The sun barely peeks above the edge of the world before Eleven awakens. He half-expects a chiding remark from Veronica (after all, it was more than a few concerned comments after some rather tough battles that prompted him to kick his late-sleeping habits), but she seems to still be asleep.
In fact, the only person awake is Sylv, it seems, hard at work on something far away from the tents. Curious, Eleven channels all of the sneaking skills he learned from Erik into staying quiet as he joins the group’s resident soldier of smile.
“Oh, good morning, darling!” Sylv whispers as Eleven peers at his current project. Nothing fancy, for once, just a simple bouquet, from the looks of it.
“Whatcha up to, Sylv?” Eleven asks, as soon as he can tear Sylv’s eyes away from the flowers.
“Oh, have you not heard of the Festival of Flowers?” Sylv pauses. “Well, I suppose you are a tad too young to remember...it was a celebration of springtime in Zwaardsrust! Ah, the flowers always looked so lovely...”
Not for the first time, Eleven wonders just how old Sylv is, if he can remember something from so long ago so vividly. But Sylv would deflect if he even tried to ask, so it’s ultimately not worth going down that rabbit hole.
“But after the kingdom fell, the survivors kept the festival alive by giving flowers to the people they care about!” With a swift movement of his hands, Sylv ties a ribbon at the base of the stems, and the bouquet is complete. “When Hendrik was training with us–back when I was still home, of course–Papi and I would always bring him a flower on that day. And since we’ve been reunited, I felt I should pick up that tradition again! It’s still a few days away, but Henny would get suspicious if I waited until the day of.”
Huh, that sounds like a sweet idea. Flowers for the people he cares about...that could be the solution to something he’d been puzzling over for a while. It won’t really repay his friends for all they’ve done, for helping him save the world twice (three times if you count...well, the other thing, the part that Erik only barely managed to wrestle out of him), but it’s a start. He has plenty of time for more of that, later on.
For now, though, he is on a deadline, and he knows just the girl to help with that.
“I dunno, ‘Ven, I don’t much have an ‘ead for flower arrangin’...” Gemma mumbles as they set up their makeshift florist’s station in her house.
“You have an eye for colors! For the aesthetic, Gem.” He indelicately drops a surprisingly-heavy book on their work station, startling both Gemma and poor sleepy Sandy. “Plus I have a whole book on flower meanings here. I just wanna make sure they look nice, y’know?”
Gemma nods. “They sure seem like good folks! And I’m sure it won’t ‘urt to get somethin’ nice for your sweet’eart, right?”
Eleven can feel his face burning bright red, and even if he couldn’t, his best friend’s devilish grin would certainly tell him how clear his embarrassment was. “Gem, he’s not- we’re just friends! There’s nothing going on...besides, he’s probably not even–”
Eleven still his hands as he practically withers under Gemma’s knowing look. “‘Ven. I ‘aven’t been able to crack Erik yet, but Serena says ‘e’s completely nuts for you! ‘Ead over ‘eels, she says.”
“She’s been reading too many romance novels.”
They fall into silence, hands focused only on turning pages as their eyes scan a plethora of pictures, the only sounds in the room coming from Sandy’s quiet snores, the occasional “yes, those will work,” the scratch of pencil on paper as Eleven notes the combinations of meanings and colors that best exemplify his friends. And with a final dramatic slam of his hand, Eleven finishes his notes. “Alright. Let’s get hunting.”
With two days to go until the festival, Eleven nearly collapses into his bed at home. The flowers have all been collected, preserved magically until he’s ready to arrange them, and while it didn’t take much time to do so, the magic power it took him to zip around the world is enough to send him on an express trip to snooze town.
From the fire flowers of Hotto to the crystal roses of Sniflheim, to the more mundane flowers in Arboria and even the ruins of Zwaardsrust...just about all of Erdrea had something to offer for Eleven’s bouquets. After all, the world’s saviors deserve the best, right?
(As much as some of the places he’s seen like to claim that Eleven is the only one to be lauded for wiping out Calasmos, he knows better: without their strength, their kindness, their unwavering support, he very well could have wound up like Erdwin. Luminary power isn’t the be-all end-all of heroism, after all.)
It’s that thought that ultimately carries him to sleep, to peaceful dreams that he couldn’t have even imagined when he was still weighed down by the burdens of being the Luminary. And it’s this thought that would have carried him back to consciousness if it wasn’t for a certain Cobblestonian.
“Up an’ at ‘em, little florist!” Gemma calls. (He almost wonders how she got into his house, but he’s pretty sure he can answer that; either Mum let her in, or she found a way in without her help.) “Bein’ a legendary ‘ero still ‘asn’t taught you not to sleep in, eh?”
So much for trying to kick that habit...Eleven practically rolls out of bed, shuffling groggily out the door back to their workstation, carrying his medley of flowers with him.
Gemma hums thoughtfully as she sifts through the flowers, crafting a bouquet of her own. “Love, of course, an’ kindness, an’ patience...oh, wha’s that shiny-lookin’ one?” Gemma gestures towards a glimmering green pile, right on the edge of Eleven’s Miscellaneous Odd Blossoms assortment.
“Couldn’t find a name for it, but I found ‘em in Dundrasil, and I figured they’d be pretty nice to put in. They seemed pretty tough to kill, so I guess they could stand for inner strength, or somethin’.”
“Oh, that works perfec’ly for Serena!” She picks one up, tying it with a golden ribbon to the other flowers she picked. “‘Ow are yours comin’ along?”
Rather than give her a traditional answer, Eleven shoves a bouquet of his own at her. Daisies, geraniums, zinnias...as well as a surprise addition, a pale pink blossom from Queen Marina’s personal undersea garden. (“A small price to pay,” she had told him, when she handed a pair of them to him, “for all that you have done for us.”) “That,” he says, pausing to point at the outlier in the otherwise-mundane bundle, “you can consider as a promise. Once your tourism board duties calm down, we’re gonna take you out to see the world. It’s beautiful out there...and the rest of my friends really wanna get to know you more!”
Gemma may not have been able to travel with him, but that doesn’t mean she is any less important than his other friends.
She blinks, glancing at Eleven, back at the bouquet, back at him. For a moment, he wonders if she’s misinterpreted, somehow, but he brushes the thought aside; the two of them know each other better than anyone else, and besides, she saw the meanings behind the flowers, too. And that’s the last coherent thought he has before she wraps him in a hug, practically squeezing his brains out.
“‘Ven, tha’ sounds perfect! An’ I really can’t wait to talk to your–”
Eleven fixes her with a glare, attempting to say don’t you fucking dare without having to extract his arms.
Eleven awakens (early! A personal victory!) on the Festival of Flowers, rolls onto his side, and through half-lidded eyes spots a bouquet that he didn’t make. Confused, he rubs the rest of the sleep from his eyes and reaches towards his nightstand.
He’d have to look through the book again to figure out exactly what all of these are, but it’s a beautiful assortment of purples, and one striking blue flower. Attached is a note written in Gemma’s particularly-loopy handwriting:
I felt like I owed you some flowers, too, but I didn’t want a certain someone to get the wrong idea! Go get ‘im!!
Bless Gemma. Eleven gently unties the note from the bouquet, tucking it in a pocket in his coat before gathering the bouquets for his friends. He’d insisted on having his friends visit Cobblestone for the day, which makes delivering them all easy…he hopes. As he exits his house, he double-checks; yes, every single bouquet is there, not a flower out of place, every one labeled with a tag just in case he somehow forgets which one goes to whom. (Not that he thinks he will, but if there’s one thing adventuring taught him, it’s to be prepared for any possibility.)
But who first? Hendrik is out, unless Eleven wants to spoil Sylv’s surprise for him (which he absolutely does not), and the twins won’t be getting in until later on…actually, Sylv isn’t a terrible idea for a first recipient. After all, Sylv gave him the idea in the first place, even if by accident, and he’s already here, chatting with Gemma, fussing over his own gift for Hendrik.
“Oh, there you are, darling! I almost thought you were going to snooze through the festivities!” Sylv is beaming as always, but Eleven can still see the glint of nervousness beyond the twinkle of mischief in his eye (he’s gotten used to his friends’ nervous tells, across two lifetimes and many, many adventures by their sides, and as sly as Sylv tries to be, he’s still an easy read).
“Hey, it’s barely eight am, don’t start with me!” Eleven grumps, sticking out his tongue in mock-defiance. “Did the bouquet turn out okay?”
“It sure did, honey!” Sylv brandishes the bundle of flowers with a dramatic flourish. Huh, red roses…maybe this is more than just a simple gift of friendship. (That certainly explains the nervousness…) “You know, I’m not really the type to get shy about my feelings, but with Henny…”
Boy, does Eleven get that. That’s pretty much exactly how he feels about confessing to Erik. And, he realizes as he reaches in his bag and fiddles with the red ribbon tying this particular bouquet together, perhaps he feels the same way about telling his friends how much he cares. Better to get it over with, then.
So he shoves the bouquet into Sylv’s free hand. Marjoram, yellow jasmine and larkspur–joy, grace and levity. What better way to sum up Sylv than that?
Sylv nearly drops the Hendrik bouquet, eyes comically wide. “Why, honey, I had no idea you felt that way!”
Oh boy, oh boy, backpedal fast. “Whoa, no, it’s…it’s a friendship gift. I have one for everybody!” As proof, Eleven opens his knapsack once more, offering Sylv a look inside.
Sylv glances at the remaining bouquets, humming in apparent satisfaction. “Oh, my apologies, darling! The flowers are truly marvelous!” Examining his own gifted bouquet closer, he gently taps a flower he doesn’t recognize. “And wherever did you find this beautiful thing?”
“They grow in the Celestial Sands. You should see them when the sun’s in the right place; it’s like the desert shines!”
Perfect for Sylv, who lights up every room he’s in, who always shines in the spotlight. Even if these rarer blossoms don’t carry any real meaning, Eleven made his own, found one for each of his friends that matches the very core of their beings.
Sylv nearly squeezes the life out of Eleven in his delight, taking care to spare the flowers. Eleven’s going two for two in crushing hugs so far, it seems, but this is the opposite of a problem as far as he’s concerned. He’s pretty physically-affectionate, if he’s being truthful. It doesn’t last quite long enough, breath returning to him as Sylv stashes Eleven’s bouquet in…wherever Sylv stashes his items…and approaches Hendrik with uncharacteristic nervousness.
“Well, what exactly is going on here?” Jade murmurs as she joins Eleven, eyes quickly darting between Eleven and the two lovebirds. She seems far more at ease than Eleven can ever remember seeing her; she’ll assume the throne of Heliodor someday, but she’s certainly enjoying her remaining time as just Jade, Erdrean wild child, tournament runner-up and monster puncher.
In lieu of words, Eleven gestures towards the pair, to Hendrik’s (hilariously) shocked expression, and the fear shining in the forefront of Sylv’s gaze. They watch, silently, Eleven hoping beyond hope that this will go well for Sylv, until Hendrik removes a rose from the bouquet, handing it back to Sylv with shaking hands.
“Thank Yggdrasil, I was waiting for one of them to make a move,” Jade notes with a dry tone, even as she wipes a tear from her eye. “Hendrik has been fussing over this whole song-and-dance for months, I don’t know how much more of this I could have–”
Eleven interrupts her with a bouquet. He seems to have knocked the words out of her head; she opens her mouth, closes it, opens it again, and simply settles on taking the flowers, one finger gently tracing the deep green ribbon holding them together.
As she takes the bouquet, Eleven tells her the meaning of each piece: “thyme, for strength, and rue for a level head, and rosemary, in memory of those you’ve lost…” For her mother, for his birth mother, for Irwin, for normalcy. Finally, he points to the same flower he’d told Gemma of earlier. “I’ve only seen these in Dundrasil. You know you always have a home there, right? You’re as much family as Rab is.”
She holds the flowers close to her chest, seemingly trying to fight off more tears. As soon as she composes herself, she smiles, simply replying, “I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful brother.” Plucking a rue blossom and weaving it into the top of her ponytail, she notes, “I was wondering where Sylv had gotten those other flowers. Goodness, do you have one for everyone?”
“Gemma and Mum already got theirs.” (He had given Amber the other blossom from Marina’s gardens just before he had flopped into his own bed the night before. She had definitely cried.) “But, yes, everyone. I just felt you all deserve more appreciation than you get, and Sylv told me about the Festival of Flowers, so…”
“So you knew, then, Lumi– pardon, Eleven.” (Old habits die hard, Eleven figures, but at least Hendrik isn’t calling him Darkspawn anymore.) Hendrik and Jade effectively swap conversation partners, the knight conversing with Eleven as Jade rushes to Sylv, no longer able to contain her inner romantic.
“Not the whole thing. He told me about the Festival of Flowers, but not about his plan to…court you, I suppose? Uh, speaking of courting, before you ask, that’s not what’s happening here. There’s one for everyone, you can check if you’re not sure.” Eleven digs through his bag for the bouquet labeled for his knightly companion. As his fingers finally find what they’ve been searching for and he moves to remove it, he nearly punches Hendrik, who apparently had taken Eleven up on that offer.
Mouthing a quick heal spell to fight off any potential damage, Eleven presses the bouquet into Hendrik’s hand. It’s a shockingly-yellow bouquet, one that brings Hendrik’s tragic apocalypse-turtleneck to mind, though that was purely an accident; Eleven intended to just put together flowers by their meanings, and how they apply to their recipients, and if it brings back memories of a certain outfit, well, that’s just a bonus. (Not that Hendrik likely even remembers, of course.)
Hendrik studies each blossom with a surprisingly-focused eye. “Violets, and black-eyed susans, and bay tree flowers…but I cannot recognize this last one,” he mutters, gaze lingering on this particular bouquet’s Mystery Flower. “And yet, I feel as though I’ve seen it before…”
“Loyalty, justice, and glory.” Hendrik had vowed to be his shield, after all, and his loyalty ultimately carried him from the guard of Heliodor to Eleven’s side. “As for that one, I found them in the ruins of Zwaardsrust. They’re really interesting, actually; if something nicks them, that spot grows back fast, and stronger than ever!”
The ability to bounce back from hardships…it was something Eleven had picked up on his journey, something he has to learn time and time again, and he’d be lying if he says Hendrik doesn’t serve as an inspiration in that regard.
There’s a look in Hendrik’s eyes that Eleven can’t quite put a name to, but he seems genuinely touched by the flowers. “I…thank you, truly, Eleven.”
Well, that’s four bouquets down, counting the one he gave to Gemma, and if he could handle giving flowers to Hendrik, the rest should be a breeze. He’s pretty close to the twins, in spite of Arboria being…well, Arboria (land of impossible expectations on all three of them), and Rab clearly adores him. And Erik…well, he’ll cross that bridge when he gets there.
“Laddie, where have ye been hiding away?” Ah, and there’s Rab, right on cue. “And what’s in yer bag o’ treasures there?”
Well, he opened that door himself, it seems. Eleven rustles through his bag, gently picking up the bouquet for his grandfather. Aloe flowers for grief, edelweiss for devotion and courage, willow for sadness…a rather melancholy bouquet as far as meanings go, Eleven supposes, but Rab has spent the last sixteen years driven by his own loss. It’s the best encapsulation of Rab that he could put into flowers…well, that and the mere thought of referring to his grandfather’s particular…habits…makes Eleven more than a bit uncomfortable.
And the piece de resistance, as it were, the Lonalulu hibiscus. Less meaningful and more of a reminder to his grandfather to please take a break from the Dundrasil rebuilding efforts once in a while.
Taking the flowers in one hand, Rab ruffles Eleven’s hair with the other. “I know yer parents are so proud of who ye’ve become…well, I know that both yer mums are!” He laughs to himself as Eleven frantically tries to fix his hair. “And…well, I’m proud of ye too, laddie. Ye’ve come a long way from the scared young man ye were when I found ye again!”
Eleven’s heart feels warm as Rab finds his way to Amber and Dunstan. (There’s something truly wonderful about how Rab’s come to see Amber as family, too.) That’s another bouquet down, one less holding him back from…from possibly making a fool of himself. Or if Gemma is right…
Serena practically tackles him to the ground, obliterating his train of thought entirely. Even if they all saw each other just a few days ago, she’s always so eager to see her friends again, so this isn’t exactly surprising. (Is this how Veronica wakes up? That’s a hilarious image.)
And speaking of the gremlin herself, Eleven notes as he prods Serena to regain use of his hands, there she is, hands on her hips, rolling her eyes, but with a barely-veiled smile on her lips all the same. He doesn’t know whether it’s the relief that their adventure is over, or if she’s simply realized that her I-don’t-care-about-you shtick has been found out via grand heroic sacrifice, but she’s become so much more open about how she feels about the group. As much as she still plays at being the resident grump, she clearly loves them all.
“Serena, please don’t kill the Luminary? We’ve already lost one, and I don’t think Yggdrasil can take losing another.” Veronica lets out a dramatic sigh even as she pulls Eleven to his feet. “Not that She really needs one anymore, but…”
“Who knows? Maybe Calasmos was secretly taking orders from some other weird monster…” The mere thought sends laughter bubbling through Eleven. “Goddess, could you imagine?”
The twins begin debating the concept amongst themselves as Eleven rummages through his bag again. “Goodness,” Serena says between bursts of her own laughter, “I doubt Arboria would take that well…”
“Honestly, fuck Arboria, Eleven told me what they–” Veronica’s words halt in her throat as Eleven presents her and Serena with their bouquets. “Eleven, don’t tell me you’re planning a second funeral for me. Serena, can you believe this?”
Serena doesn’t quite respond to her sister, seemingly lost in her own thoughts as she examines her own bouquet. “Oh, El, these are lovely! Do the flowers mean anything?”
He nods. “Coriander, because you’re a lot stronger than people give you credit for. And coreopsis, because you help keep our spirits up. And bluebells, because unlike some people–” he side-eyes Veronica, who simply shrugs– “you don’t make a point of talking about how great you are.” He points at the final flower. “And the Snaerose is mainly because I saw you eyeing it when we got it for that one lovebird in Sniflheim.”
“As for yours,” he tells Veronica, “borage, because you always speak your mind, and holly, because you’re definitely the brains of our bunch. And hyssop, because–”
“Because you can’t resist the opportunity to bring that up, huh.” Veronica sighs. “Believe it or not, I do know what these mean.” She tilts her head as she examines the bouquet once more. “Well, except for this one.” Before Eleven can stop her, she taps on the sole flower she doesn’t recognize, which promptly shoots off a burst of sparks way too close to her face.
“Hotto fire flower. I think the reason there is pretty obvious.” Eleven tries (and fails) to hold back his laughter. “Yeah, don’t directly touch the petals. I had to put a seal on it while it was in the bag…”
“Now you tell me,” Veronica grumbles. “…thank you, Eleven. I really mean it.”
Serena wraps him in a hug. “Yes, thank you so much!”
Erik still hasn’t arrived, and as much as Eleven would like to claim that he kicked his friend-related insecurities before they kicked Calasmos’ ass, he can’t help feeling like maybe Erik didn’t want to see him. Which is particularly silly, since they just saw each other…
“Hey, worrywart, what’s got you looking so down?” Erik plops himself down inelegantly next to Eleven. “Were you really that worked up over little old me?”
Ah, there he is, and from the girlish giggling coming from not too far away, he brought Mia, too. Not a problem for the festivities, since Amber always makes enough food for a small army whenever Eleven has friends around, but he could do without her particular brand of torment today. Between her, Gemma, Sylv (assuming Sylv will stop fawning over Hendrik for long enough to notice) and the inevitable roasting from Veronica…maybe it would be best if they just get away from everyone.
“Hey, do you mind coming with me? I don’t think you really got to see the top of the Tor before…you know, since I had to save you from falling off.” A cheeky grin, desperately trying to hide his nerves
Erik gives him a Look, one that suggests he’d end up on the business end of a knife if he was anyone other than Eleven; even beyond Eleven’s understanding that Erik has some sort of a soft spot for him, his tone betrays him. “It’s been a while since it was just you and me, huh? I could do with that; just like old times!”
They weave their way through the caves (free of monsters this time, now that Erdwin’s Lantern has been properly obliterated), and to Eleven’s immense pride he only loses his balance once. (“Look who’s falling now,” Erik jokes as he pulls Eleven back up, even though Eleven’s fallen for him time and time again.) Finally, after what feels like an eternity to his anxious mind, they surface on the Tor’s top.
Erik flops dramatically onto the grass, not unlike a cat in the sun, and Eleven is nearly bowled over by a burst of fondness. That’s it, he decides; nervousness be damned, he’s gotta make his move now. He flops down next to him, tapping him on the shoulder.
“Bwuh?” Erik lifts his head, eyes immediately meeting a bundle of flowers he doesn’t recognize. (He wouldn’t in the first place, no, these were rather special.)
“They’re called Torflowers, and I’ve only found them growing up here. You…you know you’re welcome here, right? You and Mia. You can…settle down here. I know Mum would love having you guys around…” Okay. Part one is done with, now to see how Erik responds…
Something in Erik’s expression softens. He looks genuinely taken aback, for a moment, before the usual grin slips back into place. (Someday, Eleven wants to make sure Erik’s always comfortable being vulnerable with him.) “I don’t think Mia would complain…and I can’t say I would, either. I could eat your mum’s cooking for the rest of my life…”
That’s reassuring, at the very least. So hopefully… ”Um, there’s…a little more to it than just that.” Eleven tosses a second bouquet at his best friend and buries his face in his hands, just knowing that his cheeks are as red as the flowers.
He’d pored over that book for hours, trying to figure out the best assortment. Roses were a given, of course, but that wasn’t enough, no. Red chrysanthemums and tulips, and a few pink camellias for good measure. Put simply, there just wasn’t another way to describe his feelings.
Eleven really hopes Erik knows what the roses mean, at the very least, because if he has to verbalize it, his heart might actually burst out of his chest.
Erik seems stunned into an uncharacteristic silence, mouth agape, and when Eleven peeks through his fingers he can see Erik’s eyes darting between the bouquet and Eleven. “W-well,” he begins, running a hand through his hair (as always, whenever he’s particularly thrown off), “n-now I get why you wanted to be alone! Mia would have a field day with this…”
Eleven tries to calm the panic setting in; is this a good reaction, or is he trying to delay breaking Eleven’s heart? Goddess, he’s about to start hyperventilating–
“Hey, hey, look at me.” Eleven suddenly finds his vision unobstructed as Erik grabs his hands. “You’re getting caught up in your own head again. I…okay, I don’t know if words are gonna really get this across right…”
Eleven, apparently, chooses the exact wrong time to blink, because he’s completely unprepared for the press of lips against his own. Well, now he just knows his face is burning red.
“I didn’t want to tell you for a while, ‘cause I figured I hadn’t really earned it, right? And I guess I kinda...got too comfortable with that.” Oh, wow, even Erik’s face is red. “Man, I’ve really been cheating myself out of this, huh?”
“Well, I guess I’ve been, too.” Eleven stands up, holding out a hand for Erik. “I think the party’s gonna get worried if we’re away too long, and we might as well get some of the roasting out of the way early, right?”
Erik takes his hand, and the two venture back down. As they re-enter town, they see their friends congregated by Eleven’s house; Sylv has fastened a rose blossom to Hendrik’s shirt, and Hendrik has tucked a flower behind his ear in turn. Serena is beaming far brighter than Eleven has ever seen her, and the flowers in her right hand easily clue him in to the source of that happiness.
Veronica is the first to spot them, hand in hand. “Goddess, all this lovey-dovey stuff is going to make me puke.”
“Veronica, let them have this, I’ve been waiting months for one of them to finally confess.” Jade smirks, and from the full-body wince, Eleven can tell the exact message that Erik took from that look: mess with my brother, and we’ll have a repeat of the MMA tournament.
As Eleven glances at Erik, as sappy as it may sound, one thought crosses his mind: he knows Erik’s heart, and from months of traveling, from two (two!) almost-apocalypses, he knows that Erik would never dream of it.