On the Floor of a Stage in Bihan

Or Limits.

For Pokkie

The floor of Bihan's Great Stage was famous. Not for those who performed upon it, but for the wood itself. Bought for an exorbitant sum in Aliput and laid down by terrified craftsman, board by board.

This wood, everyone knew, was special. At first glance a deep, dark burgundy, it picked up glints from every imaginable source—golds and rose; copper and honey; even pale yellows. There was depth and light. There were angles; curves in a perfectly flat space. Waves. The grain was a woman's hair, great, luxurious swathes of it, held prisoner under lacquer. Many who had crossed it wondered why they hadn't just fallen down and into it, breaking through the fragile solidity like new ice.

Rippling and shifting in soft dawn light, aside from the shadow of a pair of guards leaning on the other side of a small door, two young performers had it to themselves.

They were a pattern made up of reaching hands and arched necks; of bodies in tight dancers' blacks. The tall one, golden tones in her skin finding counterparts in the floor beneath her, effortlessly reaching horizontal in a split and gripping her partner firmly by the ankles as she—paler, smaller, slighter—used her shoulders and narrow back for support as she strained to hold a bridge shape, head and hands pressed hard on the ground as she stretched to her fullest extent.

They were both sweating, the smaller one more so. A droplet rolled on her upside-down face, from the tip of her nose to her hennaed hairline.

"It's—not—fair," she whined, lips pulled back from her teeth, clenched in a grimace. "You've got—longer—legs than me."

Taller—her parents had called her Paraskeve, though it had never suited her well—smiled. "Yazmin," she said.

"—What, Paras? What—'Yazmin'?"

Paras' voice was warm and quiet. "Nothing."

Yazmin groaned, irritably blowing a stringy damp reddish curl from off her face. "You're laughing at me."

The smile widened. "Never." Hands gentle, but entirely unyielding, Paras strengthened her pull on Yazmin's legs, adding to the stretch.


With a small grunt, Yazmî managed to jerk out of the other girl's clasp, flipping back and up into a handstand. "Hah."

Sighing, Paras let her body fall forward until her long, straight nose touched the boards. "I'm the acrobat," she said mildly, eyes closed.

Yazmin grinned, feet pointed gracefully in the air. "You're—slacking. That's—what you're doing."

Hands slipping to her own ankles, Paras brought her legs together, saying nothing.

A pout from Yazmin, who righted herself and then flopped down, lying on her back and swinging her leg up so that her knee would brush her nose, hamstrings straining visibly against her leggings. "Don't be like that, Paras," she moaned. "Has that cough of yours gotten any better?"

It was startling, how quickly Paras was leaning over the smaller girl, pressing down heavily with chest and hands on her leg. Her face was glistening, mouth firm. Their foreheads were almost touching.

"If you stopped—talking you'd—get a better—stretch," she murmured, eyes steady; breathing hard as she felt disobedient muscles full of adrenaline spasm against her breasts.

Yazmin whimpered, her neck arching up; lips almost brushing Paras', leg flattening into a proper horizontal line; wide-set dark eyes confused.

Paras lent back, lifting the pressure. "Lovely," she said, sweet. "It's like…" her expression, Yazmin saw as she shakily sat upright, was meditative, even while the blood flickered, madly and visibly, in the pulse point at her throat. "It's like you're a thread." Paras flashed a quick, soft grin. "Get yourself taken apart and combed out, and then re-spun, and you get stronger."

This brought out an inelegant snort. "You and your thread symbolism," Yazmin sniffed, feeling edgy as well as slightly annoyed. "So."

Paras' eyes were shut again, eyelashes dark against her flushed, sharp cheeks. "So?"

"So." Yazmin managed only to half-snap, carefully plucked eyebrows drawing together. "We didn't just come in here to stretch, you know. You have to measure me!"

"I'm not in costumes, Hebet." Paras got to her feet, black curls bobbing as she shook her head.

Rising as well, Yazmin clutched at her hand. "But everyone knows you're the best." Smirking, she brought two fingers to lips in a silencing motion, biting then quickly before touching them to Paras' cheek. "If you want to go all modest, I can just say I bought the thing. Oh, please?"

Paras was silently walking over to a corner of the room, back perfectly straight and her movements easy. Yazmin was left feeling clammy and inept, wondering how clothes always dropped and hung perfectly on her tall friend, when they should have been all bunched up and soaked through, like hers.

"Please. Oh, please, please."

"Please stop that now," said Paras, bending over a small pack and withdrawing a dark blue cord. When she faced Yazmin again, her smile was slight but affectionate. "I never said no, did I?"

Yazmin whooped and leapt into a cartwheel, landing prettily about half a pace away before stretching out her arms and legs in a star shape. "I'm yours."

Chuckling, Paras moved behind her friend, quickly slipping the cord about her waist; enjoying the way it felt in her fingers and the warmth of the feverish body that was so close to her.

Shivering a little, Yazmin looked at the famous, shimmering floorboards, darkened a touch in places by their combined sweat, creating new and peculiar colours in the wood. Their shadows had blurred into one. The girl felt her eyes closing as Paras knelt, hands and cord moving down to her hips.

"You've lost weight," she said, voice level, finders pinching briefly before moving around to the front, hip barely bumping hip.

I hate it when you go all dual on me! Yazmin's overworked, exhausted mind was annoyed. Her body just shuddered more. You really have no idea how annoying your calm act is? I don't believe you. You know, woman.

"Lift your left leg?"

She obeyed, keeping it straight out at a right angle to her body as she watched Paras' hands reach up and fasten the cord around her thigh, then calf, from underneath, fingers almost teasing.

"Right leg?"

I don't understand you.

"That's good. Excellent."

Are you flirting with me or not, Paraskeve?

Paras got up off her knees and was behind Yazmin yet again, slowly and—almost hesitantly—positioning the cord over and around her breasts.

Milla preserve us!

Yazmin wasn't used to hesitance. Not from Paras. She didn't understand it. As she moved, she felt the other girl's clothes rasp against her palms.

They were perfect, and dry.

How can she be dry?

Growling, Yazmin pulled away, tugging the sopping shirt over her head and across the room, and her breastband with it.

Paras stared; flushing, stunned. Yazmin was small breasted, like most dancers, but breasts were there, and just that moment they were thrust forward; defiantly, in her face. Tinged pink, nipples hard, tiny and dark; sweat dripping between them and down onto a stomach that was almost concave. There was a mole there, to match the one on her cheek, and Paras still stared.

Slowly, her blush increasing, she managed to choke out, voice still incredibly regular: "What!"

Before she kissed her that day, Yazmin had to laugh. Long, loud and hard, until it died away into breathy squeaks.

"You make me tired."