So, I think a lot of people thought that last chapter was the end, however, I really wanted to give Lili at the beginning of a happy ending after all I'd put her through. I played around a bit and originally Trouble was going to be the man of the hour but then, sort of of its own accord, something else came up. I think this may be a first in the world of AF pairings, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully I've given it enough back story that it works out. At any rate, this really is the end, and I hope you've liked it.
Chapter Seven: Full Bloom
Later, back in her own body, Lili nurses instant chicory coffee in an empty cafeteria.
Trouble sits down beside her and, propping his elbows on the table, lets his head fall into his hands. He looks exactly how Lili feels.
'You saw her go,' she says matter of factly. 'Hurts, doesn't it?'
Trouble looks at her, one eye peering through strong brown fingers, 'How do you know that?'
'How do I know that she chose him, of all people, or how do I know that it hurts?'
Trouble raises his head, considering. 'Both,' he replies.
'I sent her to him, because I couldn't go through with my original plan, which I think makes it pretty clear why I know it hurts.'
'With your original-' Trouble blinks. 'She got you too, eh?'
'She had me before she had any of you,' replies Lili, quite calmly. All sensation has left her. Her island has floated out of sight of the mainland and she is utterly alone at sea. 'Why the d'Arvit would I stay in the LEP otherwise? I could be the pampered wife of a millionaire right now, instead of being considered a useless bimbo and a whore besides,' she smiles at his amazement. 'But then, how else would I be able to see her? It's not like we move in the same social circles, after all.'
Trouble concedes her point with a slow nod of his head, his mind shuffling things into place. 'Then... all those guys... they were for her sake?' he says at last. 'But that's awful. So many... and you didn't care for any of them?'
'Not really,' Lili shrugs. 'But I'm not the first to give my body in return for somebody else's happiness. And it wasn't so bad, some of them were even pretty good. For guys. Besides, I was already used to it. And let's face it, Holly's a way better reason than my parents' antiquated sense of filial duty.'
Trouble remembers the first time he met Lili, two decades before. She had been in attendance at one of his Uncle Fen's corporate bashes, attached creeper-like to the arm of some young CEO, and introduced to him, not without laughter, as one of his class-mates to be. 'Do you not like us at all, then?' he asks. 'Guys, I mean?'
'Why? You interested?' she raises an eyebrow over her coffee.
'More than I ever have been, though that's not saying much. No offense, or anything.'
She laughs, 'None taken. Honestly, that may be the nicest thing a man has ever said to me. Definitely the most truthful at any rate. And that always makes words worth more, doesn't it?'
Trouble laughs again, truthfully liking Lili Frond for the first time in their twenty year acquaintance. He wraps an arm around her delicate shoulders, hugging her to his side; her first taste of innocent camaraderie. 'I don't know if I would have been able to leave her, if it had been me,' he admits.
'Why do you think Vinyáya chose me?' Lili responds.
'Vinyáya knows about you?'
Lili shrugs, 'Root knew, so it stands to reason Vinyáya does as well.'
Trouble nods. He may not have figured Lili out, but he had understood Root.
'Besides, every now and again she...' Lili thought for a moment, 'well, she says things that are a bit too... appropriate, you know?
They sit for a while in silent companionship, arms around one another. He rests his head on her shoulder and she runs her fingers through his soft dark hair. Warm and brown, so different from the cold silky black that had been hers for a few hours. It was hair she could see herself growing fond of, one day, maybe. It would be nice, she thinks, to be fond of someone, and for them to be fond of me. Kissing the top of his head like a mother, Lili gives him one last squeeze, before standing to go.
He looks up at her, his eyes gentle and undemanding. Then he smirks slightly. 'If you ever change your mind about us Lili, may I just say that misery does love company.'
She rolls her eyes, 'I think I've had enough of men to last me the rest of my life, Commander. But,' she bites her lip, unsure of how to go about friendship, 'I'd love to just go for coffee one day.'
Trouble nods, his smirk becoming a wide, laughing smile. 'What about board games? How do you feel about them?' he asks.
'I adore them,' she smiles too.
'Atta girl, Corporal,' he tucks her hair behind one pointed ear.
'Good night, Commander,' she says.
''Night, Frond,' he returns.
Lili sits in bed with the light on, not sleeping and not reading and not really thinking. There is a knock at her door. Frowning, she pads across the floor.
'Hello,' Vinyáya smiles.
'Wing Commander,' Lili's eyes widen, 'er, come in?'
Vinyáya ignores the solitary chair and sits on Lili's bed, back leaning against the wall.
For a very long time, Vinyáya loved a man but pretended not to. She had hated that. That was some years ago now, however, and since his death she finds that she cares less and less about things that once seemed important. If she could do it again, she would kiss him in the hall every day and chatter away about his (many) quirks in the cafeterias. But maybe she could do that this time.
'Can I get you anything, Wing Commander? Did I forget something in my report?' Lili puts a bit of a simper in her voice, wearing her bimbo persona like Kevlar.
'Don't,' says Vinyáya.
'Don't act like that. We both know you're not as stupid as you look.'
'Gee, thanks,' Lili slaps a hand over her mouth, but the words are out too quickly.
Vinyáya grins, resettling herself on the bed. Lili stands before her, unsure of what to do.
'Sit down, Frond. Stop being so awkward,' Vinyáya reaches out a hand and Lili takes it, clambering onto the blankets beside her.
'It was very good of you,' Vinyáya begins, 'to let her go.'
'You're the second person to say that. I wish you wouldn't. I don't feel good, only not quite like a rapist.'
Vinyáya nods, 'Still, I'm proud of you. Not just for that, for the job as well. You played him perfectly.'
'Thank you. Though I think my best portrayal may have been after the fact,' Lili smiles wryly.
'I don't doubt it,' Vinyáya responds. 'Did she really believe you were...?'
The older elf looks down at her lap where they are still holding hands. 'Lili,' she looks up again, 'I know that Holly's taken up your life for most of the past twenty years but... have you ever considered moving on?'
'Root once asked me the same thing,' Lili replies.
'He was a very smart man, under that ridiculous complexion,' Vinyáya smiles fondly.
'Yes,' Lili concedes, 'he was. But I haven't. To answer your question. And now I feel empty, because there's no hiding her from her own love, is there? I don't think I'll ever feel full again, not really,' Lili rambles a little, in her sadness.
'It feels that way now, but it won't last.'
'Have you found someone to replace Root?' Lily, bristling at being patronised, means to be cruel.
Vinyáya shakes her head placidly. 'No, not replace. I could never replace him. But I have found someone I think I might learn to love just as well,' quite cool and calm, she looks Lili in the eye.
Lili opens her mouth to speak then pauses, eyes widening. 'Do you... me?' she ends in a whisper, shocked.
The other woman shrugs, 'If you're interested. I know it's a bit soon, and that I am much older, and that I'm not her, but... but I feel that you have lived too long alone with yourself and that you should know I care. Everyone needs a little love in return, after all. We aren't made to be martyrs.'
Lili licks her lips. 'I'm going to be broken for a while yet,' she says finally.
Vinyáya nods, 'I know.'
'And it is very soon.'
'Yes. But you've known it was hopeless since the beginning, so what is soon, really?'
'Did you give me the job because you thought I'd have a go at Holly?' Lili asks abruptly, the thought just occurring to her.
'Because I thought you deserved a little happiness. Because I thought you would sleep with her and then, after, it would be the end. I thought that maybe you could learn to want someone else if you had finished your business with Holly. It was selfish really.'
Lili laughs, 'Selfish to want someone you care for to find solace in someone else?'
'The end negates the means, I believe,' Vinyáya smiles wryly.
'Maybe, maybe not,' Lili contemplates the other woman's face. 'Aren't you worried about what people would say if you and I got together?'
'No. I've already wasted one relationship that way. I'm too old to do it again.'
Lily nods. Vinyáya holds her breath.
Tentatively, Lily begins to smile. 'I think that that would be...' she whispers, 'I think... yes.'
'How diplomatic of you not to bring up the age difference,' Vinyáya laughs.
'Compared to all our other baggage, I don't really give a troll's arse about it, honestly. Besides, you certainly don't look old,' Lily runs her thumb along the other's jaw, watching those sharp dark eyes watch her. She remembers Vinyáya coming to comfort her amongst the wreckage of the LEP headquarters and she thinks I could love this woman. And it could be nice, to love someone, and for them to love me.
Vinyáya kisses her suddenly, interrupting her thoughts, both hands buried deep in Lily's bright hair, no longer able to keep away. For the first time in her life, Lily smiles to feel the desire she causes tsunami through a lover's body. And deep in her stomach, where everything is dark and empty and cold, she feels something pushing its way through the heaviness of loss. Ever so slowly delicate roots reach down into the mainland of the living and tiny, fragile leaves open, facing upwards towards a new warmth.