Baby Steps Characters: Cymbeline, Gaia, Lysander Summary: A few tentative steps forward.
If there was one thing that Gaia Alecto Lupin-Snape liked about lesson time, it was art.
She liked learning to read and write, and she enjoyed the number games that Nanny Stella and Lysander played with her; story time was always good too, of course. But what she really enjoyed was when Nanny Stella said they were going to draw pictures, or make clay sculptures, or, best of all, paint. Gaia loved colors, all of them from the darkest black to the brightest white and everything in between. She was proud that she could name all her colors long before Etienne and Serafino could, even if it made Etienne scowl and Serafino's lower lip tremble. Not that she liked either of those things, because she loved her cousins and liked to see them happy, but colors were hers, just as animals were Lysander's and potions belonged to Cymbeline.
As she ran to get her art box when Nanny Stella told her she could, she stole a quick glance at her siblings, who were both engrossed in their own lessons. Lysander looked up and smiled at her as she walked by, and she smiled back. Her brother loved her very much; he always told her that she was his baby, and she was very glad for his hugs and kisses and cuddles, which were a lot like Daddy's in a way. Lysander even looked like Daddy, although with Mama's nose and darker eyes, just as Cymbeline looked like Mama only with Daddy's nose and eyes. Sometimes she felt a bit strange, knowing that she didn't look much like either of her parents, but Lysander told her that was because she was very special and looked like Daddy's mother, who had died a long, long time ago. Daddy had even shown her a picture once, and she wasn't sure that she looked like the lady, except for her hair and eyes. But that was okay; she was special, and she was herself, and she liked it.
Well, most of the time.
She dropped her gaze as she walked past Cymbeline, subconsciously hunching her shoulders a bit to make herself smaller so that she didn't earn a glare or a muttered comment. She'd always known her sister didn't like her, always calling her "Troll" rather than her name, and she really couldn't understand why. Lysander had tried to explain, but Gaia couldn't quite grasp why it mattered about being the only girl, or being "Papa's baby" rather than "Daddy's baby". Cymbeline didn't hate Lysander, although Lysander sometimes sighed and said that Cymbeline wasn't as close to him as she used to be. Cymbeline had more moods and worse ones than even Mama, because at least when Mama scowled, Daddy could give him the Wuff Eyes and Mama would grumble but usually cheer up. The only thing that seemed to cheer Cymbeline up was being around Etienne, and it made Gaia feel a little funny inside knowing that Cymbeline hated her.
Fetching her art box from its place on the shelf, Gaia carried it back to the table, where Nanny Stella waited with pages and pages of fresh white paper. Just the sight of it made Gaia smile, and she opened her art box, looking inside at the neatly arranged crayons and pencils and the paints in their little tray, all clean and tidy. She was as particular about her art supplies as Winslow was about his Shinies, and she pulled out her crayons and set to work on a drawing, one of Etienne and Serafino playing with Wooster. Her tongue was poked between her lips as she concentrated on getting everything perfect; maybe, if it was good enough, she'd give the picture to Serafino. He liked such things.
Cymbeline glanced up from her history book, where she was reading about the French Revolution, especially the parts about the guillotine, and she watched as the troll started to color. If she'd thought of it, she might have mentioned to Uncle Gaius that the troll was constantly drawing stupid pictures and giving them to people when he'd asked what kind of present Gaia might like, but it hadn't occurred to her. She tried to pay as little attention as possible to what the troll did, but she had noticed that.
She turned her attention back to her book and stared at the pages without really seeing them; she had thought some more about what Uncle Gaius and Uncle Regulus had said about wishing they'd grown up with their brothers and been close to them. She had to admit that while she'd wanted to be the only girl, it was hard sometimes when the boys weren't interested in doing what she wanted to do, and she supposed that meant her uncles were right when they said having a brother if you were a boy and a sister if you were a girl was different. Lysander, she thought, wasn't bad for a boy, but he did have his flaws, the main one being that he didn't appreciate potions or jewelry as much as a sensible person ought to.
Maybe, she thought, just maybe having a sister wasn't as bad as she'd thought it was. Maybe the troll wasn't completely useless and in the way. Maybe.
The problem was, she didn't know how to test her new theory without making it appear she was backing down. What if she didn't like the troll any more after they spent time together than she did now? What if the troll didn't like her? She remained lost in thought, mulling over the problem.
Gaia finished her picture and studied it critically. There was something wrong about Wooster's tails, but she couldn't decide what it was. She glanced over at her brother; Lysander would know and tell her how to fix it, but she hesitated because Cymbeline was still there and she didn't want to get yelled it. Drawing made her happy, and she didn't want Cymbeline to say something bad about her picture.
Still, the picture was wrong, and so Gaia took a deep breath and stood up, moving toward her brother, going completely around the table in the opposite direction so that Cymbeline wouldn't fuss at her for being a clumsy troll and bumping her chair. She held out the picture to Lysander with an appealing smile.
"Can't get Wooster's tails right," she said quietly, trying not to disturb her sister. "Why is it wrong?"
Lysander smiled, taking the picture and pointing to Wooster's back. "One of his tails is a bit lower down than the other, so you just have to move it and it will be fine," he said, then pulled one of her pigtails playfully. "You draw great, especially the animals. Who is this one for?"
"Serafino," she replied, relieved that Lysander had known just by looking. She smiled back at him, then kissed his cheek. "Thank you," she said, beaming. "You a'ways know!"
Cymbeline glanced sidelong at them, feeling the twist in her stomach she always felt when one of the family - her family - made over the troll; her place had been usurped, but either she made an attempt to see if the troll wasn't as useless and stupid as she thought or she kept losing ground, which she didn't like. She didn't like risking rejection, but she had an opening, and she supposed she might as well take it.
"The tails should be more plume-y," she said, trying to sound casual about it. "But other than that, it's okay."
Gaia's eyes widened, and she looked at Cymbeline, not certain that she'd had heard right. It seemed impossible that Cymbeline had said something to her that was... if not exactly nice, then it wasn't mean, either. And there wasn't even an adult around making Cymbeline do it!
Flushing, Gaia gave a small smile. "Thank you," she said, pleased that Cymbeline had noticed and said something. It wasn't much, but secretly Gaia wished for her sister to like her, as impossible as it seemed. Cymbeline was beautiful and clever and interesting, and Gaia had often wanted to be as comfortable with Cymbeline as she was with Lysander.
Cymbeline made a non-committal noise, not wanting to seem too approving, but at least the troll had been appropriately appreciative of her remark. That was a start.
Since Cymbeline hadn't said anything to hurt her, Gaia looked at Lysander, who smiled back at her sister. Almost shaking in her shoes, Gaia took a breath, deciding to take a chance. "I draw you, Cymbeline? I... like your eyes. They pretty color, like Daddy's."
Cymbeline glanced up, startled by the offer and pleased by the compliment despite herself. Pride warred with vanity for a moment, but vanity won out; she liked her eyes too, because they were different.
"Okay," she said, trying not to sound too pleased or eager. "You can draw me."
"Really?" Gaia beamed, unable to believe that her sister had agreed. She hesitated, then tried to look as appealing as Daddy did when he looked at Mama. "Now?"
"Oh, all right," Cymbeline grumbled as she closed her book and put it aside, unable to hold out against the wide-eyed, appealing look. She scooted her chair around to face the troll. "Go ahead."
"Okay!" Excited, Gaia ran back to her table, red pigtails flying behind her, grabbing up a piece of paper and her crayons before running back to where her siblings sat. Chuckling, Lysander stood up and moved his books out of the way so she could sit down, which she did, before looking at Cymbeline with her head tilted to one side. "You have Daddy's nose, too," she said, nodding firmly, before picking up her black crayon and setting to work.
Concentrating hard, Gaia worked diligently. She wanted to make this the best drawing she'd ever done. If she did, maybe Cymbeline would like it.
Cymbeline folded her hands neatly in her lap, surreptitiously striking a pose, and she tilted her chin up proudly. "Yes, I do. I have Daddy's nose and eyes. No one else has Daddy's eyes," she said proudly.
"You're lucky," Gaia said, her tone wistful. She picked up both her brown and her yellow crayons, then painstakingly started to blend the two into an approximation of the golden amber of Cymbeline's - and Daddy's - eyes. She wanted to make it perfect, and so she almost held her breath, afraid of messing it up and making Cymbeline angry. Somehow she felt this was a special chance, and she didn't want to make a mistake.
Finally she was done, and she bit her lip as she looked at the picture. It was the best one she had ever done, and she thought it looked like Cymbeline, the queenly tilt of her head and the dark hair pulled back from her face, her eyes, so like Daddy's, full of a haughtiness that was all Mama. Not that Gaia had those words for the way it looked; she simply knew that it looked right to her... she just hoped it looked right to Cymbeline.
Picking up the picture, she held it out to her sister, her expression pensive. "For you," she said, telling herself that if Cymbeline ripped it up or threw it down, she would NOT cry like a baby.
Cymbeline took the drawing and scrutinized it closely, but she had to admit, it was pretty good for a little kid's drawing, and she grudgingly nodded her approval. Manners ingrained since birth surfaced, and she couldn't not say, "Thanks."
"You welcome!" Gaia almost couldn't believe that Cymbeline had accepted her drawing, and she clasped her hands together under her chin, her eyes shining. "I'm glad you like it!"
The troll's enthusiasm was surprising, and Cymbeline wasn't sure how to react, and so she took refuge in the familiar, giving a "hmph!" that was eeriely reminiscent of Papa. But she rolled up the drawing and put it beside her book rather than tossing it aside or giving it back.
Gaia was familiar enough with Snapean expressions to understand what Cymbeline's sound meant, and her smile never faltered. Somehow, in a way she couldn't understand, it seemed that Cymbeline had softened toward her, at least for a moment. She felt happy, and she hoped it wouldn't stop. Maybe her sister could accept her, at least a little bit. If nothing else, it would be nice not to be called a troll all the time.
Lysander was also adept at reading his older sister, and he somehow felt that a tiny, fragile bridge was being built. He didn't know what had gotten into Cymbeline or why she was being so tolerant, but he wasn't going to question it. More than anything, he'd love to see his sisters get along with each other, and he'd do what he could to facilitate that. And for now, he thought that perhaps distracting Gaia so that she didn't overstay her welcome would be the best thing he could do.
"That was great, poppet," he told Gaia, then pointed to her crayons. "Come on, let's get your things put away. It's almost lunch time, and I'm starving. Maybe Lurch will have bangers and mash for us. Would you like that?"
"Yes!" Gaia replied, nodding vigorously. "I'm hungry, too!" She smiled shyly at Cymbeline. "Are you hungry, Cymbeline?"
"I suppose so," Cymbeline replied with the air of one conferring a great favor as she gathered up her things, including the drawing, and stood up. "I'm going to put my stuff in my room first."
Wide-eyed, Gaia nodded, unable to believe her good fortune in Cymbeline being so nice to her. "Okay," she said, nodding and smiling. Cymbeline, as the eldest, had her very own room, while Gaia and Lysander still shared the nursery. Not that Gaia minded, and she didn't think Lysander did, either, but there was something very special about having a room all to yourself. After all, even Mama and Daddy shared a room.
Turning her attention back to her crayons, Gaia packed them away with great deliberation. She wanted to show Cymbeline that she could be grown up, too, not just a stupid baby. Maybe then Cymbeline would be nice to her all the time. After all, you couldn't be Mama's baby or Daddy's baby if you weren't a baby at all, could you?