Love is like a sword, and to some it cuts and to others it makes them feel strong.
Say'ri has been hit with the flat, and the bruise in her heart stays there, aching.
When things tip backward from the end of the world to a more hopeful future, there are still things to be done in the places she calls home. Fury becomes a shield, first and foremost, debate being a lesser skill in her armory. Other dynasts do not see the world as Say'ri does.
Through all of this, Tiki is a constant. Not in any great over-arching manner - though at times, it is difficult to part from social conditioning. When Say'ri calls loudly for change with a raised fist and causes the rest of the room to fall into amused, awkward silence, it is Tiki, sitting calmly, who smiles and prods the ashes of the debate into fire once again with a coy observance or innocent question. Things shift slowly, glacially forth to a brighter hope.
It isn't difficult to descend into familiarity with a draconic friend. Tiki invites it - and at times demands it, bringing food as an excuse to talk and staying as long as she can manage, staying up till she drifts off and shaking awake with irritation at her own loss of consciousness. On occasion, Say'ri tucks covers over her with the caring non-reverence of a long-held friend, and takes her own rest at a respectful foot and a half of distance. There are many things to say, and never enough time. Tiki keeps Say'ri at ease, in return for the paltry sum of being always welcome at her comings and goings.
It was never a slip and fall into love, but among things that make Say'ri's heart clench with fluttering adrenaline dread - and in the business of infrastructure hitherto not assigned to a regal spare, there are many - are small favours. Tiki is sarcastic, funny, gentle - has seen battles and lost exactly as much, and then more - and is still usually the calm hand on Say'ri's wincing and too-human fumbles. Even when threatening inventive carnivorous murder, her voice stays level where Say'ri's would creak. But though their friendship is promised lifelong, and thoughtful are the gifts exchanged, Say'ri keeps a noble’s firm restraint.
It is summer, the crickets humming in the evening warmth, and one could be forgiven for thinking that Tiki also hums with a feline purr as she enjoys the atmosphere of Say'ri's rooms in private at the end of a long and inglorious day.
"You've got some silver," Tiki observes.
Tiki reaches just once toward the hairs with a coy smile, to touch with a deliberate, slow gesture. It's forwardness she's kept since they've met, natural and kindly intended.
"I know," Say'ri says, shaking her head. "I have had comments..."
"Is it your grand thoughts leaking out to visit the world?"
Say'ri holds in place, her hands coming together as she deliberates the response. She chuffs a short laugh at the idea of it.
"I take after my forefathers," she says at last, unwilling to comment further but still smiling, just a little.
Tiki hums acknowledgement, slipping further into Say'ri's personal space. Her hands reach into the worn-callous grip of Say'ri's fingers.
"They're proud of you," she whispers, leaning forward.
Say'ri's head tips down and away with nervous reflex as Tiki's face nears her own, only for her to frown a moment later.
"I hope it is so," she amends, cautiously raising her eyes and once again pulling herself into control, "All who have worn this mantle show the wear of it in their hair first."
Tiki nods, similarly still, thumbs on Say'ri's knuckles as she uncurls the tight clench of her hands.
"Nothing is ever certain," she says wistfully, turning their hands palm-upwards, "It suits you."
The next night, there is rain. The atmosphere is stuffy despite the partially-open door, Tiki's long, light hair ever-fluffier, the manakete lounging on her back without thought to proper bearing across the mats. Say'ri sits upright, a pugnacious twist to her lip as she reads the next order of bureaucratic waffle, picking through for things she doesn't agree with and underlining them.
"There are ways to stay dark," Tiki says, reaching out to touch Say'ri's bare knee while she watches shadows cross the ceiling, "It doesn't even need magic."
"I had thought of it," Say'ri says, "None before me have done such."
"Is it a tradition?"
Say'ri allows a short grunt of frustration as she crumples the paper, throwing it aside. The pen in her other hand spills ink as she puts it down.
"I know you are aware of the weight it all carries," she says, "Tradition is too often invoked for false purpose."
Her hand covers Tiki's, lifting it from her too-warm skin to hold.
"What do you think I should do?"
"Whatever you feel must be done," she says, as Say'ri leans over to regard her with a thoughtful frown.
"There is a lot I have not yet done," Say'ri replies, giving Tiki's hand a squeeze and then placing it down. She pulls in a short breath, leaning still further and bracing with an arm to lower herself toward Tiki's face.
"You need to be closer," Tiki says softly, as Say'ri halts at an awkward angle, closing her eyes as though the laws of object permanence will remove her from the scene. Tiki puts hands to her cheeks, pulling her a little further down with eagerness borne of long waiting, waiting for Say'ri to find her boldness and meet her from the last, short gap.
"Please," she asks.
Say'ri hesitates a moment longer before she bumbles on to Tiki's mouth, unpractised and rough around the edges, Tiki's fingers slipping into her hair. Over-eager, Say'ri forgets to breathe, and breaks away with a startled inhale.
"My-" she starts, as Tiki only puts her finger to her lip for a hush, drawing her back for another try.
"Mine," she corrects, "If you want it so."