This was like trying to control the weather, she supposed, as she tapped her glasses against her chin and squinted at the shiny, snowy whiteness outside. The brunette returned her glasses to the bridge of her nose and her attention back to the bare-ish interior of the apartment, where Piper's trolley still lay awkwardly, with its little wheels in the air like a dead insect, toppled over as it'd been by their lusty rush. She didn't particularly want to look at it now, for it was an indication that the woman was leaving, and for its association with an ache of the past. None of the relationships she'd had after the blonde had left her in Paris had ever been serious enough to ask them to live with her -not like Piper had-, and not just because nobody had managed to measure up, but also because that way they wouldn't be able to move out. If they weren't allowed to leave not even a scrap of clothing around her house, she never had to witness them collecting it when the unavoidable end came. Simple logic. Simple protection.
Reminding herself of those things was a mistake, though. This wasn't the same; this wasn't Piper leaving her. This was temporary, and one simple solution would be to go with her to her parents', like she'd gone to her friends'. Oh what a fucking joy. Alex nevertheless grinned at the blonde when she saw her reappear, having changed into something more comfortable. For the trip, of course, she noted, letting the woman come to her. She herself was wearing one of Piper's t-shirts and yoga pants, since her tights had gotten completely tattered after their sofa romp, and she couldn't really wear her dress without them. It felt good, being in those clothes, in a warm and comfy sort of way, and made her think about late nights or early Sunday mornings in the store, when she wandered around the solitary stacks, shoeless, with her dark-green mug between her hands. She really loved that feeling. And when Piper embraced her, rubbing strands of her black hair between her fingers, and Alex kissed the tender skin of the woman's neck, she was overcome by a pleasant sensation, like a memory of the body: the myriad times she had stood with Piper like this, or lounging lazily, lost to the world or at her loft, with all the time in the world and submerged in the most mundane -albeit blissful- of domesticities. It had been new then; now, it was still unprecedented, unparalleled.
Her hands slid around the woman's waist, her fingers interlocking on the small of her back. She pressed her lips to her shoulder, closed her eyes, and inhaled. Piper's scent, together with that of her shirt, anchored her firmly in that sensation of familiarity, of serenity, of… home.
That was a serious word, notably for someone who had felt most comfortable gallivanting across the world in a reckless orbit, and she acknowledged it with the raise of an eyebrow. Moreover, it was a problematic word for her. The bookshop was indeed her home, but that was a bit like living inside one's own sanctuary or haven. Something like this flat was to Piper, she guessed, letting a low grunt of approval when the blonde started hugging her tighter. They had always been quite demonstrative, but this visceral separation anxiety (she didn't know what else to call it) was verging on teenage angst after such a long fucking time being apart.
She hadn't lost her shit, though; sometimes it had been harder than others, and her prison sentence still felt like it had lasted longer than the rest of her life stringed together. Serenity had been something of a battle instead of a state, a silent, internal fight she'd attempted to combat with a few comparably puny weapons. They hadn't been quick to pacify her, not like heroin used to do: just books and a couple of stupid pictures stuck to her cube's wall. The tree surviving against all odds, like a lone figure in the desert, and actually doing more than that: flourishing, thriving not for anyone else but itself. The second picture was the view of a beach from a window, belonging to a place she'd never see again, a house which no longer belonged to her, because they had taken everything - just about everything.
"Hey, remember my mom's beach house?" Alex asked, letting her back slide down the wall until her ass touched the floor.
The blonde, who had followed her descending motion and was now sitting next to her, frowned, in all likelihood wondering where this was coming from, but nodded. "Of course."
Sure she remembered. She'd loved its peacefulness and the invasive but agreeable marine scent, while Alex had felt a worryingly profound twinge of bliss, due to having Piper and her mother sharing a space for a short while. And not just any space, but the house she had bought for her mom so that she could rest on the weekends or whatever, because she'd deserved it. The brunette had felt a glowing sense of pride while pacing around the grassy dunes, together with a gratifying serenity, and that wholeness had been her aspiration. The memory of that sensation had been her mental go-to happy place during her recovery, and that double-spaded weapon of resilience and serenity had pulled her through her sentence, while books had been her only attempt at distraction.
It had been a bit of a struggle, she started to explain, getting her mother to accept a second residence and a brand new car as presents. Although the place was a fucking dream-house, her mother barely stayed there, apparently doing so just to make her happy. That had almost been a thorn on her side at first, the thought that her mom hadn't been proud of the place.
"She was proud of you," Piper countered.
"Yeah, I know that." Her mom had relished in the fact that she'd raised a fighter and not a victim. There'd been lots of pride in their lives, turned inwards and towards each other, for the way they had managed to pull through. And her mom had just preferred their old house, where Alex had grown up, because it was the place she had fought for. "She liked you, you know, my mom."
Barking out a little, sarcastic laugh, the blonde reached out to grasp her hand, interlocking their fingers. "Al, seriously, your mother looked at me like she could see right through me. Do you know what she said to me? That I was with you because I was terrified of having a boring-ass life."
How about that? The brunette bit her lower lip, incapable of concealing her smile. That was a first impression. However, even if it wasn't the whole truth, it wasn't entirely untrue either, thinking back. So maybe that was why she was only hearing about this now. "Well, she used to tell me that if I hadn't been a lesbian I would've become one anyway, because I was fucking the sort of girls that tortured me in school, so it was kind of the perfect revenge."
"Yeah. But I think she saw that you were different."
"I was different? What is that?" Piper scrunched up her face. "I spent half my life trying to be different, then I met you, got scared half to death, and did my best to be like everybody else - and that didn't work either. Now I've stopped trying altogether. So what does that even mean?"
Alex disentangled their hands, grasping the woman by the hips and pulling her onto her lap so that they were face to face. Her fingers curled around the loops of Piper's pants, keeping her in place, straddling her thighs, and her lips left a trail of kisses up the curve of the woman's neck, culminating behind her ear.
"You were different 'cause of how you made me feel, you conceited asshole," she whispered, taking Piper's earlobe between her teeth.
Reacting at once by detaching herself from Alex's teeth, the blonde looked offended by the appellative, but only superficially, because she was unable to hide the spark of emotion in her eyes. She brought up a hand to Alex's neck and kissed her in a delightfully aggressive way. It made her laugh, too, which Piper took as a further provocation, even though it had been out of a momentary, unadulterated joy. The woman called her a jerk, albeit tenderly, while stroking her hands up her arms and under the short sleeves of her t-shirt. Alex leaned back against the wall, moving her hands from Piper's waist to her thighs, which she started to knead. She knew how the blonde liked that, and felt her body all but melt on top of her.
It was nothing short of amazing how something which had been true a lifetime ago had not only survived but started to flourish. Remembering that Piper was supposed to leave now, the brunette snaked one of her hands under the woman's shirt until it came out of the back of its collar and she could grasp the back of her neck. Her other hand started working the shirt's tiny, white buttons, twirling them and opening up the garment slowly, until she was able to bury her head in the warm skin of Piper's breast. There probably wasn't time for this, she guessed, dreading the moment the woman would breathe out the words "I have to go" against her skin or against her hair.
Her struggle for control during the scarce bunch of days of their reencounter had been fucking ridiculous, really, particularly for someone who refused to read the messages encoded in every fortune cookie she ate as a matter of principle. Her defense mechanism -reminding herself of what Piper had done- hadn't been enough. How could it, when her only basis of comparison for that lack of dominion was Piper herself, then her brief stint with heroin, then Piper again? Tempered down by hope, she had surrendered that inner, thorny animal of hers to the unspoken promise between them, and she couldn't believe it had all happened so soon. When one checked a calendar, it looked like a tiny, inflatable raft floating in the vastest, deepest ocean of time, and yet so much stuff had happened.
This nevertheless wasn't the first occasion in which time had behaved in a funny way. She knew all about fucking relativity, and would have to experience more of that during the following days, with Piper's abrupt absence. It was a curious thing, how the two sides of her were more divided now, with her mind not yet used to seeing the blonde around, but her body aching for her with entitlement. She thought about where Piper was going -her parents' place as she imagined it-, knowing that the blonde didn't think of it as her home. And, taking into account the hunger she had always displayed to see more and her persistence to explore the world, taking it all in Alex's stride, one could wonder if she had ever considered that place her home. Of course she had… One didn't even have to be Piper, the extremely adaptable being; Alex herself, who had remained pretty consistent most of her life in her wild roamings, had once had a home as well, a home for her little family of two. It was the house her mom had worked so hard to keep while raising her and, in the end, old and run-down as it was, it was all that remained of her past, untouched and unrelated to her dirty drug money.
And she couldn't make herself go back there. She took off her glasses, kicked her way under the covers, and listened to the store's complete silence surrounding her like a black shawl. The memory of her childhood dream of living in a library came to her once more, about how she'd used to believe that books were breathing things which whispered their stories at night and characters could communicate with one another. She could hear no rumor behind the door to the storage room now, though, so she closed her eyes and waited for sleep.
The sound came from outside, from the other side of the window. Alex opened one eye and peered at the gloom behind the blinds, making out an even darker form. What the fuck? She opened her other eye, sat up, and pulled the blinds up energetically, exposing the silhouette, still draped in shadows. Without detaching her eyes from it, the brunette switched her night light back on, which projected a bright circle on the glass and revealed that it was Piper.
Her exultant surprise urged her to open the window hastily, but Alex raised her eyebrow markedly and restrained herself. Kneeling on the bed, she unlocked the window slowly, countering Piper's wide smile with a tight grin.
"What the hell are you doing here?" she asked, as the freezing air plunged into the room like a bad-mannered guest.
"I came back," Piper answered, sounding breathless.
The brunette stuck her already goose-bumpy arm out the window and hoisted the woman into the room, gasping at the cold contrast of the woman's shaky body. She laid her down on the bed and clambered on top of her, planting her hands on either side of Piper's head. Her skin appeared golden in the vivid light of the lamp, and her hair, sprayed over the pillow, had turned the color of amber.
"I was expecting Santa… but I guess you'll do," Alex said, lifting her arm to close the window and pull down the blinds.
"Oh, I'll do, won't I?" The blonde reached up to cup her face and try to make her descend over her body.
Nodding, Alex let her lips brush against the woman's cold lips, but when she pressed on, her mouth was hot and her tongue was like warm treacle over hers. She sucked on her lower lip and opened up her coat, raking her fingers down the sides of her body.
"Why did you come back, really?" she whispered, slipping her hand under Piper's shirt and smirking at the immediate reaction of her skin.
"Don't get any ideas, I'm not going on that trip with you either." The blonde traced her finger down Alex's nose.
"You're not?" Alex opened her mouth and captured that finger, caressing it with her tongue.
With a sharp intake of breath, the blonde shook her head. "Not yet. It would feel like we're running away."
Understanding what she meant, she released Piper's finger and gazed at her face intently. It wasn't a straight-up rejection of the offer, just getting a rain check, because getting lost could feel a lot like disappearing, and Alex knew that was the opposite of what Piper needed and wanted right now, and she didn't want to be the enabler for that escapism.
Her fingers, which hadn't stopped moving underneath Piper's shirt, tracing concentric circles around one of her breasts, then reached the differently textured skin of her nipple, which sent her mind straight to the gutter. She stroked her thumb over it, enjoying the way Piper's breaths were hastening and getting shallower.
"I get it, kid," she said, gently nudging the woman's nose with her own.
"Seriously? You're still calling me that?" Piper returned the Eskimo kiss, while at the same time pressing herself against Alex's hand.
"Yeah… Haven't you snuck out of your parents' place?"
Piper grabbed a fistful of her hair and gave it an indignant pull. "You're one to speak."
Raising her eyebrows, the brunette propped herself up on her elbow. "What does that mean?"
"You're here, aren't you?"
"I told you I didn't any have family shit planned."
She really didn't feel like going into that two-sided explanation. Lying down on her back between Piper and the wall, she recognized that sensation, like she was being cornered, and her automatic approach to that would be to lash out, coolly, with a smile on her face. Didn't she know the right pressure points backwards and forwards? Alex parted her lips to speak, but paused when she felt Piper's lips kissing her temple. The reassuring gesture decomposed her temporarily, and she reevaluated her reaction.
"You know that it was mostly my mom and me. No one cared much about us, so I really don't give a flying fuck about celebrating Christmas with them."
It wasn't like she'd been running away, just avoiding something in order to protect herself, and wasn't that what mattered the most, taking care of oneself? The blonde, who had gotten rid of her coat, crept on top of her, applying a rather amazing pressure with her hips. The hard fabric of her jeans dug into Alex's pantless crotch, and for a moment she couldn't think at all, which was good, very good.
"I don't think I've been there since the funeral." She could easily leave it at that, even if it wasn't the whole story and there was no way for Piper to know it. She wouldn't have felt guilty about it either, but that wasn't the point. "I haven't been able to go back there."
Those words appeared to have some distressful effect over the blonde, who fumbled around between their bodies until she found her hand and squeezed it. Alex had never felt quite as lonely and forsaken as in those moments, not even in prison, and Piper was aware of that. The "who left who first" approach no longer served as a blame-assigning weapon, but that didn't mean that it had lost its aching properties.
"I'll go with you." She paused. "If you want me there."
"What?" The brunette frowned, taken aback. She combed the long strands of Piper's hair behind her ears so that she could see her face clearly. "Even if I didn't go to your parents'?"
Strangely, the blonde smiled, and it was a knowing, Mona Lisa-like kind of smile. "Reward and punishment… That's not how it works."
"How what works?"
That word sounded and felt so close to trust that Alex was overwhelmed by its simple singularity. She shifted under the woman's weight, but their bodies were as connecting pieces of a puzzle, stubbornly attached. Her eyes turned misty, but she wouldn't avert her eyes from the face above her. One had to look, look hard at everything, because you never knew who or what was going to look back, did you? One mutual glance across a bar and your life did a 360 on you; or you spotted a familiar face across the crowd of monochrome-colored uniforms; or you turned around and bumped into the ghost of your past on the most ordinary of mornings. And what could you do? You looked on, you kept turning the pages of that book, unbeknownst of its length.
To go back to that house and burst that frozen bubble of time was inconceivable to her, dreamlike. She lifted her head from the pillow so that their lips collided and their noses were pressed together, and their open eyes so close that it was as if she was looking into a single, enormous pupil, a bottomless pool of water from a high jumping point. Her fingers dug into Piper's yellow mane, and she let their wet lips slide apart. Although it was hard for her to picture herself in the scenario of Piper's proposal, the brunette knew that she wanted it, and, as she reminded herself that wanting something wasn't always enough reason to do it, she realized that she needed it as well. Piper appeared to understand. Nodding her acceptance and uttering the word "Yes" over and over - "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes" until it became a steady hum enclosed between their brushing lips.
With her eyes open, Alex took the plunge, they both did, and it felt like a sudden vacuum in her stomach, as if she were actually mid-fall. The landing dropped her into an enthralling, energetic billow, and there was nothing faltering about their movements, like two waves coming and going, paced by a shared tide. Deepening the kiss, the brunette grasped Piper's face and sat up. Her fingers dug into the woman's clothed thigh, and she chuckled in a kind of amused inconvenience.
"There's a very strict no shoes, no shirt, and no bullshit policy in this room," she said, kissing Piper's cheek.
"Yeah…" She moved her open hand across the blonde's middle, and unbuttoned her pants.
And seeing as they had cut the crap, there were just the clothes left. The blonde giggled for a moment before taking off her own shirt, and Alex sighed into the soft warmth of her skin, kissing the underside of her breasts and between them, soaking her face in the familiarity of her scent, the scent which brought her serenity and disorder in equal parts. Alex helped the woman out of her jeans and let her pull off her t-shirt. She scooted nearer to the wall, so that she could lean back against it, and watched Piper's fingers digging into the large rose tattoo of her arm. It was tempting to close her eyes, but she didn't want to get lost in this; she wanted to be aware and present, just like Piper wanted to be present in the world. With the blonde sitting astride her, their breasts pressed together, and their eyes glued to one another, Alex's hand ventured to the inside of Piper's thighs. Her fingertips traced the edge of Piper's underwear, and she already felt her shaking under that light contact. Pressing on, she dipped her fingers underneath the silky fabric and smiled when she felt the woman's wetness.
"Look at me," she commanded, when she spotted Piper's eyelids starting to flutter. Retrieving her fingers, Alex brought them to her mouth and sucked on them.
Alex's smile widened, because this was Piper trying to encourage her. She took the blonde's hand and directed it between her own legs before she returned her fingers where Piper wanted them. Her other hand stroked the woman's cheek, and she took a second to kiss her bare shoulder. She felt herself getting wetter as Piper's fingers slid easier between her lips, and her hips started moving out of their own volition. Piper had started rocking against her fingers as well, searching for more of that intermittent contact, and the words came out of Alex's mouth first, with her hand moving faster and their foreheads pressed together.
"I love you," she said, "I love you", and Piper said her name, called it out, and echoed the words, said "I love you", and it seemed like they had turned over a page and were on the same one. She said the words again, after coming, after Piper had come, and whispered them when they rolled over on the bed, just before burying her face between her legs, before sucking on her lips and brushing her tongue with increasing speed over her clit. She uttered them afterwards as well, when she turned off the night light and Piper inched closer to her body, with her head resting close to her heart. Surrounding the blonde's shoulders with her arms, Alex still kept her eyes open in the milky penumbra, because she had thought herself incapable of hope and she had still hoped, but hope had now turned into belief, and she could only stare at it stubbornly, as if it were a blinding light.
That this could be her life, after everything. That this was her life - their life. There was still plenty to sift through, she knew that. She kissed the top of Piper's head and glanced towards the dusty green blinds covering the window. The dust always settled, though, eventually, rarely where you expected it, sometimes where you wanted it, and rarely where you needed it. Sighing deeply, Alex bowed down her head to kiss Piper's lips and finally closed her eyes.