Rating: T for the aftermath of violence

Spoilers: none

Summary: Florence found a bottle of Happiness in a field one day.

Disclaimer: not mine, don't sue

Author's note: So I was bored and nerdy enough when I wrote this to make several photos for it. I can't share them here

Timeline: whenever

Florence found a bottle of Happiness in a field one day. She would have missed it if her eye hadn't caught a small glint from the spot where she'd almost placed her heel. She recoiled, bent down, and pushed the wheat away from around the shining thing. The formerly valued earth metals had little use in this society (but still too much, she thought as she recalled their recent trip to New York), but one always had to be diligent. She didn't like to remember what had happened, when Pinocchio had come gallivant charging after her.

She'd made sure she'd told, more or less, Hobbes before she'd left. Pinocchio was nowhere to be found which, she hoped, heightened the chances that he wouldn't find it necessary to retrieve her. Florence wasn't sure what she'd felt but it must have been this; there was no one near in distress, she was sure.

She knelt down to examine the bottle. It was lying on its side, dirty and partially buried. It was made of faint purple glass, capped with a cork, and miraculously intact. The brittle now-yellow label had been glued on so long ago that it peeled off at her faintest touch. It had been hand lettered in a language that was not English, but one she could read. She tucked into the wristband of her fingerless glove, then bent to retrieve the bottle. It was not as dirty as she'd thought, and was over half full. Its contents shimmered, catching the late afternoon sunlight.

Pinocchio had returned from wherever it was he'd gone by the time she got back. He'd parked his car in relatively bare patch in front of the shack which was serving as their temporary residence, and was at the moment banging and cursing under the hood. He didn't acknowledge her presence until she was mere feet from him, but she knew that if it had been anyone else they would have been facing interrogation via the business end of his M-16 long before.

She ducked into the small shack, still holding her breath that it would fall in on them. Before her eyes adjusted to the darkness she could smell the fact that one of them, Pinocchio probably, because he could still operate a can opener – or probably a knife, had started dinner.

Hobbes had propped himself up in a corner and was throwing a ball made of knotted rags to Dexter who gleefully retrieved his master's wild left-handed tosses. He looked her way and nodded as his greeting. His paleness worried her.

Three days ago they'd been caught in what they'd at that moment realized was no-man's-land between a divided town. They were warring over irrigation rights of their large creek and use of the crude mill on its bank, and they were doing their damnedest. Pinocchio swore at least some of the weapons he'd seen and heard came from family heirloom displays and the like, and the grapeshot that Hobbes took in the shoulder would have shamed Napoleon. He would have been much better if he could have been healed quickly, but she was half a mile away, and she still hadn't forgiven herself for it. Hobbes himself didn't blame her, and Pinocchio had said he'd had to wait ten minutes before the fighting simmered down enough so he could retrieve their companion's unconscious form. She knew the reason he gave was only half of it; death in the Realm works the same for VCs as it does for real characters. Somewhere, a huge, cold machine analyzes thousands of permutations and calculates your probability of survival. Given the filth outside the fence, the severity and frequency of a person's wounds, and a basic lack of human compassion, results were usually not favorable.

So the look on Pinocchio's face when she'd limped into the small clearing into which he'd managed to drag the still-unconscious Hobbes two hours later was one of surprise mixed with relief mixed with something she didn't have the energy to ponder at the moment. They were a pathetic lot of innocent bystanders. Even so, she'd had to heal Pinocchio in his sleep; he'd nodded off while she was tending to the other man, mumbling for her to not do the same for him. She had, of course, and almost immediately fell into a deep sleep brought on not only by the day's events but by their undoing.

She would check on him, she decided, after she checked on the stew Pinocchio had conjured up. It looked to be a mixture of whatever kinds of soup had been in three knife-opened cans that sat beside the fire, along with some green things he had gathered on his walk back. Florence was glad that the shack was in such disarray that half of it hadn't been floored so they could build a fire on the dirt of one side. Otherwise it would have been outside, requiring someone to watch the cracked pot at all times to fend off other hungry animals.

Florence knew the only reason they were having three cans of soup instead of their usual two was because Pinocchio was feeling whatever emotion he had closest to guilt as well. He hadn't said anything, but she knew. The only way he could remove the younger man from the area of fighting was by dragging him; shots were still volleying overhead and it made no sense for them both to be injured beyond help. All manner of dragging, he discovered as he thought, would have involved exacerbating his shoulder wound, hitting his head, getting dirt or mud up his nose, or any combination therein. In the end he'd said: "screw it," "I'm sorry," and began to pull as gently as he could, ignoring his own bleeding leg.

The soup, she was surprised to learn, actually smelled like a decent combination. She pulled out the little bottle and uncorked it. In this light it was more blue than purple, but the contents still shimmered as they slid over one another.

"Hey," Hobbes called out quietly. The dog now sat on his lap. He wasn't smiling but there was a certain glint in his eyes. If there were to be a practical joke, which were rare but not unheard of between them, he wanted to be in on it. He nodded stiffly to the door, asking, "Pinocchio?" She looked, smiling very faintly, and shook her head, no. She poured it into the soup, corked the bottle and returned it to her pocket. Hobbes shrugged his one good shoulder and resumed scratching Dexter between the ears, content in knowing that, whatever it was, she was giving it to herself too.