Zara the onetime dressmaker was leaving Regia for good. This was a particularly happy thought, and would have set her in a good mood, had it not been for the fact that she was also leaving Florian.
It hadn't been explained that this was for good, but Zara had a feeling it would be.
At present, she was packing. It was early in the morning, too early for anyone to be up. Florian was, though, and watching her from his bed. She wasn't sure if she had woken him, or if he had already been reading, but he set his book down to watch her.
Zara was never uncomfortable around Florian, so she continued, disregarding his gaze. Mostly.
It was as she allowed herself time to decide between which of her corsets she was going to take that Florian cleared his throat and said,
"Black is sleek and stealthy. Take that one and put those things away, will you?"
"Huh? Oh. Don't tell me they bother you."
Zara sighed, exasperated. "I have to pack."
"Yes, you do."
"I'm going to be leaving."
Zara didn't say anything more, but instead threw the clothes in question down upon the chair and turned to Florian.
His gray eyes lit with recognition.
"Something is bothering the russet divinity." He stated, with a gentleness that compelled Zara to tell him the circumstances.
"I'm fearful that I won't be able to help you anymore once I leave Regia." In the end, Zara just couldn't get it out. The circumstance was too childish and jumped to too many conclusions.
"Don't worry; I'll be in Westmark soon." Florian met her gaze. His eyes peered into her very soul, read her heart, and then left just as painfully as they had entered to alight on the floor in front of her.
"No, that's not-"
"Zara. Why worry over such things? You can't do anything for me that way, can you? I will enter Westmark. There are no other possibilities."
For once, Zara realized he hadn't read her just the way she had hoped.
"No! Florian, I am concerned for your safety, of course, but what bothers me...is that I won't survive to see your face again."
At this, Florian let out a low whistle. "I do believe that's the longest sentence you've ever spoken. Of course you'll be just fine, Zara. You know I'd be lost without you."
"That's what worries me." She murmured. Florian met her gaze once again, but this time his eyes were gentle rather than abrasive in their curiosity.
Zara softly stepped to his bedside and sat down, resting her hand on the footboard. Looking at his boots where they sat neatly in the corner, she tried to piece together what she should say to Florian. She wasn't nervous; no, she could never be nervous around Florian. Rather, she was unsure as to how to explain the way she felt without confusing him as much as she was.
"I just...don't believe I'll be seeing you again. It was a dream."
"A dream? If we all relied on dreams, Zara, I would have been rid of the monarchy and my father years ago."
"An in your sleep dream."
"Oh. Those are impossible to control; why rely on that, either?"
"Because..." Zara gave up right then. She only knew that she felt as if this were the last time. The last time in this presence, this light that she clung onto as if he were her only hope. And he was.
Suddenly, Florian bent forward and touched her hand, the one resting on the bedspread beside her.
"You look like you could kill right now."
Florian smiled. Zara felt her heart tugged again. How long she had been like this, she didn't know. Part of her hated loving Florian, another part of her was unable to imagine being apart from him. So she got along quite well with her affections; only when he made some sort of small gesture of kindness or gentleness towards her, or had a moment where her respect and gratitude were rekindled toward this man of so much mystery and skill, did she ever lose herself. This was one of those times, and she found herself lost more than ever before; struggling to regain balance in a flood that threatened to knock her off her feet with it's force. She had no idea where the tear came from, but it slid down her cheek so neatly before dropping to the covers that she didn't even bother to notice it until another, and another, and another followed in suit, all leaving her wondering why exactly she had to cry at a time that wasn't threatening or dangerous, or sad at all.
Then again, maybe it didn't matter. Turning away, she tried in vain to conceal her weeping.
"Zara..." Florian breathed, an element of sadness in his voice. She tried to ignore it, tried to take a deep breath and put a stop to the childish breakdown. His hand loosed, then abruptly tightened. "this is important to you, isn't it?"
Zara didn't respond.
"Well, out with it, girl."
"Yes." she choked.
Florian sighed, and before she knew it she was wrapped in a warm, strong embrace. "My children are strong," he whispered, "Are you still one of my children, Zara?"
She took a deep breath, shuddered, and spoke, her voice stronger than she had thought it would be. "I'm in love with you, Florian. How could I be one of your children?"
The man gently pushed her away, his warmth leaving and the cold air sweeping in. Zara once again found herself confused by the way he reacted to things; never like a normal person would an almost always unpredictably. Was he angry? Or amused?
It was as her thoughts raced that he suddenly kissed her. Everything melted away, like ice in the hot summer sun. Only a brief brush of the lips, but long enough to be called a kiss. He whispered into her ear as he drew away, "you are. Just a very special one."
Then their gazes locked. Zara knew her tear-stained face was burning, but it wasn't the first time she had been kissed and he knew it. He wasn't making any striking statements with some sudden flourish of affection.
"Why did you do that?" Zara inquired coldly.
"Because. You deserve it. After five years of trying to sort out your feelings, you've undergone a lot of misery."
"So you don't really love me."
"I never said that."
Florian's sharp gray eyes were calming to her. She thought for a moment how her tears over leaving had simply been because she hadn't settled everything with him yet. Five years before, she had fallen desperately in love. Now that it came down to it, Florian had already known about her love for him, more or less. Her only concern now was that this was her last time seeing him, and that she was sure of this more than she was of her own affections.
"I don't want to hurt you by dying."
"Zara, there's a point at which a man must bury his sorrow and accomplish a task, even without a woman to help him You know this."
In that moment, their gazes like magnets to each other, Zara knew what Florian didn't have to say. This was often the case, but never was the meaning so strong or so well pronounced.
He loved her. More than his care for any of his other 'children' did he love her. And a piece of him would leave with her.
And die with me. Zara thought. Abruptly standing as a knock was sounded at the door, Zara finished packing whilst Florian spoke with one of his people. The door was closed as the last essential was hid away in her single bag. She slipped this over her shoulder and prepared to also leave. With her back to him, she heard him scrambling out of bed faster than a man about to hit thirty probably should, at least at five in the morning.
He grasps her shoulder.
"I have a message for Theo." He fits it into her hand, closing her fingers about it. His hand lingers for a moment.
"There's nothing else to say." Zara explains pointedly.
"No, there isn't. Except for one thing," he pauses, takes a deep breath, "thank you."
Zara felt the tears coming back, but forced them away and took a step forward. Florian let go of her hand.
Zara walked slowly away, controlling the desire to run as fast as she could from that room; as fast as she could from him.
Even hours later, his words echoed in her head.
Author's Note: After recently reading the Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander (or MOST of it, anyway. I skipped around in the Beggar Queen), I became a strong admirer of the author and a fanatic of the books. This pair especially struck me; I love Florian as a character and Zara is just amazing. From the moment I heard that Zara and Rina both loved Florian in the first book, I liked Zara's way of loving better (forgive me!). I'm fond of the Rina and Justin pairing but it was SO SAD how it ended! SO SO SO SAD.
Okay...moving on now...anyway, R&R and please stick to constructive criticism. Thanks!