Characters: Blanche/OC, past Blanche/Portia
Summary: Yet even as she kisses her, sometimes, just sometimes, she thinks she tastes dust, sand and the blazing sun instead of the lingering traces of strawberry jam. She does feel guilt, it is a sharp jolt in her chest, but the woman with the raven hair and blue eyes just kisses her kindly and Blanche closes her eyes and the pain ebbs away.
Notes: Starts at the end of the series and then continues after.
She curls a lock of hair around her finger, winding it over and over and then let's go but always catching the end again before it drops. So soft, she thinks in the silence, and so dark, like a spill of ink on the white sheets. So very different, she adds idly but she finds she does not mind. Her finger now travels down the expanse of her back, gliding down her spine that she feel beneath porcelain skin and then back up over shoulder blades and down to her hips. She lies quietly as Blanche's fingers run over her lightly, only making a small hum of pleasure when she feels Blanche's lips begin to follow that ghostly trail that her fingers had mapped out.
She shifts gently and Blanche leans over her, her face hovering inches above and gazes down at her face. Large blue eyes (not hazel – she hasn't seen those hazel eyes for a long time) gaze back, warm and welcoming and she feels that warmth transpire into her. The smile that she gives her is gentle and when she touches Blanche's face, Blanche feels her chest constrict and presses her mouth against her palm in a small kiss.
They are wonderfully quiet, hidden away in her room where they can just be. She laces her hand with hers, feeling her thumb stroke over her. What's surprising is that she, Dr Blanche Mottershead, who thrives on action and adventure, welcomes this tranquillity. When the rest of her time is frantic and demanding, these few moments are more precious than any new found artefact. Perhaps it's she feels the weight of age more keenly now that she used to but it does not worry her.
Yet even as she kisses her, sometimes, just sometimes, she thinks she tastes dust, sand and the blazing sun instead of the lingering traces of strawberry jam. She does feel guilt, it is a sharp jolt in her chest, but the woman with the raven hair and blue eyes just kisses her kindly and Blanche closes her eyes and the pain ebbs away.
Blanche recalls when they first met, at the museum in the Egyptian exhibition that she was working on so intensely before the war. In fact that was the second time that they had met (she was told this later when she lay with her on her bed whilst the world fell apart). Blanche only vaguely recalls this earlier meeting, they had encountered briefly after she had finished giving a small lecture on Egyptian tomb art that was recently discovered. She is not angry that Blanche doesn't recall her presence and blushes when she admits to feeling a burning desire to see her again. She had come back to the museum in hope of seeing her and Blanche smiles fondly as she can share this memory of their exchange.
She had been polite, said all the right words and phrases and blushed prettily when Blanche smiled at her. It had been enough to lift Blanche's spirits and ask her to join her for afternoon tea as she was in dire need of a break. Had her first impression of this woman been that she was a quiet and shy thing, Blanche was pleasantly surprised to find her voicing quite clear and well founded arguments as they conversed easily over tea and scones, as if they had known each other for years and not merely the space of an hour.
The woman was a surprise and intrigued Blanche enough to suggest to her of a new small exhibition and talk taking place later that week. She had accepted readily and when it was time to leave Blanche did not miss the warm smile she cast her as she walked away.
When war was announced and the world was ripped open once more, Blanche pushed aside any thoughts about her. Her time was occupied half with the museum in storage and protection and the other with fire fighting and making sure that her family (extraordinary how war knotted the ties between them all so strongly) were safe and well as they could be. Her job was hard and painful but she'd be damned if she stopped now when her services were needed so much. When it was her call to go and help, she did it all without hesitation despite the danger she put herself in.
More fires burnt across London as bombs fell and tore at houses, streets and people. It was her shift and she was sweating beneath her uniform as she shifted rubble trying to clear the area where she could hear a woman calling. Blanche eventually got to her, coughing violently from the dust and smoke and she gripped the woman's arms tightly, trying to help her to stand.
The voice, raspy from the blast and coughing, but distinctive, make Blanche stop and examine the sooty face. Her lips part in a small gasp and she draws the woman into her arms as she recognises those blue eyes. She whispers to her and the woman clutches onto her coat, saying her name again before she faints. Blanche scoops her into her arms, hurrying to get her to safety and immediate care. The ambulance team take her from her arms and ask if she know who the woman is.
From her bent over position, hands gripping her shaking knees, Blanche manages to tell them her name.
"Marianna. Her name is Marianna Everworth."
They find each other again. Well, Blanche looks for her this time and finds her helping to re-locate victims who had lost their homes due to bombing. When Blanche walks into her office and Marianna sees her, the smile she gives her sends Blanche's heart fluttering in her chest and she knows she has made the right decision to come.
They take tea in a small tearoom which Blanche insisted on paying for. She discovers that Marianna had been visiting a friend and was trying to get into a shelter when the bomb went off. Blanche merely thinks how lucky and glad that she is alive. As they sip from their cups, Blanche studies her and notices the cut and purple-grey bruise fading from the left side of her temple. Gingerly she touches it without thinking and Marianna smiles softly, self-consciously reaching her hand to the wound as well.
"It must make me look a right sight," she says with a smile that Blanche returns before dropping her hand onto the table. Marianna gently places her fingers on top, deliberately looking Blanche in the eye and Blanche keeps her hand there and runs her thumb over Marianna's knuckles.
Before Marianna goes back to work, they stand down a deserted alley and Marianna takes the opportunity to carefully stroke her fingers over Blanche's cheek, jaw and then lips.
"I never forgot you," she whispers and Blanche kisses her and for a moment the war ceases and they just exist in a moment of wondrous peace.
It is a couple of weeks when Agnes starts to notice a change in her. Blanche merely smiles and gives a cryptic 'maybe' when the question of if she has met anyone arises. It is strange and heart-warming to know that the other woman accepts her for who she is. Blanche can think of a hundred other women that would have made her leave but Agnes never did and for that Blanche promises to always be there for her. She understands how it must be a strange concept but at least she tries and that's all Blanche wants.
"Won't you please tell me? At least," Agnes makes a second hesitation, "At least her name."
"Alright," Blanche says, having some pity on her. "Marianna."
"Marianna what?" Agnes asks but Blanche is already half-way out of the room, smirking as she doesn't need to look to see Agnes mentally starting to go through all the Marianna's she could possibly know.
The wonder in the way that Blanche viewed Marianna before the war (oh how long ago that seemed) was still there. Although her junior by just over ten years, she sometimes seems so far beyond her years and people like her were rare and far in between in Blanche's opinion. They fell easily in time with one another and there were no complications with Marianna. She was quiet but her eyes were quick and her remarks both witty and insightful, making Blanche laugh or pause for thought. She was also very generous and accepting. Blanche had not spoken much about her past but found that Marianna never pressed her to. One day she would know it all but for now she was content with the stories of ancient Egypt that Blanche told her when they lay together in Marianna's apartment.
Blanche found that she was quite well established from her father's hotel company (which her brother now owned after his passing) and had a small income from the paintings that she did. Quite a few of the furnishings in the generous sized apartment had been her mother's and Blanche was sure Agnes would delight in quite a few of them. They spent time here until Blanche was ready to share with Marianna her room at Eaton Place.
Agnes takes to her quickly when they first meet. The two of them are able to talk of fashion and music, things that Blanche likes but is not necessarily all too conscious of most of the time. After that, Marianna becomes a frequent visitor and soon she shares some nights there.
Soon it comes to the point when, little by little, Blanche expands on her tales of Egypt, bringing them forward in time and opening her heart just a little. It's fragmented, like the clay pots that she excavates and then pieces back together. Marianna's questions are simple enough; who, how, why? And gradually Blanche's past is uncovered from the dark. When she mentions the book she sees Marianna's eyes fill with recognition (she read the book on its publication and she smiles a little as she considers the content in a new light). But they don't discuss the story, how much is truth and now much fiction. Instead, Marianna asks for more stories about the countries that she longs to see and discover and Blanche happily takes her with her in her re-counts into the night.
Blanche watches her languidly from the bed as she moves around, picking up a small hourglass, rifling through letters but not looking at the names and then finds the small key on the mantelpiece. She holds it in her hands, turning it over, assessing it and then glances back to Blanche who has stilled.
"Is this the one for that draw?" she asks without any demand, just quiet curiosity.
"Yes," Blanche answers truthfully, picking up a new cigar and lighting it. She blows out smoke thickly as Marianna places it back down and moves onto something else.
"The key to the other part of your heart," she says casting a smile back at her little joke. Blanche smiles despite herself and then puts her cigar into the ashtray on the side, motioning for her to come. She does and leans over to kiss her sweetly (her kisses are always sweet) and Blanche is once again immensely grateful.
Yet still a swirling fear nags at her and as Marianna sits back on the bed, Blanche brushes her fingers through her dark hair and asks;
"Does it not bother you?"
Marianna smile is faint as she takes hold of Blanche's hand and brings it up to kiss each finger. "No. I should be, that I know, but how can I be? You are here, with me. I think that counts for so much."
"I do love you," Blanche insists, sitting up with the covers falling around her waist and takes Marianna's face into her hands.
"I know, my love. I know," she strokes her hands reassuringly. "I never expected your whole heart Blanche and that I have a little…" her smile is brighter. "Well, I am glad."
"More than a little," Blanche kisses her softly once and then more deeply a second and third time before she moves the other woman onto her back. "I don't deserve you."
"It's not about what you deserve," Marianna says breathlessly as she threads her fingers through Blanche's curls, her body burning beneath Blanche's questing mouth. "This is what you have. You have me, always, and I have you."
The war has been over for half a year and slowly but surely they were healing. Children were coming home and families were reunited, though many had empty spaces were loved ones should have been. Blanche has finished with her fire brigading and takes time to help Marianna when she can after restoring the exhibitions in the museum.
They are making their way to a department store, picking up a few things that Agnes wants, when in the crowd Blanche catches sight of a flash of auburn hair, a familiar curve of a cheek and jaw. Her heart stops and then jolts in her chest. Her sudden stillness (for she does halt in her step) causes Marianna to look at her in concern and then she sees from across the street a woman, beautiful with coppery hair pinned up, watching them. Blanche turns away quickly, too quickly, and it does not take Marianna connect it up. The auburn haired woman hesitates and then decides to come over and stops short before them.
"Hello Blanche," she says with a flicker of a smile and Blanche moves on her feet as if she might run away.
"Portia," she names the woman and then glances at her companion which causes Portia to do so as well. She introduced them in a murmur and Portia tilts her head, her eyes travel over her, quickly assessing, and when she smiles again it's brittle. They shake hands very briefly and Marianna turns to Blanche with kind eyes and touches her arm gently.
"I will continue to buy the things for Agnes." Blanche starts to open her mouth in protest but Marianna simply squeezes her hand with a smile and Blanche gives in with a nod.
Blanche thinks of all the times she had sat and created scenarios of meeting Portia again and now that it was happening she just wants to flee. Portia brings back too many ghosts with her (she always had and will) and they feed Blanche memories that she had buried away.
"It has been a long time," Portia breaks their silence.
"Very long," Blanche agrees and she notices how time has crept onto Portia's face, bracketing around her mouth and eyes. It doesn't make her less beautiful though and she feels a pang of almost longing to know those lines. She shakes her head, concentrating on a spot just over her shoulder so she wouldn't have to catch her eye. She wasn't ready to have those eyes examine her, peering into her soul and pulling out all her hopes and fears. Portia laughs suddenly but it is a sound without real amusement. Blanche raises her eyebrow quizzically at her.
"How queer this is. How changed we are," Portia explains reaching out to smooth a crease on the lapel of Blanche's jacket without a thought. Blanche stiffens but does not say a word and Portia removes her hand and lowers her voice.
"There has been much that I have wanted to say. I even wrote some of it down but then destroyed the letters before I could send them. I had not thought I would see you again but here you are…"
"Yes, here I am," Blanche sighs a little and then Portia steps closer.
"I do wish to speak to you… The way things," she hesitates. "The way things ended-"
"I can't talk now," Blanche cuts in and Portia gives an acknowledging nod.
"Tomorrow? Can you meet me tomorrow?" she asks and Blanche deliberates for a heartbeat. They both know she would agree and for a split second Blanche hates Portia and herself. She nods and Portia gives her a smile that does, for the first time in this strange exchange, show some warmth.
"Eleven then, at that small tearoom we used to go," she says and the reference to the past shakes Blanche. They part awkwardly and as Portia sidesteps her, Blanche turns her head a fraction to see her walk down the street.
Strange how easy that familiarity came to them both, ordering tea as if they never parted or there had been a war to shape them into altered versions of their past selves. Portia pours the tea and Blanche watches her without speaking as she adds the milk. She doesn't have to ask how much or if she wants it or not and the silent understanding is both a blessing and a curse. The place they have chosen only has a few customers and they are hidden away in the corner at the back unlikely to be seen. Blanche had been vague with her details of where she was going but she suspected that Marianna had already guessed. She felt guilty but here she was.
"You look well," Portia begins, taking charge of their situation and for the rest of the time Blanche allows her to direct their conversations. They talk about the war but do not talk about their families except to ask if they are well. They talk about the museum but not on the old memories they both think about when Blanche tells her about the artefacts she's resorting. They keep the conversation light, skimming the surface, hardly daring to dip deeper.
"What are we doing Portia?" she asks suddenly placing her cup down and Portia gives her a look.
"Having tea and talking."
"We're not talking, we're being polite and proper," Blanche says and Portia's lips quirk at the corners.
"Awfully pretentious," she agrees picking at a loose strand on the tablecloth. "On the way here I had thousands of things I wanted to say. I had it all figured out and now I find that all those thoughts have disappeared."
"I almost told myself not to come," Blanche confesses quietly.
"I'm glad you did come." They stare at one another before Portia drops her gaze. "When you left me… I could hardly think of what to do. I wanted to storm over and bang on your door and shout. I even went to the museum but only turned around again. Then the war broke out and the children were to go to the country…" she took in a breath. "I did think about you."
"Portia," Blanche rakes her fingers through her curls with a sigh and then glances at her. "So much has happened and the war changed a lot of things."
"I know Blanche," Portia places her hand onto the table and Blanche takes it without a thought.
"But I have thought of you," she adds gently when she sees a moment of pain in Portia's eyes. Her fingers tighten in Blanche's hold and the air around them tremors.
"You always did say that we were star-crossed lovers," Portia smiles sadly and Blanche smiles despite herself. She was not normally so poetic in her words but they were true to form. Out of time with the world around them and then made to suffer.
The tea has gone cold in the pot but they do not ask for another, preferring for the moment to just sit in silence with the unsaid words moving between them. Then Portia asks more questions to which Blanche dutifully answers and they begin to build up images of their lives after they had parted. By the time they are done, two hours have almost past and they decide to take a walk instead. They find a quiet garden and circle on the paths that weave through flowerbeds and blossom trees.
They drift to a halt between two beds of tulips that are just beginning to bloom. Blanche thinks of how pretty they would look in Marianna's room and with that she lifts her wrist to glance at her watch. Portia's eyes dart away and then back to her, a false smile graces her face.
"You can talk about her. I would like to know."
Blanche suppresses a smile. "Would you? Somehow I don't believe you."
Portia laughs a little and they continue to walk except now tension thrums between them and quite suddenly Portia halts, facing her with an earnest expression.
"Do you love her?" she asks quite suddenly and Blanche thinks that she has been waiting to asking this question the whole time.
"You taught me that there are different types of love, but yes, I love her. In my own way, I do," she says slowly.
"Is it enough?"
"I think so," Blanche answers with a wiry smile and Portia's eyes glance away from her.
"If she makes you happy then…" Portia pauses and wets her lips before continuing. "Then I am glad."
"Are you?" Blanche cannot help but ask, her eyebrow arching a little.
Portia looks at her sharply but then sets off and Blanche follows as they begin to drift around again.
"I still love you," she tells her though it's a pointless statement.
"I know. And you know that I still love you. But that love is not enough."
"It never was right for us, was it?" Portia says with the saddest smile that pierces through Blanche's heart.
"Sometimes it was," she speaks gently and then sighs. Their hands meet in the gap that lies between them and, for just a moment, they fall back in time.
Blanche stands alone breathing in deeply and slowly. She could feel Portia's lips for the last time on hers and then their final parting words. Remember me fondly, Portia had said to her as she walked away and Blanche knows that, in retrospect, she will.
Theirs was a love that was not made to last. They were not the sandy pyramids that they had explored once in long ago that could withstand the beating storms and though Blanche wipes a tear away, she does smile. It was over and done and letting out a long breath she picks herself and takes herself home, back to the woman who she knows will be waiting.
Marianna glances up as she enters the room and Blanche's heart jolts at her serene expression. She holds out her hand and Blanche goes to her and Marianna's arms wrap around her and there are no questions asked that night.
But they do come eventually, as Blanche knew they would. And she doesn't mind them.
From behind the canvas, she can see her smile, shaking her dark head at the joke that Blanche just told her. She draws quickly, still on the sketching stage of her painting and her eyes flicker from her drawing to Blanche who models for her.
"Leave the fruit," she murmurs seeing Blanche's fingers sneak towards the grapes positioned near to her.
"No," she smiles at Blanche's sigh. "I have nearly finished."
Blanche moves back into the position on the bed and contents herself in watching her lover work. Once she is done, she gets up off the bed to see but Marianna veils it quickly, wanting to keep it as a surprise. Blanche raises her eyebrow but then wraps her arm around Marianna's waist as she tidies up.
"Should I get dressed?" Blanche asks with a teasing tone and Marianna laughs lightly.
"That would be a waste of time, my dear."
"I have something I want to tell you," Blanche murmurs against her neck and she twists her head to shoot her a quizzical glance.
They go back to the bed to sit and Blanche runs her fingers down Marianna's arm before she begins.
"The museum has been talking our connections back in Cairo and they want me to go there for the new excavation taking place."
Marianna smiles brightly, taking up her hand. "That is brilliant, you have wanted to go back."
"There is more," Blanche squeezes her hand. "I want you to come with me."
"To Egypt?" she blinks in surprise.
"Yes. Artists are always good to have on sites," she adds earning her a raised brow.
"Is that all?"
Blanche shifts closer, grinning at her whilst pressing a small kiss against her neck. "Well, I guess I do need company and the evenings wouldn't be half as much fun if you weren't there."
"Hmm, indeed," Marianna turns towards her mouth, seeking her lips and kisses her briefly. "Are you sure?"
They both know what this means. Egypt holds so many memories for her that it might seem strange, maybe sacrilegious to bring another there. But Blanche nods as she draws her down to lie above her and dips her head down so that her mouth can graze down her neck.
"So, will you come with me?"
"Yes," Marianna breathes. "Always yes."
She tastes of the sweet wine they had drunk this evening, unable to believe that they were here. The heat of the day still clung to their skin and there was a slight sheen of perspiration on her brow. She smiles languidly up from the bed, sighing contently as she thought of the wonders she has seen in just one passing day. Blanche lays her head onto her stomach and feels her fingers wind around her curls.
She breathes out gently and closes her eyes. Colours and images bloom under her eyelids, sounds echo in her ears and she can smell the light sent incense and fragment flowers. When she opens her eyes and looks up she sees her watching her with a gentle smile. Blanche lifts herself up and presses small kisses up her neck before settling onto her side and wrapping her arm about Marianna's waist. The hot sun has almost gone from the sky, leaving behind a purple-pink hue with the moon faintly showing. Outside, Egypt waits for them, a promise of the start of something new and Blanche is glad that she is here with her, wanting no one else to be in her place.
A/N: Reviews are love x