A/N: I've had this idea kicking around my head for awhile. Tonight, in the middle of a pretty bad case of writer's block, I finally sat down and just wrote the damn thing. Although I originally conceived of the idea as a quick drabble, it ended up being three thousand words long and a lot lighter and more romantic than I planned. Ah well.
Full disclosure: contrary to what a large number of my family members believe, I am not fluent in French, although I have studied it for seven or so years and actually majored in it for two years of college before switching to English. Any mistakes in French are entirely my own; if you catch something that I seriously screwed up, by all means, let me know. I'm a stickler for that kind of stuff.
(Also: this is a response of sorts to 30nights theme #16: You don't know what you have done to me.)
Here we go—hope you guys enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed writing it. Reviews—good, bad, or indifferent—are much appreciated. Mad props to those of you who catch the Eddie Izzard reference.
"Je ne parle pas français. I don't speak French."
"Je voudrais une omelette. I would like an omelet."
"Le chat est sur la chaise. The cat is on the chair."
Cassandra eyed the dog-eared pamphlet in her hand with no small measure of disgust. Every inch of the margins on each sparse page was covered with confused, frustrated notes, a plethora of question marks, and several vulgar Greek expressions. "This thing is worthless."
Still, it was the best she had. She'd spent long hours trawling the lone bookshop in town for anything that might serve as a guide for conversational French and found only a few volumes of poetry and several large philosophical tomes. She couldn't even decipher the titles of those.
It was after another day of fruitless searching that she'd received the small booklet from an overly-friendly male traveler at her family's bakery. He'd stopped in Athens after a brief excursion to France and had agreed to give her his guide to the language in exchange for an extra order ofbaklava and a quick and unexpected pinch to her backside. Cassandra had responded in turn with a swift backhand that left the man floating facedown in his lentil soup, while customers gaped at the petite baker's daughter who nonchalantly walked back into the kitchen reading French phrases from the now slightly damp booklet.
Now she almost wished she hadn't bothered.
"Le boulanger ne vend pas de pain dans la boulangerie. The baker doesn't sell bread in the bakery. That doesn't even make sense."
Cassandra sighed and glanced out the large picture window overlooking the Romanian valley below. The last of the sun's rays shone weakly over the horizon. No doubt he'd be awake soon. Cassandra had hoped to greet him with some grand, beautifully-worded statement in his own language, but all she'd learned so far was how to complain about the weather, order from the children's menu, and solicit a prostitute.
She was actually tempted to try that one on Raphael later. The inevitable look on his face would no doubt be worth an inevitable night's sleep in the caretaker's garden shed with his mean-spirited goat chewing at her hair. Again.
"J'ai un pamplemousse amer. I have a bitter grapefruit…"
"What on earth are you babbling on about, you maddening creature?"
Cassandra lifted her eyes from the page to see a somewhat-disheveled and completely-baffled Raphael standing before her, his normally perfectly coiffed blond hair still mussed from sleep.
"I'm surprised at you, Raphael," she said primly, fighting back a laugh at hisdishabille. "Not recognizing your mother tongue! We need to get you out of all this thin mountain air before there's any permanent damage."
He failed to rise to her bait, merely crossing the richly-appointed library to pour himself a glass of sherry. "Certainly I would fail to recognize my mother tongue if it were having such grave linguistic atrocities leveled against it," Raphael responded sourly. "Would you like a drop, my dear? Perhaps the alcohol will momentarily still your tongue and allow my ears to recover from their recent trauma."
"You bastard. It's your own fault for refusing to teach me French. And no thank you."
Raphael shrugged and downed the contents of his glass, then moved to sit beside Cassandra on the plush canapé, absently draping an arm around her shoulders. "I see no need to take upon the arduous task of educating you in another language when my Greek is perfectly fluent and we are able to converse without impediment," he said lazily.
Cassandra frowned and pushed his arm away. "Well, I don't think it's fair that you can understand everything I say, but I can't understand you when you start shouting in French. For all I know you could be insulting my mother or calling me a…" She quickly flipped a few pages in the booklet. "…pétasse."
Raphael stared at her for a long moment, then burst into peals of rich laughter that sounded loudly throughout the room. "Good God, Cassandra, what kind of book are you reading?"
"A completely useless one," she responded frankly. "I can tell people about my grapefruit and inform customers at our bakery that we don't sell bread—" She ignored Raphael's confused stare. "—but I can't really say anything…important." Cassandra glanced sheepishly at her companion and folded her hands into her lap.
Raphael remained silent, his features cool and emotionless as he stared at a small flaw in the masonry of the walls.
"And I understand if you don't want me to understand everything you say, or accidentally overhear your discussions with your daughter, or if I'm overstepping my bounds or something, I just wish you'd tell me if I'm—"
"Je souhaite,"Raphael said suddenly.
Cassandra's blue eyes widened slightly in surprise and confusion. "What?"
"Je souhaite,"he repeated, moving his dispassionate gaze to the rich brocade of the drawn curtains. "I wish."
"…'I wish' what?"
"That's for you to decide."
Cassandra felt the corners of her lips tugging into a helpless grin. She reached over and took his hand, brushing her thumb over the rough calluses that had resulted from years of swordfighting. "Thank you."
"Isn't it justmerci?"
"Merci infinimentexpresses far greater thanks, such as might be warranted of a guest who asks her gracious host to instruct her in French moments after he has awoken and drunk only one glass of sherry."
"I know, how will you ever survive?"
"I'm sure I shall manage somehow, my dear. Shall we continue?"
The night carried on as such for several hours, with Cassandra carefully repeating the French phrases Raphael told her and recording them in any free space available in the booklet she still held in her lap. If truth be told, Raphael's lessons were in many ways as random as those in the booklet; instead of grapefruit and prostitutes, he told her of how to ask for a particular wine, how to politely refuse a request for a dance at a gala, and the proper way to greet an opponent (that particular lesson included several variants of the phrase, "you pathetic cur").
Cassandra was still no closer to expressing herself in the rich, lyrical French she had heard those fluent in the language use, yet the hours of Raphael's tutelage seemed deeply rewarding nonetheless. Raphael was not one to waste time, nor indulge the idle whims of others, and yet here he sat, still sleep-disheveled, informing her that while insulting an opponent's parentage was entirely too vulgar and base, subtly insinuating that they were engaged in prostitution was perfectly polite.
"What if your opponent is male?"
"Even moreso, particularly if the rumors are quite substantiated and one's opponent is a member of the clergy."
Cassandra's eyebrows arched in surprise. "…you wouldn't happen to be speaking from personal experience, would you?"
Raphael merely afforded her one of his all-too-familiar elusive smirks and offered her another glass of wine.
"…so it's actually romantic to refer to someone as a cabbage?" Cassandra asked skeptically.
"Mm, it doesn't translate well directly, but I assure you that mon chou is a rather beautiful expression. What would you say in conversational Greek?"
"Nothing related to produce, that's for sure." Cassandra smiled slightly and leaned her head against Raphael's shoulder. A sudden impulse, likely fueled by the rich wine she'd imbibed, rushed through her mind. "If it's so beautiful," she asked with a smirk, "why don't you ever use it around me?"
The smirk vanished as suddenly as it had appeared as she failed to avoid Raphael's sharp glance. "I—I'm sorry, I didn't mean that," she stammered quickly, moving away from him on the canapé and mentally cursing her forwardness.
A heavy sense of impending dread settled over her. Raphael rarely said her name, and when he did, more often than not it was in that flat, faintly warning tone. Nothing good ever came from that tone.
Raphael's features were once again schooled into that cool, expressionless mask as he spoke. "You are, of course, always welcome here at my castle. Your company is a delightful diversion from the mundane chatter of the servants and the few peasants from the valley who dare set foot at the gates. I consider you an invaluable companion, my dear, and I would be loath to see that companionship endangered by…false hopes."
Cassandra bit her lip against the impact of his words and stared through the window at the low clouds gathering along the mountaintops in the distance. There it was. Plain as day. She had always hoped… In the months she'd been running away from her comfortable home in Athens, ostensibly on another "misguided journey," just to spend time by his side, there had been so many stolen moments… He'd kissed her upon her fair brow, always referred to her as beautiful, enchanting, held her easily in his arms…
She distantly wondered if it would have hurt less if he'd said it in French.
Don't use my name, she thought angrily. Go back to your meaningless 'my dears' and 'darlings' and go find yourself another cabbage, you bastard.
She faintly heard Raphael sigh beside her. "You must realize that you cannot continue on like this."
She felt his words penetrate through her anger, her stomach turning uncomfortably at their potential meaning.
"Traversing between shadow and light, as it were…it takes its toll upon even the strongest of souls." Raphael drained the contents of his wine glass in one gulp. "In a weaker individual, I'd expect to see signs of infection. With you, however…" Cassandra noted fearfully that red hue of his eyes had deepened in the candlelight. "…you have merely become far too comfortable in the presence of evil. You fail to realize how dangerous your beloved companion truly is."
Cassandra clutched her hands tightly to hide their trembling. Steeling herself against her weakening nerves, she finally spoke. "I'm not sure about the pronunciation of something."
Raphael observed her curiously, but his features quickly smoothed into an appearance of faint relief at her return to their earlier topic of discussion. "Of course."
Cassandra straightened her spine and met his eyes defiantly. "Je n'ai pas peur de toi."
'I'm not afraid of you.'
A sudden gust of wind tore through the stone walls, quickly extinguishing the lit candles and plunging the room into darkness.
Cassandra felt her heart beat wildly at the silent dark, feeling Raphael still and silent beside her. Suddenly, his hands were roughly at her shoulders, holding her close.
"Stupid girl," he said, voice equal parts fury and passion. "You stupid, stupidgirl. You have no sense of self-preservation whatsoever."
He kissed her then, fierce and punishing, all anger and frustration. Cassandra felt tears prick at the corners of her closed eyes as she leaned into his embrace and returned the kiss, lips bruising, hands tangling in his thick blond hair, blood thundering in her ears. She'd been kissed before, by shy village boys alongside river banks and in flower fields…never like this. Raphael's fingers dug into her spine, bruising the pure pale of her flesh and holding her intimately against him, hips flush against hers, mouth now held against her neck, suckling gently at her pulse point. There was a tightness in her chest, fire rushing through her veins…
No, it had never been like this.
As suddenly as he had begun, Raphael pulled sharply away from her. Cassandra stared confusedly at his outline in the darkness, head still swimming, lips sore and bruised from the force of his onslaught. One of the nearby candles flamed to life. Raphael silently returned to her side, appearing discontent and frustrated in the weak light. The library remained uncomfortably quiet for an agonizingly long moment.
"Stupid girl," Raphael said finally. "You cannot begin to comprehend what you have done to me."
"…je suis desolée," Cassandra offered hesitantly.
Surprisingly, that brought a smile to Raphael's lips, and he allowed Cassandra to once more rest her head upon his shoulder without protest. "Your pronunciation has improved," he noted, voice easily slipping back into his familiar cool, imperious tone.
"But it's still not perfect."
"Obviously I still need a lot more practice. Know any good tutors?"
"One who would willingly accept the responsibility of having Cassandra Alexandra, that lovely, maddening, headstrong girl as a pupil? Highly unlikely."
"Bad news for the customers at the bakery. How am I ever going to tell them that we actually do have bread?"
"You have a great number of customers who speak French, do you?"
"You'd be surprised."
"I've no doubt."
No more words passed between them for some time. Raphael lay reposed upon the canapé; Cassandra had settled sleepily upon his chest. He absently stroked her golden-blond hair, eyes distant.
Cassandra's quiet voice brought him back from his reverie. "Yes, my dear?"
"How would you say, 'I'm happy'?"
"For you? Je suis heureuse."
"Oh." She remained silent for a moment. "Je suis heureuse."
Raphael shook his head disdainfully. "No sense of self-preservation," he repeated. "As far as you know, I have no reservations about tearing out your throat while you sleep."
"You wouldn't dare," Cassandra mumbled tiredly. "Then you'd just have to find yourself a new cabbage."
"I believe I've begun to regret teaching you that particular term of endearment," Raphael said with a sigh.
"If you hate it so much, teach me some new ones." Cassandra shifted slightly and moved closer to him.
"There are several.Mon amour, mon cœur, mon lapin. "
"What would you use for someone you really cared about? Someone you believed in…someone you might almost say you—"
"Cassandra." Her voice fell from his lips with far more softness than she was accustomed to. "I think you have learned quite enough for one evening. Besides which—" He gestured to the window, where the first light of morning had appeared, faint and dim yet clearly visible along the horizon. "—the sun has begun to rise."
Mumbling slightly in protest, Cassandra pushed herself up from her prone position, blond hair lying in sharp disarray around her shoulders. "Back to bed with you, huh?"
"Indeed. You are, of course, welcome to join me…"
Cassandra pursed her lips at his suggestive smirk and punched him lightly in the arm. "No thank you, you letch."
"…or you may, of course, sleep with the caretaker's goat."
"Oh, come on!" Cassandra exclaimed in exasperation, slumping once more against Raphael's chest. She faintly felt him shaking with laughter as he planted a swift kiss against the crown of her head.
"Ah, my dear Cassandra," he said amusedly. "Your presence is a curse which I am afraid I bear entirely too gladly."
"Merci infiniment…smug bastard."
Raphael smiled wickedly in response, coming to his feet and brushing a stray lock of hair from Cassandra's eyes. "And for that, mon cœur, I'm afraid it's off to the caretaker's gardens with you."
Bending swiftly to silence her protests with a kiss, Raphael afforded her one last smile before returning to his private quarters.
Cassandra watched his departure, her mind struggling to process the events that had unfolded that evening. He hadn't wanted her to have false hopes…but he'd held her for hours, and that kiss… And how did the cabbage figure into all of this?
Frowning in annoyance, Cassandra pulled herself to her feet and absently brushed off the front of her skirt.
If nothing else, she'd have several long hours to mull it over while she fought the goat for control of her hair.
The sun was high and beat down mercilessly upon her back as Cassandra helped the caretaker reseed the ravaged ground of the castle gardens. She turned over the seed packet in her hand, confusedly attempting to decipher the carefully handwritten Romanian instructions. Enough customers stopped at the bakery from across the mountains that Cassandra's Romanian had slowly developed to the point that it was marginally better than her French…but that margin was depressingly narrow.
"How long is this going to take again?" she asked the caretaker irritably. She was entirely unsurprised when he merely shook his head in frustration, angrily repeating the same sequence of words she'd heard countless times before and took to mean, "You stupid thing, how many times do I have to tell you that I don't speak Greek?"
She'd nearly begun to envy Raphael his curse; by the time he awoke at sunset's last light, he'd escaped all of the backbreaking work to be done here along the grounds of his castle.
Not, Cassandra groused, that he'd ever done a day's worth of manual labor in his life, but still.
Cassandra lay down her spade and wiped her dirt-smudged hands upon her apron at the sight of the young kitchen girl rushing towards her. "Yes, what is it?"
"You…he…wants you...have this," the girl struggled to express herself in broken Greek before thrusting a plainly-wrapped parcel into Cassandra's arms.
"'He'? Raphael sent this?" Cassandra eyed the parcel critically. "It'd better be one hell of an apology note after making me sleep with that damned goat." She smiled at the girl. "Any idea what it is?"
"Said…important. Rushed kitchen, had one." The girl said this with such emphasis that Cassandra knew she was clearly expected to be very grateful that she was receiving…well, whatever it was she was receiving.
"Well, thank you," she said finally, pulling aside the dingy cloth covering the parcel. "Be sure to tell your staff that—"
Her words froze in her throat as she recognized the object beneath the cloth.
"Had one," the girl repeated.
Cassandra remained silent, her face no doubt betraying her shock as she ran one trembling finger over the perfectly-formed leaves of the cabbage she held in her hands.