How long had they had each other's backs? That single question left the blonde Conqueror of Thalsteim pondering the past from her seat. It was another quiet day in Thalsgarde, just the way she liked it. Nothing demanded her attention, no renegades thought to try and defy the peace she'd established... even the former general of the late Emperor's mage armies had decided today was a day she wanted to spend away from the blonde.
Almarian was most certainly not complaining. She quite valued the quiet. She was able to actually sit and relax for a change. The large sofa upon which she sat was definitely comfortable - as expected of furnishings befitting the ruler of a country, of course - and offered her a rather breathtaking view of the eastern sprawl of Thalsgarde, just outside the wide window across from her. Sometimes, she liked to listen to Thalsteim classical while she looked out the window; today, however, she sat in silence.
Well, relative silence. The slow and largely quiet creaking of her door being opened caught Almarian's attention, and she glanced over her shoulder and the back of the sofa to see who had entered her room unannounced and uninvited. Only a very rare few were afforded that luxury.
Her wary expression softened immediately upon setting her eyes upon the woman now closing her door. It was impossible for Almarian to mistake that shoulder-length black hair for anyone else.
"Come sit with me, Layla." This was the only greeting she offered Layla Runeveil, her right-hand and closest friend. She noticed that Layla didn't so much as twitch when the Conqueror of Thalsteim spoke, and smiled a little at that; they were quite comfortable around each other.
She watched as Layla obliged Almarian's request, eyes briefly examining her closest friend's figure. Her short blue top and the short blue skirt were oftentimes considered flirtatious by most others, but Almarian knew that Layla wore them because they were comfortable and allowed her greater freedom of movement. The white lab coat her right-hand wore was only slightly restricting, given its size and the length of its sleeves, but it marked Layla as a researcher... a scientist. Well... no. To call her either term was rather inaccurate. Layla was the head of the medical research team, a role she was happy to accept after all she'd done during the war to liberate Thalsteim from the tyrannical Emperor. Layla Runeveil had been among Almarian's most skilled medics during the war; now, she was content to ensure that Thalsteim's technology was equal to the task of making everyone's lives easier, at least insofar as medicinal purposes.
Once Layla sat down next to Almarian, the darker-haired woman smiled at the blonde. "Someone's not afraid," Layla teased.
Almarian chuckled softly, knowing exactly why Layla was saying such a thing. Normally, she didn't take her armor entirely off - and if she did, it was normally never far from her. Today, however, Almarian was not just out of her armor, it was nowhere to be seen in the room. The remark had been intended to remind Almarian that within her first year as ruler of the Thalsteim Empire, at least two dozen assassins had tried to kill the Conqueror. One had almost succeeded simply because she had let her guard down and taken off her armor and left it elsewhere, much like she had done today. Ah, but that had been a few years ago now. The people cared strongly for their strict but kind ruler, and any dissenters found it exceedingly difficult to rally people to stand against Almarian.
"Should I be afraid?" Almarian replied.
"No." Layla leaned back against the sofa and closed her eyes. "Not anymore, anyway." The dark-haired medic opened one eye to glance at Almarian, and she smiled. "Cautious, maybe," she added with a teasing tone in her voice.
The Conqueror of Thalsteim laughed softly at this. "I am ever cautious," she replied, "except when I'm around certain people."
This comment prompted Layla to open her other eye, and the two looked at each other for a while.
In Layla's amber-colored eyes, Almarian could see the fondness that had drawn them so close over the years. Many assumed they were close because the Conqueror had saved Layla's life when they were both children, and thoughts of rebellion did not exist in either of their minds. Perhaps that had a part to play in it; in Almarian's mind, it was the rescue that introduced them to each other. It was Almarian offering to let the young Layla Runeveil live with her own family that had began their friendship. Growing up together over the course of several years after only cemented their friendship. And of course, surviving the war against the malevolent Emperor's mage armies and the Emperor himself had tightened their bond to resemble blood sisters.
"Alma." That nickname was one Almarian only permitted a select few to call her; unsurprisingly, Layla was one of those people. "I... was thinking."
"And hell has frozen over," Almarian mused with a wink.
Layla pretended to pout at this, but giggled softly. She was apparently remembering their younger days, when the young Runeveil girl would rush into certain situations without thinking them through. Diving into the ocean to catch fish while wearing nothing but cloth outfits of white... that was just one of Layla's more careless and hilarious moments when they were growing up.
"Since it's so peaceful today, I thought that maybe we could... I don't know. Do something together? The researchers don't need me today, and you're not exactly up to anything in particular..."
Almarian pretended to think hard about the offer. "Hmm... well, let's see... let me check my non-existent schedule, rue the fact that I have all these days so packed full of nothing but free time, and fit such a thing in at the earliest convenience." She didn't offer Layla a chance to say anything in response; she just reached out, rested her hand upon her closest friend's left shoulder, and pulled Layla much closer to her.
Layla let out a small sound of surprise at the sudden relocation of her body, but didn't protest or resist it. Instead, she did what the Conqueror knew she would do; once their shoulders were touching, Layla rested her head against the crook of Almarian's neck and snuggled up against her. Almarian's arms slid around Layla and held the dark-haired woman snugly against herself.
For several minutes, they just sat there in silence, relaxing with each other. How long had it been since they'd snuggled into each other like this? Almarian's most recent memory of it harkened back to the days when they were still children. A small smile caused the corners of her mouth to twitch upward briefly. She was recalling the times she and Layla had cuddled together now, all for a number of reasons. To watch the sunset reflect upon the waves of the ocean, to read a good book together, and sometimes, just for the sake of relaxing - such as they were doing now.
Granted, cuddling as children could be perceived as innocent when compared to adults cuddling, but for them, the intent was still there. They knew why they were cuddling right now. For them, that was enough.
"Hm..." The brief sound resembled a soft chuckle as it escaped Layla's throat. "This brings back memories..."
Ah, so Layla was upon memory lane, as well. Almarian gave a light and brief chuckle of her own.
"So much has changed since then..." Layla moved her arms to embrace Almarian gently. "But I can think of one thing that will never change."
"As can I." Almarian moved her head to gently kiss the top of Layla's head. "Several, actually."
"Hm." Another amused sound. "And I can think of something I don't want to ever change."
"And I can think of a few."
Layla turned her head upward to give the Conqueror of Thalsteim an annoyed look. "Must you?" she sighed softly.
"Until I'm given a good reason not to, I see no reason to abstain."
Layla sighed and nuzzled against Almarian's neck again. "And then there are a few things I'd like to see change," she muttered.
"As can I." Almarian's response was met with a playful pinch at her back from Layla's fingers.
They were both silent for a good while. Although Layla had pinched Almarian, neither woman showed any signs of moving away from the other. Neither woman saw a reason to.
"Alma. Please don't ever change." Layla's words were soft, and the playful side of the Conqueror of Thalsteim saw ways to turn those words into a humorous response.
"I didn't plan to," she replied just as softly. "For if I change, then your pillar of support will be changed. I may change for the sake of Thalsteim, but you will always know and see the true me, Layla, I can promise you that."
Layla gently squeezed Almarian in her arms.
"But you must promise me one thing in return." The blonde Conqueror looked down to see Layla glanced up at her, and their eyes met and locked. "Don't ever change who you are."
The dark-haired woman smiled up at her and tightened her embrace upon Almarian's midsection. "I promise." She then relaxed against Almarian once more, and the two fell into a relaxed silence once more.
For some, wealth, fame, strength or any combination of those three were the greatest things to achieve. Almarian could understand such cliche ambitions; for a time, she too had sought strength and wealth. Unlike those who strove for such things for the sake of possessing it, however, Almarian had driven herself for wealth and strength for an even greater goal: peace.
As long as she could sit here, cuddled up with her closest friend and the sister she loved so dearly, that was all Almarian truly needed. As long as Thalsteim had a lasting peace where its citizens could have such relaxing moments as this, then Almarian had done her job.
"I love you, Alma." This was not the first time the two 'sisters' had said these words to each other, and it would most certainly not be the last. They rarely uttered them in public, not wanting to make the general public think there was something romantic between them.
"And I love you, Layla." They both knew their love for each other was true, yet platonic. Almarian knew that if anything happened to Layla, it would shatter her heart; she suspected that Layla felt the exact same way.
They both looked into each other's eyes for a moment longer, then simultaneously looked out the window to observe the city of Thalsgarde. Almarian felt Layla's arms hug her a little tighter, and she returned the tightened embrace and rested her chin gently upon the top of Layla's head.
As long as they had each other, they would always know peace.