Fia gets a good-night tucking-in from Eliza.
"So, this is me!" Fia said, tossing her backpack onto the floor. Her black-and-gray flight feathers fluttered pleasantly in the rush of air from its landing. She set the candle on the inn room's dresser and stretched, flopping down across the bed. "Ufff. Thanks for walking me over here. Not that I couldn't have taken care of myself, but. I liked the company."
Eliza had just barely squeezed herself through the door. "Are you sure there's no one who's here with you?"
"No, no." Fia waved her off. "I'm fine on my own. Really."
Eliza's brow knit together. "Oh... Who's going to tuck you in, though? Or if you have bad dreams..."
Fia rolled herself over, leaning on her wings. "You're still on that? I don't need to be tucked in. That's storybook stuff - it doesn't happen in real life. What mother would do it? And honestly, I can handle myself if I have bad dreams. I told you, I'm not a kid."
"Of course you are." Eliza smiled. "Well, then, good night."
It was clearly meant to be encouraging, but Fia was already beginning to guess that this particular patronizing smile meant "I'm not going to argue with you right now, but you're wrong, and I'm going to be stubborn about this."
She decided to let it pass. Her new giant minotaur friend had eaten that giant lamia like it was nothing. Arguing with her about this seemed... unwise. At least she was leaving the room now, as easily as she could manage given the small size of the doorframe. (A problem that Fia did not have.)
As the door closed behind Eliza, Fia unbuttoned her dress and started wiggling out of it.
... Eliza seemed nice enough. She'd intervened on Fia's behalf when she could have just minded her own business...
Fia ran her hands through her hair, shaking the wood chips out of it from her near miss earlier. Normally right now she'd be getting ready for the night's performance, but the innkeeper had told her that someone else was going to be handling the drunks tonight.
Good. She had better things to be doing with her time, anyway.
She paused, her fingers on her boots.
Interbreeding with other races had left the Cardidae family without their ancestors' fearsome - and handy - talons. These lightly magicked thighboots, with their slashing, clawlike tips, were meant to replicate those forgotten ancestral memories, and were controllable with just a flex of the wearer's toes.
Without them, she felt worse than naked.
She had never slept in them at home, but since fleeing there she'd only taken them off to wash her legs - and then she'd only taken off one at a time, keeping it close just in case.
She elected to leave them on tonight, too, however ridiculous it might look for her to be wearing her boots in bed.
She slipped into her nightgown, crawled under the covers, and whistled a short tune.
A sudden breeze formed in the still air of the inn room, circling around the candle's flame and snuffing it out.
The darkness she was left in felt more empty than it had before, somehow.
She propped herself up on the pillows. Music helped in these times. But...
She looked over at her backpack. She didn't want to get her lyre out. People would hear. Besides, she was an adult, like she'd repeatedly told Eliza. She was 18 now.
All the same...
She began humming a lullaby to herself. Her hands made the fingerings and plucked the strings as if her lyre was in her hands. Even without her instrument, she could still hear every note.
A loud knock interrupted her serene-if-lonely night. "Fia? May I come in?"
"Eliza? Wh... yeah, sure," Fia said, crossing her arms over her chest. She felt strangely like she'd been caught in the middle of something private. "What are you doing here?"
Eliza squeezed herself into the inn room with a glass of milk in one hand. "I promised you a glass of milk, and I can't let you go to bed without being tucked in."
"I told you, I'm not a kid," Fia protested.
It wasn't too bad that Eliza had come back for her, though. It... was actually kind of nice, to be honest.
Eliza offered the glass of milk to the already-seated Fia. "Drink."
Fia took a sip. The milk was rich... warm... creamy... It stuck to her lip and coated her throat, soothing it where it had gotten a tad raw from her scream earlier. She closed her eyes and imagined it had been made just for her.
It was gone faster than she would have liked.
"You liked it, hm?"
Fia wiped away her milk mustache with the sleeve of her nightgown, partly to get it off her lip, but mostly to hide her face a little bit as she nodded.
Eliza smiled - a genuine smile this time. "Now. Get snuggled in."
Fia grumbled at being treated like a child, but she wriggled down into the bed, and Eliza pulled the covers up to her chin. Tucked them around her, so that she was in a warm cocoon pressing in on her from all sides.
... This, too, was... comforting... The pressure and heat of Eliza against her side... The blankets wrapping her up in a way that, for once, didn't make her feel trapped but made her feel safe.
Eliza's huge hands - each palm seemingly larger than Fia's whole head - brushed Fia's bangs away from her eyes. And then Eliza leaned down, her eyes closed, and her lips landed against Fia's forehead.
This... this was the storybook moment of all storybook moments. Stupid. Not real. Even this was not real.
Fia's heart felt like it had seized in her chest. Her throat was glued shut. Tears started at the corners of her eyes.
She so desperately wanted it to be real.
"Good night," Eliza murmured before getting up again. "We'll talk again tomorrow morning. Okay?"
"Okay," Fia said, her voice squeaking as she tried not to cry in front of Eliza.
Eliza's smile, silhouetted in the light of the lamps in the hallway of the inn, was the last thing before the door shut.
Fia had so many feelings she couldn't sleep now.
But she was so comfortable from the warm milk and the comfortable bed that she couldn't stay awake, either.
The milk won out, and Fia drifted into dream.