Staring into her drink, Ren couldn't help but feel a little lost.
She had always viewed herself as... Important. Not in narcissistic way, of course: she was too cool headed to get caught up in fantasies like that; but she recognised she was a feature of the community. A notable face in Etria. Someone you could, maybe not make chit chat with (she was a little too stonefaced to be approachable), but nod a friendly hello to as you passed her in the market, or thank for an odd job that made life near the labyrinth a little less dangerous. Someone you could rely on.
Burned and bandaged hands barely brushing the handle of her sap wine, Ren grit her teeth as she realised she couldn't call herself reliable anymore. She had failed Visil. Failed, period.
She had never been a huge fan of the man personally: a little too shady, too secretive, for her taste - but that was a rich judgement given her choice of friends. And it couldn't overshadow her respect for him and his loyalty to Etria. Long story short, he was someone worth following. It gave her a purpose, at least.
And then the Highlander marched too far down into the Labyrinth with their merry cast of friends, just as she had expected they would. What she didn't expect was how sorely she would lose, how Ren could barely knock out their Protector before Tlachtga was lying unmoving on the crystal beam behind her, the Alchemist aiming another blast right at Ren's face before she could even begin to treat her fallen partner.
She didn't resent them for besting her: even if that "justice for all" shtick could get a little corny, surely winning in the name of their morals was the point of the fight, right? They deserved the win, and had proved it in combat. She just wished it hadn't swatted everything important in her life out of her grasp in one swift strike of the Highlander's spear. Just like that, everything fell through her hands like sand through an hourglass. Hands she couldn't move now and not for a while, not while they were blistering so.
Valerie tapped the bar in front of Ren gently, her topaz earrings glinting in the warm glow of the bar lights. She caught her patron's gaze: "It looks like someone's here for you."
Craning her neck behind her, Ren could see Tlachtga waiting in the doorway of the pub. Even if her robes obscured it, she could make out the telltale sign of her limp as she slumped against a nearby table. She couldn't stop her heart from panging.
A silent, heavy breath leaving her as she got up, mimicking the draw of her blade, Ren reached for her wallet. Valerie tsked: "Don't worry about it, hon. It's on the house."
"What?" Her voice was low. It could've come off as offended if not for the exhaustion laced through it. "No, I ordered the drink, let me pay for it -"
"Kid, you didn't even touch it. Go and get some rest."
Recalling the mug Valerie sighed, a sad thing through a pressed smile. She was pitying her. She was pitying her, and Ren hated it, but she also knew it wasn't worth arguing over.
She made her way over to Tlachtga, tucking in stray chairs as she went, and met her partner with a scolding tone. "I thought you were still on bed rest. Doctor's orders."
"Interesting," Tlachtga's voice was a wisp on the midnight air seeping in through the open door, "I could've sworn they said the same of you."
An eyebrow twitched at the web of hypocrisy she had spun for herself, but that tension melted as Tlachtga smiled at her (lack of a) response. It wasn't a pretty service smile like Valerie had been serving her all night, nor the carefree grin the Highlander's crew liked to don, but crooked. A small, slanted smile across twisted lips; a smile that made Ren's edges soften.
Ren closed the door of the Golden Deer behind her. "Well? Have you come to drag me back to the inn?"
Tlachtga shook her head, chin up towards the full moon as she ambled out across the cobbles. "Not yet. I was wondering if you'd join me for a picnic first."
"A picnic? At this hour?"
"Just on the first floor of the Emerald Grove." A basket flitted out from beneath her robes: "I packed a lunch."
"I'm not sure a meal this late could ever constitute the name of a lunch," Ren chuckled softly, a faint sound that bounced across the empty night, "but I'd be happy to join you nonetheless. Anything to get out of that stuffy bedroom for just a little while longer."
Content in their plan they let silence settle between them, Tlachtga looping her free arm through Ren's. Only the night was their witness, and the occasional cat lurking in a window or alley. It wasn't long until they had left all unnatural light, the only thing guiding them now the light of the moon.
Tlachtga had always complained of Ren being too cold, but recent events seemed to have turned the tables. She was already so frail; to Ren, Tlachtga was usually an almost sticky warm, like freshly slept in covers, and she couldn't stand her being brought down to her level.
"You're squeezing my arm, Ren." It wasn't a complaint, just a gentle notice, as if she feared the Ronin hadn't noticed her pinning it between her forearm and her stomach.
In fact, she hadn't. "Do you dislike it?"
A beat. "No."
Their descent into the Labyrinth took no time, even with their sluggish pace. Before long they were emersed in a lush woodland, the only thing to keep them company each other and a few docile woodflies. The moonlight was intensified by the magical lifeblood of the Labyrinth, ribbons of silver tickling their skin and the grass they sat themselves upon.
"It's pretty here, at night." Tlachtga commented, those sunken eyes wide in a wonder that was fascinating in and of itself.
"It is." Ren nodded. "We should come out more often."
Tlachtga had busied her hands now, pulling her bounty from that small wicker basket. Handfuls of perky strawberries and slices of cured meat was the substance of their modest feast: not too much and not too fragrant, lest it attracted monsters.
Pinching the leaves between her fingers, Tlachtga held a strawberry, flesh first, before Ren: "Here."
She paused, processing Tlachtga's stance, and didn't need to ask for the explanation. "Your hands. You shouldn't dirty your bandages with food."
"Ah," was all Ren could muster, realising she was to be fed. Leaning in, she paused before she took the bite. "You will speak of this to no one?"
That smile again. "Of course."
The strawberry hit a spot that Ren wasn't aware needed hit, the sweet flesh dissolving on her tongue. Tlachtga soon took a bite of her own, her grey face lighting up with a peculiar light, and Ren felt a strange satisfaction welling up inside her. A relief.
Wiping juice from her cheek, "Your expression, Ren..."
"It's nothing." She shook her head, a slight movement that never broke Tlachtga's gaze. Despite the silver bathing them, her eyes were the most radiant gold. "I'm just happy."
"Happiness isn't nothing." Her head cocked. "Having been struck so suddenly must have some reason to it, at least."
"I told you, it's nothing to concern yourself with." Ren felt her cheeks warm, like Tlachtga's hand against her own. "All I've realised is that after all that we've suffered lately... At least we didn't lose what's of greatest importance."
Tlachtga cocked her head further, her neck at a 40 degree angle to her shoulders. "Visil?"
"You buffoon, I couldn't care less of him. No," she clarified: "you."
Tlachtga's expression froze for a moment, her bristling exterior dropping with characteristic lethargy. Her forehead hit Ren's chest, her voice quiet. "I'm glad I didn't lose you, either."
Her back straightened a little, her shoulders rising and bringing their faces closer together. The saccharine smell of strawberries, mixed with that awful wintergreen medicine they had been forced to gulp down, lingered on Tlachtga's breath. It tingled Ren's senses. To her, it was more present than the moon in the sky, enhanced once their lips locked together in a shallow, lasting kiss.
Ren felt blessed to be able to make a living with her lover as an adventurer. (They would never call each other such an intimate title out loud, but they both knew it to be true.) Scrapes like that against the Highlander rocked Ren to her very core, not because she feared losing her own life, but because she feared having to live it on without Tlachtga right there behind her. To turn around and see her body limp against the carpet of the battlefield haunted her nightmares with more voracity than any regret or phobia could ever dare. The only surface Ren wished to see Tlachtga resting upon, that raging fire she called hair splayed across, was that of the finest bedcovers; the Hexer lost in pleasant dreams. What else the world threw at them didn't matter: Tlachtga was of the greatest importance. As long as they were together, Ren could be happy.