Ceres took her time as she followed Poppy out of the kitchen, slowing making their way towards the bedrooms everyone had claimed for the duration of their stay at the temple. Poppy didn't push, simply walking ahead and occasionally glancing backwards, most likely to make certain she was still being followed. If Poppy hadn't already mentioned that she knew exactly what Ceres was going through from personal experience, Ceres would have guessed as much just from her actions the last few hours.
If she was honest with herself, Ceres was a bit surprised how much she appreciated it. She normally balked at any type of mollycoddling, hating the feeling that she was being treated like glass for any reason. Poppy was managing to tread the fine line between too much and not enough, though, in a way that almost surprised her. The last person to manage that had been—
—and she quickly cut off that train of thought as Maya's face flashed in her mind's eye. No matter how it had ended, the two of them had been through a lot over their ten years together. None of which she particularly wanted to think about just then.
Gods, she couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so tired.
Ceres felt a bit numb as she slipped through the halls of the temple, following in Poppy's footsteps, like her body and her mind were almost disconnected from each other. She couldn't even blame it on the alcohol. Unlike the others, she'd nursed the same drink almost the entire time, not that any of them had really noticed. Besides, she knew exactly what this was. It wasn't the first time it had happened, after all. She'd felt something similar several times in the past, usually in the aftermath of a close call or an injury.
But this was the first time she'd felt it after actually dying.
Ceres stopped for a moment, her breath catching in her throat as her legs suddenly felt as if they were made of stone. She'd died. Actually died. Yes, she'd been injured dozens of times in the past, and some of them had been pretty damn serious at the time. She'd been worried about losing her eye when she'd gotten sliced across the face with that blade, and in the aftermath of Lyrengorn she hadn't been completely certain whether or not her arm was going to heal properly considering how deep some of that glass had dug into her skin and muscles.
This was more than that.
Her hand trailed down to the newest scar in her collection. It hadn't been a conscious decision on her part, throwing on light clothes that showed more of the angry red line that almost bisected her body than they hid. She honestly hadn't quite realized what she was wearing until she'd gotten downstairs and saw the others' reactions. But, well, it made sense in hindsight. The scar was a part of her now, yet another reminder of what not to do in the future, and the sooner she got used to it the better.
Scars were a reminder that you'd fucked up, but you'd lived through it. In a manner of speaking, at least.
The scar was still raw and tender, even if the healing spells that had been dumped into her had closed it and the bath that she'd taken had removed the blood. It ran from her below her navel all the way up to her collarbone, just barely avoiding the feather tattoo there. Not for the first time, she was glad that she wasn't particularly well-endowed. Judging by the way the scar came up between her breasts, looping almost gracefully over the top of them, it probably would have been much messier if there'd been more of them to go through.
A smaller, darker hand reached towards hers, hovering slightly above the skin. It wasn't quite a hesitation just… well, a pause. As if its owner was waiting to see her reaction.
Ceres tore her eyes from the scar.
Poppy was looking up at her. Her gaze was focused solely on Cere's face, even though her shorter height meant that she had a good view of the scar and several other things besides. She quirked her eyebrows a bit when she saw that she had Ceres's attention, moving her hand the rest of the way so that it was resting on top of Cere's.
"Come on,” she said softly. "You probably don't want to do this here in the hallway.”
Ceres forced her mouth to turn upwards into a smirk, even if she doubted it reached her eyes. "That depends on exactly what it is you think I'm going to be doing,” she shot back. "You might be surprised just what I'm up for.”
Poppy snorted, amusement flickering across her face for a moment. "I doubt it.”
There wasn't much Ceres could say to that considering Poppy and Velora probably knew more about her than all of Nothrim combined when it came down to it. She simply let Poppy take her by the hand and start pulling her gently down the hall.
Besides, Poppy was right. Having a minor breakdown wasn't something she particularly wanted to do just then, especially not somewhere like a hallway where just anyone could walk in on it. She had a reputation to uphold, after all.
It was easier that way.
Neither of them said anything as they continued onwards and up the stairs, but Poppy did stop once they reached the hallway where their rooms were located. She shot Ceres a questioning look, her gaze darting between the door to the room Ceres had claimed for herself and that of her own room further down the hallway. Ceres didn't have to be a mind reader to pick up on the fact that she was silently asking which one to head towards.
After a moment's hesitation, Ceres nodded towards Poppy's door. She suspected her own probably still had a faint scent of blood lingering in it, considering just how soaked her armor had been in it when she'd arrived even after Zallar's attempts at magicking the worst of it away. And, well, that wasn't something she particularly wanted to deal with right then.
Oh, she'd have to get over it whether she liked it or not. Blood wasn't exactly something she could easily avoid in her line of work, and she couldn't afford for the smell of it to throw her off. Not if she wanted to stay alive for very long, at least. Still, that was something she'd worry about that the next morning.
Besides, if any of the others got it into their heads to try and talk to her again that night, they'd probably check her room. And she really didn't want to deal with that just then. Or ever, if she was entirely honest with herself.
Something flickered across Poppy's face – not quite surprise but definitely some emotion along the same vein as it – but it was there and gone before Ceres had a chance to really process it. "Come on then,” she said. "You're the one who said you wanted a distraction.”
Ceres's mouth twitched again, and this time it almost felt real. "Lead the way,” she said, slipping her hand out of Poppy's and gesturing for her to go first.
Poppy headed for the door without a backwards glance, opening it and immediately making a beeline for the table by the bed to light some of the candles sitting there. Ceres felt something ease in her chest that she hadn't even been aware of as a warm glow filled the room. Wonderful. It looked like the dark was something else she was going to have to force herself not to have problems with.
It might have been easier if she'd just stayed dead, at the rate things were going.
The next few seconds – minutes? longer? – were mostly a blur when Ceres tried to think back to them. She remembered flinching as that thought went through her head, turning to pull the door shut behind her, and then all but throwing herself at Poppy. In what seemed like a blink, she was sitting on the bed with Poppy straddling her waist and pulling back from a kiss that Ceres barely remembered happening in the first place.
Judging by the knowing look Poppy was shooting her, Ceres wasn't guarding her expression nearly as much as she usually did. Either that, or Poppy was simply more perceptive than Ceres had given her credit for in the past. Maybe both.
"Do you still want to do this?” Poppy asked carefully, her gaze focused closely on Ceres's face. Like she was trying to make certain Ceres was at least mostly there before they moved onto any of the actually distracting things.
Ceres leaned in to kiss her again as a response.
Poppy only hesitated for an instant before kissing her back, and Ceres could feel Poppy's lips twist into a smile against hers. It was easy to lose herself in the familiar sensation of lips against lips and body against body, and for the first time since she'd jerked back to consciousness with Gwae's face floating above her and a sense that something was very wrong, Ceres felt almost like herself.
Now that her mind was on the present instead of floating off in the void, Ceres could admit that she was more than a little impressed. Poppy clearly knew what she was doing, and the way that she was pressing forward just enough to force Ceres to lean backwards against the bed without saying a word made it look like she wouldn't have any problem taking charge.
And, well, Ceres could do with someone else doing the thinking for her. At least for a little while.
After a long moment, Poppy broke the kiss with obvious reluctance and pulled away, holding up a hand. Her face was flushed, but her voice was surprisingly level as she said: "We should probably have a quick talk first.”
Ceres let out a sigh, but she still nodded in agreement. "Ground rules, I assume?”
The corners of Poppy's mouth twitched. "Among other things.”
Ceres's eyebrows went up a bit, and she leaned backwards a little more, propping herself up on her elbows. With Poppy still straddling her lap, it switched their heights so that Ceres was the one looking up instead of down for once. "Now I'm curious.”
Poppy's smile grew a bit more pronounced, but there was a hint of falseness to it that Ceres recognized in a heartbeat. She'd seen it in the mirror many times before, after all.
"Just so you know,” Poppy said slowly, her gaze focused carefully on Ceres's face, "when I was born everyone assumed that I was a boy. It took some convincing for them to realize they were wrong.” Her smile grew a bit wryer. "I didn't want you to be caught off guard by anything.”
Ceres blinked. Then she shrugged. "Everyone thought that my parents had another daughter,” she said. "I'm not sure they ever figured out that they simply had a child instead.”
Poppy nodded, her smile shifting to one that seemed a bit more genuine. "I'm glad we're on the same page,” she said. Then she tilted her head to the side, an almost curious glint appearing in her eyes. "Is there anything specific you want to avoid?”
Relief that they were getting back to the distracting part without a long conversation rushed through Ceres, and she opened her mouth to give her usual reply of "not a thing.” Then she hesitated, her gaze darting down towards the scar jutting up and across the front half of her body. For a moment, she could almost feel the blood running down her skin again.
"I'm fine with some pain,” Ceres said, a bit reluctantly, "but could we avoid actually breaking the skin? At least, for now.”
There was a knowing look in Poppy's eyes as she nodded again. "The smell?”
Ceres gave her a half-hearted shrug but didn't reply. If she didn't actually say the words, it was easier to pretend that the smell of blood of all things wasn't bothering her.
"No breaking the skin,” Poppy repeated. "Anything else?”
As much as it grated, Ceres thought about it for a long moment. She'd learned the hard way that nothing killed the mood faster than an unexpected reminder popping up in the middle of things. "I don't think so.”
Poppy looked at her carefully, as if she was trying to figure out whether or not she was being honest. "If you think of something, tell me,” she said matter-of-factly. "Don't try to hide it.”
Ceres nodded in acquiescence, forcing herself not to roll her eyes no matter how much she might have wanted to do so. It was a fair point. Then again…
"What about you?” Ceres asked. "Anything to avoid?”
That expression that Ceres couldn't quite make out flickered across Poppy's face again. It was definitely akin to surprise, but there was something else mixed in with it that she couldn't quite place.
"I'm not planning on you having the chance to do anything that I don't specifically tell you to do,” Poppy replied after a moment's pause.
Ceres shrugged, trying to ignore the way her heart started pounding a bit faster than usual at the inherent promise in Poppy's words. "Fair enough,” she agreed. "Anything else?”
"Do you have a safe word?” Poppy asked.
Ceres shook her head at that. "I'm not big on those kinds of games,” she said with a shrug. "If I say 'stop,' then I mean it.”
Poppy gave another nod. Then she leaned back somewhat, her gaze moving up and down Ceres's body as if she was really taking everything in for the first time. "How do you feel about candles? And rope?” she asked thoughtfully. Then her eyes lit up, as if something had just crossed her mind. "And magic?”
Ceres didn't even blink at the question, although there was a part of her that was very curious just what Poppy had in mind. "I feel like it's about time we got to the distraction part of the night.”
Poppy's mouth twisted into a smile that sent a shiver down Ceres's spine in a very good way. "Well then,” she said, "let's get to it.”