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show me something of a reckoning

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They'd known there was only one bed before arriving at their new home, but Beatrice still gives it a stern look upon seeing it for the first time, as if she can frighten it into becoming two twins. It doesn't work, of course, and she only sighs and begins unpacking their bags, sorting their clothes into drawers using a system a little too specific for Ava to immediately understand. She meticulously removes the tags - it's all new stuff they'd bought through the towns they'd passed; civilian, Beatrice says, to help them blend in - while Ava brushes her teeth.

They'd arrived late at night. Three in the morning, their Swiss town is all but blending into the sky above, lights out with street lamps few and far between.

Beatrice says, "I'll take the couch."

Ava sighs. She'd known this was coming. "Don't be dumb," she nearly whines. "We're both exhausted, and the bed's big enough; let’s just share it and argue about it in the morning."

She doesn't have an ulterior motive. It's too early for her to know how comforting it'll be to have Beatrice breathing steadily beside her, have Bea's heart beating beneath her ear on the nights she pictures their past horrors a little too vividly. She doesn't yet know how Beatrice's fingers will feel running through her newly-cut hair as she drifts off to sleep, or the pure contentment she'll experience when she wakes up with her back tucked against Beatrice's chest, an arm loose around her waist. She doesn't know these things yet and so when Beatrice gives up the fight with little resistance and slips underneath the covers beside her, Ava doesn't touch her at all.

There’s a bar down the street from their apartment with a help wanted sign, and even if they clearly weren’t desperate for new hires, Beatrice would’ve nailed it regardless. Despite having absolutely zero experience with alcohol other than communion wine, her astute attention to detail and fluency in several languages impresses the owner enough that he not only gives her the job after about ten minutes, but takes her word for Ava, too, whose interview would’ve followed.

“My friend,” Beatrice says in German as she steps outside with him where Ava’s waiting idly, rocking back and forth between feet. “She’ll be an excellent bartender. Very pretty, lively, quick learner.”

Ava isn’t sure Beatrice meant for her to overhear, but she takes the compliment anyway, tucking it in the back of her mind like slipping a note into her pocket. The man nods, waves Beatrice on with a few parting words Ava can’t quite make out.

“So I’m pretty, huh?” she teases the second Beatrice falls into step beside her, nudging her arm with her own.

“I possibly shouldn’t have used your appearance as a defining factor of potential success,” Beatrice says, misconstruing Ava’s joke entirely, “but from what I know of bartending–”

“I’m kidding, Bea,” Ava says. “Thanks.”

“I’m merely speaking the truth.”

“Well, double thanks.”

“It’s not as if you aren’t aware,” Beatrice says, eyes flicking around the buildings as they walk down the street, no doubt already memorizing their small town’s layout. She thinks nothing of it; Ava wonders why she thinks so much. “People notice you, Ava. It’s part of our problem.”

“It’s different when you say it,” Ava says, an accidental moment of honesty. “It’s nice.”

Beatrice doesn’t seem to know how to respond to that, but Ava swears she catches Bea’s fingers extending and clenching between them before slipping away into her pocket.

(Ava convinces her to go out to dinner, sit outside at one of the tiny restaurants with a beer flight and a great view of the mountains. In the cool night air, so far away from every life she’s ever known, Beatrice finally releases a breath she’s been holding for the past month, the ache of failure and betrayal sitting heavily on her shoulders, weaving vines between her ribs. The snow-coated Alps, the grand night sky, the delicate hum of insects - they can still be touched by Adriel, Ava knows, but maybe it won’t be here. Maybe whatever power that exists above will finally grant them peace.

You were right, Beatrice says suddenly, the constellations reflecting in her eyes. This was a good idea.

Ava finds her mouth impressively dry; she hurriedly takes a sip of one of her beers - a lager that turns out to be too hoppy for her - before coming up with, Yeah. Guess you should listen to me more often.

Beatrice raises an eyebrow teasingly. I’m not sure I’ll go that far, she says. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The smile playing about her lips; her hair fluttering in the breeze. You’re the beautiful one, Ava wants to say, struck by the feeling the way you would a meteor, a fist, a bolt of lightning. You, Beatrice. It’s you.)

It’s only their fourth night in their new home - both of them still sharing the bed, as Ava has threatened to follow her to the couch more than once should she dare attempt sleeping there, and Beatrice only has enough energy to pick battles she can win - when Ava wakes up in a cold-sweated panic, body stiff as a corpse, voice cut, eyes only able to dart around the room. She’s on her back, and the sight of an unfamiliar, plain ceiling sends her right back to the orphanage, to the sickbed, to her very definition of terror; she can’t scream, she can’t move, she can’t breathe, she can’t feel

“Ava,” Beatrice says, shaking her gently. “Ava, wake up. You’re alright.”

–and just like that, she’s ripped straight out of whatever trance had held her still, whatever demons had taken her horrors hostage. She shoots up, startling Beatrice beside her, gasping for breath with her fingers gripping her knees so hard her knuckles are white.

“Ava,” Beatrice says, a hand now resting against her back, “Ava, shhh, shhh, look at me. What’s the matter?”

“I couldn’t move,” Ava manages shakily, still trying to get a grasp of her reality. “I woke up and I - I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, but I could still see - I thought - it was just like–”

She feels Bea’s hand like a lifeboat bobbing in the water, and without thought, without warning, she turns and buries herself in Bea’s arms.

Beatrice, bless her, has always been excellent at the art of comforting, no matter the circumstance or the problem. She sighs against Ava’s hair, bundling her back up in blankets, and rocks her slowly.

“It’s alright,” Beatrice soothes. “It sounds like sleep paralysis. Unfortunate, but nothing that will harm you, I promise.”

“I can’t wake up like that again,” Ava whispers into the crook of her neck. Sometimes the scientific explanations don’t matter; the fear itself is still too real. “Don’t let me go, okay?”

It’s not something Ava would normally ask, and not something Beatrice would normally do. But they are full of contradictions, especially if they exist to protect the other, and so the request is a form of trust; I’m afraid, and only you can ease it. It takes a moment for Beatrice to respond, but she does; adjusting her arm around Ava’s shoulders in wordless acceptance, she lowers them both back against the pillows.

“I won’t,” she says, and begins to hum quietly, a melody Ava doesn’t recognize but has a strangely calming effect.

The vibrations of her voice and the sound of her heartbeat lull Ava off to sleep with a sense of peace she’s never felt before, the lifeboat drifting toward the shore.

(They don’t wake up in the same position they fell asleep in; if anything, they’re far more compromised: Beatrice’s arm loose around her waist, Ava’s back pressed against her chest, Bea’s breath slow and steady against the back of her neck. The sunlight is just beginning to drift through the curtains, lazing in bed with them. It can’t be any later than seven.

It’s unusual for Ava to be the first one awake; she wonders how long Beatrice held her in her arms before succumbing to sleep herself. Her sense of duty, her commitment to her promises - she would’ve waited until she was certain Ava was asleep, and even then, she’d have probably given it another ten-twenty-thirty minutes just in case. The idea spreads warm through Ava’s chest, heartbeat in the tips of her fingers, her lips pulling into a smile.

Their legs are entwined; Beatrice has fit herself perfectly around Ava’s body, no space left between them. The room itself is warm and cozy and looks like home in the light. There’s something about being held by Beatrice that feels delicate - hands so used to keeping others at bay, but drawn to Ava as if instinctual - that she wants to protect it, make it timeless, erase the business of the day and spend the hours just as they are now, existing together.

There are no secrets to unearth; no truths that need to be buried. She knows exactly what she wants and why she wants it. She’ll let Beatrice come to her own conclusions.)

Hans, the other bartender, sends Ava home with a recipe list for her to practice with; Beatrice takes over the official paperwork, sitting at the kitchen table as Ava tries out different cocktails with her tongue between her teeth. Their budget isn’t exactly an issue; it’s not as if the Church has a hard time with procuring finances.

She brings a glass to her mouth, takes a sip, and pulls a face Beatrice can only describe as adorable, though she’ll never say it aloud.

Ava smacks her lips together and says, “I think my alcohol to juice ratio is off,” and attempts to pass it off to Beatrice. “Try this.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Fair enough,” Ava says, pouring it out into the sink. “I guess I should be a little more precise with my measurements.”

“Probably,” Bea responds, signing her name with a flourish at the bottom of a page. “That’s likely why the measurements exist to begin with.”

“Smartass,” Ava says, returning to her list. “You just wait. I’m gonna make a cocktail that’ll knock your socks off.”

“I’m sure.”

“It’ll be the Bea’s knees,” she quips, grin evident in her voice, and Beatrice laughs, the moment rising like the tide.

(Their first week at work is mostly painless, with only a few minor mistakes from Ava as she learns the ropes of the job. They’re easily correctable, and it’s clear Hans is so charmed by her that it probably wouldn’t matter if she somehow burned half the place down. Well, that’s going a little far - perhaps it’s Bea’s own perception, clouding her judgment.

Beatrice, meanwhile, finds comfort in organization. The books are a mess, the storage room in disarray; she spends her hours finding ways to streamline bar efficiency and categorize stock. She has the bar running so smoothly after only a few days that even Hans is impressed - and intimidated, Bea, Ava says; it won’t kill you to smile at the man - and actually starts defaulting some of the management to her, as it’s clearly where she’s happiest.

They tend to arrive together - often arguing about something or other, like the appropriate amount of sleep-to-iced-coffee ratio - and leave together - arguing about what to eat for dinner, whether they should cook or order takeout - and even banter back-and-forth throughout the day, leaving Hans to wonder why they spend so much time together when they’re clearly driving each other up the wall.

Until he catches a rare smile from Beatrice, one he’s never seen aimed at anyone other than Ava; until he catches the way Ava bites her lip in response, fingers closing against the wooden countertop. And then he can’t stop noticing them, how they trade strangely longing looks when they think the other isn’t watching, how Ava’s always reaching out for Beatrice whenever they’re sharing space, how Beatrice is so accustomed to it that it doesn’t even strike her to pull away - despite the fact that Hans knows she’d consider it unprofessional workplace behavior, were she to observe it herself.

And then it becomes painfully, blatantly obvious: His new coworkers are dating each other, and trying - trying badly - to keep it a secret.

Once he realizes this, it becomes apparent how they complement each other instead of clash; how without Beatrice, there’d be nobody capable of reigning Ava in, and without Ava, there’d be nobody capable of helping Beatrice relax.

They must have their commonalities, he reasons with himself, watching them stack chairs after closing. Ava cracks a joke in English he can’t quite understand, but the way Beatrice smiles at her - eyelashes low, lips softly curled - makes him think that maybe love alone is enough.)

Their training days find a steady rhythm; Beatrice adores a spreadsheet.

They start their mornings with a run - ‘Quick jog,’ Beatrice had said the first time, to which Ava had replied, ‘What’s quick about five fucking miles, Beatrice,’ but Beatrice had closed the conversation with ‘We’ll get iced coffee after, if you’re good,’ and Ava had nearly passed out on the spot - which is then followed up by an assortment of halo exercises, such as force pulses, levitation, and phasing, among others. Ava doesn’t mind these so much; her progress is clear and linear, and her sense of accomplishment grows by the minute.

But they don’t stop there: They end their training sessions with sparring, which is Ava’s favorite.

Mostly because she gets to spend quite a lot of time with Beatrice’s hands on her body, often pinning her to the ground, and she’s often rewarded with sharp, clean praise whenever she masters a move - the kind of praise that makes her press her thighs together and straighten her spine, wondering what reaction she’ll get when she’s one day able to land on top (not that that’s the position she’s angling for) - which makes all of the suffering and sweat and bruises worth it, somehow. (She’s learning a few things about herself; one is that she doesn’t mind a little pain when it’s in the right places.)

Speaking of–

“Fuck,” Ava says, finding herself flat on her back, Beatrice’s concerned expression hovering over her. “Ouch.”

“Focus, Ava,” Beatrice says, but extends a hand to help her up. Ava takes it, their fingers wrapping around each other. “What distracted you that time?”

Sweat drips down Beatrice’s temple, and her muscles flex under the sunlight as she heaves Ava to her feet. “You,” Ava says without a filter, nearly grumbling the answer. “You’re ripped, Bea. It’s not fair.”

And Beatrice blinks, processes, and laughs; it’s a delightful sound, though far too short. “Says the woman with the spiritual artifact in her back, granting her superhuman abilities.”

“Point taken,” Ava says, but doesn’t release Bea’s hand. She’s doing her own training. “How about, once I nail this last move, we go get gelato? It’s so hot.

She runs her thumb over the back of Beatrice’s knuckles, casually, experimentally. Beatrice sighs, apparently unaware. “Very well,” she says, and Ava grins victoriously. “I suppose we’ve nearly done enough for the day, anyway.”

“Yes!” Ava cheers, raising her arms, Bea’s fingers slipping from her grasp; all by design, by star charts and floor plans. “Ava - one. Beatrice–”

She’s thrown unceremoniously on her back before she can even get the words out.

“Beatrice, two-hundred and thirty-five,” Bea says, smirking down at her, and Ava laughs until her lungs hurt.

(Beatrice has never met anyone quite as tactile as Ava.

She agonizes over it in the beginning - how can she not, being who she is - but it’s something Ava seems to desire naturally, brushing her shoulder, reaching for her hand, burying her face in the crook of Beatrice’s neck. She rationalizes it to the point of improbability, as if Ava needs a reason to seek comfort from another human being; as if she isn’t allowed to simply want it. And that says far more about Beatrice than it does about Ava, which prompts her to stop thinking entirely.

But after waking up in their bed for the fourth day in a row with Ava tucked against her side, breathing peacefully, she thinks it warrants a conversation.

She makes them breakfast - omelettes with spinach, mushroom, and sausage, along with a side of breakfast potatoes - and has a plate ready to go by the time Ava stumbles blearily out of bed.

Beatrice presses a mug into her hands. Coffee, she says.

Thanks, Bea, Ava says, and squeezes Beatrice’s forearm. You’re a lifesaver.

Beatrice waits until Ava is situated at the table, legs crossed in her chair, and says, Can I ask you something?

Ava looks up at her slowly, blowing on the hot liquid. Yeah, she says. Of course.

Why do you touch me so often?

It’s clearly not a question she’d thought she’d ever receive, let alone have an answer for, and Beatrice takes her delayed response as thoughtfulness, rather than awkwardness. They’ve learned to think the best of each other in a short amount of time, but she believes that’s probably what happens when you spend every waking minute with someone who carries the world - this world, any world, every world - on their back.

Ava takes a sip of her coffee, staring purposefully at the fading red-orange of the stovetop, and says, I spent a long time not feeling anything, you know? I didn’t have a choice in who I touched, or who touched me. I was just…there. And I guess, now that I can choose, I’m choosing you.

Beatrice asks, Why?

Ava shrugs. I like touching you, she says. I like the way you feel. It’s comforting.

The breeze ruffles the curtains. The cars roll by outside, the sound of crunching gravel. Beatrice clutches the back of the chair in front of her so hard her knuckles turn white, but her posture gives no other indication that she’s been affected.

Okay, she says softly, and clears her throat. Okay. Thank you.

Is that okay? Ava asks. Really?

Yes, Beatrice says. As long as it’s what you want.

Ava raises her mug to her lips and smiles, but it’s the kind of smile that suggests a secret hides destructively underneath.)

The start of week two is where their problems begin to catch up with them - or so Ava mistakenly thinks.

Hans corners her during a slow afternoon at the bar and says, “You know, you don’t have to hide,” with a purposeful glance between her and Beatrice’s hunched-over form at a table near the door, penciling in a notebook. “I can tell what’s going on here.”

The swift strike of fear directly into her heart; her palms clammy, back of her neck hot. Had he seen them training? Caught a whisper that wasn’t meant for him to hear? Done some sleuthing and found her death certificate? “Uh,” Ava says, lying badly, “what? I have no idea what you’re–”

“You two,” he interrupts, nodding at Beatrice as if this is clarification enough. “Your…relationship. We don’t have any rules against workplace dating, Ava.”

The words take a moment to bounce around her skull, echoing until she comprehends them; her pulse slows, blood fading from her ears. “Oh,” Ava says, immediate relief flooding her veins; her posture droops, relaxing, and he only grins knowingly, as if she’d just confirmed his suspicions. She realizes she’s a second too late for backtracking, tripping over her own tongue. “Oh, uh…obvious? Really?”

He barks out a laugh; Beatrice looks up, apparently attuned to any loud sounds within Ava’s vicinity. He says, “You came here together, you live together, all you do is stare at each other…I’m not that stupid, Ava.”

“You sure aren’t,” Ava says, forcing her own laugh. Shit, shit, shit. She’s known her own feelings for a short while now - somewhere between twenty feet of concrete and winning the ‘the bed’s big enough for us both, Bea’ argument - but Bea’s so repressed she may have a panic attack just learning that other people see what she refuses to. “You, uh, you caught us. But”–she bites her lip–“don’t mention it to her, okay? She wants to remain professional.”

“You got it,” Hans says, winking. “For now, at least.”

Yeah, fuck. That’s what she’s afraid of.

She spends the rest of her shift working out what to say, testing words in the back of her mouth without releasing them to implication. Beatrice comes over to talk to Hans occasionally about the books, the organization, ideas for summer specials; she always spares Ava a glance, the corners of her lips curling.

Beatrice stays long after her own shift has ended, sipping at a water as she observes the rest of the room hawk-eyed, focusing intently on the patrons and their glasses. Ava approaches her, smile automatically settling around her mouth. “What are you doing, Bea? You should be relaxing at home.”

“Well, as I’m mostly unfamiliar with alcohol, I was cataloging the most popular drinks with the intent on rearranging the shelves and backroom by customer desire,” Beatrice says, as if this is a naturally clear step to take next. Her notebook boasts an impressive list of cocktails, complete with their recipes and a tally. “I was rather unprepared for this position, which is a feeling I’m not entirely used to.”

“Of course,” Ava agrees, overwhelmed with affection for the woman in front of her. “Sounds like a good use of your time.”

“That, and we’re still new here,” Beatrice says. “It feels safer to walk home with you.”

Ava nearly sighs aloud. No wonder Hans thinks it’s obvious: Beatrice is basically her keeper. “It’s literally down the street. I think I can manage without injuring myself.”

Oh, she’s issued the wrong kind of challenge. Beatrice raises an eyebrow pointedly. “Can you? I’m not actually convinced that’s true.”

“I’ll let you examine me for cuts and bruises after,” Ava says, smirking, leaning with a palm against the table; her crop top is low-cut, cleavage spilling out. She’s been trying to catch Beatrice looking for days now; she’s definitely got tits that can lure a nun to sin, and she’s well aware of it. “How’s that for a compromise?”

Unfortunately, Beatrice keeps her gaze trained firmly on Ava’s face. “You heal,” Bea says. “You’d be fine by the time you arrived.”

“Exactly,” Ava says. “Not that I don’t adore having my own personal ass-kicking bodyguard accompanying me everywhere, but you’re a workaholic, Bea. You gotta take it easy sometimes.”

Beatrice glances down to her notebook, thumbing through a few pages, as if she’d intended on pointing them out and saying look, I’ve only made five-hundred and thirty-seven notes, that’s practically nothing, but Ava covers Bea’s hand with her own, bends over, and says, “Beatrice.”

Low and throaty, commanding attention; she’d never use this tone on Beatrice in any other situation, too loaded with sensuality and implication. She’s been dying to test it out, actually, see what it lets her get away with - a potential technique to store away for future opportunities.

Beatrice stills almost imperceptibly, and when she thinks she’s collected herself subtly enough, she looks up and finds Ava’s chest at eye-level.

Score. Ava - two, Beatrice - still somewhere in the hundreds, but she’ll take what she can get.

It’s merely a flutter of a second, and then Bea’s eyes flick straight back to hers, blush creeping up her throat. “Yes?” she says, and both of them know her voice isn’t as steady as she’d have liked it to be.

“Go home,” Ava says, keeping the same tone, holding her stare. “I’ll be back when my shift’s done, okay?”

She’s easily won this argument, but there's a defiance lingering in Beatrice's eyes, a semblance of accusation. Ava drops a kiss to the top of her head, finding the expression madly precious.

Beatrice, equal parts mollified and unbalanced, says, "Alright. If you're sure."

"Trust me," Ava says, adoration skimming the surface of her voice now that the game is over. "You don't have to worry about me all the time."

"Agree to disagree," Beatrice says, standing up and taking back her height. But she lifts a hand, pats Ava affectionately on the cheek, half-smile burgeoning from her lips. "I'll see you at home, Ava."

Oh, the way tables turn, the way tides change and skies invert; the difference between her and Beatrice is that she's aware of her effect on people, whereas Beatrice thinks herself too unworthy to leave marks, scars, impressions. Ava's blood burns, and for a moment, she wishes it were visible - wishes her veins would glow hot-gold underneath her skin, fissuring like lightning strikes - my body remembers everywhere you’ve ever touched me, she thinks; Beatrice, there is something beautiful to that, being made anew by somebody else’s hands.

She watches Beatrice’s retreating back like a scene out of a movie, waiting for the hesitation, the glance over the shoulder that speaks to an insurmountable, untouchable longing. It doesn’t come, but just as Beatrice steps onto the pavement, she runs her fingers against the exact place Ava had kissed her.

Yes, Beatrice remembers, too. She must.

(On the walk home, the stars are somehow brighter than they’ve ever been, but also further away. The earth rotates and the clouds drift. Beatrice finds herself musing not over duty and sacrifice and God, but the truth of angels, if they can be created rather than summoned. If they can take the form of women with overeager mouths and careless limbs and eyes with a depth that beckons - a crooked finger, a spiral staircase - if they can be both human and not, both beautiful and terrifying.

If they can be both her salvation and annihilation.

She can almost hear Ava’s voice, telling her to cut the theological crap and focus on the present, Beatrice; if anyone’s soul is safe, it’s yours - and, well, that sums up her problems perfectly.)

Ava’s plotted it out. She’ll turn on the television, make Beatrice settle in for a movie with her, crack a few jokes, get the mood light and inconsequential, and then–

“So, there’s kind of something I need to talk to you about,” Ava blurts out, and already this conversation has gone better in her head. For starters, she’s literally just arrived home, and Beatrice is combing out her hair, wet from the shower. She’s at least dressed, thankfully, giving Ava’s eyes less places to wander.

Beatrice pauses, honing in on the hesitant tone of Ava’s voice. “And what would that be?” she asks carefully, lowering her comb.

“Hans thinks we’re dating,” she releases in a rush, wringing her hands behind her back. “I, uh, I thought - I thought he’d caught on to our actual secret, and in the moment, I - I didn’t know what to say to explain our behavior. So I told him he was right.”

The silence stretches; Bea stares, and stares, and stares. She’s having trouble processing the direction the conversation has taken, as she clearly never - never - expected it to come to this. She opens her mouth once, and promptly shuts it, as if judging her words unworthy.

Finally, she says, “And it…doesn’t bother you that he believes that?”

It’s one of those moments where Ava is rocked by Beatrice’s unintentional self-revelations of her misguidedness, of her innermost shame. Ava wants to step forward and wrap Beatrice up in her arms and tell her how different their worlds are, how Beatrice could never be anything but miraculous to her, how proud she would be if it were true.

(How sometimes - most of the time - she wishes it were.)

“Of course not,” Ava says, moving closer. It’s the most she can do. “I was afraid it’d bother you.

Beatrice doesn’t seem to know how to respond, wrestling with a key in a lock she’s forgotten how to turn. “It doesn’t bother me,” she replies somewhat defensively, as if she’s toeing the line between what she’s fighting and what she’s feeling. “You were…protecting us. It is paramount that our mission remains uncompromised.”

“Exactly,” Ava says, playing along with whatever gives her the best grip on the situation. Better to spare her the existential crisis. “We spend all of our time together. I thought it’d be the easiest explanation, you know?”

“Yes, of course,” Beatrice says, now firmly in a position of business. “I understand completely.”

The movie part of Ava’s original plan still proceeds - tonight it’s The Fast and the Furious (“I think you should teach me to drive,” Ava says; “No. Far too many lawsuits,” Beatrice replies firmly) - and they’re halfway through when it occurs to her that Bea never asked why Hans thought they were dating in the first place. But then again, she doubts Beatrice actually wants to know.

Or, more likely - as Beatrice runs her fingers absent-mindedly through Ava’s hair, spread across her lap - she doubts Beatrice wants it confirmed, still carrying Ava entirely too close to her chest.

They last about three more days before Ava’s forced to take drastic action. Hans keeps giving them looks - teasing, playful, pointed looks - and she’s definitely caught some of the regulars raising their glasses to Beatrice whenever Ava shows up to work in a tight-fitting shirt, or pants that accentuate her ass. (Irritatingly, the one person who never seems to notice these things is Beatrice herself.)

Hans says, “Someone’s going to steal your woman, if you don’t make it clear that she’s yours.”

“Huh?” Ava says, and follows his gaze to where a woman Ava’s never seen before is very obviously checking Beatrice out, from her navy buttoned-up shirt to her white sneakers, likely contemplating a move. “Oh.”

Yeah: Ava fucking hates that. But she can’t exactly snap and blow up the bar in the middle of a workday. Beatrice would hate that even more.

Hans raises his eyebrows at her. She says, “We’re easing into it. Don’t worry.”

He tugs the dishrag from off of his shoulder and shrugs. “If you say so.” He returns to cleaning the countertop, wiping away rings of salt and condensation, but the disbelief is slightly more than an undertone.

Except now Ava’s aware of the dynamics in the room. Now she’s watching them unfold like a horror story, her worst fears walking around in high heels and a short red dress. And when the woman begins to excuse herself from her current conversation, eyes only for Bea, Ava says, “But yeah, you’re right. Okay.”

Hans laughs from somewhere behind her as she steps around the bar, like a race she’s desperate to win, and then she’s standing beside Bea’s table just in the nick of time. “Hey, can I grab you for a moment?” she asks, and the woman falters out of the corner of her eye.

Beatrice says, “Is there a problem?” looking mildly alarmed.

“Uh, yeah,” Ava says, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Yeah, let’s go with that. C’mon.”

As soon as they’re upstairs, Ava spins around, grasp falling to Beatrice’s elbows. She glances around Bea’s back, making sure Hans isn’t creeping around, trying to catch them in the act.

“Ava,” Beatrice says, bewildered. “What’s going on?”

"Okay, right, so," Ava starts in hushed, frantic tones, "we gotta make this believable. Our relationship. You need a petname for me or something."

It takes Beatrice a moment to follow where she’s been led. She blinks, crease appearing between her brows. "A petname?" she says, as if the concept of using one has never occurred to her in her life. "Such as?"

"I dunno," Ava says. "Whatever feels natural. Like, I'm gonna try babe on you. Seems like something I'd say."

The sudden blankness behind Beatrice's stare is an obvious short-circuit of her brain, and Ava resists the urge to laugh. There's a blush creeping up her neck, threatening her cheeks. Beatrice says, "Well," and clears her throat, an attempt at regaining control of herself. "As a nun, I can't say I have a repertoire of petnames in my vocabulary. But," she pauses, lifts a hand, gives Ava's cheek a light, almost teasing stroke, "I do believe darling would fit you quite nicely."

Beatrice drenches the word in fondness, entirely by accident, born from a lack of practice and her usual careful consideration. Caught off-guard like this, a truth is revealed, and now Ava's the one left speechless, breathless, thoughtless. Yes, she wants to say, yes, let me be that to you. Someone with a name that only you can use, with skin that only you can touch.

“Okay,” Ava exhales, enraptured. “I like that. Nobody’s ever called me anything before.”

Beatrice says, “Well, it’s the same with me,” but her voice is entirely too malleable, something to sink into, like water, like quicksand, wrapping itself around every available crevice. She glances shyly away and back, foreign in her own body.

Ava, in true fashion, immediately introduces her foot to her mouth. “We can be each other’s firsts,” she says, a poor attempt at a joke, and snaps her lips together before they can get her into further trouble - though it doesn’t last long, even greater mortification worming its way into her apologies. “Um. Sorry. Not like - um, maybe you’re not even a virgin, I don’t know - I’ve never slept with a girl, obviously. Not that I wouldn’t, or - I just meant - wow, it sounds busy down there! I should get back to work. Great talk.”

She nearly dashes for the stairs, afraid her embarrassment may result in her phasing through the floor, leaving Beatrice with probably far more crises than she’d started with. Good going, Ava, she thinks wildly to herself. You probably just made her an actual homophobe or something. God.

Hans is still there, working at a particularly tough stain on the wood. She snaps the rag from him and says, “Let me. I got it,” nudging him out of the way. He snickers under his breath, chalking up her frenzied behavior to a far more enjoyable experience than what she actually feels.

(Horny. He thinks Beatrice made her horny. Which is usually true, in his defense, but this time–)

Two arms suddenly enter her vision, crossed and leaning against the wood. Arms with muscles she knows extremely well, with hands she could probably draw from memory.

Ava stops scrubbing.

“Careful, darling,” comes Beatrice’s voice, heavily laced in amusement. “You might break through completely.”

She’s smiling. Actually, properly smiling, and Ava releases the tension she’d packed on in a matter of minutes, shoulders centering. “Yeah.” She clears her throat. “Um, we’re good?”

“This is hardly the first time you’ve disconnected your mind from your mouth,” Beatrice says, a truly devastating insult by her standards. “I’m off soon. Will you pick up dinner on your way home?”

“Yeah,” Ava says, oddly giddy, riding some kind of adrenaline high - flirting openly with Beatrice and surviving the ordeal. “What do you want?”

“Your choice,” Beatrice says. “Text me.”

“You got it, babe,” Ava replies, and she swears there’s a stutter - of breath, of muscle, of balance - before Beatrice reaches out, brushes her fingers across the back of Ava’s hand in lieu of a response.

It’s like she’s just said I love you.

(Hans digs his elbow into her side after, wearing a shit-eating grin. He says, That’s better, isn’t it?

Ava smacks him with the dishrag. You have no idea, she says, but there’s relief in her voice. Bea’s very…private.

Ah, so it took some convincing, he infers wisely, loaded with innuendo. Anything upstairs I shouldn’t touch?

I’m going to kill you, Ava says cheerfully. And upstairs is where I’ll leave your body.

How do you do it? he continues, unperturbed by the death threat. He thinks she’s funny like that, and far too small to take seriously.

Do what?

Date her, Hans says. What’s she like? When she’s alone with you?

Like home is Ava’s first thought, but it’s one she doesn’t say aloud. Some things belong to her before they belong to anyone else, and this - this is a concept she’s never put it into words, let alone parsed through every language she knows to find the precise explanation. Home is exactly what Beatrice has become to her: somewhere warm and comfortable and safe; an arm around her waist, a morning pot of coffee, fresh sheets and folded laundry. Somewhere she isn’t just taken care of, but somewhere that needs her just as desperately.

Ava doesn’t know how to say that: I wasn’t important to anyone until her. She pretends she’s fine by herself but she misses me when I’m out too late, and she’ll fall asleep on the couch waiting for me to return. She always lets me take a shower first because she accidentally used up all the hot water once, before we knew the water heater’s limits. She made a recipe book of all my favorite meals and learned how to cook them. She taught me how to tie my shoes and hold a pen and swim, and she never judged me once. She loves me so hard that even though she can’t admit it, she can’t stop herself from doing it.

You don’t understand, Ava says softly. Being the center of her attention is addicting. I don’t think I’d know what to do with myself if I weren’t.

Whatever look she’s wearing must be enough, because Hans doesn’t ask anything more.)

Camila checks in every couple days. They exchange pleasantries and information over a secure line in a kind of shorthand, just in case it’s able to be infiltrated. News on Adriel, news from Lilith, news on Mary’s potential whereabouts or status. As far as Beatrice is concerned, the less she hears, the better; it means there’s still time.

Today, Beatrice has an added item for the agenda.

Camila,” Beatrice says, “I need to speak with Mother Superion. Are you able to reach her?

“She’s right here,” Camila says, and Mother Superion slowly raises her head from her notes. Camila extends the phone. “It’s Beatrice.”

Mother Superion eyes the device suspiciously and says, “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Camila says. “She said she needed to talk to you.”

“Hm,” Mother Superion says, but takes the phone regardless, putting it on speaker. Camila covers a small cough. “Yes?”

“Mother Superion,” Beatrice says, more businesslike than usual, “I must ask for your guidance.”

“On?”

“As you know, Ava and I are undercover, working at a pub,” she says. Her tone grows more formal with every word. “But I’m afraid there’s been a…misunderstanding.

Mother Superion waits, but there seems to be a strange lack of clarification. “Yes?” she probes, raising an eyebrow at Camila.

Well, you see, the rest of the staff - and some regular patrons - think that Ava and I are…

Camila raises both eyebrows back at her.

...that we’re…romantically entangled.”

Of course they do, Mother Superion wants to respond, but as there is a false angel literally attempting to take over the world and she hardly has the time to deal with a crisis of faith in the face of suppressed lesbianism, she does not say that. Instead, she says, “And what is it you need guidance on?”

It’s almost comical how difficult it is for Beatrice to form her answers. “It’s the simplest explanation and easiest way to keep ourselves hidden,” she finally manages. “But they’ll notice. If we aren’t…clear.

So, if Mother Superion is being honest, half her nuns are probably gay. Or something like that.

She doesn’t care about sexuality in itself; none of them act on it (to her knowledge, not her suspicion), but she hadn’t missed the glances between Mary and Shannon, and the comfort of touch between Mary and Lilith - and she certainly hadn’t missed Ava’s nearly pathetic doe-eyed look whenever Beatrice did anything remotely interesting.

In her humble opinion, if her top-performing, repressed OCS agent and her resurrected, non-believing Warrior Nun figure a few things out, it can only improve their teamwork.

“Beatrice,” she says, about to craft some supremely elaborate bullshit, “you took your vows and bound yourself to God. And God chose Ava to carry out His mission. Your mission is to protect and train Ava without drawing attention to yourselves until she is ready for the final confrontation, therefore serving God. He will understand and forgive you for any lines you must cross.”

Camila covers her mouth with her hand, hastily smothering a laugh. Mother Superion shrugs at her.

You believe I should go along with it?

“Yes,” Mother Superion says. “Know that I am praying for you.”

And she hangs up the call.

Camila looks at her and asks, “Shall we pray?”

“No,” Mother Superion says. “God has far better things to listen to.”

Camila can’t really argue with her there.

It takes a frighteningly short period of time to adjust to their new roles. In fact, Ava’s started feeling freest when she’s at work, when she can slip a babe into any sentence and brush a hand over the back of Bea’s head. Like she’s allowed to give in to every tiny impulse because anyone could be watching them, waiting for an open door, a single flaw in their performance - though it’s not like Beatrice would stop her even if it weren’t. As hyper-rational as Beatrice is, her sense of logic tends to falter in the face of Ava’s bottom lip, pushed out in a pout.

And when their work-lives begin bleeding into their personal ones, Ava isn’t exactly surprised.

Shockingly, it’s Beatrice who makes the first mistake; Ava never would’ve put money on that. But there’s a night when she comes home drunk - Enza had bought her a few too many shots in celebration of something sports-related, though she isn’t sure which sport - and Beatrice is where she always is, curled up on the couch, waiting for Ava to return.

Ava stumbles into her lap; Beatrice catches her easily, arms wrapping around her waist. Ava slides her legs on either side of Beatrice’s body, straddling her and essentially holding her hostage.

“Hi,” Ava giggles, fingers linked against the back of Bea’s neck. She’s flushed and warm; she smells like sandalwood and smoke, most likely from a combination of Beatrice’s deodorant (she buys men’s, as it’s cheaper) and Fergus’s cigarettes. Oddly enough, Beatrice doesn’t mind it. “I missed you.”

She can’t be mad, either. “I highly doubt that,” Beatrice says, but she’s smiling. “You look like you’ve been having fun.”

“Yeah,” Ava says, resting her head against Bea’s shoulder. “It was fun. But I have more fun with you.”

“Know that flattery will not make me go easier on you tomorrow,” Beatrice says, and Ava laughs against her shirt. She shifts her hands from Ava’s waist to her back, rubbing a familiar path along her spine automatically.

“I know,” Ava says. “But you’re nice to me. You’re always nice to me.”

“Well,” Beatrice says, not really knowing what to make of that, “you’re my best friend. Of course I’m nice to you.”

Ava lifts her head, leaning forward unsteadily, her face entirely too close to Beatrice’s. She’s nearly cross-eyed; it takes her a moment to find her balance. She says, lip quivering, “Really?”

Drunk Ava is always a little on the sentimental side; Beatrice had once made her cry by helping her take her shoes off. Resisting the urge to laugh, Bea says, “Yes, really.”

“Wow,” Ava breathes out, looking awestruck. “I’ve never had a best friend before.”

“Well,” Beatrice says again, “I can’t say I’ve had many myself.”

“I would’ve been your friend,” Ava says, gaze somewhat out of focus. “If I’d known you when you were younger.”

“And I would’ve been yours.”

Ava hums happily, tucking her chin into the crook of Beatrice’s neck. “Feels nice,” she says, referring to Beatrice’s fingers tracing the edges of her spine. “Keep going.”

But this is a dangerous road, one that Beatrice can see all too clearly: Ava will pass out in her lap before she’s managed to get ready for bed in any sensible capacity, and waking her when she’s drunk is a near-impossible task. She’s left with one option - weaponizing Ava’s emotional state into action.

She says, “Ava?”

“Mm?”

“Do you want to do something for me? Do you want to get ready for bed?”

“No,” Ava says, and she slides her hands from where they'd been locked around Bea’s shoulders to encircle her waist instead. It's getting dire. “I’m good. This is good.”

It just…slips out. It isn’t intentional, and there’s no explanation other than habit. “Darling,” Beatrice murmurs, almost as a whisper to herself, and Ava stills.

Beatrice thinks of recanting the term, rushing an apology for breaching a boundary. But she isn't used to making errors, only correcting them, and she's far too out of practice to know where to begin.

But Ava only says, “Okay,” and sits up, all of her weight on Beatrice’s thighs. “I’ll do it. But only if you stay right here, so that I can come back and we can watch a movie.”

Oh, so it worked. Beatrice files that away for another day.

“It’s too late for a movie,” Beatrice says, and she cups Ava’s cheeks in her hands adoringly. “We can watch one episode of a show.”

“Deal,” Ava says, and scrambles off of her, nearly rolling into the coffee table. “I’m serious, Beatrice,” she says (very seriously), pointing a finger at her. “Do…not…move.” She punctuates each word with its own stop sign.

Beatrice rolls her eyes, and proceeds to watch Ava smack into several walls and pieces of furniture in her quest to wash her face, brush her teeth, and change her clothes; she eventually decides the effort isn’t worth it, and starts just phasing through things. She clearly finds this amusing, too, laughing at herself every time a body part emerges from a solid surface.

And it’s so easy to love her. In a life full of hardships, it’s the easiest thing Beatrice has ever done.

Because the act of love itself is pure. But that’s distinctly not what she feels when Ava wobbles straight into Beatrice’s line of sight as she’s pulling her shirt overhead, leaving a wide expanse of bare skin on display.

The dimples of Ava’s lower back; the arch of her spine; the sharp cuts of her shoulder blades; the perfect circle of the Halo. She turns slightly, reaching for a sleep shirt - one of Beatrice’s loose Henleys - and the curve of her breast is visible just beneath her arm.

That’s when Beatrice finally looks away, blood so hot underneath her skin she may as well already be in Hell.

But she doesn’t even have time to berate herself for it - to imagine confessing the sin of desire - before Ava’s clean, dressed, and worming her way back into Beatrice’s lap. She can’t even recite prayers in her head because Ava becomes the center of every room she’s in, absorbing Bea’s attention until she forgets what she’s even supposed to be ashamed of. Normalcy, Beatrice thinks; the greatest vice of all.

“Hi,” Ava says delightfully, and goes to work positioning Beatrice like a doll - legs stretched out, so Ava can rest hers across Bea’s lap; head against Bea’s shoulder, body curled against her chest; one of Bea’s arms snugly around her back.

“Oh,” Beatrice says, realizing what Ava’s attempting to do. “You want me to cradle you?”

“Yeah,” Ava says, unconcerned, grabbing Beatrice’s other arm and placing it across her thighs; Beatrice’s hand ends up over her hip, palm pressing into the bone. “Like this.”

It’s a mark of their closeness that Beatrice only sighs as Ava nestles deeper, tugging a blanket over herself. “You’re ridiculous,” Beatrice says, but she only shifts slightly, pulls Ava tighter against her. It’s not so different than how they touch when they’re in bed, and Ava’s drunk, anyway. There’s no use fighting it.

One episode of whatever German variety show Ava’s put on comes and goes; so does a second. Ava breathes deeply in her arms; Beatrice’s heart beats against her cheek. In the middle of the third, Beatrice drops a kiss to the top of her head; somewhere near the end of the fifth, Ava brushes a thumb across the corner of her mouth.

“Baby,” she whispers to Beatrice’s sleeping form, just to know what it’d feel like if Beatrice were hers.

(Ava wakes up in the morning still wrapped in Beatrice’s arms. Sometime during the night, they’d stretched out fully across the couch, with Bea on her back and Ava tucked against her side. The blanket’s pulled up and bundled beneath Ava’s chin; she hopes Beatrice wasn’t cold with her neck and half an arm exposed.

The television’s turned off; the sky is barely beginning to lighten outside the window. She silently catalogs the placement of Beatrice’s hands, and experimentally shifts against her; Beatrice responds automatically in her sleep, tilting her head to the side and adjusting her arm around Ava’s waist.

Ava loves her so much that she almost prays for it to stop.)

Chapter Text

Pretending to date may be putting a strain on Ava’s willpower, but it’s great for deterring unwanted advances - not even for herself, but for Beatrice.

It turns out that Ava isn’t the only one who thinks there’s something magnetic about her. Her stoicism, seriousness, and general unapproachability - combined with her beauty - reads like a challenge, and many are happy to attempt it (to Ava’s chagrin). Bea’s always perfectly polite, tolerating a distraction from her work for a few minutes at a time until pulling away; Ava’s seen more than one man shuffling away from her to the bar, shoving embarrassment off of his face.

Women, however, tend to be a bit of a different story. Whether Beatrice simply isn’t aware of what they want from her, or does know but doesn’t care, remains to be seen; all Ava knows is that they’re often granted a more involved audience, and they take advantage of every second.

Today’s current harlot vying for Beatrice’s attention is a long-haired, skank-faced bitch. Definitively not pretty, ignoring the fact that she could probably be a model. Whatever.

She sits at Beatrice’s table when Ava isn’t looking and proceeds to chat her up for at least five minutes, which is six minutes too long for Ava's liking. When the woman reaches across the table for Bea’s hand, well, that’s going entirely too far; Hans watches her walk around the bar with what can only be described as poorly-concealed anticipation. Ava’s a firecracker, and if anyone’s going to make a scene of jealousy, it’ll be her.

“Hey,” Ava says deliberately, stopping directly in front of Beatrice and the woman with a disgustingly fake smile set in place. “Sorry to interrupt - I saw you sitting with my girlfriend”–she places heavy emphasis on the word, and the woman’s eyebrows shoot up–“and noticed you don’t have a drink. Can I get you anything?”

They do not do table service, and Beatrice immediately realizes something’s occurring in front of her without knowing exactly what it is. The woman grins abashedly, having a hard time meeting Ava’s gaze. “Oh, no,” she says, hands now tucked firmly in her lap. “I was actually…I’m on my way out. Apologies.”

“Not a problem,” Ava says, still smiling horribly, and stands there until the woman gets up from Bea’s table, leaving without looking back. It’s a sign of Ava’s own petty victory. Move along, bitch, she thinks. Get your own fucking nun.

Beatrice looks at her and says, “Ava? Can I talk to you upstairs, please?”

Okay, so, maybe Ava wasn’t as subtle as she’d intended to be, but whatever; she maintains she’s fully within her right to defend her fake-relationship from random interference, considering Beatrice has the obliviousness of a lesbian nun and probably wouldn’t know she was being hit on without explicit subtitles.

She follows Beatrice upstairs, irritation still burning embers in her chest, and waits to be chastised or scolded or interrogated for her reaction to perfectly good customers - but Beatrice only turns to her and asks quietly, “What’s the matter?”

And Ava says, with all the subtlety of someone who is definitely in real-love with her fake-girlfriend, “She was hitting on you.”

Beatrice stares blankly at her, blinks. “What?”

“That woman,” Ava says, anger now coiling with a hint of embarrassment. “She was coming onto you, Bea. Like, in front of me. I know she didn’t know, but like, still.

She sort of expects Beatrice to laugh, brush it aside with a simple ‘Ava, lest you forget, I’m still a nun,’ or something equally dismissive. But instead, Beatrice knits her eyebrows together in mild distress; “Darling,” she sighs, and the name slips out like water overflowing, more habit than purpose, more accident than intention. Her hands cup Ava’s cheeks, thumbs stroking her skin, and any remaining anger is left hollow and submerged in Ava’s throat. “I’m sorry. Truthfully, I didn’t even notice. I suppose I–” she pauses, eyes darting between Ava’s own as she searches for the right words - or simply the most honest way to say them. “I tend not to notice people who aren’t you.”

Gaze dropping to Beatrice’s mouth and back. How close they’ve grown in a moment of comfort; how it becomes closer every time, from hands clasping to fingers linking, from a touch on the back to an arm around the waist, from a shy smile to a kiss pressed against a cheek.

Nevermind the obvious course of question, which is why do you care so much when this is supposed to be for show, when it’s all made to be pretend; it’s as if they’ve sunk so deeply into the act that they no longer have to try. Beatrice’s instincts have shifted into placation - when Ava is upset, she unearths whatever angle is bound to calm her best. It doesn’t matter that none of this is real, because that’s the last thing on Bea’s mind; all that matters is Ava, ridding her mouth of its pout, smoothing her furrowed brow, easing her anxieties.

“Oh,” Ava breathes out. “Really?”

Beatrice smiles at this. “Of course,” she says. “You are my only priority.”

She doesn’t cushion the words or detract from their meaning with a reminder about their mission; she lets it sit as-is, this idea of dedication, of devotion without manufacturing. It has nothing to do with the mission, that’s the truth, and everything to do with the walls surrounding Beatrice’s heart - not like they’ve shattered, but like Ava’s learned to phase through them, too, without leaving a single scar in her wake.

Ava’s eyes drop to her lips. Her hands curl around the fabric of Beatrice’s shirt, bunched at her waist. Beatrice isn’t used to signs - only those given to her by the otherworldly, rather than the human - but she catches on an inhale, the moment turning over quietly, an offering of something greater.

Her warm brown eyes, her light dusting of freckles, her hair pulled back in a bun - Ava’s memorized it all, the edge of her jaw and the curve of her neck and the strong lines of her shoulders - she remembers Father Vincent (that fucking traitor) trying to get her to comprehend the stories of the earlier Warrior Nuns and their battles, showing her depictions of their holiness in art, their halos and swords and crosses, and not a single one of them stuck in her brain as heavily as Beatrice standing in front of her, more divine than any god.

“Bea,” she whispers unsteadily, “I might kiss you. If you don’t push me away.”

But Beatrice can’t. Even as her face falls in realization, as her muscles tense in preparation, as the threat of every broken vow dangles overhead, she can’t drop her hands, she can’t take the step backwards, can’t do anything but be exactly as she is.

And Ava leans in - the most dangerous of motions - and lets their lips brush in the softest kiss she can muster; something of worship, something of surrender. Beatrice doesn’t move, stunned into stillness; Ava lingers as long as she allows herself, knowing it’s what she should’ve expected, knowing she can’t have more, knowing she shouldn't have wanted it in the first place–

Until Beatrice spreads her fingers against Ava’s jaw, parts her own lips, and kisses her back.

For a moment, Ava thinks she’s hallucinating it. Thinks she wants it so bad she’s imagining what it could be, were they able to have it without regret, without destruction. And then Beatrice makes the tiniest noise of surprise - like she’s shocked by her own response to the situation - and one of Ava’s hands finds its way to Bea’s neck, where her heartbeat is thrumming wildly in her veins, proof of a feeling she swore she’d stow away for as long as she lived.

Once, twice, three times; Ava catches her bottom lip between her own, and Beatrice tugs her just the slightest bit closer, an unmistakable act of desire.

Beatrice doesn’t open her eyes when they pull apart, foreheads resting together, and Ava knows they only have moments before the consequences descend rapidly upon them. She’s been better, you know, about her thoughtlessness, her recklessness, her impulses - and this wasn’t one of them. This was an inevitability, finally brought out into the light.

She has to say something before Beatrice comes to her own conclusions. She’s still a nun. They have an actual mission that they can’t jeopardize. They need to grow into each other, not apart, and she can’t let Bea lose herself - discover herself anew - at such an integral time.

“People,” Ava manages, “will get…suspicious. If they never - if we’re not…affectionate. Or something.”

It’s the best she can come up with under the circumstances, and it’s fucking awful. They’re completely alone upstairs, no audience to put on a show for; there’s no reason it had to be that moment for anything other than desperate, aching tenderness.

Beatrice breathes in steadily, finally dropping her hands from Ava’s face. She says softly, “Of course,” and blinks away from Ava’s stare. It’s easy for her to revert to the formulaic, despite the fact that the reality is getting harder and harder to deny. “We’re playing these roles all day, every day. Mother Superion…she said she understood. If there were lines that needed crossing.”

“Exactly,” Ava agrees, both of them lying through their teeth, though Beatrice is possibly pushing hers through twenty layers of guilt, shame, and repression as well. “Uh, so…if the opportunity arises, we’re now prepared.”

“And what kind of opportunity results in a kiss?” Beatrice asks.

“Mistletoe,” Ava says wisely.

Despite the precariousness of the situation, Beatrice finds herself amused. “It’s July.”

“But it won’t always be,” Ava says, and turns for the stairs. “Sorry for the interruption, babe.”

And maybe this is the first step: Beatrice, so gently, so hesitantly, stopping her and asking, “Ava. Why now?”

Oh, why now, why now; the truth is that Ava’s spent the past few weeks with a backlog of missed opportunities, moments where Bea smiled just a little too beautifully for her mouth to be left alone for it. But she can’t say that, can’t tell her it has nothing to do with the act and everything to do with Beatrice herself, can’t say I think I love you, and I so badly wish this life was ours.

“I don’t know,” Ava says vaguely, one hand resting on the railing. She’s holding back; head tilted down, hair slightly mussed and covering her cheek. “It just…felt right, I guess. I don’t know.”

No, Beatrice thinks; no, I think you’re understanding perfectly. It’s me who’s falling behind.

Of course, it was never going to be just one kiss.

Especially not when Beatrice comes downstairs, sits at the bar and says in perfect German, "I'd like a glass of wine."

Hans stares at her, aghast. "You?" he says, having never seen her drink.

“Me,” Beatrice affirms, rapping two of her knuckles against the top of the counter in a steady, rhythmic motion; if he didn’t know better, he’d think it were some kind of anxious tick. “White, please. Your decision on the specifics.”

It’s like something’s bothering her - or something should be bothering her and isn’t, a frustrating inconsistency all on its own - but he knows better than to ask for details, as she’d never give them and he isn’t sure he’d be able to help her anyway. Beatrice has always seemed so distant to him, like she lives around the earth rather than on it, a specter hovering at its edges; someone who has no trouble identifying the bigger picture, but falters when it comes to picking up the brush.

He pours her a glass of Reisling; people who don’t drink alcohol tend to gravitate towards the sweeter, and she, at least, is no different there - her eyebrows raise appreciatively as she takes a sip, and he thinks he even hears a surprised hum.

“Thank you,” she says, and without sparing a glance, asks, “Do you know where Ava’s gone?”

Well, that crosses off one potential source of worry from his list; at least they aren’t fighting. That’d have made things truly awkward. “She’s taking out the recycling,” he says.

“I see.”

And then, because he thinks it’ll make her feel better: “She really loves you, you know.”

Her fingers clench the stem of the wine glass, and for a long moment she doesn’t answer. “How do you know?”

He laughs; he can’t help himself. It’s probably the stupidest question Beatrice has ever asked in her life. How does he know? Well, because Ava’s about as subtle as a brick fucking wall. “Beatrice,” he says, “I think everyone knows.”

Speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear - Ava comes bounding in from the back, face flushed, energy a little more manic than usual, and stops dead in her tracks upon seeing Beatrice at the bar.

“You’re drinking?” Ava says, biting down on the inside of her bottom lip, and then: “Yeah, okay. Yeah. That sounds good.”

She grabs herself a shot glass and reaches for the tequila.

Hans decides that whatever’s going on is far above his pay grade.

It’s getting late and the music is picking up. Beatrice is on her third glass of wine; Ava’s had more shots than should probably be allowed while she’s on the clock. It’s not entirely her fault - there’s a man who keeps buying them for her like he thinks it’ll get him somewhere. Tall, dark-haired and light-eyed, tanned and charming.

That isn’t what Beatrice sees when she looks at him, but it isn’t hard to imagine.

A smaller party finally vacates their table in the corner, and Ava raises a finger to the man, says something in what Beatrice thinks is Czech (“I picked up a lot of languages in the orphanage,” she tells Beatrice once; “I can only speak a few of them fluently, but I at least know the basics”) before grabbing a dishrag and heading over to clean it. He turns to watch her appreciatively; Beatrice doesn’t miss the way his eyes follow the curves of her hips as she bends over, unabashedly stopping at her ass–

Beatrice could easily snap his neck. She heavily considers it.

Ultimately, she’s forced to admit that appreciating Ava’s assets isn’t exactly an excusable offense for murder.

“Ava,” she calls over the noise as Ava finishes up, tucking the rag into her apron, and Ava’s head snaps to her automatically. It’s almost precious how her expression lights up at the mere sound of Bea’s voice, as if it’s something she’s attuned to and is always listening for.

She pushes her way through the crowd and accidentally shoves some guy into his friend in her haste, their beers spilling over the floor. “Yeah?” she asks breathlessly upon arrival, standing in front of Beatrice like she’s waiting to receive a good grade for attendance.

Beatrice spares a glance to her left, deliberately locking eyes with the man who’d been ogling Ava, and holds his gaze for a split second - features firm, expression passively challenging - before catching Ava’s chin between her thumb and index.

Ava’s eyes widen at the gesture; her tongue darts out automatically to wet her lips. There’s a rosiness to her cheeks that wasn’t there previously, and her hands come to rest on Bea’s thighs as she steps between them.

“Um,” she says, pupils taking up far too much of her irises for her anticipation to be fake.

To Hell with it, Beatrice thinks, and sends herself there in a handbasket; to Hell with it, Beatrice thinks, and kisses her.

She isn’t drunk, but she’s something; something with teeth and claws and rage, heat of July boiling where her heart should be, blooming underneath her skin. Something monstrous and devouring and unholy; something that wants and takes and feels pleasure doing it. She’s everything she’s always been warned she was, and she’s finally enjoying every second.

(The guilt, she’s beginning to reckon with herself, can come later. The confessions can come later. The atonement can come later.)

But Ava moans into her mouth, fingertips digging into her thighs, and kisses her roughly back. She is drunk, and she has no qualms about taking Beatrice’s bottom lip into her mouth and sucking, about scraping it with her teeth, about pushing closer and closer until Beatrice thinks she’s trying to phase inside of her.

Beatrice breaks away, light-headed and hot, flushed to the tips of her ears. Ava’s eyes are so dark she swears they’re where the stars go when in need of a break from the sun. They’re both panting heavily, and Ava chases her mouth, kisses her again. Just once.

Beatrice says, “As you put it earlier, he was hitting on you.”

“I know,” Ava replies, dazed and wholly unconcerned. “But I was getting free drinks out of it.”

“Should I not have done that?” Beatrice says, knowing the answer is yes. Knowing it should be.

“No,” Ava murmurs, lips red and swollen. God, she’s beautiful like this, disheveled and dismantled, a spool of thread coming undone in Beatrice’s hands. “You should have. You should always do that.”

Music thrums against the base of Beatrice’s skull; the room smells close and heady, a byproduct of the bad decisions taking place inside of it. Beatrice has always had power, but never this kind, and she finds she likes it just a little too much - likes the heat of Ava’s mouth, the furious grip of her fingers, the strip of skin between her crop top and her belt that begs Beatrice to touch it.

Beatrice says, “You’re drunk.”

Ava says, “That doesn’t change anything.” And then: “I want you to kiss me again.”

There are moments in life when you realize you’ve started something that cannot be stopped; nevermind cracks in dams, false gods tumbling from their graves - no, this is a deadly fault line beneath a city, grinding and grating its teeth against foundations of metal until it’s all grainy enough to swallow. Resistance be damned (just as Beatrice knows she is).

“I think we’ve put on enough of a show,” Beatrice says, and nods to the dejected man waiting with his wallet out. “It looks like he’s finally closing his tab.”

Ava blinks, eyelashes fluttering as if awakening from a trance. “Right,” she says, shaking her head to clear it. “Right. Right. I’m working. We work here.”

“We do.”

“Okay,” she says, more to herself than Beatrice, and turns away. “Okay.”

Forgive me, Father, Beatrice shuts her eyes and apologizes - tries to - but licks her lips and tastes Ava’s peach lipgloss, feels the bass in every pore of her body, and presses the heel of her hand to her forehead as the thought slips away like a loose thread. Fuck.

Ava figured out long ago that Beatrice couldn’t actually resist her. In the moment, perhaps, but not at its ultimate conclusion; there’d be a sigh and a reluctant acceptance, whose tone was mostly for show.

But she hadn’t counted on being worse. She hadn’t counted on her neediness, how it felt like she’d die if she couldn’t say yes, Beatrice, I’ll give you anything you want. She’s spent her entire life selfish and unfulfilled, only to realize that nothing else - nothing - gives her the satisfaction of Beatrice’s approval, of her fiercely prideful stare and tightly-wound smile, the word ‘good’ falling from her lips in a single devastatingly sexy syllable.

She cashes out the wrong tab, numbers meaningless as they flash across the screen. She rubs her thighs together, feels how wet she is between them. She imagines Beatrice taking her home, making her ride her fingers until she comes. Imagines Beatrice calling her good.

“Sorry,” Ava says when the customer points out her mistake.

Sorry, she wants to say, I’m thinking about taking orders. I’m thinking about getting on my knees. I’m thinking about begging, I’m thinking about edging, I’m thinking about being so, so good

Beatrice is watching her. She digs her nails into her palms until they bleed, cuts healing over seconds later.

(If Ava weren’t wasted that night, she wouldn’t have been able to sleep at all. Not with Beatrice’s body burning beside hers in the dark, so easy to reach out and touch and corrupt.

She fucks herself in the shower - cold - to resist the temptation. If Beatrice notices she takes longer than usual, or that there’s more hot water left than there should be, she doesn’t say anything about it.

Goodnight, Ava, Beatrice says, tucking her beneath the blankets.

For the first time in her life, Ava feels sinful, and it’s delicious.)

Beatrice doesn’t wake her the next morning, despite the fact that they’re supposed to train.

It’s nine when Ava finds her sitting at the kitchen table, mug of warm tea in her hands and gaze focused distantly on the patterns of the backsplash.

Ava hovers in the doorway, wearing sleep shorts and Beatrice’s shirt, wondering if they’d taken it too far. But Beatrice initiated it, Ava keeps arguing with herself, fingers playing with the hem of the Henley; she didn’t like you being hit on, you’re hers the way she’s yours, you were at work where all bets are off, you agreed

“Bea,” Ava says, announcing her presence, even though she’s been standing there for five minutes.

Beatrice starts, glancing over to her. “Oh, Ava,” she says, hands curling tighter around the porcelain. “Good morning. There’s water and aspirin on the counter”–she nods to the glass sitting beside the stove–“and I bought some strawberries for you. They’re in the sink.”

I love you, Beatrice is telling her, and she doesn’t even know she’s saying it.

“Are you okay?” Ava asks, approaching the empty chair across from her.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” Beatrice admits, and it’s a struggle; one she’s clearly been having for quite some time now. “I can only handle so much at once. My commitment to our cause and my vows, preparing you for Adriel, keeping ourselves hidden–”

“‘Lord, give me the strength or whatever to accept the things I cannot change’?” Ava quotes poorly, earning a wry smile from Beatrice.

“Something like that,” Bea says, looking down at her hands, their calluses and lines, trying to remember what her skin was like before she made an armor of it. “There’s a lot about myself I’ve spent my life wishing I could change.”

“And now?” Ava says.

“Now,” Beatrice says slowly, “I don’t believe you’d like it. If I did.”

Ava knows exactly what Beatrice is talking about. Knows Bea’s spent her life trying to atone for the parental love she’s never received, as if it were in any way her own fault. Knows she’s worked herself to the bone - to the marrow - to the soul searching for a path to perfection; to a world where she loved the right people, said the right things, became somehow worthy.

“You’re right,” Ava says, wanting so badly to kiss her but recognizing the poignancy of the moment. “I love you as you are. Beatrice, you’re my…” She rolls the term around in her mouth, but has nothing to replace it with. “...Best friend. ”

“I know,” Beatrice responds, a delicate pink blooming amongst her freckles. “And I’m trying to…see myself as you see me, I suppose.” She finally lifts her eyes, and the unbridled openness of them nearly takes Ava’s breath away. “You’re so…free, even though you carry such great burdens. You know who you are and what you want, and although it’s something I’ve often berated you for, I…admire the certainty and confidence it takes to go after it. I’m not like that. I’ve never been like that.”

Ava asks, “What do you want, Beatrice?”

Tell me and I’ll give it to you. Tell me and I’ll build you a home there. Tell me and I’ll rearrange the universe to make it all fit, angels and demons be damned. Tell me it’s me. Me. Me.

Silence passes like a car on the street outside. Beatrice hums thoughtfully, raising her mug to her mouth.

“Yes,” she says vaguely. “I believe that’s the correct question.”

“I know we don’t have the time for your thirty-mile warmup run,” Ava says after, “but we can at least practice sparring.”

A strange request from a girl with a hangover, Beatrice seems to think, but she’ll never refuse an opportunity to train. It clears her head, gives her a purpose with a defined benchmark. She can revert to the analytical, focus on Ava’s form rather than her mouth, correct her carefully without ulterior motives.

She needs this, Ava understands; needs her moments of simplicity and precision, where she can concentrate on the basics, the uncomplicated nature of combat. There’s nothing for her to question here, no room for heart and improvisation.

Until she’s pinning Ava to the floor, wrists gathered tightly in one of Beatrice’s hands, Beatrice’s weight pressing solidly against her pelvis.

“Shit,” Ava says, a little too bright-eyed for the situation.

“Can you take this seriously, please?” Beatrice asks.

“Beatrice,” Ava says, “I’ve literally never been more serious about anything in my life.”

“You’re not helping.”

“I think I am,” Ava says throatily, shifting underneath her like a brat. “I’m helping you answer your question.”

Bea’s grip tightens; something dark blossoms from her pupils. Line of her mouth thin, other hand wrapping around Ava’s throat; Ava inhales abruptly, expression shifting sharp. Hungry, wanton.

“An answer to my question,” Beatrice murmurs, “is of no use to me if you’re dead.”

“I’ll be good,” Ava whispers breathlessly; Heaven is real, and it’s right here, half-choked out beneath Beatrice’s strong, nimble fingers. “I’ll be good.”

Beatrice releases her and helps lift her to her feet in a single, smooth motion that accentuates the muscles of her arms, which leaves Ava’s mouth just a little dry. But their following fight is the best they’ve ever had, and the closest Ava’s ever come to winning.

And Beatrice wipes the sweat from Ava’s upper lip and says, “Good.”

Ava nearly comes right there.

(Years from now, Ava will look back and happily blame Beatrice for everything.

You’re the one that started this, Beatrice will point out, stretched out next to her in bed. You told him we were dating, you kissed me, you–

Ava will slap her palm over Beatrice’s mouth lovingly and say, Yeah, but I’m horny, and you should have known better. Where were the ground rules, Beatrice? Where were the lines?

Beatrice will laugh and say, Darling, we never actually drew any.

And, well, she isn’t wrong about that. If Ava’s being honest, she’s getting used to kissing Beatrice at work, making habits of hellos and goodbyes and just because I want to. They get hit on less and less as the days pass - people know them now, enough to warn their friends away, enough to stop passerby from the embarrassment of rejection - and their relationship relies less on conscious consideration and more on natural instinct.

Since their conversation the previous weekend and sparring match, Ava hasn’t pushed her any further, instead letting Beatrice set the pace and level of intimacy. And only at work. Always, always only at work.

They’re still tactile at home - spooning in bed, curling up together on the couch - but no matter how badly Ava wants to, her hands remain in entirely appropriate places, as does her mouth.

Mostly.

Sometimes, she admits, she’s so overcome with love that she can’t help but kiss Beatrice goodnight.)

Camila checks in on Wednesday, and Beatrice gets straight down to business, asking for any new information and updates, offering nothing of herself. Camila gives her the brief rundown: Adriel’s social media presence is growing, after creating a series of manufactured incidents he’s citing as miracles. Gaining followers and believers.

There’s nothing much to do about that at the moment, so Camila puts her on speaker and asks, “How’s it going with you two?”

Beatrice doesn’t speak. Camila looks at Mother Superion. Mother Superion looks at her.

There’s a sudden rustling as a new voice takes over the call. “Hey!” Ava says cheerfully, and they both hear her hissing at Beatrice to sit and relax, Jesus Christ. Camila handles the sign of the cross for her. “We’re good. All good over here on the Swiss front. Nothing to report.”

“No?” Camila says dubiously. “Is Beatrice alright?”

She’s fine,” Ava says. “She had to go take care of something. But if she were here, she’d tell you all about how much better I’ve gotten, and how I almost managed to beat her in a fight. And we’re going to start practicing running over water!”

“Sounds fun,” Camila says. Mother Superion waves a hand, as if telling her to get to the good stuff; I know, Camila mouths. “How’s the bar? Is everyone still buying your cover story?”

Yeah, so, maybe Beatrice and Ava’s will-they-won’t-they sacrilegious love affair is their only entertaining break from the oncoming apocalypse at the moment, and they’re more invested than they’re letting on.

The bar?” Ava repeats, voice half an octave higher; she’s the worst liar of them all. “It’s great. Yeah, um, they’re still buying it. I’ve stopped being hit on, mostly, after Beatrice–” She cuts herself off suddenly. “I mean, after Beatrice…threatened them. You know, chivalry or whatever. Definitely not dead.”

They’ve started taking bets, too. Mother Superion gave them until the end of August; Lilith said she’d find a way to throw herself back into Hell if she even had to think about it.

“Well, isn’t that nice of her,” Camila says. “You’re lucky to have her.”

Isn’t that the truth,” Ava says. “Anyway, she looks kinda like she’s about to throw up, so I’ve gotta go deal with that.”

Camila gives them another week.

“We are praying for you, as always,” Camila says.

Same,” Ava says, very obviously distracted. “Well, Bea is, probably. I’m thinking about you, though. Deeply, and with affection. Anyway. Bye!”

And she hangs up.

Mother Superion sighs. “I think you’re going to win,” she says, tapping her fingers against her book. “I thought Beatrice was stronger than this.”

“Your faith is admirable,” Camila says, gloating viciously, and Mother Superion nearly smacks her with her cane.

Beatrice gets unofficially promoted at the start of week four, but that isn’t the only change.

She’s already at work by the time Ava arrives, looking over a series of documents Ava doesn’t recognize, pencil scratching methodically. Despite owning a tablet and a laptop, she prefers the physical sensation of writing, says it protects her eyes from blue-screen light. (“I think you’d look hot with glasses,” Ava’d said, and watched as Beatrice read the same paragraph in her book eight times after.)

Her hair is up in its usual bun, a few loose strands carefully framing her face. Olive-green shirt, buttoned all the way to the top; loose black slacks. Ava drops unceremoniously beside her, slips an arm around her shoulders and says, “Hi, babe.”

“Hello,” Beatrice says, tilting her head automatically for a kiss; soft and sweet and short - too short, always - and Ava follows as she makes the move to pull away, fingers curling against her cheek, and Beatrice smiles against her mouth.

“Ava!” Hans calls. “Stop making out with your boss! You’re late!”

Ava looks behind her in bewilderment, meets Hans’ wide grin; his words trickle through slowly, and Ava turns back to Beatrice, jaw falling open. “You got promoted?!”

“Yes,” Beatrice confirms sheepishly, gesturing to her papers. “I’m looking over the updated contact now.”

“Oh my God, Bea,” Ava says, smacking her lips loudly against Beatrice’s cheek. “You’re building up a resume. Damn, Sister."

Beatrice murmurs, “Yes, because this will be so useful to me in the OCS.”

Ava leans back, takes her in with a strange expression. “You know, it’s kinda hot,” she says lowly, nearly purring. “Dating my boss.”

Beatrice smirks and says, “Wait until your performance review.”

Oh, what an all-consuming, absolutely exquisite idea; the rest of Ava’s shift passes in a blur with that exact concept simmering in the forefront of her mind. The only interruption - however brief - is the first mention she hears of Adriel from the locals, a smattering of them gathered around someone’s phone and staring at a video. She thinks some kind of argument breaks out with the entrance of a tall blond man, but she isn’t paying enough attention to grasp the finer details.

It was always building to this; it was only a matter of time. She accepts the things she cannot change (yet) and goes back to imagining what it’d feel like to receive a perfect evaluation from her boss.

The change goes through officially on Wednesday, and Adriel is everywhere. Pamphlets are being distributed with his face; he’s the topic of more than one conversation. And it’s setting Beatrice on edge - sending her straight over, dangling by the tips of her fingers, duty beginning to claw at her back, tug at her ankles. And that just won’t do.

Ava presses a kiss directly between her furrowed brows and murmurs, “Beatrice. The plan is still the same. It’s okay.”

She isn’t skirting her responsibilities - she’s still fully prepared to beat Adriel’s ass into oblivion - but with her attention so fully preoccupied, she’s less restless than she was, less eager to throw herself into half-baked solutions.

The worry etched into Beatrice’s face softens. “I know,” she says, mollified, leaning into Ava’s touch. “You’re right, of course. I know.”

But at the end of the day, she just wants to go home, doubt beginning to cloud her judgment - of herself, of her mission, of her priorities. Whereas at the end of Ava’s day, she just wants Beatrice. And there’s only one sure way to reach that goal.

“No way,” Ava says, looping her arms around Bea’s neck, a similar pressure reaching Ava’s lower back only seconds later. “You got promoted. We’re celebrating!”

“Celebrating?” Beatrice repeats hesitantly, as though she’s never participated in one. "And what does that entail, exactly?"

"Hans!" Ava calls, spinning in Beatrice’s embrace until her back hits Bea’s chest, Bea’s hands linked around her stomach. "Line 'em up for me and my girl!"

“Line what up?” Beatrice says into her ear, but follows obediently as Ava drags her to the bar, hands entwined.

“Shots,” Ava says, and shouts something in German to Hans that Beatrice doesn’t quite catch.

“I’ve only ever had wine,” Beatrice says. “Can’t I stick to that?”

“Nope,” Ava says, popping the ‘p’. “I’m getting you drunk for the first time, babe. One more of your firsts to add to my growing collection.”

They’ve come a far distance in a relatively short time, made all the more apparent by the way Beatrice merely rolls her eyes at Ava’s joke, a small smile pulling at her lips. Hans slides two glasses over to them with a semi-translucent liquid that smells vaguely of lemons and winks.

“Trust me,” Ava says, pushing one into Beatrice’s hand. “Cheers!”

(Trust me, Ava says, as though Beatrice wouldn’t follow her directly into Hell; as though she isn't doing that currently.)

Beatrice sips more slowly than she’s supposed to, but finds the taste unexpectedly pleasant; Ava’s watching her reaction with an appreciative stare, eyes focused intensely on her lips. And Beatrice realizes that perhaps - not for the first time - Ava’s motivations are not entirely well-hidden.

Ava orders them another, and another, and another; she takes off her cardigan, and Beatrice’s gaze lingers a little too long on her cleavage. Bea follows suit, removing her sweatshirt, and Ava finds the top few buttons of her shirt undone; embarrassingly, fittingly, Ava’s turned on solely by the glimpse of her collarbone, of all the skin she could kiss if only Beatrice would let her.

She signals Hans for one more. One of Beatrice’s hands has found its way to her hip, thumb brushing the exposed skin beneath her crop top, and Ava shivers.

Forgive me, Father, or whatever, Ava thinks as she watches Beatrice slam back another shot, but I sure as fuck am sinning. And I’m making your best nun do it too. My bad.

She’s pretty sure that’s how it goes.

“Dance with me,” Ava says, fingers tugging at Beatrice’s shirt.

Beatrice says, “Okay," in a tone that suggests she'd do anything Ava wanted for the rest of their lives.

How they end up with their hips pressed together, Bea’s hands dangerously low on her back, Ava’s arms resting against her shoulders - well, they’re six-seven-nine shots in, and the bass is thumping around her skull, leaving little room for the tension she’d been carrying earlier. And there’s so much skin.

Ava is stunning. Beatrice has always known this about her, try as she might to ignore it.

She moves like music is in her blood, with the abandon of someone who is just happy to be alive, regardless of how she looks as she does it. Beatrice thinks nobody has ever lived like Ava, with a reckless appreciation for all the beauty she’d been cruelly starved from, where every second spent around her is like being dragged into the sun. And she makes Beatrice appreciate it, too. Makes Beatrice see all the things she’s been depriving herself of and question why, if it was worth it, if it was deserved.

Ava in her tight black halter top, cut above her navel. Ava with her hair tousled and her smile like an arrow. Ava with every inch of her body molded into Beatrice’s, begging to be kissed.

“You know,” Beatrice says, “you’re not very subtle.”

“I know,” Ava breathes out, fingertips digging into Beatrice’s shoulders. Eyes hooded and trained on Beatrice’s mouth. “I know. I can’t help it.” Her lips ghost Bea’s; she’s actually trembling as she tries to hold on to a semblance of self-control. “Beatrice–”

Beatrice twines her fingers through the hair at the base of Ava’s neck, tugs her head back, and slants their mouth together; she steals the last of Ava’s sudden inhale, feels Ava’s grip tighten around the fabric of her shirt, and there’s something addicting about knowing explicitly what she’s doing to Ava - how she’s making her shake and whine and ache for more, tongue slipping across her bottom lip, delving into the hot and wet of her mouth - and then Ava forces a thigh between her legs, presses her back against the bar, and Beatrice moans.

Ava rocks against Beatrice’s thigh, hidden by the chaos of the crowd. Beatrice scrapes her teeth against Ava’s lip and bites down hard enough to leave a mark, feels herself burn, slick and empty, as Ava writhes.

Ava says, “Beatrice,” chest heaving, lips swollen and red. “Beatrice.” Heartbeat smashing through her chest. “We have to go. We have to go.

Her meaning is clear. Beatrice doesn’t hesitate to follow.

(Stumbling home is easier said than done. Ava keeps stopping to kiss her, as if she’s afraid Beatrice will forget what they’re going home to do. As if Beatrice could. As if she didn’t have the proof like a forest fire licking up her veins; as if she weren’t currently pushing God as far away from herself as she could manage.

Ava laces their fingers together, stroking her thumb along the heel of Beatrice’s hand in a deliberately sensual motion. When Beatrice looks at her, she’s biting her lip, and her desire is palpable, sinking into the hot summer air.

Beatrice has never felt more alive.)

“I need to kiss you,” Ava whispers, barely even waiting to shut the door behind her. “Please. Please.

In the dark entryway of their apartment, Beatrice is living a different life. One where she does shots at the bar she works at with her girlfriend, where they share a bathroom and a kitchen and a bed, where she puts her hair up every morning and wears plain clothes and doesn’t kill people for a secret sect of a religious order. One where the love she’s tried so desperately to work out of herself - smooth over like wrinkles in a dress - is peeking out from her edges, wallpaper peeling back to reveal what’s underneath. One where the shame grows less and less, loses power in the face of Ava’s laughter and insistent hands.

“So kiss me,” Beatrice says, and Ava nearly cries with relief, eager mouth finding Beatrice’s in the dark. And Beatrice finally has an answer to her question.

What she wants is more.

Maybe it’s the alcohol; maybe it’s the years and years of repression, the unraveling of her own fear and guilt and humiliation, the recognition of what it’s turned her into: someone who not only had to pretend that the love wasn’t there, but that she couldn’t even feel it to begin with. And that - the concept of lovelessness - cannot be God’s plan.

Whatever she’s been doing, she’s been doing it wrong, and that’s the hardest thing for her to admit of all.

She lifts a hand to Ava’s jaw, fingers curling behind her ear, and kisses her back. Not the same soft thing they’ve been mostly contained to - the push-pull, breath on a dandelion, ripples across water - but something with unmistakable want behind it, her lips parting, her hips sliding against Ava’s - Ava lets out the most delicious gasp against her mouth, stuck on the inhale, and somewhere the bricks are crumbling, somewhere the tower walls are finally becoming dust.

Ava tugs her closer on instinct, and they both stumble backwards due to Bea’s drunken unsteadiness; Ava’s back hits the door, Bea’s palm hits the wood beside her, and none of this deters them from each other’s mouths at all, only makes them hungrier - what’s the phrase - find what you love and let it break your vows, let it love you back, let it swallow you completely.

She tastes like lemon and sugar, and her tongue darts out, slips across Bea’s bottom lip; it’s so natural with Ava, so right to let her in, let her touch and take what she wants as if it all belongs to her anyway; and it does, Beatrice realizes with a jolt. She does belong to Ava, and not in the same way she believes she’s bound to God; her bond with God has never been this powerful, never made her this complete. Her soul extends its hands and reaches for Ava’s; have my body, have my blood, have everything that has ever been deemed holy and human. It’s yours. Yours. Yours.

Ava works her fingers through Beatrice’s hair tie, tugging it out, wraps her hands in Beatrice’s hair. The slip of skin beneath the hem of Ava’s halter top is begging her to touch it, and her two middle fingers skate across Ava’s hip, nails scratching lightly.

They break momentarily apart; Ava rests her fingers beneath Bea's jaw, forcing their eyes to meet; she says, "Beatrice," drenched in lust and reverence. “This isn't because of the mission. It's never been because of the mission. I know that’s what we told ourselves, but–" she breaks off, and then, plainly, without poetry or wine or prayer: "I want you. I want you so bad I swear I'm like, alive for it. I think you’re beautiful.”

And something breaks: like a bone, like a fast, like a promise. She’s spent so long doing everything she could to be wanted - to be loved - to be accepted, and all for the wrong people. For all the wrong love.

Beatrice murmurs, “I wish I’d found you sooner,” and presses her lips to Ava’s. There is so much to say and so few ways to say it; she takes the words in her mouth like a communion, an offer of loyalty and sacrifice, and - in a simple, dazzling sentiment - says, “I love you.”

“I love you,” Ava says, but her laugh is watery. “I met you at exactly the right time.”

Ava takes Beatrice’s sweater off, fingers working the buttons of her shirt. Under normal circumstances, Beatrice would never leave her clothes scattered across the floor, but the line from the front door to the bed is the most lovely trail she’s ever left: better than dripping blood, than dragging feet. Ava’s cardigan, Ava’s shirt, Beatrice’s pants, the backs of her knees hitting the edge of the mattress, Ava towering over her with the halo glimmering from deep inside of her irises, light glowing from her back.

“You’re beautiful,” Ava whispers again, eyes tracing all the skin she’s only gathered glimpses of, Bea’s collarbone, down her sternum, her stomach, her hips - and then Ava sucks her bottom lip into her mouth, biting down. “Fuck,” she says. “No. Bea - you’re hot.

And Beatrice laughs, like something out of a dream. “Please,” she says, delightfully embarrassed. Losing her inhibitions, she lets her hands spread against the sides of Ava’s ribcage, one index finger working under the strap of her bra. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Beatrice, seriously,” Ava says, comically impressed. “You have a six pack.

“It’s simply a byproduct of my training,” Beatrice says. “I must remain in top form at all times.”

“Well, then,” Ava says, grinning like the devil, “I look forward to reaping the benefits of your top form,” and she covers Beatrice’s hands with her own - and then, reaching behind her, unclasps her bra. Bea’s smile falls, lungs holding her breath hostage as the straps slide down her arms, and then that too is on the floor.

Ava takes her hands again, guides them up, covering her breasts; her skin is soft and smooth for the amount of war it’s lived through, and Beatrice can barely think any further, let alone manage a retort. There’s a playful, dangerous gleam in Ava’s eye; Beatrice’s reactions aren’t anything but honest, starstruck but in need of a bigger star, and Ava eats it up. She won’t lie: there’s a power that comes from someone loving you so hard they break their world for it, an intimate ritual of destruction and re-creation with you burning at its center.

But Beatrice has always been a quick study, and when she presses her open mouth against collarbone, kissing slowly, sensually, Ava gasps, tangles her fingers in Bea’s hair, tempts her down, lower; Beatrice obliges, lips closing around her nipple, and Ava lets out a stream of curses - oh fuck Bea oh fuckfuckfuck - which only emboldens her further. Her hands start to wander. Trace the line of Ava’s spine, the indents of her hips, fingers dipping under the band of her underwear and sliding them off. Ava’s breath picks up noticeably, and Beatrice murmurs, “Lie down. Let me look at you.”

“Fuck,” Ava says again, but does as she’s told, guided by Bea’s strong grip. “You better do more than just look.”

But for a moment, Beatrice doesn’t. She lies propped up on her side, taking in every inch of Ava’s body, and then she lifts her right hand, ghosts her fingers over Ava’s jaw, her neck, her collarbone, her breasts, her stomach, her pelvis - where she rests and waits, eyes focused on Ava’s face, the flutter of her eyelashes and tongue between her teeth - until Ava says, “Beatrice. Please.”

Her nails are too long to do anything other than dip her hand between Ava’s thighs and feel how gloriously wet she is, how it’s smeared across her thighs in anticipation, how her hips jerk and her toes curl; Bea's fingers come away drenched, and she slips them into her mouth one at a time, cheeks hollowing.

Ava moans.

If there were anything left inside of Beatrice to snap, that would’ve been the final trigger; but as there isn’t, she only smirks, reaches for Ava’s wrists, pins her to the bed as she kisses her. Ava writhes, impatient and eager, arms straining against Bea’s grasp.

Beatrice,” Ava whines.

“Behave,” Beatrice says sharply, and begins working a path down Ava’s body with her lips. Ava shuts her mouth abruptly; Beatrice finds she likes it, having a dedicated method of control, a way to get Ava to fucking listen to her without fighting back for once, without acting like the brat she usually is.

Beatrice palms her thighs, holds them apart and hovers; she understands the basics of it, and everything else she’ll wait for a reaction. She doesn’t think it’ll require much precision, anyway; Ava’s so wet and needy she coats Beatrice’s tongue after a single lick, hands flying down to the back of her head.

Fuck,” she groans, raspy and guttural. “Fuck, Bea–”

There is so much to worship Beatrice has never understood until now: the arch of Ava’s spine like the architecture of a cathedral, the wetness of her mouth reflecting like stained glass in the weak light, the way her touch sparks heat against Bea’s skin like the flames of votive candles. Ava weaves her fingers through Bea’s hair, canting her hips, a wordless prayer for more.

Her movements begin to grow frantic, grinding against Beatrice’s tongue. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop,” she chants, and Bea wraps her mouth around Ava’s clit and sucks - light and quick - until Ava’s voice becomes nothing but high, breathy moans, Beatrice’s name thrown out like the synonym for God, thighs closing around her ears as she comes.

Her grip loosens on the back of Bea’s head, throwing one of her arms over her face, panting into the crook of her elbow. “Fuck,” she says, again and again. “Fuck, Bea. What the fuck.

“Good?” Bea says, because even with the proof covering her lips, she still wants the validation.

Ava looks down at her, wide-eyed and exasperated. “No, Beatrice,” she deadpans. “No, I obviously didn’t come at all. Yeah, good. Good is an understatement. I thought you took your vows at a young age - when the hell did you learn to do that?”

“Just now,” Beatrice says, a little too pridefully. She’s collecting all the sins tonight. “You’re not exactly quiet about what you enjoy.”

“Shut up,” Ava says. “When I can move again, the only thing that pretty mouth of yours will be saying is my name.”

Beatrice finally sits up, smiling fondly down at the girl she’s rebuilding herself for. “Ava,” she says softly. “You’re stunning.”

Ava’s breathing stumbles in her chest, blood heating up her cheeks. “Shut up,” she says again, endearingly flustered. “I love you.”

“I love you.”

“Now, then,” she continues, pushing herself up onto her elbows, eyes glinting darkly. “My turn.”

In a strange way, Beatrice thinks she should be embarrassed by her desire; how it pools between her thighs, how she gasps when Ava licks herself off of Beatrice’s mouth, how easily Ava sinks a finger inside of her. She’s held herself back for so much of her life - spoke herself sick about sin - but it’s impossible to retain with Ava looking at her like something miraculous, kneeling at the foot of the bed and with Bea’s legs over her shoulders.

Fuck,” Beatrice says, and Ava makes a noise against her clit, causing her hips to jerk; Ava pulls away briefly and says, “It’s so fucking hot when you curse,” voice rough and low and turned on.

Ava,” Beatrice presses, wanting her tongue more than the words coming off of it, and Ava grins before disappearing between her legs again.

It doesn’t take long, of course it doesn’t - she glances down to find Ava watching her, mouth moving insistently, fingers digging into her thighs, and nearly passes out. Ava holds her down as she comes, lets Beatrice ride it out against her lips, her chin, and then–

“You’re mine,” Ava says, running the back of her hand against her mouth in a distinctly filthy way. “And I’m yours. Say it.”

“I’m yours,” Beatrice manages, still panting heavily, and it doesn’t feel sacrilegious in the slightest. After all, there is no holier act than that of devotion, and Ava is already on her knees.

(It’s the first night they trade sleep for far more interesting things: whereas Beatrice has a few remaining holdovers, Ava has absolutely no issue sleeping naked, and she’s determined to make it Beatrice’s problem. She curls herself around Bea and makes terrible jokes and laughs delightfully into the early hours of the morning, hands exploring idly, pressing kisses wherever she wants them. They stay up and talk, as if the burden of the world rests on someone else’s shoulders, and when Ava grows tired, she guides Beatrice’s hand between her legs and makes tiny sounds into the crook of Beatrice’s neck that drive her certifiably fucking insane.

You’re going to be the death of me, Beatrice says helplessly.

No, Ava says. No, I’m going to make sure you live forever.)

They aren’t those people who regret each other in the light.

Beatrice wakes up wrapped around her, just as she usually is, and the room smells like sex. Ava’s still mostly naked, having slipped a pair of underwear on sometime in the night, afraid of ruining the sheets completely.

She’s still breathing deeply, worn-out and exhausted, but considering how she’d barely let Beatrice sleep - Bea thinks she’s allowed to return the favor.

She smoothes her palm over the indents of Ava’s ribs, following the curves of her body to her hip, thumbing the bone - and then she slides her fingers under the band of Ava’s underwear, dips through Ava’s curls, finds her hot and wet. Ava hums in her throat, spreads her legs to give Beatrice better access.

“If you want to come,” Beatrice murmurs, “you can do it yourself.”

She keeps her fingers flat, finds Ava’s clit, lets her grind up against her hand.

Ava’s whines are the most delicious thing she’s ever heard, second only to the way she breathes Beatrice’s name as she comes like it’s the only word in existence.

“Good,” Beatrice says, and Ava takes Beatrice’s cum-soaked fingers into her mouth, as if begging to be told again.

Beatrice is at her usual table that day, rotating her pencil in her hand, gaze far-off and distracted; she bites her lip every now and again, steals glances at Ava behind the bar. Ava pretends not to notice - it’s already hard enough to focus with the memories of the previous night unraveling in her mind like ribbons - until a woman approaches her, taking the seat beside her without an invitation, and then Ava can’t stop staring.

She’s gorgeous; curly black hair, striking cheekbones against dark skin, confidence radiating from her sly smirk. Ava doesn’t need to hear their conversation to understand exactly what’s being said, and her stomach turns uncomfortably, heat racing from her chest to her neck.

“I said on the rocks,” some guy says, and Ava barely hears him.

She drops her spoon, smearing whip cream across the counter, and storms around the bar; she’s seconds away from her third-fourth-tenth jealous meltdown when she hears Beatrice say, “Oh, she’s my girlfriend. That’s why I’ve been staring at her. I find her miraculous.”

“Oh,” the woman says, glancing over and meeting her eyes.

Ava smiles, every trace of anxiety eased. Because now their excuse is true.

Good things never last, but this one will. Ava’s determined to make sure of it.

And that means covering all her bases - even the ones that include difficult conversations. Especially those. It’s not as if either of them are very practiced with relationships, and they’re determined to do it right.

They’re sitting on the couch at home; Ava’s exhausted after spending most the day wanting to be fucked senseless, and Beatrice is just exhausted.

Ava says, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Which part?”

“God,” Ava says. “Your vows. Me.”

Beatrice picks at a loose thread on the blanket covering their legs, deep in thought. “I don’t know,” she sighs, tilts her head back against the cushion, eyelids fluttering shut. “My vows…I’m not a nun any longer. I broke them far too many times to try and take them back.” She pauses. “Not that I’d want to, regardless.”

“You don’t regret it?” Ava says, just to give Beatrice the opportunity to say it aloud, affirm it for herself.

“No,” Beatrice says, lips curling at the corners. She picks her head up. “Ava. How could I?”

“Well,” Ava says lightly, “the halo didn’t reject me or anything, so clearly we didn’t fuck up too badly.”

And Beatrice laughs, reaching for Ava’s hand, tangling their fingers together. “That’s one way of looking at it,” she agrees, amused. “As for you,”–she lifts Ava’s hand to her mouth, pressing a kiss to her knuckles–“everything I said last night is true. I love you. I’ve changed.”

“Yeah?” Ava says, giddy.

“Yes,” Beatrice says, and she returns to an inner depth, a measure of thoughtfulness. “When my parents rejected me for who I loved…the only way I knew how to cope was to make myself unlovable. Make it something I could control. If I bound myself to God, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t loved, because I was loved by the one thing that couldn’t reject me - in theory.” She hums once in her throat. “Depending on who you asked, of course. I didn’t act on my desires; I threw myself into my work, my hobbies, my accomplishments, as if they made me worthy. As if I could replace the parts of myself I hated with parts other people valued.”

This is a catharsis for her; this is a confession that she’ll never need forgiveness for. Ava squeezes her hand and says softly, “Keep going.”

“Well,” Beatrice says, somewhat shyly, “you appeared. Not a single holy thing about you, other than the fact that you had been chosen by the holiest object of all. Selfish, inconsiderate, atheist; it was bewildering. But I couldn’t deny your magnetism; how much bigger you felt than the world I’d been living in. How justified you felt in owing nothing to anyone; you deserved your life, and you deserved your love.”

Listening to Beatrice essentially wax poetic about her is one of the most ethereal experiences of Ava’s life, including when she was literally brought back from the dead. The way she speaks is enthralling - every word so carefully chosen, her meanings precise, not a single syllable wasted.

She continues, “And you loved me.”

“No,” Ava says. “I love you. Present-tense.”

Beatrice smiles wider. “Love me,” she repeats. “When someone loves you - unabashedly, wholly, consumingly - it becomes harder to convince yourself you aren’t worthy of it before your self-loathing becomes too obvious to dismiss. You don’t hate the things I hated. You loved them. They were necessary to you. And every moment I denied them, I felt as if I was letting you down.”

“You’ve never let me down,” Ava tells her passionately. “You’re perfect. You’re beautiful. You’re intelligent, and a badass, and–”

–And Beatrice is laughing, her head thrown back in a display of pure joy Ava’s never seen from her before, and it’s the most gorgeous thing she’s ever witnessed. The Eighth Wonder of the World: Beatrice, shamelessly happy.

“Exactly,” Beatrice says, gazing at her with arrant adoration. “It becomes hard to resist. Someone loving you so thoroughly and completely.”

Ava thinks she might have a heart attack.

“Beatrice,” she says, “I might die. Right now.”

“Why?”

“I’m swooning,” Ava says, burying her face in the crook of Bea’s neck. “Holy shit. Do you hear yourself? When you speak? I spent, like, twelve years of my life literally just watching television, and I’ve never heard something that romantic.”

Beatrice laughs again, heartbeat picking up beneath Ava’s palm, her arms encircling Ava’s waist. “Well,” she says, “it’s only for you, darling. Just you.”

When Ava kisses her, the halo glows so brightly Beatrice swears it gives her wings.

(Okay, not to ruin the moment, but–

–I’m sure you’ll do it anyway–

–I’m extremely turned on.

Of course you are.

Beatrice, Ava whines, you can’t expect me to listen to you talk about how much you love me for twenty minutes and not wind up, like, unbearably horny.

Duly noted, Beatrice says. Would you like me to do something about that?

Yes, Ava says. Yes. Yeah. I would. Definitely.

Hmm, Beatrice says, examining her with a distinctly predatory gaze, and slips her fingers beneath the waistband of Ava’s shorts. She continues: I have a few ideas.

Do them all, Ava wants to say, feeling the heat pool between her thighs. Do me.

She ends up naked, straddling Beatrice’s lap, three of Beatrice’s fingers pumping inside of her as she rocks her hips, mouth attached to Bea’s pulse point; she bites down hard enough to leave a mark, but Beatrice doesn’t complain, only curls her fingers and says, Come.

Ava doesn’t see stars. She sees Beatrice, and that’s infinitely more beautiful.)

The call comes the next evening - of course it does - and after a night of mourning, they’re headed to Madrid, leaving their life behind as though nothing more than a figment of a dream.

And nothing changes. Beatrice has come to her conclusions and made her decisions, and, well, Ava was never in that much conflict to begin with. The only thing left to do is inform Mother Superion, and whatever’s remaining of the OCS.

It’s been awhile since they’ve engaged in a real fight, but Adriel’s followers are everywhere, and they’re watching. Not to mention Father fucking Vincent, who tranqs Beatrice first, probably believing she’d be the harder one to beat in combat.

Which is true. But Ava’s driven by love now, or whatever. She kicks his ass, and her only regret is that Beatrice isn’t awake to watch her. She’d be proud, and probably a little turned on.

By the time they arrive at the safehouse, Beatrice is mostly conscious, though still unsteady on her feet and not completely clear of mind. Her priorities also seem to include coming clean about her newfound devotion - to Ava, rather than to God - because she waves Mother Superion down as if attempting to call a taxi.

“Mother Superion,” Beatrice says, still slurring her words slightly, “we need to…have a talk. I’m not qualified to be a nun any longer.”

Mother Superion rolls her eyes, heaves the heaviest sigh. “Beatrice,” she says, “our numbers have been decimated, and we’re fighting a war we aren’t even sure how to win. At this moment in time, I don’t care what the two of you have done, as long as you’re on our side. It’s not as if our own Warrior Nun is even a believer.

“Hey,” Ava says, affronted, “I believe in stuff. But aren’t we all a little confused at the moment?”

“Only about the finer details,” Camila says. “I still have faith in God.”

“Oh,” Ava says. “Well, yeah, count me out of that club, I guess.”

"Wait," Yasmine says. "Neither of you are actual nuns?"

"I broke my vows," Beatrice says, "and I cannot take them back."

"Yeah, my fault," Ava says, beaming with satisfaction. "She's in love with me."

Beatrice sighs. "Can you try to sound at least somewhat apologetic?" and then looks at Yasmine as if seeing her clearly for the first time. “Who are you, exactly?”

Yasmine opens her mouth to answer, but Ava beats her to the punch. "Oh, my bad," Ava says, clasping her hands together and staring at the ceiling. "Sorry, God, but I think we both know she's meant for me."

Camila says, “By the way, when did this happen?”

Yasmine shuts her mouth.

“Like a week ago,” Ava says. “Kind of. It’s hard to pinpoint, exactly.”

Mother Superion hands Camila a fifty.

(Mother Superion finds Beatrice off to the side, watching their museum heist unfold with a concerned look in her eye. But there’s a softness there, too, a part of Beatrice that seems to have been pulled into the light, an element of acceptance that wasn’t there previously.

Beatrice inclines her head and says, I apologize if I’ve disappointed you, Mother Superion. I tried to change, and I couldn’t. I can only move forward and be as honest with myself and with God as I can.

And Mother Superion says, Beatrice, you do not have to make yourself worthy of love. There is a place for you at our table, whether your vows are intact or not. You are in our hearts, as well as our prayers. We love Ava, do we not? And she is more of a devil than half the demons I’ve faced.

Beatrice smiles. We do, she agrees. Thank you.

And Beatrice turns back to her family, full of a love she’s finally allowing herself to feel.)