After a while, they finished cleaning themselves up and dressed, and Celica walked Accela home, then bid her goodnight. Neither of them expressed a desire to spend any more time together that evening; it seemed they both silently agreed that a limit had been reached. Time apart to evaluate was probably wise.
The next day they spoke very little at work, but it was always polite and professional, never unkind, hardly even uncomfortable. Simply two people feeling out the changes in an old relationship. They had a good laugh when Integra had a particle of food on her face that she was unaware of, and both cursed the director with equal hatred when he asked them to overhaul the computer systems in the mobile response unit. Sylvia, of course, sided with the director (because she hoped if she built up enough brownie points with him that he'd eventually see her as more than an employee), and Integra was still mad at them for sharing a guffaw at her expense, so the two ended up tackling this menacing task alone. This might not have been for the best.
"So I guess we'll start on the basic OS," Celica was saying, glancing at the clipboard they had been given. "From there up, maybe we can determine any security holes, and on to the specific programs. There did seem to be a glitch in MMPH!"
The kiss was fleeting, and more of a peck than a sloppy one. As soon as she pulled away, Accela giggled.
"What in the-" As an automatic reaction, Celica swiped at her mouth with one sleeve. "What was that supposed to be?"
"I dunno," she said shyly, biting her lip between sentences. "Just... curious."
"Yeah, that's what I'd call it; bi-curious."
"No, no. I mean... well, if we were... y'know, like that. I was curious how it would feel to exchange the 'Honey, I'm home' kind of kiss."
Celica nodded warily. "Uhh, yyyeah. Listen, let's not surprise me with these kind of experiments anymore, okay?"
"But..." And only now did Accela seemed alarmed by her action - before, she had only seemed slightly embarrassed, but mostly puckish. Was that a positive step, or not? "But you wanted... I thought this was what you wanted. Y'know, for me to keep an open mind, and try things out to see if they work."
"Not while we're AT work! Geez, what if the director walks in and finds us 'necking' or whatever in official police equipment?"
Accela's nose crinkled as she winked at her friend. "Doesn't that make it more exciting?"
Now that she mentioned it, Celica found she did feel excited. A thrill of danger was intermingling with the joys of experimentation. "Um, I, uh... okay, look." Finally, she bit down on those feelings and focused herself on the task at hand. "No more of that stuff, got it? You're not wrong, but I still don't wanna lose my job."
"What happened to 'there's no such thing as enough slacking', eh?" And just like that, Accela was crawling onto her, arms snaking up her chest, nose buried in the skin of her cheek...
"Whoa!" she cried out as the clipboard clattered to the floor, forgotten. "What... what is this? You going to start flipping this lightswitch, turning it on and off at will - turning me on and off? You're acting like - AAAAH, cut that out! You're acting like a lovestruck teenager!"
"Don't complicate it with those kinds of words," Accela was moaning in her ear. "I've just... I've never been with a woman before. I've barely been with any men, and I can't say I enjoyed that a whole lot. So... so I guess I'm wondering..."
Now Accela drew back, her playacting at being a seductress falling apart as her eyes welled with tears. "Promise not to hate me?"
"Couldn't happen," Celica said assuredly. "Now spill the beans."
"What if I am?" she said quietly, shaking like a leaf. "Like you, I mean. It's all I could think last night; I tried to approach it more rationally, but I kept coming back to that."
"To what? To whether or not you were? I thought that was the question, not part of the answer."
"No, it's-" Very abruptly, Accela was on her feet and at the opposite end of the vehicle's interior. "You've had lots of relationships. And before you say it, no, I'm not calling you a slut, I'm just saying... you're a lot more open about that kind of thing. I'm a homebody, mostly, so I never date. The few dates I've had were awful, and the once or twice they progressed into the bedroom..."
"I remember," Celica sighed, a pang of empathy welling up. "You said they were disasters, and that you didn't have any fun. So tell me, now that we're trying to be so upfront about stuff. Is that the truth?"
"Yes," she said with a nod. "But what I didn't say before was... well, I may have given off the impression that I just didn't like sex, and that was true then. Because I didn't like it. Except now..."
Accela turned slightly, her cheeks beet red, and shrugged. "Now... I'm beginning to wonder if..." Then she blurted the rest in such a rush that it took Celica a moment to disentangle the words: "I-didn't-like-it-because-they-were-men!"
"You... didn't... oh God," she breathed. "You mean that? 'Cause I don't want you saying it for my benefit, to make me feel less weird, so tell me now, be real. You don't like getting it on with guys?"
"That's definitely what I mean," she assured her friend. "This is how I felt back then, too - but I told myself I was being absurd and closed the book on it. You know how you rationalize things when you're not ready to confront them head-on. Now, after being with you in the shower... I think I have to open that book again."
Celica stood and walked over to Accela, ignoring the way she flinched and began to tremble. "Hey. It's okay. I'll be glad to bang you silly."
"Kidding," she cackled. "Trying to lighten the mood, here!"
Accela punched her in the shoulder, which didn't stop her laughing. Then she sighed and said, "But I guess, even though you were kidding, that's what I was winding up to."
"I'd be willing... to try a few things," she said in such a low voice that it was a struggle to catch it. "Please, don't go overboard and start assuming we're 'together', or that we'll be using all kinds of t-toys, or anything crazy. I'm so afraid, but... will you..."
"Will I what?" she said kindly, one hand on Accela's shoulder. "Go on, it's only me."
After a quick swallow, she whispered, "Will you take a few baby steps with me?"
"Sure, definitely." Celica caught the tremors in her voice - since she was scared out of her mind of what might come of these "baby steps" - so she coughed and tried to sound more reassuring. "Listen, this doesn't have to be so scary. I've heard about stuff like this before; we can set some ground rules before we even get into it, so nobody goes too far and the other person isn't thrown into something they're not ready for."
"That sounds great," Accela sighed with some - if not complete - relief. "Because I can tell you, that is exactly where I am: not ready. Not for any of this, not really, but at the very least I'm ready to get off the sidelines and into the game, I think. After yesterday."
"Thanks again for that," Celica moaned in her ear, and she shivered. "I can't tell you how much it meant to me." Another shiver when her ear was kissed. "Um, sorry if this is too much too soon."
"No," she said in a shaky voice. "That was... fine. It made me feel..."
"Do you want me to... be the boy?" Celica asked nervously, wrapping her arms around her friend's waist. "To take control for you, like in the traditional gender role? I could probably handle that, if you want."
"No!" she protested, shoving her hands away. When Celica gaped in shock, she smiled remorsefully. "I mean... I think that's what puts me off in the first place, partly. The macho attitude. Coming from you, it maybe wouldn't be quite as annoying, but even so... can we just be us? The way we already are?"
"Dude, of course," Celica half-sobbed. That had actually been really touching for her, and once her heart stopped doing backflips she planted a very tender kiss on her forehead. "I like the way you already are, too."
"What are you two doing?"
Both girls nearly had simultaneous heart attacks as they broke apart, eyes roving frantically, but they calmed a bit when they saw the communication light on a nearby console lit up. The speaker crackled to life again as it barked out, "Hello? Integra to Celica, Integra to Accela - somebody answer!"
"Sorry," Accela said, her voice remarkably professional despite the conversation they'd just been having. "What seems to be the problem?"
"No report yet?" their superior demanded. "Are you guys making out in there or what?"
"Why would we be doing that?" Celica couldn't prevent herself from bursting out. "I mean, uh, while we're on the clock, anyway. You know we typically save our making out for after."
"Ha, ha," Integra said, fooled into thinking it was a joke. "Very funny. Just get cracking or I'll make you stay late to finish."
"Roger, sir," Accela said, then switched the mic off. "Geez."
"Yeah, holy crap did that take away six of my nine lives!"
Accela smiled at her. "Guess we'd better get back to work."
"Guess so." But her mouth surged forward and connected to Accela's, and they lost themselves for a few seconds before they broke apart, chests heaving and requiring the support of the console to keep from crumpling to the floor.
"Wow," Accela breathed. "That was... intense."
"Any thoughts?" Celica laughed. "To be kinda blunt, I know enough by now to be able to tell it floats my boat already, but I wanna know how you feel."
"Good!" After a few more seconds, she slumped into a chair. "I... it's terrifying, and I feel so dirty, and wrong... but at the same time, not as wrong as when I was on other dates."
"You mean, with guys," she needled.
"I mean with people who weren't you," Accela amended shyly as she mostly turned her attention to what they were supposed to be doing in there, picking up the clipboard and glancing down at it... but she paused to turn back to her friend and complete her thought. "Celica, you can't assume that I'm turning into a big lesbo. Maybe it's not that, maybe it's... you're the only human being I can stand to allow this close to me, male or otherwise. And I'm pretty sure that's it, just so you know."
That was perhaps almost as big a shock as when Accela had told her she loved her. Instantly, Celica felt her pulse pounding behind her temples. Much as no one had ever expressed that they loved her beyond a simple friendship or a one-night stand, she'd also never been informed that she - and only she - had the capacity to bring joy to an individual. That was more importance than she was used to shouldering. Did she mean it? Of course she did; Accela didn't lie, she didn't know how. It was the first moment Celica earnestly and wholeheartedly wanted to be one with her best friend; not to experiment, not to dip their feet into uncharted waters to see what it was like, but to cast aside every last reservation and unite forevermore.
This was the moment she realized she was in love with Accela Warrick.
o o o
Later that evening, after the two of them had at long last completed work on the RUC mobile unit, Celica and Accela retired to her apartment. At the same moment of the front door slamming, they began a kiss that lasted from there into the bedroom over the span of ten minutes. It was broken when Accela shoved her away and ran into the bathroom.
"What's the matter?" Celica asked warily through the door.
"I'm fine," the voice responded shakily. "I... that was... it was kind of overwhelming, there's a lot about this I'm still not used to. You're so sweet to me, so compassionate..."
"I put the 'passion' in compassionate," Celica joked. "Seriously, though, why'd you bolt?"
"Like I said, it was overwhelming. Don't hate me, I already feel like an idiot, alright? And... okay, that was stupid of me to flip out and run away, I know I could have just asked you if we could take a breather."
"You could have told me," she corrected, folding her arms. "Remember, you didn't want me to be the boy-girl, so don't act like you need my permission for anything."
A honking sound; Accela was blowing her nose. "Okay, I know that. Like I said: stupid." Then the door opened and Accela slipped her arms around Celica's waist. "Now... want to try this again?"
"No," Celica sighed, stepping back and away. "You kind of killed the mood."
"Kidding," she said, sticking her tongue out. "Half-kidding; you did mortally-wound the mood, though. So let's get dinner going, then contemplate, uh, round two."
Accela nodded shyly, kicking at the carpet. "Yeah... I guess you have a point. And I am hungry. Want to help me chop vegetables?"
"You trust me not to lose a finger? Wow, this relationship is progressing."
Once the dish was boiling merrily on the stove, they moved to the couch where Celica could comfortably straddle her friend without much danger of falling. There was quite a bit of rouge in Accela's cheeks as they kissed, hands briefly teasing other areas without lingering overlong. Just as Celica's lips were gliding along her neck, she whispered, "Tell me something."
"What?" she replied without ceasing her advance.
"You... you've been holding back for a while, right?" She took the silence as a confirmation as the lips pushed at the neckline of her shirt, dipping lower, and lower still... "Ah... I m-mean, this is what you've wanted from me in all th-that time, isn't it? To be- to be closer?"
It didn't surprise her that even with the position they were currently in, it was still difficult for her to confess. "Y-yeah..."
"Then aren't I... moving too slow? If you've been restraining your desires for weeks, you must have a lot of need pent up that you'd like to - ooh - to let loose."
"Maybe so," Celica said with a wicked grin as she removed her face from the cleavage she'd been attacking. "But... okay, promise not to laugh, or think I'm going nuts?"
"Now that you've... relented," she said sinfully, and Accela yelped and averted her eyes from the undiluted suggestion in her friend's voice and features, "and now that I can have you all to myself... I don't mind taking my time. It makes this all the more... savory."
"Oh my God," Accela breathed, hands clutching to her own chest. "Y-you're an animal..."
"I am." Using her mouth, she nipped the hem of her blouse upward and began tracing the tip of her nose in circles around Accela's navel. "I'm a panther, didn't you know? You are my prey. Now that I've caught your scent, there's no escape."
"Celica..." When she felt the first gust of hot breath blast up her skirt, she gasped her friend's name out again with greater urgency - and hearing her own name from her friend's lips with so much lust behind it inflamed Celica more than she dared admit. "CELICA!"
o o o
And so began Accela's instruction. Celica decided to start with the basics: playing solitaire before moving along to one-on-one poker. A person must crawl before they can walk, right? Accela proved to be a reluctant pupil, and that's being kind, but she made remarkable progress. Five minutes later, however, Accela was sweating buckets and trembling, her hand retreating from its previous actions. "No, I- I'm too scared!"
"You can do this!"
"I can't!" Every inch of her face was burning red as she hissed, "And I want to, so bad, it's beautiful and ridiculous and I love it, b-but I'm too scared of what it's going to feel like when- when I- when it happens!" She took a few shallow, steadying breaths, then bravely tried to persevere, but as she let out a sharp sound she jerked away again. "AH! Dammit, Celica, I can't do this! I wish I was ready, but I'm not!"
"Shhh," Celica soothed as her hand passed up and down her friend's shin. "Stop stressing over it. Nobody wants you to try so hard that you aren't even having fun anymore. Kind of defeats the purpose."
"Celica..." A long moment passed with Celica waiting, forcing patience upon herself, and with Accela fretting over what she perceived as a loss of control. Then, at long last, she whispered something, but Celica's heart was pounding too deafeningly for her to pick it up.
"Sorry," she whispered, "but I couldn't hear you."
"Don't make me ask again," Accela said softly, holding her tightly-clenched fist in front of her mouth as if ashamed to even let the movements of her lips be visible as she spoke such treason. "I... it's too... please, just hurry up before I change my mind."
Celica drew back slightly, eyebrows knitting. "Sorry, I'm a little confused. Did you... were you asking for my help, here? And let me know if I'm out of line, instantly, as soon as possible."
"I was," she whispered. "You can go ahead this time, and like I said, do it quick before I change my mind back again."
"This is your last chance, Accela." She made sure her tone was deadly serious, despite the level of need that laced every word. "We... I'm about to dive in head-first. Once I do that, I'm not gonna stop unless you, y'know... use a blunt object to knock me unconscious. This is all about you, and I respect your your wishes, but I've only got so much freaking restraint. Tell me to back off now while you still can, or let me run completely wild. What's it gonna be?"
Accela seemed frightened by this prospect - that this was her last decision, her point of no return - but then she shed a pair of crystalline tears as she nodded.
"No, no nodding. I have to hear it." There was a hitch in Celica's voice as she followed up with, "I don't want to look back later and realize I misread your body language, okay? You should be able to remember why."
"I remember. And that's a yes. I want your help. I want you, Celica!"
Luckily for Celica, she enjoyed having her hair tugged on, especially in the heat of the moment. Otherwise, she might have been distracted over the course of the next few minutes... but as it so happened, her focus endured.
o o o
Sixty seconds crawled by as they regained their breath, allowed their heart-rates to slow. Accela was somehow the first to recover, even though she had likely expended the larger amount of energy. "Oh wow, I... I did it! I was pretty sure I was going to chicken out! And at the end - God, what are you, part lizard?"
Celica began to laugh, first low, then heartily from the gut. "Baby... geez Louise, you have no idea how you sounded. Can I get that on audiobook?"
An impatient tutting issued from the redhead's lips. "Cut that out, you're so awful! As if such a... such... hey, where are your pants?"
"Huh?" Celica followed her line of sight. "Oh, yeah, almost forgot about that. Bet they're down around my ankles."
"But why would you do that?" When Celica only pulled back to give her a 'is your brain on the fritz?' look, Accela gasped. "No! Come on, were you really- did you, did you- multitask?"
"What can I say? I got skills like that."
"Wow..." The redness that had mostly faded from Accela's face returned in full force. "So... when I was... then you were, too. Ooh..."
Celica's grin was highly suggestive. "Methinks your interest is piqued by this notion. Wanna... switch places? Go for round three?"
Accela laughed nervously, eyes averted. "M-maybe some other time, when I think I could actually manage to split my focus that much. It seems like it would be wearying."
"Hey, part and parcel." She inhaled deeply through her nose, and when she spoke her lips brushed Accela's skin. "You smell divine... like a honeycomb. I meant what I said, about devouring you."
"Do you have to do that?" she breathed, swallowing anxiously as one of her hands drew up to her chest. "You d-don't sound like the Celica I know when you say stuff like that."
"This is the only Celica there is. What do you think? This is how I talk to my lovers."
There was definite dismay in her eyes. "Lovers! Don't j-jump to conclusions, this is only- you were supposed to help teach me, and we're letting off steam, but you're... pushing it into territory I'm not ready to explore!"
"You've forged a few paths already today, Dr. Livingston. What's one more? If you decide to... break out the map and compass one more time..."
"Alright, that's enough," Accela snapped. "I'm... I'm still not even ready for what we already did, let alone anything worse, so drop it."
"Ohhh, God, but it's so frustrating!" Celica relented, flopping down on Accela's shoulder. "So maybe I was hamming it up there, but it's not like I'm lying; I'm totally warm for your form. It creeps me out, too. But... you do like me, and how I feel, right?"
Only now did Accela let out a neutralizing blast of air. "Maybe. That's all you're getting out of me tonight, do you understand? Maybe I don't hate all these new feelings and concepts. But... oh, I'm not trying to say you're more, um, open to this kind of thing than I am... I mean, you get it, right? You have always been more courageous and up front, and I've always been... a scaredy cat. I'm adapting as fast as I can!"
"You're doing great," Celica sighed contentedly. "If someone had said to me yesterday that you'd actually let me st-"
"AAHH!" she yelped, clutching her head. "Young ears, young ears!"
"You're almost the same age as me, you pansy!" But then they both giggled. "Okay, back to my point. If someone had told me that yesterday, I'd have figured they went off their meds. But tonight..." Then she drew back and looked into her friend's eyes. "I'm not trying to be argumentative or provoke you or anything, so don't blow a fuse, but I can't lie. Accela, we made love tonight."
"No we didn't," she sputtered immediately, tears running down her cheeks from nowhere. "That was not what that was, it was- I don't- experimentation, or whatever, but there's no way you can count that as-"
"You let me bypass your shields," she went on doggedly, wiping her friend's tears away with one finger. "I asked beforehand, before we even began, and you accepted, and in I went... and you didn't bludgeon me to death with a paperweight during the act. So yeah, we uh... 'did it', as the kids say."
Accela was weeping openly. "No. I don't want that to be true. You're my best bud, not my- what if this doesn't work out? I don't want some crap like this t-to ruin what we had before!"
"It won't. But even if it could, it doesn't change what went down. Which was me, incidentally." When Accela let out a damp little laugh, Celica leaned in and kissed another tear away. "You and I have coalesced on a higher plane. Maybe to you that sounds repulsive or unclean or bad like that, but to me... it's something to celebrate. I got to connect to the person who's most important to me in the deepest way possible? Awesome! I want to sing, I want to scream - I want to let the words echo off the Aurora Shell! My Accela and I became one!"
"Oh... it sounds so beautiful when you say it," she blubbered, her own hands finally coming to rest on Celica's back and clutching it with a near-crippling tenacity. "But how can I let myself enjoy it? M-my parents wanted so badly for me to marry a nice man, settle down, raise a family... things I can't do with you."
"Who says? You know the adoption laws in this city don't specify that both parents need be opposite genders."
Accela's eyes filled with fresh tears as she considered that. "Oh my God! We... w-we could even adopt an unregistered citizen! Oh wow, wouldn't that be- oh, Celica!"
"Hey, one step at a time!" she giggled as Accela squeezed her to pieces. "Did I even say I wanted kids? I merely said it was an option to discuss later. But... yeah. It would be nice to give some poor kid from the lower levels a chance. But first you have to figure out if... figure out what you want out of this."
At that, Accela tensed. They both remained perfectly still for a while, thinking, but also enjoying the nearness. Finally, Accela whispered, "I still don't know. It's... so soon, too soon for me. Don't be mad."
"Why would I be mad? You didn't shoot me down already, and that's way more than I figured I'd get." She drew back. "Kiss me."
"One more time - one time when we're expecting it, voluntarily." Celica licked her lips, throat constricted. "Nothing crazy, just a small one. But if you..."
She broke off because Accela was already leaning in, eyes closed. Now, when their lips drifted together, they both relaxed into it as one. Four hands rose to touch necks and cheeks, two tongues brushed against one another, then retreated. Then, as if by an invisible cue, they both sat back and gazed into each other's eyes.
"So perfect," Accela whispered in awe.
"Mmm," she breathed as she bit into her bottom lip, trying to illicit more of her friend's lingering, unique flavor from it. "Accela... do you realize what you're doing to me?"
"I..." She cleared her throat, shifting uneasily. "I'm not trying to."
Celica shot her a blissful smile. "That's where the magic is. Because it's not anything you're doing. It's just who you are. To me."
Accela's hands moved slowly up from Celica's shoulders to grasp either side of her neck lightly, lip trembling as she nodded her vague understanding, but whimpering to show that she wasn't sure she deserved any of it. She began to lean in once more when she suddenly sat back and gasped, "Oh my gosh."
"The STEW!" she shrieked, leaping to her feet; Celica enjoyed a scary teetering moment before she was able to pitch herself into the couch instead of onto the floor. "Damn, I should have been stirring it all this time, and I forgot it, and- oh no, I bet it's complete toxic waste by now!"
"Glad to know I'm almost as important as your cooking," Celica chided. "Thanks for tossing me at your coffee table, I really appreciate that."
"Oops," she blanched as she retreated to the kitchen. "Y-you're right, I'm a spaz, I'm sorry! Oh, good, it looks okay - no, there's blackened stuff stuck to the bottom! How can I fix this? Wait - I need another pot..."
Back in the living room, Celica covered her face with both hands out of frustration. At the same time, however, she was laughing anyway. It was too entertaining for her to be overly upset. Every day with Accela was like that.
o o o TO BE CONTINUED o o o
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Faithful Fray, you needn't worry, it's been finished. Despite what happened to "Evolution of Friends" (or as a result of?) I no longer post anything unless the last chapter has been written, at least as a rough draft. Gives me incentive to make sure the whole thing makes its way online. "Mixed Signals" isn't very long, though :/ As for the content (and this also goes out to lilmagi), well... every time I go to post a new fiction, FFnet strongly cautions me against posting anything that could be considered "MA", which sounds almost the same as "M" but isn't, I gather. Therefore, so as not to anger the gods, I've tempered a few scenes here and there. Don't worry, any relevant plot points (and even most irrelevant ones) were preserved. I'm an artiste, not a butcher. Though Accela's "training" at the end of the chapter just posted... that turned out extremely well, both before AND after editing ;)
And I'm glad my fiction actually prompted someone to watch the anime in the first place. It's so good, but so under-appreciated!