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Mending

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“That is it,” Eleanor announces, drawing the entire party to a halt. Velvet was right: the boys are not at all considerate enough to keep things like regular stops for washing and bathing in mind. “We’ve been on the road for four days straight now, and if it’s going to be very much longer, I need to stop for washing and a bath.”

The assortment of looks she gets because of this is not entirely encouraging. Rokurou’s got an air of amusement about him, and Eizen looks like someone’s caught him out, like he honestly forgot this was a problem that people might have. 

Magilou, by contrast, stretches long arms over her head, face split in a broad cat-smirk of a grin. “Oh,” she says, “I was wondering when you’d say something.”

Eleanor twitches. Only a little, really. Magilou is – human? Probably? – and yet never seems bound by most human constraints, whether it be combat or fashion or anything in between. Does being a witch mean laundry is optional? How would you even launder a book? 

Consciously or not, most of them look to Velvet for answer. “It’s fine,” Velvet says, sounding disinterested. “We can stop early tonight, since we’re not going to be in range of a town. Keep an eye open for a good spot near water.”

And that’s that, incredibly. If Eleanor had known it was going to be that simple, she might have said something ages ago. Although... maybe it wouldn’t have been, if Velvet hadn’t said something? She’s still getting a feel for who listens to whom, but Velvet is definitely in charge, and it’s not just because she’ll eat anyone who disagrees with her.

“Well,” Eleanor says. Brushes at her skirt. “All right. ...Thank you.”

They keep moving.

Making camp is done in the daylight, not twilight for a change, and it’s as haphazard an affair as ever, given that the majority of their number really don’t care about the elements. Eleanor cares a lot more about silly, mundane things like cold, apparently. She still can’t tell if Magilou does. But – while Eleanor is trying to set things up for herself, Velvet is quite suddenly there. She says nothing, only takes things from Eleanor’s hands, and points Eleanor firmly at the river some little ways off. 

“But,” Eleanor says.

“I can still change my mind,” Velvet says. 

Eleanor scoops up her pack and goes. 

She’s at first a little concerned about any of the boys coming down to the river after her, but all teasing aside, they don’t seem all that interested in being jerks about it. Off go jacket and boots and overdress, down to her slip, and Eleanor plunges into the water. She yelps at the temperature shift only that once, in the immediate shock of it, and then she adjusts, and can focus on blessed cleanliness

Mostly she’s left alone, as she goes through the process of it. Once she’s clean enough to be getting on with, she hauls herself out of the water to sit dripping on the bank and sort through her options. She has a spare set of clothing, naturally, and a couple of shifts, but she hadn’t exactly planned on traveling for the long haul, and nearly everything wants for washing. 

Oh, well, there’s nothing else for it but to keep on. She picks out her cleanest shift, changes with a quick economy of motion designed to minimize the amount of cold and bare skin, and then it’s washing what she can, and in washing Eleanor finds all the little things that need mending if she doesn’t want them to turn into bigger things, and that is how laundry turns into Eleanor sitting on the bank, damp clothes in a pile beside her and needle and thread in hand. It’s miserable, sewing on damp clothes, and it won’t be perfect, but she’s pretty sure she won’t have time to do this tomorrow morning, and unless she can wheedle help out of Magilou – unlikely at best – then completely dry isn’t a thing that’s happening tonight.

She’s learning a lot about making do with what she has.

Velvet sits down beside her, and Eleanor restrains her startled flinch to a simple tensing, fingers gone tight on her needle. She’s been, she realizes belatedly, relaxing where she shouldn’t have, and Velvet coming up beside her should have been something she noticed before anything like sitting happened. 

“Relax,” Velvet says, unsympathetically. “I’m not going to eat you.”

Coming from anyone else, that would be a joke.

“I know that,” Eleanor says, determinedly staring down at her jacket. There’s a rip in the elbow, one she’s stitching up with fine blue thread. It’s a shade off, but she thinks it’s only because of the damp. She hopes. “I-is there something you wanted?”

She can feel the weight of Velvet’s observation even though she’s fixedly not looking up. “Hm,” Velvet says noncommittally, tilting her head down to look at Eleanor’s work. Carefully she reaches over, takes the end of the sleeve – Eleanor has already been at work there, tucking in some fraying threads, and the hem is all neatly bound off again. Velvet turns it this way and that, only looking, and Eleanor cannot not be aware of the potential for destruction in those fingertips.

Still: nothing. “You really are good,” Velvet says, appraisingly, and lets go.

Somehow that’s not what Eleanor expected. She pauses with her needle halfway through fabric, only wondering what question to ask. “I didn’t realize you were interested,” she says after a moment, tugging thread through fabric again. She has a neat line of blue stitching to show for her efforts, and she needs to go over it once more at least, since it’s on a joint. 

She never had to make half this many repairs before all this. 

“I’m not any good at things like that,” Velvet says obliquely, and when Eleanor chances a glance up she sees that Velvet has looked away. “I’m better at hunting.”

“Well,” Eleanor says, and she hesitates for all of a second before plunging ahead. “I did mean it, when I said to bring me any mending you need.” She wonders if maybe Velvet doesn’t think she meant it – it took her a little while to take Velvet up on the reciprocal offer, after all. She tries not to look too pointedly at Velvet’s outfit. She knows Velvet doesn’t feel heat or cold, so the weather means little to her, but – the raw edges would bother Eleanor if she were the one wearing that. 

“It’s fine,” Velvet says, demurring again. “I don’t really need anything.” A sidelong glance, and her eyes look dark. “You really are worried about it, aren’t you.”

Eleanor had said she wasn’t, but frankly it’s a little distracting, and her fingertips itch with the urge to fix things. She reminds herself that this is a fearsome daemon, full of calamitous intent. An enemy who she is accompanying only for her word of honor, and the fact she will be able to provide vital and necessary information to Lord Artorius later, and– well, she doesn’t really want to see Laphicet overcome by malevolence, either, but that’s beside the point. She and Velvet are not friends, will not be friends. Just because Velvet is considerate of Eleanor’s needs doesn’t make her a good person.

And yet: yes, Eleanor is worried about it. She colors a little at having been so easily seen through, bends her head over the current piece of sewing. “I’m not worried about it,” she says, trying to sound more firm than she feels. “Like I said. I just... notice from time to time, that’s all. Some of those tears don’t look like they’re comfortable. And I already have my sewing things out, after all.” 

Velvet laughs softly. Eleanor can’t honestly tell if it’s scornful or not. “I don’t really notice,” she says. Wistful? Melancholy? “It’s something to wear. It’s really not worth your effort.” She shrugs; something in the metal fittings of the jacket clinks. 

Somehow, Eleanor thinks that’s almost sadder than if it was a relic of someone she cared for. 

“It’s not out of my way,” Eleanor says, a little stiffly, waggling the needle at her. 

“Maybe it’s out of mine,” Velvet says. Eleanor thinks about what it would take to get into and out of those clothes and concedes, if only mentally, that maybe it is. 

“Well,” Eleanor says. “Whenever.” It sounds stupid even to her. She charges on anyway, since she’s already saying silly things. “I could teach you how? If you wanted to try doing it yourself, instead?”

“Ah?” For once Velvet looks to be on the back foot, even if just a little, head tilted and eyes a little wider than usual. “You’d do that?”

Eleanor doesn’t really see the big deal. It’s a simple principle, sewing is, it just takes practice, and it’s not like they’re not already spending time together. “I don’t see why not,” she says primly. She turns the jacket in her hands, meaning to go back along the seam she’s just completed to reinforce it. “Unless daemons are allergic to needles, or something.”

There’s another laugh from Velvet, this one low and rich, if abbreviated. “Hardly,” she says. “But there really isn’t much point.”

“Why not?” She’s only going to press once, Eleanor tells herself. Once is all that’s appropriate here. 

“Like I said,” Velvet says, brushing her bandaged hand over the ragged sleeve of her jacket. “I don’t really notice. There are a lot of better things you could spend your energy on.”

Eleanor isn’t entirely convinced by the almost-casual way she says this, nor by the gesture, but she also doesn’t really want to argue over this right now. It’s not worth the effort. “Hmm,” she says instead, and presses her lips together for a moment or five. “Well, if you ever change your mind.”

“I know right where to find you.”

They lapse into silence after that. Eleanor is more or less expecting Velvet to get up and go back to camp, but she doesn’t. She leans over the edge of the river, dangles her right hand in the river to make little swirls and eddies. It’s– an unexpectedly childish thing, Eleanor thinks, for someone so fearsome. 

Because she has a more or less functional sense of self-preservation, Eleanor doesn’t comment on it. But it’s – kind of sweet? Sort of? She doesn’t know what to call it, only that it makes Velvet a shade more human, and that keeps happening, these little things. Consideration and unselfconscious gestures, and if Eleanor’s not careful she’s going to start– liking a daemon, of all things. 

She doesn’t know what to do with this. 

She powers through the rest of the elbow tear, and reaffirms another hem besides, and Velvet stays there in quiet all the while. Every so often she glances back toward camp, as though hearing something Eleanor can’t, but there’s no yelling, no explosions. No sounds of combat. It’s– peaceful. 

Eleanor rushes her last knot, puts her sewing kit away with fumbling fingers, and bounces to her feet. “Okay!” she says, brightly, too fast as she gathers her things. “Time to head back. I’ll set these by the fire, and they should be dry by the time we’re ready to go in the morning.”

“Good,” Velvet says, and nothing more. She gets up and goes, not waiting for Eleanor, as if that’s her limit of positive human interaction for the day. 

Well. Eleanor wouldn’t honestly be surprised by that either. She manages her pack and her drying clothes by herself, and she goes on back, and she– utterly fails not to be at least a little warmer inside, actually. 

She finds she really wouldn’t mind teaching Velvet to sew.