She looks at you like the sun shines out of your ass. Or well, when she gets the chance, she’s actually looking down on you. And then only when she's not hanging out of the back of a racing wagon. She's five feet plus of gorgeous beauty, and you are a proud halfing.
Her name is Sloane, you learn after a string of vandalism reports on the south side of Goldcliffe. Her name is Sloane, and she has a smile that radiates joy, and it's somehow even more beautiful when the wind is racing through her hair. It didn't seem fair, that she kept making you chase after her; that so much of your life was first spent wishing she'd cause a little less trouble for you.
She causes a lot of trouble in the end. First in the eyes of the law, then in the amount of time you spend thinking about her. Then in the amount of time she spends knocking on your back door, sneaking you both into garages late at night, high fences where you can really see the stars and the dust from yesterday’s races hasn’t quite settled yet.
It’s possible you both always knew each other's battle racing secrets. It's hard to hide everything on the racing scene, and neither of you have ever been good at being particularly subtle. Her sheer unadulterated joy drew you to her, when you were just a punk on the sidelines wearing a half-built Ram’s mask trying to learn the rules of battle racing. You'd show up to the tracks, sometimes the garages, busy making sure you actually tied your mask this time and then dreaming about driving your own wagon. When she joined you next to the pylons during a race, wearing a half mask of glittering black feathers, you shook her hand and agreed to a partnership because you were too stunned to say anything else.
That feeling doesn’t really ever go away: stunned by the amount of love and happiness surrounding her. She carries her joy like a halo. She wears her pride and her competitiveness like it’s threaded into her favorite jacket. When you’re apart, you feel lighter somehow, as if her lightness rubbed off on you.
The day chase is mostly a game now. Chasing after her after some petty crime or another only adds to the thrill, a second sort of race between only the two of you with no end in sight. When she yells “see ya officer shortstacks!” you both know now what she really means: the only kind of “I love you” suitable for public.
You like lying in bed next to her, like the way she manages to tangle her limbs all around you when she's asleep and when she's not. Like the way the covers on the bed always end up on the side she sleeps on. The skin on the side of her neck tastes like late summer cherries and when your mouth ghosts over hers she makes the tiniest, most wonderful gasps.
The mornings after are quiet. There is a space where both of you exist outside of the eyes of the law and, truly, nothing outside of the four walls of Sloane’s bedroom could possibly matter. You like to look at her. It's cheesy and cliche, but you think the gods must have played a special role in her creation. She is dark, warm colors to your own neutral pallet. She is full of angles and intrigue and spontaneity. And here, underneath the blankets snuggled up against two pillows and your arm, she is yours. When the sun rises higher in the sky you will have to part, and will return to playing a game of chase never ending; a game of thrill and quiet seduction.
The third month after you meet - the morning after your second battle wagon race with Sloan as your partner - you tell her you love her.
The thing about battle wagon racing is that it's an art. Among other aspects, it's about riding a delicate balance between defense and offense. There's a subtle give and take between the wagon and the race trail - it's impossible to demand anything of the race without first giving something in return. Sloane understood that from the beginning, and you envied her intuition for speed and the machinery. It's a gift in a way that a lot of people don't appreciate. It's dedication and perseverance. She races like she has something to prove.
The sash changes a lot of things. You hate yourself for not noticing earlier.
Where you once thought of the raven’s feathers as a thing of pure unmatched beauty you now see their iridescence as a manifestation of all the secrets pushing you both apart. Where she once was a beacon of warmth and brightness, she is now dulled and desperate, and you see her less and less.
You know the truth, but knowing and accepting are two very different things.
You can't accept that you might lose her. Won't accept it. And when three bumbling fools start investigating, you start thinking of how every race has some sort of finish line, and maybe it's time Sloane knows that too.
She's different yes, but she's still your Sloane. Still the girl who loves the feel of the wind rushing over her, who's only ever wanted to push you faster ahead. When you realize that you're dying - well, you remember that races too are short lived for all their brilliance.
“I want to spend the rest of forever with you,” she says. You think she's holding you in her arms, but that can't be right because you're cold, and she's always been warm.
“I think that’d be ok” you whisper, drawing your face closer to yours because the gods knows she's yours, and you want nothing else than to really see her as herself again.
Time under the spell is different. But that's what you have again is: time. Time to forget the thrall of the Sash, time enough to remember exactly why you chased after each other. Time that you wouldn't rather spend anywhere else, with anyone else, because here you both exist together and for you... that's more than enough.