Clockwork Rosebush [III]

"You okay now?" Maria asked, pouring tea.

"Mm." Maer appeared to be staring intently at his teacup, but his unfocused eyes told otherwise.

"Did the landlord come round, by any chance?" The landlord was one of only a few people whose mere presence would put Maer in that sort of mood.

"Gatekeeper."

"... Well, at least that explains where the crow went. That bastard still owes me money."

Gatekeeper was somewhat of a mystery. Rumour told that he was a librarian, but the fact that Maer could see him made that somewhat questionable. Maer could only see monsters.

Mystery or not, Gatekeeper was unpleasant. He seemed to have made a hobby of mocking the two of them, despite Maria's threats that she would refuse to deal with him if he continued, and his visits invariably ended up Maer like he had been earlier.

And of course, he rarely paid.

"I really think I'll stop letting him in. There's no advantage to it."

"You can't stop him. He travels through the library."

Maria made a 'tch' noise and slid down in her chair.

"He puts you in a bad mood, and he owes more money than I care to think about to this shop. I'm sure there must be something we can do."

Maria stayed slumped down and sipped her tea thoughtfully.

"Do you remember when we met?" Kerimaer asked quietly. His searching fingers found the teacup and closed around it, making sure he'd wasn't going to drop it before picking it up.

Maria smiled. "Of course I do. I'd be hard pushed to forget. You know no one ever asked me to dance before? Well, no one who could actually dance themselves, that is."

For the first time in several hours, Maer cracked a weak grin. "You're... You were, very pretty. Of that I'm sure."

"And you were a very good dancer. Probably still are, if you tried."

Maer had to spend several seconds trying not to choke or spit tea everywhere from laughing.

"I'm not sure you have enough plasters for that," he said finally, after wiping tea from his face with the back of his hand.

"I'd buy a hundred. I'd buy all the plasters in the city for you."

"But then there would be no money left for food."

"I'd take the food money out first. I wouldn't forget something like that."

"You did. When we first started living here. You forgot all the time."

"That was a while ago. I haven't forgotten in ages. What brought this all on, anyway?"

"The tea."

"What about it?"

"It's Earl Grey."

Maria paused a moment, before bursting out laughing.

The End

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