There's little in taking or giving
There's little in water or wine
This living, this living, this living
was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
the gain of the one at the top
for art is a form of catharsis
and love is a permanent flop
and work is the province of cattle
and rest's for a clam in a shell
so I'm thinking of throwing the battle
would you kindly direct me to hell?
- Dorothy Parker, Coda
This is absolutely the last time she'll allow herself to be swayed by Sabrina's particular brand of puppy-dog eyes. Or at least, that's what Zelda tells herself; it would be an awful lot more convincing if she didn't seem to say it at least as often as she reads her Satanic Bible. Sabrina's predisposition towards emotional manipulation is unquestionably an inherited trait and after centuries of withstanding pleading gazes from her mother, brother, sister and nephew, Zelda really should be better at saying no.
But when faced with an upset Sabrina, Zelda can almost feel the rigid steel of her resolve melting into a pathetic, pliable puddle. Apparently her niece can feel it too; Sabrina knows exactly when to make her bottom lip very conveniently begin to tremble, when to let her eyes start brimming with unshed tears. When she’d begged and pleaded to be allowed to attend Rosalind’s birthday celebrations, she’d laid it on thick, stressing that she’d barely seen her mortal friends since commencing full-time studies at the Academy, how worried she was about leaving them behind. And despite knowing that she was, as Sabrina herself would say, being played, Zelda had still crumbled in the face of a perfectly-timed, aesthetically-pleasing tear rolling down her niece’s cheek.
Almost the minute Sabrina has skipped out of the door, however, Zelda’s irritation levels begin to rise rather rapidly. It’s far easier to be annoyed with Sabrina when the girl isn’t actually standing in front of her and it barely takes quarter of an hour for Zelda to work herself up into a full-blown fit of pique. Naively, she'd had high hopes that her niece finally signing the Book of the Beast might have brought with it an attitude adjustment. But aside from a change in hairstyle and a newfound fondness for alcohol-fuelled evenings out, Zelda has hardly been able to notice the difference. The amount of time Sabrina spends neglecting her responsibilities in favour of cavorting with mortals has never been seemly but now it's irrefutably ridiculous.
Not that being apparently the only family member with a healthy appreciation for keeping her distance from mortals is the sole reason she's currently pacing up and down the mortuary floor, repeatedly slamming cupboards shut with enough force to shake the rafters. If forced to be totally truthful, Zelda would have to admit that she'd been rather looking forward to spending an afternoon educating Sabrina in the finer points of mortuary science. It's not that she needs the help; it might not be glamorous but Zelda is quite skilled at the more hands-on aspects of funeral direction (it's the interpersonal arena that really lets her down). The overfed corpse of the late local butcher currently resting on the slab probably won't be a quick and easy job but that's not really the issue either. Fond memories rise to the surface unbidden; a tiny Sabrina perched up high on the counter while Zelda and Hilda worked away, legs kicking idly as she tried (and failed) to pronounce “formaldehyde”; Sabrina nesting in the corner with her tedious mortal textbooks but paying them no attention whatsoever as Ambrose danced around the bier to Artie Shaw records and Zelda tried (and failed) not to laugh; Sabrina's first squeamish attempt at airbrushing, followed by the sharing of arrowroot biscuits as Zelda tried (and failed) to be sympathetic to her niece's Harvey Kinkle-related woes. Shaking her head, Zelda squashes the thoughts down as quickly as they'd arrived. Nostalgia is entirely unproductive.
She’s in the middle of suturing the unfortunate Mr Sanders’ jaw shut (lost in the midst of her own thoughts about a five-year-old Sabrina demanding to be allowed to put the daisies she’d picked from the garden in all the coffins they’d had lined up in the funeral parlour) when a pointed cough breaks through her reverie and makes her jump about three feet in the air into the bargain.
‘Having fun, Miss Spellman?’ to Zelda’s consternation, not only is Mary Wardwell leaning against the doorframe looking far more at home than she as any right to do, but she’s also just managed to provoke Zelda into such alarm that she’d managed to knock three glass bottles clean to the floor.
‘What in Satan’s name do you think you’re doing here?’ instead of waiting for an answer, Zelda sinks to her knees to pick up the pieces of broken glass, grateful for an excuse to hide her flaming cheeks and hoping against hope that the woman will take the hint and go away. Allowing herself to be caught off guard like that is absolutely unforgivable. Granted, she’s very sure that the wretched woman had made a single sound as she’d crept through the house (something which she seems to be doing much too often recently) but if Zelda hadn’t been so busy wallowing in self-pity, she might have been able to avoid this humiliating loss of face.
‘Looking for Sabrina, of course. But it seems my efforts were in vain?’ there’s an upwards inflection in her voice but Mary Wardwell doesn’t pause to allow a response as her heels begin to click towards Zelda on the stone floor ‘Such a shame. It seems your niece is coming to rely on me more and more.’
If Zelda’s face had been burning red in embarrassment, it’s now flushed with anger as Mary drops to her knees beside her and begins clearing up broken glass. The thing that’s so damnably annoying about it, about all Zelda’s interactions with this woman, is that technically she isn’t doing anything wrong. Quite the opposite, in fact. From an outsider’s perspective, it would look like Mary Wardwell was being helpful and that Zelda’s burgeoning irritation was quite irrational. But an outsider wouldn’t have gone through the three months of smooth-spoken jibes and insidious undermining that Zelda has, wouldn’t know just how utterly annoying it is that Mary still hasn’t stopped talking.
‘Only natural, I suppose. Lots of young women develop these funny little attachments to their schoolteachers. Especially when they're lacking in a role model at home, I find.’
Zelda is vaguely aware of a sharp spike of pain in the pad of her left thumb, of the faint scent of blood rising into the air that certainly isn't pumping out of the late Mr Sanders, but she doesn’t pay it any heed. All her attention is focused on the woman in front of her and the fact that she still has a large, jagged shard of glass in her hand. It would be ridiculously easy to plant it directly between Mary's ribs and send her crumpling to the floor, confused and helpless. Or draw it across the soft pale skin of her throat and watch as the light ebbed out of those permanently mocking eyes. Ridiculously easy.
She doesn't, of course. Killing other witches, even excommunicants, even incredibly irritating excommunicants, isn't the done thing. It would attract the wrong sort of attention and after the whole rigmarole with Sabrina, that really isn’t something Zelda needs right now. Besides, no matter how satisfying it might be, it would mean far more domestic trouble than Mary is worth; Sabrina would doubtlessly cry, genuine tears this time, and Zelda cannot be bothered to sit through a lecture from Hilda on how difficult it is to get witch’s blood out of the grouting.
The opportunity slips through her fingers, anyhow; Mary has no sooner finished speaking than she’s rising to her feet again with a patronising pat to Zelda’s back. Suddenly finding that she can’t bear to be on her knees with Mary Wardwell towering over her, Zelda stands up too, not caring that the floor is still littered with pieces of glass.
‘Perhaps you would like me to assist you?’ Mary offers, one hand coming out to trace the bloated face of the body on the slab in a manner that’s presumably supposed to be dramatic but just makes Zelda roll her eyes with excessive vigour.
‘Let’s not and say we did, hmm?’ Zelda snaps back, depositing a handful of broken glass on the bench. Finally paying some attention to her bleeding thumb, she presses it tightly against her index finger with a silent spell to stop the flow and praying that Mary is too preoccupied in caressing the face of the corpse in front of her to notice. Crooning faux-sympathy is the absolute last thing she needs, not from the woman she's still fantasizing about hexing. ‘Besides, I can’t think why you would care to do that.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I always find I have rather a lot of fun with dead bodies’ generally speaking, Zelda is fairly sure that nine out of ten things that come out of Mary Wardwell’s mouth are lies. She’s equally sure that that was the tenth. On the verge of making a quip about the woman’s unnecessarily dramatic phrasing and either metaphorically or literally shoving her out of the door, Zelda catches sight of the expression on Mary’s face. The other woman’s eyes are fixed hard on the still-rotund body in front of her and their pupils are completely blown out. To her misfortune, Zelda has spent enough time around Mary Wardwell to realise that this particular form of strange behaviour isn’t the woman’s usual brand of peculiarity. The sheen of perspiration is clearly visible on her brow, tawdry crimson talons are yanking at the already-low neckline of her dress and her breathing has become ridiculously laboured for someone who’s merely standing still. Zelda would rather change places with the man on the slab than give Mary the satisfaction of her asking what’s wrong but that doesn’t mean her curiosity hasn’t been piqued.
If she had her wits about her, Zelda would simply get on with her work and ignore the presumably contrived spectacle in front of her, but it's proving to be slightly more difficult than she'd care to let on. Primarily because there's human-sized obstacle in her way, of course, one that's showing absolutely no signs of moving in the immediate future. Secondly, maddeningly, because she's finding herself annoyingly distracted. With the large expanse of flesh that the woman's wretched excuse for a dress leaves open to the elements, Zelda has a perfect view of how flushed her chest is, can't stop the thought lazily winding through her mind that that skin would feel sublime under her tongue. The last few months seem to have contained a surplus of disobedient nieces and undead witches and stolen children and a very disappointing surfeit of opportunities to have her fairly voracious appetite met. And, after all, if there's one thing Zelda's never been very good at, it's telling the difference between wanting to slap someone cowering to the ground and wanting to fuck them into it.
It takes her an indecent amount of time to drag her mind out of the (admittedly enjoyable) gutter before she decides to unceremoniously push Mary Wardwell out of the door, whether she's willing to go or not. Zelda reaches out to place a hand against the other woman’s back, a subtle reminder that she's more than capable of physically forcing her to leave if necessary, when Mary's taloned hand darts out to grasp her wrist and yank her sideways until, somehow, their mouths have fastened together in a messy, fierce kiss.
If her day so far had been different, Zelda is positive that she would have shoved Mary tottering backwards on those ridiculous heels, sneered derisively about the brunette not really being her type and unambiguously showed her the door. But today, Zelda is tired. Sweat is dripping down her back under the heavy fabric of her dress, despite the mortuary's cool temperature, and her nerves are frayed beyond measure. She's fed up of this woman's supercilious attitude, fed up of nobody paying her any attention, fed up of everything. So instead of pulling back and attempting to regain whatever upper hand she'd ever thought she had, Zelda sinks her teeth into Mary's bottom lip and lets herself enjoy the waxy taste of lipstick under her tongue.
Not that she gets to enjoy it for long. Zelda has barely had time to grab a fistful of brunette curls before Mary’s mouth is making its way across Zelda’s jaw, sharp little teeth nipping at her earlobe and then scraping down her neck so hard it makes her hiss. Somewhere, buried underneath the sudden blooming of aggressive need which has flooded through her body, Zelda vaguely wonders what's going through her habitual opponent's head. If it's the presence of corpses that has Mary so hot under the collar, well. Zelda's certainly catered to odder sexual proclivities in her day. And frankly, as long as the woman keeps doing that delicious thing with her tongue against the hollow of Zelda's throat, she couldn't care less about what's sparking her sudden show of ardour.
Especially not now arousal is thundering through Zelda, running through her veins and dripping from her fingertips as Mary pushes her backwards, red mouth still latched onto Zelda's neck as they both stagger back until Zelda hits the wall. The fabric of Zelda's dress is too stiff and heavy to manoeuvre easily, and she certainly has no intention of taking it off, not for this. She tugs at the skirt impatiently so it's bunched around her waist and the sharp tips of Mary's nails scrape across thigh and hipbone until they meet the sodden silk covering Zelda's cunt. Although she's loathe to admit she'd ever given the matter much thought, she hadn't imagined that Mary would fuck like this. She'd presumed that that irritating superiority would carry over, that Mary would tease and torture and torment, remain an immovable object against the unstoppable force of Zelda's own lust. This is quite the opposite.
The movement of Mary's hand is delicious but it's clumsy, unsophisticated; a far cry from the careful, deliberate calculation with which Zelda has come to associate her. Zelda can't remember the last time she had sex that was this messy and briefly wonders how she’d managed to keep all the unbridled appetite she'd evidently been storing inside her from spilling over the surface until this moment. She feels utterly desperate as she rocks against Mary's busy hand, even more so when she focuses in on the sensation of wet cunt grinding into her leg and the heavy rasping of Mary's breath against her neck.
Zelda is so lost in sensation that she has no idea how long they've been moving against each other like this before she's gasping and sighing and everything is just on the verge of spilling over, the frustration and envy and lust all centred in on the clenching of her cunt and her nails are breaking the skin at the nape of Mary's neck as her teeth puncture her lower lip because if there's one thing Zelda knows even through the haze of everything else, it's that there's no way in hell she's going to let Mary Wardwell make her moan.
What seems like a lifetime later, when she's running her hand through her hair in a desperate attempt to smooth down the tangled waves, Zelda surveys Mary as imperiously as she can with a sticky thigh and a soaked cunt. The other woman's mouth and chin are a smeared mess of scarlet and burgundy and despite knowing that her own appearance must be equally dishevelled, satisfaction surges through Zelda, curling through her stomach and mingling with post-orgasm gratification to make the corners of her mouth twitch into a smug smile. Mary isn't always so imperturbably perfect after all. And it's only when one of Mary's eyebrows twitch and she wipes her mouth with one slick movement of the back of her hand that Zelda even realises she'd been staring.
‘I'm sorry you didn't get what you came for' she says dryly, physically manoeuvring Mary towards towards the doorway even as she breaks the silence for the first time.
‘As am I, Miss Spellman' Mary begins to move off surprisingly obediently but when she looks back at the mortuary, there's still a hungry look in her that Zelda couldn't even begin to interpret. ‘As am I.’