Dandelion Crowns and Paper Butterflies

The Last One

Flore woke up that afternoon, during lunch time. She was alone, because everyone was having lunch. When Winston, Tim and Josiah came into her room and saw that she was awake, wide smiles spread over their faces.

Winston ran towards her and hugged her. Even though the memory was still lying fresh in her mind, Flore hugged him back; she was sure that he had changed. He would never hurt her, or try to kill someone.

Josiah and Tim looked happy, too, but there was something else what she couldn't quite put her finger on.

But she would find out that evening.

"Hey, Tim. Mind if I sit here?"

Flore gestures at the empty spot next to the tall boy. He smiles and moves to give her some more space.

"No, of course not," he friendly replies. "Sit down."

Flore flops down on the grass. The sunlight is already starting to grow dim; it'll be dark soon. Most Gladers have already gone to sleep, but Flore couldn't find the peace to fall asleep yet, and apparently Tim couldn't either.

"What a day, hm?" he asks her.

Flore rolls her eyes. "Yeah." Then she thinks of something else. "What was going on with you and Josiah? You never left each other's side."

Tim blushes. "I've promised that I won't tell anyone."

"Aww, please?" Flore insists, pouting. "Aren't I your best female friend?"

"I only have one," the boy points out, but then he grins. "Okay. I'll tell you. But you have to swear that you won't tell anyone."

"Tim, I swear to God..."

"Okay, fair enough."

Flore stares at him with open mouth, surprised at his reaction to her threatening remark.

Tim smiles before he says: "Josiah and I are a couple."

Flore happily gasps at that.

"I knew something was going on between you two!" she shouts out. "Tim, I'm so happy for you!"

"Shh, shh," Tim whispers, half laughing. "You'll wake the whole Glade up."

"I don't care!" Flore replies. "Oh my God, Tim! Congratulations!"

"Thanks," Tim says, sounding a little surprised; he probably didn't expect her to just accept it and be happy for him.

"Who asked it?" she asks excitedly. She knows that she must sound like an idiot by now, but she doesn't give a shuck.

Tim smiles sheepishly. "I asked him."

"What happened?"

"He asked me for how long I had been in love with him, and I said 'almost two years', and then he told me that he was in love with me, too, and then I said that I didn't expect that, and then we hugged..."

Tim's voice trails off and he sighs. "What are the others going to think of this?"

Flore frowns, suddenly more serious.

"I don't know," she admits. "Some of them will accept it, some won't. But you've already got one Glader by your side, and I'll help you whenever I can."

"Thanks," Tim replies, sounding thankful, and sleepy.

"I think we'd better go to sleep," Flore says, standing up.

Tim yawns, following her lead. "Yeah. Goodnight, Flore."

"Goodnight," Flore replies.

But as they walk away, neither of them notices Victor, the boy hiding behind the trees, who has heard everything, and who is going to tell everyone about it.

"Flore. Flore, listen to me."

Flore opens her eyes, looking right in the face of a woman – Miss Paige. She is sitting alone, this time, behind a desk.

Florilene is nowhere to be seen, and Flore wonders how this works. It isn't a memory, at least. That can't be.

When she opens her mouth, she realizes that she is talking, but she doesn't control her body herself. It's like she is trapped behind someone's eyes; her own, younger eyes, she realizes.

"I'm listening, Miss Paige."

Her voice sounds like it sounds now, only a little higher.

Miss Paige nods.

"I am going to give you your last mission, now," she says.

Finally, Flore thinks. The last one.

But then she thinks of what Miss Paige said in the other dreams.

"You have to be good with a knife to survive all missions."

"No enemies. They need to trust you, that will make your last mission a better Variable."

"You have to go through the Changing to get an important memory back, which will help you understand the next mission."

It has something to do with Winston, she knows that, and the feeling she is having about it isn't good.

The corner of Miss Paige's mouth curls up, and Flore feels like she isn't going to like what she is going to say.

"For your fourth and final mission," the woman says, horribly slowly, "you have to kill the Keeper of the Slicers."

She feels a shock go through her body.

"Kill the Keeper of the Slicers."

I have to kill him.

I have to kill Winston.

"No!" her younger version protests. "I can't just kill him! That isn't right!"

"I was not done talking yet," Miss Paige says, annoyingly patiently.

Flore wants to grab that stupid chignon and yank it off her head.

"I was going to say that, if you are in some way unable to fulfil this mission, you have to go sit in the Box at sunrise."

Flore feels that she nods, but she doesn't do it herself.

She sees that Miss Paige stands up, and though she wants to hit her in the face – with a chair or something – the dream starts to fade, and darkness surrounds her.

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