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And With the Morning Comes

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  Bleary eyes, bloodshot and unseeing, bat their protective lids before retreating to the safety of the darkness.  Cognition is slow, sluggish in its haze as a heavy hand moves to rest on the swollen temple.  Memory is nonexistent—nothing exists past the last moment and the future will never come—sunlight filters down upon her sleepy face.  It feels like consciousness had sprung, reborn and fully formed, from some mad nightmare.  Existence is pain.  A groan registers through an aching jaw, its vibrations sympathetic to the verbal protestations of some far off woman.  She realizes she’s in a bed.

What happened…?

  Whatever bacchanal had put her in such a state eludes the booze-drugged mind.  She—belatedly and with much effort of thought—realizes her bed does not feel like “her” bed; it is far too comfy to be that pile of rented garbage.  No, the bed that holds her in its clutches is as soft as down feather, plushy and plump enough for her to sink deep into its depths; it inexplicably feels like home.  The worst splitting headache imaginable pierces her whole being and cuts a path across her psyche leaving only confused destruction in its wake.

“Ugggggggggggggggggghhhh…”

 

  There is a creak, floorboards squeaking underfoot, her senses send a dulled warning to her brain.  Eyes flutter in a desperate attempt to stay open as a blurry figure—tall, lanky and comfortingly familiar—approaches her resting place.  Panic clenches and releases as sore muscles tense in an attempt to ready themselves. She can’t see who the figure is, can’t recognize the face clouded by light and hangover.   That’s right…   I was out drinking…

    Memory returns in a tide of syrupy molasses:  

        We came back to Windmire, to take a break…  The lads and I went out for a good time at the Serpent.  There was this reeeeally pretty girl and I...  What did I do?  I had so much to drink…  How did I get here even?  The last thing I remember is going out for post-rejection buns with…  Oh, yeah, I got shot down again, didn’t I.  Damn.

“Sunshine?  You awake?”

 

  That voice; it stirs within her emotions and memories from a lifetime of hearing it—her mother’s.   

    “Honey?  It’s time to wakey wakey…”

        “Moooooooom…”  Her mother gives her timeless, toothy giggle.

    “Well I’m glad to see someone’s awake.  Nasty ol sun’s been out for a while now.”

 

  Soleil groans, her head feels like it’s been taken to a forge to be molded back together—she’d really outdone herself this time.  Her elbows manage to get her torso upright and neck muscles work overtime to keep her skull in line with it; it swiftly becomes an uphill battle.  Soleil knows her mother too well—she’s laughing of course, what mother wouldn’t?—and the hungover young woman rolls her eyes in annoyance, sending her plummeting back down to the bed.  Peri doesn’t give her child a break.  The bubbly woman comes to sit on the edge of Soleil’s childhood bed—the one she makes, without fail, whenever her daughter is around—her loving hand patting the tender mercenary’s leg with loving affection.  Peri would never admit it, but knowing her daughter was out there drinking in some seedy dive made her worry, even with the years of training under both her and Laslow.

    “Sooooooo, how was your night?”  Soleil’s mother is many things, tactful is not one of them.

        “Uggggh.”  Soleil grumbles “I don’t even want to remember…”  

    “Wanna talk about it?”  Soleil seems to think about that although, likely, she is instead putting her thoughts together given her condition.

        “There was this really cute girl and I…  Struck out.  Again.”  Peri pouts in childish petulance, her mismatched eyes furrowing adorably

    “Aww, sweetie!  That girl don’t know what she’s missin’ not going for ya!”

        “And I thought I was doing SO well!  I had even gotten up to a tea date and everything!”

 

  In her indignancy, the young daughter of Peri and Laslow pushes herself upright, ignoring the pounding beat of her forehead.  Peri holds her daughter in her arms, carefully concealing her half grin as she pets Soleil’s pretty pink hair.  “Oh sweety.”  Ever since Soleil had grown into womanhood she comes to her parents with similar stories, something Peri’s husband could relate to on a very personal level and always made her snicker—albeit as covertly as she could manage.  The two, father and daughter, are almost spitting images of each other, sans the hair, and Peri loves them both more than she can ever fully express.  Within her lies her deepest wish, fulfilled.  Peri has what her own mother was never allowed: she got to watch her own beautiful, radiant, wonderful child grow up in person.  Times like these only remind the bubbly knight of how lucky she is, how lucky both her and Laslow are.  The cotton-candy chevalier stands her daughter up

    “Come on, let’s go have tea with Daddy!  My cooking always cheered him up after a bad date!”  Her daughter reels

        “Wait.  Dad’s been going on dates after getting married to you?!  That’s cheating!”

    Peri only laughs  “No, silly goose.  He did that before he realized how much he loved me back!  The only person he goes on dates with now is me!”  She gives her toothy, breathy giggle as she guides her daughter towards food.

 

  The cozy veranda looking out onto the pastoral scenery of Windmire serves as the family’s dining room during the warmer months of the year.  The house Laslow and Peri live in was, itself, not terribly big—being only a portion of Peri’s old family estate—but held everything they could wish for.  The other tenants allowed the couple to live in quiet stability, their meager rent supplementing the two’s work as Royal Retainers.  Their lives were by no means glamorous but that suited both of them just fine; so long as they had each other and Soleil, neither minded.  Laslow was already at the wrought iron table, a grin on his still sleepy face under the bright sun.  As the glass doors squeak open—an intentional design flaw he insisted they install—he turns to greet his little family.

    “Hello there sweetheart, and you too my little sunshine.  Looks like you’re finally awake, come here!”  Soleil jumps into her dad’s waiting arms

        “DADDY!”

            “Heeeey!  Leave some room for me!”  Peri nuzzles her way, rather forcibly, into the daddy-daughter hug making it a full family affair.

 

  The family cuddles for what feel to each of them like forever, wrapped up in the comfort and warmth of the most precious people in their worlds.  Eventually, Laslow chides everyone to their seats.

    “Come on, get off, there’s plenty of food needing eating up.  Your mother made everything especially for us, after all.”

        “Damn right I did!”  Peri boasts “Mommy’s special touch never goes away!”  Her husband and daughter laugh

            “Never!”

    “Never, my love.”

 

  Their teatime is less like the kind Odin’s mother would serve her family and friends in Laslow's faraway homeland and more like a seven course feast complete with two course desert.  Veritable mountains of confectioneries, cold-cuts, sweetmeats, breads, delectables, drinks and pastries fill the table—Peri had gone “slightly” overboard yet again.  The trio hunker down to have the first meal of the day, digging in with the gusto instilled by more than a decade of living with their rather persistent—and vindictive—head chef.  Soleil, thankfully, remembers her manners and doesn’t talk while chewing but it’s a close thing; her band never cared much for formalities or proper etiquette.  The first round survived, Laslow turns to his daughter, tea in hand, and asks

    “So I take it you had a rather eventful night last night, darling.  You were brought home very early this morning by your comrades.”  Soleil looks bashful

        “Um, yeah.  Sorry to have bothered you Dad.  I know the two of you had plans or something for the night, that’s why I said I would come by tomorrow before we left again…”

    “Don’t worry, darling, you didn’t interrupt…  And anyway we love having you around.”  Their daughter, the clever woman she is, eyes him with well-founded suspicion.

        “Riiiiight, suure Dad.”  She giggles “I’m just happy to see both of you honestly.  Being a mercenary is hard work!  You wouldn’t believe the kinds of jobs we get, the last one had us building literal bridges.”  Her dad chuckles

    “You'd be surprised, I'm no stranger to mercenary work; they're the kind of jobs that need doing.  It’s not like the military has troops to spare what with all that’s going on.”  Laslow’s voice carries a tinge of knowing regret, like he had plenty of experience with institutions not having enough people to do what’s right.

        “I know, I just wished we got cooler jobs, is all.  Like rescuing a damsel in distress or fighting off brigands or chasing off a horde of rampaging wyverns!  Something dashing…”  Her mother, surprisingly, is the one to chime in first

            “Sunshine, ya know life ain’t all about dashing heroes and damsels, right?  Sometimes ya just gotta do the dirty stuff, like paperwork!”

    “Except you never do yours.”  Laslow eyes his wife with thin lips

            “That’s cus I got such a great hubby who’s the best ever!”  Soleil notes that her voices lacks any trace of irony or sarcasm as she blows her husband a cheerful kiss.

        The shake of Laslow’s head is almost imperceptible, but Soleil knows to look “Sooooooooo…  What’s been going on?  I haven’t been back in months, how’s everyone doing?”  Her father latches on like a spider to their web

    “Mostly same old.  Your aunt and uncle are out and about as usual.  Oh!  Ophelia's doing well over at the Academy, your uncle says she’s really taken with the theatre program there.  She wanted to see you, actually, but something came up.  She told me to say ‘I’m sorry’ for her and to inquire when you would next be home.”  

 

  Soleil, somehow, doesn’t notice the blush the springs into her cheeks at the mention of her rather excitable, busty “cousin.”  Her mind races, trying to guess what her father had paraphrased when saying “I’m sorry” but before she can finish or formulate any kind of reply her mother interrupts

    “Oh! Oh!  I ran into Nina the other day!  She was out ‘casing a joint’ and I bumped into her.  Boy was she surprised, nearly ran away screaming with how quiet I was bein’.”  The look on her face is one of pure triumph, her grin mischievous and sharp.  “Also, Lady Corrin’s in town…  She stopped by the Cat and Mouse last night with Lady Camilla and Elise to watch Daddy dance.  She looked really cute in that dress, wouldn’t you say Las?”

        A look of panicked embarrassment fills Laslow’s face  “I-um…  Yes?”

            Soleil looks, deadpan, at her father  “You flirted with her, didn’t you Dad.”

        “Well yes, kind of.  I went to go tease Lady Camilla a little for what she did that time at the opera and I think Lady Corrin believed I was dancing for her instead…   It was perfectly innocuous I swear!”

 

  His face becomes redder than the tea he was sipping a little while ago; his wife can’t hold back her giggles.  Soon she breaks out in fits of laughter, clutching her stomach from the monumental effort.  Even their daughter succumbs to the contagion and joins her mother in giggling hysterically.  Laslow puts on an air of aloof unamusedness but his own smile peeks out from behind this sheer curtain and before long the trio laugh with each other, hearty and wholesome.  The family is back together again; it almost brings a tear to Soleil’s eye, almost.  In between fits of gut pulling laughter Soleil reaches out to pour herself more delectable tea and take another bite of their shared lunch.


It is, as always, exquisite .