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After All These Years

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Mag sits before the great gilded frame of her mirror, wiping carmine from her lips with a soft cloth. She doesn’t need to wear it, not here in her own house, but old habits die hard. Bits of it linger in the cracks of her lips when she’s done, red and stark as blood. She dabs more of the oil onto her fingers, spreading it on the stubborn cosmetic before scrubbing it away.

Mag frowns at her reflection in the mirror. There are lines that weren’t there before, shadows of terrible times lingering around eyes that look dark and sad.

“Am I getting old?” she asks.

Serafina looks up from where she’s scribbling down notes across the room, working on her latest arcane imagining. Her legs are pulled up to her chest, feet on the fine upholstery, and it makes Mag smile that after all this time Serafina’s never learned to sit properly.

“What makes you say that?” she asks, chewing on the end of her pen.

Mag makes a vague gesture in the direction of the mirror. “I have eyes to see.”

She turns back to her reflection. She doesn’t go so far as to comb her fingers through her hair, looking for strands of silver against the black, but she does scrutinize herself a little more closely.

There’s a soft sound across the room—the sound of a journal being decisively shut as Serafina sets her things down, first the book, then the pen. She pads across the floor on bare feet, scarcely making a sound. More habits that die hard. When she comes into view, it’s in parts, pieces of her appearing in the mirror—a long blue gown that looks cheery even in this light, flowing hair like burnished copper, long, slim hands.

She doesn’t hesitate to touch Mag like other people do. She loops her arms around Mag’s neck, gathers up the hair that spills over her shoulder and pushes it aside to press a kiss to her temple. She plucks the cloth from Mag’s hands and sets it down on the vanity.

Memories are all hovering near tonight, and Mag finds herself thinking of Phineus—Phineus  who might have smoothed her ruffled feathers, assured her she was young and vital, lovely as ever.

Serafina doesn’t. It’s a reason to love her, one of many.

“Did you ever think you would survive this long?” she asks instead. She traces the tip of a finger down the side of Mag’s face, past the corner of an eye where tiny creases bloom when she smiles. “Did you ever think you’d live to worry about beauty and vanity?”

“Never in all my wildest dreams.”

Mag turns her head and catches Serafina’s finger between her teeth. She bites down, not hard enough to deal injury, but just enough to feel the soft skin dimple beneath sharp teeth. Just enough to make Serafina’s breath catch.

She could bite harder, she knows. Hard enough to bring Serafina’s blood welling to the surface, copper and ordinary. Harmless. Serafina would pull her hair in retaliation, and it would lead to a different type of night entirely.

She lets go. She looks at both their faces side by side in the mirror. The low light of the lamps softens their features, makes them look warm and timeless. They look so good together, still.

“I was always vain,” Mag says.

Serafina chuckles, and Mag can feel the vibrations traveling into her own body from the place where Serafina is pressed against her back. Warm. Alive. She rests her chin on Mag’s shoulder, the fine, sharp point of it digging in. “That you were. It’s a wonder I’ve put up with you all these years.”

“Lucky me,” Mag murmurs.

Serafina’s lips are soft under hers. She still kisses like she’s starving, even after all this time. Like she’s never once been afraid.

Mag pushes her chair away from the table and lets herself be led to bed.

Lucky, her blood sings with every heartbeat. Lucky, lucky, lucky.