She recognised her surroundings the moment she stepped into her dream.
Ava may have never set foot in this room in the waking world, but Ava knew every detail right down to that fucking obnoxious desk.
She was back in the villa that she had been held in. She was in the room that she had seen in her dream after she had been freed.
Except right now, Ava was the only person inside.
This was fine. She was safe.
Her sleeping body was currently surrounded by her friends, held steady by Beatrice's arm around her.
If she focused really hard, Ava was sure she could still feel the warmth of that touch across her chest.
Beatrice was safety.
Ava let out a slow breath and looked around the room and noticed Adriel's sword lying on the desk.
Ava took a few tentative steps forward to get a closer look.
It wasn't glowing, which shouldn't be a surprise considering Ava technically wasn't really there and it was only now that Ava had the chance to take in its details.
Or lack thereof.
The sword itself seemed very basic in design. The blade was definitely longer than Ava's and appeared to be heavier. It seemed to have a slight curve to it at the tip, the guard was designed in the shape of two snakes and the pommel contained another piece of divinium encased in the metal.
It wasn't spectacular by any means, but whoever had forged it for him definitely seemed to lack creativity.
But it was bigger than hers, so Ava suspected Adriel was happy enough with that.
(She definitely had a few ego and size related jokes that she could throw at Adriel if she ever got the chance to use them.)
Although it was definitely a different style to what Ava would have expected.
She tried to commit it to memory with the intention of finding the name of its style as soon as she had a chance.
The sound of voices approaching threw Ava off guard.
"My Lord, it's merely my suggestion that you begin moving your men, you've said yourself that the halo is on the move, you could have them intercepted and claim the halo once and for all."
Ava recognised that slimy ass voice anywhere.
"If I wanted your council, Vincent, I would ask for it."
Ah, and there was Adriel.
Dude really didn't seem to like it when Vincent tried to voice his thoughts.
"Apologies, my Lord." Vincent replied. "Is there anything you need of me?"
"I want you to get an update from Duretti. There was a sizeable outburst of energy from the halo and now it is moving south. I do not appreciate being kept in the dark like this."
So he knew about the explosion but nothing else?
Interesting, and actually somewhat reassuring.
What wasn't reassuring was the confirmation that Duretti was working with him.
Yeah… really not ideal. They needed to warn Mother Superion as soon as possible.
The footsteps were getting closer and Ava watched the closed door as she tried to ease the anxiety that she could feel rapidly building.
She closed her eyes for a moment and reached up to touch her hand to her right shoulder, where she knew Beatrice's hand rested against her sleeping body.
Ava was safe.
Beatrice was keeping her safe.
She just needed to remember that.
When the door opened Ava dropped her hand and opened her eyes, locking gazes with Adriel the moment he stepped through.
He stopped in place, the fleeting moment of surprise was quickly masked by a slow curving of his lips.
"Ava. What a pleasant surprise."
Over his shoulder, Ava could see Vincent looking around the room.
"Sorry to just drop in." Ava replied. "I hope I'm not interrupting your very important scheming."
Adriel angled his head slightly towards Vincent. "Leave us."
He didn't even wait for Vincent to respond before he made the door close behind him.
It was just the two of them now.
Ava slipped her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and regarded him for a few moments.
"Genuine question, do you like it when Vincent calls you his Lord?" Ava asked. "Because personally it sounds a little too slimy and groveling for my taste."
Adriel smiled. "It is my rightful title."
"Hm… Agree to disagree."
Adriel moved further into the room towards Ava.
"My question to you Ava, is why is it you always begin these encounters so full of confidence when we both know that by the time you leave me, I will have broken your spirits?"
He wasn't exactly wrong but… Jesus.
Broken spirits was a bit of an exaggeration.
Ava shrugged. "You can't hurt me here."
"Our last encounter said otherwise." Adriel pointed out. "You seemed rather upset."
"Yeah well, you didn't look super thrilled yourself when you first walked in here. Trouble in paradise?"
She wasn't going to let him get to her so easily this time. Ava was going to come out of this with some information that would actually fucking help them.
Rather than answer, Adriel folded his arms across his chest as he continued to stare at Ava.
"I felt you use the halo earlier." Adriel said. "Very powerful. It's hard to control now, isn't it?"
He definitely didn't need to know any of those details.
"Hard? Please, I had more problems trying to figure out how to wear the habit that one time."
But Beatrice had helped her do it, and Ava could still see her proud smile as they stood before the mirror.
Adriel hummed thoughtfully, glancing over to look out of the window.
"You're moving south. Where are you going?"
If Adriel could see her at all times, then he would know.
Was it a bluff?
"How the fuck should I know? I'm here aren't I? I don't know the stops on our road trip." Ava replied.
Adriel walked around the desk, making a show of dragging his finger along the edge of the sword, never once taking his eyes off of Ava.
"Why are you here, Ava?" Adriel asked.
"Because I can't control this? Believe me, you are not a face any girl wants to see in her dreams." Ava pulled her hands from her pockets and stretched them over her head lazily. "So unless you know how to stop it then I guess you're stuck with me."
Ava wasn't about to give up without something. Just one useful bit of information about their connection, about his plan.
As long as she didn't fuck it all up and reveal their plans to him, what little plans they actually had, it'd be okay.
"And why would I want to stop it?" Adriel asked. "I do enjoy our catch ups."
Ava groaned inwardly.
She really wanted to punch him in the face.
"I don't know, Adriel…" Ava began walking over to the desk to lean her hip up against it. "Imagine if you hadn't known I was here, how much could I have overheard?"
It was only there for a moment, but Ava didn't miss that self assured smirk falter and fall from his face.
"Imagine indeed." Adriel said. "Not that it would help you."
Ava folded her arms across her chest, pictured Beatrice's hand entwined with her own and made a thoughtful sound.
"So… Is your confidence in your plan a wannabe God thing?"
Adriel's nostrils flared, the anger in his eyes was evident as he slammed his hands down onto the desk.
"I am a God!" He roared.
Ava took half a step back, imagined Beatrice's hand holding onto her own and held his gaze.
Well, okay then.
She still wasn't going to back down.
"You're a coward who didn't even have your own halo to try and take over the world with. You had to steal it." Ava replied calmly. "You used Areala as a hiding place. And I don't know how, don't care how, but you got yourself trapped under the Vatican for hundreds of years, which was kind of dumb of you, let's be real."
His hands curled into fists, teeth bared.
This was his berserk button.
May as well keep pushing.
"You can't even take the halo from me, yet you want to take over the world?" Ava forced herself to laugh. "Definitely not a God. A joke, though? Yeah, that's you all over."
In a blink of an eye, his hand was moving and closing around the grip of the sword and lifting it.
It didn't touch her, even if it had Ava wouldn't have been able to feel it, but her synapses still tingled with a perceived sense of danger.
She lifted her head all the same.
If she were awake, would that blade be cutting into her skin?
Deep breath in, slow breath out.
"Before I take the halo back, I'm going to make you kneel. I'm going to make you watch as I take everything you love away from you." Adriel said quietly. "I might even let you live long enough to see the birth of the new world."
Ava lifted her hand to curl it around the blade, even now it still surprised her that she didn't feel the sensation of it cutting into her flesh.
"No point in making egotistical speeches, Adriel." Ava replied. "Cause you're not taking anything or anyone I love away. You're not getting the halo back and I'm sure as shit not going to let you try this world domination, second coming of Christ shit."
Adriel narrowed his eyes at her. He was definitely suspicious of her refusal to back down.
"Where are you going right now? What are you planning, Ava?"
He really doesn't know.
Adriel can't see her all of the time.
And he fucking hated that.
The laugh that spilled from her lips was one of genuine happiness.
"I'm not telling you shit. I'm not your hostage anymore."
"As long as we are both breathing, you will always be my hostage. When you sleep, you are trapped here with me. When I sleep I am a ghost watching your every movement and -"
"Let me guess, when we both sleep I'm a hostage to your dreams?" Ava guessed.
He looked angry that she had interrupted him, his smile was all teeth.
"I couldn't have put it better myself."
And that was all Ava needed to know.
Time to get the hell out of here.
"Thanks for the chat, Adriel. I'd say it was a pleasure but we both know that'd be a lie."
She realised her grip on the sword and moved her hand back to her shoulder, picturing Beatrice's hand again and tapped her fingers a few times.
God, she really hoped it worked.
It'd be really embarrassing if she was stuck here now.
The arm wrapped around Ava's chest was at strong risk of falling asleep.
Nobody had made much effort to make conversation and Beatrice didn't have the energy to offer any herself.
The gentle weight of Ava against her body and the scenery passing them by was making it hard to stay awake.
But she couldn't let herself drift.
She had to keep watch over Ava.
Every now and again, she would see Ava twitch and shift, fingers flexing around Beatrice's wrist before settling down once more.
She was facing her fear head on right now, just on the off chance that she would be able to get them some more information.
Ava was so much braver than she had ever given herself credit for.
She wasn't a flight risk. She wasn't thinking about herself.
With her hood having slipped off not long after she had fallen asleep, it left Beatrice able to turn her head and press her lips to Ava's hair.
Beatrice longed to move her other arm too, to wrap it around Ava's stomach and hold her even tighter.
Considering how soft Camila's voice was, it still managed to startle Beatrice, although she managed to stay mostly still as to not jostle Ava.
From the corner of her eye, she met Camila's gaze and made a quiet sound of acknowledgement.
Lilith turned the radio up.
"About earlier…" Camila continued quietly. "Some of the things I said were insensitive, to you specifically. I'm sorry for that. I could have made my points without resorting to that. They were cheap shots."
Beatrice inhaled deeply through her nose, picking up the lingering traces of smoke from the explosion and Ava's shampoo before lifting her head to rest her chin in her hair instead.
"It's fine, Camila." Beatrice replied. "Honestly, I should apologise too. I wasn't fair, I should have let you speak and been more understanding, for that I am sorry."
Though Beatrice would stand by her choice to not trust Jillian just yet.
"I don't blame you for having doubts. I do too." Camila said, turning her attention to Ava's sleeping form and reaching out to tuck a loose curl of hair behind Ava's ear. "But you can trust me when I say that I'm going to do everything to keep her safe."
"I know you will." Beatrice replied quietly.
But while all of the others would protect Ava, Beatrice would be damned if they had to.
She was going to keep Ava safe.
"We'll be there in just over an hour." Mary spoke up. "Do you think we should wake her up?"
Beatrice met her gaze in the rearview mirror and gave a soft shake of her head.
"Ava needs to rest either way, but if she starts looking uncomfortable or I see signs of panic, I'll wake her." Beatrice replied. "For now… Let her rest."
"You should rest too." Lilith said.
"I can't watch her if I'm sleeping."
She had no reason to doubt that the others weren't capable of watching over Ava.
But Ava had asked her.
It was Beatrice that Ava had laid her trust in right now.
So until Ava woke up, Beatrice would keep watch. Rest could come later.
"Is it worth having some kind of plan in place for when we get closer to the cradle?" Lilith asked. "Regardless of if Adriel can see through her or not, he can sense the halo. If Ava is close to the cradle then he'll know we're up to something."
"It shouldn't take long." Mary replied. "Our only options are to either park up nearby while you teleport in with someone -"
"Me." Camila said. "I'll go in with Lilith."
"Or we drop Ava off somewhere with Beatrice, go to the cradle and come back to pick them up." Mary finished, and when she processed Camila's interruption, frowned. "Wait, what?"
Lilith was turning in her seat to look at Camila too. "Yes, what?"
Beatrice had expected Camila to offer to go with Lilith, it made the most sense after all.
Mary was the best driver, Ava didn't know her way around Cat's Cradle as well as the others and Beatrice still had her injured ribs and leg.
(Not that she would leave Ava even if she weren't injured.)
And besides, it was Lilith. Camila was always going to be the one to go with her.
But the idea of them leaving her and Ava somewhere while they looked for the vest?
That… wasn't a good idea, no matter how much Beatrice wanted it to be.
"Somebody has to go with you, Lilith." Camila replied. "And the only person here who knows the hidden corners of that place as well as you and me is Bea."
"Right. Okay." Lilith nodded, turning back to look ahead.
"You can't separate me and Ava from you all either." Beatrice spoke up softly. "I wouldn't be able to guarantee her safety in my current state if anybody were to ambush us."
She hated even admitting it.
"I know." Mary said. "I just wanted to make sure we covered all options. There's risk involved no matter what we do, but all of us being split up like that is too much right now."
"Have you asked Ava to heal the rest of your injuries yet?" Camila asked quietly.
Ava shifted against Beatrice, head tilting back against her shoulder as her brow furrowed.
Beatrice watched Ava carefully as she shook her head.
"No. I would never ask. Ava offered. She healed my arm while we were in the bathroom at the cafe but it left her rather exhausted."
Beatrice had every reason to believe that Ava would want to try again as soon as they had the privacy to do so.
How they'd do that though, Beatrice didn't know.
"Okay, so Camila will come with me to find the vest. You and Ava can stay in the car with Mary." Lilith said.
"Sounds like a plan."
Beatrice made a quiet sound of agreement.
Ava shifted against her again, brow furrowing even more. The hand around her wrist flexed and moved, drifting up slightly the back of her hand.
Beatrice watched as two fingers gently tapped against her skin.
Ava repeated the gesture again.
It couldn't have been a clearer sign.
Beatrice sat up slightly, bringing Ava up with her and leaning in close to her ear.
"Ava?" She whispered, holding her closer. "Ava, wake up."
Ava didn't respond, but the hand that had been tapping against Beatrice's curled around hers and clung on tight.
She was aware of Camila watching them both, it was possible that Lilith and Mary were too, but it was easier for Beatrice not to focus on that.
Ava was her only focus now.
She slipped her free hand into Ava's and squeezed as hard as she could without potentially hurting the sleeping girl.
"Ava… Listen to my voice." Beatrice continued to whisper, fully aware of the way that her lips inadvertently brushed against Ava's ear. "I'm here, you're safe. Just… Just follow my voice, focus on my touch. Come back to me, Ava."
All at once she felt the tension of Ava's body, the tightening grip on both of Beatrice's hands and the deep inhale as she clawed herself back into consciousness.
She felt Ava turn her head towards her, so Beatrice did the same, only drawing back enough so that they didn't bump heads.
But they were still so close that their noses were almost touching.
Ava looked a little dazed as she adjusted to her surroundings, the lingering traces of sleep heavy in her eyes as she stared at Beatrice.
But it wasn't like before.
She didn't look terrified.
Ava clumsily pulled one of her hands free from Beatrice's as she twisted a little more towards her, it found its way into Beatrice's shirt, digging into the material and settling just above Beatrice's heart.
"Are you okay?" Beatrice asked softly.
Ava's eyes flickered over her face, the grip tightened on Beatrice's shirt.
"I heard you." Ava replied. "You woke me up when I needed you to."
Beatrice brushed her thumb across the hand still entwined with her own. "I promised to watch over you, Ava."
Ava beamed, a soft laugh fell from her lips before she tipped forward as much as she could to hide her face in Beatrice's neck.
Beatrice closed her eyes and allowed herself a moment to relax, to feel the smile pressed against her pulse, the warmth of Ava's body and the heartbeat Beatrice could feel through her shirt.
It could only be a moment. A few blissful seconds where they could both pretend that everything was okay.
Because the second Ava drew back, hand moving from Beatrice's shirt and reluctantly shifting to sit in her seat properly, it was back to reality.
Ava didn't let go of Beatrice's hand even as her focus shifted to Mary.
"You need to warn Mother Superion. Duretti is one hundred percent working with Adriel. I don't know in what capacity but I don't think he's possessed."
There seemed to be a collective sigh from both Mary and Lilith.
They'd all expected it. All they had to do was look at the things he had done to become Pope.
Beatrice could still remember the look on his face when he realised she would not be loyal to him.
"It'd actually be more surprising if he was possessed." Lilith said dryly.
Mary hummed in agreement. "What did he say about Duretti?"
"Not much." Ava replied. "I overheard him telling Vincent to get an update from him before he realised I was there. He sensed the explosion and wanted to know what was going on."
"Which means Adriel was likely aware of the Swiss Guard being sent after us." Beatrice said.
"...Yeah." Ava sighed. "But I get the impression that Duretti is looking for us to impress Adriel? I don't know, it just feels separate from Adriel's hunt."
It felt so much more visceral when Ava called it that.
Mary pulled her phone out of her pocket and shoved it into Lilith's hand.
"Text her for me will you? We just have to hope she checks her messages." Mary said. "After the last contact we had with her she's probably being even more careful to stay under the radar."
Beatrice's attention was pulled away from the conversation in front of her by Ava turning her hand over to idly play with her fingers.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Beatrice asked quietly.
Ava was silent for a few moments as she continued to fidget with Beatrice's hand. The others fell silent, although it was only Camila who was noticeably watching.
"The usual shit happened…" Ava began softly. She sighed and threaded her fingers through Beatrice's. "He was intimidating and kind of threatened me… Well, I say kind of, he did point a sword at my neck but I'm not sure if that counts because we both knew it wouldn't hurt me."
She said it with such surprising ease that it only added to the ache in Beatrice's chest.
It hurt to picture Ava standing up to Adriel with a blade pointed at her, despite the pride she felt at Ava's bravery.
"It still counts as a threat." Beatrice replied.
Ava hummed. "Do you guys want the whole rundown of the encounter or can I just cut to the chase?"
"Whatever you feel comfortable with." Beatrice said.
"Cool. Cool, cool." Ava nodded. "So, good news, Adriel can't actually see me most of the time? He knows we're on the move but he kept asking where we were going."
"Are you sure he wasn't bluffing?" Lilith asked, glancing up from Mary's phone. "Mary, I've texted Superion too."
Mary made a sound of acknowledgment while Ava gave a small shrug.
"Adriel kinda likes to gloat, he's made it very clear that he wants to make me hurt and suffer. If he knew where we were going he would have said so just to stress me out." Ava replied. "Plus he said that when I sleep, I'm trapped with him. When we both sleep, I'm still trapped and that when he sleeps, he's a ghost watching my every move. So interpret that as you will."
So when they were both asleep, it was like the times Ava and Lilith communicated in their dreams.
But when only one of them slept, they were able to see the one who was awake?
Adriel could only see them through Ava when he slept.
"He wouldn't be a ghost though, would he?" Beatrice asked.
Ava turned her head to flash Beatrice a questioning look.
"What do you mean?"
"When you sleep, you go to him and he can see you. So when he sleeps, you should be able to see him too."
"The only time I've seen him while I was awake was like… A glimpse of his eyes in the mirror when I got out of the shower when I first came back to you." Ava looked almost guilty at the admission, no doubt realising that she hadn't divulged that information before.
"You never mentioned that before." Beatrice pointed out gently.
"Even now I'm not sure if that was just… You know, trauma or not." Ava said. "I'm sorry."
Beatrice squeezed her hand reassuringly, almost wishing that the others weren't around them so that she could offer more.
"You don't have to apologise, Ava. You know I - We only want you to feel safe."
If the small smile was anything to go by, Ava didn't miss the way Beatrice stumbled over her words.
"I know." Ava replied, shifting to drop her head against Beatrice's shoulder. "You keep me safe, Bea."
Ava's words filled Beatrice's heart with gold.
She ached with the desire to turn her head again, to brush her lips against the soft skin of Ava's forehead.
Beatrice was not blind to her own feelings for Ava, she had come to accept them and knew how deeply they ran.
But desire… It was accurate, yes, but there was a heaviness to it that only added to the longing she felt.
When Ava shifted a little closer to bump her forehead against Beatrice's jaw for a moment before settling back down, it felt like she was doing so because Ava had sensed Beatrice's internal struggle.
"How long until we get to Cat's Cradle?" Ava asked.
"About forty minutes." Mary replied. "We can run through the plan again in a little bit. Is there anything else you need to tell us?"
Ava shook her head gently. "Not really. Vincent is following him like a lost puppy and it might actually be annoying Adriel, but that's not exactly relevant."
Perhaps not relevant, but it seemed to amuse Mary a bit.
Camila reached over to pat Ava's leg gently.
"Get some more rest, Ava." She said softly, eyes flickering up to meet Beatrice's. "Both of you."
Ava hummed and slid further into Beatrice's side.
"I'm not gonna sleep again, but Cam is right, you should rest, Bea." Ava murmured.
It was easy to close her eyes, and Beatrice knew that it would be even easier to melt into the comfort that Ava gave her.
But forty minutes wasn't long, certainly not enough for Beatrice to really settle and feel as though she would get a restful sleep.
"I can't sleep, Ava." Beatrice replied.
Despite her instinct, Beatrice didn't flinch when Ava's free hand came to rest against her stomach, but she did immediately wonder what it would feel like to have Ava's touch against her bare skin.
It would be warm. Ava was always warm.
Beatrice's stomach twisted.
It was getting very hot in the car.
(She could feel her ears burning.)
"You don't have to sleep." Ava replied. "Just rest."
"I'll try." Beatrice replied.
It was the best she could offer.
It was so strange to see Cat's Cradle again, even if it was from a distance.
As Mary had driven them closer, the tension had steadily increased within the car until Camila found herself unable to ignore the anxiety growing in her stomach.
Beatrice and Ava had been quietly resting beside her, not quite sleeping but at the very least at some kind of peace, but as they had gotten closer, Beatrice's eyes had opened and Ava had sat up a little bit straighter.
It felt like it had been so long since they had all been within those walls.
Hell, Camila's last moments in Cat's Cradle had involved blindly firing an assault rifle to protect Ava, Beatrice and Mary.
(And then she had gotten to see firsthand some pretty intense eye contact between Ava and Beatrice in the back of the van.)
"Alright, I'm going to find an alley to park in." Mary said. "It'll give you both a chance to figure out what weapons to take in and run through the plan one more time."
To call it a plan was a bit of an overstatement. Right now it was just a case of getting inside that building, avoiding the other highly trained nuns who may or may not see them as traitors and will attack on sight, find the vest and get out in one piece.
And there lay the root of her anxiety.
Facing Crimson and her group were one thing, but the women in Cat's Cradle were her friends, her sisters.
She didn't want to fight her sisters.
"Can you try to steal more gadgets too?" Ava asked quietly, voice pitched so low that there was no way Lilith or Mary could have heard her.
"Why? What do you want?" Camila replied.
"Communication things? I… I don't like that you guys are going in there and there's no way we can even check in with you." Ava explained. "It wouldn't be useful here but… Just in case, you know?"
She had a point.
Camila smiled reassuringly. "I'll try."
Whatever they took, Camila would try to bring back one day. They were only borrowing it.
As Mary turned down another road, Camila drew her pistol so that she could busy herself with checking its ammo.
Mary drove them down an alleyway, parking up and letting out a quiet sigh.
"Okay, this seems like a safe distance." Mary said. "We can come running if it comes to it."
"And how exactly are we supposed to alert you all if we're in danger?" Lilith asked.
Mary frowned at her. "Use your phone? Have me on speed dial and I'll come."
The way the two of them stared each other down was almost funny.
Camila leaned forward to tap Lilith gently on the shoulder.
"It'll be okay, as long as we don't get separated. If anything happens we'll just teleport out and regroup."
They had to get the vest one way or another, but trying to take on the entirety of Cat's Cradle wasn't an option, nor was the idea of Beatrice and Ava coming to save them.
Regardless of Ava's healing, Camila would much rather not give Beatrice the opportunity to add more injuries to the collection.
Camila just had to pray that it wouldn't come to that.
(She tried not to think about how little weight her prayers seemed to carry these days.)
"Agreed." Lilith nodded. "Mary, pop the trunk, will you?"
Before either Lilith or Camila could open the doors and climb out of the car, Beatrice spoke up quietly.
"Teleport into the crypt. It'll almost certainly be empty."
Camila was pretty sure she had only been there once or twice herself.
Lilith hummed. "I will, thank you."
Lilith got out of the car first, looking around cautiously as she made her way around to the back of the car.
Camila flashed Ava and Beatrice a reassuring smile, reaching over to squeeze Ava's arm.
"We'll be back before you know it, okay?"
Ava nodded. "Be careful."
With one more shared look and a fleeting glance at the apprehension on Beatrice's face, Camila climbed out of the car too.
Camila came to stop at Lilith's side as she rummaged through their bags, not missing the deep frown on her face.
"We should try to get some more ammo while we're in there." Lilith said quietly.
"Knowing the armoury as well as I do, they can definitely spare it." Camila replied.
Lilith hummed, and after a moment of consideration she turned the bag over and emptied its contents, sliding the now empty duffel over her shoulder.
She definitely seemed nervous as she turned to Camila, no matter how hard Lilith seemed to be trying to hide it.
"Are you sure you want to do this with me?" Lilith asked, closing the trunk.
"You're not doing this alone, Lilith." Camila replied. "I'm with you."
Lilith tipped her head back up to the sky for a few moments and let out a long sigh before nodding.
"Okay. Beatrice said to go in at the crypt. Where is the vest most likely to be now?"
Camila shrugged. "Depends, Mother Superion used to keep it in her office, but it could also be in the armoury or the office Vincent used to use."
Lilith nodded again and held her hand out towards Camila.
"Are you ready?"
Camila smiled and took Lilith's hand.
"Take a deep breath, and don't let go. This might be a bit rough."
If it were Ava standing in her place, Camila knew that there would be a joke to be made at Lilith's words.
But for now, Camila could only focus on calming her racing heart.
She took a deep breath.
Camila didn't let go of her hand even once they were inside the relative safety of the crypt.
It was an iron grip, even as she turned away to lean against the wall, breathing heavily.
Lilith listened carefully for any signs of life ahead as she gave Camila the space to gather herself.
"Are you okay?"
Camila nodded quickly. "You weren't kidding. That was… That was a lot."
"Take your time." Lilith said softly.
"Does it always feel like that?"
"It gets easier."
It took a few more moments before Camila's grip loosened and her hand dropped away from Lilith's.
She noticed the absence of warmth immediately.
It was incredible how even when she was pale and sort of looked like she was going to throw up, Camila still managed to look reassuring, that smile was finding its way back in place.
Camila had more strength than anybody ever gave her credit for.
"I'm good to go if you are." Camila said.
"In a moment." Lilith replied. "How do you want to play this?"
Camila glanced down the passageway and back to Lilith.
"I don't want to fight if we can help it. But I also don't want to call the others for help." Camila explained. "We can't risk them getting hurt."
They were on the same page then.
"Agreed. But if the vest is here, I'm not leaving without it."
Camila nodded. "Okay. Armoury first?"
"Armoury first." Lilith confirmed. "Stay close to me, if we have to, I'll teleport us to somewhere else in the building."
It would be disorienting for Camila, but ultimately safer.
Camila smiled. "Keep us on the move?"
"No point in running away if we get compromised, right?"
"Are you ready?"
Camila clicked the safety off of her gun, even though they both knew she had no intention of using it on their Sisters.
Together, they slowly fell into step side by side as they made their way down the passage.
When they reached the hallway of their former quarters, Lilith felt a surprising sense of nostalgia, sadness, even.
What had become of their rooms? Of their belongings?
Lilith didn't doubt that her room had been emptied, her own belongings boxed up or more likely, thrown away. As far as everybody in Cat's Cradle was concerned, she was dead.
But Camila and the others?
What had become of the fragments of their lives?
Judging by the forlorn look on Camila's face, she was thinking something along the same lines.
They'd been so busy keeping on the move and just trying to stay alive that none of this had even occurred to them until now.
"Maybe they're boxed up somewhere." Lilith offered quietly. "We kept Shannon's belongings."
"Shannon died ." Camila replied. "We're excommunicated and labelled as enemies of the Church, it isn't the same."
They passed through the hallway, occasionally hearing movement on the other side of heavy wooden doors, but neither of them voiced a curiosity to venture into their former rooms.
It was surreal. Everything in their lives had changed so much and so drastically, and yet these halls remained the same.
"Do you think we'll ever be able to call this place home again?" Camila asked.
Lilith didn't know how to answer that, and definitely not in a way that would give any form of comfort.
"Do you want it to be home?"
"I… I don't know." Camila replied honestly. "There's a lot that I haven't had time to reconcile with. I'm okay with being kicked out, I… I even told Bea that I almost wished for it before all of this even happened… But I think I'd still miss living here."
Lilith could understand the logic behind Camila's thoughts.
Church aside, this was still the place they called home. The place where they all met.
It'd always be important for that reason, even if everything they had ever been led to believe was a lie.
Camila sighed, but the smile returned. "Bigger picture for now though, right? No point in thinking about home when we're facing the end of the world."
Was there even a place for the OCS to operate in the world now? Would there be a place for them if they succeeded in stopping Adriel?
Ava wanted to end the line of Warrior Nuns to end with her, Adriel wanted to bring about a new world in which he was God.
Bigger picture indeed.
"We'll figure it out. Nothing is impossible." Lilith replied.
Camila snorted quietly. "That's a fact."
The sound of a door opening caught Lilith's attention and had her springing into action before Camila could turn her head to look.
Lilith grabbed Camila's shoulder and pushed her, moving them both into an alcove hidden away by the shadows, not stopping until she felt Camila's back press up against the wall.
Even in the relative darkness their cover provided, Lilith was close enough to Camila to clearly see the wide eyed surprise on her face.
She could feel Camila's heart racing against her.
Or was it her own?
It was hard to differentiate between the two.
Lilith raised her arms to press her palms flat against the wall, bracketing Camila in place and shielding her from the world around them.
Neither of them dared to breathe, even to blink would feel like they were at risk of making too much noise.
Even as the footsteps grew louder, passing right by them and steadily retreating away, they didn't move.
Camila could have looked over Lilith's shoulder at the Sisters who had passed them, but her gaze was unwavering as she stared back at Lilith.
In the rush, a curl of Camila's hair had fallen, not in the way by any means, but enough that Camila must surely be aware of it tickling her skin.
Lilith's fingers itched.
She wanted to brush it back into place.
Seconds stretched into an infinity, a moment in time where nothing else seemed to exist but the two of them.
It was Camila's hand on her shoulder that brought Lilith back into reality.
"Lil… I think they're gone." Camila whispered.
Lilith pushed away, taking a few steps back to put some distance between them.
"Right. Of course." Lilith cleared her throat and looked around. "Yes. The coast is clear."
Camila was grinning at her. "It is."
"We should probably…" Lilith trailed off lamely and gestured in the direction they had been heading.
Camila laughed, albeit very quietly.
Lilith allowed Camila to take a few steps ahead so that she could turn her attention to the crucifix on the wall opposite her, glaring at Jesus who hung from it.
"You saw nothing." She hissed under her breath.
Ava hated waiting.
She hated not knowing if Lilith and Camila were okay, she hated being so close to the cradle while knowing Adriel could sense exactly where she was.
It wouldn't be all that hard for him to ask Vincent what was in the area for him to put two and two together and know she was here.
And then what would happen?
He'd probably destroy Cat's Cradle, just to send Ava a message.
Ava didn't realise her hands were shaking until Beatrice's hands gently came to rest on top of them, stilling her immediately.
"They're going to be okay." Beatrice said softly.
"How long do you think they'll be?" Ava asked.
"There's no way to know." Mary replied. "We don't know where the vest is, and I assume they're going to move slowly to not get seen."
It didn't really fill Ava with much relief.
"...What happens when we get the vest?"
Beatrice was quiet for a few moments, though Ava felt a rush in her chest when Beatrice threaded their fingers together.
"Immediately? Get the vest on you and keep you safe. But after that…" Beatrice shook her head gently. "I don't know."
Beatrice's main focus was always Ava's safety.
They may not know exactly what will happen next, but they all had a pretty good idea.
The shadow of Jillian and ArqTech loomed over them.
But Beatrice wouldn't bring that up, and Ava didn't particularly want to either.
For now, it was better not to think about that.
Not until Lilith and Camila were back with them and they were safe.
One of Beatrice's hands left Ava's and moved around to her shoulder, gently bringing her closer until Ava could rest her head on Beatrice's shoulder.
Maybe it was being so close to Cat's Cradle again, but Ava found her thoughts drifting to that day in Mother Superion's office.
When she had fallen into Beatrice's arms in search of comfort.
Even in her pain, even though Beatrice had initiated the contact, Ava hadn't been blind to the apprehension in Beatrice's touches.
Now those touches came easier.
It was equal give and take between them, a constant ebb and flow.
Ava would never take more than Beatrice was willing to give, but she would accept Beatrice's offerings willingly.
She wouldn't push further than she thought Beatrice was willing to go. Regardless of her own feelings, Beatrice had to move at the pace she was comfortable with.
All Ava could do was offer. Make it clear that she was willing to give Beatrice whatever she needed too.
She wanted to know their next move as a group. She wanted to know if she would have the chance to be alone with Beatrice.
Because Ava wanted to offer to heal the rest of her injuries.
She knew that Beatrice was apprehensive about it, her healing required direct contact with the skin. That would mean Ava needed to have her hands on Beatrice's ribs.
(Oh God. Her thigh.)
It wasn't an act that would be intended to be intimate, but Ava couldn't deny that there was still going to be some hesitation there purely because it was going to happen between them.
So yeah, Ava understood Beatrice's thoughts on the matter.
She would just have to figure out a way to make Beatrice as comfortable as she could.
Camila still hadn't recovered from their moment in the alcove even as they finally gained entry to the armoury.
It had been locked up when they had gotten there, something that had been fixed by a quick teleportation from Lilith, but even as they searched in silence, Camila's thoughts were elsewhere.
Because good fucking God.
It was one thing to have Lilith pressed up close enough that had they not been in the shadows together Camila would have been able to see her pulse beating against Lilith's neck.
But it was something else entirely to have Lilith's arms on either side of her, keeping Camila pinned in place.
It was… A lot.
Like really a lot.
(Camila may have had to put her faith solely in Lilith's situational awareness for a few minutes after it had happened.)
They had started to see more Sisters as they had made their way to the armoury, just going about their daily lives, completing chores or heading outside to train with the rest.
Camila was just glad that training was happening outside, there was no way that they'd have been able to be here right now without being spotted.
Her brain was split between anxiety over avoiding getting caught and frustration at not being able to find the vest amongst an array of equipment.
There seemed to be a lot of things missing, more than Camila had taken the day they had fled.
Was there a team out on assignment?
The duffel bag landed at her feet, startling Camila out of her thoughts. When she looked up, Camila saw the irritated expression on Lilith's face.
"It isn't here." Lilith said.
She almost seemed to be pouting about it.
(It had no right being cute or amusing in their current situation.)
"No." Camila sighed. "But it always felt like the least likely place."
Lilith hummed. "Let's stock up, we might not get another chance to come back in here."
Please don't jinx it, Lilith.
"Sounds like a plan, just -"
"We won't take more than we need." Lilith interrupted softly. "We just need ammo and any close contact weapons they can spare."
They could always benefit from more knives.
Lilith began to gather up ammunition and drop them into the bag while Camila split away to figure out what they could take that wouldn't be noticed.
"Mother Superion's office next or Vincent's?" Lilith asked, not bothering to look away from her task.
"Superion's is closer, and -" Camila froze. "Do you think there's a new Superion?"
Lilith paused for a moment, still not looking over to Camila, but she gave a slight nod.
"I'm almost certain that they would have brought in a replacement the moment our Mother Superion accepted the post at the Vatican."
Camila didn't like that.
"There might even be a new Vincent." Lilith added. "I'd say hopefully one who wouldn't betray us and align themselves with the closest thing to the actual devil…"
"But considering they were both probably chosen by Duretti, we really can't get our hopes up." Camila finished, pulling a couple of knives from the rack and adding them to the bag.
"Exactly." Lilith agreed, dropping a final box into the bag and zipping it up. "If there is a replacement Superion, what are the odds that she's outside watching training?"
Camila moved closer, already beginning to brace herself for another imminent teleport.
"I'm going to go for optimism here and say that she's absolutely outside and we're going to be totally fine."
Lilith rolled her eyes good naturedly, and as she threw the bag over one shoulder, she extended her other hand out towards Camila once more.
With a firm grip and another jarring shift Lilith teleported them back outside of the armoury.
Lilith didn't seem to mind that it took Camila an extra couple of seconds to let go of her hand again.
But when she did, it was back to business.
"Let's make this fast." Lilith said. "I'm not sure what Ava's capacity for patience is, but I'd rather not cause her to worry more than she probably already is."
Camila didn't doubt that Ava was stressing out in that car.
(The same way that Camila didn't doubt that Beatrice would be comforting her despite her own concerns.)
They began to move across the room towards the doorway.
"Agreed." Camila nodded. "Step one, don't get caught. Step two, find the vest. Step three -"
Another door swung open, stopping them in their tracks as they both spun on the spot to the source of the intrusion.
All Camila saw at first was the familiar blue habit.
But then she saw the girl's face. The confusion as she recognised Camila, the shock when she saw Lilith beside her.
It was Sister Joan.
They had often cooked together. Camila liked her.
"Camila?" Sister Joan said. "...Lilith?"
One of Lilith's hands subtly moved closer to Camila, as though she were about to push Camila behind her.
Camila was sure she could hear Lilith's claws extending.
Camila looked from Sister Joan to Lilith, letting out a weak laugh.
"Guess we failed step one." Camila joked.
It unsurprisingly fell flat, and the silence stretched on for what felt like several minutes.
It couldn't have been more than fifteen seconds.
Camila chose to see it as a good thing that Joan hadn't immediately attacked or ran to alert anybody of their presence.
Lilith's hand was so close to touching her own, ready to teleport them away in a heartbeat.
"Lilith… Is that really you?" Joan asked. "We thought you were… You died."
"It's a long story." Lilith replied, and when she saw Joan glance down and stare at the dark claws extending from her other hand, added, "It's a very long story."
"Joan…" Camila spoke up, keeping her voice as soft as she could. "Don't panic, I can explain."
"What are you doing here?"
Camila hoped her puppy dog eyes held some power here.
They weren't on Ava's level, but they were still pretty damn good.
"We need the Osmium vest. It's important."
"Why? What happened?" Joan moved closer to them, looking around the room almost as if to make sure that they were still alone. "They're saying you're all traitors, that you all tried to kill the Pope -"
"Lies." Lilith snapped.
Joan got as close as she dared, keeping a cautious eye on Lilith the entire time.
"They brought people here." Joan whispered.
People? Who, the Swiss Guard? The replacement Superion?
There were a lot of questions from both parties and nowhere near enough time to adequately deal with them all.
Lilith was definitely on the defensive, more watchful than anything else.
Could Camila summarise the events since the Vatican in thirty seconds?
It was worth a try.
"Adriel was kept prisoner under the Vatican. He's not an angel, he's a demon and the halo is something he stole and that's a whole other story. He caused the attack on the Vatican which we escaped and believe Duretti is involved in trying to cover up the whole thing." Camila took a deep breath before barrelling on. "Ava got kidnapped because he wants the halo back, we got her back. She's safe, but he has a connection to her so we need the vest to try and protect her. Oh, and also Adriel is trying to take over the world and essentially become a new God."
The silence that followed was heavy as Joan stared at her, stunned.
Camila turned to Lilith. "Did I miss anything?"
Beyond everything to do with Ava's suffering, her relationship with Beatrice, all of the Jillian situation, obviously.
"I'm part tarask now." Lilith offered casually.
"Right! Lilith is part tarask and has a connection with Ava too." Camila nodded.
Sister Joan definitely looked considerably paler than she had before Camila had begun to speak.
"Long story short, we're not traitors and we certainly are not enemies." Lilith said firmly.
"What do you mean they brought people here?" Camila asked.
"Father Rúben." Joan replied.
Lilith scowled. "Who the fuck is Father Rúben?"
"He's from the Vatican. He came with about a dozen Swiss Guard." Joan explained. "They tore apart your rooms and Mother Superion's office looking for evidence, they questioned all of us about you."
What was the point in destroying their rooms? Rude.
"How did you even get in?" Joan asked. "Most of them patrol the perimeter."
"Long story." Lilith and Camila said in unison.
"Look…" Camila continued softly. "I know that we're asking you to take on a lot on blind faith right now, to learn that everything we ever believed about the halo is a lie… But please, please , we need to find the vest. We need to stop him."
As the seconds passed and the silence stretched on, Camila's anxiety grew.
Beatrice would have been better suited for this. She was better at making her point and convincing people.
Camila also knew that for as much as she had gotten along with everybody here, before Ava, she had been the new girl. They didn't know her, they trusted her based on Sisterhood, not because she had proven herself or had earned it.
She wasn't Lilith, who came from a family who had two halo bearers in their history and had been next in line after Shannon.
And she definitely wasn't Beatrice, who despite the walls she had still maintained, became somebody that people looked to for guidance thanks to her skill and talents.
Shannon and Mary had always been a different story. Shannon being the halo bearer and Mary's unquestionable role within the order.
Camila always felt like a kid compared to them.
And she felt that more now, as she looked pleasingly at Joan and hoped that it would be enough to convince her to help.
(Camila wasn't oblivious to the fact that she definitely still had some work to do on herself in terms of how she saw herself.)
So it was actually a surprise when Joan gave a nod.
"I know where it is. I'll take you to it."
Camila didn't want to get ahead of herself, but oh, this felt like the break they desperately needed.
It didn't even bother her that it might be a trap, not when Lilith was right there next to her.
Lilith wasn't going to let anything happen to them.
Lilith didn't want to be suspicious, if anything she knew that she should be relieved that their encounter with Sister Joan hadn't turned violent.
But as the three of them made their way through the halls towards Mother Superion's office, Lilith couldn't quite bring herself to let her guard down.
Camila didn't question the clawed hand.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that every time they took one step forward something happened to completely screw them over, but Lilith was having a hard time comprehending that Joan was genuinely helping them.
Outside of their group, sisterhood didn't hold the same significance now.
It all just felt too… Easy.
Because yes, Joan had looked understandably surprised at Camila's speech, but it was the lack of followup questions that had Lilith's suspicions growing.
Finding out Adriel's true nature and how it conflicted with the entire history of the OCS? Not something easily accepted.
"I imagine you must have a lot of questions." Lilith said. "The truth about Adriel is a lot to take in."
"It is." Joan agreed. "But Mother Superion maintained some contact although she advised that she couldn't go into much detail. She warned us of a danger ahead and to not trust those who came to the Cradle."
Did that mean that they always had allies here? Could they have reached out sooner?
It wouldn't have mattered anyway, not with the Swiss Guard being here.
"Is Mother Superion okay?" Joan asked. "She hasn't made contact recently."
"We haven't heard from her for a couple of days." Camila spoke up softly. "She has to be careful."
"And Beatrice? Mary?"
"Both alive." Lilith said. "They're safe and with Ava."
"...And how is she doing?"
Lilith was pretty sure Joan had never interacted with Ava, but she would admit that asking about Ava's wellbeing was somewhat touching.
"She's a fighter." Lilith replied. "She's stronger than any of us ever gave her credit for."
They reached Mother Superion's office, Joan tested the door and pushed it open.
"Newperion is watching training at the moment, it's due to finish in the next ten minutes so you don't have much time." Joan said.
Camila raised an eyebrow. "Newperion?"
"It's no Cruella de Jesus, but it helps us differentiate." Joan shrugged. "Newperion is good but she isn't our Mother Superion. She also seems quite restricted by Father Rúben."
The office hadn't changed all that much since they had been gone, but as Lilith and Camila looked around, they didn't seem to know where to begin their search for the vest.
Thankfully Joan knew what she was doing as she walked over to the cabinet in the far corner.
"There's a divide in the Order." Joan continued. "When Father Rúben got here everybody was interviewed, we were asked about Ava and if we knew where she was or if we'd had contact. But they had never mentioned you were alive, Lilith, not even Superion. There are those who do believe that you're all traitors, they've been more than willing to join the search for you."
It was to be expected, but it still felt disappointing to hear.
But as they watched Joan open up the cabinet and lift the vest from it, Lilith found herself not caring as much as she probably should.
This was it. They had the vest.
"But you're on our side, right?" Camila asked quietly.
Joan walked back over to them and held the vest out, offering a small smile.
"I am. I have never doubted Mother Superion before, and if Beatrice is fighting for this cause then it is something to believe in."
Lilith had to wonder if Beatrice had any idea that so many people looked to her for guidance.
Camila beamed as she took the vest from Joan's hands.
"Thank you. It means a lot to know that we still have friends." Camila replied.
"In this life and the next."
"In this life and the next." Lilith and Camila echoed.
"And if there's anything we can do to help, call me." Joan said.
"We may have to take you up on that offer." Lilith replied. "We're on the verge of a war."
Camila and Joan exchanged a few more words, Camila borrowing Lilith's phone to take Joan's number and writing down the names of the Sister's who were working under Father Rúben's (and by extension, the Vatican's) orders.
"I'll try to limit the contact unless it's an emergency." Camila said. "I don't want to risk your safety here."
"And as heartwarming and reassuring as all of this is, I'm afraid we really need to go." Lilith interrupted.
Camila nodded and turned back to Joan. "I know there's a lot left unsaid, but she's right."
"But I'll keep in touch. If we hear from Mother Superion, I'll let you know, and I'll make sure to answer any questions you might have." Camila replied.
"Do you need help getting out?" Joan asked.
Camila and Lilith shared a smile.
"We're good." Lilith said.
"But before we go… I do have one more favour to ask." Camila added.
A favour? Camila hadn't mentioned anything about needing anything else from here. They already had their ammo.
"I'll help however I can."
Whatever it was, she was about to find out.
If it had been up to Ava, she would have put the vest on the moment Lilith and Camila had come back to the car.
But Mary had been quick to point out that if Adriel didn't already know they had been at the Cradle, then they'd definitely catch his attention if he stopped being able to sense her while parked nearby.
So while Lilith and Camila had filled them in on their encounter with Sister Joan (whoever she was) and everything they had learned, Mary drove them to the edge of the city so that they could find somewhere to plan out their next move.
The Mcdonald's they had found themselves in was a surprisingly nice change of pace, even though Ava was currently tucked into one of the bathroom stalls, trying to figure out the best way to wear the vest.
Not that there were many ways to wear it.
Ava held it up and sighed.
"Never thought I'd need you again."
But if it meant that they'd all be safer, then it had to be done.
It occurred to Ava that until Camila figured out how to make her faraday cage work, if it was even possible, then she was most likely going to have to stay in this vest.
…Would she even be able to shower?
It would have to be a future problem.
It'd probably be easier to wear it underneath everything, she could totally hide it under a shirt and a hoodie.
She was probably over thinking things a little bit now.
But then again, Ava never thought she'd be stripping off in a McDonald's bathroom.
Definitely one of her stranger experiences, which was certainly saying something.
The vest felt weird against her skin, an unfamiliar weight quite literally added to her shoulders as Ava pulled her t-shirt and hoodie back on.
She checked herself in the mirror, running a hand through her hair before stepping out of the bathroom only to find Beatrice leaning against the wall by the door.
"Oh hey, why aren't you with the others?"
Beatrice offered a small smile. "I wanted to wait for you, but I didn't want you to feel that I was hovering. This felt like a safe middle ground."
It was actually quite a cute gesture.
"That's sweet of you Bea, thank you."
Beatrice's gaze dropped to the floor, smile still in place as she pushed off of the wall.
(were her ears turning pink?)
Beatrice gave her a fleeting once over as they began to make their way over to where the others sat, trays of food already covered the table.
"You're wearing it?" She asked.
"Is it… Uncomfortable?"
"Not at the moment, it's nothing I'm not used to." Ava shrugged. "Are you okay?"
Beatrice hummed. "Glad to know we have allies, not so much to know that Adriel has a foothold in Cat's Cradle through Duretti and the Father he sent with the Swiss Guard."
Yeah, that was less than ideal.
It only gave Ava more reason to be concerned about the potential fallout of them taking the vest.
"...I'm also not all that thrilled about what comes next, but you already know that." Beatrice added.
ArqTech, Jillian and everything that came with being there.
"It'll be okay." Ava replied. "We all share the same concerns that you do, Bea. Trust in our team, right?"
Beatrice looked towards their friends and nodded.
"Trust in our team."
The moment they both sat down, Mary and Lilith both immediately pushed a box of chicken nuggets towards them.
Well, Mary gave them the nuggets, Lilith just kind of threw a selection of dips at them.
"You're wearing it." Lilith said.
Ava debated her options for a moment before reaching for a sweet and sour sauce.
"That was the point, right?"
Lilith looked like she was seriously considering throwing a chicken nugget at her.
"Yes, but my point is… I know you're wearing it." Lilith said. "I felt the shift immediately."
Beatrice reacted more noticeably than Ava did, body straightening in her seat and gaze turning extremely hopeful as she looked from Lilith to Ava.
Ava felt hopeful too.
"You can't sense the halo now?" Ava asked.
"Right now, only faintly and that's purely because you're sitting in front of me." Lilith replied. "But the moment you put it on it was like you disappeared."
Ava let out a sigh of relief. "Okay good. This is good."
"It's really good." Beatrice agreed, half-heartedly pulling a chicken nugget apart. "It's exactly what we wanted to come of this."
"Adriel isn't going to like it." Ava said. "I'm worried about what that could mean, especially for the others at the Cradle."
"They're strong, Ava. If anything happens from this they won't go down without a flight." Camila replied softly.
Ava certainly hoped she was right.
"We need to figure out the next step though." Mary spoke up, reaching for a handful of fries. "Are we going to go to Jillian?"
Beatrice quietly set her food down.
"I don't think we should turn up unannounced." Lilith said. "We still have concerns, if we're going there then it needs to be on our terms."
"So you want to negotiate with her before we go?" Beatrice asked.
"It feels like the best option." Lilith shrugged, turning her attention back to Ava. "I know that you want to help, we all do, but not if it puts you at risk."
"Right now it's about smoothing things over and getting a place to train." Mary said. "We need to rest and recover if we're going to have a hope of figuring shit out."
Ava hummed. "It's not like we can do anything there anyway? The vest is hiding me, sure, but if me and Lilith try to use our powers it's really likely that it'll expose me."
"Or you'll destroy part of the building." Mary added.
Beatrice's burnt hands flickered through her mind.
They could cause so much damage.
The vest wouldn't stop Ava from using the halo, but there was no way to know if it could handle the force of their combined power.
"Before Jillian can even attempt to have us power up the portal, we need to have some control." Lilith said.
"And then there's security. I need to try and build the Faraday cage so that you can actually train safely." Camila pointed out.
As far as leverage went, it wasn't much, but it was all they had.
But it would be a pretty convincing argument.
"So, what now?" Ava asked.
"I say we get back to the car, call Jillian and lay out our terms." Camila said.
Beatrice frowned. "And if she doesn't accept them?"
"If Jillian wants our help, she'll have to." Lilith shrugged.
That was a good point.
It sounded like they had to make it clear that Jillian needed them more than they needed her.
Ava looked at their half eaten food across the table.
"Should we practice what we're going to say?" Ava asked. "Who should make the call?"
"When she called earlier she was really insistent on wanting to speak with you." Camila replied, gaze focused on Ava.
Ava balked. "I don't know if I can handle that kind of talk on my own. I can totally handle confrontation but we all know I have a certain… way that I go about it."
Namely with a lot of sarcasm and defensiveness.
"You won't have to do it on your own, Ava." Beatrice said softly. "You never have to do anything alone."
It was easy to forget that the rest of their group were sitting right there when Ava was left staring into Beatrice's eyes.
Ava could get distracted trying to count the scattering of freckles along her nose and cheeks.
"Beatrice is right." Lilith said, voice cutting through Ava's thoughts and bringing her back to the conversation. "We'll take some time to talk this through, finish our food and then when we call her, we'll do it on speaker."
Ava reluctantly turned her gaze away from Beatrice to look at the others and nodded.
"Okay, cool. So I'm gonna what, rehearse what to say?"
"Beatrice is good at negotiating and convincing people." Mary said.
Beatrice was already shaking her head. "Don't, please. This plan will work better if I don't speak to her."
Beatrice was trying so hard to be supportive of this plan, she really was.
She knew the importance of it, that Ava and Lilith needed to be able to train, Camila needed to try and build that Faraday cage.
But Beatrice wasn't going to walk into ArqTech trusting Jillian, even more so after the phone call this morning.
Ava wanted to hold her hand again.
"I… Actually think I should talk to her?" Camila said. "I already have a rapport with her."
As they all began to talk, Ava cast a sideways glance at Beatrice, taking in her silent, thoughtful gaze.
She knew she should be listening, they were talking about important things.
But right now, Ava chose to shuffle her chair closer until she was able to lean against Beatrice, bringing the box of nuggets closer so that they could keep eating them.
It was easier to focus once Ava had the warmth of Beatrice against her.
Beatrice had felt her mood shift the moment they parked the car.
Her guard was well and truly back up.
The call with Jillian had gone almost too smoothly for her liking.
The tension had been undeniable, and initially Jillian had refused to even talk to them until Ava confirmed that she was there, but then Camila had taken over
She had justified her choice to cut the call from the morning, explaining to Jillian that they had to take steps to conceal the halo from Adriel before coming to ArqTech in order to protect them all. After that Camila had laid out their conditions, making it clear that they knew what Jillian needed from them but until there were protective measures in place and that Ava and Lilith were able to channel their energy safely, they wouldn't be able to attempt it.
Jillian hadn't sounded thrilled by any means, but had ultimately accepted it.
(Part of Beatrice suspected it was Camila's sales pitch of building the Faraday cage that had helped their argument the most.)
So now here they were, keeping one eye on the building as they gathered around the trunk of the car.
When Camila lifted a duffel bag onto her shoulder, Mary glanced over to her.
"I'd leave anything that isn't important here, just on the off chance that we need to make a quick exit."
"Trust me, there's things in here that we don't want to leave unaccompanied." Camila replied.
It didn't look like the bag she kept any of her usual tech gear in, and Lilith's silent gaze told Beatrice that she knew exactly what was inside this particular bag.
Beatrice could only assume that they would explain as soon as they knew they were alone.
"So we're just walking in there armed to the teeth?" Ava asked, accepting her sword from Mary and sliding the strap over her shoulder to keep it secure.
"It's just to be safe, Ava." Beatrice said gently. She holstered her pistol and moved back to join Ava at her side. "We still have to be prepared for anything to happen."
Ava nodded despite her unhappy frown.
"Are we ready?" Mary asked, and after everybody nodded, turned away. "Okay, let's go."
It wasn't particularly subtle how they all fell into formation around Ava, with Beatrice and Lilith taking up position either side of her while Camila and Mary lingered close behind, but Ava didn't seem to notice.
If she did, she didn't draw attention to it.
Beatrice and Lilith shared a quick look as they walked, a quiet understanding of what to do if the worst happened.
She knew that if it came to it, Lilith would grab Ava and get her away somewhere safe.
It was always better to be prepared, even if Beatrice loathed the idea of Ava being away from her.
Her safety came first.
From the corner of her eye, Beatrice watched Ava's hand reach up to adjust the strap of her sword, fingers flexing around it before it dropped to the side, curling and unfurling her fingers.
Ava was anxious.
As they got closer to the doors, Beatrice reached over, hooking two of her fingers around Ava's.
It wasn't much, but it seemed to be enough to put Ava at ease.
They all stepped through the doors together, Beatrice found that she recognised the security guard staring back at them.
It was the same woman who had been there the last time they had come here.
"Oh God. Again?"
"To be fair, this time we're actually expected." Ava greeted. "You might want to give Jillian a call."
The woman gave them a long, suspicious look before grabbing her walkie talkie and taking a few steps away to get out of earshot.
Ava let out a slow breath and adjusted her hand to hold onto Beatrice's a little tighter.
"You okay?" Ava asked quietly.
Beatrice turned her head slightly to meet her gaze.
"Yes. Are you? Are you seeing anything?"
Ava shook her head. "If I see so much as a hint of red smoke, I'll let you know."
"Don't let the lack of security fool you either." Lilith spoke up.
"I won't." Ava replied.
The security guard approached once more, frowning unhappily as she cast her gaze over each of them.
"Doctor Salvius will see you now."
Ava squeezed Beatrice's fingers again, a silent reassurance that Beatrice didn't realise how much she needed until she did it.
It was time.
Jillian was not the easiest woman to read.
The crisp white pantsuit was still present, her hair and makeup was perfect, but even with her perfectly put together exterior, Ava could still see the cracks.
Her eyes were tired, her posture not quite as strong as she sat at her desk.
The smile that found its way to her lips did not feel warm nor did it feel all that genuine.
"Ladies." Jillian greeted. "Thank you for coming."
Ava couldn't even tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
There was definitely a hint of passive aggressiveness though.
Beatrice may have let go of her hand the moment they had walked into the office, but she hadn't strayed more than a few inches from Ava's side.
The others were the same, they all stayed close.
A unit. A family.
"Thank you." Ava replied. "And thank you for understanding why it took so long for us to come."
Ava could play nice.
Beatrice, Mary and Lilith didn't exactly give her the impression that they were going to be anything more than civil right now.
She knew Beatrice had no intention of hiding her distaste of Jillian attempting to trace their location, but while they were all put off by the act, Ava also knew that Camila was putting it aside more than the others.
Because Camila had been furious about it.
"Of course." Jillian nodded. She glanced over at the rest of the group, taking them all in before she focused on Ava. "I'm glad they managed to find you."
Ava hummed. "I suppose I should say thank you for your help with that too. I know you played a part."
"I did, and you're welcome." Jillian gestured to the seats around the office. "Please, feel free to sit."
Nobody made an attempt to move.
"I think we're good." Ava said.
"You said that you were being traced through the halo and that was why you couldn't come here sooner, but that has changed. How?"
As Ava pulled her hoodie and shirt up just enough so that Jillian could see the vest, she saw Beatrice's gaze shift to follow the movement too.
"This helps block the energy." Ava replied.
Jillian leaned forward in an attempt to get a better look, frowning when Ava covered it back up again.
"Fascinating. What is it made of? Would I be able to run some tests?"
"If Ava removes it then it puts her in danger." Beatrice interrupted.
It was as close to a no as somebody could get without speaking the word. Her tone and expression left nothing to interpretation.
Jillian's gaze lingered on her for a few moments before turning to Camila.
"And you want to build a Faraday cage to achieve similar results?"
Camila nodded. "As I said earlier, I believe it's a necessity. We need to be able to block out the halo and the power it puts out more effectively and with a bigger radius so that Ava and Lilith can train."
"And you two are connected." Jillian said, turning to look between Ava and Lilith.
She had already done tests on them both once, Ava could already predict that she would ask to do more now that she knew of the connection.
"We are." Lilith confirmed. "And we're still learning how it works, but based on this morning we know that what we can do is enough to alert Adriel."
"Meaning that if they were to attempt it for you now, if they didn't destroy this building then you'd definitely have an army of demons and quite possibly the Swiss Guard knocking on your door." Mary said.
"As we explained to you on the phone." Beatrice added, rather bluntly.
It would… probably be for the best if Beatrice didn't spend much time alone with Jillian, Ava wasn't sure if Jillian could survive the sass.
(Personally, Ava was deeply enjoying getting to witness it. Beatrice being sassy was one thing, but it being used whilst being protective of Ava? Jesus Christ.)
"I'm aware. I just wanted to make sure that we're still on the same page."
For a few moments, Beatrice and Jillian held each other's gaze, neither seemed to be willing to break eye contact first.
"Do you think we can build it?" Camila asked.
Jillian finally looked away from Beatrice towards Camila.
"We will have to draw up some blueprints and run some tests."
"I'd be interested in looking over any data you're willing to share in regards to the portal and its energy output too."
"We'll compare notes." Jillian replied. "And from what you've told me, you've all had a long few days."
"That's an understatement." Mary said.
"I'll have rooms prepared for you all. The cafeteria is usually beginning to close for the evening now but I'll send word to them to prepare something for you all."
This place had a cafeteria?
Ava didn't have the heart to tell her that she wasn't hungry.
But all in all, she couldn't complain about how this conversation had gone so far.
There was still a bit of hostility in the air, the unspoken mistrust they all shared hung around each of them.
But there seemed to be an agreement, a vague plan of action that would buy Ava and Lilith some time to figure out how to navigate the issue of the portal.
Lilith wasn't going to let Ava go through, that much was certain.
But Ava didn't want her to go through either. What if Ava couldn't get her back?
"What is your security like?" Mary asked. "We wouldn't be here if we thought there was a high risk of being found, but I'd rather not leave anything up to chance."
"Well, since our last… Break-in, I made changes and strengthened our security." Jillian said, her gaze shifted to Beatrice again, a knowing look in her eyes.
Beatrice merely lifted her chin slightly, actually going so far as to smirk, her posture spoke volumes.
She looked proud.
Ava wondered if Jillian still had the security footage of that night, she wouldn't mind getting a glimpse of Beatrice taking on Jillian's security.
"...But you're more than welcome to speak with my head of security should you have concerns." Jillian continued.
"I will." Mary nodded.
"Now, I see you brought all of your… guns, but I assume you have other belongings to bring in?"
"We do." Beatrice said.
"Wonderful. I'll make the relevant calls if you'd like to collect your things. Camila, I'll put together the data for you to look over throughout the evening. Does that sound okay with you all?"
Ava glanced at the others, looking for confirmation, receiving a subtle nod from each.
When her gaze landed on Beatrice, Beatrice turned her head to meet her.
She still didn't look thrilled, but her expression was questioning, almost as if she were looking to Ava for her thoughts before answering herself.
Even in her silence, Ava knew that Beatrice was asking her if she was okay with this.
Ava knew because she was asking the same question herself.
They both accepted what was happening, they were all taking precautions to make sure they were safe.
Beatrice and Ava didn't need words to know what the other was thinking.
They just wanted to know that the other was okay.
There was a shared nod, and Ava turned back to Jillian.
"Sounds good." Ava replied.
Lilith made a point of keeping her gaze fixed on the tray of food in front of her despite the prickling sensation making the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
Beyond the handful of uniformed guards sitting at a table across the room and a cleaner mopping the floor, the cafeteria was empty.
None of them really made much effort to eat or talk. Lilith had to force herself to even try the food they had been provided.
What was the room situation going to be like? Would they be free to move around the halls as they wished? Would they be separated?
Beatrice and Ava weren't going to like it if they were.
"You know, I'm not overly fond of being watched." Lilith said, raising her voice just enough so that it carried over to the occupied table.
The group of guards were quick to turn back to their food, taking quietly amongst themselves.
Ava frowned as she glanced over to the table and back down to her food.
"So that's gonna be a thing while we're here?" Ava asked.
"Considering the amount of security cameras they have, yeah." Mary murmured.
Beatrice had been relatively quiet since they had entered ArqTech, though she made sure to stay by Ava's side the whole time, meeting Ava's questioning looks with ones of gentle reassurance.
But at Mary's words, she lifted her gaze to the corner of the room, staring up at one of the three cameras Lilith was already aware of.
"So long as they're not in the rooms we're expected to sleep in." She said quietly.
Ava looked equal parts surprised and concerned as she turned to look at Beatrice.
"Cameras in the room?" Ava asked with a pout. "Very Big Brother."
"Maybe not cameras, but we should definitely check for bugs. Just to be safe." Lilith said.
She looked across to Camila, half expecting her to chime in, but was ultimately unsurprised to find her completely absorbed in the contents of the tablet in front of her.
Camila had been focused on it from the moment they had sat down.
Lilith had also been surprised that Camila hadn't mentioned to the others what else was hidden in the duffle bag they had brought from Cat's Cradle.
She had her reasons, Lilith was sure.
"Camila?" Lilith called gently.
Camila's gaze snapped up, looking around at each of them, confused.
"Hi! Sorry, what's up?"
"Do you have something that can help sweep rooms for bugs?"
"Oh, yeah. Once we get set up I'll have a look."
Mary nodded towards the tablet. "Interesting stuff?"
"It's way out of my depth." Camila admitted. "But I wanted to at least try to get an understanding of the science behind how the portal even works."
She was really going above and beyond to try and figure everything out.
Once again Lilith was reminded of just how much Camila had done to help them since Ava had been kidnapped.
Nobody doubted how hard and how much Camila had done, except maybe Camila herself.
"How do you plan on building the Faraday cage?" Beatrice asked. "We only have so much divinium to spare."
Lilith looked expectantly at Camila, when Camila met her gaze she smiled reassuringly before turning back to Beatrice.
"Joan gave me access to the divinium we had at the Cradle. It isn't much, I had to make sure they still had some to use, but hopefully what we do have will be enough to make this work." Camila replied. "And… Hopefully the tests won't somehow destroy it so we can still use it when we face Adriel."
There really wasn't all that much left, Lilith had been shocked that Joan had so really trusted them with what little they had.
If only they could have gotten their hands on that tarask skeleton before Adriel.
Ava laughed nervously, gaze flitting between Mary and Beatrice as she reached up to rub at the back of her neck.
"Is it too late to apologise for melting the divinium knife the last time we were here?" She asked.
Neither Lilith or Camila had been there when that happened, but Mary had told them about it in the first days of their time on the run.
Lilith saw something shift in Beatrice's gaze at the mention of the event.
Her eyes had darkened, attention turning back to Ava and drawing a deep breath.
Why could Lilith see hunger in her expression? Beatrice had barely even touched her food.
…Holy shit, okay.
Very different type of hunger. Now she just felt dumb.
Lilith was just… going to pretend she hadn't seen that. And she definitely wasn't going to acknowledge the way that Ava picked up on Beatrice's expression, eyes slowly widening as her body straightened up.
While it certainly made a change from the sad, pained puppy dog eyes and longing glances, this was still a lot to be a witness to.
"Don't worry about it." Mary said. "If anything, it was good to find out you can actually do that."
Her words were enough to break whatever moment was happening between Beatrice and Ava right now.
Even if Beatrice still couldn't quite bring herself to look away from Ava.
"And here I was thinking it was kind of a waste of power, even if I did look kinda badass doing it." Ava replied.
Lilith's attention was pulled away by three more people entering the room.
More security guards.
"I think our tour guides are here." Lilith murmured.
Ava and Beatrice each looked over their shoulders at the guards as they approached.
"Which one of you is Mary?" One of the guards asked, when Mary lifted a hand he nodded. "I've been asked to take you to our control room so that you can meet our head of security."
"Sounds good." Mary rose to her feet, leaving the rest of the food but grabbing her bottle of water. "You guys get some rest, I'll catch up with you later if any of you are still up."
It was getting rather late and it had been a very long, draining day.
Lilith could see them all crashing out as soon as they were settled in whatever rooms they were given.
They all watched Mary leave with her bags, even as one of the remaining guards began to speak.
"We'll show the rest of you to your rooms and where you can shower."
It definitely sounded like they were going to be separated.
And judging by the unhappy looks on Ava and Beatrice's face, they had realised as much too.
They'd figure it out. Lilith had no doubt that they'd find their way back to each other.
They always did, after all.
Camila may have been wrapped up in the data that Jillian had given her, but even that wasn't enough to stop her from seeing the conflict on everybody's face when they realised that they were being put in single rooms.
Rooms with beds that would definitely struggle to have two people sleep comfortably in it.
(and by everybody, Camila definitely meant Ava and Beatrice.)
Before Beatrice had been shown into her room, Camila had heard Ava's whispered promise to come and find her.
It was so endearing.
Camila couldn't deny that she was a little conflicted over the room situation herself though.
On the one hand, it was a nice change of pace to have a space to herself, but she also definitely felt a bit lost at it too.
All of her friends were nearby, but it still felt like an incredible amount of distance.
She'd done a quick sweep of her own room, satisfied that it was free of bugs before going to the others.
Mary's room had been first, considering her room was closest and she was still going over the building's security.
She'd spent a bit longer in Lilith's room, Lilith had already looked for herself but had asked Camila to do another sweep just to make sure.
It had been nice, and the only reason Camila had left when she had was because Lilith had wanted to head down to the showers.
She stopped outside Beatrice's door and knocked quietly, it took several moments for her to be able to hear movement on the other side before the door finally opened.
Beatrice had already changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt, looking almost sad as she saw Camila standing before her.
When the halo had burned her, Camila hadn't seen the damage it had caused so she had never really gotten the chance to see how strong the healing was.
But now? Camila was staring at Beatrice's bare arm.
It hadn't been all that long ago when Camila had helped stitch up the bullet wound that had lay there. Now only a fading scar remained.
She wondered what it was like to feel both sides of the halo in the way that Beatrice had.
"Sorry to bother you, do you want me to check your room for bugs?"
Beatrice shook her head. "I've already taken care of it. It's clear."
She didn't really seem to be in a talkative mood right now.
"Are you okay?" Camila asked.
Beatrice looked over Camila's shoulders at the fluorescent lights.
"As much as I can be."
She looked like she needed to sleep for a whole day.
But she also looked down.
Beatrice wanted to be near Ava.
But Ava had promised to come to her, it was probably best to give Beatrice her space for now.
"You'll tell me if there's anything I can do?"
Beatrice nodded. "I will, thank you, Camila."
Beatrice offered a small smile before she closed the door.
Time to head to Ava's room and see what was taking her so long.
Ava knew she had made a good choice in wearing the vest underneath her clothes, but she would be damned if it still wasn't a massive inconvenience.
The showers looked so good and she just knew it'd feel so good to wash the day away.
But no, she had to keep this damn thing on and figure out what to wear over it so that she wouldn't sweat to death in the night.
Ava felt ridiculous, with everything that had happened today, she was currently standing in her room trying to figure out what to wear.
Beatrice was waiting for her for fucks sake.
It wasn't even like she had many options to choose from.
The knock at the door scared the shit out of her.
She crossed the room and slid the door open, blinking in surprise when she found Camila standing in front of her.
Ava had almost expected it to be Beatrice, concerned as to what was taking Ava so long.
"Hey." Camila's gaze dropped down to the vest. "What's going on?"
"I'm trying to figure out what to wear over this because it's not the most comfortable thing in the world." Ava replied. "What's up?"
"I said I'd come and check the rooms for bugs, remember? Well, so far so good but I'm not going to relax until we know this room is clear."
That was fair, but Ava didn't exactly plan on staying in this room for long.
But she stepped aside all the same so that Camila could enter.
"Knock yourself out."
"I saw Bea." Camila said, her tone conversationally light, almost… playful.
Ava paused and turned to watch Camila as she moved further into the room, making a beeline for the air vents.
"Is she okay?"
Camila grabbed a chair and dragged it over to the wall, stepping onto it to begin opening it up.
Ava saw Camila smile.
"I think she's waiting for you."
Ava opted to walk over to the bed and continue pulling out the few options she had.
"...Yeah." Ava replied.
"You can go on ahead if you want, she's probably starting to worry you've stood her up."
Stood her up?
Okay, what was going on?
"You're being very… Casual. Too casual." Ava said. "Why?"
Camila all but ripped the cover of the vent off of the wall to peer inside, she was quiet for a few moments until she placed it back on, apparently satisfied.
She hopped off of the chair and smiled as she met Ava's gaze.
"Well… Do you want me to beat around the bush?" Camila asked.
"Do you want to talk about your feelings?"
Ava couldn't stop herself from making a face, causing Camila to laugh.
"Didn't think so." Camila said. "And I'd ask you if you need any help or advice but I'm also pretty sure you have all of that covered."
Ava let out a weak laugh. "I wouldn't be too sure about that, I don't know what I'm doing."
She was running around blind here, it was Camila who really seemed to have everything under control right now with her Faraday cage plan and sometimes it felt like Camila didn't even believe that herself.
"You need to believe in yourself more, Ava."
"I could say the same to you, Cam." Ava replied softly. "You know that I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for you."
Camila looked surprised at the sudden shift in conversation, shaking her head and taking a step back.
"All I did was lead Vincent's men to the safe house and nearly got us killed." She replied, almost dismissively.
Ava frowned. "You found out the names of the guys who took me -"
"Which made Bea go rogue and get shot."
"Beatrice would have done that regardless, she would be the first to admit that and you know it. That was her choice, and it isn't something you should blame yourself for." Ava pointed out. "If they hadn't moved me to the villa you would have found me at the prison. You stitched me up when I was barely hanging on the day I got back and now you're here trying to build something to keep us safe. You deserve to know how important you are here, Cam. You need to believe that."
Ava had been very confident in her speech right up until the moment she realised Camila looked like she was going to cry.
She definitely didn't expect Camila to tackle her into a hug so tight it actually hurt to breathe.
Ava wrapped her arms around Camila and held on.
"You have no idea how much I needed to hear that." Camila whispered.
Sometimes Ava forgot that even though Camilla had joined the OCS willingly, underneath the cool techno wizard, kickass warrior exterior, that they were practically the same age.
Ava hugged Camila tighter. "You're a fucking badass, Cam. Don't let that tiny voice of self doubt in the back of your head tell you otherwise."
"And if you say you don't know what you're doing again, I'm going to either hug you or slap you."
"Hm, hugs please."
Camila laughed and gave her another squeeze before stepping back and moving her hands to rest on Ava's shoulders.
"Deal. Now, do you want me to finish up here so you can go and put Bea's mind at ease?"
Ava laughed. "I need to put clothes on first."
"Oh my…" Camila trailed off, turning away and grabbing the first t-shirt she could reach from the bed and then grabbed the black hoodie from inside the bag and threw them both at Ava. "There. Done."
"So you're just kicking me out now?"
"I'm lovingly urging you to get a move on and go to Bea so you can both stop being all sad and mopey." Camila clarified. "It's been a long day and you two haven't been able to talk since we got here."
That was true.
But talking wasn't exactly the top priority Ava had in mind.
She wanted to heal Beatrice. She wanted to be in Beatrice's space, hear her voice, feel her warmth and just exist with her.
Ava pulled on the t-shirt and as she began to put on the hoodie too, she found herself smiling when she realised it was actually Beatrice's hoodie.
It smelled like Beatrice.
She zipped the hoodie up to the top and shoved her hands into her pockets, smiling at Camila.
Camila nodded her approval. "Go on, get out of here."
"I will, but can I just…" Ava pointed to the blanket.
The beds were really small, and besides, if Beatrice's room was as cool as Ava's was, then Beatrice would definitely appreciate the extra blanket.
As she pulled it from the bed and hastily draped out over her shoulders, Camila had already gone back to combing the room for bugs.
Ava stopped at the door and looked over her shoulder, a question on her mind despite having a pretty good idea as to what the answer would be.
"Hey, just to clarify, you're cool with… this, right?"
Camila stared at her incredulously, and if she had been closer, Ava was pretty sure she would have received a playful slap in response.
"Am I cool?" Camila repeated. She sighed heavily and tipped her head up to the ceiling for a moment. "She's asking me if I'm cool with… Ava. Do you remember when we were here the last time? What I gave you?"
"Yeah of course. You found the journal entry about Sister Melanie and it helped us nail down the phasing."
She never forgot how Melanie's description of the halo so closely resembled the feeling she experienced when trying to protect Beatrice.
Camila hummed. "What else?"
"Did you really show us that journal entry because Sister Melanie was gay?" Ava asked.
Camila shrugged. "It ticked all of the boxes."
Ava could only stare for several moments until Camila laughed again.
"Was that not obvious?" Camila asked.
Clearly fucking not.
"No!" Ava replied. "What the fuck? I didn't even have romantic feelings for Bea back then."
Like yeah, there had been moments , but Ava didn't know shit and a lot was going on and...
...And she just very vocally announced that there were romantic feelings.
She pointed at Camila. "We're coming back to this later because I have questions."
"But you knew?"
Camila moved back into her space and placed her hands on Ava's shoulders to gently steer her towards the door.
"I say this lovingly, but we all knew, Ava. I'm pretty sure you're the last one to figure it out." Camila said as she opened the door and pushed Ava out. "But that's fair considering literally everything so don't worry about it. We can talk about it tomorrow, go find Bea, have fun, I love you."
Ava didn't even have a chance to respond before the door was being closed on her, giving her one last fleeting look at the grin on Camila's face.
Filling all of that away for later.
But hey, unconditional support from her family that had now led to Camila gently intervening and kicking Ava out of her own room.
Ava turned around to look at the long stretch of hallway.
It all looked identical.
Where was Beatrice's room again?
Beatrice lay on her back, staring up at the dark ceiling and listening to the hum of the air conditioning.
It left the room a bit too cold for her liking, but Beatrice didn't have the energy to explore the room to figure out how to turn it off, even grabbing a sweater felt like too much effort.
The room was small, scarcely decorated in a way that almost reminded her of her room back at Cat's Cradle.
Beatrice didn't like it.
Everything about ArqTech made Beatrice feel uncomfortable, but being separated from the others and left to her own company in this room was much worse.
It felt different from being in the safe house, and now that Beatrice knew how it felt to sleep with Ava against her, Beatrice didn't want to go back to the way things were before.
She wanted to keep moving forward.
Whatever that involved.
Despite the assurances that they were safe here, Beatrice still couldn't push down the anxiety that she felt.
Plus... she missed Ava.
She couldn't be far, but Beatrice didn't know which room was Ava's. Beatrice had been the first to be shown into her room, it was only Ava's promise to come to her that kept the fears at bay.
Sleep was not going to come to her until Ava was here.
Ava would show up, Beatrice just had to be patient.
There was no use in passing the time by trying to theorise how the Faraday cage was going to be built, that was much better left in Camila and Jillian's capable hands.
There wasn't even anything she could do to help with security, Mary had that under control.
Beatrice had nothing to contribute.
At least the bed was relatively comfortable, if not a bit on the small side.
The lightest knock at the door pulled her from her thoughts, it was so soft that Beatrice sat up slightly to stare at the door for a moment, uncertain that she had actually heard the sound or not.
She got up from the bed, groaning when her thigh protested at the sudden movement and a shiver ran up her spine as her bare feet touched the floor.
Beatrice walked across the room and slid the door open, almost expecting the knock to have been a figment of her imagination, but instead Beatrice found a visitor.
Ava looked tired and a little sheepish, blanket wrapped tightly around her body.
"Hi. Did I wake you?" Ava asked.
"Uh, no. I… I haven't tried to sleep yet." Beatrice replied. "Are you settled in?"
Ava shrugged. "I don't like these rooms."
Would it be too much to hope that Ava didn't like them for the same reason as Beatrice?
"Neither do I." Beatrice replied softly.
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner, I uh… I had issues trying to figure out… this." Ava explained, gesturing vaguely to her torso.
"Is the vest uncomfortable?"
One of Ava's hands creeped under her blanket, no doubt to toy with the vest in question.
"A little." Ava admitted. "I definitely made the right call by wearing it underneath everything else. Hopefully whatever Camila has planned will work because I'm going to need to shower soon, but hey, that's the cost of safety I guess."
Beatrice wanted to wrap Ava up into her arms and hold her close.
"Do you feel safer?" Beatrice asked.
Ava's shrug was mostly hidden beneath her blanket. "More than I did fifteen minutes ago."
"Because I found you." Ava replied simply, dropping her gaze to the floor. "I always feel safest with you."
Everything Beatrice had ever done, ever learned, was to make herself useful, to find a purpose. But she would give it all up just to be Ava's safe place.
Would that ever be possible? To give up all of this and just be by Ava's side? No more fighting, no more pain or fear, just… Living?
What would that even be like?
"This place is a maze though." Ava continued. "And in the dark? Yeah, not easy to navigate."
"You managed to find me okay though."
Ava smiled. "This wasn't the first door I knocked on. Lilith says hi by the way."
It occurred to Beatrice that Ava had never explained why she had wanted to come to Beatrice in the first place, it had never been a question that Beatrice had thought to ask.
When Ava had quietly promised to come and find her, Beatrice had accepted it readily and without hesitation, because all she had wanted was for Ava to be here.
She didn't want Ava to leave, and Beatrice couldn't be certain that there weren't security guards roaming the hallways. Security guards that Beatrice didn't particularly want to cross paths with or questioning why Ava was out and about.
Beatrice smiled back and stepped aside. "Do you want to come in?"
There was something extremely endearing about the way that Ava shuffled into the room clutching the blanket close to her.
"Have you wondered why Jillian just has a bunch of rooms decorated in exactly the same way at her disposal for us to sleep in?" Ava asked.
Beatrice closed the door behind her and followed Ava further into the room, hesitating for a few moments before she walked over to the bed and sat on the edge of it.
"I suppose they're handy to have for her staff." Beatrice replied. "I'd rather be in here than one of the medical rooms."
"Do you want the light on?" Beatrice asked.
"Nah, I'm good like this."
Beatrice was somewhat relieved, she was more comfortable in the dark.
Ava grew quiet and walked over to the window and used one finger to open a slat of the blinds to look outside. As Beatrice watched her, she toyed with the edge of her own blanket and waited.
"I don't feel scared to sleep." Ava said eventually. "It already feels different. Muted, kind of? I'm confident that he won't be there in my dreams."
Beatrice leaned back, letting one arm take most of her body weight as she lifted her injured leg back onto the bed and focused on the girl standing only a few feet away from her.
"But you still can't sleep." Beatrice said softly.
Ava sighed and took a step back from the windows, turning back to face Beatrice. "No. I mean, I obviously haven't tried yet but I kinda think I know why I don't want to."
The air in the room felt just a little bit heavier than it had a moment ago.
"Because since the day that Lilith brought me back to you, you've been by my side. You've been there whenever I've slept. I… I don't know if I can sleep without you, Bea. And I don't know if I want to try."
It took a conscious effort not to make a sound at Ava's admission. It wasn't necessarily a surprise, and the sentiment was more than mutual, but the ease in which Ava let the words exist between them still managed to leave Beatrice breathless.
Ava took her time walking back towards the bed. When she reached the foot of it, she shrugged the blanket off of her, folded it haphazardly and placed it on the foot of the bed.
She was dressed in sweatpants and a black zip up hoodie that Beatrice was pretty sure was actually hers.
Beatrice could just about see the outline of the vest underneath the layers of clothing.
Ava glanced from Beatrice to the bed, suddenly looking a little bit lost. It wasn't until Beatrice shifted herself, turning a little more to face Ava and reached forward to pat the bed gently.
"Sit with me?" Beatrice asked.
Ava smiled and wasted no time in scrambling onto the bed, keeping a few inches of space between them and crossing her legs beneath her as she rested her hands on her knees.
Despite the slight shift in the energy between them, Beatrice didn't feel the need to push Ava into breaking her thoughtful silence.
Truthfully, it was hard to think of anything to say when she was the sole focus of Ava's gaze. She tracked the way Ava began at Beatrice's legs, moving up her body to her face.
Ava's eyes flickered up for a moment to Beatrice's eyebrow.
Beatrice already knew that Ava was thinking about the injuries.
Ava still wanted to heal her.
And Beatrice wanted to let her.
When Ava's eyes locked with Beatrice's own, everything seemed to freeze.
Ava looked at her with such warmth and softness, but with an undercurrent of something… More.
Something that ignited a spark in her chest, and the longer that they held each other's gaze, the more it seemed to spread through her.
It was surprising that Ava was the one who broke eye contact first, head dropping to look down and moving her hands to curl into the blanket.
"I've been thinking about you." Ava whispered. "I've been thinking about you a lot."
The room was too silent for Beatrice to be able to conceal her sharp inhale, Ava glanced up as if to gauge Beatrice's reaction but didn't say anything else for a few moments.
"I don't know what's going to happen next." Ava continued softly. "Even tomorrow is a mystery, but what I do know is that there are cameras all over the place here and I think that outside of this room we won't get much time to just be… Us."
Beatrice's fingers twitched with the urge to reach out to touch, but for now, even if it was just for the next few moments, Beatrice resisted.
"Well… For now, anything on the other side of that door doesn't matter." Beatrice replied. "We have time."
She saw Ava smile softly but still watched as she fidgeted with the blanket.
"You can say no, obviously, but I still really want to heal you." Ava said.
"I know you do." Beatrice replied, glancing down at the space between them. "And I do too, it's just…"
She trailed off weakly and sighed.
It was hard to explain to Ava that the thing holding her back was the knowledge that Ava would have to touch her bare skin.
"Would it help if I… I don't know, kept my eyes closed?" Ava suggested. "Whatever you need to make you more comfortable, I'll do."
But of course Ava would know exactly where Beatrice's anxieties lay and would make sure that Beatrice could set the boundaries.
Beatrice wanted this to happen.
They were alone, they were safe and they would remain uninterrupted.
"...Eyes closed might help." Beatrice replied. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I… I'll need to take my sweatpants off to remove the bandage."
Ava nodded a few times, and Beatrice watched her eyes fall shut.
"I can turn around too, if you like."
Beatrice shook her head before realising that there was no point in doing so and slowly slipped from the bed.
"I trust you, Ava."
She really did, but it didn't stop her fingers from trembling as she pulled at the drawstring and silently shimmying out of the pants.
Beatrice was standing in her underwear with Ava only a foot away from her.
For everything that has ever happened to her, Beatrice could never have foreseen this.
With a quiet exhale, Beatrice climbed back onto the bed, stretching her injured leg out in front of her, careful not to bump Ava with it.
True to her word, Ava didn't open her eyes, she'd even kept her head down in a way that made her hair obscure her face so Beatrice couldn't even attempt to read her expression.
"I'm just going to remove the bandage." Beatrice explained.
Everything that had happened since the motel had pulled at the fragile skin, causing it to bleed again at some point.
Beatrice tried not to make too much noise as she pulled the bandage from her skin.
"Are you okay?" Ava asked.
"My leg bled again." Beatrice explained quietly. "It's stopped now but it's made the bandage stick. I'm okay."
Ava made a sound of acknowledgement and Beatrice didn't need to see her face to know there was an unhappy frown there.
It took a couple of minutes to get the bandage off, and even in the darkness, it wasn't pleasant to look at.
"The bandage is off." Beatrice said, she looked at the space between them and folded her good leg underneath her.
Ava lifted her head but kept her eyes closed as she held out her left hand.
"Am I close enough to you?" Ava asked softly.
Beatrice could already feel her heart beginning to pick up more with anticipation.
"You are." She replied, lifting her own hand to tentatively touch her fingertips against Ava's and watching as Ava flinched for a moment at the sudden touch. "Am I okay to guide you?"
"Always." Ava whispered.
She could do this.
Beatrice moved her hand, slowly tracing her fingers across the back of Ava's. She felt Ava twitch under her touch, heard the shaky exhale from Ava's lips as Beatrice took hold of her hand and began to move them.
Ava's hand was warm against Beatrice's thigh, the touch was apprehensive and only rested comfortably when Beatrice pressed down just enough for it to cause a dull ache down to the root of the wound.
Even with her eyes closed, Ava still managed to look so sad.
"...How have you been moving on this?"
"I'm good at coping with pain."
Physical pain, anyway. Emotional pain was harder to deal with these days.
Ava's hand settled a bit more steadily against her, the tiniest stroke of her fingers against the inside of her thigh that left Beatrice curling her free hand into the sheets.
Beatrice looked from Ava's face to her hand when she felt another shift in movement.
It was barely there, barely noticeable, but Ava's hand was shaking.
"Are you ready for me to try?" Ava asked.
Beatrice moved her hand so that her fingers curled loosely around Ava's wrist, the pulse hammered against her fingertips.
Her eyes were still closed, and a part of Beatrice wondered what would happen if she were to ask Ava to open them.
Was she ready to let Ava see her in this way?
She could already see into Beatrice's heart, why was her bare skin any different?
Beatrice knew why.
It was a different type of vulnerability.
"I'm ready." Beatrice replied. "But Ava?"
Beatrice could see Ava's eyes move beneath her eyelids, the heavy rise of her chest as she took a deep breath.
"If you start feeling drained, will you stop?"
The corner of Ava's lip curled up slightly.
"I'll try, but Bea… You know me."
And she does. She really does.
Ava wouldn't be able to stop herself, not now that she knew she could heal.
She wouldn't stop until Beatrice was healed.
Beatrice's fingers flexed around Ava's wrist.
The halo began to glow, although it took a few seconds for the light to spill out from beneath the vest, in the same moment, Beatrice felt Ava's pulse begin to pick up.
Beatrice had to blink a few times for her eyes to adjust to the light breaking through the darkness.
But the way that it made Ava look? Strands of golden light spilling from her body, the glow it left against her skin?
It looked like sunlight filtering through her hair.
Ava looked so peaceful, bathed in light.
And Beatrice was so caught up in tracing the curve of Ava's lips that she didn't even register that the pain had disappeared and her leg was healed until the light around them was beginning to fade.
When the pressure on her leg began to ease, Beatrice found her grip tightening in response, keeping Ava's hand in place.
Ava inhaled, hand pressing back down.
"Beatrice?" Ava whispered. "Did it -"
"It worked." Beatrice finished. "I just… I'm not ready for you to let go yet."
Ava's lips moved as though she were about to speak, but no words came out.
All Beatrice could do was watch those lips.
"Do you… Do you want me to move to your ribs?" Ava asked.
"Yes." Beatrice breathed.
"Can you give me your other hand?"
Ava did so, but as Beatrice began to guide it towards her, Ava almost tipped forward, putting more pressure on Beatrice's thigh to keep herself from falling into her.
"I think I need to move closer, Bea,"
Beatrice stroked her thumb against Ava's hand. "Okay. I've got you."
She held onto Ava's hand steadily as Ava rose up onto her knees and shimmied closer, finding her way into the space between Beatrice's thighs.
It was pretty cute to watch, but Beatrice could only focus on how she could feel her body getting warmer at the closer proximity.
"Am I close enough?"
There wasn't much space left between them.
"You are." Beatrice replied, bringing Ava's right hand closer.
As she did, Ava settled back on her heels. There was a long moment before she brought their hands beneath her shirt and pressed Ava's hand against her ribs.
At least when Beatrice gasped this time, she could blame it on her injured ribs.
"Does that hurt?"
Beatrice stopped her before she could draw her hand back.
Actually no, maybe she couldn't lie.
"Your hand is warm." Beatrice said instead. "I'm okay."
(She knew her touch would be warm.)
Ava's lips curled into a small smile. "You feel cold. Do you want the other blanket?"
She could use that to cover her legs, maybe then she wouldn't be so self conscious about Ava seeing her.
But Ava had seen so much of her already, what was a bit of bare skin compared to everything else?
She just needed a bit more time to settle into this moment.
"No. Not yet."
Beatrice felt Ava adjust her hand, fingers spreading out along her ribs, thumb pressing gently against the base of her sternum.
She forgot how to breathe.
Ava went still too.
"Ready?" She whispered.
Beatrice nodded, belatedly realising that Ava wouldn't actually be able to see her.
She wasn't sure if it was because of where the healing was taking place or if it was because they were getting accustomed to how this all worked, but the warmth felt much more intense this time.
It felt like it was seeping into Beatrice's heart.
Beatrice couldn't hold onto Ava's wrist any longer, she let go in favour of moving her hand to rest against Ava's shoulder.
She had gotten so familiar with living with her injuries that feeling Ava take that pain away bit by bit left her feeling light.
"Is it working?" Ava asked.
"I can feel the halo through my whole body." Beatrice admitted. "It… feels like you're healing my heart."
She watched Ava's brow furrow for a second as she processed Beatrice's words, the glow and warmth began to fade as she finished healing Beatrice's ribs but her hand remained in place.
"Your heart doesn't need healing, Beatrice." Ava replied quietly. "Your heart… it's perfect just the way it is."
Her voice was so soft and so honest that Beatrice felt her heart skip.
"You know I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it." Ava murmured.
Even in this light, Beatrice could see the exhaustion from using the halo beginning to take hold, despite how cool it was in the room, Beatrice could see the beads of sweat clinging to her temple.
But Ava's voice was steady. She believed what she said wholeheartedly.
They both fell silent. Ava's hand lifted from Beatrice's thigh to reach up and draw the zipper of her hoodie down.
Beatrice's gaze dropped to stare at exposed collarbones.
They were both breathing heavily, and Beatrice watched Ava's head drop as she tried to get herself under control.
"Are you okay?" Beatrice asked.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm good." Ava nodded, lifting her head once more. "Can I heal your eyebrow?"
Beatrice gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Do you have enough energy?"
Ava took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah, totally. I've got this."
If Ava was close to the point of feeling drained, then at least she was in a good place to recover.
There would no doubt be questions from Jillian tomorrow when she noticed the absence of a cut, but that would be something to deal with when it happened.
Right now she just wanted Ava's hands to stay on her.
But there was more to it than that.
She was ready.
"Do you… Do you want to open your eyes?"
She felt Ava tense beneath her touch.
"Are you sure?"
"Do you want the blanket to cover your legs? Or do you wanna put your sweatpants back on?"
Beatrice considered both options for a moment before she answered.
She had nothing left to hide.
And she didn't want to hide from Ava, not that it was possible.
"No." Beatrice replied. "Open your eyes, Ava."
Ava did so slowly, blinking a few times until her eyes focused and met Beatrice's.
Even though her hand was still on Beatrice's ribs and the other hung loosely close to her thigh, Ava didn't look away.
She was looking at Beatrice with such an intensity that it made Beatrice feel like she was the only being in existence.
With Ava's hand still resting steadily against her ribs, she lifted her other up slowly until her fingertips delicately touched the skin around the area of the wound.
It took all of Beatrice's control not to let her eyes close at the touch.
Ava's gaze only grew more intense, the fingers on Beatrice's ribs moved almost reassuringly as she adjusted her touch on Beatrice's face.
Her fingers slipped into Beatrice's hair, her thumb came to rest against the wound.
"Are you ready?"
Beatrice could only nod.
She managed to keep her eyes open when that familiar warmth took hold. Compared to her other injuries, this one had always been the least painful of them.
But under the weight of Ava's gaze and touch? The healing felt so much more intense than the others had.
Ava didn't blink, she didn't look away, she merely held Beatrice's gaze so that Beatrice could see the gold reflected in those dark eyes.
She looked tired when the light faded away, but she was smiling.
God, that smile.
"There." Ava said softly. "All better."
Ava hummed, thumb stroking affectionately across her eyebrow as she adjusted her position to sit cross legged once more.
"I think it's still left you with a scar, but that just adds to your badass vibe."
Beatrice smiled. "I'm a badass?"
Ava's smile blossomed into a grin, a soft laugh filled the space between them.
"A badass, a genius, thoughtful and gentle…" Ava gave one last sweep of her thumb before she drew her hand back, her expression was fond, almost hesitant before she continued speaking. "You're kind hearted, brave… Beautiful."
Beatrice was trying very hard to keep her breathing steady as she held Ava's gaze, thankful that even though she had leaned back ever so slightly, the hand hadn't left her ribs yet.
"There aren't enough words to describe how incredible you are." Ava continued quietly. "You're my light, Bea."
She had said something very similar when they had connected in their dreams.
When things had been so close to ending, Beatrice had quietly admitted that she didn't want to only see Ava in her dreams.
Ava had been by her side ever since, and Beatrice still had so much that she wanted to say.
In such a short time, Ava had gone from being a stranger to a friend, to being her best friend and then so much more.
There had always been more between them, and Beatrice felt it that day in the hallway.
She may have so much left to say, but right now… Maybe it wasn't necessarily words that she needed.
In this room, only they existed. They were safe, they were alone, and more importantly, they were together.
Ava had just called her brave, but Beatrice felt anything but as she tried to figure out how to phrase her next response.
She allowed herself a moment to draw a deep breath and exhaled slowly, moving her hand from Ava's shoulder to trace her fingertips against the back of Ava's hand, dropping her head to watch the touch.
"Could I ask you a favour?"
She could just about see Ava smile from the corner of her eye.
Beatrice didn't lift her head fully, she merely titled it enough so that she could still lock eyes with Ava.
She heard Ava's sharp inhale.
"There's something that I want to try, could you close your eyes?" Beatrice asked.
Ava nodded, eyes falling closed without question.
Beatrice continued to move her fingers along the back of Ava's hand, finally lifting her head to look at Ava clearly once more.
She looked so relaxed and calm.
"Do you trust me?" Beatrice asked.
"With my whole heart." Ava replied immediately and without a trace of hesitation in her voice.
Beatrice knew that the longer they existed in this moment, the more she was going to overthink how to do what it was she desperately wanted.
She didn't have all that much experience in this area.
Beatrice took in the curve of Ava's lips, the way that her hair perfectly framed her face and the warmth of her touch.
She leaned forward, angling her face to the side at the last moment so that she didn't accidentally bump their noses together when her lips found Ava's in the dark.
Beatrice closed her eyes and curled both hands into the sheets.
Ava's lips were soft and warm. It was a tentative first contact, neither pressed for more or pulled away.
But despite how chaste it was, Beatrice was still certain of one thing.
Kissing Ava felt like tasting the sun.
Only a few seconds must have passed by the time Beatrice pulled back. It probably took the same amount of time for her to work up the courage to open her own eyes.
When she did, Beatrice was met with a room filled with light.
Ava's eyes were still closed, light spilling freely from the halo only served to make her smile look even brighter.
…Ava was smiling.
Her hand still rested against Beatrice's ribs, ensuring contact was maintained between them.
Beatrice let out a shaky breath. "...Ava?"
"Can I open my eyes now?"
The light from the halo showed no sign of fading, the vest took away the risk of being detected but stood no chance of hiding Ava's emotions.
Ava opened her eyes, noticeably surprised at the amount of light around them, but her gaze softened when her attention focused on Beatrice.
"Hey." She said softly.
The sound that came from Ava's mouth was closer to a giggle than anything else, ducking her head for a brief moment as she drew her hand out from under Beatrice's shirt.
Their eyes met again.
"You kissed me."
Beatrice nodded slowly, the anxiety was beginning to build in her chest despite every clear sign telling her she had nothing to be afraid of.
Ava's smile didn't falter, she merely lifted her hands and held them out between them, palms up.
Beatrice placed her hands in Ava's, who wasted no time in beginning to play with her hands.
"Are you okay?" Ava asked.
"I…" Beatrice paused to let out a long breath. "Yes. Are you?"
"So… I don't really know what to say in this situation." Ava admitted. "But what I do know is that I've wanted that for a while now. So yeah, I'm okay."
Ava threaded their fingers together and gave both hands a reassuring squeeze.
"When I said that I think about you a lot, Bea, I wasn't kidding." Ava replied.
She had kissed Ava.
They had kissed and Beatrice's heart was still singing Ava's name with every beat.
Beatrice could feel the tears threatening to form, the tightness in her throat despite the joy she felt in her veins.
Ava must have seen it in Beatrice's expression though, because she slowly moved their hands up to her shoulders, guiding Beatrice's hands around her until Beatrice got the hint and held onto her shoulders.
"I don't know how to do this, Ava." Beatrice admitted. "I don't know what to do with it all."
"All of what?" Ava asked softly.
"All of this…" Beatrice's voice cracked. "All of these feelings that I have for you."
All of this love for her.
Ava brought one hand up to rest flat against Beatrice's chest, directly over her heart, her smile only grew softer upon feeling its rapid beat.
"I'll take it." Ava replied. "I'll look after it all. You can trust me."
Ava had said that she trusted Beatrice with her whole heart.
And now she was asking Beatrice to do the same.
To trust her.
If there was one person in this world Beatrice was willing to trust her heart to, it would only ever be Ava Silva.
"Okay." Beatrice whispered.
"I don't know how to do this either, Bea." Ava continued. "But we're Beatrice and Ava, that hasn't changed, we're still us, just… more."
"There's always more."
Ava let out a quiet laugh and nodded. "Yeah, exactly. We'll figure this out."
Beatrice tipped her head forward so that she could rest her forehead against Ava's.
"What do we do now?" Beatrice asked.
"What do you want to do?" Ava countered.
Beatrice didn't need to think for long.
"I... think I'd like to kiss you again."
Ava laughed. "I think I'd like that too."
It was surprising to Beatrice just how easy it was to cradle Ava's face in her hands, for both of them to lean in and come together once more.
Ava's lips moved against her own, still tender despite the undercurrent of want that lingered beneath.
"I think about you a lot too." Beatrice whispered when they finally broke apart.
Whatever lay beyond the morning was irrelevant right now.
Until they each set foot outside of this room, they weren't the halo bearer and the sister warrior.
They were just Beatrice and Ava.
They felt finally themselves.