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life in a wallflower garden with my friends

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i. adaine

Adaine comes to Leviathan quite a lot, more than any of the other Bad Kids. At first, Ayda had thought it was purely due to the Compass Points - after all, it is a larger library than any in Elmville, and Ayda knows its contents like the back of her hand. After a few months, however, Adaine had confessed that she genuinely liked hanging out with Ayda on Leviathan, explaining that she always seemed comfortable in a way that she didn’t seem in Elmville.

(“That’s really just the Compass Points,” Ayda had argued when she said this, but there was a strange kick in her chest nevertheless.)

She’s there now, wandering the section on divination, Boggy resting languidly on her shoulder. Ayda is on the opposite side of the shelf, helping Adaine search for a book on ethereal sight. “We still don’t know much about the Night Y- the you-know-what, and I want all my options open,” She had said when she walked in, and Ayda is always happy to help her search.

They find the book easy enough, Adaine thanking her profusely once they do. “Of course,” Ayda says, “That’s what friends do, isn’t it?”

“Of course, but still, thank you, Ayda. There’s no one I would rather study magic with,” Adaine replies, and the sentiment is incredibly touching. Adaine pauses, seemingly deep in thought, before blurting out, “Would you want to show me around Leviathan?”

Ayda blinks, confused. “I don’t understand, you’ve been here plenty of times before. Why would you need to be shown around?”

Adaine squints her eyes a touch, clearly formulating a response, before saying, “Well, that’s true. I guess - I more want to be shown around Leviathan by you. You know, the parts of the city that are meaningful to you.”

“Oh,” Ayda breathes out in response, completely thrown off. It’s not a secret that, before the fateful day that the Bad Kids walked through the doors of the Compass Points all those months ago, that Ayda had never really had a true friend. There had been Garthy, of course, but they were more of a parental figure, a mentor. She’s never really done normal friend stuff before; she feels off kilter, unbalanced.

Still, she nods, saying, “Oh, well, that sounds - nice. Though, it might not be all that grand. Most of my time on Leviathan has been spent here.” She sweeps her arms to indicate the library. It sounds sad, even to her own ears, but Adaine smiles anyway, clasping her hands together joyously.

“Great! Well, lead the way.” Ayda does, Adaine following her out of the Compass Points onto the Crow’s Keep.

They spend the rest of the evening wandering through Leviathan, Ayda showing Adaine some of her favorite spots (barring the Compass Points, of course) to study, or to just watch the waves crash into shore, the mesmerizing repetition of the sea.

It’s - really nice. For all her life, Ayda had known she was lonely, but she hadn’t known just how wonderful it would feel once she finally had a friend, especially a friend like Adaine. She didn’t know how wonderful it would be to walk around her home city, pointing out things only a native resident would notice, while the other person listens, really listens, simply because they care.

They end the tour at the Gold Gardens, naturally, waving hello to Garthy when they spot them. They order food and spend the rest of the night chatting, some about wizard business, some just about normal teenage things. (Or, what Ayda assumes are normal teenage things. Her perception may be skewed, given the people she chooses to keep company with.)

This is what Ayda has spent her entire life searching after. This is what she built the friendship section in the library in hopes of, what she spent long, lonely nights dreaming of. A night with a friend, a true friend, laughing and talking about nothing in particular. It’s everything.

The night winds down, as all inevitably do, and Ayda walks Adaine back to the Compass Points so she can teleport back to Elmville. “I’m glad we did that,” Adaine says as Ayda readies the portal. Ayda glances over at her and notices a small, happy smile on Adaine’s face.

“Me too, tonight was incredibly nice.” She pauses, putting the final touches on the portal. She bites her lip, thinking, before deciding to say, “If you ever wanted to show me around Elmville, I would enjoy it immensely.”

Adaine’s smile breaks into a bright, glowing thing, and she says, “Absolutely. I would be honored.” After a beat, she steps a foot into the portal, turning back once more, calling, “Bye, Ayda!” With a poof, she’s gone.

Ayda closes the portal, tidying the library before retreating to her bedroom. She feels lighter than she has in weeks, joy threatening to spill out of her. Unlike previous nights, spent alone in a huge city that didn’t seem to love her in the way she loved it, tonight, she goes to bed happy, knowing with one hundred percent certainty that she’s loved.

ii. fabian

It’s a Saturday, the first of winter break, so Mordred Manor is currently hosting a party with the Bad Kids and their assorted friends, some Ayda knows and some she doesn’t. Mostly, she’s hung out in the corner with Fig or Adaine, but (with her consent) they’ve now both gone to dance.

She’s okay by herself for a few minutes, but after some time, the pounding of the bass and the various chatter becomes a little overwhelming. Ayda pushes herself off the wall, finding Fig and tapping her on the arm to let her know where she’s going.

She steps onto the back porch, away from the thrum of the party and into the chill of the winter night. She loves the Bad Kids, she does. But they can be a lot, and so can their parties, and she really needs a break.

She stands out there, watching her breath turn to smoke in the icy air, for a few minutes, content in being alone. After a time, however, she hears the back door creak open. Hesitating, she turns to see who it is.

Fabian is there, stepping out onto the porch and not stopping until he’s standing next to Ayda, staring straight ahead. He doesn’t say anything for a moment, and they stand a few inches apart, the silence stretching between them like taffy.

Ayda’s not quite sure what to do. She likes Fabian, like she likes all of the Bad Kids, but they aren’t all that similar, and they haven’t really talked just the two of them. It’s a situation she was unprepared for, and now that she’s faced with it, she’s unsure how to proceed.

Fortunately, Fabian speaks first, assuaging her anxieties momentarily. “Hanging out here for a while?” he asks, turning towards her. She nods, and he sighs passively, saying “Yeah, me too.”

Ayda furrows her brow. She didn’t take Fabian as a guy who needed breaks from parties, not like her. He always seems so personable, so charming, exactly the kind of person who would thrive at the center of attention. That version of Fabian doesn’t line up with the Fabian who stands out here now, shivering slightly in the cold. “Really?” Ayda asks, genuine curiosity in her voice.

“Yeah. I guess - things have been different since spring break, yeah? I think - I don’t think I’m the same person I used to be.” His voice is quiet as he speaks, and Ayda pauses, thinking. She didn’t meet Fabian before everything that happened on Leviathan with him and Bill Seacaster’s warlocks and James Whitclaw, but Fig has talked to her a bit about how Fabian’s changed.

“He’s - I know he still struggles with it, sometimes. He’s talked to Jawbone, got a therapist over the summer. He seems like he’s doing better now, though. Character growth, you know?” Fig had said one day as they hung out in her room, and Ayda had nodded, though she didn’t really know, not really.

Not until now, at least. She thinks, maybe, that this is the first time she’s seeing Fabian fully with his guard down. That he’s letting her see him this way. She feels - strangely honored, that he trusts her with this. That he trusts her, period.

“That’s understandable. You did go through a lot,” she states simply, and he lowers his gaze. Ayda cringes, hoping she didn’t make him uncomfortable, and turns back towards the night. “It makes sense that you would’ve changed.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Fabian says, and Ayda can’t read the tone in his voice. She swallows, anxiety fluttering in her throat. “I just - hope it was for the better.”

Oh. He’s nervous, Ayda realizes. “I think it was. I think - I didn’t know you before, but I really like who you are now, Fabian,” she states, hoping it’s enough. A small smile flits across his face, and he turns away from her, seemingly pleased.

“Thank you, Ayda,” he says, voice quiet.

Silence befalls the two of them again, but this time, Ayda’s not scrambling to fill it. She understands more, now, and feels more comfortable in the quiet. They must stay on the porch for ten, twenty minutes, comfortable silence blanketing them. After a time, Fabian turns back to her. “Should we head back inside? I know you’re half-phoenix and all, but it’s freezing out here”

“That would be wise,” Ayda remarks, for the first time noticing the slight tremors in Fabian’s hands. “And, Fabian? If you ever want to step away, I’d be more than happy to keep you company.”

Fabian smiles, bashful, unlike the dazzling, showy ones he usually wears. “That would be wonderful, Ayda, thank you.” He pushes himself off of the porch railing, sliding open the glass door. Ayda expects Fabian to step through, but he stands to the side, and Ayda realizes he’s waiting for her to walk through. A smile forming on her face, she steps inside.

iii. riz

Ayda is working at Compass Points, helping an older retired pirate find a book about the history of Leviathan, when she feels her crystal vibrate in her pocket. She finishes up helping the man, getting a gruff “Thank you,” as he leaves, and turns to her crystal.

It’s a text from Riz, which isn’t a usual occurrence. Their text thread is fairly barren, most of their conversations occurring in person. She furrows her brow as she opens the text, unsure of what to expect.

There’s a new Diatriale movie out this weekend, wanna come w/ me to see it?

During the last Bad Kids sleepover, Adaine had thrown on one of Diatriale’s earliest films, and though the group quickly nodded off, Ayda was hooked. Having grown up on a pirate island, she hadn’t really been exposed to cinema, and still didn’t particularly love the medium, but something about Diatriale’s work had transfixed her.

It had also, it had seemed, transfixed Riz, the only other person at the sleepover still awake by the end of the movie. In hushed voices, they talked about it for another hour and a half - Riz had already seen it, and he shyly revealed himself as a bit of a film nerd. Ayda looks back on that night fondly - before then, she hadn’t really talked to Riz one-on-one that much. Granted, they still don’t talk all that much, but any time there’s a Bad Kids movie night, they always make sure to sit next to each other.

Back in the present, she types out a response to Riz (That sounds wonderful, what time?) and turns back to her work, the hint of a smile on her face.

They settle on a time - Saturday at noon - and the rest of the week passes in a blur for Ayda. As Saturdays nears, excited nerves burble up in her stomach. Part of it is about the movie itself sure, but it’s mostly about being able to talk to Riz about the movie. It’s rare she finds someone who gets as passionate as she does about things like this, and she’s thrilled that, for the first time, it won’t just incidentally fall in the middle of a hangout with everyone else.

When Saturday hits, Ayda meets him at the Elmville Theatre fifteen minutes early. They get their tickets and overpriced popcorn (“A theatre staple,” Riz explains when she balks at the price) and usher into the theatre, taking their seats just as the previews roll.

The movie is incredible. Ayda had worried that it wouldn’t live up to the rest of Diatriale’s films, and she’s pleased that it does. The two hours of the film’s run time pass in a blur, and Ayda loves every second of it.

As the credits roll, Ayda turns to Riz, who looks just as captivated as Ayda feels. Her grin widens, and they immediately jump into a discussion of the film’s high points. The theatre clears out as they talk, and they don’t leave until the screen turns black. Once it does, they walk to the nearby park as they’d planned, discussing the movie the whole way.

Ayda was right in that Riz enjoyed the movie as much as she had. Secretly, she’s relieved; part of her was worried that one of them would end up enjoying it and one would hate it, and they would have nothing to talk about, but that could not be farther from the truth. They stay at the park for well over an hour, discussing the characters and film composition and anything else they can think of, and it’s just like the night at the sleepover. “We should do this more often,” Riz says, and a grin spreads across Ayda’s face.

“I agree. You’re a good person to talk to, Riz.” Riz ducks his head, and Ayda immediately worries that she said something wrong. “That wasn’t a weird thing to say, was it?”

It’s just - she so rarely feels this comfortable talking about mundane things around people, worried that she’s too much, and she loves that, with Riz, she doesn’t feel that anxiety quite so strongly, because he’s just as excited about them as she is.

Riz looks back up at her, an unreadable expression on his face, and shakes his head. The pressure in Ayda’s chest dissipates, her worries quieting in her head. “No, not at all. Um, people haven’t really ever preferred talking to me before. Well, until the Bad Kids, obviously. Still, it’s nice to hear.” He pauses, clearly thinking, then continues, “You’re also a good person to talk to.”

Ayda grins again, warmth filling her veins. It’s a new feeling, a strange one, to feel accepted fully and completely, and she’s still not quite used to it. What she’s used to is long nights on Leviathan, alone, seated in the aisles of the Compass Points, pouring herself into a book or whatever else she could find to occupy her time.

She’s thankful, now, that she doesn’t have to be alone. That she can still pour herself into the things she loves but no longer alone. With a smile firmly planted on her face, she dives back into the movie, and her and Riz stay at the park until it’s dark.

iv. kristen

Ayda wanders out of her room at Mordred Manor (her own room, despite not fully living there, per Sandra Lynn’s rules), and sees Kristen sitting at the kitchen table.

This is strange. Not seeing Kristen, obviously, as she does actually live here, but seeing her here now. It’s barely six in the morning, before the sun has even risen - Kristen generally doesn’t wake until noon, unless it’s important. Ayda quickly comes to the conclusion that, by Kristen’s standards, this must be important.

“Kristen?” She says, tilting her voice like a question. Kristen jolts, and Ayda thinks maybe she should have spoken quieter, considering how early it is and how Kristen was clearly deep in her own head -

“Oh, hey, Ayda,” Kristen replies, breaking Ayda out of her internal spiral. “What’re you doing up?”

“Oh, I have to go back to Leviathan soon. The library needs tending, and I’ve been away for too long.” There’s a momentary pang in her chest; there’s a lot about Leviathan that isn’t - desirable, but it’s still the place she grew up, and every version of her that came before. She’s happy with where she is now, of course, but a piece of her will always belong to Leviathan. “Anyway,” she continues, pulling herself out of her thoughts once again. “I could ask you the same thing.’

Kristen’s shoulders sag, a long, heavy sigh leaving her mouth, and Ayda furrows her brows. In her experience, that’s not a sign that things are going well. Tentatively, Ayda takes a seat next to her at the table. Kristen continues staring pointedly at the table, hardly acknowledging Ayda’s presence. Ayda tries not to take it personally.

After a moment of pause, Kristen sighs again, less heavy but just as sad. “It’s nothing, it’s just - Tracker and my anniversary is tomorrow, and I miss her, I guess.” All of this is said very quietly, melancholy lacing her voice, and Ayda feels incredibly out of her depth. Intellectual problems she can handle, but emotions are not her strong suit. Still, she tries anyway, hating seeing Kristen so unlike herself, desperately wanting to help however she can.

“Do you want to - talk about it?” She asks, cringing at how stilted the words sound coming out of her mouth. Ayda wishes she were better at this - at comfort, at being there for other people. It’s just - she still doesn’t have that much experience with friendship, comparatively, and she often feels like she’s tiptoeing on ice. She hopes that it’s not painfully obvious that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, and she cautiously turns her head towards Kristen, who doesn’t seem put off by Ayda clearly being out of her depth, which she takes as a good sign.

Kristen swallows, turning her gaze towards the ceiling. “I don’t know.” A pause, then, “no, I don’t think so. Would you just - stay here? Maybe talk about something else?”

“I did have an interesting experience the other day on Leviathan regarding work, would that suffice?” Ayda asks, and a hint of a smile makes its way onto Kristen’s face. Something blossoms in Ayda’s chest upon seeing it, something that feels an awfully lot like pride.

“That would be great,” Kristen says, turning to look at Ayda. Ayda launches into an explanation of how she’s been wanting to research this spell forever, but the book that had the information went mysteriously missing a few years prior, and she’d just been able to locate it in a pirate’s possession, but when she went to confront him, he didn’t seem to know what she was talking about. It got sorted, eventually, but it was an incredibly complex process, and when she told Adaine about it a few days ago, she seemed amused. Ayda figures it's a good enough story to tell now.

It seems to work, and Kristen seems genuinely interested in the story, laughing in all the right places. She seems - happy, at least happier than when Ayda first stumbled into the kitchen, and it’s a sharp turn from how Ayda had found her when she awoke. That feeling flares up in her chest again, and Ayda feels the need to savour it. She’s not used to being able to help people in this way, and it’s a truly wonderful feeling.

When her story ends, Kristen, for the first time in their exchange, turns her gaze upon Ayda, smiling, and Ayda finds herself smiling back. The sun’s come up by now, warming her back from where it faces the window. “I should probably leave for Leviathan now,” she says, a little bit surprised at how sad she feels about it. After a pause, she adds, “I hope you’re feeling better, Kristen.”

“I am, thank you, Ayda. I really appreciate it,” Kristen says, and Ayda can tell that she means it. She turns to leave the Manor, the feeling of pride pulsing through her until well after she reaches Leviathan.

v. gorgug

hey have you gotten fig a valentine’s day present yet?

Ayda receives this text from Gorgug at 9:51 P.M. as she’s brushing her teeth. It makes her stop in her tracks, toothbrush dangling from her mouth as she thinks up an adequate response.

Because, truth is, she hasn’t even begun to think about it. This is her and Fig’s first Valentine’s Day since they started dating - it’s just not something she’d had to think about, and growing up on Leviathan, wasn’t something she’s even had much exposure to.

She finishes brushing her teeth, drafting a response in her head, and finally sends back, No, I have not. Why?

She perches on the edge of her bed, drumming her fingers against each other as she waits for a reply. Thankfully, Gorgug doesn’t take long, the three dots indicating a response popping up less than a minute later. i haven’t gotten zelda anything either, & i thought maybe we could go to the mall together?

Ayda exhales, letting go of the tension she’d been acutely aware of. She quickly types back a yes, and they decide to meet at the mall the following day.

Gorgug is already standing outside the Elm Valley Mall when she gets there, five minutes early. There’s silence between them for a few moments, until Gorgug says, “Uh, should we go in?” Ayda nods, and they step through the entryway doors.

Ayda has only been to the Elm Valley Mall once, with the rest of the Bad Kids. She didn’t hate it, but the largeness of the place and the sheer number of stores, so unlike anything she’d ever encountered in Leviathan, didn’t leave the best impression on her.

She’s still not the biggest fan of the place, she discovers as they walk through, but Gorgug is good company. He leads her around to different stores, explaining, “I just don’t really know what to get her? I’m not the best at gift giving.”

Ayda thinks as they browse the isles of the shop they’re in currently, some clothing and jewelry store, and asks, “Well, you’ve given her presents in the past, yes?”

Gorgug nods, then sighs. “Yeah, but those were lame too. Just, like, surface-level stuff.”

Ayda picks up a necklace, turning it over in her hand. She quickly decides its too flashy - for either Fig or Zelda - and sets it back down. “Well, I don’t think anything here,” she throws an arm out, gesturing to the store, “will really suit her.” Gorgug agrees, and they wander out of the store.

They pop in and out of a few more stores with no luck, and Ayda’s beginning to feel tired. Gorgug seems to be losing hope as well, when he says, “How about one more store, and if we don’t find anything, we leave?”

“Yes, I think that would be best,” she agrees, and they carry forward. The final store they stop in is small, and doesn’t look too dissimilar to the plethora they’ve visited already. It seems like a wash, almost, until they reach the back of the store.

Immediately, Gorgug heads to the back shelf, which is plastered floor to ceiling with vintage music products. Ayda comes up next to him and sees that he’s got a victorious smile on his face. “This couldn’t be more perfect,” he says, neck craned slightly to look at the top shelf. He reaches up, bringing down something Ayda doesn’t recognize. Gorgug must see the confusion on her face, and he explains, “It’s a cassette player, an old music player. Zelda loves stuff like this.” Quieter, he says, “This is perfect.” He seems relieved to have found something, and Ayda wishes she could feel the same.

As it turns out, she doesn’t need to wish for long. The wall perpendicular to the one with the music merchandise has shelves full of knick knacks. It catches her eye initially for the variety of things on the shelf, none of which is anything that Fig would be remotely interested in, but it’s a bucket of charms that draws her closer.

A vivid memory pops into her head of Fig talking about herself in middle school, before finding out she was a Tiefling, and about the person she was back then. She also remembers, suddenly, Fig showing her the charm bracelet she had.

It might be a horrible present - after all, Fig doesn’t even wear the bracelet anymore. But she finds two charms that she thinks are perfect: a skateboard and a tree, reminiscent of their first kiss. She shows Gorgug, and he grins, which Ayda takes as a good sign.

They check out, victorious at last, but before they leave, Gorgug stops her. “Do you wanna get pretzels before we leave? They’re a mall staple.” Ayda hesitates, and Gorgug must sense this, because he adds, “We can eat in the parking lot, if you’d rather.” Ayda agrees, and he goes to order two pretzels for them.

They make their way to the parking lot, sitting on a bench just outside the mall, and the pretzel is surprisingly good. She expresses this to Gorgug, who grins. “Mall pretzels are like, legit magic.” Ayda laughs, loud and bright, and they finish their pretzels, happily chatting the entire time.

vi. fig

Ayda is tugging on her boots as she hears a knock at the door. Her lips quirk up in a smile, suspecting who’s on the other end of the knock, and replies, “Yes?”

“It’s Fig, are you ready?” Her suspicions confirmed, Ayda tugs her laces tight and makes her way to the door, smile widening as she opens it.

Fig looks gorgeous. She always does, obviously, but tonight is different: her hair is down from its usual braid in loose waves tumbling past her shoulders, and she’s wearing a black tank top and jean jacket with a red skirt and fishnets. Ayda can’t help herself, leaning in for a kiss.

When they pull apart, Fig smiles, winking at her. “Let’s go, before there’s a rush.”

They exit Mordred Manor, waving goodbye to Sandra Lynn as they leave (“Be back at a reasonable time, you two,” she calls as they leave, causing Fig to roll her eyes.) Fig hops into Jawbone’s car that she just recently learned how to drive, Ayda following suit in the passenger’s seat.

The drive to Krom’s Diner is pleasant - Fig plays one of the Cig Figs albums on a low volume, humming along. It’s incredibly cute, and Ayda spends most of the drive just watching her.

They arrive after about twenty minutes, and Fig waves at Yandi as they enter the diner. “Just you two tonight?” She asks, and her and Fig both nod.

They’re seated in a corner booth, and almost immediately Fig begins some big story about something that had happened at Aguefort just before break. Ayda listens intently, mesmerized by the dramatic, passionate way in which Fig recounts her tale of the “assembly from Hell, and I would know.”

Yandi comes back around just as Fig finishes up her story to take their orders. As she takes their menus, leaving, Fig places her hand on top of the table, palm up. After a year, Ayda knows exactly what that means, and she places her hand in Fig’s.

Food comes, and they release each other’s hands. Before Ayda can begin eating, however, Fig stops her. “Happy anniversary, Ayda,” she says softly, a shy smile on her face. Ayda adores her.

“Happy anniversary, Fig,” she echoes, and they clink their milkshakes - hers vanilla, Fig’s strawberry - together. Fig laughs, loud and bright, and Ayda just grins, alight with joy.

The rest of the dinner passes by wonderfully, and they stay at the diner until sundown. As they leave, Fig says, “I have one more surprise for you.” Ayda’s stomach flutters, nervousness and excitement and love all mingled together.

“Well, now I feel underprepared,” Ayda says, opening the passenger’s side door. “I didn’t plan anything else for you.”

Fig waves a hand noncommittally, as if to ease her fears. “It’s honestly so small, don’t even worry about it.” She starts up the car and pulls out of the parking lot. Ayda catches on to the fact that Fig is driving back to the Manor pretty quickly, but she doesn’t bring it up. She loves Fig, and she trusts Fig, and she knows that Fig knows what she’s doing.

She’s right in that they do pull into the Manor’s driveway, but instead of leading her inside as she expected, Fig grabs her hand, bringing her to the backyard instead.

It’s - incredible, is the only way that Ayda can think to describe it. Lights flicker in a circle in the center of the yard, seemingly suspended in the air by magic, and a picnic blanket sits in the midst of it. Ayda turns to Fig, awestruck, and that shy smile is back on Fig’s face. “I thought we could stargaze,” she says quietly, and Ayda’s heart melts.

“This is - Figueroth, this is wonderful.” Her voice is quiet, almost choked up, which is not what she expected when she began speaking. Fig’s smile just widens, and she leads Ayda onto the blanket.

They lay down, Ayda’s head on Fig’s stomach, hands interlaced. She’s not sure how long they sit out there, silent but for the whirr of the world around them, but Ayda doesn’t care. She wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

After some time, the lights begin to flicker out, and Ayda guesses the spell keeping them there is ending. She sits up, Fig following. “Tonight was - everything,” Ayda says, reverence in her voice. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Ayda. So much,” Fig replies, leaning in for a kiss. It’s perfect, the best kiss she’s ever had - at least, until the back door opens.

“Hey, lovebirds,” Kristen calls from the porch as Ayda and Fig pull apart. “Bad Kids movie night. You in?” Fig looks at Ayda, raising an eyebrow. Ayda thinks about it - it’s been a long, incredible night, but she unexpectedly finds herself wanting to join in on movie night anyway.

“That sounds nice,” Ayda responds, and her and Fig head inside, Ayda’s heart feeling lighter than it ever has.