own as she presses harder, a reminder of teeth on skin, a reminder of hips pushing deep.
Jamie, who leans into the touch, eyes flickering shut, tongue tracing her lips. Jamie, who reaches for her in kind and says, “Best be quiet, then.”
And here, a different kind of control: the mutual need cresting between them, coming up hard against the awareness of an unlocked door, a bell that might ring at any moment. The mutual desire to stay here, right here, in a moment that threatens as all moments do to skid away from their joined hands. The mutual desire to taste and tease and feel as alive as two people ever can, Dani pressing into a pre-existing bite with gentle teeth until Jamie whimpers and closes her eyes and lets her head fall back.
Here, in the aftermath of a storm, she feels whole again. Feels herself again. Feels as though there is nothing carried, nothing burdened, nothing too real to resist shuffling along beneath her skin. It is only a life made well, a life built with careful hands, a life of Jamie’s smile, Jamie’s skin, Jamie’s steady hands on the wheel. Jamie, with a thigh between her own, angling for friction to make her groan. Jamie, with a kiss on her throat that feels too sweet to be allowed.
She reins in her voice, allowing herself only muffled gasps, and knows Jamie’s back against the door is aching. Knows Jamie’s hip under her hand is branded with the prints of her fingers. Knows Jamie carries these badges of honor, these reminders of how real Dani is, of how far Dani will let herself spiral out if it means Jamie’s hand will catch her at the end of that rope.
Storms are unavoidable, she thinks--they grow stronger with each passing year, less predictable, less easy to navigate. Storms come on hard and fast, and they require of her a willingness to lose control before they will move on again. A willingness to to grant to Jamie--who will always give the same right back--something of herself to remind them both she is here.
The storms, she thinks, are as good as they are daunting. The storms, she thinks, mean she is still present enough to matter. They will not fade over time; they will, instead, grow more, grow harsh and wild and fierce, and she can only hope they will not sweep her away when they do. Can only hope Jamie’s hands on her skin, Jamie’s forehead pressed to her own, Jamie’s heartbeat crashing under her kiss, will be enough solid ground for them both to stand upon.
Give it to me, Jamie seems to whisper, as Dani slides a hand between them and sends her head falling back against the door. Give me as much as you can. I’ll--I’ll--
It isn’t yours to carry, Dani thinks, huffing sharp, skidding breaths down Jamie’s open collar. It isn’t, and it can’t be, and I won’t let it. But this. I can give you this.
Together, moving as one, soft cries sunk into soft skin, they will wait for it to pass.There is nothing else. Only one day at at time. Only Jamie’s trust that the woman behind her eyes will never falter. Only Dani’s need to be more substantial than she is haunted.
Jamie fists a hand into her hair, presses hard into searching fingers, and Dani closes her eyes. Lets it all build. Lets it all crest. A return to balance, the only way either of them know how to craft it.
It can be--must be--will be--enough.