How Alisaie hated that word.
She'd heard it said often enough. It was slurred into drinks in darkened taverns. It was whispered amongst friends at the expense of a hapless stranger walking by. Even at the vaunted Studium the word was tossed about, murmured behind books in dark corners of the library.
Alisaie firmly believed that the only true ugliness laid in the actions of the people who uttered such words to harm others. Yet as she looked at her reflection and saw the jagged scar that cut across her skin, the word seared into her mind like a hot brand. She frowned at herself in the mirror, feeling silly for even entertaining such thoughts.
It was likely that her choice of attire was to blame. Well, she hadn't had much choice in that matter, really. When Tataru hastily invited her and Poppy to spend some time at Kugane's famous onsen, she'd been caught off guard.
“You two look stressed!” their Lalafellin friend had exclaimed after Alphinaud and Hancock excused themselves from the solar of the Ruby Bazaar. “Why don’t we have a girl’s night at the Bokairo Inn?”
Perhaps she’d noticed Alisaie’s tense frown or how haggard Poppy looked. Their condition made sense given the odd turn of their recent Doman outing and no detail ever went unnoticed beneath Tataru’s all-seeing gaze. While Poppy accepted the invitation with little hesitation, Alisaie was a bit less enthusiastic.
“I’ve nothing to wear for such an occasion,” she had argued in vain, knowing her protests were futile.
“I have just the thing for you!” was Tataru’s cheerfully stubborn reply, because of course she did, how could she not. She’d likely spent moons collecting fabrics from Kugane’s markets in preparation for a chance to create various outfits for the Scions as she so loved to do.
Alisaie couldn't say no to Tataru. Not after she’d so lovingly crafted her new garments. And so there she stood, moping in her inn room before the mirror and staring at the reflection of a two piece bathing suit that bared that horrid scar for the whole world to see. Her inner turmoil was interrupted after a moment when a few quick knocks came from the other side of the door.
“It’s me,” a muffled though familiar voice spoke.
The sudden interruption gave Alisaie a start. She reached for the robe that was draped across the back of a nearby chair and hastily threw it on before answering, “Come in.”
The door opened with a click and in came Poppy, who wore a robe similar to Alisaie’s and was busy rubbing a towel against her hair. It seemed she’d already rinsed at the showers and decided to stop by before heading to the onsen.
“Are you coming? The hot springs’ll be cold at this rate,” she quipped teasingly as she flung the towel over her shoulder. When she finally looked at Alisaie, her face softened and she tilted her head to the side. “Something wrong?”
Alisaie was confused for a moment before she glanced at the mirror to see that the smirk she thought she wore looked more like a grimace. Seeing it only made her brow furrow more.
“Everything is fine,” she replied and forced a smile. “You can go ahead. I shall join you soon.”
Poppy didn’t look very convinced. She hesitated in the doorway for a moment before she closed the door behind her and made her way across the room. She paused before Alisaie, quirking a brow before placing her hands on her hips. Though she said nothing, her inquisitive gaze spoke volumes.
Alisaie crossed her arms and sighed. She really didn’t want to bother Poppy with her silly self-consciousness. Not when they finally had a chance to relax. Yet as Poppy’s stare burned into her, she knew she had no choice.
“It’s the bathing suit,” she admitted quietly and looked off to the side, feeling a strange sort of shyness creep up her spine.
"Does it not fit? I'm sure Tataru could fix it up somehow." When Alisaie glanced back at her, she saw Poppy flash her a reassuring smile.
"It's more about how it looks," Alisaie added, still avoiding directly naming her discomfort.
Poppy frowned and tilted her head to the side as if confused. "Can I see?"
Alisaie inhaled a sharp breath and stiffened, feeling a bit guilty. Not wanting to disparage Tataru's creation, she pushed through the discomfort and nodded, uncrossing her arms to untie the robe. She shifted beneath Poppy’s gaze uncomfortably and braced herself, feeling prickling thorns of embarrassment when the Warrior's eyes fell on her.
"Oh," Poppy said quietly after a moment. Alisaie felt her heart drop, but the feeling was short-lived when a grin spread across the other woman's face. She quickly undid the knot of her robe to reveal a bathing suit of the same design. "We match!"
Alisaie was surprised. Poppy hadn't said a thing about the scar, if she'd even noticed it at all. She watched as the Warrior turned to the full length mirror with her hands on her hips and a grin still on her face.
"That sneaky Tataru. I bet she made matching sets for every Scion," she said almost accusingly as she spun around to admire herself at all angles. "You don't like it?"
Alisaie looked at her reflection and realized a grimace was slowly creeping across her face again. She looked away from herself to instead meet Poppy's gaze in the mirror.
"I think it looks nice on you," Poppy said sweetly, sounding genuine.
The Warrior stepped closer to Alisaie and reached out to wrap an arm around her waist, pressing her against her side in a one-armed embrace. Alisaie relaxed a bit, feeling comforted by the gesture, and stared at their reflections for a long moment. The bathing suits were cut well and clearly made with care. The tops had small flowers embroidered onto them with gold and white thread while the bottoms were tied at the hip with a large bow. The only difference between them was that Poppy's set was pink while Alisaie's was red. She let a small smile slip. The design certainly was charming. However, she still found her eyes lingering on the large scar that tore across her chest from her shoulder to her hip.
She shifted her gaze to Poppy. The Warrior seemed relaxed as she leaned against her and Alisaie found she envied her partner's confidence. She never seemed to shrink beneath anyone's gaze despite any insecurity she felt. Her eyes flitted across Poppy's tan skin and settled on a scar that cut across her chest. She was breathless for a moment as she stared. It was uncannily similar to Alisaie's in placement and size. It seemed the bathing suits weren't the only way they matched.
"Seeing it now, I think I do like it," Alisaie said quietly as a small smile tugged at her lips. She felt the rest of her discomfort dissipate when Poppy's face brightened with a smile in return.
Before either of them could say more, there was a loud knock that startled them both. They turned as the door opened a crack and Tataru's head popped in. Her eyes lit up with a mischievous glint when she saw the two women.
"If you two are done canoodling in here, we should get to the hot springs," Tataru said as a wide grin spread across her face. "The water will be cold at this rate!"
Alisaie felt her face grow warm at the accusation. "I assure you that there is no canoodling happening here-"
"That's exactly what I said when I came to get Ali!" Poppy ignored Alisaie's protests to reply to Tataru. When the Warrior glanced at her, a mischievous smile matching the Lalafell's quirked her lips. "Guess I got distracted. Can you blame me though? She's so pretty," she said in a cloyingly sweet tone as she pulled Alisaie closer and leaned in to make obnoxious kissy noises.
Alisaie rolled her eyes and flicked her partner on the nose. "You're a menace," she huffed, trying to sound annoyed, but smirked when Poppy let out a soft yelp of surprise. "Both of you are." She stepped away from a pouting Poppy and moved towards Tataru, who eyed her bemusedly from behind the door.
"Shall we, then? The hot springs might grow cold if we dally much longer, after all."
- x -
"And then Hancock said, 'Tataru, you can't talk to potential business partners like that'. So I told him, 'It was just a suggestion'!"
Poppy grinned into her cup as she leaned over the table. "What kind of suggestion was it?" she asked, stifling a giggle and edging Tataru on for more details.
"I suggested he go hawk his wares down by the piers! I've seen better quality wool come out of Camp Dragonhead for a third of the price." Tataru paused to sigh and take a long sip from her own cup. "Honestly, Hancock wouldn't know good wool if a karakul bit him in the rear!"
Poppy leaned back and let out a hearty laugh, bumping her knee against the low table they sat at and almost spilling her drink on herself in the process. Alisaie nearly snorted into her own drink, both from Tataru's words and Poppy's antics. She reached out to right the Warrior's cup before it fell into her lap.
"I don't know why Lolorito keeps him around," Alisaie began wryly. "He really should just hire you. You're more charming than that snake of a man could ever hope to be."
Another laugh escaped past Poppy's lips, though it sounded more like a hiss when she tried to stifle it. "You've got to aim higher than that. I'd say Lolorito's seat at the Syndicate is more your style," she said and flashed a grin across the table.
Tataru grinned in return and chuckled as she swirled her drink around in her cup. "That's very flattering, but I don't think I'd ever want to leave the Scions," she said, sounding wistful. A grin slowly spread across her face again, though it looked far more menacing than before. "Alphinaud might drain our coffers on another sword if I'm not around!"
It was Alisaie's turn to laugh. "For all his talent in politics, he certainly has no sense when it comes to budgets," she said, unable to pass up an opportunity to joke at her dear brother's expense.
Beside her, Poppy pouted. "I'm still nursing wounds from trying to fix that mess," she muttered. "Who knew an old tiger could hit that hard."
Tataru and Alisaie shared another laugh, which Poppy reluctantly joined after another moment of pouting. When they quieted and an amiable silence fell over them, Tataru yawned into her palm.
"Well, I think I'm going to turn in for the night," she said as she hopped up from her seat. She smiled at the pair and stretched before turning to the door. "You two stay the night here. You've earned a good night's rest in a decent bed for once! My treat, of course."
Alisaie smirked when she thought about their arrival and how Tataru had very loudly mentioned that the Warrior who freed both Doma and Ala Mhigo would like to stay at the inn, thus earning herself a very generous discount. Her treat indeed.
"Aw, no sleepover? There's plenty of space if you want to stay too." Poppy gestured to the spacious room around them and Alisaie nodded in agreement. They could easily house most of the core Scions given enough extra blankets, she realized bemusedly.
"My bed at the Ruby Bazaar is calling me. I've got to get up early to do some paperwork anyway," Tataru explained. She smiled again and waved before making her way over to the door. "Rest well, you two!"
Alisaie and Poppy said their good nights and were soon left alone in their lavish, much too large inn room with a spread of snacks and drinks still before them. Tataru really was very thoughtful. The Scions were lucky to have her, Alisaie realized.
Beside her, Poppy didn't bother to stifle the yawn that tore through her, which ended in a laugh when it prompted Alisaie's own. "Seems like we're all equally exhausted," she said, eyes crinkling with a smile when Alisaie nodded in agreement through her yawn. "Mmm, didn't realize how much I needed that soak. Much less sore now," she added sleepily.
Alisaie watched as Poppy rolled her shoulder and lifted her arms above her head to stretch. She followed the flicking of her tail and trailed up the curve of her spine to where her gaze settled on a gash that tore across her shoulder blade. Alisaie frowned. She hadn't noticed that before. The wound was starting to scar, but still looked fresh as the angry red of it stood out against the olive complexion of Poppy's skin. Without much thought, Alisaie reached out to touch it, almost as if to wipe the painful looking mark away. She felt wiry muscle tense and shift beneath her touch and soon Poppy was looking at her with a curious and surprised expression.
"You don't have to scowl," Poppy said quietly, sounding amused though she looked a bit sheepish. "It's mostly healed, so you don't have to worry."
Alisaie released the breath she realized she'd been holding and met Poppy's gaze to smile. It seemed she'd formed a nasty habit of unconsciously making sour expressions. "From Byakko, I presume?" she asked as she looked back at the forming scar. The gash looked like it'd been left by a massive claw or perhaps even a tooth. Poppy had certainly managed to get herself tangled in some strange, dangerous affairs amidst the recent Doman shenanigans.
"Aye. Told you that old tiger hit hard," Poppy replied and flashed a toothy grin, seeming unfazed. "Not the worst, though. I've had nastier cuts than that. Like that one there." She shifted slightly so that her back was fully facing Alisaie. The camise she wore was cut low, leaving her skin mostly exposed. She reached behind her to gesture towards a large mark that spread across the center of her back. "That one's from Ifrit. I was still green and made the mistake of turning my back for too long. The bastard nearly gored me through." She chuckled as if recalling a fond memory and not the origin of a likely life threatening injury.
Alisaie shook her head in disbelief and touched the faint scar that Poppy pointed at. It bloomed beneath her fingers almost in the shape of a flower with a divot in the center where a massive horn had punctured and likely burned the skin around it. She winced at the thought. She knew Poppy wore her blessing like a second skin that shielded her from the worst and could heal rapidly thanks to it, but it still must have hurt. Flesh was still flesh despite blessings and magic.
"And this one?" Alisaie asked as her gaze and fingers moved upward and found a strange cross shaped scar at the base of her neck.
Alisaie noticed how Poppy's ears flicked sideways. "Oh, that one's embarrassing," she replied. "I slipped on one of the ramparts at Camp Dragonhead and fell off. Could've snapped my neck, according to the chirurgeons. Didn't though!"
Alisaie let out a strangled sound of amusement and disbelief. How Poppy toed the line between life and death with such cheerful recklessness was truly maddening. Such were the ways of her beloved, Alisaie reminded herself wearily.
She listened as Poppy blithely pointed out her most notable wounds. When she looked at the rest of Poppy's back she felt like she was seeing it -- really seeing it -- for the first time. Scars stretched across her skin and connected the freckles smattered across her back like tiny constellations that represented her dedication to Hydaelyn. Alisaie touched those too. She gently traced each line she saw with the pads of her fingertips in silent reverence. Her own scar ached across her chest, feeling almost heavy.
Alisaie leaned forward and sighed, resting her forehead against Poppy's shoulder. "I feel silly," she admitted quietly.
"Why's that?" Poppy asked, sounding confused.
"You wear your scars with pride. Yet I..." she trailed off for a moment to frown. "I was embarrassed."
Alisaie felt Poppy shift before her. She lifted her head from the other woman's shoulder to see her face light up with understanding.
"So it wasn't about the bathing suit earlier, was it?" When Alisaie nodded, Poppy turned to face her. She folded her legs neatly on the cushion they sat on and leaned forward a bit, resting her elbows on her knees. "Can I see it again?" she asked gently.
Alisaie obliged with far less hesitation that time. She undid the knot of her robe and shrugged it off so the fabric pooled around her elbows. Alisaie watched Poppy's face and realized she looked a bit sad. Perhaps she was reliving the day Alisaie had earned the wound.
"Well, I like it." A small smile quirked her lips and she tilted her head down to look at Alisaie from beneath her lashes. "Don't forget what Thancred said about battle scars and maidens," she said coyly, sounding flirtatious.
Alisaie rolled her eyes and suppressed the urge to groan. "What was it that he said?"
"'Naught worth repeating in polite company', remember?" Poppy grinned smugly and Alisaie had to stop herself from saying that the Warrior herself certainly wasn't polite company.
Poppy's smile softened and she reached out to place a hand on Alisaie's shoulder. Her thumb brushed against the end of the scar on her collarbone. The nerves there were still healing and likely would be for a long while, so the touch felt distant and odd. The sensation sent a shiver down Alisaie's spine.
"But really, I do like it. It makes us match." Her words were the same from earlier when she noted their bathing suits and Alisaie realized she must have noticed the scars as well. Poppy pressed her other hand against her chest where the mark left by Zenos's blade hid beneath her camise. Alisaie could see the end of it poke out from beneath the hem and stretch across her stomach. She felt strangely emotional at that small similarity they shared.
"You don't have to be proud of it, though. Hells, you don't even have to like it," Poppy said quietly, sounding thoughtful. "It's just part of who you are now and it's nothing to be ashamed of. If anyone says otherwise, you tell them to sod off."
Alisaie chuckled at the tartness of Poppy's tone. "I did not realize our Warrior of Light was so wise," she teased. She lifted Poppy's hand from her shoulder to kiss the inside of her wrist in silent thanks. Her words had certainly lifted her spirits and she made a good point. It was just a mark on skin. There really was nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
Poppy smiled at the affectionate gesture and moved closer so that she could wrap her arms around Alisaie's waist and pull her into her lap. "Of course I'm wise. It comes with the title," she joked along.
She leaned in to press several kisses along the end of Alisaie's scar. When she pulled away, Alisaie moved forward to mirror her motions and left her own trail of kisses on the top of Poppy's shoulder where her scar began. She wrapped her arms around the other woman's neck and held her, relaxing at the sensation of Poppy's hands gently running up and down her back in soothing lines.
And so they sat on the floor of their inn room, dozing peacefully in each other's arms, both glad they had a chance to heal together.