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these vacant hours

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Intuition, Lucretia thinks, is like a dangling participle.

It’s when the sentence is perfectly capitalized and punctuated but doesn’t read as fluidly as it should. It’s when everything looks right, but something is wrong—wrenchingly, glaringly wrong, even though there’s not a word you can think of to describe it. It’s the kind of thing that drives English majors and novelists to the brink of madness. She should know. (She’s been both.)

The last time she’d told someone as such, they’d been incredulous. “That’s a metaphor practically asking to be broken,” they’d said. “Besides, sometimes you just know shit is bad, and it looks bad, and it’s just all bad. The world isn’t always trying to catch you off guard, okay? I’d say that’s a pretty paranoid way of looking at things.”

“It’s a simile,” was all Lucretia had said.

They’d waved her off, laughing.

Lucretia doesn’t feel much like laughing now.

The journey back is, for lack of any better phrasing, absolute hell. Barry offers to take them through the rift—it’ll be faster, he says; easier, and he wants to get them to a safe place as soon as possible—but the instant reality rips itself apart in front of them, Lup digs her nails into Taako’s arm and screams. It’s shrill and deafening and utterly terrified. It’s the worst thing Lucretia’s ever heard.

So they take the Starblaster. Lup refuses to let go of Taako’s arm. Her eyes dart from person to person, evaluating each of them with a sharp, unforgiving stare. When Kravitz goes to sit next to Taako, her ears pull flat against her head and she bares her fangs at him, growling low and deep in her throat. He backs off in a hurry, and Taako swallows hard and tells her that he’s fine, Lulu, for gods’ sake, you know him. She doesn’t seem to care.

Everyone gives them a wide berth after that.

Barry calls them up to the bridge after a heavy ten minutes of silence, and they oblige him because there can’t possibly be anything worse than silence. Davenport is there, of course—he’s perfectly capable of setting the ship to autopilot, as Lucretia and the others well know, but he’s looked a little haunted ever since they departed and they’d all known no amount of convincing would get him to leave the helm. Lucretia sees the hollowness in his eyes and has to choke back something welling up in her throat; whether it’s an apology or a full-on breakdown, she can’t tell. She won’t make him relive something she herself has tried very hard to forget.

“Feeblemind,” says Merle, as soon as the door hisses shut behind them.

None of them had wanted to say it.

Lucretia’s familiar, of course. She’s familiar with too many spells; knows them just well enough to recognize their effects without knowing much else. She’d watched the clever glint drain from Lup’s eyes and figured straightaway, and she’s sure the others had done the same. Perhaps that’s why no one had said anything. Because they’d all known, and knowing was so much worse than saying it aloud.

Feeblemind. The body is left intact (right) but the mind is shattered (wrong, wrong, wrong).

“You can cure it,” Barry says. “You can end it, with—with Greater Restoration, right?”

Merle looks tired. They’re all tired, but he wears it plainly on his face, and always has. “I can do it, but it calls for diamond dust, and this shit gets specific. Gems’ve gotta be at least a hundred GP, and for a full guarantee that this is gonna work, they’ve gotta be cultivated. Specially grown, y’know? This is a delicate spell, and if anything goes wrong, if this gets fucked up—”

“You’re not gonna fuck it up,” says Magnus, and he sounds angry. They’re all angry, Lucretia thinks. Angry and tired—and it almost feels like the old days again. “This is too important.”

“Obviously. So it’s… it’s gonna be a coupla days.”

Barry releases a small, choked noise into his hand. Davenport doesn’t look back from the helm, but he says, “Then we’ll all make her as c-comfortable as we can in the time we have. This isn’t rocket science, people. It—it’ll be over soon.”

There is really nothing worse than silence, but that’s what hangs over their heads for a few agonizing seconds before Angus speaks. He’s sitting at a console, looking thoroughly shaken and, like so many of the adults are, trying his best to hold it together. Lucretia, who’s been holding her expression steadfast since liftoff, can relate.

“This is my fault,” he says, almost quietly enough to be inaudible. “I’m sorry.”

The bridge erupts.

“It’s not your fault, Ango—”

“—nobody thinks that—”

“It’s on me,” says Barry, dropping his hand from his face. “I should’ve had my eye on her.”

Kravitz shakes his head. “Necromancers are tricky bastards. I know that, I should’ve taken extra precautions. Besides, I’ve actually hunted them down before, so if anyone’s to blame—”

“You’re all being selfish,” Lucretia says.

They all look at her but she doesn’t back down, because she’s spent a century with them and their judgment and at this point, she couldn’t possibly care less. “You’re being selfish,” she repeats, and she can hear her voice shaking. “Acting like all of this is your cross to bear. It’s no one’s fault, alright? Something shitty happened, we’re dealing with the consequences like adults. This isn’t the time to be arguing over who gets to be the martyr.”

Nothing but silence can follow an outburst like that, and silence is the last thing Lucretia needs. So she turns on her heel and leaves. She doesn’t stalk or stride or hold her head high because she knows she’s right—in fact, she doesn’t know it in the least.

She doesn’t really know anything anymore. 

The first day is a different kind of hell, one built out of frozen dinners and overcrowded guest bedrooms and Barry and Kravitz’s shouting match over who goes with Merle; or, more importantly, who stays.

Lucretia doesn’t catch all of it, but it’s impossible not to hear.

“—so what happens if I leave and she gets worse?”

“You’re talking like we’re not all capable people, you have to know that—”

“I’m her husband, gods dammit!”

It only quiets down after Taako stands up, storms to the other end of the house, and gives them both an earful because you fucking idiots, you’re scaring her, figure out what the hell you’re doing or shut the fuck up. Not fifteen minutes later, they both emerge into the living room and announce stiffly that Kravitz is going with Merle, and Barry is staying behind, and thank you all for being so patient, but they’re just a little shaken up and they only want the best for Lup. All of them do.

Lucretia sits in an armchair too big for her in a space more domestic than she’s used to. This is the third time she’s been to Barry and Lup’s house, and the first time she’s been there with company. It’s a shockingly innocuous property. The garden out front is well-kept and blooming with all sorts of unusual flora, and every room is enormous and airy and spilling over with natural light. (Every room, of course, save for the necromancy lab, which Barry has informed her she’s not allowed to see for plausible deniability.)

He’d shown her the floorplan back when the house was a couple of blueprints and a far-fetched ambition in the aftermath of Story and Song. “Gotta have lotsa light, lotsa space,” he’d told her. “Means the world to her. Uh, especially now.”

It’s beautiful—the sort of house Lucretia had imagined having all to herself a century ago, back when her endgame had been a novel published under her name. She looks at its lofty ceilings now and thinks it would be far too lonely for her taste.

Somehow Lup’s presence makes it even lonelier. She’s taken up residence on the couch, curled into a shallow corner, pupils thin and ears at attention as she surveys the room around her. Everything that moves or raises its voice above a whisper incurs her suspicion, and when Magnus accidentally ventures too close, her lips curl back in a snarl. Lucretia notes how as soon as he steps back, she looks to Taako with concern written starkly across her face. It makes sense, to an extent. Protection has to be one of the oldest instincts in existence. The fact that it survives, even when the rest of her personality is ripped apart, is harshly appropriate.

The rest of her is vacant. Where life and warmth once brimmed in Lup, there’s just—nothing. Lucretia catches herself staring once or twice, sucked into the hollows of Lup’s eyes, and has to tear herself away. It’s wrong. It’s worse than wrong—it’s like someone’s violated a law of the universe and gloated about it.

It doesn’t matter that pieces of the necromancer are rotting in that field.

Lup is gone, and they’re struggling to get her back.

On the second day, Barry collapses.

They all count themselves lucky that Lup doesn’t see it. Magnus carries him to one of the downstairs bedrooms and says he’s going to go and get some fuel for everyone, which Lucretia hopes means coffee, because they’d all drained the supply on the first day. He leaves, and Barry is across the house, and Angus is with Carey and Killian, which they’d all decided on without having to put it to a vote. They don’t know where Davenport is and they figure for now, he wants to keep it that way.

So that leaves Lucretia with Taako and Lup, except Lup isn’t herself, which leaves Lucretia with Taako.

She’s been trying not to think about it.

It only takes a couple agonizing minutes for one of them to break the quiet. “You should check on Barold,” Taako says, and he says it a little more aggressively than he needs to, but it’s also the most he’s spoken to Lucretia in a year and so she’ll take it without complaining.

“He’s fine,” she says. “He hasn’t slept in two days. I don’t want to wake him up.”

Taako rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t dispute her. He has his fingers threaded through Lup’s, and Lucretia watches as his knuckles whiten ever so slightly.

“Why are you here?”

“She’s my friend.”

He scoffs. “That all? What about your—your arrangement, or whatever?”

“The arrangement,” says Lucretia, coldly, “is none of your business. And I’m really not in the mood to be judged for my adult decisions.”

It’s one of the only things that had survived from the Century—an understanding, an open relationship. An arrangement. They’d talked about it after Legato, after Lucretia was so sure everything was about to take a turn for the worse, and agreed because it was too easy to be worth breaking any hearts over.

She’d wondered if Taako was privy to it, and now she knows.

He’s silent for a moment longer, and then he says, “She doesn’t deserve you.” It’s not meant to sting or catch her off guard, Lucretia knows—for Taako, it’s simple and solid as any other fact.

And she’s not going to dispute him.

“Lup deserves to be happy.”

“Now there’s something we can both fuckin’ agree on.” He sighs and tips his head to rest it against Lup’s, and she nuzzles into his loose curtain of hair, closing her eyes in an unexpected display of peace. Lucretia is sure she sees Taako’s eyes shimmer, but then he blinks and clears his throat and the moment is gone.

She doesn’t get to see him very often, which he would say is entirely on purpose. They’d sealed a single, likeminded pact between them to get along for the sake of Angus’s birthday, but Angus’s birthday is over now—it’s been over for what seems like fifty years. And here they are, getting along by virtue of necessity. It feels right.

Lup’s stomach rumbles, and Taako sits up and curses under his breath. “She hasn’t eaten since… shit,” he mumbles, and Lucretia knows he’s talking to himself, but the fact that he’s willing to do so with her sitting right there is something, at least. “I’ll get a meal going, see if I can get her to eat… uh, Lu, c’mon, we’re goin’ to the kitchen.”

He stands, but Lup doesn’t follow. She remains stubbornly seated, looking up at Taako with those horrible, blank eyes, and looks a little like he’s personally offended her.

“Lup,” he says. “C’mon.”

This time he tugs a little insistently on her hand, and her ears pull back again as she releases a low whine from the back of her throat. Taako drops his grasp, sucks in a shaky breath, and pinches the bridge of his nose. He’s a pressure cooker of exasperation, Lucretia thinks, to use a metaphor he would approve of. He also has thick, dark circles under his eyes and a familiar twitch to his mouth that she knows is the harbinger of a full-on breakdown.

Fuck—Lup, please—”

“Go make the food,” says Lucretia. Lup’s ears twitch towards her, and she looks over without any of the feral hostility they’ve all gotten used to. “I’ll watch her.”

Taako stares her down. She knows he wants the next words out of his mouth to be why should I let you, but she also knows he’s too exhausted to push back. Instead, he holds out a finger like it’s an arcane focus and says, “If you—if you pull any shit—”

“I won’t—”

“—I swear to gods I’ll make you wish we never saved your ass.” He drops the finger and turns back to Lup. “I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

There’s no response, of course. Taako sighs and heads to the kitchen, although not without a pointed glance over his shoulder. Lucretia doesn’t bother returning it in kind.

That leaves her with Lup, except Lup isn’t herself, so—

A faucet turns on down the hall, followed by the sound of a cabinet slamming heatedly shut. Taako cooks when he’s stressed. He has the manic energy Lucretia’s never been able to muster, the impulse to do something and then the compulsion to actually do it. They share inattention and nothing else. She has a book in her lap, a small fiction she’s been struggling to get through between running the Bureau of Benevolence and the persistent desire to sleep the rest of her life away, and for the last several minutes she’s been thumbing over the pages and wearing her skin raw. It focuses her. (Granted, for what, she’s not entirely sure.)

A hand lays over hers, and Lucretia almost jumps out of her skin. Lup’s eyes catch hers, still dim, still hollowed out like two black holes where stars used to reside. It’s too easy to slip into celestial metaphors to describe her.

She doesn’t say anything—mutism is one of the symptoms, as they’ve started to refer to them, like this is a stubborn virus or some other affliction. But she folds her fingers gently through Lucretia’s and pulls, tipping her head towards the couch, and the empty space where Taako had taken up residence next to her.

“Oh,” says Lucretia, because she can’t think to say anything else. “Oh, you want me to…?”

Lup doesn’t understand her—another symptom—but she continues to press her stare. What else can Lucretia do but oblige? She slides the book carefully off her lap and joins Lup on the couch, folding her legs underneath her. As soon as she gets situated, like Lup can sense it, she nudges gently at Lucretia’s shoulder and leans in.

(And they’re back on the Starblaster, and Lup’s fingers snag gently in Lucretia’s curls as they sit against each other under the dim glow of the stars. Any moment now she’ll ask a question in her low, resonant voice, and Lucretia will crack a self-indulgent smile and respond, and say something that would embarrass her for cycles to come if not for the fact that they keep no secrets from each other.)

Instead Lucretia freezes. Lup doesn’t seem to notice. She doesn’t close her eyes, but her ears stoop to a gentle incline and her breathing evens from its short, choppy exhales. It reminds Lucretia of honey-gold mornings and sun-warmed skin between tangled sheets, and it’s wrong ; she knows this, even though something about it feels numbingly right. She shouldn’t be wanting Lup’s hand curled lightly in her lap, or her weight against Lucretia’s chest.

She shouldn’t be wanting it and yet she wants so much. She wants Lup back and right now, this is the closest she’s going to get.

The clamor from the kitchen fades into white noise. Lup rests in the curve of her shoulder, and for once Lucretia doesn’t ache with the need to flex her fingers and fold them into her palm, or thumb over the pages of her book. She lets the world phase just slightly out of focus because she, like everyone, is more exhausted than she realizes. They hadn’t given her something to do in the aftermath. She’d become a sentinel of her own accord.

It’s appropriate, she decides, for her inclination; protecting the ones she loves for better or for worse.

Lup is warm. She’s always been warm, like magic is constantly running hot through her veins, and even in this state Lucretia can feel the power thrumming faintly beneath her skin. It’s a vibration; a distinctly choppy hum. There is both a power and a fragility to it that together is unlike anything Lucretia’s ever heard.

The reason she’s never heard anything like it is, of course, because it’s not actually arcane power that Lucretia can feel through the fabric of her blouse.

It’s a purr—a soft, oscillating rumble that spills from Lup’s throat and radiates outward in tiny vibrations. Where they land, goosebumps scatter across Lucretia’s skin, and cautiously she tips her head to verify the sound. As she does, Lup’s eyelashes flutter, and the purring—because that’s what it is, without question—jumps noticeably in volume. She leans toward the crook of Lucretia’s neck on what looks like instinct, like the same gravity that seems to hold them in orbit around each other is at work once again.

The same gravity that nestles in Lucretia’s gut and aches like it’s been a century. A day and a half is nothing compared to a hundred years but right now, it feels entirely as if the two are the same.

So she tucks her head over Lup’s and listens to her purr. There’d been an occurrence over the course of the mission—only once, because to Lup and Taako intimacy was sacrosanct. But she’d been curled up against the headboard, Lup lounging across her lap, and gently massaging an ear. And just like that, like a switch had been flipped, Lup started purring. She’d realized it after a moment or two and propped herself up with an embarrassed grimace, face distinctly pinker than it should have been. “Hey, Luce,” she’d said. “I’d appreciate it if you, uh, kept that to yourself. It’s kind of a…”

“An elf thing?” Lucretia had guessed.

She’d been right, as it turned out; a little-known racial quirk that elves liked to keep under wraps. Lucretia respected her wishes, and after that night, she didn’t hear it again. Apparently it had been long enough that she’d forgotten about it altogether.

She remembers two things, now:

  1. Elves purr when they’re content, or
  2. they purr when they’re distressed.

Lucretia looks down at Lup and can’t even begin to fathom which of the latter it would be.

She abandons that train of thought and reaches up to smooth a hand over Lup’s hair. Lup doesn’t protest, so Lucretia lets her fingers slide through the loose strands and gently massage her scalp. The purring gets louder. It’s a completely involuntary thing—she’s sure of it—but there’s a small, selfish part of her that thinks, she knows it’s me. This is for me. Lup doesn’t understand the nuances of her relationship with Lucretia or what they’ve been through together, but she feels safe. Safe with Lucretia. Safe enough to purr.

Taako is so quiet that Lucretia doesn’t even realize he’s there until he slouches into the armchair where she had been. She jumps, and Lup’s ear flicks attentively, but the purring’s tempo doesn’t break.

“Food’s cooking,” is all he says. There’s a bitter edge to his tone that she thinks, for once, isn’t directed at her.

Lucretia’s eyes fix on the ring fitted perfectly to Taako’s finger. It’s a cluster of bright pink tourmaline encased in transmuted silver, brilliant enough to catch the light and throw it in prisms across the room.

“I’ll get up,” she says.

He waves a dismissive hand. “You’re chill. Lup’s comfortable, so—so just stay where you are.”

“You don’t—”

“Lucretia,” he says, “I don’t give a flying fuck what I’m—about how I feel right now, and neither should you. This ain’t about me.”

The pointed look that tangles in Lup’s eyelashes tells Lucretia everything else she needs to know.

She doesn’t try to argue further. For one, it’s an argument she’s not going to win, and for the other—for once —she hasn’t the faintest idea what they would be arguing about. So she starts to card her fingers through Lup’s hair again, and Lup continues to purr, and Taako stares vacantly in the direction of the kitchen as if there’s something he’s forgotten.

 That night, Kravitz and Merle portal in through the front yard. Lucretia and Barry are there to greet them, and the latter’s shirt is stained and his hair is sticking up in sleep-thick spikes, but right then he looks more awake than ever.

Diamond dust glitters in the valleys of Merle’s palm as he lays his hand on Lup. The air thickens with the scent of ozone. Taako’s fingers are laced tightly through hers once more, and he doesn’t say anything, but she can see his shoulders shaking.

The effect is instantaneous.

“Well, shit,” says Lup, when the light returns to her eyes. She sees Taako sitting next to her first and pulls him into her arms, and just like that, the room heaves a sigh of relief. Barry takes her face in her hands and kisses her hard, and Magnus barges past and sweeps them all into a hug, ignoring Taako and Merle’s harmonious complaining. Kravitz manages an awkward pat until he, too, is pulled headfirst into the embrace.

Lucretia stands in the doorway. The world is quiet and dark outside and the neighbors’ well-kept lawns glimmer with a late rainfall.

She leaves.

Or she tries to, at least, because she only gets as far as the porch before the door swings open behind her and light from the hallway spills around her feet. “ ’Cretia,” Lup says. “Where’re you going?”

A best of silence, and the door closes of its own accord. It’s just them, now, standing in the dim glow of the porch light with the faint buzz of crickets in the distance.

“I missed you,” says Lucretia.

Lup steps forward and takes her gently by the shoulders. “I missed you too. So why don’t you stick around? Taako’s making dinner.”

“I can’t.”

She sighs. “If you think they’ll be weird—”

Lucretia shakes her head. “It’s not them, it’s me.”

She knows Lup won’t argue with that. Instead she drums her fingers against Lucretia’s sleeves and says, “You were there the whole time, huh?”


Lup leans forward and presses her lips lightly to Lucretia’s, and despite herself, Lucretia leans in. She really has missed Lup—missed this—the way she has to rock forward on her tiptoes to reach her and the way Lup smiles against her mouth and the way she feels nothing else, except the ebb and pull of the kiss itself. They might have spent an eternity standing there on the porch, half-drowned in golden light and shivering slightly in the chill. Lucretia knows she wouldn’t mind.

But all the best things must come to an end, and Lup pulls away with a small, dazed grin.

“My girl,” she murmurs. “Missed you like crazy. You really won’t stay, huh?”

“I can’t,” is all Lucretia says.

“Okay.” She hops off the porch and sits on the stoop, then pats the concrete next to her. “Sit with me for a little bit, then. Tell me about what I missed.”

Lucretia does. She sits down and doesn’t bother sugarcoating it, because she knows Lup will hate that even more than not knowing. So she unflinchingly recounts the seconds after Lup fell and how Taako and Barry’s spells had ripped the necromancer apart. She tells Lup about the way she’d screamed at the sight of the rift and how she’d bared her teeth at anyone other than Taako who’d come close. She recites bits and pieces of Barry and Kravitz’s argument.

Lup listens without comment. When Lucretia stops—whether it’s just to stop or to take a breath, she isn’t sure—she says, “I’ve got these… impressions. Like vague memories, emotions… it’s like everything’s blurred.” She grins ruefully. “Kinda hard to make acute observations when your intelligence takes a fuckin’ swan dive, huh?”

Lucretia doesn’t respond at first, and Lup notices. “Everything okay?”

“What’s wrong with you?” says Lucretia.

The crickets seem deafeningly loud just then, filling up the space with their incessant chirping and almost overpowering what she says next. “You weren’t yourself, and it was fucking terrifying. And it didn’t even make any sense, because one minute you were growling at everyone, and the next you were—”

Her sentence hangs like a woman off a precipice. “You were… it doesn’t matter. You just—you’re cracking jokes and kissing me and acting like none of this happened, and it did happen, and it scared the life out of all of us, and I don’t know how you can be so—so chill about all of it when a spell literally destroyed your mind.”

“Oh,” Lup says. That’s it. Lucretia’s just started to kick herself for being stupid, for reprimanding Lup just minutes after she’s come back to herself because she doesn’t deserve that, gods dammit, when she says, “Y’know what? That’s fair.”

Lucretia blinks. “Um—um, yeah. Yeah, it is.”

She leans back on the heels of her hands, gazing up at the edge of the overhang and beyond that, the brilliant spread of stars. “I’m not gonna lie, Luce. I feel like shit. But when you fix somebody, they’re supposed to be fixed, right? No exceptions. No side effects. You forgive and forget and you—whoops, sorry, babe,” she says, because she catches Lucretia’s flinch, because of course she does. “Bad choice of words. But my point is that it shouldn’t be this hard to suck it up and move on.”


“Yeah, hon.”

“It’s been five minutes.”

Lup chuckles and releases a long sigh. “Sure has.”

They sit in silence for a few moments. Somewhere behind the house, a carriage trundles by, accompanied by a couple raised voices and someone’s airy laughter. As the voices fade away, Lup says, “It coulda hit any one of you.”

“That’s not the point.”

“Yeah, it is,” she says, and doesn’t snap, even though her voice gets noticeably sharper. “There’s a scenario out there where the spell hits you, instead. Or Taako. Or Barry, or Angus… I could go on and on, and that, right there?” Lup’s finger jabs at an invisible spot in the air. “That’s the point. The fact that the spell hit me and not anybody else. I’m happy to take the hit—hell, I’m thrilled if it means no one else has to go through that.”

There’s no way Lucretia can counter that without compromising her beliefs. “You’re a good person,” she says. It’s not a hollow sentiment, but it does sound like one.

“I’m pissed off is what I am,” says Lup, but she puts a hand on Lucretia’s thigh and squeezes.

“I’ll get over it,” she murmurs. “Always do.”

They spend another few seconds in silence, although the way they pass, it could have been measured in eternities. Lup’s thumb presses absentminded circles into the side of Lucretia’s knee.

“Barry passed out,” she says suddenly; affectionately. “Dumbass. He always likes to say he’ll sleep when he’s dead, and since he’s a lich already that doesn’t mean jack, so…”

Lup falls silent for a few moments more, and then she says, “When did you last get some sleep?”

Lucretia thinks. She hadn’t so much as closed her eyes on the Starblaster, and the night before she’d gotten about five hours on the tail end of an enormous amount of paperwork. Suddenly the leaden weight in her limbs makes a lot more sense. “It’s been awhile.”

“Then you’re a dumbass, too,” says Lup.

Fair assessment.

Their intimacy from earlier in the day sticks sharp and clear in Lucretia’s mind. She’s been wrestling with how to bring it up, like there’s any way she can casually discuss the mechanics of want under Feeblemind, and it occurs to her then that the best way to mention it is just to mention it. So she takes a soft breath and says, “You purred.”

Lup’s ear twitches as she glances over. “I what?”

“You purred,” Lucretia repeats. “When we were… um, you seemed like you wanted me, uh… near you, so I went to sit with you, and you purred. And I felt like I should, uh. Say something? So. There it is. You purred.”

It’s in a note somewhere in her journals, that elves’ pupils expand just so when they’re taking in new information. Lup’s eyes look like two small moons. “Oh,” she says, a little more meaningfully than people usually say such things. “Well, I, uh… I’m comfortable with you. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Lucretia supposes it does.

“Yeah,” she admits. “I guess so.”

“Well, there you have it.” Lup’s tone is flippant, but the tips of her ears are a rosy pink. She tucks an arm around Lucretia’s shoulders and pulls her close, and Lucretia gratefully relents to the pull. It’s like giving in to fifty years of fear and uncertainty and memories she still can’t keep herself from reliving, but because she’s in Lup’s arms, none of it matters anymore. It’s over, she thinks. It’s not okay but it’s over.

Lucretia’s intuition tells her that any moment now, someone is going to come to the door to check on the two of them. The sacrament of their moment will be broken, and the agony and trauma of the past few days will come flooding back in.

It’s like a dangling participle—paranoid, inevitable.

But they’ve weathered much worse together.