It had been one month since Alex had last been home.
Home to the warmth of her bed, home to the love of her life, home to her child.
She missed her birthday. Her daughter's fucking birthday. One way to make her feel like a shitty mother was to not call her family for a month while working in Cambodia. While the marmalade sun hung high above the crystal beaches and the sheets of the bed she slept in were lined in luxurious silk. Another method was to not give her child a big enough hug before she left for work. Or forget to remember the dimples that indented her cheeks or the length of the dancing shadows created by her dark lashes.
Another way was to never consider another job.
She knew this would happen. She'd have to pry herself from the reassuring comfort of American soil between her toes for months at a time. She knew that she wouldn't be able to hear the voices of the people she held so close to her just to ensure their safety, but she didn't know how much it would hurt. How physically sick it would make her. To roll over in bed and not see her lover sleeping beside her beneath the satin sheets. To walk into a foreign kitchen and not find her familiar morning warmth waiting for her freshly wakened lips to touch it. To see a brown haired girl and have it not be her own. That was the price of the job she had to pay. Deprivation. Prison was nothing compared to that.
But after a month of misery and withdrawal, she was finally on the plane home. She would be arriving in the wee hours of the morning and both of her loves would be fast asleep by then, but she would be home. And nothing , not even time's waning tempo could ruin that joy.
Meanwhile, another excitement was bustling in the street. No, not excitement. Anxiety. Franticness. It was already late. Two or three in the morning at least. But it was still too early for the girl who ran in the night to chase a speeding taxi. In her fourteen years of breathing in the smoky city air, she knew not to be out during those hours. Trouble and danger lurked there, she knew. But tonight was an exception. To hell with danger. She snuck out the creaky window and down the clanking fire escape to get a cab. Just to see the green eyes that loved her so. She waited far past her birthday to see them. She waited past the deaths and births of stars asunder in galaxies light years away. She waited enough. And enough was too long a time for her.
Amelia caught up with the yellow white rabbit and hopped inside the leather walls. She let the address roll of her tongue and she slammed the heavy door shut. She drummed her fingernails against her thigh and watched as the night crawlers prowled in the concrete jungle. She breathed happily, resting assured that she wasn't among the lions now. She knew she was prey, even when she was racing down the dimly lit pavement. But she knew she would be prey to impatience and insomnia and that was far worse in her world.
The taxi came to a grinding halt and she graced the driver a generous tip. She scrambled out of the vehicle and into the warmth of the airport. She felt several curious eyes on her. From passengers, desk workers, and maintenance crew alike. She brushed off their condescending judgements and stopped in front of the towering monitor. She was still gasping for air from her perilous feat in the dark just moments ago. She used this time to catch her fleeting breath until she found her mother's flight. She scoured her un-jogged memory for an image of her mother's ticket. She remembered her layover was from a vague Eastern airport or airline to a more familiar JFK. Her eyes roved over the twinkling numbers and flight names until she met the one that mattered most.
Flight CX831, Phnom Penh; 3:52am; Gate 46, ON TIME
She felt a temperate wave of relief wash over her at the sight of "on time." She gulped down a final breath and dashed off down the dark labyrinth again .
The flight was smooth, though the turbulent landing was in need of work. Even so, the sparse flight gave a tired applause for the service. Alex unfastened her seatbelt and hoisted herself up from the plushness of her first class seat. She retrieved her short, black suitcase from the overhead compartment with with no trouble. And as the vast majority of her flights went, she assisted a few others who didn't have her towering advantage. She stepped off the aircraft and already felt a piece of home rush back to it's dusty place inside her. Her pace quickened at the image of the apartment and the people that dwelt in it. From where she walked, she had to make a beeline to customs. then to baggage claim to recover her copious amounts of luggage, and then straight into a taxi home. She breezed through customs, answering their fervent questions with rapid fire. She then boarded the empty monorail, listening the the monotonous recording of safety protocol replay over and over until her ears rang. The doors hissed open and she stepped out into the open. The area was void of life. It was only her. The sound of her suitcase getting trapped in the tile crevices rumbled in the air. She reached a carpeted area where everything grew quiet again. She strolled down the way now, not feeling plagued rush or haste. She breathed easy now, finally taking in the air her lungs had missed.
"Mom!" A faint voice grazed against her ear. She scanned the deserted vicinity, finding nothing in her wake. She deemed the sweet voice a cruel hallucination and continued on her way.
"Mom!" It called again. This time Alex knew it was real. Her eyes were frantic as they searched the grand place until her eyes locked upon a distant runner. Her brown hair billowed behind her as she grew closer and closer. Alex recognized her immediately and scolded herself for not a few moments earlier. She dropped her bag and placed a clammy hand over her mouth. Burning tears overwhelmed the corners of her eyes as her feet propelled her towards the girl.
"Amelia!" She felt her knees grow weak and she gave in to them. She desperately swallowed up her daughter in her arms, holding onto her for dear life. She buried her nose in Amelia's neck, inhaling the aromatic scent of home her senses longed for. She smelled like their lavender laundry detergent, hints of acrylic paint, and something else too sacred to compare to an object. Childlike affection swarmed her nose and flavored the air encircling it. The unwavering bond between mother and child was the scent that made satisfied her starving lungs. Amelia wrapped her arms around her mother and clung tightly to her as well.
"Amelia! Jesus! Kid, What the hell are you doing here? Fuck, it's so late," Alex's motherly instincts began to take over as she fixed Amelia's ebony hair and gazed into her dusky eyes. Tears were already flowing freely from the woman's eyes as she held her daughter's fragile face in her hands. "Are you okay?"
"I snuck out. Sylvia went out with some friends." A laugh of relief escaped Alex's lips as more tears spilled down her cheeks.
"Oh my god, I missed you so much." She engulfed Amelia back in her arms as she planted several kisses upon her head and raked her jittery hands through her hair.
"I missed you too, Mom," the girl nuzzled in closer to her mother's body. They both gathered Alex's things, still never breaking touch. They would stand with their arms wrapped around each other, easily from swaying side to side. Alex would kiss Amelia's forehead, accompanied by reassuring words of love. Even if Alex had to walk far for something, they'd still be attached by their interlocked fingers. Alex missed that feeling. Amelia's hands were small and almost doll-like. But her palms fit into her own artistically. Like two perfect halves of a whole. Holding her daughter's hand was something she didn't do much, but every time she would take her seemingly tailor made hand in her own, it was like a reminder for the mother to do it more often.
They both returned home okay, still linked at the palms. They had successfully moved Alex's luggage into the apartment and they held each other still. Amelia felt her mother stiffen in her meager arms when she heard stifled groans from the bedroom. They both exchanged simultaneous looks of suspicion as their senses both heightened.
"Stay here," but Alex knew Amelia wouldn't heed her instruction. She felt her daughter close at her tail as she neared the door, apprehension in her footsteps. Her hands clasped the cold handle and the icy shock travelled all the way to her shoulder. She turned the handle slowly and swung the door open in a quick whoosh. Alex felt her stomach plummet to her feet. Sylvia was naked underneath a man, both caught up in hot sweat and pleasurable, blood curdling moans. In that moment, she could have let the scalding tears roll down her face and weep as she crumbled into ruin.
But Alex Vause would never do that.
Not for a girl who slept with a man over her.
She felt her fists clench, turning her knuckles a tension-charged white. Her blood began to boil with blistering anger and her composure became molten rock in her center. She stood there fuming and seething with rage until finally her severe eyes met wide hazel ones.
"Alex! Hey! I thought you didn't come home for another week." Sylvia wiped a sheen of sweat from her forehead.
Then Alex fucking lost it.
"What the fuck is this?" Alex's voice was jarring and made the whole house tremble. Her teeth were almost barred like an angry animal. Sheer fright surged down everyone's bodies.
"Alex, I can explain," Sylvia's voice quivered with fear and guilt.
"I'm sure you can fucking explain," Alex hissed through her livid teeth.
"It was nothing-"
"No! Fuck you! And get the fuck out of my house!" Alex pointed a heated finger at the door as Amelia cowered behind it. She had been observing through the brass hinges in appalled silence. She'd seen Alex angry before, never at her, but never like this. The girl too was fearful now, even though her mother was only kind and loving to her. Alex never snapped at anyone like this. Amelia hoped she never would again.
"NOW!" This time the house fell silent. Poison hung in the air as her command reverberated against the walls. Sylvia and the man hurried out of the house, wrapped in blankets and spare towels.
Alex stood there speechless. She gazed harshly at the bed before her and fastened her wrathful jaw. The sheets where the Sylvia had been were stained. Stained with vanity and deceit. The white fabric that lined the bed held so much in the fibers of finely woven material. They held the sacred memories of her and Amelia sleeping together on frigid nights. Memories of weeping over Diane's death. Memories of her and her love first blossoming into lust.
And now those memories were defiled. They were tainted with memories of now.
Alex stormed to the bed and violently stripped the corrupted fabric from the mattress, uttering fierce profanities under her fiery breath. Her inhales and exhales were sharp as she struggled to rip them entirely from under the bed. Her pulls grew strenuous and more tired as her grip on them began to loosen.
"Fuck!" Her cry was powerless. Like her voice was straining to push out the empty word. She cradled her heavy head in her hands as she massaged the achy corners of her eyes. Her tears of rage and hate turned into those of anguish and pain. They stung like acid wearing away at an open wound. They carved deep pavements in her cheeks and they slipped inside her lips. She let the sour taste plague her tongue as she bore the agony. Amelia walked in, her feet trailing like dead weight beneath her.
"Did you know about this?" Alex's voice became shrill for a moment before falling back down again. Amelia shook her head "no" as a single tear rippled down her porcelain face. "I'm sorry kid. I'm sorry you had to see that." Both of them were staring at the half stripped bed in paralytic air.
"It's fine," Amelia whispered. Alex bit the inside of her cheek to forbid a sob to leave her. "You can sleep in my bed if you want," Alex thanked the girl weakly, her eyes still fixed on the mess she had made. "We're gonna be okay though, right?" The girl looked up at her mother. Her tired, weak, vulnerable mother. The innocent question was enough to crush her soul into fine powder. She held Amelia's child-like gaze in her own for a few moments.
"We'll be okay. I promise. Everything is gonna be okay." Alex bit down harder on the shaft inside her cheek until the metallic taste of blood burst against her tongue. The sob she was trying too hard to contain finally broke free and Amelia rushed to comfort her shattered mother. Alex felt her heart sink further down as she made a promise she wasn't sure she could keep. She didn't want her daughter to know her uncertainty, but there no use in hiding the truth from her.
Because she knew.
She always knew.
The closest thing to love they had ever come to was Piper kissing Alex's temple after she had climaxed in October. She pressed her lips against her warm face like it was an instinct. A reflex. Both of them locked eyes for a moment and time had seemed to stop. Alex was blushing, her whole body was blushing. Piper smiled weakly to cover up for the little oops, but the other woman didn't seem to mind as she placed a kiss in the same place.
Or Alex involuntarily caressing Piper's face when she leaned in to kiss her neck in November. At first she had mentally kicked herself for it, even if it was an accident. But she heard Piper gasp softly at the touch. She felt her tense up, but then loosen completely and Alex hadn't even started yet. She melted in the most tender way possible and Alex felt her heart momentarily stop beating. She made a mental note to do that more often, but next time, with a little more intention.
And both of them couldn't forget how they'd spend an extra thirty minutes beneath the sheets entangled in each other on December nights. (The cold was their excuse. The cold seemed to be an excuse for everything in New York City.) Alex would rake her hands through a sleeping Piper's hair as she snored quietly in her arms. Or Piper would draw designs and write poetry on the insides of Alex's wrists as she nodded off. Their hearts would beat in sync and their chests would rise and fall together.
It were those unspoken moments of perfection that made themselves out to be love.
Three months had rolled down their arching backs as one would ravage the other until both collapsed side by side.
Three months contained 17 Friday's which rolled off their calendars. Every one of which was spent moaning in either the blonde's or the brunette's bed, but never anywhere else or doing anything else. Never more than sex.
Three months had rolled off Piper and Amelia's conversations. Conversations that built a bond and put good coffee in their stomachs.
And three months was enough for all of it to shatter.
They knew the day would come. They knew it would lurk around in the back of their sex-crazed minds and then slither its way into the unsuspecting crevices of their lives. They were in denial of course. Of the fact that their collegy relationship would ever come to a close. Or that they never wanted to leave the warmth of each other's arms for reasons aside from the harsh weather.
But Piper knew everything she needed to know about Alex Vause, except her last name. She knew how Alex liked it. What angles to hit. What places would send tremors shredding up and down her body. What things would make her center convulse mercilessly around the blonde and what places would make her beg for more. She knew the exact shade of her eyes, she could pick it out in the paint section at any given Home Depot in the state. She knew the way she'd wipe the dried up sleep from her torpid eyes like it was residue in a bathroom sink. She knew every important and minute detail about her.But fuck, she wanted to know more.
The basics and slivers of details weren't near enough for her. The lack of knowledge ate away at her like a savage animal. She wanted to unlock every occult mystery that was behind that bewitching smile. She wanted her to divulge her most childish hopes and most disastrous errors and she wanted to nurse them close to her chest. She wanted to know if she believed in god or if fate was already written in the stars. She wanted- no, needed to uncover the secrets that taunted her so. Just the notion of there possibly being more already sent a knife twisting through her back.
And Alex knew what Piper wanted from her. Piper wanted to know. Piper thought she knew everything, but she had barely scratched the surface of what was behind. She didn't know how Alex really felt about the not-so-innocent blonde she became so hypnotized by. She didn't know how much she craved the blonde's weight on top of hers on every other day of the week. She didn't know the complexity of madness that plagued her when she saw the vast seas in her sapphire eyes. She didn't know how addicted she was to the sweet taste of stress and adrenaline that flavored Piper's lips. How buzzed that made her. She didn't know the withdrawal she felt when the warmth of her body wasn't next to her's beneath the cold sheets at night. She didn't about know the demons that resided at the foot of her bed. She didn't know what sort of vicious hell devastated the dense forests in her mossy eyes. She didn't know how much Alex hungered for her and she sure as hell didn't know how much it terrified her.
They were both scared. Petrified even. About how everything had evolved from that one October night. They desperately wanted each other. But they knew the heavy price of playing with fire. They knew well enough about the burns and scalds they'd receive if they dared walk into the open flame. Standing by and warming their palms wasn't enough. They both agreed on that. But lunging head-first into the embers proved far too fatal. So the blonde resolved the fiery angst the only way she knew how.
To put it out entirely.
They were in the blonde's room. Alex's weight was braced over Piper. She was nipping away at the smooth shafts of her collarbones, running her tongue over the tender skin to soothe the wounds she left there. By now, Piper's eyes would normally be rolling back to see the darkness inside her skull. Her mind would be shutting down as she allowed the fevered rush of erotica to take over. But this time she didn't let herself give in to the sweet surrender. She forced herself to freeze. To embrace the icy wall she was building between them. She didn't let herself revel in the ample warmth the woman above her had to offer.
Then she had to do it.
She had to fucking do it.
"Alex what are we doing." Piper's words hung like jagged icicles in the air.
"What?" Alex looked up at her in bewilderment, the warmth also draining from her skin.
"What is this. what are we doing." Piper arose as bone-chilling tension swirled between them.
"What are you-"
"No I- this is crazy. I can't believe I let myself get into this kind of routine." The blonde pulled a shirt over her head as she paced the room. Alex felt an angry heat start to bubble up inside.
"Are you fucking kidding me? This was exactly what you wanted." She stood up on her feet to level up to Piper, who was rubbing the corners of her eyes in befuddlement as she stuttered.
"I moved to the city not a few months ago. I barely know the person I'm sleeping with. I jus-"
"So you're leaving because you're scared. You knew exactly what you were getting into." Alex was laughing now. But it was filled with frustration, and hostile awe.
"I'm sleeping with a fucking drug dealer can you blame me. I'm actually really surprised that you haven't asked me to do shit for you yet. Good fucking thing I’m ending this now before I’m hauling around your profit to wherever the hell you’d be shipping me off too. Because isn't this normal for you? You fuck someone and then they become a piece in your twisted game?"
These words left frostbite on Piper's lips. Alex's laugh stopped short in her throat. The words hit her square in the chest. Her eyes widened first out of sheer impulse, but she reduced them down into narrow slits. Her expression was pain-stricken first, but she pressed her lips inward to prevent their parting reflex. She forced rage upon herself to mask the hurt she felt beneath the surface. But trying to overshadow the pain she felt in that moment was futile. Piper saw it clear as day. And she cursed herself for ever causing those green eyes to glaze over.
"Alex I-" She took a tentative step towards her and extended a sorry hand, but Alex rejected her by giving a pained scoff and turning aside.
"No. Don't even fucking try to take that back. Fuck you." She didn't look over her shoulder as she stormed out of the place, leaving Piper to drown in the deluge of her blistering tears.