Familiar Territory

Disclaimer: Hawksong, it's universe, and it's characters do not belong to me. If they did, Zane would SO totally be mine. (evil grin)

Claimer: Alliana and Soldaer belong to me. Please don't use 'em. Thanks. ;)

Her arm moves; mine catches it. Her breath picks up; my lungs stretch to their limits. She twirls, pivots, falls back at a spectacular angle… and my hands catch her waist, a smile she cannot see flickering into life on my fair features. Her arms move slowly into a delicate arc over her head, and just as slowly I pull her up and towards me, so close our torsos touch. For a moment I am drawn out of the heady haze of the dance to a thought: a month ago she would not have allowed me this close. But then her hand is in mine and she darts away, drawing me with her; dragonfly, golden in the dusk. I smile again, and she lets go, twirls solo, the ribbon of silk around her slim waist following the movement like a hypnotized serpent; for a moment I am envious. Then gradually, with elegance hardly anyone knows she has, she slows, her bare feet moving back to me, returning to my arms and to our final position. I kneel at her feet, my arms stretched up, adoring, the ardent worshipper at a secluded shrine. One hand rises to salute the setting sun, and she is the goddess, magnificent, commanding, untouchable. We are statues, together, unmoving and entranced, letting the dancespell settle in our veins like sweet wine. Then she sighs, and her eyes of honey and steel fall to me, and she smiles. The goddess made mortal, I think as her hand lowers and takes mine, helping me up.

"Soldaer, that was…" a shake of her head, another sigh. I know how she feels, but I want to hear her words for first knowing the sublime joy of true dance. "Brilliant, really, though that hardly seems to fit. Thank you."

She always thanks me, and my response is equally scripted, "It was nothing, Ally. You're really improving."

The two of us find comfort in such familiarity, different as we are. Slowly we both stretch, paying careful attention to certain spots; Alliana can't afford to overwork her shoulders, and my left leg never quite healed after the wound that took me from a soldier's life. We both joke about getting old, but sometimes it's only half in jest. She is nearing her twenty-seventh birthday, and has given up eight years of her life to the avian's royal guard. Gods only know how she's managed to live so long, and at times I find myself thanking them that she has. I myself am nearly thirty-three, but when I dance I am far younger. I can forget the six years I spent on the fields, the reasons I left for them in the first place. My half-siblings were always kind, but I was never part of the Corbriana family, really.

I straighten up and move to one of the only standing pillars in this place, a large dusty clearing outside of the serpiente city. A temple once stood here, but to which god or goddess all my years of research have never found. I sometimes fancy that it must be the deity that governs fate, or maybe chance, considering the mismatched pair that meet here most often. Either way, the spot is wonderful for dance practice.

The flask of wine I brought has been sheltered from the sunlight by a small cluster of rocks, and as I lean against the white marble column and tip some into my mouth I'm pleased to discover that it's still cool. The liquid travels down my throat, quenching thirst and making it's merry way to my brain. My eyes wander to Alliana, and I cannot help but notice the way her muscles move as she continues stretching, ever studious; long, trained fibers oscillating beneath tanned skin. She moves to one side, and I catch sight of the two pale scars that decorate her collarbone. My hand moves to the long marks along my own bare chest, and Alliana chooses that moment to finish stretching and look up at me. Catching sight of my movement, which I quickly but uselessly change to scratching my arm, she smiles and makes her way over to where I am, sitting in the cool grass next to me. After a few moments more I slip down beside her, just catching her words; "I ought to feel sorry about those scars, but I don't."

A smile traces my lips as I take another pull of wine. I offer the flask to her before I speak, and she accepts gratefully, taking a long drink as I respond. "I should feel sorry for yours, but I don't. In fact, I'm almost… glad of them. Is that wrong?"

The question is serious, all the more so because we usually never talk like this. We are creatures of habit, she and I, though it seems odd that a hawk and a cobra could form habits in the first place. Still, we value our stability, old fogies that we are becoming, and we've reached a silent but mutual agreement that if we find it in each other, so be it. I let out a long breath as I wait for her response, giving her time to collect it. The sun is setting before us, the landscape awash in firegold… her colors. Granted, they are also the colors of almost every other hawk, but Alliana's are deeper than the avian royal's. Finally, her eyes gazing into some world I cannot see, she murmurs, "No. If the feelings were not mutual, Soldaer, it would be right of you to feel some guilt, but… I am the same. Had we never been scarred, we never would have met, and then…"

I can finish the sentence for her; "We would not be here now."

She turns her honey-gold eyes to me, unsmiling but not unkind. My chest clenches painfully with things unsaid and undone, and what I am suppressing now. Alliana's hair is so short I can see the feathers that smoothly adorn the back of her neck, the obvious sign of any avian, and I know she can see the color of my eyes, the famous Corbriana red. And yet… we are both here, watching this sunset. I would say we have been here before, many times, but I have never explored this particular terrain. I have never seen this particular feeling in her eyes, never seen her sit so relaxed and yet with so much suppressed tension. And then suddenly she smiles, a half-smirk I know so well I can imitate it, and her hand is on my shoulder in a gentle shake. "We," she declares, "are becoming old and philosophical. We've got to start doing things with other people."

"Bah," I reply, mock serious as I snatch the wine flask and take another drink, "I happen to like you quite a bit, my strange dancing hawk. Besides, something tells me that you'd prefer practicing alone when I begin to teach you the Namir-da."

She lets out a chuckle, her one and only vocal protest to learning such a dance. Once again she turns from me, but as we lean back against the column to watch the sunset, as we so often have before, our shoulders touch. Gradually our arms slip a little closer together, and eventually our upper arms are connected along their entire length. Neither of us moves, neither one of us tries to scoot away, and we keep our gazes fixed upon the fire of the fading sun. At first I think I am again in unfamiliar territory, but something within me knows this place and is more than content to sit back and enjoy the view. I can feel the warmth from her body radiating into mine where our skin meets, an inadvertent gift that I never speak about. Yes, I realize, I have been here before… but I wonder, my thoughts soft as the descending nighttime, if she recognizes the landmarks of the place.

Silence descends over our little shrine as the stars begin to shimmer into life, but I am no longer sure what god the shrine was made for.