She may make excuses, distract herself all she wants, but in the end, Hecate misses them. Both of them. The fact that she admits this – here – to herself, is testimony to how far things have progressed.
So many years wasted. Granted, it was mostly her own fault, this separation between her and Pippa. It started so many years ago – bond broken by Hecate – so many things left unsaid. That act has left scars.
But Pippa is back now, and Hecate hopes they stand stronger than ever, as cliche as it is.
And Ada, sweet, kind Ada. Years it has taken her, countless invitations declined, smiles and hugs answered with frowns, before Hecate allows herself to be at ease in her presence, to enjoy the simpler things, to receive attention as much as giving it.
Truly, they both have far too much affection, far too much love to give. To others, to each other. To Hecate. It still overwhelms her. She never know what to do, not standing a chance – rarely when it's one of them, never when both surprise her.
She can't run away and hide even if she wants to.
Morgana's paws brushes against her ankles, reminding her of where she is, what she has done. She is curled on her feet. The fluffy weight anchors her down and prevents her from standing, from leaving – sever ties and run, run, run away, as she has done at least once already, many years ago.
The couch is soft beneath her, embracing her weight. She doesn't deserve soft and inviting things.
She's closed her eyes, but the bright colours in the room, the shades of pink – so much pink – still demand attention. So alike Pippa. She too shines brightly, illuminating her surroundings and chasing the darkness away. It forces the unspoken to be spoken, for the deepest secrets to be revealed.
It's too much. Hecate's laid all the cushions on the couch aside already but it still moves her.
Pentangle's Academy is dazzling, even without the presence of the headmistress. It's new and flamboyant and innovative. It differs from Cackle's – ancient, robust, and in decline, judging by the new batch of students arriving every year.
At least this room isn't as cluttered as Ada's. Hecate silently hopes, every time before entering her office, she won't encounter a new figurine. She despairs every time a new, glass cat appears. This hoarding of hers is getting out of control, yet every argument dims in her whenever she sees how happy Ada is.
She may have gone deeper, and enter the bedchamber – pink pillows and linens and blankets – but it doesn't feel right to take the bed. It's too empty without Pippa. Or Ada. She has no place there and might as well rent a room in a nearby inn and try to get a good night's rest.
Truly, they've contacted her just this morning, informing her of their schedule – relatively on track – and Hecate hasn't missed how much they've missed her, even if Ada and Pippa are together. Hecate, on her part, answered as she normally would: smooth and indifferent, no need to overreact. Besides, even if she wanted to, she never knew what, and more importantly, how to tell them.
They should be back by tomorrow, but these...meetings never go as planned. Headmistresses from all over the country gather in one place for official business. It's tradition mostly. But since it's a rare occurrence, everyone uses it as an excuse to chatter and brag about their Academy and party.
Hecate was invited too – not uncommon for a headmistress to bring an entourage or her loved ones – but she refused.
Perhaps she has decided too soon. Hecate has been restless this whole week. Time passes so agonisingly slow. She's been distracted, her productivity level plummeting with each passing minute.
It may explain why she is here and not at Cackle's, unable to win from herself in the end, her discipline no match for her feelings and thoughts. She's even smuggled a bright, pink sweater into this room. Ada has left it in her chambers. The cozy, woolly texture tickles her cheek. She resists the urge to use it as a pillow, knowing how good it will feel. She's indulging herself, she knows, but she can't resist. Just a moment longer. Oh, if people see her now. If they see her now...they will never forget and will use every opportunity to remind her of this moment of weakness.
The door opens. Normally Hecate will have noticed something, but this must be a testimony of how distracted – how comfortable – she is.
She knows the intruders, grimaces. It's too late to teleport away, there's not enough time. Her stomach churns. This is it, she has finally made a mistake. This is what happens if one is unable to control their emotions, doesn't have iron discipline – one more day, can't Hecate have waited one more day? One can't count on luck alone.
But concern creeps up, overwhelming the rest. Is everything all right? Are they all right?
"Now, this is a pleasant surprise," she says. Pippa...
The door closes softly. It almost drowns out a soft hum of agreement – Ada, too easily recognisable.
"I can get used to this," she adds softly, something akin to pining colouring her voice. "Well, Ada, it's good we stopped here first, isn't it? It seems my hunch is correct."
"Just as eager to leave." Pippa pauses. "Just as bored as I was."
"I concede," she admits softly, gracefully bowing down, but certainly not defeated. She indulges Hecate the same way whenever she feels the urge to unwind after a long, tiring day, making sure Ada knows exactly her opinion about some students and colleagues and generally anything that causes headaches.
Good. Their early return is no cause for alarm, Hecate by now used to this sort of easy banter between them. She can keep up her pretense – with eyes closed, it's easy to feign sleep – but then realises something: the sweater. Too late to hide it under her head now. She truly only has herself to blame if caught now.
Pippa chuckles softly, the way she always does whenever she has what she wanted.
Footsteps near her. Pippa again, she identifies these high heels without effort. This particular pair she wears when she wishes to be comfortable.
Morgana is squirming now, stuck between the place by her side, and attention she knows she'll receive from two witches, fully awake.
A soft rustle of clothing as Pippa kneels. "Hello darling," she whispers.
It must be aimed at Morgana, not her. Hecate has learned that lesson the painful way. One time Pippa said exactly that, and both she and her familiar glanced up. She couldn't stop giggling, kept squealing howcute they were and trying to hug them. Ada didn't assist – or better yet, kill Hecate right there, put her out of her misery – happily sitting in her armchair and smiling.
Her gaze is on them now too, Hecate feels the fondness even from here.
Morgana arches forward, paws digging in her. Pippa sighs, louder and closer. As if she is still a schoolgirl, with her head in the clouds, daydreaming about ridiculous romance tales, waiting for her prince – or her witch, Hecate found out later.
She must be stroking her fur. Morgana purrs, completely forgetting who she is sitting on, she has bonded with, feeds her every day and allows her free access in her personal chambers.
"I've missed you. Have you missed me too?" asks Pippa.
Morgana miaows and steps off her.
"Yes, you have," she croons, satisfied.
Ada murmurs in agreement – when has she come closer? A hand touches her ankle, the sensation even softer than Morgana's fur, tickling her mere seconds ago.
"Ah, I wish we can wake her..." Pippa continues softly.
Hecate is a heavy sleeper. She has trouble falling asleep. If not for spells alerting her when a presence stands in front of her doors, students will easily escape blame and punishment during the night. She'll sleep through a crisis.
Ada is worse. Ada can fall asleep everywhere. Few things wake her, much to her despair. With the doors closed but not locked, and no protective spells, all sorts of things can happen right in front of her and Ada won't even notice until it's too late.
"Indeed, it's best to let her rest," she agrees.
Hecate pursed her lips, chiding clear in Ada's voice. Not the first time this is mentioned, for her to take better care of herself. Sleep, eat, rest, all trivial compared to other, more important matters. One task done and three new ones appear. It never stops. Sometimes choices, sacrifices must be made. She doesn't understand why they – two of the most brilliant witches Hecate will ever know – don't see it.
"They are so adorable. Look at them, Ada," she whispers softly.
Ada doesn't answer, but she agrees, gently squeezing her ankle.
Morgana moves back towards her, front paws poking her, but she is picked up by Pippa. "Ah Morgana, we wouldn't want to wake our dearest now, do we?"
Morgana chirps softly, not fighting at all.
"With her indisposed for now, I'll just have to kidnap you," she says, as cheerful as ever, as if talking about the weather, and not about to commit a felony.
Her knees creak as Pippa stands, taking Morgana with her. Hecate isn't troubled, as witches and mages usually should be if their familiar is taken away – what's hers is theirs. Morgana agrees, likely using her chest as a cushion, kneading. Truly, there are times Hecate wishes she isn't her cat.
"You've done a very good job, taking care of her. We all know how stubborn she can be," Pippa confides in Morgana, but everyone can hear. She kisses her, lingering and loud. Hecate feels the kiss.
"Be back in a moment," she says and the door closes softly behind her.
A gentle pat on her ankles, rustle of clothing and Ada is standing. But she remains close to Hecate, a silent, soothing presence. She relaxes, the scent of her sweater entwining with Ada's, the source. It doesn't take much to pretend they are in her office, each engrossed in their own task. They've done it countless times.
When the door opens again, Morgana isn't following. She is left in her room, by now occupying the large bed.
She expects them to leave now, but no, the door closes again.
"Here are yours," says Pippa, as if she hasn't left a moment ago. A rustling of clothes accompanies it, softer. Not travelling cloaks. Ada loves to leave her things in other chambers: a bag of candies in her personal quarters, a pointy hat on the desk of her classroom, a lone rose in a drawer...
"Thank you, dear," she says. Must be sleeping garments, then. Ada is always astonished whenever Hecate changes to hers and never stops her crusade to make her wear 'normal' sleeping attire. She stops trying so hard once Pippa has arrived – hers ridiculously pink, as expected, but lately the texture has become more and more woolly.
At least Pippa loves her pajamas, though Hecate suspects for the wrong reasons. Pippa's gaze always lingers on her hips or chest or bottom...well, anywhere but her face.
"Anything for you, lovely Ada," she purrs, drawing the words out.
A pause as Ada is changing. "You will not turn around?"
"Surely there is no need. There is nothing I haven't seen before," she teases and Hecate knows she has winked. They usually form a team and target her. They pamper and tease her until she is flustered and feels the urge to transfer away, hide in the confiscation room, or stand on the roof and hope there is wind, a breeze, to calm her. She almost doesn't want to admit it, but it feels good that this time, she isn't the one marked.
"Naughty," answers Ada.
Pippa chuckles as she slowly nears her, somehow her bare feet producing more noise than her high heels ever can. "What can I say? I like what I'm seeing."
"Behave," she warns her, but Hecate hears no real reproach in her voice.
Pippa halts, but only for a moment before continuing.
Another silence, even more charged. They are staring at each other. Hecate wonders if they will hug next. Or kiss, even. She is always amazed how well they fit together. Ignoring the obvious similarities and shared interests, they are both surprisingly...well, physical. The first time she's caught them she was unable to look them in the eye for a week. It took longer until it dawned on her exactly what she has witnessed. The implications, her own conflicting feelings about them, between them. How Hecate might fit in – or not.
She didn't act, though.
The awkwardness, the tenseness, the silence, lasted so long, that Pippa – patience lost and preparing for confrontation – grabbed her and Ada, locked the three of them in a room, refused to move, to let either of them go until progress is made. It ended being the best confinement ever, and Hecate hates rooms with no windows and doors.
"As much as I love to proceed, we are both knackered. How about we rest for now?" suggests Ada softly. Hecate agrees silently.
"It's good I've saved us a trip to Cackle's, right?" Pippa can't resist teasing again. That's good. It means Pippa is in a good mood, and that leaves Hecate in a pleasant mood too.
"Yes, dear," she answers, almost nonchalantly, familiar with her antics.
"Oh, how I wish we can sleep on the couch," she sighs, words losing their focus, daydreaming again.
Why won't they sleep in the bedroom? As much as Morgana loves to take as much space as she can on the bed, she also knows when to move aside. Beside, it can't be comfortable on this particular couch, especially if Hecate is already on it.
A buzz of magic – Pippa. It twirls around and fills the room. She always loves to show that extra bit, sprinkling the spell with colours and details. A transformation spell, changing one object into a bigger, similar object. A bigger couch, or a bed perhaps? Another spell rests it, gently, beside the couch, snuggled against each other.
A weight drops on her, soft, and warming her instantly. A blanket, Pippa's favourite, she identifies, threads worn from years of using it for warmth and comfort. It brings memories of once upon a time, when both were teenagers, cuddling in the evening, long after the lights have dimmed.
"I want a sweater too," says Pippa, longing clear in her request.
"Perhaps next Christmas."
"How about next birthday?" she suggests, none too subtly. Her birthday is earlier in the year.
"Perhaps." And Ada says no more. As if she already has something planned, and refuses to spoil the surprise. Ada always places great emphasis on birthdays, a special day in her eyes. She loves receiving presents as much as giving them, each year trying to exceed the previous one. It gives Hecate stress, only growing after Pippa has arrived – returned – in their lives. As if to compensate for the lost years.
"Oh?" she breathes out.
"Shush now," whispers Ada, but with a bit more force, putting an end to this topic. They must really be tired. Hecate refuses to consider other possibilities, possibly involving herself.
Silence, but a comfortable one. Two pairs of bare feet near her. It takes all her will not to squirm or take a peek.
The couch dips, and Pippa's perfume mingles with the scent of dried tea leaves, always clinging on Ada. That combination makes her dizzy, restless. Hecate wants to come closer, closer, closer, and inhale deeply, again and again, until that is all she can smell. Turn towards them and touch them – any of them, she isn't picky, not about this – taste the fragrance on bare skin…
Her perfume becomes stronger, but the tea lingers behind. A bit.
"Careful now, we must watch your back after all," she teases. Her voice is so close, it's right beside Hecate. They must be lying down too.
"Don't you start, I may be older, but not ancient yet," she chides gently.
A pressure on her arm, slowly travelling up. At first, she thinks it's Pippa – she is closer to her than Ada – but no, it is Ada, now having reached her sweater. She pats it before her hand comes to rest on her. It can't be comfortable, her arm must be reaching over Pippa. But then again, Ada might be using her as an armrest.
The weight isn't unlike Morgana. Hecate holds back a satisfied sigh.
A moment where their bodies find the best position to rest and then, their breathing slow down.
"Sleep well," Ada whispers. Definitely to Pippa...perhaps to Hecate too.
"Oh, certainly," she answers softly.
Hecate doesn't need visual confirmation. Memories are ready to provide the evidence: they are cuddling. And always manage to include her.
She waits, counts the minutes until ten is reached, and carefully opens one eye.
She smiles at the sight – cuddle monsters, Pippa so fondly loves to use. Hecate shakes her head and closes her eye.
The warmth that she feels now is intense, more than a blanket, or a potion, can ever supply.
It – they – lull her to sleep. A restful sleep.