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Sisters

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It is entirely an indulgence.

"Sit down, darling," Vex tells Pike with a smile, gesturing at the ground in front of her. "I'll brush back your hair for you."

"Oh, thanks," the cleric says, her eyes clear and pleased. She sits down almost instantly, scooting around on the ground with a lack of self-consciousness that Vex envies. "It's being impossible this morning."

"I can tell," Vex teases her dryly, sitting down behind her friend and shifting herself forward to reach her. She runs her hands lightly along Pike's muscled shoulders, lifting the pale mass of hair up away from her clothing. Pike's hair is thick and wavy, tumbling through her fingers like shining water. Vex combs her fingers through it a few times, getting used to the way it moves, how the tresses slide through her fingers and against her skin, where there are knots from sleep and haste tangled together. "A bad night?" she asks, starting to tease a particularly matted section of Pike's hair free.

Pike's shoulders shift, lifting and then rolling. "Just a little cold," she says, and Vex would pry into that statement more, just to make sure she's all right, but she trusts Pike to be honest. "Autumn's really here now, I suppose. We'll see snow next."

"Not for a few more weeks, I hope," Vex says, and tugs a bit at her hair.

There's a light laugh from behind her, and the scuffling of feet against the dirt. "A few more weeks, I think," Keyleth agrees from behind her, and a slender hand reaches to touch her head even as Keyleth settles into place on the ground behind Vex. "But it'll frost at night more often than not now that the weather's turned."

Pike sighs. "I suppose I'll just have to start packing more blankets," she says. "I'm sure Grog won't mind carrying them for me."

Keyleth lifts Vex's braid from her shoulder and pulls it back, and Vex isn't surprised to feel the weight of her braid dissolve after a moment. "I'll redo it," Keyleth promises, smoothing out the sleep-worn braid and freeing Vex's dark hair from the plait. "It's a little messy."

"Thank you," Vex says, keeping her head still to let Keyleth work. She gathers Pike's pale hair up in her hands, pulling it back to judge the length and weight of it, how it wants to lie this morning. But she can't keep from teasing the woman behind her, so she says, "We could call Vax over, and have a little assembly-line of hair braiding, if you'd like - I'm sure he wouldn't mind doing your hair for you."

"Oh." And Vex can't see her, but she's fairly sure Keyleth's cheeks have pinkened. "My hair's already done, it's all right."

"We could call Vax over, and I could braid his hair," Pike offers hopefully. She lifts her empty hands, waggles them up ahead of her. "I feel a little useless like this, actually."

Vex laughs. "That's easy enough to fix," she tells Pike, and then calls, "Trinket, darling, come over and be adored, will you?"

Trinket heaves himself to his feet with a sigh that is likely intended to sound long-suffering but does nothing to disguise his eagerness for attention. He lumbers six steps from where he'd been lounging by the fire, and carefully sets himself back down directly in front of Pike. His head is nearly the same size as her torso, and he stretches himself out to put it within easy range of her hands.

Pike giggles. "You really are adorable, aren't you?" she tells Trinket, and her fingers are quick to bury themselves deep into his coarse fur. "Ooh, and you're so warm, Trinket - I think you'll be my new best friend."

Trinket groans, low and pleased, as her fingers begin to scratch against his skin, and very gently, he rests his enormous furred head in Pike's lap to give her better access for petting. Pike laughs, delighted, and proceeds to lavish attention on him. She leans forward too swiftly, though, and Vex grips out of reflex as the hair slides through her fingers.

"Ouch," Pike says with a wince.

Guilt spikes through Vex instantly, and she gentles her hands. "Oh, darling, I'm so sorry," she says. "I didn't mean to tug so hard."

Pike laughs, forgiveness coming quickly and easily to her. "I can't blame you," she says cheerfully. "I'm sure my hair's a mess."

Pike's hair is a shining pile of pale tresses flowing across her back in thick waves. "Your hair is perfect," Vex says. She feels Keyleth's thin cold fingers against her own scalp, starting to section off segments of her own hair. So she pulls her own fingers one last time through Pike's hair, and then starts to separate it out into pieces. "I love how thick it is, and how wavy. Mine's more a mess than nice and wavy like yours, and isn't half as thick."

"Oh, but it's so dark," Pike responds instantly, letting Trinket rub his head against her face. She sways in her seat, but holds steady enough. "I've always liked your hair - well, and Vax's, but he just doesn't do anything with his, and yours is always braided."

"Vax used to braid it for me every morning when we were children," Vex admits. "It took me longer to learn how, so I never really did his hair and now he just leaves it loose most of the time."

Keyleth's fingers pause in Vex's hair. "Would he let me braid it, do you think?" she asks hesitantly. "I mean, if I promise not to do anything stupid or fancy for him?"

"I don't see why not," Vex says, because Vex knows her brother. He would willingly walk through fire for Keyleth without a hint of complaint; braiding his hair wouldn't even rate a worry. "Has he done your hair yet, Keyleth?"

The woman behind her hums faintly. "Um," she says, and her fingers get back to work. "Yes."

Vex's lips stretch into a smile even as she starts braiding Pike's hair. "He likes you," she says simply: it's a not a tease, not any kind of taunt, just the truth. "I'd be surprised if he hadn't."

"Is that a thing, for half-elves?" Pike asks curiously. "Braiding the hair of people you like?"

"No," Vex says, at the same time Keyleth says, "Yes."

"… I see," Pike says.

"Well, maybe not for all half-elves," Keyleth says, and there are gentle tugs as she plaits Vex's hair with swift and sure movements. "But in the Air Ashari, it's, um, it's something you do with family, or really close friends - something kind of, um, personal, depending on which braid you use. Different braids mean different things."

"Really?" Vex asks. She thinks of how Keyleth usually wears her hair, braided back at the temples and loose otherwise. "What do your braids mean?"

"Oh." And embarrassment colors her voice. "Well, they're kind of childish, really - it's something mothers do for their children. You know, 'Pull your hair back, dear, let me see your face'." Her voice cracks, steadies. "It's - my mother used to do my hair like this for me. When I was little."

"Oh, Keyleth," Pike says brokenly.

"It's fine!" the woman is quick to assure her. "I mean, I do other styles too - there's a braid for going into battle, that's the one I wore when we fought the dragon, and there's one for celebrating and one for family and one for really close friends, and one for when you want to show respect…"

Vex laughs, finishing up the end of Pike's braid and starting to wrap the leather tie around it. "Which one are you doing for me?" she asks as she feels Keyleth tying off her own hair.

"Oh," Keyleth says, and she tosses the braid over Vex's shoulder so that it rests down her left side, prettily patterned and smoothly woven. "Um. It's the one for a sister, actually," she admits sheepishly. Very briefly, her hand comes down on Vex's shoulder, light and hesitant and warm. "I always wanted to have a sister to braid it for. I hope you don't mind - I mean, I know we're not - I can change it if -"

"It's perfect," Vex says fiercely, and she tugs the tie out of Pike's hair and starts to rip apart the braid she just finished. "Come around and show me how to do it for Pike, and then we'll do it for you."

"I - oh." And there's a whoosh of air as Keyleth relaxes, her nerves vanishing into a smile. "Yes. Yes, let's all do that. I like that."

"I always wanted sisters," Pike says dreamily, still cuddling Trinket's head. "I have five brothers, and I always thought it'd be nice if there had been more girls."

"Five brothers?" Vex repeats in disbelief. "I never knew that."

"Well." And Pike shifts her shoulders. "It never really came up, did it?"

Keyleth slides forward next to Vex. "It's a four-strand braid," she tells Vex, and helps Vex divide Pike's hair into even segments.

Vex has always been rather poor at braiding hair, and it takes Keyleth several times walking her through it before she gets the hang of how to start the pattern. Her first attempt is loose and frayed, with one section clumping oddly near Pike's left ear.

"It's a good beginning," Keyleth encourages diplomatically, and Vex snorts and undoes the whole thing before Pike can move.

"Patience, Pike," she says cheerfully. "Nothing for the best for my little sister."

"I'm older than you are," Pike returns mildly, completely ignoring any height differences. "That makes you my little sister."

"Well, I have to be older than someone," Vex complains, and tucks her tongue between her teeth as she starts to weave Pike's hair together.

"You're older than me, I think," Keyleth says, and then, quickly, "No, that strand goes under, not over."

"Right." Vex concentrates on the pattern, the over-under-twist, and her second attempt is passable. "Once more, and then I'm doing yours," she tells the other half-elf with a smile. "Since I'm older I get to be the bossy one."

Pike just giggles, and holds still until Vex’s third attempt at the braid is finished and pronounced decent by Keyleth.

They all trade places, and Pike stands beside Vex, a hand on her shoulder. "I want to see how it's done," she says. "So I can do it for one of you next time."

Vex likes to think about there being a next time. Keyleth's hair is long and fine, thinner than Pike's and not as wavy; it slips more, and Keyleth can't exactly give directions on how to braid her own hair when she can't see what Vex is doing behind her. It takes Vex five tries before the braid is deemed passably worthy, and even then, she thinks it's probably a good thing that Keyleth's headdress covers her temples, because putting the headdress back on covers up a multitude of sins.

"It's not bad," Pike says kindly as they study it. "We'll have to switch who braids whose hair next time, though. So we can all learn it."

Pike looks sturdy with her hair pulled back into a single plait, a little harsher than usual without the soft fall of loose hair around her face. Keyleth looks equally different: having her hair pulled back emphasizes the slant of her cheekbones, the angles of her shoulders. Vex wonders if she looks any different from usual, and doubts it: she always wears her hair in a braid, and the others must be used to seeing her like this.

Still, Pike gestures at her. "Bend over for a minute," she says, and Vex does so. Pike's hands are small and quick, and they reach for the feathers Vex wears in her hair; a swift adjustment, and Pike steps back and nods. "Much better," she says.

"Thank you," Vex tells her, and looks at Keyleth. "Thank you."

Keyleth's smile is wide and sunny, proud and somehow almost nostalgic. "I always wanted sisters," she confesses again. "I'm glad I have two now."

Vex has never really thought about having sisters before: she has always had Vax, and she's never needed to wish for another sibling because he's been everything for her. Vax has always been enough. She has Velora, too, she thinks: a real sister, a little sister.

Then she looks at the two women standing in front of her, and knows she has more than that. "I like having sisters," she says thoughtfully, and a slow smile spreads across her face. "Does this mean we can borrow each other's clothing, and stay up late all night talking, and gossip about all the cute boys and girls we like?"

"I suppose we can," Pike says eagerly. "And we-"

"What, is it matchy-matchy hair day and no one told me?"

Vax's voice is light and drawling, teasing but affectionate. He steps into the clearing beside them shaking his head. "Was there a party and I wasn't invited? I'm hurt."

Vex looks at her brother, and then eyes Pike. "Five, really? No wonder you're so patient."

Keyleth and Pike dissolve into laughter, and Vax looks slightly put out. "Don't worry, brother," Vex assures him. "Keyleth knows all sorts of different braids. I'm sure she knows one just for you."

Keyleth actually squeaks. "Um. Yes. If you want."

"And ruin all your fun?" Vax responds, gesturing at the three of them. He winks at Keyleth. "Maybe next time, Kiki." Then, honestly, "You three ladies look good like that."

Sisters, Vex thinks, glancing to her left and right at the two very different women she considers friends. "Of course we do," she says.