Tethys’ palm feels smoother than expected pressed against her own and Natasha would feel almost self-conscious about her own skin, hardened by magic and hard work, a clergywoman’s hands, weren’t all of her attention focused on the muddy ground below her. She puts one foot after the other, slowly, and pulls her gown further up her legs with her free hand.
She’s tried to apologize for it at first, mumbling something about how a hike in the woods isn’t exactly her area of expertise, only for Tethys to shrug it off with an, “easy does it.”
Easy does not, in fact, do it in Natasha’s opinion but she still feels pretty good about herself for having managed not to trip on any roots or pebbles just yet. A part of her, the part that still aches for the young woman she left in Grado when she fled as if her past life were a limb torn away from its socket, reminds her that it’s the war that made her feet steadier; war has made her grow in a knot of crooked angles, like a tree under the bite of heavy snow.
“We’re almost there,” says Tethys, and when she squeezes her fingers in encouragement Natasha feels some of the snow melting away.
“You got a cut on your shin,” she retorts, but her voice peters out as the forest around them opens up in a flowery meadow. The soft grass is peppered with marigolds and blooming clovers and thank Latona it’s beautiful enough to cut off Natasha’s mortifying attempt at small talk.
They sit down in the middle of the meadow, using some of Tethys’ veils and Natasha’s worn out cape as blankets, and it’s— nice, surprisingly so. This, too, is part of what they saved, what they’ve fought for.
Before the grief in her can whisper that her prince was fighting as well she takes Tethys’ hand again, like Tethys herself is sacred ground ready to swallow Natasha up and grant her sanctuary.
“So,” Tethys drawls, leaning close enough for Natasha to smell her perfume, “our little hike was worth it, huh?”
“I’d say so myself, yes.”
Tethys smiles, bright and content and so close Natasha could see for herself if those lips taste as good as they look (there’s a subtle, fierce pride in knowing that such a thing is allowed to her and her alone, no matter how many dances Tethys offers to their still kneeling Magvel); instead she dips her head, rests the bridge of her nose in the crook of Tethys’ neck. A clergywoman’s kiss, she figures.
“I never thought, after hiding—” Her voice breaks, Tethys’ other hand comes resting in between her shoulderblades. “I never thought forests would have anything but dread and cold nights to offer me.”
Both things feel like such nebulous concerns with Tethys’ reassuring presence by her side it makes Natasha feel kind of foolish for even bringing it up. Why worry when there are bees buzzing quietly from one marigold to another, why look back when Tethys herself is always half a step in the future, like that’s where she truly belongs but she won’t run ahead until she’s sure she’s not leaving a single soul behind.
Yet Tethys’ hand doesn’t leave her back and, just for a little while, Natasha lets herself be spoiled while she fills her head with nothing but the sweet smell of perfume and wild flowers.
Tomorrow she will retrace back her steps to the beaten path she’s supposed to walk, but she won’t be walking alone.