I didn't draw this. Don't get excited.
It was snowing.
People often mistook the gentle wonder that overcame him when he felt the weight of snowflakes clinging to his thick lashes, landing on his dark amber skin and melting into nothingness. Snowfall was not something that occurred in the Alik'r, and several of his northern comrades had assumed that the snowfalls in the heartland had been the first he'd ever experienced in his life.
It was almost unheard of in the Alik'r. That was true. But he wasn't from the Alik'r. In the highlands that he had grown up in, the parched, windy winters often faded into the rainy season with one final hurrah: a few feet of snow. It was usually just in time to alleviate the thirst of cisterns and rain barrels, melted over kitchen fires for tea and baking. Winter bread had a sweet, mineral taste.
Here in Wayrest, the weather wasn't something to be cherished. For one thing, precipitation of any sort was seen as an annoyance and not a blessing. The warm winds of Hammerfell scooped water out of the Illiac and brought it just as far as the Wrothgarian foothills before it let it go again. If anything, there was too much water. And in such a bustling city, the snow only added to the filth and misery that already dampened the streets. It was a nuisance and a burden when it piled up in drifts against your door in the morning and melted into sloppy slush that soaked through your boot leathers by mid-day.
But right now, in the pristine quiet of midnight, it wasn't yet the grimey sleet of tomorrow. It fell in silence, muffling the sounds of the already hushed streets. It crunched under his boots, and clung stubbornly to the hairs on the back of his neck. There was already a fine dust on the wool covering his frame.
Hesham pulled the collar up on his coat, standing outside the tavern door, lifting his face toward the sky. It was featureless except for the faint patch of light where the moon illuminated the clouds from above. They were big, fat, heavy flakes now, landing on his cheeks.
It wasn't yet terribly late. The tavern had cleared out early, probably due to the weather, and he'd taken advantage of it. He pocketed the key and turned toward the walls of the city, headed for the bakery. Headed home. She ought to be just setting the last loaves out to rise. He started to grin. It would be perfect timing to drag her out into the darkness, and perhaps tear her away from her work for at least a short while. The time they spent together had to be stolen, anymore.
He pictured the dusting of white that would cling to her copper hair. She might even wear it down against the cold. The chill would color her cheeks and nose, giving her milky skin a persistent flush. He could see her face, looking up at him as she tucked herself under the warmth of his coat and sneakily slipped her frigid hands up his back.
There was a stout three inches of white on the ground by the time he moved through the front garden. He hesitated for a moment, looking up and down the street, before sticking his hands into the crop of lavender by the step, searching for the stone hidden in the corner. The key was there, in the place she usually left it for him. It occurred to him that the absence of snow on the shrub might give away their hiding place, if anyone were actually looking. But who would look?
He stomped the snow from his boots as he crossed the step, and shook off his coat. The eaves were dripping already, and small spikes of ice had begun to form over the door. At least living in a house with extra ovens meant it was always warm.
"Beautiful?" he called gently as he closed the door. He didn't bother taking his coat off yet, given his schemes, but he did give it another shake to flush the cold air out and let it fill with warmth. He set both keys on the shelf beside the door, then looked for her.
She wasn't in the kitchen. Not like he expected. He was anticipating the huffed breaths of effort as she kneaded mountains of dough, perspiration wiped from her brow onto her sleeve from the heat of the ovens, and a fine dusting of flour over... damn near everything. Her own personal sort of snowstorm. But that wasn't what he found.
Instead, she was slumped across the table, sprawled over ledgers and paper. The bottle that sat nestled in her lax grip was mostly empty, and the cup he could only presume she had foregone some time ago was on the floor. He sighed. At least it hadn't spilled on her papers. That would only mean more work to do.
He looked down at the notes as he peeled off his coat and hung it on the next chair. It was business from the club. She'd brought it home. He knew she was struggling to keep it afloat in Van's absence, and knew that she was ailing not only from the extra burdens placed on her, but the loss of a friend. And he wished desperately that she wouldn't try so hard to carry it alone.
He extricated the bottle from her clutch before trying to wake her, so that she wouldn't spill it, then combed her hair back to get a better look at her face. His hand laid gently on her head caused only the slightest stir. She was too far gone.
"Oh, Kira..." he breathed forlornly. He brought the bottle under his nose and sniffed it. It was the pungent tainted whiskey she'd made a habit of, and that habit had only returned in force once Van had disappeared. It was creeping back into the club, too. He'd found a bottle in her desk and they were even starting to show up under the bar again.
He could have helped. But it was... complicated. She so easily slipped into simply wanting to please, and he didn't want to be someone she had to keep happy. She'd had enough of those. But she still didn't trust him. Not really. And he hadn't really given her any reason to. He'd been so afraid of failing to meet her expectations, that he'd foolishly scared her away from having any at all. He'd all but begged her not to place any faith in him, so she hadn't. She was ready to be alone at the drop of a hat, waiting for it. Planning for it. Planning for the moment that anyone she might dare to depend on would disappear.
He ran his hand over her hair, then rose and left her for a moment to douse the lamps and make sure nothing was burning. It was a bit of work, to carefully maneuver her out of the chair and into his hold, but he managed it. She drew in a sudden breath at the shift, and he thought for a moment she might actually wake. But instead she simply followed his scent and curled closer to him, as she did when he would crawl into bed beside her. In turn, his arms tightened, keeping her secure as they ascended the stairs.
Once he'd laid her on the bed, he could see black smudges on her face. He touched her chin to get a better look at them. She'd fallen asleep on a supply order that wasn't yet dry, it seemed, and had a list of spirits stamped backwards on her cheek. He scoffed under his breath, and pulled up the snow-dampened sleeve of his shirt to wipe it away. It didn't quite come off, but it could be better scrubbed in the morning.
He started to unlace her bodice, but she rolled away from him, toward the center of the bed, groaning in near-consciousness that quickly faded again. He sighed gently, and started tugging her boots free instead.
No soft baker to sleep beside tonight, with flour in her hair and hands scented with cinnamon and nutmeg. It would instead be the hardened barmaid, well saturated and wearing a protective shell of leather and whiskey. At least she wasn't so far gone that he'd need to worry all night. She was going to be miserable in the morning, though.