K. Ryan - for the International Day of Femslash
The Winding Circle Temple; Summersea, Emelan - 1042K
"The more you poke, the more it'll hurt."
It had taken Sandrilene fa Toren many years to discover she did not, in fact, like surprises. Rosethorn's weight on the small, stone seat outside the Temple's baths made her jump, even if she could not bring herself to glare at the older woman. Rosethorn looked as tired as she felt, shadows under her dark eyes unrelieved by the heavy, dense green of her habit.
The Earth Dedicate smiled. A wry tilt to full lips. "Come now," she said. "You're hardly going to miss me if you try and escape here, Duchess."
Sandry wrinkled her nose. "That sounds even worse in your mouth than Briar's," she said. "And I don't know what you mean."
"What I know, my girl, is that you and Daja haven't been easy since Namorn."
Sandry blinked. "We—"
"—no, let me finish. You all know each other, again, bless it—the boy had been starting to worry me, and the rest of you, too, as I heard it—but you learnt a little more about Daja than you ever expected, yes?"
It was only early evening. Sun touched at Sandry's streaked, damp hair and drying, fine tendrils of it broke free in wisps about her face. And she somehow felt far too old and enormously young for this conversation.
Rosethorn's hand fell in gruff, gentle weight to her shoulder. "Close your eyes and pretend I'm nice and understanding," she said, grinning as Sandry's eyes widened briefly in response.
"But you are nice and understanding, Rosie," she said, unable to suppress her own fact smile at the look that spasmed across Rosethorn's face.
"That..." the Earth Dedicate shook her head. "Not today." Both women shifted, their bodies weighted toward the unseen Healer's hall. Rosethorn cleared her throat. "Just be quiet. And talk to me."
Sandy sighed, the motion lifting Rosethorn's hand from her shoulder.
"We've gotten so much better at talking to each other now," she said softly, head bowed. "All of us. But Daja won't—I know she's hurting, she's my saati, but it's like she just can't talk about Rizu—" Sandry looked up, blue eyes over-bright and narrowed against metallic evening glare. "—but she can, Rosethorn." She swallowed down the shameful, ignoble thought, and then said it anyway. "Just not with me. She talks to Briar all the time."
Rosethorn looked steadily at the younger woman. "Some people, at different times, are better for different conversations. And you and Daja..." She shrugged, something brief and sweet and wistful crossing her face. "You need to learn how you both feel about each other. And that always takes a cursed-long time."
"I've always just grabbed what I want," she said "But Lark wouldn't have that. Not one bit."
Sandry's eyes widened again, and she felt a flush start somewhere deep in her chest, moving up to her neck. Her cheeks and the backs of her ears.
"Insisting didn't do me one bit of good," Rosethorn said, words soft and dry and over the top of her and blushing. "She insisted right back that I wasn't ready. And I wasn't."
"—Sweet Mila of the Grain, no." Rosethorn laughed softly, eyes elsewhere. "I had a lot to learn, and by the time it'd gone through my fool head that learning was what I wanted, Lark had rather slipped inside and was just waiting. She's done so much of that, over the years. Grace in stillness, as well as movement."
Sandry swallowed, shivered a little. "That does sound like Lark."
Rosethorn cleared her throat. "And a little like Daja, too, in her way. They're warmth-and-loss-and-sweetness-and-stillness people, Sandrilene. You and I, well. We—"
The smile felt strange and light in her face. "—insist?" She laughed, outraged and warmed as Rosethorn lightly cuffed the back of her head.
"I don't know what I want, Rosethorn," Sandry said once the breathlessness had sunk back into her skin.
"No. And that's not always a punishable offence."
Light was fading from the sky, skin and clothing and hair all bleeding and draining into twilight grey. Warm, sure fingers curled into Sandry's not-quite-dry hair and she shivered, surprised at the groan that slipped from her mouth as Rosethorn's hand eased over her scalp.
"Fool girl," she muttered. "You'll catch cold."
"For something so fine,it takes forever to dry," Sandry managed absently, leaning into the uncommon casualness of the touch. "Rosethorn, is Lark—"
"—Sent me on my way." Rosethorn's voice was brusque, though her hand remained gentle. "I'm terrible at vigils, and if she keeps talking to make me feel better, then she really will cough herself to death."
The soft, hurt noise sat between them, and Rosethorn sighed. "You four missed the last really bigattack by months," she said. "Otherwise you'd know I have to joke."
"She sat with you, after the plague," Sandry said, very faint. "I had to coax her to eat, sometimes. Especially when you were—"
"—we are different people, dear heart." Rosethorn's voice was rough around the endearment, and her hand caught, briefly, in Sandry's hair. The younger woman hissed.
"And I can do something about your hurting."
"You can?" Sandry looked at her, swallowing.
"Distract you. Tell you that you'll be a very familiar idiot if you push people. Insist." She smiled briefly, hand relaxing, as Sandry sniffed. "Distract myself, even."
"Always glad to be useful."
Rosethorn rolled her eyes. "I'd forgotten what it was like, not knowing," she said. "And for you, after all those boys and their kidnapping and whatever other madness you had to dance through."
"It wasn't all bad," Sandry whispered, flushing. "That's part of the problem."
She could not quite meet the Dedicate's delicate, raised eyebrow. "Knowing that I liked some of them, and yet I still can't help wondering if—oh." She swallowed, as Rosethorn's hand slid slowly down from her hair, to cup her face. She smelt of earth, and a sick room carefully kept, all aloe and hyssop and the dark, back-of-the-throat scent of poppy. Only mild callous striped across Sandry's hot cheek.
"Daja's not someone to wonder with lightly." Rosethorn said.
Sandry closed her eyes, and her jaw set. "I know that."
"But in the Circle, other people are." Rosethorn let her thumb slip across Sandry's lower lip, and she gasped.
"In this place, I can be a safe space," said the Dedicate, a slow smile colouring her voice. "And you need one."
"Yes." Rosethorn bent her head slightly, and Sandry's eyes flew open as the other woman's lips came slowly, deliberately, over her own.
She whimpered as softness turned full and wet and sharp as teeth closed gently on her lower lip, and her mouth opened under the Dedicate's. Her teacher was as bright and wicked and determined in this as she had ever been, and the thought and feelings made Sandry's eyes close again; made her arch forward, as Rosethorn's tongue darted quickly over the slow-bitten, swollen spots and into her mouth. It was easy to respond, somehow. Impossible to move away. Easier, by far, to touch and feel and taste in turn, and swallow the low, pleased, familiar-unfamiliar groan inside herself with pride. Her own hands were on Rosethorn's shoulder and back, feeling the heavy, safe weave of skin-warmed winter cloth beneath her fingers, somehow adding to the warmth in her mouth and over her own skin and deep, low heat in her belly.
It was Rosethorn who pulled back, flushed and smiling-serious. "You need one," she said again, voice slow and ragged, faintly amused. "And so do I. While we both wait."