Amelia tried her best not to look over her shoulder as her friend changed shirts behind her. It was no big deal. She and Miss Zelgadis shared inn rooms all of the time, and just like with Miss Lina, they often shared the bath at hot springs as well. Yes, she’d seen Miss Zelgadis topless at many points. It was courteous, she supposed, not to stare, but it’s not as if she would be angry if Amelia happened to catch a glimpse.
Her cheeks pinked as her eyes wandered down to the waist of Zelgadis’s pants. Miss Zelgadis was of average height, but her slender, athletic figure and long legs gave her the illusion of extra height. Amelia felt short next to her, even though their height difference was only a few inches. Her pants hung low on her hips; not particularly wide or slender, and Amelia’s blush intensified as her eyes raked upward toward her chest, which was covered by a rudimentary off-white bra. Everything Miss Zelgadis wears is so plain…
She had a momentary thought that maybe she should suggest she get some cute bras, like she and Miss Lina had, but shrugged it off. Zelgadis would scoff at the idea no doubt. “I don’t need cute underwear, I need a cure!” Amelia silently mouthed what she imagined her response would be. She wrinkled her nose and sighed. And it was a shame, because Zelgadis's breasts were so--- she cut herself off—well, bigger than Lina’s but smaller than hers, and Amelia thought, uh—nice.
Zelgadis pulled her tunic over her head, and Amelia pouted a bit, missing the view already.
Miss Zelgadis was just beautiful period, and Amelia had thought as much for a long time. That didn’t make her blush, because she considered it objectively true. She’d told her as much at one point, hoping to boost her spirits since she knew that Zelgadis needed it, but she’d just brushed Amelia off with a “well I don’t think so.” Her tone was one of finality, and Amelia had apologized and left the room.
But that was almost two years ago. She bit her lip. Maybe back then, Miss Zelgadis had believed she was just trying to be nice. It wasn’t too long after they’d met, and she supposed that, being that Zelgadis had just been talking about her cure, she could have assumed that Amelia was only saying it to make her feel better. By now surely she’d understand that Amelia wouldn’t lie like that, right?
Perhaps she should try a different approach.
Amelia cleared her throat. “Miss Zelgadis?”
“Yes, Amelia?” She turned around, clipping her belt around her waist as she did so. The belt, at least, was not plain. A few months before she’d noticed how worn out Zelgadis’s old belt was, and she’d purchased her a new one as a gift ‘in honor of you being knighted by my kingdom’. It was thick brown leather, like her old one, but it was encrusted with a small gold leaf design surrounding a miniature cluster of ruby and sapphire flowers. Zelgadis had been hesitant to take it at first, not thinking it practical to wear something so valuable on a day to day basis, but Amelia had insisted. Despite Zelgadis’s reluctance, Amelia had caught her smiling down at it from time to time.
Amelia shifted on her feet and scratched her cheek.
“Amelia?” she repeated.
Zelgadis’s hair, Amelia’s thoughts supplied. She half wondered if she ever brushed it. Except for a couple of times when they’d been in the bath and from time to time when they were going to bed, Amelia had never seen it out of the messy ponytail she wore it in. And it was a messy ponytail. Miss Zelgadis’s hair went about two thirds down her back, but it was bunched up and knotted enough in the ponytail that it looked much shorter. She had chin length bangs that sometimes made it into the ponytail, sometimes didn’t, and on the whole, Amelia thought it, more than anything else, showed how little Zelgadis concerned herself with her appearance.
Well no, she was very concerned about her appearance. It ate at her all the time, and Amelia knew it. But she’d given up on maintaining it because of that. Amelia sighed. She understood why Miss Zelgadis was so upset. What had happened to her was terrible and cruel, and she couldn’t imagine having to live with her own body as a constant reminder of that.
But even so, it was unjust for such a beautiful girl to think so low of herself!
“C-can I do your hair?” she blurted out. Well. She’d meant to lead up to it, but perhaps it was better this way.
Zelgadis’s blue eyes widened to the point of almost bugging out. “What?”
“I-it’s not weird! Girls do it with their friends all the time,” she rambled. “I-I know you had mostly guy friends before me and Miss Lina, but it’s true and uh--- this is a really fancy inn, so maybe we should spruce up a little bit for dinner?”
She knew her cheeks were burning.
To her credit, so were Zelgadis’s.
“Amelia, it’s not as if I’ve never been around other women before,” she said. Amelia let out an embarrassed laugh. “But no! My hair isn’t exactly normal anyway. Do your own hair.”
Amelia took a deep breath, undeterred, and ran a hand through her black hair. “Well, I’ve always kept my hair short. I like it this way. It’s easy to care for and I like the way it looks, but…” She smiled. “I can’t exactly do much with it.”
“My hair is wire.”
“Which means it’s probably really flexible!”
Zelgadis let out a short, cynical laugh. “There’s really no point in ‘sprucing me up’. I’ll look the same and---“
She was interrupted by the sound of Amelia sliding a chair across the floor and stopping behind her.
“Do Lina’s hair.”
Amelia pouted. “I’ve done it before, but Miss Lina complains so much! You’d think her scalp was made of glass considering how often she accuses me of ‘pulling her hair’.”
“Lina just likes to complain for complaining’s sake. I doubt you’re hurting her.”
“I know!” Amelia grabbed Zelgadis’s shoulders and pushed her down into the chair. “But it sort of dampens the experience.”
“This is such a stupid idea. You’ll probably just end up bleeding on me.”
Amelia had stepped away from the chair and was in her bag, digging out a brush and some clips and hair ties. “It’ll be fine. Just touching the ends of your hair lightly isn’t going to hurt.”
“Okay, but it’s still a waste of time.”
“Where are your wire cutters?”
She sighed in resignation. “Front pocket of my rucksack.”
Within a few moments, Amelia was back behind Zelgadis. She first set out to remove Zelgadis’s hair from the ponytail, which was more difficult than she’d anticipated. “When was the last time you took your hair down?” she asked.
Zelgadis tensed. “I don’t know. Last week maybe?” Amelia eventually gave up and used the wire cutters to just cut the hair tie off. “I told you this was a bad idea.”
“It is not!” Amelia was taking the brush to her hair now, although she found that she was using her fingers just as much in her pursuit of undoing all the knots. “Your hair is so pretty and shiny,” Amelia mused. “Why do you not take better care of it?”
“Why bother?” Zelgadis flinched as Amelia yanked out a particularly stubborn tangle. “It’s shiny because it’s metal.”
Amelia shrugged. She wasn’t going to let Zelgadis get her down about this. “When I was little I liked to do my mom’s hair and my sister’s hair,” she began, her voice quiet. “After they were… gone, I’d beg some of the lady servants to let me play with their hair.” She smiled to herself as she finished untangling a large chunk of hair, brushing it so it lay flat against her back.
“You never just grew out your own hair?” Zelgadis asked, and Amelia noticed that she was less tense.
Amelia shook her head. “Well doing your own hair isn’t as fun, and like I said, I like it short.” She laughed as a specific memory came to mind. “When I was about eight one of the ladies who always worked in my wing of the palace cut her hair short. She’d had this long, gorgeous hair, thick and past her rear! I loved playing with it, and she always indulged me.” She blushed a bit as she recalled the next part. “I was so upset. When I saw her after she’d done it, I cried for ten minutes straight. It was the silliest thing.”
Zelgadis’s shoulders shook, and Amelia was delighted when she started laughing, albeit quietly. “I would hope that you apologized later on.”
Amelia huffed. “Of course I did! How unjust would it be to behave in such a manner and not apologize for it?”
Silence fell between the pair as Amelia continued to work on untangling her hair. Once she was done, she took the wire cutters to the bottom and start trimming off the split ends. “When’s the last time you cut your hair?”
Zelgadis shrugged. “Years ago, before I was cursed. I sometimes clip off a few split ends, but that’s about it.”
“I can tell,” Amelia said. “The bottom three inches or so is all split ends!”
Amelia shook her head and continued snipping. “Did you always wear it long?”
Zelgadis nodded. “Not as long as it is now, since I haven’t cut it, but… yes.”
She was beginning to notice that when you got above the split, brittle ends, Zelgadis’s hair was quite thick. “Wh-what color was it?” she found herself asking, and immediately regretted doing so. Bringing up Zelgadis’s life before just felt taboo.
“Close to the same color as it is now,” Zelgadis replied, and Amelia was shocked to discover that she did not sound irritated. She must be really relaxed. Good. “That didn’t change much.”
Amelia finished another section of hair and considered how she was going to style it.
“It was nice.”
Zelgadis cleared her throat. “M-my hair. I was always really proud of it. I was almost always on the road with Zolf, Rodimus, and Rezo, but I still made sure to take good care of it.”
Amelia almost dropped the wire cutters. She was actually talking about her past, and without her prompting it at that.
“I was really upset. Of course I was upset, but I remember thinking ‘even that’ when Rezo cursed me,” Zelgadis continued, and Amelia’s hands were shaking. “I’ve never thought much of my appearance, even before, but that was the one thing I loved and---“
Before she could register what she was doing, Amelia had snaked her hands around Zelgadis’s shoulders and pulled her head back to rest against her chest. Zelgadis stiffened and her breath hitched, but after a moment she relaxed.
“For the record,” Amelia said, and she was so close to Zelgadis’s ear that they both shivered, “I think you’re pretty.”
“Amelia…” Zelgadis turned her head to look up, and when their eyes met, both of them fully registered how close they were. Cheeks reddening, they turned away in unison.
So close… Amelia thought, steadying her hands as she attempted to go back to Zelgadis’s hair. If only I’d moved in a little bit closer and…
She shook her head profusely. Zelgadis was her friend. It wasn’t just to think of her in such a way!
Why? What’s unjust about lo---
“I’ve got it!” she exclaimed, interrupting her own train of thought.
“You’ve got so much hair, Miss Zelgadis. It’s great!”
“Thanks?” Zelgadis answered, and Amelia wondered if she was still shaken by the moment they’d shared before. She knew she was.
“I can do so much with it,” she chirped. “Do you want me to explain what I plan on doing?”
Zelgadis waved her hand backward. “No need. I trust you not to do anything too embarrassing.”
Amelia laughed. She pulled about two thirds of her hair in a mid-height ponytail, leaving her chin length bangs and one long chunk outside of it. Then she pulled the non-bang hair outside of the ponytail back and began to braid it into the ponytail, until a circular braid surrounded the remaining hair.
It was strange, working with Zelgadis’s hair. It didn’t feel like hair, and it took some getting used to, but in the end she found that it wasn’t difficult. The flexible nature of the wire allowed it to actually stay in place when she bent it, which made it easier to work with.
“You move quite quickly,” Zelgadis said.
“I have a lot of practice.” She worked her fingers along the braid, smoothing it out as she did so. “It’s actually pretty easy to work with, Miss Zelgadis.”
“Well I guess there has to be something good about it,” she replied.
Amelia frowned. “Do you mind if I—will you let me do it again another time?”
Zelgadis’s expression softened and a dusting of pink spread across her cheeks. “If you really want to.”
“I do,” Amelia said, and she clipped the end of the braid in place and observed her handiwork. Braiding the hair all around the ponytail had created a bun, and Amelia thought she’d done well. She left Zelgadis’s bangs hanging down, knowing that she’d probably feel uncomfortable with all of her hair pulled away from her face, but it didn’t hurt the overall effect. “Miss Zelgadis…” She walked around the chair and stood in front of her, her smile wide and beaming. “Wow.”
It really did work wonders. Of course, Zelgadis had been pretty before, but now it was like she was seeing a different side of her. She looked stately, and Amelia thought, no matter what she may think of her chimeric features, that if you put her in a dress she’d be right at home in a ballroom. She’d always had an air of sophistication about her, after all.
“Wait one second,” Amelia said. Zelgadis looked confused, but nodded.
After taking a moment to fish around her pack, Amelia returned to Zelgadis’s side and smiled. “The finishing touch.” She unfisted her hand and revealed a tube of glossy pink lipstick.
Zelgadis’s eyes widened. “Makeup, Amelia? Now you’re just being ridiculous.”
Amelia pouted and grabbed Zelgadis’s forearm, pulling her up to a standing position. “It’s just a little bit of lipstick.” She opened the tube and pressed it to Zelgadis’s lips, applying a layer and then closing it. Zelgadis rubbed her lips together, and Amelia could tell that she felt awkward.
Amelia took Zelgadis’s hand, clasping both of hers around it. Her cheeks were pink, and she knew Zelgadis’s were the same. “I know that you think that sometimes I say things just to be nice, but I really do try my best to always be honest,” she began, and her voice quaked as she spoke. “I-it’s unjust to lie after all! And even though you sometimes tease me about the whole--- justice thing,” she let out a nervous laugh, “I know you know how serious I am about it.”
“Amelia… what are you getting at?”
Amelia closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. “You think there’s no point in this. You think that you should dress up and down in plain clothes and not do your hair, because it’s not as if it matters anyway. And well, if that’s really the clothes you like and the way you like to look, that’s fine, but you--- “ She smiled, and her eyes were misting up a bit but she tried to ignore it. “To tell you the truth, I used to be a little bit jealous of you.”
Zelgadis’s eyes grew large. “J-jealous?”
“Yeah, I mean as a princess I tried really hard to be sophisticated and elegant, and I’ve gotten a lot better about my presentation now, but back then I was just sort of,” she laughed, “clumsy.”
“You’re still clumsy,” Zelgadis replied, but her tone was genial. She was teasing her, not insulting her.
Amelia stuck her tongue out. “Anyway, you seemed so refined to me! You always seemed so sure in your actions, and you carried yourself with such confidence.”
“I was just trying to not get myself killed,” Zelgadis explained. “You don’t want to look uncertain when people are after your life.”
Amelia gestured dismissively. “I know. Actually, once I got to know you,” she laughed and scratched the back of her head with one hand, “I realized that you’re not very refined at all, nor are you that confident.”
Zelgadis frowned. “Now look here----“
“I was glad,” Amelia interrupted, "that you were really as silly as the rest of us. Before, you seemed distant, but there’s so much more to you than that.”
“I’m not silly,” Zelgadis huffed. Amelia giggled.
“One thing that hasn’t changed at all though, is that even now, more than ever really…”
She felt her heart speed up and her body heating as she considered her next words. She led Zelgadis over to the full length mirror on the back of the inn room’s door.
Her eyes grew wide as she registered her appearance, which caused Amelia’s body to grow even warmer. A small smile crossed Zelgadis’s now glossy pink lips, and Amelia felt hot to the point of near bursting.
“I think---“ she said, her throat dry and her tongue thick and heavy, “I think that you are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”
For a moment, she couldn’t even bring herself to look at Zelgadis, so afraid of seeing what her reaction would be. It was only when Amelia heard her shift beside her that she chanced a glance. Zelgadis had turned her body toward her, and ever so gently, she grasped Amelia’s shoulder and pivoted her so they were facing each other.
Zelgadis’s expression was gentle, and at the same time, a bit unreadable, as if she herself was trying to figure out how to respond.
Zelgadis slowly, hesitantly, moved her hand from Amelia’s shoulder to her cheek. “And you,” she whispered, “I think that you are the craziest girl I’ve ever met.”
Amelia pouted. “At least tell me I’m the second craziest!”
Zelgadis laughed, sweet and genuine. “Right. There’s no way you’re crazier than Lina.”
“Exactly.” Amelia smirked. “And you’re at least equally as crazy as me.”
Amelia placed her own hand atop the one Zelgadis had pressed to her cheek and smiled up at her, fond and adoring. She thought, Zelgadis’s expression was the same. She reached up and pressed her free palm to Zelgadis’s cheek, rubbing her fingers across her smooth, warm skin. It was softer than she'd imagined it would be, even the stones around her chin and eyes feeling more polished than coarse. And before she knew it, she’d removed Zelgadis’s hand from her cheek so she could move her face upward. There were mere inches between them before Amelia realized what she was doing, and her face exploded in a blush as she felt Zelgadis’s hot breath on it.
Before she could think to pull away though, firm lips coated in glossy pink lipstick pressed against Amelia’s, and she felt her heart leap into her throat, still hammering as it did so. Eyes sliding closed, she crowed ‘YES’ inwardly before returning the kiss. Zelgadis ran her hand through Amelia’s short black hair, and Amelia gripped Zelgadis’s shoulder, afraid she might collapse in joy if she didn’t hold onto her.
Standing in front of a mirror in a random inn room wasn’t exactly where she’d imagined having her true love’s first kiss, but despite the lack of white horses, dragons, or heroics, it was more than fine. And her knight wasn’t exactly conventional, but she was perfect in all her strangeness, Amelia thought.
When they finally pulled apart, Amelia’s lips as covered in pink now as Zelgadis’s were, Amelia leapt up toward Zelgadis, throwing her arms around her shoulders and smiling so wide she felt as if her cheeks might ache later on. Zelgadis wrapped her arms around her center and lifted her up, swinging her around gently before putting her down.
“Do you want me to promise not to cut my hair?” Zelgadis finally said, and her tone was affectionate but teasing.
Amelia smiled, reaching up and running her fingers through one side of Zelgadis’s long bangs. “Only if that’s what you want.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to see you cry, so the answer is clear.” Zelgadis’s lips lifted up in a half smile.
Amelia covered her mouth with the back of her hand and stifled a laugh. “Do you like it, by the way?”
Zelgadis turned to the mirror, surveying her appearance once again. She took Amelia’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “It’s beautiful Amelia. Thank you.”