Not For the World
Delphine pulled strings. Cosima didn't know what she had done to make her father jump through hoops to get Cosima into the country, but she knew better than to ask, especially when it simplified all the things she hadn't thought of when she made her spur of the moment decision to leave. Still, it took longer than she would have wanted for them to finally sort everything they needed to get them out, with constant apologies to Jen for taking up her space and eating her food, and for Tesla shedding all over her sofa. Her friend took it in good humour, and tried her best to help where she could, coming home with packets of information and forms for Cosima and Delphine to review and fill out, and more than once leaving take out by the door for them.
Only a few days passed before their parents started leaving messages, and then a few more before they started calling. Cosima resolutely ignored all the ones she received, and after one tearful shouting match with Marie, Delphine began to do the same. She was relieved when finally, finally, although she knew it could have taken much, much longer, she had her visa, and they had their plane tickets. The best part about all of it was the lack of quarantine. Knowing they wouldn't have to wait to have Tesla with them made leaving that much easier. Cosima disconnected both their phones before they left, paying for the remaining time in advance, and copying everything important on them into special folders on her laptop before erasing them and giving them to Jen to recycle.
The last thing Delphine was able to do on the flight over was sleep. Cosima knew she tried, but just as she was about to drop off she'd jolt awake again before sighing and pinching the bridge of her nose. Cosima's sleep was just as fitful, her concern for Delphine keeping her from fully drifting off. We did the right thing, she reassured herself, squeezing Delphine's fingers gently. The blonde smiled tiredly, and nestled her head against Cosima's shoulder.
She suspected that Delphine's father came from money, but the house certainly confirmed it. It was almost as nice as the one her and her father had stayed in during their trip, fully furnished with a stocked wine cellar and a freshly filled kitchen. Cosima left her bags by the door and explored it, opening the cabinets and the fridge, then calling out for Delphine.
“He must have had someone do this for him,” Delphine replied when she joined her. “Surprising.”
“You thought he'd just let us starve?”
“No,” Delphine said with a shrug, dropping her hand to stroke Tesla's head as he trotted past. “There would have been food, but not fresh. I expected us to have to go shopping.”
“You should be happy that we don't.” Delphine shrugged again and followed their dog into the other room. Cosima stared after her, and sighed, shutting the cabinet she was hanging onto.
It hit her like a truck, one day while Delphine was out walking Tesla before they settled for the night, and she noticed the dark circles that had formed under her eyes. One moment she was fine, then the next she was curled up on the floor against the door with her chest so tight she could hardly breathe and sobs that she tried to muffle into her hand shaking her frame. She missed her father. She missed her house. She missed seeing Delphine smile instead of seeing her eyes red and raw from crying every night when she thought Cosima was sleeping. Oh god, she thought. What have I done? What are we doing? What if she hates me for making her leave? What if this doesn't work out and everything is ruined, oh god it's all my fault. It's all my fault. It's all my fault.
She didn't settle down until there were no more tears left, and when she left for the bedroom, Delphine was already there. She took one look at Cosima and her face creased in concern. Her arms opened. Cosima gratefully climbed into them.
“I'm sorry,” she said softly.
“No,” Delphine hushed her, stroking her hair gently. “You have been so strong for me, Cosima. It is my turn, now.”
Delphine started looking for apartments in Paris almost immediately. Cosima watched her scroll through site after site after site, bookmarking a place to consider later every now and then. She wondered why she wasted time browsing when they had a perfectly nice house given to them for an indefinite period of time for nothing whatsoever, but she wasn't blind to the tension in Delphine's shoulders. She knew to not question her decision. Delphine's father had found her a job doing part time at an office in the city, with the hope for an increase in hours and pay if she did well enough. It would cut down on the commute, if nothing else.
A beautiful summer day rolled around in the middle of August, too nice for Cosima to bear to spend it inside. She fished her bathing suit out from the depths of a suitcase that she had yet to fully unpack, and found Delphine's for her as well. Tesla danced happily around her feet as she changed, and followed her into the living room where Delphine was tucked up on the sofa, looking at housing sites again.
“Hey,” she said. Delphine glanced up briefly, then did a double take, eyes wide. Cosima smiled. “It's really nice outside,” she continued, and held up Delphine's swimsuit. “Come out with me and Tes.”
“Cosima, I have to keep looking.” Cosima rolled her eyes, and crossed the room to lift Delphine's computer from her lap and set it aside, holding the blonde's hands and pulling her to her feet.
“Please,” she said, and pressed the bathing suit against her chest.
“Okay,” Delphine said, a small smile catching her lips. “All right. Let me go change.” Cosima leaned in and kissed her softly.
Tesla nearly tripped her as he weaved excitedly around her legs, and darted down towards the ocean the second Cosima opened the door. With a soft laugh, she followed in his wake, and closed her eyes briefly against the warmth of the sun on her bare skin. Tesla's happy bark caught her attention. He had bounded partway into the surf, snapping at the waves and running back when they washed to shore to meet him. Cosima laughed and joined him, letting the water lap at her ankles and calves. She didn't know Delphine had joined her until the blonde's arms wrapped around her waist, and her chin nestled in the crook of Cosima's shoulder. Tesla jumped head first into a wave, still snapping at the water. When the tide carried him back in he joined them and shook excess water from his fur, spraying them both.
“Tesla!” Cosima shouted, pulling her glasses off her face and squinting at the water speckled lenses with a frown. Delphine giggled in her ear, plucked her glasses from her hands, and shoved her forward. Cosima stumbled, but managed to keep her balance before she tumbled head first into the sea. “Hey!” Cosima splashed at her. Delphine turned her face away. Tesla barked happily, dancing around their legs and kicking up water as he did. His tail thumped against Cosima's knee. Delphine splashed back, her laughter ringing in Cosima's ears. It seemed like it had been ages since she'd heard it.
“Get her, Tesla!” Delphine urged when he barked at them. “Get her!” Tesla barked again and bowled into Cosima's legs, knocking her into the surf. She sputtered, the world going muffled for a moment as her head went under. When she resurfaced, Delphine was still laughing, and Tesla was leaping happily through the water, biting at the foam. Cosima stood before another wave could engulf her and pushed her hair out of her face.
“I hate you,” she said. Delphine grinned.
“I brought out towels,” she replied, and gestured back to the beach. She held out her hand. “Come, lay with me.” Cosima returned her smile and threaded their fingers together, letting Delphine lead her out of the ocean and up to where she'd laid the towels out. At Cosima's call, Tesla joined them, rolling around in the sand near their feet.
“Oh, Tes,” Cosima said in mild disdain. “Don't do that.” He squirmed on his back and panted at her happily, tail wagging.
“Let him be, Cosima,” Delphine said, stretching out on her back with a satisfied sigh.
“He's being cleaned off before we let him back in the house. I do not want sand in the bed.” Delphine hummed, her eyes closed. Cosima peered at her, half blinded by the sun and the absence of her glasses, folded neatly next to Delphine's head. She left them there when she stood later to cool off in the ocean, and promptly tripped into one of the many holes Tesla had been spending his time digging. She cursed and Tesla rushed over to sniff and lick her face while Delphine had half a question on her lips before she saw Cosima sprawled on the sand and dissolved into giggles.
They went back inside when the growling in Cosima's stomach was too much for her to ignore. Delphine smiled at her and told her to go get lunch before half dragging Tesla's salt water and sand covered body into the bathroom to wash him. The guilt hit her when she noticed how sore her face was from smiling, and it stopped her in her tracks. She could hear Delphine's voice drifting through from the bathroom, muffled by walls and doors, but sounding content, and Tesla's claws clacking on the floor and against the tub. She put down the bread she was holding, and took a deep breath. The feeling clawed at her chest and stomach. Cosima frowned, staring into space. Delphine's expression matched hers when she joined her, Tesla at her heels.
“Do you-” she started, and Cosima nodded.
“We have no reason to be,” she said after a moment, and turned away to reach for the bread again. “This is our life now. We're allowed to be happy.” Delphine's fingers lingered at the small of her back.
The apartment Delphine found was small and cramped and a major, major step down from the luxury of the beach house, but it was the nicest one they could afford with their combined savings on Cosima's meagre income. Delphine was infinitely more relaxed in the tiny rooms than she had ever been at the shore. Technically, pets weren't allowed, but the landlady didn't seem to really care if there were or not, and Tesla wasn't the only dog Cosima saw during brief glimpses into other people's homes on her way down to the street.
Delphine got a scholarship. The look on her face was just as surprised as Cosima's was when she found out. Cosima grabbed her face and kissed her, then grinned and pulled her close.
“You deserve it,” she said. “More than anyone I know, you deserve it.”
“I wonder,” Delphine replied, not sounding as happy as she should have been, “if he's doing this out of some sense of guilt.”
“Does it matter?” Cosima asked. “You can go to school now.”
“What about you?” Delphine asked, frowning lightly. Cosima shrugged.
“I'll look at next semester,” she said. It seemed to placate the blonde enough that she smiled. “You better get started; you have some catching up to do.”
A slew of angry French startled Cosima awake from where she was dozing on the sofa. She jerked up, groggy and startled, and groped for her glasses.
“Delphine?” she slurred, blinking rapidly. “'r'you okay?” Across the room, sat on the floor and surrounded by paper and textbooks, Delphine sighed heavily and slammed the top of her laptop down. She leaned against the wall behind her, and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Babe?”
“I am fine, Cosima,” she said in a tired voice, “but my laptop just froze again, and I have lost all of the work I did on my essay today.”
“Oh, shit,” Cosima muttered. “Del, I'm so sorry. Do you want me to help you?”
“No,” Delphine replied, waving her off. “No. You have your own work to do. I'll just... I'll redo it in the morning.”
“Are you sure?” Delphine nodded. Cosima crossed the room to her, and bent to kiss the top of her head. “I'll cook tonight.” Delphine gripped her fingers lightly before she pulled them away, and pressed her lips against the base of her palm with a muttered thanks.
Winter was terrible, and the first Christmas was the worst. Tesla caught on to their horrible moods as the holiday approached, and alternated between being extra hyper and playful to try and cheer them up and silently sitting or lying near when both of them were home, which was far less often than Cosima would have liked. The apartment was always too cold, and the wind rattled the shutters on the windows, and whenever Delphine went out for a smoke on their minuscule balcony, Cosima had to bundle herself up in the blankets they kept accumulating to stay warm. She hated when Delphine went out. It wasn't her smoking, Cosima couldn't care less about that, but the blonde looked ready to tumble over the balustrade at any second.
Shielded against the cold, Cosima clicked out of the browser window she was in as Delphine flicked a cigarette butt off the balcony and rejoined her inside with a violent shudder. She tugged at the blanket until Cosima relinquished enough for her to huddle under, then cuddled into her side. Cosima kissed the top of her head.
“What are you doing?” Delphine asked.
“Nothing,” Cosima lied smoothly. “I was looking into loans and stuff again, for the spring.”
“Do you want me to find a job so you have more time for school?” Delphine asked.
“No, no, no,” Cosima replied, shaking her head. “No. You just focus on your degree, okay? I'll worry about me.” Delphine hesitated, then sighed.
“Okay. I'll make dinner. Is a frozen meal okay?”
“Do we have a choice?” Cosima muttered. Delphine sighed again and pulled away from her. “I'm sorry,” Cosima said, squeezing her eyes shut. “I'm sorry. Yeah, that's fine. Do you want help?”
“No,” Delphine said, her voice calm, but her shoulders stiff. Cosima sighed and sunk against the sofa, digging her fingers into her brow. Tesla crawled over the few inches that separated them on his belly and laid his head on her foot.
“It's okay, boy,” she said, pulling up her browser again. She winced when a pot slammed in the kitchen. “I was an asshole. She'll forgive me.” She tapped at the keyboard, and added the item on her screen to her cart. “She'll hate me for this, though. For a while. It'll be worth it.”
They got a small tree, one that they could fit on the coffee table when they cleared off all of Delphine's school work and Cosima's take home work. It was too small to fit the tree topper Cosima had swiped before they left, so they set it to the side by window, and framed it with some cheap lights they'd found. It wasn't much, but it was enough, and Cosima's never ending playlist of Christmas music made it feel authentic. She picked Delphine's gift up directly from the post office to avoid her getting her hands on it first, and set up everything before carefully repackaging it and wrapping it in salvaged grocery bags with a bow on top. It was the only thing she could afford, and cost the better part of her savings, but Delphine needed it for school. It was more than justifiable.
Cosima kissed her awake on Christmas morning, pressing her lips against Delphine's brow and cheeks and jaw before finally finding her mouth just as a lazy smile was curling it. She touched Cosima's cheek, and hummed in content.
“Merry Christmas,” Cosima whispered, pulling back enough to see the blonde's face. Delphine's eyes flicked open. Cosima could see the flecks of gold and green that mixed in with the brown.
“Joyeux Noël, Cosima,” she said in a voice husky from sleep. Cosima grinned, excitement creeping into her bones.
“Come on, presents.” Delphine rolled away from her with a laugh and a smiled, throwing an arm over her eyes.
“You are like a child,” she said. Cosima thrust back the blankets, exposing them both to the cold air. Delphine shuddered. “Brat!”
“Presents,” Cosima repeated, already out of bed and searching for the hoodie that Delphine had hurriedly discarded the night before, before she'd thrown Cosima on the bed.
“Okay,” Delphine conceded. “Okay, okay. I'll make coffee.” At the foot of the bed, Tesla stirred, and followed Cosima out to the living room where she impatiently waited until Delphine shuffled in in her robe with coffee for them both. She tugged a blanket off the couch and settled next to Cosima, wrapping it around them.
“Presents?” Cosima asked, accepting her mug.
“Why are you so excited?” Cosima bit her lip, heart pounding, and reached forward for the box.
“Here,” she said, setting it in Delphine's lap with some effort. Delphine frowned down at it.
“Cosima...” she said warningly, and slowly put her coffee down.
“Don't hate me.” Delphine glanced at her, her brows furrowed, then looked down at her lap, and began to pull at the wrappings. Cosima took the bow from her, twirling it nervously in her hands. Delphine's initial reaction was shock. Cosima waited for the smile she was sure would follow, but Delphine's face crumpled and she burst into tears. Tesla immediately scrambled to his feet and circled around to her, nuzzling and licking her face. “Baby, don't cry,” Cosima said, reaching out. Delphine shook her head, letting Cosima embrace her.
“Cosima, you shouldn't have done this.”
“Why?” Cosima asked. “You needed a new one. You weren't getting any work done because of it, and that laptop is going to die sooner rather than later.”
“Cosima, we don't have the money.”
“Don't worry about that. I did a payment plan thing. Look, it's fine, okay? I just want to make sure you have everything you need.” Delphine grabbed her face and kissed her firmly until Cosima couldn't breathe, then pulled away with a laugh.
“I love you, Cosima Niehaus,” she breathed, and grabbed for the other gift under the tree. “Here. It isn't as nice, but I thought we could share it.” Cosima held her gaze for a moment, then pulled the paper apart. There was a sweater inside, one Cosima had been looking at for weeks, blue and striped and comfortable when Cosima had tried it on, but out of her budget. “It was on sale, but there's something else as well.” She gestured. “Unfold it.” Cosima complied with curiosity etched into her face, and lifted a bag of weed.
“Del...” she said, and smiled.
“I know your supply is running out, and I know you need it to keep all of those thoughts whirling around in your head from overwhelming you, so I got a hold of Claude's old dealer.”
“And the sweater, too,” Cosima added. “You didn't have to.”
“It was on clearance.” Cosima hugged her, and lightly pecked her lips.
“Thank you,” she whispered, then lightly shook the bag in her fingers with a grin. “Let's get totally baked and mess around with that new Macbook of yours.”
Their dog had the patience of a saint, a quality well suited to Cosima's tendencies when she was baked. He sat still as she stuck a cheap, felt Santa hat on his head, and wrapped a string of Christmas lights around him in attempts to make Delphine laugh. They worked, of course, and had her practically rolling on the floor clutching at her stomach. Cosima leapt on her, smothering her face with kisses. Tesla joined in the fray, barking happily and hopping around. Eventually, Cosima pinned her, and with a grin on her lips, languidly kissed her until Tesla jumped on her back and dislodged her.
“I miss them,” Delphine said when their laughter died down.
“Me, too,” Cosima replied, “but I wouldn't change it. I'd do anything for you.” Delphine smiled and guided her back for a kiss.
“I wouldn't either,” she said. “Not for the world.”