The angry build up of mumbling voices in the back of her mind filled her with dread. She felt better having spent the night with Delphine, close to what could have passed for sleep herself until the alarm clock went off and made her jump. Delphine groaned as she moved to turn it off, and yawned.
"Cosima?" she asked immediately after. Cosima inhaled slowly, and knocked on the headboard. "Good," Delphine breathed out. "You scared me last night."
"I'm sorry," Cosima replied, opening her eyes. She pushed Delphine's hair out of her face.
"I'm afraid to go in today. What did you do?" Cosima shook her head.
"You don't want to know," she said. "I've never done it before, and hopefully I'll never have to again." Delphine sighed.
"I can't hear you," she said sadly.
"You will," Cosima replied. "I just need to get my strength back." Delphine stretched with a soft groan, and slowly got up. Cosima followed, wavering, but thankfully managed to keep her feet.
The ultimatum came when they reached campus. The buzz in the back of her mind had been steadily increasing, and Cosima had been doing her very best to block them out, but it was taking energy she didn't have much of to spare, so she'd settled for ignoring them instead, until they broke through the fog she'd fallen into with words that would have turned her blood cold if she had any.
"We tried, Cosima," they said, at least attempting to sound regretful. "We did our best to ignore you. You were making her happy, and even though you were breaking a bunch of rules, you weren't hurting anyone with it; no harm done. But this is different. You know you're not supposed to hurt humans. That's the number one rule."
"But, I-" Cosima started, her stomach twisting with panic.
"No buts, Cosima!" they yelled. "It's over. You're leaving."
"I won't go," Cosima said, but there was no reply. "Shit."
"Cosima?" Delphine asked softly, letting someone through the classroom door before her. Cosima touched her shoulder lightly, and the blonde relaxed, but Cosima's heart felt cracked and heavy. The scratches on Leekie's face were red and irritated, and he glared at Delphine when she entered, but didn't say anything. Cosima caught sight of his laptop on the table, open and functioning, but not being used.
"You won't take me without me making sure Delphine's safe," Cosima said firmly. The blonde went to sit, and instead of following, Cosima left her side to stand by Leekie's laptop, waiting until he was distracted with the start of his lecture before turning her full attention to his computer. Glancing up every few seconds to check he was still occupied, she pulled up his email and scrolled through them, her stomach rolling with disgust when she discovered that Delphine wasn't the only student he was sleeping with. "This'll show him," she muttered, forwarding all the incriminating messages she could find to the university dean. "You're fucked now, Leekie. Try talking your way out of that. You won't." Delphine's concerned face was what pulled her away. Her expression relaxed when Cosima sat on the floor next to her.
"Where did you go?" Delphine asked softly. Cosima leaned to the side, resting her head against Delphine's thigh and closing her eyes. She felt fuzzy around the edges for the first time in weeks.
"Making sure he can never hurt you again," she said quietly. "Just in case."
Cosima fought. It was like someone was bodily trying to haul her away from Delphine, away from the world she knew, but she struggled, kicking and biting like a wild animal.
"I won't go," she said when she felt them tugging on her soul, their irritation rising to match her stubbornness. "I won't go. You can't make me." But they could. Cosima knew that. They were the ones with the ultimate power over who stayed and who left, and where people went when they died (wherever that was), not her. She tried to act like nothing was wrong, but Delphine wasn't so easily fooled, and Cosima quickly lost the energy to touch without her hand falling through, or speak with enough volume and focus that her voice would carry to Delphine's ears.
"Cosima?" Delphine asked for the fifth time in as many minutes. Shaking, Cosima raised a hand and tapped her knuckles against the headboard.
"I'm here," she whispered, her voice rough, and cracked. It felt like she was sick all over again, with barely enough strength to blink, although the lack of physical pain in her chest and lungs was welcome. "I'm still here."
"Something is wrong," Delphine said. "Cosima, please, tell me what's wrong." Cosima sighed, and even that felt like she was trying to push a car up a hill.
"They're trying to get me to leave, Delphine," she said, "but I won't go. I won't. I won't leave you."
Delphine cried a lot, when she thought Cosima couldn't see or hear her, and when Cosima lost the ability to get out of bed, it was easier for her to hide her tears until she came back into the room with red eyes and a splotchy face. Despite her will, after only two days, Cosima could hardly move. Delphine curled up in bed that night, facing her, with her knees pulled up to her chest.
"Cosima, I can't feel you here any more," the blonde said, her voice cracking. Tears welled in her eyes, and she bit back a sob. "I don't want you to go!"
"No," Cosima whispered, "don't cry. I don't want to go either. I'm trying my hardest, babe. I'm trying to stay." Delphine covered her face with a hand, muffling her cries against her palm. "You can't take me," Cosima said, projecting her voice as much as she could. "I promised her I wouldn't leave her. I promised!" It left her feeling winded and weak and blurry, like parts of her had already stopped existing.
"Cosima," Delphine whispered, and inched closer. "Please, don't leave me. Please. Is this because of Leekie? I would have him a hundred times over if it meant I got to keep you."
"Baby, no. Don't say that," Cosima muttered. "I'm trying. I'm trying so hard." Delphine sniffed and shakily inhaled, moving closer and closing her eyes, but instead of their lips touching, Delphine met nothing but cool air. "I'm sorry," Cosima said. "I can't." She forced herself to keep her eyes open, even though seeing Delphine cry was like a knife through her heart, and looked at her for as long as she could manage, taking in every detail, from the freckle by her mouth to the tears lingering on her eyelashes until it proved too much, and she let her eyes slide shut.
Delphine's alarm startled her awake. Her heart pounded in her throat until she realized what the obnoxious buzzing was and she slammed her hand down to shut it up. She stretched with a groan, her body stiff and her head muggy and sore, and blinked her eyes open.
"Cosima?" No response. It was hardly unusual. The past two days had seen her replies become less and less. She waited a few seconds, then called again, and listened as carefully as she could for the slightest sound of acknowledgement, but none came. Fear clawed at her stomach, and another round of tears dampened her eyes as she reached out a shaking hand to feel the other side of the bed. It was cool, but the cool of not having been slept on, not the cold she'd become accustomed to. "No," she muttered, patting the sheets. "No, no, no. Cosima? Cosima!" Nothing but silence met her ears. She snatched Cosima's pillow from its resting place and buried her face in it, sobs racking her body.
"Delphine? Are you okay?" Clara knocked on her door, and opened it before Delphine could tell her she was okay, not that the brunette would believe her anyway. "Oh, sweetie," her room mate cooed. The mattress shifted and squeaked lightly as Clara climbed in next to her, and Delphine pressed Cosima's pillow to her chest to rest her head on Clara's lap. Clara stroked her hair. "What's wrong? Did you fail your exam?" Delphine shook her head. "Okay, then what is it?" How could she explain it? She shook her head again. Clara sighed, but didn't push, and played with her hair until there were no more tears left, and she felt emptier than she ever had in her entire life.
She was floating. All around her was nothing but blackness, heavy, and thick, but not suffocating. Just there, holding her. It didn't matter if her eyes were opened or closed, nothing changed. She didn't know how long she'd been there. It could have been five minutes, or it could have been five years. She had no way to tell the difference. It felt like an eternity. And all the time all she could think of was Delphine, and with each second (or minute or hour or day) that passed, she grew angrier and angrier. She cried, but she couldn't hear her sobs, and couldn't feel tears on her face.
"Why are you crying, Cosima?" they asked, except the voices were all around her instead of just inside her head, echoing and vibrating the darkness.
"I promised!" Cosima shouted at them.
"You were too attached, and it led you to an act of violence. It wasn't good for either of you to let things go that far."
"Then give me a second chance!" Cosima replied. "Don't I deserve it!? Of all the things I have done over the past three years, not one of them have been borne out of selfishness! Everything I did, what I did to him, everything was for her! So she would be happy! And it's not fair! You let me have her and then you ripped her away from me! This is your fault!" They rumbled in response, but said nothing Cosima could understand. "Answer me!" she screamed, a sob tearing it's way out of her throat. "I promised!" she cried. "I promised!"
She didn't know how much time passed afterwards. She floated, defeated, through whatever pit she'd been tossed in to spend the rest of forever. She'd done enough, she thought. She'd loved, and she'd protected her, and for a few days she'd made Delphine happy, and that was all that really mattered. Justice had been served, and the blonde would find someone else who would take care of her. The thought made her chest ache, but it was better than the alternative. The rumbling around her started again. Cosima sighed.
"Do you love her?"
"Why are you asking me that?" Cosima mumbled.
"Tell us, Cosima; do you love her?"
"Yes," Cosima replied, moving a hand that she couldn't see to rub at raw eyes. "There's no one else. There never was, and now there never will be. Just her." A gentle wind rushed over her, like a heavy sigh.
"Good luck, Cosima." And then she was falling.
A loud thumping filled her ears, strong and steady, and something that sounded like a breeze. No, not a breeze, breathing. Her breathing. There was something soft under her hands. Her fingers twitched and flexed experimentally. Was that grass beneath her palms? She felt warm, hot almost. She breathed in deeply, sharply, and a plethora of scents assaulted her. Her eyes flashed open, meeting a familiar tree canopy. She shot upright, and looked down. That was her. Her body. Real and warm and solid. She ran her hands through the grass and dug her nails into dirt cooled by the shade of her tree. A soft cough to her right caught her attention. She whipped her head towards the sound. The cause was a man on a bench reading the paper.
"Can you see me?" she asked. The man gave her a confused glance.
"Uh... yeah?" he said. She grinned and scrambled to her feet, and bowled her body into his shoulder in a tight hug. She squeezed once, then turned and bolted, only one destination in her mind.
"Are you going to get out of bed today?" Clara asked from the doorway. Delphine tapped the end of her cigarette into a try filled with ash and bent filters and stared out her small window. She heard Clara sigh. "I don't know what's wrong, because you refuse to tell me, but you're acting like someone died and you've been holed up in here for two days." Delphine pulled smoke into sore lungs and held it until it felt like she was going to choke. It fell from her nose.
"Go away, Clara," she said, pulling her knees up to her chest. "You wouldn't understand."
"Come on, Delphine. Come out with us. We all passed our exams and having a good drink or two looks like it'll do you some good." Delphine shook her head.
"I don't want to go out," she said quietly, flicking the end of her cigarette again. Clara sighed again.
"Suit yourself," she said. "Text me if you change your mind." Delphine hummed. Clara shut her door softly, and a moment later the sound of the front door closing echoed dully down the hall. Delphine stared at the cigarette between her fingers, then swore under her breath and roughly stubbed it out. Drinks wouldn't help her now. Besides, living with Clara meant there was plenty of alcohol in the flat. She didn't need to go out to have one.
Someone knocked on the door. Delphine ignored it, watching the light coming through the window fade as a cloud passed in front of the sun. It was probably just Clara. She wouldn't have been surprised if the brunette had left her bag on the coffee table again. They knocked again. Delphine rolled her eyes, and searched the mess on her night stand for her pack of cigarettes. Her fingers brushed the plastic, but when she lifted it it was empty. There was more knocking, this time more urgent.
"The key is under the pot, Clara!" Delphine shouted, and when the banging started up again she swung her legs over the side of her bed and grabbed her hoodie to combat the chill of the house to go answer. It wasn't Clara.
"Hi," her visitor said, with a short wave of her hand. "I'm Cosima." She grinned broadly. Delphine's lungs stuttered for air. She examined the woman in front of her closely. She was about the same height, and her eyes were the right colour, hidden behind thick rimmed glasses, and her hair was...
"Oh," Delphine whispered. "Dreadlocks."
"Yeah, but it's naturally curly, so..."
"Oh god, it's really you."
"Yeah." Delphine raised her hand, her heart thumping like a war drum, and touched Cosima's shoulder. It was hot and solid against her fingers. She moved to her cheek, then jerked forward and wrapped her arms around the brunette, pulling her close as tears bit at her eyes again. "Oh, god," Cosima groaned, returning the embrace. "You feel so amazing."
"I thought you were gone forever," Delphine choked out, her face buried tightly against the crook of Cosima's neck.
"It's okay," Cosima whispered, stroking her back and shoulder, touching her hair and cheeks. She pulled back so they could look at each other, her thumbs smoothing across Delphine's skin. "It's okay," she repeated. And then they were kissing. Delphine didn't know who started it, but it didn't matter. All there was was Cosima's lips on hers, a bit hesitant and unsure, but warm and alive and so very, very real.
They stumbled back into the apartment. Delphine shoved the door shut with her fingertips, and smiling, giddy and giggling, pulled Cosima down the hall to her bedroom. The brunette was already clumsily pulling at her clothes. Her movements were clunky and awkward, as if she was unused to using her hands. Delphine helped, laughing when her hoodie stuck at her elbow and tangled around her wrist. Face red, Cosima pulled it off for her and tossed it aside, and together they tumbled onto the bed.
"Sorry," Cosima mumbled, her hands and elbows bumping against Delphine's body. "It's uh, it's kind of been a really long time."
"It's okay," Delphine told her, grabbing her face and kissing her firmly, like Cosima was the air she needed to breathe. "I don't care. All that matters is that you're here." Cosima grinned at her again, with a blinding brilliance, and kissed her into her pillows.
"I want a shower," Cosima said from her position curled around Delphine's lower half with her head on her stomach. Delphine hummed, stroking wisps of hair away from Cosima's forehead.
"Go get one," she replied. "You know where the bathroom is." Cosima grunted.
"I don't want to move," she said. "You're really warm and comfy."
"And I will still be here when you finish." Cosima sighed, her breath cool against Delphine's hip.
"Okay," she said, and pushed up onto her elbow. She stole a kiss with a cheeky grin. Delphine trailed her fingers along the brunette's jaw, letting her touch linger until Cosima pulled away from her and practically skipped to the bathroom. She grinned up at the ceiling. Her whole body felt light as a cloud and filled with sunshine, humming happily from the top of her head to the ends of her toes. She sighed, a giggle bubbling unwarranted out of her chest. "Oh my god, Delphine, get in here! You're the only thing that could possibly make this better!" Delphine laughed loudly, and, shaking her head in amusement, rolled out of bed to join.
The first time either of them left the room, Cosima walked straight into the bedroom door with a startled yelp. She whirled around as Delphine started to laugh at her, holding her hand over her nose.
"It's not funny!" she said, pouting. Delphine dug her teeth into her lip. "I think I'm bleeding."
"I should not find this as adorable as I do," Delphine replied, slipping out of bed and padding across the room. She gently tugged Cosima's hand away.
"I was dead," Cosima replied. "What did you expect?" Delphine shook her head and tangled her fingers through Cosima's, pulling her towards the bathroom.
"Let's just clean your face, okay?" she said, sitting Cosima on top of the toilet and wetting a cloth to dab blood off her nose and the top of her lip. "Better?"
"Could use a kiss, I think," Cosima said with her best puppy dog eyes. Delphine rolled her own, but bent over and tenderly touched her lips to the bridge of Cosima's nose.
"There," she said. "Now?"
"Much better," Cosima said, smiling.
Over the next few days, Cosima gathered several lumps and bruises to add to a slightly swollen nose, mostly around her hips from constantly walking into the night stand, and catching her toes on the legs of the coffee table and kitchen chairs. The first time she slammed her foot into the coffee table had Delphine laughing so long her stomach hurt.
"Don't laugh!" Cosima shouted at her, curled up on the sofa clutching her foot. "It hurts! Why does it hurt so much!? I've broken my arm and I think this hurts worse than that. I think I'm dying."
"Don't joke about that," Delphine said, her smile dropping. Cosima rubbed her toe.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It really hurts, though." Delphine kissed all her bruises a hundred times over, and lightly brushed her fingers across the sensitive flesh as Cosima's fingers knotted her hair.
"They make you real," Delphine told her when Cosima stopped complaining about how much her foot hurt.
"I know," Cosima sighed. "I'll get used to it eventually. Great to know that I'm going to be just as clumsy as I was the first time around, though. No more tree climbing in my future."
"No," Delphine replied, and tapped the tip of her nose. "No tree climbing." Cosima caught Delphine's hand and kissed her finger, then nipped it gently.
"There's other ways for me to be an explorer," she said, and pushed Delphine onto her back.
Cosima stole the bed sheet to wrap around herself when the loud growling coming from her stomach became too obnoxious for her to ignore. Delphine shoved her playfully when she lingered for kisses.
"Get!" she said, smiling. "I am surprised the neighbours can't hear your stomach." Cosima hummed.
"I'm going, I'm going. Don't move." Her stomach grumbled again. Cosima pushed her palm against it and gripped the bed sheet tighter, humming softly as she wandered out of the bedroom and into the kitchen to browse. She stopped short when she caught sight of Clara and someone she didn't recognize at the kitchen table. They stared at each other. "Uh, hi," Cosima said. "I'm Cosima. Just, uh, getting some food." She squeezed into the kitchen and quickly grabbed a box of crackers from the cupboard.
"Uh, I'm Clara. This is Jeff." Cosima smiled.
"I'm just gonna..." she started, and hugged the box to her chest. "Bye."
"I didn't know your room mate was gay," she heard Jeff say when she rounded the corner.
"Neither did I," Clara muttered in reply. Cosima tugged the sheet fully into the room and bumped the door shut with her heel.
"Well," she said, clambering back into bed with her prize of crackers, "I've now officially met Clara. And someone named Jeff." Delphine laughed, dipping her hand into the box.
"That's her boyfriend."
"Ah," Cosima replied, pulling the box out of Delphine's reach when she went for another handful. "Get your own." Delphine rolled her eyes, and wrapped her arms around Cosima's waist, pulling her close.
"That would mean leaving," she said, her forehead pressing into the side of Cosima's shoulder. She sighed heavily. Cosima turned her head to look down at her.
"What?" she asked, frowning lightly. Delphine kissed her arm.
"How are you here?" she asked without looking up. Cosima shrugged, and tapped her fingers against the cracker box.
"I don't know. I wasn't anywhere, and then they asked me if I love you, and then wished me luck, and I woke up under my favourite tree in the park."
"'They'?" Delphine asked. Cosima nodded, and set the box on the night stand.
"Yeah. Sort of in control of who goes where. That kind of thing. Guess they decided I was worth a second go."
"And you won't disappear again?" Delphine asked, her grip on Cosima's waist tightening.
"No," Cosima replied, sliding down the bed so she could tangle their legs together and brush her lips across the blonde's. "I'm not even sick any more." She sucked in a deep breath and held it for a few seconds to prove her point, grinning. Delphine chuckled softly, and reached for Cosima's arm, draped over her side. She flipped it, her fingers tracing along the ink that marked her skin. She pressed her lips to it.
"What will you do now?"
"I don't know," Cosima said. "Go home. Try to explain all of this to my parents. Then maybe travel for a while before I think about going back to school."
"Travel?" Delphine inquired. "Where to?"
"Everywhere," Cosima replied. "I've told you all this before, you just couldn't hear me." Delphine smiled sheepishly.
"I can now. Tell me it again." Cosima grinned, and cupped Delphine's cheeks to pull her in for a firm kiss.
"We have all the time in the world for that," she whispered against Delphine's lips. "All the time in the world."