AN: It's been a while since I worked on this story, but I finally had some inspiration for it. I know I have three on going stories right now, but I am going to do my best to finish all of them, never fear.
"And so I said to her, 'Ophelia, you can't teach it to do tricks! It's a squirrel for gods' sake.'" Helen roared with laughter at her own story, with Flora giggling beside her. Even Deneve cracked a small smile, something she only ever did for Helen. Galatea reclined happily in her chair, watching her little family reminiscing about years passed. It was good to have Deneve back home, and she always enjoyed having Helen. She and Flora had both been happy when Deneve had calmly announced her relationship to the jovial girl, not that it surprised them at all. The only downside was that it had meant that they saw more of Ophelia than Galatea would have liked, since the slightly unstable woman was something of a sister to Helen. Over the years, her personality had lost much of its sadistic quality, thanks to the constant love and care of Tera and Allie, but she was still not Galatea's favorite person.
"How is Ophelia?" Flora asked.
"Good, I think," Helen said. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than it ever was over at Teresa and Ilena's, not that Galatea ever minded. It was nice to have the structure the older women provided. Here, however, she and Flora were more like older sisters than parents. Responsible for Deneve, but not like Teresa and Ilena were with Clare, or how Stella was with Jean. They had been so young at the take down of the Organization. She had been just nineteen, while Flora had been a week shy of her seventeenth birthday. Not old enough to be parents to a fourteen year old Deneve. But they had done their best, and the stoic young woman sitting across from her was testament to their success.
"Is she still with Zelda?" Galatea asked. She had been surprised as anyone when Ophelia had started courting one of the other trainees the year before. Of course, none of them were trainees any longer, but that was how Galatea distinguished them in her mind. There were the trainees, then came the 'new' warriors who had fought against them at Headquarters and survived, and then there was her group, the 'old' ones. The original nine. The oldest of the Claymores. All but Kahlin. Galatea still missed her friend, but she had finally gotten over her guilt.
"Yep," Helen said, answering her question. "I have no idea what Zelda sees in her. I mean, I love Ophy like a sister, but she's insane."
"So is Zelda," Deneve said softly. "She'd have to be to put up with Ophelia."
"Maybe they're just well suited for each other," Flora said diplomatically. Galatea knew that her lover was not fond of Ophelia either, but Flora would never say so outright. She was too sweet. And kind. And beautiful. And perfect.
Galatea knew that she was wrapped around Flora's little finger, and it did not bother her one bit.
"Zelda may be quiet, but she's the only person besides Tera who can get Ophy to shut the hell up," Helen said, raising her glass of wine. Galatea did not know why, but for some reason, Helen thought it was great fun to become intoxicated. Deneve never did, but she did not seem to mind it when her lover let loose. "She must be doing something right."
Flora nodded in agreement, letting her hand come to rest on Galatea's knee. The older woman smiled, remembering again how lucky she had been to find Flora out in the Northern wilderness that night. She had been so foolish to think that Ilena could ever choose her over Teresa. Those two were more devoted to each other than Galatea thought possible. She knew it was because of what the Organization had put them through, what Ilena had been forced to do. Galatea looked over at Flora and almost shuddered. She could not imagine what it must have been like for her friends, having to fight each other like that. Everything they had done from that point forward had been to make up for the years they had been apart and their nearly fatal reunion.
No, Flora was a much better match for her, and she could not have been happier. The younger woman was precisely what she needed to balance her temperament.
She frowned and glanced out the window, something tickling at the edges of her senses. Two auras, one very familiar and one completely foreign. Flora noticed her shift in mood. The younger woman was so good at reading her that Galatea sometimes wondered if Flora could read Yoki auras, too.
"Galatea? What's wrong?"
"Two auras," Galatea said, standing to look out the window. Of course, she could not see anything. They were too far into the mountains for that. She and Flora had decided to follow Ilena and Teresa's example when picking a place to finally settle down. They were even in the same mountain range, though on the other side of the backbone. "I only know one of them. The other is a stranger."
Her companions grew serious. "Who could it be?" Helen asked. "A Yoma?"
"No. She's a warrior," Galatea said. They were coming close enough that she could feel their emotions clearly now. What she felt began to answer who the mystery aura was. "Oh. Well, that's certainly interesting."
"Latea, love," Flora said gently, and Galatea knew without looking that she had her eyebrow quirked in that way that clearly said she was gently disapproving of Galatea's actions. "Not all of us have your skills in Yoki reading. Don't keep all the information to yourself."
"One is most certainly Jean. The other...well. I think I'll wait until I see them to make a final judgment."
"Jean? But then... what about... Oh!" Helen's eyes widened. "Oh snap. Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"I'm not saying anything," Galatea told her neutrally. "I only know for sure that one aura is Jean's. Anything else is just speculation."
"But come on! What else could it be?" Helen actually seemed excited now. "Oh my gods, can you imagine the look on Teresa's face!" She let out a laugh, earning her a glare from both Deneve and Flora.
"Helen, you know how much that would hurt Teresa," Flora gently scolded. "I hope you're wrong, Latea."
"Like I said, I only know one thing for sure. We'll have to wait and see about the rest." She returned to the table. Her range was so great now that the travelers were still several miles off, and not moving terribly quickly. "Let's just enjoy the rest of our meal." Helen sat back down happily at the mention of more food. Galatea had never seen anyone eat as much as Helen, not even Clare who was the only one among them who actually needed regular meals.
"Fantastic! Can we have pie yet?" Helen picked up her turkey leg, tearing off a piece with her teeth. "'Caush you know I luff affle pie."
"That's disgusting, Helen," Deneve said as Helen talked through her food.
"No. Itsh delishioush." She waved the half eaten leg in front of Deneve's face. The other woman rolled her eyes. "Pie?" Helen repeated, looking at Flora expectantly.
"Yes, you can have pie." She smiled as Helen jumped up from the table to retrieve the pie. She managed to eat a whole slice before sitting back down.
Flora and Galatea were clearing away the dishes when Galatea felt the two auras move into their little clearing. "They're here."
"I know," Flora said. Or course. Sometimes Galatea forgot that Flora could feel auras, too. At least as well as any Claymore.
They walked out the door in time to see Jean emerging from the trees with her arm around a smaller blond woman, another Claymore.
"Well, I'll be damned," Galatea said, shaking her head and crossing her arms. "I take it that you've already been to see Teresa?"
Jean looked up and nodded.
"Bet she took this really well."
"Not so much," Jean said, looking down at her companion. Galatea was amazed at how different Clare looked with a simple change of hair color. Her once chestnut locks gleamed a pale blond in the sun, just like the rest of theirs. It looked as if she had been crying, her silver eyes red rimmed, but there were no tears now.
"Holy shit, Clare. What did you do?" Helen exclaimed.
"Shut up, Helen," Jean snapped. She rarely ever showed her temper, but Helen was one of the few who could bring it out in her.
"Oh my," Flora said as she studied Clare's new appearance. "Why don't we go inside?" Jean ushered Clare into the small cabin, smaller than the one Teresa and Ilena had.
"Tell us what happened," Galatea pushed after they had settled down. "How did you even do this?"
"We were in the east, just travelling around," Clare began, her voice lower than Galatea remembered. She wondered if that was part of the transformation or if it was just because Clare was older. "We were really close to the old Headquarters when we bumped into Miria and Hilda. They had just killed a stray Yoma. We were all surprised. I haven't seen one in years. I had already been thinking for a while how it wasn't fair that I was human." She looked over at Jean who held her hand in support. "I didn't want to get old and leave Jean alone. So when we saw the Yoma, I had the idea of trying to get the operation done. There were still notes and stuff left at Headquarters explaining how to do it."
"Miria agreed to this?" Galatea found it hard to believe that the rule-following Miria would do something that so clearly went against Teresa and Ilena's wishes. Even though she officially held the loose leadership position now, all of them still referred back to Ilena as their true leader. She and Teresa had brought them through so much.
"Not at first. She told me I was an idiot."
Helen opened her mouth to reply, but Deneve smacked her arm hard to stop whatever it was she had been about to say. "Ow!"
"Keep your mouth shut for once," Deneve warned her softly.
"Fine," Helen huffed, crossing her arms.
"I was able to convince her when I asked her how far she was willing to go to stay with Hilda," Clare continued. "I asked her what she was willing to do to save Hilda pain. And then she agreed to help us."
"And the four of you did the surgery? Or I guess the three of them did it on you? Without help?" Galatea did not know much about the operation, having of course been unconscious for her own, but she did know that it had to be more complicated than three young women, no matter how battle trained, could handle.
"We were going to, but Miria found someone in town who worked at the Organization years ago, back before even Teresa and Ilena were trainees. He had helped with the operation, and he agreed to help us because the Yoma had almost killed his daughter."
"I see." Galatea got up to get more wine. She poured a cup for Clare. "You need this, I think."
"Thanks." She took a swallow, grimacing at the taste. Teresa and Ilena did not keep much alcohol at their house, so Clare was unaccustomed to drinking it.
"My first reaction was to tell you how stupid you are and beat the crap out of you," Galatea said. "But I assume Teresa has already taken care of that."
"For the most part," Clare said. "She got a little violent, but Ilena was able to make her back off."
"Gods bless Ilena," Galatea said with fondness. "She's the only one who can get through to Teresa when that woman's temper sets off. If it hadn't been for her intervention, Teresa would have probably killed me with her bare hands."
"I remember that," Clare said. "You never told me exactly what happened."
"Wait," Helen interjected. "What's all this? Teresa almost killed you?"
Galatea laughed, remembering that night. It was odd that she looked back on it with amusement now. At the time it had been painful and humiliating. But in the long run, it had taken her to Flora. "It was right before I met Flora, when me, Teresa, Ilena, and Clare were travelling north in search of Stella's band of deserters."
"You had to travel with those two love birds?" Helen asked.
"Yes, and it was even worse because I had quite the crush on Ilena at the time." Flora gave her a small smile, long since passed her jealousy.
"Really?" Clare looked at her with raised brows. Galatea supposed that no one had ever told her the true reason for Galatea's departure in the North.
"Not my best moment, but yes." Galatea shrugged her shoulders. "Anyway, it was getting to the point where it was difficult to be around them. I hadn't quite learned to fully control my power yet, so I felt everything that they did. And all of you know how they feel about each other. Somewhere in my stupid youthfulness, I thought that Ilena felt something for me, too. One night, I acted on it and kissed her."
"Oh. Yeah, I see now." Clare nodded in comprehension. "That would definitely earn you an ass kicking."
"Indeed. Teresa, of course, felt everything and came rushing out to beat my face in. She managed to break my nose and my cheekbone before Ilena pulled her off me. That was back when Ilena only had one arm, so it really was an accomplishment. I was actually scared for my life, not that I ever let Teresa know. And if any of you ever tell her that, I'll kill you." She looked pointedly at Helen who stared back at her with wide, innocent eyes.
"Sound like you're lucky you're not dead," Deneve mused.
"I know. Ilena saved me, even after I had acted so stupid."
"Ilena's pretty forgiving," Clare said. "She would have let us stay, but Teresa insisted that she didn't want to see me anymore, so we came over here." Clare looked up at her with pleading eyes. "Would it be alright if we stayed a few nights? I didn't know Deneve and Helen would be here. We'll move on to Stella's soon to get out of your way."
"Don't feel pressured to, Clare," Flora said gently. "We don't have a lot of room with everyone here, but you know you're always welcome."
"Thanks." Clare gave her a small smile. Galatea hated seeing the normally happy girl so sad. "But we probably will move on to Stella's soon. We should go see her anyway since we're in the area, and it will be much less crowded."
"You just don't like us," Helen pouted.
"True enough," Jean muttered. Though she and Deneve got on rather well, Helen always managed to rub Jean the wrong way. She was too much like Ilena in that aspect. Always so serious. Perhaps it was because she had been forced to grow up and be an adult even more so than the other trainees. Ilena had specifically chosen her to stay with Stella and help the older warrior through the pain of Kahlin's death because of her maturity.
"Watch it, Jean," Clare said, knowing how easily a fight could escalate between Jean and Deneve. The two were both fiercely protective of their lovers, almost to the point where Galatea thought it was ridiculous.
"Sorry," Jean muttered, both to Helen and Clare.
"Whatever," Helen said casually, brushing it off. "We'll just have to have a party without you. No big deal." And just like that, the situation was diffused. Galatea reflected that perhaps it was a good idea for Jean and Clare to move on to Stella's as soon as they could.
"Forgive me if I'm not really in the mood for parties right now," Clare sighed.
"She'll come around," Jean assured her. "Ilena promised."
"I know. I just hate...that I disappointed her, or caused her pain." Helen and Deneve exchanged a look and quietly slipped out back to give the others some privacy.
"Clare," Flora began. "You know Teresa's temper. She'll settle down in a bit."
"You didn't see her. She said... she said I wasn't her daughter. She's been mad at me before, but she's never said that."
Galatea could feel the pain and guilt rolling off of Clare. "She didn't mean that. That woman loves you more than anything else in this world. And you know you can trust me on that."
"Of course. She was more than willing to die for you, wasn't she?"
"Yeah, she was." Clare drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. "She just...well Ilena reminded me of what all of you did six year ago when you took down the Organization. She reminded me that Kahlin died so I could live as a human."
"That's true," Flora agreed. "But we didn't do it just for you, Clare. We did it for all the girls who came before us and all the ones who might have come after us. I did it for my sister as well as for you. I did it for myself, because I was angry, and I wanted someone to pay for what had been done to me." They were harsh words coming from the normally soft spoken warrior, but Galatea knew the truth they held. She had been the one to hold Flora as she cried at night, waking up because of the nightmares that plagued them all. And as strong as Galatea liked to think herself, she had been in the exact same position numerous times, her face buried in Flora's chest, the smaller woman's arms around her. Had they stayed with the Organization, they would have lost that connection with their humanity, that thing that allowed them to mourn for all they had lost.
Galatea for one, was glad that she could still cry.
"I just didn't want any of you to think that I didn't appreciate your sacrifices," Clare said, her voice growing rough with emotion. Jean had an arm around her shoulders now. "Because I do. I know how much you gave. I know what you risked."
"I know, Clare," Galatea said gently. "We know that, and Stella knows that, too. You don't have to be so scared about going to see her. She'll understand. I guarantee you she'll understand. She would have done almost anything to keep Kahlin alive. She'll know why you did this." Clare nodded, her eyes brimming with tears again.
"It looks like you two have had a hard day," Flora said. "Why don't you take our bed for the night? We can sleep in here, and Helen and Deneve can stay in the barn."
"Oh, no," Jean protested. "We can't do that."
"Nonsense," Galatea said with a wave of her hand. "We insist. Just don't be too loud if you decide to have a bit of fun." Both younger women blushed. Neither had inherited Teresa's ease with that subject. Galatea would have thought that Clare would be more open, since she was so much like Teresa in other aspects, but both she and Jean were like blushing virgins whenever sex was mentioned. It was quite amusing and only served to make Galatea bring up the subject whenever possible.
"Leave them be, Latea," Flora scolded her gently. "They've had a hard enough day as it is without your teasing." Galatea recalled a time when Flora would have blushed just as hard, and smiled at how much her lover had relaxed over the years. She still did not like discussing their sexual exploits with others, but she no longer buried her face in her hands with embarrassment when it came up. "Come on, you two. Go get some sleep." Galatea let Flora show them to the bedroom. She heard them talking softly as both Flora and Jean continued to try and console Clare. The girl was normally so much more confident than this, but Galatea supposed Teresa had always been her weak spot. It was to be expected. Teresa had saved her so many times. First from the Yoma who had captured her, then from bandits, then from the Organization itself.
Really, they all owed so much to Teresa and Ilena. Galatea doubted if she would ever have even known Flora, let alone gotten close to her had they both stayed with the Organization. Would Helen and Deneve have survived their final test? There was no way of knowing. Ophelia certainly would have completely lost her mind. How many of them would be dead?
She shuddered. Normally, Galatea was not one to dwell on the past. What happened, happened, and there was nothing anyone could do to change that, so why worry about it? Sometimes, though, she liked to take a moment to reflect on how fortunate she had been. After her family had been killed, she had been so certain that her life was over, that she would die at the Organization's Headquarters. Then, she had survived the operation and risen to be one of the most promising trainees. She still remembered the day she had sparred with Ilena, who was Number Two at the time. She had been so impressed with the older woman's control, but she had been so cold. Later, one of the older trainees told her that it was because Ilena had been involved with the Number One for a few years before the Organization found out and put an end to it. Lower ranking warriors were given more slack, but it was strictly forbidden for high ranking warriors to engage in such relationships. Rumor had it among the trainees that Ilena had never gotten over Teresa of the Faint Smile, and that was why she was such a frigid bitch.
Galatea had been worried that something similar would happen to her, so she closed herself off from her classmates, putting on a face of arrogance that kept everyone at arm's length. No one would ever make her feel like that. Until she met Flora, that was. She was so glad now that she had taken the chance. It was worth the risk of that pain.
"A pence for your thoughts?" the woman in question asked as she returned, having shut the bedroom door behind her.
"Just remembered the old days," Galatea said, making room for Flora to sit with her in the wide chair. The smaller woman draped her legs over the arm of the chair and leaned back so that she was pressed against Galatea.
"Anything in particular?"
"Not really. Just how lucky I was to have met Teresa and Ilena."
"Mhm." Flora turned her head to place a small kiss on Galatea's throat. "We owe them quite a lot, don't we?"
"We do. Which is why we're going to take good care of Clare for them until Teresa calms herself down."
"She's right to be angry, though," Flora said, too softly for anyone but Galatea to hear. "What they did was incredibly foolish."
"Oh, I agree, but it's done. Now they have to learn how to move on from it."
"I just feel bad for Ilena. Having to deal with Teresa alone like that."
"You know she's the best for it," Galatea reminded her. "No one else has ever been able to handle Teresa as well. Not even Clare." Though, when Clare had been younger, she had been very adept at getting Teresa to do as she wanted. Ilena had always been the disciplinarian. For both of them. To this day, Galatea still wondered how Ilena tolerated Teresa so well.
"That's true. I still just wonder what she must have been thinking, doing something so dangerous."
"You know Clare. She acts first and thinks later." She chuckled. "The Organization should thank us for saving them from having to deal with such a pain in the butt like her." Flora smiled at her, rolling her eyes.
"No more of a pain than Teresa," Flora pointed out.
"True. If I didn't know better, I would swear they were blood related."
"They will get over this, won't they?" Flora sounded a little worried.
"If Ilena's got anything to say about it, they will."
"I hope so. Because I really don't like sleeping on the floor anymore."
Galatea let out a laugh. "You've become spoiled in your old age!"
"Old? Who's the old one here? I'm not even twenty-four yet." Flora pouted in the most adorable way that was sure to melt Galatea's heart. "You're the old one."
"And I'm thankful for that," Galatea said, wrapping her arms around Flora. "I'm so thankful that we get to be old." So many of their kind died within a few years if receiving their emblems. Reaching your twenty-fifth birthday was a blessing. One that Galatea had already celebrated. She leaned forward to kiss Flora, pulling their bodies closer. Their position did not allow for much comfort, but she was fine with that.
"Ugh, gross." The looked up to see Helen and Deneve standing in the doorway. "Can't you two keep your hands off each other for like, five minutes?"
"You're one to talk," Galatea shot back as Flora stood up with a sigh.
"You two are taking the barn tonight," she said. "We're letting Clare and Jean have our room, and we'll sleep in here. It shouldn't be for long. Jean wants to go see Stella in a few days."
"Whatever," Helen shrugged. "It's all fine with me." She plopped down in one of the chairs. "Is there any food left?"
"You're already hungry?" Deneve looked at her with exasperation.
"Hey, a girl's gotta eat, right?"
"Not enough to feed five grown men," Deneve said. Flora just chuckled and retrieved the leftover turkey.
"It's fine," she said. "We would have thrown it out anyway." Helen took the offerings with glee.
"I want you two to be nice to Clare and Jean, okay," Galatea said. "Just for a few days."
"I'll do my best," Helen said, as though it would be a great undertaking. "Just tell Jean to grow a sense of humor."
"Not everyone can be as happy as you, Helen," Deneve said in a surprising defense of Jean.
"A great tragedy, for sure." Helen reclined in her chair, and Galatea had to admire her outlook on life. She had never met a warrior who was more able to push away her painful past. It was quite something. And it was good for Deneve to have that in her life. She was such a serious girl, always so full of pain and sadness until she met Helen. Yes, their lives were definitely better for having Helen in them, even if she could be somewhat irritating at times.
Yes, Galatea reflected, she was very thankful for all that she had been given.