"Why haven't you taken it?"
Fiadh had waited all winter to return to the rocky shore and the small cove where the strange human woman had offered her warmth and shelter. As the hardier spring perennials started to break through the thin crust of melting ice and the ground began to soften with the thaw, she began to return to that place. For days, she found the firepit cold and the rocky cove empty.
Yet, something hooked in her heart and kept tugging her back. It was easy, at first, to dismiss it as curiosity. One uncommonly sunny morning, she perched herself on a rock close to the entrance of the cove. In a desire to feel the sun on her bare skin, she allowed her seal coat to slip off a shoulder. She smelled the human before she heard her, and she heard her before she saw her.
The air was cold as it swept off the water, playfully tossing the dark locks of her hair about her face. Carried with it was the musk of wood smoke, saltiness of sweat, and something a little sweeter. Fiadh recognized the scent immediately, heart quickening in her chest as a smile came unbidden to her lips. The smile broadened when, shortly thereafter, her ears picked up the sound of heavy steps crunching through patches of ice and squelching through mud.
When braided crimson hair burnished gold in the morning sunshine, caught her eye, she felt everything within her still and go quiet. Fiadh watched the woman pick her way toward the cove. She wasn't wearing her metal skin today. She was dressed differently, warm, sword still buckled to her hip, pack and fishing rod attached to her back. But, without her metal skin, she looked smaller somehow. When the human woman finally noticed her presence, she stopped. Mouth opening and closing several times, clearly at a loss for what to say.
Fiadh bit back a laugh, "Well, hello to you, too."
And, when the woman offered her warm clothes, reassuring her sealcoat would be safe, Fiadh, quite inexplicably, believed her.
That first day they spent together was one of the strangest days Fiadh had ever experienced. Which, for curious Fiadh, was really saying something. As she dressed in the warm human clothes offered and she stored her sealcoat in the back of the cove, hidden within a natural crevice, she thought for sure perhaps she had finally lost her mind.
After dressing, she picked her way back to where the woman stood at the entrance of the cove.
The woman looked over her shoulder with a lopsided smile, "Better?"
"Yes, thank you. I feel warmer already."
They spent the morning fishing. Fiadh watched intently as the woman showed her how to use the human fishing rod. Demonstrating how to cast the line and reel it back in, before offering her the rod, with an open look on her face.
"Would you like to try?"
An eyebrow cocked, she regarded the wooden stick with a critical eye. "That seems incredibly inefficient." A wolfish grin spread across her face. "I could just catch our meal for us."
The woman lit up, a laugh tripping from her lips, her shoulders lifting and dropping. "I'm sure you could. You can try this if you'd like. If not, you're welcome to catch our lunch your way."
Fiadh softened and eyed the rod again. "Couldn't hurt to try. This time. Next time, we're doing it my way."
"Next time?" The question was small. Easily carried away by the wind.
Fiadh pretended not to hear and took the rod from the woman's hands.
She imitated the woman's stance and tried to place her hands in the right position on the fishing rod.
The sound of a throat being cleared broke her thoughts. "Is it alright If I-um." The woman gestured to where Fiadh's hands were wrapped, apparently incorrectly, around the handle. She cleared her throat again, this time a little more forcefully. "Show you?"
Fiadh nodded, totally unprepared, breath hitching, when the human woman placed her hands gently on hers and carefully repositioned them before stepping back with a nod, a flush to her cheeks. "There. Try that."
Laughing, a delicate ball of joy burning and growing in her chest, Fiadh cast the line the way she was shown, and began to reel it back in slowly.
"Rúna," the woman said beside her, breaking Fiadh's already fragile concentration.
"My name, it's Rúna." The words were accompanied with that kind smile.
An answering smile tugged on the corners of Fiadh's mouth. "Rúna," she said testing the unfamiliar syllables on her tongue. "It's lovely to place a name to your face."
Rúna nodded and Fiadh felt a brief moment of sharp panic. Her smile vanishing.
"Names have power, child. Never give yours up without absolute certainty and trust," her grandmother told her many years ago.
Fiadh was certain that her grandmother never meant she should ever under any circumstances offer her name to a human.
Her panic was short lived however, because then the woman, Rúna, was speaking again.
"And, it's lovely to see your face again."
And, just like that, Fiadh was at ease, relieved that the human woman wasn't going to press for her name. A warmth flickered to life in her chest. Fiadh didn't examine it, not at first.
The spring wore into summer. Fiadh met Rúna on the rocky shore nearly every day. They fished and laughed and ate and talked. Sometimes they walked. They shared stories, thoughts, smiles.
As much as Fiadh felt she should stay away, she found she couldn't. Spending time in Rúna's orbit felt a little bit like being in the sunshine. It felt natural, easy. She was a kindred spirit, an oddity, just like Fiadh. The warmth that had flickered to life in her chest began to grow, threading through her heart, her muscles, her tendons, her joints, settling deep in her marrow. When they were apart, she picked at the threads to try and determine the source. It ached. Bafflingly, frustratingly, Rúna's presence both soothed the ache and lit it up.
Days wore into weeks, weeks wore into months. Rúna never pressed for her name. Never looked twice at her sealcoat. To Fiadh, it felt like they were hurtling towards something. She had neither the will nor the desire to stop it.
When Fiadh felt her frustration finally bubble over, it was on an evening when the warmth of the summer night enveloped them like an old friend. Fire crackling cheerfully between them, Rúna's face illuminated by the dancing light. Having just recounted some silly anecdote from her day and making them both laugh, a smile lingered on her lips as she poked at the fire with a stick.
"Why haven't you taken it?" Fiadh's question, sharper than she intended, filled the space between them that had been previously occupied by mirth.
Rúna stopped mid-poke, eyebrows scrunching. "Take what?"
Fiadh barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. "The coat. My coat."
"Oh." Rúna continued her poking at the fire, a shoulder lifting in a shrug. "Because it's not mine to take."
She said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Like Fiadh hadn't spent her whole life being terrified of humans and their grasping greed, of their need to possess. Her frustration only grew with the answer she had received.
"That's it?" She asked incredulously.
Rúna placed the stick on the ground and gave Fiadh her full attention, eyes squinting as if she were trying really hard to work out what the problem was.
"Yeah, that's it." She shook her head and leaned forward, resting her elbow on her knee and her chin on her fist. "I'm sorry? I'm not really understanding the problem here."
Fiadh huffed. She wasn't really sure she understood the problem either.
"Did you just...huff at me?"
Rúna chuckled. When she spoke again her voice and eyes were soft. "I like spending time with you, but I would never force you to. I want you to be you. If I take something away from you...that's not..." Rúna sighs and squeezes her eyes shut for a moment before trying again. "You're my friend. I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you."
Fiadh studied her face. She studied the curve of her brow, the tiny scar on her forehead, the dusting of freckles across her nose, the cupid's bow of her upper lip, searching for something unsaid. Rúna's answer was something. It didn't feel like everything that hung between them, though.
Fiadh chose not to press. Not right now.
"My name. It's Fiadh."
A smile that could rival the sun on the clearest of days broke across Rúna's face. "Fiadh," she said reverently. She cradled the syllables her mouth like it was the most precious word she had ever spoken.
Fiadh's heart fluttered at the sound.
Love, Fiadh realized was the root of the aching warmth that had settled deep in her marrow.