"Oh, Nat, your hair is so pretty! How do you get it like this?" Lili asked, her slim fingers steadily running through the silky strands of Natalia's hair. The blue eyed girl shrugged, focus still completely on the mind-numbing equations that made up her math homework. Lili grumbled at the movement that ruined her hard work before sighing and beginning again.
It was a regular Tuesday night for the two girls, who had become friends years ago thanks to the friendship between their older brothers. Both Ivan and Vash were, in their younger sisters eyes, "completely boom-boom crazy". Vash had a knack for guns that drew the large Russian in like a moth to a flame - except the moth was invincible even though the flame was hotter than the sun.
By the time the two boys were close enough to be considered friends, the two girls had already worked up a schedule so that the other would know when they could stay the night so that they wouldn't have to deal with their brother's noise. While both Natalia and Lili loved their big brothers, extremely so if in their own way, neither really wanted to hear the two whenever they got into a video game fight.
They knew from personal experience that they never ended well.
So by the time middle school rolled around, Lili would walk the five minutes to Natalia's house and the two blondes would work on their homework together. That night, however, was different, in so many ways that the two would not come to realize until much later. Usually Lili would be the one to finish with her work last, no matter how much help Natalia provided, but not that night. Instead, Lili was done long before Natalia, and was sentenced to simply gazing at her childhood friend. This did not last long.
In keeping up with the change of pace, Lili decided to try something new altogether: braiding Natalia's hair. At first Lili was hesitant to begin, both because of her lack of expertise and because she did not know how Natalia would react, but once Natalia reassured Lili that she didn't mind, almost nothing could stop the smaller of the two from at least trying her hand at braiding.
After the first disaster that ended with Lili having to start over - even though she knew she should have started over ten minutes before the accident - the young girl tried again. (She knew hair-braiding was one of the most unoriginal things to do when at a friend's house, she had seen the movies, but she couldn't help herself. So Lili just completely disregarded the cliche entirely and went on with her braiding anyway.)
The silence between her and Natalia was a comfortable one, a sense of belonging strong in the breeze, a gentle ripple caused by the slowly spinning ceiling fan. Together they made an unusual pair: Natalia, all sharp tongue and sharper wit, was known for a coldness that rivaled the strongest Russian winter, while Lili, who was sweetness incarnate, was always there to lend a hand or an ear or a heart. Yet, these were only surface qualities, and Lili was never happier than the day she finally felt like she knew Natalia - though it was a sad day as well.
Lili's mind traveled back to her finally breaking down Natalia's last wall, even as her fingers still played with the silver strands, the same strands that had people calling out 'Ice Bitch' after the Belorussian walked by. The same strands that ended up everywhere, from the carpet to Lili's own clothes. The same strands that always looked like Natalia had just been atop a mountain, watching her troops ready for battle, the air whooshing by in gusts of wind that carried the scent of fear.
Anyone in their right mind would be terrified of the queen that stared them down - all except for Lili, who stood behind Natalia as her forever loyal handmaiden, who brushed those strands out straight and silky nearly every night. When Lili succumbed to her memory, she knew that she alone would be the only person to never be afraid.
This feeling was worth it, too. After all the prying and the late nights and the awkward moments, Lili had wormed and wiggled her way through and into Natalia's heart; a heart that was so broken Lili stumbled at first. She was sure then (and sometimes sure now) that Natalia would shut her out any time she made a mistake - so she let Natalia into her own heart as well.
They learned so much more about one another, more than any person could ever know by simply looking. No one would guess that Lili was a petulant child most days and that she silently laughed at any innuendo her cousin from Prussia made. No one would know that Natalia loved to talk with other people, loved to see inside their mind, and that most days her home was little more than chaos, yet the noise did nothing for the numb that clawed at her stomach.
Lili had cried when she learned about the depression Natalia could feel herself slip into every now and again. Even to that day, she would sometimes cry - a silent wail in the night that she muffled with her pillow whenever she tried to sleep.
Thoughts of Natalia's old persona halted Lili's agile fingers from their picking and plucking. All throughout her trip back in time, Natalia hadn't moved a single centimeter, hadn't breathed too hard, just in case it would mess Lili up again. The younger girl smiled, her eyes soft and light, the green bright and shining; Lili knew how restless Natalia was, knew how hard it was for her to sit still, though she tried for her.
Natalia always seemed to try just for her.
A sudden pressure on Natalia's shoulders snapped her out of her math-induced haze. Glancing over, Natalia saw that Lili had wrapped her arms around Natalia's shoulders, her forehead pressed into the nape of her neck.
Natalia huffed a breathy laugh, "What are you doing now, Lilipad?" Natalia raised an arm up and over, her pianist fingers smoothly running through Lili's much shorter hair, the bow that usually tied it together long gone.
Lili nuzzled herself deeper into the curve of Natalia's throat and clutched her closer before mumbling, "You know that you're wonderful, right?"
Natalia rolled her eyes, her hand dropping from Lili's hair, "Uh-huh, sure. What's gotten into you? Weren't you trying to braid my hair? You messed it all up again."
Lili shrugged, "I don't care, your hair is too pretty to be tied back anyway."
Natalia eyed her friend, suspicion bright and sharp, but eventually gave up and went back to work. Lili, on the other hand, continued to watch Natalia from beneath her eyelashes. She hoped that Natalia would one day ask her why she tried so hard, why she ever chose to stick around, why she ignored all the bitterness in the world just for her. Until then, Lili was content with simply being there for her dear friend, even if being Natalia's dear friend was something she hoped to change one day. But, for now, that was enough. Anything was enough if Lili could simply have Natalia by her side.
After all, that's all she ever wanted.