A Year Slipped By - 10/22/20


The stones that made the Goblet floor glistened after what seemed like fortuitous rainfall over the land. Langston's footsteps would occasionally splash on the shallow puddles in this elevated maze of a district. It was bound to fade sooner rather than later. After all, what manner of moisture could survive Thanalan's famous sun for too long?

He stopped in front of a familiar building and sighed, finally reaching the end of his journey. In his hands were a small bunch of flowers of azure and violet arranged neatly in a vase; a small gift to make up for what seemed like a huge mistake in his mind. The scent within the building was pleasant, in spite of its name. Indeed, the flowers stood strong against the air of the Sultana's Breath. If it was indeed hers, it certainly wasn't taken in the morning upon her rise from her bed.

Familiar faces greeted Langston and he returned the favor. They knew his face, even if it had been some time since he last visited. Past the doormen and through a few flights of stairs stood the door to his destination; a quiet little apartment built for buckets of paint, easels, and your typical facilities that make a home habitable. Langston closed one hand into a fist and tapped the wooden door with his knuckles in a familiar rhythm of three taps.


Sunlight shone down on an easel that held a canvas as usual, only this time, the black of charcoal was featured upon it as a lone dancer across the tightly woven and stretched fabric. Small, deft fingers were smudged with the ebon substance, pushing around the remnants of flame as if she were reforming scorched earth. The window remained open, the desert breeze repeatedly blowing small strands of hair into her face, leading her cheeks to be lightly smudged with the charcoal in turn, evidence of her ongoing fight to subdue the strands.

Aside from the outside noise, her sanctum was completely quiet, filled only with her occasional humming and the sounds of her life mixed with the sounds of creating this second world in miniature that lay at her hands as if she were some kind of goddess dabbling in creation.

She jumped at the sudden taps, managing to pull her hand away from the canvas reflexively, but seeing as she had few visitors, the pattern of the taps gave him away.

“Just a moment!” she called as she rushed around in a rather adorable sort of frenzy, a large smile on her face as she hopped down from her stepstool and sought out the aid of a clean cloth to act as a barrier between coal-covered fingers and her door handle. It wasn't long at all before she opened the door and her eyes knew exactly the height she ought to match to meet his gaze. As if reading a book in reverse as the door opened, her oceans met orchid before she would be allowed to greet his sapphire.

“As pleasant a surprise as any, and one that is always welcome,” she greets him, holding the door open wide as she takes in the flowers in his arms. Her eyes come to life with recognition of their presence, but she dare not acknowledge them until she knew their occasion. She would be excitedly patient.


Langston's eyes smiled along with his lips. He felt a little guilty, seeing Pipino unkempt from her being in the throes of inspiration and creation. Yet, it was something of a rare sight for him. He never really saw her at her most professional. The brush and smeared paint suited her just as well as the gun and goggles. These thick, dark tints of ink… they were the father of her famous gloved hands.

Langston was feeling apologetic; the consequence of what charcoal colors may leave her face and make their home onto his seemed irrelevant as he leaned in for a fast peck on the lips. He hummed with slightly widened eyes. “Suddenly I don't feel so bad for my unannounced intrusion.” he said. Though he was ready to hand over his gift to her, he remembered her stained hands and opted to set them on the table nearby.

“Now, I may not have to apologize for interrupting your creative flow… I do have to apologize for missing the date. By almost two weeks, no less! Do you remember what day that was?” He walked away from the table and towards her, pressing her messy palm against his. Their work stained appearance belied how gentle they really were to the touch. A slight tilt in the angle of his hand lined up his fingers with the gaps between Pino's and he closed his hand, interlocking their fingers, completely ignoring the paint that may color his.


Pipino had immediately switched into the mind to start wiping her hands furiously with the cloth, desperately trying to reduce the amount of the stubborn substance that would undoubtedly transfer to Langston somehow if left unmitigated. A charcoal covered chef simply would not do, she decided before he endeavored to cross the boundary. Well fine - if the result of a charcoal covered chef would be such a sweet reward, she would gladly invite him. Smiling to herself, she folded the cloth into a long rectangle that she draped over her shoulder for the time being, Pipino following the progress of the flowers all the while before her returned to her.

“Two weeks ago….” she repeated as she watched their fingers intertwine in a dance they'd long since perfected in the year they'd been together. The year they'd been together… it had been a year hadn't it! Her expression changed from a light puzzled sort of a look to a slow dawning realization as she ran the circumstances of their lives through her mind, the timeline extending longer than she felt she ever could have expected. Eventually it settled and her expression melted into one of absolute softness, betraying how touched she was that he would have kept such a date so dear.

“I can hardly be certain of the exact date but… has it truly been a year since that handsome young man tried to drag me down in front of a group of strangers for the cost of my garments before he accepted a most unseemly dare to remove all of his?” She was clearly teasing him, the fondness in her tone for having experienced the simultaneous impossibility and inevitability palpable.


Langston winced at her words. The truth had a sting to it reminiscent of a freshly squeezed lemon on a grazing cut of a knife that one doesnt realize until, well, they're already wincing. “Handsome, for certain. But utterly vile!” he said, joking along with her. “I heard you buried him and grew a better man from his remains.”

His laughter subsided and he took a step closer. His tone lowered, his smile grew less wide but certainly no less warm as he answered her with a nod. “Yes, that's exactly it. An odd thing to remember, I'm sure. People remember marriage dates, namedays, you know… events that are brought up with fanfare and celebration. But the day where two people first meet? It's easy to forget.”

Langston took Pino's hand and raised it up as a signal to have her twirl as if they were dancing to silence, emphasizing his next words. “But, what a turning point it was! I didn't realize it at the time, of course. I was just being… well, lecherous. However, we kept seeing each other, and once things started to move between you and I, I tried to stick the date in my head.”


Pipino let out a small giggle as she took to his signal instinctually, rising to her toes and performing an easy three-step turn before letting the momentum of it bring her close to him. Resting her free hand on his chest she looked up at him sweetly.

“Would it be unfair of me to admit that I thought that maybe, in the beginning of things, I felt like I was in a little deeper than you? I thought myself naïve. The victim of too many romance novels. The girl who would fight for love and possibly ruin someone's life simply due to the intensity and strength of it, like some kind of fierce storm rolling through a peaceful village. Never in a million eras would I have guessed you were commemorating an anniversary in your head so early. I did not doubt you had feelings but… I wondered how long I might have just been an amusement to you. Something pretty to pass the time with.”

She rested her head against his chest, moving her arm to rest at the small of his back, as if to reassure him the answer didn't matter all that much, and that regardless of what the answer was, she did not intend to be going anywhere.


“There was something different about this.” he said, comforted by her gentle embrace. “For me, it's easy to tell where I shouldn't be poking around for amusement, as you put it. Yet I dared to stay around you and opted to spend time with you where I could have been elsewhere. I ended up snapping my ankle on the slippery slope of romance, and who else would be at the bottom but you? I can only count myself fortunate that you were willing to humor me and end up on this long journey with me.” Langston looked down at her, taking note of the faint black handprint on his chest. It was just a shirt. “Marriage is hardly a pastime commitment, anyway. Even if that decision did come about on a whim.”

He looked to the easel which he stole her from, the source of her blacks and grays that graced her fingers and face. “I figured this was worth commemorating once. With a true anniversary date, it feels like this one will get washed away. Not that I would mind at all, of course. There are only so many things one can commit to memory. But, that's all I really wanted to come for. I should probably let you get back to your work.”


She only hummed in satisfaction, accepting his reply as she only clinged to him a bit tighter.

“It is nothing pressing, really… besides, if you leave now, I will only find myself staring at the flowers and seeing your eyes in them,” she said, rising to tip-toes again to plant a thoughtful kiss on his lips. “Surely you would not torture me so on a day commemorating such a momentous shift in the tide.”


Whatever objections Langston had flew away and burned on the way to the sun. The kiss scared them all away like a flock of unwanted pigeons. He hummed with soft laughter, offering but a tilt of his head. “Let the record show that I did my best to be the responsible one.”

Langston took her by the shoulders and gently turned her towards the easel, anyway. He embraced her from behind as he pointed his eyes the same way. “What is it going to be?” he asked, taking the opportunity to pick her brain in the midst of the creative process.


“All responsibility and no play makes for a dull celebration, would you not agree?” PIpino allowed herself to be turned, grinning in victory as she settles back against him, her back against his chest and her hands moving to rest on his arms as she leans her head to the side to better accommodate his view, possibly fishing for a kiss on the neck should he feel in the mood as she regards the started canvas.

“As for this… recently, Vinalo invited me to join them and Blue on a little Trek through the Shroud. You might recall there was a bit of an adventure that was shared between them involving some type of large fire that destroyed portions of the Sylphlands that they helped abate, however the Sylphs are in mourning of certain features of their home that were lost. I was asked to create a piece of art to help them see the beauty in change that can be wrought from the situation, and it was requested I do it in charcoal. You know, a rather poetic nod to the beauty that can be born from flame. As we walked through the lands, there were so many individuals helping the place become whole again. Planting new life, helping creatures thrive… it is my goal to depict a landscape that hopefully will be based on what I had seen, not one that currently is. A potential future that the Sylphs can look upon to help them keep their optimism in the face of adversity.”

She sighed a bit looking at it. “I am not sure I can do such sentiment justice, but I shall at least try. It has been too long since I used my art to communicate something meaningful, painting all those portraits. When I need to improvise or imagine and depart from the realism of life, I find I get a bit lost in the possibility. I fear I shall not do the sentiment I saw any justice.”


“Oh, of course…” he mused. “How many tins of tints were tossed to the trash to trim the tons of ponzes off the local titanic Monetarists? Only the gods may know, and I dare not seek the answer.” Like salmon to a worm, Langston took the bait that Pino had offered, landing a one-two kiss combo on her inviting neck.

“Not to dwell on the work for too long, lest I spoil the celebration, but perhaps there's a way to put some focus on your strengths? Placing the limelight on the people and Sylphs alongside the scenery…” He rested his head on her shoulder and offered a few more kisses before devolving in a faux-whiny voice. “I don't know…” he droned. “I'm clueless… oh, but, hey!” His tone quickly shifted. “Did it evoke any sort of familiarity? With the nature, or the harmony of those working together… have you ever felt like you were working towards something important?”


Pipino closed her eyes and giggled at Langston's playful language as he soon granted her unspoken wish, not giving him -too- much feedback aside from perhaps relaxing a little more into him and letting out the smallest breath of a sigh. Eventually she was forced to open them again, brought back to face her monochrome nemesis by his question and suggestion. She only found it slightly distracting to focus on artistic endeavors like this, yet she bravely endured his attentions as she mastered her thoughts.

“Hmm… that is true… I worry the landscape I have chosen might be too expansive to include the people and the sylphs in the detail I might like. Charcoal is a bit of a wild, unbridled sort of medium, you see. It best communicates in suggestions and nudges, action and gesture as opposed to the precision a pencil might. I think it is something that works well to depict the Shroud in the end but…ah, we shall see. I might have to do a few sketches.”

She hummed thoughtfully as he posed the second set of questions, gently running her soft fingertips along the back of his hand. “Strange… I am truly not sure if I have, truth be told. I have never had to rely much on teamwork, nor have I ever had plans grand enough that they might need long-term means to realize them. Perhaps at one point I might have thought increasing wealth was an important venture, but it never brought satisfaction my way. Perhaps that is what I am lacking… this spirit of a collaborative effort to build something that is larger than itself.”


“That's not entirely true.” he said, moving in front of her but keeping his eyes on the folded cloth over her shoulder. “Why, I remember you drawing up a wide variety of flora for an adventurer's guide to the Shroud.” His index finger moved along the charcoal stained cloth, drawing a crude flower upon it. “You and Vinalo had to work on it, together. Though it may seem small, I was told that you two were pushing it as something greater than informative text. I say you should try to grasp that feeling and see if you can put it on the easel.”

He sighed, shaking his head. “Oh, but there I go again, far too into work!” The man glanced at the kitchen, then at the door that hid the bathroom. “Aren't you hungry? Why not wash up and then I'll prepare something. We could take the meal outside, get your head and heart out of the work environment and such.”


Pipino laughed as she looked to his finger, watching him trace the blossom upon her. “Ah, but of course… I suppose I thought you meant something of a grander scale. My mind seems locked on the improvement of entire environs and biomes. But yes, of course the book was important. And…well, I suppose a large motivation for me wanting to finish it was to make sure Vinalo would be doing well financially, so I cannot say I was even that concerned for it from my own career's perspective.” She smiled softly upon the realization, some kind of pride welling up in her. “Well, I feel a bit relieved knowing I have done something of worth in that sense. Perhaps I am just… not used to the idea of the book existing just yet. I feel foolish for not thinking of it immediately! With them being there with me, walking the Shroud again… that did indeed feel quite familiar, and your brother did ask us to make more. I suppose we have yet more opportunity to collaborate, and for that, I am grateful.”

She looked up to him, following his gaze and blushing a bit, realizing she must look quite a mess. “Oh, that sounds wonderful. I cannot say I have -too- many things stocked up in this kitchen of mine, but I think a resourceful man like you could easy find something to knock together. There might be the makings for some kind of sandwich, or at least some bread and cheese at the very least. I shall be surprised what you unearth!” She leaned up and gave him one of her own little pecks before pulling away and making her way to the bathroom.

“Now, to see what creature of the void I have become with this infernal charcoal….”


Langston took the kiss with a smile before watching her enter the bathroom. Oh, how it pained him to see her leave! But, what a delight it was to watch her walk away!

He made his way into her small kitchen, taking a look around to find what ingredients were available to him. The bread and cheese were easy to find; he set them on the counter and put his hands on his hips as he stared at them. “Cheese sandwiches… no, that feels too easy…” he mused aloud. “Could just slice them both up and serve it with wine…” He stifled a groan and rolled his eyes. “How dreadfully dull. Let's veer away from such plates meant to prop up grape juice.” Eyes of blue and violet flitted back and forth in search of something, anything to spice this combination up.

Finally, he managed to find two somethings that would change it all up. He remembered her great and fruitful effort to produce a memorable pasta, and there it was. A square of butter that remained chilled by a crystal, and a bulb of garlic. He let out a sigh of relief and crushed a clove before dicing it, then whisking the garlic together with butter before spreading it onto a few slices of bread. The slices were spread onto a metal sheet neatly before they entered the oven.

Langston was in his element. He also felt incredibly comfortable, and alone. As he sliced the cheese, he began to sing a little song. The tune was familiar in his home. If one were to waltz into his home unnoticed, they may hear him singing it to his son. He wasn't any good at it, but it was something he was accustomed to doing; a tune to calm a fussy child or to occupy him as he worked.


Pipino washed and scrubbed, scrubbed and washed. Her eyes widened in horror at how much of it she managed to get… well, everywhere! Her cheek, her ear, the side of her nose, her neck… She wondered vaguely if other artists lost themselves this much in concentration or if it was a peculiar failing of hers to allow herself to get this out of sorts. After a healthy amount of time wrestling with a cloth though, Pipino finished up.

With the smell of warm garlic wafting through the apartment, Pipino was just about to open the door to compliment the chef before she heard that little tune, the one she'd heard him singing to Lorry in the past. The one that made him blush she she had confessed she had heard him at it before. It would be a bit of a shame to interrupt it so soon, so she carefully, slowly opened the bathroom door a crack to let the notes flow in.

The key was a difficult one for her to sing along with should she wish to try, his rich, deep tone better suited for his chosen starting point, but she knew it nevertheless. Standing still with her hand on the handle for just a bit, she let him have his moment, feeling almost a bit guilty to be invading it in this silent, invisible way. Sensing he might get suspicious of the lack of sounds of running water however, she eased the door the rest of the way and left without comment, tossing the rag that held Langston's invisible flower drawing on her work table before moving over to her couch, curling up on it to watch the show of him doing what he did best.

“Does it have words?” she asked, resting her elbow against the armrest and propping her head in her hand as she adjusted her skirt. “I have heard you hum it before and I always wondered.”


Langston was lost in his own little world. He didn't take note of the sounds, or lack thereof, from the bathroom. He didn't even notice Pipino's exit from the door. Once her words reached his ears, he finally responded, dropping the knife from his hand due to the shock.

He sighed, but turned to her with a soft smile. “It does. They're silly words.” he answered. “A silly ditty about keeping secrets. I assume it's meant to poke fun at how eagerly children take to new information and the sense of importance they may feel from receiving it. Such feelings are detrimental to secret keeping, however. 'I know something you don't!' It becomes a point of pride.”

Langston pulled the bread out of the oven, sprinkling it with the shredded cheese before sticking them back in there. “My mother used to sing it to me, now and again. There aren't too many words. It goes a little something like this.” He walked towards her and began to sing the words…

Would you like to hear

about the things I fear?

About my life, and loves too?

Well why should I tell you?

He punctuated this line with his index finger gently tapping the tip of her small nose.

If I told you a secret

you'd be sure to leak it

You couldn't keep it inside

No matter how hard you tried

The same finger moved down to hover over her lips for a second before he retracted his hand.

“And that was it. You mostly hum and la the rest, though the words can be repeated.” He laughed quietly. “It's a silly little thing, right?”


Pipino giggled lightly as his finger tapped her nose, wrinkling it rather cutely as she hung onto the words, not letting a single one slip by. She was following the progress of his finger so acutely that she was nearly cross-eyed before the expected touch to her lips never game, instead drifting away from her in a gesture that seemed to mimic the sentiment of the song perfectly.

“Hmm…well, I do not know if it is all that silly! It seems a bit more mature in subject manner that most little lullabies, however. Here I think might be in suspense as a child if someone held a secret over my head in such a way! Let us hope Lorry shall not become the secretive sort of fellow as he grows. Though… if his father is any example, I think he made it through the trial of fire just fine.” She grinned playfully and looked at him with mock-suspicion. “Unless you are trying to tell me you have some deep dark secret, of course!”


“None that you don't already know!” he answered. “I feel its incredibly important to be upfront in a situation like ours. Too much ambiguity builds up distrust fast… So, I'm afraid my secrets are simply limited to surprise flowers without warning.”

The scent of melted cheese began to enter his nostrils, prompting him to return to the over and extract the slices of bread. He neatly arranged them in a circle on a plate and took them to her with a faint smile. “A bit of improvised work, but it'll do. Did you still wish to take it outside? You can tell me your little secrets, there.”


Pipino hopped down from her position on the couch as if the warm, fragrant bread had some type of gravitational pull on her, checking them over to see what he had managed to concoct.

“Well, you have certainly done something more interesting with what was available than I would have done, so you gain marks for impeccable improvisation in this regard! I think they should like to see the desert sun before they end up in our stomachs, truthfully. I could use with a bit of fresh air as well.”

She allows him to carry the burden of the plate as she moves to the door and holds it open for him with a gesture guiding him through.

“Yet I wonder what sort of little secrets you think me to be keeping from you! Here I thought I might have poured out the entire contents of my soul by now.”


Langston gives her a quick dip of his head in gratitude before following where her hand led him. “Oh, I can't imagine you're hiding anything major at this point!” he said. “But, I'm sure there are things you don't tell anyone unless prompted… and I'm also sure there are things you don't tell anyone, ever. Though, you needn't tell me everything. Everyone's entitled to their own private thoughts.”

Their stroll through the hall was the source of envy. Whether it was due to the general warmth of emotion they produced or the gentle aroma of melted cheese on toasted bread was anyone's guess. Through the double doors they went, and the orange globe in the sky was there, almost waiting for them before it made its inevitable decision to tuck itself away.

It didn't take too long for them to find a satisfactory bench to enjoy their snack. “Hm, well… If I'm to make a request of a secret, then it's only fair that I share one of my own first. Let's see here…” He closed his eyes in thought, very briefly before an easy one popped in his mind. “Well, ever since I had the pleasure of meeting your dear mother, I've always wondered if your natural blonde would suit you better.”


Pipino followed him through the hallway as if the scent of Langston's cooking had hypnotized her, hooking her and reeling her along as her husband moved ahead of her. She settled next to him on the bench, gloves forgotten at home on her supply table and ceasing to be an impediment to her selecting a garlicy morsel from the plate. She laughed easily as he brought up his secret.

“Well, I suppose that is true. I hardly think there is a way for me have let you in on everything. I would assume most of it is hardly worth telling. But of all things for you to secretly wonder about, I hardly expected it to be my hair!” She takes a bite and lets out a sigh of contentment. It was a simple snack to be sure, but much more than she had been expecting to eat had she been left to her own devices before heading home. “I had been thinking about when I ought to stop dyeing this… it really is a bit of a charade that should see its end soon. I no longer need to be attracting suitors or standing out from the other women anymore, and the dye is quite costly to maintain regularly.”

She sighed and offered him a conciliatory smile. “Truth be told, I only had been avoiding stopping dyeing it because growing it out would simply be dreadful. Blue in the hair naturally fades to a greenish color, and… well, it is a difficult color to remove from the hair and re-do. But… it must be done some day. Perhaps if I spent enough gil someone could correct it over several weeks for me…”

Pipino turned the bread in her fingertips, seeming to have a ritual where she ate the crust first, moving it around with each bite. “I had always thought I would at least stop dyeing it by the time I became a mother. I would want to be an example of being my authentic self, to show that being that is simply enough, and one need alter themselves to gain favor. I suppose Lorry is getting old enough to perhaps understand the concept soon enough…”


“I understand your point of view.” he answered before taking a bite into his toasted bread. As he chewed, he took notice of Pipino's attack on the edges of the bread. How amusing. Those habits must've been born somewhere, but he couldn't recall that lesson among the many in table manners.

“I know you don't quite agree, and I don't mean to diminish your importance, here. However, you don't have to consider yourself responsible for Lorry. Children are impressionable, sure, but…” He shut his eyes, rubbing his temple for a moment. “…Well, then again, it's hard to gauge where you fall upon his mind. A family friend? A relative? A third parent? Are children born knowing only to recognize two? Bah. Parenting is hard.”

Langston sighed, shaking his head. “No one said it was going to be easy. I accept these difficulties. But, I still believe that your life decisions shouldn't entirely be decided by Lorry. Obviously there are the basics of it all; his presence should make you mindful of where you leave your tools! Otherwise, you'll be able to explain things to him as the years roll by.” He nods to Pino, placing a hand on her shoulder. “If you wish to stay blue, stay blue. Then when your daughter rolls along, you can go with your original plan.”


She hummed thoughtfully, finally starting to attack the middle portion of the bread, savoring the tender, buttery middle part knowing she would want the better flavor of it to be what lingered, not an abundance of crust. She sighed eventually as he reached the end of his words.

“I hope you do know that I am not trying to be his mother - that I am not attempting to overstep my bounds, but perhaps you might remember that as a child who did not interact much with my own parents much at all, my parenting came from servants, primarily Bricteva. Had it not been for these tertiary influences on me, I likely would have come out just as rotten as my parents in the end. It is not only parents that are beholden to be examples, but the others who are around them regularly. What they see at this age… It becomes normalcy. While I know I do not have to accommodate him, what example does it show to simply exist in his sphere without thinking of him? It seems willful and selfish to not consider him when I am living in his very home…”


“There's a lot to consider.” he said. parsing his thoughts out with crunchy bites of toasted bread. “You know, in that vein, we aren't too different. Grandfather was an outside influence, as odd as that sounds. I guess I just have faith in his intelligence, you know? I didn't just blindly follow whatever my father said or did, so I feel he won't follow me without question, either. Or Orchard, or even you.”

“Then again, you do have a point…” He retracted his hand, putting it to his forehead instead. “I'm going to have to sit down with him and explain who you are, and why I'm married to two people, and how we're all able to live together in spite of that, especially when he's going to be about town and notice that, more often than not, only the most questionable men waltz about town with more than a single woman in his arms. Then he'll have a half-sibling, which is probably easy for a kid to digest, but…”

He started to laugh softly. “This all sounds so very dour. Believe me when I say I have no doubts about how things are. More importantly, I don't mean to downplay your influence in his life. Rather, I'm always so very conscious of the fact that this situation is atypical, and I don't want it to make you unhappy.”


Pipino playfully rolled her eyes and laughed before focusing her full attention on his features.

“I have lost count of the amount of times I have had to assure you that no matter how non-traditional this is, I am the happiest I have ever been. It is a joy to be surrounded by so many who matter and a privilege to be allowed to enter into your family. It is a privilege I take seriously and intend to ensure I do not sour by acting selfishly or carelessly. I think for things to work harmoniously, it is a responsibility I need to shoulder.” She smiled and nodded her affirmation and assurance into her next words. “I shall never see it as a burden. I have carried enough of those for a lifetime.”

She looked at the plate and cheekily extracted a second slice, examining it for the best angle of attack for the first bite.

“Now, I believe I am supposed to come up with some kind of secret to tell you if I am not mistaken,” she prompted him, figuring they were starting to treat over the same line of conversation they had already explored. “I know things are not perfect for your family, but… well, I am envious that you have a sibling, as strained as the relationship may be. I feel like perhaps having had a brother or sister with me growing up would have made a world of difference in my world. And… well, even you mentioning Lorry having a half brother or sister… the idea is touching to me. Perhaps it would have been no different than having a friend but… I always imagined how my conceptualization of a family might have changed if I had someone to hold on to through those times when I was mostly alone in the end.”


“Totoyito?” he said with a scoff. “You can have him, if you'd like!” An honest bit of laughter eventually faded into a slight frown as he pondered on the subject. “The age difference between Totoyito and I is the same as the difference between you and I. Nearly insignificant now, but as children, it was different. We butted heads, as siblings are wont to do. However, I think he made honest efforts to appeal to my nature as a young man. He knew he couldn't make me happy through what we were learning, so instead, he would often try to show me the bright side of wealth. The finer things, the luxuries, the women…” He took a final bite of his bread with an audible crunch and scooped up the next one. “A shame he was so incredibly lousy at it.”

“Brotherhood was something of an iron code.” he continued. “Like I said, we weren't always chummy. But, we would never deliberately get one another in trouble with our father. We would hide things from him. Sort of an unwritten rule, really.” He looked to Pipino with a faint smile. “I think it really depends on how your hypothetical sibling was raised, and their own mindset. Maybe they would have taken better to the Monetarist life than you did, but would still respect your decision. Of course, the worst thing that could've happened is them seeing you as a rival more than a friend.” He pondered on his words as they left his lips. Hearing them is far different from speaking them.

“He never treated me like a financial foe, though. Yet, when I left, I never even said goodbye. Maybe I was afraid he would make a convincing argument and would be able to talk me out of it.” He let out a small huff. “Do you think I've been too harsh on him?”


She listened carefully, expecting something of the sort, a story about how it would not be the charmed thing she imagined it might be. It was partially way she had never bothered confiding the thought in the first place, but still, even though she anticipated the type of response she might get, she was appreciative of the nuance. She remembered having brought up Totoyito during their trip to Limsa and how he did not want to dwell on the subject, but the way he asked her opinion on this matter, it made her wonder if perhaps the words had sunk in a little deeper than she thought, Uighur's request slowly bearing fruit after weeks of pondering.

“Hmm… well, I hardly know him so take what I say with a few grains of salt, but as an outsider looking into the situation, I would not say his behavior is not warranted. But there is something to be said for the actions of our youth being informed by the influences around us. And while he should take responsibility for his choices, I know, having shared the same peer group, that it is a difficult path to decide to shirk the high life and its foibles. While perhaps he still enjoys some finer things, which I do not blame him for - even I require a certain standard for myself in most things - I think it might be best to focus on the man he is trying to be now. We can hold those we care for responsible for their transgressions and also have the capacity to offer some measure of recognition and compassion for the change they have undergone, the steps forward they have decided to make. While I personally never made many waves as a young girl, I know I prefer that you have gotten to know me now, blooming late in life. I think perhaps your brother may prefer that you see him as he is now instead of holding his past closer to your heart than even he does.”

She shifted her gaze to him with a small reassuring smile as she joined him in crunching into her fresh slice, her hand hovering below it to catch crumbs.


“You're more skilled with a needle than I.” he said with a soft chuckle. “I've been far more talented at shredding familial bonds rather than mending them.” Langston let out a deep sigh, reflecting on his previous encounters with his family, alongside his night out with Gair and Tret. “My brother and father are not very keen on sharing their feelings. Such peaceful talks seem to be at odds with their large personalities. Not that I'm much better, of course.”

He munches on the bread, though he seemed to be quicker on this second piece. Perhaps his hunger was catching up to him. “Through patience and love and the cute gestures we offer one another, you get to see me vulnerable far more often. As a result, you can hear me blather on about how I feel about family matters. However, in situations with them, and even others, bottling things up seems to be the standard method of 'dealing' with one another. I remember particularly silent dinners and steering clear of each other at social events. Confrontation devolves into clenched fists and thrown punches at worst. But, you're probably right… Typical situations aside, I should try to make things right. I have a feeling Totoyito never will unless I initiate it.”


She hummed thoughtfully again and lowered her bread, turning to face him with a slightly tilted head as if trying to see the situation or the man from another angle, another possibility.

“Well, who says you need to make a fine embroidery of the situation? Why not simply make some simple baste stitches?” she suggested. “Why do you feel like you need to have this large gathering where you all intimately hash out your feelings? The way I see it, you can just begin to change things in your treatment of him. For example, if you feel so distant, why not just offer to have lunch or something more often. Invite him to a play or a concert or whatever entertainment he would enjoy. Do something aside from what is base necessity, start small, and go from there. I see no reason to dredge out old skeletons from the closet right at the get go. I think that would only come off as strange and foster feelings of defensiveness. If you spend more time with one another, surely the trust will build back up enough to where these things, should you like to talk about them one day, can be discussed without causing some kind of catastrophic disaster.”

She punctuated her advice with her own crunching, savoring the delicious middle part as she studied his reaction.


“I think it's merely a consequence of the whole… bottling up I mentioned before.” he answered. “Surprise meetings tend to build up to some sort of confrontation. History tends to hang over an office, dining table, den, wherever these conversations happens, like a floating demon exerting pressure over the whole room. Eventually it becomes too much to bear and then words are yelled and thrown.”

Langston's brow furrowed, but his lips were struck with a strange smile. A strange sort of fond reminiscence creeped over his heart. “I'm sure that has happened at least once with everyone in my family. Well, except my mother. She fires like an arrow if she has a point to make and wastes no time. Still, this is… different. You know Totoyito… he's a peaceful sort of fellow. This sort of slow burn you're suggesting may be a better approach.” He crunched on his final bite of bread and turned to Pipino. “Though, I wonder… do you think you'll be able to face your mother and father one day with such a tempered will? Or do you wish to leave them behind forever?”


Pipino sighed a bit and slumped her shoulders forward, her straight posture faltering as she pondered the possibility.

“Well… as things currently stand, I see only room for one of them in my life. Needless to say, it would be my mother. I wrote back to her recently, detailing my intentions. It… probably came off harsher than I intended but at least she might understand the depth of my disappointment in them as family. I suppose you could say I tried your mother's approach to things. Straight as an arrow and wasting no time for pleasantries. Should the next letter arrive and contain just as much empty-hearted words as her first… well, I might have no choice but to disregard it entirely.” She looked to Langston and lowered her bread. “Unless both of them learn to claim responsibility and at least entertain the idea they might not have done their best by me… I honestly do not know if I can see a way through all of it. It would be one thing if they would entertain the idea of a casual meeting, time to eat a meal or have a discussion. The time you have with your family that allows your arguments to happen? Such time does not exist in their realm. Unless I paint myself golden and cover myself in jewels, I hardly think they would deign to entertain a heart-to-heart.”

She looked down into her lap. “Is that wrong? To be so estranged from someone that you feel like it is not even worth the effort to try and repair it? Even when you know the relationship ought to be a closer one?”


“You're speaking to the unnamed saint of severing ties, so I can completely understand where you're coming from.” he said, gently pounding his fist onto his chest with pride. “But… you know, for all the negativity I spew whenever this all comes up, my father is the only rotten egg. Given, he's the most influential member of our family, so he does create problems with a level of consistency… But, it's just one out of four. You've only got two family members and they're both awful in their own ways.”

“Ah, just do what you can. Relationships are give and take, and if they give you nothing, you'll know when to stop caring.” He looked down to a lonely piece of bread on the plate and nudged it towards her with a soft smile. “Better take this one, in case you get hungry again. Besides, I should leave room for tonight. I'm going to do what you suggested and have a simple dinner with my brother.”


She smiled softly, taken out of her more pensive brooding mood with the gentle offering of the sacred last piece of bread. “I should have no trouble making room for it, I wager. Just leave it and I shall carry it back up with me. And while I am certainly glad you are taking such swift action, I will say I might regret it only in that you are now claimed for dinner,” she teased. “Will it be one of your making or perhaps meeting on some kind of neutral territory free from those ominous clouds of memory that seem to linger in the usual haunts?”


“Hopefully he won't enjoy himself too much. Otherwise, he'll be sorely disappointed as you take up the majority of our dinners and will find it quite difficult to make a reservation.” He laughed softly. “As for the location… I don't really wish to spring anything big upon him on such short notice. I'll just show up to his manor, see if he's busy or not… And if he is, well, you'll be able to reclaim me!” He rose from his seat, only to stand before Pipino and kneeled down to meet her at eye level. “I guess that's that. Just wanted to give you a little surprise, is all. Are you headed back to the easel?”


She nodded and collected the plate in her lap, scooting forward to the edge of the bench. “Yes, I think I ought to, assuming I do not find myself staring at the flowers too much and all.” She reached up her hand and leaned forward to close the distance between him, offering him a sweet little kiss before alighting from the bench. “I shall not keep you from an appointment I daresay I pushed you into. In fact, in this instance, I hope I get stood up!” She gave him a coy little smile and a laugh. “I really ought to finish that canvas though. It is a bit of a tricky piece and I might lose my rhythm if I stay away from it for too long. I promise I will not track any charcoal home.”


“Sweeping floors is hardly unfamiliar to me.” he said, giving her a reassuring hug. “I won't be long, I think… so I'll see you when you arrive at home.”

And so he marched away with a spring of confidence in his step, away from the apartments to make his way toward the city proper. Just show up, have a quick meal, then go home, he thought. However, what he would discover would be something he would not quite expect…

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