Iris scrubs the blade of her greatsword, zoned out as the circular motion of her hand gradually removes layers of dirt and dried blood. It's times like this - her “sort-of-downtime” - that she lets her mind wander. Given the phone call she'd hung up from just minutes ago, her thoughts go immediately to one important fact: the King has returned.
While the girlish crush on Noctis is long gone, it's certainly not easy to accept his fate. They've been friends since childhood. After a decade of absence, Noctis has finally returned only to die. She can't go see him. Why, he's probably halfway to Insomnia by now. Besides, she still has an incident report to finish up. The most she can do now is have faith in the Chosen King.
Familiar footsteps hit the worn hardwood of the short corridor outside Iris’ room, stirring the young woman from her trance. Aranea pokes her head inside and knocks on the open door. Iris lifts her brow, and the corners of her lips curve into a brief smile. “No, don't come in, I left the door wide open to keep people out.”
Aranea gives an upward nod and enters, shutting the door behind her. “One of these days that snark is gonna bite you in the ass.”
Iris lifts her sword with one arm and examines the blade for remnants of grime. “I take it you speak from experience?” She sets her weapon down in a dull metal case on the floor.
Aranea invites herself to take a seat next to Iris on the stained and worn-out carpet. “You seem to be taking things well.”
Iris pushes her sword case under her bed and slouches against the squeaky bed frame. “I've had time to mentally prepare. Hardly makes things easier, but...I'll manage.” She stares into space, wearing an obviously fake smile. The expression sparks Aranea’s irritation.
“Bottle things up like that and you're in for a hell of a breakdown later.”
“You don't have to tell me.” Iris rises to her feet and strides over to a chest of drawers. She opens the top drawer and retrieves a tiny sewing kit along with a black shirt, then returns to sitting at Aranea’s side. She opens the sewing kit and picks up a tiny spool of black thread. “Not to sound full of myself, but my smile keeps people's spirits up. Can't have them see me moping.”
“I see you moping. Real clear.” Aranea looks down at Iris’ hands, now threading a needle with ease.
Iris folds a frayed edge and sticks the needle through the fabric. “It's fine if you see. You don't look to me for hope.”
Aranea laughs inwardly as Iris begins to sew. “Thing is, I do. And you used to look to me for advice. Now you won't listen when I tell you to let it out. It’s not like I haven't seen your deepest state of vulnerability before.”
Iris ties a knot with the thread and cuts it with her teeth. “That was only a couple of times.”
“Don't suppose you're looking to make it six?”
“Not with the headspace you're in right now.”
Iris throws the shirt across the room to the top of the chest and sets the needle down in the sewing kit. “What can I say? I'm bad at mourning. Even Dad… I was sad, but I just kept going. Amicitias are tough, you know.”
Aranea slinks an arm over Iris’ shoulders. “And hard-headed. I know what it's like to lose somebody close. A lot of us do, these days. Lean on someone's shoulder once in a while, okay?”
Iris sighs and leans in toward Aranea. “Fine. I'll lean on yours.” Iris’ weight is nothing to scoff at, but also nothing the renowned Dragoon can't support. Aranea brings her free arm up over Iris’ head and combs through the dark hair with her fingers. She can feel Iris’ muscles relax as the interaction goes on, and a sense of calm grows within her as well.
“Ara, let's lie down.”
That suggestion has taken an unexpected direction more than once in the past, but Aranea obliges. The bed frame creaks as the two women move onto the mattress and curl up facing each other. Iris closes her eyes. “Hope you don't feel too tiny.”
Aranea moves one hand back into Iris’ hair, resuming the gentle strokes. “Shut it, Giant.”
Iris lets out a vacant laugh, her mind clinging to the peace of Aranea’s touch as tears well up behind her eyelids.
Iris is still asleep when the dawn breaks. Aranea watches her still, tear-stained face as a commotion begins outside. It starts as a hum of gasps and whispers, then, almost all at once, cheers. Iris opens her eyes to see Aranea, smiling. Out the window she can see hints of pink in the sky as the darkness recedes. She looks back to Aranea, speechless.
So, Aranea speaks instead. “Good morning.” She watches with a grin as the full realization takes over Iris’ face. “Pretty Boy did-” Her sentence gets cut off by Iris’ lips in an impulsive kiss. All logical thought halts.
Iris’ tongue spills out of her mouth, messy and greedy and shameless. Her knee prods against Aranea’s legs until they part, and Aranea’s lips do as well. Against her better judgement, Aranea kisses back. Kissing Iris always feels good regardless of whether it's soft and tender or rough and hot. That's the danger of it. Aranea never thought herself the type to fall in love, but something keeps pulling her back to Iris and it's certainly more than libido.
Aranea rocks her hips gently as Iris’ thigh presses up against her crotch. She slips a hand beneath Iris’ shirt and feels the muscles and scars. A small noise from the back of her throat slips out-
And then a knock at the door abruptly interrupts the two. “Miss Iris!” Talcott says from outside. “Pardon.” The doorknob turns and Talcott enters. “His Majesty did it! He banished the daemons!”
Talcott witnesses the sight of Aranea, lying on her back on the floor, and Iris, sitting up in bed with messy hair. Both their faces are a bit flushed, which points to only one conclusion: “You two are drinking to celebrate, huh? Well, sorry for interrupting. Come outside when you get the chance. There's a group planning a trip to Insomnia today and they asked for you by name.”
“Sure, yeah,” Iris breathes. Talcott nods and backs out of the doorway, closing the door behind him.
“You didn't lock the damn thing?” Aranea asks.
Iris sets her feet on the floor. “You were the last one to come in, smartass. But Talcott’s right. We should go see what the game plan is.”
Aranea squints as more light pours into the room. “...hn. Yeah.”
Outside is chaos. Joyful, excited, chaos. Iris spots Talcott chatting with Monica and a couple of Glaives, so she approaches the small crowd. Aranea, not exactly sure what to do with herself at present, tags along.
“Just who I wanted to see,” Monica says when the women come within earshot. She holds a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other. Based on her tight grip, it seems she's written quite a bit in the little time since the sun lit up the horizon. “Good morning. Allow me to fill you in. The citizens are, understandably, eager to leave Lestallum, so our current goal is to make that happen as soon as possible.” Monica glances over the top sheet of paper on the clipboard. “Since we have some reconnaissance intel on the Crown City as well as Glaives and Crownsguard members located there, we will begin with Insomnia. Essentially, cleanup duty. Then we get to rebuilding.”
Aranea puts a hand on her hip. “Cleanup. So, rubble, anything dead, and anything else that ‘does not belong.’ Right?”
Monica nods. “Yes. I trust each of your judgement. Actually...Iris, Aranea, if one of you could escort Cindy, I'd be grateful. She and Jeanne will be heading out to look at the power grids. Forgive me if I seem overly cautious now that the light has returned, but better safe than sorry.”
“Don't let Cindy hear you saying that,” Aranea says. “She can handle herself. And Jeanne was a hunter way back, right? They're fine. But I'll cover your bases.”
Monica jots down a note. “Excellent. Thank you. Now, let's begin.”
Talcott waves, saying, “I'll see you soon,” as Iris and the Glaives head off toward a shuttle. Aranea watches them silently as cheers of “Hail the King of Light!” rise in volume.