He has never blunted his words for you.
Blade’s edge and bullet point, he has never been anything but direct. Words wry, all sharp edges warning not to touch.
In a way, you wonder: what secrets does he hide? A man of few words, yes: but all the more curious.
He was never one for poison.
He’d much rather use belladonna extract for medicinal purposes than slip it into an unsuspecting someone’s cup of tea; he has at least that decency.
He takes it apart. Action, frame, barrel. Eyes the trigger with gritted teeth, fingers twitching. Turns away, and repeats.
His gaze won't meet yours, after: eyes downcast, knuckles clenched white. It haunts him, this feeling. But even if you asked, you know he wouldn't offer you an answer.
That night, you dream of a face that seems all too familiar. In the morning, you will only be left with only half-formed impressions of muddled memory and a voice you cannot quite place, just on the tip of your tongue.
Reach, but you will grasp nothing. Ask, and there will be no answers to be found.
“Patricia, Patricia!” You chase after your best friend, engaged in another round of hide-and-seek tag, a thrilling combination of the two games. After several rounds, the two of you decide to pursue your intended purpose: flower gathering.
Grandma warned you not to wander too far from home, so here you are: cradled in the gentle aroma of flourishing flowers.
It is here where you first see him.
His hair is color of the gladiolus you've gathered in your basket, a single red streak striking against the deep blue. He seems awfully lonely to you, for some reason.
“Hello! Do you come here often?”
He takes a moment to realize that he's the one you're addressing, as if he hadn't had that happen to him for quite a while.
“Yes,” he says, lips twitching in the face of your wide eyes and shining smile, “but it seems like we've never met.” He pauses before he adds, “I’m looking for something.”
You ask him what he's looking for, but he doesn't give you a reply. He only looks to the distance, a sad, sad smile on his tired face and says, “it's a secret.”
When you open your mouth to call for Patricia, he’s already waving you goodbye.
“Wait!” You call out, your voice breaking the spell that silence brings, but he's already gone.
All he leaves is a cluster of hydrangea, their petals pink as the flush that spreads across your cheeks. At the note he leaves behind, your anticipation only grows.
‘They reminded me of you.
Maybe one day, we’ll meet again.
Maybe one day, I'll finally find what I'm looking for.’
Spring turns to summer, and the flowers have yet to wilt. They're just as fragrant as they were the day you received them, without a trace of preservative to be seen.
It’s an oddity that only makes you all the more eager in finding him in the years to come.
She is warm: brilliant and bright and welcoming. You can't help but wonder: how could someone be so kind? How could someone be so naïve?
She is loud: clicking heels and concussive kicks, unbridled and unrestrained. There's no holding back, with her.
Your paths cross in the hallway; you feel the rush as she races past. Always in a hurry - as if making for lost time.
Slow down, you open your mouth to say, but she's already gone.
In all your days, have never known much kindness except in bittersweet memory: a tender touch, a fond caress through dark locks. Eyes widening, you couldn't help but lean into it, cursing internally all the while at your weak-willed heart.
You said: Old man, quit messing up my hair.
What you didn't say: The last memory I had of my dad was calloused hands carding through hair just like this, a smile just like yours.
When Claire offers to give you a little braid, of course you hesitate. Wouldn't want anyone’s hands so close, but you know Claire wouldn't ever bring you to harm.
More like the other way around, you think bitterly, the twist of guilt heavy in your gut. A knife that digs deeper, the pain a steady ache.
You accept. Not without reluctance, but it's worth seeing her smile brighten several thousand watts. You sigh as her hands thread through your hair, mind drifting off to better days.
For someone with such concussive kicks, it's surprisingly gentle.
You raise the glass for a toast, the clink like rattling coins.
(Beggar boy, they whispered like you couldn't hear, brows creased in pity. Some didn't even spare you a glance.)
They were no champagne flutes, but you weren't complaining.
(Alcohol, you learned, was a prize to be won. It was makeshift disinfectant, a sting that said: you will live another day. Wounds would not fester; your limbs would remain intact, as you preferred them.
Higher proofs served you better. Sometimes you'd steal a few sips to numb the pain - digging into your ribs, the ache constricting like a wretched snake.)
They glint gold under the dimmed lights of the kitchen, distracting your mind from the low growling and shuffling of the demons outside.
(In the morning, you saw the fire had gone out. The old man had been acting weird the other day; dread coiled heavy in your gut, leaden as your limbs with anticipation.
You called out, but there was no answer.
He had given you a home and hearth and raised you like one of his own. You wondered how much you had reminded him of his grandson.
Too much, you think bitterly. Not enough.)
It’s Luvan wine, this time, courtesy of Ashe.
“Well, seeing that I’m here...the answer should be quite clear, don't you think~?”
“Mind if I join you, Wilardo?”
Yes. “Don't mind the company, I guess.”
You don't bother to check for poison. If it kills you, maybe you'll be spared the hangover of the situation at hand.
(Of course it won't. Nothing ever does.)
As Ashe raises his, you don't miss the way the scalpels glint within the folds of his sleeves.
The only indication that you've caught his notice is his knowing smile. He downs his glass on a single motion, sliding it across for another shot.
He refuses your offer politely; it seems that he won't allow you to pour him a single drop.
Seems like you aren't the only one worrying about wintersweet in his wine.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
I found you, you want to say.
Time passes differently for you who has lived so long, but it seems like an eternity has passed since the two of you first met. Even so, you feel like that smile of hers hasn't changed one bit.
“Yes,” you say. You can't bear to look her in the eye, the guilt rising in you like a wave; the gun at your thigh never felt so heavy before.
“That's great!” She beams at you, and you remember that you're supposed to be happy at this, that you should be relieved to find the release you've been searching for so, so long.
Instead, you only feel sick.
“What's wrong?” She frets, scanning your form for any trace of injury. Finding none, she asks again until you are brought back to reality by the sound of her voice.
“Nothing,” you mutter, and both of you know it's a bold-faced lie.
To your relief, she doesn't press you for details. She only sits by your side - not demanding nor asking, simply a reassuring presence in that she is there.
You are not alone, she seems to say.
For once, she is quiet as you allow her to run her fingers through your hair. The sensation brings you back to better times, and you close your eyes.
When you wake, it's to the scent of flowers – threaded through your hair in a clumsy crown.