Hecate was lying curled up in Ada’s arms, her lover fast asleep, remembering what they had been talking about earlier and realized that Ada had been right. Love was not cruel as she had thought, love was kind.
A few hours earlier:
“Hecate, come on! You won’t regret it, I promise you!” a very flushed Dimity tried to convince her to come along to the staff’s night out. Hecate only raised an eyebrow before turning back to her thick volume.
“And most people won’t be there today, so it will actually be fun - only Algernon, Davina, Ada and me. And you!” Hecate ignored her, but the mention of Ada being there did intrigue her - Ada didn’t often attend those inane staff nights out. Why today? What would happen? What would she be talking about? Ada was her best friend after all and it was allowed to long for the companionship of your best friend.
“And… all drinks will be on Ada today,” Dimity attempted to bait Hecate.
Hecate turned her swivel chair around quickly, stopping in front of Dimity’s face. “Why will Ada be there and why will she be paying for drinks?” Dimity smirked that she had more information than Hecate, but she wanted to convince her to come along and not hold it over her head - at least not today - so she answered truthfully: “It’s her birthday.”
Hecate’s face became expressionless as her thoughts raced - how could she have forgotten this? She had remembered last year without any problems and had been able to find an appropriate gift, but it was impossible to find a good gift within less than a day! Whatever would she do?
“Hecate?” Dimity waved her hands in front of her face. “Are you okay?”
Hecate’s eyes focused on Dimity as she came back to reality. She didn’t know how do answer that without lying, so she remained silent.
“You forgot the date, didn’t you?” Dimity said sympathetically. “It seems so,” Hecate agreed guiltily, already tensing up again.
“Hey, sis, I know it’s not cool that you forgot it, but don’t worry so much, I’m sure Ada will cherish a present from you even if it is a few days late. To make up for it, you could just come along tonight and tell her that you forgot. Enough things have happened in the past few weeks to justify that you forgot. I’m sure she won’t be mad or disappointed.” Hecate let out a breath that she hadn’t noticed she had been holding. Dimity might be right. She had no other options. She had to come along.
“There might be a kernel of truth in your suggestion,” Hecate admitted to Dimity. “And?” Dimity asked, smiling whimsically.
“Yes, I will accompany you.” Dimity did a little dance of triumph in front of Hecate’s eyes that already almost made her regret agreeing.
When she calmed down, Hecate asked sarcastically: “Are you quite finished yet?”
“I think so,” Dimity grinned, Hecate’s comment not dimming her mood one bit.
“Would you care to inform me then when and where the meeting is set up?” Hecate was a bit annoyed at Dimity’s display of good mood, but secretly pleased that it obviously joyed Dimity that she would be there.
“Why of course, my Dame,” Dimity dropped a mock curtsy and continued in a more serious voice, “We will meet in front of the ‘Witches’ Cauldron’ at seven, after dinner.”
Hecate nodded. “Any specific dress code or anything else I should be aware of?”
“Well, as we all know Ada is very fond of one or the other party and drinking games, so I expect that there will be a round or two of truth or shot.” Hecate had almost expected that.
“Thank you,” she dismissed Dimity, giving her a slight smile.
Dimity grinned at her, the smile not leaving her face on the way out. This would be an interesting night.
Truth or shot it was. Hecate was glad that she had just had dinner - the alcohol would not go as straight to her head as it would have otherwise.
“You know the rules guys!” Dimity announced to the whole table and in a volume that made certain that at least half the bar would know the rules also. “All kinds of questions allowed, and if you don’t want to answer you have to take a shot! The questioner may ask someone else a question if the asked didn’t answer. If you answered, you may ask a question. Ada may start with a question because it’s her birthday today.” Dimity applauded enthusiastically and the others joined quickly. Ada beamed at them.
“Hm who should I ask?” Ada thought aloud, letting her gaze wander around the table. When it came to Hecate who was sitting at her side, a smile lit up her face. Hecate wanted to shrink into the background, but also felt proud that only she had gotten that smile. At her reaction, Ada looked into the round again, her gaze coming to rest on Davina.
“Davina,” she beamed. “How was your day today?”
Davina smiled at that, partially relieved to be let off so easy, partially glad to have a chance to talk about her day and always happy to be the centre of attention. “Oh, my day was a normal school day really. It started off very well,” at which Algernon took her hand, “the second years wouldn’t want to concentrate, as always, but the fifth years were really great, they managed up to lift the piano with their voices!” The whole round laughed at that image. Algernon squeezed Davina’s hand. Davina turned to him. “Algernon, how was your day?”
He gazed at Davina before saying “I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” which elicited a general “Awww" from the round. Davina playfully hit him in the side, but smiled, not meaning it too seriously. Algernon smiled back.
Dimity shouted in mock exasperation “Come on, you two love birds, he still didn’t answer the question!”
“Okay, okay!” Algernon raised his hands in defeat. “Well, it was a normal school day really, but I’m happy to be here; thank you for the invitation!” Ada laughed at that clever deflection of the question - but he did answer it, didn’t he?
Mischief glittered in Algernon’s eyes when he set his gaze on Dimity. “Well, Dimity, how was your day?” Ada laughed and now Hecate smiled at the schadenfreude conveyed in Algernon’s voice.
Dimity smirked. “ My day, dear Algernon, was very well, thank you very much. I finally managed to convince my dear friend Hecate to come along to this event, after years of failed attempts of persuasion. I think it was the promise of Ada’s presence that tipped her.” She winked at them. Hecate looked like a deer caught in a headlight, but relaxed a bit when Ada put her hand on top of Hecate’s hand.
“I’m glad you decided to come,” Ada whispered to Hecate. “It makes the whole evening tenfold more enjoyable.” Hecate was now finally sure that she had made the right decision.
“I answered my question, so now I may ask someone else a question.” Dimity’s grin seemed to come straight out of the pits of hell. “Hecate, why did you decide to grace us with your presence tonight?”
Hecate gave her a look that would have killed her instantly if looks could kill, but Dimity didn’t worry much about it. She knew that Hecate needed to loosen up a bit.
She took the shot. Ada raised her eyebrows at her questioningly. Later, Hecate mouthed. Ada nodded. Dimity turned to Ada, not looking a bit disappointed. Hecate glared at her. “How was your birthday so far?” Dimity asked Ada.
There was a round of “What was your childhood dream?”, and one of “Which animal would you be if you were an animal?” during both of which Hecate took a shot. When it came to “What would you dream wedding be like?”, Hecate was more than surprised at Ada’s answer: She was talking about her bride and not her groom? Was she gay? Could it be? How had they never talked about this? Well, that last one certainly was a rhetorical question and Hecate very well knew the answer to it; she had blocked all conversations which might have lead to the topic of relationships and romantic feelings, she wasn’t sure that she would be able to straight out lie to Ada and didn’t want to - she couldn’t let Ada know the nature of feelings she had for her. That way she had never found out that apparently Ada was gay too, and everyone but her knew about this. How could this have escaped her? Ada was her best friend, for Merlin’s sake.
Ada lightly touched her shoulder. “Hecate, it’s your turn.” Hecate quickly looked into the round. It was Davina who has asked her, judging from the faces. “Could you repeat the question, please?” Hecate requested.
“Of course,” Davina smiled, “What would your dream wedding be like?” Could she? Would she? Or she could just take a shot again.
“Hecate, don’t be such a wimp and answer a question for once. It can’t be that hard.” Dimity weighed in helpfully. Hecate stared at the shot glass longingly, but braced herself for what was to come. The round looked at her expectantly.
“My dream wedding would involve all of you and Ada of course,” she began and Dimity broke out in spontaneous applause that she started to answer. “There would be nice flowers,” she continued, “and everyone would be very happy.” She leaned back, obviously having finished her answer. Ada squeezed her hand. “Thank you for participating,” she whispered into Hecate’s ear. Hecate nodded and had trouble suppressing the urge to lay her head on Ada’s shoulder. What she had thought but hadn’t said was that in reality Ada played a much bigger role in her dream wedding - Ada was her bride.
Hecate was relieved that she didn’t have to take a fourth shot, she was afraid of losing her ability for rational thought, but that also meant that from now on she would have to answer almost every question that came her way.
The dream wedding round finished, and they moved on to the question of “What do you think love is?” Algernon was the first to answer: “Love is freedom,” he said and directed the question to Davina. “Love is, hm, love is persistent.” Dimity answered with “Love is laughter,” then it was Hecate’s turn and what should she say? What could she say? She opened her mouth and before she could do anything about it, out came the truth: “Love is cruel.” Nobody dared to say anything to that. It was true, just as all the other definitions of love were, but worry was written in their eyes, and Ada sensed Hecate’s discomfort at the attention, so she quickly drew the round’s attention to her by answering the question herself: “Well, I think love is kind.” Hecate felt like hiding and running and the urge became too strong for her to suppress. “I’m going to the loo,” she said, then stood up and fled the scene of her confession.
When she closed the door of her cubicle, she sank down, shaking, only finding the toilet seat narrowly, then let her head fall onto her arms. How could she have let it come this far? Why did she just blurt out the truth? Now everyone was thinking that she was a loser, that she had never been in a relationship, or worse that they were guessing the truth, that she was experiencing unrequited love. What did possess her to agree to come along? She could have just found an exquisite belated birthday present instead. But, she also had to agree, that it wouldn’t have meant the same to Ada, however much effort would have gone into the present. Her presence here meant more to here, it meant that she exited her comfort zone, for Ada. She sighed. It had been the right choice to come, she was just very much out of her depth. Hopefully her answer and prompt exit hadn’t given the others too much to speculate about.
Someone knocked on the door. That could only be Ada.
“Come in,” Hecate said quietly.
Ada opened the door and said softly “Are you okay?”
Hecate took a moment before answering “I don’t know.”
Ada moved closer and shut the door behind her. “Would you like to talk about it?”
Hecate shook her head, unseen by Ada, the stall door still separating them. “I…,” she began, unable to finish the sentence. How had she gotten herself into this situation?
“It’s okay, Hecate,” Ada began, “the others are just a bit worried about you, as am I. I don’t want to pry, but if there’s anything I can do help, I’m here for you, you know that, don’t you?”
A single tear escaped Hecate’s eye. Hecate’s love for Ada was reckless, so reckless and though so misplaced and desperate. She wanted nothing more than to open that door and fall into Ada’s arms and hug her until she forgot how to breathe, until she was sure it would be okay. But if she showed her face, she felt certain that Ada would know, would understand the cause of her upset, she just knew her too well. But Ada couldn’t know, she couldn’t, couldn’t, mustn’t know, it would ruin everything.
“Hecate,” Ada sighed, “do you want me to leave?”
No, Hecate didn’t want that. If there’s one thing she didn’t want then it was that. She opened the cubicle door in a rush and just let herself fall into Ada’s arms. This was not a moment for elegance.
“Hecate,” Ada commented surprised and stumbled under the unexpected weight, but held her and when she regained her balance, she hugged her back, as tight as Hecate was hugging her.
Maybe it would be alright, Hecate thought.
They stood there a long time, Hecate breathing in Ada’s equally calmingly familiar and arousing scent, enjoying her body so close to hers, enjoying the emotional and physical warmth that radiated from Ada, enjoying that Ada held her. Ada held her close and safe. Now the tears started flowing again, wetting Ada’s jumper. “I’m sorry to ruin your birthday,” Hecate said in between sobs.
Ada answered with warmth in her voice: “You’re not ruining it Hecate, your presence makes it worthwhile. It would mean nothing without you being here, but it means everything now that you’re here.” That confession only made Hecate cry harder.
“It’s okay,” Ada tried to calm her, drawing soothing patterns on Hecate’s back with her hands.
Eventually Hecate calmed down. “Thank you,” she whispered into Ada’s ear.
“Of course, Hecate,” Ada answered and gave her a reassuring smile when they released their hug. “Ready to face the world again?” she asked.
Hecate nodded, not trusting her voice yet, but trusting Ada’s hand that was wrapped around hers and held it tightly.
In the time they were gone, the round had broken into several unrelated conversations which resulted in only Dimity noticing their return ahead of time, but kindly not calling the other’s attention to them before Hecate and Ada were seated.
“I believe it was Ada’s turn of asking a question!” Dimity then called out extra loud to make up for her prior silence.
“I believe it was,” Ada answered before silently asking for Hecate’s consent, only announcing to the round when Hecate gave a small nod: “My next question is: How was your first kiss? I choose you to answer first,” locking eyes with Hecate.
Even though Hecate had expected something like this, she still felt like she would go bright red. In defiance, she took a deep breath, then said: “It was unexciting.” She had answered truthfully: Unexciting, because it had been a boy - she hadn’t known it at the time, but had realized it later on.
“I return the question,” she nodded at Ada.
“Well, to be quite honest, mine was too,” Ada sighed, then laughed and said “Dimity, what about you?”
The rest of the night no more dangerous questions arose - Hecate didn’t know whether it was just luck or whether Ada was silently veering them into safe territory. Whatever it was, she was feeling safe and even allowed herself to enjoy herself. It was nice to find out some new things about her colleagues and to spend her leisure time with them, even though it did exhaust her. On the way out Ada took Hecate’s arm and bestowed a bright smile upon her - Hecate was pleased. This was her Ada and she had smiled at her, only her and taken her arm. It had truly been the right decision to come.
When everyone had said their goodnights, only Hecate and Ada remained in front of the academy, alone in the moonlight.
“Would you like to come back to my quarters?” Ada asked her, her hand still on Hecate’s arm and despite her fatigue, Hecate did not want to miss this chance and said “I would like that very much.”
They walked there and the walk was silent, but loaded with a meaning Hecate could not grasp.
When they arrived, Ada offered her another drink, but this time it was only a glass of red wine, no hard liquor, so Hecate accepted. They sat down on Ada’s couch and silence fell upon them. Hecate felt something dawning, something brewing. She did not know what, but it made her fidgety. Finally, Ada raised her voice.
“Hecate, I know we haven’t talked about this, but after how you reacted earlier, I started to worry and want to understand - you have always evaded the topic of love and sex with me. Has something happened in the past?”
Hecate stiffened. She should have known that this was coming. She had known that it was likely to come up at some point, but she had hoped, she had hoped -
“I… I hope I am not overstepping any boundaries, Hecate, but I need to know you are okay, that you are getting the help you need.”
“No, Ada, it’s not like that, it’s…” she turned her head away, she couldn’t look at Ada, ashamed that she had worried her best friend, ashamed that something this big had been hanging between them.
“Hecate,” Ada said softly, taking her hand, interpreting Hecate’s reaction the wrong way. Hecate’s mind was in overdrive and Ada taking her hand made her feel trapped. She could not help jumping up, taking a few steps away. At realizing that her feet were carrying her out of Ada’s office, she turned back around again and sat down on the armchair opposite the couch. When she looked at Ada, hurt was written all over her face.
“Ada, no, I… no,” she hadn’t wanted this, she wanted… she reached for Ada’s hand and held it in hers. The touch gave her a clearer head and calmed her whirling thoughts, now that she was able to control it. She answered with a steady voice: “I felt trapped before. This is better.”
Slowly the hurt dissipated and Ada caressed the inside of Hecate’s hand which was almost too much, but it came from Ada, so it was okay.
With a clearer head she was now able to answer Ada’s initial question. “Ada, I can assure you that I have never been abused,” she stopped herself - she didn’t dare say a word more in case the truth came out.
“But then why…?” Ada asked, her face still edged with worry, Hecate’s answer still hadn’t soothed her concerns.
Hecate had to get out of this situation, quickly, without leaving Ada anything to worry about. Lying was not an option, Ada would look right through her and be more worried still. But what else could she do? She also could not tell the truth and well and truly destroy their relationship. Maybe telling the truth, but not the whole truth, would solve the situation. Hecate closed her eyes, then answered: “Do not worry, Ada. I have not been hurt. I am just… experiencing unrequited love at the moment.” She turned her head away, she could not look into Ada’s eyes after basically admitting she had fallen head over heels for her.
“Oh, Hecate,” Ada said softly, the tone not quite matching what Hecate had imagined it to be like, it sounded almost hopeful.
“What about you?” Hecate asked - she was honestly interested in the answer, just as everything about Ada interested her, but a quick change of topic was required in case Ada would have thought to ask any follow-up questions.
Ada took her time, as if she was working up the courage to say something, then looked Hecate in the eyes and whispered “I am in love too.”
Hecate’s eyes went wide, she had not expected that. “Whom with?” she asked before she could stop herself, before she could stop to think about what Ada’s answer might mean, yet fearing it more than anything.
Ada smiled, tears in her eyes and Hecate felt like the world was about to stop turning. “With you, my dear,” Ada whispered.
It was so silent that you could hear a pin drop. They stared at each other, Ada in utter suspense, Hecate in utter disbelief. Her feelings were returned?!? But this… this changed everything! Her heart leapt at the hope that suddenly spread throughout her whole body, she felt as light as a cloud and a smile spread on her face. She could have her. She could truly have her.
“Ada,” she whispered with a tear rolling down her cheek. “I am in love with you too,” and that broke the spell.
They could not remember later how, but within seconds, they were in each other’s arms, hugging, laughing and crying, all at the same time, Ada whispering Hecate’s name again and again.
Later, much later, when there was room in Hecate’s head for anything besides Ada, when she was lying curled up in Ada’s arms, her lover fast asleep, she remembered what they had been talking about in the bar and realized that Ada had been right. Love was not cruel as she had thought, love was kind.