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and nothing ever does begin like nothing ever ends

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September 6, 1938

they break taboo all the time now that they’re back at school and back together. in their dorm, at clubs, in the library, and always when they go out and about. it’s reckless, thrilling, stupid, sure. but it’s also the best feeling in the world. they can’t hold hands when they walk down the street without getting hassled, but they can switch daemons with no one the wiser.

galené sits on esther’s shoulders as they walk, and sure, it’s a little odd for esther without ritsa on her wrist, but feeling this constant and electrifying surge of— whatever the fuck it is, love and protectiveness and understanding— from bridget is enough to erase that entirely. she’s pretty sure bridget’s feeling the same, from the way she keeps stealing glances and biting her lip gleefully.

esther really wants to lean over and kiss bridget’s cheek, but she settles instead for kissing lené’s wings, and bridget’s face-splitting grin makes that just as good.

when they get to the cafe, bridget lets ritsa slide along her arms and tuck her face into her elbow as galené settles into esther’s lap.

“it still feels like we’re getting away with something,” bridget tells her, shaking her head.

“well, we kind of are. did you get a chance to—“

bridget lights up. “yes! i was in the library for hours the other day while you were taking your philosophy exams, and i convinced catherine to let me have a look at the witch-lore section.”

“there’s a witch-lore section!?!” esther’s sure her shock shows on her face.

“only the librarians know it exists, and only they have access to it,” she grimaces. “and it’s not like there’s much there anyway.” she stops again, sucking air in quickly through her mouth.

sometimes the sensation of switching is still intense enough to render them silent, so esther casually asks, “you alright?” as though she isn’t buzzing wildly herself.

“mhm.”

“so did you find… anything?”

scraps.

the waitress comes by and takes their order, and esther feels like she’s gonna bust out of her skin the whole time. “what did they say!” she asks as soon as the they finish ordering.

“it’s not what's normally thought of as a common practice, but there are several records of consensual switching occurring throughout history. it’s clearly not as taboo as everyone thinks it is, especially if we have proof that witches are keeping record of it.”

esther can tell there's something else there that she's not saying, so she sits forward in her chair.

"all those cases, though? one time incidences. no one else that i could find switched with the same frequency or for such extended periods."

"so...” this time, it’s esther who gets momentarily lost in the overwhelming feeling of her daemon safely tucked into her girlfriend’s arms. she takes a long breath, letting it wash over her. “so, what you’re saying is, we’re special.”

“no shit. i mean, obviously we need more data in order to reach any kind of solid conclusion—"

"as any good philosopher knows."

"uh huh. but it sure seems like we're outliers."

the waitress brings them their drinks and for a short while, they can only sip quietly, smirking at each other every once and awhile.

esther grabs bridget’s hand and squeezes twice, and bridget does the same back.


December 16, 1938

“JEAN AND RUDJURO ARE ON THE MARCH!” one of the girls from myrielle hall runs down and knocks on each door, starting a wave of ruckus that spreads throughout the dorm.

from their pushed-together bed in their room toward the end of the hall, esther groans.

“room inspection? the RA is coming?” bridget asks, rubbing her eyes.

“uh huh.”

“fuck me.”

“we don’t have time.”

bridget whacks esther gently and rolls off the bed onto the floor. “we have… so much to do.”

“so let’s get cracking!” esther hops to the ground and starts stripping the bed. “come on!!”

“mmmmmph.” bridget gets up slowly. “toss me the sheets.”

esther hurls them across the room and they smack bridget in the face. “wake up!!”

bridget giggles and picks them up, galené gathering up the pieces that drag. they toss them into their closet, and pull out the two sets of twin sheets. in revenge, and mostly to prove she's awake now, bridget throws one of them back at esther, who catches them deftly. somehow, she has already dragged her half of the bed back to the wall and is making it.

the sounds of jean walker’s room inspection outside grow closer. her power walk and gila monster daemon have been putting the fear of god into the hearts of myrielle hall girls for the last few years, and today is no different. the other girls in the hall are more worried about hiding illicit substances or organizing their stuff, but bridget and esther are doing their best to make their room look as normal and heterosexual as possible.

ritsa is trying to separate their desks by herself but, without limbs, is having a bit of trouble. “go help.” bridget gestures her own daemon in that direction, and starts making her own half of the bed. she looks over at esther, and smiles. “hey, ettie.”

“hey, bridge?” esther’s bed is made and she’s taken pity on the daemons, separating the desks herself.

bridget finishes making her bed and comes over to the desk to organize her side. “ever think about, ykno, separating our shit the night before a room inspection?”

esther looks up at her and grins. “now, my love, what fun would that be?”

bridget picks up ritsa and lets her coil around her wrist as she turns to grab the picture of the them with the two gay guys they’d met in a bar. after she hangs it up, she turns back to see esther grinning at their newly straightened room. actually, maybe she’s grinning at her daemon on bridget's wrist. yeah, it's definitely that.

bridget kisses ritsa gently just as jean walker throws the door open. immediately, bridget tucks her arms behind her back and esther slides into her desk chair, carefully keeping her own hands under the table and away from lené’s back.

“how’d we do, miss walker?” bridget asks, holding her breath as she waits for an answer.

jean squints at every inch of the room, taking a tentative step toward the cracked open closet before deciding better of it. “looks good. up to standard. but it’s hasty. be better prepared next quarter.” she stops again and looks at bridget, then at esther. "hands out, ladies."

reluctantly, bridget pulls her hands from behind her back, and esther pulls hers out from under the desk.

jean studies bridget's arms carefully and turns to esther. "miss roberts, isn't ritsa your daemon?"

"no, miss walker." she holds out her arms, and lené flies right into them. "galené is my daemon."

jean whips her gaze to bridget, trying to gauge her reaction.

bridget shrugs, doing her best to disguise the shiver that just ran down her spine, an involuntary reaction to the most intense confirmation of esther's love that there is.

"if you say so." jean leaves, shuts the door, and esther pulls galené closer to her, cackling.

bridget grins and lifts ritsa back to her face for a nuzzle.


May 31, 1939

"i think she’s bigger than this, lené.”

"bigger than us? than the school? the city?"

if a bee could look concerned, this one certainly does.

bridget sighs. "i don't know. all of it? she's just—“

"brilliant? powerful? destined for greatness?"

"yeah."

"we're so screwed."

bridget laughs a little, her eyes wild. "the snake isn't much better is she?"

"no," lené settles into bridget's lap and cuddles up. "you know, she’s so quiet cuz she's always plotting world domination or salvation. i can never figure out which one it is with them."

"i hope the latter." bridget takes a deep breath, which turn into a long sigh. "the truth is, lee, esther’s going to leave us and never look back. i can feel it in my bones."

"sometimes i think you're crazy for thinking that. but other times, it's like. she forgets a date, or she disappears for a few hours and comes back with a whole research paper written and edited. or she's sworn she's found a new method of observing Dust, for fuck's sake, on a day where she promised she'd do laundry."

"yep. i don’t— i feel like... was this happening the whole time? and we just didn't see it? or is this neglect as recent as it feels?"

"i don't know."

“what are we gonna do about that little philosopher of atomcraft, huh?”

suddenly, the door swings open and the aforementioned philosopher comes flying in. "I PASSED!" she crashes into bridget and lené and hugs both of them tight.

"you goon," bridget laughs, and she can feel her worries sliding off like the whipped topping off a pudding. "i told you it would be fine!"

"i can't believe our late night study sessions really did pay off."

"they always do! and hey, it can't be that hard to write an essay when your brain is the size of your ego," bridget smiles, kissing the top of ritsa's head and then, delicately, the inside of her girlfriend's wrist.

esther's eyes roll back in her head and bridget can't tell if she's exasperated or aroused. when esther pulls her closer by the waistband of her skirt and tells her she's being an idiot, she decides it's both.


November 26, 1950

esther can’t stop thinking— no, feeling, it’s definitely a feeling, that she should be holding galené. her arms ache in a sort of tender, sort of heavy, sort of way and she has to hold herself back from reaching out and pulling her ex’s daemon to her chest. she missed them. and, looking over at bridget, who hasn’t stopped rubbing her wrist, esther wonders if she feels this ache too.

there’s been a lull in the conversation, enough for her to say, “it’s weird.” she’s trying to laugh and nearly chokes instead, “we’re—“

“we’re sort of pretending this is okay.” bridget offers her a sad smile.

“i’m certainly not okay.”

“i’m not exactly okay either.”

esther hesitates. “i wish— i mean, i don’t think you trust me enough to— i don’t want to assume. but it’s not like we can just pick up where we left off, and the last time we saw each other…” her head still feels fuzzy, and even though she’s been mostly okay with conversations, she’s having trouble finding this one’s thread now. but what she's talking about is them holding each other’s daemons again, and she hopes bridget understands that.

“no, you’re right!” this time, it’s bridget who fails to laugh. “i don’t trust you. but i miss you, god, i miss you.” bridget studies her for a moment, and shakes her head. “i wish we could…” she lifts up her arm, grabbing tightly to the place on her wrist where ritsa used to curl, “but i think it'd be too painful.”

esther pushes herself up in the bed that looks like a hospital bed but isn’t, and holds out a hand. “probably.”

bridget lets down her arm and entwines her fingers with esther’s while lené, still buzzing, always buzzing, lands softly on the bedrail. she squeezes her hand, but just once, so esther knows she’s still upset. it’s not an ‘i love you’ but it’s half of one.

“you’re a fool,” the bee tells the snake.

ritsa, curled up on esther’s lap, flicks her tongue, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

esther, however, nods. “hubris is… a bitch.”

this earns her a genuine chuckle from bridget. “ettie, please do try not to get yourself entangled in situations like this.”

“says the girl who agreed to work at my top secret and extremely dangerous organization.”

“hey, who else is going to keep you out of trouble?”

esther swallows, trying to push down the guilt that rises painfully in her throat. she has it on good authority that bridget barely left her side when she was in the coma, and, on top of that, she's visited every day since esther woke up. “you really don’t want to do that. give up your life for me.”

“excuse you, miss hubris! i have a responsibility to the sanctity of this alliance, which is to prevent the corruption of an institution with too much power, and maybe save a few lives in the process!”

“good luck with that,” esther attempts a smile and get hit with a wave of dizziness. “whoah.”

“are you alright?” bridget’s expression changes from jovial to concerned so quickly it breaks esther’s heart. “is there anything i can do?”

“i’m okay. thank you, bridget.”

ritsa slithers down esther’s arm and curls up on her wrist. it’s as good a signal to esther as any that they’re done here.

“you sure?” bridget pulls her hand back gently and clasps it with her other in her lap, but her eyes never let go of esther’s.

“yeah. i think i need to rest, though. catch you later?” it’s a lie. she won’t be able to rest anytime soon. she’s too busy thinking about how she’ll never be capable of returning all she owes her ex-girlfriend.

“you bet.” bridget and her daemon slip out of the room, each throwing one glance back as they go.

without galené’s buzzing, it’s completely silent in the room, and esther is left staring up at the ceiling. “ritsa?”

“yeah?” the small, pink snake shifts around to look at esther.

“they love us so much.”

“they do.”

“i can't—” esther’s voice breaks and she pulls ritsa up to her face. “i can't. i can't love her,” she swallows, “like that. or maybe at all, i don't know. i'm letting her down.”

“yeah,” ritsa tells her softly, “you are.”