The lady of the house strides through her domain. Back straight. Head high. Silent, calm, and composed. Her kitchen is spotless. Her tools are in order. Everything is perfect.
Her friend, companion, assistant, whatever, tiptoes up the stairs behind her – keeps his distance, keeps his peace. It’s fine.
She keeps her feelings locked away. She keeps her mind clear. Rational. Collected.
The name is a coincidence and she will deal with her visitor in a polite a responsible fashion. That is all. She will not let her temper get the best of her.
Tonight, after closing, she will have a very stiff drink.
Tonight, but not now.
Tall and strong and marked with the stories of her life, a northern fury bursts through a kitchen door. Teeth clenched. Blood Pumping. Ready take on the world or die trying.
Right there, in her bar, on one of her bar stools, sits her dead little sister. Alive.
– – –
Toini swallowed. She tried to smile, but her cheeks wouldn’t quite obey.
Paivi just stared at her.
“Hi, Paivi.” She raised her hand and wiggled her fingers – waving like she hadn’t waved since she was a teenager.
Paivi just stared at her.
“Uhm…” Toini squirmed, cleared her throat, and tried again to smile. “How do you do?” And then she blushed. Stupid.
Paivi spun on her heel, walked back into the kitchen, and slammed the door shut behind her.
Toini stared. Her hand frozen in mid-air, fingers splayed. Her sister. She’d been there and she’d looked at her and then she’d just left. She hadn’t just imagined, right?
Remembering herself, she lowered her hand and closed her mouth. She glanced over to the old men at the end of the bar. They too looked at the closed door as if they had no idea what had just happened.
And then the door flew open and Paivi burst out and slammed her hands on the counter and screamed at the top of her lungs. “Where have you been?”
Toini flinched. She hunched up her shoulders and bowed her head, cowering from her raging sister.
This wasn’t right.
Hesitant, she glanced up at Paivi – tall, stone faced, angry. She swallowed, and their eyes met.
Paivi’s eyes grew wide. She gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Fear, joy, rage, love, pain pain pain. It all flashed through her eyes. So much pain. Toini’s heart ached. It was her fault, and she just sat there. She should do something. It was her sister standing there, in pain, and she needed her.
Behind the bar, Paivi covered her face with her hands and rocked back and forth – and then she moved, ran down the bar, dove under the hatch at the end, and rushed towards Toini with her arms wide.
Toini got to her feet just before Paivi hit her like a speeding train, wrapped her arms around her and nearly toppled both of them over. The stool fell clattering to the floor.
“It’s really you,” Paivi whispered, right next to her ear, tears in her voice. “It’s really you.”
Not saying anything, not making a move, Toini just stood there, eyes closed, with her big sisters arms around her.
She lifted her own hands, hesitated for a moment, and then hugged her sister back. “It’s me.”
Safe. She was finally safe. Completely and perfectly safe.
– – –
For the first time in so long, a paladin leans on someone else.
For the first time in so long, a northern fury is not alone.
And then they just stand there. Their arms around each other. A big sister’s shoulders slowly shaking. A little sister’s heart at peace.
Everything is going to be okay.
– – –
Finally, Paivi released her embrace and took a step away. She rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand, snorted, and tried to smile. “I’m sorry…”
“It’s okay.” Toini smiled wide. It was.
“I don’t know what came over me.” Paivi reached for a napkin on the bar and wiped her cheeks with it.
She sniffled, blew her nose, and took a step back to look at her little sister, and this time the smile on her face came real. Unbidden and true. “Toini. Look at you.”
Toini tittered. She smiled so wide her cheeks hurt. Could barely stand still. Swung her arms back and forth like a little girl.
“But where have you been?” Paivi’s face grew serious. “Why didn’t you say anything? Why did you never come back?” She swallowed, and crushed the napkin in her fist. “I thought you were dead.”
“Uhm, well…” Toini squirmed. “It’s complicated…” She clasped her hands in front of her and cast down her eyes. “I’ve been busy.”
“Busy?” Paivi raised an eyebrow. “Busy?” Eyes burning she took a step closer and stared down at her sister.
“Busy!” she roared, and her fist flew out and hit Toini right across the chin.
The world spun.
Her eyes blurred and her knees buckled and the room tilted and the floor hit her shoulder and she banged her head.
She couldn’t have been shot again. She’d have noticed sooner. There hadn’t been anyone else armed in here.
Loud feet thundered against the floor. Angry men yelled. Another chair fell over. Her sister screamed.
She’d hit her.
Her sister had hit her.
A stupid smile tugged at her lips. She’d probably deserved that. Obvious really. Stupid of her. Should have seen it coming. Totally deserved it.
Toini shut her eyes for a moment to clear hear head, and then pushed herself up to sitting.
Raoul stood over her, holding a submachine gun pointed at Paivi and the short brown man from before who stood behind her. Arms around her waist, the man had tried to pull her away from Toini. A fallen bar stool lay on the floor right next to them. No one moved. No one said a thing.
Raoul stared at Paivi. Paivi stared at Raoul. The short man stared back and forth between the two of them.
“Raoul,” said Toini. “What are you doing? Stand down.”
Raoul didn’t take his eyes off of Paivi for a moment. “She hit you.”
“Yes. I noticed.” She sighed. A good hit it had been too. “Now stand down. It’s my stupid sister. She gets to hit me if she wants to.”
“Yes sir.” Without taking his eyes off Paivi, Raoul lowered his gun, took a step away, and then walked over to the table by the door where he’d sat earlier.
Paivi shrugged herself free. The man stepped away from her, and glared after Raoul.
“Ali’ast,” said Paivi. “Would you get some ice for my sister.”
“Boss,” said Ali’ast and turned his glare to Paivi. “You never told me you had a sister.”
“Later, Al,” snapped Paivi. “Ice. Now!”
Ali’ast stalked off behind the bar and started rummaging through a cupboard.
“And you.” Paivi turned to Toini, still sitting on the floor. “Get up. Grab a seat. We need to talk.” And then she too walked in behind the bar.
– – –
On the floor in her sister’s bar, sits a paladin. She hurts, but she’ll heal. She’s taken worse beatings and lived to tell. She’ll heal.
Grinning to herself she gets to her feet. Her sister packs a punch. Good.
A paladin sees to her chronicler. He too has family here. Permission to see them granted. Everything is under control now. A paladin wants the rest of the afternoon to be off the record.