A/N: Thanks again to lovecatcadillac who edited and made this not suck. If you're in the mood for more Bomb Girls fic check her out she writes the best in town.
Kate wasn't sure how both she and Betty had managed to avoid each other so well. They lived across the hallway from each other, rode the same tram to work and had the exact same shift. But nearly a week had gone by, and the only times they had seen each other was the twenty minutes during lunch. They both sat at the same table, with the same friends, but even then Kate was at one end and Betty at the other. They managed to have conversations with everyone except each other, without letting their tense atmosphere bring down the mood of the entire workforce.
It had been a whole week since the incident in Kate's bedroom that Kate was not thinking about at all. Except that she couldn't get the feeling of Betty's thigh out of her head. How soft and warm it was and how it felt pressed against her there. The feeling of Betty lying underneath her made her head swim. She couldn't afford to be distracted but she found herself trailing off mid sentence when she would catch sight of Betty laughing or yelling at the girls on the floor, and Gladys would just look at her knowingly.
There was a loud crash and everyone hit the floor and covered their heads instinctively. "What was that?!" Kate asked Gladys who was lying next to her.
"I have no idea," Gladys said, poking her head up now that they had established that the factory wasn't falling down around them.
Kate and Gladys got to their feet and joined the crowd that had formed. "The crane malfunctioned and dropped a crate of shells," Kate over heard Alice explaining to her friends.
"I'm fine!" Mrs Corbett's voice rang out. "Someone get a doctor! Betty, can you hear me?"
Kate's heart stopped. She pushed her way to the front nearly throwing people off their feet in her rush. Mrs Corbett was leaning heavily on Marco Moretti as she shouted orders. Betty lay sprawled on the ground with heavy shell casings piled on top of her. Two of the men were pulling them off her as the on call doctor finally arrived with the stretcher.
"Is she okay?" Kate asked frantically.
"She's alive," the doctor said gruffly, holding Betty's wrist. There was no blood but Betty didn't so much as twitch at the strange touch. He helped move the remaining casing shells off of her and laid Betty on the stretcher. "Let's get her to the hospital."
"Okay girls, you heard the doctor, she's alive – now get back to work!" Mr Akins was shouting at them. He stopped to talk to Mrs Corbett and nodded towards the ambulance.
"I'm going with her." Kate went to follow but Mr Atkins stuck his arm out to stop her.
"Where are you off to?" he asked.
Gladys glared. "Betty is our friend. Surely you can understand we wouldn't be safe around explosives right now?"
"There ain't no room in the ambulance for both of you and you still have half your shift left," Mr Akins growled.
"Mrs Corbett!" Kate implored.
The older woman frowned at them but seeing their determined faces, she reconsidered her gut reaction to automatically reject anything Gladys asked for. "They're the girl's only family," Mrs Corbett said softly to Mr Atkins. "And they would only cause the other girls to worry if they're left here."
Mr Akins considered it before he threw up his hands, exasperated. "Fine," he said gruffly, pointing his finger at both of them."But I'm docking your pay! Now get out of here before I change my mind!"
Kate went to charge after Betty but Gladys' cool head prevailed. "There won't be any room to ride with them. We'll take my car." Gladys pulled Kate away as Marco helped Mrs Corbett to the ambulance.
Kate sat, staring at her hands, on the wooden seat in the hospital hallway. She hadn't got to see Betty and no-one was telling her anything. Gladys had run off to torture a nurse but when Kate went to follow, she found that her feet were lead weights. Dread had dragged her down to sit in one of the chairs that lined the corridor and had yet to release her.
She honestly couldn't remember the last thing she had said to Betty. If something irreversible happened to her, Kate wouldn't know what to do with herself...
Kate looked up to find Mrs Corbett standing in front of her. "Mrs Corbett, is Betty going to be okay?" Kate stood quickly wiping at her eyes roughly.
"She's going to be fine." The normally stern woman allowed her control to slip long enough for her relief to show through. "The doctors are worried about her head so they plan on keeping her overnight. Other than that, she has a broken wrist and cracked ribs. I'm going to talk to Mr Akins and see if he'll put her on a lighter duty."
"Oh, thank God," Kate breathed, slumping back down into her chair. She took deep breaths to steady herself, but the dread still coiled in her stomach.
"Are you okay, Miss Andrews?" Mrs Corbett tilted her head as she took Kate in. Kate knew that she probably wasn't looking her best, and that the supervisor was far too observant to miss anything, or put it down to simple worry for a friend, which should be all it was... "Miss Andrews?"
"Betty's a sinner." Kate hated sounding like a child, but as she looked up at Mrs Corbett so lost and confused, a child was how she felt.
"So I've heard," Mrs Corbett said in her normal reserved tone. It was a step above her suspicious tone that she usually used on Kate or her disdainful tone when speaking to Gladys.
"She's not right, but when I saw her lying there … when I thought that she might not be in the world anymore … that wasn't right either..." Kate bit her lip to stop herself from saying more.
Mrs Corbett looked taken aback but she was back to her frown in seconds. She looked up and down the corridor before sitting stiffly beside Kate on the edge of her chair. She stared at the plain white paint of the opposite wall. "I don't know much about Betty McRae's private life. Frankly, it is neither my business nor desire to know more. That being said however, I've heard disturbing things about her. Do you know what I think?"
Kate met Mrs Corbett's stern gaze for a second before she looked away and nodded silently.
Mrs Corbett went on, "Miss McRae scored an impressive ninety-five when I retested you girls. She saved my life today and would do so again for any of her colleagues. I can judge Miss McRae for her sins, but I can also judge her for her actions, and those are exemplary."
"But they say it's wrong," Kate protested weakly, her shoulders hunched in on herself and the curled dread inside her.
"They should stop spending so much time talking about other folks," Mrs Corbett snapped. "I believe in judging people by their actions, because that has to be enough. You can't forget all the good a person has done and hold one bad thing against them. People shouldn't be tarred and feathered over one mistake." Her hand pressed against her stomach fleetingly before she folded her hands in her lap.
"Mrs Corbett! Finally! How is Betty? I've chased down a hundred doctors and they've all pled ignorance. I swear all the intelligent men are on the front line." Gladys hurried down the corridor, her coat flapping as she rushed. "I swear a nurse was going to blacken my eyes if I didn't leave their office."
"Miss McRae is injured but fine," Mrs Corbett said briskly as she stood up. "I'll be heading back to work now. Give Miss McRae my regards when she wakes up. I'll stop by tomorrow for a visit. My daughter Sheila can give you updates."
"Goodbye Mrs Corbett," they both chorused, Gladys slightly more energetically than Kate. Mrs Corbett hesitated as she looked at Kate, looking as if she would say something, but in the end she turned and left.
"She hot footed it out of here rather quick, considering it was her tail Betty saved." Gladys frowned after Mrs Corbett before she turned back to Kate. "Wouldn't you say? Kate? Kate!"
Kate had already left to find Betty.
"Miss McRae, please get back in the bed!" The annoyed nurse tried to shoo Betty back into bed. The blonde was not being very co-operative as she tried to get dressed. "Miss McRae, you have not been discharged!"
"This ain't no POW wow camp, I don't see how you can keep me here against my will," Betty growled. Her threat was less than convincing when she fell out of the bed, tangled in her jacket.
"Betty!" Kate rushed to help her.
"I'm okay, just a bit woozy from the drugs they shot me with," Betty grimaced, clinging to Kate as she fended off the nurse's irate help. "Just help me out of here."
"Betty, you've been hurt. You have to let the doctors help you." Kate leaned her against the bed. She kept one hand on her to make sure she didn't fall. She stroked the hair out of Betty's face, careful of the bandage wrapped around her head. Betty's face had been spared from abuse, which Kate was thankful for. She loved Betty's face.
"I hate hospitals. That's why I didn't visit poor Vera." Betty was holding onto Kate to keep herself steady. She looked as white as a sheet and damn near ready to throw up.
"Miss McRae, you've suffered numerous broken ribs, a broken wrist and probably a concussion. You can't simply go home and be by yourself," the nurse tutted.
"Lady, I live in a house with forty other women, I couldn't be alone even if I wanted to be." Betty glared fuzzily, not really seeing the nurse.
"Broken ribs aren't so bad." Kate tried to smile. "They hurt because they can't put a cast on them, but the pain won't be that bad, so long as you don't go dancing anytime soon."
"I'm terrible at dancing," Betty snorted.
"You're not so bad when you dance with me," Kate said softly. Betty ducked her head so she didn't have to look at her.
"Please, Kate," Betty begged. "Don't make me stay here."
The complex tone Betty used pulled something deep inside Kate and she tightened her grip on the injured woman protectively. "She's coming home with me," she said firmly, looking to the nurse.
The nurse rolled her eyes and looked like she was about to argue when Gladys made one of her dramatic entrances. "Wonderful! Nurse … Sydney, I'm afraid Betty is just a terrible patient. To spare you the trouble we'll take her home. My car's outside, so if you could just run along and get whatever medicine our Betty needs, that will be most appreciated."
"The doctor hasn't signed off on her yet," the nurse huffed. She was yet another person to take an instant dislike to Gladys.
"Well, let's go get him then," Gladys said briskly, sweeping the nurse out of the room. She gave Kate a wink over her shoulder as she left.
"She's annoying, but at least she's on my side." Betty shook her head and then immediately stopped to groan. "Can you give me my clothes?"
Kate had to help Betty change as the woman couldn't stand under her own power. When the doctor came into the room Betty sat on the visitors' chair rather than the bed. The doctor glared and flipped through his chart muttering to himself.
"So, you're leaving against medical advice," he snapped his chart closed and glared. "Can't start expecting women to be rational now I guess … if you insist on this course of action, which I thoroughly advise you not to, you'll need someone to monitor you, make sure you take your pain killers, help you change your bandages. Do you have someone?"
"I'll do it," Kate said quickly when Betty looked at the floor.
The doctor scowled and handed Kate a brown table box. "Two of these every four hours, and change the bandages every three days."
"What about work?" Betty grunted. "I have to shower every day."
"You won't be fit for much more than sweeping," the doctor scoffed.
"I can't lose my job!" Betty protested.
"Mrs Corbett said she would take care of it, you just take care of yourself," Gladys chastised. "Now, let's get you home so you can lie down."
Betty relaxed and allowed Gladys and Kate to prop her up on either side of them.
Kate sat in a chair beside Betty's bed watching her sleep. She would never get used to Betty seeming so small. Even her thin blanket seemed to overwhelm her in the single bed. It was so hard to see Betty's shallow breathing in the dim light of the street lamp outside her window, so Kate placed her hand on Betty's chest to reassure herself that she was still breathing.
The atmosphere at work had radically changed towards Betty. The girls were less hostile towards her for the most part, although this was probably more to do with fresh gossip and news of Hitler's European push. Betty's difference was old news and less interesting, especially now that she had done something so brave and saved Mrs Corbett. The men would have been just as bad as they always were, except that Betty had surprisingly earned herself a fierce guard dog in the form of Marco Moretti, who had all but hugged her on her first day back. He'd made it clear to the men that he was firmly on Betty's side and wouldn't tolerate their cheek towards her.
It had made Betty both steaming mad and relieved.
Of course Kate had stuck to Betty like a shadow when she could. On the tram, she elbowed anyone that even looked like they would invade Betty's personal space and risk accidentally nudging her injured ribs. At the factory she took to carrying Betty's lunch tray and would have cut her meat for her if Betty hadn't threatened her with a butter knife. Vera was beside herself with amusement at Kate's mothering and took every opportunity to needle Betty about it. Gladys was disturbingly quiet about the whole thing, preferring to tease Betty about her skipping out on real work.
"She's pushing a broom and checking inventory now, but just you wait, in a few months she'll be trying to take over Mrs Corbett's cushy job," Gladys would grin.
Betty had grumbled about the light duties and insisted she was fine, despite being unable to reach above shoulder height without yelping. She didn't really know how to react to Kate following her like a puppy either. Kate knew that Betty was confused, before the accident they had been avoiding each other and now she couldn't turn around without Kate or Leon (on Kate's orders) looking out for her.
Kate just couldn't tear herself away. Betty looked like herself, strong and confident but then she would wince, or catch her breath and grimace in pain when she though no one was watching. She was like an injured bird and Kate just wanted to … the dread pulled at her again. She couldn't hide in ignorance, she couldn't stop looking at Betty or for Betty, or remembering how her thigh had felt, or how warm she was, or how they fit together and how that could have all ended. How the world could have taken Betty away from her.
In the dark room, Kate watched over Betty. She snuck in after the blonde had taken her painkillers and fallen asleep. She just wanted to make sure Betty was here, that she was okay. She realised that she seemed like some sort of lurch sitting in the dark watching a sleeping woman, but she was Kate and that was Betty and somehow that made it okay, right?
Kate's hand rested on Betty's chest rose and fell with the blonde's even breathing. With every rise more of Betty's heat and softness pushed against Kate's hand only to draw her down deeper into Betty with every exhale. The rise and fall was a hypnotic rhythm that Kate couldn't resist as Betty's lips seemed to get closer and closer until - for the first time in Kate's life, she kissed someone. It was soft and gentle, and just wonderful, and Kate didn't know what her heart was telling her other than it was filled. It was filled with Betty and that was all she needed – or it was, until Betty kissed back. The softness gave way to pressure and heat with the tiniest hint of wetness that blanketed Kate's senses, making her gasp, enthralled at the dizzy rush, for the brief second it lasted. Then Betty shot up like she had been electrocuted and leapt across the room leaving Kate reeling on the bed.
"Shit!" Betty clutched at her ribs as she collapsed against the wall. The sudden movement took its toll on her. Kate immediately shot up and reached out to help. Betty flinched. "Kate, what the hell?" She sounded angry and confused.
"I-I'm sorry!" Kate said anxiously. "I-I just..." Couldn't stop herself, couldn't resist.
"Why did you kiss me?!" Betty hissed. She looked like she was being torn in two.
"I..." Kate began, then faltered. If she said it, if she spoke, that made it real, that put all she felt out there. Betty looked at her and the pure torture on her face compelled Kate to speak. "I wanted to," Kate's voice shuddered. "I've wanted to for – for a long time."
"But Kate..." The last time Kate had seen Betty's face this broken was when she was leaving with her father. "You said it – I, was disgusting."
"It is," Kate breathed, just as broken. She was just as broken as Betty. Betty flinched again. "Betty, it is." Kate wanted to reach out to her so badly. "Betty, it is wrong. Wanting is wrong. And I have never wanted anyone as badly as I want you. All my life my father has told me that women are sin. That we're base, and lustful creatures, that have to be tamed and trained out of it. I wanted, I wanted a lot and he would catch me looking – wanting, and he would try his best to beat it out of me. It got to be that every time I started to want, I would get afraid of the pain that would follow." The scars on her back burned dully. Kate's eyes were glassy as she looked at Betty. She was trying to explain, but it just seemed to make things worse as Betty looked ready to be sick. "Every time I look at you, all I feel is want … and I'm just waiting for the belt to drop."
Betty's mouth was open, between a frown and gasp, as she tried to taken Kate in. Kate held herself tightly, trying to think of anything but the dread that was shaking her body or the scars on her back that were burning like a warning.
"Kate..." Betty sounded lost.
"I'm so sorry," Kate gasped out and fled. Betty didn't follow her.
"Oh, Church Mouse," Leon said with soft sympathy, as he placed a big hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry Leon." Kate cleared her throat. "I didn't mean to ruin our music lesson. Just let me wipe my eyes and we can get back to it." She hadn't told him what had happened, of course, but she had choked up in the middle of their breathing exercises.
"You take your time," he said, rubbing her shoulder a little before he pulled back. "Would you like me to get you a drink?"
"No, thank you." Kate didn't think she would be able to stop at just one, and who knew what she would do after that? Leon shot her an understanding look. She was grateful to know him; he seemed to be the steadiest thing in her life.
He had been annoyed when she had first come back. Her leaving without a word to go back to the man that hit her had rankled Leon in all the wrong ways. He had refused to speak to her until she had promised she had come to stay and that she would never see him again. Even then, he had only begrudgingly answered her direct questions.
But he couldn't stay mad at her for long, especially when she kept coming to lessons looking troubled. He was also the only one she could talk to about Betty without fear. Leon was just as god-fearing as Kate, but he was relaxed about it in a way that astounded her. He knew about Betty, he had been there after all, but he never condemned or even really commented on it, except when Kate asked. His responses had been resounding and confident, even as he shrugged.
"But it's wrong, Leon," Kate had said when she first came back.
"Lots of things are wrong in this world," Leon replied. "I just go by what wrongs affect me."
"It's a sin!"
"That's what some say," Leon would shrug.
"How can she be so good and still have those urges?" Kate would attempt to understand. "Can't she just change and not be that way?"
"Can't change what a person's born with," Leon said, tapping pointedly on his dark skin.
"Why can't I just be done with her?" Kate remembered asking beseechingly.
"Oh, Church Mouse," Leon would sigh. "Here, have another drink."
Kate came back from the bathroom to see Leon fusing of a record player. He turned and gave her a bright smile before picking up a record. "I was going to save this until later, but I think you'll like it. It's Billie Holiday, I just got it." Leon smiled gently at her.
Kate perked up excitedly. "Do you think I would be able to sing it?"
"Church Mouse, you haven't even heard it yet!" Leon laughed reproachfully. He then went to set it in the player, only to hesitate as he re-read the label. "Actually," he hedged, suddenly uncomfortable, "on second thoughts, it's probably best that you don't listen to this one right now."
"What?" Kate said, alarmed. "No! You can't just tease me like that! Please, Leon."
"Miss Kate..." Leon shook his head. "I don't know..."
"Come on!" Kate begged. Nothing cheered her up more than Ms Holiday. She made a grab for the record, but Leon held it out of reach.
"Okay! Okay, calm down," Leon gave in. He played the record and watched Kate intently.
"I'm a fool to want you, I'm a fool to want you, to want a love that can't be true..."
Kate listened to the record with a blank face. Her usual tapping and swaying when listening to a new song was absent – she was deadly still and silent.
"...Time and time again I went away, But then would come the time when I would need you..."
The defeated, heart-breaking resignation filled the room with raw emotion that seemed to tear through Kate. The self disparaging recrimination echoed Kate's darkest thoughts.
"...I know it's wrong, it must be wrong, But right or wrong I can't get along...without you. I'm a fool to want you..."
Kate looked up into Leon's knowing eyes. They were heavy with the knowledge of Kate, of everything she was, all her dark secrets and desires. The last chords mournfully filled the room before being broke by harsh silence that shattered under Kate's sobbing.
Kate couldn't go home to the boarding house. She was far too raw, after her outburst Leon had scooped her up like a child and she had fallen into his hug, clinging to him weakly. He knew, someone else knew and the dread didn't kill Kate like she expected. Leon just gave her the same soft smile he had always given her. She hadn't changed in his eyes, even though she had changed in her own.
She had put Betty through this.
When she found out about Betty, she hadn't been accepting like Leon. Realising how much acceptance was needed, how validating it was, she wondered how Betty could ever forgive her. But Betty had, Betty had come for her when she had no reason to. Betty had worked hard to resume their friendship and Kate had again messed everything up.
"You sure you want to stay?" Leon asked her again.
"I'm not in the way, am I?" Kate asked, not feeling up to facing Betty just yet.
"The band and I love having you, Church Mouse," Leon smiled. "This place is getting a bit crowded. So you come up near the stage when you want to get some room, you hear me?"
"I hear you." Kate waved off his concern but they both knew how deeply touched she was by it.
The Tangiers was starting to fill up with its usual night crowd but Kate was watching with new eyes. She watched the women, looking for signs, shared traits with Betty (and now herself) that would give them away. Some were obvious, in their mannish dress, but others Kate could only guess at. Their eyes lingered too long on woman (like Kate's), they walked with brisker twist of their hips, they ordered harsh drinks. They lived as openly as they were able.
The dance floor was packed and spilling out into the rest of the bar until it was virtually indistinguishable. So many people heated up the room and boxed Kate in, but she couldn't bring herself to leave. Not now when she was starting to belong. Someone knocked into her table and she got up. It was silly, her holding it hostage when there were groups of friends that needed it more. She made her way to the stage where Leon was crooning I'm your man.
Kate froze as she saw Betty on the other side of the room. Gladys was talking animatedly with her hands. She almost hit a poor man standing beside talking to his girl. Betty was rolling her eyes and nervously guarding her ribs. She really shouldn't be in a room this packed. Kate started to go to her, but stopped as she realised she would have to actually face Betty.
Leon finished his song and walked to the edge of the stage, crouching down to talk to her. He was sweating from his performance and looking absolutely exhilarated. Kate wanted that. She wanted to stop feeling bad about everything, she wanted the confidence and high that she got from performing.
She didn't even need to ask before Leon was pulling her on stage. "We've practiced this one before, Church Mouse, I know you can keep up. All right boys, hit it! 'She gets too hungry for dinner at eight...'"
Kate laughed exuberantly as Leon twirled her. She lightly pushed Leon and he fake stumbled away as she grabbed the mic. "'I don't like crap games with Barons and Earls...'" She just wanted to contain the joy of performing. Bottle it up and keep it inside her so it blocked out all other bad things. She wanted Betty to look at her and see her shining, fun, and happy. She wanted her to be happy too.
"'And that is why the lady is a tramp!'" They sung the finally together to the roaring of the crowds applause. The band was exhausted and Leon was mopping his forehead but Kate just felt energised, she felt happy. She looked for Betty and her happiness crashed into a brick wall at Betty's stricken look.
All at once the crowd's thunderous approval dulled and faded completely. The spotlights on the stage grew into bright glares that encapsulate Betty and Kate, like they were the whole world. Kate's happiness was a distant memory faced with Betty's look. Of course, Kate realised now, of course seeing her cavorting merrily on stage the day after she had stolen a kiss and run away, wouldn't make Betty happy. It wouldn't make her any less hurt and confused seeing Kate having a good time when she had probably spent the day worrying where she'd gone.
Betty looked abandoned.
"'I'm a fool to want you...'" she sang softly, after a moment the band picked up the rhythm at Leon's urging. Her voice grew stronger as she sang out to Betty. She'd heard the song only once but every lyric, every emotion, was burned into her.
Usually, Betty would lock eyes with Kate when Kate sung (to her, Kate always seemed to be singing to her). Instead, she looked down. Kate's voice washed over her, her song wrapped around her, the outpouring of her raw emotions filled the otherwise deadly quiet of the room. Was she being too open? Too honest? At last, when she had finally wanted to say everything, was she doing it wrong?
She was a fool. This was wrong. But it was also the only right thing that Kate could feel down to her very core.
"'I can't get along without you,'" Kate finished to a stunned silence and the last haunting notes of the band. Betty turned and pushed her way out of the club, Gladys followed her after her, Kate wanted to jump down and rush out but she couldn't move. "'...without you...'"
The crowd start to clap, first a scattering of slow applause before everyone joined in. Kate didn't want to keep that praise, she was barely aware of it, it flew over her head without touching her. The only thing that affected her was Leon's strong hand on her shoulder. "Come along now, Church Mouse."
She waited numbly for Leon to finish up for the night. He collected her from the chair in the staff room where he had placed her after her song. "I'm going to walk you home," he told her. He wasn't going to let her argue.
"Okay," she said, following him docilely out of the club.
"Hey." Kate snapped out of her stupor at Betty's voice. She had been waiting around the corner from the club. There was a ring of cigarette butts at her feet and her hands were shoved deeply into the pockets of her trousers. She seemed to hunch defensively in on herself, ducking her head as she watched Leon and Kate guardedly.
"Betty," Kate breathed, coming out from behind Leon.
"Can we talk?" Betty asked, gruffly eyeing Leon.
"I'll head home now," Leon said, but it sounded like a question. Kate smiled at him and he offered her a brief shoulder squeeze. A car horn honked, making them turn towards Gladys who was hanging out the driver side window.
"I'll take you home, Leon," Gladys offered cheerfully. She noted their surprised looks and rolled her eyes. "Honestly Betty, did you actually think I would go home and leave you to skulk alone on the dark street corner?"
"I told you to beat it," Betty sighed, but her tone held a resigned agitation. It was Gladys after all.
"You said that it was dangerous and I concurred, which is why I couldn't leave you alone." Gladys' own voice held that smug satisfaction she had when she thought she was being smart. "Now, Mr Leon, may I offer you a ride home?"
"A coloured man getting out of a rich white woman's car, in my neighbourhood?" Leon shook his head as he backed away holding up his hands. "Thank you kindly, miss, but I'd rather not start trouble. Good night to you all."
"If you're sure..." Gladys frowned at the rejection but didn't push. She eyed Betty and Kate as Leon left. "Now, as my two best friends, I do hope that you solve this rotten thing between you. If this exploit has taught me anything, it's that I like my drama confined to the silver screen. I hope that you'll have this all worked out by tomorrow."
"I'm sorry, Gladys. You always seem to be caught in the middle of things, don't you?" Kate said apologetically.
"Only because she sticks her big nose in there," Betty grumbled.
Gladys smirked at them both, immune to Betty's remarks after all this time. "Playing princess in the middle isn't so bad. Besides, I doubt you would solve anything without me. Now, I'm going to leave you two to it, and I hope that by tomorrow my intervention will no longer be needed." Gladys waved at them and honked her horn as she drove off into the night.
"I swear, if Chamberlain had just used her to negotiate the Munich agreement, this whole war would never have happened," Betty growled, kicking a rock petulantly.
Kate clasped her hands together. She wasn't sure what to do, now that they were finally alone together. "I'm sorry about the song, I was sad and-"
"-You have a strange way of being sad," Betty said gruffly, she jerked her head and they started walking home. "First of all, you do what you did and then run away, then you're up on stage … Kate, what's going on?"
"I'm sorry I kissed you," Kate whispered. "I shouldn't have done that to you while you were sleeping … I'm sorry."
"Why did you do it at all!?" Betty snapped. Kate felt the sharp snap of her frustration and anger. She stopped walking and quickly looked around the street. There was only the faint rustling of trash and no one in sight.
"Because I couldn't not do it anymore!" Kate snapped back. "I told you! I don't want to be this way! I don't want to love you like I do!" She wanted to shove Betty, push her away physically like she couldn't do emotionally. But Betty was hurt and Kate couldn't add to it.
"You love me?" Betty echoed seeming both stunned and sceptical. "Kate, I've been through hell the last few months and you've been a pretty big part in that."
"What was I supposed to do?" Kate demanded "I was scared, loving you also means turning my whole world upside down. Yes, I stayed away, I couldn't reconcile your feelings with my teachings because I couldn't reconcile what I felt and I took it out on you, because you made me love you." Betty looked ready to argue but Kate didn't want to shut up, now that she was finally talking. At every word the ball of dread that had been with her almost constantly unravelled in thick nauseous strands that made her entire body shake with something like relief. "You made me love you, Betty McRae. You don't get to shirk that responsibility! You were strong, and brilliant. You took care of me and protected me. You made me feel like I was wanted, that I belonged. As time went on, you made me feel like, like I belonged to you … with you."
She touched her face briefly hiding behind her hand before letting it drop and looking at Betty square. She had done enough hiding. "So no, no I wasn't happy to find out that I needed you. How can I be, Betty? What sort of life is open to the likes of us?"
Betty looked deflated. She ran her hand through her hair disrupting her curls before she shrugged. "What do you want me to say, Kate? I can't promise you a happy ending or that everything will be all right. Gladys and her damn blindness, she doesn't realise what it's like for us. I can't promise you kids, or a wedding, or anything you dreamed of as a little girl. The only thing I can promise is that I'll be there. The only thing I can promise is me." Betty looked away, her good hand came up to cradle the one in the cast making her seem small as she stood in the haze of the lamp light. "And I don't think that's enough for you..."
Kate had to go to her. Betty seemed so defeated, standing there doubting her worth, that even if Kate had a mind for evil, it still couldn't have refused Betty. The knot in her stomach finally unravelled completely. In this moment, Kate finally felt free. "I want to be brave like you, Betty. You have to be patient and teach me, but I think that together, we might not need the traditional happy ever after. If you can forgive the way I've acted?"
Betty looked at Kate for a long time. Kate bit her lip but refused to run away. "What happened between us ... that hurt, Kate." Betty took a deep shuddering breath. She obviously hated admitting something as vulnerable as her feelings. Kate cringed inwardly. She had done that, not all of it but most of the recent damage. She had made Betty hesitant about trusting Kate with her feelings. "Anyone else and I'd tell that they were better off without, but I don't think I would be better off without you..."
Kate smiled slowly. "Does that mean I get to kiss you, Betty?"
"What? Here?!" Betty looked around, alarmed.
Kate continued to smile and daringly stepped closer. The knot was back in her stomach, but this time it was filled with strands of excitement and anticipation. "Anywhere you want, Betty."
They didn't kiss in the street. In fact they didn't kiss at all that night. They walked home together and stood awkwardly in front of their doors, darting quick looks at each other for the longest time. To break the tension Kate stuck out her hand for Betty to shake. Betty laughed at her and went into her room, leaving Kate feeling like a buffoon. A happy buffoon.
Not much changed. Kate still followed Betty around like a puppy at work, at least until her ribs healed. They still had lunch with their friends and Gladys was still irritatingly smug with her knowing looks. Not much changed at all except for the night Kate was helping Betty to change her bandages and couldn't stop looking.
"Kate." Betty's tone was snappish as Kate knelt on the floor before the bed, dirty bandage in one hand. "Kate!"
"Huh?" Kate's head snapped up. Betty was sitting topless in her wide legged bottle green trousers, her hair was pinned up and she was glaring fiercely down at Kate, trying to hide the embarrassed flush on her cheeks.
"Ain't you supposed to be doing something other than getting an eyeful?" Betty held out the fresh bandage pointedly.
"I'm sorry!" Kate flushed darkly. She really hated her hair colour and pale skin, it always made her blushes noticeable. She took the bandage and went to work but her hands slowed as they touched Betty's skin. Betty breathed in sharply as Kate's fingers, a good deal braver than the rest of Kate, stroked down her bruised torso. "Did that hurt?" Kate asked concerned. She was surprised she could speak at all, her mouth was so dry.
"Hurting ain't the problem," Betty said, but she was still so tense. She was wearing a brassiere, the half underwear that Kate had only really seen in the magazines. It covered her breasts but the bruises on Betty's ribs seemed to spill from underneath it like a discoloured waterfall. Kate's right hand ran up the tender path of Betty's uneven ribs and still sore flesh. Huh, there was underwire in the lace of the brassiere.
"Don't that feel tough on your ribs?" Kate's tongue fumbled slightly as she traced the underwire feeling the bottom curve of Betty's breast. She could feel Betty's heat through the fabric.
"It's a bugger to put on. It hooks in the back. I've had to hook it up first and then slid it over like a top." Betty swallowed thickly as all her attention was drawn to Kate's wandering finger. The bandage in Kate's other hand went lax before falling away as Kate forgot about it completely. The wire pressed up between Betty's breasts where it met the wire from the other side. Kate rested her finger there, in the centre of Betty's chest, she was half tempted to slid it to the side and trace the lace at the top of the cup.
"Do you sleep in it?" Kate never slept in her underwear. She still had the petticoats and full garments but she really liked this new type. She liked to see Betty's stomach. Kate suddenly hated the high hem of her trousers that hid her hips and just below her belly button.
Betty shook her head.
"You're going to bed now, you should...you should..." Kate breathed, unable to finish her sentence as she stared intently at Betty's chest. There was an undeniable heat in Kate that churned at the idea.
"Kate," Betty said, her voice unsure and maybe even a little nervous. Kate looked up and Betty gasped. Kate worried for a second what Betty saw in her eyes because they felt strange, both heavy and hard to keep open, and yet so sharp as they took in every detail of Betty until it made Kate's head feel stuffed with cotton wool.
Betty didn't look away even as her cheeks heated up and she, with deliberate, agonising slowness, pushed one strap off her shoulder and then the other. She turned away from Kate showing off her profile and looked back at her. Kate didn't think Betty meant to be so alluring but she had trouble remembering to breathe all the same. "Can you help me take it off at the back?"
Kate eagerly got up to sit behind Betty on the bed twisting so she could trace the bra with her hands. There were still some horrible bruises that wrapped around Betty's lower back like a stain that spread from her front. But mostly, Betty's back was smooth unbroken flesh decorated with the fabric of the brassiere. Kate's hands met in the middle and paused.
"There's little hooks on the right side, you have to pull them left to unsnap them," Betty instructed. She was trying to seem like she was unaffected, but her voice still quivered and Kate could feel her pulse through the heated racing off her skin.
Kate's fingers fumbled, feeling thick and clumsy. She lowered her face to get a better look. Much like she would worry a knot between her teeth, she pulled the edge of the fabric, her nose brushing against the soft skin of Betty's back. With the help of her hands, the garment went slack like a tame beast fluttering forward. It was only kept in place by Betty's good hand pressed tight to her chest.
And then there was nothing but the potential of Betty's bare breasts in front of her and the unbroken and mostly unblemished skin of Betty's back. Kate longed to trace the faint outline the brassiere made against Betty's skin. Had Michael came down with his fiery sword he would still have been unable to stop her leaning forward to press her lips against the crook of Betty's shoulder.
She felt braver not having to face Betty. When she didn't have to look her in the eye, Kate could let her hands run freely which they did. Her mouth glued itself to Betty's skin and she was suddenly awash with understanding of that woman, that animal, who had grotesquely marked Betty weeks ago.
Kate found she was almost no better, feeling Betty's shuddering breathing underneath her lips, the quickness of her heart beat through the heat, the unbearable heat of her skin, Kate felt herself transform into a beast as well. She wanted to bite and mark Betty, put her own claim on her to erase all others. But she couldn't do that, not without Betty's permission and so far Betty hadn't even acknowledged that night.
Instead Kate whimpered as she kissed Betty's shoulders and her neck. She pressed her forehead against Betty's flesh both nuzzling and nudging her to react. She wanted to slid her hands around the front, to pull down Betty's hand, it would be easy, she only had one good one. She wanted to cup her breasts, let them fill her wanting hands, anything that would end the tortuous heat that threatened to consume her.
Her father was right. This wasn't natural or normal, how could anyone else feel this burning inside them and not combust or go crazy. Had she found the source of madness? Was it Betty all along? She seemed like the temptress Eve and Kate just wanted to bite the apple.
Her teeth brushed against the tense muscle of Betty's shoulders but it was teasing, no, a tortuous caress. Please Betty, please, please, "Please..."
Betty turned and Kate saw that she would find no rescue from the flame because Betty burned the same way she did. Betty kissed her, finally. It was hungry and overwhelming, she had had much more experience at this that Kate obviously, but Kate kissed back as well as she could anxious not to be left behind.
Betty cupped her face and guided her head so that they didn't clash noses. She tilted her head in the exact way she wanted Kate in order to – something wet flicked at her lips. Kate let herself be guided down onto her back but she was too consumed to stay there. She lent up on her elbows and tangled her hand in Betty's hair knocking the curls from their clips. The rough plaster of Betty's broken arm rubbed against the cotton of her blouse. Kate could feel everything intensely. It was like Betty had shocked her nerves.
It was when she felt the deep depression of Betty's good hand near her elbow that she realised that Betty's hands where down. They were no longer holding the brassier and her chest was free. Kate's head spun as she gasped into the still going kiss. Her own chest swelled brushed against Betty's but she didn't feel skin, couldn't feel the needed sensations.
Kate's hand came around the front, it couldn't be stopped. The softness filled her hand with a surprising hardness in the middle that contrasted the euphoric feeling. Betty jerked in surprise and gasped breaking the kiss. Kate couldn't have that, she wanted more, she needed it. She pushed Betty onto her back determined to take, to have more.
And then Betty yelped. She cursed like a sailor and curled up defensively. Kate shot of the bed her nerves and reflexes propelling her faster than thought. "Are you okay? What's wrong? Do you need a doctor? Did I do something wrong? Should I get a policeman?!" She was already halfway out the door to get someone, anyone, everyone. She really wasn't thinking straight.
"My ribs," Betty gasped, causing Kate to trip as she turned about trying to get back to the bed.
"Your ribs?!" Kate's head popped up over the edge of the bed before she sprung up like a jack-in-the-box. "What's wrong with them?"
"Calm down!" Betty snapped, grabbing her and forcing her still as she regained her breath. Betty tentatively uncurled from her foetal position, grimacing at the leftover twinges of pain. "You threw me on my very bruised ribs."
"Oh, Betty." Kate's voice was both mortified and deeply apologetic. "I am so sorry." She snatched up the clean bandage that had been kicked to the floor. "I'm really, really sorry. I'll call Gladys and get her to come over and finish. I really didn't mean to hurt you." She slinked down like a kicked puppy. Her one chance was completely ruined.
"Gladys is the last person in the world I would want to see me like this," Betty scowled as she sat up. She didn't let go of Kate's hand.
"I'll get Vera then, or one of the girls on the floor," Kate sniffed. She was not going to cry and make Betty feel guilty. Kate felt horrible enough for the both of them.
Betty grabbed her chin and guided her head back to look at her. Kate looked up at her miserably. Betty laughed. "Kate, I don't want Vera or any of the other girls to see me either. The only one I want is you."
"Oh." Kate flushed. She was sure Betty could feel the heat off her face.
"So, how about you bandage me up and we go back to doing what we were doing ... only a little more gentle?" Betty suggested.
"I'd like that," Kate said shyly.
And so they did. Betty couldn't promise her happy ever after, or a kids and romantic walks hand in hand, but Kate couldn't promise Betty that she would ever stop being afraid, or wrestling with her teachings or even wishing she was normal. All's they really could promise was to be there, together, end maybe that would be enough.