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~ Painting outside of the lines ~

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Written by Nikolas Belliveau and Azura

Beneath a canopy of leaves, Azura paced, back and forth along the edge of a small blue green lagoon. Bare feet tracked over soft green moss and fallen leaves, a rustle accompanying her movements as she wove a track in the soil. She was not alone. Eyes followed her, darting to and fro, mirroring the path she nervously tread.

“..I don’t know. I can’t just show up even if he invited me! Besides, it’s getting late.. he might be asleep in a bed of fiery coals..” She grumbled, her tone veering between anxious and nervous one minute before crashing into firm decisiveness. “No, I won’t go. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I should? Oh! Why is this so hard?” Azura flung the question at the glade that surrounded her, finally halting into stillness and glaring with expectancy at the stares that followed.

All manner of wild creatures had paused in their daily foraging to watch the panicked girl, quietly observing from the treeline. The only answer she received was a scattered symphony of noise. The solitary howl of a wolf whose shaggy head tilted, yellow orbs shining. The musings of a badger, and several squirrels chiming together, the low rumble of a black bear.

The small tribal woman frowned at the woodland beasts who were no real help at all, her frustration made worse by the roosting birds above that tittered, as if laughing at her confliction. Azura gave out a flustered huff and moved to the water’s edge for the fourth time, glancing at the black dress that was draped over a nearby boulder before gazing down into her reflection, her narrowed emerald gaze critical and blinking back at her as she fiddled with the portal coin Niko had given her.

The contours of her face were decorated with a strip of dark purple powder, edged above her brow and beneath her eyes to form a solid bar that stretched over the bridge of her nose, specks of gold scattered throughout like stars. Below the bottom tier of her charcoal painted lips ran a line of silver piercings, the gleam with which they shone matched the studs that formed a necklace at the base of her pallid throat. Sheer violet fabric wrapped itself around her frame, transparent lace revealing the tattooed skin beneath, ivory curves tinted in lavender. Flowing amethyst lace cascaded, edges trimmed in gold and lapping against her pale ink stained thighs.

She threw another glance at the garment strung over stone, pulling it slowly into her arms and keeping it clutched in one small fist, unsure whether to change or bring the item in case the phoenix intended to show her the city outside his studio. But then, should she even go? Her nose crinkled, fingers moving through tangled coils of black and white which she had at least attempted to tame though with the memories braiding those unruly curls brought, she had only managed to clumsily weave together two braids on either side, the ropes framing her face and threaded with blue string.

Another look was cast to the sky above, smudges of gold, amber and red slowly melting away. Wait.. Would it be day or night in France now? Azura tried to calculate the chances of her showing up outside Niko’s door in the wee early hours of the morning, frowning.

But in the end, she inhaled deeply, gathering her courage before firmly clutching the portal coin and allowing it to transport her through time and space.. In mere seconds, a slightly disoriented Azura found herself stumbling through a blue ring of light, bare toes wriggling against soft carpet, the texture of which felt unusual beneath her feet. She was used to damp earth, sprawling moss and the crinkle of rustling leaves.

She glanced about her anxiously, blinking at the door she found herself staring at though a wide eyed look was quickly being afforded to the hallway in which she stood, grateful for the fact that at least there appeared to be only one possible option, no other rooms on the floor it seemed, though as her eyes trailed over her rune marked shoulder, she caught sight of a silver metallic looking door that had her scratching the side of her head in doubt.

Confused, she turned for a moment to inspect the curious entryway, her finger almost automatically reaching to push one of the arrow buttons fixed to the wall beside it. When the automatic elevator doors slid open, Azura gave a small yelp and jumped back though it wasn’t long before she was timidly poking her head into the tiny moving room. Well, that was very strange. Quickly, she fled back to the door she had been standing in front of, a deep breath taken before she rapped her knuckles softly on wood, restlessly hopping from one foot to another as she waited.

The apartment studio was filled with a breeze from the open floor to ceiling windows and the open balcony doors. Heavy red bricks stacked together to form two of the walls in the main room, while the others were of assorted colors. Greys, tans, white with splashes of paint here and there. Just inside the front door lay a small end table that had a large Raku bowl that was filled with a few odds and ends including a set of keys and a box of cigarettes that were oftentimes forgotten. It was just an old habit that came back to him at the worst of times.

To the right was the kitchen which was open and had white marble counters and mismatched bar stools that had different materials padding their seats including velvet, corduroy, and leather.

Now, on the left, there was a vast amount of open space aside from the couch and coffee table. A few easels lay here and there, even propped up against the walls. Many paintings and canvases were thrown about, stacked atop one another, leaning against the wall, and even one or two hung up in sporadic order.

He hated to show his work, mainly kept it hidden unless there was a private buyer interested in one of the pieces. Otherwise, he was far too ashamed by what his angry mind came up with even if some were truly splendid and detailed. Perks of being an artist, you are your worst critic.

On this side of the home, there was a hallway that led to a bathroom and a single bedroom since he did not require any more than that. This was already more than enough space for the one phoenix. The ceiling was bare, showing rafters and occasional large skylights that showed the clouds and dying sun above. It was homey and airy to him, making a very happy man. Or kinda happy.

Currently, Nikolas sat on the edge of the couch, crouched over a small bowl of dried herbs that were glowing with purple embers. The smoke was starting to ripple through the air, sending soothing sensations to scour his chest, forcing his lungs to take in the musky scent and to slow his heartbeat. Yes.. The herbal remedies were starting to work. This was a whole lot easier than lighting a few homes on fire. Better too, no one got hurt in the process.

Scents of lavender and sage wafted through the open home, creating a peaceful environment for him to just relax in, but that quietness was soon interrupted by the sound of the elevator ding and the rather familiar voice that yelped from behind the door. Someone was there..

A glance was given to the kitchen, there beside the fridge was a small TV where he spent most of the mornings eating breakfast, watching the current news and weather forecasts. But that was not what he was looking at. The knives were what caught his eyes, tempting him to arm himself as he neared the door.

Oh, but Niko, you are a great and powerful phoenix, not some swordsman.. Surely the flames would be more menacing, but he would like to keep the fact that he was not human a secret. Instead of arming himself, he cautiously strode to the door, then unlocked it and peeked his head out. A blink of surprise was given when he saw the woman standing there.

OH shit.

The door was shut and he reached for a sweater that had been hanging by the door, because of course he in his own home was comfortable enough to just stroll around bare chested, letting the few tattoos and pale skin to get some sunlight from the windows.

After pulling the hoodie on, he opened the door for a second time and allowed for it to swing all the way.

“S-Sorry.” He awkwardly scratched his head, then gestured for her to come inside. “You didn’t have trouble did-” He froze when he saw the outfit that she was wearing.
Purple.. She was wearing purple.. That made his breath catch in his throat, even forcing his heart to race out of that closure that it had been in.

Well fuck..

A light fuschia blush settled itself over his features. He reached up to his neckline and gave a tug at a string of leather, pulling out the glass shard that the woman had given him the previous night. Yep, he made a necklace out of it and was proudly wearing it.

“We u-uh.. Match.”

When the door began to open, Azura pasted a large smile over her painted features, a quick attempt to hide the nervousness bubbling away in the pit of her stomach, the butterflies that soared and dipped make it difficult for her to not turn on one heel and race down that corridor though she assumed it was far too late for such a thing.

She gulped as the edge of the door froze, only emitting a crack of what lay on the other side. Her smile wavered, one star speckled violet orb blinking at her. That was all she glimpsed, that and a flash of pale skin and then, the door was slammed shut in her face.

Azura’s smile now fell away completely, disappointment and regret crashing over the shaded contours of her face. Stupid, it was stupid to have come here, she thought, trying to ignore the way her heart plummeted. So tightly strung were the tribal woman’s nerves, that she was soon tightening her grip on that black garment, her free hand reaching to find the portal coin that she had tucked beneath pools of translucent lilac lace.

But then, the door opened again, startling her so much that for a moment, she simply stared at Niko, blinking at the way he invited her inside, struggling to understand the words the came out of his mouth for her pulse was thrumming loudly in her ears.

“Is this a bad time?” She asked, frowning at his stammered apology before adding. “No.. no trouble.. but. who lives in that tiny moving room?” She asked, her incredulous awe evident by her tone and briefly surpassing her nervousness, glancing back over her shoulder at the elevator before her gaze returned to his face, those large green eyes already flitting past him, over his shoulder.

For several seconds, it seemed as if Azura was intent on ignoring the way he gestured her inside, rising on bare toes and craning her neck to see what lay behind him before she accepted the offer.

Sinking back onto the soles of her feet, she finally nodded and was slowly inching her way past when his prolonged stare and the words that followed caught her attention, freezing her in her path.

She hovered, her emerald gaze carefully following his movement as the thickness of his accent chimed in her ears, unable to resist the small surprised smile that appeared as she noted the purple chunk of silver and blue flecked sea glass that hung from a chord around his throat. She reached for it, running a thumb of its rippled surface before green orbs rose to find his.

“We do. It.. was an accident.” She murmured softly, fighting back clouds of pink.
Would she ever admit that she had dressed to match his favorite colour, hoping for such a reaction as the one she glimpsed in him now? No, Azura would stubbornly cling to the illusion of those words for even she was unsure why she was motivated to do such a thing.

“I’m glad you like it so much you wish to wear it rather than display it somewhere” At these words, the pale woman let her eyes trail towards the interior of his home, those moss coloured orbs darting curiously from one place to the next, widening further with each second.

Smoke billowed about her, the scent encircling her senses, whiffs of lavender and sage slowly unknotting her nerves and allowing that strong pull of curiosity to draw her in.

Azura did not wait for his response, she was already drifting deeper inside the apartment, flitting from one place to the next as if she wasn’t quite sure what fascinated her more, or where to look, her fingers trailing over the walls as she moved, noting the dashes of paint on the walls , the light streaming in from the large floor to ceiling windows and from above. Gawking slightly, she pointed at the smudges of burning red in the sky.

“You.. You have windows in your ceiling Niko!” She declared in confusion and amusement, an incredulous smirk thrown towards him.

She moved on quickly though, glancing at the purple flames glowing in a bowl atop the coffee table before gravitating towards the tiny kitchen, pale digits sweeping over seemingly mundane items that elicited small gasps of wonder from her. Pausing, she fiddled with the knobs of his stove, bending to peer inside when an amber light lit its depths though seconds later, she was exploring the microwave, pressing buttons at random.

In reality, having Azura as a house guest was very much like inviting a drunk toddler into your home.

“You have so much.. stuff..” She murmured for while most might find Niko’s studio a tad sparse, she did not, having truly very little to stake her name to in terms of material possessions.

She had yet to notice the easels and canvases that littered the room in messy piles, scattered and leaning against walls, too focused on the technology that puzzled her. As she spoke, she leaned against one of the counters though unfortunately for Azura, she did not notice the remote control her hand landed atop.

The TV came to life, a sudden roar of sound, music and flashing colour that the small woman cried out in alarm, staggering back. The black dress she held fell from her grip as palms planted themselves flat against her ears. It was any wonder those orbs of green could grow any larger but they did, round moons that fled towards Niko in alarm, panic and fear before racing back to the screen in which pictures and tiny people were moving. Clearly frantic by the sight, she was inching further and further away, zipping from the kitchen and back towards the painted walls.

“No, not a bad time at all. I was just.. Trying to calm down.” He admitted, still running a hand through his messy black waves of hair. “I don’t think it is ever really a bad time to see you, cher.”

Alright, stop talking, Niko. Wait.. Tiny room? Blinking, he glanced outside of his studio and out into the hallway. There weren’t any other rooms on this floor, only the stairs that lead up to the roof and the elevator. Well, the elevator was a /moving room/, so he could only assume that she was speaking about that.

“Oh uh.. That is an elevator, Azura. Not a room. No one lives there. It is just meant for safe traveling from the top to the bottom of the building.”
Well, sure there was a staircase as well, but why the hell would he use that if there were an easier way down? Plus.. He could just fly off the rooftop, so he truly didn’t need the quick transportation.

He did notice the way that she was peering over him to view the room, so he scooted over a bit so that she could get a better view, but then there she was with her hands reaching for the leather cording and violet shard at his throat.

“An accident?” He asked, raising his brows at her in surprise. “Huh, I thought that there might be a meaning behind it.. Don’t think I have seen you in that color so far. Just your blues and whites..” Giving her soft smirk, he looked away from her to try and hide that pink fluster that was still evident on his skin. “Where else was I supposed to keep it? I really do enjoy it.. Love it really. It’s so cool.”

Instinctively, he reached up to stroke the piece, but had met his hand against hers right when she had pulled away to bound right passed him. It would be a moment before he turned around to join her, taking his time to allow himself to breathe and try to calm down that racing heart.

He watched her as she ran into the living room and stared up at the sunroofs, unable to keep a smile from splitting his lips, showing those pearly whites.

“Yeah? They are to look up at the sky and for more natural lighting. It helps with the art.” A nod was given towards the semi clean area where the easels and canvases were spread out.

A few paint tubes lay here and there as well as a jar or two of water and brushes. Then there she goes blasting into the kitchen. Opening and closing each door and appliance, even going as far as smashing any button or twisting the knobs that lay in her grasp.

Wow.. That was.. Really cute. Too innocent.

It reminded him just how naive and ignorant she may be to the modern time of Earth. She was from her own world, wasn’t she? He had yet to be told what the name of such a place was.. But that would all come in due time. There was no need to rush with sentimental questions about her life.

Plus, did he truly want to know where those odd women took homage to and basically exhorted men around? Maybe.. He did not really know what he wanted to learn, almost afraid that there may be other dark things in that past just like his own. Some things were just meant to stay secrets.

“I don’t really have that much. I just have the necesse-” His words were left unfinished as he realized what little she may have or experienced having compared to him. Shit.. “I um.. Je suis desole, mon cherie.. I didn’t mean any harm in that. I just, sorta live a simple life compared to others here in France.” Shrugging, he walked over to the kitchen island and leaned across it, though was not prepared to see the woman jump out of her skin when she had accidentally turned on the television.

Smiling out of sheer amusement, he reached over and took the remote from beneath her hand, then gave it a good shake in her vision as if to say /pay attention/, then pushed a few buttons to change the channel and volume before handing it back to her. He hadn’t realized just how blind she was to technology, but it definitely wasn’t a bad thing. Just meant that he was able to teach her a few things should she wish to learn.

“It is just the telly.. Not gonna hurt you.” He gave her a reassuring smile, reaching over to pat her shoulder.

It was then that his eyes trailed down to meet the black dress in her grip. Why did she… His heart stopped for a moment as the idea of her returning it to him sank into his mind.

No.. She wouldn’t, would she? He thought she liked it.. She was so excited to get it.

Azura stared at the remote he was brandishing with wide eyes, her gaze darting from the phoenix to the small box which seemed to contain within it, an entire tiny world.

As the volume magically lowered itself with the touch of a button, she took a small guarded step closer, blinking at the way he expertly handled the remote which seemed to control the strange machine. When he held the remote out to her, she frowned, unsure if she wanted to wield command over those moving figures but slowly, with a trembling hand she reached for the object.

Confused by the mechanics of such a thing, the tribal woman was soon veering away from the pat he offered, head flicking to the side as she glanced at the back of the TV silently and then, to the remote.

“I don’t understand. Did you.. shrink those people and put them in that ‘telly’ for your amusement Niko?” She asked, her tone comically disapproving.

Timidly, she wandered closer, eyeing the TV carefully as she tried to mirror his movements, pressing the same buttons and flicking through the channels though when she found a nature documentary on marine life she paused, gaping at the underwater scenes for a moment. It took her a fair few moments before she was able to drag her gaze from the box and back to him.

“This is a simple life?” She blinked, clearly amazed. It was then she spied the paint, the canvases and easels and his earlier words echoed in her head, now able to be processed. “Wait. You are an art.. artist” She stumbled over the last word, unused to it and only knowing the term after spying on the conversations of others.

Perhaps she should have asked permission first, but then, Azura was hardly someone who was used to requesting things of men and so, the ink stained wildling was already moving towards a scattered pile of paintings, some complete and others clearly half done, plucking one from the top before gazing at with awe struck admiration.

It was a landscape piece, a city glimmering beneath a dark sky which was beautiful enough but those silhouettes were drenched in purple flames, an amethyst inferno raging against a starry skyline.

“They are.. breathtaking Niko. How did you learn how to do this?” She asked, her eyes poring over whatever else she could glimpse in the cluster of canvases around which she hovered. In one hand she still held the black dress, cradling it protectively under one arm in case some of that paint was not yet dry and catching his glance towards it, she blushed.

“Oh. I uh.. Well. I didn’t know.. if you wanted me to wear it..” She murmured, staring at her feet as she carefully placed the painting she held back down, reaching for another to disguise the nervous shake in her hands though when she saw the blobs of black, white and silver smudged onto white, Azura froze and gaped at the canvas she had picked.

It was her. Swimming in the lagoon, fine brush strokes of turquoise mirroring the gauzy cloth in which she was always draped, the water glimmering in blobs of blue and green, an inky sky speckled with stars above, a full moon hanging in its shadows.
He had even managed to replicate the shape and flow of her tattoos, as if he had spent some time memorizing the patterns. Her pale cheeks drifted into scarlet, her emerald gaze darting towards his face. She struggled to think of something to say and so it was no surprise that she clumsily came out with something unplanned and out of context.

“I do wear violet sometimes..” She murmured, those first few words of his coming back to her, a soft smile following as she tilted her head. “but tonight I picked it so I could match your eyes” She finished awkwardly, already cursing herself for the words and the spark of internal guilt they triggered.

Her question.. Oh how sickeningly sweet it was to hear her ask such an innocent thing!

“Um.. No.” He shook his head, twisting his lips as he tried to hold back a highly amused smile. “There are no tiny people in the telly, cher.. Just electricity and lights. Even if I could do that, I wouldn’t. Not my thing to trap people in a place they don’t want to be.” He shrugged, then nodded at her other question. “Simple.. Don’t need much, don’t do much.. Just stick to myself and live out my days I guess.” And of course.. Another question of sorts.

His eyes followed her as she darted to the art side of the studio, just helping herself to those messy canvases just like she had done with the appliances in the kitchen.

SHIT!

He could hardly make a move before she was already shuffling through those stretched materials. Don’t look, please don’t look. Closing his eyes, he prayed to whatever god would listen. A heavy exhale of heated breath sifted through his lips in a relief to calm himself, but an eye soon peeked open to find her staring at the fiery landscape.

That moment was not one of his most fond memories. Just one that had been stuck in his head, haunting his sleep. Definitely could never get used to those screams of agony.. The smell of flesh burning.. It was horrid, inhumane for him to do such a thing to those people. Maybe he was trying to erase those memories by placing them upon the canvas, yet.. It didn’t make him feel better. It never did.

Another glance was given to the dress she held so tightly, distracting him from bothering to stop her from continuing on through the paintings. In which, he soon regretted even letting her near those emotional pieces.

Fucking hell..

He realized which one she was looking at and immediately looked away from her, focusing on anything so that the dark crimson covering his face would not be seen. Whelp, good luck with that, bud! It was sorta easy to depict any color on that white skin of his mixed with the contrast of his black clothing. The blush stuck out like a sore thumb against his occultish features.

“T-Took some classes in school.. Really a-appreciated art.. It’s fun.” He stammered, keeping his eyes away for a moment, even more so when she spoke up about the dress. Blink, blink.. Black lashes fluttered shut and open once more, stirring those thoughts in his head.

“If I wanted? But.. I-I.. You don’t have to wear it just for me, cherie. It was a gift, a replacement. You don’t have to wear it i-if you don’t like it.” His words were quiet as he crossed his arms, uncomfortable with the fact that she was viewing the one painting. It wasn’t something he wanted to show her. Just a memory of the woman should he not see her again. One of his only good memories.

“Just ignore that.. Don’t look at it, I didn’t want… You to see that.” He frowned, lowering his head a bit, almost sinking into himself, creating a very small appearance since he felt super vulnerable in that moment. When she had finally admitted to why she wore purple, his eyes slowly lifted to meet the green ones that opposed him.
“My eyes..” He whispered. It wasn’t a big shock that she had been enchanted by his eyes, she had told him many times now about it.

Nodding his head, he uncrossed his arms and tucked his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, then awkwardly walked over to her and plopped down on the hardwood flooring to shove a few of the painted canvases aside, shuffling through them for a blank one.

“Here..” He set the white sheet in front of her, then reached over and rummaged through a few of the bottles and jars that sat on a shelf next to the easels and pulled a few primary colors and secondary colors off for her as well as a handful of brushes.

Distractions.. Yes, that was what he was doing at that moment.
“I like the color on you.. You look really.. Breathtaking in it, I have to admit.” Those words fell from him so easily, but his face was hidden from her as he began to uncap a few of the tubes and squeezed little dollops onto a messy palette and extended it towards her. “I can show you.. How to do things like these, if you’d like? If not, just have fun with it.”

There was a sudden need for water. His throat was very parched from the heat that was touching his skin. No, not those searing flames that constantly spiraled in anger within him, but from the fluster he was in.
“I need a drink. Do you need a drink? I am going to just get drinks.. ‘Kay, alright. Good.”

Smooth.

Giving her a quick thumbs up, he jumped to his feet and basically jogged to the kitchen and began to rummage through the fridge for a soda or water.. Really anything that could drown away that heat in those cheeks. Alcohol was not an option.. He did not dare to drink such a wicked substance around her. Not when it caused him to black out and have rather temperamental moments.

Azura did not know what electricity was and would have been amazed at the science between how the lights of modern life worked but even so, she was relieved to hear Niko say that the tiny figures inside that TV of his were not put there by his own design for she had shuddered quite seriously at the thought.

She merely offered a puzzled nod to his words, her throat dry now as her eyes continually darted from the phoenix’s face to the painting she held, as if searching for some clue as to why he would be motivated to replicate her image in such a way though she had to silently admit, she was struck with awe at how otherworldly and exotic he had made her look for she did not see herself in a way and would have been surprised to find it was a shockingly true likeness.

After all, how much time did she really spend gazing at her own reflection? The answer was hardly at all, ignorant and uncaring of how she looked however tonight? She had painted her face with extra care, switching the tribal tones from black to dark lavender, reinserting the piercings beneath her lip when most would have been more committed to applying layers of heavy makeup not dabs of white and purple powder, studs gleaming. She had even fitted silver bangles to her arms, the circular bands fixed just below her shoulders and usually reserved for days of cultural significance. Azura pulled her eyes from the canvas and back to his face, her blush deepening at the sight of his own and the flustered reaction she viewed in him.

“Fun..” She murmured softly, nodding at his words before she was quickly shaking her head. “Oh no. I do like it! I’m just.. a bit scared to wear it and ruin it.. Plus, you said it was not made for the woods.” She said, watching him, frowning at the way he did not seem impressed with the fact that of all the paintings, she had pried the portrait of herself from the pile. A glance was thrown, wondering if there were anymore images of herself buried beneath streaks of colour.

“Why?” She asked, she secretly meant why had he painted her, of all things but quickly rephrased it. “Why don’t you want me to see?” She said, slowly placing the canvas back.

Azura nodded at his whispered comment, clearly too embarrassed at the admission to form words so it was a great relief to her when Niko was reaching for a distraction on which she was only too happy to launch herself at. Well, that and the fact that she was genuinely excited to see him set down a white sheet of canvas in front of her.

She sank to the floor on her knees almost immediately, watching quietly with a small grin as he began to pour out blobs of brightly coloured paint. Those tones of pink and red dusted along her cheeks were brightening at the compliment he offered, her breath stolen for a moment as her heart lunged, letting her ivory streaked mane fall over her features in a dark veil that almost muffled her reply.

“..Thank you Niko.” She whispered, carefully allowing her gaze to rise to find his though found it was turned away as he busily distracted himself with that paint. Grateful for the words that were offered next, she excitedly clung to them. “Oh yes please. I’ve only ever painted rock and flesh before” She admitted, a blink taken as he was abruptly rising and making a rather quick exit towards the kitchen.

“Oh. Sure. I guess.” Azura said, watching as he made a mad dash away from her though her attention was easily swayed by those blobs of colour before her.
She frowned in confusion and hesitation at the brushes he had left beside her, picking one up and examining it carefully before scowling and dropping it back to the ground with an uninterested thud.

Instead, her fingers were trailing towards the paint. Wasting little hesitation, she dipped the slope of one finger into a blob of pastel blue, scooping so much onto the point that it began to drip down her wrist, trickling down her arm before falling from her elbow into a small gathering pool beneath. She made no attempt at touching the canvas yet, merely spreading the pain between her thumb and finger, coating her skin with it as she explored its texture, the same finger now colliding into green, quickly realising that when merged the two shades could create a new one altogether.

Oh!

Excited to trial the new discovery out with other colours, she almost forgot completely about canvas before her until her left hand was covered with streaks of different hue, splatter marks decorating her flesh, staining the sheer lilac fabric of her dress, the floor around her and likely anything else she had managed to touch. Clumps of it were even in her hair, splodges of purple and blue scattered across her cheeks. And the paper before her was still blank.

In dismay, Azura’s brows furrowed as she tried to imagine what to paint, inspiration finally being drawn by the waning sunlight which was casting reflected rainbow light through the glass and onto her face.

An idea struck her and then she was off, moving so quickly that by the time Niko turned back around with those drinks in his hand, he would find the wilding had vanished from her spot on the floor, leaving little more than puddles of bright mixing color and those perfectly clean brushes, of course. The blue green imprints of her bare feet would be tracked across the flooring and leading towards the glass paneling of the balcony, the sliding door left open and marked with a splatter handprint of eye-catching yellow and red.

And there she was. A pale figure perched on the thin metal railing of his balcony, her legs hanging over the side and dangling over that sharp drop for it was not as if Niko’s apartment was close to the ground.

No, it was at the very top of the building, at least 30 levels up, a dangerous position to be in and yet it was nothing compared to the mountain cliff tops of home. She seemed perfectly at ease, bent slightly over the canvas which was settled in her lap, her gaze drifting between paper, sky and the city spread beneath her feet.

Resting on one thigh was the palette of paint, her fingers dipping into the blobs before making passionate animated slashes at the canvas as she tried to mirror the evaporating rays of sun, the rolling clouds of dark amethyst and sapphire as night fell. Every so often, she would pause, seemingly forgetting what she was doing in order to gape at the activity below.

Since he had been too busy mulling over what was happening or had happened, he stared blankly in the fridge, just now recalling those words that she had gifted him with when he had been crouched on the floor near the art supplies. Didn’t want to ruin the dress. Yes, he did say that it wasn’t something that she could just frolic through the woods in. The twisted wool would only pull apart like a bandage if it were caught by stickers or anything sharp. He could only imagine the dress unraveling in one quick pull of a string, almost like the immediate ignition of her other dress when touched by his hand.

Shuddering, he tried to shake the memory and ended up grabbing two cans of Dr. Pepper, then turned around and got down glasses and some ice, then poured the drinks.
He was still thinking about the way that she had appreciated his compliment, which kept that bright red glaze burning on his cheeks.

Damnit!

Just erase those smudges, he did not like the heat in his face. Not now, not ever. It could just get out.

Finally, he took up both glasses and began the long walk back to the art section, but when he looked up, his eyes widened in shock.

That was.. A mess. What in the world just happened?

His violet eyes darted around, staring at the mixtures of paint that was now splattered and streaked across the whole vicinity that he had left her in. Yet.. She wasn’t even there anymore. He glanced around, turning in a few circles as he tried to see where she had wandered off to. Maybe even bending over the couch to make sure that she wasn’t hiding behind it, but then he saw the painted footprints that traveled across the grains of the floorboards.

Following the trail, he found himself standing at the open doors that lead out onto the balcony. As soon as he saw where the woman was sitting, both of the glasses dropped from his hands, shattering upon impact on the floor.

“Azura! What the hell are you doing?” He nearly yelled, immediately darting forward to try and pull her from the railing. “That is so unsafe!”
Despite being metal railings, he knew how dangerous those things were, especially above the busy streets below.

One slip.. One fall.. That is all it would take for the woman to breathe her last breath and he did not want that to happen, especially right in front of his eyes.

“You can’t just do things like that! DO you realize what could happen, cherie? You could fall.. Break yourself and split your skull open.. I couldn’t-” His voice rose, but was caught in his throat as tears threatened his eyes at the idea of leaning over the edge only to find a bloodied mess laying await at the concrete below. Such a terrifying vision. “Please, get down.” He tried to loop his arms around her in an effort to pull her to safety.

Azura was caught for a moment by the sight of the people that milled below her. So many people. She had never seen such large clusters, a throng of people intent on their own lives, rushing about below her though several heads did turn to gape at the woman who perched herself so close to death. Then there were the vehicles. Cars, buses, bikes. Zipping and zooming with such speed she struggled to keep up with the distant lumbering of their roars.

Her upper body leaned, dangling further out over the edge so much so that she had to curl one hand against the railing and hold on tight to keep from falling. It was so strange to see the glowing lights of the city beneath her come to life, darkness drifting above her in rapid tones of velvet black and indigo.

Amazed, she continued to gawk, forgetting her painting and likely even the phoenix. That was until the sound of glass shattering made her flinch, turning to glance quickly over one tattooed shoulder at Niko just as he began to shout. Oh, that likely shocked her more than the broken glass at his feet, her skin paling to grey beneath those splatter marks.

“W-what..?” She stammered, completely ignorant to the risk she faced and startled by the sudden show of rage, the heat in his cheeks, the anger and distress in his purple gaze.

She flinched as he stormed towards her, unsure why he was so upset with her though a quick look over his advancing figure and the woman cringed, thinking he was about to push her off the edge for the sheer amount of chaos and mess she had left in her wake.

Her grip was slippery with paint so that when he reached her, she almost slipped, proving the words he was now angrily offering all too soon yet his arms were already reaching to hook themselves around her waist, issuing a firm tug as he spoke.

The easel and canvas had already dropped from her hands in that moment of surprise, the two items sailing through the air and hopefully not landing on the head of some unfortunate passerby and as he reached for her, she allowed herself to turn to face him though her hands curled and remained locked stubbornly around the railing, blinking down at him in quiet defiance as she momentarily resisted the pull he offered her frame, attempting to drag her down.

“Unsafe?” She echoed, shaking her head. “I’ve climbed higher mountains than this when I was a child!” She was starting to protest. “And you can’t tell me what to do.. nor do I have to sit here be shouted at!” They were the last words she offered before skidding into silence, the sight of tears pooling and the sound of his voice breaking slightly with distress and fear forcing her voice to a stop.
Her features softened then, frowning and lowering her head as she gave a defeated sigh.

“Fine..” She mumbled in a gentle voice as her fingers unlocked from the railing, allowing him to pull her back to her feet. “I’m sorry Niko.. I just wanted to paint the sunset above the city. I didn’t mean to make you worry..” She whispered, keeping her eyes on her feet though she was unable to help herself from adding in a low voice.. “I would not have fallen”

Yep. Stubborn to the end was the small tribal woman.

The question would be completely ignored whilst he was scrambling to get her away from that ledge. There was a slight jerk against him as she tried to free herself and accidentally slipped forward a little bit, causing his arms to tighten around her for the fear of losing her so quickly over that edge.

He tried to think about how much time it would take for him to jump after her and try to catch her in that phoenix form before she’d hit the cold ground below.

Could he have even made it in time should it have happened?

He wasn’t too sure.. Not entirely confident that it was possible to make it. It wasn’t like they were out in New York city or some shit you see in the comic books. Falling in real life was fast, faster than the blink of an eye and he was not fake.. Not Spiderman nor anything else that was unrealistic.

The phoenix had his limits. Hell, even the transformation would take more than a few seconds to complete by the time he’s soaring after her. There was always the chance that he’d find himself lying on the pavement beside her from a failed attempt to catch her.

Fuck.. Just fucking stop, Niko. You can’t keep worrying about shit happening to her, it’s her choice. Just let her go.

Finally, she was pulled to safety as she released her grip on the bars. For a moment, he kept his arms around her, pulling her into a close hug as he tried to push out the fear of whatever fake death had happened in his mind. There was no care if she was being stiff or even cold to him, he just wanted to hold her.

“I-I’m sorry.. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that.. I just did not want to see you get hurt.. Didn’t want to l-lose you so easily.” He stammered under his breath. “I know you’ve done so much more.. Been to higher places.. But this is my life, I don’t know yours..I don’t know what you have been through..”
Closing his eyes, he took in a few deep breaths to at least try to muster enough strength to control that racing heart in his chest.

God, it hurt so much. Just take it out for fucks sake! What is the use of such an organ if it didn’t shut up? He would very much like to rest from the blasted thing. The herbs had been doing their jobs up until that little heart attack he just witnessed.

“I don’t mean to tell you that you can’t do things, Azura.. I do hope that you know that. I just don’t want to see something happen to you that I could have prevented.. That you could have prevented and for it to be unfixable.” He murmured, pressing his head against her neck, brushing against her in a tight embrace only for a moment before he was releasing his hold on her.

Enough words, Niko.. Just shut up, you’ve said enough.

A glance was given to the railing, then over the edge at the shattered frame and material that now lay on the street beneath them. He was beyond thankful to know that the grave ending was not her own life. Instead, a simple stretched fabric. Turning on the heels of his feet, he stared at the mess that he now left. Paint.. Glass.. Soda… Many things covered his floor now.

“Do be careful when you come inside.. I can get you shoes or something to wear until I get this cleaned up.” He frowned, gesturing to the glass as he carefully stepped around the shards.

Azura let out a surprised gasp when Niko pulled her into his frame, her veins sparking with a sudden abrupt blue line that illuminated her paint splattered flesh from within. A fortunate thing for that cool rush likely was the only thing that prevented the wispy lilac fabric of her dress from igniting as he kept her crushed tightly against him.

Short as she was, her ear was pressed to his chest, allowing her to hear the erratic pulsing rhythm of his heart, the beat of her own rapidly increasing with each moment he held her to him. She fought against that built in instinct to pull away, any rage she might have felt at the way he had spoken to her now quickly evaporating into awkward shock though slowly, she relaxed, melting into him slightly.

His apologies were met with a muffled sigh, and continued silence on her part. She was flustered and surprised by how worried he sounded, how panicked he seemed at the idea of her demise, as if he couldn’t bear the thought of life without her… The thought made her stiffen in his arms slightly, unable to help the instinct. And still she kept quiet, listening as the words flooded from him and rolled over the top of her in waves that threatened to knock her from her feet.

“It’s.. okay.. Niko..” She murmured, her voice muffled and awkward. “Please, try not to yell at me again. I don’t like it.. I’m sorry that I scared you. I will try not to be so stupid next time but I really would not have fallen..” She said, her voice wavering as she felt his head resting atop her own for a moment.

She forced a smile, making her voice light. “Good. Because telling me that I can’t do something is a sure way of getting me to do the opposite” She grinned as he slowly released her, though her smirk faded as she mirrored his glance to the insides of his apartment, frowning at the wake of destruction she had left, completely ignorant of how much mess she had created.

Colour was splattered in puddles along the floors, finger marks stretching along the walls, her footprints leaving imprints wherever her feet had touched and amongst it all shined tiny fragments of broken glass. Flushed red, the small paint covered woman mumbled.

“I’m so sorry Niko.. I’ve been here less than hour and I’ve destroyed your apartment and given you a heart attack” She mumbled, scratching at a streak of blue on her arm, frowning at the patches of color emblazoned against her skin and clothes, picking at a clump of bright purple which had dyed the white strands of one curl lavender. “I guess its a lucky thing I did not wear the dress” She said softly. At the mention of shoes, her eyes widened, racing to his face and she was all too quick to shake her head violently from side to side, wriggling colour stained toes. “No.. Please. I hate shoes. I will likely just fall over and break something” Azura mumbled, her embarrassment growing with each second as she attempted to follow him, making a wide berth around the glass.

“I won’t..” He replied, almost somber in tone as he stared at the mess that lay before him.

Well, the glass would be easy to clean up and paint wasn’t too big of a deal. Besides the spots that covered any sort of furniture. Those he’d have to scrub at since there was a variety of oils and acrylics that had been squirted on that pallette for the woman to mess with.

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. The paint is supposed to be fun, nothing to worry about, cher.” A smile presented itself on his features as he tried to shake out the last handful of tense minutes.

That was a bit too eventful for his taste.

Quietly, he took out a swiffer mop of sorts as well as a dustpan and began to clean up the broken cups. Yeah, yeah. Shoulda used a vacuum, but he doesn’t like loud noises, so.. The swiffer thing will do for now. After that was cleaned up, he made sure that there were no more pieces hiding anywhere and that the wood floors did not have any sticky residue from the spilt soda.

“Alright.. That’s all good. Did you still want a drink? I will probably just give you the can this time.. No need to shatter anymore of the china.” He playfully jokes, heading back to the kitchen to replace the previous refreshments.

It was an odd feeling to have for the woman. The idea of her falling had sent him into panic mode, freaking out about what she chose to do with her time.

Fuck..

Outwardly groaning, he tipped his head back and stared up at the ceiling for a brief handful of seconds before pulling the fridge doors open to retrieve the drinks. The comments about the dress and shoes made a faint smile appear and a glance was given over his shoulder to her.

“I wouldn’t force you to wear shoes if you weren’t comfortable.. And I doubt that you’d break anything of importance. My treasures don’t lie in physical things.”

Turning around, he began the long walk back to the living room part of the studio, where he set the drinks down on the coffee table and stood staring at the paint palette that had been smeared together.

“Looks like we may need more than that one block, eh?” Grinning, he began to rummage through a bookshelf, pulling several more tubes and bottles of paint off so that the woman could just pick and choose whatever colors she wanted to experiment with. “I assume that you would like a new canvas.. Unless you want to somehow use the scraps of the one on the road. Can’t promise that it will hold its shape though.” That was another joke that slid from him, but a new freshly gessoed canvas was pulled out from a stack and set down on the floor for her to take.

He was very thankful that the woman hadn’t worn the black dress that he bought her, afraid that the paint definitely would not have washed from the wool since it was such a finicky fabric. But it did not help the fact that the woman’s violet dress was now stained. He did really like that one on her, it was too bad that it would be ruined by such blobs of paint.

“Now.. I see that you did not use a brush.. Did you even try it before dabbling with your fingers?” His eyes drew up to her, meeting those emerald orbs.

His assurances were met with a relieved if not sheepish smile though she was still quietly mortified by the way he was soon moving to clean up her mess, sweeping up shattered glass as well as a half hearted attempt to mop up the bright puddles of colour she had left trailing in her wake.

However, to efficiently clean up all that paint which had seemingly managed to spread itself into places she could not even recall having touched, it would likely take hours, an endeavor that he seemed to realize was better left to when the tiny tribal tornado was not around to cause more chaos.

Splatters covered the walls, thick blobs pressed into the fine grooves of his wooden flooring, those winding footprints slowly starting to dry.

Azura watched him, hovering awkwardly and trying not to let her paint stained skin, clothes and hair touch any other surface, fearful of creating more disorder, otherwise she would have surely offered to help.

“Well, I have to admit, it certainly was fun and your home could use a bit more colour” She commented, a small playful grin surfacing, pushing away her embarrassment as he moved towards the kitchen to retrieve some replacement refreshments, her small nose crinkling in feigned annoyance when he made light of the destruction that often followed her for she could not argue with such a thing. “Very funny” She shot back, laughter in her voice however no sound of it bubbled from her throat.

Nodding to his question, she wandered closer, wincing at the fresh tracks she made, almost reluctant to follow him across the room to where he set the drinks down but after a few moments, she tiptoed after him, keeping the pads of her feet off the floorboards though after realizing it would hardly make a difference at this point and since he seemed to genuinely not mind the mess she had made, she slowly relaxed, reaching for the peculiar can he had set down on the table.

“You don’t?” She asked, surprised in her tone. “Almost everyone I have met from the outside world places untold value on material possessions. What are your treasures then?” She asked, blinking those large green eyes at him curiously.

Perhaps she would have asked more questions of him, if not for the fact that he was busily moving to set up more paint, a new blank canvas selected. Both eyebrows rose as he spoke, her emerald gaze darting between his face and the smooth white surface.

She smiled at his joke, secretly struck by the fact that even after all the mess she had created, Niko still wanted her to create something, to share in this exciting hobby of his when he probably knew it would result in more flecks of colour being strewn throughout his home though with his guidance, maybe such a thing could be avoided.
Grinning, she shook her head at his question, wiping at her eye and leaving a smear of indigo against her flesh.

“What is the point in a brush when my fingers can do the same thing? Besides, it feels better to use your hands” Azura declared, rubbing her thumb and forefinger together as she spoke. “No. I didn’t try it.” She admitted with a small sigh before continuing, an idea already forming in her mind. “But you said painting was meant to be fun..” She murmured, a sudden gleam of mischief able to be viewed in those mossy orbs of hers, each step towards him deliberately slow until she was within touching range. “..so why do I need a new canvas when I have you?” She asked softly, clearly ignoring the sheet he had set in front of her.

And with those words, Azura was rising on her toes and quickly gliding her palm gently against his pale cheek, a streak of violet that matched his eyes spreading beneath her touch.

She let out a childish peal of laughter, giggling at the sight of the phoenix’s features, usually so serious, now decorated with paint. Before he could react, her other hand lifted, fingers trailing from his forehead in a sweeping motion which left thin lines of blue running across his skin.

“Better” She smirked, though the word was said as she turned on one heel and abruptly made a mad dash away from him across the apartment, one hand scooping up several tubes of paint as she went, weaving herself around the kitchen island, black and white curls flying out behind her, stained tendrils of translucent lilac fabric flaring out as she moved, clearly fearing revenge for the attack and yet unable to keep the the satisfied smug grin from her face which would be evident the moment she chanced to glance over the curve of one shoulder in his direction.

She was curious to see what the phoenix might do..

Would he give chase? Would he lose his temper or be too shocked to react?
Or he might start hurling pots of paint at her then and there from his spot across the room.

Either way, as she moved, Azura was already uncapping the tubes she held…

Ah, so she did not enjoy his jokes.. Well, she’d have to get used to that because he was being a bit more open than he typically was. Not as standoffish with the fact that they were alone and free to do as they wished without the prying eyes of others, nor even did they face the dangers of a few certain faces.

That question.. Somehow he knew that she was going to make a comment about his treasures. No, he did not find happiness in physical objects. They were all replaceable and shouldn’t hold a place in anyone’s heart because it only caused greed to fester. That was not something that the phoenix wished to experience.

He was already happy with what he had, there was no need to add anymore emotions in the mix. Sure, he’d have to replace a few things here and there or live with the fact that some furniture and the walls had been marred, but what is the use of something if you don’t wear it down? Everything in life wears down, nothing is meant to be perfect forever.

Choosing to ignore her for now, he was popping a few caps off from the paint, squeezing the tubes over a fresh palette so that his colors weren’t smeared like Azura’s fun mixture laying on the floor.

“The point is that you can get finer details and perfect strokes.. Not that your hands can’t do similar things, it just isn’t the same.” He replied, taking a brush between his thumb and index to jot down a few examples on the fresh canvas for the woman.
Creating several leaf structures that branched off of a large timber as well as a few flowers.

“See.. Now, if you were to try with your fingers, then it would look like this.” Going with the flow, he blotted his index in a shade of teal and tried to repeat what he had done with the brush, yet it turned out much chunkier and was probably thicker than it should have been.

He hardly noticed what the woman was doing, but when he heard her stepping closer, his brows furrowed in question and his eyes shot up to meet the hand that was in front of his face.

Too shocked to react, he froze in place, staring straight at her while she spoke.
What was she…

OH!

Of course she proceeded to with those smudgey fingers across his cheek and his forehead.

When the laughter rang from her, he reached up and pressed his fingers to each of the fresh paint on him, taking his time to inspect each of the color choices before he turned on his feet to watch as she skidded across the wooden floor in an effort to flee from him. What childish behavior.. But it wasn’t hated. No, it was welcomed. Violet hues narrowed at the tribal woman as she stood behind the kitchen island.

“You are just asking for it, cherie.” He muttered, but was unable to hold back a bright grin.
His hands immediately reached for the palette that he had just marked, then a few of the uncapped tubes before making his way over to the island, just standing across from her. There was a chance that he could have reached across it to just lay atop the surface to reach for her, but that was not something he’d prefer to do.
Instead, he gave a quick juke, bouncing back and forth to try and distract her by misleading either direction, only to choose to run left along the window side and pressed a hand on the counter to help him jump over one of the stools.

When he was in reach of her, he smacked his open hand to the palette and scooped up a good glob of the mixed paints, then in a swift movement, plastered his hand to her arm and slid it downwards, gripping her wrist to pull her towards him. His hand was very slick on her, so it would be easy for her to just slip from him.
Now, the palette was discarded on the counter and a handful of open paints now hovered over the woman’s head.

“You will pay for that, mademoiselle..” He purred with a mischievous glint in those deep purple eyes.

A squelching sound pierced the room as the tubes were squeezed, creating a waterfall of rainbow coils spiraling downwards to seep into the oddly colored waves of hair.

“Maybe I am..” She said with a playful if not dismissive shrug, a teasing edge to her voice which rose to bait him as she held several of those tubes tightly clutched in one hand, hidden beneath the counter.

Azura watched carefully, grinning as he armed himself and approached, like a wolf hunting its prey, slow and calculating and yet those green eyes swiftly followed each movement, thinking she would have enough time to dart out from behind the counter just as he drew closer for the woman was small and quick.

However, those usually agile feet were covered in paint, her slippery steps skidding clumsily on the tiles whilst his own seemed two paces ahead, cutting off her exit each time she attempted to rotate directions.

A stream of paint was flung in response, her hand lifting and squeezing one of the tubes, ejecting a violent spurt of electric green in his direction, thinking it might throw off his speed and allow for a distraction but the ropes of emerald sailed past his shoulder, only a few drops of the liquid landing on dark cloth.

She was busily moving on to fumble with a second tube, accidentally shooting jets of bright yellow all over the benchtop in her haste, when the phoenix made that dramatic leap of his, much more grace and agility then she had expected to be seen in the way he was flying through the air, gripping the counter and using it to lift himself over the stool that blocked his path.

The phoenix was so quick in reaching for her that the startled woman only had time to let out a gasp, turning and making to run in the opposite direction from which he came, though two steps were all she managed.

A squeal of surprise mixed with laughter spilled from her as she felt his heated fingertips sliding down her arm before locking onto her wrist, rivers of mixing colour trickling over tattooed flesh, dripping from her fingers as she twisted in in his grip, turning to face him.

“No fair..my feet..” She had begun to protest in an animated fashion, feigning annoyance despite the laughter in her voice, which was soon fading to a halt as her heart began to thud in her ears, the mischievous glint of his words making her renew her efforts slide of his hold, leaning back and away from his pull though those cursed feet of hers kept her sliding towards him.

Her eyes widened as they tracked towards the tubes of paint that he held suspended above her crown.

“Niko.. You .. wouldn’t dare..” Azura warned in a disbelieving voice, the smile she wore suddenly comically alarmed though the words were all she had time to utter before rainbow blobs of paint were falling, a cold seeping rush washing over her as spirals of blue, pink, red, yellow and green streamed into her scalp, staining the chunks of white before dripping steadily over her forehead, trickling over her features, green eyes blinking at him with shock for a moment before she spurred into movement

“You’re going to regret that” She murmured in a low, soft voice, her free hand boldly veered towards the back of his neck, two tubes of purple and yellow clutched and soon squeezed just as the tips were forced beneath the neckline of his dark sweater.

Cold bursts of colour would spurt, running down the flesh of his back whilst in the same moment, the tattooed woman spun and jerked her wrist, easily slipping out of his hold however before she took off in a sprint across the apartment, she took advantage of her freedom by squirting a blob of fluorescent pink into her palm and promptly rustling into his black hair.

And she was off, paint flying off the ends of her tangled coils and drenching all it touched as she ran across the room, seemingly heading in the direction of the balcony doors as if she fully intended to leap off the edge of the building in order to escape him, though it was any hard to tell if she might make a sudden turn in order to simply mislead and throw him off course.

“Too slow..” She jeered, peals of musical laughter tumbling from her, her breath slightly labored.

Yeah, yeah.. The phoenix wasn’t super athletic, at least not in the ways of running, but that did not mean that he was not graceful. So that little jump over the barstool and corner of the counter was fairly easy, possibly a bit showy as well just for the kicks. It was hilarious to see the way the woman believed him to be innocent enough to not do such a thing.

Well, sucks for her. Because those tubes were emptied right into that curly mane, spilling all of their contents in heaps to spill down her. She even thought that he’d give her mercy for the fact that she had absolutely no traction on the wooden flooring. How funny! He did not give an inch to her, just continuing to squirt the tubes over her head, even as she glared daggers at him.

“Am I?” He beamed, laughing all the while.

Oh no..

He did not take into account that both of his hands were currently busy holding her and the tubes in his grip, unable to defend himself against those colors that threatened the back of his neck, peeking into the collar of his hoodie.

“NO, no, no no! Please no!” He pleaded, squirming as soon as he felt those cold liquids hit the sensitive skin of his back and shoulders. “F-Fuck..Unhnng.. H-Hell… Azurrr..” Growling as his hand slipped from the woman, he reached backwards, also dropping the bottles so that he could use both hands to duck under the back of his shirt to try and wipe the paint from his back.

Ugh.. This was one of his favorite hoodies. No, don’t worry about it, Niko.. You could just buy another. Or just use it anyway for the /artist/ aesthetic. But the solid black… He tried to fight back a frown at those thoughts. His violet eyes followed her as she shot away from him yet again.

After getting what he could, he removed his hands from his shirt and peered down at them, staring at the purple and yellow mixture, before running a hand through his hair to see the pink glaze that had been settled there.

Pink?? Really?

She was truly wanting him to blow up. Had he been some other person, he may have just done so. Instead, he is chasing after her, lunging over the counter as she swept out of his reach.

“You are really going to get it, Azura!” He laughed, but found himself freezing up as she neared the windows and open balcony.

No.. Shit.. Absolutely not, don’t go near there!

He had another mini heart attack, having a random thought of her throwing herself over the ledge just to get out of his reach.

Faster than he could stop himself, he was shortening the distance between them, he lunged after her. There was a swoop in his movement, latching his arms around her shoulders and his weight was thrown against her, knocking both of them to the ground. It was all done in a panicked state, one where the phoenix was thinking very little aside from the woman’s safety.

Well.. That was just the start of the halestorm that was about to happen. Aside from laying atop the woman, his hands were now clenched against skin. What.. Blinking, he stared down at her in horror as he realized what he had done.

“N-No… No, no… Oh pour l’amour du Christ.” He breathed out, staring at what was in his wake.

The violet dress was engulfed in a violent fury of amethyst, being devoured faster than a feather would when held above a candle. Now that the dress was gone, he stared down at the strange wrapped cloth undergarments and the intricate tattoos that he had never laid sight upon.

Nope.. Stop looking!

“Je suis désolé… Suis désolé..” His words were frantically spilt from him as he removed his hands from beneath her to try and grasp the ground at either side of her in effort to push himself away from her, but good luck with that.

Instantly, his palms slipped out from beneath him, forcing him to faceplant against the crook of her chest and his knees gave way as well, throwing his weight against her.

Obviously an accident compared to the tackling, his pale skin erupted with blood, now creating a very flustered phoenix. It took him a moment before he truly realized what had happened before he was scrambling to get off of her. He ended up rolling off of her and onto his side where his eyes were wide with terror.

How the hell did he let himself get into that situation??

“S-Shit…” He mumbled to himself, facing away from her for a few seconds, only to shoot a tiny glance over his shoulder at the paint covered woman that lay beside him.

Of course, the pale woman spared no internal thought for the clothing of his, which she had likely ruined, her indifference to her own dress of splattered lavender likely a factor in the way she did not think of the distress others might feel at such a loss.

His frustrated voice was fading into the sound of her own smug bursts of laughter, her steps growing quicker as she felt the air crackle, his feet spurring into movement and thudding behind her.

She was almost there, the open balcony doors just a few feet away. What would she do once she got there? Even Azura had not yet decided, debating silently on whether she should take a sharp turn suddenly and throw the phoenix off guard or if she should dash through those doors and slam them shut behind her? Perhaps add a childish poking out of the tongue as she mocked from behind the glass barrier.

Azura grinned at the thought, though with how close she could hear Niko behind her, she dared not to steal a glance over her shoulder for she could almost feel his breath upon her, the playful threat he was shouting through laughter ringing in her ears.

And so, it was a complete surprise when she felt the ground suddenly fall away from her feet. A soft ‘Oof’ sound came from her as his body made a rather rough impact with her small frame, knocking her off her feet before the two were tumbling, rolling over one another before coming to a stop with her pinned beneath.

It happened so quick that she barely had time to blink, one moment she was running, the next she was sprawled on the floor on her back, blinking dazed green eyes up into Niko’s panicked violet gaze, his fingers still buried in now exposed flesh.

In fact, he had tackled her to the ground with such speed, the woman had yet to even notice that his touch had set that sheer lilac cloth aflame, the thin fabric igniting and melting as it were spun from nothing more then the strands of a spider’s silken webbing, as if it had never existed to begin with.

“Ow.’ She mumbled, her cheeks flustered and red as she stared up at him, the confusion and shock on her face keeping her from reacting with more than that one word for she was clearly a tad dazed by the tumble still. Besides, only a second or two later, she realized her predicament when Niko began to clearly panic further, a peal of french escaping him, disoriented green eyes drifting to find her own tattooed silver skin, staring at her in tones of ivory and porcelain instead of bathed in that amethyst tint. Azura gasped, her large orbs only growing wider, the contours of her face seeping into scarlet.

For a moment of blinding horror, she thought she lay naked beneath the phoenix, the tiniest fleck of relief at noting he had at least not burned away the thin iridescent fabric that was wrapped around her chest in shades of turquoise, its silvery blue tones mirrored in the vines of cloth that were artfully arranged in folds to cloak her privacy, strung from hip to hip.

Still, most of her body and those intricate designs of blue and black ink were now laid bare, exposed to his eyes which were quickly pulling away as he continued to stammer words she did not understand.

Her stomach was decorated with art that he had only previously glimpsed somewhat obscured through that transparent curtain of blue or lilac but now the mandala like image that was etched into her skin was clearly visible. It was unshaded, a dark outline of indigo and black rippling in all manner of shapes fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle, flaring outwards across her smooth flesh in a circular melody of tribal patterning. A dark half moon lay at its center, curled around her navel from which silver gleamed, a pierced ring fitted to thin chains that trailed along either side of her stomach, dipping slightly before vanishing around the curve of each hip.

“Oh..W-w-why?” She stammered, clearly panicked as in the very same moment that Niko was hurriedly trying to relieve her of his weight, Azura was quickly attempting to scramble out from under him, recoiling slightly, hands flying as she was unsure where to place them.

Being in such a state of undress did not exactly bother her as much as it might have for most when in reality, much of those curves were already on show beneath the gauzy material she wore, besides the fact she had been raised without shame, judgement or perverse expectations being placed on her figure. Without the influence or hunger of men. No, it was more the fact that she lay beneath a man, in such a compromising position with little to cover her limbs which trembled against him.

Her heart raced as her attempt to wriggle free was halted by the way he slipped, his frame crashing heavily down and colliding with hers once more just as her upper body was lifting, forcing her back down with a grunt as she felt his face land in the dip of her chest.

“Hey!” The world came out as a near snarl, unsure if he meant the offense, the pulse of her heart growing wild and frantic.

It was a good thing that Niko quickly moved his features from the soft landing spot because her fingers were already reaching for the back of his dark hair, an instinct bred into her from years of fighting off the unwanted advances of those that attacked her, aiming to curl those black strands around her digits and give a sharp yank. The sudden fiery impulse faded the second she glimpsed the terror in his wide eyes before they were gone, the phoenix quickly darting away from her.

For a moment, she did not move. One hand draping itself protectively over her bare stomach as those green pools stayed fixed on the darkness that had taken over day, clouds rolling across the skylights, coils of colour splattered black and white fanning out beneath her and then, she was a blur, moving into a sitting position and quickly backing away on her rear before she finally rose on shaky legs, looped fabric glimmering against her upper thighs which were marked with waved lines and dots, the garment that was strung from hip to hip barely more than a belt of of luminescent shimmer.

“I apologize for saying you were slow, but you didn’t have to burn my clothes” She said in a voice that shook too much for the humor in her words to be appreciated, her hands fluttering nervously.

After both hearing and seeing the change in the woman’s expression, which now was rather frigid towards him, he chose to keep his gaze from her as he sat up and wrapped his arms around himself in an attempt to calm the racing heart in his chest.
It was just a fall, Niko.

He did not mean to land right there in her bosom, the only reason the two ended up on the floor was because of his efforts to keep her from that balcony.

“S-Sorry, Azura.. I didn’t mean to burn your d-dress again.. I really didn’t.. You know I-I can’t control my heat..” He stammered, lowering his head between his knees, which were now being pulled to his chest. Awkwardly, his hands ran through his hair, curling around the strands as he tried to fight back the glare that he had received. So much aggression was inlaid in those emerald orbs. She had taken offense to what he had done.

Great, fucking great, Niko. Well done you big blubbering idiot.

Shaking his head, his lips formed an unpleasant frown. The humor from the woman was dismissed, pretty much unheard as it was erased by her tone and shakiness. His eyes darted over to the art area, then to the kitchen, scanning everything that had been in their path of destruction. All of that paint.. It would be such a waste if they did not use it.

He was still ashamed of what had happened, so it took a lot of strength for him to turn around to face her. Scooting in place, he shifted to where they now faced one another, staring at the opposed paint covered person. Unable to help his curiosity, he glanced down at the tattoos that covered her lower torso.

Wow! Those were so pretty.. So alluring and enchanting. But they looked unfinished? Was that a correct way to call them since they were not colored in?

Blinking, he chewed his lower lip and looked away from her.

“Um.. I have an idea, but it is totally okay if you turn me down.. Especially after what happened..” He mumbled, blushing deeply at the thought of him landing head first against her chest just seconds previous.

Oh.. She had asked him a question awhile back that he forgot to answer.

“As for that question, Azura.. I don’t hold treasures in physical things.. I hold them in people.. In memories..” His shoulders fell in a heavy shrug as well as a heavy breath. Fidgeting, he began to rub his fingers in circles against his own skin, smearing the many colors of paint around, but also somewhat making a few cool shapes in the process.

“Um.. Back to the idea. I was wondering.. Would I be allowed to paint on you? You said earlier.. That I was better than a canvas. Could the same be said about you? Your tattoos are lovely.. And sorta inspired something in my head, an idea.. That I really like and would like to try, but like I said.” He put both hands up in a gesture of mercy. “You don’t have to let me.”

Look at those two. They were an absolute mess. Sitting there perched away from each other on the floor, covered in paint with one of them in their skimpies. What an odd duo.

Azura was not angry with Niko, even though there was a small amount of accusation dancing in the burning emerald embers of her eyes, those large green orbs blinking at him from beneath smudged purple powder, the artistically designed tribal band speckled with white now scattered with drops of colour thanks to all that flying paint.

She nodded at his apology, speechless for a moment, letting the dark veil of black curls pierced with white fall over the heavy blush that set itself into her features in a rosy glow. Heavily tattooed arms drifted to the belt of soft sapphire clinging to her hips and thighs before fingers rose to nervously intertwine themselves with the silver chains dangling across her decorated stomach, her mossy gaze averted to her bare feet as she tried to dispel those clouds of pink.

She shook her head silently, brushing his words away, struggling to speak though after several seconds she finally managed a word or two.

“I know.. It’s alright ” She whispered but quietly, in her mind, she wondered why he had thrown himself at her to begin with.

She was gathering the courage to ask, the green of her eyes rising timidly to meet that starry gaze of his when she caught him staring, purple hues slowly drifting up and down it seemed, drawn to the centerpiece etched around her shimmering navel. Her blush deepened from pink to red, a bite taken to her bottom lip as her head turned, vision scrambling to find something she could drape those silver curves in, panicked at what the stare meant, her mind suddenly recalling the black dress she had brought with her and yet, in the chaos she had created, she was unable to glimpse it.
His words though were forcing her attention back, her head snapping to find him, concerned curiosity splayed over her face.

“An idea” She echoed, glancing down at his seated position on the floor, feeling the full weight of those purple orbs bouncing, his own cheeks toned with patches of scarlet that matched her own, though surely her blush was much deeper considering her vulnerable position and the memory of his body pressed atop her own.

To her surprise, he was answering her earlier question, one hand now anxiously rising to gather her long paint splattered coils in front of her shoulders, the tangled coils so long that they tumbled past her chest, the ends swaying over the mandala like design he now seemed fixated on.

People and memories.

She thought over his answer briefly, brows furrowing as she wondered what those might be to the phoenix since she had only ever heard negative things about his past and those he encountered come from his mouth but then, she was given little time to puzzle over the subject.

His request was met with a small murmured gasp, slightly restrained, fingers leaping to her throat and skidding over the silver studs that lined her neck as she stared at him with wide eyes.

“P-Paint o-on me?” She stammered softly, glancing down at her ink covered skin, seemingly mystified by the request and the compliment. Azura had never considered her tattoos pretty, or unique for in her village, they had been commonplace. Granted, as a direct blood descendant of the Goddess, she was expected to adorn her flesh more so than most, certain designs being affixed only to those of such sacred celestial origins and steeped in ancient memory and meaning. Like the uncoloured pattern work of lines he was staring at now.

The small woman hovered restlessly, chewing on the side of her mouth, teeth grinding against the back of the piercings that spread themselves in a row below her lip. Her head was screaming no.. Though the clamor of her heart was trying to drown the voice out. A speck of curiosity was also there, hiding in the dark, growing larger with each passing moment as she wondered what this ‘idea’ of his was.

Silence ticked away for what seemed like far too long.

The scent of lavender and sage burning in the apartment now replaced with the aroma of well, paint. Puddles of merging colour draining from the tips of her soaked hair, streaking across her pale uncovered flesh, puddles forming at her ankles.
“I.. well. I mean.. ” She started, unable to hide the small smile that was starting to form, for it was quite clever for the phoenix to use her own words against her.
Was it not her who had said that his skin was the best canvas before promptly slashing him with blobs of purple?

“Thank you.” She choked out, a bit late on accepting the compliment though it was a useful way in buying herself at least a few more panicked seconds before she had to offer an answer.

With a deep sigh, Azura was giving her paint speckled figure one more glance before she slowly nodded, uncertainty flashing in the look she gave him.

“The answer is yes.. but only if it would be one of those memories you would treasure” She asked, her tone a tad timid as she inched towards him, sliding closer before sinking to the ground in front of him. “You know, you’re the first person who has actually asked to touch me rather than attempting to do so without my permission” She said, the comment skidding between humor and truth. “You just want to paint me. yes?” She said in a low voice, a guarded wariness appearing in her suddenly narrowed gaze, as if warning him against any tricks he might think of pulling, not that she thought he would but then, her rare experiences with his kind had not been pleasant.
Upon hearing confirmation of such, she would nod slowly, a shy smile given. “What’s your idea then?”

There she was accepting his apology.. If she wasn’t angry at him, he wouldn’t have known. Any sort of conflict between them usually resulted in one of them pissed off at the other.

His violet eyes danced around, observing the awkwardness and nervousness that she showed by playing with the edge of the fabrics at her waist and the chains across her belly. Such a vulnerable outfit, showing more skin than necessary. But, it wasn’t meant for everyday eyes. This was after all her undergarments, was it not? Why the hell was he looking at her still?

Blushing heavily, he averted his eyes from her, hating the fact that he could not look at the intricately detailed tattoos without having to /stare/ at her, which may seem as if he were some other man googly eyeing her body for his own desires.

Nope! Niko was not that kind of man. He was loyal and pure in nature. Not a monstrosity or a user. If he were to look at her in such a way, he’d gouge his eyes out before allowing himself to do such a horrible thing again.

“Yes.. Paint on you.” He replied quietly, knowing that the idea was preposterous and probably should have been kept in his head instead. When she thanked him, he blinked in confusion, bringing his gaze to rest on her once again. “I uh. You’re welcome?” He was almost worried that she would just ignore his words, his question, and just move onto doing something else.

Yes, just overlook him, that’s fine..

It wasn’t like he needed to paint random things on that beautifully marked skin. Looking off to the side, he glared at anything he could aside from her.
You are an absolute idiot, Niko! Why the fuck would you think that she’d want to do something like–…

And here she was inching closer to him, only to plop down just a small distance away.

“Wait.. W-What? You actually want to do it?” He stammered, blinking a few times as he stared at her paint covered form in shock. “Well, shit.. Alright.” His lips slowly twisted upwards into a very bashful smile, which was amplified by a sudden heat of fuschia blurring his cheeks. “I would love to keep this as a memory.. In fact, I don’t ever want to forget it.”

There was a very emotional bird right there. His whole demeanor changed, loosening up and feeling more buoyant than he probably should in that moment. A light and airy batch of butterflies hit him right in the gut. Her next words were what forced that happy feeling to freeze over.

“Am I really?” He asked, suddenly aware of every touch that he had laid upon her. Their first touch.. The hands.. He had asked then as well as each and every time after that. It wasn’t a lie. Though, the touch on her shoulder was him acting in protection towards her, but it ended up with his anger flaring towards the demon which left the woman’s fleshed burnt and marred by his own hand. That was something that he never wanted to do again. It would haunt him as long as he lived, knowing that he had harmed yet another one of his dear friends.

“I didn’t know that.. I figured at least Zac-” No, don’t bring him up. Closing his eyes, he shook his head and looked away from her, drawing his lips into his mouth to chew on them as if trying to prevent an outbreak of mixed emotions.
No one has asked permission to touch her.. What bastards.. He didn’t care if it were a man or a woman, it was uncalled for.

“Yes.. Just paint you.” He replied, giving her a slow nod.
That was something that he could live up to with the promise. Unless.. There was always a desire to touch her, even in the simplest of ways. Yet, she never seemed to fully reject him anytime he asked. Perhaps he could ask for her hand or even some other touch or–..

Just fucking stop..

“Okay, well. The idea is pretty random.” He flashed her a sly grin, knowing that as an artist he really never knew what was going to come out of those fancy hands of his. “Just flowers.. Moons.. Stars.. Anything that I see fit upon your skin.” Shrugging, he leaned back a bit, balancing on the backend of his pelvis to peer over at the messy art area that was now pretty much in shambles.

What a ruin. It’s art though, right? Just gotta have fun with it. It isn’t like the splatters of paint truly affected him, if anything it did just as the woman was asking him to cherish. Memories.. This would be a very good one. Probably one of the best that he has had.

“We may need to go back over there so I can get a few brushes.” Hesitantly, he stretched a hand out towards her, palm facing upwards. Sure, he’d have to get up in just a second, but there was also the possibility of just scooting over there on their asses.

What a funny idea.

If not for her nerves and shy awkwardness, Azura might have laughed at his shock though his question made those eyes of hers narrow slightly, a careless shrug thrown.

“It was your idea, not mine.. But since I am already covered in paint, I guess there is no harm in it.” She murmured, her voice filled with doubt despite the smile she offered, trying to instill confidence in him, as well as herself for she was already flustered by the idea of those deep silver speckled amethyst eyes pouring over her body with the focus he no doubt needed to employ to add his own brand of art to the designs that already decorated her ivory skin, wondering quietly what part of her he might select as a canvas.

She reminded herself this was meant to be fun, and technically, against none of the rules of her culture. How many times had she painted the faces of her younger sister? How much different was that to this?

But he’s a man.. a voice whispered at her, nagging, and yet the small tribal woman shook it away in order to focus on the words the phoenix was offering. There was a break in her smile.

Perhaps he had not finished his sentence but that did not mean Azura did not know how and with whose name it would have ended. She winced. unable to stop the vision of dancing turquoise eyes, a cool touch.

“That’s… not what I meant. this is different. I just..” She faded off. She had been thinking more of those that had tried to harm her, those that sought to corrupt her power, and her body. And Zack had done none of those things despite the fact that he had boasted about intending the latter. It seemed unfair to bring him into the conversation. Frowning, she shook her head.

“It doesn’t matter.” She murmured, fiddling with dripping ends of her colour stained locks, averting her eyes to her purple slashed thighs, the paleness of her skin gleaming through streaked paint.

She glanced back up in time for the sly grin he offered, attempting to mirror it despite the emotions circling and brewing inside her. Slowly, she nodded, his words admittedly drawing a bit of excitement from her as she tried to imagine the pictures he might draw upon her flesh, if he could find room between all the tattooed markings and splashes of paint that was.

“Well, that does sound kind of pretty though it will be a shame to wash your hard work away afterwards.” She said, a pause taken as nodded to the remainder of his words, carefully placing her small hand in his.

“You know.. the next time you want to make a memory with me, do you think I could keep my clothes on?” It was a clumsy and awkward joke. One that she flushed at, regret flashing through her gaze the moment she said it.

And while Niko might have found the idea of scooting across the room on their behind slightly amusing, the woman resting on her knees in front of him had no intentions of doing such a thing and so, at his suggestion to move, she was already scrambling to her feet though she allowed a pause to see if he would do the honors of pulling her to a stand first.

“No, no harm. I can try to use most of what is on you, mon cherie. It would be a waste if I didn’t try to use up at least a dollop of it.” A defeated sigh released from him.

He knew of how much distaste she had in men, so he was always on his toes, even as of now. It would be hard to carry on a friendship with the woman if he even brought up the topic of her opposite gender. They always seemed to have butt heads more than find a common ground, but then again he never did hear the full story as to why her people chose to basically outcast men and use them for their seed. Well, eventually they’d brave the discomfort and discuss it, right? Surely they would. It was something that had to happen.

“Different? How the hell is it-” His words were stopped by a slap of his hand over his mouth.

Don’t even start..

A grimace rolled across his pale paint covered features.

“Sorry.. Just ignore that. I don’t want to speak ill of someone that isn’t around.” He growled under his breath, thinking about the meaning behind such words.

There was an inability to think about the comment in a way other than an accusation. He had hurt her once.. Once.. Not out of intention, but an accident and she keeps bringing it up.

Calm down, Niko.. Just have your fun and move on.

“I know.. Maybe we could keep an image of the finished work.” Blinking, he shifted his gaze over to the bookshelf that held the paints. There upon one of the wooden planks lay a camera. Not that he wanted to take pictures of her in such a vulnerable outfit.

“Um.. That thing over there allows for one to take a snapshot.. A picture similar to the paintings I make.. But of reality. I don’t know if you’d be willing to.. I would love to take a few pictures when I finish up for the portfolio.. Though, you totally don’t have to accept, cher. I completely understand if you aren’t willing.” His voice was a bit weary, very unsure as to how to even go about that question, yet it all came spilling out of his mouth with ease. Her next question or well joke was a bit alarming. It sent him into a fluster of reds and pinks.

“I-I don’t mean t-to keep doing that! Y-You know that I-I can’t control it!” Despite it being a joke, he was truly embarrassed and unraveled by the idea that the only reason he keeps wanting to be around her was to see her unclothed. “I-It just happens.. It comes with t-the fire..” Frowning, he tried to keep his starry eyes from her, but that didn’t last long because her hand was now claiming his outstretched palm.

Carefully, he stood to his feet and in one swift movement, pulled her up to hers as well. He coaxed her to follow him over to the paint area, then took down yet even more paint tubes and jars that had not been held hostage in their rather extravagant splatter fest.

“Mmm.. If you could pick a main color for perspective purposes, what would it be?” He asked, tapping the wooden handle of a paintbrush against his lip in thought.

It wasn’t until she had allowed him to pull her to her feet did Azura respond to any of the remarks he had offered, a look of clear disapproval spreading over her face. The storm clouds had begun to gather the moment he had retorted to her words about Zack, deepening when he went on to ask to photograph her, her confusion soon relieved by his explanation.

Frowning, Azura squinted at the item he pointed at, her lips drawing into a thin line at the idea of a lasting image of her in such a state being produced. Who would he allow to see it? Was it really the artwork he wished to preserve? She stared at him for a moment, pulling her eyes from the camera to his face before quickly shaking her head, splatters of paint flying off the ends of her hair.

“The memory will have to do. I’m sorry” She said, though by her tone it was clear she was more offended then apologetic but since he was hardly demanding in the matter, she tried not to hold onto the seed of annoyance, forcing a smile.
“I just.. I don’t know if I like the idea of an image of myself being frozen in time in such a way.” She murmured, the words only a half lie for paintings were one thing but a photograph was something else entirely and considering the woman’s primitive background, she was a tad uncomfortable with the idea.

His next comment however did help to dispel the way her stomach clenched in doubt and the smile that now rose seemed at least genuine, unable to help the way that blush made her grin.

“I know Niko. I’m just joking with you. But, you have as of yet to explain why you threw yourself at me to begin with? I didn’t think you hated to lose that much” She said as she followed him towards the other end of the studio.
At his question, she gave little hesitation, her answer coming immediately.

“Blue?” She asked.

Azura nodded, slightly relieved that the phoenix did not push the matter for if he had, she would have surely have wrenched her hand from his and likely stormed out regardless of the fact that she was so scantily dressed. The remnants of disapproval that remained on her face were soon softening into amusement, eyebrows shooting up.

“You.. You thought I would jump?” She echoed, smirking at the idea. Perhaps it wasn’t that far fetched, considering the small wildling often took to leaping off the highest cliff she could find, provided there was water to cushion her fall. But then, it was only rough stony gravel beneath them and concrete pavement as a landing did not seem like a fate she wanted to suffer through.

“I don’t find you that terrifying Niko” She joked, flicking a once silver curl, now dyed green, behind her ear. “I suppose trying to rescue me from my own death is a valid enough reason though you really only have to worry about such a thing if there is a body of water at the bottom of such a leap” Azura said with a slanted smile.

She said nothing about her tendency to climb things, silently wondering how difficult it might be too scale the side of the building and clamber to the roof so she could view the city at its highest peak. But then, the fact that she was covered in slippery paint was forcing her to abandon the fantasy, at least for now.

As he began to splodge different colours onto the palette, green eyes followed his every movement, her humor wavering into nervousness that she tried hard not to show. Her hands fell to her hips, fiddling with the looped blue fabric that lay draped there, silently telling herself to remain still though such a thing was difficult to do when he turned, violet pools dancing over her frame in such a way she felt her heart stop.

Azura held her breath, waiting to see where he might decide to place that blob of blue, a small glimmer of relief felt once she saw the coloured tip of that brush. For a panic stricken moment, she had thought that Niko might have intended to use his fingertips to draw with just as she had used her own. But then, he was hardly as uncivilized as she was.

A small puff of air released itself from her lungs when his arm veered towards her right arm yet she was still unable to avoid the heavy blush that crossed her features when the fine bristles of the brush grazed against her collarbone, restraining the gasp that attempted to force its way out since the speck of wet paint was indeed cold, a bit of a shock to the system when it made contact with her pale flesh.

She said nothing, uncertain if any words might disrupt his concentration, not that she could really think to form any in this moment, those emerald eyes following the stroke of his brush against her skin carefully. She was clearly on guard, her muscles rigid, shoulders tight as if ready to spring into movement at any second. It was almost as if she expected some sort of attack. But slowly, when none came, she began to relax, despite the closeness at which he hovered.

Still, she observed with such scrutiny for reasons other than hesitance. Her wide eyed gaze was filled with a misty wonder, blinking at the way he added new colors and squirts of paint, shaping the lines he weaved around her tattoos into petals, flowers forming at his touch, threaded along vibrant green vines that were soon twisting down her arm.

So captivated was she by the time he had worked his way to her elbow, she had forgotten her wariness and indeed, her state of vulnerability, Azura dipped her head towards her own arm, seemingly too fascinated to even notice when he took her hand or limb and gently issued a pull, moving into him whenever he tugged at her or aimed to move her into a position that assisted in the flow of his brush, offering no resistance.

“It’s beautiful Niko…” She murmured in a soft admiring voice, amazed by the bright patches of colour and how they transformed and merged into the existing tattoos that were already sunk into her flesh, adding new meaning and vibrancy that she silently marvelled at for all of those tribal markings were etched in black or blue, shaded only in dark tones or else dashed with the faintest hint of white.

It was a strange sight to see the artwork of her body being brought to life and illuminated by such startling hues. She had not even noticed he had taken up a kneeling position in front of her, focused solely on the tip of his brush as it drifted down her arm though when she gifted the words, those green orbs searched for his, glancing down at him.

“Have you ever used skin in this manner before?” She asked, wondering at how difficult it might be to work around the natural creases and dips of another’s shape rather than a flat surface that did not breathe nor move.

It was actually a lucky thing the woman was so enthralled by the process or else, she might have been fidgeting far too much for the phoenix to be able to accomplish any smooth lines at all.

He had chosen to ignore the impish mockery of his reasoning behind the tackle. Yeah, so what? It was just a split second decision for her safety.

Shaking off the thoughts, he was now painting vivid flowers and greenery on her arm. Balancing on the toes of his sock covered feet, his teeth gritted at the wooden brush that was resting in his mouth whilst he continued to throw down countless dashes and splashes of paint on her arm. It was good to hear that the woman didn’t think he was /terrifying/, but deep down he knew that she held some sort of fear towards him.

It was a bit tough at first to paint while she was stiff, but eventually she loosened up, which made a slight smile curl at the corners of his lips. Almost finished with this arm.. Unconsciously, the tip of his tongue peeked out one of the corners of his mouth, signifying that he was very much deep in thought.

When she had complimented him, he glanced up, almost forgetting that she could in fact speak since she had been silent nearly the whole time.

“Merci, mademoiselle.” He gave a shy grin, very pleased with the start of his work. The brush in his hand would make a wide streak across her wrist and down her hand, obviously distracted by the woman. “O-Oh shit..” Frowning, he tried to wipe up some of the paint, then ended up giving up and moving onto a different area.

A quick hand gesture was made, asking for her to turn around for him as he stood up to his feet. With this, he’d dab the brush in a few different purples, then teals and oranges to make a base for a set of stars between her shoulder blades. Purple down.. Teal little splotches.. Orange here and there.. White was next, dotting with such precision that would match the stars above on any given night.

It would take a handful of minutes before this was finished and another gesture was made for her to turn around. Tapping the brush in hand against his lip, he stared at her, eyes darting over her as he tried to think of what to do next.

“Hmm.. Okay..” Slowly, he sank back down to his knees and leaned forward just a touch and swapped for a new brush.

His hands rose up in a gesture that was to show that he was acting out of innocence alone, then he dipped the tip into a glob of navy blue paint and pressed it to the woman’s left thigh, just a few inches below her hip.

A wide brush was used to evenly spread the paint before he went into great detail by creating green tinted swoops that looked as if he took a picture of waves crashing right out of an ocean. Small dots and lines of white were used to give it more depth, then he began on a soft silhouette of a woman amidst the watery background. One that closely resembled the woman in front of him, only this one had a green scaled tale that had purple and gold shimmers on it to copy what it would look like should the sun be shining upon her.

It was in that brief moment when she had turned the gleaming wonder of her green gaze upon him that the tip of his tongue emerged to poke from the corner of his mouth, those dark brows furrowed into such concentration and focus, Azura had to restrain the giggle that she felt building which was helped none by the tickle of that brush sliding down her arm.

She was still staring, a small smile playing over her features when the glint of his violet gaze pulled away from the design he was weaving to find her face.

“Me-rci means thank you, yes?” She asked then, her voice stumbling over the word clumsily, pronouncing it in a way that would make most French natives cringe, shudder even though she couldn’t help looking for confirmation in her assumption for the phoenix sometimes seemed to forget that she knew nothing of the language, only picking up the meaning of words when he enlightened her on them and even then, she sometimes simply forgot.

Azura flinched when he swore, those amethyst pools sharply pulling from her features and back to the hand he held and the slash of paint he was now wiping at, attempting to fix the error.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to distract you” She murmured, glancing with clear dismay at the uneven lines that diverged from the flow of those flowing vines, the rhythm disrupted.

Her embarrassment perhaps was one of the reasons she did not argue when Niko silently commanded she turn however that speck of distrust was back, floating in the centre of her mossy gaze which narrowed for the briefest of moments, that stubborn defiance almost rearing its head for in many ways, Azura was like a wild creature and any animal knew not to turn their back on something that could turn into a potential threat.

She quietly reminded herself that Niko had never intended her harm, and would never wish for such a thing. Yet there was a seed of doubt twisting in her stomach, one she ignored in favor of slowly turning, a hesitant glance flung over one shoulder at him before she fixed her attention to the smears of paint that decorated his wall though she could hardly remember causing the brown and green ugly drip marks.

Her heart was thudding loudly in her chest, a flush to her cheeks rising as she reached back with one heavily tattooed and now painted arm to gather the rumpled slow drying black and white coils of her hair over the slope of her shoulder, bundling the thick paint smeared strands to one side so none would fall into the path of his focus.

Though she braced herself for it, she still felt a shockwave of electricity pulse over her limbs as the bristles of his brush dance over the ridge of her shoulder blades, her eyes closing as she tried to focus on imagining what those strokes were creating instead of the hand that lingered so close, sure she could feel the warmth of his breath washing against her as he leaned in.

She traced the pattern in mind, guided by the gentle sway and scratch of the brush’s tip moving.

“Stars?” She guessed, the question rising in a husky voice, laced with disappointment that she was unable to watch.

The green of her eyes re-emerged as she strained her neck, chancing the risk at disrupting the flow of his hand by glancing over her shoulder though all she managed to glimpse was the colour scheme he was painting across the tattooed surface however it did appear very much like a starry night sky.

She waited patiently for him to finish without further interruption, turning once more when he gestured for her to do so, her large eyes watching him carefully as he seemed to deliberate quietly where to move on to next.

“Okay what?” She asked, parroting his words, a tad bit of childish frustration withheld at the way he seemed to so easily lose himself in his concentration, seemingly forgetting that his canvas had thoughts and words to offer, likely an opinion on where she would allow the roaming of his brush if he had thought to ask.

Her gaze narrowed as those hands rose in defense, following as he dipped his brush back into dark blue and still, Azura winced in surprise as a dash of paint was pressed to one milky thigh, just below the edge of lacy sapphire fabric.

It was an instinct, the way her knee half lifted the second paint hit her flesh, as if she was meant to strike the man in the face and knock his point of his brush away and one that she caught just in time, dropping her leg back down, merely a jerk rather than an attack.

“Sorry!” She exclaimed, gritting her teeth against the instinct to make a mad sprint from the man, to outrun the way her pulse began to slam heavily in her ears. Slowly, the muscles in her thigh loosened, allowing for smoother strokes of the swirls of turquoise and emerald he was pressing into her leg though she could not disguise the small nervous shake.

“Are you always this focused when you work?” Azura murmured in a soft voice, seemingly having trouble making her voice climb in anything beyond a whisper, unable to deny that the rhythm of his brush and the indiscernible pattern it tracked was somewhat soothing as was the sensation of wet pain gliding across her tender flesh.

Yet those two things were noted almost a distance, far too consumed with the fact that his vision and touch remained locked onto such an intimate area. She restrained an anxious giggle brought on by the way the bristles tickled and teased, finally able to get a glimpse at the design when Niko’s head veered to the side slightly.She gasped, everything forgotten in that moment but her amazement.

“Oh, Niko.” She breathed in a wispy voice, eyes glimmering with pleased surprise. “She’s lovely. She reminds me of the goddess” Azura said, bending slightly to gawk at the picture, clearly ignorant to the resemblance between herself and the mermaid painted on her thigh for it was exactly one to spend much time staring at her reflection, and those eyes were focused on the shimmery scaled tail rather then the ropes of undulating black and white.

“Correct.” He answered a bit later, stuck in his own head as he was painting. “Merci.. Is thank you.”

Now, he was working at the left thigh, adding details to the mermaid to make her more realistic. Most of the questions were left with a quiet response, signifying that the phoenix was very concentrated.

Both the flowery arm and the stars between her shoulder blades were now finished. It was known that she had almost struck out with that knee. It would have been idiotic to have not seen the slight raise of her leg the moment he touched it. He wanted to apologize, but he did give a quiet warning beforehand, so.. He wasn’t necessarily in the wrong, she could have stopped him. But as of now, she seemed to be infatuated with the newest creation.

“You, sorry? I don’t believe that I have heard you apologize yet..” A sly grin stretched across his pale features. His eyes darted upwards to meet the emerald ones and he flashed his teeth at her. “Well, at least not without me saying something or being angry.. But even then, I really don’t remember you saying such a thing.” Shrugging, his attention went back to the image at hand, but the smile remained.

“To answer you.. Yes, I am always focused. You can’t rush art, mademoiselle Azura. If I wasn’t focused… There would be nothing to create, nothing to show others. My mind would be scattered just as any other would with the inability to put a picture to my imagination.”

To hear the woman even acknowledge the beauty of his painting filled him with glee.

“Really? You do like it?” His words were a bit quiet, but held giddiness in its rasp. “The goddess.. Right.. Um, I wasn’t aware that she looked like that.. The similarities are astonishing if she looks like this.” One last stroke and he leaned back on his knees to get a better look. “It’s you.. Not her.”

A light blush formed over his cheeks and he tilted his head to the side, eyes streaming from the mermaid to the strange mandala ink on her stomach.

“May I paint over that, cherie? Or is it of importance.. It is a sacred area to many cultures.. Some symbolize a specific chakra.. Though, I am unsure of what yours stands for.”

Hesitantly, a hand stretched out towards it, hovering against her skin, but not touching it as he traced the air just in front of it, mimicking those intricate lines and structures.

“It is quite beautiful.. I-I actually don’t know if I can even cover it.. But.. Is it unfinished? The colors.. They are missing, it feels.. Hollow.”

There was a sudden question as to who was the one that lay spread the ink to her skin and how it came to be. Was she of young age when it happened? Forced? He wanted to ask, but felt like it was almost too much. If the woman wanted to speak on her people and her past, he’d let it flow. It was only fair, right?

He was so secretive and hardly ever let her peek into his past.. So it was only right for him to give her room to speak on her own.

Azura did not seem to mind that most of her questions remained unanswered, her mind already moving on to form the next one but for the moment, she took a bite to her bottom lip to keep the words from tumbling out and ruining his concentration. Instead, she kept her emerald eyes fixed on the mesmerizing stroke of his brush, hopeful the distraction would allow the breath to return to her lungs, the heat to fade from her cheeks and the thrum of her pulse to fade back to its normal rate.

But all of these things were proving rather difficult to do with how close the Phoenix hovered, those violet pools fixed intently on her thigh and the swirls of colour he was splashing upon it. It helped though for in all honesty, she was entranced by the ease in which he transformed blobs of paint into art.

She offered a sheepish grin when he finally seemed to break away from that intense focus to let his starry amethyst gaze trail towards her face, the effect of which almost had her heart coming to a complete stop.

“Actually, I think you might be one of the very few to hear such words from me. Apologies are not exactly in my nature.” She revealed with a nervous smile.

It was true that the small tribal did not possess the best of manners and hardly deemed it necessary to apologize for whatever offense she had caused someone but with Niko, it was somehow different. Was it because she actually cared what the phoenix thought of her behaviour? She shrugged, trying to brush away the confession.
She nodded, to both his words and his question though soon she interrupted to correct his assumption.

“Oh. Well, yes and no. She has many forms though this picture reminds me of one in particular..” Azura murmured, her attention drifting for the briefest of moments as she recalled the legend of Akaari creation, the story that explained her people’s origins and the reason for creating a purely matriarchal society.

She imagined the grief and betrayal her goddess would have felt when her beloved broke his promise, the way he reacted to her shimmering scales with such horror and disgust, the revenge she sought as a result only bringing about her mortal death, her spirit bound and scattered into fragments.. Azura blinked.
“What?” She asked as she came back to herself. “Its .. me?” She asked, though an answer was not required, a blank if not confused expression dashed about her paint splattered features.

She bent slightly, eyes narrowed as she re-examined her thigh, green orbs widening a moment later, the blush that was now a permanent fixture on her face only deepening. Oh. It was her, how could she have missed those coils of black and white? Embarrassed but secretly pleased by the discovery, she was still staring at her own leg when his question redirected her focus.

For a second or two, she seemed not to understand but then she followed the look he cast to the smooth tattooed surface of her stomach, the silver chain looped through her navel piercing and strung from hip to hip gleaming and stretched across the mandala he referenced to.

“Yes, it is important..” She said in a small flustered whisper, her heart already starting to race.

A flicker of instinctual mistrust darted through her gaze then for she was unused to sharing any information regarding her culture, and the meaning of those elaborate tattoos, for she was used to maintaining complete secrecy on the subject. At his next remark, she winced, a moment of silence taken before she allowed herself to respond in a saddened tone.

“I did not have time to have it finished. Only those destined to become High Priestess have such a mark and each year, as sign of their growth, more was to be added. It might surprise you to know that I was first marked on my fifth birthday, and every year after that but I was only sixteen when my tribe was.. There was no one left to.. “She murmured softly, her fingers sweeping gently over the ink that pooled out from her navel.

Azura had never considered inking her own flesh for this was a role for the elders of her community, one she would eventually have fulfilled for others but then, everything had been ripped away. She quickly swallowed the lump that had risen to her throat, forcing a smile.

“Even if it was complete, you would find no colour in its design. It is a very sacred symbol Niko… I would prefer that you do not cover it but you may shade it as you like.” She said. “I wouldn’t mind seeing it illuminated with colour, even if it is just for one night.

That was something that the phoenix had noticed. She hardly ever apologized. Even to him. When they held one another’s hands for the first time.. When she had nearly stricken him with lightning.. The way she had drenched him in rain and water many occasions.. For being so guarded around him.. And even keeping him from striking others down with his flames. None of those times gained apologies. Sure, that night with Alistair could have gone much quicker had he just burned the damn tavern to the ground, trapping everything and everyone in it, yet the woman held him back. Just a touch of her hand was enough to keep him stilled, unable to allow himself to harm her just as he had when pissed off at Zack. Right.. That..

Grimacing, he did his best to shake the thought and to try and focus on the woman’s explanations. Important.. The mandala was of significance to her. It was quite obvious if not for her words, but the way that her body seemed to tense up right in front of him.

“You didn’t?” Oh, no. It wasn’t her. “Nevermind.” Frowning, he continued to listen to her speak. So.. She was the heir to be the high priestess of her people? That was quite the honor. What a sad thing for the woman to never get that chance to finish the tattoo the traditional way.

“Sixteen.. That was around the time that I had my incident.. At the school, Azura.” His eyes avoided hers, staring off to the side as if staring at the ruin and rubble that he left of the highschool.

Those students.. His friends.. They were all dead because of him.
Ebony lashes fluttered shut and a deep breath was taken to try and calm himself, taking in those heavy and comforting scents of lavender and sage.

“So.. Your marking stopped when you were that age.. When the village was attacked? That means that you were never able to finish out such a task..”

That was.. Tragic. Was there a way around it? Could she continue on those intricate needles to that soft flesh? By herself or with the help of another..

An idea overcame him, but he did not think to speak to her. Or at least, not on this day. Perhaps he could bring it up another time, but then again there was always a chance that another time would never come.

“Azura.” Gently, he closed the distance between his hand that hovered above her stomach to rest against hers that was just at her navel.His touch was warm, heated, but not overwhelming. He was in a relaxed mood, not one that rushed that anxious heart of his.

“Is there a chance that you could finish it? I-I.. I obviously don’t know much about your culture and I apologize that I can’t help you with most of it.. Nor even know what may be in it.. But, what if I helped you finish this? I know you said one for every year that you lived, on each birthday.. Maybe, just maybe I could add a piece for each year that you missed.” His hand was flat atop hers, pressing against her stomach in a delicate manner. “I have an acquaintance of sorts that allows for me to use his tools.”

Yup, the skeleton of a phoenix on his back was done by the friend, but the ones on his arms and legs were done by him, not another. He would have loved to do the one on his back by himself, but that was nearly impossible to carry out comfortably without twisting inhumanely and staring in several mirrors.

No sudden movement from him, only the meeting of his purple gaze to hers. He would enjoy painting the tattoo, but it felt too important, yet here she was saying that she wouldn’t mind having paint on it for one night.

“I um.. I don’t know if I am comfortable painting it, Azura.. Especially if it has sacred meaning. I would feel ashamed if I were to press my brush to something so important to you and your goddess.” It pained him to say that, but he would not push her nor his own boundaries regardless of the permission she gave.

Slowly, he rocked on his feet, then removed his hand from hers and pushed against his knees to stand up in front of her, just inches away.

“As for the finishing part.. You lost many years, cherie.. The tattoos could be continued with a cautious hand.. I’d be more than willing to lend mine, but.. I know that it is possibly blasphemy for me to even bring it up. Just think on it, alright. You don’t have to answer me anytime soon. It’s just a crazy idea.. One that could help you on your journey.”

His arms crossed against his chest in a prevention from reaching out and grabbing hold of her hands. He was probably thinking too much out loud. It did all sound crazy didn’t it? He couldn’t blame her for turning him away if she did.

Azura was watching the way that hand of his hovered so close to ink stained skin, the muscles in her stomach contracting slightly in hesitation, certain he was about to let those fingers of his brush against her. He had said he only wanted to paint her, had he not? And yet, why was she tempted to reach out and grab hold of his hand and close the distance herself? She was quietly ashamed of the thought, forcing mossy orbs back to his face, watching instead his reaction to her words.

Her features shifted into surprise when he revealed that common link, a frown of concern drifting, the impulse to reach out and close her hand around his deepening and yet it remained hanging limp by her side, fingers trailing through the wispy blue cloth that covered her waist.

She could not imagine the regret and remorse Niko felt, the pain of knowing he was the cause of those terrible deaths. Her people might have seen that crime as evidence of the seed of corruption that existed in all men, and yet Azura could only see a victim of his own emotion, just as she often was.

“You should not blame yourself..” She murmured in a whisper, afraid to interrupt whenever she caught brief glimpses into Niko’s past for she never knew if her voice might disrupt his focus and force that wall back in place, frowning at the way his eyes pulled from her, purposefully avoiding her gaze. As they closed, her hand twitched, slowly inching towards the one that still hovered above her stomach and yet when that glint of silver flecked purple returned, she let it drop once more, her confidence lost the moment she found herself staring into those intimidating amethyst pools. Attacked. It was a nice word. One she almost laughed bitterly at though she reigned in the impulse at the last moment.

“Yes.. though..attacked is far too generous a word for what happened that day Niko. It was genocide. Almost. They did.. such.. horrific things and seemingly enjoyed every last moment” She mumbled, her words broken by bursts of emotional silence, a heavy sigh following, a small amount of rage creeping into her tone.

She had been so sure that her people had been right about everything that day for she had never witnessed such savagery and had not since even after her gory encounters on Hellifyno. Alistair, Sic and all the others paled in comparison to the demons she had seen, their mortal hearts cold and dark, those figures having taken on the form of vultures in her dreams, carriers of the dead, consumers of flesh in more ways than one.

The sound of her name falling in a gentle tone interrupted her thoughts as did the sensation of his hand closing that gap and placing itself over her own, the heat of his touch pressing itself against her skin without warning. She flinched, a tiny gasp tumbling from her though she made no move to knock the limb away, a spark of blue light flaring in her veins as the cooling rush of her magic sparked to life on instinct though the warmth he wielded felt somewhat more subdued then she had felt in the past. Perhaps it was those swirling scents of Lavender and Sage for the aroma wafting about them did help to soothe her own anxiety, filling her senses with a strange calm, slowly easing into the tender touch that sent tremors of heat racing as it pressed gently into her stomach.

As he spoke, green eyes lunged towards him, her head starting to shake at the idea of finishing it herself, for such a thing would be awkward to do given the placement of the design, her view of it upside down.

“I don’t think..” She was starting to say before her lips clamped shut, emerald pools widening with each word he let fall, clearly rendered speechless for a moment, staring at him in shocked amazement as he continued to speak, that silence continuing long after he had pulled away, crossing his arms against his chest.

His comments had struck her like a weight for she was affected deeply by not only the way the phoenix seemed to truly wish to respect her culture but by his desire to complete something that he knew held a great deal of significance to her, a symbol that represented a way of life that he did not even personally agree with.

Of course such a thing was ridiculous, ludicrous.. Offensive to even consider letting a male sketch those ancient runes into her flesh and yet.. who else would fulfil the task? Did such technicalities matter now that everything had changed and only she remained? Was it a greater crime than leaving the testament to the Goddess unfinished?

She remembered quietly what Iniro had said about how it was up to her to decide the path for future followers but then, what future was there?

“You.. would do that for me? Why?” She asked in a tentative whisper, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes, that green gaze growing misty and glimmering with emotion.

It seemed as if that was the only reaction she was going to offer until, overwhelmed by the gratitude and grief she felt, Azura launched her small frame at the phoenix right as he began to speak once more despite his closed off stance, rising on her bare toes in order to throw her arms around his neck, her face diving for the crook of his neck and burying itself there.

She was ignorant of any smudges that might be made to his painstaking efforts to cover her skin in art, unmindful of how the press of her paint covered limbs would likely leave imprints on the dark wool of his clothes.

“Thank you Niko” Her voice came distorted, muffled by the way she nuzzled her features into him. In a moment or two, she would likely be horrified and mortified by her own rash impulse but for the moment, the swell of emotion was enough to push those natural instincts away, simply content to cling to him until she was forced to let go.

“It is blasphemy but I’d like you to finish it regardless” She murmured before starting to slowly pull away, cheeks flushed red at her boldness.

Attacked.. Why the fuck did he use such an insensitive word? Ugh, Niko. You are just digging a grave for yourself. And there was the reaction to his words. She hated it didn’t she..

He did not want to see her reaction, but there was a total flop of what he was expecting. Where was the stormy lady with lightning shooting out from her hands? He stared at her in confusion, almost horrified that he had caused tears to ebb at the ducts of her eyes.

“N-No, mon cherie. Don’t cry, please.. I wasn’t meaning to-” He nervously bit his lip. “I-I.. I don’t know. I guess it just felt right to offer and I know how important your people are to you.. You are a very st-“

Again his words were halted, but this time were interrupted with an “OOF” As the woman threw herself at him, entangling her arms around his neck. It took him a moment to realize what was happening.

She was.. Hugging him? Why was she.. A shaky breath of air escaped him and his eyes clenched tightly shut. He wanted to hug her.. Truly, he did. It just hurts.. There was something even deeper inside of him that was broken, perhaps only showing up just now in this time of physical contact.

This was a very sensitive subject with him and he thought that the woman had noticed that by now. The way he was so closed off. From the small touches of hands being one if not the only way he chose to interact with her.

Yeah, yeah.. There was the day that he had picked her up in the pouring rain and slung her over his shoulder, but was she not hurt? There was no choice at the time. But now.. This was the woman’s doing and not his own. She had rushed the embrace and he had no say in it.

His hands shook in fear, but would eventually rise up and curl in the woman’s hair, placing his covered forearms against her back.His heart raced in his chest and his breath was uneven, evident of what panic may lay in him. Fear, yes.. But there was something else. A warmth that emanated from her, seeping into him, which filled him with a bubbly sensation rising up in the pit of his stomach. It was similar to each of the times they were together, stealing glimpses of one another and quick touches of hands.

Opposites in nearly everything, yet so malleable when together. Surely there would be a mess of paint splattered and smeared across his black outfit from the woman’s freshly painted limbs being the onslaught with the images that he had brushed on her. She was.. Thanking him?

“O-Of course, cherie..” He whispered, just barely breathing in that hold she had him pinned in. Stay still, Niko.. Don’t move a fucking muscle.

The woman nuzzled against the crook of his neck, taking refuge there for a moment until she was comfortable enough to slowly remove herself from him. Starry eyes flickered open and his grip on her hair loosened slightly, but remained to keep her somewhat close to him. A quick scan was given to her face, searching for the reason as to why she had hugged him.. Or was it for an answer as to why he felt so lost in those emerald depths?

A soft moment, yes. That was why he was being drawn into her, having such a familiarity with her smell and her touch. He wanted it, craved it. Finding himself in a rather odd situation, he was leaning into her, chasing after her lips, but.. They never locked together, no. They stayed just centimeters apart, leaving the heat of his breath to linger against her skin and his eyes were wide, yet glossed over with the haze of the moment. He wanted her.. To feel her mouth mix with his in such an intimate kiss.

NO!

Upon realizing what he was doing, his hands fell from her hair and he pushed himself away from her. Fucking hell, Niko.. Those memories.. Don’t fucking bring back those memories. A few exasperated gasps seeped from him as he turned away from her and immediately pointed towards the hallway.

“Down there.. To the left you will find the bathroom. Should probably get those paints washed off.. Now that they are all smeared.” He made sure to give a faint smile in case she had somehow managed to slip a glimpse of his face.

It killed him to have stopped such a moment, but it was needed. There was a never ending sorrow that plagued him from his past regarding physical contact. Now that he was starting to feel for.. Wait, did he feel for Azura? Was it like the others around him always said? Did he even want this? No.. He wanted to tear his heart out.

Those tears never fell though they were close to. No, the only time Azura had really shed the built up emotion within her in such a way was the night she had made the heavens open, the sky brewing with storm clouds conjured by accident. It had been the first time she had cried tears since the day of the massacre and she had silently promised that it would not happen again. But now as she kept herself pressed against Niko’s lean frame, the woman trembled slightly, her chest hitching. But still, she did not cry.

“I’m not crying. I never do” She mumbled into his neck, her tone childish and stubborn, her words coming far too late. “It just means a lot that you would offer.” She breathed.

As his hands found their way into that tangled forest of black and white, fingers entangling themselves into the coiled strands, Azura sighed softly, unable to help the sound, comforted by the touch though she silently wished the phoenix would let those arms encircle her and draw her closer however instead, she felt the way he tightened, as if made uncomfortable by the closeness she had forced upon them.

His breath sounded ragged, almost panicked, and with how close she stood, she could feel the sharp thud of his heart rattling in his chest. Had she done something wrong? Did friends not hug? Perhaps it was her state of undress, the thought made her skin flush. Guiltily, she pulled back with greater haste, her arms slowly aiming to slide from his neck and yet that grip he held on her hair remained, stopping her from withdrawing completely.

A questioning look drifted into those moss coloured pools, still glistening with tears as they locked onto him, wondering quietly what thoughts were running through his mind for he was staring at her in such a peculiar way.

“What is it..” She said, her voice no more than a whisper for even though there was puzzlement etched in her features, Azura would be a fool not to feel the sudden tension that crackled through the air. Her voice skidded to a startled stop as his face started leaning in, veering closer as if his mouth was searching for hers. Her breath caught in her throat, her heart feeling as if it had suddenly erupted and yet, the small tribal woman did not attempt to push him away or wriggle from his grasp nor did she lash out with magic as she had when Amnus had forced his kiss upon her along with those declarations. She did none of those things.

Perhaps it was the way the warmth of his breath washed over her features, or that nagging curiosity, or maybe it was due to the fact that Azura had never willingly kissed a man, her one encounter pressed on her with little warning. It most certainly had something to do with the way her heart drummed to its own melody in that moment. Either way, those green eyes of hers fluttered closed so he would not see the confliction and fear racing in her gaze but also in expectation, her chin tilting slightly, internally bracing herself for his lips to come crashing into hers and yet, they never did. She waited, her gaze returning when she felt him pull back, blinking in shock, hurt and confusion at the way he was hastily pointing her towards the bathroom, as if he wanted to be as far away from her as possible.

“Oh.” She whispered, emerald orbs averting themselves to her bare toes which wriggled awkwardly against his paint splattered flooring.

Her face dipped to follow, lowering until black and ivory strands fell to obscure the confusion that rested there. She glanced at her thigh, the lines he had so carefully applied smudged before the colours could dry. She nodded, her embarrassment only deepening.

“I didn’t mean to ruin it..” Azura choked out, her tone a tad shaky, cheeks flushed, one hand resuming its protective stance from earlier, curling against her stomach and fiddling with the silver chains looped there, as if the confidence she had slowly gained in the Phoenix had been dashed. “Okay Niko. I’m sorry if I upset you by forcing an embrace” She muttered, quickly turning on one heel so he would not see the frustration hardening the contours of her face, unable to stop the anger she felt at herself for being so stupid, caught up in a moment that did not exist and was not allowed to regardless, at least not in her world. And yet…

No. Stop Azura, she reprimanded herself quietly. Had she been in a more rational frame of mind, a whole variety of questions might have tumbled from her, simple ones that would have made the Phoenix chuckle but as such, she wasted no time in fleeing in the direction he had pointed, stained and coloured curls flying as she went, the door slammed in her wake though such was an accident made in her haste and not out of irritation at the male she had dashed from.

Had he just messed up? She didn’t push him away.. Was she expecting him to complete that interaction or was she still too naive to realize what he was going to do? Niko did not know that she had been kissed before, no. When she turned on her heels and darted down the hallway, he knew exactly how much he hurt the woman. No.. Gods no, he did not wish that upon her.

“F-Fuck..” He stammered under his breath, suddenly craving one of the liquors locked away in the cupboards just a few yards from him.

No.. No, no, no. You can’t fucking drink while she’s here! What else could he drown these thoughts away with? Oh.

Quickly, he stumbled towards the front hallway and rummaged through the ceramic bowl for the half filled pack of cigarettes. His hands fumbled with the box, nearly dropping it several times as he tried so desperately to grab a hold of a single wrapped blunt. The previous moment was still fresh on his mind, but it was no longer pleasant. It was now being drowned out by one from a very long time ago. One that ended up not so well.. Another woman in his arms, fit snug with him in a loving embrace. Such sick visions played in his mind, forcing him to remember what he did.

“J-Just stop, p-please just stop..” He begged aloud to himself, but surely it wasn’t loud enough to travel down the hall so that the woman couldn’t hear. Finally, one of the blunts were pulled out, immediately being lit with a violet flame and pressed to his lips for a very long pull. The other woman.. His woman.. “Get out.. O-Of my fucking h-head..”

It took all of his effort to not storm into the kitchen to tear apart the shelves for a small glass of any of the potent liquids. So, he found himself pacing back and forth across the living room, trying to block out those violent memories. The feeling of her in his arms.. The smell of flesh burning.. The screams.. God, just fucking stop, please. Several sparks erupted near him, igniting several items that filled his home. From end tables to canvases.. To small plants and books. Many things were interrupted with the flare of a flickering flame which began to devour the items as he scurried across the room, seeking shelter from the area that he had just spent most of the evening with Azura.

Good memories, Niko.. She told you that you could only paint her if you kept good memories.

Tears welled up in his eyes, blurring his vision as he stepped across the hardwood floor, knocking over a lamp and a few decorative pieces when he stumbled from his bad attention span. A soft thud occurred from his hand hitting the wall to catch himself and he stood there for a few seconds before he pushed on. Silently, he made his way down the halls, only to stop in front of the bathroom door with a fist raised against it to knock. But that never happened.. He wanted to apologize, to spill every dark secret that he kept, yet he couldn’t. It was impossible for him to do so.

Hot water began to stream from his eyes, waterfalling over the soft pink ledges and black shadows to create gray streaks that looked like roots growing downwards against his cheeks. He turned, laying his back against the door and sank down to the ground. His knees were pulled up to his chest and another drag was taken from the cigarette. Forget yourself, Niko.. Just breathe, or try.. Right, like that was easy!

“U-Uh.. You d-doing alright i-in there?” He somehow managed to call out despite the choked breath and the never ending stream of tears that flooded from his eyes.

The door slammed, her small frame quickly sliding down it as Azura came crashing to the floor, knees drawn to her chest for a moment as she hugged them tight, her face slanted and resting on them. She waited for the embarrassment to settle, the erratic rhythm of her heart to fade back to its normal pace. Had she misread his intentions, she wondered. Did it matter? It had been a foolish instinct to even entertain the idea of allowing such a thing to happen but that seed of curiosity still whispered, the grain placed there ever since Amnus had pressed his lips to hers and yet, back then she had felt no accompanying dizzying rush only outrage and fury at the audacity. So, why then did this feel different? Why had she simply closed her eyes and waited for such a kiss to happen?

Covering her face with her hands, she silently convinced herself that the moment had not existed, just a result of her imagination and anxiety. Her features lifted then, a frown fixing itself into place. Had she heard Niko’s voice? Slowly, she swiveled, resting on her knees and pressing her ear to the door, listening intently. It was difficult to make out, but drabs of sound came to her. Words coming incomplete though the frustration was clear. She winced. Was he speaking of her? What did he want her to stop?

Small scuffling movements greeted her next, the woman standing and letting her hand hover over the knob, as if considering whether she should check to see if Niko was alright, for it sounded as if he was upset, or angry. Her hand dropped back to her side, a small jump taken as she heard that lamp and several items crash to the floor.

Of course, Azura knew nothing about the internal anguish that her touch had triggered, worried instead that she had enraged him somehow and that he was out there purposely destroying his apartment. Could she smell smoke? Swallowing her distress and concern, she drifted towards the mirror fixed to one wall, a small gasp sounding when she viewed her paint smeared reflection for the first time. Oh, how could Niko have taken her seriously in such a state? She was a mess. A medley of merging colours staining her pale skin, streaks of lilac and green dashed across the contours of her face, clumps of still wet paint glistening in her hair and along her scalp, blobs of it tinting the white strands nestled amongst black in a variety of hues. She turned, glancing over the slope of one tattooed shoulder to finally glimpse the network of stars he had painted along her back, a small smile unable to be helped for it almost mirrored the beauty of its real night sky. She was remiss to wash away those breathtaking designs, bending to examine the smudged replica of herself in mermaid form.

She searched her surroundings then, blinking in confusion at the unfamiliar setting, padding towards the ceramic bath with some trepidation for it was far different to bathing beneath the fall of water. Tentatively, Azura reached for the plug, gingerly dropping into the hole where it seemed to fit before she reached for one of the taps, a sharp turn given. She watched for a moment as the water gushed, the pipes making a shuddering noise that she did not particularly enjoy.

With a sigh, she shimmied out of the thin wispy blue coverings, letting the fabric fall to her ankles before she climbed into the tub just as the tread of Niko’s feet were thudding down the hall, his approach greeted with a loud yelp of alarm and pain for Azura had not expected each tap to produce a different temperature, simply assuming cold water would run from both and so when those toes of hers sank into scalding hot depths, she cried out and quickly stumbled backwards, near tumbling over the side in her haste, recovering at the last moment to perch herself on its rim, her feet lifting. She frowned in confusion and frustration, reaching for the second tap and issuing a sigh of relief when the water cooled enough to allow her to climb back inside. It was only a few seconds before Azura was staring with interest at the bottles that lined the side of the bath, picking up a blue container, popping open the lid and inhaling the perfume that wafted into her senses.

Little hesitation was given before she proceeded to dump the entire contents into the swirling water, a small grin of glee appearing when she saw white clouds of bubbles rising like snow, soft and feathery to the touch. She was so distracted by how quickly the bubbles were rapidly taking over when she heard Niko’s voice, his stammered question causing her to flinch.

“Everything is fine” She called back though he would soon see that it clearly wasn’t for even as she spoke, water was sloshing over the rim of the bath, streams coloured with paint and rainbow bubbles spilling over the tiled floor and seeping out from under the door, saturating the flooring upon which the phoenix was seated. And yet the tribal woman had not noticed, the tap still running at such a volume that it was gushing with violent force, stirring up more of those bubbles which she was now gathering and attempting to form shapes from.

“Are you alright? You sound upset.. “

Smoke billowed through the house, wading out of the open windows and doors. Thankfully, that was enough to at least let some air flow through the studio so that the carbon puffs wouldn’t choke the woman’s lungs. Niko could survive harsh smoke, but he was sure that the woman wouldn’t be able to stand it just as he could. Ah, good thing he took down the smoke alarms.. Those little buggers would be so fucking annoying about now, just beeping away nonstop.

The shriek is what made him jump out of his skin, pulling him from his thoughts. There was a sudden pain of guilt flooding him, making him think that a rogue flame erupted where she was, licking at her flesh just like any of his victims. No.. Please, no..

He was ready to pounce into the room, but found himself stopping just before he was able to get to his feet. And there was her voice. A heavy sigh of relief fell from him.

“Dieu merci, ci-dessus.” He mumbled, laying his head against the door.
His eyes closed and he sat in silence, listening to the constant stream of water that just poured from the faucet within that closed room. The cigarette was forgotten for a moment in his hand that was now resting on his knee. Her voice was what calmed him, giving him the notion that she was at least speaking to him and not ignoring him. For all he knew, he just ruined every chance that he had with any sort of friendship with her. Yes, he did like the woman. Very much. And for him to realize it only moments ago with her in his arms was a big thing. It just.. Was at the wrong time.

“I-I’m fine.. Nothing wrong.” He blatantly lied, skittering around the fact that he was sitting out here bawling his eyes out with a cig in hand, watching his own violent flames eat up important pieces of art and some furniture. Yep, just another day in the life of Niko.

“You sure you are all g-good in there? The little knob turns on the showerhead, cher.” Oh.. There was a sudden chill that ran up his spine, only then making him aware that his shirt was soaked. As was the same for his pants. “What the fuck..” He mumbled, raising his arms so that he may view either side of him. “S-Shit.. Azura!” The hand holding the cigarette would raise and the other placed itself palm face down against the wet puddle that had been his resting place before he picked himself up off of the floor. Instinctively, he grasped the handle and pushed the door open, ready to barge over to the tub to force a halt upon the steady current.

Quickly, without thinking, he waltzed into the room and made his way over to the bath. The floor was obviously slick. Wet tiles with bubbles all over didn’t exactly make the safest ground to tread upon. Well, before he knew it his hand was clasping both of the nozzles on the tub, turning both the correct ways to end the relentless torrent. Blink, blink.. Where the fuck did all of these bubbles come from? He stared in horror at the mess that had been created. Did he even have bubble bath mixtures? Maybe she had just dumped a shit ton of shampoo and body wash in for some sort of crazy concoction that created the mountains of bubbles. HIs eyes flickered over the tub, partially forgetting that the woman was even in the midst before he caught sight of the blackened hair poking out of the rainbow mounds. Instantly, his once pale tone was now blood red. No, he did not see anything, but he was now wishing that he had just left her on her own to just turn the damn thing off.

“Je suis d-desole!” He gasped, then in a flash turned on the balls of his feet to make for a hasty exit. Yet.. That was where gravity came in. Wet socks on slippery soapy floors. Not a good combo, bird brain. Long legs slipped out from beneath him and he crashed hard against the ground. “Ughknn!” Down, down, down he went.. Shoulders smacked against the tile, then his head. “F-Fuckk..”

It would take him a moment to recover. Sitting up slowly, he rubbed the back of his head, wincing as his fingers met contact with the softened area beneath his messy hair that would probably have a good bruise there in the morning. What was he doing?

Right.. Fleeing the scene. Out, get out, Niko.

He was on his feet again and shooting through the door. Once on the other side, he buckled over and tried to catch his breath, also trying to not whimper or groan from the sudden pain that was now pounding in his head. Grumbling, he leaned against the wall for a moment and stared across the living room.

The dress..

She needed clothing, couldn’t just run in her painted skimpies after the bath, right? An unamused sigh released from him and many curses were wrought under his breath whilst he traveled out to retrieve the dress, only to crack the door of the bathroom just a touch to set the dress upon the counter. No more time would be wasted in that room. His legs moved on their own, sending him into a rhythmic pace up and down the hallway, waiting for the woman to finish up.

It was rather difficult for Azura to smell all that smoke for the sheer volume of sweet smelling liquid she had poured into that running water, adding a few extra drops now for good measure as she thudded the bottom of the blue bottle, ensuring none of the flowery stuff would go to waste. She let a cloud of bubbles rest on her palm, blowing and watching as they scattered like dabs of pollen, a small grin of amusement before she was dunking her head beneath the coloured bath water, washing the paint from her hair and rising once more just in time to hear the lie Niko offered. No, Azura did not believe him in the slightest and yet she offered no reply, instead focusing on the bubbles that were drifting through the air, fingers curling as she used the magic flowing within her veins to transform the shapes into ones that she recognised. A star, a bear cub, a crescent moon. Her eyes turned to the door for a moment, frowning.

“You know.. you’re a terrible liar” She called out, eyes rolling for she clearly did not understand exactly how emotional the phoenix had begun, what sort of demons she had brought forwards with her touch, completely ignorant and still slightly hurt by the way he had so suddenly withdrawn from her. “Yes! I’m fin..” She had begun to repeat herself, forcing confidence in her voice trying to hide the irritation in the way he made her feel like a child in that moment. “Oh” She murmured, suddenly realising the sheer amount of water that was gushing over the sides of the bath but before she could reach for those taps, the bathroom door opened and Azura let out a small sharp squeal, sinking into the bubbles, sliding as far down as she could go until she was almost completely immersed in those snowy clouds, sprinkled with colour.

“Niko!” She cried, her tone alarmed, too shocked to be angry for the moment. Embarrassment flooded over her face as wide green eyes fled towards him, watching each movement he made with such careful intensity it was any wonder the woman did not leap to her feet and hurl that blue bottle at the man’s head. She flinched as he drew close to the bathtub, pressing herself against its rim and sinking even further into the heated water, recoiling as he reached for the taps.

She said nothing, made speechless by the boldness in which he had entered, the horror etched in his features as he took in the flooded condition of his bathroom, another mess made. He had not seemed to even notice her, purple pools focused purely on the chaos she had created but slowly, he seemed to remember there was a very startled slightly angry looking woman glaring at him from a sea of bubbles though when he quickly attempted to race from the room and ended up tumbling on the wet tiles, Azura almost raised herself up out of concern but of course, she was restricted by her nakedness, a light splash accompanying her movements as she sank back down.

Her features softened, her lips moving to ask if he was alright but then, in a flash the man was scrambling away. Azura had to admit, it was an amusing sight to see the red faced phoenix darting in such horror and panic away from her, his dark clothes drenched and dripping, bubbles clinging to fabric, skin and hair. So amusing in fact, her rage and humiliation was near evaporating into a giggle that she had to raise one hand to stifle. Though had she been able to take a closer look at Niko’s face, she would have gasped in shock and concern, the evidence of tears likely enough to cause her heart to plummet for she would surely think she was the cause for them, somehow. Bang. The door slammed behind him, leaving her to silence.

“Niko?” She called hesitantly when the door slid open a crack once more, the black dress she had brought with her flung over the counter in a hasty fashion. “Are you alright?” She asked, for it looked as if he might have knocked his head rather hard on the tiled floor. Taking a deep breath, she slowly scrambled out of the tub, reaching for one of the towels she spied through a quick pat down was all she bothered with for she had always let the wind dry the droplets of water from her skin.

“You know, You could have just told me to turn the water off.. You didn’t have to..” She started, muttering slightly, gravel in her voice that collapsed into a silent blush. At least she was clean, she thought, glancing down at her ivory tattooed skin, washed free of paint and sadly, those designs he had etched. Perhaps she should have let him take a photograph, she mused with a small flicker of sadness.

Azura reached for the odd black dress, the heaviness of it compared to that light transparent cloth causing her to blink at it with clear doubt. But then, she had little option. She had yet to try the garment on, as much as she had been tempted for she was curious as to how it would feel against her skin and now she eyed it carefully before sliding it over her frame A mild snort of frustration came when she accidentally placed on arm through the slit that was designed to create a gap in the long sleeves, cut into the shoulders. But eventually, she managed to work out how to fit into the garment.

Silently, she wandered towards the mirror, gathering her damp hair over the top of the black wool and letting it trail down her back, staring with narrowed eyes at her own reflection which at first, she did not recognise. Her features were clean of the tribal painted which had previously shaded the contours of her face and yet those green eyes were the same as they had always been, she gawked at the way the sweater dress fitted snugly to her curves, the most startling difference for her in the way that thick wool obscured her usually exposed tattooed flesh. That, and it was warm. She hugged herself for a moment, fingers trailing, gently kneading the odd but comforting soft texture beneath those sloped tips.

Timidly, she inched towards the door and let it open a crack, poking her head out hesitantly as if unsure how to feel about the new look or if Niko would find the dress disappointing on her for she felt it hardly suited her in the way it would a woman who was more attuned to the world and knew how to wear such a dress with confidence. She felt a bit like a silly savage playing dress ups, trying to act refined. Awkwardly, she finally slipped out into the hall, green eyes averted to the ground, one hand scratching clumsily at her wet hair.

“Again, I’m fine!” He nearly shouted, irritated with the fact that his head was pounding like crazy from the abrupt fall. Rubbing the back of his head, he stared at the random trails of paint and splashes that pretty much covered most of his studio.

Now she was saying that he could have just asked her to turn off the water. Oh yeah? Well, he’d want to tell her to try and deal with herself. The woman was a bit hard to steer at times, so he doubted that it would have been very easy.

A few laps were taken around the couch and into the kitchen, then back and repeat. Well, the fires were now starting to die out, having burnt the very items to a crisp. It wasn’t like the whole house was set on fire, just a few of the pieces and paintings. The most flammable things typically went first. Can’t say the alcohol or oils were within his range of anger since he wasn’t near the kitchen when his crazy moodswing hit him.Grey and black smudges stained his cheeks, streaking down the end beneath the sharp line of his jaw. It was enough evidence to make it known that he was crying. The click of the bathroom door brought his attention to the woman who strode out in an awkward manner.

Oh no.. She was… Breathtaking in that dress.

“Azura..” His voice was soft as was his expression as he stared at her, utterly in awe with her. Why did his heart pull all of a sudden? It just pounded in his chest, deafening his ears. It seemed as though the image of her standing there did not last long enough for the phoenix. No. He could only imagine that he had taken enough of her time or perhaps she was pissed off at him for what he had done or hadn’t done. He shouldn’t have drawn her into such a misleading train of thoughts.. But, he really did want to kiss her. At least for that very moment he did.

Well, she has gone off to God knows where. If only he could have been gifted with a few more seconds of her in that dress. She was absolutely stunning with it on, but perhaps it was best that she had left when she did. Otherwise, she may have seen the destruction that had been caused from her presence. Sighing heavily, he rubbed his mouth, staring at the flooded bathroom and the ever growing puddle that was now leaking out into the hall.

“Shit.”

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