October 15, 1941
“fuck.” anthony looks down at his work, looks up at astoria. “jesus jumping jacks on a jester, fuck, astoria, look at this!”
the quail hops her way over to peer down at the lines and lines of equations that cover anthony’s desk. “holy ballsack.”
“my sentiments exactly.”
“that’s the entire continent right there, isn’t it.”
“if— if the german electorate got nippon to attack hispania nova, everyone has to jump in. that’s what an alliance means.”
“fucking shit on a pancake. the LAST war started because everyone had to be so honorable and now look, so much for learning from history.”
anthony sighs. he’s tempted to crumple up all his work and throw it into the trash with the might of a thousand suns. he knows new denmark doesn’t want to be involved in another european war, he knows no one will listen to anything he says when the continentalist mentality runs so strong here. “we gotta tell someone.”
“no. we can’t. we can’t we can’t we can’t, anthony, we’ll get fired, we’ll, we’ll be the boy who cried wolf, the laughing stock of the town. we can’t say it. what if it’s wrong? what if we’re wrong?” she flutters her wings and hops around the desk.
astoria stops moving and looks back at anthony. “i know. that’s why it’s so scary.”
he picks her up and brings her to his chest, kissing her head. “the magisterium has been getting away with some truly horrible things over in europe. if they’re gonna bring the war to us, we should be prepared for it. and we should make sure the other countries are too.”
“it shouldn’t be just us, though.”
“i know. but we figured it out. so we have to tell the world. or at least one guy in a position of power and influence.”
December 8, 1941
“an attack on our allies is an attack on us! an attack. on our allies. is an attack. on us. when the nippons dive bombed san diego, they dive bombed an entire continental allyship. citizens of this nation, the entire republic of texas, we are at war, alongside our sister nations, because we cannot let hispania nova face the terrors of battle alone."
penny finishes cleaning the counter and glances over at the radio. her only customers are two older men, one with a greyhound daemon and one with a goose. they are debating the radio broadcast, and she's listening intently, though she busies herself with rolling silverware into napkin bundles.
"well, he's not wrong, we did swear we'd go to war for any of the continental countries."
"it's just, our president wouldn't bring us into this war if we couldn't profit from it, y’know? so i'm trying to figure out what's in it for us." the one with the hound leans forward in his seat, his daemon perking up her ears.
"hispania nova gets men, money, and weapons. we get zilch. then, when the war's over, they owe us a shitton.”
"yeah but the other countries are jumpin’ in, they're gonna be a helluva lot of debt after this."
"the only reason they can fight back is because they have the might of four other nations to back them the fuck up—“ the one with the goose daemon turns to penny. "apologies."
she waves them off, but brings her bucket of silverware to the back of the restaurant. “dax?”
fiodaxion, her black and blue butterfly daemon, flicks one of his antenna on her ear. “penny?”
“wanna join the army?”
he laughs nervously, almost like he can’t tell if she’s joking.
“seriously.” she unloads the rolled silverware into a larger basket filled with more of the same. “all the fighting, all the glory…”
“we can’t,” dax sighs and flicks his tongue out at her.
“why, cuz i’m a girl? how backwards of you.”
“i mean… do you think they would really let us? and what about the pay?”
“probably not as good as restaurant tips. plus they might throw me in a bomb factory, and i just can’t see myself doing well there.”
“right.” he flutters around the room and pushes to the limits of their range to check on their customers. “need anything boys?”
“no, thank you!”
dax flies back and gives penny what she knows to be his disappointed look. “i bet miles jones is going to enlist.”
“ugh. fuck that guy.” penny bounces up and down on her toes and reaches out her finger for her daemon to land on. “i guess we can see what war effort stuff we can do from home?”
“and if they open the draft to girls?”
“then we can join.”
December 20, 1941
patty, decked out in faux fur, gold jewelry, and long manicured nails, dunks a calamari into the sauce in front of her. while she’s chewing, she looks over to her daemon and addresses them. “so yesterday i was out with some of the girls, and they introduced this new lady, right? and she was asking about you and so i said, 'they’re at home, no big deal,' and she was like, 'what, do you have more than one daemon? and how are you so far away?'” she pops another piece into her mouth and continues, “and i was like, ‘well, i’m not a witch or anything but we have a really big range,’ of course, cuz you know we were at the cafe just next door, and she was like, ‘ohh, well i guess that makes sense, what does he look like?’ and i rolled my eyes, and i was like, ‘maria’s a fucking underwater volcanic tube worm! they don’t have a fucking gender! what the fuck is wrong with you?’ and she was, of course, really upset because how could she know that people have plant daemons and fuck me backwards, but god, you’re not even a plant, right?”
I DON’T KNOW IF I’M A PLANT. I THINK MOST BODILY FUNCTIONS OF A TUBE WORM ARE CONTROLLED BY BACTERIA. ANYWAY, SHE SOUNDS LIKE A BITCH.
“i’m bringing you with me next time,” she narrows her eyes at the gigantic heated tank, “even if it is a pain in the ass.”
ARE YOU CALLING ME A PAIN IN THE ASS?
“oh, never, darling, i wouldn’t dream of it. just transporting you is tricky, and people get a little freaked out when you,” she taps her head, “y’know, talk.”
OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, PATTY.
she glances at the clock on the wall and flicks on the radio. “time to tune into to whatever fresh hell the magisterium is responsible for today.”
I DON’T REALLY WANT TO LISTEN TODAY. WHAT IF ANOTHER COUNTRY GOT INVADED?
“it’s life, maria. it’s our job to know what they’re doing over there. and maybe figure out someway to help.” patty kicks her feet onto the table and finishes the last of her calamari. “ooh! maybe we could find a husband and get into some secret government shit!”
YOU REALLY THINK IT’S THAT EASY? a thousand bubbles rapidly fly to the top of the tank. HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’LL MARRY SOMEONE WHO WORKS FOR THE GOVERNMENT? OR THAT HIS JOB WILL BE SECRET? HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THIS SHIT?
she shrugs. “i have a couple of avenues to explore.”
WERE YOU READING GEORGE FITZROY'S MAIL AGAIN?
October 28, 1943
“and until that day, we stand guard. we are determined that their plan for world conquest shall stop, here and now. we are determined that they shall never again use peaceful industries for warlike purposes. we are determined that the vicious magisterium cycle of: war, phony peace, war, phony peace, war, phony peace, shall once and for all time, come to an end. that is your job in the war against the german electorate.”
as the projector clicks off, chet turns to arethusa and rolls his eyes. “i think i’d rather sit in an anbaric chair than hear the phrase ‘phony peace’ again.”
“hey now. you signed up to defend this country.” the german shepherd gets up, walks in a circle, and settles again at his feet. “least you could do is sit through a good ole fashioned motivational picture show.”
“they need better writers.”
anderson, on the bench next to him, nods and chuckles. “it’s really not us they need to worry about. we’re already here to fight.”
“fight— or swab the deck another thirty-two times.”
chet’s fellow sailor nods again and gets up, his seagull daemon stretching her wings. “speaking of which…”
arethusa rests her head on chet’s knee. “don’t be so negative. project rainbow starts tomorrow.”
“ah yes, the mysterious project of which no one on the ship is allowed to know anything about and in which we must all take part.”
she tilts her head from side to side and he sighs.
“i’m kidding, thuse, i’m really looking forward to it. i’m hoping we can find out a little bit more about it.
Nippon = Japan
anbaric = electric
the propaganda speech in chet's segment was written by Dr. Seuss and the fic title is from "atoms" by nana grizol
Chapter 2: Burgeoning
"It might have been a new way for her heart to beat."
--The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
September 7, 1935
"ritsa, stuff it!"
the small, pink milk snake curls tighter around esther's wrist and hisses, "i'm just sayin' she's cute is all."
"ugh." esther takes a long sip of her drink and sets it back on the counter. unfortunately, her daemon is right. the bartender is extremely cute. both her and that bumblebee the size of her head. “you can’t keep trying to pick up girls for me, ritsa,” esther mumbles as she tucks her hair behind her ear. “especially not in public.”
just then, that very bartender looks over, catches esther's eyes, and smiles. she slides over to that end of the bar, accompanied by a soft buzz. "can i get you another?"
esther flicks her eye down at the half-full drink in front of her and decides that maybe this isn't that bad of an idea after all. "no, thank you, but maybe an introduction?"
"bridget. and this is galené— lené for short. i think we're in your gov class. it's esther, right?"
"yeah, shit, really?" esther's blushing now as ritsa tightens even further around her wrist. "uhh, this is ritsa, the little brat. she should have reminded me that we know you."
bridget laughs, and for a moment, esther feels less like an idiot. "we're lucky, huh?"
esther raises an eyebrow. "in my experience, it's only made people suspicious." esther doesn’t want to say outright what it makes people suspicious of, but she imagines bridget knows all too well about that stupid rumor.
"do they have a right to be?"
shit. the only reason ritsa's even whispering in public is because esther’s tipsy, and really, she certainly doesn't plan spilling any other details, but that smile... it feels safe. like telling bridget would be the most right thing in the world. "maybe."
esther's a little shocked when she's addressed by galené instead of bridget. "i'm kind of difficult to hide, y'know? so we figured we might be easier to just hide in plain sight."
"does— does she always address other people?“ esther looks to bridget, a little bewildered.
"yep. most talkative daemon i know."
ritsa, who doesn't ever talk to anyone but esther, unravels slightly and tilts her head toward the bee. “listen, you're like us. and you're cute. wanna go out sometime?"
esther clamps ritsa's mouth down with her thumb and forefinger and glances around the bar. the other patrons are either too far away or too drunk to have noticed, but her heart is still racing. "i'm so sorry, she's not usually this... forward."
bridget smiles, turns away, fills up another glass and slides it to a guy down the bar. she is unflappable. it's miraculous. "we'd love to," she answers, and scratches her number down on a napkin.
September 13, 1935
“you really got all of that out of it? because honestly, it just made me hate mr. rochester.”
“okay, listen,” bridget has both her arms crossed around the daemon on her lap and she adjusts her grip to lean forward onto the table. “i hear you, i really do. but if you would consider how he’s really just a stepping stone for her own emotional growth—”
“or he’s a nasty creep who took advantage of her stature and her age and exploited their relationship for his own personal gain.” esther untwists and retwists ritsa around her fingers, something she does often out of nerves or excitement. or in this case, both.
“or that. i mean i’m always approaching the work from a symbolic point of view, but there’s nothing wrong with a narrative analysis either.”
“you’re damn right there isn’t.” honestly, what she wouldn’t give to hear ritsa’s take on all of this. it is flirting right? even though they’re arguing about the required reading in English 101, this is… well, judging by the way bridget’s looking at her… yes, she would say it’s flirting. she tucks her hair behind her ear slowly and looks up.
bridget blushes and lené shifts in her lap, the pitch of her nonstop buzzing increasing just a little bit. “so… is this something you do often?”
“uh, not like this, no.”
“but, at the bar, ritsa seemed so confident…” bridget’s blush deepens.
esther’s starting to realize they might have more in common than she thought. she clears her throat and admits, “my only experience with girls— well, one girl, was in the alleyway between our apartments.”
“oh, thank god,” bridget sighs and smiles. “here i was thinking that since you’d asked me out, you’d done this the proper way— not that there really is a proper way— several times before.”
“oh no, not at all.”
“me neither. i guess you could say my experiences have been… similar to yours, although they may have involved a slightly more comfortable location.”
though they’re both blushing now, esther can’t help but realize how liberating this is. it’s not like she was expecting to find someone like her in college, nor even dared to hope that she would, let alone someone this beautiful and passionate and intelligent. certainly there’s a part of her that’s afraid to get attached, afraid of the consequences, but that part is greatly outweighed by the curiosity and attraction she feels toward bridget.
ritsa winks at lené, who lifts up out of bridget’s lap and flies in a few circles before hovering about her shoulders.
“okay,” esther begins with a grin, “what did you think of john rivers?”
October 12, 1935
bridget holds esther’s hand in hers as they sit in the common room well after midnight. esther is indescribably excited about her and the four official dates they’ve gone on over the past month. and gosh, having her hand held in such a soft and comforting way is doing all kind of things for her emotional well being, and with ritsa coiled on lené’s back, she’s pretty sure she could die happy right now.
they’ve been talking for hours now, trading life stories and family history. esther learns that bridget’s parents immigrated from eireland and from a tiny province in the german electorate, respectively. esther in turn tells her about her muscovy father and how her mother’s family has been living in new denmark for over a century now. they talked about religion, and while both of them have hebrew parents, only esther is really practicing. they talk about their dreams and their childhood friends, and eventually, they take turns asking each other as many silly questions as they can think of.
it’s been silent for a bit now, though, when bridget says, cheeks reddening, “you know, other couples— i mean, obviously, we’re nothing like them, but— if it’s alright… i’d like to refer to you as my girlfriend. in my head, i mean. and to you.”
esther, full of both joy and warmth, nods vigorously and squeezes bridget’s hand. “and same to you, i mean, that is, can i call you my girlfriend too?”
it’s silent again, but only for a moment, as esther picks back up their question game. “coffee or tea?”
“because it keeps you…buzzed?” esther can’t keep the shit eating grin from her face as she gestures at galené with her free hand.
this earns her both an eyeroll and a smile. “you?”
“tea, but that’s my mother’s fault.”
“what is your favorite book of all time?”
“can i say a philosophy book i read for kids when i was ten?”
“i guess. mine is the odyssey.”
“wow, okay, way to show me up. name three things you’re afraid of.”
“the dark, calculus… this, i guess.”
ritsa shifts around on esther’s wrist and it takes her a second before she answers. “i understand the first, i’d marry calculus if i could so i really don’t get that, and bridge— i’m scared too.”
bridget chuckles nervously and pulls lené closer to her body. “i’m scared of not doing this right, i’m scared of losing you, i’m scared of people finding out. my parents, the school— like could we lose our scholarships over this? is it— it’s not illegal, but it’s— god, ettie. it’s so bad.”
“i’m not going anywhere. me, you know, agreeing to the girlfriend thing? that was me saying i’m sticking around.”
“i know that.” bridget’s eyes close tightly and esther has to stop herself from wrapping her arms around her girlfriend (her girlfriend!!!) “but the rest of it?”
“scary as hell and i completely agree.”
“great. you’re so helpful,” bridget answers with a biting tone but a soft expression, and esther knows she’s starting to get to her.
“the thing is, we’re in it together. whatever happens. if we get found out, we face the consequences together. if one of our parents finds out, we’ll get through it together. and not to jump the gun, but if we live happily ever after…?”
“yeah, i see where you’re going with this. we’ll be happy together. it’s like,” she smiles brightly and says, “it’s like bridget and ettie versus the world.”
ritsa slides forwards and flicks her tongue at one of lené’s antennae, who in turn bops her on the head.
“you’re right.” esther smiles back and leans forward to kiss her cheek. “and you’re cute.”
November 23, 1935
esther hasn't let go of bridget's hand the entire run down the block, and while they stand in front of the elegant apartment building, their palms have started to sweat.
"what exactly are we doing here?" bridget asks, only slightly afraid of the wicked glint in her girlfriend's eye.
"philosophy. specifically, physics."
both bridget and lené let out groans of frustration, to which esther and ritsa both respond with a giggle.
esther pushes open the door with her free hand and leads bridget inside. “i made friends with the bellhop who runs the elevator because i knew i was going to need to call in a few favors.”
“oh, yes.” esther holds out her arm and ritsa slithers toward the UP button, pressing it gently with her snout.
as they walk through the doors, they greet the operator, and esther asks him if they can use the elevator for a bit. he smiles, and leaves them be.
“so remember how you were complaining about the moving object gravity lesson from ornathy’s class?”
“i don’t like where this is going,” bridget leans on the back of the elevator car cautiously, and shares a look with her daemon.
“that’s unfortunate, because we’re about to have a lot of fun.”
“physics is never fun.”
to bridget’s count, they spend at least an hour and fifteen minutes taking the elevator up and down and jumping like children whenever it lands on a floor. it is extremely fun, and they giggle nearly nonstop the entire time as esther shouts out vector diagram descriptions. but, bridget has to admit, professor ornanthy’s lesson makes so much more sense now.
out of breath and exhausted, she leans on esther the whole way out. “thank you,” she whispers.
“it was my pleasure. wanna go get a hot chocolatl?”
chocolatl = chocolate
eireland = ireland
muscovy = russia
the german electorate = the territory controlled by the church known as the Magesterium. Before the war was most of Europe, is now what we know as post ww1 germany
Chapter 3: Frost
"Maybe sometimes we don’t do the right thing because the wrong thing looks more dangerous, and we don’t want to look scared, so we go and do the wrong thing just because it’s dangerous.”
--The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
August 15, 1546
iitukka leans deeper into the kiss, her breath hitching as duranna yelsav's hands slide up her body.
she pulls away to flash her a grin, or kiss her neck, and then suddenly, those wandering, traveling hands pin her down and she is unable to move. she can't really complain about the position, that is, until duranna's expression changes and ittukka realizes this isn't that kind of hold.
"you betrayed me," duranna whispers, breath dancing on ittukka's lips. "did you think i would not notice? all you had to do was ask and i would have said, yes, of course, we can see other loves, but it was your deceit that harmed me.”
before she has a chance to answer, or even try to break away, her captor releases her and steps back. "get out. i never want to see you or anyone from your damned clan again."
iitukka gathers her things quickly and makes for the door, but a strong wave of magic smacks her when she passes through.
"any child you call your own will lose the ones they love again and again and again," duranna's voice is thick with anger and hurt as she hurtles the curse toward ittukka.
"guess i won't have any children then!" she calls back, and flies away as fast as she can, praying to yambe-akka that the other’s witch spell won’t hold.
February 13th, 1679
"we're doing this." the alligator won't look her in the eyes, but doesn't sound like he's going to budge.
“sas, come on, i don’t think we need to— i mean, you’re not even a bird and—“
“june, please. i will not be the reason you lose your flight. we have to do this.”
she doesn’t want to, oh, she really doesn’t want to. she knows other witches did it younger, some at ten even, and her and sasona are fourteen! she can do this. maybe. probably not. yambe-akka help her.
“it’s time,” iitukka calls, and june takes her hand, shaking ever so slightly.
as they walk, june looks around for joukavainen, but as usual, her aunt's daemon is nowhere to be found.
"is it hard?"
"yes, niece, it is very hard. you've been taught this since you were small, are feeling unprepared?“
“no, i mean, yes, but— did jouka— was he mad at you?"
iitukka chuckles a little and runs her thumb along the back of june's hand. "yes, he was a little bit. but now he likes his freedom, and you know we're just as close as you and sasona are now."
they come to a stop at a rusting gate. the snow has settled around it, but she can clearly see a piece of red fabric tied to the ground at the entrance.
"sasona, you will wait here."
he crawls his way over to the gate, and experimentally reaches a claw toward it, only to yank back violently. "it feels... wrong. june, june, i don’t like this. i change my mind."
"you can't. we're already here," she tells him, kneeling down to be on his level. "i love you."
"i love you too."
she kisses him on the snout carefully, and he snuffs at her.
"are you ready, niece?"
june nods and stands up.
"you may begin."
and so she does. she doesn't look back, not even when it starts to hurt.
she knows exactly when she reaches the limit of their range, because suddenly, with every step she takes, the pain worsens. she’s never pushed like this before, never even tried to walk past that point of tension. her head— her head feels like it’s going to explode, it’s pounding like a blacksmith’s forge, and she’s starting to feel nauseous. and another two steps and she starts to feel the beginnings of a ripping in her chest.
she looks back.
sasona is pacing back and forth at the gate, whining, and june can tell he’s in just as much pain as her. she can’t believe she’s doing this to him. she keeps telling herself not to cry, but she eventually realizes the tears on her face have already frozen over. she misses him already and she’s looking at him.
she turns around, takes another step, a deep breath, another step. dear yambe-akka, please let this be over quickly.
june keeps going, step after step after step and it only gets harder and harder and harder, and she lands on the ground with a crash, sobbing wholeheartedly now. she lies there for what feels like hours, curling up into a ball and hugging the snow to her chest as though it could replace her daemon. sasona isn't here and she's never been so alone.
but she knows she has to get up eventually, and so she does.
April 25, 1942
"well, hello there."
ben stops in the middle of the sidewalk to stare at the beautiful woman who has just descended from the sky. it’s so cold he’s wearing about six jackets, but she only appears to be wearing the most basic coverings. and, to top it all off, she happens to be his wife. “uh, hi?"
"my name is kesäkuu, but you may call me june."
he can’t believe she’s pulling the kesäkuu crap on him. it’s ridiculous, future-june told him herself that it’s just the laplandish translation of her name, something she’d called herself for fun when she was younger. but he supposes she’s trying to impress him, and that’s pretty cute, too. ”okay. i'm uhh...quentin, and this is cressida.” he is a bit stunned by her sudden appearance (and, he admits, the way she looks) that he’d momentarily forgotten what his new name was. “where's your daemon, june?" he looks down at his own pygmy hippo, who appears both uncomfortable and delighted by the visitor, and then back up at the woman he loves so much.
"haven't you ever seen a witch before, uhh quentin?"
ben wants to answer that yes, he’s married one, but he can’t put her in danger of that paradox. he would never do that to her. “no, actually— WAIT YOU'RE A WITCH! that would explain the flying thing!"
"yes, indeed. would you be able to tell me why you're entirely shrouded in secrecy and doom, by any chance?"
"the secrecy would be my job, ma'am,” he chuckles a little to himself, “and i really can't speak to the doom." except that of course he can. because loving june means losing her, and he came here to die.
"hmm. okay. wanna get a drink?"
“we’d love that.”
January 22, 1945
helen and june lay in the back of the pickup truck, staring up at the sky. june rests her head on helen’s chest, breathing in her scent and savoring every second. they shouldn't be out here, and yet...
“it’s so beautiful,” helen says, pointing up as a meteor darts across the sky.
“i’m tempted to say ‘you’re so beautiful,’” but i think you would only tease me for being cheesy.”
“please,” helen giggles, “flatter me. be as cheesy as you like.”
their daemons are entangled at their feet, anteros purring and sasona as close to that as a gator can get.
“i think,” june tilts her head up and kisses helen on the cheek, “you have the most beautiful smile,” she wiggles a little and softly presses her lips against helen’s neck, “the most beautiful voice,” and adjusts again to hover above helen, leaning down to kiss her chest, “and the most beautiful heart.”
helen’s breath hitches, and then, as if to recover, she scolds, “that’s my breast.”
“you have beautiful breasts too.” june grins.
another meteor illuminates the sky as helen pulls june down to kiss her long and deep. “thank you,” she whispers, “for stealing me away.”
“anytime.” june flops back and cuddles up again, adjusting the blankets. “i wish i knew more about the constellations. i’d try to impress you with my knowledge so you’d fall deeply in love with me.”
“you don’t need to map the stars for that,” helen says and turns to meet june’s gaze.
june stares back and it’s hard not to just kiss helen again, right there, and let that be an answer. but she’s always valued clarity. “are you saying you love me, helen partridge?”
“i love you, june barlowe.”
“i love you, too.”
All of the witches are from Lapland, which we know as Finland. They are immortal, or at least, live WAY longer than us. They are entirely unbothered by the cold, live in clans, and always have bird daemons. They have a strong sense of prophecy and worship the goddess of the dead, Yambe-Akka. The separation ordeal allows them to have a greater range away from their daemon, though humans have no idea how all of that works. (also if ur curious how june and helen got together check out "tales from the polvo wives club," it's not hdm related but its suuuper gay)
Chapter 4: Symbiosis
“When he'd sworn at her and been sworn at in return, they became great friends."
--The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
September 5, 1939
"uh, excuse me, miss? you're in my seat." jack is trying his best to be polite, jesus, he really is, but he loves that seat and the girl sitting in it is so small that he could just move her himself and he's had a really stressful morning.
"i thought it was open seating." she turns to face him, her tone truly unamused, as her snake daemon periscopes out of her sleeve.
he thinks better of the argument and sit down next to her, tess curling up at his feet. "you know what, you're right. i'm jack, this is tesserin."
"esther. and you met ritsa."
she didn't make the joke. he can't believe it. in all the years since tesserin settled, every single new person—
"is that a jack russell?"
"because my cousin abigail has one— i mean, as pet, her daemon's a rabbit, but they're so cute!"
"thank you," tess answers for them and shoots him a happy look. "i'd like to think i am."
"you're welcome. so what are you majoring in?"
"atomcraft and Rusokov particle physics. Dust, i mean. i'm studying Dust. you?"
"same, actually! you didn't need to dumb it down for me.”
he couldn't have hide his astonishment even if he'd tried. he stammers out, "there aren't...many.. women— i mean, it's— it's not bad that you're pursuing it, that's awesome, i just—"
"i'm used to being the only girl," she tells him with a shrug. "i was the only one studying philosophy at undergrad too."
as the professor walks in, he whispers hurriedly, "you smart?"
"hell yeah. are you?"
she reaches out and shakes his hand just as professor logan makes it up to the front of the room, pig daemon in tow.
October 17, 1939
"so, what's a hispania novan guy doing at mit?"
jack is only half pretending to be offended when he replies, ”oh, you mean a mejican guy? cuz, my country has enough pride that we have our own name, instead of being a knock off brand of someone else."
"wow. that was low, jack wyatt, if that's even your real name,” esther flashes him a grin and ritsa flicks her tongue happily at him.
"racist,” tesserin tells her, tail wagging.
"okay, that's fair."
jack hesitates only slightly. “actually it's not my real name.”
"you try writing getting a paper published in new denmark, the land of the free, and being denied cuz you're not a white guy."
esther gives him a look.
"okay, that's fair."
“are you going to tell me your real name?”
she considers this for a moment before shrugging, and asking him, “so does it work? does having a white guy’s name really help?”
“cuz, i had an ex who called me ettie. E-T-T-I-E, but i could always spell it E-D-D-Y and take a page out of your book.”
he can tell by the way ritsa tightens on her wrist and how she won’t meet his eyes that just mentioning her ex was rough. he also knows just how proud she is of her name and the hebrew woman she was named for. “it’s not worth it, not for you.”
“you’ve gotta become a pioneer, esther. make this field more accessible for all women, y’know, that kind of thing.”
“why won’t you pioneer with me?”
he shrugs and exchanges a look with tess. “we’re not in it for the glory. we’re in it for the fun.”
esther grants him a smile. “fair.”
May 11, 1940
“carefully… take your foot off the break.”
the car rolls forward ever so slightly and esther jams her foot on the brake so hard they both fly forward in their seats.
“FUCK! it MOVED!”
“but i thought— i thought you had to have your foot on the gas for it to go forward?”
“no, esther, come on, you know your basics! this is simple shit!”
“i mean, obviously i know the philosophy behind the way a motor vehicle works, jack wyatt, but— it just— it took me by surprise, alright? the fact that it moves when you aren’t even doing anything wasn’t a responsibility i expected.”
jack, who has really been trying his best not to laugh, loses it. he doubles over and clutches tesserin closer to his chest.
ritsa hisses ever so slightly but esther hushes her, and lets out a nervous chuckle of her own.
when jack finally catches his breath, he sits up and tells esther, in his best teacher voice, “when you take your foot off the break, be prepared for the car to move forward. once it starts moving, you can slowly, slowly, put your foot back down on the break. are you ready?”
“i think so.” she exhales slowly, then nods, setting her jaw. “yes. i'm ready.”
December 15, 1941
esther pulls away from the hug as one of the guys from their chem class wolf whistles from across the quad. she’s looking down, and jack can see her wrist going white where ritsa tightens around it.
he takes her hands, careful to avoid touching the snake as he does so. “you know i don’t give a shit what they think. we both know it’s not like that.”
she nods, laughs bitterly, and drops his hands. “you know, i’m sure my family would be fuckin’ delighted to hear i was interested in a boy.”
he furrows his brow. he distinctly remembers esther mentioning an ex… it’s odd that she never told her family about him, if they would be so happy, unless— oh. well that certainly makes a lot of sense.
jack doesn’t comment, only holds his arms out for esther to hug him again.
she rolls her eyes but wraps her arms around him again, hanging on tight.
he wants to tell her that she’s okay, fuck whatever the magisterium says about homosexuality, she’s his best friend and his opinion of her hasn’t changed at all, but he’s pretty sure she’s strangle him handily for it. besides, the fact that basically the whole world is at war with the magisterium should be enough to prove them wrong about this shit anyway.
instead, once they break apart, tess begs at esther, who lets ritsa down to ride around on her back. “thanks!” she barks happily and runs in little circles, the snake hanging on like a collar with her chin resting on tess's head.
January 3, 1942
jack and esther don't stop looking at each other the entire time they open their letters. the alliance of developed anomalous resources, or ADAR, approached them three weeks ago. they offered a way to help the war effort, a way to do philosophy, a way to set aside the parts of their identity that restrict them from moving forward in the philosophy community. no one can block your way when they don’t even know your work exists.
esther and jack had each taken a long multiple choice test, filled out a survey and been sworn to secrecy.
either they both got accepted, or they don't go.
“dear mr. wyatt, we are pleased to congratulate—”
“dear miss roberts, we are pleased to congratulate—”
jack knows that esther’s face breaking grin is matching his own. “we fucking did it!!”
“we did, holy shit, we did.” she looks like she’s about to cry, for god’s sake.
he gives her a hug, and then sticks his tongue out at her daemon, who mirrors his expression gleefully.
Mejico/Hispania Nova = Mexico
Rusocov Particles/Dust = fundamental universal particles
also lmao i wrote this before the new scene in hypothesis and trust me when i heard it i DIED
Chapter 5: Bloom
"Love is ferocious too."
--The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
March 2, 1936
“would you happen to know the plus-que-parfait of avoir? it’s a really obvious one, i’m just blanking on it right now.”
esther pulls bridget’s textbook across the desk and squints at it. “uhh… no. it’s nothing like muscovy.” she says this mostly to brag, not because anyone would ever think french and muscovy were similar languages.
“hang on. WHAT?” this from the bumblebee hovering over bridget’s left shoulder, buzzing in an indignant manner. “are you telling me you’re fluent in muscovy?”
“yep! i can sort of read and speak hebrew, and you know i’m in baby latin this year, but i grew up speaking muscovy.”
bridget is rapidly turning redder and redder and esther has to ask if she’s okay.
“mhm.” she swallows, reaches into her bag and pulls out a novel, pushing it in esther’s general direction.
it’s anna karenina, written in its original muscovy.
“how do you just—” esther shakes her head. “you know what, never mind.” she flips through it, and even though it’s been awhile since she’s seen any of her dad’s first language written on paper, the syllables still slide into her mind.
ritsa untwists herself to whisper into esther’s ear, “you should definitely read it to her,” and esther grins wickedly. “Bсе счастли́вые се́мьи похо́жи друг на дру́га, ка́ждая несчастли́вая семья́ несчастли́ва по-сво́ему.”
she looks up to find her girlfriend has slid halfway off of her chair and she has to stop herself from giggling. only bridget would be turned on by classic literature in its original translation. not that esther’s complaining, oh no, not one bit. “wow, i love you,” she tells her, shaking her head.
bridget hits the floor with a thunk! “h-holy shit.”
“oh.” esther’s blushing now too, realizing exactly what she’s said. “i—”
“i love you too, ettie.”
December 9, 1936
they walk up to the house, the backs of their hands brushing together like they know they should be holding hands.
“nervous?” esther asks, turning to look at bridget with kindness in her eyes.
“mhm.” bridget’s biting her lip and galené is buzzing in circles around her, but she finally takes a look at the house in front of her. it’s clearly been adapted for jehu, anita’s daemon, with wide doorways and raised ceilings, and she notices that there’s also a ramp instead of stairs. “who’s the ramp for?”
“ziv! my cousin rita’s squid, he has a rolling tank. you’ll meet them soon.”
just once, quickly, bridget takes a hold of esther’s hand and squeezes it, once, twice. it’s become their silent sign for “i love you,” and so of course, esther squeezes back, once, twice. they drop their hands, and walk up to the door cautiously.
it opens with a bang before they can even knock.
“ESTHER! and you must be BRIDGET!” the woman who bridget now knows to be anita roberts takes both of them in her arms for a long hug, and give them each cheek kisses. “welcome in, girls!”
as she helps them with their coats, bridget’s vision finally clears and she sees the ten foot tall kodiak bear standing in the living room, paws outstretched toward esther and ritsa.
esther hurries over and drops ritsa in his palms. “hey, big guy.”
“hiya.” he lifts the milk snake up delicately to kiss her on the head. “how are ya, my serpentine kid?”
she flicks her tongue at him and says, “not bad, how 'bout you?”
“happy, now that you’re here!”
bridget is watching all of this, stuck in the foyer with lené on her shoulder. they’re half in awe and terror of jehu, and half in adoration of how cute it all is.
meanwhile, anita has been in at least six different places, doing last minute cleanings and preparations, when she sidles up to esther. “so,” she begins in a loud whisper, “is your friend hebrew?”
bridget is blushing now, but doesn’t want to give the impression that she’s eavesdropping, so turns to her daemon, watching out of the corner of her eye.
“well, is she?”
“i mean, kind of, but she doesn't practice though—”
“bah!” anita waves her hands. “good enough for me.” she strides once again toward bridget and plants another kiss on her cheek.
if bridget was blushing before, she’s an absolute tomato now.
January 31, 1937
“i’m here, i’m here you don’t have to shout! what!?”
“oh, sorry, i thought you were in the bathroom. my tie’s crooked.”
as she comes back through the door, bridget says, “i thought that’s what daemons were for. ritsa, why can’t you do this for her?”
“bridget, i don’t have any LIMBS!”
“i know,” bridget turns to esther when she says, “but every single time you wear the suit, i swear to—”
“just fix it, honey, please.”
bridget grumbles but adjusts the tie around esther’s neck. “how you can do advanced theoretical equations and then turn around and fail to tie your own goddamned tie is beyond me.”
“you look lovely, by the way.”
“yes, well, you did pick this dress out for you to wear so i’m not surprised you like it.”
“are you upset because we’re going to the club on Avenue A instead of the one with the cute bartender? because honestly, you’re a much cuter bartender.”
bridget doesn’t answer, but galené buzzes and tells her that she’s being ridiculous.
“are you ready to go?”
"yeah. no. actually…” bridget bites her lip. “i got a letter from one of my cousins in the german electorate. it’s getting worse over there.”
esther swallows.”i’m trying not to think about it.”
“yeah, but you always say that and sometimes i want to talk about it, because i’m scared, and…” bridget reaches out and fidgets with galené’s wings. “it’s easy to forget the world exists, when i’m with you. and sometimes i want that. and when we get to the club, i do want to pretend we’re just a normal lesbian couple who falls into the standard butch-femme dichotomy and leave our troubles at the door! but right now. can you just tell me how you feel?”
esther squishes bridget into a hug. “yes,” she whispers into her ear, “i can.” when they break apart, she continues, “my mother writes me letters, about once a month. she has family everywhere, so i get all the updates from her. and you’re right, it is getting worse. for hebrew people.” ritsa tightens around esther’s wrist. “for our people. it’s easy to be across the ocean and pretend like it’s not our problem. but it is. it could be. i keep thinking we should be doing something, but i don’t know what and i don’t know how.”
“thank god you fucking admitted we’re on the same fucking page!”
it’s awkward for a moment. then bridget claps her hands together and shouts, “let’s go!”
when they get to the club, the set has already started. they slip into a table close to the front and order their drinks quietly.
the singer is beautiful, her voice layering all kinds of deeply felt pain and love as her cat daemon swirls around her feet.
“do you think her husband knows she’s slummin’ it in a place like this?” esther whispers, gesturing to the wedding ring on the jazz singer’s finger.
“i don’t pretend to know anything about what men know,” bridget answers with a grin, and takes esther’s hand in hers.
June 1, 1938
it stops time, that sensation. ritsa slides from esther's wrist onto bridget's stomach, bridget, surprised yet intrigued, slowly sets her hand down on top of ritsa's back, and esther—
it's so hard to quantify. every kid gets their daemon accidentally picked up once or twice, knows that unnatural wrongness and utter pain, and this is unnatural for sure but, oh. it's like esther suddenly turned transparent and bridget can see every single little detail. it's so raw, so visceral, and suddenly esther knows exactly just how much bridget loves her.
"are you okay? do you... want her back?"
"no, i mean, i just.... it's okay, i think."
bridget slowly runs the back of her knuckle along ritsa's spine. "that okay too?"
esther nods, and she swears ritsa is nodding too, but she's having trouble focusing her vision. she curls herself toward bridget and rests her head on her shoulder. "i love you."
bridget's grin is audible in her reply. "i love you too."
it's silent for a long time, a warm, happy silence.
"ettie?" lené asks, from the foot of the bed where she's been buzzing quietly.
"will you... would you hold me?"
esther pushes herself upwards and stretches out her arms. "c'mere."
galené flies into esther's arms and esther hugs her tight to her chest, like she's seen bridget do so many times.
she turns to her girlfriend, wanting to make it's okay, that she's okay.
bridget looks just about how esther's been feeling. like she can't quite believe this is a real sensation. "you weren't kidding," she says, the words barely making a sound as they hit the air. "you really do love me."
"so much." esther kisses the top of lené's head and bridget smiles again.
it is ABSOLUTELY taboo to touch another person's daemon. just. don't, fuckin, do it. don't. (unless y'all love each other a heckton and they're consenting and you're the leads of the his dark materials series. lmao)
Chapter 6: Downpour
“We are all subject to the fates. But we must act as if we are not," said the witch, "or die of despair."
--The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
September 13, 1945
june rolls out of bed, and walks to the window, leaving helen sleeping beside her. she doesn’t have time to let an ounce of guilt set in before a shape begins to hurtle itself toward her from the outskirts of town.
as it approaches, she realizes it’s her aunt’s daemon, and quickly opens the windows to let him silently soar through.
“joukavainen? what are you doing here?”
he settles himself on the window sill and sticks out his leg, revealing a letter attached. “i hate being her mailman.”
“sure.” she pulls the letter off and scans the contents carefully, holding it up to the moonlight as she does.
my dearest june,
it is never a good day when one must be the bearer of bad news. however, it is with a heavy heart that i must ask you to cease all contact with your amorous connections. this, of course, includes both your mortal husband and the mortal woman you betray him with. i have prophetic word that the closer these impermanent creatures come to your heart, the more danger they are in. you, perhaps, are in danger as well. i urge you, cut these ties! leave the city! protect yourself and those you care for!
with all my love,
“what the fuck?” june hisses at jouka, making sasona crawl over from his position on the end of the bed.
jouka pretends to clean his feathers and june has to refrain from raising her voice.
“what is it?” sas asks, and june passes him the letter. he reads it quickly, and lunges for joukvainen, who jumps out the window.
“sasona, don’t—“ june whispers, but her alligator is already wiggling himself out and after the nimble robin.
she sits back down on the bed and looks over at helen longingly. she doesn’t want to leave her. she doesn’t want to leave quentin either, (which of course, is why she hasn’t yet left one of them for the other) june can feel the hint of tears starting to appear, and so shoves her fists into her eyes to prevent them from falling.
it isn’t long before sasona returns.
“so? what did you find out?”
he shakes his head. “i can’t tell you.”
“it’s for your safety. i can’t tell you. i don’t want to risk it.”
june knows her daemon is as stubborn as she is, so she doesn’t push it. but she can’t help feeling a little betrayed. they spent some years apart after their ordeal and after they left the clan. it was good for their own self-exploration, obviously, but it had driven the tiniest of wedges between them. and june is hyper-aware of that now. “fine.”
she sighs and lays back on the pillow, just as helen begins to wake up. “junebug?” she mumbles, “were you talking to someone?”
the bug in question whispers, “no, my love, only sasona.”
“mmm, okay. c’mere.”
September 15, 1945
“do you think you can keep a secret from helen?” sasona whispers as he carefully climbs up closer to anteros, curled up at the end of the bed where helen sleeps.
“where’s june!?” he hisses back, eyes wide and tail puffy.
“that’s the first part of the secret! we’re witches. no one in town knows."
anteros cautiously lowers his guard and bats the alligator gently with his paw. “you’re not a bird.”
sasona sighs deeply. “it’s not relevant.”
“if you say so." he lifts his shoulders in a mimic of a shrug. "so, what’s the other part of the secret, mr. magic?”
“you can’t tell helen.”
“i know what a secret is, you dumb reptile.”
“this is serious!”
“okay, okay.” anteros rubs his cheek along sasona’s snout. “i’m listening.”
“june is cursed. i found out… about two nights ago. i knew something was up because the other clans wouldn’t interact with me, and i started picking up information, but i couldn’t confirm anything till aunt ittukka’s daemon showed up at your window the other night. joukka…. he really didn’t want me to know. didn’t want me to place that burden on june. so i haven’t told her, and you can’t tell helen, because she tells june everything.”
“what’s the curse, sas?”
“she’s gonna lose everyone she loves.”
“i don’t know if you can… convince helen to break it off somehow. june already knows a little bit and i can tell she doesn’t want to let you go. i’d rather that loss be on your terms. i have a really, really bad feeling about this, and i know you and helen or quentin and cressida are—“
anteros is looking at him like he’s not sure he wants to know where the end of the sentence is going.
“doomed would be putting it nicely,” sas finishes, hoping he doesn’t sound like too much of an ass.
“we’re not leaving you.”
sas shakes his head as much as he can without disrupting the bed. “you’re not getting it.”
“it doesn’t matter if i tell helen or if i don’t tell helen,” anteros tells him with complete sincerity. “i know she would say the same thing. we’re already risking so much to be with you, just like you are with us. we love you.”
“i don’t want to put you in danger,” sasona whispers, and he knows he would be crying if that was something daemons could do.
September 16, 1945
helen, anteros, june, sasona, ben, and cressida sit in the living room, and no one has spoken for the past twenty minutes. jouka told sasona and sasona told anteros and anteros told helen and helen told june and june told ben and now they’re all trying to figure out what to do next.
ben only had to fake half of his stunned reaction— he knew about the curse already, because future-june had told him. but finding out about her affair with helen had been, he admitted, a bit of a shocker. apparently, he didn’t know everything about his wife. the thing was though, that it didn’t bother him that much. he had just as many secrets from june, and it wasn’t like she loved him any less. her curse knew that just as much as he did.
“sas?” june whispers, her voice coming out hoarse. “did you ever…”
she shoots a look at helen, at ben, asking with her eyes if they can finish the sentence she can’t seem to.
“did jouka tell you how, exactly, june got stuck with this bullshit?”
ben marvels at what helen can do with her voice. he’s heard her sing, but now she stacks layers of hurt and anger and confusion into her inquiry, making the rest of them feel exactly where she’s coming from.
“no,” sasona answers softly, “no.”
“do you think we should say something?” cressida (he’s gotten used to calling her that now, but he misses the way sorana sounded in his head) whispers to him from her spot on his lap.
“we can’t,” he whispers back. “june said she didn’t know fuckall about it before it happened.”
“they’re so scared, though.” she heaves a tiny hippo sigh and he pulls her closer to his chest.
“so am i.”
they sit in silence again, until anteros asks, “can it kill? will it kill us or quentin and cressida or both?”
“i told you.” sasona is tired, and hurting, when he repeats, “i told you everything i know.”
ben knows this much: he dies. june leaves town, helen leaves her husband. june and ben find each other again, fall in love again, get married again, and ben eventually leaves. and he comes back to this time and dies again. he doesn’t know if june ever finds helen in the future, and for helen’s sake, he hopes she doesn’t.
“shit’s fucked.” ben says to the others, and helen and june both shoot him a look. helen’s is amused, and june’s is nearly grateful. “i don’t know if we can do anything to stop it, but it seems like the only way to find answers is june’s aunt.”
“thanks, quentin. i guess i’ll just telephone my witch aunt who lives in fucking lapland flying around on a cloud-pine and ask her if she wants to tell me why my two favorite people’s lives are in danger. even though she’s the one who wrote me a letter telling me to break up with both of you in the first place!”
he knows she doesn’t mean to take out her anger on him, but he doesn’t expect an apology either.
August 30, 1949
quentin isn’t dead. june’s looking at him, he’s standing right there in the gas station, looking at her, and there’s cressida, smiling her lovely hippo smile, and he’s not dead. yambe-akka, what she wouldn’t give to jump into his arms and kiss him till he passes out. but he doesn’t recognize her, he’s younger…. oh. of course he is. he’s a time traveller.
you can’t trick a curse. aunt ittukka had told her as much as they flew together to carlsbad. turns out june isn’t actually her niece after all. she’s her daughter. ittukka had tried to protect her from her own fuckup as best she could, shielded the truth about june’s parentage from her like she’d shielded the curse. she’d said, “i thought my child wouldn’t lose everyone she loved if she didn’t know she was my child. but i couldn’t help loving you like a daughter,” so it found june anyway.
which is why june isn’t tricking it this time, she’s running from it.
“hey!” she calls out to him.
he smiles, evidently struck by her beauty.
she rolls her eyes. “hey buddy, do me a favor? never work for the government. even if you get a really good job offer and they tell you it’ll do great things for the alliance. don’t do it. oh, and don’t go to the hispana novan border if you can help it.”
“trust me, i’m a witch.”
“wait, please, I have to know more? at least tell me your name.” he takes a few steps forward, pleading.
june doesn’t say another word to the man she married (in another life, another time) as she gets into her car and drives. she goes for for miles and miles and miles, unthinking and unfeeling and she makes it across the new french border before she bursts into tears.
she pulls over to the side of the road and sasona clambers into her lap, stretched out between the two front seats.
“we could have been with him again,” june whispers to her daemon. “we could have—“
“we would have sent him to his death.”
there’s no way around it. they absolutely would have. she can only pray that now, quentin is safe from her. he’ll go about his life and stay out of the time business and never fall in love with a cursed woman.
thank yambe-akka helen got out okay. june still lost her, of course. but it’s a different kind of loss. an ache she feels deep in her soul, rather than the stab wound she’s been bleeding from since quentin died.
she has an easy job now: never fall in love again.
Chapter 7: Anchor
“Hope holds you fast like an anchor so you don't give way."
--The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
June 23, 20
“close your eyes!” mateo plugs his phone into his speaker and tosses his capuchin daemon toward nikil. “i’m gonna sic her on your tree frog, dude.”
“my eyes are closed!” nikil sits on the bed, holding jyotsana in his lap delicately. he can’t see her, but he knows edelmira is staring directly at them. “both of you, please relax.”
“you have to appreciate the full effect of the bell solo.”
“the bell solo?”
“hush!” he puts on the song and jumps up next to his boyfriend. “listen.”
the song, in nikil’s opinion, is average at best, but it does have a good rhythm. there’s some line about the length of a guy’s beard, something about women, and losing the ones you love. it’s all highly metaphorical and probably bullshit. “you really need to get into more 80s synth pop.”
“i hate you.”
“got any more shitty indie music to torture our ears with?” jyotsana asks, mustering as much of a smile as she’s capable of.
“as a matter of fact…” mateo flies off the bed again and bounces on his toes as he scrolls through his phone. edelmira climbs up to his shoulder and tugs his ear when she sees what they’re looking for. “we’re making you a playlist!”
“why on earth would you do that?” nikil is giggling, but he has to admit he’s a little flattered.
“it’s because your music taste is shit.” mateo answers, at the same time as his daemon says, “it’s because he’s super gay.”
now nikil is really laughing. “i’m certainly grateful for that. come here.”
mateo rolls his eyes as nikil pulls him closer for a kiss.
“thank you for improving my music taste. and for, well, being gay for me.”
“don’t get sappy on me, sharma.”
“i’m not capable of it, morales.”
July 24, 19
carmen and petra stand at the entrance to an office that they’d thought was abandoned. however, esther roberts, a figure of great power and mystery, is sitting on the desk, feet tucked underneath her. she’s deep in thought, her gaze lost out the window.
it’s silent but for the two girls’ cold-induced whistle-breaths, and they exchange a horrified glance. neither esther, nor ritsa, her milk snake daemon, have noticed them yet, but they always could and there’s no telling what kind of trouble the girls would be in.
petra and ambrosio risk looking into the office one more time, and they glimpse a profound sadness on esther’s face.
carmen tugs on petra’s sleeve, and they slink back to their room together. “holy shit,” she whispers once she’s in the safety of her bed. “that was close.”
“oh, c’mon!” petra can feel the falsity in her voice, but she can’t make it anymore authentic. “would i let that happen?”
“no.” carmen pulls obsesso into her lap and he shifts into a skunk. “we haven’t gotten caught in years.”
“did you see her face?” petra asks, sitting at her desk chair and letting ambrosio lose to fly around the room. they’re still getting used to his new settled form as a harris hawk, but she has so admit she enjoys it.
“she looked… like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. never seen her that sad.”
“never seen anyone that sad.” petra changes her mind about the desk chair and hops into the bed next to carmen. “promise me we won’t end up like that?”
“i promise.” carmen sighs and kicks her feet into petra’s lap. “gosh.”
“i’m so tired.”
“take a nap?” petra isn’t anywhere near sleep herself, but she doesn’t mind letting carmen use her as a pillow.
for a moment, petra think carmen’ll ask her to sing, like she did when they were little. but she doesn’t and instead rests her head back and closes her eyes.
petra holds out her hand and ambrosio lands on it.
he nuzzles into her neck and pecks her softly on the cheek. “you okay, petra?”
August 14, 1943
lou grabs david’s hand and lifts him up from the ground. “ready to march again?”
david laughs, dusts himself off, and picks up his pack. “yes, sir.”
it’s silent for a while as they walk with the rest of their unit, emmeline flying in circles overhead, and torial matching them stride for stride. david speaks first, reaching down to scratch his cheetah daemon under the chin as he does so. “scale of one to ten, how much do you believe in this war? uh, sir?”
lou casts a circular glance around to make sure no one is listening, and david can see exactly why emmeline settled as an owl. “i’d give it about a 4.”
“listen. the magisterium… they’ve always been like this. they’ve always been this controlling, this demeaning, this cruel even, and most of us just turned a blind eye to it cuz we believe in the same god.” he shrugs, and continues, “but i do love my country. even if it’s full of hypocrites.”
“and we gotta help those who need us.” he nods, a bit like he’s giving himself his own stamp of approval and turns to david. “what about you, son? you here because you believe?”
it takes him a minute to think it over. he’d asked lou to get him talking, loving the way his captain spun the threads of his mind in the air. “in all honesty, sir, i believe in this war. i believe in new denmark’s place in this war. the—“ he hesitates. “the ads all want us to focus on the fighting, and i do believe we’re fighting the good fight. but this is as much about helping the hebrew people as it is helping our allies.”
“marian, do you get a lot of shit for your daemon?”
david exchanges a look with torial, and nods. “yes, sir. because he’s male.”
“and i know you get just as much crap as me for not being a white boy.”
david chuckles, and agrees to that too.
“this is the kind of thing that’ll teach you to look out for other people. maintain balance and all that. or it’ll turn you into a sloppy asshole who pisses all over himself cuz he got his ass handed to him too many times.” emmeline lands on his shoulders and pecks him gently. “but you’re a good man. and you got the right ideals about this battle.”
“thank you. sir.”
November 25, 1946
“oh, yeah, he was a hot slice.”
“stop that!” bridget hits ted with her couch pillow. “please, dear god, stop saying ‘hot slice.’ it’s abhorrent.”
“have you found any sugars lately?” he asks, grinning and wiggling his eyebrows as he dodges her second attack.
“no! no one who’s interested in more than ‘one unforgettable night,’ or whatever the hell it is they’re calling fuck and runs these days.”
ted sputters at her for a moment. “so i’m not allowed to say ‘hot slice’ but you’re allowed to say ‘fuck and run?’”
his yorkie daemon runs around in circles yapping and bridget can’t help but giggle.
“hell,” he finally says, “seriously, woman, when are you gonna marry me?”
“tomorrow? at the courthouse? are you free?”
“wait, forreal? or are you messin’?”
she exchanges a glance with galené. they’d talked about this already, and they’re pretty set on it. “we joke about it all the time, but really, it would be beneficial to both of us. and i wouldn’t want to marry anyone but you.”
“iazza,” ted calls, and she hops up onto the sofa. “tell bridget how crazy she is.”
“bridget,” his daemon chides, “we can’t just get married at the courthouse. it has to be an event.”
lené snorts. “what, like a real white gown affair?”
“hell yeah.” the tiny dog wags her tail.
“sure,” bridget shrugs. “i never thought i’d get that kind of wedding.”
“you’ll get that all that and more,” ted promises, “and you won’t even have to have sex with a man on your honeymoon.”
daemons can shape shift throughout childhood, but as the child becomes a teenager, they eventually settle as one animal and remain that way for the rest of their life.
also the song that mateo plays is “blood” by the middle east
Chapter 8: Abscission
“When we do find each other again, we'll cling together so tight that nothing and no one'll ever tear us apart."
--The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
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.
“so did you find… anything?”
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.
“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?"
"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.”
“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.”
Chapter 9: Beginning
“I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn't any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway."
--The Amber Spyglass
December 12, 1943
“they don’t love us anymore.” anteros rubs against helen’s ankles and she picks him up, holding him like a baby.
“don’t be ridiculous,” she answers him in french, finding it easier to communicate with her other half in their home language.
“i mean, when’s the last time anthony slept in your bed? the last time i cuddled astoria?”
helen can tell he isn’t saying this to be mean, it’s just that he’s concerned. “just two nights ago, you daft cat, but i see your point.” she sighs. “he got that job offer in the desert, so it’s our job to be supportive, even if—“
“i don’t want to stop performing!” he twists violently out of her arms and lands softly on all fours.
she rolls her neck and lets her gaze fall back on her daemon. “i know. i know. i don’t either.”
“so we don’t go. we stay here, and we keep singing in tiny jazz clubs and lesbian bars and maybe someday make enough money to—”
“we can’t.” she picks him up again and places him on her shoulder. she wants to agree with him so badly— of course she’s felt the ever-so-slightly increasing distance from anthony the more excited he gets about his algorithm, but the fact remains that she loves him. and she would give up all of the good that she has now if that would make him happy. to her overdramatic feline, she says, “wedding vows have to mean something, don’t they?”
“and, and maybe we can try to reconnect with them out there? maybe it will be different?"
“i hope so.”
November 2, 1949
“je ne l’aime pas.” asclepius flicks his trunk at the letter sitting on maggie’s desk.
she looks up at her daemon and answers him in danish, “we never like doing experiments on animals.”
“it’s not just that. the whole thing is covered in secrecy. and we’re studying solo, but all of the people we’ve talked to are new danes? if it’s really an alliance, why aren’t there more new francs?”
“i don’t know. haven’t met any mejicans or beringlanders for that matter either. but there was the one guy from texas…”
maggie stands up and leans her whole weight against the elephant, stretching her arms as long as she can in an attempt to recreate a hug. “they’re gonna adapt the lab for us right? they said they were going to?”
“yeah, they said in the letter.”
“if they don’t, i can use that as my excuse to quit.”
“you don’t have to say yes,” he whispers, switching back to french.
“i do. we’re not gonna get asked something like this again.”
January 28, 1942
“do you think other people talk to their daemons about their doubts?” bill doesn’t look over to horatia as he asks, but the bobcat stalks closer anyway.
“i’m sure other people have doubts. you’re just unnatural and narcissistic.”
“i know, isn’t it delightful?”
she shakes her head and grins a feline grin.
“i have no qualms about bringing partridge in, none whatsoever about the imminent success of project rainbow….”
“if it’s a failure, you’re going to have regrets.”
“see now, horatia, why would you even say something like that? i thought we were a united front.”
“excuse me, william, i meant, it won’t fail! we’ll be perfect! we never make any mistakes!”
“sarcastic asshole,” he murmurs.
“don’t swear in front of a lady.”
“and you’re mean.”
she considers this for a moment before agreeing.
August 13, 20
“why do i even check the news anymore?” sally sits with her feet up on her desk, mac perched on her shoulder, phone in her hands.
“was that a rhetorical question?”
“yeah, although i would like it if you’d do your job and stop me from making stupid life choices from now on.”
the ivory billed woodpecker looks down at the screen and shifts side to side uncomfortably. “that’s just a tweet though? it doesn’t have any legal bearing?”
she locks her phone and sets it down decisively. “doesn’t matter. it’s the symbolism of the thing.”
“we didn’t want to join the military anyway,” he offers.
“okay, okay. yes. it’s fucked up.”
“i’m just tired of bad news, and it wasn’t like we thought it was gonna be easier for us to be trans during this administration but—“
“but we just weren’t sure how it was going to get harder and now it looks like this is the path they’re going down—“
“and the bathroom thing is still up in the air—“
“yeah.” sally sighs, picks her phone back up, and tosses it from hand to hand. “i don’t wanna go back to woooorrk.”
“gotta. the test is tomorrow.”
“the test is tomorrow,” she repeats him in a mocking voice, but stands up anyway.
“are you nervous or something?” mac’s claws dig just a little into her shoulder as he asks, and she knows that he already knows the answer is yes.
“psh, no! why would i be nervous?! it’s gonna go great!”