A mix of horticulture, vague Racine influences and a lot of Lily Frond, among other things. For Patty. Merry Christmas?

Calypso Bulbosa

'Calypso Orchid: (Calypso bulbosa), also known as the 'fairy slipper' or 'Venus's slipper', is a small pink, purple, pinkish-purple, or red flower accented with white lower lip, darker purple spottings, and yellow beard. They come to full bloom in nearly 20 years. It is the only species currently classified in the genus Calypso, which takes its name from the Greek signifying concealment.

The Calypso Orchid relies on "pollination by deception", as it attracts insects which it does not nourish and which eventually begin to learn not to revisit it. So, although the Calypso orchid's distribution is wide, it is very susceptible to disturbance, and is therefore classified as threatened or endangered in several states, and in Sweden and Finland as well. Also, it is easily disturbed and does not transplant well, owing to its mycorrhizal dependence on specific soil fungi.'


Chapter One: Venus's Slipper

Standing the first floor women's washroom of the LEP training academy, Lily wraps a strand of hair around her fingers, looking for split ends. There are none, her hair perfect in all its golden glory. She purses her lips. Sometimes she wants nothing more than a pimple to appear on the end of her pretty nose, so that she can say: look, see, I am no different from the rest of you. But her skin has never been anything but flawless.

She knows she's a joke, she knows she isn't cut out for police work, but she'd seen a niche in need of filling and jumped at it. She doesn't regret it. The LEP had needed a pretty face, she'd needed an excuse to hang around. Match made in Haven.

The only child of a family still accustomed to living royally, despite a millennia of democracy, Lily is used to feeling emotionally dissatisfied. Her parents hadn't shied away from raising their daughter to be a cliché. They had given her pretty clothes and vacations in exotic lands and sent her out to dinners with the handsome sons of Council members. They did not encourage education or personal growth. They expected her to marry well and live out her days spread out on her back in golden sheets. Like her mother, and her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. Women like them, after all, were a dying breed in this modern age. And, as the People's one time sovereign, the Fronds felt the need to preserve tradition.

When she came to them with the decision to join the LEP, they were, understandably, utterly baffled. But, in the habit of pandering to the whims of their daughter, they smiled and agreed to pay her tuition. After all, they said to each other, it'll all come to nothing anyway. Lili in the LEP? She probably just saw a pretty young captain. Give her six months, she'll come round.

They were partly right. She had indeed seen a pretty young captain-to-be, one who was everything Lily was not and had never thought of being.

One Thursday afternoon, Rafe Montane took Lily to coffee at a swanky new café. He ordered for them both without asking her, leaning his elbows on the counter to get closer to the dark, whiplash beautiful elf working cash. Her big hazel eyes took him in, his fancy clothes, his incautious flirting, his drop-dead gorgeous date, and raised one auburn eyebrow, utterly unimpressed.

'One chicory latte with extra soyacream and hazelnut syrup and one no-fat hot carob, frothed.' She looked passed him, to Lily, 'You sure you don't want whipped soyacream on yours? I do it with cinnamon mixed in, it's really to die for.'

'Um,' Lily swallowed, 'ok. That'd be great. Thanks.'

'No problem,' the girl shrugged. Rafe shot Lily a disapproving look.

Later, when they were both nearly done drinking, and Rafe wasn't anywhere near done extolling his long-sightedness in a recent business deal, Lily saw the barista come out for her break. She sat at a table near theirs, and began filling out e-forms over a cup brimming with immense amounts of soyacream. Lily read the first page over Rafe's shoulder.

LEP Training Academy Official Application Form. Family name: Short. First name: Holly. Other: Callisto. Medical Concerns: (this one had already been filled in by the secretariat) Female. Holly tapped the screen, trying to erase this. It wouldn't let her. She frowned.

'And what do you think of that?' Rafe asked suddenly.

Lily blinked. 'Oh... fantastic, just awesome,' she fluttered her eyelashes, utterly uninterested. Luckily, this was all he expected or wanted from her. He began to speak again and she watched the fine lines of Holly's muscles move under the fabric of her blouse, wondering if the LEP recruitment office would still be open by the time Rafe let her out of here.

The bathroom door swings open and Holly comes striding in, all self-righteous anger.

'What's the matter?' Lily asks the other woman's reflection as they stand before the mirror. One dark, one light. Day and night. Perfect together, thinks Lily, a timeless classic.

Silent with fury, Holly sticks her head under a tap and turns on the cold water. When the automatic timer shuts the water off, she lets her head just hang in the sink basin, delicate shoulder blades rising above the curve of her neck like wings about to open. Her own engaged in minute scrutiny of the sink's white porcelain, Holly doesn't see Lily's eyes run across the lines of her body, memorising each dip and twist and turn.

'Rapeseed, that's the matter,' admits Holly at length, giving an utterly unamused snort of laughter. 'He won't let up. How many times do I have to say: No, not interested, buzz off, before he'll get that I really am sincerely and utterly not. Interested.'

Lily gives a wry smile, 'Until you go hoarse. And even then you'll probably have to keep on with sign language.'

Holly chuckles, raising her dripping head from the sink. Her red hair sticks to her skin in curls, as though her head was some inverted exotic flower. The last of the water slips down her face to pool in the uplifted hands of her eyelashes like holy water in the palms of the faithful.

Lily bites her lip.

With the same careless grace that drove so many of their fellow cadets mad, Holly runs her hands along her scalp and shakes out the remaining water. A few drops hit Lily accidentally and she feels them hanging on her cheek bones. She holds her breath, hoping to keep them there.

Wiping the last of the moisture from her face, Holly rolls her shoulders and shakes out her arms. Preparing for battle. She smiles at Lily, the second of five she will ever get. Noticing the water droplets on the other's cheeks, she pulls a face.

'Sorry about that.' Reaching over, Holly brushes them away with her thumb, as though they were tears.

'No problem,' whispers Lily. She's never touched her before. It's worth the loss of the water. For a moment they simply stand there, silent in the aftermath of contact.

'Well, uh,' Holly, realising the unconscious intimacy of the moment, is uncomfortable, 'I'll see you around, yeah?'

'Yeah,' Lily manages a weak smile.

Holly licks her lips, nods absently, and leaves. Methodically, Lily puts down her comb and steps into one of the cubicles. She sits on the toilet seat and watches her fingers shake until she hears the cleaning staff come in.