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Home Is Where The Heart Is

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Ash was still unaccustomed to the luxury she found herself living within.

Years of servitude under her stepmother could not be wiped away in a few months. And even in her wildest dreams of freedom, she never once imagined she'd be living with the king's own huntress, let alone falling in love with her. The huntress was rewarded a lovely home within the City, which she occupied during the summer, when there was no Hunt, and most residents made their way down to Seatown at one time or another.

Compared to some houses Ash had seen, this one was not the most exquisite. Though Kaisa's position granted her fantastic wealth and standing, she did not flaunt it. Still, the home was graciously decorated in a manner befitting a huntress, with Kaisa's (and now, Ash's) touch spread throughout. The quaint house was welcoming, with a warm, rustic feel. Still, sometimes Ash could not help but feel she was doing something wrong, as if this home were not her own.

A feeling she had right now, standing out on the balcony overlooking the city. Her arms rested on the banister as she took in the sight of the serene city, quiet now in the twilight, the oppressive heat of summer having died with the sunlight. Even now, she was unaccustomed to the view, the palace to her right, exquisite homes stretched out all around. And she belonged to this life now. The thought seemed as foreign as ever.

A light nudge to her side startled her from her thoughts and she started before turning to face Kaisa, who held two golden goblets in her hands, one eyebrow quirked. “I did not mean to startle you.”

“I'm sorry, I was thinking.” Ash took the goblet when it was offered and took a sip of the sweet wine.

Kaisa leaned back against the banister, one arm crossed over her stomach. “About what?”

“... This.” Ash gestured vaguely to the City. She had explained her feelings to Kaisa, within the first few weeks of moving in with the huntress, but the topic came up infrequently now, which must be a good sign. She presumed the woman remembered.

“Does it bother you? We can move away from the nobles district, if you wish.”

“No, it's fine!” Ash said quickly, cheeks coloring when Kaisa smiled ever so slightly. “I'm still getting used to it, is all.”

“Perhaps redecorating may help, if you would like?”

Ash shook her head and took a drink. “It's fine the way it is.” The house emulated the woods, with soft, fall colors and sturdy oak furniture. It smelled of the outdoors, spicy pines and spring flowers, and made the place feel almost like home. It was Kaisa's touch after the luxury installed initially, and Ash was loathe to change it. “Time is all I need.”

“That is something we are not short on.”

They slipped into a comfortable silence, each sipping at their wine, Kaisa enjoying the fresh air, and Ash admiring the City. Soon, however, it was time to retire, and they both returned to their rooms. Ash changed into a nightgown, Kaisa into worn trousers and an old riding shirt. This was another aspect of her new life that was also an adjustment. Sharing a bed with someone.

She had done it before, many times, but it had been in an entirely different context.

It was still too warm to crawl under the covers, so Ash settled down on top of the sheets. When Kaisa lay down beside her, she curled into the huntress's side, head resting on her shoulder. It always felt natural, falling into Kaisa like this. Ash had never felt more comfortable than she had with the huntress, who wrapped an arm around her and ran her fingers through her hair. Despite the persistent feelings, in these instances, Ash never felt more at home.

“You are thinking again, are you not?”

“You can tell?”

“You get a wrinkle in your brow when you think. It is quite obvious.” The words were punctuated with a grin.

Ash flushed and buried her head further into the woman's shoulder to avoid scrutiny. Kaisa merely laughed, the sound a rumble in her chest. “You know I only jest,” she said, after a moment passed and Ash had still not resurfaced. Finally, reluctantly, Ash turned her head just enough to meet the huntress's eyes.

“Is it really so prominent?” She asked.

Kaisa smiled and kissed her forehead, as if she could smooth away the wrinkle. “No. One has to be quite close to notice it. And I find it rather endearing.”

“What a relief,” Ash said, voice laced with mock sarcasm. It didn't bother her. Living with Kaisa, the huntress had revealed many habits and quirks unique to Ash that she herself never noticed. The same was said of the reverse. She learned a lot about herself, as well as Kaisa.

“It is not so bad, is it?” Kaisa asked. “To be in the city?”

“I love the city.” Ash reached out, tracing Kaisa's collarbone with gentle fingers. “Even now, it has not lost its luster. There is something new, and it is beautiful.”

“But you are not at home?”

“It is quite the adjustment. I spent many years in servitude, grew accustomed to having few possessions, and no luxuries. The few times I had went to town had been overwhelming, in wonderful ways, but I never imagined it would be a permanent fixture.” She ran her fingers up the column of the huntress's throat, watched it move when the woman spoke. “I feel at home, in ebbs and flows. It is like a tidal wave encroaching on the shore, each time it crawls further up the sand.”

“But it not the same feeling as when you are in the woods?” Kaisa said, her voice a pleasant hum against Ash's fingertips.

“I have always felt at home in the woods, as you know.”

“I do.” Something changed in both Kaisa's voice and expression. She turned her head, focused on the ceiling, and did not speak.

Ash knew what she was thinking. Kaisa wanted Ash to feel at home in her house, whether it was here or in another town. If Ash felt better away from the hustle of the Capitol, Kaisa would move in a heartbeat, should Ash's whim fancy a change. But it was a sweet gesture, although unnecessary. Ash had long since learned that home was not always a place, or a structure. It was an idea, that inhabited tree roots and walls and the bones of people.

“But it does not matter, if I feel at home within the city.” Ash touched Kaisa's jaw, drew the huntresses gaze to her. She had dabbled with powerful, dangerous magic just for a chance to see the huntress. Something as fickle as a house or a place meant little. Kaisa watched her with interest, waiting for her to continue. There was adoration in her eyes, a special kind reserved only for Ash. “Because I always feel at home with you.”