Fishbowl Vignette VIII: Lead the Way
Their jet plane, with its pair of first class seats and complimentary champagne, left without them. And as Daniel lay against Betty's warm form and listened to her breathing deeply, he couldn't find a reason to give a damn.
It hadn't been long since she'd fallen asleep, but enough time had passed that weak light was filtering through the curtains, so that he could see the curve of her shoulder as he pressed his lips to it. Though he was sure he should have been exhausted, Daniel couldn't keep his eyes closed for long, his need to just be awake with her, to just see her there, curled up against him was too great.
An eerie calm had come over him and that was what unnerved him the most, as if he should have been anticipating everything that could go wrong the moment Betty woke up, working out the words he would need in case with awakening came regrets. But that blind panic fought against a certainty that had come with the night, that the night itself wouldn't have happened if Betty hadn't wanted it, too.
He was giving himself a headache. Sighing heavily, he dropped his head against the nape of her neck.
"Daniel?" It was a distant murmur, sleep-heavy and soft.
She placed her hand over his and pressed on it so he held her closer.
"I'm not going anywhere."
And just like that, he was finally able to sleep.
They tucked themselves away for the rest of the day and into the night, mostly surviving on soup and ice cream because the soup was the quickest to warm up in the microwave and, well, they both liked ice cream and it was there.
Little time was taken to make arrangements for their return to New York, for Betty to call her family and explain they had been snowed in and for Daniel to message Wilhelmina that she could call the shots for a day or two more. They told no one that the streets were already beginning to clear, or that they'd purposefully passed up three perfectly good flights out for one late the following day.
Time instead was devoted to being alone, being them, Daniel flat on his back in bed and laughing while Betty, wrapped in a duvet and waving around a spoon, gave him a spot on imitation of Anna Wintour, then used his spoon with hers to make giant glasses against her eyes. He learned the spot low on her left side that made her giggle with just a stroke. Pillows were tossed haphazardly across the room and bowls clattered to the floor. They enjoyed being together without secrets shoved between them. They slept and woke and did it all over again.
"How did you know?"
It was near three in the morning and they were sharing the last bowl of mint chocolate, spoons clattering as they each jockeyed for the last of the melting mass. Daniel gave in and let Betty have it and she gave him a sweet smile as she brought it up to her lips.
"That I wanted to be with you?" He watched as she licked the spoon clean and then used the back of her fingers to check for chocolate smears. There was a little one high on her left cheek, probably his fault, but it made Daniel smile too much to point it out. "It happened while ago. Months. There just came a point where I realized that being with you made up the best parts of my day. But I think that's when I was able to put words to it. I have a feeling that it was probably longer, when I was too much of an idiot to see what was going on."
"Don't say that," Betty said seriously. "What would that make me, for taking so long to see it myself?"
"When did you?"
"The night in my apartment, when you were… telling me…" she trailed off.
Daniel's eyebrows rose high.
"Even before you told me, it bothered me that you had seen her again. It was this weird, completely irrational wave of jealousy. And when you explained what had happened, I just… wanted to… tear her apart limb by limb for doing that to you," a fierce look came over Betty's face, "and all I could think was that you deserved better, that you would make a wonderful father and husband and you should have your chance at that."
"I remember you crying."
Betty pushed her hair back over one shoulder, toyed with it. "It scared me, because my next thought was that I wanted it to be me. It was insane to even think it, but I knew. But I didn't know what it would mean, if you would even want me."
Daniel reached forward and entwined his fingers with hers. "I kept trying to convince myself that I wasn't good enough for you."
"I guess that makes us both idiots then."
With his other hand, Daniel brushed the chocolate off her cheek. "I guess so."
They walked silently, Betty's arm tucked into his, their feet making a slow path through melting snow. It was only a few hours before they had to arrive at the airport and Betty had jimmied him out of bed with a promise of fresh air and actual food. Daniel been ready to decline both for more time alone with her when his stomach growled loudly and Betty threw back her head in delighted laughter.
Far from the main hustle and bustle of Paris, on tiny streets with smaller sidewalks, they left each other to quiet thoughts. Gone was Daniel's momentary panic, instead an assuredness that the difficulties awaiting them in New York would be in everyone else's adjustment to their relationship. As far as he and Betty were concerned, what they had waited so long for, had tried to deny themselves, was finally a reality and with it came the happiest hours either had ever experienced.
Really, it amused Daniel to think of the reactions they would encounter. Something told him, however, that his mother would probably be thrilled after the initial shock. Then again, she was a smart woman, so maybe she'd known before they had.
"What's that smile for?" Betty tipped her face up to his and Daniel shrugged.
"It just crossed my mind that maybe we were the last to know."
Betty squinted and then grinned, "There's a good chance of that."
"We are so stubborn, I shudder to think how bad our kids will be."
"Maybe we'll teach them to know better."
"I certainly hope so."
Suddenly he was dragged back by his arm, Betty's still figure stopping his movement.
She gave him a wide eyed look. "Kids?"
"Yeaaah," he drew out, just as surprised as their quick turn of conversation, "too soon?"
Even as Daniel watched, her startled expression began to clear and a gentle look replaced it. "No, I don't think so."
Despite the cold around them, Daniel felt something warm spread in his chest. "Good. We probably won't mention that to our parents for a while, though."
"That would be wise," Betty said smiling.
But they returned to silence instead of saying anything further. Daniel left Betty to her thoughts, though his jumped ahead to tiny daughters with her dark eyes and his childhood freckles. He thought of a son he could name after Alex that he would put his faith in, no matter how much it was tested. Glimpses of the future danced before him in his mind's eye and Daniel knew that no matter how happy he thought himself capable to be, Betty had the ability to bring out even more.
They ducked in and out of shops at random, sometimes holding hands as they went from one aisle to another, sometimes separating but following each other's movements, coming together at the exit so they could move on. At one point, with the minutes ticking down to their departure, Betty stepped outside to call for their car; he smiled at her though the window as she gave the driver their exact location. All he would have been able to do was vaguely describe the shop they were in as full of antiques, and those had to be a dime a dozen in Paris.
He watched her for several moments before his gaze was tugged down. Daniel should have known he'd somehow find himself in this exact spot, so fitting to how everything had fallen into place in a matter of days. He looked at the display case before him and saw the only missing piece.
Minutes later, he stepped out of the shop to find Betty shutting her phone off and sighing. "The flight is still on schedule. Is it wrong to wish we could stay here for, you know, forever?"
Wrapping his arms around her waist, Daniel drew her close. "I think it has less to do with the place than this right here."
She rested her hands on his arms and caught his gaze. "You're right, but it was a good start, don't you think?"
"Yeah, it was."
"Pretty soon we'll have work, our schedules might clash, we'll definitely clash-"
"Making up will totally be worth it-"
She laughed and Daniel set his forehead against hers. Betty closed her eyes, her face so peaceful it made him ache.
"Betty, I love you."
Her eyes opened and the joy he found there made his heart beat faster.
"I love you too, Daniel."
It was better than the whispered words over the last day and a half, from the first time he'd said it against her ear, how she'd grabbed his hand as he stroked her cheek and said it back for what had to be the tenth. It was so much that though he'd made vague plans to wait just a little longer, Daniel instead pulled away from Betty and dropped down. He fumbled in his pocket as he went to one knee, pulled out his purchase from its simple brown bag and presented it to her.
Betty's expression ran from shock to sweetness and back again as Daniel said, "Let's fight and think of names of kids and drive our assistants insane trying to make it all work even when we sometimes have to be in completely different parts of the world."
Though her hands were now at her mouth, Betty's eyes showed her smile.
"Let's stop being idiots and make this a great start, Betty. Marry me."
Dropping her hands, with a sure voice, Betty said, "Of course I will."
"Good, because there's still snow down here and I'm freezing."
"Then stand up!" Laughing, Betty helped him stand and then watched as he slid the ring onto her left hand. Awed, she said, "It fits."
"I had a feeling it would."
He kissed her then, because he knew, just like she had known the morning before. It was the moment they needed to remind themselves that it was real. They were real. They were Daniel and Betty and exactly as they needed to be.
Betty burrowed her head against his chest when he stopped to take a breath and he set his lips against the top of her head and watched as their car approached. In a moment, they would get in, soon be on a plane, and thereafter be back in a completely different New York.
Just as they needed to be.
"Come on," Daniel said as he nudged Betty's chin up and kissed her once more and knew her own moment of fear had passed. "Let's go home."
She laced her fingers with his and said, "Lead the way."
A/N: Many, many thanks to all who have reviewed. This story took three years to really finish and I'm thankful to have you here with it. I'm sad that UB is also coming to an end, but I'm glad many of us can come in with our own ideas and hopes for what is and what could have been. (By the by, there are two slightly odd follow ups to the FV that will be posted within a week or two - they don't feature Daniel and Betty specifically, but do describe what awaits them back in NYC.) Thank you for reading.