Another chaptered story! Man, nothing like exams to get the creative juices flowing. Basically, I wanted to explore an idea I'd had in one of my Root/Vinyáya drabbles, so I'm using the drabble to end this story, but in the interim, all new stuff! (My writing's getting incestuous...)

Watch out for swearing, references to sex, and lewd comments, ahead. LEP officers can be lame, what can I say?

The Root and the Bud

Chapter One: Green

They met at an LEP gala. Both prominent figures in office mythology, they arrived with the crowd's expectations in tow, clattering behind them like the empty cans tied to the cars of newlyweds.

He was Recon's golden boy, a little rough around the edges but a devil in the field and ever so handsome. She was the best pilot the Academy had ever seen. Though, secretly, they wished she would just bugger off. Honestly, how embarrassing: the Air force's best and brightest outflown by some lippy slip of a girl.

Skylar Peat couldn't have asked for a better set up.

Green was the big thing that year. Everyone's wife, girlfriend and/or mistress was wearing it. Dark, light, neon, lime, sequined, velvet, from above the ballroom looked like a giant patch of moss, crawling about on its spores. So, of course, she wore red.

A bit unoriginal as rebellions go, he said later. It didn't need to be original, it needed to be understood, she retorted.

Needless to say, with her dark skin and black hair, the dress was striking from afar. If you dared get close, the combination was nearly fatal.

He couldn't take his eyes off her. To be fair, neither could anyone else in the room.

Scared, the other men reverted to old tricks. They were just a bit too courteous, until their respect became a farce. Every door was held open, her chair pulled out for her at the table, drinks unnecessarily paid for. They smiled and smiled and, as soon as she was past, smirked at each other, silently making lewd hand gestures behind their wine glasses, as though afraid she could still see them.

The women, however, weren't afraid of her and had no qualms about airing their grievances vocally.

'I hear she used to be Apollonius' secretary,' Blossom Chavez, the Council Chairman's wife, told her companion with a pointed stare.

Olive Soreberry, the mistress of three different LEP generals, shook her head. 'Poor man. Frankly, I'd have promoted her just to avoid having to sleep with her.'

Blossom giggled viciously, but raised her glass with a cheery smile as Vinyáya passed.

She was fending off a posse of fellow pilots when he came up to her. He wasn't sure why he chose to ask her with so many people around; a previously unknown love of public humiliation perhaps? To his credit, it was probably more of an often repressed chivalrous streak, surfacing at the sight of her tight, closed face and rigid shoulders.

'Would you care to dance?'

The pilots elbowed each other in the ribs, snickering. 'Good luck,' one particularly emerald sprite told him, 'she's tighter than dwarf's wallet.'

He ignored them.

She looked from him to her leering coworkers and back to him. Better the devil you knew was the common wisdom, but Vinyáya had always been an optimist. She nodded. The other pilots gaped, and even the elves looking a little green tinged around the edges as she placed her hand in Root's.

Willing his palms not to sweat and his legs not to shake, Root led her out onto the dance floor.

'I don't believe we've ever been properly introduced,' he said, gingerly bringing his hand up to her waist, 'but I've heard a lot about you. It's not often a socialite's little girl outpilots the Academy's top men.'

'No, it isn't often,' Vinyáya agreed. 'It would be very embarrassing for the LEP, otherwise.'

He snorted.

'And you can call me Vinyáya,' she smiled.

'Julius,' he returned the smile, white teeth bright in his dark face. Vinyáya had to agree with the secretaries: he really was terribly handsome.

People had begun to stare, whispering and pointing to their neighbours. Watching their agitation out of the corner of her eye, Vinyáya let her head rest in the curve of his shoulder, pressing herself closer than was really necessary. Above her head, Root smirked.

'I'd be flattered, but somehow I don't think you're getting so cuddly because of my brilliant wit and unrivalled good looks,' he muttered in her ear.

She stepped back, blinking. 'Touché,' she admitted.

He raised an eyebrow. The LEP pilots might all be slackers, but he, Julius Root, was not about to be outdone by some wee little girl. Without warning he spun her out into a complicated turn, whipping her back in and dipping her before she had a chance to catch her breath.

Eyes wide in surprise, she caught his smile and laughed. They whirled through the other dancers, getting more and more outrageous in their choreography. However, after the initial affront and its subsequent disapproval, their audience gradually grew bored watching them and moved onto other things. But by then they were no longer acting for others' benefit and didn't notice.

One dance became two and then three and four. Halfway through the night Vinyáya, suspicious of having so much fun, told him a story about a recent debacle involving her, a dwarf, two fellow pilots and one too many dirty jokes. She shot her mouth off in the telling, showing off a vocabulary more vulgar than the combined lexis of Root's entire squad. He didn't bat an eyelash, only snorted with laughter and told her, next time go for the eyes, not the knees. She looked down at her feet and smiled a very small, little girl's smile.

If asked, Root would name that as the moment he fell in love. Such a strange mix of cosmopolitan self-possession, locker room vulgarity and childlike delight.

After, in the muggy dark of Haven's early morning, they staggered along in each other's arms, both trying to keep the other upright while being themselves unable to stand. Coming to a stop at a deserted crosswalk, Vinyáya leaned away from Root, eyeing him with an expression he couldn't fathom.

'What?' he asked, eyeing her right back.

'Do you want me?' she replied, blunt.

He blinked, taken by surprise. But he told the truth. 'Yes,' he replied. 'But everyone does, so there's no point in asking. Shouldn't your line be: do you love me? Isn't that what girls want to hear?'

Vinyáya laughed, her long hair slipping further from its bun. 'You barely know me, Julius Root, how could you love me?' She smiled, 'Want is simpler, you don't need to know anything. And let's face it: men have terrible memories. They're not really made to do more than want. Bit like children really.'

'Careful,' Root wagged a finger, 'that smacks of bitterness.'

'I suppose it does,' she agreed. 'And what reason could I possibly have to be bitter?'

'Sarcasm is bad for the skin, Vinyáya.'

She laughed at that, letting him tug her forward again.

'Careful!' she lurched on the curb, 'I can hardly walk in these heels as it is.'

Root snorted. 'The heels are the least of your worries, woman. If the world was a fair place in which all livers were equal you would be out cold right now.'

Vinyáya grinned, 'There's another thing the LEP doesn't like to talk about. Not only can wee slips of girls outfly their best pilots, but they can outdrink their rowdiest captains. Oh dear, oh dear.'

They reached his house first. Vinyáya looked down the sidewalk in the vague direction of her own apartment with unconcealed dismay.

'You know, as a gentleman, I really shouldn't let you wander around alone in the dark,' Root told her, fishing for his keys.

'As a gentleman,' mocked Vinyáya. 'And, as a gentleman, how will you solve this problem?'

'Would you like to come up for coffee?'

'Coffee,' she echoed, disbelieving.

'I'm being a gentleman here.'

'Sorry, right, I forgot. I don't get much exposure to those.'

'Would you?'

'I don't drink coffee.'

'That's okay. I'm sure we can find a substitute.' His meaning was clear, but his face was calm and his voice was even. There was no leering, cheap lust making his fingers twitch, no trophy hunt desire in his eyes. Vinyáya stood on his doorstep and considered the fact that she might actually, in this singular instance, be wanted for herself, and nothing more. Well, there was a first time for everything. She smiled her little girl's smile and Root knew he'd won her over. Taking her hand, he led her up the stairs.

The next morning she sprawled in his sheets drinking tea and eating fruit salad. She felt decadent but satiate.

'Do you really feel that bitter?' he asked out of the blue, propping his head in his hand as he lay beside her.

She puckered her lips around a piece of kiwi, thinking. 'Not really,' she decided at length, 'just... lonely. And sick of being treated like some kind of drug. You know, everyone considers you a dirty habit but they want you anyway, and are ashamed of it.'

'I wouldn't be ashamed of you,' he said, before he could stop himself.

'No,' he voice was hard, 'you would flaunt me like some stupid prize. Look what I've caught, boys, the ice queen herself. She can barely keep her hands off me, let me tell you.'

He sat up, putting space between them. 'Would I?'

She put down her mug and peered into his face. 'You're offended,' she blinked, surprised. 'Have I offended you?'


She looked down at the bowl of fruit in her hands. At his dark toes poking up from the end of the sheets. At his wounded sense of honour, filling up the space between them. And realised that his good opinion actually mattered to her.

'I'm sorry,' she took his face in her hands, running her fingers along his jaw. He watched her, unmoving. 'I suppose I'm as bad as the rest of them sometimes,' she continued. 'But tell me, Captain,' smiling now, 'what would you do with me?'

'Why don't you find out first hand?' he replied archly.

She raised an eyebrow. 'Is that a challenge, Captain Root?'

'It's an offer,' he corrected. 'One that comes with a manufacturer's guarantee.'

'Complete satisfaction or full money back before two weeks?'

'Something like that,' he murmured, reaching for her.

She smiled her little girl's smile.