February 9, 2009

In Which Florian Discovers a Butterfly

June 6, 1156

"So have you thought about what you're going to name it?" asked Thetis out-of-the-blue, ruining a perfectly good few minutes of silence.

Florian raised an eyebrow. "Name what?"

"You know; the baby."

"Oh, that," sighed Florian. "I don't know. Have you thought about knocking whenever you come over here?"

He found the girl's company tolerable, at the very least--not that he would admit it--but she did have a tendency to walk in at the most awkward of moments, such as ten minutes prior, when he had been giving himself a sponge bath. At first, he'd vaguely wondered whether or not she did this on purpose, arriving just as he was in various states of undress, but he had dismissed this on the grounds that it was self-flattery. As he was now, he very much doubted that even his mother would call him a handsome man, much less the closet romantic of a fifteen-year-old girl who inexplicably reminded him of a caterpillar.

Thetis laughed. "If you're so uncomfortable, then why haven't you gotten dressed since I've been here?"

"Oh, well at first I didn't know it was just you," he sneered at her. "I only jumped because I thought it might be someone important, like his lordship, or even the baron."

This was supposed to be an insult; she was supposed to slide herself down from atop Electra's kitchen counter and run away, crying. But instead, she simply smiled. "So you admit you feel comfortable with me?"

"Why shouldn't I?" Florian muttered under his breath. "Don't flatter yourself by thinking I wouldn't."

She shrugged. "I don't know. I guess you just seem kind of shy."

"Shy?" he repeated, thrown off entirely. Never in his life had he ever been called 'shy'. He knew he was reclusive, but 'shy' suddenly seemed a different thing in every sense, everything that he himself had never been. Someone who was shy was afraid of people. Florian wasn't afraid; he just liked his space.

"Yes," Thetis replied. "I know you're really a nice enough person, but you act all tough and mean and bitter because people scare you."

Now, Florian had to laugh. "People don't scare me--and I'm not nice."

"I don't believe that."

"Well, you should, because it's true."

She opened her mouth to protest, but was interrupted as Electra made her way through the front door. "I'm not sure if you two children realize this," she greeted them, "but we do have chairs."

"Chairs are overrated," Florian insisted, watching closely as Electra waddled over. She was still wearing that shapeless dress he hated so much, probably because she thought it hid her pregnancy. And really, for the most part, it did; she barely looked any bigger than she had six months earlier.

"And so are pants, I take it," sighed Electra. "We have a guest, you know."

Florian frowned. "It's just Thetis."

Electra rolled her eyes. "It shouldn't matter whether it's Thetis or the queen; if we have company, you greet them with your pants on."

"From what I've heard of the queen, she'd be taking my pants off anyway."

Thetis giggled slightly, but Electra's eyes widened in controlled shock. "You'd like that, wouldn't you, Florian? Anyway, Thetis, how are you?"

"Not bad, I suppose," she lied; Florian got the feeling there was something she wasn't willing to tell, probably something to do with her husband. "Yourself?"

"Likewise."

Was this how conversations between two healthy people went? Florian couldn't remember; it had been a while since he'd been around two healthy people at once, excluding baby Evera. It must have been nice to have a conversation with someone who didn't think you were in danger of keeling over any minute, he realized now.

Shame that he would probably never know that feeling again.

Suddenly, Electra blurted out, "Thetis, please let me do your hair."

"Sorry?" asked Thetis, looking somewhat surprised. Florian didn't blame her; he wouldn't have pegged a woman who didn't even bother brushing her own locks as someone who liked to play with other people's hair either.

"I'll put it back up before you go home to Norwan," the older woman promised her. "Oh! That reminds me, I found an old dress of my mother's in my chest the other day, and I'm pretty sure it's just your size."

Thetis frowned. "I don't know, Electra... your mother's dress... and my hair is a little unruly..."

"Please, I'm going to need some practice if you expect me to keep Evera looking nice when she's older," Electra continued to plead softly.

"Electra..."

"Oh for Christ's sake, Thetis!" snapped Florian. "Just let her do your damn hair, or she'll insist on doing mine instead!"

"Oh, but you wouldn't fit into her mother's dress," Thetis assured him as she hopped down from her perch upon the counter.

Electra smiled. "So you'll humor me, then?"

"I suppose there's not harm in it, yes."

The two of them then proceeded to the bedroom, Thetis in the lead, Electra following slowly as a result of the baby.

His baby. God, Florian still couldn't get his head around the thought; his baby, Hamrick's wife. Life was cruelly ironic, especially considering he didn't even like babies.

But on the other hand, it felt good to finally pay Electra back for everything she'd done for him. And this would be his mother's first grandchild--realistically, her only grandchild.

Maybe it was a girl. If it was, he would name her Alyssin, after his mother; it seemed only fitting that her first and only granddaughter be named for her. He wondered if she would look like his mother... or perhaps she'd look more like Electra. It didn't really matter, though, since he sure as hell wouldn't be with her for long.

Speaking of babies, one was crying.

"Dammit, Evera," he hissed as he pulled himself off the chest and made his way to the baby's crib. One of the few benefits of death; no whining babies to look after.

"You know," he told her as he lifted her from her bed, her wide eyes upon him, "most babies actually sleep..."

Those eyes. Thetis's eyes, that peculiar blue-green. Before he'd met Thetis, he'd never known that exact shade, but now, it was everywhere. Some of the clothing lying around the house, the wildflowers growing outside, the baron's family crest...

Evera in arm, he slowly prowled past the bedroom door, surprised to hear girlish laughter from the other side. He didn't understand it, personally; dressing up wasn't particularly fun. On her own, even Electra didn't enjoy it, but apparently, it was more pleasurable with company.

Still, Florian wasn't about to invite Goodman Diarn over and ask him to try on Hamrick's wedding tunic for no other reason than sheer amusement.

"You hear that, Evera?" he inquired of the infant as he held her to his shoulder. "That's called 'silliness'. It's a feminine trait--you'll be like that too one day."

One day... one day, when he himself would be no more.

It must have been a good twenty minutes before Evera settled down, and Thetis and Electra still hadn't returned from the bedroom.

My God, Florian thought to himself as he began to cart Evera back to the curtained enclosure, what is taking these women so long? If I want to tie my hair back, it takes me all of five seconds--and if I want it down, all of two. I daresay someone could make a career out of women's hair. Maybe some day.

"All right, you sleep now," he instructed Evera sternly as he placed her in the crib once more. "And if you absolutely can't, then at least have the decency to not start crying on me."

"Florian?" came Electra's voice from behind him.

"One second."

Florian made his way back to the kitchen, where she stood.

"Would you like to see Thetis's new look?" she asked him.

"Not particularly," he answered, "but I suppose you'll make me anyway."

Electra was unimpressed. "You know, people would like you a lot more if you actually start acting like you give a damn."

"Why should they like me? It's not like I'm going to be here much longer."

She choked slightly. "Florian..."

"Oh, it won't be too bad, will it?" he tried to reassure her; he figured she deserved it. "Just think; in a few months, you'll be able to go find a nice man and settle down with lots of babies, just like you've always wanted."

"Florian..."

"Shut up, Electra."

"Flo--"

He silenced her with a kiss... all the while wishing she was someone else. A decent man would have felt guilty, but all the same, he knew Electra herself was thinking only of Hamrick.

"Well..." she breathed as their lips parted, "I'll... just... tend to Evera while you wait for Thetis, shall I?"

"You do that."

Inwardly grumbling, Florian pulled up a chair at the kitchen table and sat. He vaguely remembered his mother and Electra parading around in their gowns the night before Hamrick and Electra's wedding; he hadn't particularly enjoyed himself, he vividly recalled.

The bedroom door opened, and suddenly, all he was capable of was staring. With all that giggling, he'd been given no idea of what to expect, but surely, most definitely... it had not been this.

"Well?" the lovely young creature addressed him, her voice that of the scrawny, rather matronly girl he'd known less than an hour ago. "What do you think?"

He'd been struck completely dumb. No longer was she the little caterpillar sitting on the counter. No, she had made that bedroom her cocoon--and now, here she stood, a butterfly, beautiful, strong, full of the life he himself lacked.

"Florian?"

He couldn't answer her. There was no way that the likes of him were even allowed to speak to the likes of her, pretty young butterfly girls with silky hair and ornate gowns. Even a frumpy little bumblebee such as Electra was above him, he who was nothing but a half-squashed spider on the soul of somebody's boot, so surely this exquisite wonder was a princess to him, a queen, perhaps even a goddess. He could hardly stand to look at her; that would be sacrilege.

"I, uh... I need to talk to Electra..." he began in barely more than a murmur, lifting his unworthy form from the chair and walking past that most divine young lady who had suddenly appeared in his humble home. He could not look at her--he simply could not bear to look at her.

A soft hand took hold of his wrist. Florian had no choice but to turn around; it was the will of what must have been more than human.

"Florian, if you don't want to be friends, you can just say so," she whispered, making a point not to meet his eye.

He didn't know what to tell her; he supposed the truth would have to do.

"I do want to be friends with you," admitted Florian, a feeling of incredible vulnerability he hadn't experienced in years suddenly coming over him. "You don't want to be friends with me. Trust me."

He'd never before noticed the subtle rose of her blush, as beautiful and distinctive as the color of her eyes. If there was a God, Florian failed to understand why He had chosen not to include those colors in the rainbow; those two hues were a symbol of a divine promise all their own.

"I wish I'd known you when I was younger," he continued, "or healthier. I would've turned out to be a better man than I am today. I'm sorry that you have to know me now."

She chose not to reply with words, but by simply taking his hands in her own.

"I'm not."

For a moment, they did nothing but stand there, until finally, she released him. Florian couldn't help but smile. His sense of security had returned to him, though at that moment, there was not a single cynical thought in his head. It was an odd feeling--the two normally went hand in hand.

"You look beautiful," he told her. "Absolutely beautiful. There is no possible way you could look any better."

Her smile, however, proved him wrong. "Thank you. You, uh..."

"...don't?" Florian finished for her, a slight grin playing on his lips.

Thetis shook her head. "I think you look better than you think you do."

He was taken slightly by surprise when she embraced him, but after the initial seconds of shock, he found a certain guilty pleasure in the interaction. She really was worlds beyond his own comprehension, this girl. How she had ended up marrying that bastard Norwan, he would never understand; a lady such as this belonged with the Duke Dalstons and Lord Severins of the world, not among angry, smelly trolls.

"Would you... maybe stay for supper?" he asked her tentatively, not sure whether it was a yes or a no that he feared more.

But the moment that color met his eyes, he was invincible.

"I'd like that."

NEXT CHAPTER:

6 comments:

Penelope said...

"It shouldn't matter whether it's Thetis or the queen; if we have company, you greet them with your pants on."

*snickers*

Thetis is so tiny and sweet. I'm really starting to like her. Hope she doesn't make Florian a better man though.

Who looks after Thetis's son while she's at Electra's place?

Dinuriel said...

I don't imagine Florian is going to become too much of a better man anytime soon; I enjoy writing his grouchiness too much :)

She usually leaves him with an unseen neighbor--she wouldn't trust Norwan with him, providing Norwan even lets her leave the house if she asks him.

Emaena said...

Awww! This chapter was so lovely! Firstly, because of Florian (everything's better with Florian), and secondly, because of Thetis. She's really starting to grow on me.

Dinuriel said...

Hold that thought! :D

Adie said...

I loved the picture with him holding her hand and his wedding ring was in it.

Van said...

Thanks! :)