DISCLAIMER: The Good Wife and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CROSSOVER: The Good Wife/Chronicle of Amber.
FEEDBACK: To Tamoline[at]gmail.com
Breakfast with Florimel
"There you are," Alicia says as I enter the room, and hugs me.
There's something inside me (my sane, sensible side) that still tenses at the physical contact, even now, even after we've been in, well, something for some months now.
It's a security risk, my professional side insists.
Look at all the things that someone could do, another part of me reminds me.
(Look at all the things you could do isn't spoken.)
(It doesn't need to be.)
(Not by the part of me that is forever an assassin.)
But none of that's relevant, because this is Alicia, and she causes me to break so many of my rules, just by existing.
And that wasn't the kind of hug I've learned to interpret as just meaning that she's in a good mood.
Nor is it the kind where she's trying to show how much she cares, despite everything.
Not the kind that means she'd like to adjourn to the bedroom (or the library or the hallway or the...) either.
This is the kind that says that she's nervous and wants some reassurance.
Unfortunately, I'm not really the reassuring type at the best times, which this most certainly is not.
Because, though I hate to admit it, even to myself, I'm a little nervous myself.
Because today is the day of the breakfast.
I tried to bask in the langour, wrap myself in the warm afterglow, and just not care about anything. But it was difficult.
Because Alicia was looking at me.
And not in that heated way that promised 'Just as soon as I've recovered a little strength, we'll be going for another round.'
But in the way that said she wanted to talk.
Alicia, I had discovered, liked to save talking about things until after sex.
Not the big kind of secret things like 'By the way, during the war I...'
Not 'Did you ever seriously contemplate trying to murder me?'
Not the kind of things we still hadn't talked about, despite having started... whatever this was.
But the little terrifying things.
Like 'Do you want to stay over?' (Despite no longer having the excuse of assassination attempts.)
Like 'Do you mind if someone else knows?' (About us, whatever we were.)
Like 'Do you want to talk?'
"What?" I asked after a moment, when the pressure had become too much.
I tried not to sound defensive.
"Aunt Florimel said that she was going to going to visit sometime soon," she said, softly.
I raised an eyebrow.
"She said that she'd like to meet us for breakfast," she said, looking at me almost hopefully.
Florimel was the family member Alicia was closest to, the person who had pretty much raised her.
And she wanted to meet us for breakfast.
But Alicia was looking at me in just that way, the way that said she didn't really think that I'd be up for it.
But she'd really like it if I was.
It was too much.
If I had to decide now, I knew whgich I'd jump.
And I didn't want to do that to her.
Crush that expression.
Trample over that hope.
Slap away the hand that she was extending to me.
So I said the only thing I could.
"I'll think about it," I said, in a short, clipped tone, and rolled over, turned my back on her.
It was the only thing I could do.
Alicia is moving in almost a blur around the room, a shuffle of last minute preparation and rearrangement.
Everything has to be just so, and what 'just so' is seems to be vartying from minute to minute.
Me, I'm interfacing with the security systems, making sure everything is just so from my end.
Alicia doesn't like talking about her family, but I've managed to pick up enough.
Each one of her aunts and uncles is experienced in various dirty tricks, honed over centuries of practice against each other and their father, who was an even bigger bastard by all accounts.
Worse, from my perspective, is that they're all new to me.
Tactics thought up in the Courts get around eventually. Have countermeasures designed against them. Become part of the lore that every competent (and I think of myself as extremely competent) security expert knows and can guard against.
It's said that there's nothing a professional fears more than a lucky amateur.
The same is true about a professional from a completely unknown school of thought.
Who knows what might work?
And Alicia might trust Florimel as much as she trusts anyone in her family, but she also trusted Fiona at one point too.
(Not to mention that even if Florimel is fond of Alicia, I'm fair game.)
So, yes, I'm double and triple checking security, and adding my own creatures and features to the mix.
It seems only wise.
Which is why I'm the first to notice a disturbance at the entrance to Alicia's Ways.
"Alicia," I say, distracting her from contemplation of which of two almost identical centrepieces to go with. "Your aunt has arrived."
Alicia didn't bring it up again.
She didn't have to.
It lay between like a lead weight, was the invisible elephant in every room we were in together.
Alicia wanted me to meet the only family member who still meant a lot to her. Her House, if you would.
Worse, the family member already knew about me.
If I accepted, if I went to this seemingly innocuous meal, then it would say things about what we meant to each other.
It would define it in ways I really wasn't ready to accept just yet.
Of course, if I turned this down, if I refused to meet Florimel, then that would say something else entirely about us.
No matter what Alicia said, I was fairly certain that saying no would limit what we had, diminish it in a way that I wasn't sure we could survive yet, long term.
Not after... everything.
Just like it was to me, family (Florimel) was very important to Alicia.
It might mean different things - not supprt and safety for one - but still.
There it was.
What would I, what could I, decide?
My first impression of Florimel is that she glows like the sun.
Bright blonde hair.
Sun kissed complexion.
Deep blue eyes.
And a slightly vapid expression that may have fooled me if I hadn't known who she was, hadn't been briefed extensively by Alicia not to underestimate her under any circumstances.
That expression, Alicia, had told me, was Florimel's first and best protection from her brothers.
All of whom knew that Florimel, stupid little Flora, couldn't possibly be bright enough to be any kind of threat.
Well, I may have been fooled if I also hadn't caught that little glance around the room that she had just made.
A little glance I recognise.
Because it's the same glance I'd give when I first entered a strange room.
Assessing threats and weaknesses, places that could be defended and places to attack someone else, if possible.
It's a glance that I've never seen Alicia give.
It's a glance that means that, despite our very different origins and experiences, Florimel is kindred in a way that Alicia simply is not.
Florimel is security, like me.
Or she is an assassin, like me.
Or she is a mixture of both.
She catches my eyes and there is a moment of perfect understanding between us.
We know who, what, each other is.
And then it's over, and she's got that slightly vapid expression back on her face and I'm faced with a professional who I simple have no way of predicting.
Joy. Deep, deep joy.
Florimel not so much walks but glides, gracefully, over to Alicia with what appears to be a look of fond joy on her face. "Dear child," she coos, and I have to dig my fingernails into the palms of my hands as Florimel hugs Alicia.
It's not my place to intervene, I tell myself again and again. This is the relationship they have, and Alicia is a big girl. She gets to make her own decisions.
It still goes against every instinct I have to let a professional touch Alicia in such a way.
There are just so many things Florimel could do to her...
But it's not my place, and so I keep my peace.
Finally the hug is over, and Alicia is still standing (not that that means much) and Florimel turns her full attention in my direction.
"And who is this?" she asks Alicia.
"This is Kalinda of House Sharma," Alicia replies, and I can almost see her struggle not to add 'The person you very specifically asked to meet.'
"Oh," Florimel says, "Kalinda. I've heard so much about you." She glides over to me and extends a hand.
I regard the proferred extremity as though it were a viper.
Alicia has already told me about this particular Amberite ritual of greeting. I'd thought it unsafe then, and, having met Florimel, I think it far less safe now.
The situation doubtless isn't going to improve if I refuse Florimel this gesture.
And Alicia... Alicia will doubtless understand in that way of hers if I don't...
With a heavy internal sigh (and several internal modifications that basically seal the hand off from any interactions with the rest of my body) I take Florimel's hand and shake it firmly.
"I've heard a lot about you, too, Princess Florimel," I say with a polite expression on my face.
I look into Florimel's eyes for a sign of, well, anything, but her facade is flawless.
It doesn't make me feel any better.
If I survive this, I think dourly to myself, I'm going to be holding breakfast over Alicia's head for a long time. Possibly centuries.
"Shall we sit down?" Alicia asks as the first servant appears.
"Let's," Florimel smiles at her, and we do so.
I discretely detach the hand Florimel touched, and let it fall to the ground beneath the table, before forming one that at least looks identical, even if it doesn't have anywhere near the same kind of functionality.
This is going to be a long, long breakfast.
"It's probably best if you don't stay over six nights from now," Alicia told me as we were getting dressed one morning.
I gave her an inquiring look.
"The next morning is the one that my aunt is visiting," Alicia said by way of explanation. "And, well..."
Something twisted inside of me as I realised that, as far as Alicia was concerned, my silence on the subject had been a decision.
I abruptly stopped what I was doing, and sat down on the bed.
Alicia looked at me with concern, before coming over and sitting next to me.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I just thought... I didn't want to put any pressure on you, and... It's not a big thing. It's really not a big..."
I silenced her by placing one finger over her mouth.
"I hadn't decided," I told her firmly. "But... you're asking me to meet your House."
Because that was what Florimel was to her. Her House.
Alicia made an oh expression of understanding. "That really..." she began.
"I hadn't decided," I said over her words. I needed her to understand. "But it's a thing."
A big thing, true.
But, at the end of the day, it was just a thing.
I took a deep breath, tracking the increase of oxygen as it spread through my body, then exhaled, feeling the loss of carbon as it escaped me.
It was just a thing.
And I had a decision to make.
"Okay," I said to her. "I'll do it," I said, not even reacting when she wrapped an arm around me and hung on tight.
We still might not have defined this thing between us yet.
But with this, this meeting with Florimel, it was becoming more defined, more real.
And that fact didn't leave me feeling nearly as terrified as I thought it would.
I was meeting with her House.
And I was okay with that.
"So, how did you two meet?" Florimel asks.
Alicia doesn't even blink. "She was involved with an attempt to kill me," she says blandly.
If not for my utter control over my own systems, I would have choked at that.
I almost do, anyway.
I can't believe she just said that.
Florimel's fork pauses partway to her mouth. "Oh?" she asks, aiming an unimpressed expression in my direction.
And I had thought that this breakfast was going so well.
"She was working undercover to sabotage it," Alicia clarifies. "She ended up saving my life a couple of times."
I had certainly thought so at the time. Afterwards, after certain revelations, I'm now not so sure.
And why couldn't she just have said that initially?
The fork, thankfully, restarts its journey to Florimel's mouth. After chewing thoughtfully, she says. "Oh. Good. I would hate to think that you were dating an incompetent, dear."
"Oh, Kalinda's not that," Alicia says with a smile.
Because, obviously, that is the most important thing.
I have a new appreciation for just how 'different' Alicia's family is.
"Good. Not like Peter, then," Florimel says, and suddenly Alicia has a pinched expression on her face.
"No," she says, a little stiffly. "She's not like Peter at all."
I bite down on my lip and resist the urge to jump in, protect Alicia, yell at Florimel.
I don't know the stakes, not the particulars.
I'd probably only make things worse.
Common sense doesn't temper my sudden desire to rip out Florimel's throat with my teeth, though.
I settle for reaching under the table and taking hold of Alicia's hand where it lies, clenched, in her lap.
She gives me a brief, grateful look.
"I never did like him," Florimel says, casually, seemingly offhandedly.
A slight twitch runs through Alicia, though the only way I know this is the touch of my hand on hers.
I can't help remembering that Peter was caught plotting treason, and executed.
And that Florimel evidently has friends down here, else she wouldn't have known about us.
It's not hard to draw a line between all these facts, and wonder.
I increase the pressure of my hand on Alicia's, letting her know I'm still here, still supporting her. After a moment, her hand unclenches just long enough to flip around and grip mine, just as tightly.
I never quite appreciated how strong her hands were before.
"Still, it's nice to know that you'd never interfere in my relationships, auntie, no matter how much you disapproved," she says, the warning clear in her tone.
"Of course," Florimel replies, and shifts the conversation smoothly over to yet more family gossip.
The tension lightens, and soon Florimel has Alicia laughing at the latest (mis)adventures of various family members.
And even if she loosens her grip, Alicia never quite lets go of me.
"I'd like to speak to Kalinda alone for a moment. If you wouldn't mind, dear," Florimel says after the remains of breakfast have been cleared away.
Alicia looks as if she really does mind, but knows better than to argue. "I'll see you in a few minutes, then," she says, and disappears from the room.
Florimel turns her undivided attention towards me.
I don't think she's just planning on murdering me here in Alicia's Ways, but I can't help tensing anyway.
Just in case.
"I like you," Florimel says without preamble. "You make Alicia happier than I've seen in a long time. She deserves that in her life."
"Thank you," I say a little uncertainly, after a pause.
"I like you," she repeats, as she produces a small vial of cloudy liquid from somewhere. "Which is why I'm giving you this. An antidote to the poison I introduced to your system."
My mind quickly runs through all the way she could have done this.
Stopping, of course, at the obvious.
"Not with the handshake," she says, and smiles wickedly at me. "It was a good distraction, though, don't you think?"
Of course, just because she claims she poisoned me, it doesn't mean that she actually did.
I certainly haven't detected any changes to my system yet.
This vial could just be an antidote to a non-existent poison.
It could even be a poison itself.
Or it could be as she claims.
"Keep her happy," Florimel says, moving to the door, and her tone makes it sound like she's wishing me well.
I know better than to take it as anything other than what it is - a warning.
Alicia comes back in the room a few minutes later to find me still looking at the vial.
"What's that?" she asks.
"How good is your aunt at head games?" I say by way of response.
She stops, gets a vaguely exasperated look on her face, mutters to herself, then comes over and hugs me tightly.
"You really have to ask?" she murmurs into my ear.
"Guess not," I say, relaxing into her arms.
The puzzle of the poison can wait just a little longer.
Because, no matter what else, we're going to be fine.
Return to The Good Wife Fiction
Return to Main Page