October 04, 2003

Harvest Festival

For Anna-Maria


"I think blueberry season might be over," Liv said doubtfully, one hand at her brow against the golden glaze of the sun rising behind the top of the hill, holding her denim jacket tight at the neck with the other. Miranda tossed a glance over one shoulder and carried on up the slope, laughing. Her waterproof splayed open in the wind, and Liv wistfully coveted the green lambswool jersey that draped thickly around Miranda's throat and rode low over her hands.

"No, we just have to get off the sheep-path--"

"The whole hill's a sheep-path," Liv complained, and sure enough there were faint bleats skudding off in every direction, louder and more plaintive as the birds started up as well. Dawn fucking chorus, indeed. The heels of her sneakers started to sink into musty sedge as Miranda picked a trail apparently designed to make Liv feel just as soggy as humanly possible. She was going to be wrecked, tomor-- later today, and for what? She just didn't put windows in her schedule for this sort of thing. If it had been anyone's suggestion but Miranda...

"The whole hill," Miranda corrected, throwing another glance over her shoulder, a flash like sunshine, "is a blueberry patch."

The ground clutched at Liv's feet as she increased her pace, and then Liv was catching hold of Miranda's elbow, feeling the gorgeous squish of the jumper under a thin layer of raincoat. "Hey," she said. "Hold up."

Miranda turned her irrepressibly sparkly gaze on Liv again, and at this close range, Liv could see a faint pinkness clouding her eyes, testament to the long night's filming. "I have to get some fresh air," Miranda had said, earlier, dragging on her jumper with a happy sigh that made Liv's skin prickle enviously. "Come on, we'll get blueberries. It'll be great."

"Look," Liv said gently, "I'm actually freezing. And they were going to make hot chocolate back at the camp. And it's practically morning."

"Mere," a sheep carolled, at disturbingly close range, practically nibbling at the back of Liv's knees; Liv jumped, squeaking, and Miranda grinned fiercely, slipping her hand down to cup Liv's elbow in return, tugging her away from the brief nice standstill.

"I want to go home," Liv whined, as Miranda found a wider parting in the debilitating undergrowth and picked up the pace. Liv was dressed to go to bed; joggers and a t-shirt under her jacket, not even a bra. Water was beginning to infuse Liv's socks with coldness. Stupid gorgeous shoes. "I'm cold," she said piteously. "And my sneakers are leaking."

"Should've worn proper shoes," Miranda grinned, panting a little. She leaned into Liv as they rounded a bend, and for a moment she almost felt warm. "Silly you."

"I didn't know we were going hiking," Liv protested, her own voice higher and softer than normal, a deadly combination of breathlessness and indignation. "You said, get blueberries--"

"We're getting blueberries," Miranda scolded, and waved vaguely at the gently glowing hilltop horizon, tufted with brown and green and the odd pave of grey. "We just have to get off the sheep path."

"So you said."

"Well, it won't be long now," Miranda said, giving Liv a little jostle with one elbow. "If this isn't the top, I promise we'll go back." She paused for the briefest of moments. "Soon."

It seemed unlikely. "How are you not tired?" Liv demanded, then skidded on an invisible rock. "Fuck."

"You okay?"

"Mm," Liv sulked.

"We'll go back soon," Miranda said unconvincingly, and gave Liv's arm a tiny reassuring rub. Liv leant into it, and Miranda huffed a little laugh and rearranged herself to have one arm curling across Liv's back, the other guiding bracken to bend away from them.

"It's going to rain," Liv said, and spat out a few bits of bracken that had sprung at her just a moment too fast. "God, this is horrible."

"It's nice!"

"It's not," Liv said incisively, over the scuffling tramp-tramp-tramp of mashing something brittle underfoot. "My feet are wet and you keep lying."

"I don't!"

"Miranda!" Liv said, pulling her to a halt and glaring into her scruffy, impish expression. "This was supposed to be ten minutes' fresh air, not a quest or a mission or whatever. Ten minutes! We're going to have to walk back just as far, you know. Stop laughing at me."

"I'm not," Miranda whimpered, pushing her hair out her face with her jersey-draped fingers, laughing and laughing. Probably sleep-deprived. She looked irritatingly fresh out of make-up. Liv's cheeks stung in this kind of weather; Miranda just seemed to get that outdoorsy-girl rosiness. "I promise, we'll go back soon. We're nearly there."

Liv opened her mouth, then shut it again. "Where?"

"At the blueberry bit," Miranda said quickly, and Liv narrowed her eyes, and Miranda waved off her protests and tugged her forwards again. "We're just going to go up here, past the rocks-- the sheep can't get up there, and--"

"What about the birds?" Liv said, but she was walking again, letting Miranda steer her through endless hummocks of scruffy greenery, springy purple-fringed heather and tickling dead cottongrass and something that felt like gorse on her unprotected ankles. "Birds eat berries."

"It'll be fine," Miranda said vaguely, reaching the first crumbly slants of rock, and Liv started to protest and then stepped in something that went squish and slither.

"Menel ma," Liv swore, and Miranda opened her mouth indignantly.

"I know what that means."

"Good."

"Look," Miranda said, sounding contrite for the first time, turning to Liv with big earnest eyes, face looking a lot paler now they were in the shade of what Liv was distractedly hoping was the summit, because otherwise they had a lot more climbing to do. "Are you really having an awful time?"

Liv thought about it, scrunching up her nose, looking around at the messy inclines stretching down from their sheltered spot, the tiny civilised snake of the road curving off in the distance, the grazing blots of grubby white that intermittently lifted their woolly heads to give insistent, inconsolable sheep-cries. They were standing in a sort of bowl effort, like the top of the hill had been icecream-scooped out and scattered over its slopes.

She looked back at Miranda, who gave her a hopeful smile. "I know it's kinda cold, but it's not that bad, right?" Miranda coaxed. "Underneath it, you're having fun?"

Liv shook her head hard. Her vision seemed to stutter briefly, and she put a chilly hand to her forehead and frowned against it. Miranda made a concerned noise. "No, I'm fine," Liv felt obliged to say, and closed her eyes tightly, then opened them again. The world seemed brighter than before, which was hardly a good thing right now. Christ.

"We can go back," Miranda said dutifully, and Liv felt a stupid pang and heard herself say,

"No, 's alright, you said it's not that much further." What the fuck? "We can, you know. I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Yes," Liv growled, cursing herself for being so weak that she didn't want to disappoint this crazy gorgeous enthusiastic hiking actress by giving up early. "Let's go."

Miranda beamed and hugged her, almost a pounce, a quick solid press of their breasts and stomachs and thighs together that Liv tried not to dwell on. Miranda's warm cheek created a brief glow in Liv's cold one. Liv's nipples were rock-hard because of the weather, definitely. "Thank you," Miranda cheeped, against her ear, and released her again, and Liv almost reeled. She pulled her thin jacket tightly shut again and folded her arms over it, trying to preserve some of Miranda's heat. She tingled.

"It's fine," she grumbled, scowling with a tiny grin at the edge when Miranda beamed at her some more, and Miranda bounced on her toes a little, then nodded at the concave tumble of rocks behind her.

"Just up there," she said, "but we'd be better going round it, if you're feeling bushed." She gave Liv a final reassuring smile and then turned again, picking her way through some hard tufts of grass, finding some sort of zig-zag to follow, palm skimming the steep rises to her left. Liv steeled herself to take a squishing step, grimaced as her attention arrowed into her cold toes again, and followed.

Taking fistfuls of tough feathery grass to steady herself as she stepped up the flattened patches that Miranda had left like stepping stones, feeling the dirt squirming indelibly under her fingernails, Liv thought that she hadn't even seen a single blueberry plant. Not one. It was almost eerie, a moor like this.

She found herself imagining that over the brow of this hill, when they finally reached the top, there'd be a huge lustrous bush jewelled with fat dark berries, glinting purple in the dawn light.

One handful of grass pulled ominously lax, and she groped for another, and then the ground beneath her foot crumbled with a soft wet noise and she had to scramble to keep balance, and the idea of the grand blueberry bush dashed from her mind completely-- until she found herself on the top of the hill, and it was bare and scrubby and windy with no blueberries to be seen, and a keen disappointment went through her that even Miranda's hoot of happiness couldn't quite disjoint.

She managed a smile, and Miranda pounced on her again, vibrating like an excited puppy. "It's nice, isn't it gorgeous, the light's perfect," she babbled, grabbing Liv's wrists and pulling her towards the rocky jaw that formed the edge of the hill. "We're just in time."

The wind swirled painfully icy around Liv's ears. Liv's world petered out at the edges. "In time for what?" she said, almost swooning in an entirely unpleasant fashion, and Miranda stopped dead and frowned at her, then cupped Liv's face in both hands.

"You're freezing," she said, outraged, and Liv said weakly,

"I said I was, didn't I?" and Miranda said,

"Well, yeah, but I didn't think you meant it," and then, impatiently, "oh, come here," and pulled her around one rock and down onto another, below the line of the summit's gusting. It was close to an edge that Liv hadn't even registered; the view was something to be impressed by, probably, but Liv's eyes just wanted to close. The sudden cessation of wind made Liv's ears rush, like the faint hiss of the morning after a nightclub.

Apparently satisfied with the windbreak, Miranda hugged her, chafing her hands up and down Liv's back until Liv squirmed in protest. Blissful as it might normally be to get randomly enfolded in these particular arms, right now it actually felt a bit like being roughed up.

"No," Miranda asserted, redoubling her efforts, "we're going to get you warm. Here," she added, taking one hand off Liv and rustling in her raincoat pocket, "I was saving this, but your bloodsugar's probably non-existent right now."

Liv squinted at the two-tone chunk of something in Miranda's pink fingers, then gave a mental shrug and opened her mouth obediently. And oh. It was so crunchy and sweet and thrillingly menthol that she barely noticed the temptation to lick Miranda's fingers.

"Kendal Mint cake," Miranda said, sagely.

Liv was in a sort of pepperminty chocolaty heaven.

"Sort of, wilderness rations for girls," Miranda added, briskly sucking her own fingers before drawing Liv close again, moving her hands a little gentler on Liv's back.

Liv pressed her face against Miranda's shoulder, tucking her nose into the delicious warmth of the jersey's oversized cowl neck. "Mmh."

Miranda's hand slid up to the back of her neck, tucking under the stiff denim and folding against the base of Liv's skull. "Better?"

"Soon," Liv guessed, and immediately started to feel stupid.

Miranda didn't seem to notice that it was kinda stupid to be standing on a rocky ledge on some foreign moors, holding a shivering girl, at probably-not-quite-5am-- but then, Miranda was weird and crazy, as established by the very occurrence of aforementioned situation.

"I should've brought a proper sweater," Liv said diffidently. Her nose was beginning to get warm, and as she breathed, it was like faint subtleties were thawing into a kaleidoscope of scent. Miranda smelt sleek and unperfumed and interesting, marjoram and walnut and late heather.

"You should've brought a-- what are you wearing, anyway?" Miranda muttered, sliding her hands down to Liv's waist, fingering the hem of the skinny t-shirt she was wearing underneath. Liv shivered. "Okay," Miranda said warmly, "that's just tragic. Come on. Take it off."

Liv made a startled, questioning noise.

"The jacket," Miranda elaborated, working her hands between them, unknitting the buttons with a speed that felt like passion, so much so that Liv inhaled sharply when Miranda's fingers pushed the edges apart and accidentally brushed her stomach. "It's denim, you idiot. Worst insulator ever."

"It's fine when I'm not on a stupid moor," Liv retorted, but she was shrugging it off because Miranda's hands were somehow impossible to deny anything, and then Miranda was turning her around and rustling and Liv caught sight of a vast creeping light before the world suddenly plunged plush and chunky-knit and dark green. "Whoa," Liv yelled, and Miranda chuckled, and then the air felt especially cold on Liv's cheeks when her head popped out the top, and she heard herself giggle. She was in Miranda's sweater! With Miranda! Whoa.

Miranda wrapped her arms round Liv's stomach and rested her chin on Liv's shoulder; Liv just tried not to get her own arms, trapped inside and warming swiftly, anywhere awkward. She could feel the contours of Miranda's body behind her, indecent and soft and hot, the light indentations of underwear catching at Liv's shoulderblades' attention.

Whoa.

"You should've brought a proper sweater," Miranda said, her voice a low authoritative mumble, and Liv absolutely completely disagreed. She shifted, and Miranda held her tighter, and Liv's breath caught.

"Is there, um," Liv said quickly, "is there any more of that mint stuff?"

She thought she heard Miranda quietly clear her throat. "Yeah, just a second." Miranda kept one arm around her, making more rustling noises with the other, then said, "here-- oh."

"No arms," Liv agreed. She discovered she was grinning giddily, and suspected that this was a textbook example of a sugar rush.

"Looks like it's just for me, then," Miranda said brightly, lifting a piece of brown-white candy to her own mouth and biting into it. Liv gave an indignant moan. Miranda crunched happily; Liv turned towards the noise and just managed to see Miranda's smirking profile and hamster cheeks before Miranda gave a muffled giggle and twisted her head away.

"Not fair!"

"Mhun-mhun," Miranda squeaked, clutching Liv's hands through the jumper to stop her from turning round, and Liv wriggled with outrage and fought as sexily as she could, until Miranda was gripping Liv's wrists through handfuls of thick wool and panting unevenly. Her breasts were crammed against Liv's shoulderblades, rising in sharp taut breaths, definitely and fundamentally not cold.

"I think," Liv accused wildly, when they paused in an unmarked truce, breathing pretty shallowly herself, "you planned this, planned to make me cold and then miserable and then trap me in your clothes, just so you could eat all the Mint Cake."

"Not true."

Liv moved a little, testing, and Miranda pushed closer, her hands spreading over Liv's wrists and holding them secure. "You brought me up here on false pretences so you could laud your provisions over me."

"Completely wrong!"

"You definitely had an ulterior motive," Liv decided slowly, letting her head fall back on Miranda's shoulder, and it was like the world stuttered and swayed when Miranda's smooth mouth brushed undeniably over her cheek.

"Well," Miranda said, in a different voice entirely, "you've got me there."

"I knew it," Liv said, holding her breath and turning her head slightly, so that her own mouth was innocently more available. "I always suspected. You secretly hated my shoes and wanted to see them completely spoilt--"

"That's it exactly," Miranda whispered, and then a sheep bleated nearby and Liv realised how still they were holding, and her pulse thudded loudly as she turned her head a daring fraction further and then, after a hideous moment of doubt, felt the deliberate sweet press of Miranda's lips against her own.

At fucking last. And Miranda maybe normally tasted a little of heather honey, Liv thought, kissing her as hard as she could without overbalancing, but the overwhelming flavour of her mouth right now was chocolate-mint. Hardly a problem.

"I just," Miranda murmured against her mouth, hands drifting down and then pushing under Liv's t-shirt, stroking up the lines her stomach decisively firm, "have this thing, you know." She bit Liv's lower lip, then sucked it, then kissed her again. "About blue shoes. Hate 'em."

"Indeed," Liv managed, head swimming with the combined dizziness of lust and exhaustion and craning her neck at this position and, of course, sugar. "So this is your, um, quest - ruin them all, pair by pair."

"Absolutely," Miranda said, sliding her hands over Liv's breasts, pressing her knee between Liv's thighs from behind until Liv found her back arching feverishly of its own accord. "I'm going after Orlando next. At least yours aren't suede."

"Suede would be a. I mean. truly criminal," Liv gasped, and Miranda lifted her knee cruelly, and Liv broke off the kiss to exhale hard. She'd never noticed that the fleecy inside of jogging bottoms could feel as raspingly soft as velvet, before. "Fuck."

"Mm," Miranda agreed warmly, rocking her thigh just enough that Liv couldn't catch her breath at all, couldn't school her body to do anything but pant and grind, "You read my mind."

"Oh, really," Liv said inanely, catching at one of Miranda's hands and dragging it back down her stomach again, trembling hard when Miranda overtook her and clicked the button on her pants clean free and tucked her fingertips under the ribbon beneath, "so how will you um, how will you ruin his?"

The heel of Miranda's hand pushed down to the base of Liv's stomach, right down, tucked hot against the curve of bone so that Liv knew her fingertips must be hovering maddeningly close to where she wanted them, hovering, just hovering-- "Ruin Orlando's shoes?" Miranda said.

"Yeah..." Come on, Liv begged, rocking against Miranda's thigh, feeling the sherbet pleasure of it drift and curl through her belly, internal muscles winding into taut needful ridges of heat.

Miranda passed her fingertip so swift and close to where Liv was willing it that Liv almost screeched. Her clit was a high tender knot of nerves, calling, aching to be touched, and Miranda's hand was right there, easily in reach, solid pressure of her palm letting Liv know exactly how confident Miranda was, exactly how genuinely this feathering was intended to tease.

"Miranda--"

"Sorry, sorry," Miranda murmured, thumbing Liv's nipple with her other hand, running her nails under Liv's damp breast and then over her ribs and then up sharply, a full-on grope, making history of any last millimetres between them. "Yes, so, I was thinking," Miranda said tightly, kissing the side of Liv's neck, sliding her teeth against Liv's jaw and making her moan, "paintballing."

"It-- what?"

"For Orlando," Miranda said, adding, "he'll do it if Dom makes the suggestion, I know he will," and Liv felt like she was plummeting, like gravity had dumped her in a void of sweaty tingling, nothing but this insane woman at her back and between her legs and igniting every nerve in body and brain.

"Uh huh," she panted, throwing her head back on Miranda's shoulder, gasping as Miranda nudged her leg harder between Liv's thighs. She'd never thought she could come from just grinding on someone's thigh-- hell, she couldn't come from just grinding on someone's thigh, she needed Miranda's finger, needed it playing her like a cello or pushing inside her or something, anything, please--

"And then," Miranda said, voice making Liv's ear blush with sensation, "I'm pretty sure I saw Karl with some court heels to go with that godawful navy suit of his, so--"

"Will you stop! talking! about shoes!" Liv shouted, grabbing Miranda's thigh with both hands and forcing the angle into something that could probably make her scream even without the blasted clitoral stimulation, and Miranda's giggle was vastly incongruous in her ear.

"You always get this worked up?"

She toyed absently with Liv's nipple as she said it, and Liv almost jackknifed, almost wrenched the jersey into an unrecognisable explosion of wool; she didn't, but it was a close thing, tragedy averted only because Liv was incredibly focused on Miranda's hand and Miranda's hand was sliding lower and suddenly Miranda's palm was there, there, there, the damp ridges of Miranda's fingers slipping sinfully firm about her clit and squeezing.

"Oh wow, okay, honey, Liv," Miranda whispered, apparently oblivious to the sizzling tremors entirely ruling Liv's body right now, "this, okay, this is what I wanted you to see. Open your eyes."

Liv wasn't sure that was possible, and made a noise that in her opinion aptly conveyed that doubt.

"Really," Miranda suggested, and licked the side of Liv's jaw, spreading her palm across Liv's nipple and twisting, and Liv screwed her eyes tighter than ever on a flurry of sensation that seemed to pull every part of her into a trembling frenzy.

"Holy fuck," she growled, arching savagely against Miranda's body, hot rushes cramping through her again and again, "christ, ah," and Miranda pulsed her fingers and bit Liv's ear, and then laughed as Liv dissolved against her in a panting, sweating, swearing tangle.

Miranda's hand slipped up to Liv's hipbone, straightening them up. Liv shook unsteadily. Miranda said, "Open your eyes?"

"Aaah," Liv muttered, suddenly incredibly uncomfortable, blisteringly overheated and sticky and gross. "Hot, fuck, ow."

"And they say you're not a lady," Miranda crooned, pulling the jumper off, and Liv gasped with the blissful gorgeous flow of cool air against her skin and her eyes came into focus for the first time.

"Oh," she said faintly, a moment later. "So that's what you wanted me to see."

The air seemed to hum with pink light. The windbreak Miranda had found was a chipped step into nothingness, a nothing of a steep bank soaring miles below into a flooded marsh, utterly unremarkable, Liv guessed, except for right about now.

The marsh was dazzlingly, stunningly bright, gilded with the morning sunlight that crept further across its rusty stretches even as Liv watched. The sight of it was a hot blazing pleasure, preternaturally pretty, molten gold spilt across drab September green. It looked like the sort of thing legend would have foolish dwarves sacrifice everything to own and then tragi-comically discover that its enrichment withered with the fading dawn.

"Pretty," Miranda said, at her shoulder.

Liv nodded.

"You're swaying," Miranda added, a grin in her voice.

Liv noticed that she was, indeed, swaying.

"Luckily," Miranda said brightly, "the ground happens to be quite close. Just over here."

Liv gave a startled laugh, turning, imagining for the first time what she must look like, ravished elf in thin cotton and joggers and a confusion of tiredness and temporary satiation.

Miranda looked-- fucking amazing, windswept and dark-mouthed, beauty without a single scar of Hollywood. And quite pleased. Wearing cute, lightweight green hiking pants and a dark shiny balcony bra.

Liv gave Miranda's breasts a huge smile, then her face, then her breasts again because, you know, she'd been waiting a long time, and Miranda'd always looked so deliciously, distractingly female in gowns and armour alike.

Miranda returned the smile, then turned it wicked, drawing close and kissing Livs mouth and easing one hand under Livs waistband again. Livs breath caught at the easy intimacy of it; Miranda slid her fingers up, prying thoughtfully, almost making Liv blush at just how incredibly slippery it felt. "Wow," Miranda said happily, lifting her hand again and admiring it in the light. "Wet."

"Yeah, well," Liv protested, and Miranda chuckled, licking her fingers, the chuckle turning into a quiet,

"mm," followed by a slow kiss to Liv's cheek. "I like you."

Liv blinked. "Um, good," she said, and cleared her throat, and then laughed, "god, I like you too, can't you tell?" and Miranda made the noise of a pleased cat chirping as it adjusts its position in the sun, and drew her down where to one rock provided a backrest to another's seat. She spread the waterproof under them and wadded her jersey up into a pillow; Liv lowered herself slowly, accepting Miranda's hands' help with a low groan, nestling between Miranda's legs.

Christ, and now she had permission to touch her, was allowed to be completely open about the enjoyment she got from thinking about unhooking the bar and pulling down the pants and tasting her, putting her mouth there and licking-- She hummed contentedly, and Miranda chuckled.

"What?"

"Nothing. Well. It's surreal," Liv said, turning her face to rub the silky curve of one breast with her cheek, appreciating the arch of Miranda's body beneath her. God, how she wanted this woman. Her entire brain felt rosy inside.

"Mm," Miranda said, then cleared her throat. "Um! No. Resting now. Watching pretty sunrise." She tugged until Liv slid bonelessly up her body, curving her arms about her until Liv relaxed back against her, and then her giggle sweetened the side of Liv's neck.

"What?"

"Just, will I have to carry you back?"

"Probably," Liv said, using the toe of one foot to shoehorn off the heel of the other. "Wow, that's better."

"Wet socks are infinitely preferable to wet shoes," Miranda agreed, tucking her hands placidly under Liv's tshirt. Then she added, "sorry."

"I think you'll find it was worth it," Liv said. "And, um. I can sort of afford to buy more anyway."

Good. Mint cake?

Mm!

Miranda scuffled about in the raincoat pocket by Livs hip, and Liv saw the sunlight trundle over the brow of their rock, heading slowly but steadily in their direction. The aggressive pre-dawn chill already felt like another life. Miranda held another piece of candy against Livs lips, darting it away whenever Liv tried to bite it, toying until Liv grabbed her wrist, then offering her fingers to suck.

"Then, um," Miranda said, while Liv chewed. So.

Liv smiled mintily. "So?"

"I've got a confession," Miranda said softly, against Liv's temple.

Liv frowned and looked up. "What?"

"It's... not blueberry season."

There was a pause.

Then Miranda said, "But there'll be blackberries out soon, I'm pretty sure. In thickets, and stuff. Definitely."

Liv stared at the sunrise that was already beginning to tarnish into a normal day, juxtaposed dramatically with her ruined sneakers. "Right," she said. "Thickets. And... you're going to make me find a bramble thicket with you," she guessed.

"If that's alright," Miranda said vaguely. "You know. If you've nothing better to do."

Liv thought she'd find a window in her schedule somewhere.

Posted by Calico at 02:34 AM

(radar) Limbo

For Sciolist; part of the Fabilaux collection.


"Which brings me to declare at least eight counts of Unforgivables in this jurisdiction," the lawyer said, "resulting in fifty-four permanent deaths, sixteen amputations, the ruin of twenty-eight acres of arable land, nine uprooted ghosts, a plague of bovines, and two counts of Utter Fleecation. I put it to you," she declared, "that this woman be taken from this place and incarcerated for no less than forty-seven mil--"

"The Fleecation was disputed," Servalan's lawyer broke in idly, and Minerva glared at him from her position in the witness stand. He gave the judge a wry smile. "It cannot be proved that the process wouldn't have occurred naturally, given time."

"*Regardless*," the first lawyer growled, "I put it to you that she must be taken from this place and--"

"Also, there are no certificates left in tact proving the previous arability of the land, after the fireball," Servalan's lawyer interrupted, and the judge frowned.

"Is that a formal objection?"

"Not yet," he smiled. Minerva folded her arms and tried not wish impotence on him. He was doing his job. He was not the deserving recipient of the wrath she bore.

"I would thank you to keep your peace, then," the judge said gruffly, "until you have something relevant to say."

"I shall--"

"I put it to you," the first lawyer ground out, "that this woman be taken from this place and incarcera--"

"Objection," Servalan said archly, and the court drew in a collective breath, then hissed it out softly, a tide of barely-legal disapproval. Even the gargoyles were glaring at her. Minerva forced herself to look impassively in Servalan's direction, and shocked herself with the pure relief she felt at discovering that now those fierce eyes and bruise-dark lips didn't call any warmth into her bar the heat of loathing. The voice helped, of course. She still wasn't used to hearing that drawl in an English accent.

The judge looked at Servalan curiously. "Yes?"

"These proceedings tire me," Servalan said, with a dismissive wave of one blackly bejeweled hand. "Enough."

She rose to her feet, and six constable-mages clattered to their feet, putting her at wandpoint from every direction. Minerva couldn't blame them for jumping. Earlier, when the doors had thundered open in a blaze of snow and Servalan had swept in wearing a thick phoenix-feather cloak, she had seemed positively and poisonously inhuman. She reeked of sour magic - perhaps three dozen restrictive wards, each closing its own terms rankly about her limbs - to the point that it would be impossible for any spell to whisk her away from the proceedings, but nevertheless, the air about her couldn't be trusted.

A Trick Up The Sleeve was not a light accusation to make, but if ever a population had cause...

"This will formally be regarded as an Outburst unless you explain yourself at once," the judge was saying darkly, and Servalan regarded him blankly for five seconds before dipping her spiked lashes and smiling like a coy witchlette.

"Maloney," she murmured, voice pitched to wrap the entire court in suffocating syrup. Her lawyer looked at her confidently. "Put an end to this farce, there's a sweetheart."

The back of Minerva's neck prickled, and she crossed her third fingertip over her forth in a silent exorcism charm. The prickling did not go away. The constable-mages looked deeply uncomfortable, though not a one of them lowered their wand. Somewhere near the back of the room, a barely audible grumbling ceased all at once.

Maloney lifted his finger, and an exquisite miniature hawk plummeted from the bird rail like a dropped amethyst. It perched proudly, lifting its shining beak, and Minerva gritted her teeth. Maloney had done work experience at Hogwarts when he was a junior, and she remembered his pet stoat with its grubby claws and tendency to eat parchment.

"Call witness 17," Maloney said clearly, and the hawk shot out of the room like a comet-curse over the jury's startled heads. There wasn't supposed to be a seventeenth witness. Servalan wasn't supposed to be treating the judge like an inferior. There was a distinct increasing intensity to the chill that had possessed Minerva since she'd walked in through the blue 4pm twilight and heard that the prosecution's mind was *not on the job* because she'd been trying and failing to contact her brother for the last three days.

The rest of the witnesses seemed even less poised. The young man Servalan had had indicted for elf farming was crying again, but quietly this time. There was a definite trembling coming from the trio of witches who'd been practicing chameleonic charms near Squid Pier eight months ago - on the precise day, in fact, that Servalan docked dressed as a milkman for the rendezvous with Riddleson that resulted in two of the Fleecation charges and one uprooted ghost. Next to Minerva, Lady Empson of Kent, Servalan's most notorious lover of the last two years, was breathing with a calmness that belied the eight grams of sphinx bile that were gradually eating away her insides. She had approximately eight weeks left, the mediwitch had murmured, if Minerva became her blood-sub. Without Minerva's contribution, six days.

It was widely whispered, Minerva knew, that Lady Empson of Kent's life was being forcibly sustained by a bevy of High Councillors for the duration of the trial. Minerva was perfectly happy to allow that assumption to continue. She was equally happy for the assumption to circulate that she, Mistress McGonagall, was testifying against the accused on grounds of having discovered Certain Papers when Servalan - at this point Bearing False Identity of Irish Descent - was finalizing her plans to bring the well-liked Baron Restal of Yorkshire-and-Humberside to his knees.

She was more than happy for it never to emerge that Papers had been the least of her worries. She'd like her name to be kept neutral in the history books right back to the beginning, where it ought to be stated that she'd taken an instant dislike to the woman.

She had. She'd quelled it on the proviso that it may well be her baser instincts calling the shots. Realising this, she'd tried to make amends for her prejudice. She'd made far, far too many amends.

Servalan had come amongst them from Ireland, fresh-faced and raven-haired and debilitatingly pretty, and cursed. Definitely cursed. Had fallen foul of an unpleasant character due to her flawless lineage, and been placed in a harsh spellbind - so much that she couldn't perform a single charm, nor spend an iota of magic energy, under any circumstances.

"It's as if I'm *Muggle*," Servalan had shuddered, after the first sour eight hours of tests; Minerva had exchanged looks with Albus, because that was the shocking truth. It was as if she'd never had magic to begin with. They must be up against a terrifying foe, one that could strip a powerful witch down so blithely--

--and so they had fought, researched, compounded their efforts into finding the key to the curse that suggested such a very real threat, and if Servalan helped massage Minerva's shoulders and calves after a long day, well, that was just the sort of gracious generous activity the sweet thing often carried out. If she learnt which refreshments would enthuse, and brought them frequently to the council meetings, it was because she used to care for seven, back at home, and honestly, sixteen such polite high councillors was nothing. If she came late one night to Minerva's room and confessed the raw violation of having her magic clawed from her, the humiliation of being forced to break her own wand, the fear that she would never again be able to do something as simple as the fireweaving charms she used to delight in; if she wept against Minerva's shoulder until the fabric was damp and hot against Minerva's skin, then that was only to be expected of a trauma victim.

"*The problem with the High Council*," Servalan had suggested, another time, in the gentle Irish brogue, "*is their unbelievable carelessness, oversight and superstition*," and Minerva had dismissed her instinctive wariness as paranoia, for here clearly was a lass just as homegrown and well-meaning as could be. The High Council's arrogant reputation was carefully cultivated to lull potential enemies into careless confidence. Their facade was their first line of defence, and since Voldemort's grand diffusion there was rarely need for a second. Servalan didn't understand that because she was a well-meaning, unsophisticated flower who couldn't even pronounce *double-entendre*, let alone comprehend the conceptual politics behind one. It was adorable, especially the widening of her eyes as Minerva patted her hand and explained the logic of always leaving one hatch in the Owlery unwarded to prevent unrecognised fliers - perhaps from foreign wizards, or newfounds - becoming a return-to-sender, and other such irrefutable security measures.

Thinking dispassionately of it now, Minerva felt profoundly sick at the ease with which Servalan had slipped under their radar, under her radar, into her bed.

The hawk shot back into the room, conferred briefly with Maloney, then disappeared without even the slightest bid for a treat. Minerva thought again of the stoat, its untrained begging.

"I'm afraid," Maloney said clearly, addressing Servalan and Servalan alone, "it seems the seventeenth witness hasn't arrived."

Servalan arched a brow. "Has he not sent word?"

"Not yet."

Servalan let out a little laugh. "Men! Never trust them. Isn't that annoying. Oh well, I suppose this charade must continue a little longer. But - enough for today, I think. I do need a short beauty nap these days, keeps the skin nice and youthful." Her voice was shining with crystal rivulets of laughter, girlish and unthreatening. "Would you care to do the honours with the clause about the Muggle Priority Ruling by authority of the Dumble-Blaine-Churchill triangulate, Maloney, or shall I?"

Muggle Priority Ruling. Indeed. By the Wrathful *Graces*-- She knew her stuff, as ever, Minerva thought bitterly, and composed herself for the inevitable stagnation of the trial, heart pounding hard. Servalan's gaze found her in the witness stand and stripped her wordlessly, sliding along her throat, under her robes, confident and inexorable as the grave. Minerva plumbed the depths of the stoicism she required to put up with Severus' musty robes left around the staffroom, and managed not to blink.

"Allow me, madam," Maloney murmured, with an ingratiating salute, then turned briskly to the judge. "Invoking clause 624, by concordance with the 1938 Dumble-Blaine-Churchill subclause, that being, magic crimes must be tried after muggle crimes due to the limited muggle life-expectancy--"

The door thundered open at the back of the hall, and several shrieks created a panic of bats whistling low and scratchy through the aisles. "Wait," a male voice growled, a noise as ugly as Moody with a hangover and twice as energetic. "Nobody move."

Servalan's head had turned interestedly at the commotion, and Minerva felt sick as she saw recognition light up Servalan's eyes. This was undoubtedly the missing witness, arrived after all. Fuck.

"Travis," Servalan cooed, with a bright, gorgeous smile. "How nice of you to drop in."

Minerva refused to crane round and look. She'd see him soon enough. The footsteps were those of a warrior, measured and menacing, ringing like the beat would of a death eater's heart. "Ma'am," the voice said. "Small uprising to the east. Got Stannis' stamp all over it, so I thought it prudent to investigate." The voice welled with rich, cruel humour. "Turns out it was nothing of the sort."

"But I'm sure you did your very best quelling anyway," Servalan smiled, and the object of her affection marched into view, and Minerva understood why his entrance had brought down the bats. His very face had been spliced into by some black material, making a patchwork of flesh and darkness that was echoed by the rest of his lean, leather-ridden body. Servalan was smiling upon him as if he were her favourite puppy, home from a playful romp in the local park. "And the Time Straddler?" she was asking, and Travis nodded curtly.

"Stannis is definitely after it, and they're getting close. The window falls tonight if we want to trap her in this calendar; otherwise we'll have to settle for the late 14th."

"Oh goody," Servalan exclaimed, and clasped her hands together. "It will be lovely to travel at mark-sixteen again, having now experienced London traffic firsthand. Now I trust you've brought the." She paused for the most minute of moments. "The piece of tribal jewellery which under the Dumble-Blaine-Churchill ruling in the case of Agatha Thumbry, 1962, against the Crown, nobody can deny me?"

"Ma'am."

"Oh, good," Servalan said lightly, but to Minerva it seemed that a tension she had not noticed before left Servalan's face; she looked fresher and more frivolous than ever. She looked like she did as she awoke in the mornings, stretching her slender wrists high above her head and arching like a feline. Peaceful, sated. Minerva swallowed.

For the first time, Travis looked to the judge. "Permission to approach the defendant," he said, hollow-voiced in disdain and boredom. Minerva heard Lady Empson of Kent start to breathe faster, and felt an acrid panic pounding through the blood-debt. She gritted her teeth, willing herself not to succumb to the phantom sensations that rushed to her from Empson like contamination. She had enough dread to tamp down of her own, right now.

"Permission denied," the judge said, and Travis lifted his chin like a stone soldier.

"Referring to the case of Mrs Thumbry, 1962," he said clearly, "it is requested that the court observe the precedent set there, when a witch was granted permission to wear a shielding amulet to protect her from Muggle pursuers until the innocent verdict was passed and global protection awarded. It is then requested that the court honour the subclause passed by the triumvirate of Dumbledore, Blaine and Churchill upon that date."

He was entirely motionless. Servalan gave him a doting smile. Malloney said, clearly, "Validatum?" and the judge shook his head irritably.

"I am familiar with the entire breadth of the law, more than mere loopholes. Approach the box."

Travis inclined his head to regard Servalan again. She nodded. This he *did* take as an instruction, and he moved forwards; the unpleasant prickling on Minerva's skin increased incrementally with his measured steps. He reached into some breach of his armour and withdrew a gleaming black bracelet, and a sense of inverted wedding descended when she presented her pale wrist and he slid the bracelet obediently over her hand.

"Very good," she said, admiring it elegantly, then flicked her fingers, and Travis inclined his head once and then strode towards the exit. The rushing chaos of snow and storm blurted in as the doors opened, bringing an even colder chill under Minerva's collar.

"Inconsiderate wyrd creature," Minerva heard somebody mutter, but she had no desire to turn around. She couldn't take her eyes off Servalan. Light glided over the bracelet; not tribal, no, but, even faced with Servalan's obvious sense of triumph, Minerva couldn't comprehend any use for a muggle artefact in a wizard court. Not this day and age. Any spell would be forestalled by the wand-binds that twined about Servalan's limbs. Any weapon would dissolve on being used in a place of justice. Any other--

"So efficient," Servalan murmured, apparently noticing for the first time that Travis was gone. "He's my number-one man. Ah, and now, this deliciously nervous gathering - I wish I could stay to see their faces," she sighed, "but it's all work and no play this week, more's the pity." She looked directly at Minerva, and gave a lioness smile. "*Ta-ta*," she said, and passed her thumb over the black bracelet, and disappeared.

The room erupted into cries and wand-blast and blaring alarms, and Lady Empson wilted to the floor. "Visibility magic!" shouted somebody; "Block her off! Close the door!" but Minerva, staring at the treacley nigh-translucent ribbons of spell-bind drifting to the floor where Servalan's diamond-encrusted feet had been, didn't move. None of the wards had gone off. It wasn't magic, not in any form they could recognise, and she knew they'd discover that soon. It was just carelessness, oversight, and a riot of superstition.

/end

Posted by Calico at 02:22 AM