Fantasticoe -- 2013
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Slapdash Haberdashery

Maisie Iven


“We just got that silk in from the far East,” a soft, nervous voice said from the stairway. “I’m fond of the colors, personally, but it doesn’t shape as nicely as some of our previous shipments.”

Cece jumped a little, looking up to see a thin girl sitting on the third to bottom step, the black of her well fitted suit in stark contrast to the dusty brown of the stairs and the dull yellow of the wall paper. “Oh, I do like the colors, but really Pippa, I’m afraid I don’t have anything to go with it. I’d have to buy a new dress.” Cece held up a wide brimmed topper, made of rich red velvet with delicate roses made of gold silk wrapped around the band.

Pippa smiled a shy grin, looking down at her feet, flirtation was not her strong suit, “Oh but Miss Williams, I’m quite certain it would suit you.”

“How many times do I have to tell you Pippa?” Cece started again, her brash Western, new money tones contrasting with the hushed ones of Pippa’s City accent. They spoke the same language, most countries did, but there was something about the accents, the tambour that made them almost completely different. The way a chicken egg doesn’t really resemble an ostrich egg, that sort of difference. “Please, it’s just Cece.”

“Of course Miss Williams,” Pippa said softly, avoiding eye contact.

Cece sighed, rolling her eyes, “And this one?”

“Oh, yes. That one,” Pippa moved carefully to stand next to her costumer, “Hand felt cloche. The cherries are wax. Caterpillar Green lace ribbon, I thought it set off the pink nicely?” She ended the sentence with a question on her breathe, a need for reassurance, a need to know her craftsmanship was up to the mark that Cece demanded.

“It’s lovely. A shame it wouldn’t go with your hair, I think a more feminine touch could suit you,” Cece blurted out. Pippa bit her lip and looked away, with something akin of embarrassment or sadness on her face. “Oh I mean,” Cece realized what she’d said, “not that what you wear does suit you, it’s just… Well, I wouldn’t expect most women to dress so… how do I put this? Masculine? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just I think there’s so much more you could be working with, I mean you’re quite attractive, but I think… Well, the look is rather scandalous, so I guess you always stand out in a crowd, so that’s good, it’s just I think you could be equally striking—“

“Miss Williams,” Pippa said, her voice softer than normal, lowering it to nearly a whisper “please.”

“Sorry. I—Sorry.”

Nervous now, Pippa picked up another hat, “I think this one would go nicely with your hair.”

“Oh yes, let’s try it on, shall we?” Cece removed the fine orange bowler from her corkscrew brown hair. “I adore the gold thread, one of your personal touches, am I right? I’m sure I am, I always am. Oh, it’s so pirate—in a chic sort of way. Tres cutting edge. Oh yes, I’ll take it.”

The lanky redhead smiled what was for her a grin, but was more like a small smile. She was a very quiet smiler.

Pippa Stetson’s father was a haberdasher, or had been until he died, just as his father had been. And his father before him, and his father before him, and his father before him, although it had been his uncle before him, and his father before that. In fact, for the past fourteen generations, the Stetsons could trace a seemingly endless line of tailoring to men and their small fineries. And if there was one thing they excelled at, it was hats.

Pippa was the first girl to enter the family business, a fluke, really. Her twin brother had been meant to take over for their father, but when their dad passed away, Edward had jumped on the nearest train to university, in an attempt to become a magician. And ever since, Pippa had grown considerably more used to having serious conversations with strange men in silly hats. Perhaps more so than a young lady of her age should.

She was just shy of 22 and was too tall for a girl, but too boney for a woman. Pippa had inherited pronounced, androgynous cheek bones from both sides of the family, and pale red hair. It hadn’t seemed too far a reach for her to simply slip into gentlemen’s clothing; after all, she spent her life catering to it.

And she had a little solitary magic, the kind passed down after years of hard work focused on fine details. Pippa had never been terribly gifted in magic; she’d left it to her brother. She could perform a few rudimentary spells, but never anything more than fetching a bolt of fabric from across the hall without leaving the room, or rethreading a needle with ease. Edward, on the other hand, could casually change his clothes with a snap of his fingers, or walk with unparalleled grace on the wind.

However, Pippa had other skills her twin lacked. Like knowing which silks made the best lining, or how to talk someone into buying a more expensive hat.

The Slapdash Haberdashery (extraordinary hats for ordinary occasions, the sign boasted) saw plenty of foot traffic in its hay day. Enough to justify opening a new section, mainly of women’s hats, tidy bonnets and soft silk toppers. Traffic had begun to slow though, when Edward left. While Pippa had always been the better hatter, he’d always attracted the female buyers. Now the shop as a whole got no more traffic than one or two decrepit old men each day—unless it was near a holiday—with only a handful of exceptions. One such exception was Cece Williams.

Cece Williams was the kind of girl who was always so cutting edge on fashion, it had ceased to be fashionable, and simply looked odd, like someone trying to dress almost futuristic, and ending up looking like something out of a pulp science fiction. She’d double up on stockings, or pair a shockingly bad yellow silk blouse with a pale lavender skit and remarkably paisley shoes. But being the daughter of rich nobles, and pretty in the way chubby faced 19 year olds are at that age, Cece had attracted a variety of suitors. And needless to say, a peculiar number were only interested in her rather fine collection of hats. Men are a strange bunch, all things considered, and Cece wanted very little to do with most of them.

In fact, Cece Williams owned so many hats; she’d never actually worn the same one twice, nor did she—or anyone else—actually know how many hats she did own.

It would be an understatement to say that Pippa was smitten with Cece. An understatement like saying “the Pacific Ocean has quite a lot of water,” or “Cece Williams has quite a lot of hats.”

There was a raucous tinkle of bells signifying that someone else was in the store, but Pippa and Cece were both very carefully ignoring everything but each other and the sprawling display of rainbow hats that crowded the tiny shop like people queuing up for a pop star’s concert, hat brims like elbows shoving for attention.

“Edward never said he had a brother!” A woman cried from the doorway, breaking the two girls from their trance. “Or that his brother was cute…” She had a seductive quality to her voice that was prone to making strangers wet themselves to talk to her.

Cece, had she been of a magic stock, would have shot literal daggers from her eyes at the stranger, instead of just giving her the nastiest look a high class, ditzy girl could muster.

“Can I help you?” Pippa asked, in a tone that she perceived as angry but would have been heard as mildly-annoyed-but-probably-fine by anyone else (especially someone as loud and brash as Cece Williams). She turned to see a tall, dark skinned woman, dressed in a way that was, unlike Cece’s clothing, the cutting edge fashion.

“Oh,” the woman said, taken aback “you’re a girl, so I guess you must be—“

A large bundle of wool coat and long red hair came barreling in through the shop door making the bell scream in indignation. The ginger ball of energy hit Pippa with enough force to knock her down as it shouted “Pip!”

“Edward?” she gasped, “what are you doing here? Aren’t you meant to be at school?”

“Um,” the tall boy—a mirror image of Pippa if she had been about a foot taller and half a foot broader and possessed the ability to grow a fine sheen of facial hair across her chin and to smell remarkably like kippers and rum all the time—“About that…”

The black woman cleared her throat, “We—well, mostly Edward—require your assistance in a fairly touchy subject. Is there somewhere we can talk,” she shot a nasty glare at Cece “in private?”

Tamara Smith was one of those women who was beautiful in a cold, untouchable way, and she knew it. It was one of the fiercer weapons in her arsenal, not counting her uncontested mastery of fire magic. Or her ability with a gun. Or her significantly higher than average intelligence. Or her—well, she sufficient to say she wasn’t the kind of girl one should annoy. Every part of her was deadly. She’d met Edward at University, where she’d more or less tolerated his existence until he had managed to outdo her in a class, and then it became personal. She had been left with two choices: destroy him or humiliate him. Tamara had chosen the third choice and decided to seduce him instead.

She’d only been half successful.

Tamara had quickly discovered that Edward was more interesting in the things that glitter than the appeals of the flesh. A love of his that had made his life difficult more than once.

“’My assistance?’ For what?” Pippa asked, not moving away from the counter. “I have to watch the shop.”

“Honest Pip,” Edward ruffled Pippa’s hair until her exceedingly fine top hat fell to the ground, “don’t worry about the shop! It’ll be fine! And if it’s not, well, who even cares about gentlemen’s finery? We could get you a nice job selling dresses or pastries or some other bit of bother that people seem to think is lovely.”

Pippa sighed, picking the hat up off the ground and brushing it off with a huff.

"Pip, honest, it’ll be fine. Scouts honor.”

“If Pippa doesn’t want to, then don’t make her. At least she has a sense for business, which is more than I seem to be able to say about you,” Cece said, giving Edward her most intimidating glare, which well overshadowed the fact she was nearly two feet shorter than the boy even with her over tall, glitter encrusted mauve boots. “From what I’ve heard on the ton is that you’ve gone off to school to gamble and visit--” she glanced at Tamara, who bristled, ready for the attack, “unsavoury women of the night.

“Miss Williams,” Pippa said, half desperate, half pleased that Cece was defending her. More like two-thirds desperate for her to stop and about 400% incredibly pleased.

“Oh, Miss Williams, is it?” Tamara sneered. “Well, Miss Williams, since you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about, I’d ask you to please—“

“Get out,” Pippa glared at Tamara with a look in her eyes that could have actually resulted in daggers being shot from her eyes, and that she’d only used once before on a patron who wouldn’t stop harassing her. She doesn’t know this part of the story, but that patron died a few hours later. Tamara knew this part in the way that all people who are so fully attuned with magic know things, and she was very glad that her magic was greatly more powerful than the young Miss Stetson’s, and also that Pippa didn’t know the sort of power she did possess. Tamara did not like the idea of having a heart attack because of a little girl, she did not like it one bit.

“Listen Pip,” Edward glanced around then with a snap of his fingers he closed down the shop windows, flipped the sign on the door to ‘closed,’ and summoned up four chairs and a full afternoon tea, crowding the already tiny shop with the smell of freshly baked scones. A gust of wind made the china tea cups tinkle. “I might have screwed up.”

“What he’s trying to say is that he did screw up. Royally,” Tamara said.

“Literally royally,” Edward said. Cece took a sip of tea, “I mean I might have lost a bet with some very powerful people that require me to steal the crown jewels. But no big deal, you know. It’ll be fine. Scout’s honor, yeah?”

Cece spat her tea out onto the mahogany table and its lace table cloth.

“Hey,” Edward said, “this table’s on loan, don’t ruin it.”

“I should have known you were going to tell me something like that,” Pippa sighed the weary sigh of someone who had heard it all before; “you aren’t even a scout.”

“Pippa,” Cece said, “no.”

“Miss Williams, while I appreciate your view, that doesn’t change the fact that he is—unfortunately at times and unlikely though it may seem—my brother and if I can help him, then I have to.”

“Honestly, call me Cece, and it’s not as though he helps you with anything around here,” she gestured around her to the shop which was admittedly looking a bit worse for wear these days, Pippa could only do so much. She desperately needed help, though she’d never admit it.

“I don’t need his help. I enjoy my work. And he enjoys his gambling… It’s not a perfect comparison.”

“Fine, but if you’re going to go risk your life and your shop and your really amazing hat making skills, which really, you’re wasting in this shop, not that it isn’t a great shop, but really, you’re an artist, and no one here really appreciates you, you’re amazing, and I just wish that you could see that, and I—“

“Miss Williams,” the corners of Pippa’s mouth quirked up, “please.”

“I’m going with you.”

“If you insist.”

“I do.”

“Are you really certain about this, Tam?” Edward was carefully re-inking his wizard marks. The dark blue shapes danced up the skin of his arms like the wind he so easily controlled. It was strange to him that body paint could help channel magic, but it did, so he didn’t question it much. He probably should have, really, but he was a man of simple thoughts and simple wants.

“Edward, of course I’m sure,” she shrugged, painting another bright red swirl on her face.

“But if we screw up, that’s my sister… I mean, if I go to prison, okay. But I mean, Pip’s—“

“Nothing will go wrong, I assure you.”

“Yeah, all right. You better be right, because otherwise—“

“I am right,” she corrected him.

“Scout’s honor?” he asked, raising an eye suggestively.

“I think you’ve made up that asinine phrase, you know. Just to bother me,” she walked towards him, moving like sex, and kissed him once. “Now go find your sister, you insufferable idiot, before I decide to stop loving you.”

“Yes ma’am,” he winked, kissing her once more then wandering back down the stairs to the shop where his sister was hiding.

In the quiet of the tiny apartment above the shop where 14 generations of Stetsons had lived, Edward explained his “Grand Master Plan.” Carefully, he tried to explain “Old Magic.”

There was a type of magic older than books of spells and magical objects. Older than wizard marks and magic wands. It was the magic of blood. Edward had, like any twin who realized the magic of being a twin would do, researched this until his bones ached with every late night spent reading page after page in the musty corners of the library that all old things inevitably end up in. You know the type. Their very core is that of age and secrets.

Blood magic is complex, more than complex than can be explained in these pages, and much more complex than can be explained without having spent years studying magic and probably several mystic arts too. Edward, with all his study and natural talents, still barely understood it. But it boiled down to this:

If there were two people—brothers, sisters, parents, children, twins especially—shared blood, they could do something no one else could, as long as they had magic to begin with. They could bend reality, even just slightly, which was awfully useful for things like healing diseases or making bonds of sacrifice. Or, y’know, stealing the crown jewels without getting sent to prison. Things, Edward had always thought to himself when studying, that would really benefit the world at large.

Of course, what none of the books really mentioned was that blood magic was really only the second most powerful magic, but it’s not the kind books really talk about much. At least not those kinds of books.

After all, the sorts of angry, old, fuddy-duddy wizards that wrote books were probably too misogynistic to ever acknowledge such a “feminine” form of magic. The kinds of wizards that were respected back in the old days when magic and writing first made love were not the kind who thought much on anything but power, let alone love.

“Wow,” Tamara stared at Cece who had decided the best way to be stealthy was to wear every item of black clothing that she owned, which included three black skirts, two pairs of stockings layered on one another, heavy soled boots, a blouse, four jackets, one layer of gloves with fingers, one layer of fingerless gloves, and shockingly, only one delicate little pill box hat, “You’re really good at not being suspicious looking.”

Cece made a rather unladylike gesture.

“So,” the twins said in tandem, hoping to break up the tension, “What’s first?”

Pippa did not like flying. No, that’s not right. Pippa did not like her brother gripping her tightly to his chest as he bounced across the sky. She felt it was really ungraceful and there had to be better ways to fly. Admittedly, they were flying to the top of a rather tall building, but regardless, it just seemed… dangerous… and unnecessary. She was a prude businessman, Pippa didn’t believe in extraneous ticks in her ledger, and she did not believe in bouncing on clouds just to be lowered into a building to steal crown jewels because your brother is an idiot.

It went against every principle she had as the owner of what was a moderately successful business (which was admittedly not doing as well now that her more charismatic brother was not working there and was wasting his money on large gambling debts, though she always did. Hers was a patient love).

Her brother was an idiot.

The dome, where the crown and other jewels such as scepters and necklaces and what not that only makes the rich feel but also appear even richer, was large. And not just plated with gold as these sorts of buildings tend to be, but actually made of gold. This made breaking into it easy, as gold is an incredibly soft metal and Tamara burned hot.

“Stay here,” Tamara told Cece as the three of them dropped into the hole.

Cece rolled her eyes, like she was listening to that when her—um, her favorite hat maker was in danger. Yes, her favorite hat maker, or even her friend, if she were to go so far. She reminded herself that she was not courting Pippa Stetsons. Well, not PROPERLY, anyway.

“Keep hold of my hand, kay Pip?” Edward whispered, a gust of wind carefully picked its way through the first three locks protecting the jewels. The large rocks, encrusted in gold and glitter, stood behind three layers of glass and dozens of locks.

“You haven’t said that since we were little,” Pippa said in her normal voice which is a whisper for most. The final lock was stuck.

“It’s because you’re my baby sister!”

“I am four minutes older than you; I’m not your baby sister!” Pippa suspected that if you didn’t bicker with your sibling, you didn’t really love them.

“But you’re so little!” Edward felt exactly the same as his sister when it came to petty arguments with her. “You’re practically microscopic!”

“No I’m not! Maybe you’re just a giant, did you ever think of that?”

“It’s not my fault you’ve always been shorter than me.”

“Oh, and it’s my fault?” Years of training at a hat shop had made her fingers nimble and skilled; Pippa had no trouble getting through the final set of tumblers to open the case, despite the darkness of the room.

“Clearly.” A trickle of air pressed down to keep the pressure sensitive pads level as Edward began the delicate process of trying to move them.

“Can you two both stop? We actually do have a goal,” Tamara hissed.

“Which would be what, exactly?” a voice drawled behind them.

And then Edward and Pippa both said something that really did not fit their station in society at all.

Behind them was a guard. He pulled out a gun, the kind with magic bullets that pierce through shields and knock the perp out cold. Just as he was about to fire, there was a loud ‘thump!’ and he fell to the ground.

“Howdy, y’all,” Cece said, her heavy boot still in hand, “So how do we go get those jewels?”

A loud alarm began to sound and Tamara grimaced, “We don’t.”

Back on the dome, Edward collapsed, “What am I going to DO? If I don’t show up with those jewels, I’m doomed.”

“Relax; we still have your sister and her… friend. If worse come to worse, we shall simply plunge ahead. See how many of the Brothers we can take down before they well… kill you,” Tamara said, examining her nails as though they were the most important thing in the world. “We’ll go down fighting, er, scout’s promise.”

“Wait a second, the BROTHERS?” Cece shouted. “You mean the gang? The one that tends to make other magicians disappear?! The ones that control the drug syndicate?! The ones who--”

“Those are the ones, yes,” Edward smirked. “My dear Cece—“

“It’s Miss Williams,” Cece corrected him.

“My apologies, my dear Miss Williams. Never play poker.”

“Why do you need me, exactly?” Pippa finally asked.

“Because if I have you, my powers are ten-fold.”

“Oh, all right.”

“Now wait just a minute!” Cece brayed, “No one’s going anywhere until you explain how you managed to piss off the Brothers?”

“Well, um...” Edward carefully distracted himself by getting distracted, “Look!” he said brightly, “you can see the hat shop from here! Why don’t we head back? Grab something to eat?” Out of nowhere, he had a bottle whiskey and was downing it one go.

Tamara elbowed him in the ribs, really, how had she ended up the partner of someone so incredibly dumb?

“Yeah,” said Pippa, uncharacteristically forceful, “let’s head back to the shop and you can explain the facts.”

The facts were these (these were the facts), Edward Stetson had the kind of gambling problem that ate many people out of house and home, unless they, like Edward, had someone willing to support them and pay for each time luck not only frowned upon them, but slapped them in the face. If he was a man who reflected often on his life, he’d be constantly thankful that his twin sister was his exact opposite.

“Well,” Edward said, bringing in his chips, “looks I win again. Sorry boys, but it looks like I have to split--”

“One more round,” A hooded figure who’d been betting high and losing big all night, “please.”

Behind the table, Tamara was shaking her head ‘no.’ She didn’t want to clean up another one of this boy’s messes. She loved him with a burning passion that matched her close ties to fire, but he was a very trying boy. He may have been more powerful than her, but where he had raw ability, she had common sense and the ability to work hard.

Meanwhile, Edward was suddenly realizing that the man he’d just won two dragon eggs and a considerable handful of ancient scrolls of power was offering essentially to lose again; how could anyone resist that? “Yeah, all right,” was about to lay down a chip when the other man said:

“This time, how’s about we increase the stakes?”

Edward raised a thick eyebrow, “What did you have in mind?”

Beneath his hood, the man grinned. “Let’s play a game, shall we?”

Edward cannot exactly remember the game—or Game, really, it was worth the capital letter, or how it went, he just remembered being dragged into an alley when he apparently lost and having the “Rules” explained to him...

The Brother’s were somewhere between the Mafia and Catholic Church. They were obsessed with morality, but never seemed to apply it to themselves.

When he had first begun to study magic, he’d been warned about the Brothers. They had tried to bring him into their organization several times, but his tendency to not think before he acted had protected him from their dark rituals.

Like most mystery cults, much of what the Brothers did was kept in the shadows, though phrases like “virgin sacrifice” and “burning cities to the ground” were tossed around. No one who had sold an illegal drug or potion in the Greater City had been able to escape their influence, nor had a single pimp or whore, or any illegal gambling ring. They had a finger in every pie, so to say, and had poisoned plenty of pies in their day as well. They seemed to see themselves “punishing the wicked,” even if they were the ones who forced them into being wicked in the first place.

The brothers made people like Tamara seem like tame kittens, unable to harm a fly. If you should not piss off Tamara, you should make sure to never even look at a Brother the wrong way. If Tamara was terrifying, these were the sorts of things that made her go home crying to her mother.

They were not the kind of people you avoided paying a debt to.

The delivery point, had Edward succeeded in obtaining the crown jewels as he had been meant to, was meant to be in an alleyway. Edward had been a bit frustrated that they had decided he’d make the delivery in an alley way because it was dark, a bit dirty, and altogether far too clichéd to make for an interesting story if he were to survive it. Honestly, you’d think they’d be a bit more creative, being a shadowy organization and all, since they must have a lot of practice with this sort of back hand deal.

They hadn’t quite made it into the shop when a wall of darkness hit Edward, slamming him into the back wall of the store. He hit with such a force that he could hear the sound of breaking dish wear in the Stetsons’ family apartment that was perched precariously on top of the shop.

“Ah, Mr. Stetson,” a voice melted out of the darkness a nearby alley. “I expect everything went as planned? No Rules broken?”

“Well, Brother Milaca,” Edward began, “not exactly.”

“Well, that sounds like a no. Doesn’t it, Brother Christopher?”

“Oh yes,” a second voice, equally terrifying, like the monsters that hide under your bed when you are small and haven’t learned not to ignore them or pretend them away, joined him, “that is definitely a no.”

“I suppose so,” Edward said in the cool, cocky way he’d learned to address people when he knew--or thought he knew-- he was better than all of them, “but I was thinking of a different arrangement.”

“Oh no, that won’t do at all,” the first voice snarled.

And then the shadowy body of the second voice lunged out of the darkness.

Just in time for Tamara to lung into it.

She tore through the air with fire as the two Brothers tore through the air with darkness, and Edward just sort of tore the air.

Suddenly, the wind around Tamara was cut off, and so was the light. Fire, like people, needs air to survive. Air that was not in the bubble of darkness. She fell to the ground, surrounded by a dark cloud. Clearly, there were well more than just two Brothers. Two times ten would have been a much closer guess.

“Tam!” Edward shouted, a gust of wind knocking one shadow away from him, only to be replaced by three more. Desperate, like a mouse cornered in a snake pit, he shouted for his sister.

She dodged out of the shadows to grab his hand, a hope that blood magic was enough to save them both.

It wasn’t.

She felt nothing but cold, the kind that numbs your very soul, seep into her as a mass of black wrestled her to the ground. Pippa lost hold of her brother’s hand.

“This is not your fight, boy,” the shadows whispered to her, each word like a spider on her bare skin.

“It’s my brother, it’s my fight.”

The shadows seemed to understand this sort of bond--even if they HAD misgendered her—since they made no further argument, but they pressed down on her body until she felt like she could never be warm again. As though light were nothing more than a myth. Her breath came in a stuttering staccato and made her ribs splinter like ice.

“Pippa,” a quiet voice cradled her head. “Pippa, I’ve never really told you, it never seemed like a good time, but really it has to be said. Well, I suppose it doesn’t, but if you don’t make it, you need to know I just… well, not that you won’t make it, but…”

“Miss Williams,” she gasped through the cold, each word breaking on the surface of her tongue, “please.”

“I love you.”

There are some kisses that define history. That takes the course of it and shift it about as it sees fit.

This was not one of those kisses.

This was far more powerful.

Pippa opened her eyes against the darkness and saw Miss Williams holding her. A warmth flooded through her like a fever.

She stood and glanced at her brother where he tried desperately to. There are, of course, more powerful forms of magic. Blood magic will only take you so far; the kind of magic that comes from finding the people who love you because they want to, not because they have to, that’s the kind of magic that can really change worlds. Love, when it’s honest and true, is a very powerful weapon.

Suddenly, all the times in her life where she knew she wasn’t really, properly magic melted away, and with a flick of her wrists, the alley was flooded with life.

Several of the shadows flickered from view as a warm wind pulled light into the crevices behind the shop, but one of the dark masses lunged at Pippa. With a flick of her wrists, the man made of darkness was swept away. She moved a hand and the wind picked up to a gale force, not only knocking her own hat off but causing a flurry of hats within the shop, banging against the walls, the remaining three seemed to melt into the shadows, escaping as best they could from the wind and the racquet of nearly 100 hats.

Pippa seemed to collapse in on herself a bit, tired from serving as a conduit for the entirety of the wind. Cece picked up Pippa’s top hat from where it had been blown away during the redhead’s moments of pure magic, and handed it to the other girl. Their hands lingered.

When she came to, Tamara was on the concrete, her dark skin free from wizard marks. Edward was panting and exhausted, his lip was bleeding.

“You…” Tamara stared at her, “you aren’t supposed to be able to…”

“I thought I was the magical one,” Edward insisted.

“You don’t even have any training!” Tamara cried.”You haven’t any runes!”

“Why didn’t you say that you could—”

But Pippa and Cece paid them no mind; they were too busy staring at one another, drinking in every detail like it might be the last chance to.

“I love you too, Miss Williams.”

“I keep telling you, it’s Cece!”

“Cece,” Pippa said, her voice stronger and fuller than it ever had been, “Cece Williams, I love you.”

“And I love you Pippa Stetsons. Gosh,” she teased, “why did it take us so long to notice?”

Pippa smiled, real and wide and genuine. And they kissed, the wind picking the two of them up until they were holding each other a few feet off the ground. Neither of them really noticed.

Now, of course it’s not really all that important what happened next, but it’s worth saying that hats were involved.

Happily ever after, now that seems the right phrase. Yes.

They lived happily ever after.