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Shady Grove

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It stops being charming, eventually. They loved her, truly, but the bonds they've made with each other are much more substantial. Emotional awareness adds something to the interactions. She's still the kindest soul imaginable, and Katarina is still dear to them, but she's not the one holding their entire group together anymore.

 

Truthfully, it would have gone a lot smoother if Geordo had kept his temper in check, but they can't regret it. 

 

And it's only in the aftermath that it's obvious they've somehow left Katarina behind.

 

---

 

Mary would be hard-pressed to quantify her love for Katarina nowadays.

 

Resignation and adulthood have tempered much of her ardor, no matter how Mary fought against it. She still loves Katarina dearly - they all do, in their ways - but her husband provides more exasperation with denseness than Mary's willing to deal with, most days.

 

It's not the same. Not like the others and their loves, the ones they've settled into and made into something wonderful and beautiful - or fiery and earth-shaking, if Mary were to ask Geordo - but she's content for now.

 

Mary can be happy. There have been a few flings in the past few years. Her husband has a dedicated lover now, and Mary is. 

 

Well, Mary is pregnant. Ambivalent as she and Alan had been about the process, they're both ecstatic about their looming parenthood and upcoming heir.

 

It's just a small gathering, their close friends attending a celebratory party. Of course, Katarina is there, but she's no longer the center of attention. So it takes Mary by surprise to find her among the roses, gazing up at the moon. The look on Katarina's face is so studious that Mary doesn’t make a sound as she sits next to her.

 

"I've always admired how you love, Mary," Katarina says, still looking up at the sky. "From the day we met, if I'm honest."

 

It startles her. "What do you mean?"

 

"Your garden. It was immediately obvious how well you care for those you love. Even when your roses have thorns."

 

Mary sighs quietly, only slightly disappointed. This conversation will go like all others then, and Katarina will remain as oblivious as -

 

"And then you welcomed me into your affections, despite me being far more prickly and painful for you to bear."

 

Mary's eyes shoot open. No, this isn't possible.

 

"And when you extended your care to me, how could I not notice?" Katarina still isn't looking at her, a soft smile directed to the moon. "You saw my problems and figured out a plan to help me escape, straight out of the country if necessary." She laughs softly. "But it wouldn't have been fair to take advantage of your love then, not when you were so young."

 

Despite her confusion, Mary can hardly breathe at her words. "Katarina…"

 

"I didn't want to disrupt anyone's lives. That was never my intention and part of why I remained so aloof. But I couldn't help myself then, either. You were a bright spot of safety in a world I feared every corner of. I've been selfish, far more than I should have been, keeping you so close to me in childhood." Her eyes finally drift over to Mary's, then down to her stomach, and a flash of something almost resigned crosses her face. "I’m selfish even now," Katarina murmurs.

 

Something Mary hasn't felt in quite a while settles into her very being and sets her heart racing.

 

Katarina stands up suddenly and bows stiffly, hands balled at her sides. "Forgive me, Mary. I’ve inappropriately spoken out of turn and injured you in other ways as well. I'm so sorry. " 

 

A quick turn has Katarina walking briskly away, and Mary springs to her feet, struggling to catch up with Katarina's long strides. Mary snags her wrist just before she turns the corner.

 

"Katarina," Mary starts, more nervous than she has been in years and yet just as eager, "What exactly are you saying?"

 

Katarina shakes her head. “Nothing worth discussing in polite company,” she says, and Mary wants to shake her. This is when Katarina chooses to be proper?

 

“Katarina Claes,” Mary grits out, now thoroughly invested in this conversation and gripping her forearms lightly to hold the woman in place, “you tell me right now -”

 

“Oi!” Alan calls suddenly from across the patio. “Quit hogging my wife, Claes!”

 

Mary’s eye twitches. Of all the times for her husband to stop paying attention to his lover.…

 

The corner of Katarina’s mouth curls up in a slight smirk. “All these years and everyone still can’t help interrupting each others’ conversations with me.” She laughs brightly and uses Mary’s surprise to ease out of her hold and wraps Mary’s hands into her own. “Until next time, Mary.” 

 

And then she stoops, pressing a kiss to the back of one of Mary’s hands, and Mary feels herself instantly redden, struck mute and frozen.

 

"What was that all about?" Alan asks, and she jumps as he's suddenly beside her. Katarina is no longer in sight. He laughs at her startled movement. "I haven't seen you that caught up in Katarina in a long while, Mare."

 

Long used to him as she is, Mary easily picks out his concern despite the casual tone. "Nothing really. Katarina just… said some things I didn't expect to hear."

 

Alan eyes her for a long moment before reaching out and tucking her into his side. "Please be careful. I don't want you to get hurt again because you got your hopes up."

 

"Alan."

 

"I'm just saying - I know how you are and I worry." With a soothing gesture, he rubs the slight swell of her stomach. "Try not to stress."

 

She sighs but nods. Alan presses a kiss to her forehead. “Let’s rejoin the party,” she decides, looping her arm in his. 

 

Even still, excitement stirs in Mary’s belly, eager and hopeful. A flash of a smile and bright eyes from across the room almost convinces her that Katarina shares her anticipation.