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Mission: Teacher’s Pet
Status: Nauseous, guilty, and a little embarrassed.


The softly dramatic lines of Poulenc’s flute sonata drifted through Rory’s rose-pink earbuds. Her flute was assembled in her lap, her fingers working the keys in time with the music only she could hear. The young woman had spent most of the commute, after the introductions and briefings were out of the way of course, folded up in a comfy cabin seat inside the H.E.R.O-logo-emblazoned cruiser boat. The others were being loud, and reckless, and volatile. Besides, Rory had a flute lesson in the morning that she had to practice for, or failing practice, at least actively-listen-to-repertoire for.

Truth be told, she felt more than a little guilty. It was her first proper mission as a fully-fledged, full-time hero, both hers and her sister Marcie’s, and by the time they’d gotten to put in for their missions there were only a few spots open on any of the teams. Marcie was drawn to something flashy, because of course she was, and Rory… well, she’d wanted to go back to the Academy and help out with the disciplinary problem there. She owed it to the school after all. And she figured Marcie would understand that, she logically knew she would have… but she might have told a white lie about Marcie’s chosen mission being full when she’d submitted her request.

Oops. That was a mess to sort out and apologize for… much later. After they both got back. Everything was going to be great for both of them and all would be forgiven. Certainly.

The boat gently knocked against the dock, and Rory carefully put her flute away before she dared move. After just a few moments, she unfurled onto her feet, half a pace behind the others. She was dressed for a normal day, a pink shirt over blue jeggings, with a grey sweater tied around her waist in case she got cold. Her flute case, the hard-sided one further padded in soft brown faux leather, hung from a chain strap across her body, like a stylish (if oddly-proportioned) handbag.

Despite all her guilt and her nerves, the sight of Principal Lee brought a smile to her face. She had quite liked every interaction she’d had with the principal, though she supposed she’d never exactly been in trouble during her time at the school. As the others made their greetings, she subconsciously stepped away from them, flashing them a bit of a reproachful look as they referenced young classmates as “little bastards.” That’s exactly the impression we want Principal Lee to NOT have of us!

Oh well. The principal would straighten them out. She ignored her boatmates, turning bright eyes on the principal alone.

“It’s wonderful to be back here, Principal Lee!’ she said, her smile and words genuinely enthusiastic, and just a little too serious for the occasion. “Thank you so much for letting me be included on this mission.”


I’m here!! So so hype :D ((dibs on musical mind control a la Maestro and Aria in the last edition. continuing on the family legacy. ^~^))

Interacting: Grace, Patti, etc.

To say it had not been a good day for Eliza would have been an understatement. For the last however-long (since she honestly wasn’t sure how many minutes or hours they’d been here) she’d found herself in a state of complete mental shutdown. Her instinct was, of course, to become invisible – logic said that if terrifying sadistic Romans couldn’t see her, they couldn’t hurt her, but the unfortunate implication was that every time she tried to disappear she got a nasty zap and was thus snapped violently back into visibility.

Beyond that lingering twitchy, tingling pain, her hands and feet had gone entirely numb, her vision blurring and the room spinning around her. She felt like she might vomit, or faint, or both of the above, and she wasn’t entirely sure why, though the buzzing of fluorescent lights and the rack that she and Grace were strapped to were likely contributors. Sensory overload evidently still happened and still sucked when one was trying to decide if they were going to die or not…

At least she had been spared much of the conversation. Or rather, lecture might have been a more appropriate way of describing that neverending stream of dialogue that emanated from Nero. She hadn’t been able to focus on very much of anything for a while, then, not until the door burst open and she was abruptly surrounded by the sound of her friend’s voices.

In particular, Patricia’s.

She couldn’t see for a moment, but she felt the tension in her wrists and shoulders abruptly release, her body falling against Patricia’s, the older girl’s voice soft and soothing in her ear and strong arms reassuring around her shoulders.

She was really here. She was safe! They were both safe.

Eliza pressed her face into the hollow in Patricia’s shoulder, arms clumsily and uncertainly wrapping around the taller girl. She took a shaking breath, then another, letting the faint familiar scent of Patricia’s shampoo calm her racing heart. Tears began to drip down her cheeks again, leaving stains on her girlfriend’s shirt.

As she became more aware of her surroundings, she realized two things. First of all, she was tasting blood – that was something that could be dealt with later, she’d probably bitten her tongue or gotten a nosebleed in her flailing around on the rack thing. That was fine. Just something to be mindful of for the medics. Second of all, and more importantly, everyone was actually here. They were all safe.

Seraph hadn’t stood a chance after all.

Her legs were shaking as she finally dared a glance up at Patricia, eyes still welling with tears and taking a painfully long time to focus on her girlfriend’s lovely face. She hadn’t entirely processed a lot of what the older teen had said, but it was her beautiful voice and lovely words and that was all that really mattered. “You’re lovely,” she mumbled, resting her head against the other girl’s chest and letting her eyes blink shut for a moment longer.




Interacting: Blake, and the rest of the gang sort of.

This would be the last time Angie ever got drunk, she was certain of it.

While the more habitual drinkers seemed at least marginally functional, plowing ahead with their usual reckless abandon, Angelica found herself stumbling and swerving all over the pavement, scarcely able to track a straight line with her swirling vision. As the others rushed into a she found herself collapsed into some drunken approximation of “sitting” on an aesthetic pile of rubble just outside of the temple they’d emerged from, trying and failing to not paint the cobbled ground with whatever had been left in her stomach.

Even her hungover stupor was not enough to render her less awestricken by the havoc that her friends could wreak, however; they made short work of the ogres and two of the most prominent buildings around the forum…

After several moments of being useless, she wobbled off in the direction Blake had gone, absently clutching a twisted (and decidedly NOT authentically-Roman) and hefty piece of rebar that she’d pulled from the rubble of one of the structures as they walked past. It wasn’t much by way of a weapon, but it was better than nothing, she supposed, even if it did take her back to her freshman year of high school and her ill-fated popularity stunt of trying out for color guard… she shuddered at the memory, forcing her addled brain back to the present.
Blake had been bitten by yet another Vermile, she realized quickly – judging by the screams it was the second or third bite. She rushed towards him as he drunkenly grinned, his flirty comment drawing color to her cheeks as a giddy smirk bloomed across her lips. It was not a there for long, however, as he promptly toppled over. Lacking in the physical strength to carry him, she was left helplessly standing beside him until Sam hefted her cupcake up over his shoulder as though he weighed nothing… delightful, that. She couldn't even render assistance.

She was once again left trailing along after the group, uselessly clutching her useless rebar and following, watching behind for any enterprising Leftovers or villains who might be after a softer and unprepared target. It was a quiet journey into the elevator, however, and even down into the office the situation was (surprisingly) readily dealt with.

Relief washed over her as she saw Grace and Eliza, mostly intact and seemingly in one piece – part of her longed to rush to her sister, but she saw that the role of caretaker was being taken up by Patricia at the moment. So, she shut down the emotions of worthlessness that once again welled in her chest, amplified now that the obvious dangers were passed, and began clumsily searching the office for any sort of tool or weapon that might help them find their way out. Pragmatics first, emotions second. She had to redeem herself somehow.

Interacting: Basically the whole gang?

Spots swam into Angelica’s vision as she blinked her eyes open, squinting against the radiant light of bright sun off white marble, her head aching fiercely and still ringing with the echoes of fireworks from what felt like an eternity ago. For a long moment, she laid on the cool marble floor, the incoherent chaos around her making her brain hurt all the worse.

Where were they?

Dimly, she became aware of Patricia cursing at – something. Then her blood turned to ice. She’d mentioned Eliza…

Oh god, mom was gonna kill her.

With a most unladylike groan, Angie pushed herself up into a sitting position, trying to blow a loose lock of hair out of her face and scrubbing at her puffy eyes with the back of her hand – it came away streaked with makeup and she cursed, both for the immediate carnage it had surely caused to her appearance and for the sake of her complexion; she’d slept for gods knew how long with a full face of makeup on…

Of course, she was snapped back to more immediate circumstances by a TV screen in the corner flickering on again, the camera panning over Grace and Eliza tied to some sort of rack, one that sparked blue and caused both girls to gasp in pain. Grace took one breath and rattled off information that Angie’s brain, even in its half-drunk state, mostly managed to retain, though her eyes were on Eliza’s terrified, tear-streaked face.

So the Wings were trying to kill them…great. Wonderful. Absolutely fantastic. And these ogre things – wait, what ogre things? – hate light.

Before she could say anything about lights, Blake raced out the front door, brandishing a ….kite. A kite, made out of fire.

With far too much effort for the circumstance, Angelica pushed herself to her feet, glancing around for something to improvise as a weapon even as her knees wobbled and her vision swam with dark spots. Fuck, this was why she hated drinking. The lack of coordination after was just…awful, not to mention the expense of the alcohol and the havoc it wreaks on other equilibriums in the body, like hydration and skin health and liver function and…

She wobbled off after the others, tapping herself forcefully in the temple with the heel of her hand to try to clear the mental fog, only half-listening to their plans as she went.




Interacting: Grace! @Hitman

How could a night that was so lovely end so wrong?

Eliza was bitterly familiar with the tightness that radiated through her chest, the sparking lights dancing behind her eyes as they jolted open, her arms and legs trembling from current while restrained tightly. She expected to see broken roof slats, or perhaps the shadow cast by an oversized wing, but as her eyes came into focus she saw a … very nice office.

It might have been intriguing, were her chest not gripped by panic, the memory of electricity, the smell of burning and sound of sirens and – everything radiating through her head, pushing out the soft and warm and cuddly feelings that the previous night had been laced with.

She glanced over her shoulder at the loud, rapid-fire words suddenly spoken, the tears welling in her eyes spilling over as she took in Grace’s battered appearance, and the defiant look in the older girl’s eyes as she shared as much information as she could. The screech of pain caused Eliza to whimper quietly in sympathy, a murmured “no, p-please…” trickling from her lips. Maybe it worked, because Grace stilled, the older girl panting from the pain and the – sickening terrifying Roman figure, who Eliza had not noticed up until this point – grinning sadistically behind his helmet.

She scarcely had time to process what he said before pain bloomed in her chest, her throat tightening and her arms feeling as though they were being wrenched out of their sockets. A tiny, choked whimper escaped her, her eyes visibly glazing over as her mind flicked again, briefly, back to Paris, and her assorted screw-ups on that mission that had led to her being accidentally electrocuted by the same blast that killed the Scavenger…

She’d been helpless then, and she was helpless now. But this time, people were going to get hurt to rescue her… and for what? What good had she ever done on missions?

The pain from the shock subsided soon enough, but the ache in her heart remained, remembering Patricia’s sleepy kiss on her forehead the night before, the way the two of them had almost fallen asleep on each other’s laps, the ambient classical elevator music of the documentary lulling them both into an ease that even fireworks couldn’t completely disrupt.

She realized, in that moment, that she’d forgotten to tell her – to tell her girlfriend the good news. About their … rainbun grandchildren? The vet appointment for Bow had just been the morning before the party, so she’d only just found out herself, and she’d kept it as secret as she could, to make it a surprise... She had saved the ultrasound pictures on her phone to tell Patricia in person, but in all the chaos and noise and loud and aaaaaaaa she had completely forgotten.

And now she might never have the chance… the easily-terrified part of her, amid her rising panic, just hoped that Patricia’s parents might be understanding enough to let her keep the rainbuns. Even – even if Eliza didn’t get to go home, her mom or Angie would make sure Patricia got to keep them, and would help her take care of them, right? Right? Cloud and Bow and the on-the-way babies would be fine, and maybe Patricia could be happy, too…

Her gaze flickered vacantly over the armored figure in front of them, though she said nothing – the numbness in her throat made it so she could scarcely feel her tongue, nevermind control it well enough to construct words, and her mind was far too chaotic to formulate thoughts into anything coherent. Tears welled freely, spilling over her lower lashes and trickling down her cheeks pathetically, and her jaw visibly trembled, as did her fingertips, her arms rattling her bindings with her obvious terror.

Interacting: Cupcake, Alpha @Hitman@DarkRecon

The Fourth of July found Angelica Alexander in a very …uncharacteristic circumstance. While normally, the eldest Alexander would be perched on the very edge of the party, watching the goings-on with an expression oscillating between confusion, bemusement, and horrified affection, today she was at least somewhat more involved. Blake would be proud.

The young woman, clad in a white, off-the-shoulder crop top and navy blue miniskirt, stood amid a crowd of heroes that she did not quite recognize. Her usually impeccable makeup was already a bit smudged, eyepoppingly bright red lipstick lightly smeared at the corner of her mouth and her eyeliner blurred as though she’d rubbed at her face with the back of a hand. She swayed to the beat of the music that was playing – she couldn’t be entirely certain of the song, that’s how loud it was, but the bass was loud enough to reverberate through the floor and drown out the noise from outside, so it was a good enough place to be for her.

Angie stirred her cocktail, a fancy red-white-and-blue layered slushie in a margarita glass, and tried to remind herself that the night was supposed to be fun. She’d honestly thought it was going to be, up until the fireworks a few nights ago had rendered her panic-stricken and useless, curled up in a shaking ball in her bed with a pillow squeezed tight against her chest. Lots of teens smuggled fireworks in for the season and had their parties early to avoid getting caught, it seemed, because the first two weeks of July in their neighborhood were always laden with firework noises and sirens. It had been no different this year, and so she was running on very little sleep and quite a lot of emotional stress, and yet – here she was, at a party. One of the biggest of Blake’s parties that she’d ever been to…

She hadn’t mentioned to him the thing with the fireworks inducing her panic, or any such thing; he was such a sweetheart but she didn’t want to cause him any worry. Truthfully, also, she was afraid to mention it. She’d long been involved in all manner of sneaky operations and had used her fair share of firearms and explosives; the noise hadn’t bothered her, beyond when she was very young and new to this whole line of work, so it was incredibly frustrating and self-hatred-inducing that now, as a grown-ass adult with a grown-ass job and a grown-ass track record of covert ops, she could suddenly not even bear to hear a firework go off without her mental state collapsing.

She’d downed two shots right when they got here, quietly and sneakily enough that no one had really noticed – or they’d thought she’d done her usual thing of taking shots of water, to appear to be in the partying mindset while still maintaining her wits. Nope, she’d taken two shots of some alcohol or another – she’d honestly not been paying attention to the label – and it had certainly had the desired effect, blurring together the world around her and hopefully staving off the panic that she could feel rising from even thinking about what was to come. Clumsily, she took a large gulp of her half-melted margarita, scrunching up her face slightly. Extra strong was certainly an acquired taste, one that she had not yet acquired.

She thought she heard Blake’s voice, cutting through the thumping bass of whatever R&B chart topper this was, and she stumbled as she limped through the crowd in search of him. “Cupcake?” Angie mumbled out, the word noticeably unclear. She definitely heard him shouting upstairs, and hovered near the stair railing waiting for him to return. Seemingly, she missed him through the fog of alcohol, but it was easy enough to pinpoint him by his obnoxiously bright hair. Wobbling on her feet, she limped off after him, paying little mind to the person he was talking to as she slipped her free hand into his. “You’re handsome,” she whispered, giving him a moderately-inebriated smile.




Interacting: Trish <3 @canaryrose

Parties at the Von Brandt house had never been Eliza’s scene. First the Halloween, then the pool party - they’d both been absolutely catastrophic for her.

But today? Today was special.

Adjusting the blanket she’d wrapped herself in, tucking it under her chin instead of up over her nose as it had been, she grinned up at Patricia, sleepy affection written all over her face. She snuggled closer against the taller girl’s side, adjusting the placement of her fingers between Patricia’s. Her gaze lingered on the soft upwards tilt of her girlfriend’s nose, the barest suggestion of her dimples, the smooth line of her jaw…

It was very hard to resist the urge to kiss her in that moment, but doing such a thing would require readjusting, and the two had just managed to get comfortable. The blanket pile was warm and inviting, the documentary just interesting enough to take up the majority of her background attention while not trying to distract her from the beautiful human being she was cuddling with.

Gosh, Patricia was her girlfriend. Just the thought made her giddy, though she quickly bit down on the thought. It was secret, for now – at least at work, and at home, and everywhere but at school. Lots of people had seen them kissing at prom, after all, and though everyone in her quintet had been incredibly accepting, it was yet another reason now for her to be excluded from and shunned by many of the groups at school… she pushed the thought from her mind, resting her head on Patricia’s shoulder and squeaking happily at the gentle forehead kiss, managing to peer up into her hazel eyes for a brief moment, before refocusing on a loose wisp of her hair that caught the TV’s blue light.

“This is wonderful, really,” Eliza tried to reassure her, her voice soft and for once not tripping over itself. She really meant it; her heart rate had settled back to normal and the panicked, nauseous tension in the back of her throat was but an unpleasant memory, the tingling in her fingertips mostly gone. Her ears still rang, but that was normal for her, sometimes for hours after a sensory meltdown. “You’re wonderful. This is perfect. So are you.”

Eliza gently stretched up in her seat, clutching the blankets so as not to let them fall, and placed a soft kiss on the side of Patricia’s jaw. It had been meant as a proper cheek kiss, but she’d misjudged distances. Oh well. It was a kiss, and set the butterflies to gently fluttering beneath her ribcage again as she snuggled back in, her attention idly flicking back to the montage of photographs currently being narrated on the television.
and

The events of twentieth and twenty-first May, twenty thirty three.

“This is going to be so CUTE!

Eliza Alexander sat in the passenger seat of a rather old Chevy Impala, her fingers drumming anxiously in her lap. She couldn’t quite bring herself to directly regard the cotton-candy-haired figure beside her, instead focusing on their fluffy pink and purple locks out of the corner of her eye. “It’s - it’s not supposed to be cute, I mean - I mean, it is, but - you don’t think it’s - it’s too much, do you?”

The car was in the parking lot outside of the Paws A Minute! pet cafe, just a short drive (or medium-long walk) away from both the Alexander house and North Passenger High School. It was a Friday night at about 4:45 PM; the string quartet had gotten out of rehearsal half an hour previously. River had taken her home and then, once briefed on the plan, agreed to drive her here, to this place known for their fancy teas, adorable lunches, and incredibly pet-friendly atmosphere. It was also a place that she and Patricia had gone to get food several times over the last few months of their friendship…

Over text, the two girls had agreed to meet at 5:00 for dinner and a sleepover.

River reached over from the driver’s seat, pulling the small bouquet of music score roses from where it had been carefully placed in the center cup holder and dropping it into Eliza’s lap. The taller violinist grinned brightly. “With flowers that sweet, and dinner, and everything, she’s definitely going to say yes.”

“The flowers aren’t too much? She - I mean, she’s my best friend, and she - she doesn’t have a, I mean, she’s homeschooled, of course she doesn’t get a prom, so I was - I was a-asking her as a, as a friend, you know, but I - don’t want to imply something that isn’t there, it’s just - I always make these, out of our old orchestra photocopies, so they’re not like - they’re not meant to imply anything!” She babbled nervously, eliciting a laugh from River.

“You’re overthinking this, you know. She knows. She’ll appreciate the...friendliness.” River was still trying very hard not to laugh, which Eliza didn’t notice.

“I know, I just - what if she says no?”

“Just go inside already!” River lightly shoved her in the shoulder. “And text me, when you have an answer!”

Eliza untucked herself from the passenger seat, smoothing the skirt of her dress (which was a very cute navy blue skater dress that ended just above the knee, decorated with silver embroidered stars) and tucking one of the sheet music rosettes behind her ear to hold her bangs back from her eyes. She reached into the backseat, grasping for the matching white retractable leashes and gently guiding Cloud and Bow out onto the pavement. Collecting the bouquet and a CD case, and entirely ignoring River’s joking comments about future girlfriends, she adjusted her purse strap and stepped into the cafe.

“Hi, Eliza! Is it going to be your usual today?” The chipper voice of her cousin rang out from somewhere behind the racks of herbal tea that were for sale.

Lucy was working today. Shirts, she’d not accounted for that.

Still, that might have actually been better. With a nervous smile, Eliza stepped up to the counter. “Yep, and- and Patricia’s, as well. She’ll be - she will be j-joining me in about ten minutes.” She’d been doing better at speaking lately, but the nervousness of all of this was definitely getting to her. “And Lucy, can I - can I ask a favor?”

She slid the CD across the counter. It was a clearly low-budget affair, packaged in what looked to be a cheap Flormart CD case, the cover photo printed on regular printer paper and crookedly aligned in the front. “The Dragons Four: Romances”, read the disk itself, in Eliza’s own loopy handwritten Sharpie. There was half a flash of embarrassment; it was such an old CD, but it also had a lot of sentimental value, being the group’s first proper studio record, some three years before - even if they’d mismanaged their budget and forgotten to account for proper packaging, the sound quality was legit. Besides, the subject matter was fitting enough - if it was actually a legit promposal, which it was decidedly not - they were just going as friends. Still, Patricia probably wouldn’t recognize the music…in the moment, she forgot Patricia’s own musical background and that the other girl would almost definitely recognize the style, if she paid attention.

“Oh? Is something special happening?” Lucy’s smirk implied that she knew exactly what the something special was, her gaze flitting between the bouquet, the CD, and Eliza’s unusually well-made-up face. “You kinda left it to the last minute, Liza. I’ll get that right in for you, it’s gonna be twenty two eighty five, and - tell ya what. If she says yes, I’ll get my manager to comp y’all some of our new vegan caramel cheesecake. Dairy free, I know you said she doesn’t do dairy very often.”

A giggle from behind the tea rack implied that Lucy was definitely not alone, and that there was sure to be gossip happening; Eliza’s cheeks warmed as she paid and guided the bunnies over to their usual table. Giving an absent scritch behind the ears of one of the several cafe cats, who sat on the windowsill, Eliza plopped down into her usual seat, clicking the rainbun’s leashes out to their full length to give them the run of the place. There were a handful of other patrons around, but few of them seemed to notice the indie tunes on the radio abruptly changing to the floating opening notes of a romance by Finzi. Eliza wilted a little bit, picking out several of her own mistakes on the music, but she forced herself to refocus, running through her script in her mind and hiding the bouquet between herself and the wall, then obsessively smoothing her skirts and rearranging her hair while she waited for Patricia to arrive.

Around 5 minutes later, an older silver Honda Accord pulled into the parking lot of the Paws a Minute! pet cafe. Patricia Donnelly, sitting in the driver’s seat with her hands clutched tight around the wheel, slumped back once she got the car into the space. She let out a breath, glancing at her mother in the passenger’s seat. Amy Moore, too, looked like she had just gotten off the worst rollercoaster ride of her life. Her hand untightened from the ‘oh crap!’ bar, dropping to the armrest.

Patricia sighed, turning the keys from the ignition and pulling them out. “Think I’m ready to take my license exam?”

“Probably,” said Amy after a beat. She pushed up her glasses absentmindedly. “I’m worried, though, what if you get in a crash-”

“Mom-”

“and I’m not there to help-”

“MOM-”

“and you die in the car-”

“MOM! Patricia yanked her mom’s arm, getting her attention and snapping her out of her anxious tirade. “Jesus Christ, I’ll be fine. If I can control minds, I’m pretty sure I can control a car. I’m gonna go inside now, before you start talking again.” Before Amy could get another word in, Patricia threw the keys onto the console and hopped out of the car and into the afternoon light. She rushed to the trunk and grabbed an old, very full purple backpack and slung it over her shoulders. It would be familiar to Eliza and anyone else who had spent the night with her- it had been her overnight bag since she was nine. As of right now, it was stuffed nearly to the brim with sleepover supplies. All sorts of things were in there, like pajamas, a change of clothes… and, of course, Veronica. Who had somehow been stuffed into the bag, which was why it was so swelled-looking. The stuffed unicorn, much to Patricia’s guilt and embarrassment, came with her almost everywhere. She blushed just thinking about it. God, at least Eliza understood… Eliza understood everything.

Patricia opened the door to the restaurant with a ding of the bell. She quickly closed it, as not to let the curious cats circling the door out. The first thing she noticed was the music coming from the speakers. Light, airy, emotional… was that a romance? Her brows knit in confusion. It was nice for sure, but the cafe mostly played indie. In the five times she’d been there, at least. And it didn’t sound professional at all. Listening closer, it was certainly good, but also riddled with mistakes. An amateur’s work. Patricia glanced at Eliza with Cloud and Bow in the corner and waved, grinning. She’d ask Eliza about the odd music in a minute- for now, she was just excited to see her. After the entire mafia debacle, she had taken a couple weeks off of work, and they had hung out a lot. But for the past week or so, they had both been a bit busy and hadn’t seen each other much.

Patricia went over to the table and took a seat, giggling quietly as Cloud and Bow immediately started chirping and nibbling on her pants. “Looks like someone’s excited to see me!” She reached down to pull Bow into her lap, scritching behind her ears contentedly, with a warm smile on her face. She put her bag down on the ground, which Cloud immediately hopped on.

“Hey, Ellie! I’m so glad you picked this place, it has such a nice atmos- ope!” Bow leapt off her lap and Patricia interrupted herself to laugh and smooth the rainbow-colored bunny hair off her white shorts and tied purple shirt. “Have you ordered yet?” she asked, looking at the menu, before looking up into her best friend’s eyes briefly. She knew Eliza didn’t love eye contact, so she didn’t force it, but God, those eyes… such a weird but such a dreamy gray color. Knowing Eliza, Patricia tore her eyes away from hers, instead glancing around. She raised a brow. “What’s behind your back?”

Eliza grinned brightly as Patricia entered the store, swallowing the sudden wave of absolute anxiety that came with seeing her best friend. Her script, carefully and meticulously practiced, completely fell apart in her head as she tucked the rosette behind her ear, beaming at Patricia as she settled into the chair with Bow on her lap. ”Of course! They’re happy to see their other mom.”

Meeting the taller girl’s eyes for a moment, she melted, for a few moments ignoring the prickling discomfort of looking directly into someone else’s eyes. Patricia was always one of the few people that made her feel comfortable enough to even meet their gaze, though she still often preferred to focus on her cute nose, or soft lips, or the faint dimples she got when she smiled…

Tearing herself away from the thoughts, she realized that Patricia had asked her a question. “Oh, I - um, yeah, I ordered for us, cause I - I know you usually don’t eat l-lunch, on Fridays, and I - um. I got you your usual? Iced gingerberry green tea with extra honey, and that panini thing you liked so much last time? I - I hope that was okay, I…” she trailed off uncertainly, readjusting her hold on the flower bouquet, and then freezing guiltily as Patricia asked specifically about the flowers. Heck.

Struggling to make her script work again, she hesitated for a second, trying to make herself say the words - but she couldn’t. “I made flowers for you,” she said simply, offering the bundle of them. The small bouquet she offered had three large paper roses, handmade out of staff paper in the same style that Eliza was so fond of (they filled several vases in her room at home, as Patricia had seen) and a few smaller ones made out of varying shades and thicknesses of purple ribbon, the wire stems finished with green florists tape and tied with a bright lavender lace ribbon. “I figured I - I mean, I know you like them, and, friends can give each other flowers, right?”

Stupid, Eliza’s brain said, as she dropped her hands into her lap, staring at the cute animal-themed salt shakers and condiment bottles that lined the wall edge of the table. She was thankfully saved from too much embarrassing silence by the server bringing their drinks, which she said a slightly nervous “thank you” for. But all too soon it was once again just Patricia and Eliza alone at the table…

Cloud leapt off of Patricia’s bag and into Eliza’s lap, causing her to make a startled squeak. With a light laugh, she glanced to Patricia for a moment more, her fingers absently petting between the rainbun’s ears. ”Sooo, I - I have a silly question,” she began, her words still shakier than they normally were around Patricia. Ask her ask her ask her ask her!

”Are you going to be - are you going to be busy tomorrow night? At about seven? I wasn’t sure like - when you’re planning on - on going home, or anything, so - just wondering?” As she spoke she rummaged in her purse with her free hand, finding the slightly crumpled flyer for her high school’s prom. I’ve got to use my words, I - but I have this, too, if she - if she doesn’t get it.

Patricia’s face bloomed into a warm smile when she saw the flowers, the corners of her mouth turning up and creating slight dimples on her cheeks. She clapped her hands together, almost unable to contain herself. “I love them!” she squeaked, carefully taking the bouquet, making sure not to smush the plastic stems. Somewhere where Cloud and Bow wouldn’t eat it… “Thank you so much. You- Jesus Christ, you must’ve spent forever on these. And you remembered my favorite color, too…” She trailed off, feeling a tear well up in her eye and briefly closing it tight, wiping it with her hand. Inside, she reassured herself that it was just a friendly gesture, but her heart sped up all the same. “This is- wow. So nice. Wh-what’s the occasion?”

But before Eliza could answer, the drinks arrived. She thanked the server a little louder than Eliza, knowing the younger girl was a bit shy. Taking a sip of the drink, she nodded contentedly. It was good. As she had made it clear to her coworkers, tea was her favorite drink- at least, without caffeine and added sugar and milk. Just honey. Better for the throat that way. She swirled the orange-pink drink around in the tall, clear glass and grabbed a blueberry out of it, popping it into her mouth and chewing. She tried her hardest not to watch Eliza, but the girl seemed to have something to say. Her heart hammered against her ribs, anticipating it- well, anticipating something. Patricia was about to tell her to spit it out already, when Eliza said she had a silly question.

A silly question. Patricia curled her toes and turned pink almost immediately. The last time Eliza had said something was silly... well. Patricia had been being dumb for sure- just playing! Of course. But she had liked it, had liked that kiss on the hand. Did that mean something? “Of course!” she blurted out. “I-I love it when you’re silly- or, well, silly questions are fine. Good. Ask. Ask away.” Patricia crossed her fingers, not knowing what she was hoping for.

But the answer was a bit confusing. Patricia blinked, the pink tinge on her cheeks not quite going away. She gripped the bouquet tightly. “No, I’m not busy at all. Actually, wait, lemme check my calendar…” She pulled out her phone and did so, scrolling to tomorrow. “Um, no. Free as a bird. Or something. Did you, uh, want to… do something?”

Eliza chanced a glance up at Patricia, her heart falling slightly at the older girl’s confusion. Of course she’s confused, you idiot, you’re being stupid and not actually asking! Her hand, finally grasping the flier, stilled for a moment, and her heart skipped a beat as she rehearsed the words again. She probably would not have asked, were it not for the first few floating notes of a Mozart romance flitting into her hearing, the third piece on the CD, she knew - her favorite of the whole bunch. Her pulse quickened, breath tightening in her throat alongside the gently rising melody in the first violin. Rather than listen and pick up the tiny hesitations in the second part, she took a sip of her own drink (a strawberry green tea smoothie thing) and finally, finally blurted the words she had been trying to say at various points for the last two weeks.

“Will you - w-will you go to - I - I was wondering if you, I mean, since you’re not busy, yeah, I was - I was w-wondering - will you - WILLYOUGOTOPROMWITHME?” The pitch of her voice rose steadily, her heart racing and the words getting ever so slightly too loud and blurred together almost indecipherably fast. For several moments, she couldn’t breathe, the blood rushing in her ears. Then she remembered the flier, and offered it across the table, her hand trembling like a leaf in the spring breeze. She could not bring herself to meet Patricia’s eyes in the moment.

It was a typical slightly-tacky prom invitation, the kind that was mass printed on cheap printer paper and handed out at student body assemblies. The paper was pink and purple, trimmed with the clip-art silhouettes of treetops and castles, and the font was an ornate white faux-calligraphy. “Once Upon A Time…” read the header, followed by a very tacky, reference-laden tagline about the North Passenger High School classes of 2033 and 2034 being invited to celebrate a magical night of dreams coming true. Eliza finally managed to feel her embarrassment, her face turning almost as pink as the paper was as she finally dared another glance up at Patricia. “I mean - I mean, if you don’t - if you don’t want to, that’s fine, I just- thought that we could go, you know, as friends? I mean - you don’t get a prom, and we’ve both had - bad luck with boys at home-homecoming, and…”

Friends aren’t this nervous about taking each other to prom. They don’t give each other flowers or pick special romantic music for the asking. You just need to - shut up and get over yourself. Yeah. She bit down on the thought before it could run too far, though her smile wavered for a moment all the same.

A swell of emotions rose in Patricia’s chest when Eliza… popped the question, so to say. So many emotions she couldn’t even name them all. Blood rushed to her cheeks and tinged her face pink. Her eyes went wide with surprise, her mouth widening into a truly giddy smile. Eliza wanted to go to prom… with her? She felt tears well up in both of her eyes again, and this time she didn’t wipe them away. They dribbled down her face freely. Maybe, maybe.... She was asking her as something more? The thought was ridiculous, she knew, but Patricia couldn’t help but entertain the fantasy for a moment. A slow dance. Eliza in her arms, small and beautiful and kind. A hug. A ki-

No, Patricia! She scolded herself in her mind. She doesn’t like you like that. Stop being such a fucking creep.

Patricia took the flier without a word, flipping it over to stare at the words. They blurred together under her tears, but she could still make them out- tomorrow, at Eliza’s high school, North Passenger High. It was a pretty poster, she noted, running her hands over the details. She had gotten one like it for homecoming, but she had resigned herself to never getting one for prom- online school students didn’t get a prom. But! But! She got to go with Eliza. She glanced up when Eliza started talking again, listening best as she could with the thoughts swirling around in her head.

Her mouth twisted down into a brief, disappointed frown, before going right back up. “A-as friends, of course, yes, but- YES!” This part was screamed, much to the chagrin of the other patrons, who all turned to look at them. “I-I mean, yes! Yes, I’ll go to prom with you, oh my God, Eliza, thank you so much-” In an uncommon moment of spontaneous affection for Patricia, she wrapped the other girl in a big hug, squeezing and letting her tears (now bittersweet) fall onto Eliza’s face.

“Wait…” Patricia trailed off, staring at the poster. “This is tomorrow. This is tomorrow?! I mean, I don’t have a dress! Or shoes! Do you have a dress? Or shoes? We should- I mean, we need those, right?”

A whirlwind of emotions swept Eliza up as she processed Patricia’s reaction, watching the other girl swinging wildly from confused and - and sad? She was crying - to disappointed to elated to - crying again. She really, really hoped she hadn’t upset her by asking…

At the sudden crushing hug, Eliza melted into her friend’s arms, her own happy tears starting to well up and run down onto Patricia’s shirt as her brain very vividly painted a picture of pretty dresses and fairy lights and dancing and laughing and - maybe afterwards they could go get ice cream, or something, and go look at the ocean or the stars or…? A nervous laugh bubbled out of her chest as she became aware of the other patrons, and the servers, all staring, and then Patricia was flailing about clothing, and - gosh, it was so, so overwhelming.

After a moment in the embrace, she stepped back a tiny bit, reaching up to brush a strand of Patricia’s hair back behind her ear and gently wiping away the tear tracks under the older girl’s eyes, her gaze briefly meeting Patricia’s before it settled on her lips. “I - no, I, I don’t have a dress, I - I was hoping we could - I mean, we should go and find something that’ll, that’ll match, so we look like a c--” She paused herself mid-word, remembering that they were being stared at, and that - Patricia had agreed that it was just as friends, she shouldn’t be assuming that they should be looking like a couple!

Any further conversation was momentarily paused by the arrival of their food, and - as Lucy had promised - two slices of vegan caramel cheesecake. Given a moment to recollect her thoughts and to slip back into her seat, she visibly calmed, a shaky smile on her face as she began to nibble on her panini, her gaze frequently flicking to Patricia. “I can - I can ask my friends for their recommendations? And we can go tomorrow! I mean for - dress shopping, like I know a couple of places. The royalty were talking about buying theirs at LL’s Place, but I’m - sure they’re sold out of all the good ones. Tian loves thrifted clothing, maybe she knows… if you’re okay with getting - like last year’s dresses, I’m not sure there’ll be anything from this year but, maybe...” She trailed off, stirring her smoothie with the paper straw for a moment. “I still have your travel makeup bag, I think, and - you can use my eyeshadow and stuff if you want, and of course like, hairpins and that… I have a curler and I can steal Angie’s straightener. We can - we can make this work, right?”

“As a couple?” Patricia blurted out, completing Eliza’s sentence. But, as soon as she said it, she turned red head to toe. “I mean- yeah- matching sounds awesome! We can- we can be twinsies! Twins, yeah. Maybe, like, color coordinating, or something, or matching flower corsages…” Patricia trailed off, not realizing that she had just named things that couples traditionally do at prom. She tightened her hands under the table.

“Ooh, cheesecake!” Patricia almost dug into the dessert first before remembering herself and picking up the turkey pesto panini instead. She took a bite, listening to Eliza go on about dresses. She nodded along politely, chewing and swallowing. They were large bites- it almost seemed as if Patricia was stress-eating, in a way- she was wolfing down the sandwich like a beast. By the time Eliza had finished talking, she had finished off a quarter of the panini.

She put it down, holding up her finger for a moment before swallowing. “Yeah, that sounds… that sounds great! I don’t mind, really, I’m not all that fancy. Should be fun.” She offered a thin, reassuring smile to Eliza. This would be fun. Prom with her best friend. What could be better?

Eliza, seeing her friend hurriedly wolfing down the meal, did her best to follow suit, though her stomach was struggling to cooperate with her wishes to hurry. She ended up getting a box for half of her panini, although she did end up wolfing down the cheesecake well enough. Sweet foods were always her weakness, what could she say?

A text to the music group and a few minutes of over-excited (and slightly awkward, being realistic) small talk with Patricia later, the two had rounded up the rainbuns (who had hopped off to play with the cafe cats, as they often did, having become accustomed to cats after several months of Cling the climber kitten roaming about the house) and set off for home. It was a pleasant walk, the early summer air cooling off and the glow of evening beginning to settle into the trees, casting long shadows on the well-maintained sidewalks. The two walked at a companionable distance, though some part of Eliza’s brain wanted nothing more than to reach over and take her best friend’s hand. After several moments of consideration, she linked arms with her instead, grinning up at her with a bright blush rising into her cheeks.

Prom with her best friend; this was going to be great.

Their arrival at home was fairly quiet, as it always was; enthusiastic small-talk with Eliza’s mother and father at the table, though this time they were also joined by Angie. While her injuries from the mafia mission had been healed through powered means, she still had to do the normal amounts of physical therapy, and was still on crutches - their mother had flat-out refused to let Angelica go home to her stairs-filled apartment building while she was using such devices. So, the older Alexander was at home too, and spent most of the evening entertaining a boisterous lapful of several-month-old climber kitten, who was now of a size to spill out of even the oversized household armchairs.

The bunnies were watered and brushed, the cat fed, and other such Hero household mundanities taken care of. By the time they went to bed, Patricia and Eliza both tucked in together amid a copious number of stuffed animals, they’d also managed to paint each other’s nails, giggle about hairstyles, and come up with a plan for the next day’s errands.

For all that she’d thought she’d been too excited to sleep, she’d actually slept very, very soundly. It wasn’t until her mother knocked on the door, saying that pancakes were ready, that she even realized the whole night had passed. As they usually did, both girls had ended up entirely tangled in each other’s arms during the night, and Eliza had to pause for a moment, admiring Patricia’s adorably fluffy bedhead hair and the soft smile that she always got when she was sleeping. Of course, it only lasted a moment, because the other girl soon woke, and they headed downstairs for pancakes and a busy, busy day of dress shopping and hair and makeup… together. As best friends.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Eliza tilted her head to regard herself in the bathroom mirror. After several moments consideration, she applied yet more hairspray to the messy crown braid that held the rest of her meticulously curled hair in place. Makeup was done, hair was almost done… she pulled the dress she’d bought just that morning off of its hangar, carefully stepping into it and zipping it. A soft medium purple color that nicely matched Patricia’s chosen dress, it was a very elegant thing, with off the shoulder flutter sleeves, a sweetheart neckline, and a subtly high-low hem that made sure she couldn’t possibly trip. A small spray of stitched-on rhinestones adorned the neckline and the hem, and it was cinched at her waist with a darker purple ribbon belt and rhinestone buckle. She had elected to just wear a pair of glittery silver ballet flats, and carried a silver clutch purse to go with it, though Patricia had chosen slightly more daring accessories. Her makeup was done, soft and glowing, with mostly natural colors, and she’d donned simple faux-diamond earrings and her treasured silver clef heart necklace.

After a few seconds of making certain that everything was in place, she affixed her corsage to the back of her hair where the braids met, the purple-hued ribbons that should be used to tie it around her wrist instead trailing prettily down towards her shoulders. The two of them had ended up going and getting last-minute faux flower corsages made up, because that was what friends did when going as friends, and Eliza had desperately wanted to wear hers normally, but her sensory issues had taken exception to that plan with the combination of slipping ribbons and scratchy fake leaves and soft silk flower petals. It had been far less distressing to come up with an alternative way to wear it, for all that she still felt guilty.

She shuddered at the thought, once again checking to make sure everything was in order before she left the room. Patricia had been getting ready in the other bathroom, so she hadn’t yet seen the other girl’s completed ensemble. She paused briefly at the top of the stairs, checking her phone - they might be a few minutes late, but most apparently were, to such events as this.

Patricia stared at herself in the other bathroom, furiously adjusting her choker and making touch-ups to her eyeshadow. She had just finished getting everything on a moment ago- the dress had been last to go on, and it had had to be yanked on over her bra and underwear. The dress was only a shade deeper purple than that of Eliza’s. The mermaid silhouette hugged Patricia’s waist and then floofed outwards, creating sheets of purple poofing out from the bottom of the dress. She had specifically picked the bodice to be just a bit revealing- it was a halter dress, wrapping around her neck and flattering her back and shoulders for a bit of a flirty finish. Tasteful sequins and rhinestones adorned the dress, too, cascading down in a pattern reaching her waist.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her hair, trying her best not to tug on it anymore. She had done her best with the hairspray, but she wasn’t very good with it. Like her, she had kept her hair up, in a high, tight braided bun interlaid with a few hair pins. She normally didn’t like it this high, but it definitely helped with her look. The bun framed a velvet black choker she had chosen to accessorize with. A tiny music note charm hung from it. Expecting Eliza to pull off something light and airy as usual, she had applied dark red lipstick and given herself a bit of a smokey eye, along with some mascara and blush. She had made sure to not go too heavy on the foundation- didn’t want to look trashy! Or whatever her mom had said on the phone that morning. She had a black, silver-studded bag slung over her left shoulder, and one of the faux flower corsages over her wrist. On her ears were some simple, non-intrusive white pearls- real, as her mother had assured her when she came back to get them. Her feet were adorned with cheap black flats they had found at Ross.

Deeming herself ready after a certain amount of fussing, Patricia stepped into the hall of the Alexanders’ house. She tapped Eliza on the shoulder and spun around for the other girl to see. “H-how do I look? Did I go too edgy, maybe?” she asked, nervousness seeping into her tone. By God, she did not want to embarrass Eliza in front of her school friends. That would be her nightmare.

Eliza, who had snapped a few selfies that she would never post to Instagram ever, whirled around at the gentle tap, her jaw falling open. It was almost perfect, how the two’s styles complemented each other.

“You look stunning, Eliza breathed, taking a moment to take it all in. “We match so well! I can’t - I can’t believe this is - really happening. I - you’re - you’re so pretty!”

Patricia turned pink and bashful, staring down at her feet. The compliment made her fingers and toes tingle with frantic energy. She was unused to be calling beautiful- her usual style was sweaters and jeans- simple, utilitarian clothing. Much different from Eliza’s, who was always stunning in her tastefully rendered, darkly cutesy casual style. Speaking of Eliza’s dress… Patricia glanced up and forgot to breathe for a moment. “Wow,” she breathed, taking it all in. “Thanks- I mean, you too! You’re… wow. You look… wow. Amazing.” She could only seem to speak one-word sentences for a moment, she felt so light-headed.

After a moment more of intent glancing, and trying to play off the blush that was rising in her cheeks, Eliza gently took Patricia’s arm, guiding her to the stairs.“My mom’s going to want some pictures. I - I think she promised to send them to your mom?” With that, they descended the stairs and into the fawning of parental and sibling figures, who insisted on a multitude of pictures of the two of them, complimenting how well they had matched their dresses to each other. Amy’s phone was probably dinging incessantly from the spam, but Eliza tried not to think about that too hard - this night was about her and her beautiful da--beautiful best friend.

Her mother drove them to the school; though the prom was just in the gymnasium (the student council had lacked the budget to have it at a fancier venue this year) the prom committee had spent the better part of a week getting ready for it. The streetlights shining all around the school had been covered with colored films, plunging the whole block into a variety of pale pink and blue and yellow shades of light that were fully befitting of an enchanted theme. In a similar fashion, the backlit letters across the front of the gym, the ones that usually spelled out “Charles Hanover Memorial Gymnasium”, had been covered over by large cardboard cutouts of rooftops and castle towers, creating the illusion of a silhouetted fantasy skyline on the front of the building. The committee had done a good job this year, it seemed.

Eliza tried not to let her giddiness and excitement show as she and Patricia stepped out of the car, her hand automatically going to the older girl’s and her fingers twining through hers. Victoria drove away, with a brief promise to return at midnight to retrieve them. As the car rounded the corner, she realized what that meant.

They had five hours together, alone, at - at prom. Her cheeks reddened beneath the makeup and she grinned giddily, beaming up at Patricia’s tastefully made up eyes. Their tickets had been bought (perhaps foolishly optimistically, considering she hadn’t yet asked!) after school several days earlier, and Eliza produced them from her clutch, handing one to Patricia with a lightly trembling hand. “Are you - are you ready?” she asked, her voice audibly nervous again.

Staring up at the high school gym, Patricia’s gut twisted up. This is really happening. Holy shit. She hadn’t actually been in a high school for over a year, and the thought of going in gave her stomach a strange, turning feeling. But… she glanced at Eliza, next to her. It was prom. With her best friend- a girl who, against every single odd, actually liked her. All of her. Even the ugliest, darkest parts of her. Patricia squeezed Eliza’s hand, stepping out of the car and onto the pavement before her and helping her out of the car.

Daringly, Patricia put her other hand on the small of Eliza’s back, pulling her close. “Of course,” said Patricia, gingerly taking her ticket in between her fingers. She examined it for a moment, turning it over, but then met Eliza’s gaze. Her hazel eyes melted into a soft warmth, and she smiled. “You really do look magnificent, you know…” she murmured, before snapping her eyes away from Eliza and staring at the gym again, taking her hand from Eliza’s back and merely holding onto her hand. “Ready to go in? I-I’m sure your friends are waiting for us. I can’t wait to meet them.” Patricia felt another twinge of nervousness at the prospect of meeting Eliza’s school friends- her real friends- what if they didn’t like her? But she shoved that down. Tonight was about her and her best friend. No one else.

Eliza melted at the touch, leaning gently into Patricia’s embrace and peering up at her, the warmth in the taller girl’s eyes reflected right back. She seemed so - so happy, to be here, and to be here together...

As Patricia pulled away slightly, their hands settling into each others almost automatically, Eliza nodded, her breath tense in her throat. “I - yeah! All of my quartet people are so excited to meet you!”

The two walked into the building, hands still clasped - Eliza did her best not to flap, but her thumb tapped nervously on the side of Patricia’s hand all the same as she took in the decorations (which would have probably seemed tacky to an adult, but caught up in the moment they were magnificent) and the swarm of her classmates, all of them dressed up in their finery. The concession stand, usually only used during basketball tournaments, had been draped in fancy fabric and tablecloths and was currently being used as the ticketing booth. After a moment of uncertain staring, Eliza gently guided Patricia over in that direction, her confidence wavering for only a moment as she realized that she’d have to negotiate introductions sooner than she thought…

The booth was staffed by a girl of rather average height, one dressed in a dark copper-colored gown that seemed to be made entirely of glitter. Her black hair had been messily braided and was pulled lightly over one shoulder; her dark eyes brightened as she recognized Eliza.

“Hi, Eliza! Welcome! You both look so pretty tonight!” she said cheerily, flipping through the guest list to find Eliza’s name. “Who’s your- friend?”

Eliza’s hand tightened on Patricia’s. “Hi, Hannah. This is Patricia! I think I - ordered the tickets wrong and bought two for my own name, but, one is hers! She’s a - She’s homeschooled, so, no student ID.” She flashed a nervous smile at Patricia, squeezing her fingers.

Hannah studied them for a moment, before glancing down to the guest list. She half checked them in and paused, her eyes going slightly wide, and she glanced back up between the two of them. “Wait - Patricia? Like, Aria, Hero Magazine’s Top Teen Hero of 2033 Patricia? I - I knew you looked familiar, I’ve seen the news and…!” The normally serious cellist seemed fairly ecstatic. “Eliza, why didn’t you tell me that the Patricia you were trying to ask out was THAT Patricia?”

“I said she was a friend from work…you know where I work!” Eliza mumbled, not correcting the second half of the statement.

Patricia followed Eliza through the hallway and to the ticketing booth, marveling at the fantastical, whimsical decorations and swarms of students. They had really gone all out for this thing, Patricia thought- although her view of the dance was probably a bit rose-tinted by the sheer joy of having Eliza next to her, holding her hand. She couldn’t keep the smile off her face. Being around swarms of other teens was jarring to her, for sure, but the contrast between being around adults and teens was startling. No one was drunk out of their minds, or talking about kids and paychecks. Going to parties at HERO was fun, for sure, but there was something different about going to prom with Eliza. There was a comfortable anonymity here that she wouldn’t get at HERO galas. She automatically settled into being a part of the crowd, enjoying it a bit.

As they came up to the ticket booth, Patricia glanced at Eliza again as she tightened her hand on hers. Hannah. She knew that name. One of Eliza’s quartet friends? She nodded when Eliza introduced her, smiling tightly and handing her ticket to Hannah. A… some sort of string instrument. Not a violin, not a viola. A cello? Patricia didn’t know too many of the details about Eliza’s quartet friends…

Her eyes widened suddenly when Hannah practically shouted out her hero name, and she blinked rapidly. Her hand tightened on Eliza’s- she had not been expecting to be recognized. “Um, uh, yeah That’s me.” She giggled nervously, left hand tightening on the table. “I didn’t- um, I didn’t realize that I was, uh, famous! Or that I had fans. Honestly, it was such a shock when Hero Magazine published that… I, uh, usually don’t get a lot of positive coverage from the press. But, uhh, yeah, that’s me! I’m really, totally flattered that you re-recognized me, I did not expect that, I’m just not really Aria tonight, though… I’m just Patricia. Just like Eliza- she isn’t Murmur tonight, she’s just Eliza.” Patricia blustered her way through the interaction, stuttering and rushing. She really had not expected that. “Anyways, I um… it’s nice to meet you! You’re Hannah, right? I’ve heard all about you from Ellie, she really- really adores you. I’ve heard some of your work on the cello… that’s right, right? The cello. It’s amazing.” Patricia extended her hand for Hannah to shake, chewing her lip. Like Eliza, she didn’t bother to correct her second statement.

Eliza blinked nervously, a sweet smile on her face as she watched the interplay between Patricia and Hannah. Her heart melted at the nickname - none of her school friends ever called her Ellie, though she adored the name. Especially the way Patricia said it.

The cellist seemed amused by Patricia’s awkwardness, but also elated, reaching for the handshake enthusiastically. “You’re too kind, you know. I’d love to hear your work in a - less job related context, sometime…” Hannah trailed off with a wry chuckle. “You have a lovely sound from what I’ve heard, but the recordings they put on the news really don’t do your voice justice, I’m sure. Eliza, you should bring her into the studio sometime!”

“Oh, uh, that would be g-great! It can just be a little weird to hear it in person…” Patricia trailed off, seeing Hannah get distracted.

A small line of other couples had ended up behind the two of them, and it seemed enough to startle Hannah out of her fangirl moment. She handed the ticket stubs back to them with a hurried comment about door prizes, and having fun and staying safe - seemingly that was the same between hero galas and high school proms, at least.

Eliza gently guided Patricia out of the line and towards the doors of the gymnasium, a light giggle bubbling up in her chest. “You did great, Trish!” she gushed, beaming up at her friend. “I told you that my friends would love you!”

Though it was too faint to make out what music was playing through the doors, the bass was audible (and nearly tangible; Eliza was certain the floor tiles were vibrating) even several paces away. She took a deep breath, a warm, goofy grin settling onto her face as she considered Patricia from the corner of her eye again, and opened the door so that the two of them could step out onto the dance floor.

Patricia blushed, messing with her bun for a second and then bringing her hand back down to her waist. “I really didn’t know I had fans,” she said, still seeming a bit shocked. “I’m really glad they do.”

The frantic lights and loud, earth-shaking music of the dance floor dazzled Patricia- for a moment, she thought Jamie might have a hand on her arm or something like that, before she realized it was just the sheer noise of the bass. With Eliza guiding, she stepped out onto the dance floor, marveling at the scene. Swarms of students danced to music Patricia would not have normally liked under the spotlight of the gym lights. But, strangely, she found herself enjoying the dance music tonight. She could really dance to this! She found herself tapping her foot on the ground and moving from side to side in a very lame, awkward dance. She grinned at Eliza and then tugged her onto the outskirts of the dance floor, swishing her skirts around.

Eliza was not very great at dancing either, and so she found Patricia’s awkward swinging dance to be endearing and cute more than anything! A little too eagerly, she wandered off to the edge of the floor with her, bouncing on her toes and sidestepping back and forth similarly to how Patricia was. This was fun! And she was - really pretty. Under the brightly colored spotlights, sharply contrasting with the underlying glow of chiffon and fairy lights that had been draped haphazardly along the ceiling, Patricia seemed like she was glowing. She was definitely happier than Eliza had seen her in a while; it was a welcome change after the uncertainty that had been the mafia mission. Their most recent mission, where Patricia had risked her life, and she’d been entirely unaware and unhelpful...

A set of rising power chords, sharply familiar, startled her out of the rapidly building spiral of self-hatred. Her jaw dropped slightly and she glanced to Patricia, pitching her voice to be heard over the guitar riff. “Is - This is “Storms for Tomorrow,” isn’t it?!” She squeaked excitedly. A recent-ish single drop from Caged Fantasy, Zoe’s band, and one they had both loved - they’d spent several hours listening to it on near-repeat the day after it had been released.

“Oh my God, it is! This song is amazing!” Patricia yelled above the rising, intense chords of rock music. Her eyes sparked with excitement, and she started to bob her head along to the music. Eliza and her had recently gotten to go backstage at a Caged Fantasy concert, so the music was even more surreal and familiar than usual. Not even to mention that they knew Zoe and her wife well- knowing them only made her want to support the band even more.

God, Patricia got it when it came to music. And everything else, too, but, especially music - she’d never once mocked Eliza for how often she listened to the same songs, especially newly released ones. Most people were frustrated with her after just a few minutes, but Patricia always just sat and listened right with her.

As the music reached a peak, Eliza took Patricia by the hand, abruptly spinning the taller girl around. “Dance with me!” she squeaked, and they did, though the power ballad was much too fast for their fumbling footwork to have any sort of organization. Eliza nearly forgot how to breathe, so swept up in the moment and how free and alive and - and loved she felt.

With a crash of cymbals, the last chord of the song drifting off into nothing, the music stopped. Heart hammering in her chest, Eliza kept her grip on Patricia’s hands for a moment longer, breathlessly giggling and grinning in wonder up at her beautiful friend, unreadable thoughts and overwhelming emotions written all over her face. She almost didn’t notice the next song’s soft, plaintive vocals about young, summertime love, nor did she notice that she stepped a tiny pace closer, her hands still holding Patricia’s as the other couples around them began to drift into slower dances.

After Storms for Tomorrow ended, Patricia had to take a moment to catch her breath. She was smiling and laughing, just like Eliza, but she let her own hands drop to her sides and slung her head back, breathing in deep. She could feel sweat dripping down her face, her heart thumping so hard in her chest it was almost part of the song itself. She laughed again, closing her hazel eyes and carefully wiping sweat from her face. She glanced down at her hands- now smudged with a bit of foundation. “Whoops!” A giggle bubbled out of her chest, but quickly died as the music changed. She brought her hands back up to Eliza’s and stared into her gray eyes, stepping a little closer.

With a light, feather touch, Patricia untangled one of her hands from Eliza’s and raised it to the other girl’s shoulder, gingerly putting it around her and bringing the smaller girl closer. “This is okay?” she murmured as she began to sway slowly to the music. She rested her chin on Eliza’s head, her brain thrumming with nerves- but also with contentment. This was… nice. Better than nice. Lovely. Patricia felt herself being overwhelmed with adoration and wonder. Eliza’s skin was warm on hers, and she could almost feel the other girl’s heartbeat, the beautiful life thrumming beneath her veins. Her breath caught in her throat as they danced. Patricia was vaguely aware that it was not a real dance- they were really just swaying and moving their feet along to the rhythm.

“I… I like this,” murmured Patrica, under her breath. “Do you… you know?”

Eliza was more than happy to be pulled in close to Patricia’s chest, her eyes welling with happy tears as she leaned into the embrace. While ordinarily, people using her as an arm or chinrest would have been only begrudgingly tolerated, she - really appreciated the warmth and closeness of Patricia’s holding her. Her eyes drifted half-shut, her arm slipping around Patricia’s waist and free hand’s fingers twining through the other girl’s. “This is - yeah, this is - this is really nice…” She didn’t entirely trust herself to speak the thoughts whirling through her mind, nor did she trust herself to ask the question that had the roof of her mouth numb.

Best friends didn’t usually slow dance with each other at prom, holding hands and being daydreamy and soft. She hoped Patricia didn’t feel forced to do any such thing, but - hadn’t she initiated the dancing, and the… wait, or had she?

All of a sudden, she wasn’t sure, her anxiety hollowing out all the hope that the evening had built in her heart. Patricia was probably just going along with everything so that she wouldn’t hurt her feelings. There was no way the other girl, so proud and reserved and all, would’ve done something like this - would she have…?

“You- you’re not - you’re not uncomfy with this, at all, are - a-are you?” she asked suddenly, her voice shaking. Nervously, she glanced up to Patricia, trying to read her emotions. “I don’t want you to - feel like you have to, to d-dance with me like this, because I asked you, or - I don’t want you to think we - have to do things like a couple, or-” She cut herself off before she could make even more a fool of herself, the tears welling up now stemming from nervousness.

Patricia pulled away abruptly, looking at Eliza. Her gaze was difficult to read- soft but stern, hopeful but confused. At Eliza’s words, emotions rose up in her chest, swelling to form a tornado. Unlike usual, Patricia was not angry- no, she was confused. What was she saying? Was- did she think- Patricia had been teasing her the entire time? Playing with her, toying with her emotions? Had she been? At this point, Patricia couldn’t tell. She kept swaying from side to side, but instead of staring at the ground behind Eliza, she looked at her face. Not in her eyes, because she knew that that made Eliza uncomfortable, but at the space in between her eyes. Her gaze was gentle, and her mouth set into a soft yet hopeful frown.

“No- I- God- Eliza. If I felt like I had to do this, I wouldn’t- I want this!” Her voice rose momentarily and desperately. Her earlier stern feelings melted away, replaced with a frantic desperation. “Don’t you see? I want to dance with you. I can’t stop looking at you. I want to hold your hand- I I want to do things like a couple.” This last part was whispered nervously. Her eyes cast down to her flats and then back to Eliza’s face, growing frightened. She shrunk back. “I-I want it so bad. Ellie, I… I really like you. I know you probably don’t like me back-” she let out a choked sob at this- “because, you know, how could someone like you ever like someone like me like that- b-but… yeah.” Patricia finished talking, breathless and now crying. She cringed. “W-whatever you’re about to say next, please be nice?”

Eliza’s eyes widened nervously as she listened to Patricia, fighting as hard as she could to keep her own emotions organized and to put all her effort into understanding Patricia’s shaking and uncharacteristically disorganized speech. Her heart ached, and her chest grew tight, tears beginning to well up in her eyes as she watched the emotions playing out on Patricia’s face. As the taller girl cringed back she took half a step closer, again, her hands reaching out to catch Patricia’s fingertips. “I-” Immediately her voice broke and she pressed her lips together, trying not to start crying completely. A few tears trickled down her face all the same. With a shaky breath, she tried again. “I - I like you, I - I - I thought you - I thought you didn’t, I t-thought this - I just, I t-thought you didn’t want to be - anything more than f-f-...” She choked on her words again and took a faltering step forward. After a second’s hesitation, she wrapped her arms around Patricia’s body again, her head resting against the taller girl’s shoulder. “I - I … as far as, as d-doing things, as a - as a couple, I…” She glanced around briefly, making sure there weren’t immediately hovering chaperones, before her gaze flitted back to Patricia’s, eyes wide, tear-filled, and panicky. “can I - is it, is it t-tacky if - if I - can I - can I k-kiss you?”

“Y-you…” Patricia just stood there for a moment, shellshocked. No way. This wasn’t happening this was some fever dream this couldn’t be real no way no way no way! And then her fear and panic turned to a shocked joy, and the world felt like it had lost gravity for a moment. Giddiness and relief flooded her veins, and she let out another sob. She shook her head, but smiled at the same time. A frantic breath escaped her lungs, and she laughed. “I can’t believe- yes!” she told Eliza, and went for it. She didn’t want to waste a single other moment being an awkward mess when she could be kissing her.

With shaking hands, Patricia put her right hand under Eliza’s chin, angling her head up to where Patricia could comfortably lean down to kiss her. It occurred to her that she had never done this before- kiss someone, that was. She found herself desperately wanting to get it right. She stared into Eliza’s eyes for a moment, thinking about proper kissing strategy, before going in.

With Patricia leaning down and Eliza on her tiptoes (they really did have an insane height difference), Patricia pressed her lips to Eliza’s. It was a chaste, close-mouthed kiss. But… Patricia found herself leaning into it, pressing herself closer to Eliza in the moment. Sparks flew in her gut, and the butterflies she had been feeling moments before dissipated into thin air. Warmth grew in her cheeks and flooded into her lips. She felt Eliza against her, her lips, her skin… all of it. She closed her eyes.

This was the best moment of her life. Unequivocally.

A tiny gasp escaped Eliza’s lips as Patricia’s fingers settled under her chin, leaving trails of stardust down her neck. She stretched up lightly onto her tiptoes, her hands resting over the tops of the taller girl’s shoulders. She leaned into the kiss enthusiastically and clumsily, her mind’s racing stilled as the two’s lips met. Fireworks bloomed in her heart, and she wobbled unsteadily on suddenly tingling limbs, pressing in closer with a muffled squeak, her fingers tightening around Patricia’s shoulders.

She’d kissed a boy before, once - the freshman homecoming date that had gone so poorly - but that had been an awkward affair of misplaced tongues and clonked teeth and school lunch pizza breath, entirely devoid of any sort of romance or pleasant sensation. It almost didn’t deserve to be even labelled as a kiss, not when - not when this was what it was supposed to be like.

After a very long few moments, the music stopped. Feeling several pairs of eyes on the two of them, Patricia reluctantly untangled herself from Eliza, staring down at the shorter girl, breathless. “That was…” She swallowed, feeling happy tears well up in her eyes again. “I liked that. Did you… did you like it too?” Their hands were still clasped in between them, and Patricia’s thumbs ran circles on the heel of Eliza’s hands. She looked at her hopefully, mouth open and in a rather dumbstruck smile.

As the music stopped and Patricia pulled away, Eliza became overwhelmed in her thoughts again - several shades of embarrassment playing out in her blushing cheeks as she became aware of classmates’ stares, a sheen of wonder and delight in her eyes as she once again looked into Patricia’s eyes, finding her own hope mirrored there. “I- I - yes!” Her words, shaky and hoarse and uncertain, bubbled up with a giggle, and she squeezed Patricia’s fingers in her clasped hands. “I’m - I’m so happy.”

She would have leaned in for another kiss, giddy and overwhelmed and nearly drunk on the feeling, but a very disapproving chaperone caught her eye from the back wall of the gym, miming a slashing at the neck and shaking their head. Heck. She settled instead for clasping one of Patricia’s hands in both of hers and bringing it to her lips, lightly kissing the back of the older girl’s knuckles before twining their fingers together. It was like the first time they’d ever held hands all over again. But better…

Patricia laughed too, giddy. She ignored the chaperone signalling them in the corner, instead going in for a hug after Eliza kissed her knuckles. The slow music had stopped and another fast pop song had come on. Patricia was a little too distracted to remember the artist, but it was upbeat and poppy, matching the collective mood perfectly. “Me too,” she whispered. Realizing that the dancing was getting a little intense for their tender moment, she took Eliza’s hand and guided them over to the edges of the gym.

She fidgeted with her hands, still high on the feeling of Eliza’s lips on hers. There was nothing in this universe she wanted to do more than kiss her again, but she was pretty sure whoever that teacher was who was watching them from the corner would not hesitate to kick them out if they kissed again. That was one thing she didn’t miss about high school- adult supervision. Nervously, she twisted Eliza’s hands in her own. “Do you… I mean. This- this is fun. I’m having so much fun. You’re such a good kisser, do you have practice? I don’t have any. I mean- what should we do next? We could keep dancing, or we could kiss again, but I’m pretty sure that teacher would suspend you or something. I’m cool with anything, s-seriously.” Patricia spoke breathlessly, her head feeling like it was on a cloud. There was a question she needed to ask, but she didn’t want to ruin the moment. So, for now, she just gazed into Eliza’s eyes, smiling giddily.

“Practice? Oh, I - I mean. I - ended up kissing a - kissing a boy once, but - just once. I - he wasn’t good at it at all. He tasted like - like cafeteria pizza. And used way too much tongue. But - you are! Good at it, I mean. You - really are.” Blushing and nervous and giddy, she bounced on her toes, beaming up at Patricia. “I don’t want to - I don’t want to get expelled, no, but -” After a moment’s hesitation she dropped the volume in her voice and rose on tiptoe to speak into Patricia’s ear. “We can dance now, and then we can- we can always go get drinks after - and kiss? Again? I mean, if you want? The - there’s the little diner place, up the road, they’re always open till midnight, and we can - we can leave here a bit early, if you want, and…”

Having decided to get a milkshake after all, the two were distracted by another Caged Fantasy single, and then another radio hit, and a sappy love song, and a really really good one, and another and another and another, until it was all of a sudden 11pm and the music was cut for the usual court presentation and royals-only dance. The two girls, after a quick text to Eliza’s mom, slipped out during all of those frilly and frivolous proceedings, and instead found themselves the only customers in the vaguely 90s-pop-culture-themed old-timey cafe. It was usually an after-school hit among the students at North Passenger, but given the festivities going on (and the late hour) it seemed they would have the place to themselves.

There was something delightful and hard to articulate about this, sipping on obnoxiously blue fruit punch and snacking on house-made gourmet pizza rolls, dressed up in their prom finery and completely, entirely enamored with each other and oblivious to the rest of the world. It was certainly a fitting end to what they both considered the best night of their lives.
Wide eyes considered Zakroti as he stirred from sleep. He seemed none too pleased for having been left asleep, mumbling what Miry imagined to be a curse in his native tongue. It was vaguely familiar, though she still couldn’t place which of the drakken tongues it was closest to, and the meaning (or even a possible-maybe-perhaps guesstimeaning) entirely eluded her tired mind.

She flashed a nervous smile, pressing her needle through the silk ribbon she worked on so she wouldn’t lose it as she signed. Half a sweep, I’d guess? Calculating, she ran her eyes over the length of the ribbon that she’d worked, scrunching up her face in consideration. It seemed about right. I’m sorry I didn’t wake you, my lord. It won’t happen again. She didn’t dare meet his gaze with the comment.

Smooth skin caught her eye as the lord extricated himself from the bed, and she did her best not to stare as she busied herself organizing the threads of her project back into their satchel. A faint wash of color crept into her cheeks as she imagined again the night before, and above all how loved – or if not loved, as love was a tricky thing to quantify, at least cared for – she’d felt in the moments between such doings and falling asleep.

Of course you should be so lucky. Your sisters are far more deserving of love and they are suffering, and you are here daydreaming about the man you’ve been sold to. Selfish. Disgusting, even. Your mother should be glad she gave you up when she did.

She winced and visibly shook the thought from her mind, rising to her feet and gathering up the lord’s discarded nightshirt from the previous eve. She placed it, neatly rolled, into her own bags – hopefully she would remember it was there and there wouldn’t be any awkward statements or questions later in the night. As the lord put on his gambeson her gaze was drawn to the bruise on his neck, which was only a slight discoloration but might have been noticeable enough. She withered, glancing away and signing something to the effect of a fleeting apology as she shouldered more bags than she should have been trying to carry, wobbling to the door to leave the chambers and rejoin the group downstairs.

=-=-=-=-=-=

Nenra, meanwhile, was quite enthusiastically dipping into the meal and doing her best to ignore the curious guardsman, something made easier by not understanding a word that was spoken. She flashed a concerned glance to Kzaar, a flash of sympathy rising as his comrades seemingly teased him about something. Likely his size, given that it was the most obvious trait of the man. She could empathize with such awkwardness, having stood head and shoulders above nearly all of the others in her village and teased often for it in the most vulnerable years of her adolescence.

The guardsman seemed persistent, curiously staring past the retinue to size Nenra up. At the shift in the tone of his words, she stiffened, some of the weeds which sprouted between the cobblestones shivering and nodding towards her until she got a grip on her temper. She raised the mug of tea to her lips, giving Gaikus an appreciative smile and letting the flare in her anger fizz away. The herb blend was very nice, and she felt a buzz of energy already beginning to fill her limbs as she sipped on the drink.

She then choked on the aforementioned tea as Gaikus spoke in her native tongue, to clarify what the other guard had inquired. Giving the guardsman an incredulous look, she waited for him to finish formulating the thought, her mind racing. For a Drakkan, built as far as she could tell on a mannish frame and with similar structures by which to speak, he did an admirable job of pronunciation of their tongue… it was no small curiosity to her that he spoke the language so well, with flawless grammar and nearly as good of a grasp of the inflected portions. Even the human historians she’d met in the capital, during the convoy’s brief stayover there, struggled to formulate words with half the grace that these Drakken men did. When Aurien spoke, too, her head swiveled to him, her thoughts tumbling over each other even as her body laughed heartily at his comment. Surely the lord did not mandate that his soldiers be proficient in the tongue, for all it seemed the rule rather than the exception…

Turning to give the unknown guardsman a look, she strongly debated answering in the Gemmenite tongue, which she could make freely flow from her lips. The man had not afforded her the courtesy of using the common language, which she could understand well enough, though she’d certainly demonstrated her unease with responses rendered in it, what with her wordy and awkwardly constructed phrases. It had driven Miry half-mad on the ride from the capital to Shadow Wroth, for certain, though the younger girl had tried to help her form her words all the same.

“I’m not some delicate girl-child,” she replied laughingly, the Gemmenite trills easy and flowing from the point of her tongue. “And as I said last night, I care little for feather beds and silk duvets.” She refocused her attention on her mug of tea, though it was soon drawn by the quiet voices of the lord and his chosen man. The trio had arrived quietly in the courtyard and were helping themselves to the breakfast fixings the party had set out.

Miry placed the saddlebags with the others to be loaded on the mounts, though she darted away from the lord’s side for only a moment. The younger bride seemed to be clinging uncomfortably close to Zakroti, picking out a seat directly beside him, so close their legs were touching. She seemed entirely engrossed in the lord’s doings, scarcely tearing her eyes from him, even though Nenra tried to get her attention. The tall bride stifled a flash of annoyance, moving to sit on the cobblestones nearer the two with a decidedly ungraceful plop, her long limbs flailing. “Good morning, my lord,” she said simply, the common words reedy and unclear and entirely foreign in her mouth.

The logical part of her knew Zakroti surely spoke their tongue, but it didn’t stop her from asking Miry, quietly and under her breath, how the night had been. The smaller bride’s face colored, and she signed that it had been a pleasant enough night, though she drummed her fingers on the edge of her speaking screen anxiously and glanced to the lord out of the corner of her eye. Nenra did not have to be particularly astute to fill in the blanks on that… The tall bride shivered lightly, glancing sharply to the lord and drawing her arms in tighter around herself, discomfort written all over her face. Miry seemed unperturbed at least, flashing an apologetic smile to Nenra and returning her attention to Zakroti's ramblings. She nibbled on a piece of salted meat and bread, and drew her cloak tighter around her shoulders in the morning breeze.
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