Title: In Loving Memory
Characters: Florina, Farina, Hector, Roy, Eliwood, Lilina
Genre: Family, Friendship, Angst
Notes: For Mark of the Asphodel for being awesome and asking for an "Awesome Aunt Farina" 'fic. I'm sorry this isn't within the canon world, I couldn't bring myself to come up with a good story within the canon with Florina still being an Ilian knight, so have this instead. Modern-ish day AU. More notes on Livejournal at SwayingtheFlame.
"Have you ever felt like…maybe you were doing something you weren't meant to do?"
Farina took a long drag on her cigarette while Florina fiddled with the wrinkles in her skirt. Below, off the balcony in the yard, two-year-old Lilina played in the mud.
"Promise me something, will ya?" Farina asked, looking away from her daughter to glance wistfully up at the sky.
"Sure," Florina murmured, unsure of what had gotten her sister into this strange sort of mood. She usually didn't act sentimental in front of other people. "Anything."
"If something happens to me…step in, will you?" She took another drag and blew the smoke out of the corner of her mouth before sighing. "As a mother, I mean. Or something."
As surprised as she was by her sister's words, Florina tried her best not to show it, and she answered after a long moment of silence, her words firm and reassuring, "Yeah, I will."
She waited for Farina to take it back, to laugh about it, to kick her boots against the railing, but she never did. She just kept staring off into the sky, leaving Florina to think of something cheerful to say to break the now-uncomfortable silence.
Less than a year later, Farina was dead. The words didn't quite reach Florina's ears when she received the news from her eldest sister, Fiora, but she did remember the phrases "another fool stunt", and "thoughtless, selfish bitch" (though she knew Fiora didn't mean those things), and her heart never did stop aching after that, not even when she was asleep and thought she could forget about it.
She supposed one did not just get over the death of a loved one.
"H-Hello Hector, Eliwood," Florina said as she walked into the front door of Hector's home and saw the two men sitting in the living room. It had been ten years since Farina's passing, but it still rattled her to know that things could look so normal. Friday afternoons had always been "the boys' night" for them.
"Good afternoon," Eliwood said politely.
"The kids are upstairs," Hector told her.
She headed toward the stairs, tossing a quick word of thanks over her shoulder. She couldn't help but note—not for the first time—the lack of pictures hanging on the wall. Hector's house, Fiora told her, was the opposite of Eliwood's. Eliwood's wife had died young of a slow disease, but Eliwood kept every single picture he could think of—even out-of-focus Polaroids—in frames on every wall and flat surface in the house.
But Hector had rid the house of Farina's photographs. And her things. All evidence of her once having lived there had been packed away.
Florina supposed that people all dealt with death differently. She'd kept all of the weird birthday gifts Farina had given her—even the tacky unicorn lamp from her fifteenth birthday—and she had one picture still sitting on her bureau. The picture was a bit blurry, because her sister had been waving her arms wildly, but her smile was crystal clear, and Florina just couldn't bear to put it away, the one picture she had of her sister looking genuinely happy.
She knocked politely on Lilina's partially-open door, and peered around the corner. Lilina sat on one side of her bed, and Eliwood's son Roy sat on the other. Between them, they held a deck of cards. "Hello," she said, and both kids jumped.
"Aunt Florina!" Lilina squealed, and practically fell over herself to run to her aunt. Florina wasn't sure why her niece always made sure to hug her—after all, she'd never really even hugged her own sisters, much—but it touched her nonetheless, and she squeezed the girl tight. "Papa says I can go shopping for new school clothes!"
"School's starting already?" Florina pretended to be shocked, though she worked teaching Kindergarten and she knew full well that school would be starting in a few weeks.
"Yes," Lilina grinned, "and I can't wait!"
Roy slid off of the bed and came to stand next to them. "Father says I can go, too. He gave me money to take you ladies out to dinner."
"Ooh, fancy," Lilina teased.
Roy's cheeks colored as he gave her a playful shove.
"Never mock food paid for by someone else," Florina said with a smile. "Where do you want to go first?"
Farina had taken up smoking at the age of 13, much to their mother's disapproval and their father's anger. They tried punishing her, grounding her, but it never worked. Farina had always been mischievous and she mixed in with the wrong people early on. She learned to sneak out, learned how to get back in, learned how to get other people to lie for her.
She'd met Hector when they were both 17. Florina breathed a sigh of relief to see her sister running around with Hector; even though he was a known troublemaker himself, at least his level of trouble never toed the legal/illegal line. They were nuisances together, but at the end of the day, he'd been a good influence on her.
They'd gotten married a week after finding out Farina was pregnant with Lilina—no fancy wedding, just a ring and a few vows. Florina had been there that day. She'd taken them both out to lunch so that they could have some kind of celebratory dinner. Instead of a wedding cake, they'd had a wedding pie, and Florina had hummed the bridal march.
They settled down for a while, and a couple of quiet, peaceful years passed.
But Farina loved to feel her heart pound in her chest, loved the rush of adrenaline, and the years of peace to her were nothing but restlessness. Nobody quite understood why. Missing her daredevil stunts, she returned to jumping from planes (and waiting until the last second to release her parachute), driving at reckless speeds on clear evening freeways, and braving weather even when the Post Office closed because it was too harsh.
And then she bought a motorcycle.
Florina babysat while Hector and Farina went for rides, or on short trips. She supposed everyone needed time alone, away from responsibility, away from…reality. Lilina was a bright-eyed, active toddler, and Florina was never sorry to get the chance to spend more time with her niece.
But one day, Farina took the motorcycle out alone in the dark, in the rain, and that night had been the night Florina's phone rang at five in the morning, and Fiora, who was half-sobbing despite the fact that Fiora never cried to anyone about anything, had given her the terrible news: Farina was gone. It hadn't been instant. She was half-smeared on the pavement for hours before a trucker found her. Motorcycles were not made to ride in the rain.
The funeral was closed-casket.
And Lilina had asked, very loudly, in the middle of the service, "Why are we here?" before she listed all of the reasons it just didn't make any sense—why were they in church but not singing happy songs? Why was everyone dressed in dark, boring colors?
Nobody could tell her the truth, especially not Hector, who looked as if he'd lived a hundred years in the past week. Florina had never seen him looking so low—so vulnerable. And for a moment, she resented her sister for what she had done, for being so careless, for leaving Hector to raise Lilina on his own.
So Florina held her close and told her that they were celebrating someone's life.
Lilina said, sounding regretful, "I should have worn my pink dress, then. Mama calls it my party dress."
And out of the corner of her eye, Florina saw a tear roll down Hector's cheek.
"You know, Lyn," Florina said to her best friend during their monthly dinner, "I think Hector's wrong for keeping pictures of Farina out of the house."
Lyn swallowed the bite of hamburger she'd taken, and looked thoughtful. "I keep pictures of my parents around," she said, "but mine died when I was 23, not three."
"But that's all the more reason, right?" she asked, spearing the lettuce of her salad with her fork. "To have something to remember her by. It just, I mean…" She waved her fork around exasperatedly. "Imagine not remembering what your parents looked like!"
"This is really getting at you, isn't it?" Lyn asked, and set her hamburger down to reach across the table to touch Florina's free hand.
After a moment's pause and a chuckle, Florina admitted that it was. "It's just…she's my sister. I want Lilina to know her, too. At least a little bit."
"Next time you go over to see Lilina, why don't you try talking to Hector? He might be a bullheaded dumbass most of the time, but I'm sure he'll understand." Lyn returned her attention to her hamburger, cramming half of it in her mouth at once.
"Ugh, Lyn, can't you eat with more manners?"
"Can't," she said, mouth full yet still somehow managing a grin that showed off chewed-up food, "Gotta be home by eight."
"Ohhh," Florina said. "Boy toy's getting home at eight?"
"No, nine," Lyn said with a wink, "but I've got…plans."
Florina grinned. "I'll bet you do," she said.
Lilina was three years old when Farina died, and Florina supposed that most people couldn't remember much before they were about five. Lilina, then, probably didn't remember anything at all about her own mother.
But she'd heard the girl talk about her instead. Things she'd said as a girl to her friends, "Well my mother told me…" came from Lilina's mouth as, "Well, my aunt Florina told me," instead.
Florina had been there to help pack her school lunches. She'd taken Lilina to school with her, she'd babysat her, she'd taught her about growing up, about sex education, and about all the things mothers and daughters usually talked about.
But despite the shopping trips together, and the "girls' nights" out, she couldn't help but feel a little sad. Would Farina have spent time with Lilina like this? Would they have gone to shop for dresses together, even though Farina wouldn't be caught dead in a dress even on her wedding day? Would she have worn half of a "mother/daughter" bracelet?
Florina realized she would never know the answer to those questions.
Essentially, she had done as Farina had asked—had stepped in as a mother figure. She would always be happy to be there for her niece—she loved her dearly, after all—but she had never wanted to take Farina's place in Lilina's heart.
Hector answered the door with his hair mussed and his glasses askew. "Florina?" he asked, sounding confused. "It's not Friday, is it? I could have sworn it was…"
"Thursday," she said meekly, and stepped through the doorway.
Hector closed the door behind her and took off his glasses. "Lilina's in the kitchen," he told her, but she shook her head.
"I came to speak to you." Her words sounded a lot more matter-of-fact than she felt. Her heart was pounding in her chest. "A-About, well, Lilina. Sort-of."
"Oh," he said, and showed her to his study, a small, messy, cramped sort of room. This room, like all of the others, was completely devoid of Farina's touch.
"I…" she started, but then stopped to glance down at her intertwined fingers. "It's been ten years, Hector," she said. "Eleven, on the 28th. I just. There are no pictures. Not of her, not the ones she painted—not even pictures when Farina was the one behind the lens."
Hector paused for a long moment, something he would never have done ten years ago, and then spoke. "I had a toddler, Florina. A toddler that I had to put in a black dress and take to a funeral. A toddler that I then had to raise—"
"But Hector, she doesn't even remember what Farina looked like." Never before had Florina known how badly a past-tense word could hurt.
Maybe that was why Hector had put all of Farina's things away, shoving them into boxes and tossing them into a storage unit; he paid money to hide away her things. Was the constant reminder of Farina in past tense too much for him? Too painful?
He ran a hand through his hair and gave a frustrated shrug. "I told her," he said. "I told Lilina that she looks like her mother."
"She does, doesn't she?" Florina couldn't help but smile. "It's the nose."
"And the ears. And the way she walks. The way she carries herself. Her chin. Her cheekbones."
Florina put her hand on Hector's arm to stop him, and then shook her head. "With all of those reminders," she asked, "what were a few more?"
"I couldn't get rid of my daughter," he said, as if Florina had insinuated he should have done it. "I couldn't change her, make her look or act or sound different. I couldn't—"
"It—It was hard, wasn't it," she said, not asked, and gave him a sympathetic look. It hadn't been easy for either of them, really.
"It's still hard," he confessed, looking not at her, but out the window toward the balcony, the one Farina had spent many afternoons standing on, smoking a cigarette and looking at the sky.
They sat in semi-comfortable silence for a long moment before Florina put her hand on his shoulder. "Do you still remember?" she asked. "What she looked like?"
Wordlessly, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a worn leather wallet.
Florina remembered that wallet. She'd helped Farina buy it for Hector's 21st birthday. It seemed like such a long time ago.
Hector unfolded it carefully, and turned the wallet around to show Florina the left side, where there was a photograph—a photograph featuring Farina. The picture had been taken on the balcony.
"The sun was setting," he said, looking down at the picture with obvious fondness. "She'd fallen asleep."
Florina moved closer until her nose nearly touched the photograph of her sister. Farina was leaned back against the side of the house, one hand limp on the ground beside her, a burned out cigarette still held loosely between her fingers. It was a clear photograph; Florina realized she could see a ring on Farina's toe, could see the slight curling up of her lips. She looked content. Happy.
She felt tears spring to her eyes. "That's a good picture of her," she whispered, and forced herself to pull away.
"Sometimes it's like…she never went away, you know?" he asked, his voice sounding rough, and folded the wallet back up after one last glance. "I came home one night. After the funeral was over." He took a deep breath. "And I started talking to her. I thought I heard the shower running. But when I went inside, it was the toilet; the chain had fallen off and it had been running all day."
Florina didn't know what to say to that, so she bit her lip and watched the muscle in Hector's cheek twitch.
"I just… I'd seen her things everywhere, you know? The painting in the kitchen, her crap all over the living room. That stupid stuffed bear, the one with the left eye on a two-inch thread coming out of its head. So I just got rid of it. I thought maybe if those things weren't there, I wouldn't make that mistake again. I wouldn't forget—"
"That she was gone," Florina finished for him.
"Yeah." His shoulders drooped, as if defeated.
"Did it help?"
"Lilina kept asking where Mama was. I'd have to explain it all over again. It was like I was reassuring myself that she really was gone. And then, one day, she stopped asking. And I started forgetting…her voice, her skin, the exact color of her eyes…"
"I can't remember her voice, either," Florina said, almost to herself. "I mean, I hear this sort of whisper of it in my mind when I think about her, when I recall events where she was present, but it's not solid, real, not like it used to be."
He nodded. "I just thought that maybe the less I was reminded, the less Lilina would be reminded. But I think she's old enough, now…"
Florina smiled and brushed her fingers against the back of his hand. "You've done really well with her, you know."
"She's a good kid," he said, flipping his hand over to grasp tightly at her fingers. His eyes looked almost misty. "But I did have help. So thanks."
On Friday afternoon, Florina pulled into Hector's driveway.
"Upstairs," he said when she walked through his door, and she headed there. Eliwood wasn't there, which was unusual, but she supposed Hector had postponed his arrival until after her departure.
"Lilina?" she called, and knocked twice on her niece's door. When she heard the prompt response, she pushed open the door.
"Hi Aunt Florina," Lilina said, moving to hug her.
Florina smiled and hugged her back, mindful of the bag she held tightly in her left hand.
"Papa said you wanted to talk to me."
"Yes," Florina said, and sat down on the bed. After a moment of hesitation, Lilina joined her. "I don't have a lot of time today, because I have to meet Fiora for dinner, but I have some things for you."
Lilina's lips pursed in protest, "But the dress you bought me last week was more than enough!"
"This is…different," she said with a smile, and reached over to give Lilina another hug; this did not go unnoticed by Lilina, who smiled and squeezed back but kept a curious expression on her face afterward.
"I talked with your father yesterday," she started, trying to think of a delicate way to approach the subject. She'd spent all night tossing and turning, unable to come up with the right way to say it. She finally settled on what Lyn would be proud of, what her friend often referred to as The Brutally Honest Approach. "I told him that I thought it was terrible that there aren't any pictures of Farina—your mother—around."
Lilina stayed quiet for a long time. "I don't remember much about her," she finally admitted. "I know Papa has a picture of her in his wallet, but I never really thought much of it. I feel so…detached from her, like she's someone I should love and care about? But I don't know her at all. I know about her, but I don't know her. Does that even make sense?"
Florina laughed, but it was a sad sort of laugh. She supposed she couldn't expect her niece to cry over a mother she'd never really known, but it still hurt a little to know that her sister was so easily forgotten by a child.
"Yes it does," she said. "Do you want to know a bit more of her?"
Lilina thought about it, which surprised Florina. The girl was thirteen years old, but sometimes she acted like an adult, thinking things through. Her answer was tentative, her words slow, but her voice was steady, "I…would like to know a bit more."
Florina smiled and reached into her bag, pulling out a framed picture. "Did you know your mother wanted to go to school for art?" she asked, placing the picture in her hands.
Lilina whispered a soft sound in the negative as she held the framed art.
"She painted that skyscape," Florina said matter-of-factly. "She liked photography and she loved landscapes, but she had this weird fascination with clouds and thunderstorms. She loved the rain. She painted this for her "someday-college" portfolio. I had it framed for you."
"It's pretty," Lilina said quietly, fingers tracing the oil painting clouds. "I'm lousy at art."
"So am I," Florina laughed. "But your mother loved it. Aunt Fiora always told her to be more practical. She said an art degree would never get her anywhere."
"And what did you say?"
"Well," Florina grinned, "when I was a kid I'd ask her to draw me horses. She got pretty good at them after a few years."
Chuckling, Lilina turned her eyes away from the painting. "Thank you, Aunt Florina, this means a lot to me."
"I'm not done yet." She reached into the bag and pulled out a heavy, clunky pair of boots. "Size nine, right?"
"They were your mother's. Size nine, just like you. She loved them, wore them with torn jeans and a raggedy t-shirt every chance she got. Was wearing them the day she was married and the day you were born."
Lilina put them on the floor and slid into them despite the fact that she was wearing a cute sundress. "A perfect fit," she announced before clomping one lap around the floor.
"And one last thing," Florina said softly, pulling out a picture frame from the bag. "I searched through every photo album I have," she told her niece, "but this was the best photograph I found." It was, truthfully, the one sitting on her nightstand. Replacing it was the yearly family photograph taken only months before Farina's passing, a photograph where everyone was wearing fake, placating smiles.
But Lilina didn't need to know that.
"I know it's a bit blurry," she said, "but this photograph is, in its entirety, your mother."
Lilina spent a long time looking at it, running her fingers over the protective glass. She turned to her aunt and gave her a slightly watery-eyed smile. "Thank you," she said. " I feel like I know her a bit better, now."
"I'm glad," Florina said with a relieved sigh. "Having reminders around was painful for your father, but he soldiered through. And maybe he was right in taking those reminders away so that he could be strong enough to put you first. But I just thought maybe you'd want some things to remind you of her a little bit. You've grown up so much…and so well."
"Thank you for being here, for coming over every week, for…well, everything."
"It's my pleasure," she answered, giving her teary-eyed niece a tight hug. "I think I have time for one story before I have to go and meet Fiora. Would you be interested?"
"Would I? Papa can't bring himself to tell me many stories!" Lilina leaned forward eagerly.
"All right," Florina said with a grin, "once upon a time…"
Lilina rolled her eyes.
"Oh? Too old for those now, are we?"
"Just a little bit," Lilina answered, sticking out her tongue playfully.
"Well, when your mother and I were growing up, we didn't have much money. I was obsessed with horses—equines, really. Horses, unicorns, pegasi, I loved them all and I would sometimes get little plastic toys from my parents for birthdays and Christmas." Florina raised her eyebrows, "But I was turning fifteen and I was too old for such things. That's when your mother went out and bought me the tackiest unicorn lamp…"