Ettyn was not someone who slept at any set time. She slept when she needed to, cat naps at a bar by the hearth or on the trail waiting for a quarry, and longer rests at the cottage, sometimes in a strange bed with a lover, or at camp when she needed to track a bounty over multiple days. But she rarely slept long.
Last night she'd been in bed before midnight, and did not rouse until sometime in the middle of the morning. Her eyes cracked open, and her nostrils flared at the smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen. There was a grunt, and bones cricked and cracked as she stretched up to sitting on the futon. She heard the gentle scrape and clatter of clay pots in the greenhouse, and hummed a low growl to herself. "Idle hands," she muttered with a smile and a head shake, and whipped off her blankets and folded them over the back of the futon.
Bare feet padded quietly into the restroom to wash up and get ready. The tap ran. Mouthwash was gargled.
Anya had been up for hours already. She'd done the math and doubled the number of seedlings she had started earlier in the year. Getting the new batch to catch up to their older siblings meant using all of the tricks she had learned. Under the coffee aroma was the heavy smell of blood meal and sulfur.
Ettyn had already gotten up when Anya returned to the living room. She was covered in dirt to her elbows with additional smears on her forehead where she'd been battling hair that was working loose from its tie.
"Sorry if I woke you up," she called towards the washroom. Then waited for the water to stop running in there before she washed her hands in the kitchen.
"ER GUH!" the slayer yelled back. She may have been in the middle of brushing her teeth. She spat, the water ran again, and she made her way out. It was her usual sleep or morning clothes, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt -- what looked to be the Pepsi-Cola logo, but in Cyrillic letters. It had been cheap, and was soft and comfortable to the touch when she'd found it in a basket in a market stall. "Seedlings all settled," she grunted the question from the kitchen doorway as she gathered her wavy hair back with both hands -- a quick twist to tie it back.
"They're catching up." Anya held Ettyn's cup of coffee out to her. Her own second was in her other hand already. "We need a few more warm weeks and they'll be ready to go outside. Do you feel better?" She wasn't used to seeing her friend asleep early.
"Can you take another day off?" It was her way of asking how the curse was feeling two days out from a significant kill.
"Mm. Feel rested. Later today, I'll be feeling... the curse a little more, but..." Ettyn took the cup of coffee and warmed her hands around it and took a slow sip. "Today'll be fine. Morning hunt tomorrow." She padded deeper into the kitchen, considering the pans and the fridge. "Had breakfast?"
"I've had coffee." It appeared that Anya believed coffee counted as a food group all its own. "What are you in the mood for? I'll make something."
She had an assessing eye on Ettyn that she didn't bother to disguise. One night's sleep wouldn't be enough to recover from the past days and Anya was trying to figure out what shape her friend was actually in.
The slayer appeared well-rested, no puffiness around her eyes, no tired lazy blinks. From her stretching and a little hesitation around certain ranges of motion, old aches had begun to set back in, and she would likely be better off with a decent kill today than tomorrow; but she seemed to have recovered well from being in the jaws of a massive adder just two days ago. The unflappability of her death curse. Eight out of ten, overall, on the slayer wellness scale.
"Eggs, sausage, bread... We still have oranges?" Ettyn started poking around, getting out what they needed, pans thumping onto the counter.
Anya had taken up a lean against the counter. She pushed off to turn and move the bowl of fruit from behind her so Ettyn could see it more clearly. Apples, oranges, and bananas. She hadn't gotten used to year round fresh fruit yet and she spent too much on it.
"You should get more sleep today if you can. I can leave so it's quiet."
"Mm. Maybe this afternoon... do a night hunt, after..." Ettyn grabbed some oranges and started slicing. It looked like more than her usual portion, which she put more of a point on when she nodded towards Anya: "Should eat, too."
Anya reached out to take a slice of orange and popped it in to her mouth. It got washed down with another drink of coffee.
She glanced at the corner of the kitchen where currently nothing was happening but where a portal would open if either of them got close enough. "I should go back there for a bit this afternoon anyway." Her head tilted towards the corner. She still hadn't looked at it for any length of time.
"Want me with you when you go?" Ettyn asked, and stopped slicing as she looked up at Anya, a quiet loyalty in her expression. "Haven't been there to sleep in months," she added, turning to the fridge to get eggs and sausage. "Just go for hunting and stuarting. Stewarding," she amended.
Anya wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "I don't plan to stay. There's a minor land dispute, someone trying to clear land someone else thinks they own." Her hand waved side to side like she was brushing away the concern. "I'll pull the records and send someone to survey the line. No one pays attention to who owns what until they think they're losing space. Space they don't even use."
"Mm," Ettyn nodded. "There a history? Few family feuds heating up -- think because they know there's someone to bitch to," she grinned. Unless she was stopped, a pan and eggs and bacon enough for both of them was being taken to the fire to cook.
"There's always history. That's why we keep records. At some point each family probably owned the land. They don't remember whose turn it is." Anya gave a short huff and shrugged. "They probably would have just stabbed eachother before."
While Ettyn cooked the food, Anya sat down at the kitchen table and started picking at an herb that had been laid out to dry. She ran her fingers over the stem lightly, aiming the leaves in to a mortar as they crumbled off.
"...Don't mind a little noise. Even if I wake. Sleep's easy at the cottage," the slayer said, having to raise her voice once the bacon started sizzling in the pan. Her tone was careful, her words a little more deliberate, a signal that she was building to something in her own somewhat clumsy and unpracticed way.
Rather than pick up the pestle at her elbow, Anya used her thumb to crush the herbs in the little stone bowl. "But...?" she had been around Ettyn enough to not want to interrupt when she got rolling on something. She also know that sometimes the conversation wasn't going to flow if she didn't prompt. She split the difference and went with one word.
"Nnh. Don't want you to feel like you have to... uh... tiptoe," Ettyn sniffed, and shifted the pan, changing the cadence of the sizzling. "Been spending time with Azriella, and, uh. Don't want to put... us... in your way, here." She paused. Her frown may have been audible. "Place used to be bigger, right? Had more rooms..."
"The two greenhouses connected to the house were rooms before, yes. I don't think Az wants to sleep in a greenhouse with you." Anya turned on the seat to look at Ettyn. Whether she had figured out where this was going or not was unclear. Her face was carefully neutral. She was still trying not to rush the slayer to her point.
"She would, but... no good on cold nights. It's, uh." There was violet in her face now, for sure. If asked, surely she'd blame it on the fire. "It's your house, and if you, uh, don't want to..." Ettyn shrugged. Started to turn over the bacon in the pan. "But... I've got money. Could build a bedroom. Could do a second room, too. Something you could use." Another beat. "If you wanted."
"Oh. I'm so sorry." Anya frowned at her friend. "I should have thought of that a long time ago. You've lived here for months. Of course you need your own space. I guess I got used to things. That wasn't fair." She finally paused and took a breath. "What were you thinking about for the second room?"
Now she was starting to look excited. There was planning to do.
Ettyn looked up from the pan and shook her head. It was time to use her name: "Didn't hurt me, Anya. You've been kind. I'm grateful," and she nodded once, slowly, before returning her attention to her cooking.
"Maybe a place for mending. Clothes, armor, weapons... whatever else needs fixing. Chests and racks for them. Space to work on them. Tools."
"We could use that." There were several pieces of armor strewn about the kitchen as it was. Not all Ettyn's either. Anya's own leathers had needed work after their fight. She surveyed them and in the process took in the piles of herbs, dried parts and various stacks of reagents. "We could have a kitchen table again. How normal of us."
"Mm. More space to work on potions," Ettyn agreed with Anya, or thought she did. "Plate?" she asked, then added, "Where do you think we should build?"
Anya stood up to collect the plate with a nod. "We can take the greenhouse in back. I can relocate what I have there. They would like less light anyway." She assumed Ettyn had been back there at some point. "It's the bigger of the two anyway and you could add on to it."
Back was nearer the woods, and in some part of her, the slayer liked that. "Builders from Skoggard, or from here?" she asked as she put bacon onto the plate, then started cracking the eggs into the pan.
"If you're funding it, it's your choice. But I think the folks from Skoggard would appreciate the work. And it might be more... familiar?" She leaned against the counter now, finishing off her coffee. "You know you can just ask me these things, right? If there's something you want, let me know."
Ettyn had been cooking and Anya didn't expect her coffee to be gone. She leaned over to make sure there was still enough in her friend's cup. Her own empty was put down on the counter. That was enough on an empty stomach.
"Mm... I was..." Ettyn breathed a big, slow sigh as she shifted the eggs around. "...I was kind of afraid I'd... be asking too much, and... you wouldn't want me around, anymore, and..." She made a show of shrugging her shoulders, a failed effort at nonchalance.
"That's not going to happen. I like having you here. I already told you, everyone should have a home." Anya spread her arms wide to indicate the little cottage. "Now you have one."
Then Anya pushed off the counter and turned her back to crouch down in front of a cabinet. She pulled a bottle out, wrapped in an unmarked black label. Two rocks glasses got hooked and pulled along with her when she stood up. She poured a generous amount of the alcohol into each glass and set one close enough for Ettyn to grab. "Cheers. You're getting a bedroom. And an armory."
Ettyn was quiet, looking at the eggs in the pan, making sure they didn't burn. But her smile was pulling wide, and though it stretched her scars... there wasn't the usual crass edge to it (or no more than the one she couldn't help). She simply looked happy, grayish-tan cheeks dimpling.
The pan was already hot from the bacon, and the eggs didn't take long to cook. She set the pan down on the hearth to cool, and rose from her crouch to take the glass. Her black eyes were damp. She swallowed and nodded a few times to Anya's words, considered for a moment... then reached out to clink their glasses together and gave a simple toast:
Anya raised her glass to return the toast and drank. The liquor turned out to be a heavily peated scotch. She should have warned Ettyn to take a full sip. It was the type of alcohol that burned more when you drank less. She let it linger and breathed over it before swallowing it. Then she stoppered the bottle and slid it away again.
The drink turned out not to be a problem for Ettyn. She finished the glass, and knuckled it so she could grab a few things to bring back to the kitchen. "Don't want it getting cold," she rationalized, moving to prepare the plates, and finally considered the kitchen table again:
"...Guess we could eat there if we cleared it, huh."
In the evening, when the builders had finished and left, Anya snuck away to her room. She retrieved a small, plain box from the shelf where she'd stored it. When she came back out she turned right to go down the recently expanded hallway. She stopped outside the door to the new second bedroom and set the box on the floor for Ettyn to find when she went to bed.
Inside the box was a pair of thickly padded slippers.
At the Perch, and for long enough after to get Ettyn tucked into bed, Anya stayed calm. The whole time she worked to get the slayer clean and comfortable enough, she talked to her quietly. Before seeing to herself, she went to the kitchen for water, bread, fruit and another vial of the foul smelling mixture they used to heal. This one was laced with lavender and chamomile to help Ettyn get back to sleep if she woke up in need of it.
Once everything had been carried to the back bedroom, she coaxed both cats and the rabbit on to the bed with her friend to add their little body heat. She did her best not to move Ettyn more than necessary. Then she went to the bathroom to clean up. Catching sight of herself in the mirror, covered in blood that wasn't hers, she felt a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes. She choked a sob down only to have it come back up as a wretch. As quietly as she could, she leaned over the toilet and emptied a stomach full of bile, hoping the sound of the tub filling would drown it out.
Twenty minutes later, clean and changed, she returned to Ettyn's room. She had a book with her and a little lantern, just enough light to read by. She sat up all night in the kitchen chair she'd carried back, her feet propped up on the bed so she could feel any shift.
In the morning, well before Ettyn was likely to be awake, she went to the kitchen. She started the coffee and tea. She cut up more fruit, cheese, bread and cured meat. Then she began to build the most important part of the spread. The junk food. Sour cream and onion chips, salsa, guacamole, tortilla chips, popcorn, pretzels. They'd discovered the miracle of convenience foods and built a horde of it that was getting raided.
Food sorted, she returned to the sitting room to pull out the futon. She relocated every spare pillow she could find to it. The responsible food got put down in the middle of it first. Once they'd consumed at least one thing with nutritional value each, the snacks would begin. She even struggled her way through the TV to set up a movie marathon. Someone who knew about their hunts had recommended something called Shrek. As it turned out, there were four and she had them all.
Early in the morning, by Beltane standards, Anya stumbled from her bedroom. She had dark circles under her eyes and her grand effort at decency was a half assed ponytail for her hair, grey sweatpants, and a black hoodie. She had obviously slept in them.
She passed the hearth where the fire had gone out overnight, heading straight for the kitchen. Plates and glasses scraped together while she made a weak attempt at normal human functions. She landed on dry toast and another glass of wine. She gagged at the first taste of both.
It was not clear when Azriella had crept out. But the sound of dishes roused Ettyn from her deep sleep. Maybe that was just the sound of her rolling over?
“BARBS ON A WOODEN PRICK.”
No, that was the sound of her rolling over, falling out of bed, and feeling her hangover.
Out in the kitchen, Anya closed her eyes. Her focus was on breathing and keeping the wine down. She got herself a glass of water for the appearance and did manage half of it. It did not go down any easier. She left it by the sink to shuffle into the front room with her toast and wine.
Carefully, she lowered herself onto the couch and put breakfast on the table in front of her. She rewarded herself for not spilling with another sip.
Ettyn was out in a few minutes. After she’d made water and dunked her head in a full sink. The acts only made her feel a little better. She was wearing shorts and a Ghostbusters 3-D t-shirt (starring John Belushi) from an alternate Earth, though she did not appreciate the oddity. She scratched her stomach and started for the kitchen, quiet footsteps slowing halfway. “Wine already? I’d be pouring that poison in the river...”
It must have been a bad hangover, because it was rare for her to curse alcohol itself.
"Wine already." Anya narrowed her eyes at Ettyn. Was she glaring or squinting? It was impossible to know right now. She took another bite of the toast, gagged again, and took a swig of the wine.
Ettyn glanced at her, rumbled indistinctly, and walked into the kitchen. She found a stiff, crunchy end of bread and a jug of water, and was already forcing herself to take big gulps of it when she came back out. Only the threat of vomiting stopped her, and as she pressed her wrist to her mouth to steady herself, she looked at Anya again.
"What?" The immediate threat seemed to have passed for the mage. She was poking halfheartedly at the bread on her plate with her free hand.
“Seeing how you are.” The slayer tended strongly towards honesty, even to a fault. She sank onto the other end of the couch, gnawed on the bread, then asked, “Moving pictures?” It was an all-encompassing phrase, including anything that could have ended up on TV, from Police Academy 2 to HGTV.
"Great. I'm great." Anya didn't even have the energy to make it a convincing lie. "My head hurts, I can't keep food down, and I can't sleep. And that's before I drink. So. Fucking great. I assume you had a good night?"
There was a tremor of something, a shift in eye contact and subtle flickers that belied worry. Ettyn set her bread down on her plate, nodded slightly, and moved right past her own silent answer: “Noticed the food and sleep.” She was quiet for another moment. “...Know why?”
"Probably because of this whole holiday. The hunt. The..." Anya waved her hand around vaguely, wine sloshed when she did. "The theme. It's not... comfortable. I'm not supposed to be here right now but I have to be." She was warming up and she finished the bread in one more bite.
The slayer frowned over the part she did not understand. “Not supposed to be here?” As unobtrusively as she could, she tore off the bit she’d gnawed on and held out the rest to see if Anya would grab it.
"I was going to go back to Skoggard." She did take it. And seemed to appreciate having something tough to chew. "But I'm here instead with all these deals. Watching people better suited for life. Like you."
“—Better suited, I don’t know... Season of life usually pushes me out.” The humor was fleeting. Ettyn was watching Anya closely. “But leaping and dancing with my best friend felt more... suited... natural, than anything.” She paused. Something else jumped out at her. “What deals? What worries you about this hunt.”
"Don't worry about it." Anya finished more bread, washing it down with wine. "You'll be fine. You can't die."
Ettyn was quiet. She offered the jug of water to Anya, and swallowed. The words were still working their way out.
The mage shook her head, stood up and walked to the kitchen. More wine.
“—Not sure about that. Didn’t know that night.”
"Well. You didn't." Anya returned with wine and her water glass, a compromise. "What's a wolf going to do to you if that didn't kill you? Besides, the contract wouldn't be any good if they didn't think you'd do it."
“Not scared of the wolf. I was scared of not coming back— felt the curse weakening when that prick gored me.” Ettyn's jaw tightened and her scars stretched as she looked away, but her black eyes were damp. She sniffed. “Scared of losing you.”
"You're going to." Anya was staring down at the wine. "I didn't tell you so you could enjoy the party. But you will. Mallory read it and Death doesn't do favors. You can't die, but I can." Three days of drinking had numbed her ability to be gentle. "You'll be fine. You have people who love you. You'll have land. And you can't die."
”But I don’t want to!” Her shoulders shook, and the tears fell openly now as she bowed her head. “I don’t want to... I can’t... You’re...” The words weren’t coming out anymore, only a low keening while Ettyn sobbed.
Anya finished her wine first, then leaned forward, resting her forearms on her legs. "I don't think that matters, Ettyn. You'll be all right."
“...No. Fuck me and my all-right, I’m just a little bug,” she growled through her tears and sniffed, swiping an arm across her face. “You take care of me — I take care of you. Because I want to. Because you deserve it.” She choked on another sob, holding them back as much as she could so she could keep talking.
"You don't need me!" Anya sounded frustrated more than upset. Angry was easy. "I made a bad deal. I'm sorry. It's my fault."
“Not about need, Anya, it’s about love!” Ettyn pounded her chest for emphasis. Then she quieted and stilled. There was another sniff. She thought for a moment. “Tell me about the deal. Won’t be mad. Promise I won’t be mad.”
Anya blew a breath out of the side of her mouth. "I went back to the faerie ring to try to change your curse. The best Death would do was change it for Beltane. He said when the hunt is done, it goes back to normal." She shrugged. "Guess I should have tried to get a contract we could actually read."
“...Hence death-hunger without old aches... and life magic not pushing me out...” She peeked at her. Sniffed again. “Usually go into the Underdark... but... didn’t want to be away from you, or the others.” Ettyn scrubbed her face. “Thanks... I’m glad I got to... but what—“ She paused.
“—You think the hunt’s gonna kill you? And that’s why Death showed up in your fortune-telling?”
"Well, it showed up for family too, that's you. And to show the hunt will succeed. So it's some good news. Since yours won't stick." The mage shrugged, dismissive. "Everyone wanted you there. You wanted to be there."
“Wanted you there, too. I did. Others,” Ettyn countered, and coughed. Wiped her hand under her eyes again. “Don’t know if me dying and coming back means much to the cards, but.” She hoisted up her water jug again. “I’m not a witch.”
"Right. Well. There are a few meanings. But I don't think I'm wrong. Could you get the sword back to Mallory after the hunt?" Anya nodded over towards where a sword had appeared without explanation from her on Thursday night.
"Ettyn, I did mean it. I do love you. But I can't sit here and talk about that. Unless you have some very good ideas, I need to work." She lifted the empty wine. "I'll be sober for the hunt, I promise."
“I love you too, Anya.” She was quiet for another moment. Then she stood and walked to the corner, wiping her face again before picking up the weapon. “What’d she give you the sword for?”
"Uh? Luck? She said it's named Meliai. I guess because it's elemental Earth?" Anya squinted at the sword, then at Ettyn. "Who called you a bug?"
“Might ask her about it,” Ettyn said, baring the blade with a quiet hiss of the heavy gray steel. She sniffed it, but the witch’s bond to it didn’t make her recoil. Not right now. Her eyes lowered at the question, and she went through a few familiar options, building speed with practice swings, then slowing to a stop. “My mother. My aunt. Way to let me know I’d messed up... Unwanted thing.” Her fingers ran down the length of the blade, checking it for damage.
"At Fort Tiamori? They were both there with you? Would that do you more good than me?" Anya nodded to indicate the sword. "I don't get close up often."
“They were. Mother died when I was eight— aunt left when I was fifteen, I think. Once I was ready. Morning after my first kill...” The slayer gave the blade another flourish. “Light, for something so heavy. Meant for a smaller build.” She looked up from the blade at Anya. “Can ask her why.”
"She's busy." That was honest. Anya looked disappointed at the answer she received. Instead of dwelling on it, she stood up. "Do you... want a drink?" She looked guilty when her eyes turned to the windows. "Should go to Dockside and make sure Morgan has his wards set... Scarlett needs scrolls... Jaycy too, and I should give the shield back to Hope." She took a shaky breath and looked back at Ettyn.
"But maybe that can wait? If you wanted to watch a movie?"
“Maybe coffee, in a bit.” She sheathed the sword. It would go on Anya’s small weapons rack for now, until she figured it out. There was a long sigh, slow, likewise shaky, when she heard all her plans.
The last one, though, she liked. Feet padded quietly back to the couch, with a quiet plastic scrape as she scooped up the remote. She sank onto the cushion next to her, and in silent offer, lifted up an arm.
Anya scooted over so she was under the arm and leaned against Ettyn. "I heard about this one called Lebowski. Apparently there's a drink everyone has it in. I got what we need to make them."
She jabbed at a button on the remote and said, “Lebowski movie.” Nothing happened. She jabbed it a few more times and growled, ”Lebowski movie.” The movie came up, and the slayer let out another long, rumbling sigh.
She let Anya lean on her, and kept her close, protected, while the movie started. “Drinks in a bit, princess... drinks in a bit.”
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