Actions

Work Header

Brightest Shade of Starlight

Chapter Text

The knock on the door doesn’t wake Katya. Her eyes snapped open hours ago, long before the sun sent its first beams through the dusty windows of her room. It’s Jinkx who pushes the door open without waiting for a reply from her, and Katya is relieved.

“Rise and shine, my darling! It’s your big day.” Jinkx smiles brightly as she pulls the ratty curtains back, her black dress whirling up dust around her feet. Katya knows the smile isn’t entirely genuine. It’s a day she has both wished for and dreaded for decades. Jinkx knows that too, and Katya can see it in her eyes when she turns around to face the bed where Katya is still sitting underneath the covers with her knees drawn to her chest.

With a small sigh Jinkx comes closer and bends down, pressing a kiss to the crown of Katya’s head. Despite being younger than Katya, Jinkx seems to have come out of the womb already middle-aged. Katya welcomes the air of maternal wisdom today.

“Happy Birthday,” Jinkx says quietly. “Don’t let her wait. You know how she gets.”

“I certainly do,” Katya mumbles with a crooked smile. She pushes her blanket back and swings her legs out of bed as Jinkx closes the door behind her with a creak.   

Her clothes are laid out over the back of the chair at her vanity. The mirror has been cracked for as long as Katya can remember. Katya could have easily fixed it, but she chose to keep it for ambience. It seems stupid now that she has to restrain herself and not be wasteful.

Instead of the usual black dress she has a pair of sturdy trousers that she thinks used to be Alaska’s since she has to roll them up twice, a thick wool sweater Aquaria knitted for her, and a coat Dela patched together from old tablecloths, dyed black with a flick of her wrist and imbued with a charm to keep the rain away.

Her sisters have prepared her for what might be a long journey. Or a short journey. Sasha was the last to go, and she returned after only three days, a chimera in tow. That was a lucky one. Chimeras might be mythical and powerful, but they’re still mindless beasts that are trying to kill you. Keeps the bad conscience at bay. Katya hopes that whatever decides her fate today is as kind to her.

She packed her bag yesterday. They’ve all come by with things for her to take. Sasha with her own notebook full of information about magical creatures and how to catch them. Dela with a novel to keep her entertained on her travels. Jinkx handed her a small bundle wrapped in cloth that, by the smell of it, is filled with cookies. Aquaria gave her a satchel with a variety of potions and tinctures that can do anything from keeping her face moisturized to protecting her from poison. Finally Alaska handed her a large knife, blood-red and the hilt a mess of oozing eyeballs. They remained still and solid in her hand, and Katya is fairly positive they're not real eyes.

“Listen,” Alaska drawled. “I know you like to wave your fingers around and make shit fly through the air, and it's really sad you can't do much of that now. But sometimes it’s really satisfying to stab a bitch.”

The knife is resting in its sheath where Katya strapped it around her thigh on top of her trousers. Her fingers keep reaching for the hilt as she stands in the Great Hall, waiting for Bianca. Everybody else is already there, including a goat that occasionally lets out a confused bleat. If he knew what was about to happen to him, he would be a lot more worried. The only one missing is their eldest sister, but she always likes to make an entrance.

The doors at the end of the hall finally fly open. 

“Sisters!” Bianca’s voice echoes through the room, magically enhanced, as she stalks towards them with determined steps. The goat makes an alarmed noise and tries to scramble away, but he’s tied to a table leg.

“Today marks the beginning of a new life for Yekaterina, the fourth daughter. She has been on this earth for a century, and the gift she has been blessed with requires a sacrifice. Today she shall leave her home and find what will sustain her power.” By the end of her speech Bianca has reached the group. Dela haltingly starts to clap until Jinkx puts one of her hands on Dela’s to make her stop.

“I don’t know why you say the whole thing every time. It’s just us . We know ,” Alaska says into the silence, and Bianca rolls her eyes.

“Because this is a sacred rite of passage in every witch’s life,” she explains. “Now shut up.” She turns her attention towards Katya. “It’s time.”

Katya nods, and tries to swallow down the lump in her throat as she steps up to Bianca behind the table. The goat’s legs are floundering in the air as Bianca raises the poor animal up with a gesture of her hand and sets him down on the table. He stops moving all of a sudden, panic in his eyes, and Katya grimaces, knowing this is Bianca's doing.

"You know, most witches read tea leaves these days," Aquaria interjects.

"Most witches are amateurs ," Bianca barks and gestures towards the goat, her eyes on Katya.

"I'm sorry," she whispers to the goat as she grabs her knife. It's a small consolation that he's not just dying for a divination. Jinkx will make sure they honor every part of his body and let nothing go to waste. 

She makes it as quick as she can. The poor thing bleats in panic for one last time and then collapses on the table before Katya has pulled the knife out from the base of his skull. This was the gruesome part. Now comes the gross part. To kill it she had pushed as hard as she could to make sure the animal didn’t have to suffer. Now the adrenaline is ebbing away, and Katya has to put her back into it to push the knife underneath the ribs and make a cut big enough for her hand.

She’s supposed to keep her eyes closed for this part in order to help her focus, and she’s grateful she doesn't have to watch the warm blood spill out and over her skin. The feeling is bad enough. 

She doesn’t have to linger on it. As soon as her fingers touch the heart, her mind is filled with deep black. Then a bright light is plummeting down, towards earth. Katya feels like she’s burning up. Pain spasms through all her joints at the impact, making her gasp. She’s looking down into the crater at a figure lying in the dust. Its eyes snap open, and stare right back at her. Katya frantically blinks, returning her to the hall, and she jumps back, pulling her hand out of the goat's body. Her chest is rising and falling rapidly, and blood drips onto the black stone floor where her hand is limply hanging at her side.

It’s worse than anything Katya could have imagined.

Hands grab her shoulders, turning her around, and she comes face to face with Bianca. 

“What is it?” she demands to know.

Katya breathes in slowly and deeply. The rest of her sisters are starting to crowd in, curiosity on their faces.

“A fallen star.”

Everyone is silent except for a few gasps. Then Bianca cackles.

“A star! There hasn’t been a fallen star in centuries.” She jabs her elbow into Katya’s side. “You really are a show-off, aren’t you,” she adds with another laugh, and doesn’t wait for Katya’s reply before heading towards the large double doors leading outside. 

Sasha hurries forward, carrying a bowl of water, and sets it down by Katya’s feet. She grabs Katya’s forearm and pulls her to the floor so they’re huddled close together. She takes Katya’s bloody hand and immerses it in the water.

“You don’t have to,” she says just loud enough for Katya to hear. “You’re your own witch.”

“Not for much longer,” Katya replies just as quietly.

“Katya, listen to me.” Sasha’s fingers close around her wrist, making Katya look up from where she’s trying to scrub the blood from underneath her fingernails. “You’re more than what you’re capable of. You get to choose.”

Bianca bellows her name from the door and Katya pulls her hand from the bowl, now completely spotless. Sasha must have helped along with a little magic. Dela gives Katya her bag and she slings it over her head, pulling it into a comfortable position. Then she hugs them one after the other, receiving whispered good luck wishes in return. Alaska puts the knife, now cleaned, back into its sheath on Katya’s thigh. They exchange a nod. Jinkx is the last one in line. She takes Katya’s hands in hers and squeezes.

“It’s going to be alright,” she assures Katya with calm certainty. Kayta knows better than to ask. Jinkx is a clairvoyant, but her visions appear to her in her sleep. They’re hard to distinguish from dreams, and often Jinkx won’t remember all the details. But her confidence helps nonetheless.

*

Katya walks all day, only stopping to drink water and check in with her runestones to make sure she’s walking in the right direction. She doesn’t really need to. There’s a pull in her stomach, her string of fate yanking her towards the star. She hasn’t decided yet what she’ll do once she finds it.

Sasha is right that she could simply pick another creature. But then what would happen to the star who is so clearly calling out to her? Katya doesn’t have to make a decision yet. She can tell that she’s still far away. She’ll figure out what to do when she gets there.

That she needs to do something becomes obvious when she sets up camp for the night. With a snap of her fingers she lights a fire, just big enough to make some tea and keep her warm. She learned to do that before she learned to read, but even this basic magic exhausts her. The backs of her hands look less taut, decidedly wrinkly. 

Katya didn’t think it would be that noticeable right away. She figured she had a few days until she would feel the effects of her innate source of magic being depleted, but her life force is already being drained. Luckily she packed dried fruit and meats, so she doesn’t need to waste any energy on keeping herself fed for a while.

Her dreams are plagued by a dull pain and an underlying current of annoyance. The latter seems to be directed towards a man. That is Katya’s constant state of being, but somehow the feelings don’t feel like hers. She’s feeling them, but they seem a lot more volatile than what comes natural to her. 

She wakes with the birds that loudly greet the rising sun, still feeling as tired as last night and with her body aching from sleeping on the ground. At a nearby stream Katya refills her waterskin and washes her face. She has one of Jinkx's unnaturally filling cookies for breakfast as she sits by the water and watches a blue jay bathe in a shallow pool on top of a rock, chasing away any other bird that comes close. It ignores the tiny flies that dance above it like dust motes in the sun. It seems too early in the year for them.

Spring only arrived a week ago, driving away a thick cover of snow. Even though the air is quickly warming in the sun, Katya’s surroundings are still brown and gray with only the first dots of green peeking out of the ground. At least her birthday isn't in winter. 

When the blue jay has finished its bath, Katya squats down by the rock and tosses her runestones into the air. They land with a small splash, and with a glance she confirms that she needs to keep heading west. For some reason Katya had hoped that maybe today, they would send her east instead. That fate has changed its mind. But she still feels herself being tugged in one direction. She makes sure she’s packed everything up and starts walking, but not as quickly today. The thought of arriving at her destination makes her stomach turn with anxiety. She can take her time; she just has to make sure to not waste her energy on magic.

The next night Katya has the same dream, pain and frustration following her until she wakes up with a start. The steady sound of rain drumming down on the saturated earth doesn’t even let her sleep until the sun rises, somewhere behind the thick grey clouds drooping from the sky, heavy with water. And yet, Katya has to laugh. She’s completely dry, wrapped in her coat. It doesn’t just keep the rain out; the rain simply doesn’t fall where Katya is, leaving her hair and face untouched by the water too. She’s not sure if that was Dela’s intention, or if she just got overzealous with her charm work, as she often does. 

It makes Katya stretch out her morning even more, since she doesn’t have to search for cover. She takes the time to untangle her blonde hair. The humidity has made it frizzy, and Katya braids it over her shoulder. She eats another magical cookie, but today she doesn’t get to watch any birds going about their business. With all the animals hidden from the rain, she feels lonely for the first time since she left home. It’s reason enough to continue her journey. 

She doesn’t even bother with the runestones today. They’d only tell her what she already knows. She is consistently getting closer to the star, still with no idea what to do once she gets there.

She could go the same route as she did with the goat. Put her knife into the poor thing before it understands what’s going on. But then she’d have to carry the dead star back to the palace. By the time they can do the ceremony it might have lost all its power. Katya doesn’t know. One-hundred years of being a witch and nobody told her if that was an option. She didn’t ask either. As her birthday came closer and closer, she did her best to pretend it wouldn’t happen to her. 

Unreasonably, Katya had hoped that by the time it was her turn, they would have come up with a different solution. It’s what Jinkx has been saying for decades, and she’s supposed to be the most powerful of them. But she hasn’t figured anything out yet, and now Katya is stuck with the same thing that every witch before her had to do.

Katya is trudging along when something changes in the late afternoon. She hasn’t sped up, but it feels like she’s quickly getting closer to where she needs to be. Her first instinct is to turn around and go the other way. She doesn’t. But she doesn’t walk further either. Instead she sets up camp, hours before she did the last two days, and this time Katya searches for cover amongst the trees of a small forest, going out of her way to get there. 

She’s not been worried about safety so far. She may only be a short woman travelling by herself, but she has her knife and she has a lot of tricks up her sleeve that she can resort to if it becomes necessary. She’s been avoiding the roads, too, not meeting a single other person in the three days she’s been walking. But now Katya feels like something is coming for her.

As she sits and waits, Katya reaches for Sasha’s book about magical creatures. Her handwriting is small and precise, filling the pages with information collected from all the books she could get her hands on. Creatures and their weaknesses listed neatly, from hydras and phoenixes to kelpies. Katya only flips through the pages, skimming the detailed instructions on how to catch and neutralize them. She slows down when she gets to S. Finally she reaches the entry for Star. 

Be nice

That's all it says. Katya hadn't looked before, for fear of a grizzly description of what she inevitably would have to do. Be fucking nice. She snorts. Even Sasha's extensive research hadn't unearthed anything useful; that's how rare fallen stars are. 

The feeling of something coming closer gets stronger and stronger, and Katya gives up trying to read. She positions herself so that she can look out from the trees in the direction she senses it approaching, but she keeps herself hidden behind some ferns that are brown and a bit dried up but still offer decent cover. Katya was worried she wouldn’t know what to look for, but when it finally appears, she knows.

A unicorn, its silver white coat shining in the dying light, its horn glinting like a dagger. Katya has never seen one before. Nobody can tell how rare they really are since they’re very smart and careful about who they show themselves to. Katya is so taken aback that it takes her a moment to notice the unicorn isn’t alone. On its back is a person, half lying down, with their hands slung around its neck so as not to fall off. All Katya can see is a cascade of golden hair and a robe of shimmery white fabric. 

Something inside her is telling her to get out of her hiding spot and run towards them. Luckily her brain is not completely useless yet, and instead she ducks down deeper so her head doesn’t poke out of the ferns.

It makes no difference. The unicorn is heading straight for her as if it knows she’s there. Maybe it does. As it breaches the woods and reaches Katya’s little campsite, the person on its back pulls themselves up, and Katya scrambles to her feet.

After three days of walking and nothing else, this is going too fast. Katya suddenly finds herself face to face with a unicorn that seems unafraid of her for some reason. Her heart is pounding in her chest as if she’s just run all the way here from the palace, and her stomach is flipping over, tying and untying knots and making her queasy.

“You!” A bright voice makes Katya look up at the person riding the unicorn. She’s met with a round face, large features that aren’t beautiful in the way women are supposed to be beautiful, but Katya’s stomach flips again. Then she really takes in the big dark eyes that are fixed on her, and she can only barely hold back a gasp.

These are the eyes that looked back at her when she had her fingers around the heart of a goat, showing Katya her fate. The star is right in front of her, and she’s a woman, and Katya doesn’t know why but her whole body is vibrating with excitement.

The unicorn nudges its soft nose against Katya’s cheek.

“What?”

The star rolls her eyes. “I asked if you know where I can find a witch.”

Katya stares at her for a moment and then shrieks with hysterical laughter. “You’re looking for a witch. You .”

The star’s face scrunches up with dissatisfaction, and immediately Katya knows she does not enjoy being laughed at.

“Yes, me. So? Do you know of any witches?”

“What do you need a witch for?” Katya evades the question with her own.

“I need her to heal my leg and help me get home.” As she says it she lifts the hem of her dress, revealing a swollen, purple ankle that hangs limply off the unicorn. 

Katya sucks in air through her teeth. Without thinking about it, she steps up to the star, her fingers hovering above her skin, but then pulls her hand back at the last moment. 

“How did this happen?”

“I fell from the sky,” she says casually. “I’m a star.”

Katya breathes a quiet laugh. “If I were you I would be a little more careful with who I offer that information to. Stars are very valuable.”

The star throws her golden hair back over her shoulder and shrugs.

“You’re not going to hurt me,” she says, as if she knows that to be true.

As she says it, Katya is hit with the realization that she’s right. The star is not a slight person, but she still seems fragile, and she’s clearly in need of help. Bianca would say it’s the perfect opportunity to gain her trust. But Katya isn’t like that. She’s by no means free of questionable moral decisions, but she’s not cruel. Katya knows she could never hurt her, never mind trick her into coming home with her to kill her and cut out her heart. She sighs.

“You’re in luck. I am a witch.”

Chapter Text

Except for a surprised Oh! the star seems unaffected by Katya's announcement that she's a witch. It's unnerving. Katya is used to people averting their gaze and even making a wide berth around her as soon as they know. Even people who don't know but are aware of what lives in this world do their best to avoid women traveling by themselves. Katya has befriended plenty of ladies of the night this way. They may not look anything like what the general public expects witches to look like, but they are nonetheless suspicious for being independent women.

The star doesn't know any of that. All she knows is that she needs someone with magic to help her. This level of naivety should be off-putting, would usually be off-putting to Katya, but she's a star. She has only known the night sky, lived far away from anything that could cause her harm. 

If Katya was more of a witch, this is where it all would end. The star went straight to her executioner and rested her head on the chopping block. Her mother's voice rings through Katya's head, telling her she's too soft. She hardly ever said anything else to her.

The unicorn pulls Katya out of her thoughts by slowly folding itself down on the forest floor, lowering the star to eye level with Katya. Without thinking, Katya quickly grabs her arm to help her stand on her good leg. The star gingerly lifts her ankle over the back of the unicorn and with Katya’s help sits down right on layers of leaves, moss, and dirt. She’s whimpering softly with every movement. Katya kneels down in front of her, her fingertips gliding over the hot skin with barely any pressure, but the noises of agony still get louder. 

“Definitely broken,” Katya mutters without looking up. “Should have made a splint days ago.”

“Well, I’m sorry , it’s not my fault these bodies break so easily. I shouldn’t be like this. And the prince was no help at all.”

Katya does look up at that, with a frown. “What prince?”

“A prince, Thomas? Tobias? Whatever, he found me. It was his tacky amulet that knocked me out of the sky. He came to find it and wouldn’t leave even after I gave it to him.” The star is talking now like she’s been waiting for someone to ask. 

“What do you mean, he wouldn’t leave?” Katya doesn’t mean to, but her fingers reach for the hilt of her knife.

The star rolls her eyes. “He was saying that the amulet is to prove he’s the rightful heir to the throne, and that I had it clearly means that I’m supposed to be his queen.” Her face tells the story of just how cumbersome she found the whole thing and Katya bites back a grin. The star carries on, “He said it’s fate.”

Fate. Katya accidentally nudges her knuckle against the broken ankle, and the star shrieks.

“Sorry! I’m so sorry.” Still on her knees, Katya reaches for her bag and pulls out the satchel of potions Aquaria gave her. The glass vials clink together as she rifles through them, quickly scanning the labels. She finally finds the willow bark tincture. The star watches quietly as Katya gets out her metal mug and pours barely more than a sip from her waterskin before carefully letting three drops of the potion fall into it. She makes sure to cork the vial again before replacing it in the bag. She can’t afford to lose it, especially now.

“Here, drink this. It will help with the pain.”

The star takes the mug from her and hesitantly sniffs the mixture, pulling a grimace at the bitter smell. 

“It tastes as bad as it smells, but I promise it helps,” Katya assures her.

She downs it in one gulp and then sticks her tongue out like she's trying to air out the taste. Katya hides her smile by going back to rifling through the contents of her bag. She didn't bring any bandages, they would have been a waste of space if she didn't need them, but she has a shawl that she pulls out now. 

"Oh, it really does help!" The star's surprised voice makes her look up. "That was fast."

Katya grins. "Witch."

As soon as she gets close with the scarf, the star pulls her foot back and winces.

"This is not going to be pleasant, but it will make it better." The star doesn't move and Katya sighs. "You came to me for help, didn't you? Now you have to let me help you."

Haltingly the star holds her foot out. Katya gingerly slips off the simple canvas shoe she’s wearing and then rests her heel in one hand. As she starts wrapping the fabric around the broken ankle, Katya sends a little bit of magic through her fingers to remind the bones how they’re supposed to fit together. The whole time the star whimpers gently, but she holds still. 

“How did you escape the prince?” Katya asks, both to distract her and because she’s genuinely curious.

“He went to find food for us, and the unicorn found me, so I took off.”

Katya barely manages to hold in a snort. The star is so innocent that she draws in unicorns when she’s in need of help. The unicorn in question has wandered off a little and is grazing on the ferns Katya hid behind earlier, but when the star mentions it, it raises its head and looks directly at Katya. She can’t help the small shudder running down her spine. It’s clearly no mindless beast, and it’s here to protect the star. Unicorns might be gentle, dignified creatures, but they are not defenseless. If Katya laid one finger on the star with bad intent she’s certain she’d find out just how sharp that horn is.

“All done,” Katya brightly announces when she’s finished wrapping up the ankle. She stuffs her hands in the pockets of her pants to hide that they’re shaking from the exhaustion of using her magic. She’s short of breath and has to keep her voice even, to not let it show. “That should keep it straight. Let me know if it’s too tight.”

The star wiggles her toes and then puts her shoe back on.

“Thank you.” Her voice is gentler than before. It makes Katya’s stomach flip, and she only nods. To give herself something to do, she pulls the bundle of her provisions out of her bag.

“Are you hungry?”

The star’s eyes go wide and she nods rapidly. Katya drops down on her folded legs and sets the food down between them, her bag a makeshift table. The star regards the small pile with a frown before carefully picking out a few dried apple slices and a handful of nuts, ignoring the meats. A tense silence settles over them as Katya chews on a strip of beef. Before she’s finished it, the star is done with what she picked out. She keeps glancing at the meager rest of the food that’s laid out. Katya carefully packs it up, and the star opens her mouth, but Katya speaks before she can.

“I have something else, hang on.”

She digs out the cloth bundle with the magical cookies. There are only five left. The star inhales two of them at rapid speed as Katya watches in astonishment.

“Good grief, didn’t the prince feed you?”

“He only--,” the star swallows the last mouthful of crumbs, “he only went hunting.”

“Not big on meat, are you?” The star’s face rearranges itself into a grimace of disgust, and Katya snorts. “No meat, got it.” She folds the leftover cookies back into the cloth and packs them away.

“I don’t have much food left, so we’ll have to find a town or someone to trade with soon.” Katya quickly adds, “I mean, if you plan to stick around, that is.”

“I told you I need a witch to help me get home. I’m not leaving,” the star clarifies. If it wasn’t broken, Katya wouldn’t be surprised if she stomped her foot.

“Yes, how exactly am I supposed to get you home?” Katya asks, keeping her voice casual.

“With a Babylon candle,” comes the star’s confident reply, as if Katya is stupid for asking.

“A Babylon candle,” Katya repeats with raised brows. 

“The prince told me about them, and that witches travel by candlelight.”

“Of course, the prince .” With a barely held back grin Katya asks, “Have you considered that he didn’t know what he was talking about?”

The star cackles, a sharp noise that slices through the dusk. “I’m absolutely sure he didn’t, but it’s all I have to go on.”

Katya laughs at her clear disdain for the man, but quickly recovers. “Well, unfortunately I don’t have a Babylon candle. They’re very rare these days. Since they, you know, keep burning down.”

“So where do we get one?”

“We? Why should I help you?” Katya asks back coldly. She has her own reasons to stay; the expectations of her family and the feeling in her stomach that even now, with the star only a few feet away from her, is telling her to get closer. But the star doesn’t know that, and Katya intends to keep it that way.

The star blinks a few times. “Isn’t that what witches do? Help people?”

Katya wheezes a laugh. “Did the prince tell you that, too? I promise you, I’m not helping anybody. I’m barely even helping myself.”

The star is quiet for a moment, thinking hard with her brows knitted together. Then she says, “There has to be something you want. You’re going somewhere.” She gestures to Katya’s bag. “Maybe we can help you get there.” 

At the mention of we the unicorn lifts its head from the shrub it’s picking dried leaves off and snorts loudly. 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Katya mutters. “You’ll just have to owe me.”

To keep herself busy she starts looking for firewood. Near the edge of the forest the rain has soaked most of the wood on the ground, so she has to go deeper into the undergrowth. Katya makes sure to always remain within sight of their campsite, where the star keeps looking at her.  

It takes her embarrassingly long to gather a meager little pile of sticks. Once she’s set it up and puts her fingers together to light it, Katya thinks about how much energy she wasted on the star’s ankle earlier. It’s not wise to exhaust herself further tonight. But the light is gone, and the cold is creeping through Katya’s coat. She did pack a flint stone for emergencies just like this, but she hasn’t used them in decades, and back then she didn’t think she had to seriously learn. Not having magic available to her never seemed like a real possibility.

The star watches with interest as Katya pulls out her knife and strikes the blade down on the stone at what she hopes is the right angle, trying over and over to produce sparks. After what must have been twenty attempts, she starts offering more or less helpful suggestions that Katya ignores. It just makes the star louder and more insistent.

“You need to do it faster,” she shouts from where she’s somehow elegantly perching on the forest floor.

“I know what I’m doing, star,” Katya grumbles, even though she doesn’t.

“I have a name, witch ,” the star adds with obvious displeasure. 

Huffing, Katya drops the stone and her knife, and with a blunt thud they hit the ground next to where she’s kneeling.

“Well, you didn’t exactly introduce yourself, did you? You just showed up and demanded I help you, even though what you want is nearly impossible. And I already healed you, despite not getting anything out of this. The least you could do is not point out that I’m making a fool of myself!” Her breath is coming rapidly. She has one hand braced on her thigh, the other extended towards the firewood, pointing at her failure.

“It’s Trixie.”

What ?” Katya bites out.

“My name. It’s Trixie,” the star clarifies with raised brows, seeming completely unimpressed by Katya’s outburst.

Katya grabs her tools and gets back to work, not looking at the star. “Good for you.”

For a moment they’re silent, except for the knife scraping along the stone. Then Trixie asks, “Do you have a name?”

“Yes.” Clang, clang, clang. No sparks.

“Why don’t you just use magic?”

“Because,” Katya slowly looks up, “I don’t have an endless supply of it. It drains my lifeforce, and I’ve already used up a lot today by healing you. If I keep going like this, I’ll be dead in two weeks, and I won’t be able to help you get back to the sky.”

Finally, Trixie looks a little sheepish. “Oh. I didn’t know that.”

Silently, Katya keeps trying to light the fire, and Trixie watches. The cold is spreading in Katya’s fingers. She manages to produce a few sparks, but not enough to light the wood on fire. 

“I want to try something,” Trixie interrupts her efforts. She scoots closer on her knees, dried leaves getting caught in her gown. Katya holds the knife and stone out to her, but Trixie just shakes her head. She places both hands on a stick.

“Close your eyes,” she instructs Katya. When she does it herself, Katya complies.

For a moment nothing happens. Then the black of the inside of Katya’s eyelids becomes bright orange. When the light recedes, she hears the unmistakable crackling of a fire. Katya opens her eyes to Trixie looking down at the flames with satisfaction.

“How did you do that?” 

Trixie cocks her head to the side, and with raised brows asks, “What do stars do?”

Katya blinks. “They burn.”

She stays close to the fire, warming herself, while Trixie sits back a bit. She clearly has no need for more heat. The unicorn has finished feeding and is now standing nearby. It seems to be dozing, but Katya still feels like she’s being watched. 

After a long stretch of silence, Trixie comes closer again.

“How does it work, the limit on your magic?” she asks quietly. Her big, dark eyes look at Katya with curiosity. It makes guilt flare up in her stomach about how she snapped at Trixie earlier, whenTrixie has no idea what danger she is in by being near her.

With a sigh Katya begins to explain.

“Every witch has an unlimited amount of magic for one hundred years. After that we can keep using magic, but the source doesn’t replenish itself. It takes our life instead.”

“That’s awful!” Trixie’s outcry is so full of sympathy that Katya can’t meet her eyes. She looks into the fire instead.

“There’s a way how we can make our magic sustain itself again. We have to eat the heart of a magical creature.” Katya doesn’t know why she’s telling Trixie all of this. This knowledge has been kept among witches for as long as they have wandered the earth, and it has certainly not been shared with potential victims. 

“That’s why you’re out here,” Trixie concludes, and Katya nods.

She doesn’t say that it’s not a random magical creature, doesn’t explain that it’s a sacrifice that fate picked out for her. Not when her fate is sitting right next to her. 

“My name is Yekaterina,” she adds, in almost a whisper. “But you can call me Katya.”

Giving Trixie her full name seemed like the right thing to do for a moment, and now Katya can’t take it back. Names have power. Maybe this was her attempt to make Trixie a more equal opponent and herself less of a predator.

*

It’s strange to wake up with another person present. Trixie doesn’t stir when Katya gets up. She’s nestled up against the unicorn, softly huffing, not quite snoring. The fire hasn’t burned down completely. Trixie must have added more wood once Katya was asleep. She said she struggles with sleeping at night. That hadn’t even occurred to Katya, but of course she does; stars are usually busy at night.

Katya finds a few more twigs and stokes the ashes into flames to heat up water for two cups of tea. As she climbs through the brush she disturbs a wagtail couple in its nest. They loudly berate her, the female from where she’s sitting on their eggs. Katya thinks of her childhood and the days she spent outside with her sisters. They stole eggs a few times, but now the thought doesn’t stick. Katya is just a clumsy giant who wandered into their world. She doesn’t need to take anything from them. 

She makes tea on the fire, in the little pot she has packed, and pours half of it into her own mug, the only one she brought. She sets it down near Trixie’s feet, under the watchful eye of the unicorn. It nudges Trxie’s hair with its nose and she blinks awake, looking disoriented.

“I made tea,” Katya greets her softly and points towards the mug.

Trixie looks at it with barely open eyes and groans, throwing one arm over her face.

“It’s so bright,” she whines.

Even though it’s not raining today, the sky is still a dull grey, partially hidden behind the naked treetops. When Trixie finally takes the arm off her face, Katya can see how exhausted she is. She must have barely gotten any sleep; she’s too used to spending her nights shining.

To distract her Katya asks, “How is your ankle doing?”

Trixie stops her whining as she carefully tilts her foot up and then down again. When she tries to rotate it, she winces. 

“Much better, but still not great.”

“It’s broken. Even with magic it will take a few days to heal completely,” Katya explains. She could heal it completely, but it would age her rapidly. She needs to preserve her strength if she’s supposed to find a Babylon candle. 

“Tell me about yourself,” Trixie says as they’re sitting down with a cookie each for breakfast, drinking their tea.

Katya slowly finishes chewing her bite. “What do you want to know?”

Trixie shrugs. “Something interesting.”

“I am one of the daughters of Ru,” Katya hesitantly offers up after a moment.

“What does that mean?” Trixie mumbles through a mouthful of cookie.

“Ru was a witch. She was the witch. She was the seventh daughter of a witch; that already made her very powerful. And then she decided to have seven daughters too, since there’s an old legend about the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter ringing in a new age for witches.” Katya rattles the explanation off like it’s no big deal. It’s not technically a secret, but none of them usually walk around, sharing that information with everyone and anyone they meet. There’s something about Trixie that makes Katya want to put it all out there. She can’t talk about why she’s really there, so she’s offering up other truths.

“Oh, wow.” Trixie looks at her with big eyes. “Are you the seventh daughter?”

Katya laughs. “No, I’m the fourth.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Nothing,” Katya answers with a snort. “Being the oldest gives you authority, and being the seventh gives you power. Being the fourth just gives you the chores the older ones don’t want to do.” 

Trixie doesn’t laugh at her joke, instead she looks pensive for a few seconds. 

“It must be hard knowing that your younger sister will surpass you.”

Katya grins and shakes her head. “Not at all! I’m very happy to not have that expectation on me. And Jinkx is my favorite, I’m thrilled for her.” After a moment of consideration she adds, “Well, no, actually Alaska is my favorite. Or Sasha. No, maybe it is Jinkx.”

There’s a small pond nearby where Katya goes to refill the waterskin before they start their journey together. One of Aquaria’s potions is for clarifying and she lets a single drop fall in before she pushes in the cork. Katya is about to turn around and head back to Trixie, when a familiar voice says her name. Flustered, she looks around for a moment.

“Down here!” the voice barks, and Katya spots Bianca’s face in the water, where Katya’s reflection should be looking back at her. Bianca gets right down to business. “Have you found the star yet?” 

“Oh, uhhh, yeah. I mean,” Katya clears her throat, stammering her reply as she kneels down, bending over the pond’s surface. “Yes, I’m with her. I’m working on, uh, gaining her trust.” 

“Good, good.” Bianca nods with satisfaction. “So you should be back in a few days.”

“Oh, um, I’m not-- I’m not sure, we’ll have to make a detour to get supplies. And I have to be careful to not, you know, make her suspicious.”

Bianca rolls her eyes. “Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be. I expect you to be home within four days at most.”

“Sure!” Katya replies brightly as panic spreads in her. “I’ll be there. Bye!” She gets up, brushing the leaves off her knees, and turns without waiting for Bianca’s face to disappear from the water.

Katya has lied to Bianca before. But usually it was small, inconsequential stuff, mostly about tasks she was supposed to do and forgot about, and then had to quickly complete while one of her sisters covered for her. It’s never been like this. She has no intention of leading Trixie to the palace. Katya barely stops at the camp to swing her bag over her head. 

“Alright, we’re going to get supplies and then quickly find you a Babylon candle,” she tells Trixie, who blinks at her, clearly confused.

“What happened?”

“My sister. She expects me back home in four days.” Katya looks around for the unicorn, but it’s nowhere to be found.

“Jinkx? Why didn’t you just tell her?”

“No, not Jinkx, Bianca. She’s the eldest, and she’s…” Katya sighs. “She’s taken over the role of our leader after Ru disappeared, and we don’t know for sure that she didn’t have anything to do with that disappearance,” she explains hastily as she puts out the fire with the last of her tea.

“How do you mean?” Trixie asks, now with a look of concern.

Katya forces herself to stand still and breathe deeply for a moment.

“Witches aren’t like humans. We’re not so much born as created, and we also don’t die. We decide we’ve had enough of living, or somebody else decides it for us. The most common natural cause of death for a witch is another witch.”

Trixie just stares at her with her eyes wide. Finally the unicorn wanders into view, apparently having had its own breakfast. 

“If I don’t show up in four days, Bianca will come looking for me, and if she finds you, you’re in a lot of danger,” Katya tells Trixie. She offers her a hand and pulls her up.

“Why?” Trixie is wobbling a little, trying not to put weight on her hurt leg. The unicorn quickly approaches and folds itself down so she can get on its back easily.

“I told you witches feed off the magical energy of other creatures.” Katya swallows when Trixie doesn’t seem to catch on. “Nothing has more energy than a star.”

Chapter Text

Katya’s plan to avoid all roads has led them far away from any towns. The first thing they need is food; they can get that at a farm. But in order to get Trixie to safety they need a Babylon candle, and the best chance they’ve got of finding one is at a market. They won’t run into one of those anywhere out here. She doesn’t even know where they are, exactly. 

Katya’s runestones stubbornly refuse to point anywhere other than Trixie. She’s tried it a few times while Trixie wasn’t paying attention, and the direction they want to lead her in changes depending on where Trixie is standing. So Katya simply sets off further west, away from home. She walks with a determination she doesn’t feel, and when Trixie, on top of her unicorn, asks where they’re going, she replies, “Where we need to go.”

“You don’t need to act all cryptic,” Trixie says from where she’s riding behind Katya with an audible eye roll. “I’ve seen you cuddle your bag in your sleep; your reputation is already ruined.”

“I keep it close in case I need to move quickly,” Katya snaps and then immediately closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. It’s fine. It’s not like she’s trying to save Trixie’s life while she doesn’t seem interested at all in contributing to that effort.

It’s barely noon when Trixie starts whining that she’s hungry and tired, and that she wants to take a break.

“A break won’t help. You ate all my non-meaty food, so unless you want some of that we’ll have to keep walking until we find something,” Katya explains, without stopping or turning around. Trixie stops outright whining after that, but Katya can hear her mutter comments to the unicorn, apparently having a one-sided conversation. 

They both find new energy when they’re suddenly no longer surrounded by a barren heath. Neat grain fields line their path, and in the distance they spot cows grazing on a hill. It’s not much further to a small farm. As they approach the low, wooden buildings, a boy spots them, no older than sixteen. He quickly runs through the open door into the main house. In his stead a rotund woman appears, her face brown from years of working the fields, despite the long winter. As they walk into the yard, she eyes the unicorn warily. From the way she gives her a once-over Katya is sure she doesn’t have to explain what she is. She does it anyway. There are customs to follow. She stops a good ten feet away from the woman.

“Greetings, my companion and I are in need of food for our travels. In exchange you may name a task that requires a witch’s talents,” she announces formally.

The farmer regards them for a long moment. Then she sniffs. “Wait here,” she tells them and disappears back into the house. This time the door closes.

Trixie leans down to quietly ask, “What now?”

“We wait while she figures out a task,” Katya replies.

“Can’t you just pay her?”

“No, I have no money. Never do.” Katya rolls back and forth on the soles of her boots. She’s not good at waiting.

“What do you mean, you have no money?” Trixie’s voice has gotten louder and she’s sitting up straight again.

Katya shrugs. “I’m a witch. I have no need for it.”

“Well, clearly you do, or we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“That’s not how this works. If I want something, I have to give something in return,” Katya explains. “And if someone wants something from me, they have to settle that debt. I’ve been given magic, but I can’t use it without consequences. It’s about keeping balance.”

At home they have an established system with the people nearby. Farmers supply the witches’ palace with food of all kinds, and the sisters make sure wild animals leave their crops and livestock alone. They get candles and honey in return for docile, productive bee colonies. They’re always welcome at the local inn since for no apparent reason travelers always end up wandering off the main road and then needing directions and a warm bed for the night. Those dependencies keep everyone safe. 

“You’re helping me,” Trixie says after a long moment.

“Yes.” Katya doesn’t look at her.

“I have nothing to give you in return.”

“That remains to be seen,” Katya mutters. She feels Trixie’s eyes on her, but she says nothing else. 

They’re standing in the yard, staring at the closed door for an uncomfortably long time.

“What if she says no?” Trixie breaks the silence.

“She won’t.”

“Why? Is it considered bad luck?”

Katya snorts. “Sure, if you want to call a witch burning down everything you own bad luck .”

“Katya!” Trixie sounds so outraged that Katya does finally look up at her on her unicorn, barely suppressing a grin. “You can’t do that!”

“Of course not! I would never, but she doesn’t know that.” Katya points at the door that opens just then, the woman reappearing with a basket over her arm. They stay where they are and let the farmer come to them. 

“Here.” She stretches her arm out, as far as it will go, with the basket hanging between her and Katya. “Food.”

“Thank you.” Katya pulls the basket close, holds it in front of her stomach, and with the other hand lifts the dish towel that’s covering the contents. There is a loaf of bread, brown and fragrant, what appears to be some dry-cured ham, and a block of cheese. Katya is excited to find out what’s in the clay bottle that’s lying next to the bread; she’s growing tired of pond water. Satisfied, she hands the basket to Trixie. She’s on a unicorn, it’s only fair that she should carry some of their supplies.

“That will do nicely,” Katya confirms. “Now, what can I do for you?”

The farmer sniffs. “When the snow melted our cats drowned in the cellar.” Trixie gasps at her words, but the woman carries on undeterred. “Now the mice are running rampant in the barn.” She points across the yard to another wooden building.

Katya nods. “Alright.” The woman turns without another word, once again slamming the door behind herself.

“If you expect me to catch mice, think again,” comes Trixie’s voice from above, and Katya grins at her.

“We’re not catching any mice.”

*

An hour later she’s sitting in one of the nearby fields, a slice of ham lying a few feet away on the ground. With her fingers Katya is crushing some leaves of catnip that she found sticking their light green tips through the dried up weeds of last summer. She’s concentrating on its smell and picturing the meat, her eyes firmly closed. She can feel she’s getting somewhere, sensing careful, silent steps and curiosity coming towards her.

“How much longer do we have to sit here?”

Trixie’s long-suffering voice makes her lose her focus, the creature slipping away from the expanse of her consciousness, and Katya swears.

“It would go a lot faster if you stopped interrupting and let me do my work.” She doesn’t open her eyes and keeps her voice as evenly as possible.

“You don’t look like you’re doing work,” Trixie mutters sullenly. Katya can hear her fingertips dragging through dry earth. She sat down on the ground right next to Katya at first, until Katya couldn’t take her fidgeting and performative sighing and decided to move.

“I told you, I’m reaching out mentally to find a new cat. I almost had one just now.” Katya brings the crushed catnip up to her nose, inhaling the aroma. “Now shush.”

Trixie sighs once more, but then remains silent. Katya isn’t good at this. It’s not exactly magic, it’s “being in tune with the world you’re a part of,” Dela had explained to her years ago. She’s the expert at this; nature, animals, things like that. Something about all life being connected. Katya didn’t pay close attention. 

She forces all of that out of her mind, instead tracing the mental steps she took earlier. If she found it once, she can find it again. It takes her a few minutes, but the feeling returns. An animal, skittish but not scared, and so, so hungry. Katya pictures the meat again, lifts the catnip to her face. 

The cat isn’t thinking, it’s just moving. Katya can feel her own connection in the animal’s mind, feel herself get closer. If she was more experienced, she could see through the cat’s eyes, and she imagines seeing herself sitting in the dirt from another living creature’s perspective. 

The connection slips away again, and this time it’s her own fault, her mind straying too far. She’s about to give up, abandon the slice of ham in the middle of the field and settle on catching mice instead. Then a pair of yellow eyes appears in between rows of barley, staring right at her. The cat comes closer, its thin black shape approaching Katya with caution. 

The poor thing is clearly malnourished, the ribs visible through the scruffy fur. All apprehension is forgotten when it spots the meat. The cat sinks its sharp teeth into it, and Katya slowly gets closer. It doesn’t notice, too focused on eating, and Katya places a gentle hand on it’s warm back, stroking slowly.

“There you go,” she mutters with a smile. 

If she was better at this, she would have sensed the second cat, a black and white thing of the same meager size, that is now rushing to the black cat’s side, hoping for some scraps. The black cat lets go long enough to hiss and then drags her feast away.

“Quick, Trixie, give me the ham!” Katya moves backwards carefully, still crouching, so as to not startle them, and then pulls the knife out of its holster around her thigh. Trixie doesn’t say anything, just hands Katya the meat, trying to touch it as little as possible. Katya cuts another sliver of it and reaches out towards the second cat. It quickly gets the hint, jumping on it as soon as Katya drops it at her feet. 

Once they’ve both finished their ham, they follow the scent of the catnip, eating the leaves right out of Katya’s hands. They rub themselves against her legs, and when Katya sits down next to Trixie, the cats start climbing all over them. When the energy the herb has given them wears off, they settle one in each of their laps.

Trixie looks overjoyed, her hands petting the black cat that is getting hair all over her nice gown. They’re both purring contentedly now.

“The poor things,” she says in a soft voice.

“Somebody must have abandoned them, probably another farmer,” Katya thinks out loud. “They’re lucky they weren’t drowned.” She’s seen it happen often enough, unwanted animals being discarded with less care than old clothes. When she was young she didn’t understand why humans were afraid of her and her sisters. Most humans weren’t any kinder than the tales they told about witches.

At the thought of the kittens being drowned, Trixie coos and rubs her face on the black cat, its purring getting louder. “I guess you do know what you’re doing,” she murmurs without looking at Katya.

“Who could have guessed?” Katya replies quietly, not holding back her smile.

After a few more minutes spent with their new friends, Katya makes them get up and walk back to the farm, Trixie hobbling and holding on to Katya’s elbow since they left the unicorn by the barn.

“Take good care of them,” Katya tells the confused woman who is now holding the black and white cat at arm’s length. It’s still drowsy from the catnip. “You will feed them, give them water and a safe, comfortable place to sleep. They will tell me if you don’t, and then I’d have to come back.” Her tone has gotten sharp, and the woman’s eyes are wide as she nods. 

Trixie is holding the black cat in her arms like a baby, having a whispered conversation with it. Katya can make out be good before Trixie reluctantly hands over the second animal to Katya who then sets it down by the farmer’s feet. 

Before Katya turns to leave she asks for directions to the nearest city. The woman points in the opposite direction of where Trixie and Katya came from. Always west.

“A day’s walk,” is all the explanation she offers. Katya nods and they leave the farm, all of them relieved that this interaction is over. 

If the women hadn’t been so suspicious of them, Katya would have asked to stay the night in the barn, but she’ll take sleeping on the ground over more comfort. It means she doesn’t have to sleep with one eye open in case their host comes after them with a knife. 

The sun is already starting to set, so they only walk far enough that they don’t see the farm anymore. They find shelter at the edge of another forest, but this one bigger and darker than any Katya has seen so far on her journey. She holds her hand up when Trixie tries to ride underneath the cover of the trees.

“We should stay out of there for the night.”

Trixie blinks in confusion, but she doesn’t argue, and the unicorn seems happy to stay back too. 

They set up camp underneath the branches reaching furthest out, Katya collecting firewood on the edge of the forest, and this time letting Trixie take care of the actual fire right away. She beams when Katya asks her to, apparently thrilled to show off her skills. Tonight Katya isn’t worried about conserving food. The farmer has easily given them enough for three days, and they can stock up in town. She cuts generous slices of the soft, fresh bread for them, leaving the cheese for Trixie while she sticks with the ham. Wanting to wash down the salty meat, Katya opens the mysterious bottle from the basket, the cork making a satisfying plop . When she puts her nose over the opening, she smells spices and alcohol, and with a grin she pours the deep red liquid into the one mug she has.

“What is that?” Trixie asks.

Katya takes a sip to confirm her assumption. “Wine. Quite a nice one, too.”

“I’ve never had wine!” Trixie looks excited at the prospect, and Katya happily hands over the cup. 

Her first careful sip is accompanied by a frown. Apparently having made up her mind, she gulps down more of the spiced wine.

“Alright, slow down, I doubt you have a high tolerance,” Katya tells her, reaching out one hand to take the mug back. “I don’t need a drunk star on my hands.”

Trixie doesn’t say anything, just hands over the mug and takes another bite of her bread. Despite her own warning, Katya pours them another cup when they’ve emptied the first one. It’s nice to feel her own limbs loosen for the first time in weeks. Next to her, Trixie’s face has gone pink, her movements slightly sluggish and imprecise like a marionette’s.

“You won’t really know if the farmer doesn’t treat the cats badly, will you?” she asks with her bottom lip jutting forward, her eyes big.

Katya thinks for a moment. “I’m not sure. I could probably find that connection again if I tried. But no, I won’t just magically know .” When Trixie’s expression grows heavy, Katya quickly adds, “I’m sure they will be safe and happy. Nobody wants to invite the wrath of a witch.”

It doesn't seem to do anything to lighten Trixie’s mood.

“I can check on them every now and then, if that would make you feel better,” Katya offers without thinking about it. As if she doesn’t have bigger problems right now.

Trixie shakes her head. “No, it’s not that.” She looks down into her lap, her brows knitted together as she considers her words. “It must be hard that everyone you meet is afraid of you.”

Katya sits up straight. “It’s not like-- I mean…” she starts, not knowing what she’s trying to say. “I spent most of my time with my sisters, so it’s not like that’s my whole life.” She shrugs.

“Right, your sisters, one of which you think might be a murderer.” Trixie looks up at her with so much sympathy that Katya wants to shove her. Anything to make the guilt weighing down her chest disappear. She swallows.

“You weren’t afraid of me when we met.”

“You’re not scary,” Trixie says right away, her soft, round face looking at Katya with no apprehension. 

“You’ve known me for two days,” Katya points out with raised brows.

“Yes, and in that time you’ve healed my ankle, given me food, promised to help get me back home, and found a new home for two stray cats.” She says it with an air of exasperation that Katya almost laughs at. 

“It’s late,” Katya changes the topic. “We should get to sleep, we’ve got another long day ahead of us.”

When Katya has settled in with her back to the fire, wrapped into her coat and with her bag clutched close to her chest, she can’t sleep, despite being exhausted. She hears every little sound Trixie makes, how she keeps testing how well she can move her ankle and then inhales sharply through her teeth, the murmured conversation about nothing she has with the unicorn. After a while she starts humming softly, and it takes Katya by surprise how much she enjoys it. Trixie’s voice is softer when she sings, and it finally lulls Katya to sleep.

Despite her better judgement, Katya checks the runestones again when she wakes. Of course they point to where Trixie is nestled against the unicorns back, her mouth slightly open, her golden hair a mess. Katya watches for a while, hoping for Trixie to drool in her sleep, just because it would make her seem more like a regular person, but she doesn’t do Katya the favor. 

She doesn’t let Trixie sleep for much longer; they have a day’s march ahead of them, and Katya doesn’t want to spend the night in the city. Too many walls around her always make her nervous. By daylight the forest doesn’t look nearly as intimidating. Katya lets the unicorn take the lead.

“Stop saying it ,” Trixie reprimands her. “ She doesn’t like that.”

Katya rolls her eyes where she’s walking behind a shimmery white horse ass and Trixie can’t see. “Oh, did she tell you that? Do you speak unicorn?”

“She didn’t have to tell me, I just know.”

“What a marvelous state of being that must be. You just know things.” Katya says it without any real acidity, not minding that Trixie knows things she doesn’t. She can only imagine the things Trixie has seen over the hundreds of years of her existence. It’s simply entertaining to poke fun at her.

“What a shame you’ll never experience it,” Trixie says loftily but then looks back over her shoulder, her hair swishing to the side. She gives her a grin, and Katya barks a surprised laugh. 

They make good progress, their guide leading the way decisively through the underbrush. They’re so fast that after a while Katya is out of breath, trying to keep up. When Trixie notices she tells the unicorn to stop.

“There’s plenty of space up here,” she says brightly. The unicorn loudly exhales through her nose, and Trixie leans down towards her face. “Isn’t there?” Her tone is pointed, and the unicorn gives another, more quiet snort, sidles up to a tree stump and waits. 

Katya doesn’t move. “Are you sure that’s alright?” 

“Of course it is!” Trixie assures her with a smile. “A powerful unicorn can easily handle one scrawny little witch.”

Katya almost replies that she’s more worried about Trixie’s big ass but then thinks better of it. She climbs up on the tree stump and grabs the hand Trixie is holding out to pull her up. She slides right against Trixie’s back, and without giving her time to get settled the unicorn starts walking at a brisk pace. It makes Katya scramble for something to hold on to, quickly realizing there’s only Trixie’s waist. 

“Sorry,” she mumbles against Trixie’s shoulder, that she can barely look over, as she slings one arm around Trixie’s middle. She doesn’t reply but hums cheerfully. It takes Katya some time to get used to the movement, and she keeps fidgeting, trying to get some distance between them, until Trixie tells her to relax.

Katya snorts. “Right. Sure. Relax. I know how to do that.”

The only way to ride comfortably has her front pressed against Trixie’s back, feeling the way her body moves with the gait of the unicorn. After a while she manages to match her own movements to it. It doesn’t do anything to relax her. Katya is hyper-aware of the warmth of Trixie’s skin against her hand, radiating through her dress, as well as the clean, fresh scent she has somehow managed to maintain, despite the days of sleeping outside with only limited opportunities to wash themselves. Discreetly Katya sniffs her own armpit, hoping she doesn’t reek as badly as she fears. It could be worse. It could be significantly better too.

After a few hours they stumble upon a road and the unicorn turns left without a moment of hesitation. At least one of them seems to know where they need to go, and Katya is relieved it doesn’t have to be her. For the first time since they entered the forest this morning, she can see how high the sun is and concludes that noon hasn’t passed that long ago. On the unicorn they’re faster than they would be if they walked, so she’s hopeful they will reach the city well before sunset. 

It’s not long until they clear the treeline. Fields line the road, with farms scattered across the scenery, and in the not so far distance a hill rises up. On its slopes sit grey stone houses, leading up to a hall on the top, gold decorations glinting in the sunlight. 

“We should walk from this point on,” Katya says. “We don’t want to get our unicorn friend into danger. It’s better if she can wait for us here.” The unicorn stops immediately. They have a short break in the cover of the trees. Trixie drinks some more of the willow bark tincture. Her ankle is doing much better, but she’s still in some pain, and they have about an hour of walking ahead of them until they reach the city gates. They leave their food behind with the unicorn and set off, with Trixie holding onto Katya’s elbow to steady herself.

*

“Well, that was disappointing,” Trixie voices what Katya is already thinking.

They have scoured the lower areas of the city, first for a market, where they did find a tent with a woman who claimed to be a fortune teller and expert in all things magical. She had never heard of a Babylon candle. She then tried to get them to spend some money there by promising Katya she’d tell her where she’d meet her future husband. Katya had only laughed and pulled the curtain covering the entrance to the tent aside for Trixie as they left. They had then asked around for any magic shops or even apothecaries, receiving only disapproving looks in return. 

Katya hadn’t expected much different, but Trixie does not handle their failure well. When a man tells them they don’t want their kind here , Katya has to pull her in a different direction to prevent Trixie from making a scene. She pulls her down a busy path, lined with booths of farmers selling their produce.

“What do we do now?” Trixie asks, sounding pitiful, and Katya absentmindedly pats her arm. 

“We go back to our companion and tomorrow we set out for a new ci--” Her face freezes as she spots a familiar face in the crowd.

Bianca hasn’t seen them yet. She’s wrapped in a deep red cloak, the finest she owns, regarding the people around her with bored disapproval. Without saying another word Katya tugs on Trixie’s arm and pulls them down a small alley, speeding up her steps.

“Hey!” Trixie resists her. “You can’t just drag me around like that.”

“My sister,” Katya hisses, and Trixie’s eyes go wide.

“Bianca?” Katya nods. “But I thought we had two more days.” She lets Katya lead her now, hurrying along as fast as she can with her ankle.

“So did I. Apparently she doesn’t trust me to do it by myself.”

They weave through dark alleys, squeezing through small passages, but whenever they cross a road, Katya still catches a glimpse of red, Bianca on their trail. She meant to go back to the city gates, but instead they find themselves making their way up the hill. The houses are getting bigger, the alleys less labyrinthine, the ground under their feet turning from mud to cobblestones. 

They round a corner and find themselves face to face with a group of soldiers. Katya tries to duck past them, but a man in their midst, dressed in fine clothes, hurries towards them.

“My lady,” he calls out, and Trixie grabs Katya’s arm more tightly. “You’ve come back to me!”

“Oh no, not you,” Trixie mutters. 

Katya gives him a quick once over. “The prince?” she asks and Trixie nods. 

“Katya!” Bianca is nearly caught up with them, and her expression promises trouble.

They’re cornered, the prince heading towards them from one direction, Bianca from the other. Next to them thick stone walls are rising up into the blue sky. 

There’s nowhere else to go.

“Hold on tight,” Katya tells Trixie and wraps her arm around her, pulling her close. Then she jumps.

Trixie shrieks as they lose the ground beneath their feet, and her grip on Katya’s arm becomes painful. If Katya maneuvers them right, they’ll land on one of the roofs higher up in the city, and from they’re they can make their way back down to the  gates over the rooftops.

But they’re not coming down again. The city starts shrinking underneath them, and the air around them is freezing. Katya gave herself a big boost of magic but it shouldn’t carry her this far. 

The first thin clouds appear above their heads like wisps of smoke. Katya’s hands are cramping, whether from the cold or from exhaustion she can’t tell. At least they’re finally slowing down. Their ascend is stopped by them bumping their heads on a thicker cloud. It’s soft like cottonwool but even finer. If Katya wasn’t in the company of a star she might question that it’s solid at all. She’s past the point of insisting on what things should be.

Trixie has the wherewithal to grab onto the edge of the cloud before gravity finds them again. She hauls them onto it, and Katya stays lying on her back, breathing heavily. She feels like someone has taken a knife to her torso and cut a big chunk out. Trixie is kneeling next to her, breathing heavily herself.

“Why did you do that?” She’s staring at Katya with irritation.

“Didn’t mean to,” Katya manages to pant. “I think it was you.”

Me? ” Trixie puts one offended hand on her chest.

“I only jumped, I can’t float. But you belong in the sky.” She pushes herself up into a sitting position. Trixie looks like she wants to argue, but when Katya looks down at herself she gasps. 

“What?” Trixie snaps.

“Look at my tits!”

“Excuse me?”

Katya pushes at her chest. “They’re flat. And saggy. Look at this!” She squeezes them up and together. 

Trixie clears her throat. “They’re fine. You look fine. Being older suits you.” She gestures vaguely towards Katya’s head.

“Older?” Katya squawks, her hands flying to her face. It feels… soft. She peeks down at her braid that has streaks of silver going through it and groans, letting herself drop onto her back again.

“We have more important things to deal with than you being middle-aged,” Trixie insists. 

Katya whines. Middle-aged. It was a good amount of magic that she put into her jump, but she didn’t expect to be affected this much. Her magic seems to be getting greedier, taking more of her life. If she wasn’t so exhausted, she might take this better. She rolls onto her side, her back to Trixie.

“You got us up here, why don’t you for once figure out how to get us out of a situation?” Katya knows she’s being unfair. She doesn’t care; she never said she was a nice person.

I’m sorry, this is not my fault! I never asked you to put us here.” Trixie’s voice is somehow shrill and cold at the same time

“Fine! Next time we see the prince I’ll just hand you over and go back to living my own life in peace.”

“Oh, please!” Katya doesn’t need to see Trixie to know she’s rolling her eyes. “Because you were doing so great before I found you.”

“You’re the one who invited herself along, I never asked you to.” Before Katya can say anything else that will inevitably make her feel terrible later, a voice interrupts them.

“Ladies, if you’re done bickering...” 

Both their heads snap up, and they spot the ship that is floating in mid air next to them. A black woman with broad shoulders, her hair cropped close to her scalp, looks down at them from where she’s casually leaning against the railing.

“I was gonna rescue you, but let me know if you’re good where you are.”

“No!” Trixie scrambles up. “We appreciate the help.” The tip of her shoe briefly digs into Katya’s side, and she sits up, wheezing.

“We do.” As she struggles to get to her feet, Trixie reaches out one arm to pull her up. Katya doesn’t thank her, but doesn’t pull away either when Trixie keeps her arm around Katya’s middle.

“Alright, then.” The woman grins and then drops a rope ladder down to where they’re standing. 

Trixie gently pushes Katya forwards, and she accepts the silent invitation. It’s only a short distance, but the climb takes all the strength she still has, and their rescuer has to help pull her over the railing. Trixie follows with less difficulty. As soon as she’s on deck, her hands return to Katya, keeping her upright.

“Damn, you don’t look good.” The woman looks at her with a frown, and Katya gives her a crooked smile.

“I just rapidly aged about twenty years, but I’m sure I’ll be fine after a nap.” When she only looks at Katya pensively, she adds, “May I ask who we have to thank for our rescue?” For the first time Katya looks around on the ship. The crew, men and women of all ages, seem to be going about their regular tasks, but Katya doesn’t miss the glances that are sent their way.

“Name’s Roberta, but most people call me Bob,” she explains with a toothy grin.

Katya laughs. She can’t help it. Even though she and her sisters live fairly secluded, they make a point of knowing what goes on in the world around them. She’s heard stories about a pirate captain sailing among the clouds, not letting any other ship pass in peace. She’s read about his fearsome stature and his black heart. Katya had wondered why a man like that would go with a name like Bob, but it all makes sense now. Of course Roberta wouldn’t have made a reputation for herself. 

“Let’s get you two some food and then you can rest.” Bob leans in close enough that the crew won’t overhear. “And afterwards you can explain to me why a witch and a star are traveling together.”

Chapter Text

Katya wakes in dim light, and it takes her a moment to remember where she is. Before she fell asleep the pirate captain, Bob, escorted them to the back of the ship into her own cabin. She recalls little of their conversation. Trixie sat close to Katya and chattered a lot without giving much away. Apparently she was finally heeding Katya’s warning about strangers and what she should tell them. There is no point to it now, since Bob already seems to know what they are. 

With Katya barely able to hold herself up even in a sitting position, Bob had left them fairly quickly, and Katya had fallen asleep right there on the sofa. Somebody had spread a blanket over her, so she’s toasty warm. Despite not sleeping on the ground for the first time in about a week, Katya doesn’t feel rested. When she gets up and wanders around the cabin, finding a mirror hanging over a washbasin, she realizes why.

Her face is sunken in a little, her cheeks hanging down. Lines are painted around her eyes and mouth. She’d forgotten, or maybe hoped, that when she woke up the toll her magic had taken would have disappeared. Time had never mattered much to her. Katya’s life was an expanse stretching further than she could ever see. She did not expect to live forever, but seeing herself waste away like a human had not been part of her plans.

She hears a door creak behind her and spins around, scanning her surroundings for anything she can use to defend herself, only remembering she has a knife strapped to her thigh when she sees it’s Trixie. 

“Oh, good, I thought I heard you finally being up,” she greets Katya brightly. She’s in a pale blue dress that pulls her waist in and accentuates her round hips while showing off an amount of cleavage that makes it hard for Katya to look anywhere else. Her golden waves are pinned up in an intricate hairstyle and sapphires are dangling from her ears. She looks nothing like the star Katya found in the woods. She’s a lady now, and it feels like she’s taken a leap away from Katya.

“This is different.” She gestures at Trixie.

“You know, so far everybody has told me how good I look in blue, but I guess with you I have to bring it up myself.” She sounds haughty, but Katya catches the smirk Trixie has on her face as she walks past her and deposits a bundle of clothes on the sofa. She then faces Katya with a genuine smile.

“Clean clothes.”

“I don’t need them,” Katya mumbles, her fingers pulling on the sleeves of the sweater Aquaria made her. 

Trixie wrinkles her nose. “Trust me, you really do.” When Katya only frowns at her, she adds, “Yours are just going to be washed. You will get them back, don’t worry.” She promises to return with warm water and soap, and when she’s left the room, Katya pulls open her coat and takes a whiff of her own smell. It is fairly rancid, but she doesn’t want to leave her sisters’ gifts out of her sight. 

Trixie comes back not long after. She pours steaming water into the washbasin, and then she holds out her hands for Katya’s clothes. 

“I’m not changing in front of you,” Katya hisses, and Trixie rolls her eyes.

“I told you, this age suits you. You don’t have to be embarrassed.”

“That’s not what I mean!” 

With a sigh Trixie says, “Fine, but hurry up. Bob said she wants to talk to us as soon as you’re awake.”

She leaves Katya alone, closing the door behind her. Katya undresses, folding her clothes carefully, gives herself a cursory bath, and then puts on the clothes Trixie left for her. They’re simple trousers, the black washed out over time, and a cream-colored shirt with billowy sleeves. They’re too long on her, just like the pant legs, and she has to put her belt through the loops, pulling it tight to keep the trousers on her slim hips. She straps her knife back around her thigh, not because she thinks she’ll need it, but the weight of it is comforting by now. Her braid is falling apart, and she hastily redoes it, the hair feeling much finer in between her fingers than she is used to.

When Katya steps out onto the deck, she sees Trixie first, sitting in a circle of pirates, one of them refilling her tankard while another says something evidently hysterical, since Trixie is screeching her ridiculous laugh. 

“I don’t think they’ve ever taken to anybody that fast.” Bob sidles up to Katya, leaning against the door she just stepped through. “They don’t even know what she is, they just think she’s the funniest person alive.” There is disbelief in her voice as well as amusement. “If I’m not careful they’ll replace me with her.” Bob gives her a lopsided grin that Katya returns carefully.

“How long was I asleep?” she asks after a moment of silence.

“For about two days,” Bob says casually. “She barely left your side,” she adds with a nod towards Trixie.

It stuns Katya into silence. Bob carries on.

“So, what exactly is going on with you two?” She still sounds laid-back, but Katya doesn’t miss the curious look Bob gives her.

“I’m helping her get home.”

Bob hums. “Yes, she said that.” They watch how Bob’s crew flits around Trixie like moths around a flame, vying for her attention. She gives it happily, holding court for her admirers. Then Bob quietly asks, “You’re dying, aren’t you?”

Katya freezes in surprise for a moment and then nods. “How do you know?”

“I have a friend who’s a witch. She has a few years left until she turns one hundred.”

Katya gives a breathy, humorless laugh. “Well, you can tell her it’s not a fun experience.”

“Does she know what she is to you?” Bob’s voice has gotten even quieter.

“No.” Katya swallows. “She can’t know. I wouldn’t-- I could never do that.” She searches Bob’s face to see whether or not she believes her. Katya needs to make her understand that she’s not a threat to Trixie. 

Bob hums again, and then adds, “Yes, I can see that.” It sounds like she’s more talking to herself than to Katya. 

One of the pirates has pulled out a mandolin. She’s plucking a cheerful tune, and Trixie moves closer, transfixed by the instrument. She whirls around when other members of the crew start dancing, an intricate pattern of steps and jumps and claps, and Katya watches Trixie’s grin get wider, her eyes clearly shining from a distance.

“I want to learn,” she exclaims, and one of the pirates comes to her right away. She’d been sitting close to Trixie earlier, and now she takes her hand, demonstrating the sequence of steps, and laughing with Trixie when she gets it not quite right but doesn’t do terrible either. Katya feels hot and breathless, and she leans against the door, next to Bob.

The captain takes one look at her and then hollers, “Monet, give her something easy to begin with. Something slower.” Her elbow briefly digs into Katya’s side. “And teach Katya too, or she’ll turn you into a frog,” she adds with a grin. Katya opens her mouth to protest but decides against it when Trixie turns towards her with both hands extended.

“Dance with me,” she demands, and Katya moves as if her feet aren’t her own and she has no say in the matter.

Trixie’s hands are so warm against Katya’s, her skin soft. Her palms are broader than Katya’s, the fingers longer, and she watches her own hands disappear in Trixie’s grasp.

The music has slowed down, turned into a sweeter tune, and except for the woman Bob called Monet, all the other pirates have sat down again. Katya is aware of all the eyes that are now on them, still holding hands, but before she can let go, Monet takes one of her hands and places it on Trixie’s waist. Trixie’s hand comes to rest on her shoulder, and Monet extends their arms that still meet in their clutched hands. 

“Bob, help me show them,” she calls loudly to her captain, who is still hanging back. 

She grins and shakes her head. “You can keep your hooves to yourself.”

Monet rolls her eyes and pulls one of the other pirates up. The young man doesn’t look much more enthusiastic than Bob, but he seems too intimidated to argue. 

Katya recognizes the steps they demonstrate as a waltz. She’s seen them before, in the village at the spring festival, where bumbling farm hands and milkmaids make their first careful advances, and others pretend they haven’t already rolled around in the hay together. Katya has always been a bystander, entertained by the charade of propriety. She never imagined she would have any reason to dance one day, and under the watchful eye of a pirate crew no less. 

When Katya steps on Trixie’s foot, she doesn’t even complain, clearly enjoying herself too much. It doesn’t take long until they’ve both picked it up, waltzing in one spot. Monet tells them to not just stand there, so Trixie pulls her around, weaving figures of eight across the deck. At some point Katya had been leading, but Trixie took over quickly. Katya doesn’t mind. 

“Your ankle seems much better,” Katya says when she remembers how Trixie hobbled through the city next to her only two days ago.

Trixie smiles. “It is, thanks to you.”

Katya nods. “You do, by the way. Look good in blue,” she stammers, and Trixie’s smile becomes toothy. Her teeth aren’t completely even, and Katya thinks that it makes her look a little more human. A little less like she’s meant for much grander things.

“Bob gave me the dress, the earrings too. She said they’d look better on me than on her. Apparently they were gifts from a very clueless suitor.” They share a knowing grin. “This pirate garb suits you too. You look like a real adventurer, very dashing,” Trixie adds happily, and Katya can feel her cheeks grow hot.

As they twirl she has to focus on Trixie’s face to not get dizzy. It’s not hard. Katya recognizes that her eyes aren’t just brown, flecks of gold reflect the light coming from the lanterns illuminating the ship. She doesn’t notice it at first, how Trixie’s skin isn’t just radiant in the sense people usually talk about beautiful women. She’s actually shining, and Katya feels warmed by her light. 

The music stops eventually, the song trickling out slowly, and once it’s quiet around them Katya freezes. She can feel now how sweaty her palms are and lets go of Trixie, who blinks at her, her light dimming until it disappears altogether. They’re still surrounded by pirates who now apparently can’t avert their eyes fast enough when Katya’s gaze flits from one to the next. She clears her throat and steps back.

“Excuse me, I’m still very tired.”

She quickly retreats to the back of the ship and disappears through the door leading back to the captain’s cabin, not looking back at Trixie or any of the pirates. It wasn’t a lie, she does feel tired, but mostly she’s panicking.

“If I didn’t know you were a hundred-year-old witch, I would think you’re having your first ever crush.” Bob has followed her, and after closing the door she strolls to her desk, sitting down in the chair and swinging her boots on the table, legs crossed at the ankles.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Katya spits out, not looking at her, and Bob laughs.

“That’s very sweet, but I’m pretty sure your girlie is pouting on deck. You hurt her by storming off like that.”

Katya exhales through her mouth in an approximation of a laugh. “That’s nothing compared to how hurt she’ll be if she sticks around for much longer.”

Bob rolls her eyes. “You’re no danger to her. She told me about the kittens.” From somewhere she pulls a dagger and starts scraping the dirt out from underneath her fingernails with it. Katya drops down in the chair opposite her desk.

“I won’t hurt her, but that doesn’t mean that being with me won’t put her in danger. She’s a star and I’m a witch. Hurting someone like her is what witches do.”

Bob looks at her from underneath her brows and scoffs. “Right, and I’m a pirate so I murder and plunder, and nobody is safe from my cold heart.”

“That’s different; that’s a tale you made up yourself.”

Bob sighs deeply. “You know, the thing about reputations is that they take a lifetime to build, but only seconds to destroy. I have chosen very carefully what information about me leaves this ship. You clearly didn’t choose what people say about witches, but for some reason you’ve chosen to believe it.”

“It’s not a story, it’s what my mother was like. It’s what my sister is like. Whether I mean to or not, I’m a danger to Trixie,” Katya argues, growing resentful of Bob refusing to take her seriously.

Bob puts the knife down and pulls her feet off the table. “Look, do you have any intention of causing her harm?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then don’t! It’s that simple.”

Katya scoffs. “It’s really not.”

“Have you tried?” Bob looks at her with wide eyes, clearly getting to the end of her rope. It suits Katya; she has no interest in this conversation. 

“I am trying, and I almost got her killed by my sister,”

“That wasn’t you; that was your sister,” Bob argues. Trixie must have told her about their run in with Bianca. She sighs again. “Look, I know I can’t convince you. I'm just saying you can relax a little. Trixie seems like the kind of person who can get herself into trouble just fine, she doesn't need you for that."

If it’s meant to cheer Katya up, it fails. Trixie doesn't know what could get her into trouble, she's not familiar enough with this world. But Katya doesn't feel like explaining to Bob why she feels responsible.

She doesn't have to, since Trixie enters the cabin with a flourish of her dress. She approaches the desk, looking at Bob and ignoring Katya.

“You wanted to speak to us.” Trixie has her hands folded in front of her stomach, looking awfully proper. 

“I did?” Bob looks at her with a frown, before her face is taken over by realization. “Oh, right, I did! I think I can help you.”

“Help us how?” Katya asks.

“I may know where to find a Babylon candle. I’ve seen a few at my fence’s warehouse before.” 

"Your what?" Trixie asks with a frown.

"My fence. She shifts goods for me that were procured in a variety of ways, not all of them strictly legal."

“Oh! That's great news,” Trixie exclaims at the same time as Katya asks, “And what do you get out of that?”

Bob turns towards Katya and rolls her eyes. “Alright, you can cool it. If I wanted anything from you two, don’t you think I’d have gotten it out of Trixie while you were sleeping? In my cabin, I might add.”

Katya sniffs and crosses her arms in front of her body. She doesn’t like the way Bob said that, getting it out of Trixie .

“Will you stop that?” Bob sounds more amused than annoyed. “Nobody is trying to steal your girl.”

“I’m not her girl,” Trixie interjects before Katya can say anything. She sounds frosty, and Katya doesn’t know why it stings so much. 

“Sure,” Bob remarks dryly. “Anyway, in two days we have our next planned shore leave. You can pick up a candle and be on your merry way. Sound good?”

“Sounds perfect!” Trixie slaps on a cheery smile and she’s out the cabin before Katya can say anything else. 

“Girl,” Bob leans over the desk, whispering conspiratorially, “you better find some way to apologize to her or none of us are gonna have a good time until we get to the warehouse.”

Katya lets her head fall back and groans deeply.

*

Now that Katya has partially recovered, she’s moved out of the captain’s cabin and gets assigned a hammock below deck with the rest of the crew. That night she puts it up in the same corner where Trixie has found a temporary resting place. They exchanged a few words over dinner, so at least Trixie isn’t ignoring her completely. Katya still feels out of her element with all these people around taking up Trixie’s attention. 

Apparently Trixie really has kept her mouth shut about who and what she is, and Katya has caught a variety of whispers in the mess hall. The most common one seems to be that Trixie is a princess and Katya her magical protector. She ignored all pointed questions and looks sent her way.

As Katya carefully climbs into her hammock, on Trixie’s other side a woman gets into hers, giving Katya a friendly smile. She’s the one who taught them to waltz earlier, who Bob called Monet. She and Trixie seem to be fast friends already. Katya smiles back, in an attempt to at least not deter others from talking to her when she doesn’t know how to start a conversation. 

The next day the crew is in good spirits. When Katya asks Monet over her bowl of porridge why that is, she gets the reply that they’re expecting a thunderstorm to hit this evening. She doesn’t explain any further, and Katya doesn’t want to expose that she has no idea why that would be a good thing. So she hangs back all day, watching the pirates rigging up big nets made of wire below the large balloon that keeps the ship in the air. Afterwards they drag metal containers and glass tubes up from below deck. Trixie sits next to her for all of it, watching as well. 

“They’re going to catch lightning bolts and sell them,” she finally explains quietly.

“What? How do you know?”

She turns to Katya, raising both brows. “I asked.”

It grows dark long before the sun should set. They’re surrounded by thick grey clouds that the ship’s bow slices through. As fat drops of rain start falling, Bob hands them both raincoats. Katya ignores hers, instead pulling on the coat Dela made her. 

“Alright, it’s time you earn your stay,” Bob tells them with a grin as she overlooks the wire nets being spread out left and right of the airship. Where they connect to the ship, the crew is attaching the tubes and containers, and Katya is starting to understand. By the times she gets there, there is no more time to just try. The air around them is crackling with electricity. When lightning hits and travels down the wire, both she and Trixie shriek, to the amusement of the pirates. 

With thunder crashing in her ears, Katya pushes the tube into the container before her just when the lightning bolt has reached her, with Monet screaming Now! next to her. It’s resisting - so much power in such a small space - and Trixie rushes in, putting her hands on Katya’s and pressing down. Together they manage it, and with an excited scream Trixie throws her arms around Katya’s neck. Katya hugs back without thinking, too exhilarated from the charged air all around them.

They make a good team. Katya had expected Trixie to sit back and watch, but she’s not afraid of work. She doesn’t even seem to mind her pretty updo being soaked, dripping down the back of her neck. Together they catch and pack up a number of bolts that Bob tells them afterwards is very impressive for their first hunt.

“Some pirate you are,” Katya mutters as the crew transports the crates full of lightning into the belly of the ship. Bob just grins. 

Trixie is bright-eyed, her cheeks red, when she comes below deck to dry off. With her coat Katya is the only one who stayed dry and Bob had offered her an amount of money for it that sounded outrageous to Katya. She had declined. There is no space for modesty, the whole crew is undressing, but Katya still holds up her coat in their corner, giving Trixie some privacy while Katya firmly stares down at her boots. 

Trixie emerges in another gown, this one a light pink, the fabric shimmering in the light from the lanterns illuminating the space. Her hair is down, the blond made darker by the water Trixie is still squeezing out of it with both hands. When Katya has put her coat away Trixie hands her a brush, and Katya silently wonders which of the pirates gifted it to her.

“Can you help me put it up again?” She has already grabbed Katya by the wrist, pulling her towards the mess hall where they can sit down.

“I don’t know how.”

“Then just do what you usually do with yours.” Trixie sits down on the edge of a bench, leaving Katya to straddle the wooden board behind her. As she runs her fingers through Trixie’s hair to untangle it, her knuckles graze the back of Trixie’s neck and she gasps quietly.

“Sorry, cold hands.” Katya pulls her fingers back, rubbing them together. Even though Trixie was the one soaked by the rain, she’s still radiating warmth.

“It’s alright,” she tells Katya without turning around. “Keep going.”

By the time Katya has carefully disentangled all knots, Trixie’s hair is merely damp, and she braids it as neatly as she can, being careful to not tug on Trixie’s scalp. She ties it off with a piece of string Trixie hands her, pulling it into a little bow. 

“Thank you,” Trixie says when Katya tells her she’s done. “Now you.”

For a moment Katya tries to argue that she doesn’t need help, her hair didn’t even get wet, but Trixie won’t hear it. With a sigh Katya accepts the fingers that are undoing the simple piece of twine she’s tied her braid up with and separating the strands of hair.

After a while of Trixie brushing her hair, Katya starts to relax. She only notices the stares they get after Trixie has pulled a few strands of hair back from her temples and tied those together at the back of Katya's head, telling her she looks pretty that way. The mess hall has filled, except for the table they're sitting at, everybody glancing over at them every now and then. Katya catches Monet winking at her, and it makes her jump up and grab a bowl of stew for both of them, keeping her head down as she does so. 

In her hammock Katya sleeps like a rock, gently swaying with the airship, and the next morning she feels much more like herself again. Bob confirms that they’ll dock today, and both Trixie and Katya are buoyed by their first real lead on their search for a Babylon candle. 

The fence’s warehouse is at the top of a cliff, with a rickety wooden pier that Katya doesn’t dare look down from as they cross it to get to the building. After several days in the air it’s strange to have solid ground underneath her feet again, and Katya’s knees still feel like they’re bobbing along with the breeze. 

Trixie and her have fallen to the end of their little procession of pirates transporting the goods. It gives Katya a moment to look at the woman who is Bob’s fence before she has noticed them. It makes her freeze on the spot, and Trixie bumps into her, not expecting her to stop.

“What’s wrong?”

Katya nods towards the woman. “She’s a witch.”

Trixie looks from Katya to the fence and back again with a frown. “How can you tell?” The confusion is understandable. She looks just like a woman. A very pretty young woman with brown skin, dark hair, and an amount of crystals dangling from her that wouldn’t be out of place on a chandelier.

“I just know,” Katya says with a shrug. Instinctively she reaches for Trixie’s arm and pulls her behind herself. “It’s best if you don’t draw attention to yourself.”

“Bob trusts her,” Trixie points out. “I’m sure we’re safe.”

“Would you bet your life on that?” Katya asks darkly, and without waiting for a reply, she catches up with the pirates, trying to blend in. 

“Come on, Priyanka, you know my stuff is always fresh,” Bob argues as the fence risks a short glance into one of the containers, a lightning bolt very nearly missing her head as it escapes and pings around the warehouse, off boxes and barrels, before it finally fizzles out.

“No offence, but I’m not taking anybody’s word around here.” There is no edge to Priyanka’s voice. “I work almost exclusively with pirates.” As she straightens up, her gaze lands on Katya. Or so she thinks for a second.

“Oh, this gown is exquisite. Where did you get this?” She rushes towards them, swerves around Katya and heads straight for Trixie. Priyanka grabs one of her hands and circles her. Hot anger rises in Katya’s throat. The only thing missing is a wolf whistle.

Trixie turns slowly, Priyanka still holding onto her hand. “Bob gave it to me.”

Well , she knows how to treat a lady.” Priyanka throws an exaggerated wink and a grin in Bob’s direction, getting a sigh in return.

“Leave her alone, Pri.” Bob doesn’t sound embarrassed, so Katya isn’t sure if it was only a joke or if her and Priyanka really have a personal history and Bob simply doesn’t care.

“Why?” Priyanka gets closer to Trixie, looking her up and down. “Shit, if I could I’d offer you good money for--” she gestures towards her own chest while staring at Trixie’s. “You know, maybe I have a spell for that. But it would be a shame; they look fantastic on you,” she muses as Katya steps in between them, grabbing Priyanka’s wrist and pulling her off Trixie.

“Enough.”

“Oh, don’t you worry, sweetie. You’re very pretty too,” Priyanka purrs at her, and Katya regrets getting so close to her. “Usually I don’t go for older women, because they’re hard to find for me, but you and I could really make some magic happen, don’t you think?” She wiggles her eyebrows, and Katya looks down with her face hot. She steps back and pulls Trixie behind herself again.

Priyanka leans to the side so she can see Trixie. “You’re invited too, gorgeous.”

To Katya’s complete mortification, Trixie laughs; the shrill shriek Katya only had the pleasure of hearing a few times before.

“I like her,” she declares as Katya looks at her in bewilderment. When Katya keeps staring at her, she shrugs and mouths what?

“You’re all being very cute, but can we get back to business?” Bob interrupts the scene, and Priyanka saunters towards her with a last smile over her shoulder. 

“Alright, alright, the usual price, whatever.” She waves a careless hand somewhere behind her. “Put them down over there.” 

The crew members who had accompanied them move the cargo to where she pointed and then return to the ship on Bob’s orders while she, Trixie, and Katya remain. A sizable pouch jangling with coins changes hands, and Bob lets it disappear in her jacket.

“My friends have a special request.”

At Bob’s words Priyanka starts grinning again. “So do I, or do I have to make myself even clearer?” She shimmies her shoulders, making Trixie giggle, and then giving her another wink.

Bob is smiling too, in an exasperated way that tells Katya this is not the first conversation like this she’s had with Priyanka.

“No, they need a Babylon candle.”

At that Priyanka gets serious. “Hmm, I might still have one, but I’m not sure.” She’s already heading deeper into the warehouse, the rest of them following. She stops at a shelf full of knick-knacks, walking up and down as she scans its contents. “They sell quickly, Babylon candles.”

She bounces on the balls of her feet for a moment and then starts floating upwards, checking the upper shelves she couldn’t see before.

“A- ha !” She comes back down, in her hand the stump of a black candle. “It’s got one journey left in it.” She considers the candle and then Trixie and Katya. “Now, what can you give me for this?”

“I don’t have any money,” Katya quickly gets out of the way, and Priyanka snorts.

“Didn’t think you did. I’d ask you to perform a magic task for me, but I’m not trying to kill you.”

So she knows what Katya is and what’s happening to her. Priyanka hums pensively before gesturing to Katya’s body.

“I can feel the magic of this thing. What can it do?”

It takes Katya a moment to realize she means the coat. “Oh, uh, it tells rain to fall somewhere else”

“Oooh, that will sell for a fortune,” Priyanka coos.

“My sister made it,” Katya mutters, she’s not quite sure why. She doesn’t want to part with it; it was a gift made for her, a little bit of home she’s been carrying around with her.

“Alright, I’ll throw in a nice jacket to make up for it, how does that sound?”

A few minutes later they leave with the candle in Katya’s bag and her wrapped in a warm black wool coat. It’s nice, but Katya still misses hers. 

They already picked up all their things from the ship. Bob points out the path that leads down from the warehouse to the nearest road. Then she hugs them both.

“I hope you get where you need to be. Good luck.” For once her tone is neither dry nor sarcastic, and Katya is sad to see her go. As the ship floats off, Monet waves to them, and they wave back. Then they’re alone.

“So,” Katya starts, “do you want to do it right here or…” She drifts off, not knowing what else to say. They have a candle now. Trixie can finally go home, and Katya won’t be putting her into danger anymore. She should be happy about that.

Trixie looks at her for a long moment, and then says, “Let’s get off this cliff first.”

There’s a tense silence as they descend the path. It even makes Katya miss the unicorn that they left behind hundreds of miles away. She wonders if the unicorn is safe and then immediately dismisses the thought. It-- she did fine by herself before she came to Trixie’s rescue.

When they get to the road, they both stop, silently looking at each other for an uncomfortably long time.

“Alright, I guess that’s it.” Katya tries to give Trixie a smile, knowing it doesn’t look convincing. She starts digging through her bag for the candle. It’s slipped underneath all her things and she’s rummaging around the bottom.

“Katya.”

“Hm?”

“I’m not going.”

Katya looks up at that. “What? What do you mean?”

Trixie sighs and then sits down on the ground, patting the earth beside her until Katya folds down on her legs.

“I can’t go home yet,” Trixie starts to explain, “because you saved my life. That’s a debt I have to repay first.”

“That’s ridiculous. Your life was only in danger because of me.”

But Trixie shakes her head. “You gave up years and years of your life to help me. I have to offer something in return.”

Katya laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “And what do you have that you can give me?”

“I can help you find something to restore your magic,” Trixie says with determination in her eyes.

Katya looks at her with her mouth open for a moment before giving up. She doesn’t have the energy to convince Trixie that this is a truly terrible idea. 

Chapter Text

Once again they are walking, and this time without a unicorn. Katya took some food from the ship, but it won't last long with Trixie insisting to stay. They’re heading towards another city, not planning to actually go within its walls, but Katya is counting on there being some place to sleep. 

She knows what she needs to do. She told Trixie they needed somewhere to regroup and come up with a plan. But Katya already has a plan. She’s going to tell Trixie the truth. She has no nerves left to come up with a story of how she’d find a magical creature. She’s simply going to tell Trixie it was supposed to be her, and then Trixie will want to go home. It will hopefully leave Katya in a comfortable place to wait for Bianca, who she’s sure will catch up with her eventually. She’ll face her sister’s wrath and if there’s anything left of her afterwards, she can go and kill whatever creature has the misfortune of crossing her path first.

All of it fills Katya with a cold dread that sits in her stomach, but it’s the only thing she can think of doing. 

Trixie seems to sense that there’s something going on with Katya, and she quietly follows her along the dirt road among plains that are slowly starting to turn green. There is no real reason Katya didn’t get it over with right there and then when Trixie told her she would stay, other than that she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. There is no neat turn of phrase to soften the blow of I’m supposed to kill you .

The sun has already set when they finally reach an inn. They didn’t stop all day, neither for food nor rest, and Katya feels it in her bones. It was still preferable to having to sit and have nothing else to do but talk to Trixie. 

When she pushes open the heavy wooden door, she’s hit by a wall of stale but warm air. Other than that the inn seems mostly deserted. A bored looking man stands behind the bar, enjoying a tankard of his own beer. He slowly puts it down as they approach.

“My friend and I require a room for the night, in exchange--” Katya’s spiel is interrupted by Trixie hurrying up to the bar. She’s digging through the folds of her skirt, producing a leather pouch. By the sound of it it’s filled with coins.

“I've got money!” she announces triumphantly, as Katya stares at her in confusion.

“Where did you get that?”

“Priyanka. I sold my earrings while you were picking a new coat.” Trixie is grinning broadly. “Bob said it was alright,” she clarifies.

“What did you do that for?” Katya mutters. The innkeeper is eyeing them closely.

“So you won’t have to kill yourself with… you know .” Trixie raises her eyebrows meaningfully.

Katya sighs. “Right, one room for the night, please.”

“A nice one,” Trixie adds, opening the drawstring on her purse. “And can you heat up water for a bath?”

Katya can barely hide her smile as she rolls her eyes. Their brief time on the pirate ship has shown that while Trixie doesn’t shy away from work she also appreciates the finer things in life. Considering it’s not Katya’s money, she doesn’t argue, just follows the innkeeper and Trixie up the stairs and down a narrow, dark hallway. At the end the innkeeper opens a door, and they step through after him.

“It’s the best we’ve got.”

That’s not saying much, Katya thinks, but keeps it to herself. It’s the corner room which means they have one window that looks out onto the dark road, the other onto the adjoining building, probably a barn. There’s one bed, a table with two chairs, and a low dresser with a mirror above it that’s stained with age.

The innkeeper addresses Trixie as he jerks one elbow towards Katya. “Your servant can sleep in the stables.”

“She’s staying here with me,” Trixie clarifies with a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. “Now please see to that bath, I want to retire soon. Oh, and send up some dinner, please.” She maneuvers the man out into the hallway and presses another gold coin into his hand before closing the door in his face. Then she sighs, and with a grin at Katya she lets herself fall across the bed, her arms spread out. The way the frame creaks doesn’t inspire any confidence. 

Katya clears her throat. “You can have the bed, I’ll stay in the stables.”

Trixie lifts her head from where she’s lying, fixing Katya with a frown. “Don’t be ridiculous. There’s plenty of room for both of us.”

“I-- alright.” By the time Katya has put everything out there that needs to be said she’s sure she’ll have the bed to herself after all. Which means she’ll have to tell Trixie. Now. She takes a deep breath.

“Trixie, I have--” Katya is interrupted by a knock on the door. 

“Can you get that, please?” Trixie asks brightly from where she’s still lying.

“Uh,” Katya blinks a few times before setting herself in motion. “Sure.”

She opens the door to two boys, probably the innkeeper’s teenage sons, carrying in a large wooden tub that they set down in the middle of the room. From then on one of them rushes back and forth from their room to what Katya assumes is the kitchen, bringing in jugs of steaming water. The second reappears with a tray, putting down plates on the table as well as bowls of potatoes, carrots and a platter with thick slices of some sort of roast. Finally he sets down a pitcher and two beer mugs before leaving the other boy to deal with the bath by himself.

“Ooh, food,” Trixie coos and gets up from the bed to sit at the table instead. “Come on, no need to let it get cold.” 

With a sigh Katya sits down with her, filling her plate with the admittedly delicious smelling food. It’s all glistening with melted butter, and the richness makes Katya’s stomach a little queasy, along with the conversation she’s had to bite back until they’re finally alone. They both scarf down what’s on their plates, Trixie ignoring the roast, and by the time the tub is halfway full they’ve finished their meal. 

Once they are alone Katya doesn’t even get to try and start a conversation.

“Do you have anything in that bag of yours that would be relaxing?” Trixie asks while Katya is still washing down the last of her dinner with some beer.

“Oh, uh, probably.” By now Katya has forgotten the contents of all the vials that Aquaria gave her, and she has to study the little labels for a moment. Finally Aquaria’s neat handwriting informs her she’s holding a bottle of bergamot and lavender oil, and Katya wonders exactly which occasion her sister thought this would come in handy for. Well. It is handy now, but Katya doubts she knew that. Unless Jinkx saw a bath in a country inn in Katya’s future and chose to share that with Aquaria. Weirder things have happened in their palace.

Katya puts the vial on the table, and Trixie immediately grabs and uncorks it, sniffing at the oil.

“Yes, that’s good.”

“I’ve got soap, too,” Katya mutters, digging through her bag until she can produce a small linen bag with a simple bar of soap in it. It’s probably not the luxurious experience Trixie had been hoping for, but it’s better than nothing. Katya drops her bag by her feet. "I'll just," she gestures downwards, to where she suspects the bar area is, "wait outside."

Trixie looks at her with exasperation for a moment. "Katya, this is for you."

"What?"

"You've been tense all day, I just wanted to do something nice for you." Trixie shrugs nonchalantly.

"Oh." Katya blinks a few times. “That’s. Thanks.”

Trixie sighs and gets up. “Come on.” She steps up to the tub and drizzles some of the oil into the hot water. The fresh scent of lavender mingles with the spice of the bergamot, and Katya finds herself inhaling deeply. Maybe a bath would be nice. She could definitely use some relaxation. It’s the last chance she’ll have for a while. Maybe forever.

“Alright,” she concedes hesitantly. As Katya bends down to untie her boots she sees Trixie standing in the middle of the room, waiting. “Aren’t you going to…” she gestures towards the door.

“Oh, I was going to stay, wash your hair, all of that,” Trixie informs her brightly. “I know on the ship everyone was fawning over me, which… who could blame them? But I think it’s your turn to get some attention.” Then her grin gets wider. “Are you worried I’m going to do anything untoward?”

“No!” Katya hastily replies. “No, of course not, but you don’t have to--”

“I want to. Unless you don’t want me to?”

Trixie is talking too fast and the air in the room is heavy with humidity. It’s making it hard to think. 

“I don’t know what I want,” Katya admits quietly. She expects Trixie to make fun of her, but instead she kneels down in front of Katya, taking one of her hands into her own.

“Do you want me to leave?”

Katya doesn’t think and just says, “No.”

Trixie just smiles, nods, and then carries on untying Katya’s boots. After she’s pulled them off Katya’s feet, she gets up and guides Katya up by her hands. She doesn’t undress her further, turning around and busying herself with piling up the empty dishes on the table. In the meantime Katya slips off her clothes, dropping them on the bed, and then stepping into the water. 

It’s just on the side of too hot, and for a second she has only one foot in. Then she realizes that Trixie is going to turn around soon, so she sits down, hissing through her teeth as the water rises up to her shoulders. Katya grabs the soap and works up some lather with her hands, but the suds are far too few to cover her in the water. 

Trixie hums a tune Katya faintly recognizes as she kneels down next to the tub and takes the soap from Katya's hands. Intertwining their fingers, Trixie holds up one of Katya's arms and runs the soap along the skin. She follows it up with her own hand, warm and soft. Trixie repeats the process along Katya's shoulders, pushing her hair first to one side, then the other, before moving on to Katya’s other arm. She takes her time rubbing the suds around Katya’s nails with her fingertips, gently but thoroughly cleaning away the remnants of the day. 

Once she’s done, Trixie goes to grab a chair from the table and places it behind the tub, telling Katya to lean back and close her eyes. Something dips into the water next to her, and then water is running over Katya’s hair. Trixie repeats it a few times before gently massaging some of the soap into Katya’s scalp. She’s careful but not overly gentle, and the pressure against her head makes Katya sigh. Automatically she slides a little deeper into the water, and Trixie’s humming is interrupted by a little amused huff. 

The day is catching up with Katya now that she’s lying in the fragrant, warm water, having Trixie rub the tension out of her temples. She barely registers when Trixie’s fingers move down the sides of her neck and start rubbing her shoulders, she just sighs and lets her head fall forwards. More water is gently poured over her head, washing the soap away, and after a while Trixie’s hands stop, the warm points of contact that are her fingers pulling back. Katya blinks slowly, feeling like she just woke up from a nap.

“I’ll let you finish up,” Trixie murmurs right next to Katya’s ear, and a shudder runs down her spine. In the dim light of the room she watches Trixie walk towards the bed. She’s shedding the outer layer of her clothes, the pink of her dress shimmering as she pulls it off. Then Trixie moves out of Katya’s view and instead of craning her neck she remembers she’s supposed to get out of the tub.

She doesn’t bother washing the rest of her body with soap. By the now merely tepid water Katya can tell she’s been sitting in the bath for a long time; that will do. She looks around, finding a towel over the back of the chair Trixie had been sitting on a minute ago. Katya reaches for it as she stands up, quickly wrapping herself up before she’s even stepped out of the tub. 

All her limbs feel heavy, her bones softened by the heat, and her skin smells delicious. With slow movements Katya starts drying herself off. Trixie steps up to her with a second towel that she rubs through Katya’s hair. Once they’re both done, Trixie hands Katya a bundle of clothes. They’re fresh underclothes and a shirt Trixie must have pulled from Katya’s bag. Only then does she notice that Trixie is stripped down to her chemise and drawers. Katya dresses while Trixie goes around the room, extinguishing the candles. When she’s done and back by the bed, Katya is already under the covers.

As Trixie blows out the last candle that sits on the bedside table, the room doesn’t get much darker. Trixie’s entire form is emanating a soft glow. It lets Katya stare at Trixie’s face as she gets settled next to Katya, their knees bumping underneath the blanket. 

“Do you feel better?” Trixie asks in a whisper, and for a moment Katya just keeps looking at Trixie’s face and the way her mouth moves.

“Mh-hmm,” she confirms then. Trixie smiles and scoots even closer.

“You should rest now.” She slings one arm over Katya’s waist, pulling her close. Katya can hear her own heartbeat loud in her ears as she tenses up but then relaxes again when Trixie hums against her forehead.

For one last moment she thinks about telling Trixie, finally, but then her eyes close by themselves, and Katya is lulled to sleep by Trixie’s warm embrace.

*

It’s still pitch black when Katya wakes. She’s cold, and with one hand flat on the mattress next to her she confirms that she’s alone. 

That’s not what woke her. There is noise from downstairs; loud voices that Katya recognizes. Muttering curses under her breath she jumps out of bed. Katya tries lacing up her boots at the same time as stuffing all of their things back in her bag, including Trixie’s dress and her own clothes. There is no time to get dressed. Katya checks that the Babylon candle is still there, and when she finds it she puts it in the pocket of her coat, just in case. After she’s pulled it on, she quickly and quietly makes her way down the hallway and the stairs.

She had hoped she would be wrong, that they were too far away, that Bianca would need longer to track them. But her sister is standing with her back to the stairs, facing Trixie who is wrapped in a blanket, with a jug of water in her hand, looking at Bianca with determination written across her face. Neither of them seems to have noticed Katya yet.

“You’re very special, do you know that?” Bianca’s sneering voice cuts through the room.

Trixie gives her a cold smile. “I do know that.” Her confidence falters when Bianca steps forward and Trixie tries to step back, but she’s already backed against the wall. She drops the jug, and it doesn't break but water spills over her shoes. It makes Bianca cackle.

“It’s just you and me, star. Katya’s magic won’t save you this time.”

“I don’t need her to save me,” Trixie replies, pulling her shoulders back. 

“What are you going to do? Sparkle really hard?” Bianca stalks even closer. “No, the only use you have is your heart.”

“Yes, well, I’m currently using it.” As Trixie says it, her eyes meet Katya’s, but her face stays blank. “Maybe you should give yours a go,” she calmly directs at Bianca, before scooting along the wall. Instead of moving towards her, Bianca steps to the other side, circling Trixie like prey. It opens up space between the stairs and Trixie, and Katya considers making a run for it when Bianca’s next words make her freeze where she’s standing.

“I knew Katya couldn’t do it. She’s always been too soft. Of course she was lying to me when she said she was working on gaining your trust.”

“What do you mean?” Trixie asks with a frown, letting her calm facade slip.

“Oh, didn’t she tell you?” Bianca asks gleefully. “She divined it was her fate to find you and cut out your heart.”

Trixie’s eyes flicker to Katya for just a second before she visibly swallows and faces Bianca again. “You’re lying.”

"I'm not! She did the whole ceremony, with the heart of a goat. You're her fate and there's nothing either of you can do about it."

Trixie shakes her head vehemently. "She would have told me."

Bianca laughs again. "And why would she? You don't know her. She was always going to be a hunter. What do you know of her world?"

Katya watches the exchange with her heart in her throat. She wants to rush in and explain but she needs to be smart about this. Bianca hasn't noticed her yet and that's the only advantage she has right now.

Bianca is too close to the door for Katya to grab Trixie and make a run for it. That's assuming that Trixie would still come with her. Right now Trixie doesn't seem to know what to believe. She's still staring at Bianca, slowly shaking her head.

"You're just doing this to divide us. I know Katya; maybe not the way you do, but I know her. And she has never done anything to harm me." At Trixie's words Katya feels hope flare up in her stomach. That is true, she has always tried to protect Trixie. Maybe she can salvage what they have. It all crumbles down again when Trixie adds, "She would never betray my trust like that."

Katya closes her eyes, breathes deeply, and opens them again. She can explain and apologize later. Right now she needs to get them out of here. There's a window near the bar. It's not big, but if she's fast enough she might be able to smash it and pull Trixie through with her. She'll give herself a magical boost. It's the only alternative that she has to leaving Trixie in Bianca's hands.

"You really think that, don't you?" Bianca sneers. "Well, there's no need for me to convince you. Why don't you tell her, Katya?" She turns around to face Katya. "I thought I could smell your guilty conscience." She’s grinning, and Katya feels sick to her stomach.

"Tell her she's lying," Trixie says, her voice oddly calm.

Katya doesn't reply. She straightens her shoulders and walks to Trixie's side.

"Tell me she's lying." Trixie has tears in her eyes, threatening to fall, but she looks furious.

Katya takes her hand, intertwines their fingers and squeezes twice.

"She's not lying."

Trixie pulls away abruptly, staring at Katya's face in horror.

"Oh, this is embarrassing; I’m embarrassed for you. What did you think was going to happen?” Bianca taunts. “Did you think your magic would return by itself if you were really, really nice to the star? That you two would hold hands and skip through meadows together?” She claps loudly. “Wake up! She would never like you if she knew what you really were.”

Katya’s head snaps around to stare at her sister. She wants to tell Bianca that she’s wrong, but Trixie is looking at her with hurt and something close to disgust.

“You belong with me and our sisters; stop trying to fight what you are. Just kill her and get it over with.” Bianca is no longer taunting. Her patience has run out; she’s bored of them, much like a cat tiring of the half-dead mouse trying to escape its claws.   

For the first time in her life, that’s not enough for Katya to duck her head and do as she’s told.

“I’m so sorry,” Katya mutters, only loud enough for Trixie to hear, and grabs her around the waist, pulling her close.

“Let me go!” Trixie tries to push her off and wriggle out of Katya’s grip. Katya only holds on tighter and aims with her elbow, trying to drag Trixie close enough to the window that she can smash it. But Trixie’s resistance slows her down too much.

“Oh no, you don’t.” Bianca stretches both arms out, and left and right of them bright green flames erupt, consuming the bar counter and everything in the room at unnatural speed. “If you won’t take her heart, I will.”

The window is no longer an option, now that the magical fire is closing in on them. Beads of sweat erupt all over Katya’s face and drip down from her brow into her eyes, making it hard to see. Somewhere else in the building screams ring out, and Katya sincerely hopes the innkeeper and the boys who served them make it out safely. 

There is one last option for Trixie and her. As she’s still holding on to Trixie, Katya tries to inconspicuously sneak one hand into her pocket. She needs Bianca to not pay attention for a few seconds. Some benevolent deity seems to be paying attention, because right next to Biana the door is kicked down, and in its stead appears a familiar silvery-white unicorn, rearing up on its hindlegs and making Bianca scramble out of the way of its hooves.

It gives Katya enough time to find the candle in her pocket and pull it out. She’s never used one before, but it’s supposed to be easy; just light it and think of where you want to go. So Katya grabs the candle tightly in her fist, sticks her arm into the green flames and thinks of home.

*

They didn’t make it home. It only takes Katya one look around where she’s crumpled on the ground on yet another uninspiring strip of land to realize she failed them once again. The disappointment is quickly swept up in the searing pain of her arm. 

What’s left of her sleeve is hanging singed around her elbow. Below that her skin is bright red, visible even in the first grey light of dusk, looking like it melted and then set as it was about to drip off her bones. As the adrenaline wears off, it starts to feel like she’s still on fire.

“I can’t believe I trusted you.” Trixie’s voice is cold and slices right through Katya’s lungs, making it hard to breathe.

“Please, I-- I was going to tell you.” She hears how pathetic she sounds, but she can barely string together any words. The pain is making her dizzy. “I wanted to tell you,” she sobs.

Trixie has scrambled off the ground. She’s pacing back and forth in her undergarments in front of where Katya dropped down, not looking at her and ranting as she goes.

“Oh, sure, because it was so hard to find an opportunity to talk to me!”

“I didn’t--” Katya needs to gasp for air, forcing herself to keep talking. It would be easier to just give up. Let Trixie yell at her, let Trixie hate her, like Katya deserves. “I didn’t know how to say it.”

“Well, anything would have been a start.” The sun is starting to appear above the horizon, and Trixie’s hair glimmers in the morning light as she gestures wildly. Then she goes very still. “The candle.”

“Hm?”

“You used the candle!” Trixie hurries towards her, dropping to her knees and searching the ground with her hands spread out. “Priyanka said it only had one journey left, so…” Her sentence trails off, and she looks up at Katya slowly.

“You did this on purpose.”

“Trixie--” Katya doesn’t get to say anything else.

“You stranded me here on this dismal planet, far away from your sister so you could have me to yourself.” Her voice has taken on a hysterical edge, getting more and more shrill, but then it goes down to a whisper as she adds, “You still want to eat my heart.”

“Trixie, please.” Katya can’t string together anything more than that. She has trouble keeping her eyes open. It would be so much easier to just lie back. She’s too tired to fight. Instead of saying anything, she just sticks out her fist towards Trixie and opens it, showing off the stump of the candle she’d been holding onto this whole time.

Trixie’s eyes travel from the candle up Katya’s arm.

“Oh, no.” She scoots closer on her knees. “No, no, no, what did you do ?” Her anger has turned to panic.

“I’m sorry,” Katya slurs. She’s still crying but it’s hard to remember why.

“Heal yourself. Like you did with my ankle,” Trixie demands, her hands fluttering around the arm that Katya is somehow still managing to hold out.

“Can’t.”

“You have to!” Trixie’s voice has gone back to shrill, and it hurts Katya’s head.

“It’ll kill me,” she manages, her arm dropping down by itself. Katya finally allows herself to close her eyes.

“No! Stay awake!” 

Hands are grabbing her shoulders, shaking her, and Katya groans in pain.

“I take it back, you didn’t do it on purpose. Please, just…” Trixie sounds like she’s crying now too. “ Please , Katya.” Something wet and hot presses against Katya’s cheeks and then her mouth, over and over. “Please don’t leave me.”

It’s the last thing Katya hears before she drifts off, the pain finally subsiding.

Chapter Text

“Ow,” Katya mutters as soon as she wakes up. Her arm is still a bright explosion of pain radiating through her body, but it no longer makes her vision blur. She’s lying on the ground,  the injured limb wrapped in what Katya quickly recognizes as her shawl that she used to bandage up Trixie’s broken ankle. That feels like a lifetime ago when in reality she can probably count the days they’ve known each other on both hands. At least if she still has fingers on her right hand to count with. 

The sun is partially obscured by clouds, but Katya is fairly sure noon has come and gone. She resists the urge to try and move her fingers inside the makeshift bandage, but when she lightly touches the fabric with her good hand, she notices it’s slightly damp. Trixie must have kept it wet to cool Katya’s skin.

Trixie.

Katya looks around hectically for a moment before she feels something stir at her back.

"You're awake!" Relief pours out of Trixie's voice and washes over Katya. Trixie doesn't sound mad, or at least she seems happier that Katya is alive than upset that she lied to her all this time. Trixie is on her knees and scoots around Katya so she can look at her without Katya having to move. "How are you feeling?"

"Like somebody set me on fire."

Trixie gives her a small smile that doesn’t do anything to alleviate the worry in her eyes. "Yes, I think that was you."

“In hindsight that was not my best idea.”

Trixie laughs, exasperated. “You need hindsight to know that?”

They look at each other silently for a moment, the knowledge of Katya’s lie hanging between them, thick like cobwebs at the end of summer. When Trixie opens her mouth to speak, Katya prepares herself for the worst, but it doesn’t come.

“There’s something you should see.” Trixie arranges the skirt of her dress around her legs, keeping her fingers busy.

“Alright.” Katya pulls herself up into a sitting position, her arm protectively pulled against her chest, and the pain still makes her press her lips together to keep from whimpering. “I guess I should take a look.”

Trixie blinks a few times. “Oh! That’s not what I meant, but sure.”

“What did you mean?”

Trixie's eyes are intense on her face, and she doesn’t move for a long moment. Then she sighs and gets up. Katya watches as Trixie moves around the camp that she must have set up by herself while Katya was unconscious. She picks up the waterskin and then grabs the pot sitting by the fire. With growing confusion, Katya watches as Trixie pours some water and then comes towards her, holding out the pot. Instinctively, Katya wants to grab it, but the smallest movement of her hand makes the pain flare up.

“I’ll hold it,” Trixie says. “Just look.” She bends down, holding the pot low enough that Katya can look into it, not knowing what to expect.

Katya gasps. It’s her own reflection, the way she looked before she used up all her magic, the way she should look.

“How did you do that?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Trixie says, a little too quickly. She won’t meet Katya’s eyes.

“Right.” Katya bites her lip. “Do you know what this means?”

“That you’ve got your magic back?” Trixie sits down on the ground, the pot of water between them. Katya can’t take her eyes off her own face, her skin with only a few wrinkles around her eyes, speaking of joy rather than age. 

“It would appear so.” Katya’s cheeks are full again, and the grey from her hair has disappeared. She still has dark circles under her eyes, but she’s sure those are due to exhaustion her body is experiencing. “When did this happen?”

“As you were passing out.” Trixie shrugs a little, looking helpless. “I watched you get younger before my eyes. Kind of creepy, actually.” Katya acknowledges it with a hum, still prodding at her face. “ How did it happen?” Trixie finally asks, and Katya looks up.

“I have no idea. It shouldn’t. Or at least, I didn’t think it could. But that’s what Ru and then Bianca told us. They easily could have lied to us,” she admits quietly. She never had much of a relationship with Ru, so admitting that about her doesn’t hurt, but Bianca is her sister, despite everything. For decades Katya firmly believed that Bianca had a good heart, she just had to be tough in order to look out for them. Maybe it’s time to consider that she really was only looking out for herself. 

It should be a moment of celebration; Katya should be able to wield her magic freely again. But she still has no idea why. For a horrible moment she wonders if it was someone dying in the fire at the inn. Maybe their unicorn friend, who came to their rescue. Or maybe Bianca herself. Then she realizes that even if they died there, she didn’t consume their hearts. That can’t be it. Trixie pulls her out of her thoughts.

“Do you think you can heal yourself now?”

“Oh!” It hadn’t even occurred to Katya. She has already gotten used to limiting herself, and she doesn’t actually know if her magic is replenished or if this is some kind of freak accident. “Well, we’re about to find out.”

Trixie helps her unwrap her arm, pulling off the shawl with great care, and yet nausea spreads in Katya’s stomach as the fabric pulls on her flesh. By the light of day it looks even worse. Dark edges line the bright red rings where her skin bubbled up in the flames and then burst. All of it is still glistening; her body hasn’t even had an opportunity to form scabs to protect the bare flesh. 

“I poured water over it to keep it cool.” Trixie is staring at the ruined skin, blinking rapidly. “And I made you drink some of the…” She gestures towards Katya’s bag. “The willow bark, for the pain.”

“Thank you,” Katya says gently, and Trixie looks from the arm to Katya’s face. She looks scared.

“It doesn’t look any better than this morning,” she whispers.

Katya nods. “It wouldn’t. It was a magical fire that hurt me, and only magic can heal me.” She takes a deep breath and gives Trixie a smile that she hopes is reassuring. “Alright. Time to give it a go.” Trixie just looks at her with worry.

Katya closes her eyes, searching for that well inside her that ran dry before. It takes her a moment to remember where it was, where to follow the labyrinth of thoughts and feelings as well as the pain that is currently occupying her consciousness. And then she finds the right turn and it floods her, making her gasp. 

It’s not a well, it’s an ocean. It’s never been like this before, even as a young witch with power she didn’t yet know how to harness. It was always something she dipped into carefully, pulled from where it lingered. Now it’s swallowing her up, but instead of pulling her under, it carries her to the surface, letting her decide where she wants to be moved.

From there it’s easy to find the pain, following its bright path in her mind and dousing its flames with magic. The effect is immediate, like a cooling sleeve being pulled over Katya’s arm, the burnt flesh softening, her fingers and palm feeling less stiff.

She hears Trixie gasp and opens her eyes. A layer of delicate pink skin has grown over the bumps and valleys of her arm. It’s not completely smooth, she can still tell where the flames tore at her. Even with magic it will leave scars once it’s healed completely, but it is healing. The fog of pain that had been covering Katya’s mind starts to lift, and she exhales with relief.

“It’s back?” Trixie asks with wide eyes. “Your magic?”

Katya laughs breathlessly. “Oh, it’s… it’s something.” She looks at Trixie’s expectant face, watching her catch up and grin along with Katya, toothy and relieved. Then they’re both silent.

“So,” Katya says, determined to finally get it over with. Better late than never.

“So.” Trixie nods.

“You’re still here and you helped me with this.” She lifts her arm. “Does that mean you’re not mad anymore?”

Trixie barks out a quick laugh. “Oh no, I’m still furious. I just quickly realized it would be much more satisfying to yell at you when you aren’t sobbing and passing out from pain.”

“That’s fair.” Katya nods. 

Trixie’s expression grows serious as she says, “Not really. I’ve had time to think about it, and I still think it was wrong of you not to tell me, but I understand it.”

“You do?” 

Trixie nods, looking down into her lap. “I wouldn’t know how to say that to anyone either. And you risked your life for me. As long as I’ve known you, all you have done was try to protect me. I think that counts for something.”

Katya’s first instinct is to argue and explain that Trixie only was in danger because of her. But that’s not actually true; a fallen star would have attracted the attention of somebody with bad intentions sooner or later. So she just says thank you . She fiddles with the shawl for a moment before adding, “For what it’s worth, I am truly, truly sorry. And I tried to tell you at the inn, before Bianca showed up.”

“Oh.” Trixie bites her lip. “I thought you were trying to send me home, that’s why I kept you busy.”

Katya blinks. “What?”

“I wasn’t just trying to be nice, I was distracting you.”

“Yeah, you can say that again,” Katya mutters. After a moment of letting everything sink in, she asks, “Why don’t you want to go home? I’m assuming it’s not that debt thing.”

“Oh, no, I made that up,” Trixie says with a careless shrug. Then she visibly considers what to say next. “I have been a star for a long time. I have watched people on this planet for centuries, and wondered about their strange little habits, how their lives play out in what felt like minutes to me. And yet they had so much . They learned to walk and talk, to play music and dance, to build palaces, and to cook food for their families and friends. They fell in love.” She looks up at the sky that’s still a blueish gray. “I have more brothers and sisters than I could ever count, but I don’t know any of them. We’re all on our own path.” She looks at Katya and smiles nearly imperceptibly. “I don’t want to just watch anymore.”

“Alright,” Katya smiles back. “So you’re staying here.”

Trixie beams before looking around and asking, “Where exactly is here, anyway? Why did you send us to this place?”

“I have no idea; I meant to send us back home to my sisters. I guess holding on to someone who really doesn’t want to come with you throws the candle off. That or the fact that it’s hard to concentrate when you’re on fire,” Katya muses. “Or maybe the candle just felt that this was the place where we should be.” No magic is precise, but over the years she has gotten fairly good at guessing what it’s doing. 

Katya reaches for her bag, but stretching her arm still hurts, and with a hiss she sits back again. Trixie gets it for her, and Katya pulls out her bag of runestones. She spreads the shawl on the ground, tosses the stones in the air and watches them scatter on the fabric. 

They point towards Trixie.

“Yes, yes, I get it!” Katya has raised her voice without meaning to. “I’ve already found her! She’s right here, my magic is back; what more do you want?”

“Do you often yell at stones?” Trixie asks with a grin. “Hit your head somewhere, did you?”

Katya can feel her face grow hot and her expression go sheepish. “Listen, magic is not an exact science. And yes, sometimes you need to yell at it.”

“Does that work?”

“No, but it makes me feel better,” Katya admits, and Trixie screams, reaching out for Katya in her laughter and almost hitting her arm, but mid-reach she redirects and grabs Katya’s knee instead. 

*

Trixie is quiet, sitting expectantly opposite her as Katya practices her craft. She lets herself slide into the welcoming pool of her power and projects it into the pot full of water. At first it’s only her own face looking back at her, but then she looks out into the chimney above the fireplace in the kitchen at home. There, a large cauldron sits, that Jinkx dragged from the room in the highest tower down into the basement. Decades ago Ru used to make various potions and poisons in it. Jinkx cleaned it, both with magic and with soap, and these days it mainly holds stews of all kinds.

“Wow!” Trixie sticks her head right next to Katya’s, staring into the water, and strands of her hair fall into the pot, disturbing the image.

“Excuse me.” Katya carefully fishes the hair out of her magical mirror, and flips the strands against Trixie’s face where they stick for a second before dropping down again.

With a roll of her eyes Trixie gathers all her hair with her hands and pulls it over one shoulder. “What? I want to see.”

“I’m trying to do something here. We have to be careful, I don’t want to attract the attention of anyone who might be dangerous.” Katya has thought carefully about which of her sisters to contact. Dela has a tendency not to notice what comes out of her mouth, so Katya can't rely on her not to give them away if Bianca contacted someone at the palace. Alaska was Bianca’s second in command, and Katya wasn’t sure if she would lie to their oldest sister if it came down to it. Sasha and Aquaria spend most of their time in the library, where it’s hard to predict who else might be around. That leaves Jinkx, who instead of studying and honing her craft, as Bianca never tired of telling her she should, preferred to stay down in the kitchen, sticking her nose only in cookbooks. 

“How do you know she’s going to be there?” Trixie asks, her face millimeters from Katya.

“I don’t, which is why we should be quiet and careful.” They’re so close that Katya can only focus on one of Trixie's eyes.

“You might want to work on that.”

At the amused voice coming from the pot they both look down, smacking their foreheads together. Cursing, Katya leans back while Trixie rubs her head where they collided. It is unmistakably Jinkx’s cackle coming from the water, and Katya bends down again after giving Trixie a warning look.

“Jinkx!”

“Katya! What a joy it is to see you, and using magic no less.” She grins up from the pot, looking entirely unsurprised. “Who is that you have with you?”

Trixie doesn’t wait for Katya to introduce her, she slots her head next to Katya’s. “Hello, I’m Trixie. It’s nice to meet you.”

Jinkx’s grin gets bigger. “Likewise! It’s not every day I talk to a real star.”

“Jinkx, we need your help,” Katya cuts short whatever it is those two are getting into. “Do you know where Bianca is?”

“No, she left about a week ago, saying you asked for help.”

Katya snorts. “I certainly did not.” She rushes to explain their situation, not helped by Trixie’s constant interrupting, adding details that aren’t important right now. 

“So what can I do?” Jinkx asks with a frown when they’re done.

“You need to help me convince Bianca to leave Trixie alone. We’re on our way home, but I can’t face her alone. She needs to know she’s overpowered.”

Jinkx is silent for a moment, thinking. Then she asks, “And what if we can’t convince her?”

Katya swallows. “Then we need to overpower her.”

Jinkx’s eyes go wide, then she nods. “I will get Sasha on board, maybe the others too. I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Thank you,” Katya says. “I hope so too.”

*

With Katya’s arm still on the mend and the two of them stranded somewhere halfway between the inn and the palace, they decide to stay put for the rest of the day. They will get back on the road in the morning, and hopefully  find someone who can tell them where they are during the course of the day. 

They don’t know what state Bianca got out of that fire in, and Katya is quite frankly too tired to care about that right now. She knows her sister will eventually catch up with them, but she’s willing to risk it and stay where they are for the night. Should she really be that hot on their trail, Katya will get an opportunity to test out the limits of her magical abilities, now that she’s drawing from a new source.

When Katya lit their fire, she accidentally caused the flame to shoot up several feet, making both her and Trixie jump back, yelping. It’s calmed down now, and they’ve sat down with tea and a modest dinner of bread and cheese. Katya’s arm is bandaged up again, to protect the new skin and to remind her that she shouldn’t be using it yet.

It’s gearing up to be a cold night, so they’re sitting close together, with the blanket that Trixie brought with her from the inn wrapped around them as much as possible. After their talk earlier the tension seems to have disappeared, and Katya gets to just enjoy the warmth of Trixie’s side pressed against hers.

"When did you know you weren't going to kill me?" Trixie asks into the silence when she’s finished her food.

"As soon as I realized it was you," Katya replies through a mouthful of bread, without thinking about it. 

“Really?” Trixie sounds both surprised and delighted.

Katya nods. "I wouldn't have done it even if, you know, you and I weren't connected by fate."

Trixie hums and is silent for a moment. Then she says, "Us being each other's fate doesn't have to mean you were supposed to kill me."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, you saved me, first from the prince, then your sister, and you showed me what life down here can be like. Maybe that's our fate."

"For me to be your guide?"

"For you to be my friend."

"Friends?" Katya asks, surprised. "Is that what we are?" The thought is both exhilarating and disappointing, and Katya registers the emotion with curiosity.

“Are we not?” Trixie looks at her with both brows raised.

“I suppose we are,” Katya concedes, and then returns the smile Trixie gives her. She’s glowing faintly again, and Katya feels it envelope her too, like a second blanket.

"Do you still want to know what I did before you got your magic back?" Trixie eventually asks quietly.

"I knew you did something!" Katya bursts out louder than she meant to, and Trixie rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling.

"Do you want me to show you or not?"

Katya clears her throat, folds her hands in her lap. “Yes, please.”

She expects Trixie to do some of her own magic, maybe close her eyes and glow brighter, but instead she leans in slowly, her eyes on Katya’s face. Katya sits very still, not catching on to what she’s doing until Trixie softly presses her lips against Katya’s. It’s a sweet and chaste kiss, no more than a brief brush of lips, but Katya’s heart drums loudly in her ears when Trixie pulls back, looking at her with big eyes.

“I…” Katya blinks rapidly a few times, then swallows. “I don’t understand.”

“I have a theory,” Trixie starts haltingly. She’s nervous, Katya thinks. “That was the moment I realized it didn’t really matter that you had lied to me. Nothing would matter anymore if I lost you.”

“Right,” Katya says, not understanding at all. 

When she doesn’t say anything else, Trixie sighs loudly and then explains, “I gave you my heart, you idiot.”

“Oh,” Katya says, still dumbfounded, and then again “ Oh! ” when she has processed what Trixie said. “You’re in love with me?”

Trixie is frowning, and she’s no longer meeting Katya’s eyes. “Well, sorry for the inconvenience, I guess,” she mutters.

“No! No, no, no, no, I just mean,” Katya pushes herself up on her knees, facing Trixie. “ You are in love with me ? I mean, have you seen yourself? People regularly assume that you’re royalty and I’m some kind of servant.” It seems completely preposterous that Trixie could ever see her like that.

“You live in a palace,” Trixie argues coldly. “I’m not an expert at this kind of thing, but aren’t you supposed to say something back?”

Katya takes in Trixie’s sullen expression with panic rising in her throat. “Oh, Trixie, I didn’t mean to-- Of course I’m…” She stops stammering, instead cups Trixie’s cheeks with her good hand, and kisses her. Trixie’s lips open against her own, and Katya takes the invitation, brushing her tongue against Trixie’s. They’re pressed front to front, Trixie radiating enough warmth that she doesn’t miss the blanket that’s fallen off her shoulders. They kiss until Katya feels delirious, and even then she presses little kisses all over Trixie’s face between gasping for air. It’s then that she remembers Trixie doing the same to her, as she was passing out and Trixie was crying.

“You love me. You’re my fate and you love me,” Katya babbles against Trixie’s lips, and Trixie shuts her up with another kiss. 

“If you don’t say it properly right now, I’m taking it back,” Trixie threatens with a big grin. 

“Of course I love you!” Katya presses out through a giggle. “That was never even in doubt. I was done for the moment you fell from the sky, shouting orders at anyone and everyone.”

“I didn’t shout,” Trixie argues. She winds her arms around Katya’s neck, her light getting so bright, that Katya has to bury her face in Trixie’s hair to shield her eyes.

*

They start heading east the next morning, under a thick cover of clouds but still in good spirits. Katya had a hard time falling asleep the night before. She was too giddy, partly because of her magic returning to her, but mainly because Trixie had been lying close to her, their arms linked. Katya kept getting the impulse to kiss Trixie, and at first she held herself back. She had spent the entire time they’ve known each other trying to keep her distance and not get involved beyond what was absolutely necessary. 

But then Trixie has started pulling her closer, her warm body pressed close to Katya’s side, her hair smelling like fresh air and smoke from the fire, and in her tired state Katya had given in. She first pressed her nose against Trixie’s neck, then her lips against her jaw until Trixie turned her head and made sure Katya kissed her properly. She hadn’t realized she had been waiting for permission, but once Trixie granted it, Katya had no resolve left to resist. She had finally fallen asleep with her cheek squished against Trixie’s as she murmured stories to Katya about the stars they were looking up at.

Now, walking with Trixie’s hand in hers, she thinks about Bob saying she was acting like she had her first ever crush. At the time Katya dismissed it. She’s not new , she’s been with people before, and she cared about all of them to varying degrees. But she realizes now that she’s never been in love before. Not truly, not like this.

She feels lighter, the walking seems less tedious, and she finds it hard to care whether or not they make progress. In a way she almost hopes Bianca catches up with them now. Let her try to take Trixie away, she won’t succeed. Katya feels invincible. When she says as much to Trixie, she snorts.

“Alright, calm down. You can still barely use your arm, I don’t think you need to set out to murder someone quite yet.”

“I wouldn’t murder her,” Katya argues.

“Then what would you do?” Trixie asks, and Katya realizes she has no idea. She could incapacitate Bianca in some way. She could slow her down, so they could get to the palace where she would have reinforcements. At no point has she actually considered what will happen if Bianca won’t be convinced to give up the quest she’s on.

Trixie squeezes her hand. “We’ll figure it out. It’s going to be alright.”

*

In the afternoon they cross paths with a merchant who’s on his way back from a town Katya is familiar with. She estimates that they have about a three day march left before they reach the palace, and Trixie moans at the prospect of all that walking. Katya laughs at her sullen expression, but by the time the sun sets, Katya’s legs are tired, her arm is still aching, and the cold is drawing in around them.  

That’s when Katya remembers she has magic at her disposal again and can make them at least a shelter for the night. At first she takes their little pile of twigs they had collected as firewood and watches them grow into logs underneath her good hand. As soon as she imagines a little hut, they seem eager to rearrange themselves in that shape. 

Katya doesn’t know where the straw for the roof came from, but when they wake up to the drumming of rain the next morning, she’s grateful for how well her magic planned ahead. They sit inside as they eat the last of their bread for breakfast, looking out through the rough door, but the rain doesn’t lessen. Neither of them feels like walking through the downpour, so Katya gets to work again.

She doesn’t trust herself enough to let Trixie stay inside the hut as she transforms it, so Trixie stands next to her, arms wrapped around herself, water dripping from her hair. Katya stretches out the little rectangle of their shelter, making it longer. The flat roof starts to bulge out and hang over at one end, a bench appearing underneath it. Wooden wheels pop up, lifting the whole structure up.

It’s a little caravan, painted a friendly yellow with a blue flower box underneath the small window at the side. At the back two wooden steps lead to a door with an intricate flower pattern carved into it. 

“Now you’re just showing off,” Trixie says with a grin as Katya stares at her own hands, the right one still wrapped in her scarf.

The inside of the caravan is simple. There’s a narrow table with a candlestick and little seats sticking out of the wall. Half of the space is taken up by a wooden platform with a mattress on it, and when Trixie sees it, she rushes forward and lets herself fall face first into the bed.

“I should have thought of that last night, shouldn’t I?” Katya asks with a grin, and Trixie’s assent is drowned out in the pillows.

Trixie eventually gets up, declining Katya’s offer to draw the gingham curtains shut and let her sleep, instead sitting with Katya at the front underneath the little roof. The one thing Katya can’t magic up is a horse to draw their caravan. She considers finding some woodland animal and transforming it, but that seems cruel. Instead she gives her magic the reins, lets it show off since it’s apparently so eager to prove itself. At first it’s disconcerting to watch the caravan roll down the road by itself, but after a while Katya gets used to it, even forgetting that she’s the one moving them. 

The rain doesn’t ease up all day, but with them dry and comfortable it’s almost a pleasant journey, and they’re making much better time than they would if they had to walk.

“Do you think your sisters will like me?” Trixie asks out of the blue late into the afternoon, after they’ve stocked up on food at a farm, this time simply paying with Trixie’s gold coins. 

“What? Why wouldn’t they?”

“I don’t know, I’m not a witch.” Trixie frowns at Katya, her jaw set. “I don’t know what the rules are for people that you’re…” She trails off.

“In love with? Sleeping with?” Katya offers with a grin.

“Yes. Any of that.”

“There are no rules. There never have been. Usually I don’t bring them home.” Katya shrugs.

“Usually?” Trixie has turned in her seat to face Katya, her frown even deeper than before. “ Them?

Katya laughs. “Well, excuse me for not spending my life waiting for a literal star to drop down from the sky and fall in love with me. I’ve been with people before; some of them only for a night, others for longer.”

Trixie turns to face the road again and sniffs with disdain. “Women or men?”

“Both. All. Whatever.”

Trixie just makes a noise somewhere between ugh and retching.

“Oh, I get it.” Katya forces down her grin. “You’re a gold star.”

Trixie looks at her like she’s grown another head. “Yes, of course I am, you know that.”

“I do, but it doesn’t matter to me. And I would hope that it doesn’t matter to you that I’m not a gold star,” Katya says earnestly.

“What on earth are you talking about?”

Finally Katya laughs, too tickled by Trixie’s annoyance about not being in on the joke. “It’s an expression,” she explains, “for women who have only ever been with women, or men who have only ever been with men.”

“Well, I haven’t been with anyone. So.” Trixie is still looking haughty for a moment, but then her face softens and her voice gets small. “I didn’t mean to say you having had male… companions before is bad.”

“Thank you. I haven’t been with a man in a long time, but even if I had it wouldn’t change anything about how I feel now .” Katya gently nudges Trixie with her elbow. She nudges back with a small smile. 

Trixie is quiet after that, even all the way through dinner that they eat by candlelight at their little table. With the door closed and the world dark outside their window it’s a cozy, warm space, even if a little cramped. She gets fidgety when Katya takes off her coat to get ready to go to bed.

“Um,” Katya starts when Trixie will look anywhere but at her, “would you like me to sleep on the floor? You can have the bed if you want.”

“What? No,” Trixie snaps, looking embarrassed right away. “No, that’s not what I want at all.”

“Alright.” Katya picks up Trixie’s hand from where she’s picking at the edge of the table and intertwines their fingers. “What do you want?”

Trixie thinks for a moment, swallows, and then says, “I want to share your bed.”

“You mean--”

“Yes,” Trixie cuts her off, and Katya can’t help laughing softly. 

“Is this about earlier? About me having slept with people before?”

“No,” Trixie says immediately, and then, “Yes. I don’t know.” She lets Katya pull her down on the edge of the bed, sitting next to each other, and she starts fidgeting with Katya’s fingers. “This is all new to me; it was never supposed to be part of my life, and I don’t know…” Trixie’s eyes shift and look at Katya for a second before she looks down again. “I don’t know how to do things, but I know I want to do them.”

Katya raises their combined hands up to her mouth and kisses Trixie’s knuckles. “How about we start with what you already know how to do and then see what happens from there?”

Trixie shoulders drop a little and she smiles. She leans in too fast to kiss Katya and squashes their noses together. To slow her down Katya only gives her little kisses all over her face until Trixie gives up trying to catch her mouth and giggles. That’s when Katya captures her bottom lip between her own, and Trixie hums, leaning back onto the bed and pulling Katya with her. 

As they kiss languidly Katya is reminded of the inn, where they shared a bed for the first time, and where she tried very hard not to think about what Trixie’s intention might be as she helped her bathe and went to sleep facing her. Then it hits her that Trixie has already seen her naked, but that Katya wasn’t her own age then.

She pulls back from their kiss and doesn’t think, just says, “You need to see my tits.”

Trixie blinks and with a perplexed smile asks, “What?”

“They’re nicer now!” Katya is already in too deep, so she might as well double down. “You don’t have to, I just thought--”

“No, no, I want to!” Trixie is leaning on her elbows, watching Katya nervously reach for the hem of her shirt. “Just so you know, they were nice before too,” she adds with a grin.

“So you like an older woman.”

Trixie snorts. “I am older than your calendar.”

Instead of answering, Katya pulls her shirt off. She has nothing underneath, and it feels awkward suddenly, not embarrassing but anticlimactic. Trixie doesn’t seem to feel the same way. She puts her hand on Katya’s waist first and slides it upward, but instead of cupping her beast, Trixie places her hand in the center of her chest.

“I can feel your heart.”

Katya leans down to kiss her, blindly starting to peel her out of the outer layer of her dress. She doesn’t get far with Trixie on her back, so they switch positions, Trixie kneeling above her while Katya lies on her back. Trixie’s fingers are swift and efficient, wasting no time on teasing or showing off. Katya still watches with fascination how her whole body seems to sigh a breath of relief when she gets rid of the stiff stays, tossing them aside and not looking when they tumble to the floor. 

She looks soft in her chemise, but Katya doesn’t get to enjoy the sight for long. Trixie pulls that off too, and Katya makes a pitiful sound when she sees Trixie’s breasts. She tries to reach out with both hands, forgetting about the injured one, and swearing quietly to herself when it aches with the movement.

“Shh.” Trixie takes Katya’s left hand and places it on her breast, humming when Katya can’t help but squeeze.

“Do you know?” Katya hears how frail her voice is, but there is no space in her mind for embarrassment.

“Know what?” Trixie smiles down at her, arranging her golden hair over her shoulders.

“That you’re the most beautiful woman to ever walk this earth.”

Trixie’s smile gets bigger and she starts to glow softly. “Of course.”

Katya laughs and can’t seem to stop, even when Trixie leans down to kiss her again.

“What?” She demands to know when Katya is still gasping for air.

“Nothing, I just like you.”

Satisfied with that answer, Trixie returns to kissing her, letting her hands roam over Katya’s body and finally brushing first over one nipple, then the other. She looks smug when it makes Katya groan, and she repeats the movement. 

Trixie touches her with a confidence Katya doesn’t think she’s experienced before, even though she admitted to not knowing how to do things. There’s something endlessly charming about Trixie apparently not even considering she might not be great at this. Or maybe the difference is that every person she’s been with has touched her like she was something other; a beast tamed or untamed, a conquest or a thrill. Trixie touches her like she can read Katya’s mind that way, learning how she likes to be caressed and squeezed. 

Katya doesn’t think when she rids both of them of their last pieces of clothing. She just knows she wants to be touching Trixie’s skin with as much of her own as possible, and they both sigh when they’re finally pressed together. Trixie is soft where Katya isn’t, and she could easily cover Katya completely with her body. It makes Katya want to lay her out underneath her even more, and show Trixie what she can do.

“Do you know what you like?”

Trixie shakes her head and bites her lip. “What do you think I might like?”

Katya hums and puts her hand on Trixie’s thigh. “Maybe this?”

“That’s good.” 

“And this?” She slides her hand inwards, where the skin is softer, and pushes Trixie’s legs apart a little. The glow gets brighter.

Trixie licks her lips. “Go on.”

Katya follows the path of her finger with her lips, Trixie’s skin hot against her face. Before she can come up to ask again, Trixie repeats Go on, and Katya smiles against the inside of her thigh. When she bites it gently, she expects Trixie to yelp, but instead she groans low in her throat, and Katya clenches around nothing. 

When she spreads Trixie’s legs further and leans in, Trixie is burning against her tongue. Trixie doesn’t hold back, pushing down against Katya’s face, her hips finding a rhythm by themselves, making Katya chase her. She licks into Trixie and then around her clit, her mind dutifully filing away the noises Trixie makes at each movement, so she knows what to do to hear them again. It takes some maneuvering for Katya to be able to comfortably rest her injured arm and still use the other hand, first stroking the crease of Trixie’s thigh and then down. She drags her fingertips through the wetness there and finally pushes in, making Trixie slam her hips down and gasp Katya’s name. Her body doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go, chase Katya’s finger or her mouth or pull away from all the stimulation.

“Katya.” 

Katya hums and looks up, meeting Trixie’s gaze that is boring into her. 

“Close your eyes,” she gasps, her hips stuttering. When Katya just hums again and speeds up her fingers, Trixie slaps one hand down over Katya’s face. 

Even like this she realizes why. Trixie’s glow becomes a supernova, the light visible through Trixie’s hand, the heat making Katya feel like every hair on her body is being singed. When it’s over, Trixie is still shaking under Katya’s tongue, and she gently works her through it. There is no sign of what happened, no burn marks on their sheets. Only Trixie, sweaty and breathing heavily, smiling down at Katya with a dreamy look in her eyes and a different kind of glow.

It makes Katya scramble up so she can kiss her, murmuring words of praise and admiration that Trixie accepts happily. 

Once she’s caught her breath she asks Katya to show her what she likes. It’s a little awkward with Katya’s right hand still lying uselessly on the mattress, having to use her left to guide Trixie’s fingers. But she doesn’t need the help for long. There is nothing magical about it, nothing about the connection of their souls. It’s just Trixie paying attention to where Katya likes to be touched, what kind of movement makes her eyes roll back and her legs twitch. Trixie takes to it quickly, and Katya comes easily on Trixie’s hands.

Afterwards, with Trixie in her arms and under the covers, Katya wants to talk but has no breath. She has nothing to say anyway, she just wants Trixie’s attention. The only sounds are their breaths and the rain still softly drumming down on the roof of the caravan, and Katya can feel herself starting to drift off.

“I wish it could always be like this,” Trixie mutters against her shoulder. “Just us, traveling where we want to go, making friends, and seeing new places.”

Katya hums and kisses her hair, pulling her even closer. “Maybe it can be. Once all of this is over.”

Chapter Text

As they approach, the palace looks bigger and more sinister than Katya remembers it. They have both been tense since Katya spotted the black towers in the distance. Trixie grabs her hand and doesn’t let go as they cross the large iron gate and make their way up the long path up to the main doors. 

As they get there, Katya wants to assure her she’ll be safe here, but the doors fly open and Jinkx hurries down the stairs towards their caravan, so she just squeezes Trixie’s hand twice before jumping down from the bench. Jinkx pulls her into a tight hug before Katya has the chance to say anything.

“It’s good to have you home.”

“Thanks.” Katya pats Jinkx’s back until she pulls back, grabbing Katya’s shoulder and holding her at arm’s length.

“You feel different,” she remarks with obvious curiosity.

 Katya shrugs “I got my magic back.” 

Jinkx doesn’t reply. She lets go of Katya and turns towards Trixie, who’s standing a few feet behind her.

“This is Trixie, she’s my… star,” Katya finishes awkwardly, and before she’s finished speaking, Jinkx hugs Trixie, who gives Katya a helpless look over Jinkx’s shoulder. Katya just grins. 

“You’re a very special person,” Jinkx tells her once she’s stepped back.

“Bianca said something like that too, just before she tried to burn us alive,” Trixie remarks with a lopsided smile.

Sorrow washes over Jinkx’s face.“I’m sorry you had to meet her like that. She’s a great witch, in some ways.”

“Katya.”

At the soft voice Katya turns towards the doors, spotting Sasha on the steps. She approaches them swiftly and gives Katya a brief hug, before greeting Trixie with a nod.

“I’m very glad to see you both here.”

“You don’t seem to be surprised that Trixie came with me,” Katya notices.

Sasha gives her a brief smile. “We hoped she would.”

Katya looks from her to Jinkx. “You knew she’d be a person?”

“No, not at first.” Sasha seems to be thinking for a moment. Then she adds, “We have something to show you.”

Katya expects her to head up the stairs and into the hall, but Sasha walks past them, along the palace walls. Jinkx gives them another smile and follows her, so when Trixie looks at Katya with confusion, she just shrugs and sticks out her hand for Trixie to take. She grasps it right away, her palm warm and soft against Katya’s.

They follow the sisters down the path around the side of the palace, leading to the garden. Once it held flower beds and manicured lawns, with hedges drawing straight lines in between. Katya barely remembers that time. By now the hedges have grown into an impenetrable labyrinth with only the herb garden, close to the kitchen door, still accessible.

Or at least Katya thought so, until Sasha climbs through a narrow gap in between the wall of hedges, Jinkx squeezing in after her. 

“Where are we going?” Katya’s question receives no answer, so with a sigh, she shimmies sideways through the hole, pulling Trixie after her. 

The space behind is dark and eerily quiet. Neither sunlight nor the chirping of birds reaches the narrow path between the hedges, and Trixie holds onto her hand a little tighter. Katya squeezes twice again and gives her a reassuring smile. They follow Jinkx along the winding trail until the walls of greenery open up into a large clearing. 

It’s not naturally grown, the hedges bend to the side before going upwards, and Katya is sure magic redirected their growth. At the other end the garden opens up into the forest. The clearing itself is empty, safe for grass, a few bushes and scattered wildflowers. 

Katya expects them to head out into the woods, but in the middle of the clearing Sasha stops and closes her eyes. Nothing happens. Trixie shifts nervously from one foot to the other, tugging on Katya’s hand. Jinkx is standing perfectly still, apparently waiting, so Katya does the same.

After a minute or so something approaches. They only hear it at first. It is some kind of creature; several feet are hitting the ground, and fast. It finally bursts through the treeline, and Trixie shrieks. Katya can’t tell what it is as it keeps barreling towards them, but it stops just before crashing into Sasha, with its paws digging into the ground.

The lion starts to purr as Sasha scratches it behind one ear. Meanwhile the goat tries to sneak its mouth into her pocket, and the snake winds around Sasha’s arm. It’s the chimera Sasha killed when it was her turn to find a new source for her magic. Or was supposed to. It’s clearly alive and happy to see her. 

“Somebody please explain what’s going on,” Trixie says quietly, pressing herself close to Katya.

“Uh, yes, I would like that too.” With a frown Katya watches the chimera roll over onto its back, Sasha kneeling down to rub its belly that’s part lion, part goat, and part snake.

“I couldn’t bring myself to kill him when I brought him here,” Sasha starts to explain without stopping to pet the chimera. “He hadn’t done anything to deserve that, and taking such a marvelous creature from the world seemed too cruel. So I let him go.”

“I don’t understand. You have your magic back.”

“Jinkx helped me fake it at first, taking over my tasks. We were trying to figure out another way to restore my magic.” Sasha smiles down at the chimera happily rolling around in the dirt. “And then Vanya came back.”

Vanya ?” Trixie barks incredulously.

“Of course you’d make him your pet,” Katya adds with a headshake.

“Not my pet, my friend,” Sasha corrects with a calm smile. 

“We tried to send him away, but he would always return.” Jinkx looks at the scene in front of them, unbothered, like it’s an everyday occurrence. “So we did our best to make sure Bianca wouldn’t find him.”

“He wasn’t always this cuddly, but he got more comfortable over time. And one morning I woke up and my magic was back.” When Sasha stands up, Vanya rolls over and gets onto his paws and hooves as well. He keeps bumping his lion head against her shoulder, and Sasha absentmindedly scratches him.

“Love,” Trixie simply says.

Jinkx nods. “We didn’t make the connection for a good while. And when we did we had no way to prove it.”

“Is that why you didn’t tell me?” Katya is only now catching up with the fact that her sisters have kept this secret from her for years; knowledge that would have changed everything on her journey to find Trixie. “Do you realize what this would have meant for me? How much anguish this could have saved me?” At her raised voice Vanya steps in front of Sasha, the three heads growling, bleating and hissing. Katya stands her ground.

“We had to!” Jinkx rushes to her side, grabbing her bicep on the side Trixie isn’t already holding on to. “This is so much bigger than just us. It could change everything for witches; give us independence and reduce so much pain. But we needed to test it, and we couldn’t risk skewing the results. This was too important. You needed to decide to spare the creature that’s your fate by yourself.”

Katya swallows, thinking about what she could have done to Trixie. “And what if I hadn’t?”

Jinkx smiles and cups Katya’s cheek for a moment. “We knew you would. You’re you.”

Trixie squeezes her hand and when Katya turns her head, she smiles. “See? I told you.”

Katya snorts. “Alright, and what if you hadn’t fallen in love with me?”

“That couldn’t have happened.” Trixie grins. “You’re you .”

The irritation that had started to constrict Katya’s chest loosens its grip, and she smiles back. The moment is interrupted when Jinkx clears her throat.

“We were waiting to hear from you to prove our theory. And you have, so now we need to spread this message around and let other witches know they’re not doomed to be killers.”

“This is wonderful, it truly is,” Trixie interjects, “but what do we do about Bianca?”

“I’m sure she’ll come around when she sees the evidence.” Even as she says it, Sasha doesn’t sound completely sure.

“Right, is that why you’ve kept Vanya a secret?” Katya asks with a raised brow.

“You’re underestimating how much she wants to kill me.” Trixie’s voice is flat as she adds, “Enough to accept harming Katya in the process.”

“I’m alright now,” Katya says quietly.

Now , yes. But you shouldn’t have been hurt in the first place.”

“What happened?” Jinkx asks, with worry on her face. Katya had explained before that Bianca had set the inn on fire. At the time she didn’t think it would add to the conversation to talk about her arm. It seems unavoidable now.

As she hesitates, Trixie’s expression becomes determined. “Show them.”

With a sigh Katya lets go of Trixie’s hand and takes her coat off. Jinkx gasps as Katya rolls up her sleeve, showing off the new skin that’s still tender when she’s not careful. It looks worse than it feels now, having grown too fast over her gnarled flesh. Katya knows it’s never going to look quite right again. It’s still vastly preferable to dying.

Sasha’s jaw squares as she looks down at Katya’s arm. “We need a plan.”

“Right now, we need Aquaria to look at this,” Jinkx counters, gesturing to Katya.

“Do the others know?” Katya rolls down her sleeve again but doesn’t bother putting on her coat. She nods towards Vanya, who is still rubbing his heads against Sasha.

“They do now. We showed them after you contacted us.”

Katya nods at Sasha’s explanation. “Right. I think it’s time we all stood up to our big sister.”

*

Once they make it out of the labyrinth, Alaska, Aquaria and Dela are already crowded in the open kitchen door, waiting for them. One after the other they hug Katya, and Dela pulls Trixie into a hug as well. At no point have they told anyone about the exact nature of their relationship, but none of the sisters bat an eye when Trixie takes Katya’s good hand again as soon as they sit down at the large wooden table in the kitchen. 

After Jinkx made Katya show off her arm again, Aquaria hurried off and returned shortly after with an armful of bottles and jars. As they talk she dabs a variety of strongly smelling creams onto Katya’s skin, making it feel soothed immediately. 

“She’ll catch up with us eventually,” Trixie says. 

“It won’t take her long to figure out we came here,” Katya adds. “All of us being there should stop her from doing anything rash.”

“Like setting the whole place on fire,” Alaska offers with a dry smile.

“Like setting the whole place on fire,” Katya agrees with a nod.

“Right, but what do we say to her?” Dela asks, looking close to wringing her hands.

“We’ll tell her there is no need for violence and that there is no place for that among us anymore.” Jinkx sounds collected in a way that takes Katya by surprise. She had expected everybody to be talking over each other, fretting, maybe even crying, but it’s a strangely sober discussion. 

“The real question is what steps are you comfortable actually taking against her?” Trixie’s question stuns everyone into silence.

“What do you mean?” Alaska asks with a frown.

“I mean,” Trixie starts with a sigh, “that I could have ended all this at the inn. I could do it now. But would you be alright with that?”

“What?” Katya stares at her perplexed and Trixie turns to face her.

“I didn’t want to hurt you by hurting her.”

What? ” Katya repeats.

“Oh, honestly.” Trixie rolls her eyes, exasperated. “You’re all willing to accept that I have the ability to make Katya more powerful than before, but none of you considered where that power is coming from?” She looks around the table with raised brows. “This is not a meeting to determine how you can protect me. It’s about me making sure that Katya will still want to talk to me when I’m done.”

"What are you suggesting you do?" Sasha asks carefully.

The corners of Trixie's mouth twitch, but the smile never reaches her eyes. "Sparkle really hard."

*

Katya closes the door to her bedroom with her heartbeat loud in her ears, lighting the candles with a flick of her wrist. Trixie stands in the middle of the room, slowly turning and taking everything in. 

It’s the first time Katya has been back here since her birthday, when she had no more magic and didn’t know Trixie yet, didn’t even know her fate was to find a star. It’s only been about two weeks but it feels like a lifetime ago. Her room looks smaller and darker than she remembers it. She spots the crack in the mirror of her vanity that she regretted not fixing before, on the morning of her birthday, and her fingers itch to fix it now, but she feels embarrassed to do it in front of Trixie for some reason.

“It’s nice,” Trixie finally offers, not convincingly at all. With her foot she nudges one of the curtains, and a cloud of dust rises up. "It could be cleaner."

Katya snorts. "We're a coven of famously evil witches. We don't dust."

Trixie acknowledges it with a hum. “You know, it’s…”

“What?”

“Not what I had imagined when you said palace .”

“It is a palace, shut up!” Katya caws, her mouth wide open in indignation.

Trixie grins at that and comes closer, winding her arms around Katya’s waist. She kisses the tip of her nose. “Don’t be like that. I don’t hate it, I’m just saying that it could be nicer.”

Katya doesn’t argue with that, just pushes up on her tiptoes. Trixie leans down, deepening their kiss, before pulling away and with an excited ooh heading for Katya’s wardrobe.

She swings open both doors and is faced with a lot of black. “Huh.”

“What? I like my clothes.”

“They could do with some color, that’s all,” Trixie mutters as she looks through the dresses. With a wave of one of Katya’s fingers, the dress that Trixie is looking at turns blood red. 

“Is that better?”

Trixie just raises one brow. “It’s a start.” After a moment of silence, she adds, “I like you in anything, by the way. You’d look stunning in a potato sack.”

Katya hums, and this time it's her hugging Trixie close. She rests her head on Trixie's shoulder.

"Come to bed?"

Trixie grins slowly. "Yes, you still have to make up for lying to me."

Katya snorts softly, the noise drowned in Trixie's dress. "Is that how it works? How many more orgasms until my debt is paid?"

"I'll let you know."

As Trixie leans down to kiss her, Katya opens up to Trixie’s insistent tongue but pulls back after a moment.

"Actually I just meant sleeping. It's been a long day, and we might need all our strength tomorrow." There's nothing to say that tomorrow will be the day Bianca catches up with them. Katya would just rather be over-prepared than taken by surprise. She doesn’t know whether to wish for Bianca to come quickly so they can get it over with, or hope that she won’t arrive for weeks, letting them enjoy this calm before the storm. 

Earlier, they all decided that it would be best, if they had to use force, for Trixie to step back and let the sisters deal with Bianca. Trixie had agreed, under the condition that she could still intervene should things get out of control. Nobody had argued with that. 

After their meeting, Jinkx cooked, and it wasn’t until she sat around the dinner table with her sisters that Katya realized how much she missed all of them. They stayed in the kitchen for hours, Alaska producing several bottles of wine from somewhere, and Trixie and Katya told them about their travels, about Bob and her flying ship, about Priyanka, about the unicorn and the kittens. And finally, about the fire. 

The previously excited mood had gotten somber again. That’s when Jinkx suggested they should all retire. As they all got up, Dela offered to show Trixie to a guest room, but Trixie only raised her brows and grabbed Katya’s hand. They trudged up the stairs under the knowing smirks of Katya’s sisters. Under different circumstances Katya might have been embarrassed. Right now she has more important things on her plate. 

Despite Katya’s protest, Trixie lets go of her and returns to the wardrobe. This time her hands confidently find the simple cotton nightgowns Katya has squeezed in at one end and pulls out two. 

“Can you make one fit me?”

Katya doesn’t reply, she just closes her eyes and imagines what she wants it to look like. Her mind traces the shape of Trixie’s body that’s already so familiar to her. The nightgown grows longer and broader, making space around the bust and hips. Just because she can she adds ruffles around the neckline, and she hears Trixie laugh quietly. 

They go to sleep pressed closely together, in the bed Katya has slept in for most of the past one-hundred years. It had always felt too big before. She just needed someone to fill it out with her. 

*

Jinkx is the first to know. When the rest of them get up two days later and trod down to the kitchen for breakfast, she’s already sitting at the table, her hands wrapped around a mug that’s filling the air with the aroma of her personal blend of herbal tea.

“She’ll be here today,” Jinkx says calmly, her face blank.

They all turn to Katya for some reason, as if she’s going to call the whole thing off. For a moment she considers just that. But there is no alternative. Now that she’s here again, she doesn’t want to run anymore. She shouldn’t have to run at all; she didn’t do anything wrong. Trixie squeezes her hand twice, giving her an encouraging smile that Katya returns. 

By the end of the day it will be over. Whatever that means.

They all mill around the palace aimlessly, unable to actually sit down and do anything. Dela has volunteered to try and sense Bianca, so that they'll know when she's close. The sun is already beginning to set when Dela rushes into the hall where they've all found themselves congregating.

"She'll be here in a few minutes." 

At her frantic voice the hairs on the back of Katya's neck stand up. But Jinkx puts one hand on her arm and the other on Trixie's and leads them to the front of the hall. This is where Katya ended the life of a goat not so long ago. The other sisters take their places at the sides of the hall so that Bianca will be surrounded when she walks in.

When the doors fly open, Katya jumps slightly, and Trixie holds on to her hand more tightly.

"What do you all think you're doing?" Bianca's voice easily fills the hall. She stalks towards them, despite clearly having registered the others. "Restrain the star. And Katya too; she can't be trusted."

Nobody moves, and finally Bianca slows down, stopping still a good distance away from the three of them.

"Alright, what is this?"

"We're going to do things differently from now on," Jinkx explains evenly. "There will be no more killing. Katya has proven that we don't need it."

"What are you talking about?" Bianca sneers, looking from Jinkx to Katya. Only then does she seem to fully take in Katya's rejuvenated appearance. “But it’s still there!” she screeches with one finger extended towards Trixie.

She is a person, thank you very much.” Trixie has her brows raised and regards Bianca coldly. 

Bianca ignores her, addressing Katya instead. “How did you get your magic back?”

Katya looks to Jinkx, letting her explain, as they had agreed to.

“There are other ways to regain your magic. There is no need for violence anymore so we’ve decided we won’t tolerate it.”

“Oh, have you?” Bianca sneers. “And what if it doesn’t work? What if Katya is just a freak of nature?”

“That’s a weird thing to say, considering we’re all witches,” Katya remarks with a frown, but Bianca ignores her.

“What did you think all this,” she gestures to the room and the other sisters that are spread out, “would accomplish? Did you think I’d just say alright then and we’d move on with our lives?”

“We hoped so, but if not we’ve decided you’re no longer welcome here. Not after what you were prepared to do to your own sister.” Jinkx has squared her shoulders and she’s staring Bianca down.

“After what I did? You ungrateful little shits, if it wasn’t for me you’d all be dead.”

“What are you talking about?” Alaska asks, stepping forward. 

“About Ru, of course!” Bianca snaps.

“What did you do?” Dela sounds anxious.

“After Jinkx was born she had her seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and decided she didn’t need the rest of us anymore. She gave me the option to help her kill all of you in exchange for being spared.” Bianca is breathing heavily, her nostrils flaring as she finishes her explanation.

Silence falls over the hall. 

Katya had never expected much warmth from the woman she called her mother, but she had not assumed her to be so cold to produce 6 witches as fillers, willing to murder them when they had served their purpose.

“You’re lying,” Dela says, looking close to tears. 

“Why would I? I have nothing to gain from telling you this,” Bianca counters. “You want to believe I’m a ruthless killer? Fine, maybe I am, but it was always to keep us alive.” She turns in a slow circle looking at all of them. “Who else is looking out for us?”

“You could have killed Katya,” Aquaria speaks up. “Is that looking out for us?”

“I didn’t think she was actually stupid enough to butt in like that.”

“She wasn’t stupid, she was selfless,” Dela says.

“Yeah, and where has that ever gotten anyone?” Bianca sneers.

“I got my magic back because of it,” Katya adds calmly. Seeing everyone else jump to her defense makes her feel confident that they can work this out somehow. 

Bianca rolls her eyes. “I’m tired of this. I’ll figure out what to do with you lot later,” she points one finger at the sisters spread out through the hall, “but for now I’m killing the star and--”

She doesn’t get to finish her sentence. Katya has stepped in front of Trixie, one hand extended in front of her with the palm facing Bianca. A wave of an invisible force knocks her onto her back, making her slide several feet backwards across the black marble floor. When Bianca scrambles back onto her feet she looks surprised.

“Finally found some backbone, have you?” She smiles slowly. “Alright, if you want to have a go at this, let’s do it.”

Then, a lot happens at the same time. As Bianca raises her hands, both Trixie and Jinkx try to push in front of Katya. At the end of the hall the doors fly open, and in storms a man with his sword drawn. Katya only recognizes him as the prince that’s been on Trixie’s tail when he calls out My lady, but unfortunately for him it also makes Bianca whirl around. Whatever attack she had intended for Katya is about to hit him, and Katya quickly leaves Trixie and Jinkx behind and makes the prince float up towards the ceiling.

While Katya is still keeping him out of harm’s way, Bianca turns again. Katya can only see the flick of her wrists. Immediately she feels something slash across her torso, making her drop the prince with a shout, stumbling backwards and falling to her knees from the force of it. Her hands go to her chest and stomach by themselves, and when she looks down, blood is running over her fingers. 

Katya can already feel the magic in her working without her having told it to, stitching together what needs to be closed, the blood flow stopping quickly. Trixie doesn’t know that. She’s silent as she steps in front of Katya again, her jaw set and a thunderstorm in her eyes. Katya immediately notices the glow as it appears.

“Close your eyes,” she calls out to her sisters. From her position on the floor she can only see Sasha, who immediately does as Katya says. Then she closes her own eyes, and not a second too early.

Trixie’s light is familiar to her now. She knows its warmth but also its power. None of what she’s witnessed before compares to the explosion that knocks Katya onto her back now. She can hear the mirrors lining the walls shatter and crash to the ground. The air around her feels alive, like it did on the airship as they were catching lightning bolts.

And then it’s over.

Katya only opens her eyes when Trixie’s hands are on her face, frantically repeating her name over and over.

“I’m alright. I’m alright,” Katya assurres them both, pulling apart the cut in her shirt to reveal bloody but freshly healed skin underneath. Trixie’s breath rushes out in one relieved exhale and then she’s kissing Katya, pouring her abating fear into it. They’re interrupted by loud wailing. Trixie helps Katya up and they spot Bianca, on the floor in the middle of the hall, staring at her hands like they aren’t her own. With a shriek she points one at Trixie and nothing happens. 

“Oh, that is very interesting.” Aquaria is the first on her feet, slowly approaching Bianca. 

“Careful,” Alaska warns her, but Bianca doesn’t pay attention to any of them anymore. She shakes her hands like she can squeeze magic out of them, but all her attempts at spell casting remain unsuccessful. 

“You stripped her of her magic.” Jinkx has come up to Trixie and Katya. She sounds both amazed and terrified.

“It would appear so,” Trixie mutters before going back to examining Katya’s healed wounds. 

“I didn’t know you could do that.” Katya catches her nervous hand and intertwines their fingers.

“Neither did I.”

Katya breathes out a baffled laugh. “What were you trying to do, then?”

Trixie looks at her, her expression serious. “Stop her by any means necessary.”

A small voice comes from the back of the hall. “What the fuck.”

They all turn around to the prince, still standing by the door. His hair looks a bit singed but otherwise he seems unhurt. 

“You!” 

At Trixie’s voice he jumps, looking around like a rabbit that knows it’s about to be devoured by a wolf.

“You nearly got the woman I love killed.” Her voice is cold which is so much worse than if she was screaming. She ignores Katya’s objection that she really is fine.

“But-- but I…” he stammers. “She’s a witch ! She abducted you!” He points one shaking finger at Katya.

Trixie scoffs. “No, she didn’t. She saved me after you abducted me. I cannot state enough how much I don’t want to marry you.” She raises her brows. “Now get out before I get angry again.”

The prince looks at her, then at Katya and the other sisters scattered around the hall, including Bianca who’s still wailing. On his face Katya can see the exact moment he decides that pursuing this any longer is not worth it. He turns on his heels and books it, leaving only his sword behind. 

“Now that that’s dealt with,” Jinkx calls their attention to her, “we have to figure out what to do with her .” Her gaze falls on Bianca. Everybody else turns towards her as well, and for the first time since Trixie’s explosion, Bianca falls silent.

*

Katya wakes up sweating, as she does every day now with a contentedly glowing star draped across her. The curtains are drawn, but she thinks the sun can’t be up yet; it feels early. That makes it all the more surprising that Katya’s eyes meet Trixie’s, looking at her with barely held back excitement. 

“Good morning,” she chirps, and Katya hums in reply.

“You’re up early.”

“It’s a big day!” Trixie rolls over onto her back, stretching and yawning, but then throwing one arm over Katya’s waist again. 

“It almost seems like you don't like this place. So eager to leave,” Katya mutters with a smile and presses a kiss to Trixie’s jaw.

She snorts. “Don’t be ridiculous. I wouldn’t have spent so much time making this place nicer only to abandon it.”

“Oh, you made this place nicer, did you?” Katya’s smile grows into a grin.

“Well, I had the vision. I needed someone to execute it.”

“Uh-huh.” Katya pulls Trixie closer and kisses down her neck. Under Trixie’s watchful eye the sisters, but mainly Katya, had cleaned, decluttered, and brightened the palace until it was actually an inviting place to live. Katya had never minded how grungy it was. She had accepted it as part of her responsibility as a witch. She’s relearning a lot about what she’s supposed to do.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Trixie asks, not even attempting to deter Katya’s mouth from its path downwards.

“I gotta recharge, all this redecorating has drained me.”

Trixie laughs. “Right, because that is definitely how it works. Instead of eating my heart you eat something else.”

“Well,” Katya grins up at her and then presses one kiss to the exposed part of her breast, “do you want me to stop?”

Trixie grins back and lifts the blanket up. “Shut up and get down there.”

When they finally make it down to breakfast, they are met with knowing grins, and Alaska remarks what an unusually bright morning it is. Only a few weeks ago Katya would have been mortified on Trixie’s behalf, but she is entirely unfazed, pouring herself a cup of tea and smiling in response. 

Jinkx is already rushing around, putting together food for their journey. They’ll be taking the caravan, so they can plan ahead a bit further this time, especially with the icebox Katya has added that’s kept magically cool. The caravan has gotten bigger, with shelves for some books and potions and other things to make it homey. Dela has added a nice rug and a quilt that keeps them warm in cold weather and cool when it’s hot.

Bianca is the last to walk into the kitchen, with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and looking grumpy as always. For the first week after their confrontation she didn’t speak to anyone. They feared Trixie damaged her voice, but after a while she started angrily insulting Dela, the most gentle of them and therefore an easy target. 

Jinkx stepped in and told her she could only stay if she managed to behave herself. They were surprised she had decided to stay at all after they gave her the option. She was no danger to anyone anymore, and it would have been cruel to kick her out of the only home she’s ever had. Trixie was not happy with the decision but respected it. What she didn’t do was keep her mouth shut around Bianca, telling her that maybe she could get her magic back by making it up to her sisters for being a murderer who lied to them about Ru for decades. Maybe she could earn their love back.

“That’s actually not a bad idea,” Jinkx said, after giving Trixie a dark look. Bianca only scoffed, but she stayed. 

No violence and no hierarchy; those were the rules that Jinkx suggested after everything was over, and they unanimously voted in favor of them. It was Sasha who suggested they should try to contact other witches, explain their discovery. 

“It’s going to completely change what it means to be a witch, for us and for humans,” Alaska pointed out. It hadn’t caught up with Katya what all of this really meant, not just for her. Jinkx, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, really was ringing in a new age for witches. Like any good prophecy, it wasn’t fulfilled the way any of them had expected. 

*

Katya holds her hand out for Trixie to take as she climbs up to the bench at the front of the caravan. They have hugged all her sisters, except for Bianca who went back to her room to sulk after breakfast, and Katya feels a pang of sadness to be leaving her home again after only a few weeks. But it made sense for the two of them to venture out into the world and seek out any witches they might hear of. They have a starting point with Priyanka. Katya is sure she knows others, and she’s in a good position to control the kind of gossip about witches that is spread among the pirates. 

Besides, Katya is excited to go travelling with Trixie, this time with nobody on their trail, trying to murder them. They have their own little home and an infinite lifetime to explore the world. 

“You could make it into a real house,” Trixie says as the caravan rolls through the gate and onto the road, once again powered by Katya’s magic. 

“A house on wheels?”

“Why not? Or you could give it legs.”

Katya laughs. “Right, I’m sure that would be really helpful in making people less afraid of witches.”

“Who cares what people think?” Trixie caws, her hand warm on Katya’s arm. “From now on we’re living for ourselves.”