Chapter Title: Nari's Scabbard
"I propose a petition to give ourselves a new name."
Phoenix suddenly stated this in the midst of breakfast with Aurora and Bianca. He had finally decided to give in to their wishes and serve them food whenever they requested it.
"What do you mean "new name"?" asked Aurora.
"Something other than "Fleur Girls"," explained Phoenix before quickly adding, "For obvious reasons."
Bianca scoffed, "Bud, a little femininity's not gonna hurt you."
"It's not about femininity." Phoenix then blushed. "I mean, sure, I wouldn't look good in a frilly magical girl dress b-but that's besides the point...!"
The man cleared his throat as if to dismiss his previous ramblings. "By calling us Fleur Girls, you're excluding me, a guy-if not outright misgendering me."
Aurora briefly dwelled on the claim and then gave a nod. "You're right, dude. I didn't even think of that until you said something," she apologized, "It's not that we're trying to be exclusionary or anything. It's just that Nari always called us that because, well, that's what we were: the Fleur Girls. I mean, yeah, all Fleurs are girls, but it's like we were her Fleur Girls, y'know? And we-"
"Okay, okay, I think he gets the point," interrupted Bianca with a slight chuckle.
"By this point, it had been a month and a half since I first met the Fleur Girls, and our relationship improved a great deal. I finally got into the motion of attending missions with them, opting to sit and observe rather than actually try to fight (I'd learned my lesson from the first trial). I even managed to help by noticing small details the Fleurs missed while they were in the midst of fighting. Remember that Fleur Bud I found in the Gnats' nest? It turned out that it wasn't the "dead remains of a Fleur" that I thought it was. Aurora explained to me that when a Fleur's physical body gets severely damaged, they revert back to their Bud state to heal, meaning that she was far from dead. By the time Calypso transported back to the planet where I saw the Bud, she said the Fleur had already regenerated and was fully healed. Though, I wish I knew where that Fleur was living now. I felt like she could have lived with us if we offered. Oh well, she probably had a family to return to back on Botanica…"
Phoenix waved to Terry from his high position at his balcony. The man below, fully dressed, waved back in kind. "G'bye, Phoenix! Don't be too bored while I'm gone."
The droopy-eyed young man yawned into his words, "No promises…"
It wasn't in Phoenix's nature to wake up at such an early hour, but he wanted to see off his father as he returned to work.
He watched as Terry closed himself within his van and drove out of the forest.
"Alone again," Phoenix thought. He then blinked as he came to the realization that what he had said was incorrect.
He roamed back into his bedroom, closing the balcony door behind him. "Without Dad around, I guess I could spend time with the Fleur Girls," he thought to himself, stretching his arm over his head, "I wonder what we could all do together..."
A blush presented itself on Phoenix's features as a suggestive thought crossed his mind. "I swear, the more time I spend with Harper, the deeper in the gutter my mind sinks."
At this point, the raven-haired man noticed that he was no longer felt the weight of sleepiness on his eyes.
He looked out at the pastel-colored sky that through the glass doors of his balcony. The sun had yet to fully peek out over the horizon and announce the arrival of morning.
A feeling of rejuvenation swept over Phoenix's senses. The day was his to spend.
"And I'm not starting it with the same trip to The Velvet Haven."
Phoenix descended down the stairs and made a beeline for the Telepad. His bare feet stuck to the cold surface, which ran a shiver up his spine.
"Time to experiment with that room." The young man rubbed his hands together in anticipation as his figure disappeared into lily petals.
When his body was reconstructed, his eager grin dissolved into confusion as he took in the sights around him.
The endless night sky encompassed his vision. Among the deep blue and violet void, countless stars beamed brightly and twinkled brighter than Phoenix had ever seen in his life.
Living in the forest, Phoenix was able to see the natural night stars without the interference of city lights. However, these stars seemed even closer and had depth to them. They were no longer just specks of light. They were like individual crystals that he could reach out to and grab.
"Phoenix? What are you doing here?!"
The ink-haired man flinched at the sound of Aurora's voice. Looking forward, he saw the slender Fleur, herself, approaching him. "What's wrong? Why are you here?" She was dressed in a lazy attire of baggy pajama pants hanging off of her hips and a spaghetti strap top. Her hair seemed like it couldn't decide between forming an afro and sloppily splaying around her face.
Aurora's frantic questioning shook Phoenix. "N-Nothing. I'm sorry, I just, I was trying to get to my mom's room."
Aurora released a sigh of relief. "You scared me," she said, "I didn't expect you to come into my room so early in the morning."
"Your room?" Phoenix questioned. He further studied his surroundings and noticed that despite the endless night sky, carpet was surrounding the Telepad he stood on. Behind Aurora was a large, round bed with a blanket set that made the bed look like a crescent moon. A blue bass guitar leaned against the bedpost. To further add to the cosmic theme, a large shelf in the shape of a large crescent moon encircled the area. It was lined with countless CDs. On one end of the shelf was a radio and stereo set to contain all of the music.
Aurora took notice of Phoenix's gaze and said, "I'm guessing this was an accident, then."
Phoenix bit his lip and shrugged. "I was trying to get to my mom's room," he mentally tutted for repeating his earlier statement, "I guess I need more practice."
"Yeah," Aurora said, "Remember to be careful what you ask from the Telepad."
"Gotcha," Phoenix said, feeling a bit embarrassed for his mistake.
"Well, I hope you have fun when you get there," Aurora said as a form of farewell.
Phoenix nodded. "Uh, same."
The man mentally slapped himself for the lackluster response. "God, what am I? Fifteen?" he thought.
The Telepad glowed as he thought of Nari's room. "I'd honestly be impressed if I could get any more awkward."
In that instant, Phoenix's figure dispersed into lily petals. However, the male noticed a strange shift in his transportation.
When he opened his eyes, the scent of strawberries and alstroemeria tickled his senses. He squinted as the sight of the dark night sky was instantly replaced with the soft colors of pink clouds.
A large, heart-shaped pink bed with a sheer canopy held pillows just as billowy as the clouds around him. A large wardrobe and dresser set of the same rosy color accented the sight.
Phoenix walked forward, taking in the sight. "Wow," he commented, "It's like I stepped into a fairy tale book."
The faint sound of water moving approached Phoenix's ears. When he turned around, a hissed, "Shit!" slipped past his lips.
Behind the Telepad was Calypso, engulfed by the pink soap suds of her bathtub. Although her stoic face didn't display much of a reaction, the movement in the suds showed that she was covering herself, and the subtle shadow over her eyes showed embarrassment and shock.
"Oh god, I-I didn't mean-" Phoenix placed a hand over his eyes as he fumbled to defend himself. "I'll just-just leave."
Calypso watched as Phoenix felt around for the Telepad with his foot before finally finding it and disappearing the way he came. She sighed as she relaxed into the bathwater.
Back at home, the figure of Phoenix patted his cheeks in mental berating formed onto the Telepad. Amongst the many curses and bitter statements he tossed at himself, a contrastingly calm, "I think that's enough of the Telepad for now," was thrown into the mixture, making his final decision on his destination.
Once home, the youth shook his head of his humiliation, but halted when he stepped off of the Telepad.
An extremely foreign and very unsettling sound had reached his ears: crying. Feminine crying.
It emerged through the sliver of the ajar door of Terry's bedroom. Phoenix frowned, both in worry and befuddlement.
"That doesn't sound like anyone I recognize," he thought, "Did...a homeless woman stumble in here?"
He approached the door, unsure of what to make of the situation. He crooked his fingers with the intention of knocking, then pulled them back when he decided against it. He looked into the sliver of the door in hopes of seeing something important, but it was much too small. Finally, decided to take hold of the door and slowly open it.
It creaked and squeaked, announcing his intrusion. Part of Phoenix had hoped for this, as he wasn't exactly sure if he wanted to surprise the woman inside.
"H-Hello…?" he tentatively asked, "Is someone...are you okay?"
The young man was surprised to find not a helpless stranger, but rather, Bianca.
Tears stained the cheeks that once held countless smirks of provocation. Redness clouded the vibrant eyes that always seemed to gleam in hindsight. To make the sight even more pitiful, the Fleur was seated on the floor rather than the bed, clutching what looked like a black scabbard with gold accents in her arms.
Immediately, Bianca turned and wiped her face with the bed's blanket. "Hey, what's up, Phoenix?" she greeted as if nothing had happened.
The man was almost offended by this cheap attempt at trickery. "Bianca? What happened?"
"Hm? Nothing, just tired, y'know?"
"This?" Bianca pointed at her face as if she were regarding a simple accessory. "I-I, uh, broke my ankle. Hurts like hell."
Phoenix's brows knit together. "And you didn't revert to your Fleur Bud?"
Rather than trying to explain the contradiction in her testimony, Bianca continued to fall further into the delusion. "Look, I'm fine," she said with a casual tone, "There's nothing wrong, Phoenix, so stop worrying about it, alright?"
"Cut, cut, cut!"
Phoenix jumped with a muttered curse as he noticed Nepenthes sitting on the other side of the room.
He was sitting in what looked like a film director's chair on a movie set with a clapperboard in his hand. A pair of professional-looking glasses rested on his nose to further accent his point. Once he stood up, however, all of those objects vanished into purple dust.
"That's not how it's supposed to go at all!" he chastised, walking over to the young man, "Phoenix, here, is supposed to question the object in Bianca's arms," he said, motioning towards Bianca from behind Phoenix, "To which Bianca is supposed to give in and reveal that it is the scabbard to Nari's sword."
To this, Bianca actually showed a spark of anger. "Hey. Don't butt in," she quipped, looking off into a corner.
A smile seemed to spread of Nepenthes' face in sheer amusement. "Oh? I'm simply trying to help solve the problem, my dear Iris."
"No, you're just trying to screw shit up like you always do," Bianca muttered, angrily.
Nepenthes gasped. "Such foul language for a Fleur! How do you think Nari would feel to hear you speaking that way?"
At this, Bianca whipped her head at the man. "Don't you talk about her…!" she growled.
Nepenthes sauntered around the room as he spoke. "What? She was a great woman," he said in mock innocence, "What's the harm in speaking of her if it's in respect?"
Phoenix looked down at Bianca's trembling figure, then back up at the male. "Hey, whatever you're doing, stop it," he spoke sternly.
At this, Nepenthes gave an impressed grin. "Bravo, Phoenix, bravo!" he said, clapping his hands in applause, "When you refused to question your mother's scabbard in Bianca's hands, I figured that all hope of you putting your foot down was lost, but you've surprised me." He then sauntered over to Bianca. "Now if you could just assert that dominance towards Bianca, we might be able to find out what the little Iris is so upset about."
"I'm not upset and even if I was, it's none of your business!" the redhead hissed.
Again, Nepenthes tutted, "Didn't Nari ever teach you about honesty?"
Bianca jumped to her feet as she scolded, "Stop talking about her!"
"Why?" This time, Nepenthes asked this in an aggressive tone. "Why wouldn't you want to talk about the very woman who acted as your mother? She raised you since you bloomed. She did everything a mother should. There's no reason for you not to want to discuss such a lovely woman. So tell me, Orange Iris, what are you trying to avoid hearing?"
Phoenix expected another fiery retort from Bianca, some sort of explosion with an onslaught of insults and profanity. And in all honesty, Phoenix was ready to cheer her on. However, that didn't happen at all. In fact, Bianca's response was nothing like Phoenix had anticipated.
Rather than lashing out, the redhead's jaw clenched as a new wave of tears brimmed her eyes. She ducked her head down as she tears spilled onto the floor. She then ran out of the room, tossing the scabbard down behind her with a loud clatter.
Phoenix stood in awe, shocked by what he had seen and how fast it had gone by. In the few weeks that he had lived with Bianca, she had never gotten genuinely angry. Her harsh words towards unfavorable situations were always used as a way to amuse herself and stand her ground. But just now, the woman had crumbled apart right before his very eyes.
"It was foolish of me to think such a young Fleur could be mature enough to face her own problems," Nepenthes said, showing no remorse.
Finally snapped out of his shock, Phoenix turned to Nepenthes. "What is wrong with you?" he asked, "What would make you come here just to taunt someone until they break down?"
Again, Nepenthes looked on in naivety. "What? No, no. I was simply trying to help Bianca come to terms with what happened to Nari. Surely, you would understand, being her next of kin," he said this last statement placing a hand on Phoenix's chest, directly where his Fleur Bud was.
Without missing a beat, Phoenix swatted it away.
"Don't even try to guilt me!" he scolded, "It doesn't matter what your intentions were; Bianca did not ask for your help! You have no right to come here and harass my family!" He then stopped himself and turned away. "Tch, but here I am wasting my time trying to talk to a cannibal about morals."
Nepenthes didn't speak, but he wasn't smiling either. Either way, Phoenix didn't care to look back at him. However, he did look down at the scabbard that Bianca threw down.
He bent down and picked it up, holding it in his arms for a moment before he left the room.
The youth immediately went to the Telepad out in the front room, the scabbard still held firmly in his arms.
"Take me to where Bianca is."
Phoenix had braced himself for what to expect of the Telepad, ranging from the odd planets he had visited to the fanciful rooms of the Fleurs. When the result was the latter, he wasn't sure whether to be grateful or not.
Sheets of sweat immediately began to roll down Phoenix's forehead as the heat from the flames reached him. The Telepad he stood on was embedded in hardwood floors. Around him, flames flickered behind what looked like windows, almost like those digital fireplaces he's seen. However, he knew that they were real flames and not a simple image. Ahead, Phoenix could see Bianca's curled up figure sitting on the floor, her back to him.
Immediately, Phoenix stepped out, but recoiled when his barefoot was scalded.
A hiss and strip of steam emitting from the floor before him. Like meat on a skillet, the hardwood floor had burned the bottom of his foot, not enough to show visible scarring, but enough to hurt.
Phoenix looked back up at Bianca and then back down at the floor. There was a bed just beside her, the only place that would protect him from the heat around him.
The youth took in a deep breath and bound forward.
The sound of hissing and Phoenix's wearied breathing caught Bianca's attention almost immediately. She turned around, wide-eyed. "Phoenix!"
Putting her hands out, a lush, orange and gold pillow appeared before Phoenix, who promptly lost his balance and fell face-forward on the large pillow.
"Are you crazy?! You could've hurt yourself!" Bianca scolded. The tears on the corners of her eyes were evaporating into steam before they even got the chance to slide down her cheeks. Her orange hair bang was now a flickering flame swaying gently across her face. "Never do something stupid like that again, you hear me?!"
Phoenix put his hand out to stop Bianca. The Fleur looked down at him in befuddlement.
"I had to come in and make sure you were okay," he breathed out, lethargically lifting his head up from the pillow.
Bianca looked at him in surprise for a moment. Then she held his hand, the flame beside her face solidifying back into orange hair. The tears were finally given a chance to slide down her cheeks without being turned into steam. She gave a weak laugh, "You really are crazy, Buddy."
Phoenix sat comfortably on the floor, having Bianca's calmed mood revert the room back to its normal temperature.
The Fleur, herself, held an icepack between the soles of Phoenix's feet in silence.
"So," said Phoenix, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Bianca hesitated, not looking up from Phoenix's feet.
"You don't have to," said Phoenix, "I don't want to make you do anything you're not comfortable with."
Bianca closed her eyes for a moment, then said, "As much as I hate to admit it, Old 'Penthes back there was right about me not wanting to talk about Nari."
She held onto Phoenix's ankle with a tender touch.
"First of all, Phoenix, I never want you to feel responsible for her. Just because I miss having her here doesn't mean I don't love you the same," she said, "I know this isn't easy for you either. Hell, you're her son, and here we all are talking about her when you've never gotten the chance to even meet her."
She bit her lip and chuckled, "You two would've gotten along great. She loved dorks like you," Bianca then sighed. "I know it's nothing compared to what you must feel as her son, but I miss her too. I miss her so much, it hurts. I think about her every single day. It's just, I never wanted to bring it up because...I know you're hurting even more. Does anything I'm saying make sense?" She looked up at the male, who looked back at her in disbelief.
"Bianca, this isn't a contest to see whose pain is higher. If there's something upsetting you, tell me," he said as though it were obvious, "Look, we're all going through things, and you're doing a huge disservice to yourself by keeping all of your feelings in."
Bianca opened her mouth to respond only to press her lips together tightly. She then gave a tearful chuckle, "God, you even sound like her."
Phoenix repositioned himself and embraced the Fleur. "It's going to be okay," he said, "We'll get through this together. We're family after all, right?"
More tears flowed freely from Bianca's eyes, but not out of anguish.