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Aftermath

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Hecate Hardbroom has been Ada’s deputy headmistress for less than six months the first time she risks her life to save the school. To save Ada’s school. To save Ada.

Ada finds her in the aftermath, in the clear, ringing silence that follows the nothing that happened. Strands of leftover magic still hang in the air, twisting around themselves, thick about Hecate’s fingertips. She’s leaning heavily against a solid stone pillar, letting the castle hold her upright.

It’s immediately clear that Hecate hasn’t the energy left for anything, really, though she walks up to her room under her own steam. Ada sends the nearest responsible pupil to see her to her door, just in case, and tries not to let herself worry too much when Hecate is too exhausted to argue with her.

Ada does what she must to set things back to rights. There are teachers to organise, pupils to comfort, a bit of wall near the library that has collapsed entirely under the magical onslaught and must be made safe. Only once everything is as much back to normal as it’s likely to be that night does she allow herself to listen to the pull of her own heart and go where she so desperately wants to be.

She hesitates just a moment outside Hecate’s door, not wanting to disturb Hecate’s rest and recovery by knocking, but also unwilling to overstep boundaries that she isn’t quite sure of. In the end she raps gently on the wood, but lets herself in when no reply is forthcoming.

Hecate is not in her bed, and Ada knows a flash of fear before she locates her in a chair by the window, dressed in her customary night robe, with her hair loose about her shoulders, as though she had begun to ready herself for bed but run entirely out of whatever residual stamina she had been able to summon partway through. Her eyes are open, though they look a touch glazed, and the corners of her mouth lift in a slight smile at Ada’s approach.

Ada can’t help but smile fondly back at her.

“Come, Hecate,” she says, reaching out a hand to help Hecate to her feet. “I think you’ll feel a lot better for a good night’s sleep.”

Hecate goes with Ada willingly, though she sways slightly once standing, and Ada wraps an arm around her waist to keep her steady as they make their way across the room. They reach the bed without incident, and Ada lets Hecate go with a reluctance that she doesn’t show. It takes all her willpower not to sit down on the edge of the bed next to Hecate, not to let Hecate rest her head on Ada’s shoulder, not to stroke that waterfall of dark hair, separating the tangles with her fingers.

She’s about to tell Hecate to lie down, to get some sleep, when Hecate looks up and meets Ada’s eyes, and Ada is painfully aware of how dazed she still looks, no sign of her usual needle-sharp focus. When she speaks, her voice is softer than usual too.

“I could kiss you right now,” Hecate says, with the tone of one already dreaming.

Ada usually has a fairly decent control over her own reactions, but she can’t help the tiny gasp that escapes her.

There’s a moment where she’s unable to do anything but look at Hecate, heat rising in her cheeks and her own pulse loud in her ears. Where the school could have fallen down around her and she doesn’t think she could have moved. Just for a tiny, fleeting instant, Ada allows herself to imagine that Hecate might mean it. That she’ll come to Ada the next day, when her faculties are fully returned to her, and repeat those words. That she’ll tell Ada she wants to kiss her, and that Ada will do the only thing she possibly could, and oblige.

But then Hecate looks away, lies down as suddenly as though her body had become boneless, her eyes fluttering closed, and Ada’s reality comes rushing back in.

She pulls a blanket over the now-sleeping Hecate, and doesn’t allow her fingers to brush Hecate’s cheek. She hopes Hecate doesn’t remember what she said in the morning. That they can go about their days, their weeks, their terms, the rest of their lives in their usual gloriously, torturously close proximity, without that particular awkwardness hanging over them.

Ada goes to the door and before she leaves, she looks back at Hecate one more time and smiles. “Thank you,” she says, under her breath. “For all that you do. For all that you are.”

Hecate doesn’t move, deep already in much-needed sleep, and Ada listens to her slow, even breaths for a moment longer before she slips away to find her own bed, and whatever rest might be left to her this night.