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Morning rolled gray over the horizon, heavy with clouds, bringing a soft misting of rain and the shining-through of weak, diffuse sunlight. Under the cloud cover the trees were a muted green, though no less lush-looking then they had been under full sunlight. Chiela had never seen the tropical rain-forests on Earth, except through the occasional picture, but she imagined they would have been like this, thick with life, crawling with life, creeper vines and tree moss, thick sprays of green shoots and loamy black earth, the rustling of one creature or another in the brush, bird song startling and clear, the blossoming of exotic, hot-house flowers, the scuttling of hundreds, no thousands, of strange insects, the smell of wet earth and the feel of sweat prickling at the back of her neck, humid and hot.

She braced her hands on the rough balcony railing, the wood warm beneath her hands, leaned over the edge, and looked down to where Venka was pacing back and forth, a jungle cat finally in her element, sleek muscles bunching and releasing, pausing occasionally to flex her wings to their full span, snapping her teeth at the insects who got a little too curious. The door creaked open behind Chiela, and she turned to find Dioscorus ducking through it. She smiled at him weakly and turned back around to stare out at the trees. Dioscorus drew up beside her, setting his hands on the railing as well, glancing down at Venka, and chuffing out a laugh.

They stood in silence for a moment - a silence that seemed awkward to Chiela at least - before Dioscorus shot her an amused, sideways look and said, “Feel free to make an excuse and escape back inside,” and, shit, totally busted.

“No, hey, y’know,” she said, sounding rueful even to her own ears. “It’s nice out here. And we don’t get to talk very often.”

“I assumed,” Dioscorus said, “that was intentional.”

Chiela winced because, well, that was true, but she’d kind of hoped Dioscorus hadn’t noticed, which was probably - or, well, obviously, seeing as he knew - hoping for too much. The guy wasn’t unobservant after all. Hell, he’d managed to navigate the cues between Pipra and Nikolao, which Chiela knew she wouldn’t have been capable of. They were more that a handful taken separately; together they had to be even worse. Although if anyone had the stamina and resolve for it, it would be Dioscoruse; he was an absolute mountain of a man.

“Uh, well, y’know,” Chiela said, and then bit down on her lip to stop herself from babbling before she started. Dioscorus shot her another look, smirking, and Chiela huffed out a breath. “Sorry,” she said.

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