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Prelude

Chapter Text

i.

 

It wasn’t gentle. It wasn’t soft. It wasn’t languorous.

 

It was hard. Unexpected. Liquid heat coursing through her veins. It was sweat gathering behind her knees and a crimson flush painting her heaving chest.

 

It wasn’t anything that Vera had ever associated with lovemaking.

 

It was everything she could have ever hoped for.

 

It was sweaty hands clutching at wrinkled uniform shirts. Joan’s hair being haphazardly yanked out of its bun by Vera’s insistent fingers. Vera’s skirt being pushed up by Joan’s curiously trembling hands.

 

It was sweat-slicked thighs squeaking and burning against the polished surface of Joan’s executive desk. Feet slipping off the edge of the desk as desperate hips swayed forwards in time with Joan’s thrusts. It was hands finding purchase in coarse, greying hair and sheer delight at the howl it produced from her lover’s lips.

 

It was a shiver slicing down Vera’ spine at the feel of Joan’s lips whispering her name over and over again against the taut skin of her neck. A suffusing heat low in Vera’s belly as she felt Joan’s hips sway in time with the rhythm that their frantic coupling set. It was the brief, agonizing pleasure as Joan’s long fingers brought the symphony of sensations inside of Vera’s body to a gorgeous crescendo.

 

It was cold loneliness as Joan, wide-eyed, and taken aback by her momentary loss of self-control, removed herself from atop Vera. Torment, most inhumane, as Vera watched Joan pick up the remnants of her impervious mask, piece by piece, and secure them back into their place.

 

It was a crushing weight rolling on top of Vera’s gentle heart as she solemnly pulled her stockings back on and as Joan hastily fixed her uniform shirt, all whilst refusing to meet her eyes. Hot, growing embarrassment as Vera felt herself becoming increasingly desperate for Joan to look at her, speak to her, reach out to her…

 

It was pain, so fierce, so unrelenting in its demanding ache that Vera could not stop the tears which spilled forth from her stinging eyes.

 

It was bitter defiance, as Vera plucked her wet panties from the floor of Joan’s office, and dropped them deliberately on her regretful lover’s desk.

Chapter Text

ii.

 

They went three months without an incident.

 

Three months. Dozens of meetings, both formal and informal took place within that space of time. All whilst sitting in Joan’s office, at her desk, without so much as a hint that either one of them recalled the delicious sins they’d committed against the innocent, polished wood.

 

Their combined capability and commitment to denial was truly impressive.

 

Three months. 91 days. 2,184 hours. 7, 862, 400 seconds.

 

Vera felt every one of them as vividly as she’d felt Joan’s fingers moving inside of her. Joan’s lips and teeth scraping, deliciously, at the prominent veins in her neck. Joan’s sturdy weight pinning her to the smooth surface of her desk. Joan’s hot breath enveloping her skin.

 

Three months of agonizing contemplation of how Joan’s lips might have felt against hers, if only she’d had the courage to find out. 91 days wondering if the rest of Joan’s skin was as soft and as sturdy as her hands. 2,184 hours teetering on the edge of vile, all-consuming hatred and something both distinctly more powerful and disturbing. 7, 862, 400 seconds lived in shameful, lonely regret.

 

It was only a matter of time before one of them broke down. 7,862, 400 seconds. Each one painstakingly felt as a dull, heavy thud against her desperate heart.

 

Rita Bennett’s funeral was small and not very well-attended. The few patrons who shuffled around the house after the service did so mainly out of both respect and pity for Vera. Vera hardly noticed them, so complacent she was in her solitude.

 

Her father left her when she was 10. Her lover left her when she was 42. Her mother, Vera realized, would never leave her. She’d hang on, bitterly, until Vera drew her last breath, all the while, destroying any potential happiness that her daughter might find. So, Vera did the only thing that she could do; she removed the only (albeit, twistedly) loyal person in her life so that she could finally be free.

 

One by one, the half-hearted mourners left her house and she found peace in the silence that accompanied their exit. The caterers took care of the modest mess that had been left by the small crowd; Vera hardly registered their quietly respectful exit as she sat on her couch, a tumbler of scotch in hand.

 

The scotch burned all the way down her throat, making it momentarily difficult for Vera to breathe. She took a second gulp and relished in the feeling. Her father used to sit in this living room at the end of the day, cigar and scotch in hand, whilst she played with her puppets and colouring books at his feet and her mother fluttered around them, screeching at them for one thing or another. Vera had been a timid child, but her father had never begrudged her for her shortcomings. He was a patient man, a simple man; but even he had his limits. Vera could still recall the day she came home from school to find her mother furiously smashing all of their flatware, shrieking about disloyalty and disappointment; in hindsight, Vera wondered if Rita’s manifesto was as much directed at her as it had been her father.

 

Vera took a third gulp of the amber liquid. The sting was less pronounced this time. She wondered if her father would be proud of her and all that she had done.

 

The door to her house opened again, and for a moment Vera assumed that it was one of the caterers returning to collect something that they’d left behind. But then a shiver danced down her spine and the hairs on the back of her neck prickled.

 

7,862, 000 seconds.

 

Joan’s hair was down and flowing around her shoulders. She wore a dark blue blouse tucked into perfectly pressed black trousers. Her purse hung from her left shoulder and the silver of her necklace glinted in the dim light of Vera’s living room.

 

Silence hung between them; heavy, impenetrable, like a wall of rubble.

 

7,862, 250 seconds.

 

It was Vera who broke it, finally. “I did it,” she said. Her lip trembled as the weight of her words came crashing down on her. The wall between them avalanched on top of her slight frame and she suddenly found breathing to be a most difficult task.

 

Joan was on her knees pulling Vera to her with such tenderness that it only made the crushing weight which immobilized her that much heavier. The empty glass in Vera’s hands fell to the floor. Joan flung her purse somewhere vaguely to the left of her and wrapped Vera’s shuddering body in her strong arms. Vera’s face settled between Joan’s collarbone and neck and she let out a strangled sob.

 

7,862, 310 seconds.

 

Joan’s skin was softer here, so much softer, and so much more delicate.

 

7,862, 330 seconds.

 

“I n-need, I need…”

 

“What? What do you need?” The fierceness of Joan’s embrace betrayed her calm, even tone.

 

7,862, 380 seconds. Vera pulled back slightly to rub her upper lip against Joan’s handsome chin. She felt Joan’s sharp intake of breath. She nudged her lip higher, to ghost the parted lower lip of the older woman.

 

7,862, 396 seconds. 7,862, 397 seconds. Vera would not live the next 7,862, 400 seconds in regret.

 

“Kiss me,” she whispered. It wasn’t a request.

 

Joan was wise enough not to refuse.

Chapter Text

iii.

 

This time, it was Vera who pushed Joan down onto the flat surface of her mattress. It was Vera who tugged forcefully at the zipper of Joan’s pants.

 

Joan was panting, taking large gulps of air between harsh, unforgiving kisses. She felt herself growing hotter as Vera discarded her trousers and began to work on the buttons of her shirt. She felt her control slipping. In the back of her mind, she heard her father’s voice:

 

Emotions lead to mistakes.

 

But Vera was soft and firm, small and strong, and she craved every touch that her fierce lover allowed. It frightened her how much she craved it. How much she needed it.

 

How had she gone this long without it?

 

Emotions lead to mistakes.

 

Vera’s kisses were hard and a little sloppy but she found herself feeling less and less concerned about her lack of sexual experience as more and more of Joan’s alabaster skin was revealed to her hungry eyes. Stepping back slightly, Vera lifted her dress from the skirt and ripped it up and off of her in one movement.

 

Joan, who was laying back on her elbows, legs spread wide at the edge of Vera’s bed, groaned aloud as Vera stood before her in a simple black bra and matching panties.

 

“Vera,” she sighed and sat up to pull the smaller woman into a crushing embrace.

 

Vera had stopped counting the seconds that passed between them. Her mind had ceased all intelligent activity the moment that Joan’s 4 ft. naked legs circled around her body and pulled Vera against her half-bare chest.

 

Joan’s lips peppered Vera’s jawline with gentle kisses, her hands rubbed Vera’s back in deliberate circles. Vera resented the tenderness. She suddenly resented everything.

 

“No,” Vera whispered fiercely. She pushed back and settled her hands on Joan’s broad shoulders.

 

“You...you don’t get to do this,” she sputtered angrily. She dug her blunt nails into Joan’s shoulders.

 

Joan’s eyes flashed dangerously. With a strength that betrayed her 50-some-odd-years, she hoisted Vera up and turned to her right, pinning Vera down on the mattress beneath her much broader frame.

 

Vera’s hands balled into fists and she pounded them against Joan’s shoulders and upper arms.

 

“Fuck you, you humiliated me,” she sobbed, “How fucking dare you show up here and think that you get to dictate what happens between us.”

 

Joan pressed her hips down to still Vera’s squirming hips, her hands jerked Vera’s above her head, and her full weight fell onto her, trapping Vera.

 

Hot, angry tears ran in rivers down Vera’s face. “I... hate... you. I hate what you’ve done to me.” she muttered between sobs.

 

“Let me make myself exceptionally clear Vera,” Joan’s hot breath tickled the shell of Vera’s ear and the sensation seemed to startle Vera long enough to quiet the smaller woman. “I can, and will, dictate exactly what happens between us.”

 

Vera didn’t mean to moan, she didn’t mean to grind her hips against Joan’s.

 

“Fuck me,” she shouted.

 

“No.”

 

Joan released Vera’s hands and sat up so that she was now only straddling the younger woman.

 

Confused, Vera sat up and stared in disbelief at Joan. Her dark eyes were clearly clouded with lust, but there was something else there too, something lurking just below the surface...something akin to...fear?

 

Vera noted the crescent shaped indents that her nails had left in Joan’s shoulder. Hesitantly, she reached a hand out to trace them over in wonder. Daring fingertips trailed lower to caress the impressive swells propped up by Joan’s modest beige bra. She felt Joan wince at the contact, her body seemed to cave in on itself to deny Vera’s curious fingers any further exploration, and she saw the older woman’s eyes blink furiously, refusing to quite meet Vera’s.

 

Realization hit Vera like a freight train. She withdrew her hand and fell back onto the bed.

 

“Am I the first person you’ve ever made love to?” she asked.

 

Joan eased herself off of Vera and lay down next to her. Her thick hair fanned out around her and Vera felt it tickle her neck. Joan’s ridiculously long legs dangled off of the bed and her arms rested awkwardly at her sides.

 

Vera turned her head to look at the shockingly vulnerable woman next to her. Her jaw tightened and her strong brows furrowed. Suddenly Vera’s mind was on overdrive, analyzing their every interaction, now with a clearer mind.

 

“Yes,” Joan answered quietly.

 

Vera let out a half-sob, half-laugh. She felt unbelievably idiotic. And guilty. And disgusted with herself. She’d shown Joan about as much sensitivity and awareness as Matthew Fletcher had to her. How painfully ironic.

 

“Joan...I-”

 

“Don’t. I don’t want your pity, I have no use for it,” Joan said firmly.

 

Vera turned over and propped her head up on her bent arm. Her other hand shyly reached for Joan’s and she held her breath until the older woman welcomed her touch.

 

Joan turned her head to look down at their entwined hands. Vera’s was so much smaller than hers and her tan skin glowed so beautifully against the harsh whiteness of Joan’s skin. Everything about Vera was so much lovelier than her.  

 

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Vera asked gently. “I-I told you about Fletch. You knew that he was the first...the only...well, until you. Surely that would have made you comfortable enough to tell me?”

 

Joan rubbed her lips back and forth and she nervously responded, “Your...affair with Mr. Fletcher was nearly a year ago. I had assumed that you’d found at least one, more suitable partner since then. You-you’re a beautiful woman Vera, surely you became aware of your potential suitors after your unfortunate experience with him?” Joan’s porcelain skin flushed a pretty pink at her admission and Vera felt her heart surge.

 

“No. You’re the only one I ever cared to pay much attention to,” Vera said. “The way that you looked at me that day...in your office…”

 

Joan forced herself to meet Vera’s eyes.

 

“You looked like you wanted to swallow me whole. And I wanted it, I wanted you so badly. I was so tired of pretending that I didn’t want you. I didn’t - had I known, I would have done things differently,” Vera said awkwardly.  

 

“I regret that you felt as though I intended to humiliate you...I just…” Joan trailed off, both looking and sounding lost.

 

Joan didn’t know what a normal, loving relationship looked like. Her parents slept in separate beds for the first 8 years of her life, then her mother died. After her body was buried her father forbade Joan to ever speak of her. He never took another lover.

 

Joan spent 34 years without knowing the touch of another person. The touch of another woman. A woman she dared allow herself to love.

 

Jianna had granted her stolen kisses and gentle embraces. They were tender and, in hindsight, innocent. Shy. Tentative. They were nothing like the kisses Vera had given her this evening.

 

Joan didn’t know how to respond to the sobering intimacy of being inside of another woman. She didn’t know that when Vera climaxed around her flesh, she would feel a release break forth in her heart, just as keenly. She had barely survived the onslaught of emotion that had assaulted her as she withdrew her fingers from Vera’s hot flesh, and felt her tiny lover cry out at the separation. She didn’t know if she could survive the reality of allowing Vera to touch her. To enter her. To coax from within her pleasure that she’d never dared allow herself to feel, let alone allow someone else to have a hand in.

 

She felt Vera’s lips on her cheek, kissing away tears that she hadn’t even realized had been falling. Vera murmured against her skin. Sweet endearments and heartfelt apologies. Promises. Wishes.

 

“Stay?” Vera asked softly. Her rounded nose tickled Joan’s cheek. Her lips were warm against Joan’s jaw.

 

Joan allowed Vera to re-arrange them on the bed so that they lay under the covers. She allowed the deceptively feisty brunette to rest her head against her breast. She allowed herself the simple pleasure of running her hand through Vera’s soft curls.

 

She did not allow herself to stay until morning.

 

With careful movements, she extracted herself from Vera, who frowned and curled into a tight ball as she lost contact with Joan’s body. She dressed in silence. Her skin glowed eerily in the moonlight; such a contrast to Vera’s, which stood out so beautifully against the white sheets of her bed. Her hands felt large and uncoordinated as they pulled on the trousers which Vera had so effortlessly removed hours earlier. Even her legs felt alien to her, as she pulled the black fabric up them one by one. Vera’s were so much firmer, her calves taut and golden; she was lovely, so, so lovely.

 

By the time that Vera rolled over, searching for the warmth of the large woman she was sharing her bed with, Joan was already in her car, well on her way home.

Chapter Text

iv.

 

A month later, Vera sold her house. It reminded her too much of her mother, it reminded her too little of her father and at 42 years old, Vera had finally had enough of living in a broken home. For the first time in her life, she made the conscious decision to break away from her toxic family’s clutches and make a home of her own.

 

She had submitted her vacation request to Joan two weeks in advance and it had been approved without so much as a second glance. Selling off her mother’s things had been good for Vera’s soul; it was like the presence that had forever tormented her was finally being purged from her life. She sold all of her furniture as well, and purchased new pieces to fit inside her modestly sized apartment. Work became easier. The prisoners became more manageable. Joan was...well, Joan was Joan. Impervious and as professional as ever. Seemingly unaffected by every attempt that Vera had made in the last four weeks to bring up their two ill-fated nights.

 

Vera grunted as she bent at the knees to grasp the box in front of her. Sweat trickled down her neck as she carefully maneuvered it over to her dinner room table. With a heaving sigh of relief she settled the box down and hunched over, hands on her waist, as she took in large gulps of air.

 

“You’re not lifting that correctly.”

 

Vera closed her eyes and stood upright, tilting her head back slightly. She would know that condescending tone anywhere. Brushing sweaty hair out of her face, Vera turned around and found Joan standing in the open doorway of her apartment. She was wearing a pair of dark jeans and a simple black button down shirt. Her hair was loose and falling over her shoulders and in one hand she was holding a bag of what appeared to be dinner for two. Vera felt her chest tighten at how strikingly familiar this scene looked and felt.

 

“Your door is open,” Joan said unnecessarily.

 

Vera nodded. “The utilities were only just turned on. It’s taking forever to cool this place down so I was hoping to get a crossbreeze.”

 

Joan pursed her lips and looked at the boxes scattered across Vera’s floor. “Well, if you invited me in I could help you with this mess,” she said matter-of-factly.

 

Vera shook her head and laughed incredulously. “By all means,” she said whilst gesturing for Joan to come in. She was still shaking her head as she turned around to cut open the box on her table. She heard Joan close her door behind her and walk over to the other end of the table.

 

“I’ve brought you dinner. Are your plates unpacked?” she asked briskly. She was already rolling up the sleeves of her shirt and surveying the open concept living space.

 

Vera placed the exactoknife back on her end of the table and walked over to her kitchen. Wordlessly, Joan followed her and they began to unpack Joan’s containers and unload them onto plates for themselves. Vera found herself biting the inside of her cheek to prevent herself from bursting into laughter at how perfectly they seemed to slip into a practiced domestic routine; it was all so absurd and Vera was too tired to question it.

 

They settled at the clean end of her table. Joan took the head seat and Vera sat in the chair to the right of her.

 

Joan fidgeted with her fork considerably. “It’s nice,” she said abruptly, “you picked out a nice space.” Joan jerked her head towards the large open windows in Vera’s living room. “Good amount of natural light.”

 

Unsure of where all of this was coming from, but terrified to scare Joan off so quickly, Vera hesitantly played along. “Thank you.”

 

“Just one bedroom?” Joan asked, her voice half a pitch higher than usual.

 

“Two. But I’ve turned the second room into a study,” Vera answered between bites of her dinner.

 

The rest of their meal passed by in relative silence. Afterwards, Vera insisted that Joan allow her to collect the plates and wash them, leaving Joan to stand awkwardly next to her at the sink. Vera could see Joan’s hands twitching as Vera set the plates to dry, she’d probably sneak back into her apartment later on this evening just to re-wash them to her standards, Vera mused.

 

“I could give you a tour? If you’d like? I’ve got my room and the study already set up, the rest is a bit of a work in progress,” Vera offered as she dried her hands on the dishtowel.

 

“Don’t want to put you through any trouble,” Joan murmured tensely. She eyed the boxes once again and looked at Vera expectantly.

 

Vera rubbed her temple and sighed. “Christ,” she muttered as she walked passed Joan and attended to the partially unpacked box on her table once again.

 

Joan followed her closely. “You are upset with me. Why? What haven’t I done properly here? I brought you dinner and I have offered my assistance in unpacking your belongings,” Joan urgently demanded.

 

Vera looked up at her from the box, confusion etched into her face.

 

Joan clasped her hands in front of her and straightened her back. “Well?” she asked impatiently.

 

“I don’t understand you,” Vera said in wonder, “We share an intimate moment, then you ignore me for three months. You visit me at my mother’s funeral and show me more kindness and affection than anyone has ever done in my whole life, but then you leave before morning. Now you’re here, after I have tried for weeks to talk to you, and you want me to what? Show you patience? Just, be alright with the constant hot and cold?” Vera’s hands rested on either side of the box on the table, her jaw hung open and her eyes bore into Joan’s.

 

“I-I’m here, aren’t I?” Joan said quietly and with considerable effort. “I brought you dinner,” she repeated petulantly.

 

Vera closed her eyes for a moment and forced a calming breath out through her flared nostrils. “You brought me dinner, yes,” she said when she’d opened them again, “but I don’t know what that means Joan. So, tell me, what does it mean?” she requested softly.

 

Joan stared at her, wide-eyed and with reddening cheeks. “You know Vera. I shouldn’t have to say it,” she said irritably.

 

Vera’s hands left their place on the table and they came up to rub her face frustratedly. “Joan,” she groaned, “I am exhausted. And I am sick to death of being sick to death over you. Over us. Over whatever the hell we are supposed to be!” Vera shook her head and blinked angrily at the hot tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. “Do you know, do you have any idea how hard it has been these last few months to work with you, to take orders from you, after all that’s happened? One minute you have me thinking that you’ve played me, then you have me thinking that I’m the one that’s played you, back and forth, back and forth! I don’t know left from right anymore with you!”

 

Joan’s lips were parted and she was taking deep, steadying breaths. Her eyes were glossy and darker than usual, her hands were now balled into fists by her sides. “Do I know? It’s all I’ve known Vera, since that night.” Her words were low, dangerous.

 

Vera gulped at that tone in Joan’s voice. It was the same tone Joan had used the night she had ghosted her fingers across Vera’s neck, down to the top button of her uniform shirt, while the other had slipped up and under her skirt.

 

“You...you’ve created nothing but chaos in my life.” Joan stepped forward, rounding the table and standing directly in front of Vera. “You’ve completely ruined..”

 

Her ability to ignore the raging, turbulent emotions that bubbled just below her surface. Her capability for self-preservation. Her level-headedness. Her guarded heart.

 

Vera felt the magnetic pull between them. She felt the warmth from Joan’s body, the taller woman always seemed to give off heat like a star that Vera was destined to orbit. She could see the tense muscles of Joan’s cheeks and jaw twitching with effort to verbalize whatever was flashing through that brilliant mind of hers. Unable to stop herself, Vera reached out and rested an open hand against Joan’s rapidly beating heart.

 

“And you’ve created pain, confusion, but also happiness in mine,” Vera said. She tilted her head up and looked directly into Joan’s eyes.

 

It was too much for Joan. She stepped backwards, away from the temptress in front of her. “You hate me, you hate what we shared. How could I allow myself to put my hands on you again, knowing that?” she said in a voice so small and broken that Vera felt a dull ache in her own heart and no small amount of shame as Joan recalled Vera’s words from weeks prior.

 

“I was angry at you. At myself,” she explained weakly, “Joan, please, I was so wrong to say those things -”

 

“But you said them. I hear them over and over again, and every time you’ve tried to engage me in discussion since, I...I think that you might say them again.”

 

Vera didn’t think that it was remotely possible to hate herself more than she had in the moments after Joan’s confession as they lay half naked in her childhood bed. How wrong she was.

 

“Tell me what to do Joan. Tell me how to fix this, please?” Vera pleaded softly.

 

Joan shook her head and frowned. “I don’t know how,” she said, looking utterly petrified, “I brought you dinner. I thought that...I thought that would fix it. It didn’t work.”

 

Scalding tears trickled down Vera’s face. She paid them no mind. “Is that it then? We’re at an impasse?”

 

Joan said nothing. Her shoulders slumped forward slightly and she licked her lips nervously.

 

“I don’t accept that. I won’t accept it,” Vera said defiantly. Her hand reached out again and she wrapped it around Joan’s wrist. “I don’t hate what we shared. I hate how vulnerable it made me feel, I hate that I missed you as much as I did. I hate how weak you made me feel.” Vera carefully studied Joan’s face as her thumb gently rubbed the lightly freckled skin of Joan’s outer wrist. “Most of all, I hated not knowing if you loved me as well.”

 

Vera felt Joan let out a breath that the taller woman had been holding in since Vera had grasped her wrist. She felt the fist beneath her grasp unfurl. She felt, with soaring bliss, long fingers curl around her own. She felt Joan’s other hand come around to encircle her upper back and pull her into a tight embrace. She felt gentle, forgiving kisses against her forehead and the sound of her name on Joan’s lips. Moments passed with neither one of them daring to move; their fragile hearts were only starting to pick up one another’s pieces and delicately put them back into place.

 

“I would love to see the rest of your new home. If you would still like to show me that is,” Joan said softly against the chestnut hair of the woman in her arms. She held her breath again and hoped that she’d finally gotten this right. She didn’t know if she could go for one more round with Vera; her deputy was surprisingly resilient when angry.

 

Vera’s answering laugh and fervent nod were music to Joan’s ears.

 

Chapter Text

v.

 

Dinner happened at least once a week. Usually at Joan’s, but sometimes at Vera’s. Joan always cooked, but sometimes she would let Vera do the dishes. She tried her best not to hover over Vera when she completed this task, though when she did, Vera merely chuckled and leaned up on the tips of her toes to plant an affectionate kiss against Joan’s cheek.

 

Joan’s need for control asserted itself as intrusively as a third person in their relationship but Vera understood now that she needn't be jealous of it.

 

Joan never stayed the night, but had allowed Vera to stay over a handful of times. During those nights, Vera had worn one of Joan’s sweatshirts and had slept with her back to Joan, conceding to the few inches that her bedmate insist remain between them. During those subsequent mornings, Joan would be awake and cooking a hearty breakfast for them before Vera’s alarm had even gone off. She’d greet Vera in the kitchen with a gentle peck on the lips and a look so tender that it made Vera fall in love with her all over again.

 

There were no further discussions of the feelings between them. No labels that they afixiated to themselves or to what they shared. There was no need for any of that. Over time, Vera found herself becoming more and more fluent in the silent language that Joan spoke to her. A kiss on the forehead or on the top of Vera’s head meant that she was adored. A gentle stroke of Joan’s thumb against Vera’s wrist meant that Joan’s heart was alight with worry for her. A hand at the small of her back meant that Joan wanted her, though she hadn’t yet acted on this want. A kiss on the lips meant that Joan had missed her terribly. An arm around her waist meant that Joan needed to be close to her.

 

And dinner, well, Vera had finally worked out what that meant and reveled in it every night that she sat down to a meal that Joan had painstakingly prepared for her.

 

Tonight they relaxed out on Vera’s balcony. Her fourth floor apartment provided them with a beautiful view of the city beneath them. Vera smiled and let out a content purr as Joan’s arm around her tightened, bringing Vera into the crook of her neck and shoulder. Joan’s lips deposited soft kisses along Vera’s forehead and Vera thought that she might weep at the beauty of this moment.

 

“Thank you for dinner,” Vera giggled, her nose crinkled adorably against the silken softness of Joan’s sturdy neck.

 

Joan said nothing, but smiled contently into Vera’s messy curls. Her hand travelled from its spot on Vera’s shoulders down her back to slip under Vera’s cotton shirt and gently caress the muscular back of the petite woman in her arms.

 

Vera shivered at the contact and nuzzled Joan’s neck. Not since their first two fumbling attempts at a relationship had Joan’s hands wandered underneath the barrier of clothing.

 

In front of them, the last sunset of the summer bled colours of red, orange, yellow, and pink across the sky as Joan’s fingers traced delicate patterns into the bronzed skin of Vera’s back. Vera squirmed delightfully at the sensation and her arm, which had been wrapped around Joan’s waist, held on tighter. She could discern a change in the pattern that Joan was drawing into her skin, her breath hitched as she felt the unmistakable loop of an elegant ‘l’ against the dimples of her lower back. At the start of the fourth letter, Vera tilted her head up and crushed her lips against the older woman’s, heart soaring.

 

Pulling back slightly, Joan regarded the woman in her arms carefully. “Will you ask me?” she requested. Her fingers continued in their delicate scroll; with the practised ease of over 50 years experience, they painted another four letter word onto the body of her lover.

 

Vera smiled beautifully. “Stay?” she asked obediently.

 

They both knew the answer to her question.

 

A week after Vera had purchased her new furniture, she’d found herself back at the store exchanging her double sized mattress and bed frame for a king. Now, months later, as Joan gracefully lowered herself and Vera down onto it, she knew that it had been worth the scowls from the store manager and the vast price difference.

 

Joan kissed her deeply, all the while her clever fingers never ceased their intricate dance across her skin, merely, they adapted to new rhythms.

 

With a gentleness that belied their first time, and a certainty that belied their second attempt, Joan removed the soft cotton and worn denim from Vera’s body before allowing Vera to do the same for her.

 

Sweaty hands glided over dewy skin, parting damp thighs and lovingly combing messy hair out of smiling faces. Heat suffused their bodies and adoring hearts as a matching flush spread out across naked flesh. Lips met over and over again, pouring fervored tenderness into one another as hearts beat wildly to a beauteous composition that was as old as time. Chants of love danced in the finite space between them in the form of soft gasps and desperate moans; one by one, each woman bent her head to commit her devotion to her lover at the temple of her sex.

 

It was frenzied euphoria and yet time seemed to halt as Vera, then Joan found blissful completion at the tender caresses of one another.

 

After, they lay together in a cocoon of their own joyful making. Joan pulled Vera close, silently removing now, and from this moment forward, the need for space between them.

 

Vera’s hand ran through her lover’s silver-streaked hair, loving the difference in texture between the varying strands. She wore a dreamy smile which did not cease even as she nudged her face forward every few moments to kiss the reddened lips of her lover. It didn’t take long however for sleep to claim her, and she sighed contently as she felt Joan draw the blankets around their cooling, sated flesh.

 

As Vera succumbed to sleep against her breast, Joan welcomed the tumultuous tide of her love for this woman as it crested against her heart. Her hand played with the damp hair which curled around Vera’s angelic face and she felt her body adjust to the measured, deep breathing of her lover. Not long after, Joan followed Vera, happily, to wherever the younger woman’s unconscious imagination had taken her, knowing that wherever it was, she was safe by Vera’s side.

 

The sun had set long ago, but her lover, the moon hung high in the sky watching over as two tender souls dared to heal themselves. Joan had made the choice to stay with Vera until sunrise, and for that, she would return to greet them both with the gentle kiss of morning and earnest possibilities.