“Don’t you look charming.” The muted smell of salt water and airport hit me just a moment before I noticed the woman leaning against the counter of my kitchenette, watching me with large, dark eyes over the rim of a glass cup. It was later than I’d expected to be back, and the room was tinted a murky lavender from the evening sun, except for the bright overhead lights above the island that cast the lanky woman in an almost glowing corona. Her skin was still somewhat pale, and looked absolutely ghostly in the evenings. Unquestionably, though, she was still beautiful, and deceptively sharp at the corners.
There stood one Nessa Ridley, stalking about my kitchen, feeling unabashedly like she was home. The prospect was deeply comforting, like finally turning onto your street after a long journey’s end.
“I brought you champagne,” she tapped her little finger against the glass she was holding, her fingernail producing a resounding tap, “reckon you left me stranded at that airport, it was only fair I start on it without you.” Her smile was all teasing and her gaze was familiar and warm. Around her, the air was thick and heavy like a blanket, pulsing with humor, comfort, and tenderness in such a way that felt so very much like returning to a childhood home. In any number of ways, I suppose she was.
I rolled my eyes a bit, shrugging off my coat and depositing it onto the back of the sectional. I removed my glamours too, but I didn’t expect her to make any comment on that; she knew my routines well enough, and had long since grown used to the differences in my appearances.
Setting her cup down with a soft clack, she put herself right in front of me and opened her arms, smirking, but her eyes were ever affectionate. I found myself smiling despite trying not to as I walked into her hug. She was decently shorter than me, so her head fit right under my chin.
“How have you been, love?” Her arms were still locked loosely around my waist as she leaned back and smiled fully, flipping her dark hair to one side before looking me up and down. She was nigh eighty years my senior, but tended to fuss about me like I was a child, even one without magic; when we were both younger, and I was little more than a child with wavering control of my magic, the dynamic had been warranted, though now it seemed just on this side of inappropriate. Endearing, and generally appreciated, yet entirely uncalled for.
“I could ask the same of you, mi’mïrä.” I laughed, “I’ve been well. I could hardly tell you about the last twenty years in so few words, but, as for now, I have a new client.”
“Is that right?” Nessa’s smile was knowing, devilish, and rabidly curious, and I was reminded that even though she couldn’t feel emotions in the way I felt hers, she knew better than anyone how to read mine; she did so with a near flawless precision that to this day baffled me.
I sucked on my bottom lip, trying to put together an appropriate response. The woman scoffed and jostled her arms a little to get me out of my head, and brought one finger under my chin, clicking her tongue teasingly. “Love, you know better than that. Come on, out with it.”
“I’m not, I’m not sure what I’m dealing with,” when I paused now, it was only to sort my flitting thoughts into words, speaking rapidly in Elvõr’ävõrvän just to get them out before they were eclipsed. “She’s so beneficial professionally, and I, of course I know how she feels about me. This just has the makings of such a spectacular *mess*, and I need some semblance of a positive relationship to continue my work; it makes the whole situation dangerously fragile. *And* because I’d be spending more time with her, I worry about getting attached. I’ve never really had to cope with the aftermath of befriending the short-lived races,” I pinched the bridge of my nose, drawing out a long, heavy sigh. She eyed me with a palpable degree of sympathy, then her lips twitched and her brow came together ever so slightly. She blinked and I couldn’t shake the dull, vicarious heartache that throbbed like an old wound as she pressed her palm to my cheek.
“Love, when was the last time you had company? Any company.” I made some kind of almost laughing noise in my throat, and smiled sheepishly at Nessa’s dark eyes, colored nearly black in this light. Her thumb traced down the corner of my jaw suspiciously. The corners of her eyes, eyebrows, and lips pinched up and I couldn’t help a guilty chuckle. “No. Lydia Adams, there is absolutely no way you haven’t been with anyone since— Lydia, what the hell? I’m flattered, I suppose, but what the hell?!”
“I have been... focused.” It had to’ve been more than a decade since I’d last been lectured like this, even over the phone; in a sense, I missed having anyone around to challenge me, but I certainly did not enjoy the squirming feeling brought on by Vanessa Ridley’s dark, incredulous stare. “I have you and Helena, and I have Sol. You make me out to be a recluse.” I snorted half-heartedly.
“You are.” She teased, shaking her head. “But I’ll start on that tomorrow, for now,” she smiled, her hand dipping to fiddle with my scarf, “this is new. Since when have you cared for fashion? Thought you came in casual, formal, or nothing at all.” The Siren jabbed teasingly.
“I told you, I was meeting with the Fairy.” I actually thought I’d done well hiding how the question had gotten me just a little flustered. Had it been anyone else, I probably would have been able to leave the statement there.
“Mhm. That’s called a date, love. Surely you’ve heard of them? I seem to remember someone taking you on plenty.” She purred, now moving her hands to undo my bun, which had been starting to come loose on its own. Her tone was light and happy, the mischief in it dancing against my senses like will-o-wisps as she messed with my hair.
“It wasn’t a date.” I looked down to avoid her intentional smirk, then remembered; “Nessa, you never did answer me. How much do you know about Fairies?” While the ease of comfort remained, her mischievous grin quelled and was set into a more curious expression.
“Honestly, I forgot you asked. Not much, why?” A brief pause, then an absolutely devilish smirk right before I opened my mouth to answer. “She’s a Fairy, isn’t she?” My face heated, but I refused to acknowledge that for now.
“She has been having trouble with her magic; Helena certainly seems to know what it is, but refuses to tell me.” Nessa shrugged, taking a step back to collect her glass before moving to the sectional, making a gesture for me to follow.
“Helena knows everything about everyone; I probably won’t know any more than you, but have at me.” She said once she’d settled, legs crossed and one arm supporting her head, her body angled to face me.
“She’s sparking; she heavily implied, if not stated outright, that it has only happens around me, and it’s clearly worse when I touch her.” I sighed deeply, plucking Nessa’s cup from her hand and taking a small sip before returning it. She rolled her eyes fondly, and made no mention of it.
“I assume it’s not the usual excited Alpha-Fae sort of sparking? Have you considered that maybe she’s just young and overwhelmed? Maybe it hasn’t crossed your mind that you’re really very attractive and Fairies get excited easily.” I shook my head, trying to stifle the heat in my face again at the implication, and she ran a hand through her hair thoughtfully, her face falling serious and businesslike, and it brought on a flood of nostalgia. “I don’t think I’ve heard of anything like that in Fairies before; then again, Fairies don’t come by open ocean all too often. It’s not something I’ve heard happen to Sirens, either. I did know a Ceasg once that,” she cut herself off, humming thoughtfully, and touched my scarf again, then the corner of my jaw, her touch feather light and heart-wrenchingly familiar. “What could Helena possibly want to keep from you? There can’t be much. She wasn’t concerned about it?”
“No, she was rather happy with the whole thing.” I took her glass for another drink. I could feel something, an idea maybe, brewing in her, then a sharp twinge of excitement.
“Blimey, if that’s what it is,” Her eyes flitted across my face, and she pressed a knuckle to her lips. I could feel a sudden shift in her emotions, as well as see an odd look briefly cross her face, but both were too quick to identify. It had felt for a moment like tectonic plates shifting, just long enough to see something potent and terribly powerful beneath; a hot release of sizzling embers that left burns, but were otherwise without substance. Even before we’d split off, she’d grown rather regrettably good at layering over what feelings she wanted to keep private.
“I’ll do some digging on my end, and let you know if anything turns up. Though I reckon it might take a while, you know how it can be trying to get any work done around humans.” She put on her most charming smile, brushing some stray hairs from my face, her molten brown eyes piercing mine. The air around her stilled for a moment, and her love felt like a ray of light through closed curtains, warm where it made contact. It was tinted with an overwhelming nostalgia, and I couldn’t for the life of me guess what had brought it on so quickly and forcefully.
“I can’t get over how much I’ve missed you.” She watched me, with a homely smile wide across her lips like she’d never seen me before, or at least in a long while; like the first breath you take when you get off an airplane. -I recognized a vague desire to kiss her, mindlessly and mundanely and without any heat, and if not for the strange yank at my stomach, I’m not sure if I would have or not; it wouldn’t have mattered to either of us if I did, anyway.-
“Have I ever told you, there was a time when I thought you could have been my soulmate?” I blinked, and shook my head curiously, but not about her statement. It sounded a lot like goodbye. There was something in the still ambience of her emotions that lay just outside my grasp, behind those thick layers of other emotions. From such an obviously large pool of suppressed feelings, it surprised me that only a deep melancholy had come to the surface.
“It was after we stopped seeing each other. I was at a bar on some Greek island or other, and there was this girl, right wonder she was, she might have been an Elf too, but I never asked. Blue eyes, and I can’t remember if her hair was silver or blond, but I remember that she was a very different sort of pretty than you. Regardless, I slept with her and the next morning when I woke up next to her and not you, I just,” she laughed, the sound rich, and full, and content, and somber all at once. Nessa had always made for a marvelous storyteller, especially where it concerned emotions; her voice turned to honey and I had always been of the impression that she would lace her words with siren-song, even if it was unintentionally.
She shook her head, still smiling, “when I woke up, god, it felt like I’d broken a binding spell and I just ran. For a while, I thought it was because I’d fallen for you. Deep down, I think I knew the whole time, but I think part of me really hoped it was you.” She pressed the pad of her thumb lightly against my lips, her eyes soft but entirely purposeful as they flitted about my face.
“I thought a lot about where the line between friends and lovers falls, and a lot about your description of Elven sex culture and I realized I wasn’t in love with you at all. To be honest, I still don’t know where exactly that line is, because if we went to bed right now, I’d still love the way you sound, and I’d still love that I could ruin you as much as you could me, and if you tried at all, I’d be on my knees for you in a instant, but I’m not in love with you. I just,” she removed her hand and lay back with an easy smile. Her eyes had gotten a little dark, and I could feel the heat laying in submission behind her restraint, like something physically lodged in her throat, “if you fucked me within an inch of my life, and then started on about this Fairy you fancy, sure I’d tell you that I’d miss having you for myself, but more than anything else I’d want to hear you talk about meeting someone because I want you to have that, you absolute recluse.”
Her affection was heated to its flash point by raw longing. It hadn’t been carnal to start; it had begun with mundane affection more than anything else, though it had mingled with the swirling of memories and saudade and had become something irresistibly inviting.
I felt that strange wrench in my stomach again, stronger and more unpleasant as I leaned into her, and traced my lips down the all too familiar curve of her neck. The feeling was distinctly uncomfortable, nagging, though muffled enough to not quite be painful, and I decided it would make a wonderful problem to worry about tomorrow, promptly ignoring it in favor of the Siren whose heart I could hear starting to race.
“Her name is Rose.”
“Really?” Nessa laughed breathlessly, running a hand through her now wild black hair. “Blimey, Lydia, give me a second to breathe, would you? Swear I went blind for a moment there.”
“I know what I said, love. Just a second.”