She can’t breathe. Everything is a blur. The air is full of the red if wraith demons, more being pulled from hell by Adriel every second.
She doesn’t have time to think about Adriel, to think about who he is, what he is, or what the hell is in her back, if it’s not an angel’s halo.
All she can think about is the fight, and protecting the sisters around her. Protecting the only people left in this world that she can trust.
Lilith. Camila. Mother Superion. Mary. Beatrice.
One moment ago she had been by Ava’s side, but now she is not. Ava scans the courtyard frantically, trying to pick her out from the crowd, from the mass of people all dressed in similarly dark clothes.
All the while, the battle rages on. Ava keeps fighting, keeps slicing and kicking. Nearby, the other sisters are working equally as hard, but she can see that they’re tiring. No matter how hard they’ve trained, there’s only a few of them. Mary, who had fought her way out from underneath a pile of demons, must be running low on ammo.
The scent of blood is thick in the air, so thick Ava can almost taste it. Innocent lives, of the humans the demons are possessing, are being lost. Hope is fading, no matter how hard Ava tries not to think it. Despite their best efforts, Adriel is not letting up.
And she still can’t find Beatrice.
Her eyes continue to sweep the throng of people, until, finally, finally, they come to rest on Beatrice’s familiar shape. She’s across the courtyard, fighting off four demons at once. When they are slain, Ava sees Beatrice turn, glance at Adriel, his back to her.
Time slows down. Ava can already tell what Beatrice is going to attempt to do, and it’s like the halo is giving her foresight, because she can already see what will happen.
Beatrice is fast, and strong, and stealthy, but not enough to outsmart Adriel. Even if he is not an angel, even if he does not have the halo—his weapon—Ava knows that his power far outstrips that of Beatrice.
She will not be able to outsmart him.
As she makes her way across the courtyard, time slows to honey, languidly slipping through Ava’s fingers. She doesn’t know what to do. Beatrice is close to him, so close, a weapon drawn, and Ava is too far away, too far away to get there, too far away to do anything.
Beatrice raises her weapon. As if he can feel it, Adriel turns.
Power explodes out of her. It feels like every single bit of energy stored in her cells has been drained, channelled out through the halo, and into the surrounding area.She sees the wraith demons blown away from the hosts, sees Ariel curse, wipe blood from his cheek, and disappear into the air behind him.
And she sees Beatrice, staring at her across the courtyard, eyes dark as the night. With that sight, she blacks out, collapsing, glad in the moments before she loses consciousness to feel arms catching her.
When she awakes, it feels like no time has passed, but the gasp she hears when she stirs suggests otherwise.
“Oh thank God,” she hears a voice—Beatrice—say.
Ava cracks an eyelid, glancing over to where the noise had come from. Beatrice is sitting by her bedside, a book in hand.
She pushes herself up into a sitting position, relieved to find that her energy is returned, that she feels back to normal, that she can register the ever so slight thrum of power that always rests at the back of her mind, letting her know that the Halo is charged and ready.
“Was I out long?” she asks, and is immediately answered by the dryness in her throat, by the rasp of her voice. It feels like she hasn’t drunk in months.
Beatrice hands her a glass of water, clearly having anticipated this particular issue.
“Fucking hell.” Beatrice winces at the words. “Sorry. I meant… holy shit. Fuck. That’s not any better.”
A rueful smile appears on Beatrice’s face. “I’ll let you off. You did just use up three days worth of superhuman power in one Godly blast that saved all of our lives.”
Ava winks. “Yeah I did.” And then she looks around, registering for the first time the room that they’re in, registering that it’s familiar. “Wait. Where are we?”
“We’re back at the Cat’s Cradle now. You didn’t wake the whole way home. We were worried about you.” Beatrice pauses, looks down at her hands, twisting in her lap. “I was worried about you. No one was sure if you would wake up. No one had ever blacked out for that long after using the halo, and then when we got home you were still asleep and we—“
Her voice had been steadily rising in volume, her words speeding up, and Ava reaches out a hand, settling it over Beatrice’s, stilling them. “Hey, I’m fine. I feel fine. I feel better than fine. I didn’t have a single nightmare while I was out. All I had were…”
She trails off as a flood of images rush into her brain, of the good dreams she had been about to mention. She looks up at Beatrice, waiting patiently to hear what Ava was going to say.
But patience had never been one of Ava’s virtues.
“All I had were good dreams,” she says, before pulling the covers off of her, swinging her legs down to the ground so that she’s facing Beatrice.
“Oh?” Beatrice’s eyebrows raise. “Was there anything useful? Warrior Nuns have been known to receive advice during particularly deep sleep, maybe you—“
“No. Nothing like that.”
Patience really has never been Ava’s strong suit, so she leans forward, into Beatrice’s space, rests her hand on her cheek, and kisses her. As their lips press together, Beatrice lets out a breath, a tiny, “Oh.”
Ava wonders whether this is both of their first times, if Beatrice has always been forced to keep this part of herself hidden.
It’s not like kissing JC. It’s different, but not in a bad way. Maybe it’s better, or maybe Beatrice’s lips are just softer, her skin smoother.
Maybe it is better.
She doesn’t have time to work that out, though, because Beatrice pulls back, her eyes wide, her lips parted in well-restrained shock. The sisters know nothing if not how to regulate their emotions.
“Ava…” she says, and Ava can’t tell if the level tone of her voice means something good or bad or if it really just means Beatrice is neutral about this, about Ava, and suddenly everything she thought she had figured out seems jumbled.
“Shit,” she swears. “Did I do that thing where I assume everyone who could possibly be attracted to me is?”
Beatrice clears her throat. “No. You didn’t. It’s not— It’s not that. I might— I might be a nun, but I’m not blind. I like you. A lot. I admire you and what you’ve done for us and I can’t help but feel… attracted. But I cannot. I joined the sisterhood in part so that I would no longer have to feel the pain of heartbreak. I have felt it… too many times in my life. Too many times I have been an… experiment. I cannot begrudge your right to discover yourself, but it cannot be me who helps you. I promised myself I would never let myself be hurt that way. I know that everything is new for you, but I— I cannot.”
She looks genuinely pained as she says that all, though, and her hands are twisting ever tighter in her lap, like she’s yearning to reach out.
Ava nods. “Okay. Sure. I get that. But I know who I am. I know what I am. I might never have been able to act on it before, but, lemme tell you, there were a lot of reasons why I called bullshit on what the nuns tried to teach me, and it wasn’t all because I just didn’t vibe with it. I’ve known…” she gestures vaguely between them, “...this about myself. The dreams… they weren’t a realisation about that. They just helped me realise something about what happened back there. The explosion. It’s only happened around you.”
Beatrice’s brows crumple, and when she speaks, her voice is even more measured than usual, like she’s having to try even harder than ever not to let emotions spill forward. “It’s only natural that the power of the Halo would compel you to protect your sisters—“
“It wasn’t the fight that triggered it. The sisters being in danger terrified me, but not enough for that to happen. It was you. Adriel was about to hurt you. And then I exploded.”
At that, anger suddenly appears on Beatrice’s face. “For me? You chose to drain yourself of so much energy it almost killed you for me? I could’ve taken him— I’ve trained for years for this. Years longer than you have. We are supposed to support the Warrior Nun, not be a drain on her powers! You could’ve died!”
All Ava can do is shrug. “But I didn’t. And, in any case. It wasn’t a choice. I didn’t… make it happen. It just happened. Like— like Sister Melanie. I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t do anything to stop it. My deepest fear has become losing you, losing the one person who believed in me and helped me and supported me and put up with me being an utter bitch, and the Halo knew that. And I’m pretty sure that thing can’t lie. All of this is kinda new to me, but I know that I want you. This isn’t a fluke,” she finishes, her heart pounding as she watches Beatrice’s face, wishing she could see into her mind, see what she’s thinking.
For ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds, the room is silent. Tension hangs between them, heavy, cloying, suffocating. The room is hot, but it’s not that that causes a bead of sweat to run down Ava’s neck. She rubs it away just to have something to do.
Eventually, after what seems like an age, Beatrice speaks. “I… see. That…” she trails off again, then glances across the room, at the door. “I need to—“
She gets up in a hurry, crosses the room, and Ava’s heart stops for a second. If Beatrice needs time to think, then she’ll give it to her, but she’s not going to like it. There’s this ache within her, insistent and bright and burning.
One kiss wasn’t enough.
And then she hears the bolt slide into place, and Beatrice turns.
It’s Ava’s turn to breathe out an, “Oh,” and then she’s crossing the space between them as quickly as possible, until they’re inches apart. “I thought you were leaving.”
Beatrice reaches up, tucks a strand of hair behind Ava’s ear. She shakes her head. “No. I told you: I’m not going anywhere.” Her voice is soft. Her smile is softer.
And then she leans in, her fingers tilting Ava’s chin up ever so slightly. Beatrice only has an inch or so on her but that touch makes her feel so small, so desperate. “What you said—about wanting me.” Her voice lowers, darkens, quietens. “About needing me. I always told myself no one ever would. That it would always be superficial.”
Their breaths are intermingling. Ava’s face feels like it’s burning where Beatrice is still touching her.
The words come out strained. “It’s not. The Halo—“
“No. I know. That changes things.”
Beatrice nods, closes the space between them, and if their first kiss was good, Ava doesn’t have the words to describe this one.
All she knows is that one second she’s supporting herself, and the next second, Beatrice has turned them, pressed Ava up against the door, and has one of her hands cupping Ava’s face, deepening the kiss as the other curls around her waist, pulling them closer, until they’re one being with two hearts.
The way she kisses tells Ava that she’s not new to this. She’s soft and then hard, quick and then slow, every touch of her lips against Ava’s something brand new, teasing, never wavering, hardly breathing.
She’s done this before, and it seems like a goddamn tragedy that she ever stopped, that she ever took the vows.
Beatrice’s teeth graze Ava’s lower lip, and her mouth falls open with a gasp, her head spinning as everything intensifies, as Beatrice’s kisses, soft at first, turn hard, pointed, licking into Ava’s mouth in a way that feels sinful in a multitude of ways.
Ava’s hands fumble for Beatrice’s head, wanting to hold on, wanting to tangle in her hair, before her fingers feel fabric, and she remembers the veil over Beatrice’s hair.
Her fingertips brush the hem, and she tears her mouth away from Beatrice’s for long enough to ask, “Can I? Is that allowed?”
“No,” Beatrice says. “It’s not. But please.” There’s a hint of desperation in her voice, hunger that makes Ava ache all over again, the ache starting in her heart and travelling lower, lower…
She pulls it away easily, finds Beatrice’s hair tied up beneath it in a simple knot. Beatrice’s hands go to the back of her head, but Ava stops her. “Let me.” She thinks she sees Beatrice shiver, and it’s only when she has her fingers on the first pin, pulling it out and letting it drop to the floor, the sound loud in a room where the only noise is their breathing, that she remembers everything the sisters at the orphanage had tried to teach her about her hair and its importance.
It suddenly feels like, as she pulls out the final pin, and Beatrice’s hair falls down her back in an ebony waterfall, like she’s touching something more private than she can imagine.
As Beatrice turns around, as Ava sees her with hair falling around her face for the first time, she pulls her closer, leans their foreheads together. “None of this is allowed, is it?”
“No. But I cannot find it in myself to care. The Order—my whole life—was based on a lie, and we all came so close to death because of that. The very root of my faith is nothing more than a selfish man who wanted worshippers. I’m having to… re-evaluate everything, and I cannot help but feel that I deserve to believe in a world where this isn’t a sin. Where I will be welcomed into heaven no matter who I love. I deserve to be selfish. Maybe,” she says, and when she speaks again, there’s a laugh in her voice, “I should learn a bit from you.”
Ava just rolls her eyes, shuts her up with a kiss, crashing their lips back together, tangling her fingers in the soft strands of Beatrice’s hair, and melting a bit when Beatrice does the same, her fingernail scraping gently over Ava’s scalp, setting the nerve endings there alight.
Everything is set alight as Beatrice pulls them from the door, settles them on the couch. For a second, neither of them move, and they’re just staring at each other. Ava reaches out, tugs at a strand of Beatrice’s hair. “I like seeing you without the veil. You’re beautiful.” At that, Beatrice’s cheeks actually tinge pink, and Ava moves her hand so she can stroke her thumb over the blush on her skin. She grins. “I like seeing you blush.”
Beatrice ducks her head, and her hair falls over her face. “You’ll have to forgive me. No-one’s said anything like that to me for… a while.”
“Well,” Ava says, curling her hand around the nape of Beatrice’s neck, pulling them closer until their lips are almost touching, so close that she can feel the warmth of Beatrice’s breath on her skin, “I guess I’ll have to keep saying things like that then, won’t I?”