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Walter Bell's Proposal

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A short ficlet posted to Andy's tumblr.

“Yes?” Wally blinked, certain he’d heard wrong, then shook his head as if to banish the water that had to have accumulated in his ears as the lesser impossibility even on this scorching July afternoon. “Yes to what?”

Salome laughed, rolling her eyes over a current of what seemed like genuine annoyance. “You’re the one who just said it!”

No. This was — he shook his head again, standing up and taking a half step back that would have been a full step if the cafe table had been a little further from the edge of the street. “I didn’t — I didn’t think you’d say yes! It was just one of those…”

His words fell apart as her eyes dropped to the table, her hands suddenly pressed stiff and flat against the stupidly cheery gingham. “I’m sorry. I thought you meant it. I didn’t mean to —”

What was the sound he’d made? Laughing or crying or gagging or it didn’t matter, because he was on his knees now and he didn’t have a ring but he had her hands in his, twisting his neck awkwardly to catch and lift her gaze. “Of course I did. I just didn’t mean it like that - like asking - because I never thought…it was just saying. Just getting it off my chest so it didn’t burn me every time I looked at my best friend and felt like I was lying to her. Even though I knew - I thought…it was supposed to be impossible.”

Her smile was warm, indulgent, but her eyes sparked deeper as she extracted one hand to flick him on the nose. “So impossible? Because I’m Muslim and you’re a bitter agnostic?”

“Because I’m raising my siblings and taking care of a mother who’s six sparks shy of a spell and working two jobs and an ex drug dealer and didn’t fight in Ireland with the rest of you and nothing that anyone would want to ever —”

Her lips silenced him, then held near, so near, brushing his with warm breath, the silk of her scarf smooth against his forehead as agonizingly sweet as the delicate scrape of her lashes against his cheeks. “That year, January, do you remember? When they thought I knew the Secret Keeper? How they tried to make me talk?”

He nodded, barely. It was all he could do when breathing felt too much. Her eyes held universes of hope and destruction one and the same, but he couldn’t look away as she continued.

“When they let me go, so many people tried to make me feel better; it’s just bacon, Allah will forgive you, it wasn’t your choice. You helped me throw up and found me a brand new toothbrush and floss and all those glasses of water and never said a word. And then you told me filthy jokes until I stopped crying. Why would I say anything but yes?”

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