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It all started with the book. Her book.

No. No, that wasn’t fair. Not fair at all. It wasn’t good to gloss over the good deeds of others, to clip and snip away at their story until it looked like something out of a fairy tale. No, one had to give credit where it was due. Start from the beginning, no shortcuts.

It started with the junkie.

He was one of Cecilia’s regular customers, but that wasn’t really saying much. If someone on the far edge of the city even whispered the idea that you might be selling, this guy was already one of your regulars. He was the kind of junkie with no remorse, no pathetic spiel about it being “the last time I swear, I’m finally getting clean.” Cece could respect that at least. It wasn’t often she met someone in her line of work that didn’t seem to survive purely on the lies they told themselves at night. This guy knew he was destroying himself and seemed to revel in that fact more than the drugs themselves.

Not the picky type either, which was always a blessing when she found herself just short of meeting her quota. He was always willing to buy whatever she was hocking with minimum questions, eager to try anything at least once. The only thing Klaus seemed to shy away from was hallucinogens, and even that only took a bit of goading on her part before he was willing to scrape out the last of his food money for a bag of the stuff. How he was still alive, Cece would never really know. Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

Still, he was hardly a reliable source of income. That man had been in and out of rehab more times than anyone she’d met in her life, and when he was around it was a first come first serve situation. He’d waltz up to the first dealer within eyeshot and spend every last cent he had in the name of a high. After that, who the hell knew when he’d manage to steal his next payday?

It had been a little over a month since Cece had last seen Klaus Hargreeves, and the hunch to his shaking shoulders told her all that she needed to know. Someone had just gotten out of rehab for the millionth time, searching whatever back alley he could find in hopes of pinning down that glorious fix. She was all too happy to provide, dangerous eyes looming over her shoulder and tutting at her income as of late. Lately she’d been cutting it close on her payments, but this one little junkie might just save her skin before it was too late. However, soon she realized just how the hell she’d managed to get to the guy before anyone else snapped him up.

He was broke. Not a penny to his name, not one stolen trinket worth bartering for. All he had was an idiot’s attempt at a charming grin and a hardback book clutched in trembling hands. The book. Her book. A woman’s entire life story typed out along the pages, as if something so simple and mundane as human language could ever capture the masterpiece that was Vanya. Every horrible second of an abandoned childhood, swirling together in such a sublimely spiteful harmony one couldn’t help but listen. A woman who could tear Cece’s soul bare with only a few hastily typed words; see into her very core without even needing to have met her first. The one thing that would keep her moving in the times to come, Cecelia’s last lifeline before she even knew she was drowning.

Klaus held the book out to her with hopeful eyes and a shitty sales pitch churning in his head, the young girl on the cover staring back with cold unfeeling eyes. Before he could start on his nonsense Cecelia was quick to cut him off.

“What the hell do you expect me to do with that worthless thing?”

His face fell for the briefest of seconds, but no one ever said that Klaus was a quitter. Not when it came to scoring his fix. “I expect you to read it, my dear sweet… Carrie? Selene? Jessica.” A short pause, glancing over his shoulder at empty air. “Really? Cece? Never would’ve pegged that, she looks like way more of a Jessica to me. It’s the nose, I think. Truly a classic Jessica nose. Why are you the one keeping my dealers straight anyway?”

“Klaus.” His name was harsh and heavy on her tongue, falling into the air between them like an unseen threat. “Get on with it, or get your ass moving. I’ve got better places to be.”

“No no no no, no need to be so grumpy! I’m offering you the deal of a lifetime here. This book, this wonderful lifechanging tell-all by Vanya Hargreeves, can be yours today! All I ask for is a little swap, nothing big.” Cecelia was tired. She’d had a long day, or more like a series of long days that had piled together into a giant long lifetime. Times like this, listening to some freak in withdrawal desperately trying to haggle with her, almost was enough bullshit to make her try whatever poison she shelled out for cash. Almost. “I’m trying to tell you, this is going to be worth your while. A best seller in the making, all the juicy secrets of the umbrella academy laid bare. And what’s that? Oh so carefully tucked away in the front, away from prying eyes?”

He flipped open the book to show the inside of the cover, the first page written on with simple marker. “Klaus, hope you’re sober enough to read when this gets to you. -V”

“Why yes,” Klaus’ voice carried a familiar manic energy to it, tapping the message under his fingertips as if it weren’t addressed to him personally. “I know what you’re thinking! It’s an autograph from the author herself, lovely made out to her dear estranged brother. Such heartfelt emotion, such sarcastic sorrow, such-”

“If I trade you for some pills will you shut up and leave me alone?”

“Yep.” His whole face had lit up like a Christmas tree on fire, rocking back and forth on his heels in anticipation. Clearly he hadn’t expected that to work anymore than she’d been expecting to give in. “Scout’s honor.”

Cece had no idea why she was letting herself do this. Books didn’t pay the rent. Books didn’t keep the gangs in the area off her back, always looking for their precious cut of her profits. Books wouldn’t keep her safe when someone came knocking on her apartment door that night, a heavy bat and sharp grin promising to show her what exactly happened when you didn’t pay your protection money.

The first time Cecelia cracked open Extra Ordinary, there was blood trapped under her fingernails. She’d washed her hands twice already, but just couldn’t seem to clear out the crusted remnants from beneath her manicure. Two men lay motionless on the floor of her apartment, their faces near unrecognizable and badly mangled under their recent assault. One man’s nose had been completely caved in, his jaw knocked sideways at a disturbingly unnatural angle. The cracked edge of one of his teeth was lodged into the bat at her feet, still able to recall the satisfying crack of wood meeting flesh reverberating up her arm.

They’d come to rough her up a bit, to scare her into paying them. Maybe it would have worked, but just maybe Cecelia had been pushed too far for too long. They’d been surprised at how quickly she’d fought back, yanking away the bat and leaping forward with a previously repressed viciousness. Cece could’ve just stopped at that, maybe knocked one out and let the other one run off with his tail between his legs. But no, she really couldn’t. It would never end, never end until she made it end. Until she put her foot down and screamed for it all to stop. Until she could feel the man’s skull cracking and caving under her merciless swings, his body having gone still and hollow long before.

Soon enough Cece would have to leave what little life she’d packed into that apartment, lest she just invite more territorial assholes to track her down. But now wasn’t the time to think about that. Now she leaned back into the worn cushions of her couch, blood dried under her nails and two strangers dead in the next room over. Shaking fingers flipped open the heavy cover of the book, desperate to let herself fall into someone else’s words for the night. In the morning she’d force herself back to reality, face the fact that she’d transformed herself from an asshole to a murderer. Right now, she was falling. Falling endlessly into the pit of her own mind, screaming and clawing at the idea that she’d have to suffer through one more awful day of living.

Why did she have to put up with this? Why had life gone this way? Cece didn’t do anything deserve this, just took three wrong turns and ended up as the worst type of scum. She was falling further and further into the dark, a bat by her feet and blood crusted into her cuticles. Soon there might not be any of Cecelia Sanford left to find.

Vanya Hargreeves was the one to catch her. Caught her empty body between heavy paper pages. Cradled her limp form with bitter words and horrifying truths. In that single moment, there wasn’t anything in Cecelia’s life worth living for. There was just Vanya, quiet and brave and always overlooked. A soul tempered by injustice and loneliness, somehow managing to come out the other side scarred but still whole.

In the morning Cece would have to leave, before her neighbors started to notice the stench of blood seeped into the carpet. She would have to abandon everything, start a new life for herself from scratch. Tonight, shaking fingers traced the image printed across the back cover. She stared at the photo of Vanya with something akin to reverence, fingertips almost shy as they grazed along the curve of her cheek.

Kinship, pity, lust, obsession. It was hard to pinpoint what exactly Cecilia was feeling, or maybe she was simply feeling all of them at once. Wasn’t that what love was supposed to be about?

 

---

 

Almost five years had passed since Cece first found that book. Since Jess had found it? No no, even after all this time that name still felt awkward on her lips. Jess was the name written on her papers, thrown around by strangers or neighbors. Jess was the lie built to protect herself from a past left forgotten, a necessary evil if she truly wanted to watch over the person most important to her.

And watch she had. For five years, Cecelia watched in suffocating silence. She attended the orchestra whenever she could manage, sat in the backrow of book readings. Once she’d even gotten the courage to stand in line for an autograph, careful to open her book to the back so Vanya wouldn’t see the already written message to her own brother. It was easy to tell how awkward all the attention made dear Vanya feel, unused to having even a mild spotlight tilted her way. Even so she had the kindness to offer everyone a tight-lipped smile, meeting Cece’s eyes for a moment before letting her pen twirl along the page.

“Cecelia. Keep fighting, you’re extraordinary! -Vanya”

Nothing special, probably something she’d written in the dozens of books that came before her. That didn’t make it any less meaningful to Cece, crumpling to the floor of her apartment after and nearly sobbing for lack of any other way to expel her sudden flood of emotion. The rest of the book had become worn and creased from so many rereads, despite her best efforts to preserve its quality. However, that one page was near untouched. As if one wrong move could break the spell and her message would disappear.

Cecelia wasn’t stalking Vanya Hargreeves. That would be absurd, obsessive. Dangerous. All Cece did was watch.

If the neighboring apartment was suddenly vacant, where was the harm if she happened to move in? Mrs. Kowalski was older anyway. Had lived a long life. No one was too surprised when she finally shuffled off this mortal coil, closest living family probably being the poor kitty she’d left behind. If her medication had been a little… off... Well, no one checked. No one batted an eye when Cecelia slid into the new vacancy, flashing her false identity and charming smile.

She watched. She watched and watched, never once daring for more than an exchange of hellos. To ask for more would be greedy; to break through the delicate barrier that kept the author from her fan. That kept Vanya’s radiance from Cecelia’s filth. No, it was simpler to watch. To cherish those moments where violin music drifted between paper thin walls. Cece’s hands itched for the familiarity of a piano under her fingers, feeling the longing to play for the first time in years. Surely her own music was awful in comparison, rough and unpolished in the way a lack of practice eroded at talent. Even so she yearned to know what it sounded like, for Vanya’s notes to meld and spin along her own.

Watching was safe. If she was only watching, she could protect her beloved from afar. To make sure the world didn’t hurt her.

So then, it was only natural that Cece would be concerned after hearing of a death in the family. Even if that man was the scum of the earth, the dirt under her shoe, she was worried for Vanya all the same. So, she did what she always did. She watched. She sat on a bench outside the manor and watched, knowing all too well just how badly this so-called academy had hurt its number seven.

That’s when she saw the junkie for the first time in years, rushing out the door like he had somewhere to be. That’s why she found the journal, bright red against a backdrop of garbage.

Maybe that was where the beginning really was. Not with her book, but with his. An unbelievable truth stumbled on by someone so undeserving, but still the one who needed to know. The rest of the world was rotten, idiotic, unaware of how bright of a star it was that they tried to snuff out. Vanya deserved to know just how easily she could burn everyone in her orbit, and apparently Cece was the only one who loved her enough to tell the truth.

 

---

 

The first time Vanya met Cecelia, really met her, it was the day after her father’s funeral. She’d seen her neighbor in passing a few times, maybe wave to each other from across the hall. The other woman always seemed to hold herself with a confidence that Vanya had never been able to grasp, all sharp smiles and playful winks. Jess (as she’d gone by at first) had a way of just drawing her attention with so little effort. Stylish skirts over worn out leggings, lipstick dark enough that it almost distracted from the shadowy bags under her eyes.

The figure in her doorway didn’t hold any of that natural self-assuredness now, fingertips nervously drumming against the red book clutched to her chest. “M-” Her breath caught in her throat as she tried to begin, taking a moment to steady herself before trying again. “My name is Cecelia. Can we talk? I… I found something important that you might like to know.”

 

---

 

It’s almost funny, just how quickly a person’s world can fall apart. How a single sheet of paper, worn with age and recently dug out of a dumpster, could so completely destroy the fabric of what was supposed to be real. Just words. In theory that’s all they were. Words made by letters made careful strokes of a pen. Dark ink against creased parchment. Words that leapt into the air and seared themselves into Vanya’s brain.

Unlimited, uncontrollable, and dangerous. Should remain a secret. Mood altering medication to keep her sedated.

The book lay open flat on her table, but Vanya wasn’t reading it anymore. Not really. Her eyes stared unfocused and blank on the negative space of the page, as if there was more meaning held in the things that weren’t written than were. A distant part of her brain watched as the journal was closed, a stranger’s hand slowly sliding it along the table and out of sight. For some reason Vanya’s focus narrowed down to the smooth curve of Cecelia’s fingernails. Short and practical, yet perfectly filed to identically rounded tips. Metallic golden polish caught the dim lamp light overhead, shining for just a moment against a worn red backdrop.

“Are you okay?”

No, probably not. How could a person be okay with this? Vanya’s head was still spinning in thick unyielding fog, unable to process even a glimpse of her new reality. Instead of responding she simply shook her head, movements thoughtless and sluggish.

“That’s okay. Of course that’s okay. It’s a lot to take in all at once, especially coming from someone you barely know.” A hand was gently laying over Vanya’s clenched fist, thumb brushing lightly along the lines of tension. “If you’d be willing, I’d like to help. You know, help you understand your powers. Control them. If that’s what you want to be doing.”

Vanya’s gaze finally lifted from the shimmering gold polish, meeting the comforting steadiness of dark brown irises. A long pause of silence between them, letting the warmth of a hand over her own ground herself to the present. “I need to talk to my family,” she forced out eventually, shifting to glance down at the floor instead. “They- They can help. They’ll know what this is about.”

“Vanya dear, that’s the problem. They knew, and they’ve been keeping it from you.” Vanya’s head snapped up at that, the undercurrent of stress pulling taunt underneath her skin. “You’ve only read your own section so far, and I kinda suspect that you’ve only been skimming. Not that I blame you! As I said, it’s a lot to deal with. But earlier on, in number three’s section,” The hand holding hers tightened almost subconsciously, a kind gesture turned to a plea for contact. “He talked about enlisting her help to control you. Your father wanted to use your sister’s abilities to make you think you were ordinary, to hide everything you could do from yourself. How could she not know?”

“Maybe she-”

“And one of your brothers. Klaus.” Cece was quick to cut her off. “We’re lucky that I happened to be passing by, because he was the one who had this book in the first place. I saw him toss it away like garbage, clearly trying to cover up the evidence of what your dad had done to you. They’re both accomplices, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the others were all in on it too.”

“Klaus wouldn’t do that. It doesn’t make any sense.” Even as she argued, Vanya’s eyebrows knit together in distress. “He hated Dad as much as any of us did. Why would he be trying to hide something so big?”

“Because they’re afraid of you.”

Silence. Awful, deafening silence. A soft smile, assurance that this moment was real. Such pretty lips painted ominous dark purple, a contrast of genuine kindness and frightening danger mixing together as one.

“We can figure this out together, Vanya. A few days off your medication won’t be the end of the world. I’ll be here with you the whole way.”

 

---

 

Cecelia’s keyboard wasn’t exactly the highest quality instrument in the world, but Vanya let the melody wash over her like an old friend all the same. Today the two sat together in Cece’s apartment, friendly company and pleasant music warming something forgotten inside of Vanya’s chest. This was nice. Soothing.

She wasn’t there to be soothed though, she was there to train. With another sharp breath she tried to pull her world into focus, tuning out any invading static circling the edges of their atmosphere. Nothing but the lighthearted string of one note melding into the next, one tune seamlessly fading into the one after.

A power controlled by sound and emotion. A woman who clung to the violin, even when drowned with unknown drugs that muted her world grey. Music was the perfect conduit to test her powers in a safe environment, and yet… Here they sat. Vanya’s body had sunk back into the couch cushions long ago, her head tilted up to stare blankly at the ceiling. Useless. Even after learning the truth, knowing there was something powerful deep inside her, she was still so useless. Maybe years of medication had done more than contain her abilities. Sir Reginald took the one good thing about Vanya, the one thing that made her special, and let it rot away locked up in her chest.

The piano came to a slow stuttering stop, and only then did Vanya start to hear the other sound that had begun to fill the room. Quiet muffled sobbing, gasping attempts to pull air into aching lungs. How long had she been crying now? When did Cece notice?

Vanya honestly couldn’t remember the last time that she’d cried. Even as a child, sorrowful and bitter at the world, everything had felt so distant. She’d felt sad, of course she had. She grieved for Ben’s death, she ached as every sibling turned their back on her. Never before had it felt this raw though, clawing rough and bloody through the heaving of her chest. Reality was collapsing on her shoulders with a weight previously unheard of. Not just the past few days, the revelation of her entire life’s lie. Every moment leading up to that as well, every second of pain she never had the chance to really process. Years of hurting she’d been unable to feel, turning pain into spite for lack of any other outlet as a child.

The couch dipped with the weight of another person, arms wrapping themselves firmly around her waist. Vanya made no moves to push the away, welcoming the weight of Cecelia’s cheek against her shoulder. Nearby, a window shuttered with the force of a nonexistent wind.

“You know,” Cece’s voice was quiet, almost timid as she hugged her friend tightly. It was odd to hear the woman sound so unsure, but still refreshing in its own weird way. They were both so out of their depth here, trying to stumble their way through the dark side by side. “You don’t have to do this. Your family isn’t here Vanya, they can’t make you do anything you don’t want to.” Slow circles traced along the fabric of Vanya’s button-down, a needed distraction from her pitiful sniffling. “Pushing yourself to master something that’s obviously distressing can be just as bad as having it shoved down and hidden. You can trust your own judgement.”

“W-What- What if- What if I-” Why was it so hard to get the words out? Years of unfelt resentment bubbled up in her throat, choking out any words that tried to escape. Her own arms shook when they wrapped around Cecelia’s body, clinging to the offer of comfort like it was the only thing keeping her upright. “If I nev-never control it? If I- I’m just ordinary?”

“You could never be ordinary.” She kept it so simple, so sure of herself, it was impossible not to believe her. Just another fact of life, plain as the sun in the sky. “Even if you never understand your powers, even if you never had powers to begin with at all. You have always been far more than ordinary.” Vanya’s breathing began to even out as she listened, letting her eyelids flutter shut to block out anything else. “I don’t care if it sounds like cliché bullshit, I need you to listen to me. Everything about you, every move you’ve ever made, is something special and valuable. If you never showed a single sign of manifesting your talents, you’d still be more important fifty of your siblings put together.”

“But I’m not-”

“You’re important to me.” The hand tracing circles stopped its path, simply curling into the fabric of Vanya’s shirt as if trying to keep her anchored. “Besides, you don’t need supernatural abilities to be powerful.”

As if she had any right to be saying that, knowing who exactly Vanya’s siblings were. As if Vanya had any right to call herself powerful next to all of them.

Time ticked by until her body couldn’t seem to dreg up any more tears, curled against Cecelia’s body like useless deadweight. Purposeless, a waste of space, unworthy of this kind of care and attention. Even so Cece cherished her in her arms like someone too precious to risk losing. Vanya took in a deep calming breath, forcing herself to loosen her death grip on the pain of the past.

“Would you play the piano again?” Not for training. Just to hear, to let herself remember what it was like to fall in love with music. To fall in love with-

“Of course.” Affection from Cecelia was like nothing she’d ever known before, a constant and uncompromising force. Someone who would always be there, always help Vanya light and then tame these new unknowable emotions. The world was so much sharper without her medication. Dangerous and beautiful, like golden nails gliding along the pure white keys of a piano or the lingering memory of fingertips grazing her skin.

Maybe, just maybe-

 

---

 

“I think I might be gay.”

Cece glanced up from her styrofoam cup at the sudden declaration, stirring a second packet of sugar into her coffee. Today, Vanya noted, her lipstick was black. It must have been high-quality stuff, no tell-tale smudges left behind on the rim of her drink. Her smile was as alluring as always, a surprised quirk of amusement after being caught off guard. In times like this the bustling of the café around them didn’t matter. It might as well be just the two of them.

She hadn’t expected going off her medication to change things this much, to paint the whole universe in a different pallet all together. Someone revived the shambling corpse that was Vanya Hargreeves, sparking the fire in her chest again letting it warm her cold rigid flesh. Most of that new emotion was centered around one person, surrounding her in a flurry like the eye of the storm.

“Well, I certainly hope so,” Cecelia shot back teasingly, tapping her stir stick against the edge of her cup to shake off any clinging drops of liquid. “I mean we-” Their eyes met for a second, Cece’s nose wrinkling a bit in confusion as she read Vanya’s expression. Confusion, realization, overwhelming embarrassment. It was so easy to read the journey flashing across the woman’s face, even if Vanya couldn’t understand the reason for it. “Oh my god,” Cece muttered into the palm of her hand, hunching over in an attempt to hide her face. “I can’t believe I- I am so sorry! I’m fucking mortified at myself right now.”

“You what?” Vanya crossed her arms on the table’s surface, hoping her self-consciousness wasn’t too apparent. That wasn’t exactly a person’s ideal response to coming out of the closet. Was there something wrong? Maybe it was stereotyping, but it always felt like Cecelia had worn her own queerness like a second skin. Had she read the signals wrong? Was she ruining the one meaningful relationship in her life, just like she always did?

Cece’s cheeks were bright red at this point, her fumbling hands doing nothing to hide the blush. “Oh my god, I’m such an asshole,” she whispered more to herself than anyone else. “I thought- I guess I just assumed-”

With a quiet sigh Vanya reached out, carefully pulling her friend’s hands away from her face. Their fingers laced together like the most natural thing in the world. Like they’d done it a million times before, fitting together like they’d known each other for years rather than days.

“I kinda thought we were already dating,” Cecelia finally squeaked out, staring down at their hands nervously.

“Oh. I…” Vanya looked down at their hands, and then back up at the woman with her. Brown eyes, black lips, a constant she could always count on. Kind and understanding, the first person in her life that ever made Vanya feel like she was loved. “Yeah. Yeah, I think that I’d like that.”

Their first kiss tasted like coffee with an aftertaste of inevitability.

 

---

 

A surprise. That’s what Cece had called it. Surprises were supposed to be good, weren’t they? A pleasant surprise from her girlfriend, a spring in her step and voice giddy with whispered invitation. This was going to be nice. Maybe even romantic? In the chaos of a world crumpling around her, Cecelia had become the one true constant in Vanya’s life. The one person she could always count on. Whatever she had planned, it was going to be okay. Even when everything else had gone straight to hell, Vanya could always trust this one person.

Finding Helen Cho unconscious, bound to one of Cecelia’s kitchen chairs with zip ties and mouth covered in duct tape, should have been more of a shock than it was. Instead all Vanya felt was the vaguest pang of something unfamiliar in her chest.

Fear? Disappointment? No. This was something that managed to be bone deep and impossibly vague at the same time, worming between her ribs and wrapping around her still tender heart. Cece circled around the restrained woman with a poorly disguised look of glee, laying her arm across the chair’s back as if she were presenting a gift. The glint in her eyes as she turned back to Vanya almost seemed… hopeful. Eager to please.

Maybe it was more like a cat, dropping a dead bird at their owner’s feet to show their unspoken affection.

“Surprise!” Cecelia wiggled her fingers in a half-hearted display of jazz hands, standing just behind Helen’s slumped over form. Cece didn’t usually cut the most imposing figure, but in that exact moment? It didn’t matter if Vanya had all the power in the world at her fingertips, Cece seemed to radiate such total control that it seeped into the atmosphere itself. “I thought that I could get you a present AND a demonstration at the same time. Two for one!”

Vanya’s mouth was dry as she shut the door behind herself, closing the only lifeline available to the outside world. Questions piled up behind the lump in her throat, but all she could manage to do was narrow her eyes as she stepped further into the apartment. Cecelia still understood what she wanted to ask. She always understood.

“Do you remember the other day?” she asked cheerily, casually lifting her hand to rest on the crook of Helen’s neck. Fingers tapped lightly against the pale flesh to an unknown rhythm, airy and lighthearted even now. For a second Helen’s eyelids fluttered, about to come to. “We’d been trying to test your powers, understand them better. I was right over there, playing the piano for you.” Metallic gold nails trailed along the woman’s throat, Helen’s breathing shifting to the sporadic gasps that came with panic. Her eyes were wide open now, darting around before she spotted Vanya walking towards them. “You were… frustrated. Understandably so. I can’t even imagine what that must be like. So, I tried to tell you. Tried to explain.” Were those tears on Helen’s face? Or just a cold sweat? Pleading was muffled by a layer of tape, the words lost but meaning all too clear. “You don’t need abilities to be powerful, Vanya.”

Cecelia was moving now, circling the chair until she could face her captive. Her back was towards Vanya, but even as she stared into Helen’s desperate eyes her words were only ever for one person. It was like she didn’t even see Helen as a human being anymore. “This woman. She was the first chair in your orchestra, right?” Her movements were careful. Precise. Hands sliding around a neck, climbing onto the chair to straddle the trembling woman’s thighs. “Pathetic, isn’t she? Having the gall to talk to you like she did, like the violin isn’t the most important thing in your life. Like you don’t deserve to tower over all those idiots. She made you feel like you were unworthy, but now look at her. Powerless to us.” Cece’s thumbs met in the hollow of Helen’s throat, lightly pressing down to watch the flesh depress. “There’s no such thing as the weak or the strong, darling. Only those who are desperate enough to beat the odds.”

Her shoulders were hunched as she started to tighten her grip, Cecelia’s previous grace sloughing away in rough unsettling chunks. Helen’s body jerked and spasmed against her binds, clawing at the armrest as her windpipe was crush inwards. Vanya was shaking. She took one step forward. Another. Cecelia’s shoulders were stiff with purpose, her attention narrowed to the flailing woman beneath her. Vanya remembered the hot touch of a hand on her cheek, watching that same hand clutched deathly tight around Helen’s neck. The struggling was growing slower now, the yanking at her ties becoming weak and sluggish.

“Stop!” Vanya barely even realized that she’d been moving towards the two women, close enough to reach out and touch Cece. Something in the air shook, the door rattling against its hinges. “Please. Please, just stop.”

Cecelia slowly relaxed her grip, the effect almost immediate. Helen gasped in air through her nose, some vague semblance of life flooding back into her face. She tried to give Vanya a look of gratefulness, relief, whatever complicated feelings were rushing out at the sudden realization she’d been saved. Vanya wasn’t looking at her though. Much like Cecelia herself, Vanya only had eyes for one person.

“If we’re going to do this, let’s at least make it a quick death. You’ve got knives in the kitchen.”

 

---

 

“You’re so kind.”

The bubbles lathering against Cecelia’s skin were a rusty copper hue, clumps of blood dripping together before streaming down the kitchen drain. Bit by bit the water cleared away the residue, but Vanya still knew. It didn’t matter how long passed, didn’t matter if Vanya hadn’t done the deed herself. There was a life on their hands now.

“Even knowing it would be messier, that it would leave more evidence behind, you didn’t want her to suffer. Someone like that isn’t worth your mercy, but you gave it to her anyway.”

Cece let out a dreamy sigh and began to dry off her hands, but Vanya’s gaze was still locked onto the sink. The kitchen knife was still there, smeared with blood. Helen’s blood. The same blood that had dripped down Helen’s blouse and stained the white fabric red, leading up to a ragged gash in the flesh of her throat. She could see the moment playing on repeat in her mind, Cecelia driving the blade in with a rabid strength. Jerking her arm with the movement, ripping through Helen’s skin until her knife wouldn’t move forward anymore. It wasn’t like in the movies, almost elegant in the simplicity. Every second was rough and messy, and then it was over.

“Who would I be to deny that kind of good will? I really am helpless to my Vanya. You’ve got me wrapped around your little finger, dear.”

Vanya reached out slowly, wrapping her fingers around the hilt of the knife. Cecelia only hummed in response, turning to lean back against the counter. Her head tilted to the side curiously, just watching without a hint of concern.

“Are you going to kill me?” She asked it like the simplest thing in the world, as if she were only distantly curious about the idea. “Is that what it’ll take for you to feel powerful?”

Powerful. Is that what this was about? Is that how Vanya felt? The undercurrent of a neglected ability buzzed underneath her skin, but that didn’t have anything to do with them now. That power wasn’t what brought them here, left that corpse still cooling only a few feet away. It wasn’t her power that made Cecelia look at Vanya like that. Like she could do anything to her and Cece would take it happily.

Her family was wrong. Vanya was powerful. How else could she have someone willing to look at her like that?

Cecelia didn’t move as Vanya moved closer, didn’t flinch as her girlfriend trapped her against the counter. Her eyes were so pretty in this light, a deep dark brown shining with endless admiration. Vanya hated it. She hated how it made her feel so loved, so dangerous, so vulnerable. She wouldn’t kill Cece, could never do that no matter how far they fell.

No. But that didn’t stop her from leaning forward with a growl, gouging out one of those beautiful eyes with the still filthy blade.

 

---

 

Vanya was her goddess, the world thrumming around her to the tune of a well-played violin. If Cecelia were to die like this, bleached clean in the glow of her lover’s personal apocalypse… Well, at least she got front row tickets to the show. The end of the world had never sounded so sublime.