Title: Flirting is Hard
Author: H. Savinien
Disclaimer: Emelan and its characters are the property of Tamora Pierce and are merely borrowed for this story.
Pairing: Daja Kisubo/OFC
Summary: Daja's got a new metal plant project and a distracting new acquaintance who wants to be friends. Written for Femslash February Celebrates Black Women '17.
Daja went tumbling, the wood she carried scattering across the path. She sat up, rubbing her stinging palm against the living brass that had protected her left hand and glared at the root that stuck up out of the path, just far enough to trip the unwary.
“Are you hurt?” The green-robed Earth Dedicate offered a hand, and Daja took it to help pull herself back up.
“Only my pride and a scraped hand,” Daja assured her. “No harm done. Are you new? I don't remember seeing you around the camp before.” The Dedicate was clearly of Yanjingyi descent, but her accent was all Emelan. Her black hair was braided in a crown around her head, but strands were already working their way loose and fluttering around her face, though it was early morning yet.
“I came with messages for the Dedicates in charge of the rebuilding project,” she said. “Mali- sorry, Quickbriar. I'm afraid I'm not used to introducing myself yet.”
“Oh! The smith-mage with the-” Her eyes flicked to Daja's hand.
Daja sighed. “Yes, that's me.” She bent and started picking up her firewood again.
Quickbriar grimaced. “I'm sorry. It's just part of my research-focus, growth like that, and I heard about that and your brother's tattoos, but at least those are plant-based and...sorry, I'm sure you get sick of hearing people babble on.” She clasped her hands in front of herself. “Beg pardon, Mage Kisubo. May I help you carry your wood and, at some time convenient to you, speak with you about your magical metal?”
Daja considered her. The Dedicate was young, probably only a few years older than Daja and her siblings, since she was new to her Dedicate-name. She seemed earnest. She was also very nice to look at, with strong-looking shoulders, hands scarred from thorns (easy to identify to someone who knew Briar and Rosethorn so well), an expressive, mobile face creased for smiling, and the joy of someone intensely interested in some subject.
“If you like. I'm taking it to the portable forge. And yes, tonight, if you'll be staying so long.”
“I'll be here another three days, I believe. What are you and Master Frostpine working on? If it's all right to ask,” she added, skipping to catch up and walk beside Daja with her armful of branches.
Daja grinned at that. “Nails. We are making many, many nails.”
Quickbriar glanced sideways at her, smiling wryly. “Let me guess. Nails are the smith version of weeding.”
“If my brother tells me true.”
“Always needed, mind-numbing, and likely to go wrong if you stop paying attention?”
“You've got it.”
Quickbriar laughed. “Well, if you'd like a chatterbox to keep you company, I'd be happy to watch. If not, I would welcome the chance to eat with you this evening.”
Daja looked at her companion's smile and felt heat rising in her cheeks. “This evening, I think.” She shook her head. “Not that I wouldn't mind the company, but...as you said, about paying attention.”
The Dedicate grinned at her, smile dimpling her cheeks. “Of course. I wouldn't want to be a distraction.” She dropped her sticks on the woodpile beside the forge. “Not while you're working, at least.” Quickbriar waved and wandered off smiling before Daja could formulate a response.
Daja realized she was staring after Quickbriar, turned to the forge and shook her arms loose. “Nails,” she muttered and set to work pumping the bellows.
By the time Frostpine showed up from his conference with the others she had a bucket full.
“Something on your mind? You look like Tris fed you a thunderhead.”
She flipped another handful of nails into the second bucket. “Do you want me for anything this evening?”
“You're avoiding the question, but I had nothing planned, no. What are you up to?”
“There's a Dedicate Quickbriar who invited me to eat with her. She's interested in...” Daja waved her hand. “She had questions.”
Frostpine wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “And she is very pretty and about your age, if I remember right.”
Daja stared at the ground. “Yes,” she mumbled.
“Go, have dinner with Quickbriar,” he told her. “If you like her, ask for a kiss. Sometimes it doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.”
He jostled her and she started to laugh. “Gods, I hope not. Dramatic and fraught is far too exhausting to be having with every day.”
“You've had enough of that for one lifetime,” Frostpine agreed.
“Is it really all right?”
Her teacher shrugged. “As long as you're honest with her and respect her wishes, I don't see why not. Winding Circle isn't picky about anything as long as their Dedicates aren't harming anyone.”
She gave in and hugged him back. “Thank you.”
He squeezed her tight and nodded briskly. “Right. Nails!”
Daja sighed and got back to work, Frostpine beside her.
That evening, Quickbriar showed up outside their tent with bowls of curry and rice. Daja invited her in, offering what hospitality she could without the accouterments of more permanent housing. She'd pulled up two large cushions to the little camp table and set out cups, water and juice. The metal bush she was cultivating was off to one side, but still available for casual inspection.
Quickbriar arranged the food on the table and pulled some flatbread wrapped in linen napkins out of her bag. She sat when Daja did, bowed her head quickly in prayer, then started eating with wolfish speed, but more grace.
“I'm sorry,” Quickbriar said, taking a gulp from her cup and coming up for air after demolishing a third of her bowl. “Been imbuing healing salves with power all day and I'm starving.”
“No need to apologize. I've been at that point myself.”
They talked about magic and work and it wasn't as awkward as it could've been. Quickbriar was intensely interested in things that grew fast, unrestrained, and everywhere, she informed Daja. She had been one of the people to modify Rosethorn's seed-ball bombs after their initial use, but mostly stuck to brick-climbing vines, pond-eating algaes, and the quickbriar brambles from which she'd taken her name.
After they finished wiping the bowls clean with the last of the bread, Daja tugged the metal bush over for Quickbriar to get a closer look. The trunk was bronze, shorter and thicker than most of the others she'd produced so far.
“The leaves are odd,” Quickbriar observed, reaching out to touch. “Sort of...dull?”
Daja nodded. “They're full of lead.”
Quickbriar pulled her hand back. “What? Why?”
“You know how my metal plants grow?”
“The basics,” Quickbriar said, “You feed them...nails and things. Other bits of metal for different effects.”
“They pull the metal they use from the soil, strip it out for use as yours do nutrients,” Daja explained. “Many of my plants are sold for show, as pretty things that are good currency for their being magical and rare.” She stroked the trunk. “This one I thought I'd try for usefulness.”
Quickbriar's eyes shone in understanding. “It cleans lead from the soil!”
Daja smiled. “It does.”
“That's...” Quickbriar grabbed Daja's hand. “That's amazing! It will save lives. It will mean fewer children damaged by old cisterns and faulty cleansing spells! It's...” She sputtered to a stop, seemingly out of words.
Daja scrubbed at her cheek with her free hand. “I...well, if it works the way I want it to, yes. I'm only testing it so far.”
“It's a fantastic idea,” Quickbriar said firmly, grinning at her. “And very attractive. Noble goals, a clever use of magic, and very lovely muscles, what more could I even want?”
“A kiss?” Daja offered, tentatively, feeling her cheeks warm again.
“Oh, yes, that's true,” Quickbriar agreed, laughing. She leaned in as smooth as Sandry's needle through silk, her hair escaped almost entirely from its braids before Daja even touched it, her hands exploring Daja's biceps, and her warm mouth still spicy from their supper and very, very friendly.
There were worse ways to spend the evening.