On her thirty-third birthday, Say’ri finds a lock of silver-white.
It had hidden out of sight beneath the thick fall of her hair, over her ear, exposed when she ran her brush through it, regarding herself in the mirror. She plucked it out, held beneath two fingers, and brought it up to the light.
She nodded to herself, and finished her morning routine, proceeding to the meeting rooms and beginning the day.
The ink on her notes had a pale sheen as it lay on the parchment, reflecting the light of the candles, the early morning pale of spring. She considered it but didn’t speak of what she was reminded of. No time for the little things yet. Soon, but not yet. The day continued, until the break for lunch, and then she went to the kitchens.
It was a rhythm she’d set, a half hour of peace she’d negotiated to keep, bringing out two dishes of food and carrying them herself. She placed down the food and sat down at the table, across from her wife, and nodded to her.
“Is something on your mind?” Tiki said.
“Aye,” Say’ri said, and nothing else. She appreciated the quiet that they had together. She considered her plate and then raised her eyes to gaze at Tiki, not expecting that piercing green stare to already be upon her.
“Well then, out with it.”
Say’ri shook her head slowly, and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. She tilted her head, wondering if the silver was visible from where Tiki sat.
“Human matters, my dove.”
“I have an apple, if you’d like something to mute your mouth.”
Say’ri raised a curious eyebrow, leaning back in her seat.
“Must I? It is foolish to discuss my age. I am yet young, and hale, and whole.”
“And yet it weighs on you keenly.”
“Every year that I gain is a treasure that I never believed I’d have. And every year, I become him more.”
Say’ri ran a hand through her hair, turning it over, exposing the streak underneath.
“You must have seen it growing, but you never said anything. Why not?”
“Because changing is not your enemy, Say’ri. Becoming older is not meeting your doom.”
Tiki reached across the table, taking Say’ri’s hand to hold and kissing the back of it. Say’ri dipped her head, still somehow shy after these years.
“Will I make his decisions?” she said.
“I don’t know. Does he still guide you?” Tiki said, “Are you upset that I never told you?”
“I don’t know either. I’m older, and I don’t know.”
Tiki rested her cheek thoughtfully against the back of Say’ri’s hand, watching her with an unyielding focus. Say’ri drummed the fingers of her free hand against the tabletop, finding it difficult to put her thoughts into words.
“Do you want to eat later?”
“I might not have the time later.”
“Then eat now, Say’ri. While we’re together. And live now, too.”
“Did you think your life over at twenty-one? At twenty-five? At twenty-nine?”
“I… The war consumed me. I could not imagine my future.”
“And yet you live it. Be kind to yourself, Say’ri. Greet yourself and your years as a friend. And pass me that sauce, will you? My food is going cold.”
Quietly, Say’ri pushed the small bowl across the table.
“Do you ever feel your age?”
“I miss who I was, when I was young. But she is still here, just tempered with time. I do feel the passing of days, just as you do. Did that one lock of silver really frighten you so? We can find a way to dye it again.”
“I’m not frightened,” Say’ri said. “But there are no maps for this road. My mother cannot guide me into my years. And I don’t… don’t want to turn into somebody like him. He could not accept reality, I think. Not the one in front of him. What he could achieve. He died because he could not reach me on his own terms. And it was a wasteful death.”
Tiki nodded, her hair brushing lightly over the tender skin of Say’ri’s wrist in the gap between her hand and her sleeve. A comforting, ticklish touch, that pulled Say’ri out of her thoughts.
“No, I am,” Say’ri said, “For bringing up something so sour.”
“You know what you don’t want to be. I’m glad to hear of it.”
“Will you remind me, if I do turn toward it?”
Tiki laughed, and her voice was sweet and rich like wine.
“I don’t think you need it.”
“Why would you turn into something you’ve never wanted? You don’t have their guidance, true. But they can’t force your path unless you cling to their ideals. And I’m certain that he taught you to never follow him.”
Say’ri nodded, silent as she considered her meal. Half an hour was so short a time to spend.
“I miss Yen’fay.”
Tiki gently nudged the bowl back across the table.
“You are allowed to grieve, for yourself and what you miss. But you mustn’t make grief your life.”
“Maybe you do,” Tiki said, “Perhaps you still need more time.”
Say’ri allowed herself a smile. It was half-worn, but she did it anyway.
“Half an hour is not enough with you. I’ll make it more. And I’ll let my hair turn as pale as it wishes. Am I not trying to build upon the past?”
“Yes,” Tiki said, and beamed at her, “Yes, I think so. No, I know so.”
The spring was always a time of change. Frost endangered some plants and protected others, and brought a time of mourning for the year that passed. But the future came with every spring, and never could be avoided. And a half hour became an hour, and love grew strong and stable, as every ending should last.