"So, do you like it?"
"This place. Do you like it?"
Looking away from the setting sun, Agace settled her hands in her lap before she turned towards Lia, smiling with a quick sigh of satisfaction. "It is very nice. I have never seen the sun this close before."
"I see it in your eyes: It reminds you of Francia, does it not?"
The other blinked for a few seconds, and then cast her eyes downward as she plucked a stray flower. Was she that easy to read? "I … oui," she replied, nibbling on her bottom lip. "This looks exactly like my hometown. It is truly beautiful to look at."
Exhaling, Lia leaned back on her hands and took in the sight of the older female's profile, removing her hood in order to lessen the high heat of the summer. Even through the haze of sweat that clouded her vision, she could still see the happy nostalgia in those brown eyes, the single dimple on the right cheek, the mass of black curls that tickled a strong chin, and the slight French lilt to her words was warm and soothing. The atmosphere around them, she mused, was perfect for the other: One would never find a place like this in all of Italia except for her; for here, where the flowers blossomed abundantly, where the bird cries were as gay as the lute, where the sun and the wind and the clouds fused into one bright sanctum, where thoughts of dissatisfaction dissipated at the stirring of completion, was her mark of pride—for here was her sanctuary in the most unlikeliest place in Venice.
For this was a place she wanted to share.
"I take it that you like it," stated the younger woman, gesturing towards the scenery, high above on the rooftops of an ancient church. "I come here to stop thinking, or simply think." A pause. "I am not a religious person, but this church may be an exception."
"Because it is empty." Agace's tone, though still carrying the homesickness for the embrace of her motherland, was teasing, and the accent she would have when she let down her guard made Lia take on a look of mock-innocence. "Aye, you love it because it is probably two hundred years old. And because there is no one."
She knew her too well. "All the better for me."
Leaning forward, Lia captured those warm lips for the quickest of kisses and shrugged, her expression amused. The confusion on Agace's face soon morphed to a look of surprise—the former knew how the procession she missed so dearly for the last six months would go; first, she would blink, widen those eyes, breathe, and then—oh, God, and then—a sanguine hue would wash over full cheeks, causing herself to flutter her eyes shut in satiation.
"I would not be able to steal as many kisses as I want to if a fat monk came limping by." She watched the latter flush even darker in utmost approval. "Or do other things."
"I do not think so, de Russo. Mon Dieu, control thyself."
"I am. Barely."
"You know that, ma vie."
"That, I do," Agace laughed, her smile betraying her thirty-five years. "That, I most unfortunately do."
Dry expectancy: "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"That I am now supposed to go back home and feed the chickens. And the geese. And harvest the wheat. I nearly forgot about those things. My word."
Shaking her head, Lia snorted and dodged a playful slap at her head, capturing the other's wrist before she brushed her mouth across the fluttering pulse. She did not, however, move away from a broad hand that smoothed back her hair; the scorching summer was bearable, she found, if they were to simply laze about like this for many days, for many weeks—for months and years, for times that she did not even know of. If that kiss she just received would be heaped upon her again and again and again, then maybe her own reciprocal would forever make the smile shine brighter each and every time. Lia believed that, and she had a feeling Agace believed it, too.
"Well, then, let us go. Enough of Venice: Roma beckons"
The latter took her offered hand, not before tensing her shoulders. "Ah … you know my fear of high places. It took us more than forty minutes just for me to climb the stairs." Biting her lips, she uneasily looked down at the broken, old bricks that kept her from falling to a five-hundred foot doom, and absentmindedly tied and retied her apron. "To get down …"
"Do not worry. If this church withstood the test of war, age, and nature, then it is still strong. And there is nothing to fear, si?"
"Because you have me."
A look, trust, anticipation, apprehension, her fingers interlocked with Lia's, and she sighed. Good God, she had to get down—if she was able to go up, then her exodus would be possible, if that sureness in that gaze did not speak already. Thus, she squeezed her hand and waited for the leap that was not a leap, the leap of faith that was of utmost faith, and the rationale to look for the flight of stairs that had been the beginning.
"The stairs are just a few feet away. Let us get off of this raised area first."
Much to her horror, the younger woman ran straight for the ledge and jumped down, ending up on the lower part of the extended roof. Agace felt the unease grow in her stomach as she witnessed the leap, no matter how small one would call it. There was no way for her to be that graceful, that at ease, and no way for her to run that fast across chipped bricks and debris in her woolen skirt, apron, and worn leather shoes—not to mention, her age and build were not very ideal for anything of the daring sort.
"Come," Lia called out, opening her arms. "Swallow your fear and jump."
"Mon Dieu …"
"It is all right."
"Mon Dieu! Oh … I …" Lord, help her. "I cannot believe I have managed to get up here."
"I believe it. That is why you must jump."
Yet, she was now determined—perhaps it was the conviction, the heat and the view, the solidarity, but she somehow steeled herself and got ready to act, to seize the day. She could see Lia, ever so patient, extend her arms even further, waiting for her to make the jump so that—she realized—they could go home: fields, warmth, the caressing of faces behind the Coliseum, the laughter as they rolled in hay, the sun setting behind the Basilica. That is why she offered the small prayer to God.
—just to suddenly yell in alarm as her foot gave way to something unstable. She felt herself quickly being pulled downwards by the hot air, and time seemed to stretch as she apparently soared downwards toward the latter, eyes wide in shock and fear. Her resolve had caused her to slip and fail. She was going to fall.
But then: "Well, I did not expect this, to be honest. I have gotten too careless."
Peaked open one eye.
And then the other.
"Mon Dieu," she gasped out, unable to believe that she was not broken and bleeding in a pile of dirt. "Mon Dieu."
"Do I at least get half of the credit?" Lia looked upwards at the top of her head. "I am in quite a compromising situation, after all."
"It is hard to explain."
So, Agace followed that stare.
"Oh, what is that?"
"Si, very, very funny."
"Is that a—"
"Do not make me reiterate what exactly is on top of my head, principessa. You know what it is."
It was dire, but she could not help it. Because here she was in the other's arms, arms that were strong enough to support and break her fall, barely managing to catch her breath, and she was greeted to a sight of an exasperatingly grim Lia. An exasperatingly grim Lia with her eyes squinting like a five-year-old child's. A very exasperatingly grim Lia who still cracked jokes in the most awkward of times.
With a banana peel on her head.
With an ancient banana peel on her head.
"So, care to tell me when I get my thanks?" she dryly asked, grabbing the tip of the black mush and flinging it away to Hades' lair. "As much as I adore your sweet laughter, I long for some solace." A thought. "Actually, I need it."
"Je suis désolé—" Laughs. "Aye, I really—" Again. "I just—" As before. "I know naught of where that came from. I just slipped on it, but then it just fell on your—" Once more. "Je suis désolé!"
"You do not look very sorry, ma vie. You do not look very sorry."
"Here, let me up."
Agace huffed as she was put back on solid ground, silently praising the Lord as she tried to stifle the merry chortles that wracked her frame. How queer yet humorous this situation was! Here she had been, just shy from breaking her neck, only to have been skillfully caught by a knight that had a very old—and dusty and dirty and musty and seemingly impossible to comprehend—banana peel as her helmet: the source of her slip! She did not mean to be demeaning; in fact, the entire situation was endearing. Lia could have chosen not to catch her large weight, she could have simply helped her not twist her ankle, she could have even avoided this predicament, and she could have called this off as a great misfortune—if so, she did not have to be standing here in great exasperation, wiping off grime and sludge from her hair and fingers.
But she chose to do this, to do this for her.
She smiled, untying her apron before she reached forwards and began cleaning Lia up.
Lia blinked. "Basta: You will get dirty."
"I assume a little filth on my fingers is not going to kill me." Ignoring the halfhearted protests, she wiped both cheeks and the forehead gingerly, more than a tad hard to do given her small stature and stout form. "My brave Lady Knight deserves thanks, no?"
Therefore, she looked at her. She looked her. She saw the church; she saw Venice in the clouds. She saw the sun and the laughter and the precious glimpse of youth. She saw the quirk of her lips. She saw the comprehension.
"I guess you may spoil me, then."
She saw her.
And she smiled.