Ava gives Beatrice a nickname about a week into their friendship.
It’s not like the joking ones she calls the others, not some half mocking moniker given to Lilith to see how angry she can make her, or some stupid joke told to Mary that’ll surely make her roll her eyes and attempt to push Ava off whatever she was standing on at the time – even if it’s just her feet.
It’s nothing special, or clever, or particularly awe inspiring. It’s just a simple shortening of her name. Bea. Ava calls her Bea and every time she does her brain does a double take. She knows if anyone were to do an MRI scan it would blushing between her ears but she can’t help it.
She’d always been Beatrice.
Growing up her parents seemed to think it was a slight against the name they’d painstakingly chosen for her to shorten it. They chose it for a reason. It was dignified and respectable and a bee was something that flew around in the garden, it wasn’t something to call their child, even when that was exactly what she was – a child.
Growing up they’d always be cold, aloof, more so when they started to have an inclination she wasn’t as perfect as they’d always hoped she would be. They never seemed to show or feel enough warmth to pay any attention to what kind of person she was, whether or not she was a Beatrice.
They’d picked a Beatrice, they would raise a Beatrice and she would follow the orders of what it meant to be a Beatrice in the hopes that maybe, one day, the pride in their eyes wouldn’t be about how good her accomplishments made them look, but about how hard she had tried for them.
(It was a stupid hope).
She’s thankful when she joins the order that she loses their last name. She’s Sister Beatrice then. The name doesn’t feel quite right either but it was better. More free. Unburdened by expectations she hadn’t chosen for herself. She would put her hope in God now, not the people who kept letting her down without even realising, who were too busy building themselves up.
Most of the girls call her Beatrice to her face. Behind her back they call her closed off and stoic and a little too stuck in the books in front of her. She doesn’t mind. She made herself that way on purpose. People can’t let you down if you have no expectations, your feelings can’t be hurt if you don’t invest them, and she didn’t need to let herself get distracted. She didn’t need any temptation.
She still makes friends. Camila, Mary, Lilith to some degree, Shannon…
She keeps them at arms length.
Ava phases straight through her arm and into her chest. Her chest is where she stays, pounding on her ribcage every time she says Bea, Bea, Bea and she loves it.
It makes her feel warm. Ava calls her Bea when she says goodnight, she calls her Bea when she compliments Beatrice on a particularly good pun, she calls her Bea when she groans that she doesn’t want to train anymore and is trying to look just pathetic enough that Beatrice will sigh and offer to do something Ava thinks is more fun.
Ava calls her Bea on the rare occasions when she’s stopped paying attention to everything around her. “Bea? Beeeeeea?” Beatrice startles up from the page she’s not even been trying to read for God knows how long. Ava’s face is right there. Near her face. All bright eyes and still excited by life smiles and soft skin. She somehow smells different to everyone else here even though the same gels and soaps grace her shower as everyone else’s.
(Beatrice thinks she would recognise it anywhere.
She wouldn’t even need to open her eyes).
“Hmm, sorry, what was that?"
“I asked if you were almost done. It’s lunch soon and I know you already skipped breakfast to nerd out in here.” She had skipped breakfast. Though she doesn’t know how Ava knew that considering the girl never made it to breakfast herself, still fast asleep and aware she could charm someone or another into giving her food between mealtimes. Being the halo bearer could get you many places.
“I could eat. I’m not really getting anywhere with this anyway.” Too many thoughts clogging her brain that were nothing to do with deciphering the texts about how the halo came to be. They were probably all lies anyway. Apparently most of the tomes lining the shelves of The Cat’s Cradle were.
“You’ll figure it out, Bea. You always do.” She smiles reassuringly. Beatrice knows she’ll be back in here straight after lunch trying to prove Ava right. She still can’t shake that part of herself trying to prove she’s useful; the part that says her value comes from what she can offer.
“But, in the meantime, I heard a rumour that there are peaches today and since you like their weird ass furry skin, you can have mine.” She’s still not used to people offering her things back. Remembering things about her, caring enough to store them away and bring them back out when necessary. She’s not used to letting herself be open enough to share them.
“We really should work on your diet. You’ll get sick if all you eat is sugar.”
Ava scoffs. “I literally can’t die, Bea.”
“That’s not true.”
“Okay but like it would be super hard to kill me and Lilith’s attitude is plenty sour enough to balance out all the sweetness. Now, come on.” Ava drags her to eat and when the others greet her she realises with a start that they’ve grown used to her Bea too, like they took Ava slipping past her defences as their cue that it was okay to scale the wall next.
(It feels nice but it doesn’t strike the same chord on her heartstrings.
She thinks that has to mean something. She jots it down).
Ava always comes to her to learn new things. Beatrice always finds the time to help her. She thinks it could just be because she was the least judgemental or, at least, the least verbally so (hers was mostly in the eyes and the disappointed downturn of her lips) but that couldn’t be quite right when actual angel Camila existed.
The reason for avoiding Mary and Lilith was at least evident. The two of them enjoyed laughing at Ava a little too much already without her giving them more ammunition.
Whatever the reason, Beatrice had taken it upon herself to introduce Ava to new things little by little to get her comfortable. She started with different foods, hoping to expand Ava’s palette beyond breakfast dishes which she seemed to be obsessed with, introducing more fruit to the mix. New things she was never offered in the orphanage, new things Beatrice knew she would love.
She showed her different kinds of books in the hopes that Ava might read at least one. She devours them, always leaning towards non-fiction in a move which surprises Beatrice.
There was a hunger in Ava to learn things that she doesn’t think anyone else would expect, but Beatrice could see it plainly in the random facts she dropped in conversation and the excited way her eyes took in everything new around her.
She supposed it must’ve been nice to finally pick and choose what you consumed, rather than being subject to whatever was on the television that day, must’ve felt like the whole world was suddenly open to her and begging to be seen by fresh eyes.
Beatrice has Camila play all different kinds of music on the piano and asks Mary if Ava could listen to her CD’s (the ones she claims makes music feel more real than streaming). She started finding anything new Ava could see of the world, started trying to show her how things had changed since the last time she stepped foot in it - even if being in the church left things a little behind.
And then, when she was comfortable, Ava started asking her to teach her things too.
It oddly starts with the correct way to cook eggs and, yes, that was eggs in general. They go through far too many with Ava learning a bunch of different techniques, deciding which one is her favourite. She lands on soft boiled with side of cut toast, if only because she finds Beatrice calling it egg and soldiers funny (it doesn’t feel like she’s being laughed at but she does feel a little like she might just drown in the laughter).
Beatrice teaches her how to do tricks with the sword because Ava said it would look cool and Beatrice, even though she rolled her eyes, had to agree that it definitely did, especially when the Divinium glowed.
Beatrice showed her basic field medicine, incredibly basic, how to do useless origami and how to speak a little of a few languages. Mostly hello and where’s the toilet and swearwords Ava convinces her to share with puppy dog eyes (which, come to think of it, how well those worked was another check on the Beatrice might have a crush side).
She teaches her a little of everything, whatever she asks, whenever she asks, and then one day Ava asks, “Bea, not to expose myself as a total mess once again but how exactly do you make a bed without just sort of throwing the sheet to cover the mess?”
Beatrice doesn’t see the problem in showing her, doesn’t see a problem at all in Ava taking more care of her room, being more self sufficient and she likes being needed, so she smiles and gestures for Ava to lead her back to her room, smiling when she does her signature thank you happy dance on the way.
Beatrice doesn’t see a problem until Ava is huffing about the corners of her bed sheet refusing to stay on, and pouting that her tucks don’t look as good as Beatrice’s example, and threatening to take off her top because she’s getting too hot from all the work (it doesn’t really feel like a threat, it feels like a beautiful offer. Beatrice’s tongue threatens to swell in her mouth. She makes no outside show of the fact).
Beatrice doesn’t see the problem in showing her until Ava is smiling proudly and declaring, “We have to test it now, make sure my tucks hold up to your standards.” She dives on it and Beatrice just… stares. Hair spread across her pillow, chest still heaving a little from her making the whole thing far harder than it needed to be, a light flush on her cheeks from the warmth. She’s beautiful. Like a classical painting. Beatrice reminds herself not to touch.
Or she tries to, but then Ava’s staring back at her, grinning cheekily. “I believe I said we, Beatrice. I need a professional to check my work.”
“It looks lovely from here.”
Ava pushes up onto her arms to give her a look. “Don’t make me pull rank as the Halo-Bearer.”
“You do not have rank-“
“Just get in,” Ava cuts in and Beatrice can’t help but soften ever so slightly. Ava sees it clear as day as always. “Please.” It’s a killing blow.
Beatrice shuffles forward and gently perches on the edge. Ava laughs and tugs her until she’s lying by her side, head on a too small pillow, arms and legs pressing into each other. Ava turns to her and Beatrice tries to measure the ceiling in her head because she doesn’t trust herself.
She hasn’t been in a bed with another girl since childhood sleepovers. Back when she hadn’t seen enough of the world yet to know exactly why her palms were sweating and why she didn’t fancy any of the boys the other girls would talk about, why the posters in her room were of places and things and not whichever boy was in the latest teen movie.
Beatrice can feel the questions radiating from Ava but she’s not really sure what she truly wants to know so she answers the one that’s easiest.
“It’s lovely from here too.” Not the way she should’ve phrased it but it’s too late now. But it was. Lovely. Calming even, even if she did feel on edge. She feels a little at peace lying beside Ava, feeling the warmth from the halo and the warmth that’s just from Ava herself.
That had to mean something.
The fact that she feels safe enough to fall asleep with her head tilted just so towards Ava means something. She knew that much.
Ava still sneaks out of Cat’s Cradle. At least, she thinks she’s sneaking despite them all knowing, they just also know she’ll come back now.
Beatrice doesn’t blame her for needing to run away sometimes. It could be a lot. Being here for the first time. Beatrice remembers how lost she felt, how, even though she had discovered her purpose, she still felt so unsure as to how she was supposed to fulfil it and Beatrice chose this life, Ava had this life thrust into her back.
She understands the need to have some time to yourself, to remember that you exist outside of the sisterhood, outside of the church. She knew how easy it was to lose yourself in it, to let yourself hide in it. She liked how easy it was most of the time.
(Lately she’d found herself wanting to be seen a lot more).
So Ava ran and they let her, even covered for her. They mostly being Beatrice. And so grew the unspoken rule that if you were looking for Ava you would go to Beatrice and find she often wasn’t too far behind. Beatrice quite liked having a partner in crime, or a partner to get out of crime. She’d never had one before, never felt so wanted or needed or liked for exactly who she was.
And she was reminded of that now by the knick-knacks that lined her shelf. Her room used to be bare. They weren’t really supposed to have material possessions and any they did have were the same you would find in any room you were to enter. Her room used to be indistinguishable from the rest and it might still be upon first glance.
Except now it had a little more colour because every time Ava sneaks out of Cat’s Cradle, she also sneaks Beatrice something back in.
The first time Ava returned with something that ‘made her think of’ Beatrice she stared without taking it for a beat too long. Ava had laughed at her a little; taken Beatrice’s hand in hers and dropped the gift into it. She didn’t let go as Beatrice picked it up with her other hand to inspect it. Not immediately. She squeezed Beatrice’s hand first and then let go.
It was a keyring with Cruella De Vil on it. Beatrice didn’t even have keys but she’d laughed and said thank you with a level of sincerity she didn’t mean to express so plainly.
Ava kept buying things from then on. Postcards and novelty glasses and bubbles she makes Beatrice pop with throwing knives when they’re alone in the training room. Weird chocolate flavours she thinks they should try and rocks from the beach that she thought looked cool and wanted to show Beatrice. Random things, silly things. A lot of things neither of them really got the chance to enjoy to their fullest for their own reasons.
Tonight Ava knocks on her door before phasing through with a huge grin on her face. Beatrice only pauses slightly in reading her book to address her. “You know you’re supposed to knock and wait for confirmation before you come in?”
“I’m halfway there. You’ll have me house trained soon enough.” She sticks her hands into her pockets and pulls out her spoils. “Look what I got.”
“Are those temporary tattoos?”
“Yeah I’ve always wanted to do one but my mum always used to say no and then, well, you know.”
“You want me to put it on you?” Thank God.
“Yeah and then I’ll put one on you.” Beatrice’s face must show her apprehension about that because Ava quickly pouts. “Come on, Beatrice, it’s no fun alone.”
Beatrice sighs, “Fine but it can’t be anywhere obvious.”
“Yes!” Ava cheers. “How do we start?”
“Sit down; I’ll go get a flannel.” Beatrice dampens it in water at her bathroom sink. Stares at the water flowing, thinking about how she’s going to have to touch Ava and Ava is going to touch her back and it’s so innocent and minimal and it’s making her freak out a little bit. She shouldn’t be freaking out so much. She stares at herself in the mirror. All red cheeked and panicked and… happy.
She doesn’t remember feeling so happy.
She comes back and Ava’s sitting exactly where asked. Clearly excited but holding back her usual need to poke around Beatrice’s room and find if she’s hiding anything exciting. She’s convinced she has a secret stash. She’s not entirely wrong.
“So how do we do this?” Ava says when she returns and Beatrice’s brain freezes. Ava, on her bed, resting back like she’s been in here a thousand times, like she expects to be in here a thousand more. And she’s asking how do we do this on a bed and this is a holy place and there’s definitely an unholy thought or two that Beatrice smothers before they can fully form in her mind.
“Where would you like it?” Beatrice asks and Ava sticks out her arm, forearm up. Beatrice nods and sits gently beside her, barely on her own bed. Peels the tattoo and sticks it down where Ava directs her. Presses the flannel down. “Now we wait.”
“It’s that simple?” Mystified. She’s completely mystified and it’s adorable.
“It’s that simple.” Beatrice confirms. Simple: plain, basic or uncomplicated in form.
It was definitely plain and basic but the tension coiling round Beatrice’s heart didn’t feel so uncomplicated. The confusion she felt wasn’t uncomplicated. Did she feel like this because she hadn’t had a friend like this before? Because she wasn’t used to allowing herself to be in such casual confines with a girl? Because that girl in casual confines was Ava?
Beatrice pulls it back slowly and stares as Ava grins at the result. It looks so dumb. A cartoon sun with sunglasses. Beatrice thinks she might need a pair of her own to withstand the smile spread across Ava’s face. She’s beautiful. Beatrice knew that from the moment she saw her. All smooth skin and deep brown eyes. Smiling cheeks and pink lips and everything Beatrice had avoided for so long. She refused to get lost in it and then Ava distracted her. Now she was lost without a map.
“Your turn.” Beatrice groans. She’d almost forgotten about that part of this whole ordeal. She’d hoped Ava had too. “Come on, pick a place. I bet I’m an amazing tattoo artist.”
“I don’t know. Are you sure I can trust you with the flannel? It’s an important responsibility.”
“I’m great with responsibility.” Beatrice cocks a brow. “Eventually.” Beatrice laughs but still sighs in resignation and tugs her outer top layer off, leaving her in a tank top. Ava chokes a little, waves off Beatrice’s concern with a shake of her head that Beatrice kindly accepts as enough. She hopes Ava affords her the same kindness when she inevitably does something inexplicably dumb soon.
“Put it on my shoulder.” With any luck no one would ever see it and know she’d let Ava talk her into matching temporary tattoos.
She turns her back to Ava and immediately thinks she’s made a good choice. For about five seconds. Until it means Ava putting gentle hands on her skin and feeling her breath on her neck and outwardly rather calmly staring at the wall whilst inwardly slamming her head against it and bemoaning herself for being so weak.
(A major mark in the Beatrice had a crush on Ava column).
It feels a lot longer than the allotted thirty seconds before Ava takes her hands off. She breathes out in relief, tries to crane her neck to see it. Ava laughs when she fails and grabs her hand to drag her to the mirror. She sees the sun and Ava’s sunshine smile all at once. Her smile was insane. Beatrice felt insane. This was so stupid.
“I can’t believe I agreed to this.”
“It looks amazing!” Part of the tattoo hasn’t stuck properly, and it’s already slightly pulled away from her skin, and it’s the most ridiculous thing ever but Ava looks so happy that Beatrice can help but laugh until Ava tugs her into a hug, laughing too.
She feels the skin of their arms slide against one another. Feels Ava’s chest pressed into hers by the barest of fabrics. Her arms take a second to catch up and wrap around her in kind.
“Thank you,” Ava says and it feels a little heavy for letting her put a stupid tattoo on her skin but Beatrice gets over herself enough to squeeze her a little tighter.
“You’re welcome,” she replies earnestly.
Ava leaves not long after.
Beatrice gets in the shower before bed. She doesn’t act on the thought that she should scrub the tattoo off. Instead she’s careful to make sure she doesn’t scrub too hard on the area and lose it. She’s careful for days. Finds herself looking at it in the mirror more than she’d like to admit.
Sometimes she just forgets it’s there. Sometimes she feels like she has a sunburn when she remembers Ava’s hands on her skin. Sometimes she pretends she has no idea what Mary’s knowing look is about when an incident ends in a tear to her shirt and a bare shoulder.
Ava remembers random things she says in passing. Stupid things. Things that have no bearing on Ava’s life. Beatrice would understand remembering things that might help her. Like knowing Beatrice was the one to go to if you wanted Latin translated to Modern English, or that she had a black belt in multiple martial arts and was the one to go to when you wanted to perfect your form, or that she knew the most about the history of the Order having spent the most time in the library and archives.
She’s used to people remembering how she’s useful. She built her life around being that useful person. Harder to throw away than before. Indispensible if not liked.
But Ava doesn’t remember her uses, she remembers useless things.
She knows that Beatrice loves peaches but isn’t a fan of plums. She knows that Beatrice loves the sound of a harp but always wanted to learn to play the drums and that when she was younger she wanted to be a doctor (and also a cowboy). She knows her favourite colour is green, specifically forest green, and that she loves the smell of the woods after a rainstorm.
She doesn’t make a show of knowing any of it. Just switches fruit silently and convinces Mother Superior that they need a harp when she says a definite no to a drum set, brings Beatrice back a ridiculous looking cowboy hat.
She corrects their friends on things before Beatrice can even open her mouth, thoughtlessly and expectantly, like she’s miffed everyone else hasn’t clocked on too, like they should know that Beatrice likes to change her sheets on a Thursday and wash her body in the morning but would rather wash her hair in the evening to let it dry naturally before bed.
It’s often things she has no idea how Ava managed to pick up on. It’s often things she doesn’t even explicitly say, things that Ava just picks up from paying attention. She doesn’t know why she bothers paying attention. She’s not going to question it - out loud that is - on the inside she questions it constantly. But she can’t exactly verbalise that because then she’d be a hypocrite for storing just as much useless information.
Like how Ava would pick blueberry pancakes over chocolate chip but would always go chocolate for anything else. Like how sometimes she stares down at her legs and wiggles her toes in awe. How she does the finger exercises Beatrice taught her under the table to strengthen her hands even though the halo does most of the heavy lifting, like she’s trying desperately to keep the strength even if she did happen to lose the halo, like she would do anything, no matter how small, to keep this new life.
Like how she always tried to steal food from Lilith or Mary’s plate because she seemed to enjoy the way they would berate her, like she enjoyed the back and forth argument that felt almost familial, like she’d been craving something like that since forever. The same way Beatrice could clearly see her doing it right now, even if she was mostly pretending to have her nose in her book.
(She wondered if Ava looked closely enough to know that was fake too.
That she’d been on the same page since she opened it).
“Ava don’t you dare touch my carrot sticks.” Mary says, gazing out her periphery and slapping Ava’s hand away. Beatrice buries her grin her book.
“But I need them more than you to see demons in the dark.”
“If you can’t see giant red clouds of smoke right in front of you, you need a lot more than carrots – especially when they are my hard earned carrots.”
“You didn’t even do anything for them.”
“I sat next to you so someone else didn’t have to,” Mary throws back and Ava scoffs, offended.
Beatrice pushes her own tray closer, until it bumps into Ava’s empty tray and makes a gentle clink. She feels Ava’s eyes on her but she simply nods her head to the sticks still on the tray. She wasn’t exactly done with them but it’s worth it for the way Ava squeezes her thigh in thanks, making a victorious sound and sticking her tongue out at Mary. Beatrice wonders if it tastes like carrot. She stops the thought in its tracks before it even leaves the station.
“At least someone has the sense to think about the future welfare of this team,” Ava says smugly.
“Yeah that’s what Beatrice is thinking about right now,” Mary mutters. Lilith snorts and even Camila politely smothers a smile. Ava’s carrot crunching just about drowns out the blood rushing in Beatrice’s ears. She lifts her book higher to cover her blush and wonders how obvious she is.
Did everyone but her know she had a crush on Ava? Before Beatrice had even figured it out?
She keeps collecting evidence for her list. As if she needs more. It’s obvious in the way she reacts to any time Ava touches her and more so in the way she reacts to touching Ava.
She was never really one for touching. She kissed Shannon on the forehead when she was dying; it was the first time they’d ever been in such close contact beyond carrying one another off the battlefield. She didn’t touch without true reason, purpose or need. She always assessed with her eyes. Touches were quick, succinct, sparing.
But then Ava hadn’t been there for much more than a day and she hugged her. She even initiated the act except, when Ava fell into her arms, tucking her face in the crevice of Beatrice’s neck, readying herself to hibernate like a bear in winter; Beatrice didn’t know what to do next. It was like her body worked on reflex to comfort before it realised it wasn’t used to such acts – on either side.
She keeps finding reasons to touch Ava after that. She helps her with stances by putting hands on hips, and gentle toes forcing her feet apart, she lifts her jaw with soft fingertips and repositions her hands with her own instead of giving succinct orders from the side like she usually would, like she had once intended to when Ava first fell into their lap.
She checks Ava for wounds with her hands instead of just her eyes, claims it’s to get a more full view of any injuries she might have sustained but really it’s to check that she’s still whole, still safe, still real and present. She constantly waits for her fingers to phase through her like a phantom.
She shows Ava how to complete a Rubik’s Cube by ghosting her hands over hers the whole way through until she can do it by herself. She helps Ava adjust her battle attire when she can’t figure it out herself. She holds her hands to paint her nails because Ava is still getting used to being dexterous with unpractised hands.
Touching her was like peeling an orange. She could still smell the scent of her for hours afterwards, haunting her fingertips. She could feel the remnants of the sticky juice even after she washed her hands multiple times. It was inconvenient. She didn’t plan to stop.
Instead she finds a thousand excuses to touch where she would usually find the same thousand to not and she does it without even thinking. Touching Ava becomes a reflex where avoidance was once as easy and as automatic as breathing. Especially because, any time she did censor herself, Ava would get this crinkle in her brow like she didn’t understand what she’d done, like she was working out how to fix it before she lost someone else she cared about.
But sometimes she did make it really hard.
“This bra has way too many clasps. I’d just got used to two and now there’s four to deal with. How the fuck-“ she calls from the bathroom. Why did Beatrice accept her request to follow her into her room? Simple answer: because she wanted to spend more time with her and, sure, she expected Ava might try on some new things but she just didn’t expect one of those new things to be the bra she got for more support during combat.
“How on earth is anyone supposed to do this behind their back? You know what, no; even at the front this is crazy.” Ava wasn’t going to ask for help. Ava wasn’t going to ask for help. Ava wasn’t going to ask for- “Bea, could you help me?” Fu-
“Ava I can’t put your bra on for you every day. You need to be able to do it yourself.”
“Okay but that’s a problem for future Ava and present Ava would really like you to help her just this once so she can see if it fits properly. I don’t wanna give some frisky demon more of a show than they deserve.”
“Just this once,” Beatrice says, stepping towards the door before she has a striking thought - a thought that would’ve had a less graceful individual crashing headfirst through the door. “You’re not still trying to do it at the front right?”
“I promise I’m covered up. You don’t have to be concerned about my modesty.” Yeah because that was her main concern and not seeing boobs for the first time and passing out.
Beatrice steps in and maybe it would’ve been fine it Ava wasn’t standing in front of a now seemingly giant mirror. If all she could see was smooth back and the risen ring of the halo. But she can quite clearly see Ava looking at her in the mirror and boobs. Boobs.
She looks at her feet as she exhales and then steps closer, lifts her eyes to laser focus on the clasps in front of her. Her hands are shaking. It makes her knuckles graze Ava’s back even more than necessary. She can’t work out if she’s just running unnaturally hot or if her own hands are just so cold because her circulation was currently rushing all of her blood to her cheeks by express delivery.
“There,” Beatrice says once it’s taken her far longer than it should have. She tries to turn around and run out of the bathroom the second she’s done but Ava grabs her wrist.
“Does it look okay? I’ve never had a chance to be measured.” God was surely testing her. The devil was surely testing her. The universe was surely in on it all. She flicks her eyes down as briefly as she can and then meets Ava’s eyes steadfast once again.
“Seriously, Bea? You barely looked. I need your advice, girl to girl.” She doesn’t look. She won’t look. She can make enough excuses until she doesn’t have to look.
“I really don’t think I’m the best person to ask, Ava. Mine are nowhere near as ho- big as yours so finding suitable support hasn’t really been an issue.” Was big better? How long could she stare into Ava’s eyes before this got weird? Correction: weirder.
“But visually you think this looks like it’ll hold them? What if I like jumped to test it?” She always thought she’d get killed by a demon. She had prepared herself for it, come to terms with it even. This she had not prepared for. She wasn’t ready for her tombstone to read death by boob jiggle.
She puts her hand on Ava’s arm before she can follow through on the jump, swallows harshly and then looks down. This had to be the lesser of two evils.
“The fit looks perfect,” she says as stilted as can be even though she tries to be casual.
“Thanks, Bea.” Ava grins. Beatrice focuses on that. “Could you undo it?” She groans. She means to do it internally. It’s definitely out loud. Ava misinterprets. “Just this once. Promise.” Beatrice silently gestures for her to spin, flicks the bra open with an ease she never expected to possess before immediately turning out the door before she can see a single thing or properly process Ava’s shocked gasp and rushed thank you.
She rests her head against the closed door when she’s free, saying a silent prayer that she won’t stop breathing in the night or have any dreams that’ll stop her from looking Ava in the eye tomorrow.
(One thing was for sure.
It was looking securely like a crush).
The halo goes funny when she’s around.
She doesn’t notice the correlation at first. Ava was new to the whole thing, there were bound to be some teething issues - every single account of new halo bearers speaks of the transition period, something that was only heightened by the ‘never having known about any of this’ factor and also the ‘being declared dead after being murdered by a nun’ thing.
Ava picked things up quickly. She was showing new skills they hadn’t seen before, her healing times were improving as was the time she needed to recharge and she’d picked up phasing as easy as breathing. Or Beatrice thought she had but recently she seemed to constantly be fighting with walls.
Like now, for example, as Beatrice passes with a book in hand and can clearly see Ava with her foot stuck in the wall trying to pass it off as casual by leaning on it at the most awkward angle imaginable since she’d clearly came through the wall front first. “Hey, Bea, good book?”
“It has some useful information.” Ava hums; inspecting the painting on the wall in front of her like that’s what she had always intended. Beatrice takes pity. “Do you need some help?”
“Oh no, I’m fine!”
“Ava your foot is in the wall.”
“Is it?” She looks down feigning shock. Beatrice can’t help but smile.
“What happened, I thought you had this down?” Ava’s leaning towards flight and not fight had made her rather adept at running away from things, whatever was in the way. Beatrice couldn’t count the amount of times she’d had to berate Ava for phasing into things she shouldn’t.
“I did but then y-“ she cuts herself off.
“But then what?” Beatrice pushes.
“Nothing. Just a lot on my mind I suppose.”
“Would you like to talk about it?” She wasn’t usually a shoulder to cry on. She wasn’t the best at emotions. She often looked for solutions when people just wanted to vent. She knew how to fix things, not how to sit with it, but she thinks Ava appreciates that about her, thinks that, with the way Ava’s mind runs wild, she’s the exact kind of counterpart she needs.
“Can you just try pulling me out so I can trick my brain into thinking it’s that easy?”
“Sure.” Beatrice puts her book down carefully. Grabs Ava by the upper arms with her hands and tugs her to no avail. She’s focusing on Ava’s foot when she’s pulled out of her trance by a piercing glow emanating from her back, despite the vest meant to hide and contain the halo’s power.
“You need to calm down.”
“I am calm,” Ava argues but she’s wiggling around uselessly like a fish out of water in direct contradiction of her words.
“You’re lit up like a shopping centre Christmas tree.”
“It’s stopping you from being able to phase your leg out the wall so it has to be something.” This had been happening more and more recently. Ava seemed to have so much on her mind and not enough coming out of her mouth like it usually would be. It reminds her of when Ava first came, when she wouldn’t admit she was scared she would lose the halo, when she wanted everyone to think she was just selfish and thoughtless and uncaring.
(If only that Ava could look at her now.
Fighting so hard to learn how to stay instead of fleeing).
“Just leave me here to die.” She was still ridiculous. That would never change.
“You’re so dramatic,” Beatrice laughs. “Don’t focus on the wall, focus on something else.”
“That’s exactly how I got here in the first place,” Ava mumbles and for the first time Beatrice looks up from her leg to see how closes their faces are. Close enough that she heard that even under the breath that she can feel puffing against her face. Close enough that she can count Ava’s eyelashes, close enough that she can see the one that’s escaped the pack and lies free on her cheek.
Beatrice lifts one hand to pick it up, gentle fingers grazing Ava’s face. Holds it between them.
“Make a wish.” Ava stares at her, blows gently. The air dances through the lines of her fingerprints. Beatrice feels her entire body shiver in mimicry. She almost says something, moves in a way that she doesn’t even know what her plan is but it feels dangerous. Ava topples out of the wall and right into her arms before she can explore it. Beatrice settles her onto her own feet and moves back.
“Guess wishes really do come true.” She picks her book back up. “I better finish this.”
“Oh yeah, sure that’s- you do that.” Beatrice smiles and starts to leave. Ava stays behind but then strides to catch up. “Could I sit with you, maybe? I promise you won’t even feel like I’m there,” Ava says, miming locking her mouth shut.
Beatrice nods. Ava grins and follows. She does keep her promise to be quiet. She actually falls asleep in the seat beside Beatrice in the hall. But she’s wrong, Beatrice does feel like she’s there, she feels her there the whole time. Like a beacon. Her halo glowing gently the whole time, sparking and dimming but never shutting off fully.
Ava walks her to her bedroom door later that night. It feels oddly charged.
It’s not until Ava’s walking away from Beatrice that she sees the light finally cut out.
It turns out the list is pretty conclusive which isn’t really a surprising turn of events considering she definitely thought about kissing Ava the other day.
She thinks maybe Ava would have kissed her back. She thinks maybe she wouldn’t have made a fool of herself because Mary keeps calling Ava her girlfriend as a joke and Lilith was talking about how annoyingly good Ava was with her halo powers and how she had phasing down perfectly but it didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense unless Beatrice was the difference.
Beatrice had never been the difference before.
She’s staring at the list, all the things in the yes column for both of them and the one in the no column that just says it wasn’t realistic for Ava to have a crush on her. She was just being nice, just hadn’t had any female friends before, hadn’t had any real friends beyond Diego and a boy she was enamoured with for a week and his friends who never really cared enough to try and protect her.
She was just showing kindness and latching onto Beatrice because she was giving it back and Beatrice was misreading it. She had to be misreading it. That deserved to be its own point in the ‘no’ column. Beatrice adds it. She starts attempting to rationalise other items on the list when Ava phases in through the wall without warning.
“Ava!” She exclaims, slamming her hands onto the paper. “I thought we’d trained you in the art of knocking on doors.”
“Sorry I got excited to tell you-“ she stops, eyes flicking to the sheet on Beatrice’s desk, the one she is attempting to hide without a semblance of casualness- “what’re you hiding?”
“It’s nothing. What is it you wanted to tell me?”
“Just that Camila told a joke that made milk come out of Lilith’s nose but that’s unimportant now.”
“That sounds hilarious. Tell me more about that.”
“You’re being really weird, Bea,” Ava says slowly. Her eyes suspicious in spite of the amused smile spread across her lips. “What’re you writing?”
“Just a translation.”
“You don’t have a book open.” Damn her inability to have a messy desk. If she were sitting at Ava’s she could’ve just pushed the sheet beneath food wrappers and four different open books because she refused to commit to one at a time, claiming she had too much catching up to do.
“From memory,” Beatrice adds.
“Bea,” she laughs, stepping forward and pushing Beatrice’s hands away. She debates fighting it but she feels like that’s just going to make this whole thing more awkward when Ava wins, so instead she gives in and hides her face in her hands as Ava reads out loud, “Do I have a crush on Ava? Does she have a crush on me?” Not her most original title but she’d pretty much just written down the words her inner voice was screaming in the moment.
Ava doesn’t look up immediately, despite the question on her face, instead she reads her way to the bottom of the list, taking in Beatrice’s newer squiggles. The ones where she’s attempted to explain everything in the name of friendship.
“I thought I was doing pretty well until the halo started betraying me but I guess I’d been pretty obvious from the start. Explains why Mary kept telling me I was useless.”
“Huh?” Not the most articulate Beatrice has ever been but that almost sounded like Ava was admitting something but Ava couldn’t possibly be admitting something.
“Do you have a pen?” Beatrice hands one over automatically. Ava writes quickly and then hands it back. “Your turn,” she says. Beatrice looks down at the paper in her hands. Next to does she have a crush on me there’s a simple yes in Ava’s signature chicken scratch handwriting.
She stares at it and then at Ava who stands with her spine straight and her hands clasped in front of her in a very Beatrice-esque manner. It makes her heart thump to think they’ve been picking up each other’s quirks. And Ava has a crush on her. And she should probably be doing something.
She writes her own response in silence. She doesn’t know why she feels so nervous when she already knows Ava’s answer, when she already knows this is the best day of her life to date. She hands it back silently and Ava grins before taking the pen from her iron grip and writing again.
Will I let Ava kiss me?
Beatrice laughs. It bursts out of her. “Yes,” she says out loud.
“You’re supposed to write it down,” Ava teases.
Beatrice rolls her eyes but writes YES in block capitals. She underlines it three times.
Ava nods sagely when the paper is returned to her hands, showing no emotion on her face as she slips the note into her pocket and leans down to press her lips to Beatrice’s briefly before pulling away. Just a press. A test. Though she doesn’t move too far away as she searches Beatrice’s eyes for a sign, for an answer, for a decision that she’s putting in Beatrice’s hands – letting her set the pace, letting her decide if she wants more. She does.
Beatrice rises out of her seat to kiss Ava again, straightening to her full height until its Ava tilting her chin up to keep the kiss. Ava wraps her arms around her neck. Beatrice lets her hands settle on her waist after some debate, gripping at the fabric there far more desperately than the kiss asks for.
It doesn’t grow much further than a few slow open mouthed kisses. There’s no rush, just exploration and confessions. Beatrice never once dared to think what her first kiss might be like, had literally ran to a place where she thought she would never find out. She was glad she had.
It was like running up a mountain and having your lungs scream for air but not being able to stop grinning at the view for even a second to focus on the strain. It was like hitting the centre of the target after trying so long. It was like staring at a completed translation and finally understanding the piece as a whole. It was like the first flower in spring and a thousand other lines she’d read in books and poetry and heard in songs but didn’t understand.
She can’t stop smiling. Ava’s pulls away with one last press of her lips to Beatrice’s straining cheek. Beatrice opens her eyes to find Ava’s smile radiating back in kind.
“Is the big guy gonna smite me for this?”
“Maybe if you make a habit of it.”
“Was that…?” They both laugh.
“May I have the list back? I’d like to burn it,” Beatrice requests, though she makes no move to extract herself from Ava’s arms to follow through on it. Ava clamps her hand on her pocket protectively regardless like she knows how dangerous the threat is.
“No way. I’m framing that for my desk.”
“It will mysteriously disappear. I promise you that,” Beatrice says. She means it, except then, when she does sneak into Ava’s room to destroy it; she finds she can’t bring it in herself to remove it.
She likes the way Ava has put it pride of place. She likes the way the other girls smile and say they’re both stupid but that they’re happy for them. She likes that she doesn’t feel wrong for wanting it, that Ava doesn’t feel wrong about admitting it, that she’s proud of Beatrice.
(Beatrice felt pretty proud too.
They could figure out the harder stuff later).