The hottest day of the year found an early end in rain. Vapour rose from the streets and pavements, blurring the fat drops, and the few people who had enjoyed the sun had fled the deluge.
Veronica, however, walked slowly. She kept her head down, not to protect her face, but because she loved the feeling of raindrops landing on her back and shoulders.
With the spray rising from the ground tickling her ankles, heavy drops drumming beats on her knees and head, and water mingling with sweat running down her back and her temples, she felt alive head to toe.
She gave an older couple huddling under a big, dark umbrella a bright grin, which did nothing to stop them goggling.
As if there was a reason to. She had put on her bathing suit before leaving the house, after all, even though she would have preferred not to.
The inn at Crossed Roads wasn't home, but when Sylvie returned to it after a few days' jaunt to explore, it felt closer to one than most places she had been to.
Nico seemed to be at home everywhere and with everyone. Over the weeks preceding their expedition she had snuck under the walls Sylvie had built around herself by simply acting like them becoming friends was natural. The casual touches—a hand to the elbow to get attention, a pat on the shoulder—had shown Sylvie how she had distanced herself from people, simply because these things had become so unusual to her.
The few days of trekking through wilderness meanwhile had shown Sylvie that she wasn't used any more to carrying her whole gear on her back. She would take care of that as soon as she put the pack down in her room.
Hellos and welcomes slowed that down a bit, but thanks to Nico promising a full report later they made it through.
"Not a very informative trip, but thanks for coming," Sylvie said on the doorstep.
"At least it was entertaining. Would you like a shoulder-rub?"
Startled by the sudden change of topic without a change of tone, Sylvie stopped rubbing the back of her neck and couldn't think of the proper answer.
"You would not be imposing. If you'd like to be talked into it, just nod." Nico kept prattling on, grinning, right over Sylvie’s stifled laughter, “And I’m good at it, or so I’m told, and doing something you’re good at tends to be fun, and doing something that makes a friend feel good tends to do the same—”
“All right, I’m convinced.”
They shed packs, shoes, and jackets and ended up sitting on the bed, near the edge. Sylvie folded her hands loosely in her lap and tried to relax. She could feel Nico’s knee lightly touching her thigh, warmth seeping through the cloth. Warmer still were Nico’s hands, gently kneading the tension out from between Sylvie’s shoulders.
But in turn her chest seized up. Sylvie took deep, even breaths, trying to smooth away that attack of nerves. She didn’t want to cry, even less than usual when she couldn’t even explain why.
“Hey,” Nico said gently, concern shimmering through her tone, “this exercise is meant to relax you. Am I doing something wrong?” Her hands rested lightly on Sylvie’s shoulders.
“No. I don’t know.” After an unsteady breath, Sylvie noticed that she was leaning into Nico’s touch, and said the first thing that came to mind. “Could you just hold me for a bit?”
“Sure. Let me just…” Without loosing touch of Sylvie, Nico scooted back against the wall and stuffed the cushion in the small of her back.
Sylvie followed her slight pull and leaned against the smaller woman’s chest.
“Comfy?” Nico put an arm around Sylvie’s back.
Sylvie shifted a little, nestling her face against Nico’s neck. “Mhm. You?”
“Me, too.” She stroked Sylvie’s back lightly.
“You have nothing to be sorry about.” Nico almost whispered. “You can have as much of my time as you want.”
Sylvie relaxed. She listened to Nico’s heartbeat, and moved with her breath. Soon she was breathing in when Nico breathed out. The rhythm of the strokes on her back fit in there somewhere. When she cried, it was not painful, just her eyes flowing over with warm tears. Breath, heartbeat, thoughts, everything slowed.
Feeling warm and protected and accepted, Sylvie drifted into sleep.
Elroy recognised Kaya by the feel of her presence before he could see her, naturally. As they exchanged greetings and she slipped into the seat across of him, he noted the changes she had made: red-haired, pale and freckled rather than black haired and olive-skinned, and she was a good head shorter than she used to be. The butterfly tattoo near the corner of her left eye was also gone. She apparently liked changing vocations every couple of decades.
"What are you up to now?"
She showed him an anchor tattooed on the inside of her wrist and grinned.
"Yes. I figured as a ship-spirit, I'd get around more than being assigned an area for psychopomping, or a charge as a muse or guardian. Maybe it'll hold my interest longer.” Her eyes flicked towards the faint shimmer of his wings. "How's your current charge?"
She chuckled. "Or you wouldn't be here?"
"Yes; he's not doing well at the moment, so I better pay attention." He caught himself before saying more than he should and dragging the mood down. "What about you? Do you already have a ship?"
"No, but I've been scouting for one." She grinned self-satisfied. It was more unusual than having one assigned. "There's an oceangoing freighter on keel that hasn't been claimed or assigned yet, and I put in my application early. Means I'll have to idle for a while, but it won't blur me."
"You could always read up on old cases."
"Not too old. The age of sail may look romantic in hindsight, doesn't help much with a modern ship, though. Besides, you just want to lure me to a date in a library."
She laughed, and Elroy felt himself unwind into comfort. Guarding meant little direct interaction with anyone, not even his charge. Taking a break had been a good idea.
People think I’m crazy, usually even when I try to explain to them why I like getting shot out of a cannon. Sure, the rush of acceleration when the propellant explosion hits you is a huge rush of excitement, too. But the best part is the high point.
See, something shot from a cannon travels in an arc, and between the way up and the way down there is a moment of weightlessness. Everything just seems to stop, and I can take a long second to enjoy the view.
Bloody good aim is important, sure. Can’t miss the net once.
Combining the prompts "Zenith" from Aldersprig and "Zany" from Tara Tyler.