I suppose this is an answer to Sir Koji's question: Yes, I have several ideas for little spin-offs here and there, and this happens to be one of them. I am not guaranteeing they will all be JoeAhim, because I want to have a LukaAhim interaction as well as a JoeMarve interaction pertaining to 'Le Ossa' -verse. This one is JoeAhim as well, though, and more meandering, misleading lead-ins to other ideas I have planned. There's time passing for this one, though, because Gai is in here, which accounts for his lack of any subtlety, haha. That said, you probably need to read that story to understand this one. HINT you should alert this. :)
Drabble II: Because the First Mate is loveblind and awkward.
II. Tazza da Tè
What a bold move for the swordsman that he steals her away from the group, and under his captain's nose, no less. It can be assumed, though, that the man in the red coat has known about the plan all along and lets it transpire without a hitch.
One moment she is walking with eyes glittering and aglow, absorbing the dazzling sunlight – smiling at the hustle and bustle of people out to play.
And the next, her vision whirls and blurs. Ahim feels her cheeks redden as a stray, unorthodox thought teases its way out of her composed conscious, swept off my feet.
They are in a silent alley, the sun held away by brick walls and the mangled remains of fire escapes. Here, in the dark, she blinks her eyes to adjust and stammers, "J-Joe-san!"
He catches her eyes, looks away. Always a little awkward when alone with her, his gaze settles on her jeweled headband. "I'm taking you somewhere. If you want."
As usual, he does not ask; the courtesies fall into line at the end, likely by her subtle tutelage and the fact that he has a patience with her that no one else receives. Or deserves.
She is skeptical. Her eyes survey the dingy alley – if she did not trust him as much as she did, the situation would be uncomfortable.
He nearly takes her hand, but at the last second takes her by the forearm. His eyes ask for cooperation.
"Take me there, if you would be so kind."
Something blue gently envelops her vision, she feels his hands touch her shoulders, hesitate, and then carefully hold them.
"If it bothers you, let me know."
"Hmm, what is this?" she asks, and he is pleased to hear the apprehension fading from her voice. A light, noble laugh adds décor to her inquiry.
Clears his throat, feeling out of step with his routine life, nervous to try this uncharted territory. "I've got you."
Lightly pushing her shoulders forward, they begin.
Sure, they have fought side-by-side many times, but this is quite different. She can hear –no, feel- their footfalls in startling sync. The gravel crunches in her ears and it is a whirlwind of sensory allure. Light warms her face and is chased away again, and all the while his fingers never relent in grip. The calloused pads of his fingers nervously twitch, however, which makes her wonder just what his plans are. Relying on his direction is odd, but she knows that he is there.
He is always there.
She recognizes the sound of a bell, usually present in small Earth shops to indicate a newcomer. Only now does he remove his hands from her shoulders, instead cupping her elbows – she tucks them in to avoid just whatever is around her. Still, she stares into blue fabric.
They come to a stop. What she is facing, she is not quite sure. Quietly, he says, "Go ahead."
Tentatively reaches behind her head to remove the blindfold, holding her breath with tightly pressing lips. She blinks in the bright light, but her heart races ahead of cognition. The shelves reach nearly to the ceilings and are laden with every style, color, pattern, and mold imaginable. It wraps her in nostalgia and the endless love of a different time. What brings a sting to her nose and tears to her eyes is not pain, but the intense memory of spring, of open windows and misty curtains, the warmth on her fingers. The scent of herbs mingling with pastries and freshly-aired linen, clinks of china on more of the same.
And the lingering tastes of her mother's tea.
"Choose whatever you want," he says, trying and miserably failing to sound business-like. Nervous. Her expression is unreadable.
At last, a smile breaks – though her finger shakes as she points, (something she almost never does; she does not find it so becoming, but Joe can forgive her), she finds the tiny teacup that will fill her heart.
"You can take your time," he adds uselessly, but her eyes begin to sparkle. Joe wonders just how many others have seen it, though he likes to think he is one of the few.
If not the only.
He reaches to one of the tallest shelves to bring it down to her, and she receives it with two hands. With a life of its own, the teacup surges with a warmth Ahim has not felt in many months, in many moons. Cradling it in with long, thin fingers, she removes one hand and places it over her heart, speechless. Bowing her head, she lets her long locks fall over her face to better hide her watery eyes. "Joe-s-"
Before he thinks about it, he lifts her chin with his finger and thumb. "Don't do all that. It's just a gift." Quickly breaking the contact, he begins to rub the back of his neck, staring at the floor.
Carefully, as if he will break, she steps forward and without warning, as if steeling herself to take a chance, wraps her arms around him completely. She barely reaches his collarbone. His arms are out awkwardly, hovering, stricken and not knowing what to touch. She releases him with a small grin, likely in amusement at his awkward demeanor.
One hand still cradling her gift, she bows slightly and puts her other arm out. His brows furrow and he looks at her questioningly.
They cross the threshold, bound for the city streets, arm-in-arm, returning the wave from the man behind the counter. As the door shuts, he tugs a dark hat low over one eye, smirking distinctly at their retreating figures.
"Where did you two disappear to?" Luka demands, without bothering to greet them properly. "And what did you get?"
Gai emits an ecstatic cry not fit for alien ears and leans in to Ahim – she leans back, slightly startled. "A gift for the lovely princess!" Tilting his head, he contemplates for a moment before twisting his features into another startling display before deducing, "Joe must have given it to her! What is it, Ahim-san?"
With a little wave, she begins to brush it off, but Joe reaches over her shoulder and palms Gai in the face; the latter is continuing to yell in a muffled voice into Joe's large hand. Rolling his eyes, he admonishes,"If you yell any louder, you'll shatter it. It's fragile." Pushing him backward, he brushes past Ahim and walks at the head of the group, quiet and aloof.
She finds being blindfolded by Joe, of all people, ironic, and she muses on this thought. And though the others press her for details, all Ahim has eyes for is the blue bandana in his back pocket, swaying along with his tall, graceful strides.