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Passing the Panty

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Delia hated beauty pageant season. In fact, the worst thing about beauty pageant season was that it never wasn’t beauty pageant season. By the time March rolled in, she’d already been to three contests, spent pretty much every other weekend being strapped and measured for dresses by her mam’s friend Violet, and she only had more to look forward to.

As she sat in her dad’s beaten up old Renault, waiting for her mother to finish gossiping with the other parents, she sighed, straining to imagine a world that didn’t revolve around meringue dresses and high heeled shoes. She punched the buttons on the car stereo, and the sound of static filled the old car, until she twisted the dial enough to find a steady radio station. The voice of Dusty Springfield singing heartily about her man troubles filled the car, and Delia hummed along, watching her mam in the rearview mirror. She’s always had an affinity for old music, feeling a little bit like she was born in the wrong era.

When she wasn’t head to toe in frumpy satin, Delia worked down at a local cafe, where the ridiculous lilac apron still felt more at home to her than the expensive gowns her mother bought. It might not have been the best job in town, but Delia liked it well enough, if only because she got to work with one her best friends.

Most of the time, she enjoyed that part of it, anyway.

Today, Barbara was rambling about one of her favourite topics (and one of Delia’s least favourites): Men. Specifically, the youth leader of their local church.

“It isn’t just that we’re cut from the same cloth, though of course that helps,” she continued, running her mop half-heartedly across the tiled floor behind the counter, “and I know he’s extremely handsome, and probably out of my league, and after all he did only just call things off with Trixie but…”

“But what?” Delia said, playing her part as the dutiful friend and encourager, “he and Trixie broke up, what, a year ago? And you are definitely in his league. If anything, he’s bellow you.”

Barbara’s cheeks flushed bright pink at the compliment and she looked down, trying to hide her grin, “you don’t know Trixie though. I know this will come between us. And she’s been so fragile since she left for uni; I really don’t want to make things worse, or hurt her.”

That was typical Barbara; caring more for other people’s feelings than her own. It was a large part of why Delia was so fond of her, but also one of her most irritating qualities. She had watched her get hurt so many times, trying to protect other people, and more often than not, people who did not deserve it, though she didn’t know Trixie well enough to judge.

“I suppose there’s no point in me asking if you want to do something Sunday night…” Delia asked, trying not to get her hopes up.

Sunday nights was when the church youth group met, and Barbara had been spending most weekends helping Tom with anything ranging from cutting out shapes for the younger children’s Sunday school activities, to assisting teenagers not that much younger than herself with whatever it was they gave their free time up to do on Sunday evenings. Barbara had talked at length about some of these activities, but if Delia was completely honest, she’d taken to zoning out. She knew that made her a bad friend, but she couldn’t help it. She was bored of all the everyday happenings in their little town, and unfortunately, her best friend’s love life was definitely a part of that.

She never got an answer, however, because just at that moment the door of the otherwise mostly empty cafe swung open, the little bell over the door hardly having time to announce the arrival before a flash of red and blue was literally whizzing in, straight past where Delia was refilling napkin holders, and pulling to a stop right in front of Barbara’s place at the counter.

Now that she was still, Delia couldn’t help but gawp at their arrival. She realised, with some haste, that several of the tables of elderly women were also staring, tutting and whispering, before turning back to their cream teas. Delia felt her cheeks flush, but certainly not for the same reason as theirs. They were clearly appalled by the girl’s attire - a plaid flannel shirt, black denim cut-offs, a black t-shirt with some kind of logo across it - not least the pair of roller-skates she’d so easily raced in on.

“Patsy!” Barbara greeted, wiping her hands on the front of her apron and leaving the mop bucket balanced precariously on the counter, “what on earth are you doing here?”

Delia couldn’t quite believe her ears: Barbara actually knew this girl?

“Flyer distributing,” the tall red-head answered, in the sort of clipped, posh accent that Delia would never have dreamt would come from her, “Trixie wondered if you wouldn’t mind putting one in the tearoom’s window for us?”

Barbara glanced across the room at Delia, and the red head girl - Patsy? - turned to look too, offering her a bright smile.

“Do you think Mrs Turner would mind, Delia?”

“I don’t think she’d even notice to be honest,” without needing much thought, Delia replied, and whilst her answer was partially down to the fact she couldn’t bring herself to say no to this girl, it was mostly based in truth: ever since the Turners had adopted their little girl, they’d spent less and less time worrying about what the girls in the cafe got up to. She quickly added: “what’s it a flyer for?”

Patsy handed across the flyer, and Delia tried not to think about the way their fingers accidentally brushed when she accepted the sheet of paper, her eyes darting over the wording instead.

“It’s our Roller Derby team,” Patsy continued, somewhat awkwardly, “we’re looking for new players.”

“Out here in the sticks? You must be joking.”

Now that the girl’s face was so close to hers, she couldn’t help but gaze up at her bright ocean blue eyes, the sharp angle of her jaw. There was something exotic about her, but also intensely beautiful. She knew she had to look away for fear or making a tit of herself.

“I know, but we’re desperate,” she said, casting her eyes down at the paper and sighing a little.

“Well, roller derby girls are hardly our demographic,” Barbara chimed in, casting her gaze around the sea of grey hair in the room, “but maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“I hope so,” Patsy said, looking more than a little downtrodden, “anyway, I better get going. I’ll catch you later, Babs. Thanks again.”

And then Delia was left to watch her retreating form zig-zag expertly between tables and out the door.

“Oh no,” Barbara said, somewhere that felt a million miles away from where Delia was dreamily staring out the door, but was realistically only about a meter, “she’s forgotten the rest of the flyers.”

Without really thinking, Delia turned and snatched the pile of flyers, and ran out of the cafe, spotting Patsy not all that far down the street. She knew she could never keep up - Patsy on roller-skates and Delia on foot - so instead she shouted after her, hurrying along with the flyers clutched to her chest.

Finally, the redhead turned, and sped back, narrowly missing colliding with a bin (though Delia suspected that may have been intentional), and drawing to a halt in front of her.

“You forgot these,” Delia panted, holding the flyers up to her.

Patsy’s face flushed red and she took the flyers, carefully putting them back into her satchel, “honestly, I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately; I’d forget my own head if it weren’t… you know.”

“It’s okay.”

“Anyway, thank you,” she put a hand gently on Delia’s arm, before retracting it, once again looking a little awkward, “and maybe you could, I don’t know, come and see us play some time?”

“I’d love to!” Delia said, grinning, “I mean, if you guys manage to get those extra players, right?”

She knew immediately that she’d said the wrong thing because Patsy’s face fell a little as she nodded, and then sped off in the other direction, leaving Delia to walk back to work feeling more than a little bit stupid.

A part of her expected the spanish inquisition on her return, but she ought to have known better: of course Barbara was entirely clueless, and was instead finishing off the napkins, humming to herself.

It wasn’t until their shift ended, four hours later, that Delia decided to bring the subject back up. She couldn’t help it; she’d spent the rest of the day thinking non-stop about her, whilst Barbara continued to dwell over her relationship with Tom.

“So, about the roller derby…” she said, somewhat tentatively, pulling her apron off and hanging it on the hook in the staff room, “how does Trixie know them?”

Barbara looked up, surprised, “oh, she and Patsy are roommates. I’ve only met her once or twice. I don’t think Trixie has even been to see her play.”

Not for the first time, Delia was exceptionally glad that her best friend was so oblivious to what went on around her, or else she’d have been trying to extract gossip from her for sure, just in the same way she did whenever she witnessed Delia even conversing with a member of the opposite sex. But Delia had known from a fairly young age that she wasn’t like girls like Barbara. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of herself, or too afraid to tell her, more that there hadn’t really been any point in telling her. Besides, they lived in such a small town, she was sure that if she uttered the words aloud to anybody it would get back to her mam in .05 seconds, and she was someone Delia definitely was afraid of telling.

On more than one occasion over the years they’d been friends, she’d thought Barbara must know: surely she’d seen the way she looked at some of the girls in their hockey team at school? But if Barbara did have any clue, she was certainly good at hiding it. Which was probably for the best, given who her father was.

“I think I might go see them play,” she said, attempting for casual, as she slipped her jacket on.

Barbara stopped what she was doing to stare at her, looking like a cartoon character with their eyes out on stalks, “what? Why? You know it’s awfully violent, and your mother will absolutely be against it.”

Because I have to see her again, Delia thought, but instead grinned, “exactly.

Chapter Text

Patsy had always had a bit of an ‘all or nothing’ attitude to everything. She thought it must stem back to her childhood, to the fact she had little choice but to throw herself into things. Regardless, at the age of twenty-one not much had changed. She went at things with an intensity that was unwavering. Lately, that ‘thing’ had been her team. It sort of had to be; she couldn’t help but feel a little like no one else was taking it that seriously.

Okay, maybe that was a little unfair.

Still, she sort of envied the other girls who had things outside of their constant worrying for the team.

She arrived back from her flyering jaunt feeling a little dejected. Most people seemed disinterested, and she certainly hadn’t missed the tutting and whispers that had followed her interactions with some of the more out of the way places she’d visited, despite how polite she had tried to be. Those people ought to have been glad she’d been the one designated flyer duty, and not one of her more boisterous teammates, but when it came to roller derby, they were often all tarred with the same brush.

Patsy wasn’t used to being treated that way, even after being a part of the team for several months now. People generally always liked her. Even if she was a little prim and proper for some people, she was friendly enough to make up for it.

It was part of what made her being, well, her so difficult. She was so secretive because she was sure if she wasn’t, then she’d lose all her likeable qualities, that nobody would be able to see beyond it. Even though she knew that was somewhat ridiculous.

Unusually, the house seemed empty when Patsy arrived, tossing her keys into the hallway table. There wasn't the usual music blasting from the living area, or giggling coming from upstairs. She figured perhaps everybody else was in lectures, it being the middle of the week. That was one of the parts she didn’t like about living in a house of students (the cheap rent, and the girls’ personalities being the main perks): the fact that they were always so busy.

Patsy trudged up the stairs to the third floor attic bedroom which she and Trixie shared. It was a large room, if you discounted the fact that half the floor was taken up by a flight of stairs, the left hand side therefore belonging to Patsy, and the right to Trixie. They had started sharing it whilst the fourth bedroom was being treated for damp, months ago, but even after that had been sorted out, Trixie’s things had remained, and Patsy couldn’t say she minded. She enjoyed her company, after all.

Now that she was back in their shared domain, and she thought of Trixie, Patsy’s mind drifted to the pretty brunette girl she’d met earlier in the day at one of the many cafes she’d visited. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was about her that she kept on coming back to. She wondered if she might have been a friend of Trixie’s, given she lived in Trixie’s home town, and that she of course knew Barbara. In a move that was completely out of character - after all, she more than anybody else believed in respecting people’s privacy - she went to look at the mess of photographs over Trixie’s bed, seeing if she could spot the girl in any of them. Despite recognising Barbara in one or two pictures from nights out, the other girl - what had her name badge read? Patsy had been too distracted to notice - didn’t seem to be in any of them.

She shook the thought off, inwardly cursing herself for even looking. It didn’t matter.

By the time Trixie got home several hours later, the old stairs creaking underneath her heels, Patsy was deeply ensconced in a book, and the girl from the cafe hadn’t crossed her mind once.

“I’m utterly exhausted,” Trixie whined, kicking her shoes off and flopping onto her bed, “I can’t wait for this term to be over.”

Patsy glanced at her over the top of her book, smirking a little, “it only started two days ago.”

“That’s easy for you to say!” she tossed her head back against the pillow and groaned, before leaning forward, eyeing Patsy, “shouldn’t you be at the rink?”

Given the amount of time she spent in training, Patsy often would joke that the only days she went to the rink were ones ending in Y. However, she’d decided that spending the day skating all over the city was probably enough rehearsal for one day. None of the other girls visited with such regularity, anyway, not now that they had formal practice twice a week. Patsy just liked to be thorough.

“I’m taking a rest day,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

Trixie let her mouth hang open, dramatically, pressing the back of her hand to Patsy’s head through the narrow gap between their beds, “are you sure you’re alright?”

Swatting her away, Patsy laughed, “quite sure, thank you,” she paused, looking back at her book in the hopes she’d come across as less suspicious, “I dropped a flyer off at that tearoom your friend Barbara works at today…”

“Oh, you should have said - I’m seeing her tomorrow - I could have saved you the trouble.”

“It was no trouble,” she said, earnestly, trying not to think about the other girl for fear of giving herself away.

Then again, Trixie was usually more caught up in her own drama to notice anything, anyway.

-

The best method for de-stressing, Patsy had always found, was organising. As the evening drew in, she settled herself at the kitchen table with her various pieces of kit, and started reorganising her training bag, beginning by emptying everything out. In total, she had: three navy vests with her name and number blazoned across the back, and their team’s logo across the front; four pairs of navy shorts (she had more of these because they tended to wear out quicker); one training jersey (powder blue); one training sweater (crimson, again with her name across the back); an assortment of socks and tights; three sets of elbow pads, knee pads, and protective gloves. And then, of course, she had her skates. Two custom fitted pairs of blue Riedells with red laces, and five sets of matching spare wheels, also red. These, she set aside to polish and clean, along with her mini-tool kit, and the least dented of the three crimson helmets she owned.

The systematic, methodic movements of cleaning her equipment - loosening wheels and cleaning those separately, adjusting their base, tightening nuts and bolts, and finally polishing everything until it looked as good as new as something could after being rigorously used in roller derby - worked its soothing magic. It was good to have something to focus her energy on, something that wasn’t worrying about the team, or, the more deeply rooted issue that she’d been trying to ignore, which was the day’s date. She only paused to blow her fringe out of her eyes, and to wash her hands free of grease and polish. Then, it was time to slot everything back into the organised compartments of her kit bag, another task that she performed with precision, but wholeheartedly enjoyed.

Once she’d worked through the entire pile of her belongings - the spare kit folded neatly to one side to go back into its drawer in the bedroom - she decided it was probably dinner time. Before she contemplated what to have, she felt her phone buzz in the pocket of her jeans, and scooped it out.

Facebook: You have 1 New Friend Request

Frowning, Patsy opened the app, and went to have a look, wondering who on earth could be adding her. She had a fairly private profile, and most of her friends already had her. It wasn’t as if she’d had much time for socialising recently either, to make any new acquaintances. Maybe it was just spam, or another of her childhood friends who she didn’t really want to remember had tracked her down?

The name that came up was entirely unfamiliar, and Patsy clicked on their profile, intrigued by the ‘1 mutual friend’ that was listed bellow. Perhaps they were yet another friend of Trixie’s.

1 mutual friend: Barbara Gilbert

It was only then that it dawned on Patsy who this person was, and she felt her face flush a little just at the realisation. This couldn’t possibly mean—? No, that was silly. She’d never allowed herself to think that other people might be the same way she was, not since…. well, since an incident she didn’t like to dwell on. Even when she’d observed the way that girl’s eyes had drifted to her lips, and the faint buzz of electricity that seemed to come off of her when their fingers brushed. It was ridiculous. She didn’t even know her.

“Delia Busby,” Patsy whispered, trying the name out on her tongue, and deciding she quite liked it.

She returned to her notifications, prepared to do something that was again entirely out of character, and accept her friend request, but the notification had disappeared, and when she searched for her profile, nothing came up.

“How odd,” she said aloud, licking her lips subconsciously.

“What is?”

Startled, Patsy turned, quickly dropping her phone to the table, and greeting her flatmate with a bright smile, “gosh, Cynthia, you startled me!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to creep up on you,” the mousey girl said, frowning a little, but offering a pleasant smile, “I just thought I’d make myself a cup of tea. Would you like one?”

“Sure,” Patsy answered, shoving her phone back into her pocket and trying not to think about it, “and you can tell me about your day, if you’d like?”

Chapter Text

Delia stared at her laptop screen in absolute horror for what felt like the longest two seconds of her life, before quickly snapping back to her senses, and cancelling the friend request. She decided it was probably safest to press the block button, as well, just in case. Then, once that was crisis was (sort of kind of not really) averted, she allowed herself to bury her head in her hands and sink deeper into her duvet.

What an absolute rookie mistake. She couldn’t believe she’d done something so stupid.

It had been too tempting, scrolling through Barbara’s Facebook, and finding her name in the list of friends. It hadn’t been as easy as searching for a Patsy though. No, if it had been that straight forward, maybe she wouldn’t have felt like quite such a tit: as it was, she’d finally found the girl’s profile by sifting through the entire P section of Barbara’s friends, until she’d come across one Patience Elizabeth who, even with a slightly artsy profile picture, was undoubtedly her. Once she’d clicked on her profile, the header picture of a group of girls in blue vests and red helmets, obviously amidst a team celebration, just sealed the deal.

Unfortunately, she had little else visible on her profile, and that, Delia supposed, was how she’d ended up accidentally pressing the ‘send friend request’ button. Which was just great, because now there was little to no chance that she wouldn’t find out that Delia was a great big lesbian stalker.

Okay, maybe just the stalker part. The other part, she supposed, wasn’t that obvious. Was it?

Delia glanced at the brightly coloured flyer she’d pinned onto the noticeboard over her bed, and sighed. She contemplated pulling it down, throwing it away, forgetting all about it. After all, even aside from all the things Barbara had said, how could she even think about showing up at the derby now, now that she’d made such a fool of herself?

Closing the tab with Facebook open in it, Delia clicked across to the Roller Derby wikipedia page that she’d been scrolling through. She dragged the mouse over to the x that would close the window, but hesitated. The buzz of excitement she’d felt when she’d seen Patsy glide in on those skates, and read the contents of that flyer… it hadn’t just been about being attracted to a pretty girl. The more she’d read what the internet had to say of the sport, the more she’d felt that excitement bubble in her stomach. She’d always felt like she was destined for more than what this little town could offer, but she’d never honestly considered what that more was.

Before she could make a decision either way, there was a quiet rap rap rap at her door, and she sighed, closing her laptop completely.

“Come in?”

“Evening, cariad,” Delia's other greeted, breezing in the door with several plastic dress bags draped over her arm, “Violet dropped these over. I told her I’d get you trying them on right away.”

Delia glanced at the far too familiar bags, and forced a smile, “okay, hang them—“

Right away, Delia.”

Suppressing a groan (she knew better than to be caught complaining by her mother; she didn’t need another lecture on how lucky she was, and how she took so much for granted), Delia slid off the bed and pulled off her leggings, lifting her arms above her head for her mam to pull her sweater off in a move that they'd perfected over the years. Her mam tutted, which Delia could only assume was in reference to her non-matching, cheap underwear (which was another thing her mother had lectured her on more times than she could count).

“We’ll try the cap sleeve bateau first,” she said, calmly, freeing one of the dresses from its plastic. It was champagne coloured and covered in antique style lace.

It wasn’t that Delia couldn’t appreciate the beauty and skill in the dresses her mam had made for her, more that she just didn’t feel like they suited her at all. And besides, it was what they represented that she loathed. The rules and regulations, the constant fittings, the watching what she ate and being told off if she put on so much as a pound. She hated being so firmly under her mother’s thumb, but at the same time, she knew she could never tell her the truth, that she didn’t want to do these stupid beauty pageants anymore, because she knew it would break her mother’s heart. As much as she disagreed with her views, she loved her and didn’t want to hurt her.

“Don’t forget we have that lunch with the Havisham’s on Saturday,” her mother continued, pulling the dress over Delia and carefully smoothing it out to pull the zip up, “and for God’s sake, Delia, wear something suitable.”

Delia eyed her favourite sweater that was now in a heap on the floor: oversized, mint green and covered in velvety black dinosaurs, it accurately summed up the majority of her wardrobe. She couldn’t imagine what her mother might have meant by ‘suitable’…

“They’ve that cousin staying with them, remember. A nice boy, and about your age…”

The hope in her mother’s voice was unmistakable, and Delia felt herself go tense, which earned another quiet tut. As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was forced to go for lunches with other contestants - usually in restaurants they couldn’t really afford to eat at, the kind of places where they had multiple sets of cutlery and Delia could never quite remember which fork she was supposed to be using - but her mother also insisted on trying to set her up with every boy in town, which always ended incredibly awkwardly.

Her eyes drifted to the roller derby flyer. In that moment, she knew she’d made her mind up.

-

“I can’t believe I agreed to this,” Barbara said, for maybe the fifth or sixth time since they’d started driving only twenty-five minutes ago, “if you get into trouble, I am going to be treated as an accessory.”

“We aren’t breaking any laws, you’re not going to be treated as anything. We’re eighteen, remember, we can do what we want?”

It wasn’t as though her mother had outrightly said she wasn’t allowed to go to the roller derby, more that she’d… ‘forgotten’ to mention it to her. The cover was that both she and Barbara were doing a late shift at the cafe, a lie which both her parents had bought easily, given how much time she’d been spending at work lately. Talking Barbara into driving her into the city, however, had been a bit more difficult, and if the first half of their journey was anything to go by, her best friend was still not convinced she’d made the right decision.

“You’re going to owe me big time for this.”

Delia smiled, “yeah, yeah, I know… you’re the best.”

A little over half an hour later, after following googlemaps’ directions to the letter, they pulled into the car park for a large industrial warehouse. The side of the building was plain enough, and for a moment, Delia wondered if they'd somehow taken a wrong turning.

“Are you sure this is it?” Barbara asked, turning the engine off, “it doesn’t exactly look like… well I don’t know what a roller derby place looks like, but this isn’t it?”

Pointing out the window, Delia shook her head, “look at that bumper sticker - Bruising Banditas? That’s gotta be a team name. This must be the place.”

Inside was a lot more like what Delia was expecting. Rock music was pumping out of large speakers in the corner of the entrance, and the front desk had flyers for various teams stapled along the front, plus a huge poster featuring members from different teams across the back. Delia looked up to find herself eye-to-eye with a life-size poster version of Patsy, mid-skate, her eyes narrowed in determination. Underneath, Ginger Dodgers, The Sisters of Nonnatus was printed.

“The Sisters of Nonnatus?” Barbara said, reading off the same poster and raising her eyebrows, “they sound more like a church than a sports team.”

Delia didn’t reply right away, she was still staring up at the poster, unable to quite draw her eyes away. When she did, she hoped Barbara couldn’t see her flushed cheeks in the dim light of the building.

“I think it’s something to do with the fact they train in an old converted nunnery or something,” she offered, casually, hoping it didn’t look like she’d spent hours researching them (which she had).

They quickly paid for their tickets, cruised along the line of snack stands (Delia buying Barbara a whole tub of sweets to try and make up for the fact she’d dragged her here), and settled into their seats in the fifth row. The arena itself was huge. The track took centre stage, with a barrier all around it, separating the game from the seating, which was surrounding the whole track with only a small gap for the teams to enter from either side. Inside the barriers, there were several benches, presumably for teams who weren’t competing to stay seated, and a spot for water bottles to be stored and refilled.

The seating itself took up the majority of the massive space, with rows and rows of seats. They’d arrived early enough to get a good spot, but Delia felt a little more relaxed realising there was no way the team would be able to make her out from where she was sitting, not through this huge sea of people. Not that it was likely she’d have even crossed Patsy’s mind in the two weeks since she’d accidentally sent her that friend request, but it comforted her all the same.

“Okay, I admit this is a little exciting,” Barbara grinned, unwrapping a double lolly, “though maybe we ought to have raided the arts and crafts supplies and brought a sign.”

She gestured towards some of the people in the front row who were already avidly waving their paper banners with things like GO BANDITAS! and WE LOVE YOU CRUSHER in bright marker pens. Delia felt queazy at the thought.

“Did you tell Patsy we were coming?” she asked, instead, unsure whether she hoped for an affirmative or not.

Barbara shook her head, “I don’t know her all that well. I did think to invite Trixie, but I worried she might blow our cover, and she didn’t seem awfully interested.”

Though Delia didn’t want to admit it, she was quietly glad Trixie hadn’t been invited.

If Barbara had thought arriving at the arena was exciting, then the game itself starting was something else entirely. Even with her extensive Wikipedia-ing, Delia couldn’t have prepared herself for what the real deal entailed. It began with an announcer reading off the various teams, the crowd going wild, screaming and taunting and waving their banners. Each of the teams arrived and made their way around the track as they were introduced, player by player. The Sisters went last, and Delia waited with baited breath, though by the time their team was up, she was dizzy with the atmosphere, adrenaline pumping through her veins as she tried to soak everything in.

“Oh gosh, doesn’t Patsy look amazing?” Barbara whispered, nudging Delia in the ribs.

Delia tried to shrug nonchalantly but she couldn’t help but nod in agreement. The Patsy she had met at the cafe - no matter how brief their encounter had been - had been awkward and shy. Whilst her skill on her skates had been obvious, it wasn’t until she was on the track that she truly came alive. She was confidently rallying the crowd, positively beaming as she effortlessly glided around the track, puling to a halt at the bench, and forming a huddle with the rest of her teammates. Try as Delia might, she couldn’t quite drag her eyes away from her.

It was clear from the get go that whilst The Sisters had a solid team, they didn’t have the numbers to compete with the others. Where most of the other teams had between ten and twelve members - five on the track, five or so on the bench - The Sisters only had a meagre six, leaving just one sub. Alongside Patsy - or “Ginger Dodgers”, as her shirt read - the team was made up of another younger girl - “Nitty Nora the Scalp Explorer”, who had a frizzy ponytail of red hair coming out the back of her helmet - and four who looked to be at least in their thirties - “Quiche Crusher”, a larger woman with a stern looking expression; “Smother Superior” who was tall and willowy and had kind eyes that didn’t seem all that fitting for such a violent sport; the goofy and smiley “Freudian Whip”, and finally, the cheerful but steely-eyed “Hurri-Crane Phyllis”. Freudian Whip took the bench, whilst the others moved into position, Patsy taking the role of jammer, which mostly consisted of fixing a special star-design cover over her helmet, and falling into the back of the line-up.

“Why’s she got a different hat?” Barbara again nudged Delia, leaning right into her.

“Helmet,” Delia corrected, gently, delving her hand into her box of popcorn, “it means she’s the jammer. She’s the scorer for their team.”

She didn’t have time to explain further before the match started, and the arena was once again filled with shouting and chanting, and the commentator’s voice over the loud-system, describing what was going on in front of them.

Patsy’s warm-up had already proven to Delia that she wholeheartedly belonged on the track, but her performance in the game was incredible. She darted between players of the other team, expertly avoiding elbows to the ribs and players being flung in front of her. Her expression was completely focussed, until she sped past the pack for a second time, ending the jam before the other team could score. Her face broke into a grin as the crowd roared, Delia included.

“And The Sisters of Nonnatus are off to a fantastic eight point starter! I guess we can see where Ginger Dodgers gets her name from!” the announcer called over the top of it all, as the players returned to their bench areas, and the jammers switched out.

“Eight points? Is that good?”

Delia dragged her eyes away from Patsy and nodded, “really good, yeah, and she stopped the other team from scoring anything.”

The next jammer up was Nitty Nora, and where Patsy had sailed past the blockers, this girl struggled, being wiped out by a stray leg and off the track only seconds in. She got back up again, only to be elbowed by one of the Banditas’ blockers, knocking her straight into another player from her own team. The jam ended with the Banditas’ jammer, “Trauma Call”, scoring six points, to Nitty Nora’s 0.

From there on out it seemed the Sisters had no chance. Each jam resulted in much the same thing: the Sisters’ jammer scooting through gaps where they could, being wiped out by perfectly placed limbs by the other team, whilst the blockers seemingly didn’t know what to do to stop the opposing team’s jammer. It was difficult to watch. The final jam came around, and Patsy was back up in the jammer position, but lagging behind 14 points to 32, it seemed unlikely that it would make any difference.

“GO ON PATSY!!!” Barbara screamed, having finally found herself getting into the spirit of the game.

Delia grinned at her, deciding it wasn’t worth trying to correct her; she was just glad she was enjoying herself.

Patsy took her position on the jammer line. The first whistle blew, and the blockers took off, followed shortly by Patsy and the Bandita’s jammer, “Kim O’Kill”. It was clear that what Patsy had that some of her teammates didn’t, was speed. She sped along the track quickly enough that the blockers didn’t have time to pre-empt her, well ahead of Kim O’Kill. It looked like she was going to wipe the floor with the Banditas, their blockers moving right on out of her way. Then, suddenly, O’Kill was being launched through the clump of blockers, gathering momentum from her other players, and catching Patsy up. She whizzed past, only pausing to push into Patsy, causing the red-head to go hurtling head-first into a barrier, leaving O’Kill to clean up the points. The final whistle blew, and the Sisters had lost, 17 points to 37.

“Damnit!” Delia hissed, dropping back into her seat. She’d hardly realised she’d stood up, it had all been so exciting.

“Gosh, look at her nose!” Barbara gasped next to her, and Delia did look, wincing. Even from where they were sat, it looked like a lot of blood.

-

Despite arguing about it for a good fifteen minutes, Delia had allowed herself to be dragged into waiting in the entrance for the team to come out. Barbara was right: it was the least she could do, after she’d practically begged her to drive them here. But she couldn’t help but feel awkward about seeing Patsy. She shifted uneasily from foot to foot, her usual confident and calm exterior flaking.

“Whatever’s wrong with you?” Barbara asked, after Delia had adjusted how her skirt sat for maybe the third of fourth time.

“Nothing,” Delia lied, offering her a reassuring smile which Barbara didn’t quite believe.

The hall was now mostly filled with people buying last minute snacks, though a few other people were hanging around the entrance, clearly waiting for the team. She absentmindedly wondered who knew who. There was a teenage girl with her dad, who were clearly waiting for autographs, clutching a sharpie and a game programme. A guy with a bunch of flowers stood awkwardly at one side, glancing down at his phone. She wondered who he was waiting for.

When Patsy eventually emerged from the doorway, she was surrounded by the rest of her team, and Delia almost missed her. Barbara, however, did not.

“Oh my gosh, Patsy, your poor nose!” she said by ways of a greeting, rushing up to the girl, seemingly forgetting they weren’t really friends.

Patsy’s nose was in pretty bad shape, her top lip coated in dried blood.

“Babs! You didn’t tell me you were coming,” Patsy turned to the girl with the frizzy red hair and tried out a smile, one which didn’t really work, “Nitty, this is my roommate’s friend, the one I told you about?”

“Is it broken?” Barbara continued, seemingly ignoring the introduction.

“Nah, it’ll be fine,” Patsy assured her, "I’ve had worse."

“She has,” Nitty Nora spoke up, speaking animatedly, “though I did try and insist she saw a medic. She wasn’t having any of it. Stubborn as a mule, she is.”

“I think you’re muddling me up with Crusher,” she rolled her eyes.

“Well, Delia could take a look at it? She does first aid with the St. John’s Ambulance!”

“I could!” Delia said, quickly, surprised to find her voice coming out more assured than she felt, “but if you don’t think it’s broken…”

Patsy smiled, “no, I’m sure it’ll be alright. Thank you, though… Delia, was it?”

Delia looked up at her, feeling her stomach go funny at the sound of her name being said in that soft, clipped accent of hers. She was shorter not in skates, only a few inches taller than her, though she’d seemed like a giant that first time they’d met.

“Yeah,” she breathed, then caught herself, snapping out of it, “you were amazing out there, by the way.”

It could have been her imagination, but Delia could have sworn Patsy blushed at this, looking down and away from her, “hardly. Fortunately, we are used to coming last.”

“Well, I wish I could do even half of what you can. You guys are my new heroes.”

Patsy looked up, then, her brow slightly furrowed, her expression unreadable, “no, don’t say that. We’re no one’s heroes. You ought to try out, though.”

Flustered, Delia shook her head, “oh, no, I’ve not even- I mean I haven’t roller skated since I was, I don’t even know how old. I wouldn’t be any good.”

“Most of us didn’t know our arse from our elbows when we started out,” Nitty Nora chimed in, grinning, “honestly, you couldn’t be any worse.”

“Listen, we have to dash off now, but I would love for you to come to the try outs,” Patsy said, touching Delia’s arm in much the same way she had that day with the flyers, “maybe I’ll see you there?”

Was that a hint of hopefulness in her voice? Delia mentally shook the thought off; if she was hopeful it was because their team was desperate for new players, nothing else.

“Maybe,” she said, softly, though she knew she would never in a million years be able to persuade her mother that joining a roller derby team was a good idea.

Chapter Text

It didn’t take long for Delia to uncover her childhood set of roller skates, hidden in a box in the garage. It had been three days since the derby, and she hadn’t been able to get it off her mind. Hell, it had even leaked into her dreams. That was all she needed to know that she wasn’t going to be able to let go of this as easily as she’d perhaps originally thought.

Her old skates had been abandoned when she was probably eleven or twelve, and as such they were a little on the small side, but Delia forced her feet into them, and they were only slightly snug. Thankfully, her mam had always lived by that rule of ‘you’ll grow into things’, which had seemed ridiculous to her as a child, but worked to her advantage now.

Hauling herself to her feet, Delia moved slowly out of the garage, and down the slope into the long expanse of road their house was on. She was certainly out of practice, but it was a bit like riding a bike: it came back to her before too long. She made her way up the hill, picking up speed as the movements became familiar, and then pulling to a halt up the top. At this point, she was just pleased she was still upright. She could hear her mam’s voice in the back of her head, tutting at her, passing comment on how it wasn't ladylike. If anything, it pushed her to work harder.

-

“You can’t be serious?”

Barbara’s reaction was much what Delia had expected, but then she knew she couldn’t have kept it a secret from her, even aside from needing her to cover her shift.

Delia shrugged, slipping her feet into her roller skates. Their shift was due to begin in ten minutes, but Mrs Turner was nowhere to be seen, and Jane - the timid woman who was technically in charge when the Turners were out - was finishing, leaving the girls alone for the night shift. Waitressing would give her plenty of practice, darting between tables helping her with her precision, and carrying plates and cups surely working on her balance. Delia stood, and grabbed her apron from its hook, pleased to find she wasn’t at all wobbly on the shiny surface of the staffroom flooring.

“This is just something I feel like I have to do,” Delia explained, practicing going back and forth, “I’m not asking you to break any more rules, though. Just to cover my shift.”

“You’re breaking rules right now!” Barbara hissed, gesturing towards the bright pink rollerskates, “if Mrs Turner finds out…”

“Relax, she won’t. She’s never here, especially not at this time of night. You know that.”

The rest of their shift was mostly uneventful. Delia swerved between tables with no problem, balancing trays of food and drinks, and only dropping one empty glass, which she agreed to pay for out of her wages. Conversation topic quickly drifted back to Tom and Barbara’s date that previous weekend, and it was soon forgotten that Delia was doing anything different from usual. The cafe was never busy after nine, which gave them both plenty of time for catching up on gossip, which was Barbara’s favourite activity, even if she liked to pretend it wasn’t.

“I don’t want to talk to her about it,” Barbara said, regurgitating the old conversation topic of whether or not she should come clean to Trixie, “especially now.”

“What do you mean ‘especially now’ - nothing’s changed, has it?” Delia raised her eyebrows, “you haven’t… you know…”

Barbara’s expression could only be described as horror as she quickly shook her head, her eyes bulging out of their sockets, “of course not. I just meant, now that Patsy has a boyfriend, I don’t think Trixie will take it well at all.”

That stopped Delia cold in her tracks, though she tried to play it off, tried to pretend her heart hadn’t just sunk into her stomach. She resumed scrubbing the counter top, using far more force than was necessary.

Of course she had a boyfriend. What world was Delia living in that she might have been naive enough to think that a girl like Patsy wouldn’t have a boyfriend? Not only was she fiercely talented on the derby rink, she was absolutely stunning - wasn’t that what the problem had been in the first place? And despite only speaking to her twice, Delia could already tell she was the kind of girl anybody would want to be around. It couldn’t be a surprise to her that she had a boyfriend, not at all.

“Delia, are you alright? You’re going to start rubbing the paint off if you’re not careful!”

“Huh?”

Delia looked down and realised that Barbara was right: the blue cloth she’d been using had worn into a huge hole, and her fingers were continuing to rub at the counter top. She exhaled sharply, and tossed the cloth into the bin.

“I’m fine,” she assured Barbara, “just nervous for next week, I guess.”

“You oughtn’t be nervous - I know you’re going to smash it. You know I’m only doubtful because I am worried, right? I don’t want you to get into trouble, but that doesn’t mean I’m not also convinced you’re going to be amazing.”

Delia smiled at her friend, feeling guilty for telling even a white lie, “of course. Thank you.”

She tried desperately to conceal her upset for the rest of the night. After all, she didn’t have any right to be sad. She had never stood a chance with Patsy anyway. It had just been a childish crush.

-

In the week leading up to try-outs, Delia fit practice in wherever she could. She only had day-time shifts at the cafe, and she was wary of Mrs Turner being around (or worse still, her husband), so she mostly practiced at night, sneaking out after her parents had gone to bed. That was the best time, anyway. She could spend hours skating up and down the quiet streets, in the dim light of street lamps, with nobody to bother her. It was then that she really knew she was doing the right thing, that going to the tryouts was important, and not just because of her silly crush. She needed to get out of this town, and if she had to rollerskate her way out, then so be it.

When the day of the tryouts came around, Delia woke with butterflies dancing in her stomach. She had already agreed to spend the day shopping for pageant shoes with her mother, which she was actually sort of grateful for: it allowed her to take her mind off of it. There was also the added bonus that all the stores and boutiques were in the city, meaning they were going to have to take the train. Now, all Delia needed was to persuade her mam to leave her there.

They stopped for afternoon tea in a swanky little cafe where they cut the sandwiches into tiny triangles and served the smallest cups of tea that Delia had ever seen. Despite it probably costing her mam a whole day’s salary for them to dine here, she was quick to poke holes in every little thing about the place, including how shiny their cutlery was, and how thick the cream they served with their scones was in comparison to back home. Delia had heard it all before, and quickly zoned out, not least of all because her palms were sweating with nervousness for the evening.

“There’s nothing like the country air back home, is there?” her mother continued, wiping her cutlery on the thick cloth serviette for at least the third time, “it’s so stuffy here in the city…”

Delia didn’t respond with anything but a tight-lipped smile, her mind still whirring to come up with an excuse for later.

“Delia, elbows,” she tutted, lifting her cup of tea to her lips.

Unusually for her, Delia immediately removed her elbows from the table. She’d tried to be as much the perfect daughter as possible today, even down to picking a pastel blue dress over her usual clash of loud prints (though she had something more her stuffed into her bag for later, along with her skates), in the hopes it might make her mam more accommodating. But her time was running out, and she still hadn’t broached the subject. It was now or never.

“I was thinking I might stay in the city for a bit,” Delia started, trying to gauge her mother’s reaction, “there’s a film on at the big cinema here that we aren’t getting back home, and I’ve made enough money in tips to grab something to eat…”

Her mother shook her head, “I’m not leaving you here by yourself, cariad. You’re not a city girl. You don’t know what it’s like here.”

“Of course, I won’t be on my own. A couple of the girls from school are at university here and—“

“Well why didn’t you just say that?” her mother scolded, her mood immediately lifted at the thought that Delia might be hanging around with someone other than Barbara, or the boys back home. She’d always been encouraging Delia to make more female friends, worried about how much of a tomboy she’d been as a child. Though she liked Barbara well enough, she’d never hidden the fact that she still thought it was unhealthy for a girl to only have one girl-friend.

“So I can stay?”

Her mam’s thin lips spread into a rare smile, “of course. As long as you’re not home too late. I don’t want you getting the train at night by yourself.”

From there, it was smooth-sailing. Delia walked her mother to the train station, waving her and her bags of shoes off, and then escaped to the toilets to get changed. She’d spent far longer than usual agonising over her outfit. She’d always been a ‘chuck something on and hope for the best’ kind of girl, but she had decided first impressions were probably almost as important as her skating on this occasion. After unearthing practically her whole wardrobe, she’d settled on polka-dotted dungaree shorts, and a simple striped t-shirt underneath. Paired with her bright pink barbie rollerskates, she looked like an overgrown child, which was perhaps not the look she was going for, but it was the best she could do at late notice.

As soon as she arrived at what had once been the house to several nuns, but now served as a training rink for the team, Delia realised how out of her comfort zone she was. Other girls were skating around the large courtyard in off-the-shoulder tops and denim shorts, t-shirts with loud slogans and short skirts, and almost everyone was in fishnets. She looked down at her pink tights and grimaced. At least her dungarees were black.

As she headed to the front entrance, Delia spotted Patsy, perched on the stone steps, anxiously smoking a cigarette. Her hair, which was usually so neat and tidy, was in a messy ponytail, loose strands hanging over her eyes. She looked like she was completely zoning out.

That is, until she spotted Delia.

“Oh!” Patsy exclaimed, hastily stubbing out the cigarette and grinning at her, “you made it! I didn’t know if you would!”

Unable to stop herself from grinning back, Delia nodded, “well, I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about.”

“I’m so glad,” Patsy said, seeming genuinely pleased. She gracefully unfolded herself from the top step, returning to her full height, so that Delia was no longer looking down at her, “here, let me show you the ropes.”

She followed Patsy through the dim-lit entrance of the old building, and through to a room that had been decked out with benches and lockers. Everything seemed out of place against the beautiful dark wood beams and stone floors that had clearly been well looked after. Delia had expected the inside to have been modernly decorated, or at least updated from the 1960s when the place was abandoned, but it very much still looked like a religious building, even down to the huge stain glass windows. It seemed almost sacrilegious to have bright posters and flyers decorating these walls. Delia was sure Barbara would have a thing or two to say about it.

Patsy led her to an empty bench at the side and they sat, Delia trying not to focus on the other girls chattering away as they slid into their skates. She watched Patsy slide her kit bag off her shoulder and delve through the contents, taking out her skates, knee pads, elbow pads, helmet - all on auto pilot. Suddenly, Delia felt even more stupid than she had before, opening her backpack and taking out her bashed up pair of neon skates.

“Do you not have protective gear?” Patsy asked, raising her eyebrows in concern.

“Uh… no?”

“Let me lend you some of mine - I always have spares. You at least have a helmet right?” she waited whilst Delia shook her head, “gosh, no, we’ll have to find you one. You’re not going out on the rink without one.”

Patsy dug about in her bag, producing knee pads and elbow pads identical to her own. The spare helmet she found in her locker. Whilst still feeling thoroughly embarrassed about it all, Delia couldn’t help but feel oddly warm as she slid the other girl’s things onto her body, trying not to think about who they belonged to, though it was sort of impossible.

“There you go - you look like the real thing now,” Patsy said, smiling shyly. Now that they were on their feet, in their skates, the height difference between them seemed much smaller. For a moment, Delia somehow forgot all about the try outs, and the fact that they weren’t alone. They were standing so close.

“Thanks,” she breathed, blowing her fringe out of her eyes, “I promise I’ll get them back to you.”

Then the moment passed.

One of the girls from the team darted into the room and straight over to Patsy, ignoring Delia’s presence entirely as she started chattering away about some party, her arm looped around Patsy’s waist as she animatedly talked about people Delia had never heard of, and things Delia was never going to be a part of. At least it dragged her back down to earth: Patsy was just being a nice person. They weren’t friends, and certainly not anything else. She didn’t even know the girl.

“So, you’ll let Buck know?” Nitty Nora asked, her fuzzy red ponytail bobbing about as she spoke.

“Sure,” Patsy smiled, warmly, “though you know I’m not his secretary right?”

Nitty Nora winked at her and took off, leaving with a small wave. Delia watched her go, a sinking feeling in her chest.

“Is Buck your boyfriend?” she found herself asking, despite knowing she did not want to know the answer.

Patsy laughed, a rich, beautiful sound that Delia immediately knew she wanted to hear again and again and again, “god, no! Sorry - you’ll see why I’m laughing when you meet him. He’s our coach.”

“Oh,” Delia replied in a small voice, sure that her face must be bright red. She laughed, too, though she wasn’t really sure why.

“I don’t have a boyfriend, actually.”

What? But Barbara had said? Delia felt herself start to panic. Did Barbara know the truth and had purposely tried to mislead her? Get a grip of yourself, Busby, stop being ridiculous.

“Oh, well, Trixie said…” she explained, much more casually than she actually felt.

Patsy rolled her eyes, “she’s got it into her head that I’m seeing someone behind her back. You know, it’s impossible for a woman to spend time with a man unless she’s secretly courting him. if Trixie ever actually came to see me play, she’d know that Buck was old enough to be my dad. I’m teaching him to dance, for his wedding… that’s all.”

As much as this was a relief to Delia, a part of her still wanted the ground to swallow her whole, and was relieved when she was cut short of any further apologies by the entrance of who she could only assume was the man himself: Buck.

Fred Buckle, or ‘Buck’ as everyone referred to him, was, as Patsy had described him, old enough to be her father. He had a bit of a beer belly, the fabric of his boiler suit stretched over to accommodate it, and he’d lost most of his hair. Still, he had a warm face, and laughing eyes, even when he was being serious. Delia decided very quickly that she liked him.

The tryouts were separated into various sections: first all the newbies would skate around as a pack, so Buck, and the team captain (Smother Superior, whose real name was Jules) could get a feel for how they worked as a team. Then, they’d be joined by the rest of the team, and the girls from a sistering team, who would block and tackle them, to see how they faired against game tactics. There’d be a speed round, where they’d individually skate around the track against a timer, and finally, they’d have a go at being the jammer, one at a time, against both the Sisters of Nonnatus, and the other team.

They started off okay. The first round was mostly fine. Even the more experienced girls (which Delia could tell there were many of, lots of whom had roller derby t-shirts and professional gear) seemed to take a while to warm up and let loose. But as soon as the players were on the track, and it became a free-for-all, Delia struggled. She’d barely gone round half the track before she was tripped up by a girl of the other team, her whole body smacking the smooth, cold ground before she’d even realised what was happening.

She groaned, trying to gather the strength to get back up, when she saw a hand being stuck out in front of her. Delia looked up, and there Patsy was, a look of concern on her pale features, looking like some kind of guardian angel.

Delia took her hand and allowed herself to be hoisted to her feet.

“Come at it with a little more aggression,” the red-head advised, squeezing her hand, before speeding off.

Delia nodded to herself, steeling her whole body for another go around the track. She’d heard the other wannabe Sisters making fun of her skates, and the fact she’d been one of the first to go down, but she shrugged it off. If Patsy believed she could do this, maybe she could do this.

Her next lap around was better. She dodged limbs, scooted between other players, and even managed to knock over one of her competition (though that wasn’t strictly intentional). As she ground to a halt at the barriers, the speed round looming over her, she was feeling much more confident. Maybe she was cut out for this after all.

As she was refilling her water bottle in anticipation for the final two rounds, Delia could hear people talking behind her, but it was only when she heard Patsy’s name that she really registered what they were talking about.

“She’s going soft on her. It’s favouritism.”

Delia glanced over her shoulder and saw that the girl who was speaking was from the other team. She was young and pretty, though from the way she batted her eyelashes and her shiny dark hair that was in a complicated up-do, she clearly knew it. Delia had gone to school with plenty of girls like that. She quickly recognised her as the one who had knocked her over earlier. She was talking away to a tall older woman with a lean, athletic body, and curly blonde hair, who was chugging away at a water bottle.

“I don’t think that’s very fair, Elisa,” another girl added, softly.

“Well, I don’t think it’s very fair to choose team members based on who you like. Did you see how she helped her up?”

Feeling her cheeks flush red, Delia moved away from the drinking fountain and back to the track, feeling more than a little rattled. She glanced at the rest of the girls, drinking and talking and stretching out their sore muscles. Maybe she didn't belong here after all.

Gulping down a long mouthful of water, she turned to the door, and quickly made her way out of it.

Chapter Text

It was only once she was outside that Delia realised how stupid she was being. This whole day had been one stupid moment after the next. She could feel tears threatening at her eyes, and angrily blinked them away. The fact that she wasn’t even tough enough to stand up to one person’s mean comments about her said it all: she wasn’t right for this. It had all been a dream, that was all, something too far out of her reach. Too good to be true. Barbara had been right; she ought to quit now.

She sunk onto the cold stone steps, discarded her helmet, and let her head fall into her hands. Her whole body was aching from hitting the track so hard. She hadn’t really noticed until now, but the adrenaline had worn off, and it was finally taking its toll. If Patsy hadn’t given her the pads to borrow, she’d definitely have skimmed knees.

As soon as she thought this, she inwardly groaned, realising that not only was she going to have to go back inside to collect her shoes, but she was going to have to face Patsy too, to give her back her things.

“Hello,”

Delia had been so absorbed in her own thoughts that she hadn’t noticed someone come up behind her. She turned awkwardly, not knowing who to expect, but certainly not anticipating one of the older women from the team.

“Do you mind?” Freudian Whip asked, gesturing to the step where Delia was sitting.

She shook her head, absently wondering what had brought the woman outside. She didn’t know much about her. She seemed to spend most of her time reading a book at the side of the track, and though her skating was strong, she wasn’t one of their frequent jammers. In fact, Delia couldn’t remember even seeing her take that position at all.

“Do you know Ockham’s Razor?” she asked Delia, her eyes bright.

“Uh… no?”

“It’s the theory that the most straight forward and obvious explanation is usually the correct one.”

Delia frowned. She hadn’t the foggiest idea what the older woman was talking about. From the look on her face, she was used to getting such a reaction, though.

“That vile young creature from the other side is jealous,” she explained, crossing her arms. When Delia made no attempt at replying, she continued, “most of the team think I lost my marbles a long time ago and do not care for me to speak my mind, even though I say only what they all think, but perhaps it would offer you some comfort to know the motive behind her actions. Even the evilest creatures recognise a threat when they see one. Much in the same way the serpent offered Eve that apple.”

Already feeling a lot less sorry for herself, Delia managed a smile, which in return was answered with a huge grin from the older woman.

“I don’t know… I’m not sure I’m cut out for this after all,” Delia said, softly.

“And I am?” the older woman pulled a face, “come back inside. You may be new, but you are swift on your feet and know your way about. We would do very well to have you on our team.”

Though she still wanted to argue, Delia reluctantly nodded, allowing the other woman to help her to her feet.

When they arrived back indoors, somebody was already in the midst of doing a speed test, Buck watching her with his stop watch, shouting commands. Delia stopped still, her stomach in knots as she watched them zoom around the track. She wasn’t so sure she’d made the right decision.

“Oh there you are - I thought I’d have to call out a search party!” Patsy arrived by her side, looking a little concerned, “you’re up next - is everything alright?”

Delia smiled tentatively, really not wanting to explain that she’d almost chickened out at the last minute. She glanced at Freudian and then back at Patsy, “yeah, I just needed some fresh air.”

Patsy smiled softly, a warmth in her eyes, and she took the helmet from Delia’s hands in a swift movement, placing it on her head and attaching it, her fingers grazing Delia’s chin momentarily. Her tongue darted out to brush across her lips, a habit of hers that Delia had already become accustomed to. She looked away.

“Go get some,” Patsy told her, looking a lot more shy than she had before.

The speed test, it turned out, was the easiest of all the trials. Delia hadn’t really noticed when everybody had been on the track, but now that she flew around with Buck almost speechlessly watching her, she realised Freudian Whip hadn’t just been being kind: she actually was pretty quick on her feet. She pulled to a stop at the end of her laps, and Buck called out a time, his pencil quickly scratching against his notepad

“Not bad, Barbie… we’ll make a derby girl of you yet.”

Delia turned to see the older, stout looking player watching her from the sidelines. She gestured to her skates, but there wasn’t a hint of venom in her voice. Though she wasn’t really smiling, she was clearly just teasing.

“Thanks,” Delia said, panting a little as she caught her breath. She caught Patsy’s eye across the track, before the redhead quickly looked away, continuing her conversation with the woman next to her.

The final test - and the one Delia was certainly dreading the most - was the jammer trial. She watched girl after girl go to the starting line, wait for their whistle to be blown, and try to make their way through the pack. The first girl fell before she’d even made it past one team player. The second faired better, using members of her own pack to help propel her forward, before being wiped out by the Hermanas’ jammer. Of the six girls who went before Delia, only one of them actually made it to score imaginary points.

Then Delia was up. She took her place at the jammer line, and waited for the Hermanas to select their new jammer. Of course, they selected Elisa, the girl who had rammed her over earlier. As she slid the star fabric over her helmet, Delia tried not to glare, feeling her pulse quicken as nerves took over.

The first whistle blew. She glanced at Elisa, who narrowed her eyes at her, already in position to take off. The second whistle, and Delia set off, starting off slowly, letting Elisa go ahead. She reviewed the group in front of her, watching them block the other girl. She swooped in, brushing narrowly past a member of the other team, and ducking to avoid a carefully placed elbow, eventually ducking between two girls, and being shoved by another. She was unsure whether they were intentionally helping, or trying to knock her over, but the momentum sent her soaring ahead. She glanced behind her, and saw Elisa coming up the inside. Delia hurried forward, nearing the pack for a second time, and slowing slightly, trying to figure out her best route. Just as she was about to gather speed again, Elisa appeared. Before Delia knew what was happening, she was being shoved sideways, something coming into contact with her shin, causing her leg to buckle underneath her. She slid out of control, and fell head-first into the barrier, bouncing off it and falling to a thud on the side of the track.

The whistle blew. Trial over.

-

Delia trudged back into the changing rooms, blinking back tears. The point in which she’d been kicked was gushing with blood, and her ears were ringing, her whole body pulsating. She hadn’t waited around to watch anyone else skate, or to hear any feedback. A girl from the other side had tried to help her up, and she’d rejected the offer, clambering to her feet by herself. She’d blown it.

Sinking onto a bench, Delia pulled her ripped tights back from the wound on her leg and winced, letting the material ping back onto it when she let go. She eased her skates off, pulled off the elbow and knee pads, and placed the helmet to one side. Her hair was falling out of its plait, but she left it, thick strands of it sticking out awkwardly. She shifted, lying with her back flat against the bench, her knees bent, and closing her eyes, trying to drown out the sounds still coming from the track. Her head was thumping, and every part of her body ached. For the first time in a long time, she couldn’t wait to get home.

“I thought you might need this.”

Delia opened her eyes in surprise. Once again standing over her - this time with an ice pack - Patsy somehow looked even more beautiful than before, even with her damp hair stuck to her forehead. Delia sighed, swinging her legs over the bench so she was sitting again. Before she could accept the ice pack, Patsy was pressing it against her leg for her. Delia covered her fingers with her own hand, until she let go.

“Thanks,” she said, her voice coming out strained. She was sure she was going to start crying any second.

“It looks sore,” Patsy said, sitting down next to her.

Delia winced, shifting the ice pack, “it is, but it’s only a graze.”

“For the record, that move was illegal. She’d have been taken off in a real match.”

Delia couldn’t decide if that made her feel better or worse. She concentrated, instead, on studying her sore leg, trying not to think about how close Patsy was sitting, the warmth of her thigh pressed up against her own. She almost wanted to move away. Only almost.

“Have you thought about what your name is going to be?”

Delia’s head shot up at that, her eyes locking on Patsy’s in an instant, “what?”

“Well, we’ll need to know what to put on your vest,” she said, a slow smile spreading on her face.

“I got in?”

“You got in.”

Forgetting all about the ice pack, Delia flung her arms around Patsy, squeezing her tightly before letting go and punching the air. She knew she looked ridiculous but she couldn’t help it, unable to keep the grin from her face. She wanted to get up and dance around the room, but her leg wouldn’t allow it.

“Wait - do I have to start calling you Ginger or Dodgers or something now?” she asked, frowning.

Patsy laughed, “nah, Patsy will do,” she nudged Delia’s leg in much the same way Barbara did, like they’d been friends forever, and Delia couldn’t help but notice a warmth spread through her at the simple contact, making her feel oddly lightheaded.

She’d made the team. She was a Sister of Nonnatus now.

-

It was sort of anticlimactic going back to the old routine of working at the cafe the next day. Three days really wasn’t that long to wait for training to begin, but it felt like an age, and Delia was antsy. As it was Sunday, Barbara wasn’t working - she’d be busy helping Tom with the Sunday School - though Delia had already text her to tell her she’d got onto the team, unable to wait to see her face-to-face. Though Barbara had been encouraging, Delia sensed a lack of enthusiasm in her response. Then again, that may have been partly because she was going to have to switch shifts now. She’d have training Tuesday and Thursday, nights that she and Barbara usually worked the late shift.

Jane had called in sick that morning, and with no one else left to cover, Mrs Turner had had to come in. Her husband was taking their older son to a football game, and they hadn’t managed to find a babysitter, so she was lugging the toddler around with her, planting her in the corner with some toys when she was needed in the kitchen. Fortunately, little Angela took after her name, and was practically an angel. Still, Delia offered to look after her during her lunch break.

“Oh, that would be wonderful - I’ve far too much on my hands here,” Shelagh conceded, looking marginally less stressed for the first time that day, “if you don’t mind of course? She won’t be any bother, will you darling?”

Delia sat herself, and her sandwich, in the corner of the cafe with Angela bouncing on her lap, scribbling on an old colouring book someone had retrieved from the lost and found. She had very little experience with young children, except for the little cousins she had who came over at Christmas sometimes, but if Angela was anything to go by, she was something of a natural. Then again, the little girl was probably one of the most behaved children she’d ever met, so it was minimal effort on Delia’s part. She munched away on her sandwich, flicking through her phone, revelling in her half hour break. The cafe was its usual busy self, and she’d been run off her feet all morning, which was a pain enough on a good day, but her entire body was aching from hitting the track so hard the day before, not to mention using muscles she hadn’t even been aware of having.

“Hello sweetie,” a voice said, holding a hand out to stroke little Angela’s hair. Delia looked up to see who the voice belonged to, and almost choked on her sandwich. Along with Barbara’s (other) best friend, she saw a familiar red ponytail bobbing its way over to the counter.

“We were expecting Barbara to be here,” Trixie announced, a smile on her bubblegum pink lips, that Delia wasn’t quite sure was genuine, “but I guess she isn’t working today. It is Delia, isn’t it?”

“Yeah - Sunday’s Barbara’s day off,” Delia said, carefully. She knew better than to drop the T word, even with such little time to prepare.

“Oh that’s a shame. I had hoped to catch up with her on her lunch,” she looked around the bustling cafe for a moment, “you know, in all the years I lived here, I never once came to have tea here. Isn’t that a shame? It’s so quaint. I used to babysit for Mrs Turner. Angela’s got so big.”

Whatever else Trixie had to say, she was cut off by Patsy’s arrival at the table, sipping at a milk-shake in a polystyrene take away cup. She looked entirely different by Trixie’s side, dressed in a plain denim dress and flat, brown shoes, her hair down. She smiled at Delia, and there was a hint of mischief in her ocean-blue eyes.

“Patsy, this is—-“

“Oh, we’ve met actually,” Patsy said, swinging her head to address Trixie, and then back at Delia, “good to see you, Delia. How are you feeling after yesterday?”

Trixie looked entirely confused, frowning for a split second, before she contorted her face back into a pleasant smile, obviously trying to pretend she knew what was going on. She looked back down at Angela, who was busily scribbling away with an orange crayon.

“Achey, but I’ll live. What are you guys doing out here?”

“Trixie was just picking up some things she’d left at her dad’s, so I thought I’d come along for the ride,” Patsy shrugged, taking a long sip of her shake. Delia couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to it than that, but she didn’t want to think too much about it.

“God knows why anybody would come here unless they had to,” Trixie chimed in, “I mean, no offence.”

Forcing a smile, Delia wondered what the deal was with Trixie. She had never really known what to make of her, despite having met her a couple of times before. She seemed nice enough, but Delia couldn’t tell if it was a front.

“None taken - I want out of this dump just as much as anybody else.”

It was awkward for a long moment, Trixie playing with Angela as Patsy sipped at her shake, clearly trying to think of something else to say. Delia finished up her sandwich, glancing at the time, and realising her break was just about over.

“It was good to see you again, Trixie… Patsy… but I’ve got to get back to work,” she said, feeling somewhat relieved.

“Oh, of course! Tell Mrs Turner I said hi, will you - she’s so busy I didn’t want to disturb her,” Trixie looked up, then back down at little Angela, ruffling her curls, “goodbye sweetie.”

“I’ll see you on Tuesday?” Patsy said, a little awkwardly, as if she wasn’t sure it was a secret she was allowed to share with Trixie.

“Sure. Looking forward to it.”

-

At the end of her shift, Delia slung her apron up on the hook, and dug her phone out of the bottom of her satchel. As usual, she had a couple of texts from her mam, which she mostly ignored - boring stuff about making sure she was home by 6 and could she pick up some milk from the corner shop on the way? - but she had a message from an unknown number, too. She frowned, pressing on the message, expecting it to be spam or a wrong number.

“Nice apron, Delia ;-). I hope you don’t mind me getting your number off Babs. Was nice to see you today. Patsy xxx”

Delia felt her cheeks flush as her lips pulled into a wide smile reading the message. She quickly saved Patsy’s number to her contacts, and contemplated a reply.

It was only as she reached her front door, the two of them chatting all the way, that she realised she’d forgotten to pick up the blasted milk, and had to turn around and go back.

Chapter Text

There was nothing quite like fresh bed sheets and a fresh, clean set of pyjamas. Patsy had a laundry rota, not that she’d ever tell anyone else about it. It was an app in her phone, for her eyes only, though she doubted it would be long before everyone else caught on and started making fun of her for it. Laundry had taken a little longer than usual this evening though, mostly because she’d been pausing after every couple of items of clothes to check her phone, and reply to numerous text messages.

She wasn’t falling for this girl, she told herself, as she quickly typed a response to her last message, before falling happily onto her neatly made bed. No, they were just friends. That was all this was. That was why she had messaged Barbara and asked for her number, under the false pretences of needing to send her a training schedule (which, in her defence as somebody who absolutely did not lie, she had sent.) - for friendship, nothing else.

Trixie waltzed in from the bathroom, her face plastered in a thick green mushy face mask, and her dressing gown billowing behind her. Patsy barely looked up from her phone, ensconced in reading the latest reply. It was only the loud, dramatic sigh that Trixie let out as she made herself comfortable on her own bed that alerted her to the fact her friend was after her attention.

“Good bath?” Patsy asked, carefully.

“Splendid,” Trixie replied, stretching out her carefully-polished toes on the bed, “it only could have been made better if Cynthia hadn’t almost barged in on me to brush her teeth.”

Patsy glanced at her and pulled a face, before returning to her phone, “the lock still dodgy?” It was only when Trixie didn’t respond that she looked up fully, “what?”

“Patience Mount, are you texting a boy?”

Feeling her cheeks go a telltale red, Patsy quickly shook her head, “no!”

“You are, aren’t you? What else could possibly be so distracting? You’ve had your nose buried in your phone ever since we got home. Well, who is he?” she looked more excited than threatening, which Patsy supposed was a good thing - she had rather worried that Trixie might be getting annoyed at something else holding her attention.

“Sorry to disappoint you but it’s the team whatsapp,” she said, already feeling guilty for lying - surely, since nothing was actually going on, she had no reason to lie? - and dropping her phone into her lap.

Trixie rolled her eyes, but not unkindly, “I should have known better than to think it was a boy. Though I do worry you spend too much time with your team - even when you aren’t out there on your skates, you’re chatting away to them or trying to organise something or other. You ought to let me set you up with one of the nice guys from my course…”

Oh not this again, Patsy found herself thinking, though she was sure not to let it show on her face. Trixie always seemed to be concerned about her lack of a love-life, especially since her own relationship had ended over a year ago. Patsy had already spent the whole morning trying to convince her she wasn’t seeing anyone - least of all Buck - behind her back, and less than twenty four hours later they were back on the subject.

“I’m sorry, it’s just now that we’ve recruited newbies—“ she was interrupted by her phone vibrating, which she momentarily ignored, “it’s become even more important to keep team spirit alive.”

“At least think about letting me set you up…?”

Patsy forced a smile, “of course I will. Just not right now, alright?”

-

Patsy had never struggled to stay focussed at work. Her mind was always completely fixed on whatever task was at hand; that was a key part of her personality, and one of the things she prided herself on most. However, that Monday she couldn’t stop her thoughts from drifting elsewhere. As soon as the tinny bell sounded and her day was over, she practically leapt from her seat to grab her phone from her locker.

Of course, then she felt guilty, especially as she read over her text messages and couldn’t fight the grin from spreading across her face. That was enough to know it was time to put a stop to it: if it was affecting her work, it was too much.

That was easier said than done, though. Patsy had barely sent her response - telling Delia she was going to be busy that evening - when Delia replied, telling her she’d see her at practice the following day.

Despite what Trixie might have thought - and vocalised on more than one occasion - it wasn’t that Patsy believed she didn’t deserve happiness. To the contrary, she was far happier with where she was right now than she had ever been before. She had a job she loved and genuinely found fulfilling, she lived with people who were quickly becoming her closest friends, and she had her team. So what if she maybe put those things first? Didn’t they deserve to be put first, given how much she needed all of them? But Trixie seemingly couldn’t understand how anybody could be happy when they hadn’t been on a date in over a year (actually, much much much longer, but Patsy certainly wasn’t letting on to that).

She couldn’t really figure out why she was so adamantly against telling everyone the truth. She’d spent enough of her life trying to ignore that part of herself, she supposed that had to play a part. It wasn’t really that she thought Trixie would be horrified, but then a small part of her had to fear that; they shared a room, and things would surely get uncomfortable if she knew. Sure, she’d talked about having male gay friends, but that was different: they didn’t live under the same roof, they weren’t in the room she dressed in, she didn’t talk about the same things with them. And if she did, then it wouldn’t matter: they weren’t going to be interested in her. And whilst Patsy wasn’t, either, she knew how girls could be.

Which, again, was the root of the problem.

This thing with Delia, whatever it was - a crush, infatuation… whatever - was going to have to disappear.

-

Patsy made it to their next practice by the skin of her teeth. Normally, she’d finish work with a good two hours to spare, enough time to grab food on her way over, but today when asked to stay back, she couldn’t quite stop herself. The guilt from the day before was still resting heavily over her. Despite knowing this would cut her time down significantly, and mean she definitely couldn’t have dinner beforehand, she’d stayed behind. That had led her to running up the front steps of Nonnatus House a whole two minutes late. Not that it mattered much, because nobody else was ever on time, but Patsy was always punctual, with no exceptions. So of course that left her in a bad mood.

At least being late gave her the excuse of having something to distract herself from their newbies, or rather, one new teammate in particular. She rushed through to the locker room and quickly changed out of her work clothes and into the familiar soft blue vest-top and shorts, slipping her shoes off and skates on in one swift movement, and didn’t even pause to let her eyes search the room for Delia.

“Nice of you to join us,” Buck’s voice interrupted her quick lacing of her skates, and she glanced up in time to spot Delia sheepishly entering the room, a sports bag across her shoulder.

“I’m so sorry. I misjudged the traffic. Here now, though,” she said, smiling awkwardly, and Patsy couldn’t stop the warmth from spreading across her cheeks, just at the sight of her. She quickly looked down.

“Ignore him - it’s unusual for any of our ladies to be on time - you’ll fit in with us well,” Jules assured her, standing beside Buck. Crusher muttered something under her breath from the other side of the room.

As if punctuating Jules’ sentiment, Freud walked in, a full ten minutes late, her eyes trained on a book, and barely glanced over the top of it to make her greeting.

“If you’re going to have your nose in a book, can it at least be this one,” Buck called after her, lifting a pamphlet-thin book from the box under his arm and waving it after Freud, “hot off the presses, our new bibles.”

Jules hurriedly handed out the books. They were bound in fake leather and looked every bit like a real bible - gold lettering and a cross with a pair of skates hanging over it, gold-edged pages, but the thickness of a leaflet you’d pick up from the doctor’s surgery - so much so that Patsy felt a little like she was committing a sin just handling it. Her old boarding school teachers would be livid. She smiled, flipping it open and skimming the pages. When she looked up, she met Delia’s eyes, and noticed that aside the two of them, nobody else was even paying attention to the books. Freud had returned to her battered copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

“Okay, give them a read over at bed time then,” Buck said, dejectedly, having watched half the team toss them into her backpacks without a second glance.

Patsy set her own kit bag on the bench and fished out her pads, and her helmet, sliding the new playbook into the front pocket. Unlike everybody else, she had every intention of memorising it as soon as she got home.

“Hey,” a voice said, catching her off guard.

She swung round, unsurprised to find Delia standing behind her. Though it had only been a couple of days, she’d already transformed from the small-town odd-ball into something of a derby girl. Her bright pink skates had been replaced with uniform black Riedells, brand new and unscuffed, and she finally had her own set of elbow and knee pads. She didn’t have her own training vest, but wore a pale blue button-down crop top over a long vest top and leggings. Her dark hair was in a braid, nesting under a brand new helmet.

“Nice gear,” Patsy said, smiling fondly at her, despite herself.

“Cheers - I fear it came a bit too late though. Crusher just gave me this,” she held out a navy vest, the words ‘Malibruise Barbie’ in pink glittery writing across the back.

“You know you get to pick your own name, right?” Patsy chuckled, resisting tucking a strand of hair behind Delia’s ear.

“Well, I mean, I was sort of dreading picking something that sounded ‘cool’ enough,” she explains, using her fingers to mimic quotation marks, “so I guess I’ll take what I’m given. Neon pink skates are the legacy I have to accept for myself.”

“I don’t know - I think you hear ‘Barbie’ and you’re going to assume a bottle blonde…”

Delia wrinkled her nose, laughing, “I don’t think that’s quite me.”

Their chatter was cut short by Buck ushering them through to the rink, and in some ways Patsy was grateful; she could feel her cheeks flushing pink and she hadn’t done any exercise to blame it on. The giddy feeling that made her insides feel funny had returned, and she could no longer pretend that it didn’t have something to do with the newest member of their team. She sped off through to the training rink, leaving Delia a little ways behind, and fell into line with Phyl and Nora who were already deep in conversation, but fortunately on a topic Patsy could join in with.

All things considered, the session went as well as it could have. Patsy was glad that she didn’t completely succumb to the distraction of Delia, though she did have to forcefully make herself look away from her more than once, and it was going to be a long while before she stopped wincing every time Delia got knocked down. But Delia seemed to already be taking to the team as though she had been a part of it forever, even if she wasn’t as skilled as some of the other girls. There was power behind her movement, she was just restrained when it came to unleashing herself to her full potential. Patsy could understand that, though it was a little frustrating. The team was showing promise for the first time in a long time, and she was sure that wasn’t just hazed by her feelings, whatever they were, for the new girl. If she could just get Delia to let loose a little more, they might actually stand a chance of winning a game.

Then again, it was only their first session.

Patsy thought back to when she’d first put on a pair of skates herself. She’d been whizzing about on her rollerskates for as long as she could remember, even as a kid when it was the only thing she and her mother really had in common. She remembered skating around plastic bottles in a dimly lit, empty car park late at night, her mum cheering her on. It was one of her favourite memories. For a long time after, she’d kept her skates at the back of her closet. She felt like she’d waited her whole life to find something that clicked, a purpose, maybe, but it had been finding out about roller derby that had done it for her. She wondered if it was the same for Delia.

“As most of you know, we’ve got our next derby game in two weeks time, playing against our old favourites, The Break Neck Betties” Buck paused, allowing for the booing coming from the rest of their team, “I want you to bring your A-game. This is our first match with you newbies, and I want you lot to study your bibles like they’re the word of God okay?”

“Offensive…” Nora muttered, rolling her eyes.

“I’m serious. I want you all to do your homework. Get those plays learnt before next session. Show those Betties we are done playing games.”

“He does realise this is literally a game, right?” Delia whispered, and Patsy hadn’t even realised she was standing so close. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up without warning.

“We haven’t won a game in… over a year,” Patsy explained, taking a tiny step away, “the Betties never let us forget it.”

“Well, you have me now,” the darker haired girl said, winking. Patsy felt her cheeks flush again.

The team moved back to the locker room and, as usual, talk moved swiftly on to heading out for a drink. Unsurprisingly, Nora and Jules ducked out, but the others were noisily deciding on a venue as Patsy wriggled her way out of her sweaty training clothes, and into her jeans.

“Delia, you’ll come, won’t you?” asked one of the other new girls, a tall, stocky woman who was a good three inches taller than everybody else. Patsy couldn’t quite remember her name.

“Oh, I don’t know… I have to get back.”

Crusher rolled her eyes at this, elbowing her gently in the ribs, “come off it. One drink won’t put you past your bedtime.”

“Ginge? You want her to come, don’t you?” Phyl turned, and Patsy wasn’t sure if she imagined the twinkle in her eye or if she was being far more obvious than she had thought. She glanced at Phyl, and then at Delia, realising much too late that she was partially undressed.

“I don’t think I can make it either tonight, girls,” she said, instead, quickly turning away.

“What’s this, the great Patsy Mount turning down a drink? Have we entered an alternate universe?”

“Actually, studies show that alternate universes could very well—“ started Freud, not even looking up from her book.

“God, don’t get her started on alternate universes,” Crusher groaned.

Patsy was glad for the conversation to carry on without her as she neatly tidied away her kit and slid into her coat. She felt around in her pocket for her car keys, her fingers wrapping around her box of cigarettes and her lighter out of habit, before gripping her keys and fishing them out.

“See you all on Thursday,” she called, darting out of the room before anyone could further question her reasons for skipping the pub.

Truthfully, she wasn’t entirely sure why she was so eager to get home, except for perhaps the growing pile of paperwork on the backseat of her car, but that seemed unlikely. It wasn’t like it being a school night had stopped her from enjoying herself before, in fact she was generally considered the life and soul of the party, despite taking the derby team more seriously than everybody else. She hadn’t had a significant hangover in years, but she was well versed in ditching her car and taking a taxi home after having one too many whiskey chasers. The rest of her team - bar the new girls, and Nora - might have been quite a bit older than her, but they were hardly nuns. Some of Patsy’s favourite nights out had been with her teammates, getting in round after round of beers, and telling ridiculous stories. They might have been quite different from nights out with Trixie, but that suited Patsy just fine.

As she started down the steps of the old nun’s house, Patsy became aware of another set of footsteps just behind hers, and glanced back. Delia was moving slowly, fishing through her bag for something, and muttering under her breath. Despite her better judgement, Patsy slowed up until they were walking together.

“Blasted bus ticket I know you’re in here somewhere,” Delia hissed, seemingly unaware that she had company.

Patsy laughed, shoving her hands deeper into her pockets, “you alright?”

“Shit. Sorry, you just… god…” Delia stared up at her with red cheeks, “I didn’t see you there.”

“You’re not getting the bus all the way back are you?” she asked, her eyebrows knitting together.

“Uh… yeah? I mean, I can’t really afford the train…” Delia replied sheepishly.

Shaking her head dismissively, Patsy pulled her car keys out again, “right. I’m driving you home.”

“No! It’s way too far out of your way. I’ll be fine.”

“No. I don’t feel good about it. Come on, you can be in charge of the tape player.”

Delia raised her eyebrows at this, “the tape player? What decade are we in?”

-

As Patsy drove away from the quaint little house that Delia had just moments ago disappeared inside of, she felt a strange sadness. Delia had ducked out of the car with a genuine thank you, but little else, mumbling something about not letting her mother see them. A small part of Patsy had thought that maybe she’d walk her to her door, and they’d… well, she couldn’t finish that thought without feeling terrible. But they hadn’t. She’d watched Delia disappear, tracing the lights turning on and off until she was safely upstairs in the room Patsy assumed must be her bedroom.

She closed her eyes and rubbed at her temples. Whether this woman knew it or not, she was going to be the death of her, if she had to keep trying to pretend like it was nothing.

Chapter Text

Even though she knew it meant nothing, Delia couldn’t stop thinking about Patsy driving her home. She analysed all the little details - the way her car smelt of synthetic banana from an air freshener that hung from her mirror; how her eyes would dart from the road to Delia and back to the road; the mountain of cassette tapes in her glove compartment, ranging from awful pop compilations and 90s RnB, to 80s power ballads and sad men singing about beautiful women. When they’d pulled up outside the house Delia grew up in, she’d thought for a moment about kissing her. She wondered if Patsy felt the same, her hands folded awkwardly in her lap, her knee bobbing about.

She’d walked up the front path and up to her room and when she’d gone to the window to close the blinds, Patsy was still sitting there. She hadn’t even started the car.

Delia had taken her phone out to text her a dozen times since then, but stopped herself. She didn’t know what she wanted to say. Or she did, but she wasn’t sure Patsy would want to read it.

On Wednesday, she had a shift at the cafe with Barbara and Jane. It was as busy as it ever was on a midweek lunchtime: book groups in full swing, middle aged women with babies, gossiping over their coffees, and elderly couples sharing cream teas. Delia worked on auto-pilot, her mind somewhere else entirely, as she filled orders and made teas and polished cutlery.

“You’re in a good mood,” Barbara said, as the lunchtime rush finally drew to an end. She looked stressed… well, noticeably more stressed than usual. “I take it training went well yesterday?”

“I guess,” Delia replied, aiming for casual, though she couldn’t quite stop the smile from sneaking onto her lips.

Frowning, Barbara squeezed her cleaning cloth out into the sink, “please tell me you’re going to be more descriptive than that. I need to know that what I went through for you yesterday was worth it.”

Delia paused with her hand halfway to the shelf, and looked at Barbara, trying to gauge whether she was being serious or not, “what happened yesterday?”

“You’re kidding right?” she turned away from the sink and crossed her arms across the front of her apron, “I can’t believe nobody told you.”

“Told me what?”

“About the…” she lowered her voice, “excrement.

Delia struggled to hold a straight face as she leant closer to Barbara, “the what now?”

“Elderly lady faeces. All over the disabled bathroom. It was just me in - and Mr Turner - so naturally I had to deal with it.”

Biting her lip to stop her from laughing out loud (though tears were quickly filling her eyes), Delia struggled to get the word out: “what?!”

“This man - I mean, he was a really sweet elderly guy and he was really apologetic and obviously embarrassed - he came over whilst I was filling ketchup bottles, told me his wife had had an accident and that she was very sorry. ‘Accident’ was an understatement.”

Delia lost it then. She couldn’t tell if it was the wide-eyed expression on Barbara’s face, the serious tone to her voice, or imagining her face during this exchange that got her harder. She doubled over in laughter, laughing so hard she had tears streaming down her cheeks.

“It is not funny!” Barbara growled, “I couldn’t believe it when Mr Turner told me I had to sort it out. I do not get paid enough for this. It was all over the walls Delia. I think a bit of it was even on the ceiling. How does somebody even do that?”

“Oh Babs… I am so so sorry… to have missed that,” Delia choked out, struggling to regain composure.

“Yeah, well you owe me big time.”

-

Training on Thursday was much the same as Tuesday, but somehow Delia felt more prepared. She arrived in her brand new training vest, and a pair of pale pink shorts she’d mostly picked out as a joke. Her skates were suitably scuffed by now, so that she didn’t look so much like the new kid, and she felt vastly more confident because of it, even if that was silly.

She decided the best course of action was to concentrate wholly on the skating, and not on the existence of Patsy Mount. For the most part, this went well. She took her turns as jammer, going at it with everything she had. They practiced jumps, and whilst she fell flat on her face the first two times, the last time she landed squarely on both feet, and it might have been a small victory, but it was enough to keep her going.

Delia didn’t want to assume that Patsy was going to drive her home again. She thought it was best not to assume anything at all. They hadn’t text at all over the last couple of days, and, though Delia hadn’t been paying her as much attention as she had previously, and Patsy seemed more distant than before all through the evening. Delia faintly wondered if she might have done something wrong, but then she realised that that was unlikely, and quite frankly, a bit self-centered; they didn’t even know each other that well.

It took her by surprise when at the end of the evening, while she was changing back into her normal clothes, Patsy appeared beside her, awkwardly holding a package wrapped in brown paper.

“Hi,” Delia said, glancing down at the parcel and then back up at Patsy.

“I got you something.”

Delia bit back a grin, “what’s the occasion?”

“I don’t know,” Patsy admitted, blushing in a way that made Delia’s heart beat just a little faster, “I just saw them and thought of you.”

They stood there awkwardly for a moment longer, the package still in Patsy’s hands.

“Am I ever going to get to open this present…?” Delia teased.

“God… yeah, here.”

The package was wrapped so neatly that Delia didn’t want to tear the paper, or dislodge the plain white string that held it together. She’d noticed that about Patsy, especially after being in her car: she did everything neatly and precisely. It was the opposite to the chaos that Delia reigned on just about everything she touched, and Delia like her all the more for it. She tugged the paper loose, having to unfold it several times to reveal the much smaller contents.

Rolling her eyes, she held the glittery pink laces up.

“You shouldn’t have,” she deadpanned, but her smile was genuine.

“They’re for your skates,” Patsy added, as if it didn’t go without saying.

“You know, I don’t even wear pink. I don’t even like pink,” she glanced at the shorts she’d tossed onto her pile of clothes and bit her lip, “usually. I bought those as a joke.”

Once she’d finished packing her kit bag - new laces and all - they headed out together in amicable silence. Delia again didn’t want to assume anything, so she went to part ways as they reached the car park, but Patsy stopped her with a hand on her arm. As soon as Delia stopped, she let go as if she was touching something hot.

“I’m taking you home,” she said, shyly, running her tongue over her lips out of habit. Delia had noticed she did that a lot, too.

“Are you sure? I should be paying you petrol money at this rate.”

Patsy shrugged, “of course. I don’t mind. I like the company.”

Delia didn’t point out that driving her home meant Patsy would have to do double as long a journey by herself to get to her own house. Mostly, because she’d sort of hoped Patsy would offer again.

-

The day of Delia’s first official derby game snuck up on her in no time. She’d been spending as much time as she possibly could on her skates between training sessions, or at least as much as she could without making her mam suspicious, but she still didn’t feel properly prepared for the real thing. She woke up feeling like she might be sick, but sort of in a good way.

Delia thought she’d done a pretty good job of keeping her excitement under control, but as she sat at the breakfast table, she quickly became aware of her mother giving her an odd look whilst she ate her Coco Pops.

“There’s something different about you,” her mam voiced, after they’d been sitting in awkward silence for a good ten minutes, “you haven’t met a boy have you?”

Delia couldn’t tell if her mother was hoping that she had, or hadn’t. On the one hand, a boyfriend would probably settle any thoughts her mother had about her not being ‘quite right’ (a term she’d heard her use on the phone to her friends, when Delia was still a teenager, but that stuck with her ever since), but on the other, she couldn’t imagine her mam being very happy about her having a boyfriend, even if she was nearly nineteen.

“When would I have had time to meet a boy?” Delia pointed out, raising her eyebrows at her mother, “I’m always working.”

That seemed to be the right answer. Her mam went back to eating and reading the newspaper.

She’d told her mam that she’d be working at the cafe all day, but in reality she had the whole day to herself. As soon as she’d finished breakfast she went upstairs and picked out a bag big enough to conceal her kit bag (which turned out to be the giant backpack she’d had in year seven, that made her look like she was going on a camping holiday…). She chose her clothes carefully - there had been chatter on the team whatsapp that there would be an after-party following the match, and she realised this was the first time anyone (well, by anyone, she mostly meant Patsy) would see her properly dressed up. It was important to make a good first impression. Which of course meant agonising over clothes, with half her wardrobe out on her bed, and snap chatting Barbara every choice. She eventually settled on simple florals - a sunflower patterned dress and nice shoes. She really hoped nobody expected her to wear heels. She shoved the dress into her bag and put on her dungarees, not wanting to rouse suspicion from her mother.

She spent most of the day dipping in and out of shops, not really sure what she was looking for, the heavy bag on her back weighing her down. She stopped off at her favourite burger place, and ate alone, not even minding the empty seat opposite hers, or the couples who surrounded her. She was so excited for the evening, she was sure nothing could take away from it.

It had taken her at least a week to persuade Barbara that she absolutely had to be at her best friend’s first roller derby match, but even that morning, Barbara was being flaky. The concept of phoning in sick was absolutely foreign to her. They’d spent a good half an hour deciding what illness she could fake over the phone, as if she was calling someone with a medical degree, and not just the Turners (who, to be honest, probably wouldn’t be too rattled by her taking the night off; she’d never called in sick in the two years she’d been working there). Eventually, though, she’d agreed to meet Delia in the carpark by the train station, avoiding going to her house in case her mam was home.

When Delia arrived at the station, a little after 5pm, she found Barbara ducked behind her steering wheel, wearing a huge pair of sunglasses that definitely did not belong to her. Delia rolled her eyes.

“Great disguise,” she teased, sliding into the passenger seat, “I almost walked straight past you.”

“Ha ha, very funny - I just didn’t want to bump into the Turners on the way here. Gosh - is that the backpack you had in first form? It’s huge!”

Delia slung the bag onto the backseat and moved her own seat back, even though she knew it agitated Barbara (“my dad will know I’ve had you in here” she’d hissed after they’d driven to the derby that first time). She didn’t put her feet up on the dashboard, though she was sorely tempted.

Unlike Patsy’s car, Barbara’s usually smelt of smelly feet and old gym clothes. A fir tree air freshener that hadn’t been swapped over in months dangled lamely from the mirror, doing nothing to disguise the whiff of Indian take away she’d obviously transported the night before. She dug through the glove compartment and couldn’t find anything but an old Ronan Keating CD, which she tossed back inside.

“How are you feeling?” Barbara asked, once she’d finished programming the sat nav.

“Great. I don’t know… tingly?”

“Tingly?” Barbara raised her eyebrows.

Delia didn’t want to go into it, so she just shrugged. She honestly couldn’t tell if she was so jittery because of the match, or because of seeing Patsy. The last time she’d dropped her home, she had genuinely thought for a moment that Patsy was going to kiss her, and the thought was still driving her crazy. She’d reached across to wipe away some dirt from her cheek, her fingers gentle and (unless Delia was imagining it, which was quite possible) slightly shaky. Delia had wanted so badly to turn her cheek into her touch, to force her to stay there, to bring her own hands to Patsy’s face and pull her into a kiss. But she hadn’t. She’d said goodnight and gone to bed.

“Should I have brought a sign with me? I feel like I should have a sign.”

“I don’t think you need a sign,” Delia said, “but I’d better be able to hear you screaming for me.”

-

The journey seemed to go far too quickly, and before Delia knew it she was sitting in an unfamiliar locker room, dressed in her brand new kit, tying the bright pink laces on her skates, and trying desperately to keep her lunch inside her stomach and not on the floor. She hadn’t felt nervous until they’d arrived, and then it had suddenly hit her how big a deal this was. She’d seen the girls from the other team, their 1940s themed uniforms and neatly curled hair in updos she couldn’t fathom, and realised how under prepared she was. She suddenly felt like a fraud in her straight-from-the-packaging kit and only lightly scuffed skates.

Her fingers trembled as she tied her laces into bows, having to start over more than once. She wondered if this was normal - the other girls were chatting and laughing and generally were no different from how they were at training, except for their clothes. It all seemed like background noise to Delia. She didn’t have the strength to join in.

She glanced over at Patsy, who was sitting in the corner, mulling over her copy of Buck’s bible. If she was nervous, she was excellent at hiding it. She looked perfectly calm, completely in the zone. Delia thought again of Patsy’s long, pale fingers brushing against her cheek. She hadn’t looked the least bit calm then.

Just as Delia was staring at her, Patsy looked up, and their eyes met across the small locker room. Delia wanted to look away, but found herself unable to, lost in the bright blue of her eyes, the way her lips curved into a soft, small smile. She was wearing more make-up than she wore at training, perfectly angled eyeliner and a darker lipstick. If Delia had appreciated the way her clothes hugged her figure when she’d seen her on the track that first time, she marvelled at it now.

Suddenly her mouth was dry and she needed to look away.

She felt her phone buzz at the side of her, and lifted it to her lap in sweaty hands, expecting Barbara’s name to flash up on the screen. It was sad, really, that she had no friends outside of her one best friend, and a couple who had pretty much ditched her as soon as they left for university. But it wasn’t Barbara.

Hey, you doing okay? xxx

Delia glanced across the room at Patsy, who was looking intensely at her own phone, before typing her reply.

Kinda freaking out. That’s normal right?

Of course it is. You’ve got this. You’ll be great xxx

Delia was just about to reply, when Buck appeared. It was time to go.

Chapter Text

Even as she skated into the large open area of the warehouse, Delia’s legs felt like they may buckle under her. She tried to blank out the noise, the huge crowd. She squinted so that the sea of faces was fuzzy, but it didn’t help. Someone touched her, warm fingers on her wrist, asking for an invitation into her hand, and she almost jumped, startled. She glanced at Patsy, letting their fingers twist together, hoping her hands weren’t as sweaty as she thought they probably were. She obviously looked as awful as she felt.

They held hands for a long moment, before Patsy let go, skating ahead. She knew how to work the crowd, and Delia watched in awe as she flirted effortlessly with the front row, Delia following awkwardly behind. It seemed like a total role reversal. Delia was usually so confident, but now she couldn’t even look at the crowd, let alone think of interacting with them. Patsy was like a completely different person.

They took their places on the bench, depositing water bottles and fiddling with mouth guards. The announcer was rallying the crowd, but it was all background noise to Delia. All she could focus on was herself, the pounding of her heart in her chest. She needed to get it together or she was going to make an idiot of herself. She refused to look at Patsy.

There was a soft clap on her shoulder and she turned to meet Hurri-crane Phyllis’ kind eyes.

“Come on, kid, you’re going to do great.”

She wasn’t sure what did it exactly, but Delia found herself snapping out of her funk. She tugged on her laces, slipped her mouth guard in, and buckled on her helmet. She could do this. They’d chosen her for the team for a reason.

The initial lap round the track, presenting to the crowd, flew by in an instance. Adrenaline was buzzing in Delia’s veins as she moved into the scrum with her team. People had actually applauded for her. Her. She had convinced herself that Barbara would be the only one, but she was wrong, unable to even make out her best friend’s voice in the uproar.

When she met her team’s eyes, they were all grinning.

“Right, I’m putting Nitty in for first jammer,” Buck said, glancing at his sheet, “Dodgers, you’re up second, then you Barbie. Alright? Newbies, and Crusher, you’re benched first. Tag in, Barbie first, then you, Jolly.”

Delia tried not to let her nerves show as she nodded, taking in all the information she was being given.

“I don’t suppose there’s any point in bringing up plays from the book…?” he sighed, “right… just… do your best.”

The bench felt too firm beneath Delia’s jelly-like legs, and she sat with her elbows on her knees to stop herself from fidgeting. The team took their line-up. Delia catalogued the opposition: the determined and steely team captain, up first as the jammer, and her sister, who Delia had been introduced to earlier, with the same deeply focussed blue eyes. The tall dark haired player at the front had a bright smile on her red lips, was half-chatting to the two girls next to her, a willowy blonde and a brunette with a bandana tied around her helmet. Delia could hear her chuckle, even over the crowd, before she returned her attention to the track.

The lack of tension should have been comforting, but it only highlighted one thing: the Betties knew they were going to win.

Delia tried to push that thought to the back of her mind. There was no point in having a defeatist attitude already, before the match had even started.

The first whistle blew. Delia watched the pack take off, trying to focus on the way the opposing team played, their formation. At the second whistle, the jammers fought their way through. Just as Delia had thought, the Betties’ jammer was just as much a force to be reckoned with as first impressions had led her to believe. She sped into the pack, propelled further ahead by her sister, with the rest of their blockers parting to let her throw. The Sisters could barely fight her off, and she flew through, Nitty Nora far behind and struggling to make her way past any of the team.

The jam felt like it lasted an age. The Betties scored 8 points, to the Sisters’ 2. Freudian Whip took the bench, and Delia shakily got to her feet, and moved into position. She tried not to concentrate on anything but the players around her. She watched Patsy move to the jammer’s line, then pulled her focus straight forward, hoping tunnel vision would drown out the noise around her, the faces of the people in the crowd.

As soon as the whistle blew, she moved forward, fitting herself smoothly into the pack, and keeping her attention straight ahead. The second whistle blew. Delia glanced over her shoulder, watching Patsy coming flying towards her, and swiftly moved out of her way. The other team’s jammer came up behind, and Delia jutted her elbow out, just in time to catch her and force her off balance, stumbling into one of her teammates. Patsy soared ahead.

Once the jam was over and the points were scored, Delia allowed herself to relax, and breathe, but only for a moment.

Patsy was pressing the star cover into her hands.

Her fingers trembled as she tugged it over helmet, her eyes not leaving Patsy’s for a second. She smiled, a tiny smile that only barely lifted the corners of her mouth, but it was enough. Delia swallowed, moving towards the back line, taking her place beside the dark haired girl from the other team.

“Hey, first time? Good luck!” She had the kind of accent that you could listen to for hours, and a bright, genuine smile.

Delia barely had a chance to murmur her thanks, her guard still feeling foreign in her mouth, before the first whistle went. She’d missed the announcer talking about her introduction into the team, which was probably for the best.

On the second whistle, Delia could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She set off, trying to remind herself to breathe. She didn’t remain behind for long, scooting through bodies, barely paying attention to who was who in the blur of blues and greens. She narrowly avoided being taken out by a boot catching her leg. It caused her to stumble, but not stop, and she was soon plummeting ahead. Adrenaline kept her moving at speed, despite her calf stinging. She didn’t allow herself to look down. She had no idea how close behind the Betties’ jammer was, and she didn’t want to know. Instead, she pushed herself forward as fast as she could, catching up the back of the pack.

How she made it through the pack the second time was unclear. All she could remember as the whistle blew for the end of jam, was the roar of the crowd, and the feel of her skates gliding across the smooth track. She hadn’t even managed to keep track of the score. She struggled her helmet cover off, but before she could move across to the bench, she was being tackled from behind, arms slung around her shoulders.

“Blooming good for a first jam,” Phyllis cheered, letting go of her, but not before squeezing her shoulders extra tightly. Delia looked up at Jules, who was grinning so wide it looked like her face might split.

“Great work,” Jules agreed, “did us all proud.”

Delia only let the feeling of triumph sink in for a moment. At the bench, Buck announced a new jammer, and Delia handed the helmet cover to Crusher, glad that her pulse had returned to a reasonably normal pace. She sank onto the bench, catching her breath. A moment later, Patsy sat down beside her, taking a long sip of water from a green water bottle.

“I knew you could do it,” she told Delia, her eyes sparkling, her lips turned up into a small smile.

-

They lost the game. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but Delia still couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. At least the gap between the two teams was smaller than ever, or at least that was what Buck had said, tugging Delia into a one armed hug.

Delia was just impressed she hadn’t fallen flat on her face. Not even once.

In the changing room, talk quickly turned to the after-party. Delia couldn’t help but feel the start of butterflies gathering in her stomach as they talked. She decided to put it down to the fact that she hadn’t been on a proper night out since Barbara’s birthday last year. Being one of the last of her friends to turn eighteen, Delia hadn’t been able to go to most of her friend’s birthday nights out, and then they’d left for uni. And Barbara was hardly the kind of girl to suggest going clubbing. The closest Delia had come was a couple of trips to the pub with girls from work.

She knew the real reason she was excited. Catching a glimpse of Patsy out of the corner of her eye, she quickly looked away, concentrating on doing up the buttons on her dress.

As soon as they got out into the arena doorway, the gravity of what had just happened was overwhelming. There were a few people hanging around waiting for autographs, a steady stream of people still exiting, grabbing last minute snacks and programmes on their way out. Amongst the chaos, Barbara stood awkwardly at the side, waving as soon as she caught Delia’s eye.

“That was incredible,” she gushed, pulling her best friend into a tight squeeze. Delia couldn’t help but grin, despite her face being pressed awkwardly into the taller girl’s shoulder, “I have honestly never been prouder of anybody. Ever.”

This was quite a compliment, given Barbara had literally cried happy tears for other people’s A-level results.

Delia beamed at her, “I’m so glad you came.”

Just then, Delia felt a hand gently touching her shoulder. She twisted around to find herself looking up at Patsy, her eyes bright, a fond smile on her face.

“Babs, you’re coming to the after party, right?” she asked, tucking herself into Delia’s side as if she had always belonged there, her arm nestled around Delia’s waist. Delia couldn’t concentrate on anything but trying to remain looking calm.

“Oh, I don’t know, I do have to get back to—“

“No, no, you must come! It’s my first one, remember!” Delia pleaded with her, using the same reasoning that had got her to the game in the first place.

Barbara looked between them, obviously trying to make her mind up, before finally shrugging her shoulders, “okay, I suppose I can stay for a little while.”

-

Delia wasn’t sure what she had expected, but the party she arrived at some time later was not it. She had thought maybe everybody would go to the pub together, or go back to one of the team’s house for a party of wine and cheese - the kind of grown-up evenings her mam had with her friends. The house party that she walked into was neither of these things.

Too many people were crammed into the small living room (Delia was unclear on whose house it was) - girls from their team, the Betties sans their vintage up-dos, girls that Delia recognised as the team that were at the try-outs, and others who she didn’t know. They were already in clumps throughout the room, drinking from plastic cups and practically shouting at each other over a stereo that was pumping out loud music. Amongst the chaos, Freudian Whip was sitting in a corner reading a book, sipping drink through a long straw, a plate of cake on her lap. She looked completely out of place. Then again, so did most of their team.

“Let’s get our new little superstar jammer a drink shall we?” Hurricrane said cheerfully, pushing through to the table across one side of the room. She didn’t ask what she wanted, and Delia didn’t know whether to be relieved or concerned.

“Wow this is… quite the party,” she said, turning around to look at Patsy.

“We don’t do things by halves here,” Patsy told her, before shyly adding, “welcome to the team, Deels.”

Something about the familiarity in the way she gently used a nickname as though they’d known each other for years and years made the hairs on the back of Delia’s neck stand up, her stomach suddenly feeling all gooey. She couldn’t help but smile back at her, the ghost of a ‘thank you’ on her lips, before she was being swung around by Crusher, and handed a neon green drink.

“Get this down you,” Crusher encouraged, and Delia rolled her eyes, lifting the cup of what looked like toxic waste to her lips, and taking a long sip.

When she moved to look back at Patsy, she had disappeared.

Chapter Text

Patsy had to get a grip.

This was all too much; the curve of Delia’s smile as she looked at her from under her eyelashes, that dimple that Patsy couldn’t drag her eyes away from. Her eyes were such a bright blue, a perfect summer sky. As much as Patsy tried to concentrate on the game, on the rest of the team, on her own skating… on anything but her, it was impossible.

And now they were at the after party. And Patsy knew what happened at after parties.

She’d dragged herself away as soon as she’d seen an opportunity. She went straight out the double glass doors and onto the patio, lit a cigarette, and hoped it would clear her mind. She resisted the urge to down her plastic cup of whiskey in one go. Getting drunk wouldn’t help anything. Taking a drag on her cigarette, she stared up at the night sky, watching the spatter of stars above her head. Out here, she could drown out all the sounds of the party, all the chatter and laughter and music that she usually revelled in. Her own thoughts were too noisy for her to concentrate on enjoying that atmosphere in the way she usually did. She needed the fresh air.

Her phone buzzed at her side, and she lifted it into her lap, scrolling through a lengthy message from Trixie, trying to set her up on a date. She exhaled slowly, tossing her phone aside and closing her eyes. It hadn’t been easy to ignore up to now, per say, but it had been easier. She’d had other things to take her mind off of it. It had been easier to fake normality.

But then she’d met Delia. And now no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get her out of her head. It made every moment impossible, every action laboured because she was thinking solely of her, of the sound of her voice, or the smell of her perfume, or the way her fingers sometimes lingered for just a little too long on her skin… It was all-consuming. And the worst part was she knew it was one-sided. It had to be. Despite the amount of time they’d spent together over the last few weeks, and those long, lingering looks they’d shared, she knew better than to imagine that Delia felt the way she did. It was mostly her mind playing tricks on her; it had happened several times before, even if that was a long time ago now.

“Don’t tell me this isn’t your scene either?”

Patsy almost gave herself whiplash she looked up so fast. She hadn’t heard the doors slide open, much less Delia’s footsteps. Stubbing out her cigarette, she straightened up and smiled up at Delia.

“I just needed some fresh air. Long day,” she said, running her fingers through her hair nervously, “I’m sorry, they get a bit… wild at these things. I hope it hasn’t scared you off.”

Delia let out a rich laugh, before plopping down on the decking next to her, “god, no. I’m a teenager, remember - I’m used to awful parties. I guess I just thought everyone was a bit… old for this sort of thing.”

“Don’t let them hear you say that. Just wait until Crusher’s had a few more and decides to have a go at karaoke.”

Delia laughed, hanging her head. She was cradling her own drink - different from the neon green one she’d been handed inside. Her breath smelt sweet and fruity. It was only then that Patsy realised how close she was sitting.

“You ditched Barbara?” Patsy said softly.

“I left her having a debate with Freud over Tolkien. They’ll be going at it for hours.”

Patsy smiled, gazing down at her drink in her lap. The night air was cold on her skin, but it was a relief after hours sweating on the track. She had thought she’d come out here to get away from Delia, but now that she was sitting there beside her, she couldn’t think of anything she wanted more.

Well…

“I’m glad—“
“I’m so—“

They both tried to speak at once, and immediately started laughing.

“Sorry, you go first,” Delia said, grinning at her.

“I was just going to say I’m really glad you’re on the team,” Patsy told her, nervously tracing the rim of her cup with her finger, scared to look Delia in the eye.

“Me too.”

They sat in easy silence for a moment, and Patsy sipped at her drink, following Delia’s gaze and looking up at the sky. She wanted to say something, but her throat was suddenly too tight, too dry.

Eventually, when she’d finished her drink, and it had been a good five minutes since either of them had talked, she cleared her throat. “What were you going to say? You know, before?”

Delia looked at her for a long moment. For a second, Patsy was sure her eyes darted to her lips, but no, it had to be another trick of her imagination. Eventually, she turned away and stretched out across the decking, her feet not quite reaching the edge, where Patsy’s dangled.

“Just that I’m glad you’re here. At the party, I mean. And that I’m… grateful for everything. I couldn’t be here without you.”

-

It felt like no time at all had passed out on the patio, but by the time they moved back inside - mostly because Delia was freezing in her short sleeves, and Patsy had no jacket to offer her - it was very clear from the chaos surrounding them that they'd been gone a while. The music had been jacked up, the walls of the house vibrating with the heavy bass. As soon as she spotted them coming in the doors, Nitty Nora was throwing herself in Patsy’s direction and wrapping her arms firmly around her friend’s shoulders, smelling very strongly of vodka.

“Where have you been, you’ve missed everything!” she chirped, wobbling a little on her heels, “Buck and Phyl had an arm-wrestling competition, and Crusher got in this huge row with… oh wharshername… you know, the ginger one. Well, the other ginger one,” she scrunched her face up in concentration, “it doesn’t matter. Oh, Delia, you should really go upstairs and look after your friend.”

“Barbara? What’s wrong with her?” Delia asked, grabbing Nora’s arm to steady her and stop her from wandering off.

“Bit too much to drink I think,” she frowned, “poor lamb, last I saw her she was emptying her stomach in the upstairs loo.”

They traded quizzical expressions, before excusing themselves to go in search for their friend, both of them unable to keep themselves from laughing as they headed upstairs.

“Her parents will kill her if she stumbles home smelling like a brewery… or worse,” Delia said, sobering a little as they reached the door to the bathroom. The sound of retching was already loud enough to hear clearly.

“You could both stay over at mine?” Patsy said, without thinking, before quickly adding: “we have a spare room.”

Delia knocked on the door, seemingly ignoring her, “Babs?”

More sounds of vomiting. Delia knocked again, before pushing the door open. Barbara was hunched over the toilet looking white as a sheet, grasping onto the sides of the toilet seat. She looked spacey and sweaty, but at least she’d managed to avoid getting sick down herself. She looked up at them and frowned, as if she couldn’t quite place who they were, or where she was.

“I needa go home,” she mumbled.

“Nope, no going home for you, not in this state,” Patsy said, straining to help her up, “Delia, give me a hand getting her to the car?”

They stumbled downstairs and outside, managing to avoid being stopped by anybody on the way more by luck than judgement. Patsy knew she’d be getting messages from her teammates tomorrow for disappearing on them, but at that moment, she couldn’t care less. As soon as they were outside and met by the cold night air, Barbara doubled over, vomiting all over the front steps of the house, only narrowly missing Patsy’s shoes.

“Are you sure about this?” Delia asked, rubbing Barbara’s back.

“Of course. I only had one drink, I’m fine to drive.”

“Yeah but… what if she’s sick in your car?”

Patsy grimaced, “you’ve seen the state of my car - it can handle it.”

“Where are we going?” Barbara whined, swaying despite having them either side of her.

“We’re going to Patsy’s house.”

“Patsy’s house? Is Trixie gonna be there?”

She hadn’t really considered what would happen when they got there - it had seemed like such a good idea, but she hadn’t even ran it past her flatmates. Patsy mentally shrugged it off. She lived with students; they probably dealt with their own friends being much worse off. Besides, Trixie was just as likely passed out in her own bed now, if the state of the message she’d sent earlier was anything to go by.

“Is your mum gonna be mad?” Barbara slurred, nudging Delia with her head, “where did you tell her we were going?”

Worry clouded Delia’s expression for a second before she forced a smile and shook her head, “no, it’ll be fine, don’t worry Babs. Let’s just get you to bed.”

-

Smuggling Barbara into the house proved much easier than Patsy had originally thought. As they’d driven in near silence, the Dum Dum Girls playing over the car radio, and Delia looking after her friend on the back seat, Patsy had begun to worry unnecessarily. When they reached the house, either everyone was in bed, or out. Barbara was quiet enough going in, even if she did collide with Cynthia’s bike in the hallway. Fortunately, Delia caught it, and stopped it from clattering too much. Still, Patsy paused, glancing towards Cynthia’s bedroom door for a long moment, until she was sure they hadn’t woken her.

Patsy gestured silently for the stairs and Delia nodded, half-dragging Barbara towards them. Getting her to concentrate on putting one foot after the other onto the stairs was impossible, and it felt like it took an age to get to the top of the first staircase, having to pause at every step. The stairs creaked under the three of them and Patsy was sure they were going to wake somebody up (though, honestly, would it matter if they did? She was paranoid about it because of Delia, she realised, not Barbara), but even as they crept past Jenny’s room, nobody seemed to stir.

“This one,” Patsy mouthed, gesturing to the door at the end of the hall, the room that was supposedly hers.

The door was, thankfully, already open. Since nobody usually slept in this room, they’d been using it to dry laundry, and it smelt strongly of detergent. The bed wasn’t made up. They lowered Barbara gently onto the mattress, and Patsy brought the bin - which was, fortunately, empty - over to the side of the bed.

“If you need to be sick again, do it in this,” she whispered, brushing Barbara’s hair back from her face, then gazing up at Delia, “I have a spare pillow and some blankets in my room, would you mind helping me with them?”

Delia shook her head, looking back at her friend who was sprawled across the bed, “we’ll be back in a second,” she told Barbara, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

“Tickles,” Barbara giggled, without opening her eyes.

They walked up the second flight of stairs as quietly as they could, and Patsy silently hoped she’d left the room in an okay state. Which was ridiculous, to be honest. The girls joked that she was the tidiest person on earth, and besides, it had been her laundry hanging in the spare room, so Delia would have already seen the worst of it. She was embarrassed just thinking about her underwear hanging there on display, and she couldn’t even play it off as not being hers - the bits of kit that hung with them weren’t going to belong to anybody else.

Patsy opened the door slowly in the hopes it wouldn’t make any noise, but it squeaked all the same. She reached in and turned on the light, and immediately relaxed when she saw that Trixie’s bed was empty.

“Trixie’s still out,” she told Delia, holding the door open for her, “I think she was going to the Union with some girls from her course.”

“That’s probably good - Barbara would be horrified if she saw her in the state she’s in now. It sounds really stupid, but I can tell she really looks up to her. She’s never really thought she was cool enough to be her friend, you know?”

Patsy laughed, “I do, unfortunately.”

They raided the wardrobe for a spare blanket, and Patsy took one of the pillows from her bed. She tried not to watch Delia as she took in the whole room, staring at the pictures on the walls and the poster above her bed. She wondered what she was thinking, and then she decided it was better not to know.

Heading back down, Patsy could hear the telltale sounds of Barbara being sick before they’d even made it down the stairs. She winced, hoping that she was at least aiming for the bin. As soon as they were inside, Delia rushed to her friend’s side, rubbing her back and brushing her hair back from her face.

“I think,” Barbara said, weakly, “I may have had a little too much to drink.”

Delia laughed, “I think you may have, too.”

Fortunately, all sick had made its way into the bin, though the smell was making Patsy’s head swim. She busied herself with spreading out the blanket across Barbara’s shivering body, and wedging the pillow under her head, ignoring the way Delia was pressed against the girl’s back, her fingers in her hair. It was wrong to feel jealous of somebody who was being sick, right? She dragged her eyes away.


“Do you want me to stay for a while?” she asked, and it was only once the words had left her mouth that she realised how much she hoped the answer would be yes.

Chapter Text

Barbara was in a bad state, and Delia knew she was to blame for it. It was surely her duty as best friend to stay with Barbara, not abandon her to indulge in time with Patsy. Still, there seemed no point in dwelling on it now.

She’d agreed to go to Patsy’s because it was the best plan. The most logical way of keeping Barbara out of trouble. She’d been right; her parents would hit the roof if they saw her in her current state, and that would be on Delia. All of this had been her idea. It was her fault. Of course, staying at Patsy’s was best for Barbara, but it had its advantages for Delia too, and she couldn’t help but wonder if she hadn’t agreed more for her own sake than her best friend’s. It was too tempting, to spend more time with Patsy, to be somewhere that was even closer to her. But now that they were there, she couldn’t help but feel a little bit like she was trespassing, invading her privacy.

“Do you want me to stay for a while?” Patsy asked, hovering awkwardly over the bed where Delia was spooning Barbara, who had finally stopped vomiting.

Delia bit her lip, contemplating, before agreeing, “only if you’re sure.”

“Of course I’m sure,” Patsy murmured, making no move to sit, but instead folding her arms across her waist, “hopefully she’s done being sick.”

Delia nodded, gently brushing Barbara’s hair out of her face. She was beginning to drift off, her breathing steading, and her body still against Delia’s. She waited until she was sure she was asleep, before tucking the blanket around her, and sliding out of the bed.

“I should have found her something to wear; I doubt that jeans are comfortable to sleep in,” Patsy said, after a stagnant pause.

“Barbara can sleep in anything, through anything, and on anything; I wouldn’t worry,” Delia grinned, glancing at her best friend, and then back at Patsy, before bravely adding: “I wouldn’t say no to some pyjamas though.”

“Oh gosh, of course - I’ve plenty.”

“Only if you don’t mind, of course,” Delia could feel her cheeks going pink just at the thought of sleeping curled up in Patsy’s clothes.

“Of course I don’t. Come upstairs - I’m sure we can find something that fits you.”

They started towards the door, but Delia hesitated, “do you think I ought to leave the bin, or clean it out? It’s going to smell putrid by the morning.”

“It smells putrid now,” Patsy pointed out, wrinkling her nose, “but it’s probably best to leave it incase she needs it again,” she paused, looking like she was going to say something else but thought better of it, before turning out the door, Delia following.

In Patsy’s room, Delia sat awkwardly on the bed closest to the wardrobe Patsy was rifling through. She gazed at the pictures above her head, recognising a few actresses, but letting her eyes linger longer on the beautiful scenic postcards, and the one photograph of what Delia could only assume was Patsy’s family. It seemed strange to her that she knew so little about her, when she thought of her so often. The images were all neatly lined up, just like everything else on Patsy’s side of the room. Even her bed was perfectly made. For some reason, Delia didn’t find this the least bit surprising.

“Here you go,” Patsy interrupted Delia’s thoughts, holding out a folded set of blue striped pyjamas, “they ought to fit okay.”

Sceptical, Delia frowned, but accepted the clothes, unfolding them and holding them up to look at. Patsy had her own set of pyjamas in her hands, these ones yellow and green plaid.

“I know,” Patsy sighed, noticing her expression, “they look like Grandfather pyjamas, but they’re comfortable.”

“I don’t know what my Grandfather wears to bed,” Delia said, diplomatically, grinning at her.

For a moment they danced around the fact that they both needed to get changed, and Delia thought for an awful moment that Patsy was going to suggest she go down to the bathroom, which would have been ridiculous. They changed in the same room at practice all the time. After a far too long pause, Delia turned her back, pulling her dress off over her head quickly, and tugging the pyjamas on. She quickly rolled up the bottoms of the legs to expose her feet, but a glance in the mirror confirmed her suspicions: she was swimming in the oversized flannel. She could have probably got away with wearing the top as a dress.

She turned back around to say as much, to be met with Patsy’s bare bottom half as she finished buttoning her shirt, her legs seeming impossibly long and pale in the dim light of the bedroom. She turned quickly back around, grateful that Patsy was looking the other way. Her own pyjama shirt was long enough to cover anything Delia shouldn’t have seen, but she still felt guilty, her cheeks flushing bright red. She only hoped Patsy wouldn’t notice.

“Well, I won’t be winning any fashion awards,” she said, eventually, clearing her throat. She glanced in the mirror again to check Patsy was changed before turning back around, “but you’re right; these are wonderfully comfortable.”

“Gosh, I think you’d just about fit two of you in those,” Patsy remarked, biting back a laugh, “I’m sure I could find something else…?”

“Oh, no, don’t worry about it! You’ve been kind enough lending me anything at all. I ought to go back downstairs and let you get to sleep.”

Her words lingered in the air for what felt like an excruciatingly long moment, but she made no move to leave, and Patsy didn’t break eye contact. Eventually, they both nervously laughed, and Delia turned, her hand on the doorknob when Patsy cleared her throat.

“It’ll smell frightfully bad down there,” she said, her voice ever so slightly strained, “you can stay in here if you like?”

Delia could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she turned around, feigning innocence, as though the thought hadn’t crossed her mind whatsoever. She glanced at Patsy, and then at the reasonably small bed behind her. She thought about Barbara downstairs all alone, and how she’d wake up in the morning not knowing where she was, and feeling god awful. A part of Delia knew she ought to go downstairs, that she owed it to Babs to go keep an eye on her, but another, stronger part of her knew she didn’t want to go.

“Are you sure Trixie wouldn’t mind?” she finally asked.

“I don’t think she’s coming home; it’s gone four. She’s probably crashed on somebody else’s settee - she won’t want to do all these stairs after a night out,” Patsy rambled, looking as nervous as Delia felt.

“Alright,” Delia said, forcing a smile, “shall I sleep on the floor?”

“Gosh, no! The bed is big enough for two… if that’s alright by you?”

Delia wasn’t sure if she was imagining the longing look on Patsy’s face, or if she just wasn’t good enough at telling her facial expressions apart yet. There was no way in hell that it could have meant what she wanted it to mean. A lump was forming in the back of her throat, but she fought past it, offering Patsy what she hoped was a breezy smile, before moving slowly towards the bed. Patsy stood still, watching her, looking as though she was waiting for her to make a move. Once Delia had climbed into the bed, she realised her mistake: Patsy was just waiting to turn the light out.

In the dark, Delia could swear that her pulse was as loud as a stereo on full blast. Her ears hadn’t quite recovered from the violently loud music at the after party, but her heartbeat was drowning out the thumping that was still faintly going on in her head. She waited for Patsy to get into the bed, trying to make out her figure in the dark. When she eventually did feel the bed dip, she realised Patsy was on top of the covers, not under them.

“Too warm,” she murmured, as if she could hear Delia’s thoughts.

The whole room smelt strongly of expensive perfume, the kind that the girls at the beauty pageants wore, but now that Delia had her head on Patsy’s pillow, she smelt the familiar scent of her shampoo. She closed her eyes, trying to force herself to sleep. Every inch of her body was aware of Patsy’s lying right next to hers, and it was making her nerve-endings tingle, making it impossible for her to shut down.

After a long moment, in which Delia had assumed she was asleep, Patsy whispered: “Are you ever going to unblock me on Facebook?””

Delia felt a wave of panic and embarrassment flood through her. Of course she hadn’t been stupid enough to think Patsy wouldn’t have seen the friend request all those weeks ago, but she had somewhat forgotten about it. Clearly, Patsy had not.

“Oh god,” she mumbled, burying her face in the pillow, but that only made it worse.

“It’s okay. Just… for the record? I would have accepted.”

“No, don’t be polite, you wouldn’t have.”

“I would have,” Patsy insisted, “even from that first time I met you, I…” she trailed off, leaving Delia wondering where that sentence should have ended.

“You don’t even use your full name, you wouldn’t add someone you don’t know,” Delia said again, keeping her voice low.

Patsy shifted, and even in the dark, Delia could make out her face, her expression oddly serious, her eyes gazing into Delia’s. It made all the air go out of Delia’s lungs, seeing her so close.

“Occupational hazard,” Patsy breathed, “but I would have.”

Delia decided not to ask what that meant. Or rather, she didn’t have the brain capacity to question it. Her whole focus was on Patsy’s face, on the feel of her breath on her skin, on the smell of her. She couldn’t put into words how it felt to be wrapped up in Patsy’s clothes, under Patsy’s duvet, lying this close to her. It made her feel dizzy, or kind of like she was free-falling from a great height.

“I don’t think I should have done this,” Patsy said after a short moment.

“Done what?”

Another long pause that felt like an age, with Delia silently panicking that she’d done something wrong.

And then: “brought you up here, asked you to stay. It’s… too much.”

Delia felt like she’d forgotten how to breathe, lying painfully still and staring at Patsy, neither of them wanting to break eye-contact. This couldn’t mean what she thought it meant, could it? Her eyes drifted to Patsy’s lips, and then back to her eyes, trying to work out what she was thinking, what was being left unsaid. She wanted to touch her, to stroke the lines of her jaw with her fingertips, but she wasn’t sure her hands would move in the right way, even if she willed them to.

She wasn’t sure Patsy would allow her.

“Do you want me to leave?” she eventually squeaked out, feeling like she was going to burst into tears any second. At the heart of all this, she was still just a small-town kid in the big city, having had one of the biggest days of her life to date. All her confidence and swagger was put on. She wasn’t sure she could handle this.

“No,” Patsy said, without pausing for thought.

“Okay.”

“Okay,” Patsy echoed, before she finally looked away, her expression unreadable, as she rolled onto her other side, “goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Delia breathed back, though she knew the chances of sleeping were now very slim.

Chapter Text

Patsy lay with her eyes closed, her breathing as steady as she could muster. She tried not to think about the fact that all she had to do was roll over, and she’d be nose-to-nose with Delia, instead concentrating on lying perfectly still. She hadn’t slept a wink, but she’d not let the pretence slip, just in case Delia woke up.

Part of it, she realised, was because she couldn’t deal with the conversation she knew was probably going to follow. She wasn’t drunk. She sort of wished she was because at least then she’d have an excuse. Instead, she was stuck with her mind running a mile a minute over everything she’d said and everything that had happened, the look on Delia’s face, the intensity between them that had made it impossible to drag her eyes away. Had Delia glanced at her lips, or had that just been her imagination? Maybe she’d been wanting it so much that she’d seen things that weren’t there. But somewhere, deep in the pit of her stomach, she doubted the truth in that, and in all honesty, that just made everything scarier. She could have written it off as a stupid crush if there was absolutely no chance in Delia feeling the same way but now?

Still, she knew she wasn’t going to make a move. It would be too mortifying if she’d read the situation wrong. And in all honesty, she had no idea what to do, even if she did decide to take that leap. Would Delia be appalled by her lack of experience?

Patsy squeezed her eyes closed tighter, not wanting to even think about what time it was. It was easy to let her head run away with her, but she was embarrassed for letting herself have those thoughts. Delia wasn’t like her. They were friends - beginning to become close friends - and Patsy didn’t want to ruin that, certainly not for a stupid crush.

She lay awake for what must have been hours. The sun began to filter through a gap in the curtains. She could hear other occupants of the house rising from their slumber to go to lectures. Trixie hadn’t come home, and Patsy didn’t know whether to be relieved or not.

Eventually, Delia started to stir beside her, mumbling and shifting in the bed. Patsy stayed lying with her back towards her, until she heard a meek mumble of ‘Pats?’. Feigning waking up, she sat up, careful not to brush limbs with Delia, and made a show of rubbing her eyes, stretching. Delia, even with her crumpled hair and in pyjamas several sizes too big for her, looked beautiful in the morning sun. Patsy had to drag her eyes away.

“Hi,” she said, picking at her own pyjamas, looking at her with a tiny smile.

“Hi,” Delia said back, scrunching her nose up. They both laughed. It wasn’t as awkward as Patsy had thought it would be.

“I hope you slept okay?”

Delia nodded, “like a log, thank you.”

It seemed to take Delia a moment before it dawned on her that she’d left Barbara downstairs. She awkwardly looked at the door, and then at Patsy. Patsy wondered if she was thinking about what she’d said last night or not, but she let the thought slip away as she brushed her fingers through her messy bed hair.

“I should probably—-“ Delia gestured for the door.

“Yeah,” Patsy agreed, yawning, before adding as an afterthought: “I’ll make a start on breakfast. Eggs and bacon?”

The smile that Delia rewarded that statement with lit up her whole face, before she scurried out of the room, Patsy listening to the sound of her footsteps on the stairs.

-

Delia and Barbara were gone by ten. Patsy, unable to shift the restlessness that had come over every part of her, decided to head out, sliding her skates on as she reached the bottom step down from their front door.

It didn’t matter how far she skated or how fast; she couldn’t clear her mind. She weaved in and out of people heading to and from the university campus, making her way towards the park, and then doing six or seven circuits before she collapsed onto the grass for a drink break. She was guzzling water when she looked up and found Trixie standing over her.

“Fancy finding you here.”

“Christ, Trixie, you scared me,” she gasped, dropping her water bottle to the floor, quickly recovering, “how was last night?”

Smoothing out her skirt, Trixie inspected the grass before sitting down beside her friend, “apparently not as exciting as your night.”

Patsy felt her cheeks flush red as she cast her gaze downward, “what do you mean?”

“Cynthia said you had someone over,” Trixie sing-songed, stretching her legs out in front of her, “I want to hear everything. Who is he?”

Patsy groaned. She had anticipated Trixie coming home with too much of a raging hangover to want to continue this conversation, but the blonde was perky as ever, staring at her with an expectant look. This should have been easy. Patsy only needed to tell the truth. But she was scared that her body language would betray her.

“I had Barbara over,” she said, rolling her eyes, “she got absolutely wrecked at the after party and I promised not to tell you but…”

The exasperated sigh that left Trixie’s lips interrupted her before she could go any further, and Patsy was glad. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t ‘fessed up to Delia being there too. It was stupid.

“There I was thinking you’d finally have some juicy gossip for me and it was just Barbara,” Trixie huffed, rolling her eyes, before straightening up, her eyes sparkling, “her father is going to lose his mind. Good for her. I’ve been trying to get her to live a little for years.”

The silence lasted a beat too long, and Patsy started to feel uncomfortable.

“How was your night?” she asked, eventually.

Trixie faltered momentarily before fixing a smile to her face, something anybody else probably wouldn’t notice, but Patsy knew her well enough to recognise a fake smile when she saw one. Still, she didn’t want to pry. She knew well enough the struggle of keeping secrets; it wasn’t as though she’d been particularly honest with Trixie lately either.

“Messy,” Trixie said, laughing softly, “you know how the girls get.”

Patsy smiled. She did know. She used to be one of those girls. She wasn’t entirely sure when she stopped.

“Do you have a cigarette I could pinch? I’ll pay you back.”

Frowning, Patsy pulled the pack out of her pocket and tossed it across to her, “I thought you didn’t smoke?”

“Patsy, you of all people can’t deliver me a lecture on the harms of smoking,” Trixie chided, pulling a cigarette loose from the packet before handing it back. Patsy lit it for her, then lit herself one. She couldn’t help but be a little concerned, though. Trixie was a social smoker. Get a few drinks in her, and she’d be chain smoking out the back of a club with everybody else. Patsy hadn’t known her to smoke whilst sober though. Not really.

Not for the first time, Patsy wondered if she’d been neglecting her best friend with everything that had been going on at derby. She decided that if there was really anything to worry about, Trixie would tell her. It was probably just boy trouble, anyway, and Patsy knew she could be no help in that area. It was better to just leave it alone.

-

Patsy went back to work grateful for the distraction. She hadn’t so much as texted Delia since the party, and it was putting her a little on edge. She wondered whether Delia was thinking about it as much as she was, or whether she was just being paranoid. She couldn’t decide which she’d rather.

It didn’t stop her from checking her phone at every opportunity, feeling a little disappointed every time she was greeted with her blank lock screen, no notifications. Which was daft, really, because she hadn’t made any move to contact Delia, so why should she expect anything? Multiple times, she typed out a message and quickly deleted it, deciding against sending anything. What would she say? Nothing seemed right for the situation. Not that there was a situation, except for in her head.

Fortunately, Patsy was kept busy with work. She fell back into routine, busying herself with paper work and stickers and organising every last detail of every day.

But, soon enough, the next practice was round the corner, and she still hadn’t heard from Delia. She was just contemplating sending her a message, when her phone buzzed.

Hope not too presumptuous but are u giving me a lift tonight? :-)

Patsy let out a deep breath, not bothering to fight the smile that crept onto her face, before confirming that, yes, she’d drive her home.

-

Patsy was busy sorting through the lost property, going through team shirts looking for name tags, when Delia arrived at Nonnatus. She had purposely set herself a task to distract from waiting for her to arrive, knowing that otherwise she’d probably be sat out front chain smoking, and her lungs deserved the rest. She didn’t know why she was so nervous about seeing her again.

“Hi Pats,” Delia greeted, settling in beside her. She was wearing a t-shirt with little cactus designs all over it, her hair loose, and she looked so beautiful despite her bizarre clothing choices that Patsy almost forgot how to breathe.

“Deels,” she said, her throat feeling like it was going to close up.

“How’s your week been?”

Patsy shrugged, returning her attention to the pile of dirty clothes, “alright. Work’s been busy. How about you?” she looked up and pulled a face, “how’s Barbara?”

Delia laughed, returning her look, “well, she’s not grounded, so I think we’re good.”

“Isn’t she a little old for being grounded?”

“You’d think, but her parents are crazy strict. You know the mum in Stephen King’s Carrie? They’re worse.”

Patsy’s eyes widened, before Delia started to laugh, and she realised she was joking.

“Nah, they’re alright. She’s fine, still all moony eyes over Tom,” Delia explained.

Cocking her head to one side, Patsy regarded Delia for a moment, “Tom? Not Trixie’s…” she watched the look of horror drift over Delia’s face, and quickly amended: “It’s okay, I won’t tell her.”

“Shit. I’m terrible at keeping secrets.”

“Well, lucky for you, I’m an expert at it,” Patsy assured her, nudging her with her elbow until Delia smiled again.

-

Practice ran as smoothly as ever, though Patsy found herself getting a fluttery feeling in her stomach every time Delia’s hand brushed hers, every time their eyes met whilst building a barrier. Every time they so much as touched or looked at each other, it was like electricity flooded through her. Roller derby was not a romantic sport; it was pretty much the opposite of romantic. She had to snap out of this nonsense before it threw her game off completely.

As the evening wound down, Patsy said her goodbyes to the other girls, promising Nora and Phyl that she’d go out for drinks next time, and met Delia by the front door. They walked to her car in silence, and Patsy felt her anxiety growing worse with every second. This would be the first time they’d been alone together since sharing a bed. She had to stop thinking about that.

“Oh, throw those into the back,” she said, as she unlocked the car and saw a pile of stuff heaped on the passenger seat.

“What are they?” Delia asked, picking up the top one on the pile, “wait… are you… you’re a teacher?”

Patsy blushed, “teaching assistant,” she told her.

“How did I not know that? I can picture you with kids, you know, it makes total sense.”

Even though she knew Delia didn’t mean in a context outside of teaching, her comment made Patsy’s heart flutter. She swallowed it down, sliding into the driver’s seat and turning her key in the ignition, the car radio turning on. Delia started to rummage through the collection of tapes in the glove compartment, and settled on a Carpenters album.

Patsy drove in silence, Delia singing along softly to the music that was humming out of the old cassette player, Patsy mostly concentrating on listening to her. As they pulled into her road, though, Delia stopped the tape.

“I feel like something’s changed between us,” she said, “I don’t know what it is. If I’ve done something wrong…”

Patsy could feel her face flame, her heart pounding in her ears, “no of course you haven’t.”

“You’re so quiet… and you didn’t text after the party. I know I didn’t either but… I don’t know. I’m probably just being silly.”

“You’re not,” Patsy said, letting the engine die. She turned in her seat to face Delia, but couldn’t find the words she wanted to say.

“I really like you,” Delia said, sounding more vulnerable and hesitant than Patsy had ever heard her. She’d been so nervous for her first derby match, but this was something else, something raw, and Patsy began to feel like after this moment, they’d never go back to being the same.

“I really like you, too,” she said, her throat hoarse.

She looked at Delia in the near-dark of the car for a long moment, and thought about what it would be like to kiss her. She so desperately wanted to, but she knew she would never have the nerve. Despite every single thing she’d learnt about her, she was sure Delia did not feel the same way she did, and she didn’t want to ruin their friendship. She couldn’t bear to lose her, even though they’d only known each other a few weeks. Besides, kissing her would mean that what she felt was real. It would confirm things she’d never been brave enough to say aloud. She didn’t want that. She wasn't ready for it.

“Well, goodnight,” Patsy said, instead, feeling like a coward.

Delia opened the passenger door, but hesitated, “can I see you some time in the week? After work, tomorrow?”

Even though every inch of Patsy’s body was willing her to say no, she nodded, “sure. I could pick you up?”

“I’d like that,” Delia said, smiling softly.

Patsy drove away feeling like the worst person on earth.

Chapter Text

Delia crept up the stairs and along the hallway to her room. It was hard to be quiet when she had a million thoughts running through her head all at once. The urge to squeal, or cry, was very real. Still, she waited until she was safely behind her closed bedroom door to quietly let out a high pitched ‘oh my gosh’, clapping her hands over her mouth.

This had to mean what she thought it meant, right? The tension between them had been even more electric than usual since the night of the after party. The few days that Patsy didn’t message had been unbearable. Delia had started to really beat herself up over it, analysing every last second they’d spent together, suddenly worried that she might have done something embarrassing in her sleep. Eventually, she’d snapped and messaged her, letting out a deep sigh of relief when she got a reply. Still, she’d worried. She was sure she must have done something wrong.

Leaning with her back against the door, Delia thought over the car journey, mulled over every word of their conversation. She was reading the signs correctly, right? She suddenly started to worry that maybe when Patsy said that she liked her, she hadn’t meant it in the same way. Maybe Delia hadn’t made it clear enough what she wanted. Maybe Patsy had agreed to see her as friends and nothing more.

That was okay though.

I should have kissed her, Delia lamented, closing her eyes. She peeled herself off the door and sunk into her mattress. She wasn’t used to having this many feelings. It was confusing. She closed her eyes, tried to focus on the butterflies that were still flitting around in her stomach, on the memory of lying so close to Patsy that she could feel her breath on her face, smell her shampoo, watch her eyelashes flutter against her pale skin. Everything about their every interaction felt like it was intentional, important… electric. Delia had long ago come to terms with how she felt about women - honestly, her mother aside, it wasn’t really a big deal to her - but she’d never felt that connection with anybody before. The thought of actually kissing Patsy… Delia felt giddy just thinking about it. But now she was sure. Now she knew she was going to do it. She just had to find the right moment.

-

“For goodness’ sake, Delia.”

Delia opened her eyes blearily to find her mother hovering over her bed, pulling back the curtains and busily laying things out on her dressing table. She groaned, looking at the clock at the side of the bed. She’d only been asleep five hours.

“…knew you’d have forgotten. You don’t even care about this being one of the biggest days of the calendar for me do you? Still in bed at seven thirty… I knew I should have come and got you when I woke up at six.”

“Good morning to you, too, Mam,” Delia grumbled, rubbing at her eyes.

Her mother glared at her, “I have no time for your lip this morning. You ought to have been out of the shower half an hour ago if we have any hope of making this brunch on time.”

Brunch. Oh, crap. Delia felt guilt flood through her. She’d been so consumed by Derby that she’d completely forgotten about the pageant calendar. Of course today was one of the biggest events of the season outside of competitions. The brunch may not have been officially about contending, but it was the first time judges met with the girls before the pageant a month later, and first impressions counted for everything. And she’d completely forgotten.

“Get along into the shower, and I’ll make sure you have everything laid out and ready to go,” her mother continued as Delia slid out of bed, stepping into her slippers.

“Thanks,” Delia kissed her mother’s cheek, before disappearing into the bathroom. Just because she didn’t really care about pageants, didn’t mean she wouldn’t make an effort. After all, she knew how important it was to her mam.

She showered quickly, using the fancy shampoo and conditioner set reserved only for pageants, even though she preferred the smell of the cheap stuff. As she stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a towel, she rubbed moisturiser into her face, and then left for her bedroom, long hair dripping down her back, and feet bare.

Her mother pushed her straight into the chair at her dressing table, tutting over her knotted hair, and quickly setting to work with the hair dryer and a large round brush. Fortunately, her mother knew how to work magic when it came to her hair, something Delia had never quite managed to grasp herself, usually opting to just shove it all up in a messy ponytail. The curlers were already plugged in and ready to go, all her make-up laid out across the table so that she didn't even have to choose what to wear (whatever she chose would no doubt be wrong, anyway), so as her mam worked on her hair, Delia started on her face.

After twenty-five minutes of silent work, Delia had been transformed from bed-head to beauty queen, dark hair falling in soft curls around her shoulders, with soft, muted make-up and a pink lipstick. All that was left was her dress.

Careful not to mess up her hair, Delia took the pale blue tulle dress off it’s hanger, and unzipped the back, stepping into it, and pulling the thin, delicate straps up over her shoulders. She turned towards her mother, so that she could zip her up. Only then did she remember…

…right as her mother shrieked.

“What on earth is that?!”

Delia twisted to look in the mirror, getting a proper look at the large blue and black bruise across her lower back and wincing. She’d had a particularly nasty fall during her last bout as jammer, and smacked straight into the barrier. It had bruised right away, despite her icing it. Delia had been oddly proud, though. Her first derby bruise.

“Oh, I fell at work. Missed the step to the basement. It’s not a big deal,” she lied, unable to meet her mother’s eye, “the back of the dress should cover it.”

“It looks like it hurt,” her mam said, gently touching the edges of the bruise. Delia really had to concentrate not to wince, “you should have told me.”

“It’s honestly nothing.”

As it turned out, the back of the dress only just covered it, and Delia sent out a silent prayer to the gods for it not being even slightly higher up.

-

Brunch was just as boring as Delia had expected it to be. It felt tedious, sitting around eating tiny sandwiches and politely exchanging small talk with other contestants and judges. Not only that, but it felt like a lie, and Delia hated lying, even though she’d found herself doing so more and more often in the past few weeks. Still, once it was over, her mam was pleased enough with her, and that kept her off her back for a while longer. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her mother; she really, truly did. She just knew they would always disagree on certain things, and that was difficult.

On the train back, Delia decided to text Patsy. After all, they hadn’t officially made plans for that evening. She knew Patsy would be at work, and unlikely to reply, but she couldn’t quite stop herself, already missing the redhead’s presence more than she liked to admit.

So, what are we doing tonight? :-)

She slid her phone back into her bag, and tried to retune into what her mam was talking about, though even when she had been listening, her mind had been preoccupied. It was impossible for her not to think about Patsy, not know she’d made such a huge decision.

A moment later, her phone buzzed.

I don’t know, you invited me. Your choice. xxx

Delia smiled, racking her brains for somewhere to go, something to do. That eliminated staying in town - first of all, she didn’t want to bump into Barbara who would no doubt be annoyed about being left out. Besides, there was nothing to do here. Certainly nothing Patsy would be interested in, anyway.

It hit her just how inexperienced she was when it came to dating. What did people even do on dates? She needed something that wouldn’t scare her off, but that would be fun, maybe even a little bit romantic, but without being obvious. She tried to remember anything she’d ever seen in a movie, any date Barbara had rambled on about. Then it struck her.

Got it. Bring your skates ;-)

-

As the clock ticked away, the mixture of nerves and excitement in Delia’s stomach got worse and worse. She opened her closet and searched for something to wear, grateful that she’d had the good sense to leave her make-up on from that morning, and that it hadn’t smudged too badly. The curls had dropped out of her hair, leaving it in loose waves that looked a lot more natural. She didn’t want to look like she’d made too much effort. Eventually, she picked out a cream sleeveless top with dinosaurs on and a cute blue peter-pan collar, pairing it with a blue a-line skirt and a mustard cardigan. Her skates were already safely nestled in her kit bag, with her safety gear, but she slipped on yellow pumps to walk in. Along with her kit bag, she packed her backpack, finally grabbing the polka-dot blanket off the end of her bed and rolling it up, shoving it into the already full backpack.

She was ready to go.

-

Patsy sent a text when she was outside, having already been warned off by Delia from ringing the doorbell. She’d even parked a little ways up from the house. Pulling her duffle coat on, Delia told her mam she was heading out with Barbara for the evening, and slipped outside.

Nerves really kicked in as she started down the front steps, locating Patsy’s beaten up old car a couple of houses down, and waving at her friend. Her stomach felt like it had a dozen fishes swimming about in it. She took a deep breath and opened the passenger door, sliding in and fastening her seat belt.

“Good evening,” Patsy greeted softly, smiling at her, her hands still on the steering wheel. She must have had time to go home and change after work, Delia thought, as she couldn’t imagine her going into school dressed so casually.

“Hello, Pats,” Delia said, swallowing hard. She felt awkward already, like their small talk was strained. Something had definitely changed between them.

“Where am I driving to?”

Delia shook off the feeling of discomfort and smiled, “I’ll direct you.’

-

Chapter Text

The only way to stop her from panicking, it turned out, was to constantly remind herself that this was not a date. It wasn’t a date. It couldn’t be a date. Delia didn’t feel the same way she did, and that was that. It didn’t matter that she’d felt the intensity between them that moment she’d said I like you. It didn’t matter that Delia had immediately asked to see her outside of training. None of that mattered. It wasn’t a date.

As Delia slid into the front seat of the car, Patsy swallowed hard. Something inside her bubbled over. Okay, maybe this was a date. Even if Delia wasn’t aware of it, Patsy was treating it as a date.

And Delia looked stunning. More done up than Patsy had ever seen her before, but still with a softness about her. Her outfit was bright and clashy as always, and suited her perfectly. It always caught Patsy off guard to see her with her hair down - she had so much of it, though it was usually bundled up into a ponytail or a bun.

They drove in near-silence, Delia’s voice soft as she directed Patsy down side-roads and short cuts, into a part of the small town she lived in that Patsy didn’t even know existed. She had assumed Delia would want to drive into the city, but was quietly glad when she didn’t. They turned off a road and onto a gravelly track, and Patsy momentarily worried for her tyres, though that thought was quickly replaced once her eyes locked onto the view.

“Park up somewhere along here,” Delia murmured next to her.

Patsy found a spot, and parked, killing the engine and continuing to stare out of the window. The view was beautiful, the sky just beginning to melt into a wash of blues and pinks and oranges, over the trees and buildings and fields.

“I used to come here loads when I was a kid,” Delia says, quietly, “I had an accident when I was twelve - did I ever tell you that? I was hit by a car and for a while… I didn’t really know who I was anymore. I mean, literally - I had a head injury, though the damage obviously wasn’t that extensive. Temporary, I guess - but, also… I don’t know, it put a lot of things into perspective.”

“I didn’t know,” Patsy breathed. Then again, why would she? She’d only known Delia a short while. There was so much about each other that they didn’t know.

“I don’t think I knew who I was - who I wanted to be - until I joined the derby. Until… I met you.”

Trying to ignore the way that statement made her heart pound in her chest, Patsy moved her gaze to Delia’s profile, watching her as she gazed out at the view. She couldn’t help but feel a pang of pain at the thought of having never met her, at being without her. And she knew that was ridiculous. But as much as Delia felt like she hadn’t known who she was until she’d met her - even if she meant that in a much different way - Patsy couldn’t help but feel the same way. She had felt for the longest time like something was missing, and Delia had just begun to fill that void. She’d filled it from the moment they’d met, in some ways.

“My mother would kill me if she knew I was doing something as violent and dangerous as roller derby,” Delia laughed, turning her head, her eyes meeting Patsy’s.

“Then she mustn’t know,” her voice came out so quietly, she immediately cleared her throat, looking away.

They sat there quietly for a while, admiring the view. Or at least, pretending to, in Patsy’s case. She was more attuned to the pounding in her chest, the way her hands had suddenly got sweaty. She hoped it wasn’t so obvious to Delia.

“There's this really great little cut away a little way down the track. There’s toilets and a picnic bench and stuff. It’s flat - not gravel like up here. I thought we could go for a skate. You could teach me one of those killer jumps of yours.”

Patsy nodded, dumbly. She didn’t really feel like skating, which was entirely unusual for her. It usually cleared her mind, calmed her down more than anything (except, perhaps, organising), but the thought of doing it now… she didn’t know why, but she felt like it would spoil their evening. She didn’t say as much, though. Delia had probably only asked her here so she could teach her a few of her techniques.

She watched Delia get out of the car, gathering up her two big bags, hoisting the back pack onto her back, her kit bag over her shoulder. Patsy reached into the back and fished out her own kit bag, leaving the car and locking it.

The trail really was beautiful. Different coloured heather and moss grew in thick carpets over the grass, alongside daisies and dandelions. It was so different from the city, where Patsy had grown up, it hardly seemed real that they were only ten miles away. It seemed a world apart from the stark high-rise buildings and concrete. They came to a clearing a little ways up, a small green toilet block, a closed kiosk window, and an empty park bench the only signs of life. Sure enough, the ground was perfectly flat.

Delia dropped her kit bag onto the bench, and unzipped her backpack, pulling out a blanket. She lay it out on the grass a little way away from the clearing, and started unloading various plastic boxes from her pack, as well as a large thermos.

“What’s this?” Patsy asked, joining her by the bench, though Delia wouldn’t allow her to help unpack.

“Dinner,” she said, grinning sheepishly, “I thought you might be hungry. I’ve leftovers from the cafe - Mrs. Turner’s apple pie, and coffee and walnut cake are both delicious - and some bits and bobs from home. I’m no chef, I’m afraid, but it’ll be a nice little picnic. And there’s tea!”

A soft smile drifted over Patsy’s lips, forcing her to swallow back an urge to kiss Delia for being so considerate, so sweet… so many things.

“You are lovely,” Patsy said, instead, settling down on the blanket now that it was clear Delia would not accept any help dishing food out.

It was a grand spread: along with the slices of pie and cake, Delia unpacked scones, scotch eggs, a tupperware of salad, little sandwiches, wedges of cheese, and a variety of fruits. The tea was still hot, and Delia took a sip as she sat down, before passing it across to Patsy.

“Sorry, I forgot cups,” she apologised, blushing sheepishly.

Patsy didn’t mind. There was something strangely intimate about sharing the thermos between the two of them, about pressing her lips to the same point where Delia’s had been seconds earlier.

“No bother… you went to so much trouble, I’m not sure I deserve this.”

Delia’s blue eyes twinkled, her lips pulling into a soft smile, “you absolutely do.”

-

Once they’d both eaten so much food that they felt like they might burst, Delia packed away the remnants - turning down any help - and Patsy lit a cigarette. She didn’t much like to smoke around Delia - not that her friend had complained, but she didn’t like to smoke around anybody who didn’t smoke themselves - but she had rushed home from work so quickly, she’d missed her evening cigarette. Plus, she was nervous. Not that she had any reason to be. Even as she exhaled, she felt tense, jittery. She only hoped Delia would not notice.

“Gosh, I think I should have quit after one slice of that pie,” Delia said, stretching out on the grass, “I might be sick if we skate now.”

Patsy laughed, gazing across at her. Delia had her eyes closed, her fingers playing with a daisy in the grass, the empty thermos laid on its side beside her. Her hair was fanned out behind her, and for a second Patsy was taken straight back to the very same sight, only in her bed, Delia’s dark hair across her white pillows. A lump formed in her throat, and she hurriedly looked away. Despite the fact her eyes were closed, she felt as though Delia might catch her staring any second.

“How ever do you work in that place with those cakes all around you - I’d be triple my size,” Patsy said, stubbing out her cigarette before she’d had a chance to finish it.

Letting out a low laugh, Delia sat up a little, meeting Patsy’s eyes, “first of all, I am certain you’d skate it off. Secondly… well,” she poked at her own tummy, “I think this speaks for itself. Mrs Turner throws out so much cake at the end of the day, Babs and I are constantly taking half a Victoria sponge home. It’s awful.”

Patsy rolled her eyes, “oh yes, it sounds it,” she teased, “don’t let on to Freudian that you have a source of free cake - she’s awful for it. I once caught her picking at Crusher’s birthday cake before we’d even presented it to her.”

They both laughed at that, Delia sitting upright. She began to pick daisies from around where she was sitting, making a small pile in her lap, her eyes on the flowers rather than Patsy. She began threading the stalks of them together, puncturing a small hole with her thumb nail and feeding the stalk of another flower through it. Patsy watched, unable to draw her eyes away.

“I feel like when I talk to you… it’s different from talking to other people,” Delia said, quietly, her eyes still trained on her daisy chain.

Patsy swallowed thickly, bobbing her head in a tiny nod that Delia didn’t see.

“I guess it’s like… I can actually be myself around you. I’m not afraid of it. I think Barbara thinks I’ve become this completely different person since I joined the team but… that’s not it. I think I’ve just spent so long pretending to be somebody I’m not, and now I finally have a chance to be who I am. Who I was all along.”

Feeling her heart sink, Patsy pushed her hands into the pockets of her jeans, playing with her lighter with one hand, her wallet with the other. Of course, when Delia said she felt different around Patsy, it was a derby thing. She was stupid to think it would be anything else.

“I’m glad derby gives you the chance to feel that way,” Patsy murmured.

“It’s not just derby.”

Patsy turned to look at her, at the same moment that Delia dropped her completed daisy chain, and turned her gaze to Patsy’s. Her expression had changed. There was that same steely determination Patsy had seen in her eyes during her first jam, her jaw set firm. This time, when her eyes drifted to Patsy’s lips, she knew it wasn’t her imagination.

Everything inside of her was screaming at her to move, to say something, to end this before it had a chance to begin. Well, everything, except her heart. Her heart was racing, but it was that same feeling she got when she was on the track: nervous anticipation. Excitement. Adrenaline.

Delia’s hand moved towards her in what seemed like slow motion, her fingers cupping Patsy’s jaw. Without realising she was doing it, Patsy leaned in. It was awkward - her hands were still in her pockets so she had nothing for leverage, and they were sitting at a strange angle to each other - but as soon as Delia’s lips touched hers, none of that mattered. Patsy let out the smallest of gasps, as Delia kissed her, taking dominance despite being younger. She always had been more confident, Patsy supposed.

Pulling back, Delia eyed her with caution, “is this okay?” she whispered, her hand still against Patsy’s skin, thumb rubbing against her chin.

All Patsy could muster was a nod, before Delia was drawing her back into another kiss.

Chapter Text

It was mostly fake valour. Delia was good at pretending to be completely fearless, but in reality, even as she carefully slid daisy stems into daisy stems, she could feel her heart hammering in her chest, and it was taking all her concentration to keep her hands from shaking. But, Delia was also good at getting what she wanted, even (especially?) when she had to work hard for it.

Patsy’s lips were softer than she could have ever imagined, delicate and hesitant. Despite lack of experience, Delia tried very hard to look like she knew what she was doing, and it paid off. The kiss was short, sweet, gentle, but it sent sparks of electricity soaring through her all the same, in a way she hadn’t experienced before, not even during her first jam.

They sat out on the grass kissing for what felt like an eternity. Every so often, Patsy would draw back and give her this shy little smile that made Delia fall for her all over again. It was beginning to get dark, and the secrecy of it, them hidden away in their own little corner of the world, was as comforting as it was thrilling. Delia could never imagine being able to be like this - just be - anywhere else, with anyone else. She wanted this moment to consume her, for nothing else to exist, let alone matter. Just the feel of Patsy’s body warm against hers, the soft movement of her lips against hers.

But, then the spell broke.

Delia’s fingers brushed under the hem of Patsy’s shirt without her even realising she was doing it, bare skin against bare skin, and Patsy pulled away as though she’d been burnt. In a split second, she was up on her feet, smoothing out her messy hair, eyes bright and wide.

“I should drive you back,” she said, her voice rough, as though the past few moments had not happened.

Delia felt her heart sink, the familiar sting of tears gathering behind her eyelids, but she blinked them away, “alright,” she said, instead, softly, gathering up their picnic things.

The car ride back was almost unbearable. Patsy drove in silence, not even with a tape in the player, and Delia stared out of the window, willing herself not to cry. For a moment, everything had been so blissfully wonderful, she’d allowed herself to believe that they could be like that forever. Now, she couldn’t stop her mind from running through the whole scenario over and over, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. She knew she was the one who had messed everything up. If she’d just been more careful…

By the time they pulled into Delia’s road - Patsy hadn’t even had to ask for directions back - the silence between them was deafening. Parking up a few houses down from Delia’s, Patsy killed the engine. Delia’s hand hovered awkwardly over the door handle, unsure of whether she should just leave, or if she should apologise. Patsy was staring into space, barely acknowledging that she was there, and it made Delia’s stomach churn. Still, she couldn’t stop herself from gazing at the outline of Patsy’s jaw, illuminated by the dashboard light, noticing the glisten of tears in her eyelashes.

“I’m sorry,” she said, quietly, having to swallow down a huge lump that had formed in the back of her throat.

“That can’t happen again… we… we mustn’t,” Patsy murmured, still not looking at her.

“Patsy…”

A tear slid down Patsy’s cheek and she hurriedly wiped it away, “please just go,”

Tears welling up in Delia’s eyes, she nodded, pushing the car door open, “goodnight, Pats,” she whispered.

As soon as she’d closed the door behind her, the floodgates opened, and she could barely see her way to her house through the mess of tears, her whole body heaving as she tried to sob as quietly as possible, not looking back behind her.

She heard Patsy’s car pull away, but not until she’d slotted her key into the front door, and stepped into the hallway.

-

The next morning, Delia got up early to head to the library. She’d spent much of the night before upset, and then she’d decided she needed something to distract her, and reading up on derby techniques seemed like the best candidate. She’d spent half the night scrolling through endless pages of web results, until the text was beginning to go blurry to her tired eyes. She hadn’t really slept, but she was used to that from cramming for exams.

The small library in town wasn’t exactly filled with books relevant to what Delia was looking for. The sport section was mostly overrun with footballer and rugby player autobiographies, books on basic golfing techniques, and some encyclopaedias of sport (two of which didn’t even mention roller derby). Not to be disheartened though, Delia headed to the bus station. There were plenty of big libraries and bookstores in the city, ones that you could get lost in for hours at a time if you wanted to. And Delia definitely wanted to.

She had contemplated bringing her skates with her, but she couldn’t bring herself to pick up the bag sitting in the corner of the room, still packed from the night before. They hadn’t even used them.

The queue for the city bus was surprisingly long for a Wednesday morning. It felt weird to be catching the bus for something other than practice, or a match, weird to be at the station in broad daylight. Delia tried not to think about it, hiking her bag up on her shoulder and hoping it wouldn’t be too long before she was seated on the bus, headphones in, music drowning out her faint discomfort.

Delia was just about to hand over her ticket, when she heard her name, a bolt of panic shooting through her as she turned around, searching for the voice. Her eyes locked onto a familiar plump shape heading towards her, waving, and she inwardly groaned. It was her mam’s friend, Violet. Great, just what I need.

“Oh, Delia, it is you!” she said, grinding to a halt beside her. She glanced at the queue of people, and smiled, “sorry, I’m not pushing in, I just had to say hello! I saw you from all the way across there and I just knew it was you. You get used to a person’s shape in my line of work. Are you heading into town?”

Delia grimaced, stepping out from the queue and letting other passengers go on in front of her, “yes, Mrs Gee, I’m going to the British Library,” she politely told her.

“Oh, how lovely! I shan’t get in your way. I’ll be seeing you tomorrow evening, anyway? For a fitting?”

Trying to hide her horror at forgetting, Delia smiled, “yes, of course.”

As Violet walked away, Delia let her face fall. Maybe she wouldn’t have to face Patsy so soon, after all, since chances were she wouldn’t make practice tomorrow night. As she finally made it onto the bus, she sighed, pressing her face against the cold glass. She couldn’t tell if she was relieved or not.

-
The libraries in town weren’t as helpful as she’d hoped. Still, they served as a distraction all the same, and Delia found herself lost in aisles about subjects she couldn’t even conceive ever needing to read about. As she wandered through the shelves and shelves of books, she found her arms filled with a strange array of books. When she would ever need a book about midwifery, she wasn’t sure, but she’d picked it up on a whim. It seemed interesting. Then again, so did the one on Latin, and another on modern graphic design.

As she reached the back of the library, her eyes locked onto a book cover that she couldn’t quite drag herself away from. There was a familiar pounding in her chest as she moved cautiously towards it, glancing over her shoulder nervously, despite knowing nobody she knew was likely to be around. Without even pausing to reconsider, let alone ponder the rest of the book, she plucked it from the shelf, and slid it between two of the other books in her pile, aiming for casual, but her flaming cheeks giving her away. They remained as such the whole time the librarian scanned her selection, despite him seemingly not caring about the eclectic selection of books. He didn’t even bat an eyelid at the object of Delia’s embarrassment, simply sliding them across the desk with her library card, moving on to the next person in line before Delia had even finished stuffing the books into her bag.

Trying to push the book out of her mind, Delia found herself wandering through town aimlessly. It felt good to be somewhere where nobody knew her, where she didn’t have to pretend to be something she wasn’t. Best of all, nobody gave her a second glance. She looked around countless shops, browsing windows of places she could never afford and that her mother certainly wouldn’t approve of. She hated her style choices as it was, but a bright blue pair of Doc Martens she would absolutely loathe.

As afternoon began to creep in, Delia stepped into an ice cream shop, one of the big fancy ones that sold 30 different flavours, which her mam had never let her go in (“a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips, cariad”) and ordered three different flavours and sprinkles and a cherry on top. It was hardly a grand sign of rebellion, but it felt like one all the same.
After polishing off the whole sundae, Delia slipped into the dessert place’s restroom. Only once she was seated in a cubicle, searching her bag for a packet of chewing gum, was she reminded of the book nestled in her backpack. She’d done a pretty good job of distracting herself from Patsy, but as she pulled the book out, looking again at the cover, everything from the night before flooded back into focus. She’d never been embarrassed by what she was, and yet her reaction to this book… she couldn’t help but feel like she was doing something she shouldn’t, just by having it in her possession. But it had been on display in the library like it was nothing to be ashamed of. After all, it was just a book.

Putting the book back, Delia sighed, finding her mobile in the bottom of the bag. A small part of her hoped Patsy might have text or rang, but a quick glance at the screen told her that that was just wishful thinking. She did, however, have two text messages from Barbara, and a missed call from her Mam. Bypassing that one, knowing she was in no mood to deal with her mother right now, Delia quickly opened her message thread with Barbara.

Hey, do u think u could cover my shift 2moro night? :-) x

There’s an event at the church I reaaaally wanna go to - u’d be doin me a BIG favour xxx

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Delia quickly typed a reply, telling her best friend that she’d have to check what time her dress fitting was, but so long as they didn’t overlap, she’d do it. After all, she certainly didn’t want to go to practice. Not if it meant seeing Patsy.

Chapter Text

The drive back from Delia’s house was unbearable. More than once, Patsy had considered pulling over, tears making it impossible for her to see the road, but she persevered, mostly out of desperation to get home. What had she been thinking?! Kissing Delia out in public like that?

The initial relief of realising that Delia felt the same way as her had only lasted a few moments, and then she’d been swept up in the kissing, the touching, her heart pounding in her chest as Delia’s mouth met hers, sweet and gentle and warm. For a while, she’d been completely content. But then she’d felt Delia’s hand brush her stomach, and her muscles had contracted, sending weird jolts of electricity through her, and she’d panicked, being dragged straight back to reality, and the fact they were making out in a public clearing, as if it were nothing.

Making out. With a girl. In public. Her father would be absolutely mortified.

She’d tried to remain composed driving Delia home, but her mind was going a mile a minute, her whole body on the brink of a panic attack. Even once Delia was out of the car, she found it impossible to calm down. And then the tears had started. She was so angry with herself for letting it go so far.

As she pulled into her usual parking spot, Patsy quickly rubbed a hand over her face, scrubbing away the last of the tears. The last thing she needed now was for one of the girls to see her like this, as she knew they’d never let her get away with not telling them what was wrong. Pulling down her visor and looking in the mirror, she wiped away the tell-tale mascara marks from her cheeks, smoothing out her hair and willing herself to get a grip.

As it turned out, she needn’t have worried. Entering the house, it soon became clear that nobody was home. Somebody - she suspected Cynthia - had left a plate of cake in the kitchen, with a note reading ‘help yourself :)’, but Patsy bypassed that, instead reaching for a glass and a bottle of scotch. She was resolutely against drinking on a school night, but every rule had its exception. She poured herself a reasonable amount, before heading upstairs, hopeful that the lack of blaring music meant that Trixie wasn’t home either. As she pushed open their door, she was relieved to find the room empty, though Trixie’s bed was covered in clothes that had clearly been rejected for yet another night out, her bedside table home to several bottles of alcohol. Under any other circumstance, Patsy might have worried that her friend had been enjoying herself a little too much lately - when on earth did she find time for uni work? - but as it was, she was far too wrapped up in her own head to give it more than a passing glance. Besides, she was hardly in any position to judge.

Setting her drink down on her own bedside table, Patsy knelt beside her bed, pulling out a plastic crate that she kept her old Derby gear in. Patsy rifled through the contents: old skates with broken wheels, training vests she no longer used, a Lego trophy she’d been presented last year for breaking a points record. Underneath it all was a tattered box for a pair of rollerblades she’d never worn. Carefully lifting this out, she took off the cardboard lid, letting out a deep breath as she took in the contents. She lifted out the plain brown envelope nestled on top of the old pair of skates, and shook out the contents. On the top of the pile was a frilly once-white hair barrette, thin pink ribbon hanging sadly in a wonky bow. Next, an exercise book, with childish loopy handwriting across the front. Setting these aside, having read through the diary more times than she could count, Patsy emptied out the rest of the envelope. A flurry of photographs slipped out, depicting a family at various stages, including a wedding portrait, another of a heavily pregnant mother with a toddler, both grinning up at the camera. There were school photos, some with just one student, others with two, neither of the girls ever hitting high school age.

Patsy fought back a second wave of tears, tracing her thumb over her favourite of the photographs. Her mother in the exact same pair of rollerblades that were now growing dusty at the back of a bed, holding a small blonde girl’s hand as she awkwardly balanced on her own brand new pair of skates. She stared at the image until it became a blur, tears clouding her vision, a sob caught in the back of her throat.

Movement on the stairs suddenly dragged Patsy back to modern day, and she panicked, quickly trying to stuff everything away without any of it getting crumpled, a task that was not easy. She’d just shoved the crate back under the bed, and was hurriedly wiping away tears (again), when the door opened, revealing her room mate.

“Pat-seeeee!” Trixie squealed, lurching towards her. It was obvious that, despite it only being a little after 10, her friend was absolutely hammered.

Catching her, and stopping her from falling, Patsy forced a smile, “Trix, you’re home already?”

Trixie squinted at her, a sloppy, silly smile on her face as she clumsily brushed her fingers through Patsy’s hair, balanced only by Patsy’s arms around her middle.

“Just to change clothes,” she announced, patting Patsy on the head and squirming out of her grip, “I have the most darling playsuit I wanted to change into. Now where on Earth is it?”

It was very rare that Patsy ever saw Trixie truly inebriated, and it came as something of a shock. Trixie was anything but a light-weight; in fact most of the time it was hard to tell she’d been drinking at all, unless you knew what to look for. But tonight it was obvious she’d gone at the alcohol hard. Perhaps that was more often the case, lately; she didn’t always come home, after all.

“Are you coming for a few, Pats? It’s been an age since we drank together,” Trixie continued to ramble, unearthing half of her drawer to try and find the item of clothing she was missing. It was truly extraordinary the number of outfits she owned. It was a wonder Patsy ever saw her wearing the same thing more than once (come to think of it, besides her nighties, had she?).

Patsy forced another breezy smile, sitting down on her bed and digging around for a cigarette and a lighter, “gosh, not on a school night. Some other time, though,” she said softly, taking a long drag.

Trixie turned to look at her, a stern expression on her face. Or as stern a one she could manage whilst stinking drunk, “Patience Elizabeth Mount, I do declare you no longer fun. I hate your grown up job. It’s made you boring!”

Ah yes, really boring Patsy thought, thinking back to earlier in the night, an event that she could describe as anything but. Not that she’d ever mention that to Trixie, not in a million years. Very few people would think of her derby life as boring, either, but she knew from experience that Trixie was entirely disinterested in what she and the team got up to, only ever asking after male fans, of which Patsy had none. It was fairly rare that they even had any men turn up to their after parties, aside from Buck, and occasionally a boyfriend of somebody.

“Ahah!” Trixie announced, triumphantly holding up a silky, dusty pink item of clothing that looked more like lingerie than something you’d wear outside.

Patsy instinctively turned away whilst her roommate changed, a courtesy that Trixie very seldom awarded her, often commenting on derby bruises, or complimenting her body in a way that was entirely meant as an innocent confidence boost, but that made Patsy always feel somewhat uncomfortable. Just another reason why Trixie could never know the truth.

“Well, will I do?”

Turning to look at her, Patsy nodded, playing the part of dutiful best friend, “you look lovely.”

It was a relief when Trixie finally left, leaving a cloud of expensive perfume in her wake.

-

By the time practice came around, Patsy had practically cleaned the entire house, stressing over seeing Delia again for the first time since they kissed. She even, stupidly, considered not going. But there was no way she would ever skip out on practice, especially not for such a ridiculous reason. No, she decided it was best to just try her best to be normal, even if that involved avoiding Delia completely.

As it turned out, she needn’t have worried so much anyway. She arrived at training a little early, spending the whole time on tenterhooks, anxiously awaiting Delia’s arrival but pretending not to be. Only, Delia never arrived. In many ways, that was worse. Had their team lost one of their most promising players purely because Patsy couldn’t behave like a normal person? She desperately hoped not.

“No Barbie today?”

Patsy turned to meet Phyl’s concerned expression, shrugging her shoulders in a way that she hoped came across as nonchalant, “I suppose not.”

“Perhaps she's running late.”

But deep down Patsy knew she wasn’t running late; she wasn’t coming. What had happened between them - what Patsy had done - was bad enough that it had potentially ruined derby for Delia altogether. And that thought was so painful, made Patsy feel so guilty, that she immediately vowed to fix it. Even if she wasn’t 100% sure how exactly she would go about doing that.

Practice without Delia felt stiff and hollow. Patsy found herself going through the motions, unable to focus her attention on the sport when she couldn’t stop her thoughts from drifting elsewhere. A few times, she even excused herself to go outside for a cigarette, something which she would never ever have done before, more concerned with watching other girls on the team race around the rink, supporting them from the sidelines. Somehow, she didn’t think her miserable expression would do much to lift anybody’s spirits today.

It was in the final ten minutes that she really let her concentration slip, though. Buck decided to end their session with a refresher of the different formations he’d listed in the team bible, the girls forming a one-sided jam, with him calling out different formation numbers, and the blockers getting into the various positions. A selected Jammer would then skate along the track, acting as the opposition, and practice dodging these blocks. That way it worked to train them in both defence, and attack. It was working pretty well, actually. Perhaps if Patsy were more focussed, she might be more impressed by this tactic, but as it was, she was struggling to keep up, not even realising when Buck announced her turn as jammer, until Nora was putting the helmet cover into her hands.

Which is how, not long after the whistle had blown, she’d wound up stumbling, crashing into her own teammates, bouncing straight off Crusher’s back, into Jolly’s elbow, and landing with a bloody good smack face first on the track.

So much for staying under the radar.

-

Chapter Text

The whole time that Violet had been measuring and pinching and pinning fabric around her, Delia had zoned out. This was hardly unusual; dress-fittings were tedious at the best of times, but tonight had been particularly bad, resulting in Delia’s mother snapping at her multiple times. Her mind kept drifting back to the same thing; lying on the grass, kissing Patsy, the perfect bliss that she had felt for that half hour before the spell had been broken.

She hadn’t been able to sleep last night. She’d gone straight upstairs after supper to read the book she’d borrowed from the library, finishing it in record-speed, crying over the ending, and then poring over her favourite parts a second time, unable to stop herself from inserting Patsy and herself into the fictional scenarios. Regardless of what had happened afterwards, the electricity between them had been real. If only she hadn’t made the mistake of pushing too hard, maybe she wouldn’t have scared Patsy off, maybe they could have had the same happy ending that the characters in the library book sought after. Not that they got it either: in the final pages, just as it looked like they had overcome everything and everyone’s prejudice, one of them had been hit by a speeding car. Still, that was the 60s. Things were different now. People didn’t have to be so scared of who they were. Society was more understanding of differences.

Perhaps running away and hiding from Patsy wasn’t the answer. Perhaps she had to prove to her that there was no reason to be afraid anymore.

Of course, as easy as that sounded, it wasn’t that simple. Delia had spent hours lying in the dark, agonising over what she could have done differently, how she could fix things between them. Even if Patsy didn’t want them to be together in the way that Delia so desperately did, she couldn’t bear to lose her as a friend. She had to make things right somehow.

“Say thank you to Mrs Gee, Delia, love.”
Her mam’s voice brings her back to the present, and she blinks, realising belatedly that the fitting is over, and Violet is waiting for her to shed the pale blue chiffon she’s drowning in, and change back into her own clothes. She doesn’t, however, miss the edge to her mother’s voice, the pinched expression on her face that says Delia’s in for a lecture on the way home.

“Thank you so much,” Delia says, dutifully, slipping out of the dress and pulling her leggings and dress back on.

“You know it’s always a pleasure. I’ll get to work on these amendments right away. The back of that one’ll have to go up a few inches to cover… well, you know.”

Delia did know. Her mam had already tutted and apologised over the bruise that still blossomed over Delia’s back, though it no longer hurt. She supposed nothing could hurt more than her heart at the moment, anyway.

As they headed outside, Delia pulled her phone out of her pocket to check the time. She’d told Barbara she would cover the second half of her shift, going straight there after the fitting, but it wasn’t her best friend whose message popped up on her phone screen. She felt her heart sink. With everything else she’d been agonising over, it had been easy to pretend that missing practice wasn’t a big deal, but in reality, knowing the girls were training over at Nonnatus without her stung almost as badly as the fact Patsy hadn’t texted in two days. She hesitated over the message from Jules, guilt for not letting the team know she couldn’t attend eating her up, and then glanced over towards the tearoom, where she knew Barbara was waiting for her.

In a split-second, she’d made her decision.

-

All she had time to grab was her kit bag.

She told her mam it was her work apron, despite the size and shape of it obviously giving away that it wasn’t. For once, though, her mother didn’t question it, just kissed her goodbye on the cheek and told her not to dawdle on her way home.

Delia didn’t give the tearoom a second glance as she walked to the train station. Of course, the bus would have been far cheaper, but even going via train, she was cutting it close to make it to the second half of training. She used over half of her pay check on the ticket, running from the gates to the platform and only narrowly making it onto the waiting train before the doors closed.

Barbara was going to be furious. She couldn’t let herself think about that now, though. As much as she knew that missing one training session wouldn’t lose her place on the team, she couldn’t help but think that it might destroy her chances of ever patching things up with Patsy.

However, now that she was on the train - the high-speed, expensive train, which was moving far too slowly - she realised how reckless what she was doing actually was. How stupid she was being, risking her friendship with Barbara, and her mother finding out about Derby, just for the slim chance of fixing things with Patsy. But how could she not do it? Every time she closed her eyes, she felt the warmth of Patsy’s mouth covering hers, the graze of her nose against Delia’s own, the tingle of her hands cautiously marking a path down her shoulders, her back. If there was any chance - no matter how small - of her getting to feel that way again, she had to go for it.

Barbara would understand. Maybe not right away, but once Delia came clean about everything else… her friend would have to understand, and she’d forgive her. Right?

As for her mother… there was always a glimmer of hope that she just wouldn’t notice Delia’s absence. She could just tell her that she’d stopped off somewhere on the way home. She might be cross to begin with, but it would fade. It always did.

All these things, Delia had to keep telling herself, to stop the guilt from eating her up. She knew she’d made a selfish decision, that it was uncharacteristic of her to act without thinking of her best friend’s feelings first, but hadn’t she earned the right to be selfish every now and then?

Even once the train pulled into the station, her question hung there, unanswered. She tried to ignore the unease that was lingering in her stomach, her conscience telling her she’d made a mistake. The doors took an agonisingly long time to open, the line at the ticket gate painfully slow, and she broke into a run once she was through, the pounding of her trainers against the ground finally drowning out the sound of her thoughts.

She arrived at the front steps of Nonnatus House, and for a second, she let the relief pour over her.

But then she saw it. Parked right outside the old building.

And somehow, she knew, before she’d even made it inside - a dark, aching feeling in her chest - that the ambulance was for Patsy.

-

“She’s okay, kid, she’s going to be alright” Phyl said, catching Delia as she ran forward, towards the crowd of other girls gathering around the paramedics. Despite the older woman’s comforting words, Delia found it hard to relax, especially not when she could see Nitty Nora crying, and Buck with blood down the front of his boilersuit.

“What happened?” she choked out, opting not to struggle against Phyl’s grip as she turned her away from the action.

“She hit the track pretty hard, and it’s protocol for us to call 999 for a head injury, but she’ll be okay. The medics are just checking her over. It looks far worse than it is, I promise you.”

Delia nodded, trying to calm herself down, fighting back the tears that had been pricking at her eyes since the moment she first saw the ambulance.

“Our Ginger’s resilient as anything; this isn’t the worst she’s had it, believe me lass.”

“I.. I know. The first time I saw her on the track… she… she had a bloody nose.”

Laughing, Phyl rubbed her back encouragingly, “see, there you are then.”

“I just… I saw the ambulance and… I thought…” she trailed off, realising that she’s embarrassing herself, that according to everybody else, she and Patsy were just friends. Not even that; they barely knew each other. Nobody else could know why she was so distraught at the thought of her being hurt.

“You poor kid,” Phyl murmured, hugging her tightly again, “you forget when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, that it’s scary the first time you see one of your team-mates take a hit.”

Relieved, Delia let her eyes slip closed, concentrating on levelling out her breathing, before Phyl let her go. As she turned, she noticed the medics were leaving, giving her a clear path to see Patsy. But before she could move towards her, they were joined by Jules and Buck.

“Nice to see you, Barbie. We did rather fear that you’d abandoned us,” Jules said, by way of greeting.

Delia swallowed, that pang of guilt returning to her as she quickly tries to explain: “I’m so sorry I’m late. I was held up but I hoped to make it to the end of practice…”

“Well, as you can see, we’ve had to call it quits a little early this evening.”

“How’s she doing?” Phyl asked.

Buck forced a smile, though his eyes still glistened with concern, “they’ve said she’s to stay off the track for the rest of the week, but all the signs looked good. No blood in her ears. Nothin’ broken.”

“She’s alert and sitting upright, talking,” Jules added, “we’ll have to contact her housemates though; she’ll need monitoring overnight at home, in case she shows any signs of concussion.”

“One of us will have to take her home,” Buck frowned, just as the girl in question arrived beside him, and Delia quickly felt all the air leave her lungs.

There was a waterfall of dried blood down her face and chest, and her chin and nose were grazed. Bruises were already blooming across her forehead, and both her wrists too, despite her safety gear. Worse than all that, though, was the way she was resolutely not looking at Delia, her eyes trained carefully on anyone but.

“I’m not an invalid, I’m perfectly capable of driving myself home.”

“And getting into an accident if your vision suddenly goes blurry? I don’t think so young lady. I’ll take you back in my car, and you can collect yours another time,” Phyl announced, not taking no for an answer.

“That’s settled then,” smiled Jules, “please do take care of yourself, and be sure to let your roommate know that she’s to keep an eye on you."

“I can do that,” Delia blurted, before she’d had time to think it through.

They all seemed to turn to face her in unison, each face looking slightly more startled than the one before. Delia felt her cheeks turn red in response, purposely not risking looking at Patsy for fear of what she’d find in her expression.

“I just meant… if… if Trixie isn’t home… I could stay with her overnight and make sure she’s alright. I mean… if you want, Pats?”

She finally risked a glance at the redhead, relieved to find that Patsy was smiling after all, bobbing her head in a little nod.

“That would be wonderful, if you’re sure you don’t mind.”

Perhaps things were going to work out okay after all.

Chapter Text

Patsy woke with the worst headache she’s ever had.

For a moment, she feared that her streak of hangover-less mornings after a crazy night before had ended, and she might have to face going into work paying for her extra-curricular activities. But then she remembered: it wasn’t a hangover at all.

Along with the pounding pain in her head, her arms felt like lead, her legs achey, and her nose throbbing in a familiar way that told her she’d taken a hard hit to it. Even if she hadn’t remembered her fall from the night before, the scatter of bruises and cuts would have given it away as soon as she got up and looked at herself in the light. She’d suffered many derby-related injuries, but this had to be the worst to date.

Easing her eyes open, Patsy was pleasantly surprised to realise that that the light was still off, the curtains still drawn, and only a faint glow of sunlight shone through, casting the room in a soft yellow that didn’t hurt her poor head. It was only then that she remembered one final detail from the night before, and her stomach did a summersault without her permission.

Delia.

Patsy cast a glance towards Trixie’s bed, relaxing a little as she realised it was unoccupied, the sheets neat and tidy like they hadn’t been slept in. To her other side, a warm body remained curled on its side, soft breaths telling her that Delia was still asleep. Or at the very least, pretending to be. Either way, it gave Patsy an excuse to watch her for a moment, to map the outlines of her face, so soft and still as she slept.

There were so many things she had wanted to say last night, but the drive from Nonnatus to her house had been spent in awkward silence, with Phyl doing most of the talking, and by the time they were alone, Patsy was too tired to keep her eyes open. Still, she’d insisted that if Delia was staying, she’d sleep in the bed, the same way they had the night of her first game. It made sense, after all, if Delia was supposed to be waking her to check on her every two hours.

Delia, as it turned out, was also tired. So tired, in fact, that she had slept through the alarms she’d set in two hour intervals, and Patsy had reached across and turned them off herself. She felt fine. Bruised and achey, but not dizzy or sick. There was no need to wake Delia, so she’d swiftly turned off the rest of her alarms as well, and gone back to sleep.

Despite everything, Patsy had been relieved to see her. She had surprised herself by accepting Delia’s offer to care for her for the night, when she had expected her instincts to tell her not to. Lying so close to her, she couldn’t help but be transported back to that night, the clearing, the daisy chain.... the kissing. It had only been a few days ago, but being apart from Delia even for that long had felt torturous.

Still, Patsy was afraid. If anything, her body’s reaction to being without the brunette made her more terrified. And it had not been an easy night’s sleep, even with her injuries and painkillers making her drowsy. Once again, she had slept on top of the covers, with Delia tucked up under the duvet, and once again, she had spent an unreasonable amount of time worrying that she might roll over in the night and do something embarrassing. Which, of course, was ludicrous. How could anything be more embarrassing than her outburst two days prior? Besides, Delia had kissed her; they were long past worrying over non-platonic movements, least of all accidental ones that might occur in her sleep.

So, where exactly were they? That was harder to figure out. Patsy had spent so much time wanting, and even more time trying to push that want away, that she wasn’t entirely sure what to make of her heart’s decision to accept Delia’s help. It had been her heart making the decision, though, because her stubborn, practical brain never would have decided it a good idea. Very seldomly did her heart win that battle, logic almost always taking precedence over her feelings (except, of course, when she thought of her mother and sister… but that was something else entirely and she was too exhausted to even linger for a second on that particular subject), so she wasn’t fully equipped to figure out what any of it meant. Certainly not from practice, anyway.

But, deep down, of course, she did know what it meant. It had been two days, and she had missed Delia so terribly, that absence becoming so distracting that she had lost concentration completely, and that was how she’d ended up in this predicament in the first place. She had, partly, been ignoring how she felt because she didn’t want anything to distract her from her beloved derby, but in doing the opposite - in trying to brush it under the carpet - she had reached a worse conclusion.

Of course, the larger part of the reason for pretending she didn’t feel the way she did was… well, because she’d grown so accustomed to hiding it. It wasn’t Delia that scared her, more the feelings that blossomed in Patsy from only knowing the younger girl for a short while. The feelings that she had spent years being able to avoid. When it came to other women, Patsy had known how she felt, had understood the bodily response to being near somebody attractive, but she had never felt the need to act upon it, at least not since the humiliation of her teenage years. No, she had become an expert in ignoring it, in not wanting to acknowledge what made her different from every other woman. She had spent long enough being different, the child of a dead mother, and a father who sent her away, not wanting to even be in the same country as her after his favourite child had died.

Derby had let her feel normal, or at least celebrate her differences. Her team were an odd crew of women from completely different walks of life, and, more importantly, women who did not pry into each other’s lives, beyond what was important to their game. She had always felt safe amongst them. But now… there was Delia.

Gosh, this was too much thinking for such a sore head.

Patsy rolled back onto her side, looking down at Delia again. She wished, desperately, that she could just be grateful. That she could apologise for what she had said, and maybe even, once she was ready, they could try again.

But of course, she couldn’t.

Her accident had proved, though, that simply ignoring the situation wasn’t going to help, either. She might have felt some relief - mixed in with the guilt and the worry - when Delia didn’t show to training, but that clearly hadn’t lasted very long. She’d been so distracted that she’d made a rookie mistake, and she had the blood-crusted face to show for it. And Delia hadn’t quit. Patsy wasn’t quite sure where she had been, or why she was late - there hadn’t been time to discuss it - but she hadn’t quit, so Patsy couldn’t just pretend they’d never met each other, no matter how much she might have hoped she could.

Even if Delia hadn’t shown up at practice, she knew she couldn’t have pretended that, anyway.

Sighing, Patsy struggled against her aching body to sit herself upright. She had spent long enough worrying about things she couldn’t change, and she would have to start getting ready for work soon. Had she had marking to do last night? She didn’t think so, but her brain was still a little foggy, so she’d have to check.

Just as she worked up the effort to swing her legs over the side of the bed and get up, though, a voice from the other pillow stopped her.

“Pats?”

She hadn’t seen her face yet for herself, but judging from the concern etched into the younger woman’s expression, and the way she winced, then tried to cover it with a yawn…. it was bad. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise, because it hurt and she could tell her nose was a mess from the fact she could barely breathe out of one side of it.

“I look frightful, don’t I?” she asked, attempting for softly, but her voice coming out gravelly and rough.

“No, you could never look…” Delia trailed off, looking away momentarily, but her blue eyes met Patsy’s a second later, “how are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been hit in the face with a sledgehammer,” Patsy surprised herself, again, by answering honestly, “but it’s nothing an aspirin can’t solve, I’m sure.”

“Well,” Delia said, stretching in the bed in a way that forced Patsy to look away, in fear of seeing more flesh than she ought to, “I am a terrible nurse. I didn’t wake you up in the night to check on you at all. I assume you’re not feeling any dizziness or nausea?”

“Actually, Nurse Busby, I turned off your alarms, so it isn’t your fault at all.”

Delia actually blushed at the joke, clearly biting back a smile as she attempted to put on a stern face, “oh, did you now? Well if you’d suffered a huge brain haemorrhage in the night, Jules and Phyl would have absolutely had my guts for garters, whether it was you who prevented me from waking or not!”

“I’m fine,” Patsy reassured her, softly, “only I must start getting ready for work or I’ll be late.”

“Nu-uh. You are staying in bed. Doctor’s orders.”

“Oh so you have yourself a MD now, too, do you Nurse?”

Rolling her eyes, Delia failed to stop herself from smiling this time, and Patsy almost melted at the sight of it. “No, but I’m under strict instructions from the paramedics. Back into bed, please, and I’ll go and get you some breakfast, along with those aspirin you were after. Did Trixie not come home last night?”

Glancing again at her room-mate’s empty bed, Patsy shook her head, immediately regretting it as the pain intensified with the action. She couldn’t help but be a little concerned for Trixie. Even if she had met a new man, she was spending far too many nights away from her own bed.

“Well, thank goodness I showed up then.”

“I’d have asked Cynthia to watch over me if I was worried,” Patsy argued, though she was not entirely sure why. Could she not just say thank you? Relenting, she recovered by adding, “but I really am grateful for you staying with me. I can’t ask you to go and fetch me breakfast, though. I am capable of making my way downstairs, you know. We can do it together?”

Delia scrutinised her in silence for a moment, before eventually nodding her head in agreement. “Very well, but you’re to go back to bed directly afterward.”

Well, Patsy couldn’t disagree with that. Maybe they could then also have a much needed talk.

Chapter Text

As they entered the kitchen, Patsy was immediately grateful of two things: first, that it had been cleaned recently, and second that nobody else was occupying it. Not that she felt she needed to hide Delia’s presence, after all she had a perfectly reasonable explanation for spending the night, but more so she didn’t have to deal with Cynthia and Jenny fussing over her. Especially if her face looked as bad as it felt.

The kitchen was a typical size for a shared house, cluttered with mismatched crockery and cutlery that no longer really belonged to any of them individually, and tea towels that didn’t belong to a matching set either. They each had a shelf in the fridge, and Patsy’s was neatly organised into two plastic baskets, to prevent anything leaking onto other shelves. She took out a container of yogurt and some strawberries, before moving to the cupboard for granola.

Delia stifled a laugh behind her.

“What?” Patsy asked her, indignantly.

“I don’t know... I just don’t know anybody under the age of 35 who has granola for breakfast. Next you’ll be offering me bran flakes and bournvita!”

“Well, I won’t be offering you anything with that attitude!” Patsy exclaimed, though she was already rummaging around for a second bowl, “I’m sure Jenny wouldn’t begrudge you a bowl of rice-krispies, or is that a cereal only for grandmothers too?”

“Actually,” Delia returned, reaching past Patsy to the dish of strawberries, “I’d rather just have some of these,” and she snatched a large one, half expecting Patsy to swat her hand away, but glad when she didn’t. She took a big bite, the strawberry juicy and sweet. So much so, that she had to lick her fingers before reaching for another.

“Uh-uh, wash your hands first please.”

The fact that they had quickly settled back into this playfulness, as if nothing had happened, was not lost on Patsy, but equally she didn’t wish to be the one to break the facade. Despite her throbbing head, she was having a nice time. For once, she was just letting herself enjoy the moment, instead of over thinking it.

Even if she had had to force herself to look away as Delia licked dripping strawberry juice from her hands.

Of course, now that she had thought about that she couldn’t unthink it, and that worry was niggling at her again. They ought to talk... but she didn’t want to, because that was facing up to the fact that something was wrong between them. That was making what happened the other night real.

In honesty, she was surprised Delia wasn’t pushing her to talk. After all, that was what had happened last time she stayed the night, wasn’t it? It was Delia who forced them not to run away from their feelings in the first place. Perhaps she was just being kind, or perhaps she’d hoped that a bang on the head had caused Patsy to forget the whole thing entirely.

Picking up her granola bowl, Patsy realised that Delia had been talking, but that she had drowned her out entirely. In fact, she had only snapped out of it because the younger woman was saying her name, and from the expression on her face Patsy could assume it was not the first time.

“Sit down,” she said, her voice suddenly serious, and for a moment Patsy forgot she was both younger and shorter than her, because she sounded so authoritative. She did as she was told, sitting at the small table and telling herself that obviously she’d intended to sit to eat her breakfast anyway, and she wasn’t just doing so because Delia had ordered her to.

Delia pulled out the chair next to hers, and also sat, staring at Patsy whilst she mixed her fruit and grains into the yogurt.

“If your head’s hurting, don’t put a brave face on it; tell me. And if you keep zoning out, whether you tell me or not, I’ll call you an ambulance.”

Patsy shook her head, not meeting her eye, “I'm fine, honestly. It hurts a little but not enough to make a fuss about and besides...-“ it’s not the headache making me zone out, it’s you, she finished, silently.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best ideal to stop a sentence half way through. Delia’s blue eyes were swimming with concern, her mouth a thin line of worry. It didn’t seem right, that face with her long hair down and sleep-ruffled, and with her wearing her training kit. The expression, and the rest of her, just didn’t match.

Patsy sighed.

“Besides, what?” Delia asked, evenly.

“Besides, nothing. I’m just hungry, Delia, and achey, and my pride is dented. That is all. I wish you wouldn’t fuss around me; I’m a grown adult I can look after myself. I’ve been doing so long enough. Please will you just leave me alone!”

The silence that followed her words was startling. She hadn’t meant to snap, to sound so ungrateful and angry when Delia deserved anything but. That was how she always dealt with things though, wasn’t it? If it couldn’t be locked behind a door, ignored, then she had to respond to it by being downright mean, especially to the people who deserved it least. That, she decided, bitterly, was a trick she had learnt from her father. Perhaps the only thing he had ever taught her.

She half expected Delia to get up and leave, to decide she wasn’t worth the hassle. But of course she didn’t, because Delia was stubborn as a mule. Although hurt was evident in her eyes, she remained unmoving. Eventually, she looked down at the table, worrying a crack in the Formica with her fingernail.

Patsy ought to apologise.

“Remember the car accident I told you about?” Delia asked, before Patsy could form an apology, “I fibbed a little about the details. See, what happened was I was riding my bike to school, and I was hit by a car. I’d been rushing, not paying attention to the road because I was late, and I’d left my helmet behind. I don’t remember seeing the car, I just remember the feeling of flying over my handlebars, hitting the road so hard I bounced.

“We didn’t live here then. I grew up in Wales... well, I suppose you must have known that by my accent.”

Patsy smiled. Of course she’d known, but hadn’t wanted to enquire.

“We lived in a little farm town, the kind of place that you could drive for miles and only pass one other house. The only hospital in town was tiny. When I had my accident... well, at first the doctor thought I was fine. A little grazed and bruised, and I’d broken my wrist, but otherwise OK considering. He told my parents that I was lucky, remarked on how resilient I am... well, that’s the way mam always tells it. I don’t really remember. The thing is, because I seemed fine, and all my tests had come back fine, they sent me off home with a cast, and a reminder to always wear a helmet.

“I had this awful headache, and I started to feel sick that evening, but I didn’t want to bother my mam with it. I had already been such a hassle, making her and dad run to the hospital from work... well, I started vomiting in the night. I was sick as a dog. My head spun every time I got up to go to the bathroom. When my mam came in the next morning, I couldn’t talk to her... when I tried I made no sense, my speech was so slurred - that’s what she says anyway. Again, I don’t remember it. And after that... well, I don’t remember much at all. I had a swelling in my brain that the doctors hadn’t caught the first time.”

“Gosh,” Patsy breathed, suddenly understanding why Delia was so concerned. And what a beast she had been about the whole thing…

“I had to have two surgeries, and spent three months in hospital. Even after that, I had to relearn all these basic tasks… my mam wrapped me in cotton wool, didn’t let me out of her sight. I do know what it’s like to be fussed over, to feel like you’re being suffocated by somebody else’s worry. We moved shortly after - my parents felt like we should be somewhere safer than rural Wales, I suppose… I think they also wanted to get me away from my old friends. Not that that I was well enough to spend any time with any of them, not for a long while, even after that. I had memory lapses, and my personality… altered. I’m not really sure who I was before, but I know the accident changed me. It wasn’t something that could just be forgotten about as soon as I was doing better - pardon the pun.”

“Deels, I’m so sorry. I had no idea,” murmured Patsy, longing to touch Delia, to brush her hair behind her ear, or to cover her hand with her own… but too scared to do so. Even after Delia had bared her deepest secret, something so personal, Patsy still couldn’t stop herself from being a coward.

“It’s alright. I purposely don’t bring it up. Even Barbara doesn’t know all the details. I just thought… you deserve to know why I am being so over-bearing.” Delia smiled, wrinkling her nose up as she did so. “God, I’ve turned into my mam.”

“You have not! I can understand why she’d be so resolutely against you doing something as dangerous as Derby though. I’m almost tempted to ban you, myself! Except, I never would because I can see how happy it makes you, and you’re so wonderfully talented at it. And… for selfish reasons, I’d really rather keep you on the team.”

Delia gazed at her curiously, “and what selfish reasons are those?”

The flirtatious tone to her voice made Patsy stumble over her words for a moment, her face flushing and her heart beating a little quicker. She purposely dragged her eyes away from Delia’s as she tried to get a hold of the right thing to say, “Delia….”

Before she could get any further, her flatmates’ voices coming down the stairs, accompanied by heavy footsteps, stopped her. She fixed a pleasant smile to her face, and hoped that Cynthia and Jenny wouldn’t freak out when they saw her poor battered nose. She knew that they would though; they always did.

-

Chapter Text

She hadn’t meant to tell Patsy everything. It had just sort of… happened.

It wasn’t the first time that she’d found herself telling Patsy things she’d never been comfortable telling anybody else, but this was different. Delia hadn’t been lying when she said Barbara didn’t know the details; if anything, that was an understatement. She’d been (mostly) healed by the time they’d met each other, and Delia had been determined to be normal, to put the accident behind her. It remained her biggest, darkest secret.

Well… maybe not the biggest.

Maybe, now that Patsy was actually talking to her, Delia was just desperate to regain that close-ness they’d felt that night on the grass. Despite everything that had happened since, she wasn’t sure it was such a stretch to imagine her and Patsy fixing things; after all, they had shared the bed again, that same current of electricity buzzing between them, but somehow different still. She had been so worried that she thought she might never get to sleep, but exhaustion from barely sleeping in the nights prior to that one had taken her after-all. So much so that she hadn’t even performed her duties as nurse. Her leaders at the St. John’s Ambulance - if she still had time to volunteer for it these days - would be mortified!

It was the worry, and the guilt, that had made her tell Patsy about the accident, then. That and the realisation that she at the very least owed her an explanation for how much she was fussing (she really was becoming her mother). Unfortunately, just as it had seemed like they might actually get to talking about what was happening between them, they’d been interrupted. Admittedly, Delia was pretty torn between wanting to pretend everything was fine, and desperately needing to talk it out, in the hopes of mending the something that had started growing between them… but she had started to lean towards the latter, before Patsy’s housemates had arrived.

In stark contrast to Trixie and Patsy, the two girls who entered the kitchen were far less glamorous (although, admittedly dressed in pyjamas it was hard to tell). The shorter of the two, who had wide kind eyes, and a mousey look about her (and not just her hair colour), almost dropped the mug she was carrying when she saw Patsy’s face, the other immediately rushing towards her, her hands mapping out Patsy’s face in a way that Delia wished hers could. She was brunette, too, but taller, and much less softly spoken - in fact, she immediately swore, berating Patsy for not having woken them up the night before, whilst the other started making tea.

“And I suppose you let this happen,” the taller girl addressed Delia with raised eyebrows.

“Relax Jen, Delia wasn’t even there. And she came here to make sure I was okay in the night, so that I didn’t have to wake any of you.”

Ah, the aforementioned Jenny, with the Rice Krispies.

“It’s a shame Trixie didn’t show the same consideration,” Jenny huffed, quickly moving on, “did you miss her coming in last night?”

“She’s feeling under the weather. We put her in my room last night,” the other girl said, diplomatically, sharing a look with Jenny who scoffed, turning to grab a bowl from the cupboard.

“I didn't hear her. I did wonder what you were doing upstairs, Cynthia. Is she alright?”

Cynthia and Jenny shared another look.

“I’m afraid she had rather too much to drink, and got herself into a bit of a state.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Jenny chimed in, reaching past Patsy for the milk that Cynthia had just finished with, “I really think we ought to have a conversation with her, as a house. This has gone on long enough. I mean, it’s been well over a year since she and Tom finished things.”

Delia cringed at the mention of Tom. She’d only met him once, and, frankly, couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. He didn’t seem like the kind of man to have women fight over him, and yet… she would have to decide whether or not to talk to Barbara about this—

“Shit,” Delia muttered, suddenly remembering what she had done the night before. Not only had she not covered Barbara’s shift as she’d promised, she’d completely forgotten to let her know. After all Barbara had done for her - and not just the times she’d covered for her where derby was concerned, but their six years of friendship before that, too - she had let her down, and not even done it kindly.
Patsy raised her eyebrows in Delia’s direction, but didn’t say anything.

“I don’t think we should be talking about her when she’s only next door,” Patsy pointed out instead, “what kind of friends does that make us?”

What kind of friends, indeed. Delia was definitely tuning out from their conversation, and trying to remember where she’d left her phone. Not only had she not messaged Barbara, but her mother would be tearing her hair out worrying about her too. How could she have been so stupid? It had been so easy to forget every single other responsibility when looking after Patsy was number one on her agenda, but now that the redhead had proven to her that she was completely fine - and in the presence of her friends, who could take over monitoring her if she wasn’t - that excuse seemed pretty flimsy. In truth, Delia found it hard to think about anything except for Patsy when she was in her presence. She’d brushed off her oldest friend for a girl she barely knew. It was exactly what she was mad at Barbara for doing with Tom.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she said, realising she had no idea who had been talking or what they were saying, “Pats, is it okay if I run upstairs and grab my phone?”

Patsy’s mouth twitched into a soft smile, the look of concern for Trixie momentarily fading, “of course - you don’t have to ask. I’ll be up in a minute.”

-

She had twelve missed calls from her mother, two texts from her dad (which was an achievement in itself - he was a technophobe and rarely knew where his phone was, let alone used it) and nothing at all from Barbara. In many ways, that was worse.

Delia took a deep breath and called her home number. It barely had a chance to ring before it was picked up.

“Delia?”

“Yes, mam, it’s me. I’m so sorry—“

“You ought to be! Not coming home last night and then not answering your phone - we’ve been sick with worry. You could have been dead in a ditch for all we knew. Your father had to talk me out of ringing all the local hospitals.”

Delia sighed. She should have known her mother would overreact. “I know, I’m so sorry, only a friend had an accident and I had to go to the hospital with her—“

“And you couldn’t find time to contact your mother and let her know? Delia I’ve been absolutely frantic.”

“I know, mam, I’m sorry but—“

Her mother sighed, “it’s okay, cariad, I’m just glad you’re safe. And it won’t happen again. Is Barbara alright?”

Delia felt her chest tighten at the mention of her friend. “Y-yes? Why wouldn’t she be?”

“You said she had an accident…?”

“No, mam, another friend. Babs is fine.”

-

After speaking to her mother, Delia debated messaging Barbara, or calling her, too, before deciding against it. Whatever conversation they needed to have, it would be better done face-to-face. That way she could show her best friend how sorry she really was. She told herself this, all the while knowing that part of it was definitely more rooted in not wanting to end up upset in front of Patsy. Or, perhaps moreso, not wanting Patsy to know what a terrible thing she had done. She at least had the conscience to acknowledge that both of those thoughts were present, and that she was being a coward by putting it off, even if she was hiding behind a flimsy excuse.

Instead, Delia sat down on the bed and waited for Patsy to return. The best thing to do would be to initiate a proper conversation about what had happened between them, firstly out in the clearing that night, and secondly in the car on the way back. Didn’t Delia deserve to know where they stood? She didn’t feel like pretending nothing had happened any longer. If she was already going to have to have an uncomfortable conversation with her best friend, she might as well prepare for it with another, potentially more important, conversation. After all, wasn’t it the desperate emptiness she felt without Patsy that had caused her to bail on Barbara in the first place?

Okay, so that wasn’t fair. But even so, what was happening between them was affecting her more than any other “crush” ever had. She needed to concede to that. She and Patsy would have to talk this out, and settle one way or the other, and if it weren’t the outcome she wanted, she’d have to be a grown up and walk away. At least if they talked it out, they could go back to being friends. Painful as that might be, it was better than losing Patsy entirely.

And she wanted to go back to training the next day without any of this nastiness or awkward energy between them. Patsy might be good at pretending nothing was wrong, but Delia was not.

The creaking on the stairs outside the door told of Patsy’s arrival, and Delia took a deep breath, preparing herself for whatever was going to happen next. She wasn’t going to be a coward this time; they needed to talk, and talk they would.