From the day he was born, flowers have been a part of Ian's life. A photo proudly displayed on the mantle of his grandparents' fireplace shows his grandfather holding him; tiny and swathed securely in a bundle of blankets, with a daffodil cheerily tucked into his bonnet. A matching daffodil rests in the lapel of his grandfather's coat, and the smile on his face is the happiest Ian will ever see in his life.
Ian can't remember a single day of his childhood that wasn't spent in his grandparents' home. Not that he didn't spend time with his parents, but his grandparents' house – where he would visit every day, since before he could remember – was something special. It was old, a house passed down for generations. The carefully hand-carved bannisters lining the stairways were crafted by his grandmother's grandfather; the study (one of Ian's favourite places. It smelled like leather and ink and secrets) was filled with books collected from the world, and memoirs from their bloodline dating back hundreds of years. Every item in that house had a story, and even better was that every story was preserved. Before Ian learned to read his grandparents would share with him the tale behind each object – even the scratches in the walls, the peculiar motif above the doorway; by the time he was three, Ian knew more about their family's house than most people would learn in a lifetime.
In the mornings his mother would bring him by. She'd kiss him on both cheeks, smooth his hair, and tell him to behave with a smile. She'd chat briefly with his grandmother (her mother), call out a laughing greeting to his grandfather (her father) hidden somewhere in the house, and would always spare a smack for Ian's bottom if he (standing there, fidgeting) tried to escape the boring conversation before she was done.
As soon as she would leave he would be off, darting around his grandmother's legs to scamper to the garden. His grandfather would always be there by the time Ian made it, his small legs no match for the long strides the elderly man could take. (As a child, Ian was convinced there were hidden passages in the old house that his grandfather would use to beat him anywhere. As an adult, Ian's still half-sure of it.) He would be waiting patiently, a teasing smile on his lips, and would always hold out his hand for Ian to grasp.
Every day, his grandfather would call out the same words. “Bella! Our Fiorellino has returned safely to his garden!” And every day, his grandmother would reply the same-- “Fiorellino had best leave his dirt where it lays!”
His grandfather would wink, and Ian would grin before tugging him down the stairs with all the excitement a young child can possess. Mornings were for weeding and pruning and watering and chattering. They were for discovering new things - “Nonnino! A nest, a nest! Do you know what bird it will be?!” - and for gazing with awe at the natural beauty of the world. Flowers of every colour grew in his grandfather's garden, and every day with a bright smile on his face Ian would fire question after question. What was this one called, what did it mean? Why was it growing away from the others? Why were weeds bad? Why did the hydrangeas grow in different colours depending on where they were? Could Nonno really control how things grew by changing the soil?
Every season brought new questions (why did they want the bees to come around? Why shouldn't they prune these ones during autumn? Why were certain types of bugs okay, but others weren't?), and every question was always kindly answered. By morning tea time Ian would be scruffy and dirty without even a half-hearted attempt to remain clean, and his grandfather (less scruffy, but just as dirty) would cajole him away from his favourite flower of the day for Ian's absolute favourite activity: picking the flowers to make a bouquet.
With the knowledge he'd gleaned of the flowers that day, Ian would dart around the garden to carefully select the ones for his bouquet. At the same time his grandfather would follow suit, laughing to himself at his grandson's excitement and helping him cut the flowers he'd chosen. Ian's bouquets were always small; only a half-dozen or so flowers, and the meaning always simple. Quite often his flowers clashed in terms of colour or size and he would frown at the sad presentation, especially when compared to the bouquet his grandfather would be creating at the same time.
But, his grandfather would explain, the meaning of Ian's choices was always beautiful. Love, respect, kindness and sincerity; the things that every person should pass to another. His grandfather would ruffle his hair, smile kindly, and show him – taking Ian's small hands in his, and using them to adjust the flowers – the cleanest way to present them together. Never would he allow Ian to discard a choice he'd made, or to reselect a flower. Each one had been chosen with the pure intentions of Ian's heart, and each of them was a display of his soul. To discard or reselect something that was such an honest part of himself would be a betrayal.
And so Ian's bouquet, haphazard but pure, would be held carefully in his arms the same way his grandfather would hold his own. Together they would carefully ascend the steps to the house, away from their garden, just in time for Ian's grandmother to call them in for tea.
Always, Ian would enter first. His shoes would come off at the door lest they trail mud over the clean floor, and every day his dirtied face and clothes would be met with an exasperated “Oh my! Tesoro, Fiorellino has brought half his garden inside!”
His bright dimpled smile, coupled with the flowers held up placatingly, would receive a sigh and a shake of the head before his grandmother (smiling despite herself) would whisk him away to scrub and change him. During the wash Ian would tell her happily what each of the flowers he'd chosen meant, and would explain to her the proper way to make each of them grow. His serious instructions were always accepted with fond amusement, but never did his grandmother deter him or tell him that – obviously, having lived with his grandfather for so long – she already knew everything he was telling her.
He would be dried, would insist with stubborn determination that he was old enough to put his own clothes on, Nonnina, he was three! --Would then subsequently struggle with the buttons of his shirt, and grudgingly accept her help in the lacing of his (freshly cleaned) shoes.
If he tried to reach for his bouquet before his grandmother was finished straightening his clothes, his hand would receive a smack and a quick admonishment would fire from her lips. It was only when she was finished, and Ian was once again neatly groomed that she would allow him to handle the flowers. Ian, ever the well-behaved grandson, would help her to stand from the bent position she would have taken to adjust his clothes. Quite often he would then take her hand in one of his own, smiling up at her before tugging her through the house to return to the kitchen.
At this point, once a week his grandfather would then present his bouquet to his wife. (Other times, his bouquets would be gifted to others who lived within their community; the same thing he would always encourage Ian to do.) Loving words would be exchanged, Ian's grandfather would receive the same admonishment Ian himself had received and the same smack to the hand, before Ian's grandmother would take the bouquet and press a kiss to her husband's cheek. Quite often they would linger close together, Ian would see the small loving smiles on their lips, and then his grandmother would bustle away to fetch a vase while firmly instructing his grandfather to wash up.
It's shortly before his fourth birthday that the routine starts to wane. His grandfather starts moving slower, and more and more frequently he chooses to rest on the bench in the garden to instruct Ian from afar. Pruning takes much longer with just one of them, and is made harder by the fact that the tools don't properly fit in Ian's small hands. It's only a week before a gardener is hired, and for the first time in his short life Ian is scared. For once, nobody answers him when he asks what's happening. No explanation is given when he can't visit his grandparents one day, and nobody tells him why the smiles have been slowly slipping from his grandmother's face.
It's on Ian's birthday, the same day as his grandfather's own, that he enters the garden with his grandfather for what he fears is the last time. As always his hand is held, and his grandfather calls out; “Bella! Our Fiorellino has returned safely to his garden!”
It takes longer than usual for the reply to come, and Ian's hand grasps tightly at his grandfather's when he hears the obvious strain in his grandmother's voice. His grandfather smiles kindly at him, squeezes his hand in return, and then slowly, gently, tugs him down the stairs.
His grandfather's voice is calm and there's a smile in his voice as he talks Ian through the day's flowers. There's a theme, Ian notices quickly. Peace, gentleness, fondness and memories. Kindness and love, rebirth and hope, and finally—farewell.
When it comes time to make their bouquets, Ian hesitates. He stares at his grandfather for a long time, and his gaze is met evenly. The old man makes no move to stand, but eventually he smiles. He gestures to the flowers with a nod, holds the floral shears to him, and it's all the encouragement Ian needs to dart about the garden.
He takes longer than usual to make this bouquet. Not only does he want his meaning to be clear, he wants it to look good. He wants to show his grandfather everything he's learned, and that includes presentation.
It's difficult to do. Half of the things he wants to include aren't in bloom, or are too young to be cut. He makes due with what he can, lingering at every option before making his choices. The end result is as pure and honest as every other bouquet he's ever made, and – to his frustration – just as haphazard. It takes him a long time to arrange them into some semblance of beauty, and though he sorely wants to Ian doesn't discard a single one of his choices.
When he returns to his grandfather, he's not surprised to see him carefully turning a flower between his fingers. His grandfather is equally unsurprised when Ian, his young jaw stubbornly set, holds the bouquet to him. The meaning of his selection is clear immediately; thank yous and I love yous, respect, admiration, and strength. There's a small, sad smile when Ian's grandfather accepts the bouquet, and after he's settled it to rest carefully on his lap, he holds his single flower to Ian. It's a sweet pea, and without a word he tucks it into the lapel of Ian's shirt.
It's then that Ian's lips begin to waver, and his eyes begin to well. He still doesn't know what's happening, nobody has explained to him, but he knows. The sweet pea, goodbye - he's not going to be able to see his grandfather again.
He's crawled into his grandfather's lap before he knows it, crushing the bouquet he'd made and sobbing. He's scared, he doesn't want his grandfather to go. It hurts to imagine how lonely he'll be without him, how the time Ian always looks forward to spending with him won't happen again. What will Ian do each day, now? Tending to the plants with the gardener won't be the same as tending them with his grandfather. Who will teach Ian the beauty in every sprout, the necessity of every weed? Who will make bouquets with him, who will walk with him to their lonely neighbours to deliver their heartfelt gifts? Who will remind him that no matter what he chooses, it's right so long as it's a choice that comes from his heart?
His grandfather holds him close, rocking him as comfortingly as he can despite the stiffness of his joints. Ian cries until he feels sick, hiccuping against his grandfather's now sodden shirt. His arms are wrapped around his grandfather's neck, clinging to him in a silent plea to not go; to not leave him.
By the time he's finished crying Ian feels no better. Instead of tears there's now a open hole of pain in his heart, and with childish refusal he refuses to release his grandfather. They sit like that for some time more, before his grandfather – with a great heave of effort – slowly and clumsily stands. Ian's flowers fall to the ground in favour of holding his grandson securely, and carefully Ian's feels his grandfather making his way to the stairs. Guilt gnaws at Ian (he can feel the effort in each step, and the wavering of his grandfather's body) but just causes him to tighten his grip and bury his face further into his grandfather's chest.
They're met at the top of the steps by his grandmother, whose concern Ian can feel even without looking. She admonishes his grandfather quickly, in a low tone - “What did you tell him?” - before reaching out and prying him away.
Ian refuses to go at first, crying out a refusal and clinging tighter. His grandfather utters soothing words, “Fiorellino, there is still some time before I go. I will not leave without telling you” and eventually, Ian allows his grandmother to pull him away into her arms. His grandfather leans almost immediately against the railing behind him, clearly exhausted, and though he feels bad Ian wants nothing more to be in his grandfather's arms again.
His grandmother holds him close, and her warm arms around him offer the comfort they always will. She exchanges more quiet words with her husband as Ian tiredly lays his head against her shoulder, and it's a mark of how strong a woman she is that she's able to convince Ian's grandfather to lean against her as they all make their way back inside.
The rest of their birthday passes in a blur. Ian remembers family passing through; aunts and uncles and cousins and step-cousins, all of them with names he'd never bothered learning. Unlike his grandparents, these people weren't a constant part of his life. He saw them once, maybe twice a year; if it weren't for his birthday being on the same day as his grandfather's, it would probably be a lot less than that.
He doesn't care for the celebrations, doesn't even bother playing nice with the other children. Instead he holes himself up in the study all night, in the company of old books he can't read and the overwhelming shadow of fear. He falls asleep there, curled against the corner of the bookcases, and dreams of a world where he never has to say goodbye.
The next few months pass with unmistakable depression and uncertainty. Still nobody has told Ian what's going on, and he's given up trying to find out. Every visit to his grandparents' is laced with sorrow, and as the time passes the only flowers to be found inside the house are the dried remains of his grandfather's previous bouquets. Ian stops wandering into the garden on the same day his grandfather is no longer able to leave his bed. Instead, he takes to bringing books from the study to his grandparents' room, where he sits on the bed with his grandfather and practices his reading skills. His grandfather is just as knowledgeable in this as he is with plants, and with his grandfather's assistance Ian learns in leaps and bounds.
It's one night, when Ian's laying in his bed unable to sleep, that he hears the phone in his parents' room ring. He hears his father answer, hears the hushed conversation, and hears the subsequent rustling and rummaging in their room. His mother comes to get him, and Ian knows without being told that it's time. His grandfather is leaving him.
He doesn't cry when he's bundled up into the car, or during the trip to his grandparents' house. He doesn't cry when he walks into the house, or when he notes that for the first time, his grandmother isn't there to greet him at the door. He feels... blank, empty, as his small feet carry him slowly to his grandparents' room.
It's horribly impolite of him to not greet his grandmother when he enters the room, but he's not scolded when he ignores her entirely to climb onto the bed she shares with his grandfather. There's no admonishment for dragging his shoes on the linen when he crawls across the bedspread, to curl in his grandfather's tired and waiting arms. His grandfather's eyes open momentarily, exhaustion clear, and still Ian doesn't cry as he presses a kiss to each of his grandfather's cheeks.
Ian is quiet as his parents and grandmother converse. He doesn't move from his place pressed against the side of his grandfather's chest as his father says his goodbye, or as his mother presses against her father in a final hug. There are tears from the adults in the room, and yet – somehow – Ian's eyes are still dry. He's still blank, uncomprehending while understanding. His grandfather has wilted like any flower, and his time has passed. It's a part of the beauty of nature, Ian understands. He still doesn't want to say goodbye.
It's with a weak and weary sigh of breath that Ian feels his grandfather shift, and it feels like he's watching from someone else's body as his grandfather shakily grasps a sweet pea left on the bed by his hand. He presses it into Ian's own hand, and Ian knows that this time, it's for real.
The tears start falling without him knowing it, and he doesn't make a sound. He doesn't move when his grandfather makes a small gesture, and then suddenly his grandmother is lifting Ian's hand – the one now clutching the sweet pea – to gently wrap a bracelet twice around his wrist. Black leather cord and silver metal; it's the same bracelet Ian's seen his grandfather wearing every day of his life.
The rest of the night is a complete blank to Ian. At some point he's carefully pried away from his no longer responsive grandfather, and he doesn't struggle against it. He's carried downstairs by his father, into the living room where a fire is crackling warmly in the fireplace. Above it sits the photo of Ian on his birth day, being held by his grandfather – supposedly the greatest gift the old man ever received.
The days pass, and nothing changes. Ian is still caught in his blank state, and it seems everyone else is too much the same to notice. Each morning he's dressed in black, the same as his parents and grandmother, and each day is spent staring wordlessly as people come and go through his grandparents' house to speak with his grandmother. They all bring food, for some reason, and some of them bring flowers. Ian sees the meaning in their bouquets, haphazard mixes of intentions, and he can't help but wonder if they even know what they're saying.
It's on the third day of it that Ian begins to feel angry. Flowers are beginning to fill his grandparents' house, and unlike the well-thought bouquets his grandfather would make and his grandmother would appreciate, it's becoming very clear even to his young mind that nobody is paying heed to their messages. It's an insult, all these perfectly-shaped flowers. None of them hold the heart that they should, none of them are honest. Their presentation is beautiful and their meaning is none.
Instead of greeting the next visitor like he should, Ian storms from the room with fury. These people had all known his grandfather, had known how important flowers were to him. Even Ian, his greatest treasure, had been Fiorellino - his little flower.
Ian takes no heed of the dirt quickly gathering on his shoes and clothes as he whisks through the garden, determination, sorrow and stomach-turning fury guiding him. His jaw is set painfully as he clutches the too-big shears in his small hands, and he barely even sees the flowers he cuts to form his bouquet. His grandfather's words echo in his ears; this flower for love, this one for sadness, this one for respect and this one for remembrance. This colour for life, this one for loss, and this one...
Ian stares at the sweet pea he'd cut without meaning to, resting against the ground. He doesn't want to use it, he didn't even want to cut it--but to not use it, to discard it...
...He picks the sweet pea up, feels his heart wrench as he adds it to his selection. This one for goodbye.
He leaves it at that, then, and though he wants to discard the shears carelessly he knows his grandfather would disapprove of mistreating his tools. They're placed back carefully, and with rage and sorrow still inspiring him Ian arranges his bouquet.
It's five times as big as anything he's ever made, and Ian's stomach twists with the knowledge that there's no way to present the mess he's chosen neatly. He doesn't even really try before he ties the stems together, creating what is officially the worst presentation he's ever created.
The bouquet is almost too big for him to carry but Ian does it anyway, and as he exits the garden he hears his grandmother calling for him. He leaves his shoes at the door, as always, and as he steps through into the house he's greeted by her concerned face.
Her mouth opens, whether to scold or soothe Ian will never know because his own words are slipping out before he's thought about them. Usually muttering would be met with an encouragement to speak up, but this time his words - “Nonna, I brought half of Nonno's garden inside for you.” - end with her arms wrapped around him in a crushing hug, and then somehow the blank feeling that had been coating him shatters and Ian is left sobbing with his pain into his grandmother's arms.
With the blank state shattered, each day passes with more loneliness and sorrow than Ian's young mind had ever imagined. The visitors stop bringing flowers, and Ian's messy bouquet is the only one that sits on display inside the house. All of the other bouquets are relocated to the garden, where their unintentional insult sits away from the view of Ian and his grandmother both. When it comes time for the funeral, Ian's choices of flowers are the ones that comprise all the arrangement. He's stunned to see his random, emotional choices put together so beautifully; the designer in charge must have been aghast to have been given his ill-thought selection, but whoever it was had arranged them in a way he never would have dreamt possible.
He's told, after the funeral, that he can discard the mourning colour – black – when he chooses to. Almost a full year passes before he changes his black shirts for grey, and when the passage of time dulls his pain to a mere memory, he returns to the usual selection for a child his age. He can see the relief in his parent's faces when he dresses himself in an orange tee, and it's mirrored on his grandmother's face when he visits her later that day. She's still wearing black, and for the first time since his emotional break, Ian ventures into the garden. He returns with a bunch of daffodils, and without a word of admonishment his grandmother helps him place them into a vase on the centre table. They're the first flowers that have entered the house since the funeral, and representing rebirth while also being their birthday flower, Ian thinks they're a good choice.
Ian grows, and with every year that passes his grandmother seems to shrink. By the time he's eight he's practically living with her, spending most nights at her house and providing her with the company she would otherwise miss. He tends to the garden every day, his hands now able to hold the tools with only some difficulty, and it's not long before he's continuing the tradition of gifting the world with beautiful bouquets. Though his presentation is still weak Ian's meaning is genuine, and the heartfelt appreciation he receives in exchange for each gift cannot be faked. It makes each day brighter, and each bouquet he brings inside the house – each part of her husband's garden that is shared – makes his grandmother smile warmly.
When he's twelve, he's prepared for the signs of her passing. Each day he brings a fresh bouquet to her room, and when it comes time he makes the call to his parents, bringing them to his grandmother's side. The blank state falls across him again as his grandmother, a smile on her lips, presses her engagement ring into his hand. “You will give this to someone precious, Fiorellino. And you will wear its pair.” Her demand is quiet yet certain, and Ian nods in agreement as he closes his hand around the ring. Silver, he knows, with diamond and onyx. Unconventional, and his heart tugs because he knows that now – after tonight – he'll never know the story behind his grandparents' decision to have those rings.
He kisses his grandmother's cheeks, once on each side, before stepping back and allowing his mother to swoop in. He exchanges a look with his father, is clasped on the shoulder and pulled into a hug, before he busies himself with tending to the flowers in the room. There's not a single surface that isn't covered in flora, and even the floor is carpeted with vases. Ian's been smart enough to leave a clear path to the bed from the door, but even the bed is covered with beautiful sweet peas.
“Oh my, Tesoro. Fiorellino has brought half his garden inside...” His grandmother's quiet whisper is loud enough to Ian to turn from the flowers, and it's neither a blessing nor a curse for him to see the smile on her lips as she passes away.
The visitors, the mourning clothes – they're all the same. Flowers are outright banned from the onset, and once again it's Ian's selection that form the arrangements at the funeral. This time he's old enough to understand the debates over the will, the dissatisfaction from people he barely recognises that once again everything is being left in his name. Twelve years old and there's already more under his ownership than most of them will ever have, and Ian would gladly get rid of it all if it meant just a few more days with his grandparents.
He doesn't quite grow out of the mourning clothes, this time. Though his shirts eventually change, Ian doesn't discard the formal black pants or the black dress shoes. Aside from being markers of the grief etched into his heart, his grandmother had always been filled with pride when he dressed well. Though he wears clothes a bit more formal than most others his age, he knows that his grandmother – wherever she is – will be pleased.
It's not until he's much older and completing his degree in archaeology that Ian breaks from the blank state that had covered him. Too intelligent for his own good and having learned so much at a young age, Ian excelled in all academics – it was no surprise when he was accepted into his university of choice early, and it's equally unsurprising when his quick wit, smooth talking and lack of caring get him into trouble more times than either of his parents can be bothered to count.
It's an older man (though that's also not surprising, considering how everyone is older than Ian's seventeen years) who breaks him out of it. Quiet and serious in contrast to Ian's own self, Shiro is exactly the type of person Ian wouldn't have thought himself capable of getting along with. Indeed, their first few meetings almost end in fights – Shiro's dry comments being mistaken entirely for insults, and Ian's flippant responses being regarded as laziness – and it's only due to the influence of alcohol that they manage to get along. A few fingers of whiskey makes Shiro's smile more obvious, and the glitter of amusement in his eyes stand out more. And after Ian's noticed it the first time, he can't stop – it seems Shiro's always making fun of something, or someone, and the serious atmosphere he generates just does a damn good job of disguising his humour.
After that night, the two of them become unlikely friends. The trouble they cause is immense, and somehow Ian knows the blank feeling that has covered him for a good portion of his life is fading. With Shiro his worn heart is light again; his laughter is accompanied by genuine joy, and the flowers in the world hold meaning again. Shiro's degree is completed before Ian's but he lingers, staying nearby the university for the year and a half more it takes Ian to finish – and then they're off, exploring the world together.
Ian teaches Shiro what he knows about the flora they encounter on their travels. More than a few times his knowledge actively saves their lives, when they've injured themselves with no antiseptic or when they've had to abandon their ration packs and needed to survive on whatever was growing. In return, Shiro reminds Ian of love; the warm comfort of an embrace, and the sheepish acceptance of a concerned reprimand. He teaches Ian the beauty of romance, shows him the pleasure of the human body, and reawakens the knowledge that no matter what choice Ian makes – as long as it comes from his heart, it's right.
The day Shiro is murdered, the blank state crashes onto Ian and leaves nothing but the same burning rage that he felt at only four years old. No time for sweet peas, no time for bouquets – no time to share with Shiro what he really means. Instead there's fire, darkness, piercing screams and an all-encompassing fury and ravenous thirst for revenge burying his fierce longing for the return of all he's lost. The black title he wins is all too fitting, and Ian knows as Parasagun's roaring spirit envelopes him that this time, he won't be shedding his mourning clothes.