Pike smiled as she leaned back against Keyleth's chest, her eyes closed as she half-drowsed in the warm sunlight. Keyleth's fingers felt wonderful against her scalp as she worked on braiding her hair. It had been so long since the last time they'd done this, back before Vox Machina had spent those long months apart. Even after almost a week back together, sharing stories and getting used to having a keep of their very own, it didn't seem real that they were back together.
She'd never expected to miss all of them so much.
"How does my hair look?" Pike asked sleepily.
After a second or two, Keyleth's hands suddenly stilled. There wasn't a reply, the silence stretching out between them.
Her smiled fading, Pike opened her eyes and looked up. Keyleth was looking down at her with an unreadable look on her face.
"What's wrong?" Pike asked, not even trying to hide the worry in her voice. A lock of white hair was hanging down over her eye, and she reached up to brush it out of her face. "Keyleth?"
Keyleth shook her head, blinking a few times as if she was coming out of a daze. "Nothing," she said hurriedly, going back to braiding Pike's hair as if nothing had happened. "Sorry."
Pike tilted her head. Or, at least, that's what she tried to do. It didn't work all that well considering Keyleth's hands were back in her hair, gently twisting it into braids and – knowing her – carefully tucking flowers in as well.
"Keyleth," Pike said firmly, in the no-nonsense tone she usually only brought out for Grog and Scanlan, "what's wrong?"
Keyleth's hands stilled again, and she let out a sigh. "It's nothing, Pike, really," she said, in a voice that made it very clear that she was lying through her teeth. "I just got distracted."
Pike raised her eyebrows and brought out the tone that she usually only used for Percy when he was about to do something very foolish. "Keyleth."
There was another long pause. Then Keyleth let out a huff of laughter under her breath. "Sometimes I think you practice that."
If anything, Pike's eyebrows went even higher.
Keyleth slowly went back to braiding her hair, her fingers a bit clumsier and more unsure than Pike was used to from her. It reminded her of when they'd first met each other, almost a year ago by now, when Keyleth had still been learning how to braid. If she hadn't already known that something was wrong, that would have convinced her of it.
Pike was just about to say something else when Keyleth finally continued.
"For a second, I forgot your hair was white now."
The words were barely more than a whisper, but Pike still heard them clearly. Her body stiffened a little before she could stop it, a momentary flash of painpainPAIN fear regret blackness weloveyou pleasecomeback rushing through her head. It wasn't a memory, not quite, but it was close. It was a reminder, at the very least, one that she hadn't been expecting.
Pike closed her eyes for a second and took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Then, to be on the safe side, she did it again. She could feel her heart beating faster than it normally did, a steady drumming in her chest.
"I'm sorry," Keyleth said quietly. "I was daydreaming, I think. Not really paying attention. And then you asked how your hair looked, and I looked at it, and—and—"
"Yeah," Pike said, her voice just as soft. She opened her eyes again, forcing her mouth to twist into a smile. "Yeah, I know. I forget sometimes too."
Keyleth's face was paler than normal, the tightness around her mouth showing just how upset she was. Her face showed every emotion so clearly. She wasn't able to hide how she was feeling like some of them – most of them – could.
It made Pike's chest hurt to see her looking so upset.
"I kind of like having white hair," Pike said, reaching up to pat Keyleth's arm. It took a bit of acrobatics on her part to do it without moving her head, considering Keyleth's hands were still in her hair, but she managed. "And you know what? I bet a purple streak would stand out even more in white hair than black."
Keyleth's mouth twitched. It wasn't a smile, not quite, but it was close.
"Or maybe you could turn your hair white too," Pike suggested. "You know how to make frost, right?"
This time, the slight twitch at the corners of Keyleth's mouth was enough to qualify as an actual smile. A small one, maybe, but a smile. "I'm not going to freeze my hair."
"Why not?" Pike asked in what she knew was probably a too-innocent tone. "Don't you think it would be cool?"
There was a long pause as Keyleth parsed what she had just said. Then she threw her head back and laughed.
Pike grinned, relaxing back against Keyleth's chest again.
"That was horrible," Keyleth said almost a full minute later, once she had finally managed to get her laughter under control. "Scanlan would love it."
"I didn't think it was that bad," Pike said teasingly, not even trying to pretend to be telling the truth. The horribleness of the pun had been the point, after all.
Keyleth shook her head. There was still a hint of tightness around her mouth, a bit of darkness in her eyes, but it was better. It was enough. For the time being, at least.
Pike would take what she could get. But then again...
"How are you at making purple flowers?" Pike asked, more wistfully than she'd meant.
Keyleth hesitated for a moment, her hands stilling, before she laughed weakly and went back to braiding Pike's hair. "I'm an expert at it," she said lightly. "Just wait and see."
Then she leaned down and pressed a kiss against Pike's forehead. Keyleth's lips burned like flames against her skin, and her smile as she pulled away was as bright as the sun.
Pike smiled back.