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Shimmering

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01 – First Meeting

  

She has a dream.

She has been rehearsing it again and again—probably way too often, in her sleeps. Because everything is good and happy there; she is on a stage, dressed in colorful clothing. A dress which billows gracefully as her vivacious steps take her. Surrounded by dazzling lights, people have come everywhere else to watch her; they voluntarily glue themselves in their seats, watching her with great interest.  

Then they clap when it’s over.  

She will bow, forehead glistens with sweat drops but her head cranes in dignity, proud of everything she achieves that night. Returning to the back stage, she will find a figure—a slender woman of great beauty, whose green hair like hers is neatly rolled into twin buns.

And then she whispers the name in her sleep.

Mother, she says.

She will wake up groggily, disorientation demanding at least five minutes of her time so she can collect herself together—reminiscing the scenery all over again like she is savoring it.

Some days she will wake up with blurry eyes, though.

Eyes dry or wet, she will then walk to where her bus usually stops. She has classes to teach; dances and choreographies at a modest studio somewhere in the corner of the hot, sandy city of Yied District’s Darna city, close to a majestic hotel standing proud.

As usual she will hop off the bus in a haste, because that’s all she can afford at this rate. Four days a week, Latin and freestyle dances; Wednesday and Thursday have her teaching adults for around 110 minutes starting around a quarter to six while Saturday and Sunday has her booked for the kids for the entire morning. In the morning she works at a flower shop, and the three days of the week sans dance classes, she enters bars and cafes to either sing or dance.

She’s glad because the hotel nearby is their loyal customer. Never mind that the manager just placed a last-minute arrangements for a meeting room, to which she fulfilled by almost sleeping in the shop. And today she rides the elevator, identification card hanging on her neck like a necklace while her coworkers Ulster and Iuchar burden their biceps with bouquets and pots.

Racing through the corridor to the meeting room she is instructed to deliver to, her steps are halted the moment a neatly-dressed asshole coldly looks at her.

“Name?”

She holds up her card.

“Name, I asked. And what for?”

This bane of male population has to literally stare down at her, as his towering, powerful figure acts as a barrier between her group and the meeting room. Crass demeanor analyzes her like he is subtly frisking her for a concealed gun while fiery copper-colored eyes demand her cooperation. His shoulder-length lustrous mane shines under the light, and for a moment she thinks a lion is marking her presence to scan.

“And yours?”

“Security,” he says after a momentary pause.

“Nice. And I’m the florist,” she scoffs, making a beeline to get past him.

She has no idea a lion can be alluring while too illiterate to just read her card.

He doesn’t understand how a little lady has a charisma baptized with fire.

Chapter Text

02 – Family Interaction

 

She barely flips the sign open when her first customer of the day arrives.

His tall posture prompts him to bow his head a bit, seamlessly strolling inside the shop without making any sound if not by the grace of the little bell they hang above the door. “I need… flowers,” thus speaks the deep voice with a crass tone when his figure approaches the counter.

She turns around, looking at him; a spark ignites in her eyes.

“… Please, Miss.”

Only then she nods. “Certainly.”

He has his hands in his pockets, tailored charcoal suit pants as his silver tie hangs loosely on his neck, reigning over a dark shirt which sleeves he rolls up to his elbow. Without a blazer the way he dressed when they met. His eyes are still fiery, but instead of the raw leonine demeanor like the other day, this morning she thinks she sees deluge.

“Have a seat, Sir. What for?”

Startled, only then he drags a chair close to the counter, and she makes a mental note that the predator turned into a cub. “Do you… interview customers?”

“I can help you crafting it so your feelings get through,” she smiles, noting the awkwardness.

“… A thank you then,” he replies with closed eyes. “A sincere thank you.”

She disappears from behind the counter, returning with ammunitions. “Carnation. Rose. Daisy?”

“… I don’t care,” says the formidable lion before her. “I don’t know. Make it pretty. I have the time.”

She notices his black car outside. “… Maybe you need them more than her.”

“… Excuse me?”

“You don’t care. Yet you want it pretty. For her, or for you?”

He pauses. She thinks he’s growling, and for a moment she feels like a rabbit backed into a corner with the lion howling at her. “… Carnation with orchids. Pink. In a calming white basket you have there. She was always a preserving person who valued a tranquil morning.”

He watches her skillfully picking the flowers of his choice, arranging it into the basket. Humming, her voice is soft yet lively as if she tries transcending all the positive energy to the bouquet she is making.

“Why dipping them in the water?”

She didn’t know he was a curious cat like that. But then again, technically lions and cats share an ancestor. “To keep them fresh!”

“But they are already dead,” he mutters, unsure of his response since her warm smile may as well bring them back alive.

“Then for you to carry,” she replies softly, cutting the ends once they are ready. “Because you are still alive. And even in death, things deserve respect.”

He pauses, and she hums again. The morning breeze is calming, and he finds himself exhaling.

“Done!” cheerfully, she announces. “Wrapped?”

“… No,” he says. “How much?”

“A hundred?”

He tips her forty.

She appears to be surprised, but that warm smile emerges again. “Thank you! You’re kind.”

He pauses. Again. Clearing his throat, he nods. “I need to drive to Leonster now.”

“That’s far,” she hums again. “I hope she likes it. I wonder what she’ll say.”

It’s like she is apologizing beforehand in case his luck is ruined because she’s not doing enough with the bouquet.

And that tickles him. Guard's slowly let loose as his sad smile brews. “She’s not going to say anything,” he mutters. “It’s for my dead mother.”

He still bows when exiting, but those wide, tough-looking shoulders slump a little bit when he leaves.

Perhaps the lion is lonely.

Chapter Text

03 – Heated Argument

 

She holds a big flower bouquet in her hands. It’s bigger even compared to what she delivered to the hotel the other day—the flowers are more varied and the design is more intricate. At her feet lies two neatly wrapped other arrangements, sized half of her body.

“Stretch your arms,” says the gruff deep voice as his fierce eyes pierce hers.

“I have this in my hands.”

“Then put it down.”

She obliges, and he runs the detector over her. For the tenth time, perhaps—considering he already did her bouquets three times each.

“Okay.”

“Finally,” she sighs, turning her back from him.

“What’s inside the bouquets?”

“You’re kidding, right?” her bright green eyes widen, anxiously eyeing the clock. Seven PM and she imagines the manager isn’t going to be happy when the newlyweds who booked the expensive suite receive their flowers late by the time they return from a romantic exquisite dinner downstairs.

“I need to check them. Stay put.”

“No,” she says from between her teeth.

“… Resisting?” he cocks an eyebrow, absolutely appalled that a rabbit manages to corner a lion.

“I arranged them for hours.”

“Then open the wraps and rearrange them again before me.”

“Sir…” she barks a warning. She’s heard the suite is one of the limited luxuries the hotel boasts, with a restricted elevator hidden in the corner to reach them. And the tight security measurement only gets tighter past six. But to hell with those—she’s exhausted. Her bills, the dance class she will be late teaching, the nonexistent vehicle she has, which means she’ll probably need to run by at least ten minutes to reach the studio from there…

The leonine security guard turns his attention when a kid strolls in. “Key?”

“D-don’t have. My mama holds it.”

She knows he can bawl his eyes at any given time.

“Sorry, kid. Out downstairs and contact the receptionist,” he coldly responds.

“I-I’ve been w-walking. I just want Mama,” the kid murmurs. “P-please, Mister.”

She loses it.

If those aren’t paid orders, Sir Lion can see the bouquets hit his head. Stomping furiously, she puts down a bouquet she’s holding, approaching the kid. “Which room? I’ll go with you.”

His steel grip holds her in place. “You’re not cleared yet.”

That very moment, she slaps him. Fiery volcano erupts from those bright green eyes as her voice breaks in her throat. “He’s tired and cold. Are you going to send him back? What parents hole themselves in a luxurious room while their kid roams around unattended?”

“Not my concern,” he manages to speak. That slap barely does anything to him, but her presence, her words—had she been challenging him into a real fight, he wouldn’t stand a chance.

“I know. Which is why he’s coming with me."

The child is in her embrace as she turns away.

“Where are you going?” he’s seriously appalled. This never happened before. And a woman who is a foot shorter and probably twenty kilos lighter just subdued him.

“Downstairs as you said. Procedure, Sir?”

Her cynical tone stabs him. “The flowers?”

“Does it matter? I’ll be out cold the next day anyway.”

“What?”

“This hotel is going to call the store complaining about me because I’m not professional, no? Then you’ll easily get me fired because I tried helping a child and…”

“Procedure.”

“Merciless, you mean? Making visitors feel safe? You can’t even make a child feel safe.”

Now this feels like a real hit. “… Miss.”

“You’re the one with a detector, a gun, a walkie-talkie, CCTV—I don’t know, black belt?” her voice is coarse that she knows she can cry for being too angry. “And look at the things you scan as a threat.” With dignified demeanor she leaves him with a tired child holding her hand.

He exhales. And makes a decision…

“Ares. I need a guest list for the exquisite suites—who brought a kid? Male, about five. Blond.”

Ares,  huh?

“You’re staying until one of the staff returns him to his room,” he warns her.

“And the flowers?”

“I’ll take them,” there’s a momentary pause until he continues, “with you.”

Not saying anything she simply nods, ice-cold, head held high like a queen. She expects a lion to be wary of everyone, everything—but never in her life she dreamed of facing off against the god of war himself.

Chapter Text

04 – Forgetting Something

 

She likes the café.

Boasting a calming serene atmosphere with pastel-colored décor as its interior, the place is merely two-three blocks away from the flower shop, which she frequents to unwind when her shift is done.

She will stroll in, praying that her favorite spot with the soft pink table with fairytale-like wooden chairs isn’t taken. Then she’ll ask for a cup of a relaxing chamomile tea, the kind of mental boost she needs before she teaches her classes.

Surrounded by soft orange walls, she will close her eyes, taking a deep breath she needs before checking her bank account with her phone. At least for a couple of minutes she’s safe, worry-free and happy because this place is a sanctuary.

One particular evening, things change.

Her coworker Ulster is sitting with her, nice cup of earl gray before him as he keeps raining light jokes on her. But facing Ulster, her eyes are conveniently met with the door and that's when he comes in.

Long strides carry his tall posture—soundless as how she knows them. His left hand carries the black blazer behind his back; white shirt with loose buttons without a tie tucked into his crisp black chino pants. Walking up to the counter, he drapes the blazer over the chair.

“Coffee. Black. No sugar.”

As always, his words are minimal yet efficient.

But that one evening she notices something else—like how his voice is deep and husky, yet still light enough despite the modest baritone undertone in it. Suddenly she wishes he says more just so she can decide if he sounds like a lion or a tempered god of war at an idle hour.

Ulster sees where her eyes travel. The black-haired man snickers, mentioning a thing or two about him because like her, he quite shares a disdain towards him. Someone known enough for anyone delivering things into the hotel’s richest guests because that’s where they often place him—the prized facilities, the luxurious suites, if not downstairs greeting incoming cars with a concierge.

Distinguished and decorated, as Ulster puts it, he’s a no-bullshit guy with an alias…

The Black Knight.

Probably because of the way he carries himself. Probably because he wears black at work. Probably because he’s often scheduled doing night shifts. Probably because he’s just scary.

By the time Ulster is filling her with a little this-that about the mysterious lion, her eyes have been fixated on him. The person behind the counter returns with his order, and the moment they turn their back against him, that very moment he turns around. Fierce eyes capture hers as if telling her that he knows when people do that, for he’s a lion who scans.

But he merely nods at her, lifting the cup he receives before savoring the drink.

She drops her eyelashes, hands tightly gripping her own cup until they feel hot. The clock tickles. She decides it’s time to leave for the studio, and with the lion still conveniently sits at the counter, she only needs a quick dart to the door.

The moment she puts her jacket and waves Ulster a goodbye, however, he gets up, glancing at his also-black watch before muttering a Shit. That moment she feels oddly shy for capturing the word—if not for noticing his low murmuring voice.

“Ah, wait!”

He stops racing to the door.

She holds his blazer in her hands—slightly trembling due to wondering what’s the law in Olympus for touching the god of war’s battle armor. “Y-you forgot this.”

Olympus be damned, she walks up to him, draping his blazer over him as he stands still, stretching his hands to let her dress him.

He stares at her. And she wishes she’s dead.

“… Thank you.”

Just like that, under the serene neon light his lips curve into a pleasant faint smile.

She’s glad she’s not dead.

Chapter Text

05 – Drawing Each Other

 

She stands before a hall.

She has been in the hotel to decorate a luxurious suite for a honeymooning couple, but even though going to the Heaven—as her coworkers at the flower shop dubbed, due to the limited accessibility—gives something worthwhile for the shop to boast to clients, the other parts of the hotel are still a mystery to her.

The shop received flower orders for a graduation dinner party, and when she was told it would be a modest event with friends and families, she did not imagine it would be a long table at one of the corners in the hotel’s restaurant section with thirty guests.

She expects rich people to behave and spend differently, but touching one among many flowers she loaded into the shop’s van with Iuchar and Ulster, suddenly she thinks of her own—modestly small and lonely for it consisted of her going to a fast food chain purchasing a big box lunch deal for herself while still in full makeup and dolled up in the dress she sewed herself.

The hall suddenly appears more spacious and intimidating than ever, especially when she sees catering crew starting to load food carts she knows too much to be consumed by thirty people. Knowing hotels, she already pictures how half of it may land a place in trash cans.

Iuchar and Ulster are gone to fetch more flowers because their modest shop only has one vehicle for the delivery, leaving her to start arranging until they come back with more plants and a helping hand.

“I’m to assist you today.”

She turns around. Black Knight—the leonine security guard she wanted to douse in cold water—stands, nodding as he opens the door for her. He doesn’t say anything more, and she figured reminding him of his forgotten blazer is enough.

They enter, and as expected he starts running security measures. He reads the guest list, talking on the phone with the manager as he moves around to scan everything. She won’t be surprised if he remembers them all like a preying lion.

She picks up a couple of beautiful colorful tulips from the flower cart to begin setting them over the tables. Moving on to placing wreaths over the chairs, she sways around to get to her cart, repeating the tedious process with the limitation of her two hands can do and carry.

His long strands and agile movement make him the winner of the race, and she finds him with his hands planted on the cart’s handlebar. “Not cleared?” her green eyes widen again.

“Lead.”

She thinks he’s joking, but her cart follows as she moves. Before she knows it, she delegates the task to him—telling him which flower to give her and whether or not so and so must be paired with such and such color.

He follows everything she instructs, occasionally innocently asking a thing or ten about flowers, about colors; like why the shop doesn’t do black roses because they are cool and creating brilliant aesthetic when set on fire or combined with fake blood, or why her decors are soft.

She finds herself chuckling softly, telling him that she doesn’t burn flowers and they’re lovely.

When he pauses to let her words sink, she doesn’t stop circling to put her artistry skill to work.

She has no idea how many minutes have passed until Iuchar and Ulster are back, eyes wide open when they find her finishing half of the job with the leonine security guard obediently follows anywhere she draws him into, with her hands guiding his to make a wreath.

He watches her and the floral wreath in his hands, feeling so amazed at himself and how the plants look in his hands. Or how fragrant the roses are, how warm her smile is. Days ago, he saw fire. But then he forgot fire nourishes not just burns.

When she turns around to take more flowers from the cart, he hands her a white rose.

“Name?”

“Rosa cymosa?” she smiles.

He pauses.

“… And yours?”

Chapter Text

06 - Patching Each Other Up

 

He glances at his watch with knitted eyebrows. One among many, he has been queuing for fifteen minutes by now. The line is long and people keep coming in, with some bearing similar expression like his while the rest simply smile wryly before steering outside.

He doesn’t exactly remember when he turned into a solitary hermit—he doesn’t actively hate people either, but there’s always something… something about the crowd which makes him feel smothered, like people will appraise him the way they do a curious object. As an adult he tried making peace with the fact that he might not be worthy of anyone’s attention outside of what they require of him.

He wonders why his reminiscence of the age past resurfaces now. Slightly annoyed, he hopes it happens later when he’s done with his night shift, when he can finally take all his emotions to sleep. And when the morning comes, he’ll vaporize the rest at the gym so that he’ll be too tired to contemplate on anything else other than exceling at his job.

A pair of teenagers queuing at the lane next to his is engaging each other on a small talk. He can hear them asking mundane but sincere questions about each other—what the other person likes, what movie to watch after this, whether one has tried to smoke or drink. Things he was hardly ever asked.

The air around him feels rather tight somehow, and he concludes it may be because the rain starts pouring. If there’s something he knows, based on experience rainy days tend to have that effect on people, the way he learned how tight the air was when his bedridden mother started calling for the name of his deceased father during those rainy nights until she couldn’t anymore.

He decides to stop glancing at the direction where the teenagers are. All he need is a filling sandwich for a quick dinner before he starts his night shift. Turning around, he moves forward when the first person in line leaves the lane after getting their sandwich.

He spots a familiar figure standing next to him, queuing at the lane just next to his, looking at her phone again and again before clicking her tongue annoyed.

“I’m probably going to be a bit late since the line is long,” he catches her speaking on the phone. Just like that, her eyes accidentally capture his presence as she mindlessly returns the phone into her purse.

He nods conveying that he sees her, and she has that doubtful look on her as she nods back. The people in front of them tend to finish around the same time, and they find themselves stand next to each other again when it’s time to order.

“The big meaty deal.”

“Same order?”

Her voice is light and crisp. He just nods, long steps taking him to the doors faster. Opening the door for the teenagers, he keeps it on hold when she strolls closer. 

“Thank you,” she smiles, looking a bit surprised.

“… Going home?”

“No. I teach dancing,” she bites into her sandwich. “Chicken?”

“… Beef.”

“Mustard?”

“Mayonnaise.”

“Spicy?”

“Like it.”

He truly forgets what it’s like to engage in a small talk. He has no idea why he said ‘like it’ instead of just confirming whether the meat in his sandwich is spicy or not. But she simply smiles again. “You do?”

He stands in silence while she savors her dinner. Rain drops keep falling, and he hovers closer. “… Want to… try?”

She really is surprised. He won’t blame her because so is he; perhaps rain does weird things like that. “Try mine as well?”

“… Not bad.”

“Same! The spicy taste makes you feel warm.”

Suddenly he wonders if that’s why he loves his food spicy.

“It’s going to stop soon,” under the canopy, she holds up her hand, chuckling softly when raindrops fall on it.

“Yes,” he nods. “… I’m sorry for treating you badly.”

Chapter Text

07 – Coffee and/or Tea

 

He strolls into the coffee shop.

Glancing at his watch, he yields to the fact that he arrives sooner than usual that he decides to take a solo table instead of sitting by the counter as always. Being alone in a solo table exudes a private atmosphere, exactly what he needs because he’s not in the mood of strangers randomly chatting him, even if not for well-meaning small talk.

He regrets his decision at an instant—tables are occupied, and by then it’s too late to return to the counter. He stands awkwardly in the middle of sitting section, in the midst of relaxing people or teenagers and college students having a coffee date after school and extracurricular activities.

When he decides to return to the counter, he can hear his name being whispered softly. Turning around, he finds her at the same table that night he encountered her and her coworker; only that this time she waves at him with a smile. “You can sit with me!”

He has no idea what makes him take the offer. Like that night prior, she has chamomile tea while he chooses sugar-less black coffee. He mumbles an expression of gratitude and she accepts with a smile.

For around two weeks the situation is a rinse and repeat as he often encounters her at the coffee shop during the night shifts he’s scheduled. Either it’s at the table of her preference or the counter, they exchange a courteous nod as a sign of acknowledgment. It’s as if she just let him to be there—either sparing an understanding look because his order remains the same, or sliding to make a space for him.

Of course he’s more than confused that he let her welcoming him like that, but after their fourth evening at the coffee shop, he figures that he doesn’t mind. It’s a new experience for him, to be asked how he fares, to be told that the night is peaceful, to listen how the clouds look like cotton candies, or when she notices he tends to hold his cup by wrapping his fingers around it instead of the handle. When he says because the cup feels small in his hand, she replies she’s concerned because the drink is hot.

Before he knows it, he starts paying attention to his surroundings. On a one particular day shift he looks at the sky while inspecting a floor, making a mental note that perhaps the clouds appear like rabbit more than they are cotton candies. Another day he notices there’s a single wildflower squeezed between cement blocks which make up the entry to the coffee shop he frequents. Now that colors start appearing everywhere he goes, somehow he wishes to hear more of her telling him… these things.

On the fifteenth night he no longer begrudges his time mismanagement. Arriving earlier just like the past fourteen he spots her by the counter, fingertips nearly turning white clutching on her cup and her laughter off-tune and awkward if not nervous.

His eyes land on the stranger he doesn’t recognize—body arching forward while she shrinks and withdraws. Forcefully tapping the stranger’s shoulder like a lion who marks his prey, he hisses.

“You’re not wanted.”

He only releases when the stranger takes his leave—with a curse thrown on him under the breath.

She stares at him, green eyes familiarly round and wide. “Thanks,” she sighs. “He was persistent.”

Suddenly he’s relieved for being there at an impeccable time. “… Teaching tonight?”

She nods. And the warm smile is back. “Yes! Good luck on your shift.”

He excuses himself, signaling her to wait. On the phone he informs his supervisor that he may be five to ten minutes late to the job because of emergency.

“Emergency?” she asks, her eyes growing wide again that he secretly compares her to a wary rabbit.

He nods, sliding the phone back into his blazer’s inner pocket. “Walking you to the studio.”

Her smile blossoms with a laughter; the kind of pleasant laughter he starts to get familiar with. “Doesn’t suit your name,” she teases.

“But it does,” the corner of his mouth twitches. “Security.”

Chapter Text

08 – Crush Panic

 

She watches him moving across with a communicator attached to his ear, sailing the tiles from one corner to another followed by other three men in suits just like him. Late afternoon orange-ish sun rays shine around them. A shaft of sunlight falls on the bouquet she’s working on.

“Oh, a rainbow!”

He tilts his head upon hearing her exclaim, one of his eyebrows raising. She clamps her mouth shut. Shades of pink emerge across her cheeks, and she turns away.

Her shop received orders for flowers to decorate a small banquet after the hotel received a reservation for its beautiful rooftop venue shortly prior. A group of diners no more than six wanted to celebrate their friend’s birthday, which also happens to fall on the date of their ten-year friendship anniversary. She did not expect he’d be her partner on the job again, but there he was, calmly pushing her flower cart with a straight face.

She is still weaving a wreath while Iuchar and Ulster are helping the maids with the chairs. When they are about to help her making bouquets, she stops them. “I think I should consult… Ares.”

It’s the first time they heard her mentioning the leonine security guard by his name—not that they actually knew his name, anyway. Yet there she is, casually hovering closer before they can stop her.

He assesses the corner where the banquet is supposed to be, noting that the metal bars should have nicely fenced the requested venue. Signaling three other men-in-suits to come, she can hear him sharing orders as they do.

“Three of you will take a stand at each corner of this place while I take the elevator and around. That way we’ll have everything covered. Heard one of them brings kids.”

“I thought it’s not your concern that the guest has kids,” one of his men responds.

He catches her figure looming nearby; only that she’s facing where the sun is, smiling with a contended expression on her face as late-afternoon breeze gently grazes her that silky green strands softly billows around her face. Her pink ribbon which holds her ponytail in place sways as well.

“No,” he returns his attention to his men. “But the kids’ safety is.”

He steals another glance at her, feeling odd that he feels at peace that afternoon. She startles feeling his eyes on her, a sheepish but sincere smile curves her lips as she gets back to her flowers. But more than that, she walks up to him; by then the men have dispersed that she concludes he must be respected at the job if not on a different hierarchy then.

“Tell me about the guests.”

“Can’t.”

“Procedure?”

He pauses. “Yes.”

“I’m not asking for names. Just, you know, background. Like, who are they—ladies? Mixed group? From a certain field…” she halts her own words. “Sorry.”

“Why?”

She looks at him. The eyes are still of a lion’s, but they are gentler than the first day she met him. And definitely, softer than the expression he wore the night he disposed the pestering coffee shop customer. “To make them… happy?”

“Happy?”

Of course it’s new to him. Happy? He’s a professional guard. He accomplishes task, what even is ‘happy’?

She nods softly, gesturing him to see what she’s created so far. Only then he notices that every chair and table are decorated with different wreaths and bouquets; either by designs or selection of flowers. “Some white roses here because this corner will get dark soon when the sun is setting,” she explains, walking him like he’s a child on a museum tour. “And pink here because they’ll look great when sun rays shine onto them. Look, the flowers glow. They’re happy too!”

“Pay attention then,” he warns after some silence. Relaying the information to her, he notices she’s been smiling the entire time as her eyes shine.

“Thanks! You’re sweet.”

Curving his lips into a smile, he cusses in silence—he realizes he’s got a problem now.

Chapter Text

09 – First Text / Call

 

He runs into her again that afternoon.

Not the delightful and—admittedly—cute lady from the florist who has been in and out of the hotel these past few weeks for delivering bouquets; it’s the old lady from room 348 whom he helped ushering because her late-night check-in corresponded with his round.

At first he asked if she was lost—record said the lady was wealthy, and his experiences with loaded customers alerted the possibility of a rich person’s antics. With a motherly smile he yearns for, she assured him that she booked a regular room; something she did from time to time around holiday seasons just so she could be in a merry crowd, surrounded by holiday-goers like she’s part of it.

That afternoon their chit-chat reveals she lives alone and her children are too busy with their own money for a visit. He listens to her, and soon she tells him of her two mastiffs at home, loyal to the paws and that knitting is a way to kill time considering her business already runs on its own. She asks if he ate lunch, and for the first time the corner of his mouth twitches, remembering a grandmother he lived with after his father left the world. He tells her he is provided complimentary meals everyday.

He walks her to the restaurant, and she’s more than happy to clutch onto his arm. Leaving her at her table, he catches her calming quarreling siblings and offering a young mother to hold her toddler while she finds some milk. As tables find patrons, the lady sits alone humming to the live music.

He sneaks to the penthouse. Fragrant flowers fill his nostrils although the event is past. Saving a lone wreath from getting rained, his lips curve again upon finding a little card stuck among the flowers. Rushing downstairs to find a cozy spot he draws his phone.

“Valor flower shop, can I help you?”

Familiar cheerful lively voice answers his call, and her smile manifests in his mind.

Conversations are never his forte that he can only say it’s for a lovely old lady who has everything, and he doesn’t care if he has to pay more for the sudden delivery.

“I’d like to ask a few details,” says the forest fairy on the phone.

“I trust you.”

There’s definitely a pause until that lively voice speaks again. “Address, please? Oh—the hotel? No extra charge!”

By now he’s certain that she’s smiling.

“Can I get a name and a contact, Sir?”

Dictating his number, he takes a pause after; imagining the smile teases him as he exhales to continue. “Ares. Contact me when you’re close, we’ll meet at the lobby.”

He wonders if she stops asking because his voice was deep and heavy like he begrudged her, and somehow he’s tempted to call again to convince her that it’s not the case.

Rushing to the lobby, he scans his surroundings like a nervous lion; time but a concept as he doesn’t know how long it is until his phone vibrates in his blazer’s inner pocket. There’s an unknown number, and he hears her right when he picks up.

“Close by, Ares!”

This time her voice is soft and he secretly worships her for saying his name.

Flying to the door he finds her figure rushing from the parking section. A pretty wooden basket in her arm, her hair is damp and stains of water splash on her dress. In a spur second he draws his phone. Throwing his blazer over her, she simply chuckles telling him his flower is safe.

He smiles—either because his clothing is bigger by three sizes on her, or because the old lady beams with joy when the flower arrives. He tells a waiter to take care of her on his tab before making his round.

Sipping a nourishing drink, her eyes linger on the leonine guard.

Your personal number?

He feels odd that a text tickles his senses.

Yes. Is this yours?

She sees the reply and types back with a smile.

Chapter Text

10 –  Keeping Plants / Pets

 

They meet again at the usual coffee shop that night. He’s just one step away from opening the door, with her following behind. An unplanned encounter, but it still doesn’t negate her smiling at him, or how he withdraws with a courteous nod.

“After you.”

From the corner of her eyes, she catches a mother with a sleeping baby in her arms. Chuckling, she pulls him back. “After them.”

His lips curve.

When he wants to open the door now that the two have entered, she pulls him again. “Watch out!”

He follows where her eyes traveled, noticing the single wildflower trapped between cement blocks. It’s been there for some time, but only today that he starts to seriously pay attention.

… Again, because she guides him to see the things he barely cared about before.

She opens her bag, taking out a tumbler out of it. Sprinkling some water, he thought he heard her whispering a thing or two about hoping the wildflower to thrive despite the situation it grows in.

He wonders if it’s because she’s a florist, but then again he concludes she’s always been like… that. The way she makes a room for him when the coffee shop is too crowded to contain all its customers, the way she taught him how to arrange flowers and create wreaths.  Of course some of the guards snickered when they found out he had been making a flower crown, but regardless of all said and done, it was fascinating on its own to him because—prior, he’d think his hands were good at boxing. Only boxing.

She catches his lingering eyes, and just like at the rooftop she quickly finishes watering the flower. Shades of pink emerge on her face, and she mumbles a shy apology, telling him that the flower is a lone wolf surviving an odd environment and it deserves some support. “Like you, perhaps?” she giggles a little.

He does not object, but he makes sure to tell her that he doesn’t think of her as weird.

That night, she doesn’t refuse when he walks her to the bus stop. Sounds of unusual whimpers startle them, and he finds himself reflexively put his body before her. Touching his arm lightly, she smiles.

“It’s just a puppy, Ares~!”

When he scratches his head for feeling dumb for being so alert like that, she tells him that he’s sweet.

However the smile dies when she spots wounds and scars around the animal. Gasping, she wants to take a look, but her bus arrives. He doesn’t understand what drives him to spare comforting words—yet he does, and her eyes are blurry when she climbs into the bus while he covers the dog with his blazer.

Nobody dares to point out how he runs like a lion, or how he manages to convince his supervisor that he needs to leave for a moment. If anything, sudden realization dawns on him that he never stopped to contemplate his surroundings before his walks with her; let alone caring enough to notice what happened around the road.

The morning after she accidentally drops her watering can, spilling its content around the floor. Her eyes are rather red and puffy, and Ulster asks if something happened as he kindly helps cleaning. She retires to work at the counter; a small pot reigns at her side.

Sounds of clinking bell force her to stop wallowing in her thoughts. Mustering a smile, she proceeds to sing the same tune she always does—“Welcome to Valor florist, how can I…”

The leonine security guard stands before her, unperturbed that the wet floor nicely stains his Oxfords. “It lives,” he simply conveys. “I got a call from the vet.”

Clasping her hands in front of her, she smiles—radiant and warm like the morning sun. “Oh, thank you…” she whispers. “T-that one too.”

He catches her eyes lingering to the pot; a wildflower familiar to him resides within. So he smiles back, hand gently wiping the tears off her eyes.

Chapter Text

11 – In a Fairy Tale

 

She bends down to smell the flowers she just arranged.

This particular corner of the hotel's majestic ballroom has transformed into a different world on its own—with minimalist design combined with rustic décor, broken-white and soft nude colors make up the majority of the look. The old couple who booked the ballroom for their wedding anniversary dinner had called the florist requesting flowers mainly in white and yellow for their guests to represent pure love and eternal devotion. For their own table, however, they differed.

He approaches the ballroom.

His strong hands easily open the door, and it only takes second before he focuses his attention to the job. Framing the center table where the hosts are supposed to sit, he stretches his arms, making a motion like he’s scaling the ballroom. “The view?” he speaks into his communicator, making a hand sign to the CCTV planted just above the door.

“Clear,” he receives an answer from the monitor room.

Strolling in closer, he watches her tying up a sparkly gold-colored ribbon over a tall bouquet at the main table. It’s where the hosts are supposed to be; different kind of flowers decorating it. Contrasting what they chose for their guests, the old couple had asked what the shop dubs as romance package. It’s a bouquet of elaborative colors—mostly in pink and rose, representing the livelier, bolder sides of love. Combination of roses, daisies, orange blossoms, chrysanthemums, and tulips are ready to convey message of passion, longing, and ardor.

“Glorious!” she muses, looking at the ribbon she just did. Turning around, she finds the leonine security guard entering the room. Shyly clutching the remaining flowers in her hands, she nods. “Hi, Ares,” she whispers. By now she wonders if he harbors a certain opinion of her, considering honest comments she says every now and then makes him quirk an eyebrow.

Eternal love songs from the era of old Hollywood softly plays in the background because the team is testing their sound equipment. “The couple wants to relish their memories of courtship as young lovebirds,” he says, secretly wondering if the flowers in her hands will look good in her hair. “But at the same time they…”

“Want to convey the message of an enduring love as old sweethearts?” she giggles.

He nods. “I guess you won’t need me for tonight’s customer.”

“Because it’s obvious,” she smiles. “Older people have fun too. A good love story is full of good laughter.”

“How do you tell?”

There, the eyebrow-quirking again. “Different flowers for their table. It’s like they want to share their happiness with the world, but keep the best for themselves. And that’s the spouse,” sighing she takes a few steps to contemplate the entire ballroom. "This place is so dreamy…”

His communicator barks again. “Let’s check more.”

“Don’t move,” he gestures at her before turning his attention to the communicator. “Clear?”

“Beautiful,” says one of men from the other side with a chuckle.

His tongue-clicking earns instant silence from the other side.

She still stands where he asked; near the podium they installed for the couple’s speech. Girl from Ipanema is about to finish playing, and hastily he tells her that she didn’t ruin anything—feeling guilty knowing his strict conduct at the job prompts her to be worried.

Her face lights up. Walking to him, she puts a pink flower she clutches on top of his head… unreservedly. “Now you are a guardian fairy of this magical land.”

He pauses. And something tickles from within. “Does that make you the princess of this land?”

She giggles. “No. Never got invited to dances or received flowers! Ironic?” mindlessly taking his arms, she lightly sways around. “How many fairy tales have you seen manifesting in this room?”

Moonriver is playing in the background, and he holds her back. “I hardly cared. Ironic?”

Their steps entangle with each other, moving back and forth sailing the magical land full of beauty and goodness. “Done~?” she drops into a curtsy because he stops.

“The song is still playing,” he shakes his head. Smirking, he throws his blazer to cover up the CCTV.

Chapter Text

12 – Just Hanging Out

 

When she catches a glimpse of him from the connecting glass door between her studio and the gym, she thinks it has to be a mistake. The building nextdoor is owned by the same people who own her studio, and it makes it easier for folks signing up for a Pilates class to stroll for a dancing workout.

His back is facing her. Agile footwork wipes the floor in a patterned movement, and she’s thankful that the kids she’s teaching are oblivious to the fact that her eyes linger to one certain direction each time she makes a twirling round. From the glass door and the view granted to her through his sleeveless workout shirt, she sees how his muscles contract each time he lands punches after punches against the sandbag.

On her tenth round, she can see sweat drops glistening over his porcelain skin; the way they decorate her forehead. She smiles in discreet, noting how he maintains his speed and power the way she unyieldingly pushes her moves. During the eleventh, however, the lion turns around, accidentally marking her eyes right when hers plan their escape.

He nods at her in the same courteous manner she’s starting to be familiar with. When he asks if she’s okay because somehow she conveniently landed on her chin when their eyes met, she asks if he is considering there’s a red mark on his nose bridge because he didn’t dodge the swaying sandbag in time.

It’s a surprise, for her—to see him in polo-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. Except she knows it’s him because the same lustrous mane shines under the bright Sunday sun, and he knows it’s her because of the cheerful smile despite being sweaty in those yoga pants before she changed.

“Work after this?” she asks, noticing him contemplating the bruise on her chin.

“No,” he replies, wondering how to escape her eyes on his nose.

“… Lunch?”

They utter the magic word simultaneously, earning some blissful seconds of pause until laughter breaks between them. “My shop needs some things,” she finally announces.

“If I may, I’ll drive you,” he gestures to the black car parked at the front.

It’s a pleasant surprise for her as well, to drag him to venture the antique shop she usually goes to. She giggles when he bulges his eyes, cranes his neck scanning his surroundings like a lion adjusting to a new environment. Picking up antique vases and wooden baskets, she gestures to a pile of cards with vintage designs, warmly smiling at him. “First time?”

“Yeah,” he replies, darting a glance at something near the counter. “Peaceful place.”

They exit the store, her looking pleased with the haul of the day while he keeps one hand in the pocket. The sun shifts quietly, and he blinks when she’s not where he can see. His alert instinct awakened, he finds himself calling for her name, loudly, in public.

“Here!”

He turns around.

She clutches a brown paper bag in her hands, eyes glinting like the evening star he suddenly pictures. “Sorry for making you worried,” she smiles sheepishly. “… Cheeseburger?”

“… You… oh, dear gods.”

“Y-you hate cheeseburger?” she looks at him, eyes growing wide again like the instances he witnessed prior—the wary rabbit pose.

And somehow he loses it. “No,” dragging himself up, he then gives her a hand to sit with him on the car’s bonnet. He chuckles gently; the Golden Hour paints the sky in various spectrums of yellow, orange, silver… and he feels so contended yet pensive at the same time—how long has it been since he feel this free?

“Uh—truly no shift?”

“Got reprimanded for covering the CCTV.”

“... Oh,“ she gasps, face slowly turning red remembering yesterday’s… incident.

“Worth it,” he chuckles again, digging something out of his pocket.

She contemplates the envelope in her hands. Her fingers unlace the package, and she squeals out of reflex when a pair of pearly-white ribbons says hi.

“You hate them?”

She tilts her head, shaking it with a smile. He sighs in satisfaction—the sky looks magnificent.

Chapter Text

13 – Hospital Visit / Buying Flowers for the Other

 

He is running across the block...

His watch says half past five in the morning, and for a moment he closes his eyes, feeling the refreshing morning breeze caressing his face. A wild hair strand billows above his eyes, uncontained by the red-colored bandanna he wears to tame his golden mane. Pausing to take a breath, he bends his back; fingertips touching his shoes in a stretching-like position. He undoes the hair he ties into a high ponytail, wiping his face against a small white towel he tucks into his waist pouch. A bottle of mineral water follows shortly after. Swallowing a generous gulp, he pours the remaining content over his face.

He lets out a satisfied sigh, proceeding to muster faster footsteps to begin cooling down process. With the towel still plastered on his face, his steps are light, and he likes the feel of morning air breathing into the gray sweatshirt and dark blue shorts he’s wearing.

“Ah!”

He jolts. His towel flies off as his shoulders bump hard into something.

She lies sprawling against the hard concrete pavement. Her purse is knocked to her side, and he rushes to approach her while she drags her legs to collect all the flowers thrown across.

“I’m so terribly sorry,” in utter dread he takes her wooden basket, helping her to get up.

“Be careful,” she mutters, “flowers.”

He glances around. Colorful flowers spread around the pavement where she falls. She nimbly picks them up, humming and wiping the dust off her dress as the image of pavement-decorated flowers somehow dances in his mind.

“My fault,” he mumbles, crouching to collect what she hasn’t. When morning breeze flies around, he thinks he can smell fresh strawberries and jasmine emanating from her swaying green strands. “… Working this early?”

“No,” she responds, and he finds himself smiling faintly as she cusses like a sailor when a careless luxurious car nearly grazes him. “Leftovers from the shop. I often take them there every morning~!”

He follows where she gestures. “… Hospital?”

“Mm-hmm! Children and elderly patients can use some, you know?” she beams at him. “Actually… yes, you too, Ares~! You too, can… oh, you’re exercising…”

“And you?” he gives in to the temptation to ask back.

“I’ll take the leftovers-leftover,” she hums. “Because when you want to give, others come first!”

“… I see,” he tilts his head to conceal his subtle smile.

“Pick a flower. No—pick some flowers! I’ll have them hydrated so you can take them back to your office,” she softly nudges him. “Let’s see… would you like roses… gladiolas, lilies… ah, alstroemeria?”

“I don’t know the last one.”

“Popular for being inexpensive and making delicate cuts. Now you know,” giggling, she sets aside a couple of reddish-pink alstroemeria on her basket. “I’ll keep them cool for you! Come pick them up before your shift starts. Or do you want me to bring it to the coffee shop?”

“I’ll pick them up.”

His eyes aren’t leaving her until she makes a turn to head to the hospital. Completing his session for the day, he feels odd because something warm feels budding in his chest, fueling his will to keep his promise.

That afternoon she smiles when the hanging bell over the door clinks. The leonine security guard strolls in, pacing awkwardly as usual. Sparing a grateful look because she’s not laughing when his tall posture causes his head colliding against the shop’s canopy, he approaches her counter.

“Pick-up?” with twinkling eyes she takes out the alstroemeria bouquet from the cooler.

“And ordering.”

“Oh?” she quickly grabs a form with a pen.

“For a lady.”

“… Oh.”

She asks him a couple of questions to help him choose, feeling oddly irritated exactly because he trusts her to make his personal purchase—even more so when he asks what she thinks is right. Finally, they settle on a mix of daisies and chrysanthemums with pink and orange carnations.

“The Make-a-Wish package,” she murmurs when he pays. “For?” her hand is still clutching the pen, idle on a blank card.

He clears his throat.

“… Lene.”

Chapter Text

14 – Hugging

 

When the theater she works at during the days where she doesn’t have dance classes to teach initiated a movie night, she couldn’t be happier. She’s one of their regular casts—backstage or on stage when they have musicals and operas. The wage is even lower than what the studio provides, but it’s refreshing to be able to find fellow artists like her, banding together as a small faithful army who makes the independent open theater their garrison. In a way the theater provides a community to her; something similar to an adoptive big family she never has. The possibility to spread her wings as an independent performer keeps her little torch of faith burning—maybe someday her steps will entangle with her mother’s footprints.

She faintly recalls Silvia’s lively voice when singing her lullaby, how the woman would laugh—or shout when needed—totally unapologetic of her existence. That was until one day she was dressed in the best clothes they had for an outing. Silvia entrusted a golden chain bracelet to her, mentioning something about it being a family keepsake—that all the ancestors’ prayers and blessings would be with her just like hers would. Back then the bracelet was too big, too heavy for her small wrist, but as she grew into it, she realized that family now meant an abbess and twenty-other kids without Silvia, and their big house was called an orphanage.  

Mother’s Day makes the florist more crowded than usual, and she contemplates the tickets she keeps in her purse when people leave her shop. One is free for the staff—and another only costs the price of popcorns. She purchased the extra as a donation, and listening to people making calls for their mothers or making inquiries for the special day dries her throat.

“Nordion. Make it quick,” deep voice answers from the number she accidentally dialed.

Her canals almost break when a girl tiptoes by her counter, buying a carnation for an unknowing mother at home.

“Sorry for the curtness, my wires are usually work-related. Yes?”

The call she receives manages to salvage her dignity in time. Smiling at his nerd-ish honesty is tempting, but she hangs up after apologizing for not knowing he’s busy at work. She texts the tickets, though.

She gladly answers another call for it distracts her from watching a woman hugging her toddler. “Hello?”

“Ares. Yes.”

After making a firm-yet-concise answer for her offer, he shows up at the shop that evening with rolled sleeves and gray vest; his blazer and necktie are left in the car. She watches him helping her closing—lifting heavy fertilizer sacks at ease, locking the door after double-checking the windows…

“Vintage movie fan?” she asks casually.

“I never… do this before.”

“With others?”

“… Who?” he replies after a pause.

Senza Famiglia—a 1946 Italian movie adapted from the French novel Sans Famille plays before them. She manages to get them strategically comfortable seats. Scenes after scenes dance before them, and either a blessing or a curse, it’s getting hard to keep everything contained when the plot thickens.

He tilts his head—she’s shaking. She presses her hand against her mouth like it’s the abyss where she banishes everything. When Signor Vitalis’ dogs die; when Remi counts his coins to buy bread, when he’s slandered and shunned. Her muffled squeals turn into sobs, and…

She leans on him. Somehow the Black Knight sneaks his arms around her, flooding her with indescribable warmth and strength as he embraces her. She fists against his sleeves, tears spilling his vest when snowstorm buries Vitalis; when Lise’s voice returns; when Remi reunites with the Milligans.

“Sorry for…” she shyly points at his wet vest. Story of a lost mother irresistibly flows after he reassures her that he doesn’t mind. Suddenly she wraps her arms around him, guiding his head to rest on her shoulder. “You must be lonelier...”

Right—a lost mother, while his is dead. The monotonous professional life, his alias, fortified biceps like his heart. Her body feels like a fitting suit on him—warmth invades all his senses as he holds her, taking turn to apologize for wetting her dress.

Chapter Text

15 – Scar Worship

 

She puts on her cardigan to head out. The night is pretty cold with the remnants of spring rain pouring down for the entire day. It won’t be too long until her shift at the florist is over, and under such weather the idea of coffee sounds appealing to her.

The sky is dark by the time she races the concrete blocks. There’s a vending machine situated between the shop and and the beauty salon nextdoor that it should take around five minutes to get the bottled coffee she wants.

That’s until a shadow lurks around. She pauses hearing the shadow’s raspy breath, crouching near the machine to collect the coin he drops. A bottle of pepper spray leaves her purse in a second and she proceeds, tightly clutching on it like a lifeline.

The shadow growls.

She’s already crouching to help picking up his coin, too late to decide whether to fight or flee. Like a wounded lion the shadow suddenly drops his weight, roughly snatches the coin she’s about to take.

She gasps, aiming the pepper spray at him. Strong hand takes her wrist reflexively, honed by years of trained muscle memory. Her scream is merely a breath away to leave her throat when she hears the shadow grunting.

“You…”

Just like that he releases her, and she makes the view in such closeness.

“Ares!”

“Heh,” he evades her eyes, traces of blood color his right sleeve.

She inserts his coin into the machine. “Which one?”

“… Just water,” he murmurs. “Thank you.”

She watches him tearing the fabric of his clothes; opening the bottle with his teeth. Under her horrified look he pours the content all over the wound, grimacing as liquid washes away the streaming blood. Moaning, he throws the now-empty bottle into a nearby bin and nods at her.

“I’ll resume working.”

“Are you kidding me,” she huffs, seizing his healthy arm. “No. I’m kidnapping you.”

Relieved as she is that he follows quietly, she wishes he’d protest, though—it’s like he’s too tired to fight anymore. She takes him to the shop, seating him near the counter. Coming back with a first-aid kit, she lays out a roll of bandage, ointment, and a clean rag. “What happened?” whispering, she begins to wipe his arm, noticing how his eyebrows knit withstanding the pain.

“Bar drama. Didn’t notice one hid a switchblade. Just a scratch, though.”

“It’s not, shut up,” she lightly taps his cheek, returning her attention to his injury waiting for the water to dry. “Tattoo?”

“Birthmark,” he mutters. “… Like my father’s.”

“You two must be alike,” she responds, applying the ointment on him.

“No—“ he grimaces, feeling the ointment on his torn skin. “—Because he’s dead and I’m not.”

“Ssh,” she whispers, taking his arm. Bowing, she begins to gently blow on the wound… “My mother did this when I scraped my knee. I don’t think the medical folks agree, but there’s love in it, you know?” chuckling, she caresses the healthy skin around it. “It’s alright, Ares.”

He stops her when she’s about to bandage his arm. “No need.”

She sets the bandage aside, and like their first meeting he discovers pyre burning in her eyes. Just then she quickly draws her own handkerchief, wrapping it nicely to bandage him. “Needed,” she winks.

“What’s the point to be well when Father…”

She catches his bitter tone, wondering if having to tear his own clothes because of the wound forces him to realize that his birthmark is there—while the giver isn’t. Taking turn to lace his fingers with hers, she stops him in time when he appears to contemplate undoing her handkerchief. “He lives,” she points at his mark. “There, and…” her voice is soft, and this time her hand travels to his chest. “In you.”

He pauses.

“See a doctor tomorrow, okay?” she begins to pack everything back. “My hand?”

“… Not yet,” he pulls her in, his fingers entangling with hers.

“… Ah…”

“I’ll return the handkerchief,” patting her head, he smiles as expression of gratitude follows after.

Chapter Text

16 – Needing Each Other

 

He glances outside. The night has fallen, gracing Darna with its silky jet-black curtain, shutting down all the voices into the void. But as voices disappear, thoughts emerge—louder and fiercer, demanding to be heard after silencing themselves the whole day.

People tearing down the skin they wear during the day, slipping into a more comfortable suit they recognize at night. Some open their windows begging for the cool breeze to calm their heads as well as their bodies, and some others are looking into the mirror with such hollow look trying to find traces of their persons back.

He contemplates the phone in his hand.

What happened today disturbs his mind, worse than what he anticipates. And the people who work with him mostly praise him for his self-control. The Black Knight is professional, they say, and will take the necessary measures without batting an eye no matter the situation.

Probably it isn’t so true now, judging from the half-empty Smirnoff vodka bottle resting at his side. The apartment he lives in is comfortable for a bachelor like him—he earns nicely as an experienced security guard at twenty-six, and with such reputation, combined with praises from his supervisor and even the hotel’s owner it isn’t hard to find a comfortable living compartment at a reasonable price.

And he likes it the way it is—minimalist that ‘empty’ won’t be so wrong to describe the interior. Basic furniture out of necessity except the queen-sized bed he loves for giving more room for his tall posture, or shelves stocked with a few books and gramophone plates he inherits from his dead parents.

Twelve at night now, and he pours another shot. The TV before him blasts late-night news which he cares little to none about. Turning it off, he approaches the gramophone.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way

He startles. The little vodka shot misses the table, shattering before his eyes. He chuckles, throwing his handkerchief over the mess, feeling so pathetic that his late father’s favorite song—My Way—succeeded ruining him like this.

What even is an off-day anymore, he thinks, determined to bury his feelings with the rest of the vodka he brands for slaughter. The flashing phone screen saves his liver, however.

His blood freezes. The name just now…

“Lene?”

“Who isss disssz?"

He raises an eyebrow—slurred reply? “… Ares?”

If he’s not concerned of her safety, he’d have sincerely smiled hearing her muffled gasp. “Gods! Must have accidentally dialed you—the phone’s in my bed!”

“Everything alright?”

“Mm-hmm. Just… a nightmare…”

“You dialed me because of nightmare?”

There—she gasps again. And he imagines her full lips curving into a lovely letter O, perhaps for a short while before she covers her mouth in the typical manner whenever she’s incredibly surprised. He grabs an apple over the table, suddenly feeling indecent for… picturing her at an ungodly hour.

“Sorry,” she murmurs. “Is it weird that I feel safe when you’re around? The virtue of a security guard?”

The corner of his mouth twitches. “Wanna talk about it then?”

“You’ll laugh.”

This time he imagines her pouting. “No. I’m strong.”

“Hnnn. Yes, you are.”

Pouting she is, he contains his smile then. “So try.”

“People… booing me on the stage… and I had this thought I’d only d-disappoint my mother and that we’d never meet a-and people only watched me for my body…”

“That isn’t true.”

“Really…?”

“She wouldn’t put you in the orphanage if she didn’t wish you to keep living. What’s disappointing about you, as the person you are now?”

He hears a long sigh. “You’re sweet.”

“Me?”

“But are you alright? You’re playing vintage songs, at midnight.”

“… Perhaps my father is disappointed of me and haunting me now. Who knows?”

“Ares.”

“… Sorry, Lene.”

“No. Let’s talk?”

Her turn hearing a heavy, raspy sigh. “So my cousin gave me this letter written by my father today…”

Chapter Text

17 – Having a Lazy Day

 

He wakes up to the blinding sun peeking into his naked windows.

Right, the windows whose curtains he didn’t draw the night prior as he desperately tried to find salvation in the blinking street lights and passing late-night cars outside.

His head feels a bit heavy because of the heavy drinking last night, but if anything he’s thankful that he’s not drunk. Picking himself up with a soft groan, he assesses his predicament—he’s still clad in the now-unbuttoned shirt he wore to the dinner his estranged cousin invited him to.

He found his aunt in the girl’s resolved eyes, and his father in her short light blond hair. When he didn’t know who would lose first as she threw herself into his arm, her brother, with lips as tight as a stitched wound, enveloped him in a powerful-yet-warm handshake.

She called his name, but he addressed with a title.

“Cousin…”

He decided to be the rock the younger-pair needed, suppressing his emotion—standing silently while his mind carefully chose what to store—the girl introduced him to the person she’s been dating seriously and that she had a letter penned by his father around the last hours before his departure. Her brother, Diarmuid, said they managed to track him because the bar brawl made it to the news.

He shrugged.

Of course he remembered taking down the blade-wielder with a powerful cross-cut, but somehow the memory of a forest fairy who bestowed a healing touch upon him was stronger.

He reaches for the phone, smiling that it’s still as he left the night prior—with her name on the screen, the talk time they spent, and the vodka still half-full just as he left it.

He gets up, throwing his shirt mindlessly onto the couch. Eleven o’clock and he thinks he may as well start cleaning. After all he’s not working that day. And even if he’s scheduled, it’s so tempting to just call in sick. … Or perhaps he can thank her for returning him to his senses. For keeping the vodka half-full, for somehow making him voice his shattered thoughts, the way the little vodka shot missed the table.

Picking up the shards to clean, there’s a leonine smile peeking on his lips when he faces his phone.

Thank you for last night.

The floor is clean and he returns from the bathroom completely feeling like a new man. The phone flashes right after he’s done rinsing the shaving cream off his face, and he hums.

Heheee should be the one thanking you!
Gosh, I’m embarrassed.

He looks in the mirror. Slowly the corner of his mouth twitches and he doesn’t flinch.

It’s still his shadow. Someone he recognizes. Not the emotionally-destroyed lion last night.

Don’t be. I’m cleaning, I feel better.

Great! I’m baking cookies.

He stops loading his clothes into the washing machine when something catches his attention. The fateful envelope from last night is still in the pocket. Last night he read it again and again that he can probably imitate his father’s handwriting if he’s to copy the letter word per word.

He takes out the envelope, kissing it, picturing his father scooping him into his strong arms. Feeling the paper, he sets it carefully on his bookshelf, near the gramophone from last night. Strong emotion overwhelms him and he soon wipes his eyes.

You okay?—says the new text just came in. Nanna’s bit worried. I got two tickets to the boxing match you like. This afternoon, let loose a bit, bro.

His phone flashes right when he contemplates replying Diarmuid.

I’m sure your father was proud of you :)

He loses it.

“Yeees~?” the cheerful voice welcomes him when he calls.

“Free?” he glances at the letter. “I need a frame.”

"Then I'll bring the cookies!"

The call ends and he darts a glance at the envelope—smiling—because reading it doesn’t feel gut-wrenching anymore.

Smirking, he dials another number.

“Diarmuid? Sorry, can’t.”

Chapter Text

18 – Job Work

 

She huffs for the fifth time today. By now she just wishes she can sit, and Iuchar makes funny faces hoping to lighten up her mood while Ulster clearly dislikes their client of the day.

The hotel’s majestic ballroom transcends into something otherworldly grand for tonight. Socialite Bloom and Hilda Alster booked the hotel to celebrate the betrothal of their daughter Ishtar to the wealthy tycoon heir Julius Velthomer, and they wanted everything suitable for their standing.

Hilda has been overshadowing everyone like a plague; lingering around the hall like a mistress of a land to be heeded and obeyed with everyone else being her personal servants.

“Goodness. Can’t you handle these caviar bottles and gold-infused sparkling champagne with care? I expected professionalism here, is this how you do your job? What else you’ve damaged with those… common hands of yours?”

The intern mumbles an apology with trembling voice, and Iuchar shoots an inquiring look.

“I was just letting them out of the box a bit. Needed the ice buckets from the kitchen,” the intern murmurs. “Yeah, I’ve never tasted these myself. It’s not like everything they deem to be low-quality won’t be thrown away. Like me. She’s gonna get me fired.”

Instinctively, she welcomes the intern into her arms. “Let’s get you some water,” patting the younger woman’s back she ushers the intern out of the ballroom.

“I hate her,” the intern mutters under her breath.

She sighs, looking into the CCTV planted above the door. Not sure what for—wanting him to see it?

He will, regardless.

The lion is off the field, spending today’s shift working desk job and control room—that’s what he told her when her florist entourage arrived, sharing the do’s and don’ts needed for the day before disappearing to the office. Everything was under control if not merrier as Iuchar pointed—that was until Hilda ascended from Hell to govern while Bloom wisely mentioned a headache being the reason to hole himself in their suite.

He’s her husband, alright, her lips curve mischievously.

She returns to the ballroom, finding none other than Hilda folding her arms. “Young lady…”

She praises herself for not slapping Hilda for overlording her like that. “Ma’am?”

“If you have time to daydream, you have time to work,” she hisses at her. “The wreaths…”

“Two left to be installed,” she musters her stage-trained smile. “We don’t even sit.”

“I’m not paying you to sit!” Hilda lashes, causing her to think her soul left her body. “It’s just damn flowers. You and that good-for-nothing intern—“

“The kitchen is far from here, Ma’am,” she clutches on her dress to keep her spirit. “And…”

“Stop answering back,” Hilda drags her, her nails digging into her skin that she nearly yelps. “Ugly. Do this again,” she conveniently rips a wreath off a chair, throwing it to the floor.

“I’m not picking it up.”

“Mother?”

They turn around. A graceful lady approaches, looking concerned. “Ishtar.”

“You may want to check the lobsters…”

Hilda fumes. “Hopefully they’re not as repugnant.”

She blinks, and Ishtar gently touches her. “I’m sorry…”

“It’s their job, Ishtar! I want the boss.”

She vaguely hears one of the field-guards speaks into his communicator. Iuchar and Ulster stop whatever they’re doing to join her, ready to fight to the death. The door opens, revealing a leonine man.

“Superintendent.”

“You?” Hilda stops chewing them. “How young…” appraising him from head to toe, she grins. “Will you be on-site? I can use some strong help now that my husband’s unwell. There’s compensation, sure.”

“Then treat the workers well.”

“Right,” Hilda speaks in a sultry tone. “See you later.”

When Hilda leaves because Ishtar manages to tame her, she sneaks out of the ballroom—wondering if he—understands—what the older woman demanded.  She finds him under the stairs near the janitor’s warehouse, on phone.

“Javarro? Can you take the field tonight? She wanted it professional, alright. She’d sure compensate you. Wealthy lady of your age… check the CCTV, she said it.”

“Um…” Too late for her to escape now.

He turns around, mischievous leonine smirk blossoms on his face. “… Yes, rabbit?”

Chapter Text

19 – Caught in the Rain / Wearing Each Other’s Clothes

 

He sits with folded arms. Beside him, the florist worker he knows as Iuchar grins.

“The robot is a man of culture, huh?”

“Got invited,” he replies simply, recalling the ticket she cheekily shoved into his pocket when they delivered flowers for the hotel’s lobby. Iuchar is always up for a good show, so when his endearing coworker informed she would be with the independent theater for An Evening Wasted by the famed satirist Tom Lehrer, he scored an early-bird ticket.

I know too well
I'm underneath your spell
So, darling, if you smell
Something burning—it's my heart

He clears his throat at that while Iuchar snickers when Masochism Tango reaches its last line—take your cigarette from its holder, burn your initials in my shoulder, fracture my spine and swear that you're mine.

“Fiery. Like Hilda Alster?”

“Don’t,” he glares at Iuchar, prompting the latter to gulp. Now that the threat is neutralized, he returns his attention on the stage, watching her dance to the sharp lyrics of Tom Lehrer’s satires—the way she appears villainous for Poisoning Pidgeons in the Park, depressed for Bright College Days. The witty lyrics tickle his mind, but her dances bewitch it.

Later on she tells him she’s not inclined to have men know her address. The moment she accepts his offer driving her to the station, however, he secretly makes a Cross, leaping to get the car.

Rain comes down while he’s behind the wheel, and by the time he arrives at the entrance she’s clutching herself dripping wet—and he has this sudden urge to sweep her into his arms when she thanks him with a tender smile.

“Sorry for ruining the seat,” she murmurs when he turns on the heater.

Glancing at the road, something dawns on him. “… I live nearby.”

“Really? Pleasant surprise!”

He wonders why his heart beats faster when offering to dry herself at his place—even more so when she accepts. Nevertheless they pull into the apartment, and she apologizes again when water drips out of her damp dress as she comes out.

“No more of that.”

The intentional authoritative tone earns her smile, and he puts his blazer on her as they approach the elevator.

“What’s the matter?” she chuckles when he scratches his head as they come inside.

“Not pretty,” he replies sheepishly. “I don’t decorate.”

“No, it’s alright!” she hums sincerely. “The white walls actually give a light feeling and brighten the room. I bet it will be nice to have tea on a sunny morning at that balcony…”

“Never done that.”

Her lips curve into the lovely O he pictured the other night and she warmly pats his arm. “There’s always a first time for everything.”

“Mayhaps,” concealing a small smile he ushers her to his room because that’s where he keeps a spare towel. Catching her flared cheeks, innocently he tells her to take the key, that there’s a sword under the bed she can use.

She comes out in his alma mater t-shirt.

Three sizes bigger drowns her body as it drapes to her upper thigh, half-covering the comfortable shorts she wears under the dress. Shyly she tells him it was with the towel and she didn’t want to search his closet. Her hair is loose, billowing like a peaceful meadow blown by spring breeze and he can’t find his tongue even when she takes her clothes out of his dryer.

“Drink?” he rubs his nose in embarrassment noticing the fridge only has beer, cola, and milk.

Chuckling, she requests a kitchen access.

From the sofa he hears her humming Wiegenlied, and for a moment he remembers the peaceful old days with his mother cooking breakfast and his father seating him down. Nearly gasping he sees colors slowly emerge over his white walls—they’re vivid and pastel at the same time, lively and abstract.

She returns with two cups and a pot.

He never takes ginger-infused-milk or vegetable soup. Warmth fills his chest as well as his mind when she smiles watching him consume her artwork, and he nearly chokes when she whispers her address.

Chapter Text

20 – One of Them is Sick

 

She wipes her forehead. A proud smile emerges as she gives a pat on the newly-installed bouquet, majestically standing beside an equally glorious-looking cake. “Done~!”

“Yay!” Iuchar throws his arms around her, with Ulster grimacing for being squeezed in between.

Unlike the socialite from hell of a client they had the other day, everything is better this time—the client is sensible, not making shocking demands or changes and overall cooperative. The birthday girl is a brown-haired supposed heiress for a construction company and she strolls in.

“That was great,” she smiles gently.

“Everything good, sister?” a long-haired man calls.

“I was about to offer dinner,” the birthday girl grins. “So yeah, Arion.”

“That’s our Altena, alright,” the long-haired man chuckles. “You’re part of the team. Join us?”

The trio sure won’t turn down free dinner.  Wiping her forehead again, she approaches the long table outside the ballroom purposefully set for the party staff. Joining catering interns and technicians, she spots the leonine superintendent with a plate in his hand, and he nods at her.

She smiles back, taking a small portion of enticing meat slices and a crab cake. Her attempt to secure a seat nearby resulting in bumping against him. Mumbling an apology, she quickly catches the plate before it falls, but her fork is another case.

“I’ll replace that. Sit.”

“It’s alright…” she tugs on the leonine guard, her voice croaks as she trips.

He catches her, and she turns away to break a cough.

“You’re feverish.”

“No way…”

“Then eat?”

“Not hungry…”

He shakes his head then. A moment later she’s bundled in his trench coat, in his car’s passenger seat—lightly slapping him when he smirks, saying he can navigate his way to her apartment from there.

Already sneezing thrice when he stops the car, she makes small steps, balancing herself by leaning a hand against the wall. Her place is modest compared to his, old four-floor-sans-elevator building from the age past turned into an affordable, aesthetically-vintage apartment.

“Not grand,” she wryly purses her lips. Concentrating on the stairs she can’t help but realizing that he has to earn more than her, feeling sour all of a sudden as dizziness engulfes her.

“Would you allow me?”

She approves out of curiosity, and he takes her. Formidable arms take her into a bridal embrace, protective and caring at the same time.

“Which room?”

She has no idea which one causes heartburn—his tender voice, or her head being against his chest that she can smell his cologne; deciding that she likes it.

The lion traces the staircases—unyieldingly strong that he is, yet his touch is gentle on her. Inserting her key, she turns the light on, her voice being as bashful as her expression as she leads him into her room. He merely chuckles, softly seating her onto the bed, noticing the calming pastel colors and floral papers she uses for her walls—strangely making him feel peaceful.

“Don’t go!” she tugs on him, quickly rectifying herself then. “I mean—the coat...”

“Bathroom.”

“Oh—right,” she muffles her voice with a pillow, earning his gentle chuckles. The moment he’s out, she curses herself silently for being in a clingy, spoiled mood just because getting rained gives her cold.

Right when she begins wondering whether the lion lost his way back, he’s back in the room, humming—with sleeves rolled up and loosened necktie. He carries a pot with him, a spoon being inside of it while his other hand holds a drink. When he comes closer, she notices papercuts on his fingers.

“You didn’t eat,” he deadpans. “And I found this curious glass for tea.”

She loses it. Giggling, she informs him that it was a baking measuring cup. When he scratches his head, however, she softly squeezes his arm for it doesn’t matter since she’s more concerned of the papercuts. Their faces are equally crimson when he says he did vegetables, fearing plain porridge might be bland.

“If your mother blew wound,” he scoops a spoonful of the porridge, “mine did this.”

She smiles, letting him feed her.

Chapter Text

21 – Spoiling One Another

 

That very morning she nervously clutches a wrapped box.

Her florist team arrives early at the hotel because they are set to decorate a meeting room; not only that they need to install bouquets, some colleagues ordered congratulatory wreaths for the meeting boss—Arvis Velthomer, who back then also booked the ballroom for his son’s engagement party. His prominence alone causes the best of everything being taken out of the shelves, including the best staff being sent on-site.

Again, Ulster grumbles as they load styrofoam plates decorated with carved messages and flowers. “His business is toxic,” he explains.

“Still a client sadly,” she responds, sailing the corridor with a big wooden basket hanging on her shoulder. Men in suits orbit around the hall looking sharper than action movie extras—some have detectors and in-ear mic, while some other surround a flashily-dressed old man.

“Restricted area,” one of the men holds her.

“Could’ve warned me without touching,” she mutters under her breath. Regardless of her improved relationship with the leonine superintendent, the high-class atmosphere still makes her uneasy, with rich folks acting mighty like that.

That moment the old man tilts at her. The owner’s eyes glint upon seeing her—the expression may’ve soured, but the blinding lights reveal none other than beauty. The man retreats, mumbling an apology, and the lion emerges from the back—having been informed of supposed commotion. Weaseling her way out of the old man’s stares, she returns to the meeting room.

She learns the name's Bramsel—and she hates him.

The arrangement is done and she’s reminded of the wrapped box. “The superintendent?”

“This isn’t the exit,” the same man-in-black clutches her—until a death grip over the forearm halts him.

“Don’t lay a finger on her.”

She shoves the wrapped box into the lion’s arms. The trio waste no time to leave after their job is done, equally exasperated by the people and atmosphere. Meanwhile the lion acts like running a detector over her package under his men’s surprised look before retreating somewhere else to open it.

Thank you for nursing me, the little card reads, successfully cracking his lips into a smile. He finds three lunchboxes inside; one containing gravy-bathed spiced beef patties, grilled sausages, and pork ribs. The second one bears fresh slices of dragon fruit, kiwi, and apples—with the last one filled with delicious ogura cake topped with edible flowers. Hehe, don’t catch a cold, alright~?—another card reads.

Satan be damned, he’s never eaten edible flowers before—with the main course landing him in meat heaven, he realizes he’s never plotted a revenge against a rabbit either.

That evening Ulster and Iuchar have left when she hears a knock. Frowning, she raises her voice. “Sorry, we’re closed!”

“Delivery, Miss.”

Throwing her purse over the counter she checks, feeling odd because the stock is full. The leonine security guard towers the door, looking sharper than the sight she caught in the morning for he’s gloved; butterfly necktie can be seen loosely hanging around his collar. Opening the door, she shoots him an inquiring look.

“Got stuff from the job,” he says in his typical manner, walking inside with a bigger box he easily holds by the waist.

She lets him set it on the counter; her cheeks are melting for burning so hot when he smirks, casually tugging the gloves off with his teeth to open the crate. Grilled crabs say hi to her, and she dissolves into some liquid of pure shyness as he rolls his sleeves to cut them for eating.

“Is it because…” she halts her words, recalling the wealth disparity between them; his sophisticated job versus her nobody-bats-an-eye-lol-art-you-say.

“Because seafood is rare in this Satan’s butthole of a hot city,” he smirks again. “Cheers?”

Goshdangit, she thinks—he even got her sparkling champagne.

“They pamper you well,” chuckling, she toasts with him.

“Like you,” he deadpans, making a satisfied sigh after downing his champagne.

She snatches the bottle before he can. Refilling his glass, she bats her eyelashes. “Like you too.”

Her voice is soft and she pinches his nose when he smirks—again.

Chapter Text

22 – Doing Chores

 

She climbs the staircases to her apartment. Her steps are slow if not languid, and she finds herself sighing multiple times by the time she gets to her door—room 307. As exhausted as she is that night, she’s glad that at least her place is not located in the fourth floor.

The landlord has changed the antique building’s wooden staircases into typical ceramic tiles. It’s no longer the unsafe wooden staircases which often make creaky sounds when people step on it, but ceramic tiles deafen noises that it’s rather unnerving when she returns alone during the night like this.

Her success with the independent theater and their An Evening Wasted performing Tom Lehrer’s satires land her more dancing invitations, but the consequence is that the packed schedule begins to wear her out. It’s only around eight on a Saturday, but all she wants at the moment is simply a me-time and a hot bath to relieve those tired feet. And perhaps lulling herself to sleep with a poetry book.

Finally reaching room 307, she grabs her key to open the door.

There’s a clicking sound she clearly hears in a silent corridor like that, but after making a move against the handle, she realizes something—it won’t open.

“Come on now,” she huffs, yanking the door harder. But despite her effort the door only manages to creak a little, and she can only helplessly peek inside—still can’t get in, and only then she realizes the sliding chain prevents her entry.

“Really?” she places her hands on her hips, eyebrows diving deeply. She’s exhausted. She still has the laundry she’s yet to do because of her teaching and sudden dancing invitation, and now that she has the time to remember, everything that went wrong in the morning resurfaces to taunt her. Oh, right, her broom is stuck behind her kitchen cabinet. There are probably a couple of dishes in the sink she also left in a hurry, and—shit, she forgot to clean the shards of a broken olive oil bottle that morning as well!

Frustration piles up that it drives her to slam her fist against the door, causing a muffled sound because of the sturdy material. Kicking the door because punching it four times didn’t work, she slumps, her purse is pressed against her chest that she wants to cry.

Absent-mindedly checking the phone, something dawns on her…

God knows what drives her to dial that number, but she does anyway. Life in Darna is already pretty hard and dignity is useless when getting locked out, so…

“Ares? Sorry for calling…”

“Don’t be. Yes?”

“… How do you effectively fistfight a door?”

There’s a pause on the other side and she wryly smiles—that’s not what she wanted to say, and yet.

Light chuckles reply her. “I’m on my way.”

She’s still not moving when footsteps approach her floor—half of her in disbelief because of his reply. Yet there he is, towering under the light in sneakers, t-shirt, and jeans, smiling a little as she stands up. “Sorry for looking like a scared little school girl,” she grumbles.

“I call that humane, Miss,” he replies casually, walking to her door to examine it. “Your hair tie, please?”

Curiously, she lets her hair loose, and he clears his throat when she hands the rubber band to him. He draws his Swiss army knife, its integrated LED flashlight shines and she watches him nimbly attaching her hair tie to the chain’s lock, stretch-twisting the other hand to connect it to the door. He holds the door handle to close it, then making another move to yank it open. And…

“Oooh!” she gasps when the chain lock gives in.

“Glad to help,” smirking, he holds the door for her.

“Thank you!” ecstatic, she jumps into his arms, her legs wrap around him.

They fall onto her sofa, him flipping her on her back. Eyes meeting eyes stops time in the house, until she shyly gestures at the undone chores. “… I sprain my wrist.”

“Alright,” laughing, he takes himself off her, freeing the broom and starts working.

Chapter Text

23 – Trying Something New

 

When he hears the bell ringing that Sunday morning, he frowns, thinking it’s the landlord, who usually comes to inspect essential installations such as gas and lighting. He can mostly repair his things when the need arises, so waiting for the landlord’s familiar voice coming in from the intercom, but…

“Hello~! Is Mr. Nordion present~?”

Well, that’s also a familiar voice, alright—just not what he expected. Opening the door he finds her at the threshold, smiling cheerfully with her hands behind her back. She wears a cute sky-blue sundress with yellow floral motif topped with an elbow-length sleeved light pink cardigan, and as always her hair is worn into a ponytail, laced with her favorite pink ribbon.

“Ares,” correcting her, his lips crack into a smile.

“Thanks for the house thing,” giggling, she comes inside, setting something onto his drawer near the TV.

His eyes bulge—it’s a vase.

The long-neck decorative thing practically makes a sharp contrast against his monochrome apartment. The vase boasts a sleek elegant design combined with a fun look, for it has abstract patterns like ethnic tiles, and the color is a mix-match of vermillion, cream, and dusty pink.

“Theeere you go~! I need to teach,” she winks at him, leaving like a storm just like her arrival.

For the next week, he’s in a daze.

He’ll stare at the vase like it’s a curious object ever known to humankind, and each time he throws himself on the sofa or watch TV, the vase will be there; occupying his mind like it’s staring back at him. He begins to think if it’s haunted—but ghosts be damned again, it’s not like he ever cared. The vase stands out among his gray sofa, two black cushions, white walls, and metallic kitchen appliances. Even under the dim light its colors stand out, and for a moment he feels uneasy.

There’s nothing in his apartment that doesn’t scream utilization—they all have a function, for his living compartment consists of furniture akin to a workforce with their own job description. On a Thursday he can’t resist to ask her, especially after the landlord noticed he has something new for a change.

“Hnnn? Because even without flowers it sparks joy?” she answers, in-between arranging bouquets.

“… Joy?” he quirks an eyebrow. This is confusing. He’d rather fight someone at the gym.

She nods enthusiastically. “Yep~! Beautifully artsy, right?”

He can’t answer—no, he doesn’t even know how a furniture can be beautiful or artsy—let alone sparking joy. He got the drawer to keep his things. He got the sofa because he needs it and the big bed is comfortable. And the vase? What is it for—concealing a gun?  

But when he asks her, she laughs heartily, calling him a dear cub and he leaves even more confused.

That night he contemplates the vase. Right when he wonders if it’s secretly laughing at him, he realizes he doesn’t mind. The way he got a checkered-motif tablecloth when they ran out of a plain moss one and he didn’t mind—there’s color, there’s variation, and his food remains alright.

Vermilion, cream, dusty pink…

On Saturday he drives to a nearby store, watching people come and go at the furniture and household appliance section. Well, his coffeemaker is broken, but his eyes land somewhere else.

All kinds of cushions and pillows are put on display, and he notices the model sofa is charcoal. As if bewitched he approaches to check—a couple goes before him, their toddler absently frolics with the cushions.

His mind flies somewhere else.

Sunday afternoon comes and she’s back at his door, again concealing something behind her back. Sheepishly she confesses that the gift might confuse him, so she decides to fill it with flowers. He lets her arrange fragrant roses for the vase, offering her to sit afterwards. She cups her mouth seeing the new big pink cushion on his sofa, and he shrugs.

“My mother’s color. ... Yours too. I guess new beautiful things aren't... bad.”

She squeezes his arm, noticing his coffeemaker is blue.

Chapter Text

24 – Acknowledging the Crush

 

“You’re smiling.”

She playfully swats the finger pointing at her.

It’s so early in the morning—probably not even six yet, and they’ve arrived at the hotel to decorate the lobby. Majestic hotel boasts a comfortable spacious lobby requiring bigger arrangements than just what they usually do for meeting rooms, and florists are often hired to evoke the vibe of a memorable warm welcome.  The thing is, this kind of work is usually done early as to not disturb guests and customers. Unlike security guards who need to be present, workers except those working food service are often asked to be invisible as they can, with the results of their job substituting their presence instead.

Ulster already moves to decorate wine glasses with flowers they’ll put across the dining room where guests have breakfast while Iuchar is chirpier than usual—which she attributes to sleepiness. But the flowery-speech man is wide awake when on-site guards fill the lobby like flood; their black suits are neat and crisp like they rise from darkness by the time the sun rises.

And among them, him—the strict leonine superintendent who navigates the lobby like a warrior does his battlefield. He asks her how to care for flowers after exchanging their typical formal-ish courteous nod the first time he sees her—something only they understand, thus her smile.

But even then, she can’t escape Ulster’s keen eyes; neither can she of Iuchar’s. He walks up to the trio telling them they can have tea and bread from a breakfast station at the corner. The thing is, he smirks at her, adding that she may not want to catch a cold—again, something only they can understand.

“Really, Lene—the robotic lion?”

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy he comes back with a detector. “Gentlemen?”

With Ulster and Iuchar sighing, he runs the tool over the flower packages they just brought in from their parked van at the basement, patting their torsos because both used a restricted-area elevator.

“My turn?” she queues behind her coworker.

He runs the detector all over her. His stretched hand meets her somewhat-nervous expression, and he tilts his head, sighing.

His muscular supervisor waves at him.

“What’s the matter, Ares?”

“I can’t, Javarro. It’s like groping a lady.”

“Who cares, son, it’s the procedure.”

“Not her.”

His supervisor glares at him. “We never had this problem prior. You’re professional—act like it.”

“It’s a girl who can’t even harm a fly.”

“Ares…”

“Look, even my shirt is three sizes bigger than hers—she’s not a threat.”

“Your shirt?” Javarro’s eyes practically bulge now, and the younger man withdraws, realizing the fatal mistake of his blurting. “Have you lost your mind, bringing shit on the job?” the muscular supervisor sternly folds his arms. “Oh, right, you have—the idiot who covered a CCTV.”

He resumes his task with her still waiting on him. With Javarro being within earshot and CCTV watching over him, he cusses his existence first and everything else second. Mustering a strict tone like the first day he clashed with her, he spreads his legs, towering over her. “Excuse me.”

She obediently turns around. “I trust you.”

He arches his back, and she braces herself when his lips are centimeters away from her ears. “Stay still.”

He maintains such position for some seconds—and right when she thinks she may dissolve here and now, he withdraws—without even touching her, let alone frisking. The muscular supervisor snickers like it’s the most satisfying thing to behold and he disappears to return the detector.

Iuchar whistles.

“I don’t even tell men where I live,” she says.

“You were sweet to him, it’s like you’d come home with him or something!”

“Now that’s easy, he knows my address!”

Iuchar stares, but she leaves for tea while the leonine superintendent is back in action.

Ulster doesn’t take it too kindly, however. “Alright, you don’t like her,” he barks at the lion in a brotherly manner. “But loosen a bit, blonde, Lene doesn’t mean harm.”

"Who said I don’t like her?”

Chapter Text

25 – Pining

 

“I’m leaving for Fiana.”

Friday evening he drops by the florist around minutes before they close, asking for a bouquet of daisies and carnations at the counter. Ulster and Iuchar look at him with interest when he speaks to her, but he merely smiles faintly at them, thanking them profusely as they help loading the big bouquet into his car.

“… Fiana?” her eyes widen.

“Yeah. There’s something I need to discuss with my cousin—we grew up separated, and she wants to sort everything out before her big move to Leonster. Supposedly my aunt had my father’s things when she moved there to raise her,” he explains, earning the Look from the male florists like they just saw a miracle in action. The lion robot can actually talk?

When Iuchar begins to move leftover fertilizer sacks into the warehouse by the time Ulster starts closing the windows, she sneaks a gentle squeeze onto his arm. Somehow she can feel it—the journey is important, and it may be emotionally draining.

She recalls his voice that midnight when he talked about his father—altering between chuckles because old friends actually called him the lion king and croaked voice like he’d been containing overdue sorrow for as long as he could remember. When she said the lion king’s legacy ought to live in him considering she thinks of him as a cub, the next thing she knew he thanked her in the gentlest voice she ever heard of him.

“By train?” Iuchar returns to the counter.

“Driving.”

Iuchar whistles. “You’ll reach it at dawn then.”

“So you won’t be here on weekend?”

Her response startles him, and for a moment his gaze shifts—tenderly. “I’m returning Monday,” he says. “Feeling better considering I won’t be on-site hunting you?”

“Can’t believe you’re that fucking decorated superintendent they talked about,” Iuchar retorts.

He simply chuckles.

“Bye, Black Knight.”

“… Ares,” she corrects. “Um—have a safe trip!”

His words betray nobody. Saturday rolls in without his presence at the hotel—between the awkward strictness other suited men imitate from him or the actual strictness-plus-scoffing especially at her from his muscular supervisor she doesn’t like, somehow she is… apprehensive.

How is he? Why didn’t he text back—has he arrived? Did something happen to him on the road? It’s a night ride for a long trip. Out of casual chat Ulster said Fiana is a tranquil village protected by the natural fortress of hilly terrain and rocky soil which makes distinctive features of the city of Thracia—prompting her to think of… worrying things.

Her TV is playing a sitcom which she watches absent-mindedly because it’s the sixth time in ten minutes for her to unlock the phone. Giving in to sleepiness, she finally comes to bed with the phone by her side. Snatching it when it vibrates, she hears faint sounds.

“Safely arrived. Bad signal.”

“You called!” she exclaims.

He chuckles then. “I keep you awake.”

“I-it’s alright…”

“Croaked voice?”

“I’m—sorry.”

“I am sorry.”

She clutches on her blanket, feeling oddly warm when he firmly says it. “Are you… alright?”

“I am now that I heard you.”

She presses her pillow against her chest.

“Turns out my father did leave… more. Thought I’ve packed everything I inherited from my mother when I left Leonster.”

”Talk to me about it,” she whispers. “So you can sleep.”

Sunday comes and with the sky appearing clearer than Saturday, his halted texts consecutively reach her. Fiana’s landscapes—rough-yet-charming rocky terrain and the small-yet-cozy wooden cabin with rustic interiors he’s staying at; photos of him and his blond cousins barbecuing under the sky, of him on the roof to fix the parabola antenna.

She sends him photos of flowers she’s working on, a stray cat at the street, the breakfast she cooks, including a candid photo of her playfully punching Iuchar’s nose, and not even Javarro’s watchful eyes on her deter her smile that day.

Monday call catches her right when she finishes with the florist’s registry, and she gives him the cutest pleasant laughter to ever grace his ears. “Signal improved?”

“Oh, yes,” she imagines him smirking. “Because I’m back.”

Chapter Text

26 – Shy / Awkward Date Request

 

That evening her eyes are glued on something.

The coffee shop is still busting even at around eight-thirty, and she catches the small announcement being plastered at the small board on the counter, followed by colorful flyers piling under the board.

Her mind travels back to Monday—the god of war reincarnating as the leonine security guard whom by now she’s known for around three-four months waited on her concluding her work at the florist before he had to return to the hotel to start his shift.

Giving a final touch to tidy up the counter, she found a little sealed box that wasn’t there prior to his arrival. Smiling, her eyes traced every stroke of his penmanship—firm like him, neat in cursive.

Does this spark joy?—the card said. He gifted a souvenir—beautiful green gemstone like her hair and eyes, proof of the Thracian mountainous craftsmanship. Heading to the bus stop that night she caught his figure hailing a taxi for a drunk Iuchar, and Tuesday morning saw her male coworkers fawning over packs of Thracian salted beef jerky he secretly left at the store with her box.

“I haven’t thanked him for the taxi,” Iuchar said.

“He’s actually kind and pure.”

Ulster, however, pointed out that she was beaming. “Drag him to chill. That may un-robot the robot.”

So there she is, on a Thursday feeling funny remembering all the chit-chat she had with her coworkers. The flyer is neatly folded in her purse—somehow unlike the theater invitations she could just mindlessly throw at him, this one is different to her.

Is it because of the souvenir? What she’s sure of is that he’s reliable and trustworthy; spending time with him so far invokes various… emotions—playful or melancholic, above all it’s fulfilling yet fun at the same time. Somehow she thinks how nice it’ll be if she can just… have meals with him often, if their shelves are conjoined that reading each other’s books is convenient. She made him read poetry after his help with the chores, and in turn when she took shelter from the rain he introduced her to his father’s things—guerrilla warfare and survival tips.

She takes out her phone.

Do you like swords?

How clever—not.

Yes.

Efficient—like him.

Do you ride horses?

He’s not replying. Of course he’s not—perhaps he’s weirded.

That’s it—she concludes—that’s her second try and it’s more than enough. Too bad she can’t lock herself frozen in the florist’s cooler. Grimacing, she returns to the coffee shop’s counter. If she bribes him with his favorite coffee, he won’t mind those texts that much… probably.

She makes a mental note to defeat him in gift-giving later.

This feels surreal. God knows what empowers her to visit the hotel with his coffee in hand. Giving up her professional act she approaches a guard who didn’t bat an eye when her familiar presence strolled in.

“I have delivery for the superintendent…”

Her voice nearly lost its way and she feels shyer than a schoolgirl.

The unsuspecting guard navigates her to his office. She’s disappeared the moment he realizes there’s no bouquet, but he manages to activate his walkie-talkie.

Her steps take her to a sturdy door with Authorized Only on it. Contemplating if she should enter, suddenly the door is open, revealing men in suits storming out.

And she finds him—with a baton and communicator; alert and fiery. “Control room. Copy.”

“Intruder alert. Over?”

There she is, almost dying surrounded by fifteen tough-looking men, equipped with no weapon but her purse. And the leonine guard is there—bedazzled, looking at her. “Lene?”

“Coffee?” she whispers.

He catches that she wears his souvenir as a pendant.

His eyes shift—tamer that they are now, his chuckles fly out of his lips. “So you’re the intruder.”

He approaches her. In godlike speed she opens her purse. Awkwardness meeting shyness sees her smacking his face with the flyer she unfolds; her face is redder than red. “Wanna see the Renaissance Faire with me?”

He pauses—for seconds. “Can the horse be replaced with a car?” smiling, his voice is tender.

Chapter Text

27 – Holding Hands / Well-Behaved Kissing

 

“He fenced?”

Her lips curve into a beautiful crescent moon shape while Ulster’s jaw drops to the floor. “And won.”

Monday’s crowded traffic failed affecting her because she came looking so refreshed while her surroundings crashed and burned. Her fellow florists teased her that he ought to be boring even on a date, but the truth is he was all smiles and laughter at the faire like a cat with a fish. Friendly matches were open for anyone to try, and the moment they put him in armor, her heart nearly stopped beating, more so when he made his opponent kneel and presented the armband to her like a knight treated a princess.

“Holy hell. What is he?” Iuchar chirps.

“An Ares,” she can’t resist laughing.

“Beaming again,” Ulster sighs.

“He was happy. That’s enough for me.”

“You caught the feels,” Iuchar twirls her hair.

Strangely she’s not interested in punching Iuchar’s nose as always.

She sees him again that evening at the coffee shop they frequent—again, coffee for him and chamomile tea for her. This time it’s him who manages to secure a table for them, and she smiles noticing he’s not as brooding as he was when rain comes down. In-between munching the big meaty sandwich deal they love, suddenly he slides something to her.

“This was on my desk. Would you do me the honor?”

His speech releases her giggles. “You’re still in Renaissance mood.”

“I had fun,” he smirks. “Gotta return the favor.”

Nevertheless she reads it. “A corporate party? Ares, I’m not your candy-for-hire.”

Right—he shouldn’t forget that his forest fairy is made of fire besides all that is good in the world. “My apologies for making you feel that way,” he replies after a pause.

“Then why?”

“I’ve been wanting to repay the faire,” he responds. “But I’m working weekend considering I took a leave for Fiana.”

“It’s a high-end steakhouse...”

“And you belong there.”

Friday evening sees her in an elegant pink-taupe beaded bell-sleeved dress. Featuring a V-neck, its length goes above her knees; its tailoring accentuates her curves. She pairs it with glittered silver open-toe heels. Matching her nails she applies crimson-red lipstick, spectacularly complimenting her sun-kissed skin. Letting her hair loose and curls it, she makes a simple side-sweep and pins a gold-colored hairpin.

Grabbing a gold-colored purse she almost trips in her heels when the bell rings.

He towers before her. Looking absolutely dashing, his golden mane shines under the light. Black vested suit covers his body like a second skin, topping a white shirt and gold-colored tie tucked under. His brown Oxfords match his waistband, and the perfect tailoring frames his figure and shapes his biceps.

“May I?” he asks after clearing his throat. When she gives a small nod, he leans in, darting a kiss on her cheek. “I’ve got no words,” he murmurs.

Well, neither does she.

That night he admires her fortitude. “Lene. A florist and dancer!” she will repeat it when folks act like they missed it. Furthermore, they also ask her… things. Like her age—twenty-three, she says—and how much she earns—around thirty-six a year—she answers, smiling with a dignity ancient queens would envy.

“And the Black Knight…”

“I’ve no idea how much Ares makes,” she replies. Again, he wants to worship her for calling his name—especially with emphasis like that.

When people scatter around, he slides to her. “I’m sorry—that’s uncalled for.”

“They’re waiting for you! I’d just…” she smiles reassuringly.

“No. You're my date tonight.”

He holds her hand then.

“I’ll deck the next person pestering you,” he says, her hand is still in his. 

“Glad it didn’t happen.”

“Why?”

She smiles. Sheepish and playful, her words finally find their way. “Because you wouldn’t be holding my hand?”

He pauses.

“I like the food,” she says. “The cupcakes are amazing. The ice cream…”

“Tell me if you loathe everything—it’s alright.”

“… Isn’t as impressive as a lion in a suit.”

He gently latches his fingers onto hers.

 

Chapter Text

28 – Sleeping in / Couch Cuddles

 

She hears a knock.

Beautiful Saturday golden afternoon sunlight peeks in by the time she takes her homemade fresh lemonade to accompany her winding at the sofa. Opening the windows wider, she laughs, letting the sensation of cooling breeze swipes inside as bright sunlight colors her living room.

She can use some rest, definitely. She didn’t expect her schedule would be so packed after her last date with the leonine superintendent. For three weeks straight it wasn’t just the florist which received more orders—she too saw a significant increase in dancing-related emails she received. She ventured stages and clubs, leaving strong impression of the art—either it was a scripted theatrical play, death match as her thespian friends call it—where dancers are invited to free-style on the spot with the music they’re not informed about—or even folk dances, she was satisfied seeing her audience erupted into grand applause when she finished performing.

On Friday, a local journalist managed to locate her shop and asked for an interview.

Like her, the god of war reincarnate has been busier than ever with the hotel receiving more and more of Bramsel’s business colleagues, which contributes to the increasing order her shop received. She can barely talk to him on-site because there’s always something he’ll need to do; be it reviewing guest lists with the concierge, checking on the incoming luxurious cars, or heading teams called for meetings. If not then he’ll be in the control room, supervising CCTVs and on-site guards or finishing a piling paperwork.

He says he won’t text her during nightfall out of respect, and she tells him to forget the phone when driving. She’s had suspicion that his supervisor—Javarro—might have a hand in arranging his workpile because Javarro didn’t conceal a smirk during those mornings when she worked for the hotel’s orders.

She dislikes it, yet above all she’s concerned. Why didn’t Javarro let the lion breathe a little? It’s almost like they don’t let him to live life, and she couldn’t even talk back when the supervisor made a snide comment about how loose things are lately because the lion refused to detain a trespassing child.

He’s still a lion at the job—if anything, a better one for mercy comes after the justice of the rules—the way he broke into an elderly client’s room instead of referring him downstairs coldly because the client is locked out while forgetting his medicine.

She leaves memory lane to open the door, gasping because…

“Steak?” he chuckles, holding a plastic bag at her door. Looking at her innocently-surprised expression he scratches his head, saying he understands that three-PM steak is untraditional.

“I’ve got rebellious soul anyway,” smiling, she retrieves plates for them.

“I’m working night again,” he explains, feeling odd why everything feels so calm yet heart-warming the moment she lets him in, especially with them having food at home like this. At first he suspects the sunlight, but on the road the thought of seeing her again already made him feel warm.

“… Ares, it’s steak-au-poivre,” she breathes. “That’s quite a spending.”

“Well, I can’t cook,” he smirks. “And I want to mend what you experienced with my coworkers.”

The peppery flavor and prime meat pleasantly fondle their palates, but for her his presence makes the best ingredient. He joins her at the sofa after doing the dishes, and she takes a WB Yeats poetry book from the shelf. His eyes are glued on a passage—but I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Chuckling, she folds the book. “You can borrow.”

“It’ll make a great night read,” he smiles.

“Tired?”

“Somewhat.”

“Nap?” she murmurs. “I’ll wake you up.”

She clears the space for him, setting a teddy-like cushion under his head. Mumbling a heartfelt gratitude he folds his arms, and she gently tucks his mane behind his ears. It’s so peaceful, looking at him like this.

“Let's go out again…”

“Ssh,” she whispers—“But yes.”

He chuckles.

“Nap with me?”

She pinches his waist but lies down, regardless.

Chapter Text

29 – Love Confession

 

At first somehow he feels embarrassed for having her contact open while he’s in the bathroom for a break. She sent him photos of the faire in the morning. I forgot, her text said—you’re like a warrior!

He’s holding a broadsword from the festival, his body language being so relaxed that his entire aura speaks life while she’s dressed in court musician style. He concludes he smiles softer and wider when she’s around.

He’s never napped in another person’s house. Yet there he was, waking up to her snuggling beside him. It was purely a nap—their clothes were still intact. Caressing her sleeping face after gently tucking a wild strand of her hair, he realizes that he no longer “doesn’t mind” it.

Rather, he craves these; the way his heart flutters just because he hears her voice. How peaceful and protected his soul is the deeper she enters his life, how resilient he is because somehow he knows he can do anything as long as she’s there.

When next week schedule rolled in he breathed relief seeing he’d have normal hours again, and her face immediately popped in his mind. She’s told him she’ll only need to decorate Bramsel’s suite and the rest of her day will be normally spent at the shop as always.

He has to say something. And being uninterested in competition, he’s determined to be the first in line.

There’s something I’d like to say—dine with me tonight?

The text he’s composing is left hanging. If not due to this sudden nervousness which—again—he never experienced before, the faint sounds from the janitor’s room attract his attention.

A sobbing girl curls in the corner; her black hair illuminates under the light.

“I’m Lara…” the girl begins, and he contains his anger upon hearing her story. She’s there against her will, taken out of promise to stardom only to find herself being booked for a private show… private show.

A curse escapes his lips knowing she’s fifteen. He clasps a duplicate key into her palm. “Hide. My office has a letter-opener knife in the drawer,” he dials the police then.

She’s got another story to tell.

It’s about another person who manages to get her out—the lady with warm smile whose cheeriness turned into volcano the moment she discovered what awaited the teen.

He asks where it happened. Every nerve in his body awakens after he gets an answer; rage cooks his pores as he aims for a restricted elevator to take him to the battlefield. Javarro greets him at the floor, looking surprised to see how ferocious his leonine eyes are.

That’s the answer for everything he needs to know.

“Open the door, J.”

“She can use the money. We don’t snoop on clients, let alone owner. Aren’t you professional?”

He chuckles. And seconds later he corners Javarro with a choke-hold.

“I quit.”

He strangles his bloodlust, tossing the unconscious supervisor. Sliding a magnetic card he sees her, lying helplessly with her back facing him. Bramsel roars death threats at him when money fails, and uniformed men enter after he slams the old man’s face against the wall.

“Captain Chalphy,” the blue-haired squad-leader holds up a badge.

“Take him out before I do,” he growls.

Approaching the bed he gently flips her over, ripping the duct tape which binds her wrists and ankles.

“Lene!” his voice trembles like earthquake.

“Oh, Ares,” she whispers the moment he peels the duct tape off her mouth. “Y-you came…”

He loses it. Disregarding everything he knows for life—the unfeeling professional code, he yields to the strange-yet-comforting idea of… loving… “I’m here.”

“Fired then?” she ticks his nose, feeling so relieved to be able to laugh again.

“I can work anywhere,” he responds. “… But I can’t find a woman like you just anywhere.”

He takes her into his arms, drowning her in his embrace; her body feels like second skin on him—so fitting, so long-overdue he wonders where she’s been all along, so satisfied that he is to finally find a counterpart which reflects his soul in her that he nearly sheds a tear before she does.

Chapter Text

30 – Happily Ever After

 

She clutches her purse like her life depends on it. Beside her, a lady with short blond hair gently squeezes her arm for a moral support. It’s raining again outside, and the chill air makes her nervous.

It’s spring again.

Agustria is colder than Darna, but she not-so-secretly loves the contrasts between seasons—the way hot wind blows when it’s summer, how leaves turning colors in autumn, and the thick snow during winter including the beautiful rainy days in spring. Something she appreciates more is that flowers grow easier in Agustria, and the charming city boasts more-varied flora than Darna.

Being a big city, Agustria also offers more opportunity. Even after two years of living in Agustria, she’s still grateful and pleased seeing how easy it is for her to land performing jobs on various stages. Happy to find another well-established independent theater, within a year she managed to go solo, and as exhausted as she was like today, with her latest performance at a local TV station her stardom is assured.

She smiles faintly, recalling the beauty that’s her bank account. Perhaps she can take a week off from dancing and treats herself a bit. Won’t hurt to buy two or three new dresses—or venturing secondhand bookstores, an unchanging hobby even after settling in Agustria.

“It’s going to be alright…”

She tilts her head, finding a lime-haired young man with serene expression and pastoral clothing.

“Pardon,” he smiles at her. “Sometimes I’m here to console people…”

He clasps his hands, and she notices something. “Sorry, Father—the bracelet?”

He smiles again. “Oh. A keepsake from my mother. This may sound strange but it helps me whenever my faith in humanity is dwindling. After all we are a bunch of imperfect creatures capable of doing great things—perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to feel disappointed at each other.”

“That’s… strange,” she murmurs, holding up her other hand to him. “Just like mine, isn’t it?”

“God works in a mysterious way,” the young man chuckles. “I’ll be praying for you. May your tests not cause you distress. And please—I’m not ordained yet.”

She quickly keeps the card he hands to her. There’s a church name on it with a number, including an affiliated orphanage, diocese, and everything. She gets up when a nurse calls her, followed by the blond lady—but before entering the examination room, she manages to ask his name—Coirpre.

The rain starts dying down by the time the doctor is done with her, and she squeezes the blond lady’s hand as emotions begin to overwhelm her. The blond lady opens the door for her and ushers her to the car with utmost care. Only when they’re seated that she hugs her tightly. “Congratulations…”

“Thank you, Nanna,” her voice trembles. “I can’t believe it. I hope he will…”

“Ares loves you so much. Of course he will,” the blond lady replies.

She chuckles, drying her tears with a ply of tissue she takes from Nanna’s dashboard. Sudden thought regarding the lion makes her heart ache in longing.

When he gloriously gave a middle finger to the entire hotel, after managing his savings for a week he decided it’s time to claim his rightful inheritance. After nightmares thinking she’d have to separate from him after blissful months of companionship—and him saving her life, professing his utmost feelings for her—all her worries were washed away when the independent theater asked if she’d be interested to take a bigger world even if it meant moving to Agustria.

Nanna’s car pulls into a driveway. Sparing another sisterly hug she leaves with a giggle, talking about dropping by for dinner which she greenlights with a wink. Her heart throbs as she traces the rustic staircases, but the door opens even before her key finds its way.

“Ares!” she gasps, finding his towering figure at the threshold. “Why? It’s like three.”

“I miss my wife?” he cocks an eyebrow, scooping her into his strong arms, smirking as he closes the door.

“You left work early for that?” giggling, she yanks his mullet.

“Legit reason,” he nods solemnly.

“You rascal,” she ticks his nose, chuckling.

He gently sets her down on their comfortable couch—baby-blue in color as she likes it. They finally have a conjoined bookshelf as they’ve been wanting. During their first months of marriage everything is neatly arranged, with her books on the left side and his on the right side. Now neither of them bats an eye when an ancient warfare books is placed next to a cupcake recipe book—or as he puts it, as long as it’s not scattered around, who cares; it’s their shelf and they have an equal stake for it.

He likes his favorite couch, however—black in color, with the big pink cushion which sometimes changes face into lacey-white courtesy of pillowcases she embroiders.  

“Well, Mrs. Nordion?” he murmurs.

“Sorry for leaving without telling, Mr. Nordion,” she whispers, cupping his cheek.

“Forgiven. But where to?” he lets out a satisfied sigh as her touch nourishes him, returning the courtesy unfairly by landing a quick peck on her bottom lip.

“Hospital…”

He pauses.

He has that unmasked anxious look on his face; the way such expression decorated him the moment he saved her from Bramsel. She’s close to ask if he’s angry, but their phone rings from the corner.

He shakes his head, taking himself off her to answer it.

She glances around. The Nordion family home which Ares inherits from his late father is anything she can ever ask for a dream house—it’s charming, pretty spacious and bearing calming elegant interiors reflecting the tastes of his parents. They also have a beautiful garden she cultivates to grow flowers and their own vegetables, and she makes sure fragrant petals decorate their room everyday. The ethnic vase she gifted him never runs out of fresh flowers and now stands beautifully under the frame which immortalizes his father’s hand-written letter.

One night he tells her how much he treasures her, for floral scent will always be there each time he’s close enough to read the letter again, healing him each time an old wound tries to make a gash.

Besides the house, however, the lion’s father—Eldigan Nordion—turns out leaving some assets for his only son, including the property business which went a bit stagnant after his mother’s death. His aunt managed the housing complexes for a while, but after her disappearance on a travel, his uncle by marriage—a blue-haired man called Finn maintained them in honor of her memory.

Now that he’s returned to their family home, technically all those assets fall under his name, and his cheery blond cousin Diarmuid lives in one of those apartments as an on-field manager and his right hand while their beloved Uncle Finn retreats back to the endearing cabin in Fiana.

She smiles, watching him brew tea right after he concludes the phone call. He tilts his head from the pantry, feeling her eyes on him.

“What’s the matter?”

She shakes her head. “You’re handsome.”

“I’ll get you for that,” he smirks, hearing her pleasant soft giggles when he drops a teaspoon.

“Thank you,” she mutters when he’s back to the couch with the tea.

“… The phone call just now,” he starts, sounding awkward. “From the TV show which had you as a guest last month…”

“What a coincidence,” she cuts in. “I’m—thinking of not taking a job to dance for a while. Um—I still manage to save pretty grand and we already have loyal customers for our flower garden, and… Ares?”

He places his index finger on her lips. “And I work for both of us. The hospital?”

She nods.

“Tell me.”

She fidgets with his shirt.

“… Lene?”

“Y-you first.”

He’s not convinced, and that’s understandable. However, yielding that he is he clears his throat, relaying the call in a flat tone he prays to help easing the potential anxiety which may drown him after this. “It’s the TV. Someone called after your interview that other day, asking if you know a dancer called Silvia…”

She sets the cup on the table. “T-that… that can’t be, right…?”

“Green-haired. Willing to send pictures for you if you agree,” he sneaks an arm around her. “So?”

She moves closer to him, and without being asked or told to, he quickly holds her. “Ares,” she whispers, “… I know a Silvia that is a dancer. My… mother.”

He rubs her back and buries his nose in her hair.

“D-does this mean…”

He gently takes her chin. “We’ll find out together.”

“If that’s true then—then you too will have a mother!” she cries out, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Oh, Ares—it’s so great! And I can share my happiness with you, she sure will love you as well!”

He chuckles. “Do you have to always be mindful of me even when you are… personally happy?”

“Well, I’m sorry that comes with a package for being your wife,” she sticks her tongue at him. “Actually—no. Forget the wife thing—it’s a cold hard yes.”

“Forget the wife thing?” he sets her down gently again. “How could I?”

“You’re clingy,” she playfully ticks his nose.

“I call that being married,” he traces her jaw.

“Bad news then, I was already like that even before we got married.”

“Then I call that being in a relationship,” his lips softly brush against her collarbone.

She lets out a cute yelp. “… Rascal.”

“I vowed revenge at the pantry, didn’t I?” he chuckles.

“Then take mine.”

“Ready when you are, Ma’am.”

She smiles. Her eyes twinkle with mischief, but it doesn’t take much for him to dive into them to note that above all there’s only happiness, utmost happiness in those lively green pearls. Tilting her gemstone-pendant to the side so that it doesn’t hurt him, she pulls him in… closer and closer until he can smell her shampoo and taste her breath. Playfully biting his ear lobe, she whispers to him.

“You’re going to be a father.”

He pauses. Her boisterous laughter warmly colors the house, and she finds him glancing aside looking so incredibly amazed and overwhelmed at the same time that his eyes start to reflect a mosaic.

“… Such revenge…”

“Nanna is in town and dropping by for dinner,” she chuckles. “Can’t say no to my hospital driver, hnnn~?”

“I’ll take care of it. You just rest.”

“You can’t cook.”

“I can order food.”

“And what do you call this?” giggling, she loosens his necktie until it’s completely off and throws it away elsewhere.

“I don’t know. In love?” he deadpans, and she sighs, touching his hand when he holds her again.