|05:51 pm - Déjà vu|
Déjà vu (Fringe/X-files crossover, complete)
TITLE: Déjà vu
FANDOM: Fringe / The X-files
PAIRING: Olivia Dunham/Dana Scully (femslash crossover)
RATING: R (perhaps NC17 for particularly sensitive souls)
DISCLAIMER: I am a poor student and do not own either of these fabulous women. Please don’t sue me for pretending I do...
SPOILERS: Parts of the main storyline from the first season of Fringe plus some unimportant bits and pieces from The X-files (and let’s pretend seasons 7 through 9 never happened).
SUMMARY: The meeting with a redheaded stranger in a bar causes Olivia Dunham to experience a disturbingly detailed déjà vu...
AUTHORS NOTE: Initially I intended Olivia to bump into an actual stranger – an OC, I thought, but as I wrote her she became more and more familiar until I realized she was no stranger at all… Old teenage crushes apparently never fade:) Comments are much appreciated!
Damn it to hell, it’s happening again. I have just handed the bartender an impossibly large bill (my job has introduced me to so much technology gone amok that I distrust anything from microwave ovens to credit cards) and I am waiting for the change, when my eyes happen to catch a redheaded woman at the other end of the bar.
And suddenly I know exactly what she looks like without her clothes on.
I really believed I had put this chapter of my life permanently behind me – after all, some time has passed since the last time I had a similar experience. And Dr. Bishop did promise that it would stop sooner or later. ‘Later’ being the operative word, apparently.
At least it is happening in a dimly lit bar; a place where lingering gazes are the rule rather than the exception. The circumstances were far more inappropriate the first time I had this kind of revelation – especially when you add the fact that I, at the time, had no clue whatsoever what was going on with me.
* * * * *
Back then I was paying a personal visit to FBI’s forensic department to get the results of a DNA analysis, and the secretary sent me to a Karen Swank, who turned out to be a very young woman. My rank was higher, my life experience greater, and yet my jaw and confidence dropped the moment the young bio analyst turned to face me. For instead of a decently dressed colleague I saw a slide show with disturbingly detailed images flash before my eyes:
--- CLICK. Karen Swank leaning towards me, over a glass of sherry, allowing me to glance directly into the cleavage of a midnight blue cocktail dress.
--- CLICK. Karen Swank’s silky neck framed by the straps of a red lace bra.
--- CLICK. Karen Swank’s business-like skirt pulled up to her navel, me in between sun-tanned thighs freely hanging from the edge of a desk.
--- CLICK. Karen Swank’s characteristically heart-shaped mole situated just below her bikini line.
The last image got stuck in my throat, and when I tried to speak there was nothing but the taste of Karen Swank at the tip of my tongue. I wet my lips with it, swallowed a few times – unbelievably awkward to run into an old flame under these circumstances. And the fact that I had no recollection as to how our affair ended didn’t help one bit. Did she end it, or did I? Did we part as friends, or had I simply never called her back?
”What test result?”
I blinked repeatedly until the fully dressed Karen Swank once again appeared before me. She seemed impatient, as if she had already asked the same question several times.
“Excuse me?” I asked, confusion audible in my voice.
”Test result. I assume that’s what you’ve come for? Which case number?”
Was there in fact more than mere impatience in her voice? I wondered. A tension scarcely concealed by the irritated tone? Somewhat guiltily I retrieved the test receipt from my pocket – if I had in fact never called her back, then I could at least let her decide how to play things now. I owed her that much. If she preferred to soak this awkward meeting in ice-cold professionalism, then fine by me.
I handed her the scrap of paper, and she stepped over to a shelf, which she studied intensely for a few minutes, occasionally gazing at the receipt in her hand.
”Well, it seems to be missing...” she mumbled, then turned to me. ”From time to time we register tests in the name of the agent in charge of the investigation – that’s you, isn’t it? What’s your name?”
There was no hint of sarcasm in her voice or the expression on her face. Never before had I witnessed an act like this – the mild irritation from before had vanished and she seemed completely sincere.
She really wants to pretend she doesn’t remember me?! I thought as I gave her my badge, which she handed back to me without blinking.
In the meantime my surprise had given way to the obvious insult. Here I was, with nothing on my mind except her hands, her skin, her scent, whereas she didn’t even remember my name… Did I really mean that little – or was it all an act?
Either way I wasn’t going to play along anymore. So I took a deep breath and confronted her:
“I understand this is awkward for you – it is for me as well – but we’re adults, and we have to work together. So it’s no use pretending we’ve never met before.”
“Excuse me?” She almost dropped the folder in her hand.
“No need to apologize,” I confidently assured her. “I imagine I have several things to apologize for myself, but let’s just forget what happened between us and instead focus on being professional colleagues in the present.”
She starred at me in total silence. I must have hit the nail on the head, I thought to myself as I saw her lips trying to form and give up on several words.
”I’m sorry,” she finally said, “you must be confusing me with somebody else.”
That was approximately when I lost my temper, but none of my heated, inconsistent arguments seemed to make any impression on her. She did raise her eyebrows for a moment when I mentioned the heart-shaped mole, but she never changed her mind.
”Honestly, you are confusing me with somebody else,” she simply repeated and added: ”You see, I’m not a lesbian.”
* * *
Lesbian. The word hit me like a fist forcing the air and anger out of me.
The thing is I was not a lesbian either. And this was not a belief born out of homophobic denial; it was just a fact – that I had never even toyed with the idea of crossing the street, never had a crush on a female childhood friend or experimented at university. This I knew for certain about myself, and consequently I could not possibly have carried out an affair with Karen Swank. However, my recollections of one were so crisp clear that for a moment I took them for granted and – until she pointed it out – never wasted a single thought on the fact that we were both women.
The bizarre meeting with Karen Swank knocked me off balance for a few weeks filled with more strange occurrences, and it was a major relief when Dr. Walter Bishop eventually deciphered the pattern for me.
When I first met Dr. Bishop I needed to interrogate my dying FBI partner, John, but he was in a coma and unable to communicate in ordinary ways. Fortunately, one of Dr. Bishop’s many brilliant inventions solved the problem. It enabled me to briefly connect with John’s conscience and thus gain access to his knowledge.
Unfortunately the procedure had an unexpected side-effect: Some of John’s memories were copied to me and apparently my brain is unable to tell these ‘borrowed’ memories from my own. This sometimes results in flashbacks to situations I have never actually been in – déjà vus so detailed I come to believe them.
* * * * *
It is yet another one of these déjà vus I am currently experiencing, but by now I have learned from an array of awkward encounters – although none as disastrous as my encounter with Karen Swank – to think twice before I greet someone with the line “haven’t me met before?”
And thus I collect my change from the bartender, grab the bag in one hand, my gin & tonic in the other and head for an empty table without signaling to the redheaded woman who seems so familiar.
It’s strange. I know very well by now that my nervous system is just playing tricks on me, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less intense. They say memories can be stored in many different kinds of body tissue – I once red a story in a magazine about a housewife in her 40s who had a heart transplant. The donor was a young motor cyclist, and when the woman woke up from general anesthetics she had an inexplicable urge to ride a Harley Davidson.
This mysterious link between mind and body might explain why John’s recollections of this redhead feel so physical, even though his brain and mine have only been briefly connected. My skin trembles ever so slightly, almost as if electric fingerprints have been left behind where she, presumably, touched John.
I have to hold back an unexpected burst of laughter. More than four fifth of my FBI colleagues are men and I have often felt excluded from a gendered club without being able to put a finger on what it is they have that I apparently lack. But now, for the first time, the curtain is being lifted a notch for me: I actually have the opportunity to experience from the inside how a straight man looks at women. How John looked at women, possibly even at me. All I have to do is allow myself to feel it.
So I take a big gulp of my drink and make the most of the dim lighting enabling me to stare uninterrupted at the redheaded woman in the bar
* * *
I start at the red hair. A golden red with a hint of natural curls. I focus on my fingers and summon the feeling of combing the woman’s hair with them. The smell of it… A fruity shampoo, but discreet enough to not disguise the scent of the rest of her.
I let my gaze slide down her profile – I can only see part of it, as she has her back partially turned. Beneath the hair I can make out a small, finely shaped ear with a silver earring. It grazes her cheek as she takes a sip from her glass. With my eyes I caress her jaw line, continuing down the neck where soft shadows play in the hollows of her collar bones and shoulders. She is petite, but not body – at least I don’t think so… I concentrate on my palms, how they feel – or rather, how John’s palms felt. A heat seems to radiate from them leading me to believe that the woman must be soft and warm to touch.
I continue downwards. The dress leaves most of her back exposed including a small tattoo – a snake biting its own tail – and the muscles working under her skin whenever she lifts her glass. From my angle I can only catch a glimpse of her breasts, but when I close my eyes I can easily recollect the feel of them; in my hands, in my mouth, against my own…
My eyes fly open and I instantly correct John’s memory: Against a flat, strong, male chest, damn it – not my soft curves against hers!
My brain must have sent electric signals through the wrong nerve routes. I medicate it with a big mouthful of gin & tonic, before I once again concentrate on the redhead.
* * *
This time I start at her feet. They do not reach the floor in spite of the impressively high heels of her shiny red stilettos – she must be somewhat shorter than me and at least a head shorter than John. I sense how the height difference would make her scalp fit perfectly into the curve of John’s neck, her hair tickling against the tender skin there.
I take in her ankles – petite like the rest of her, but with an invisible kind of raw strength enabling her to walk and probably even run confidently in killer high heels. I climb up her legs, which appear slim, but strong under the nylons, past her knees, along her thighs… They continue under her skirt, safely hidden from my gaze, but I have John’s recollections to go on.
So I dare my dead partner: What did you feel, John, show me, I almost whisper as I hesitantly grab my own thighs under the table pretending they belong to the woman in the bar. The heat radiates through and dampens the cloth of my pants, seeps into my hands…
And the memory is there. The heat against my hands now belongs to the woman, and its strength increases as I let my hands slide upwards toward the spot, hidden by her skirt, which seems to be its source. I also feel John’s excitement as he caressed the woman’s thighs with its silk like skin at their juncture. Feel the arousal in my own body with an unexpected intensity that leaves me breathless for a moment and makes my pulse beat hard in my veins and the fist-like knot forming in my abdomen.
I intended to stay in this feeling, John’s feeling, but it is overwhelming. I lose my nerve, open my eyes and look past the woman, at the male bartender. But in that very moment he steps aside making me look past him, too, into the mirror behind him where the woman’s eyes meet mine.
* * *
As the woman smiles at me in the mirror, turns around, slides down from the bar stool and heads directly my way, I am scared out of my wits. A panic escape seems like the most appealing option, but my body seems stuck to the chair, and I’d lose any remaining dignity if I suddenly ran towards the exit making furniture and people fall over on my way out.
Fifteen steps between us. Ten.
I try to calm myself using ice cold logic: John knows this woman. I don’t. The arousal I feel is John’s, not mine; it isn’t real even if it feels real. And besides, the woman knows nothing about the erotic drama which I have gotten myself tangled up in. Or rather, have become the spectator of – the drama is theirs entirely. She and I, on the other hand, have no history and in effect feel nothing whatsoever for each other, I rationally deduce and it actually enables me to greet her with a welcoming smile as she finally reaches me.
She smiles back and, tilting her head slightly, says: “Haven’t we met before…?”
* * * * *
Hearing my (John’s) line from her lips takes me so much by surprise that I can do nothing but stare at the woman until she bursts into laughter.
“I’m sorry, that didn’t come out the right way… Rather, it sounded like the most dreadfully worn pick-up line in the universe. But seriously – I feel like I know you from somewhere…” She thinks for a moment. “Stanford University? Medicine…? No, I suppose you’re too young for that. Wait! You are one of John’s FBI colleagues, aren’t you? John Scott?”
I nod slowly, still a bit out of it – not just because of the surprise, but also because the woman’s sudden proximity does not exactly make John’s sexual arousal fade.
She greets me properly with her hand and introduces herself as “Dana, old friend of John”, and I in return introduce myself as “Olivia, John’s partner. Former partner, technically. That is, until…” An unfinished sentence poking out into the air like the bone of an open fracture.
Her expression turns serious. “I heard about what happened… That is, the general outline of what happened – John and I hadn’t seen each other for a while,” she quickly adds, “but I’m really sorry. I can imagine how hard losing a partner must be.”
As I watch her I wonder exactly what she knows about the relationship between me and John – about the nature and timing of it. If she knows whether our relationship evolved before theirs died out. But she interrupts my train of thoughts before I manage to draw any conclusions.
“Listen, would you mind if I join you? Your glass is empty and I could do with another drink myself, so how about if the next round is on me?”
I accept the offer without thinking, but the bizarre consequences of it dawns on me a few minutes later when Dana returns with to full glasses: I am having a drink with John’s old flame. My old flame’s old flame.
* * * * *
“So – FBI,” Dana points out.
“Please don’t hold it against me… I’m off duty now,” I reply with a smile. Much to my irritation I realize that I have to fight an urge to avert my eyes when talking to her like this. But then again – I did sort of undress the woman completely a few minutes ago. So switching to a polite conversational mode would obviously require an effort on my part.
“Really?” One of her eyebrows shoots up. Just the one. ”In my experience ‘off duty’ is a purely theoretical concept within the FBI,” she drily remarks. “That’s why I returned to medicine.” She takes an efficient sip of her drink. “I used to spend all my Friday nights bent over case reports in some cheap motel, miles away from civilization. Now I actually get out and manage to see other people aside from my colleagues.”
Her tone is sincere and polite. She is not criticizing my job, yet I feel obligated to defend my self. “Well, I’m out,” I therefore quickly point out, “I mean, I’m here, too.”
“And you’re not on standby with a case folder in your briefcase and your work phone on…?” Her teasing question hits the nail and I have no idea how to respond, but fortunately she interprets my silence as a confirmation.“I’m impressed! You must be better at sorting out your priorities than I was. Toast to that!”
She lifts her glass and I smilingly mirror her gesture with one hand, while I discreetly and under the cover of the tablecloth switch off my cell phone with the other.
“How long did you work for the FBI?” I ask.
Her gaze travels towards the ceiling and she thinks for a moment. Her eyes are remarkably blue, almost azure, and there’s an unmistakably intelligent expression in them even after at least one and a half gin & tonic. “About nine years, I think.”
“Nine?! Then you must have been headhunted when you were very young.” The words simply fall out of my mouth and I can instantly hear how corny they sound. John’s first attempt at contact cannot possibly have been this awkward.
The geeky compliment is not lost on her, either, and she accepts it with a “thanks” and a smile, while I curse my tendency to blush like a red traffic light. I feel it my cheeks already.
“I was young, but not that young,” she says. “I went directly from medical studies to the FBI academy, though, much to my parents’ dismay. But they got their way in the end – even if it took more than a decade.” She laughs a surprisingly girly laughter. It provides an interesting contrast to her rather grown-up dress and adds lively, imperfect dimples to her otherwise neatly painted lips.
If I had a mouth like hers, I, too, would do anything to draw attention to it. Not that anyone could miss those lips no matter what – impressively full with a clearly marked Cupid’s bow making the upper lip seem a bit like the upper half of a heart. Especially when she purses her lips like now.
Purses… I suddenly realise that they are forming words. I have been so taken by their form and fullness that I accidentally switched the sound off.
What did she ask me? Once again I feel the alarming warmth in my cheeks (damn my fair taint!) as I wring an answer out of my brain – I blame John’s part of it. I am clearly still under his spellbound influence. Nothing else could possibly explain why I am sitting here, staring dumbfounded and shamelessly at a mouth that would probably be amazing to kiss, had I been a man.
But I am not a man. These thoughts are not mine, I remind myself, but the alcohol is making it difficult to distinguish especially with Dana watching me from less than an arm’s distance.
My job at the FBI? That’s what she asked me about. I shake my shoulders lightly hoping it will make me feel my own body again instead of the echo of John’s. Then I answer her question, but I only tell her about the normal FBI work I used to do at the bureau – before John’s death put an end to anything resembling normality.
My new line of work, on the other hand, is incomprehendable to most people even if I leave out all classified details. So I stick to the kidnappings and serial killers of the past. Without ever hinting at the not-so-professional relationship John and I had after work hours, of course.
She listens carefully and asks qualified questions along the way – she clearly knows the routines at the bureau – but when I run out of things to say she is, apparently, still not satisfied. She ponders over my story for a moment, then asks the one million dollar question:
“You keep referring to your work with John, but at least one and a half year must have passed since then. What sort of work do you do now?”
I hesitate, and she waits.
“It has to do with-“ I begin, but I don’t know how to continue. What should I tell her? How much should I tell her?
“Is it classified?” she helpfully suggests.
I sigh and surprise myself by choosing to answer honestly. “Some of it.” This time I actually manage to speak in full sentences and hold her gaze. “But mostly I’m worried that… that if I tell you about my current assignments you’ll think the FBI is wasting your tax money. And that’s the best case scenario.”
“And the worst case scenario?”
“You’ll thing I’m a total lunatic,” I frankly reply.
For some reason a strange, kind of knowing smile spreads across her face. “Hardly,” she says.
“What do you mean?” I have to find out what that smile hides.
“I mean that no matter what sort of cases you are currently handling I can assure you I’ve had crazier ones.”
“I find that hard to believe.” My thoughts go out to Walter, who is absolutely brilliant but permanently high on psychochemicals. I think of Gene, the cow, who is now a permanent resident of his lab. And I think of my own participation in experiments carried out in that lab, experiments that would never be approved by any ethical or scientific committee.
But Dana is apparently very sure of herself. “Let’s make a bet,” she suggests and quickly adds: “I know, breech of confidentiality et cetera – but we’ll just do headlines, no details.”
“I’m not sure…” Actually I am sure. Sure that this bet is an incredibly bad idea, but Dana is so eager and I allow my doubts to be overruled. Or maybe John allows it. The latter seems likely, as I personally never bet on anything – but I apparently do today.
“All right,” I say, “but we’ll need another drink, then. This one’s on me.”
* * *
I return with another gin & tonic for Dana and a large whiskey for myself – I imagine that’s what John would have chosen.
“The bet’s on. Shoot,” Dana challenges, gesturing with her hand. It’s small, but presumably able to handle both firearms and scalpels – so she cannot be the oversensitive type. Still, to be on the safe side, I decide to begin with one of my less insane cases.
“Okay. I’ve had a case about a bank robbery. The perpetrators were able to walk through walls.”
“I can easily beat that,” Dana says, “one of my first FBI cases involved a serial killer who gained access to his victims by pulling his body so long and thin he could pass trough cracks.”
There’s a satisfied look on her face, but I’m not convinced. “You really think crack beats concrete wall?”
“What if I add his motive: Eating the victim’s raw liver, which he tore out with his bare hands?”
“Alright, you win…” I take a big gulp of my whiskey to drown the nauseating taste that has appeared in my mouth, “…this round.”
She raises an eyebrow at my cocky statement.
“But try to beat this one,” I dare her: ”Internet video programmed so that, if you watch it, your brain literally melts down.”
Her eyebrow stays where it is. “Ha! I practically had that case: Television signals causing people to hallucinate and kill. And they never had to download anything.”
I frown. There are reasons why I never make bets, and the main one is the fact that I can’t stand losing. The triumphant look on Dana’s face must be wiped off, even it means I have to reveal things that will probably scare her off. “Babies aging so fast they die of old age within minutes,” I suggest.
“Babies born with a tail,” she responds.
“That’s a relatively common phenomenon!” I object.
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen these tails… but fair enough, I’ll come up with something else: A ship causing its passengers to age much faster than normally.” She can tell that I’m still not convinced and adds: “What if I tell you that I was on board the ship myself and looked like a 90-year-old when I was rescued at the very last minute?”
“Thank God it wasn’t permanent!” I shudder at the thought. There’s an almost invisible cobweb of smile wrinkles from the corner of Dana’s eyes, but she looks soft and almost youthful as she is leaning eagerly forward anticipating my next move.
She is clearly as competitive as I am, but based on her open expression I gather that this battle is just as much about curiosity. Friendly curiosity. She cannot possibly know anything about my relationship with John, I conclude.
“Right, I guess I have to bring in the big guns,” I declare, “so beat this: A common cold virus growing to the size of a turkey. If you catch it, you explode from within.”
“I admit that’s a tough one to beat.” She turns her glass between two slender fingers while thinking hard. I lean back, relaxed and confident that I’ve one our battle – until she lightens up. “But not impossible to beat,” she says. “I’ve work on a case about a parasite making its hosts violently aggressive. And the parasite, mind you, was transported to earth via a meteorite from another planet.”
“You’re serious?” For a second I forget everything about the bet. “Life in space? That’s fantastic! How on earth did you manage to keep that under your hat?”
“Actually, there are people whose entire careers a based on keeping things like that from the public,” she says darkly.
She slips away, only for a second, but the distant, almost mournful look in her eyes makes me reach out and touch her hand on the table. It works; she is immediately back and fit for fight. “So do you give up?” she wants to know.
“Never,” I reply with a grin, “but let’s decide it’s a tie for now.”
She looks down and I follow her gaze to my hand, still resting on hers. It’s just a hand, but under our gazes it suddenly feels burning hot where it touches her skin. And the heat is spreading – John’s feelings for Dana are returning full force. I have to withdraw my hand before it’s too late, but I need to disguise the movement with another one.
So I quickly stand pulling both hands with me, free of hers and the table – but I soon have to grab a hold of the latter again. The room is spinning, and I curse the whiskey I have just downed. It might have done wonders for John, but is clearly an overdose for the female body he has been haunting all evening.
“Are you alright?” In spite of the fact that she is the one balancing on impractical high heels, Dana is up from her chair and has caught me with her naked arms in less than two seconds.
I want to say something coherent, something that might restore my dignity, but the only thing popping up is a useless fragment from a conversation I had with a college friend ages ago. He described his dream woman as the ‘hold-my-stilettos-and-I’ll-save-your-cat’ type. Suddenly I understand exactly what he meant.
* * * * *
Of course I objected when Dana offered to walk me home (It’s not that far – I just need a bit of fresh air – I’m fine, really…), and of course she completely dismissed my objections (there are no taxies in this part of town, trust me – you shouldn’t go alone in your state – nonsense, it’s just not that much further).
Well, to be brutally honest my objections were never that wholehearted. With my sense of balance seriously impeded, the idea of having to find my way alone in an unfamiliar city was not too appealing. That’s why I eventually accepted her offer – because I am drunk and far away from home.
John, on the other hand, would probably have accepted it because it would entail the opportunity to lean into Dana’s side every step of the way, wrapped in her supporting arm. I’m pretty certain he used a different strategy the first time he took her home, but just as certain that he is the one influencing my body at the moment. Especially when it chooses to walk particularly unsteadily as an excuse to lean in even closer. I would never come up with something like that on my own.
The heat radiates from her into me, through our coats, and makes my right side hum. Her arm is still around my back, but has sunk to a – for her – more comfortable height (in spite of her heels she is half a head shorter than me) and is now resting on my hip. Or hanging from it, to be more accurate; her thumb provides the hook fastened to the edge of my pants. I support her arm more than it supports me, but I am not complaining.
My thin shirt is the only thing separating her fingertip from the sensitive skin on my stomach and it moves ever so slightly, the fingertip, whenever I take a step. A tiny, continuous caress, kneading me carefully and leaving my flesh soft and rising under her touch. And, to be perfectly honest, further down as well.
I squeeze my eyes shut, trying desperately to keep John’s overwhelming libido in check – thank goodness I am not a man in every day life, how would I ever think a coherent thought?
And we’re there.
She recognizes the place before me in spite of the fact that she has never been there before, whereas I checked in at the motel earlier today. But then again – I am walking around with my eyes closed. I open them and am happy to note that the world around me is no longer spinning. My balance and motor skills have returned, and among the wide choice of doors I manage to find the right one and insert the right key without any problems.
Yet Dana asks: “Will you be alright?”
It’s probably just a generic way of being polite, so I choose the equally unoriginal reply “Yes, thank you.” And of course I will be alright.
However, her question opens up a small crack of opportunity in the seemingly given course of events laid out before us: that she leaves, and I manage to get into bed on my own. Maybe it isn’t that given, since she asks? Perhaps she isn’t certain that I will be alright if she leaves?
For the tiniest bit of a second I decide to test my theory. So I say goodnight, thank her for her help and smile briefly at her, before I misjudge the height of the doorstep on purpose and stumble to the rug covered floor.
For the second time tonight her reactions are impeccable. She is next to me within seconds and thus on the right side of the door when it slams shut behind us – my side, that is. I repress a wide grin threatening to take over my face as she helps me from the floor to the edge of the double bed, which constitutes the only furniture in the room apart from a hard wooden chair and a minimalistic desk. Definitely the most comfortable choice.
“I’ll get you a glass of water”. She disappears into the bathroom and returns moments later with said glass.
I lift it to my lips and pretend to need its content badly. I even, for dramatic effect, utter a satisfied sigh as I hand the empty glass back to her. “Thanks a lot. That really helped.”
From her standing position she watches me closely with a queer look in her eyes, the meaning of which escapes me. “Did it indeed?”
The way she asks makes my heart skip a beat. Her left eyebrow is arched and she is not releasing my gaze for a second. This was certainly not a generic way of being polite; it’s something much, much worse: I suspect she is on to me.
Or to John. She is of course on to John, as I would personally never do anything like this and consequently have no idea what to do to keep his game up. “What do you mean?” I simply respond like an obvious amateur.
“I mean, we got this far. Now what?” Her left arm, folded over her chest, supports the elbow of her other arm, the one with the empty glass. She is holding it casually at the height of her chin – clearly composed, clearly on top of the situation.
I have no idea what to say, so I trace little dumb patterns with my fingertips on the bedspread I’m sitting on and utter a couple of incomprehendable language leftovers.
She watches me silently, no expression on her face aside from the faintest hint of a smile twitching at one corner of her mouth. Turns the glass slowly between slender fingers and a thumb that caressed my stomach minutes ago – till she suddenly, without any warning, lets go of the glass.
That’s when I truly screw up.
Pure reflexes, trained to be much quicker that the average, kick in: My right hand lets go of the bedspread, flies forward like an arrow and catches the glass midair – so rapidly and precisely that its surface sings. My gaze has caught it, too, and now I’m afraid to lift it from my clenched hand, because I already know what my eyes will meet. I do it anyway and sure enough, Dana is smiling triumphantly at me from up there.
“Woops,” she says, stealing my line for the second time this evening.
I am so busted.
* * *
“So you are actually not drunk at all,” Dana states letting her arms drop to her sides. She begins pacing back and forth in front of me, as much as the tiny motel room allows, while I stare at the floor like an embarrassed school girl. “Is this your regular way of getting strangers to follow you to lonely hotel rooms?”
“I am truly sorry,” is the only phrase I can muster. Any attempts at explaining would surely be futile. In fact, they might make things worse if I am to trust the alarm bell ringing with a growing intensity in the back of my head, forcing me to consider the worst case scenario: That if Dana is this sharp she might also catch on to far less forgivable things. If I don’t choose my words wisely she will soon put two and two together and realise that I, too, was Johns lover – possibly and probably while she was still seeing him.
If she hasn’t already figured it out, that is. Maybe she knew all along, maybe that was the reason she insisted on taking me home to begin with. In that case I dare not think about where this evening of deception could lead.
“You’re sorry?” She stops right in front of me – I sense it without looking up. “Well, I’m not.” She takes a step forward, closing the distance between us. “It merely eases my conscience.”
Suddenly my throat is all dry. Conscience… So the hypothetical worst case scenario is now a fact. This was a planned confrontation all along; the man who betrayed her is dead, so she takes all her anger out on the mistress.
I force myself to look up at her only to realize that my gaze is practically grazing her nipples; they are easily visible through the thin dress and even now, with a thousand deafening alarm bells ringing, my body still reacts to the sight.
Fortunately she kneels in front of me in that moment, so we are at eye-level when she adds: “You see, it means I’m not about to take advantage of the fact that a beautiful woman had a few glasses to many.”
One sentence, and the situation has been turned on its head.
I completely misread it; she knows nothing about my relationship with John, this is about something entirely different. And I get far too little time to ponder this ‘something’, as she is approaching my face with her scarlet lips.
I should think, but I cannot think of anything except her mouth. Cannot keep my eyes off it, and apparently not my own mouth either, cause I meet her halfway in a kiss that never heard of testing the waters before diving in head-first.
This is actually not so different from kissing a man. The revelation takes me by surprise and the recognition it entails makes me happy. It means I may be in deep, but I will certainly be able to swim. I can play John’s game by drawing on my own experience and I triumphantly note that it works as small sighs escapes Dana’s mouth only to be de devoured my mine. I’m on top of this, in charge of this, and perfectly capable of following my original plan and remain in John’s shoes a little while longer; sense what he sensed.
Overconfidently I release Dana’s lips to continue my oral attack along her jaw line and neck. I’m on top of this, I repeat to myself, but my inner monologue is interrupted by her hands. They have found my thighs, burning against her palms as she unceremoniously parts them and settles between my now open legs. As if acting on their own they simply give in and made room for her.
Her palms caress my thighs as if ironing my pants while I’m wearing them, creasing every fold. Except she goes on longer than necessary, and it is frankly unnerving. The cloth separates our skin, but I still lose all concentration when her thumb grazes the inside of my thighs almost at their juncture.
I stop dead in the trail of kisses I was planting along her collarbone. The inner monologue has returned, but changed its mind. I am not on top of this, not on top of this, it chants and there is no way in hell I can make it shut up as she opens one button, then another and pulls my pants down leaving me feeling extremely exposed in my lace panties.
To be fair, Dana is letting her dress fall to the floor in that very moment, so I am not the only half-naked person in the room, yet for some reason I feel unbearably vulnerable. John never experienced this, and that seems unfair. He never sat like this; in feminine lingerie that barely disguises exactly how open and expectant my body is underneath it. Prepared to be taken. Or to take? I am not sure.
She is unbuttoning my shirt now and while my body simply cooperates with her hands like a robot, my head is one, for me, uncharacteristic chaos of brain rubbles; half-finished thoughts leading nowhere and never forming anything resembling a plan. I know what John, being a man, would do in this situation – or at least I have pretty god idea. But I have no idea what I will do.
The panic is starting to set in as she reaches the last button of my shirt. I’m running out of time to think, and it seems we have already moved past the point of no return, if there ever was one. John’s desire is literally taking my breath away; I can’t remember ever feeling this aroused before – nor this lost and afraid of being recognised as the hopeless beginner I really am.
It’s an impossible dilemma, and perhaps she sees it in my eyes as she removes my shirt completely. In any case she touches my cheek in a tender, almost maternal way. Hesitates, then quietly states:
“We’re in this together.”
And curiously enough it makes the chaos in me vaporise. A handful of butterflies still tickle the insides of my stomach, but it’s no more than I can handle.
Not even when she yanks the bedspread aside and pulls me with her into the sheets.
Or when, a little while later, she pulls the panties off as well; mine and hers.
* * * * *
A few hours later I know exactly what John felt being with this woman in the most intimate way possible, by I can no longer recall why his part in it mattered.
I try to remember, but keep getting distracted by Dana’s hands in my hair. She carefully turns a blonde strand between two fingers. Finds its roots somewhere on my scalp, which she strokes gently, continuing past my ear until her hand settles with its fingers curled around my jaw and left cheek. Her dark blue eyes hold mine and the hand on the edge of my face emphasizes the intensity of her gaze.
“It’s easy to understand what he saw in you back then,” she finally states.
Her voice is soft, but to me it feels like the ice cold blade of a knife across my throat. An accusation in disguise, the rug pulled out from under a moment that was always too good to be true.
It takes all my willpower to sound casual when I ask: “You know about our relationship?”
“Of course I did! You were all he ever talked about.” Her smile widens, and I feel more clueless than ever.
John is dead, obviously, but what person could be this large, this ready to forgive her love for his unfaithfulness? And more importantly: To forgive his mistress? It is easy to avoid ever thinking of the mistress as anything more than a despised object. But here I am, lying next to Dana with her warm fingers on my face – and she is still smiling.
“Were you never jealous?” I ask with increasing incredulousness. There no longer seems to be any point in holding things back. The cat is out of the bag, and besides Dana clearly has a knack for seeing right through me.
“Well, I didn’t actually know you, so no…” She thinks for a moment. “To me, what he described sounded like a utopian woman created by an infatuated mind, so I didn’t take it too seriously. Had I known how spot on he was, however, then I probably would have been a little jealous of him…”
She laughs, but I am too confused to laugh with her: “You mean ‘jealous of me’, right?”
“No, of him.” She blinks a few times as the pieces of a puzzle finally fall into place and surprise sneaks into her eyes and voice. “You thought John and I had an affair??”
“No, well, I didn’t…”
“John was a wonderful man, but there truly never was any erotic attraction between us whatsoever.” She shrugs with the shoulder she is not currently lying on. I feel stupid, and it doesn’t get any better when she adds: “Men never appealed to me in that way. I suppose I am as gay as you can get… A real live golden star.”
“Someone who has never been with a man,” she quickly adds.
Her fingers have released their grip on my face and are now doing a spider’s dance across my collarbone. They do not exactly make it easier for me to think clearly and make sense of it all. Dana has never been with John… In which case memories of an affair could have been stored in John’s brain and transferred to mine.
Yet the R-rated pictures that appeared in my mind when I saw her in the bar must come from somewhere, mustn’t they? Not to mention the overwhelming arousal that followed.
“Perhaps he had a secret crush on you,” I suggest.
“Hardly. When I first met him he had already fallen head over feet for you.” Her fingers have reached my left nipple. They draw tiny circles around it. “It was one of the reasons we became such good friends – the fact that we both harboured inappropriate feelings for a female colleague.”
Her warm lips are so close; I have to concentrate to focus on the words leaving them.
“…you, Monica; it took quite a few glasses of wine to get to the bottom of you two.”
One word separates itself from the others. “Monica?”
“Past,” she says simply. ”It never worked out. And at the moment there is no one in my life.” Her fingers have dived under the blanket and out of sight. “You?” her lips ask, and possibly her hand as well.
The latter makes the truth so obvious it’s a physically fact I should have caught on to hours ago. I feel it in my body and my being, and none of it ever came from John. So it was mine all along. The feeling and the obvious answer I manage to pant: “Not until now.”