Author's Note: This was the response to a sort of mini-challenge that was posed on the Village Square forum, and it was one that I just couldn't pass up. For the sake of avoiding any confusion, this story is written from the AWL perspective, not HM:DS.
Oh, one last thing... I'm very sorry if there are any spelling mistakes or missing spaces that I might've missed. My keyboard is sticking for some reason, and I don't know how to clean it without damaging my laptop in the process. Other than that, I hope you all enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own HM or its characters, but I love to write about them even though they're nothing more than pixels to some.
"Dinner's ready, Professor," a young woman chirped, setting a rather large plate of what appeared to be rice and a mysterious orange... substance of some kind before a rather unfortunate man. Although her violet eyes were filled with the hope that he might appreciate her efforts, his well-worn face was warped by a lopsided smile that likened more to a grimace. However, his disgusted expression went relatively unnoticed by his companion as she sat down on her own cot for dinner, and she soon began to stir her meal with her spoon, humming with content.
She'd worked extremely hard to cook something tasty for the two of them, so she was eager to hear what her husband had to say for her latest attempt at making the ultimate curry. Still... when she glanced over towards where he sat, she noticed that he hadn't even touched his. "Aren't you hungry?" she asked, the hurt clearly ringing through her airy voice.
"Flora..." he began with a heavy sigh, leaning back against the canvas of the tent. She waited patiently, but after a long pause, she began to twirl a lock of her blonde hair around a calloused finger in nervous anticipation. The atmosphere in their humble home had always been a professional one, nothing more than a space shared between colleagues, and although they had been married for nearly a year, she still couldn't ease the slight discomfort she felt around the man these days.
"Yes?" she replied, practically exhausted by the tension in the following silence. The professor blinked as if he'd been brought out of a daydream, yet when his cool, dark eyes met hers, she saw a flicker of regret in his gaze.
"It's nothing," he assured her with a slight chuckle. She raised an eyebrow doubtfully, but she decided to let her concerns slide for the time being.
He was a relatively older man... although his dusty brown hair hadn't begun to gray just yet. However, around his gray eyes there were creases caused by the many years he'd put behind him and the smiles that came with them, and even with all of the passion he'd invested into the excavation site, he'd formed a distinct pouch around his waist. Still, there was something about him that made him an admirable, if not impressive, figure, and she could only guess that this is why she had agreed to marry him in the first place. Maybe it wasn't a romantic adventure, but at least she had someone she knew she could rely on.
Until now, that was all she needed.
"Well," he sighed, slapping his palms on his knees as he stood, "I suppose I'm going to head out for a bit then." Her eyes widened and her mind immediately began scrambling to figure out why he had to leave so suddenly. Was it because of her cooking again? She knew he didn't really care for curry, but...
"Ca... Professor, what about your dinner?" she protested, motioning towards his plate which remained completely untouched on the small table between their cots. Her gazed begged for him to stay with her, and for a moment, he actually paused mid-step like he was reconsidering leaving her in the first place. However, her heart fell slightly when she heard the sound of the zipper being undone.
"Don't worry now, Flora," he assured her without so much as a glance over his shoulder. "Just go to sleep, and I'll be back soon enough." With that, he walked out into the night, and there his wife was left alone with nothing more than her own thoughts for company.
The night was practically perfect for a stroll through the sleeping valley, yet even with the pale, sliver of a moon casting light onto the path before him, he found little beauty in the evening. Although he was basked in the magical silver glow, he longed for the sun's rays on his face and arms. After all, he wasn't of the poetic sort by any means which might've explained his indifference towards the rather romantic setting the night provided for lovers throughout the world.
He had never been one to dwell on thoughts of holding hands or anything of that nature. For all intents and purposes, he was a man of logic and reason, not prone to fantasies of the heart, and he doubted he would ever be. After all, being married to his assistant hadn't changed that part of him, regardless of what feelings he did have for her, so there was little hope for him in that regard.
Everyone that he had only one true love in life which was precisely why many chose not to associate the likes of him.
Nothing could deter him from his ultimate goal of discovering his true heritage within the excavation site, or at least that was the opinion of most of those who knew him. As for how he truly felt, no one knew, and he didn't appear to be troubled by the matter. He kept an air of a man outside of society since he rarely came into town, but during his occasional visits, he always tried to give the impression of a jovial gentleman. However, whether or not he was sincere remained a serious topic of debate.
Only a warm drink could bring him around, it seemed.
"Good to see you, Professor," the bartender greeted the man as he stepped into the Blue Bar. He smiled warmly at his host without a word before readjusting his spectacles. Although he was used to drinking alone a majority of the time, he was surprised to see the local farmer sitting at the far end of the counter, chatting idly with a young blonde. He didn't even wait for them to welcome him as he strode over to join the pair.
"Jack... Muffy," he said simply, nodding to each of them as he did so. They, too, nodded back. "It's rare to see you these days, my boy," he observed, sitting down beside the other.
"Can I get you a drink, Carter?" the woman cooed, leaning back from the two men while she turned to browse the liquor cabinet. The barmaid's curls bounced about her narrow shoulders as she walked, yet neither man paid her any mind, oblivious to the gentle sway of her hips. When he didn't bother to reply, she shrugged and began to mix a Cherry Pink. After all, he never ordered anything else, so there really had been no point in asking in the first place. She knew this, of course, but she always reminded herself to be courteous nonetheless.
"So how are you getting on at the dig?" the young farmer asked, sipping his own poison leisurely. His wild, chestnut locks were tossed this way and that, and there was a childlike laughter in his warm, brown eyes. For reasons unbeknownst to most, he insisted on wearing pressed button down shirts with black suspenders regardless of the nature of his occupation. Even so, he was practical in the fact he chose to wear blue jeans as opposed to dress slacks. He was well respected by the local residents although he was an outsider, born and raised in the city, and so the two men seemed to understand one another, both playing the part of gentleman that they weren't even sure they truly were.
"As well as can be expected," the professor replied with a chuckle. "It seems like you're the only one who has any luck finding much of anything in terms of genuine historical value, though." He sighed while running his swollen fingers through his coarse hair, but he said nothing more.
"It's just dumb luck," Jack insisted with a dismissive wave of his hand. "To be honest, I was just looking for something Nami might actually like." After a moment of silence, he seemed to have another thought. Then as an afterthought, he added, "She's always been a peculiar one, I guess... but I love her all the same."
"Yes," Carter agreed dully, "I must say I was rather taken aback when you two were married." He paused to thank Muffy for brining him his drink, but when he took a sip of it, he frowned slightly due to an unfamiliar aftertaste. Even so, he bit his tongue and made no comment to the young woman about it. "She never struck me as the kind of woman who'd be interested in the idea of becoming a homemaker." He licked his chapped lips, and thinking better of his last remark, he felt it was necessary to correct himself for it. "Ahem..." he coughed nervously into his fist. "Forgive me. What I meant to say was-"
"Don't worry about it," his companion assured him. "Just like every man can't be a provider, not every woman can be a housewife," he observed with a curt nod. "Women are just as varied as anyone else."
"Well, at the very least, I hear Nami can cook a decent meal," the older man countered, straightening his khaki vest with a disgusted huff.
"There was a time when she couldn't, though," the farmer reminded him. "No one becomes good at something right off the bat. It takes persistence and a lot of failures before someone gets it right." He chuckled as if he had recalled a particular instance where this was true in his own life, yet he didn't explain the situation further. Instead, he turned the conversation right back around. "I know you don't think very highly of Flora's cooking, but she does try..."
"Flora has always been a fine assistant," Carter boasted proudly, crossing his broad arms over his chest. "That's exactly why I decided that our marriage would be beneficial because..." He hesitated for a moment, and almost instinctively, he reached up to stroke the vibrant beads of the necklaces which were draped around his neck. "Do you know what this artifact is, Jack?" he asked abruptly.
"I think you told me it was your ancestor's," he recalled, casually taking another long sip of his drink. "Wasn't there another necklace as well, though?"
"Very little gets by you, it seems!" the professor laughed, his voice booming throughout the bar. Both the bartender and his co-worker raised an eyebrow which caused him to cough awkwardly. Once he'd calmed himself back down, he began again, "Yes... there was another that has a very special connection to the one I wear." Fondly, he toyed with the clay beads that hung loosely around his neck. "I found this during the early days... when I first came to the valley, and-"
"When did you meet her, though?" the young man interrupted his impending monologue, choosing to ignore the somewhat indignant expression on the other's face.
"Heh, well... It was soon after I made the discovery of the civilization that once dwelled here that I happened to be asked to give a lecture at a university," he explained with a wistful expression. "She was in the front row... dead center..."
Flora hadn't really changed much since those bygone years, either. Her blonde hair was pulled up into the same loose ponytail, and her violet eyes were as distant as ever. There was still moments when he had to wonder if she was even thinking during those times or simply losing herself for just a little while. Of course he never told her... but he was rather fond of that dreamlike expression of hers.
Although it wasn't fair of him, he wasn't very impressed with her at first. She certainly didn't dress as conservatively as the other students who'd arrived to hear his lecture. It was her usual ensemble, a tank top and shorts, but what struck him the most was his inability to tell whether or not she was even wearing a bra... Needless to say, the thought left the poor man rather flustered in the beginning of his speech, yet she never took her eyes off him for a second.
By the end of the event, he somewhat doubted that he might've had any influence over anyone since it appeared as though the young minds didn't find his tale to be all that inspiring. He couldn't really blame them; he never had been much of an orator. Therefore, he was rather surprised to see the very same woman waiting for him just off stage.
He chuckled at the memory, and glancing up from his drink, he turned to face the farmer once again. "Jack, do you want to know something?" When the other didn't reply, he merely chose to continue. "She actually told me, 'I'm going to work for you.'" He chuckled once again and remarked, "I didn't even know the poor girl's name, but there she was, asking to work for me..." If he remembered correctly, he actually laughed, thinking she was trying to joke with him. However, she remained adamant.
"Professor,'" she began firmly, "I'm serious about this. I want to come to Forget-Me-Not Valley to work on the excavation with you.'" He merely blinked and readjusted his glasses in astonishment. After all, no one had ever been interested in the position, nor had there been any need for it then or any other time in the near future. Still, maybe there was something about her eagerness, or perhaps simply the way in which she addressed him, that encouraged him to accept her offer... Whatever it was, he had smiled warmly towards the determined, young woman, and before he knew it, he had found himself an assistant.
"So tell me, Professor, how does that have anything to do with the necklaces?" Jack pressed, twirling his drink umbrella absentmindedly.
The necklace felt unusually warm around his neck, but as he felt his face beginning to grow hot, he knew his being flustered wasn't caused by his precious artifact. He scratched the back of his head with uncertainty. "W-well, Flora found its companion..." he explained. "Do you remember the first stone tablet you happened to come across?" When the young man nodded, the other coughed uncomfortably, the heat coursing through him. "The image on it depicted the chieftain of the tribe which made this valley their home, and from the image, this appears to have been the very necklace he wore."
"Let me guess," Jack chuckled, leaning onto the bar. "It just so happens that-"
"Please allow me to say this," the man cut him off, clearing his throat. "I am a man of logic, not prone to accepting the idealist nature of fate or destiny in matters of the heart or otherwise." He paused for a moment as he took in a deep breath. "Even so... I can be inspired by outside forces... and that is precisely what happened between Flora and me."
"Fine by me," the other agreed, tapping the counter to catch the barmaid's attention. "Muffy, could we get another couple of drinks over here?" he asked sweetly. "I think the professor's drinking his dinner tonight."
"Do you want another Cherry Pink, Carter, or would you like something else?" she offered, batting her eyelashes and gazing up at him with alluring, emerald eyes. However, he shook his head solemnly while, to his companion's surprise, he stood up abruptly from his stool, and he soon stepped out into the darkness of the night.
"Where are you going?" the farmer called out after him just before he shut the door behind him. There was a heavy pause, but the explanation was simple enough.
"I'm afraid my dinner is getting cold."
Although he should've expected that she would be asleep, Carter couldn't helping sighing in disappointment to find his wife already zipped up tight in her faded, red sleeping bag. Her hair was still in its ponytail, and to his disapproval, her glasses remained on her face which was lost in dreaming. He rarely saw her like this, small and vulnerable, but whenever he happened upon her in this state, he had to admit that his heart warmed slightly at the sight. It was moments like these when he remembered that was indeed a woman... in her own right.
Yes, it was true that she didn't care for flowers, and diamonds were anything but her best friend. Strangely enough, the only gifts she seemed eager to accept were fish and curry dishes though for the life of him, he couldn't understand why. Even so, he realized that perhaps it was for the best that she didn't necessarily enjoy the finer things in life since he wasn't sure he could've provided her the happiness she deserved had that been the case.
Honestly, he couldn't comprehend what possessed her to join him in his excavation project in the first place, but he supposed that was of little importance now. He could always ask her in the morning if he felt it was significant enough. More than likely, he wouldn't question her about her motives, though, for she could always tell him in her own time. After all, perhaps it had simply been an educational venture from the start. He couldn't imagine he had much to do with her decision...
Still, the man carefully leaned over the young woman and removed her glasses effortlessly and placed them neatly on a small table. Although he considered it, he didn't even attempt to kiss her good-night on the forehead. He wasn't entirely confident in his role as her husband, and a part of him wondered if he would ever be. Until now, they had only shared a professional relationship.
Romance had simply never played a part in it, or at least... it didn't play much of a role overall if it did exist beneath the surface.
Carter continued to stare at her sleeping form until his stomach growled bitterly, threatening to not only startle him but also frighten his wife awake. Even in the darkness and relative silence, his face warmed with embarrassment. Luckily for him, she didn't stir, but that didn't solve the problem of his current hunger. There was only one option for him, of course, and although he hated to even consider it, he knew that he would have to grin and bear it all the same.
Just as he sat down on his cot, plate in hand, he couldn't help but grimace at the thought of taking a bite. While it was certainly cold by this time, he was more concerned with the fact that it was ultimate curry, and the fact it was curry again, for at least the third time that week alone, made it all the more difficult for him to take that first taste. To his surprise, though... it tasted...
Good. Wonderful even.
He sat there in a daze for a moment, trying to wrap his mind around what he had always thought was the impossible. In all the years that Flora had cooked for him, he'd never once enjoyed her cooking, and more often than not, he would sneak away for a chance to eat elsewhere, usually the Inner Inn if he had the option. However, here he was... in the same tent, eating the same dish... yet he actually liked it.
In the darkness, he glanced over to where the young womanslept. He could barely make out her sleeping form, rising and falling with every breath, and even though no one could see it, he couldn't help but smile softly to himself.
Maybe tomorrow he might be able to convince her to begin calling him by his name...
Final Author's Note: I've actually always liked the thought of Carter x Flora, but... that was in AWL and AnWL. Still, I've seen videos of their rival scenes from HM:DS online, and even then, I didn't see anything wrong with their relationship. I just hope that this story might make people a little less adamant on how Flora deserves better. ;)
Yes, they aren't the fluffiest couple in the series, but I still feel it's more than just a marriage of convenience. After all, my parents were never openly affectionate towards each other although they've been married for over thirty years (and counting). I can actually count how many times they've hugged or kissed in front of me on my fingers, too!