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A Hallway Conversation

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Someone was knocking on her door. Again.

Ceres sighed and glanced over at the still locked door. Eryth had made it sound like the rest of the group was heading out to the Crucible to watch Shema punch things, but she supposed it wasn't out of the question that one or two people had stayed behind. The last day or so had been a lot after all. She couldn't be the only one who wasn't in the mood for a crowd.

Gwae, maybe? She was probably the most likely to have stayed behind, other than Zallar, but the odds of him knocking on Ceres's door were slim. Or it could possibly be Poppy. Ceres didn't know her that well, at least outside of the physical side of things, but she'd always struck her as the type of person who tended to check in when she thought something was wrong.

Whoever it was on the other side of the door knocked again, a bit louder this time as if they weren't certain she'd heard them. Now that Ceres was paying closer attention, it was clear that the knocking was happening on the top half of the door rather than the bottom. Not Poppy, then.

Ceres forced herself to stop dithering, and she pushed herself up off of the bed where she'd been sitting. She walked over to the door, her hand hovering over the lock. "Yes?"

"It's Gwae," a familiar voice said from the other side of the door. "Everyone else just left for the fighting whatever. Poppy and I are hanging out in the kitchen with ice cream if you want to join us." There was a pause. "And alcohol. Like, so much alcohol."

Well, if nothing else, Gwae knew how to speak to a person's heart.

The corner of Ceres's mouth twitched upwards a bit despite herself. She reached for the lock, unlocking with a quick twist of her wrist. She took a breath, her hand going up to touch her newly short hair for a second before she brought it back down.

Ceres carefully put as casual an expression as she could manage on her face. Then she reached out and opened the door, not surprised to see Gwae's hand hovering an inch or two away from it as if she was trying to decide whether to knock again. "Well, I won't turn down alcohol."

"Great!" Gwae said brightly, shooting Ceres a smile.

She wasn't even trying to hide the fact that she was eyeing Ceres's hair, and Ceres felt a slight pang of something that she purposefully did her best not to dig into too deeply. She didn't really care what anyone else thought about it. That's not why she had cut it. But at the same time...

After just a moment's pause, Gwae gave a nod. "I like the haircut, even if it's a bit uneven," she said, gesturing down the hallway with her head. Without waiting for a response, she started walking towards the stairs at the end of it. She kept her pace slow, as if she was waiting for Ceres to catch up with her.

"I thought it was time for a change," Ceres said with a purposefully casual shrug. Then she stepped out of the room and carefully shut the door behind her before taking a few long strides to catch up with Gwae.

"Yeah, a lot has happened in the last thirty-six hours," Gwae agreed. Her eyes darted towards Ceres again, not even giving a casual attempt at subtlety. "How are you doing, by the way?"

Ceres glanced over at her and raised an eyebrow. She didn't say anything, but after six months of traveling together she thought that Gwae probably knew her well enough to read the unspoken how do you think I'm doing? that she was projecting at her.

Gwae smiled a bit sheepishly. "Dumb question, I know," she admitted, "I just—" She trailed off for a second. "I want to make sure that you'll be okay, even if you aren't now."

Ceres shot her a smile that she severely doubted actually made it to her eyes. "I'll be fine," she said. "I just wasn't particularly in the mood to watch people punch each other tonight, considering it hasn't even been a day since—"

She cut off abruptly, reining in the rant she could feel building, and took in a deep breath.

Gwae eyed her cautiously.

"Like I said," Ceres said as matter-of-factly as she could manage, "I'll be fine."

For a long moment, neither of them said anything as they continued down the hallway. They came to the stairs at the end of it and slowly started descending towards the lower level.

"Yeah, I don't get the whole need for a fight either," Gwae said carefully, as if she was trying to watch her words. "Regardless, if you want to talk about it, or anything really. Or, you know, you want a drinking buddy? I'm here."

She paused for a second, like she was trying to decide whether or not to continue. Ceres watched her carefully.

"Also, if you're not opposed, I'd love to even out the cut of your hair," Gwae said, her words getting a little faster as if she was trying to get through them as quickly as possible. "Just kinda smooth it a bit."

Gwae reached out towards Ceres's hair, presumably to touch a chunk of it that she felt was uneven. She stopped about an inch away, leaving her hair hovering there like she wasn't certain what to do with it.

Ceres gave her a bit of a wry smile. "It looks that bad, huh?"

"It's not that bad!" Gwae said with a small laugh. "It's just too rough for my tastes, personally. And I really do like the length." A step or two later, she added: "It's easier to see your eyes now, and they're really pretty."

If she had been anyone else, Ceres suspected she might have tripped over her own feet at that statement. As it was, she couldn't quite keep her face expressionless, and she was pretty sure Gwae probably saw at least a hint of how startled she was before she could hide it behind her usual mask.

Several people had made comments about various parts of her body over the years, but she was fairly certain that her eyes had never been one of them. Or, at least, not in a way that actually seemed genuine, like Gwae was clearly being just then.

Ceres hesitantly reached up to touch the rough edges of her hair. "It's been a long time since the last time I cut it," she said, the words slipping out before she could stop them. "I barely remember what it's like."

There was another pause. "Was it... before?" Gwae asked, shooting her a knowing look.

Ceres reluctantly nodded. "There's a reason that effigy back in Lyrengorn had short hair."

"I had forgotten that," Gwae said with a slow nod. There was silence for a moment. "Nothing like dying to spark a change, though."

Ceres snorted. "If that doesn't spark one, then nothing will." She pointedly didn't add: except maybe killing someone else. That wasn't a weight that Gwae needed to carry.

Gwae laughed as she entered the kitchen. "Well, hopefully they're positive changes."

As she followed Gwae into the kitchen, Ceres's eyes darted towards Poppy. She was sitting in a chair nearby with a pleasantly surprised look on her face, as if she hadn't actually expected Ceres to join them. She raised a glass in their direction, giving them a silent salute.

"I guess we'll find out," Ceres said wryly, pulling her eyes away from Poppy's smile and back towards Gwae.

Gwae grinned at her. "What do you say about evening out your hair?" she asked. "Trust me enough to do it?"

"I suppose," Ceres said with a shrug. Then she shot Gwae an overly innocent look. "If nothing else, I'm pretty sure I'm faster than you if you try to cut anything other than my hair."

"Please, I just brought you back," Gwae said, waving a hand dismissively at the very idea. "I have no reason to cut anything but your hair."

As Ceres tried to hide the smile she could feel threatening to pull the corners of her mouth upwards again, Gwae turned towards Poppy. "Where could I find a decent pair of scissors in this place?"

Poppy almost sprinted across the room in her hurry to find a pair of scissors, presumably before Ceres had a chance to change her mind about letting Gwae even out her haircut. If it had been anyone else, Ceres might have taken offense. As it was, though, all it did was make it even harder to keep her mask in place.

"I see how it is," she said dryly.

Gwae just shot her an unapologetic grin.