DISCLAIMER: Army Wives and its characters are the property of Katherine Fugate, Lifetime Television, and Mark Gordon Productions. No infringement intended.
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Everything through Season 2 so far.

At the Edge of the World
By Manda


Things are getting back into a normal pattern, but they will never be normal. She gets up with the dawn, showers, makes breakfast for Michael and Emmalin, and progresses through her day just like she did before. But she counts the number of times she thinks about Amanda, and tries to be proud of herself when she manages to go an entire hour without remembering the explosion.

It's the end of one of those normal-not normal days. Claudia Joy sits on the porch, a glass of wine in her hand, refilled for the second time. She can stand to be in the same bed as Michael, they make love regularly enough now, but she still has the nights when she can't sleep for the nightmares. She usually rides out the night alone; tonight she picks up the phone.


Denise's voice is groggy, warm and unfettered. It pulls at Claudia Joy in a way she can't describe and doesn't want to. "Take me for a ride on your bike."

Too accustomed to the panic, the immediate wakefulness a phone call in the night always brings, Denise had eased from dreams to reality quickly. She hears Claudia Joy's voice, the question, and needs no explanation. If it wasn't important, Claudia Joy wouldn't have called. Her answer is certain and reassuring. "I'll be there in ten minutes."

She makes it in eight and a half. When she pulls up to the house, the motorcycle idling low as she walks it up the drive to avoid waking the other occupants, Claudia Joy is waiting. Denise can see the empty glass of wine on the porch table. She picks up the spare helmet and hands it to Claudia Joy. "I bought it for Frank just in case… well…" She shrugs. "It might be a little big."

Claudia Joy slides it on. It's loose, but not too loose, and the foam padding on the inside creates a cocoon of silence around her. Blocks out everything. Denise walks the bike back onto the rode, easing it a little ways down the street before she revs the throttle. She turns her head, saying something to Claudia Joy, but she can't hear her. Doesn't want to.

Denise takes her hand and puts it on her waist, a silent command to hold on. When Claudia Joy limply grabs her other hip, Denise turns back, her eyes dark, commanding. Claudia Joy slides closer on the seat, their bodies pressed together, and holds on tighter, fisting her hands in Denise's jacket.

The bike rocks, and Claudia Joy braces for the acceleration, but all she feels is Denise's hand taking her own, dragging it around her waist to splay across her stomach. One then the other, until Claudia Joy is pressed even closer, hugging Denise tight, head pressed against her shoulder.

Denise takes a breath, feels the solidness of Claudia Joy pressed into her back, tucked around her, and fights the wave of longing that threatens to sweep over her. She revs the engine twice more then lets off the brake.

And just like that they are flying.

For the first few miles Claudia Joy keeps her eyes shut, blocking out everything but the silence and the feel of the bike purring between her legs. The feel of her body pressed tight against Denise's. She blocks out everything but the sensation, attuning her body to the way Denise moves and shifts as she's about to turn, to the way the bike kicks through gears with only the tiniest urging. Eventually she's making the turns with Denise, anticipating the shift in her body, the shift in machine.

And then she opens her eyes.

They're on the back roads, off-post, and the darkness is almost overwhelming. Nothing but the white lights of the motorcycle cut through the night. For a brief time, she lets go of everything enough to forget that her daughter is gone, and there is no more normal in the world. In the darkness, nothing exists but the two of them and the bike – not Michael, not the Army, not the explosion. Not even Amanda.

They drive for hours, or maybe it just feels that way, until Denise slows up, pulling the bike off the main road to cut down a dirt lane tucked between the trees. She stops the bike, but keeps it idling, and tugs off her helmet.

Reluctantly, Claudia Joy does the same.

Denise smiles, slow, deliberate, and Claudia Joy can see the carefree girl she once was before she gave in and became the proper wife and mother she was expected to be. It steals her breath. "Frank would kill me if he knew."

"Knew what?"

Denise tosses her helmet to the side behind a grove of trees, then plucks Claudia Joy's away as well and sends it off beside the other. She grins, but this time the girl is gone, replaced instead by a full grown woman fully aware of what she is about to do. Claudia Joy swallows dryly, and it doesn't matter that she can't breathe, because she's pretty sure her heart just stopped too. "Hold on."

There's no time to decide, only to act. Claudia Joy grabs Denise again, pressing herself once more as close as she can into her back. This time there is no helmet to come between them. She leans her face into Denise's shoulder and inhales the scent of leather and motorcycle, glad Denise chooses that moment to gun the throttle so that it covers the sound of her slight moan.

The bike kicks to life, and this time there is no silence, just the blessed, blasting sound of wind in her ears, the feel of it on her face, flowing through her hair, her body, like a current. Her eyes stay wide open as Denise races down the empty road, fearless.

Some of that fearlessness seeps out of her, through her, infecting Claudia Joy. Slowly, she pulls her hands away from Denise's waist. Slowly she raises her head.

She leans back, arms flung wide, head tipped back, her body floating like an offering on the wind, and there, in that moment, she finds peace.

Because normal is an illusion.

Normal is an unattainable ideal.

All that matters is the here and now, and she knows Amanda would agree.

She feels something ground her, bringing her out of the wind, out of the moment, and looks down to find Denise's hand on her leg, squeezing, rubbing gently. Holding on. Claudia Joy reaches down, threading her fingers through Denise's as she wraps her arms back around the other woman's waist, holding on even tighter than before.

"Do you come here often?"

It sounds like a pick up line. Claudia Joy isn't entirely sure it isn't one.

"More and more, since I got the bike," Denise answers, staring out at the darkness. It wasn't much, just a small inlet of water surrounded by land and trees, not quite big enough to be a cove. They sit on a fallen log at the water's edge, listening to the sounds of crickets and frogs in the night.

"It's good you have a place like this," Claudia Joy says softly. "I wish I had a place like this."

The sun's almost up. They haven't said much – haven't needed to. Denise understands better than anyone that some times you just need to escape. You don't always need a reason why, even if Claudia Joy has more than enough to last a lifetime.

"There are days," Claudia Joy says slowly, trying to put words to what she's been feeling, finding safety in the dark and the woman beside her. "When I can put it aside, and function, and act like the wife and mother I'm supposed to be. And then there are days when it feels like… like…"

"Like the world is spinning too fast and you're holding on by just your fingertips?" Claudia Joy nods, blinking away tears. "And any second," Denise continues, "you could be flung off into space." Claudia Joy looks at the ground, not meeting her eyes. It only takes Denise a moment to understand why. She reaches over, tucking a knuckle under Claudia Joy's chin to bring her face up so that she can see her eyes. "Or maybe, you're thinking 'why don't I just let go?'"

Tears fall again, but Claudia Joy doesn't brush them away. Denise does. Her hands cupping Claudia Joy's face, thumbs sweeping up to catch her tears. Denise leans in, resting her forehead against Claudia Joy's. "You may think you're holding onto the world alone, but you're not. While you're holding onto the world, Claudia Joy, I'm holding onto you. So don't you worry about falling off, or letting go, because I've got you. I've got you."

The kiss is sweet. No more than the press of lips.

There's no heat to it, no passion, only the compassion of one friend for another, but it doesn't matter. Just like it doesn't matter who initiated it. Whether done intentionally or not, a line has been crossed, and as Denise pulls away, her hands still framing Claudia Joy's face, she knows there's no going back. Even more, she's not sure she wants to.

And because she doesn't know what that means, or how to deal with it, she does the only thing she can.

"Come on." She stands up, the first rays of dawn breaking over the water. "Let's get you home."

They make it back to post half an hour before reveille and ease into the driveway with the engine off. Denise pretends not to notice the reluctance in Claudia Joy as she slides off the bike. Claudia Joy hands her the extra helmet, easily retrieved from where they tossed it in the trees. Denise slides hers off, waiting.

"I, uh, better get in before Michael wakes up." She takes a breath. There's so much to say; too much to say now, standing in her driveway.

Somehow, Denise understands, but that doesn't surprise Claudia Joy because Denise always understands. She reaches out, squeezes Claudia Joy's hand, then lets go, sliding her helmet on as she says, "Next time, I'll try to find a smaller helmet for you."

Claudia Joy smiles. "Next time, why don't we pick it out together?"

She can't see it, but she knows Denise is smiling, that same smile she had as they took off down that dirt road together.

She backs the bike back down out of the driveway and with a flick of her eyes to the house she guns the throttle, the rumble of the engine cutting through the peaceful quiet of the morning. A second later and she's gone.

The house is still quiet. Claudia Joy walks upstairs, checking in on Emmalin before walking silently into her bedroom. Michael is asleep and snoring. If he noticed she was gone, it didn't bother him enough to keep him from sleep.

She strips in the bathroom and steps under the scalding hot spray of the shower and for a moment all she can hear is the water running over her head, her ears, blocking out sound, and it's almost, almost like being on the bike, being in that safe place.

She thinks about Denise, smiles, and ducks her head under the water again.

The End

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