Drinks were their tradition -- a far cry from welcoming tea, Mia thought, but no less warm. She saved memory-clippings of Phoenix; dark, glossy beer bottles turned between his fingers; the low murmur his voice turned to when he thought and confessed; bar air smelling like warm nondescript and the inevitable droop of hair into his face. Phoenix told tales of his friend's brave voice, and listened to Mia's careful words about her guide long gone. Hours whiled away and she forgot how long they had been doing this, how many times they left into crisp night air, why the title of boss mattered.
And the drinks slid from bar to home; they were free of the day's suit-armour, and Mia kept schnapps chilled the way it ought to be, and Phoenix in long-sleeved cotton, stretched over one of her scuffed kitchen chairs like he was meant to be. If she picked a word, it would be soft: the gentle pool of the kitchen light, the drink soothing in her veins, Phoenix watching her with an endlessly grateful smile.
Excuses fluttered and vanished that night -- driving, the late hour, the drowsy swim of her thoughts. And yes, it was fine if Phoenix stayed, of course it was, but Mia sat on the couch's arm, knees crossed, and couldn't catch a particular thought sure enough to hold. She sat, and watched him.
He didn't mind; he squirmed the couch cushions into submission, curled enough to fit, and stilled. The moon-dark cradled them -- Mia could have dozed herself, she thought briefly of her own bedsheets. That wasn't the thought she wanted. She sat straighter.
It wasn't until the hall clock boomed in the quiet, until Phoenix's breath movements evened and peace smoothed his face, that Mia found her thought -- this was comfortable. This was the ease of growing together and teaching and learning, and watching stories spread unspoken over his face and ... she didn't know what else it was.
Mia stood; she took a step closer and tugged her shirt straight, and chewed once on her lip. She took another step because she didn't know what else it was.
The cushion groaned soft as she sat by him, perched sideways. Mia paused and wondered more, trailed her gaze up wrist and over knuckles and to the loose purse of his lips.
She said his name, hushed as leaves.
No answer, only the slow depth of his exhale. Mia shifted -- her toes on carpet drew a rough-sound streak in the dark -- and she watched him.
It happened by degrees, a thousand tiny motions and she took what remained of the stiff-forming couch. All the better to watch Phoenix shift, half-aware, and all the better to lay a hand on his arm and watch his eyelashes stir.
Chief, he called her, in a voice thick and far away. And confused at its edges, small the way he hadn't been for years.
She asked if this was all right. And smiled because it was Phoenix -- she knew his answer, saw it in his lake-dark eyes. That was all she needed.
How warm it was, comfortable like body heat and his worn-soft sleeves, their knees jostling. Mia could feel the thought pouring off him, the quiet heavier than words, and she pressed a palm to his chest to feel breastbone and heartbeat, too.
Phoenix stammered. It was fine -- she drew her touch over fabric and told him so, felt stomach muscles twitch. Her smile grew.
There was all the time in the world, to nestle her cheek by his and feel breath's stir and near-stubble, to learn him with a languid touch. Palm pressing upward, past his loping heart; fingertips tracing the triangle where lapels usually lay; his navel a soft hollow under her circling knuckles. The far-off clock ticked a rhythm, a lullabye. Maybe she dreamed such comfort, such flushing joy when he breathed her name.
Mia, she was Mia. Not Chief but near enough -- Phoenix was all reverence, his breath tremored. His hand threaded in her hair, cupped behind her head, and cradled.
She didn't know what else this was but it was beautiful, the slightest shift closer, Mia's spread hands pinned to his chest and the brush of their lips. Nova shone in her chest, anticipation drew her fingers over him. This was a weaving of things she knew and things she remembered and things she spun herself, Mia's smile and Phoenix's welcome and the soft blending of their mouths.
He never thought, Phoenix breathed. His words dried away. He shifted and wormed strong arms around her -- like she may leave, like she may fade.
It wasn't about thinking, Mia replied. She smiled still, she couldn't stop and she mapped the suggestions of ribs. It was knowing a truth, she said, but not its name, and trying sounds until something fit.
Phoenix paused -- he didn't understand. He wouldn't rest until he did.
That was what Mia liked best in him, she decided that while she stretched closer, while they kissed -- gentle-sliding wonderful. The ticking vanished; the dark didn't matter. His hand passed broad and guardian down her nape, and she rested hands on his hipbones' angles, and she came a little closer to knowing what it was.
She made tea in the morning, green and with sugar to blunt it. Drinks, of course, were their tradition.