Mal marched back in to the class and Aurora froze again. She'd been sitting quietly through the discussion, trying to focus on getting her panic under control. She didn't know why she was panicking, she could just feel it rising in her throat. After Saturday evening, she had needed some time to clear her head. She'd never seen anyone stand up to Stephan like that, and she would have cheered, if she hadn't known that his mood would travel to her later. She had found it best to stop the argument before it got any further, averting her eyes from Mal where she had stood in glorious and furious defiance of Stephan's will. Her eyes had darkened and she had looked strong. Aurora would rather have stayed with her. She'd felt safe there. She'd hoped to discuss her new friendship with her friends at Uni, now they had returned to classes. She was sitting next to Emily now, who had given her an odd look when Mal had left the room. She'd noticed the way Mal had stared, mouth shut, eyes surprised, at Aurora. And how Aurora had frozen even before their new teacher had reached the front of the room, when she had marched past. As soon as the woman had spoken Aurora had jumped to attention and Emily wanted answers.
Mal kept her mask in place as she looked around the room and quiet settled. She only briefly settled on Aurora, who was looking at her hands. So the girl was still scared of her after the other night, she thought.
"Well, let's hear what you've discussed." She sat on her desk, crossing her ankles, as she spoke, and looked at the register she had sent round at the beginning. "Miss Lawner, care to comment?" She looked up to find Emily with her hand raised slightly, acknowledging her name. "What Gothic elements can you find in Jane Eyre?"
"Well..." Emily glanced at Aurora who was still looking at her hands, in which she held her notebook. Maybe she wasn't feeling well? Emily lay one of her hands gently on Aurora's to comfort her. Aurora jumped lightly but threw a quick smile at her friend. "There's the madness; the woman locked in the tower. The lonely location of the house, and the house itself..." Emily listed.
Mal saw Emily's hand on Aurora's and felt uncomfortable. It wasn't... jealousy? It was clear that they were friends and Emily had already removed her hand, but Mal still felt conflicted. Aurora clearly needed comforting; this was obviously shocking to her. But Mal could not afford to show that she knew Aurora now. She didn't know if the girl would rather they pretended they didn't know each other at all. They would have to talk.
"Yes Miss Lawner. And Miss..." She glanced down at the paper, "Rose. How does the Gothic affect Jane? Particularly considering Bertha."
Aurora glanced up startled at the sound of her name and Mal cringed behind the indifferent mask on her face. She looked so confused.
"I..." Aurora glanced down at her notes again. "I think Bertha is supposed to be a representation of Jane's psychology. She's the other half almost. A bit like Jekyll and Hyde. The animal instinct that Jane has always repressed. It's like she's the part of Jane that was locked in the red room."
Aurora looked at Mal, who smiled just a little in spite of her mask.
"Very good Miss Rose." She glanced down at the list again to give herself a reason to look away from those eyes. "Mr Thacker, your thoughts on what Miss Rose said?"
"Erm.... sure. I mean," Mal glanced up to see one of the boys who had been talking at the beginning before she had slammed down her folder. "I agree?"
"Read the book?" She asked.
"Mrs Portnoy doesn't like Jane does she?"
"Mr Thacker?" She could see the students who had read the book wincing. "There is no Mrs Portnoy in Jane Eyre. Get out of my class and don't bother coming if you haven't read the book. Missing two will be reported, three means I will no longer consider you on this module." She glared at him as he stared at her. Then he snorted, grabbed his bag and got up.
"Whatever." He walked out.
"Anyone else not read the book?" Mal raised an eyebrow, daring someone to step forward. They remained silent. "Excellent, then we may continue."
When their hour was up Mal dismissed the students and marched in to her office. She didn't want to stand there awkwardly watching Aurora packing up. She knew that now she would have to put the feelings from the other night to the side; Aurora was her student.
She heard the conversations die slowly as everyone left the room and when silence fell she breathed a sigh of relief. If they had to talk it could be at home, later-
"Mal?" She froze. Aurora was in her office. She turned round and saw the young woman standing there, gripping her bag tightly.
"Miss Rose." Mal answered tightly. She saw Aurora's face drop and relented slightly. "Sorry... Aurora. I'm just a little... surprised."
"Me too." Aurora admitted. "I mean I knew you taught but I thought secondary or something."
"Your father didn't tell you I was a lecturer?" She asked.
"No." Aurora fiddled with her strap. "Is... is this going to make it awkward?"
"Make what awkward?" Mal replied, raising an eyebrow. She had thought the girl was scared of her since the other night, but maybe she was wrong.
"Us... being friends." Aurora glanced at Mal nervously. "Or whatever."
Or whatever. Those words would haunt Mal, she knew it.
"Well... don't expect special treatment. I take my work seriously and I'm not going to have people thinking I'm going soft." Mal bit her lip but couldn't tell the girl that they had to stop being friends entirely. She couldn't do that. "I won't give you any hints and I expect you to work just as hard-"
"I don't want special treatment Mal. I just want to know if you're still my friend."
"I wouldn't have thought you'd want that after my argument with your step father." She admitted. Aurora frowned.
"Don't be silly. It was... good. To see someone standing up to him. I only wish I was as strong as you."
"I'm sure you are."
Aurora smiled and Mal let her lips lift a little. She wasn't mad! She still wanted... whatever this was. But... friendship. That's what it was.
"No. But I have to say, you're even better at this Evil Queen thing than I thought." Aurora grinned and her eyes trailed over Mal's outfit so slowly that Mal felt heat in her cheeks. "I almost believed it."
"You should." Mal said, leaning on her desk.
"Oh I'm sure." Aurora giggled, taking a step forward to sit in the seat directly in front of Mal. "It's very powerful and intimidating."
"And yet you're laughing." Mal replied.
"Well you have to admit, despite that first half an hour of total shock and freaking out, the whole thing is pretty funny. I mean, I've seen you without the mask Mal. I know you're not the dragon, no matter how much black you wear, or how dark your red lipstick is." Aurora's eyes flicked to Mal's lips for a moment and Mal practically shivered in delight. Tease!
"It's Professor Moore Miss Rose." Mal smirked, folding her arms across her waist. "And I wouldn't go telling my students your theory about my being 'nice'. It will make it twice as hard on them when they realise you were wrong."
"Well Professor." Aurora stood and Mal quirked an eyebrow at the girl. "I look forward to your next class. Try not to burn any unsuspecting students alive today."
"Only if they deserve it Miss Rose."
Aurora paused by the door, glancing back with a frown.
"Will you still play with Phillip when we get the chance?"
"I wouldn't miss it." Mal replied softly, watching Aurora's grin grow and feeling warmth grow in her own chest.
"Thank you. Maybe I'll get to see the fairy lights after all." Aurora smiled.
"That's what you were worried about?" Mal's eyebrow rose again. It had to be a testament to Aurora how often she received that reaction, really. Mal was rarely surprised.
"Of course." Aurora teased. "I put in the hard work, the least you could do would be to let me see. And I might take you up on that drink Diaval offered me too."
"Oh no Miss Rose. Now that is entirely out of the question."
"You're also my student." Mal reminded her, unable to keep an affectionate smile from her face.
"But doesn't that make it all the more fun?" Aurora replied, raising her eyebrow and smirking just like Mal, before slipping out of the room, laughing.
Mal stayed at her desk shaking her head and smiling. That girl would be the death of her. She knew it.