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Emeroma frequently wondered if she had been born defective. Smarter than average, and more driven, perhaps, but lacking in the usual social requirements that most people were born with. Most people liked conversing with others; Emeroma found it a necessary chore for extracting information. Most women - normal women - liked being wined and dined. Draiden was certainly handsome enough, with his rakish hair and sparkling eyes. He'd sprung for a fine meal, and Emeroma could not help but appreciate the quality of the food and wine he'd recommended. His conversation was lively and varied, too, with frequent (clearly well-practiced) flattery and the perfect timing of pauses to invite her own bland conversational replies.Author's Notes
(Certainly the serving woman was not immune to his charms, smiling winsomely and offering the circus manager unnecessary courtesies and the Science Leader comparatively chilly respect.)
But Emeroma was frankly bored. She'd rather be in her spacious, empty apartments than here with anyone, and wistfully thought of the research papers she needed to review, and the plans for the City of Lights that needed attention. She drank the wine studiously and pretended to be more tipsy than she really was, answering Draiden's questions carelessly and even chuckling a little at places that were meant to be funny, while keeping half a hopeful eye on the clock hanging behind him.
She wasn't at all certain why she'd agreed to come.
"Because Oranaan wrote a paper," Draiden reminded her.
For a moment, Emeroma was alarmed, and wondered if she'd been speaking aloud.
Draiden added, "You looked like you were wondering why you agreed to this. I thought I'd remind you."
He didn't seem offended, but Emeroma felt chagrined. When Oranaan had proposed the paper in exchange for this date, Emeroma had laughed, but took the exchange - sure that the young man would find the subject in question (safety restrictions for dealing with metal-works near time crystal appliances) too dull to actually follow through. She still wondered what her protege had lost in his bet with Draiden to necessitate the transaction. "I don't know how you convinced him to write it," she said frankly. "And I'm even less sure why you'd get him to. If it were a black robe you wanted for a prize, Science Leader Flumuqa is a lot younger, a lot prettier, and a lot more susceptible to flattery."
"You're not as drunk as you're pretending to be," Draiden told her.
Emeroma raised an eyebrow and then narrowed her eyes. "Neither are you," she returned, and for the first time that evening, she was genuinely amused.
"Ah!" Draiden said with triumph. "That's the first real smile I've seen out of you all night."
"Don't let it go to your head," Emeroma warned, though she couldn't help but feel a little grudging respect for his skill for observation. "I'm not traipsing back to your railcar with you for the night."
"Your housing would be fine," Draiden replied, mischief in his green eyes.
That earned him a genuine laugh.
"I'll settle the bill," Draiden offered, waving at the charmed serving woman.
Emeroma almost protested - she wasn't sure how well a circus manager was paid compared to a Science Leader's salary - but decided against it at the last moment. This hadn't been her idea, after all.
It was twilight, outside the restaurant, and the breeze had a chilly nip to it that suggested an end to summer might be in sight. Emeroma had chosen not to wear her formal rank robes, and was glad she had chosen the sleeved overcoat instead. Winter came too fast, this far north in the Empire.
"You must let me see you home," Draiden insisted.
Emeroma considered a moment, then counter-offered, "You may walk me to the cablecar station between here and there. There's a direct line back to the event grounds every 5 tenticks, and I live very close."
He feigned a sulk, but accepted, taking her hand and putting it at his elbow without asking, only to drop it a moment later to stop a girl who was coming out of a closed flower shop.
"Emoses," he greeted her (an extravagant honorific for a simple flower girl!). "You must let me buy a flower for my lovely dinner partner."
The girl shook her head, firmly. "We're closed," she said, trying to lock the door while Draiden tried to worm his way in.
"This is a very special circumstance," Draiden insisted. He said something that Emeroma could not hear, soft and persuasive, while she looked around somewhat anxiously to see if there were Monitors nearby who might investigate. A peal of laughter from the girl made her scowl, and Draiden exchanged something small with her in return for a single fire lily.
"She probably didn't have a license to sell this late," Emeroma said disapprovingly, when Draiden returned to her side and the girl tripped off down the footstreet. She reluctantly took the golden-throated flower when he offered it to her, reminding herself that this was a social normalcy - another one she'd never really seen the point of.
Draiden stopped, as if that idea was very shocking. "You're right," he said, eyes wide. "We're in possession of illicit goods! Call a monitor!"
He raised his voice and waved his arms around until Emeroma shushed him, saying, "Don't be an idiot," and laughing despite herself. "And don't even try-"
"Don't try to kiss me," Emeroma told him flatly. "You'll just embarrass both of us, and you really don't need the Monitors investigating your caravan.
Draiden looked wounded. "Was I such wretched company that you'd threaten me to fend off a peck on the cheek?"
Emeroma had a moment of doubt, wondering if it had been vain of her to presume he would even try. "No," she said honestly. "No, you were fine company... and I had a good time." It was a startling realization, but true. Socializing in general did not interest her, and she looked forward to the quiet and stark peacefulness of being home - alone - again. But, it had been a pleasant dinner and an enjoyable walk home: Draiden was amusing and unexpectedly observant company. "Thank you."
Draiden raised his hands in a victory salute. "High praise!" he crowed in triumph. "A wild success! A good time was had!"
"Don't be an ass," Emeroma warned him.
He did kiss the palm of her hand, with courtly neutrality, as the cable car whistle announced its arrival. As it was an afterthought, he asked slyly, "What did you say the name of that Science Leader was? The pretty one who liked flattery?"
Emeroma took her hand back sharply, unable to keep from smiling at his mischievous tone. "Goodbye, Circus Manager," she said firmly.
"Goodbye, Science Leader," he replied cheerfully. "Perhaps we can do this again, the next time I'm in town?"
Emeroma made a non-committal sound, wrapped her arms around herself, and walked away without glancing back.
As she shut her apartment windows against the autumn chill that was creeping in, Emeroma caught herself smiling, and thinking more about the evening past than about the work she had planned to do. She found a dusty vase in a back closet and put the flower into it, setting the bloom into a built-in time crystal display case that usually stood empty. It was pretty, and it brightened the dull room more than Emeroma had expected a singe blossom could.
The girly reaction surprised her, and made her realize that she was rubbing the place on her palm that Draiden had kissed. "Idiot," she said to herself scathingly. She could accept that she may not be the kind of woman who enjoyed inane social niceties long before she could accept the defect of getting weak in the knees over someone so entirely unsuitable for her. She filed Draiden away in her mind under 'things I won't do again,' and 'potentially fun, but impractical.'
After a month or so had passed, the blossom began to wilt, even in its slowed time; the crystals of this display were distinctly poorer quality than those used in her food storage device. On a whim, Emeroma bought a new bloom to replace it, and another the month after. If it wasn't entirely practical, given how much time she spent away from Affamarg at the building site of the City of Lights, somehow, Emeroma didn't mind.
When "Cure or Cause" got double-sponsored by Melissa and Michelle, I figured that a sequel was owed!