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Something to Smile About

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Chin resting on his palm, Dwight watches bored from one of the park’s picnic benches as Gretta practices her sword strikes on an old tree, stopping each hit right before it makes contact with the thick trunk. She looks like she knows what she’s doing, but he’s never used a sword before and really has no prior experience to base his opinion off of. What he does know is that he doesn’t want to be anywhere near her when she starts swinging it around for real. He's watched her cut down no less than a dozen monsters since waking up from her hibernation, so slicing through him would probably be as easy as sliding a steak knife through melted butter.

As interesting as it is to watch her decimate an invisible army, though, he feels a question burning insistently on the tip of his tongue until eventually he can’t stop himself from asking. “Nervous about your first day of school?” he asks, gazing at her curiously.

Gretta lowers her sword and furrows her eyebrows, panting lightly as she considers his question. A thin sheen of sweat covers her face, catching the sunset in such a way that it makes her look like she’s glowing. “No. Why would I be?”

Dwight shrugs and leans back against the wooden table. “I just mean it’ll be a new environment, there’ll be a lot of new rules, challenges, people…” he trails off, feeling vaguely uncomfortable under her sharp, unwavering gaze. He swallows roughly because she’s staring at him like she wants to take her incredibly sharp and shiny sword and gut him, but on the other hand, that’s how she always looks. At everything. Her eye color seems to change with her mood, shifting from blue, to grey, to a pale green, and it’s mesmerizing. “You’ll probably want to smile a little more.”

“Smile?” she repeats, cocking her head a bit. She sheathes her sword and turns to face him fully, resting her hands on her hips.

“Yeah, smile, this.” He flashes her his most bright and winning smile, pointing at it as though she can't clearly see what he's doing.

Gretta clears her throat and glances away. Her cheeks have gone a light shade of pink, and he hopes it’s not a sign she's starting to overheat in all that armor she's wearing. “I know what a smile is, but why?” she grumbles, sliding her eyes back over to look at him.

He takes a minute to choose his words, not sure how to explain the concept of being friendly to someone who’d been fighting for her life against a never ending conglomeration of enemies since before she could walk. “Well, you kind of scowl a lot and that can make you look a little intimidating," he starts cautiously, almost using the word terrifying instead. "That’s great for when you’re fighting and I know you don’t mean anything by it, but they might think that you don’t like them or something.”

She slowly shakes her head, confused. “Why would they think that? I do not know them yet.”

“I know, and you’re completely right, but sometimes your gaze can be a little...intense.” He rolls his shoulders uncomfortably, hoping she doesn’t read too far into his statement because he really doesn’t want to explain the way his stomach tightens whenever she stares into his eyes.

“I see.” She furrows her brows and nods a bit to herself, eyes cast downwards towards her feet, and then she nods again and looks back up at him. She hesitantly attempts to lift the corners of her lips, the feeling strange and uncomfortable on her face. “Like this?” she asks through clenched teeth.

He has to bite the inside of his cheek because it looks more like a deranged grimace than anything even close to resembling smile. “Not quite. More like...” he flashes her his best smile again, tracing the edges of it with an exaggerated gesture.

“Like this?” Gretta asks again. She tries to mimic him, making it wider and showing more of her surprisingly white teeth, but if it's even possible it looks doubly unhinged. Laughter bubbles out of him before he can stop it, his stomach aching with the involuntary act.

It’s not until he notices her ‘smile’ fade a little that he begins to feel bad. He’s seen her smile a few times before and knows she that can do it, but it can’t be easy for her to just do it on command; based on what she’s told him of her past, she hasn’t exactly had a whole lot of things to smile about.

“Sorry, sorry. Here—“

He hops to his feet and jogs over to where she’s still trying to coax her mouth into the shape of a smile, and up close it becomes downright hilarious. Using every bit of determination he has he fights down the urge to giggle and reaches his hands up to her cheeks, using his fingertips to mold them into something resembling what he has in mind.

He notices her cheeks have turned pinker where he’s touching her, and it causes a thin line to form between his eyebrows. He’s worried that maybe he’s being rougher than he intends, but if so she isn't doing anything to stop him so he shrugs it off. “There. How does that feel?” he asks, carefully removing his hands from her face and taking an assessing step back.

“Like I am making a fool of myself,” she grumbles between clenched teeth.

Without his fingers holding the corners of her lips up her smile has warped back into its terrifying grimace, and he has to sigh. At least until an idea strikes him, his excitement radiating clearly in his eyes. “Okay, let’s try this; think about something that makes you truly happy.”

Gretta tilts her head a bit, thinking over his suggestion, and then slowly nods her head. It’s tough going at first, her face morphing into a variety of expressions ranging from anger to surprise, but gradually a beautiful smile begins to blossom on her face.

He sucks in a tight breath and shakes his head because she looks absolutely nothing like the warrior princess who can destroy a troll with just her sword and her wits. “That! Right there! When you’re introducing yourself, just think of the thing that makes you happy and you’ll be fine,” he says, finding it impossible to stop his own grin from widening.

She raises her fingers to her cheeks as though trying to memorize the feel of it on her face. It’s a feeling she’d almost forgotten in her endless years of constant fighting, running, and death and it makes her face feel tightly drawn and unnatural, but it’s not unpleasant.

Satisfied with her improvement Dwight walks back to where his bike is leaning carefully against the table. “What were you thinking about, anyway?” he calls over his shoulder. He grabs her heavy iron helmet from the seat first and passes it back to her before clipping on his own much lighter one with practiced ease, the movement more a reflex now than anything.

Gretta scoffs and avoids his gaze, shoving her helmet onto her head with more force than is strictly necessary. “The death and dismemberment of my kingdom’s enemies. Obviously.

Obviously,” he echoes with an amused huff, rolling his eyes a bit because of course that would make her smile. He straddles his bike first, holding it steady so that she can stand on the back. Once she’s secure on the pegs and gripping his shoulders for balance, he pushes off of the ground to start the long trek back home, missing the soft smile that spreads across her face.