They’d all settled in for the night— it felt weird to call it their house, it felt like an inn yet somehow more not-theirs, Copper thought— and for once, everyone was minding their own business. Rick and Orc were playing cards across the main room, gambling whatever they had on hand, both of them asking anyone in the party who wandered over for “something interesting” they could wager against the other. Doc was outside, with the horses, and Copper had been with him for a while before the sun set and a chill set in and the human hurried inside, wondering a little if perhaps lizardfolk weren’t cold blooded like lizards. JTT had been having a bath upstairs, they’d all heard him splashing, singing low and crooning, and now he was likely doing his skin care, a slow and careful application of oils and ointments to his shell and skin.
And Copper was watching Lorelie.
He’d sat at the table she’d stationed herself at, one of the larger ones in the middle of the room, for some reason, and she didn’t notice Copper sitting across from her. Or anything in the room, really. She was focused, brow furrowed. It started with her cleaning her weapons, Copper was pretty sure. Lorelie had been on the tail end of that, anyway, when he came in and sat here. She’d moved on to her equipment in general, Copper breathing in the smell of leather conditioner.
He watched her hands for a while, peering over the top of his goggles so he wouldn’t miss any details. He liked her nails— short, but never torn like his, they were always even, like she kept them that way on purpose; she had the foresight for that. One of her fingertips was wrapped in a bandage— her pinkie, which was lucky, since she didn’t need it for much of anything— and she kept the finger raised in a way one could describe as dainty . It made a funny little smile tug at Copper’s lips to think that, to think of calling Lorelie dainty.
He knew better.
Lorelie’s shoulders were tight, raised, and she bent her head down, hunching over what she was doing. She wasn’t dainty, maybe gentle, if he squinted. Careful, he settled on. Lorelie was careful, and aware of the world, and her weight in it and her abilities. She was careful, cleaning the small dagger she never used on anyone, careful tightening her bow, careful counting her coins and patching her clothes and making sure the group didn’t rush into things and—
Copper leaned back in his seat, forced himself to look up at the ceiling, swallowing down the warm little bubble building in his gut. It made his face hot, like he’d been drinking, but gave him a crisp awareness rather than a softened glow. It made him all at once aware that’d he’d been rather blatantly, obviously, staring at Lorelie. Anyone who looked at him would know, but no one was going to look. He glanced around the room to be sure, and, just like he was, all his friends seemed to be absorbed in what they were doing.
He lowered his head again, resumed his indulgent staring, but shaded this time. He could pretend to be asleep if it came down to it.
Lorelie had her hair pulled back. She usually did, had it back and up, out of the way. He’d only seen her with it down in the morning, and it always seemed like an accident, anyway. Now it was pulled back, but not in the high ponytail it usually was; it was low, loose, just to keep the longest pieces out of her face. Copped stared at the crown of her head, at the little wave formed in her hair from the tie, how it parted for her bangs, how she was all blue on blue and he was trying to place the exact shade, lining her up next to flowers and expensive fabrics he’d only seen once, twice in his life.
He was taller than her, but he never really looked at the top of her head. Only a glance, really, not much more than that. But now he could! Now, she was busy, and he didn’t have anything to do, and Copper could look at Lorelie as much as he wanted. The worst that would happen is she would catch him, and that wasn’t even bad. He could stare, as long as he liked, at the top of her head as her shoulders moved minutely, as her hands worked, as she put a thread in her mouth and pulled with her teeth until it snapped and her head jerked a little, holding the bit of thread there between her teeth, lips, to spit out and throw away later.
When she sat up and stretched her arms in genuinely startled Copper; he’d forgotten Lorelie could do that.
She rubbed her shoulders, one at a time, rolling them in slow circles. Then her neck, hands around it, fingers pressed into her vertebrae, head rolling clockwise, then counter, then back again, her eyes shut the whole time.
When she opened them, they were heavy-lidded, shadows under them, under her skin. She wasn’t looking at Copper, probably wouldn’t until she had reason to.
He scooted his chair back and leaned forward, elbows on the table, hoping he could put enough weight into it to cause it to wobble. He reached up, smooth, fluid (the last chance he had to seem like it), and grabbed his glasses, pulling them off his face, revealing his eyes—
Giving Lorelie a reason.
He didn’t know what expression he was making. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because whatever it was, Lorelie saw it, and smiled. Not careful, not dainty, not reckless. Just her. Just Lorelie.