The time we had

by Cockatrice

A nature spirit enters the life of two lonely men, providing company and emotional support.

Added: Dec 2021 5,179 words 897 views No votes yet

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December 21st, present

“Merry Christmas, do you still need a tree?” The man who was standing in front of Vesa’s door had a full beard and even through the jacket Vesa could see the muscles in his arms and shoulders.

The man seemed to sense Vesa’s confusion. “I’m sorry, I’m Nash. I give out trees to people still in need of one for Christmas.” He gestured to the tree he was holding with his other hand. Vesa noticed that despite Nash being friendly and his voice warm, he wasn’t smiling.

Behind Nash, Vesa could see the guy’s truck, with multiple trees stacked on the back. “I mean, I don’t need one.”

“Don’t worry. It’s free.” Nash peeked into the hall. “Do you live alone?”

It was a valid question. Vesa was living in a house near the outer parts of the city. There was no way for someone in his twenties, like Vesa, to afford such a place all by himself. “No, but my housemates all spend Christmas with family.”

“And you don’t?”

Vesa shifted his weight to the other foot. “Family’s in Finland and this year things just didn’t work out.”

“All the more reason you take the tree then.” Nash held the tree in front of him, but at an angle so that the two could still see each other. “He will keep you company.”

Company? ‘He’? Vesa would rather have Nash keep him company. He quickly dispelled that thought though. The two barely knew each other. But what was a tree good for? Nevertheless, accepting the tree seemed like the polite thing to do. “Thanks…”

“Be good to him.” Nash flashed a smile before turning around, the first in their entire encounter. But it wasn’t a happy smile, it looked more like a farewell to an old friend.

Vesa watched Nash enter his truck and continue down the road. Then he looked at the tree in his hands. “Guess I’ll set you up then.”


March, last year

There was a swift breeze that made Nash grab his collar. It wasn’t cold anymore, all the snow had already melted, but sometimes the wind was still making things uncomfortable.

Nash made his way through the forest. Equipped with an axe in his hand and a basket on his back, he was out here to collect firewood to bring back home.

He lived outside of the city in a timber house, somewhere in the middle of nowhere next to a forest. It was tranquil out here, but he was not far from the highway, allowing him to make his way into the city within half an hour with his truck.

He bought the house with his husband four years ago. They wanted to settle somewhere nice and quiet and the place was perfect, and affordable. They had a much bigger house to themselves than they could ever get in the outskirts of the city. Life was good.

But all good things come to an end.

The news came suddenly. Nash’s husband was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. There was nothing that could have been done. Within months of purchasing and furnishing the house, the dream of an idyllic life came crashing down.

Nash’s thoughts were briefly interrupted when he found a fallen branch. It must have broken off during winter. It had dried out in the cold weather, perfect for firewood. He put down the basket and went to chop the branch with his axe.

It has been nearly three years now and there hadn’t been a single day where he didn’t think of his late husband. Although the tears have long since run dry, the clump in his throat always returned.

Nash guessed what they said was true: Time does heal all wounds – but he found it also leaves scars.

As he was chopping the fallen branch down into portable chunks, he noticed something strange in the corner of his eyes. When he looked, he saw a man, butt-naked, standing in the middle of the forest some distance away, looking at him.

It took a second for Nash to react. “Are you okay?”

The man looked slightly unsure of himself, his body language showing that he was freezing. “Um, a bit cold.”

Nash made his way over, got out of his jacket and draped it around the man’s shoulders. “What happened?”

The man took a sheepish look to the side. “That’s a long story.”

The man did not seem threatening at all, and neither did he seem confused. Nash decided to take him back home and figure out whether to call the police to take it from there.

But first he needed to get him someplace warm. Who knows for how long he had wandered out here in the cold, naked. “Let’s get you warmed up. My house is not far from here. I’m Nash by the way.”

The man smiled at Nash and only now did he see the man’s wonderful green eyes. It wasn’t a regular green, it was almost glowing, as if staring into a canopy of leaves backlit by the morning sun. “I’m Florian.”


December 22nd, present

It was late in the morning when Vesa woke up. His housemates were out and he was already on vacation, even though it’s still a few days until Christmas Eve. After a visit to the bathroom, he made his way to the kitchen area in the living room to make himself some breakfast.

He froze when he entered the room. There was a man standing next to the TV, exactly at the spot where he set up the Christmas tree yesterday, completely naked.

While Vesa was too stunned to reply, the man waved at him and smiled. “Hi, I’m Florian.”

“How did you get in here?” Vesa also considered asking what he did to the tree, but he figured that wasn’t as important right now.

“I, um, I’m the tree,” Florian clarified.

“…What?”

“The tree you got yesterday? From Nash? That’s me.” Florian cocked his head. “Kinda.”

Vesa slowly approached the couch facing the TV. “So, why are you here?”

“As Nash said, to keep you company. You’re spending Christmas alone, right?”

There was no reply from Vesa.

“You don’t need to worry,” Florian continued. “I’m not here to rob you.”

Vesa sat down on the couch to gather his thoughts. “Okay, so… how? How did you turn into a tree and back?”

Florian shrugged. “I’m a nature spirit, I don’t want to bore you with the details. Just consider it Christmas magic.”

Vesa raised an eyebrow. “O-kay?”

“Really, I’m just here to keep you company.” Florian smiled. “But I can also turn back into a tree, if you don’t want to.”

Vesa thought for a moment. “You know what, some company actually sounds kinda nice.”

Florian sat down on the couch. “What’s your name by the way?”

“Vesa, but you can call me Vince.”

“Why? You don’t like that name?”

Vesa looked away. “Eh, it’s just that most people here think the name is weird, for a guy at least.”

“I don’t think it’s weird. You shouldn’t be ashamed of your name.”

Vesa furrowed his brow. “I’m not ashamed.”

“Mmh mmh.” Florian’s verdant green eyes pierced Vesa, causing him to make eye contact. “I’m a nature spirit. I have no idea what makes a name sound male or female. I won’t judge you.”

For a few moments the two just sat there in silence.

“Thanks,” Vesa said.


April, last year

“Dinner’s ready!” Nash shouted as he placed the food on the table.

Moments later Florian was coming down the steps from upstairs. “What is it today—” He slowed down and stared at the table. “What’s that?”

Nash followed his eyes as Florian made his way to his seat. “This?” He pointed at the vase on the dinner table. “Some flowers. I thought some decoration would be nice. You don’t like it?”

Florian sat down and ran a finger along one of the petals. “They’re dying.”

Nash went pale. “I didn’t think—I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I’m not upset. I’m just confused.”

“Confused? Why?”

Florian looked over to the photos of Nash’s former husband on the mantelpiece. “I found that humans hate loss, so much that it drowns out the good memories. A lifetime of happiness loses out to the grief of not being able to bring back what they had.”

“But then,” Florian continued. “They find enjoyment in ephemeral beauty like flowers or the sunset. Things that can only ever be experienced once, for a short time.”

“I can watch the sunset every day,” Nash countered.

“But it’s always a new sunset. You can never experience the same sunset twice. Just how you can find love again, but it won’t be exactly the same.”

“The sun rises and sets every day, but it’s not normal for someone to die in their thirties.” Nash grimaced.

Florian took a deep breath. “You know, there is no ‘normal’ in nature. There are only infinite occurrences each unique in their own way. Imagine a tree. Which placement of a leaf is normal? The top? The bottom? The middle or the edges? Every leaf is unique, not only in shape but also in placement. There is no ‘normal’.”

Nash thought for a second. “Are you saying humans shouldn’t grieve?”

“No, of course not.” Florian grabbed Nash’s hand across the table. “To grieve is healthy. I would be more concerned if you didn’t. But don’t let it consume your memories. Think also of the time you had, not only that it ended.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I’m sorry.” Florian decided to change the topic. “The dinner you made smells delicious as always. What is it?”

Nash was as if interrupted from his thoughts. “Fricassee.”


December 23rd, present

“That was a fun movie. Wanna watch another?” Florian looked at Vesa. Both were sitting on the couch in front of the now idle TV screen.

“Actually,” Vesa began. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Since when do nature spirits mingle with humans?”

Florian looked at the screen. “I guess I’m a special case. Fell in love with a human. Things… happened, so I couldn’t stay with him.”

“Does Nash know about you? That you were the tree?”

Florian turned to Vesa again. “Yes. He delivers me to people who are alone for christmas.”

“There’s a lot of people like that.”

Florian smiled. “Yes.”

“Then why me?”

“I just told you. You’re lonely.” Sensing the follow-up question, Florian quickly added, “Don’t worry about it. Nash had more than one tree on his truck.”

“How did Nash know I was lonely?”

“He didn’t. I told him.”

“Okay, then how did you know?”

“I’m a nature spirit, a forest spirit in particular,” Florian explained. “There’s trees standing in front of your house. Connect the dots.”

“You were watching me?”

“I was watching you the way a human is watching a tree as they stroll through a forest.” Florian shrugged. “Just for me the forest is humans and concrete. You pick up on things just by keeping your eyes open.”

“Mmh.” Vesa thought for a few moments. “So, you like hanging out with humans?”

“I’ve grown to like them.” Florian put his hand on Vesa’s. “Do you like hanging out with me?”

Vesa stared deep into the shining emerald eyes. “Yeah.”

Florian squeezed Vesa’s hand a little. “We don’t have to watch movies all the time, you know. If you want we could also do something else.”

“Like what?”

Florian’s face moved closer and his hand went up to Vesa’s cheek. “Maybe something like this?”

Vesa had to swallow. “Sounds nice.”

Both men closed their eyes as Florian went in for a kiss.


May, last year

“Ohhh—” Came Nash’s last moan before Florian collapsed on top of him, both men spent from their orgasm.

They embraced each other and basked in the afterglow, lying on the couch.

After a few minutes, Florian pulled out and sat up. He wiped off Nash’s cum from his belly and gave him a short peck on his cheek before getting up and making his way to the table, investigating the vase of flowers.

Nash’s gaze followed him. “I just realized,” He began. “It’s been a month and the flowers have not wilted.”

Florian ran a finger along a petal. “I’ve been keeping them alive.”

Nash propped himself up a little. “You can do that?”

“Yes.” Florian looked at Nash. “I’ve been taking care of all of your plants.”

Suddenly it occurred to Nash that all of his plants have been growing much better since Florian was there. “Could you do that with humans too?”

“In theory.” Florian knew what Nash was talking about. “It’s much harder to fix something like cancer. I can easily provide nutrients and water, but it’s difficult for me to remove foreign bodies. We are about growing, not removing. Viruses -and even tumors- are as much under our domain as the beings they inhabit.”

Nash looked down. “You always sound so clinical when you talk.”

“I’m sorry.” Florian made his way back to the couch and sat next to Nash. “I think I’m still not entirely used to how humans communicate. Sometimes it feels like how something is being said is more important than what is being said.”

“Heh, yeah that sounds like us all right.” Nash had to smile. “How do your people talk?”

“We don’t really use words. We convey meaning directly. It’s hard to explain in words how to speak without words. But in our language there is no room for interpretation, no judgement. Everything is said and understood exactly as it is meant.”

“Huh, and I would have thought nature spirits would be more emotional. That sounds like how we generally imagine robots.”

“Nature existed long before life. Life existed long before emotions.” Florian put an arm around Nash. “But it is not untypical for humans to assume that their nature is universal.”

“Heh, touché.”

“I hope you’re on birth control, by the way.”

“What?!” Nash clutched his belly. “Don’t tell me I’m—”

“Relax,” Florian laughed. “I’m just kidding.”

“You clown!” Nash threw the towel at Florian. “Not entirely used to humans, my ass. I can tell you’re adapting quickly.”

“I try.” Florian gave Nash a kiss.


December 24th, present

“Don’t you want to open your presents?” Florian asked. “It’s Christmas Eve.”

Vesa and him were playing games on the console. A match just ended and Florian used the opportunity to bring up the presents.

Vesa looked at the presents which were arranged in a half circle around the spot where the tree -Florian- used to stand. They were sent to Vesa from his family with the note to only open them on Christmas Eve.

“I dunno,” Vesa began. “There’s none for you. I don’t want you to feel left out.”

Florian smiled. “It’s fine. I don’t have any need for presents anyway.”

“Why not?”

“I’m only here for Christmas. After that, I’ll return to nature.”

“Oh.” Vesa tried to hide his disappointment. “I’ll miss you.”

Florian leaned on Vesa’s shoulder. “I’ll miss you too.”

“You’ll come to visit from time to time, okay?”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Florian wasn’t trying to give Vesa false hope, but he figured now wasn’t the time to tell Vesa. Human emotions were fragile and he didn’t want to ruin the moment.

A few seconds passed before Vesa spoke up again. “What are your people like?”

“Phew, that’s a big question. I don’t know where to start.”

“How many of you are there? Does everything have its own spirit?”

“Uh, it’s complicated,” Florian explained. “It’s true, everything has a spirit, but we’re not separate entities like humans. You can’t really count us.”

“What do you mean?”

Florian gathered his thoughts. “We’re more like branches of a tree—”

“You really do love your tree metaphors, don’t you?” Vesa teased.

“Shush. Anyway, just like a branch splits into smaller and smaller twigs, so am I just a part of a larger spirit and in turn I am composed of smaller ones. We’re like fractals. Technically our numbers are infinite while covering a finite number of domains.”

“Wow… So, does that mean, that, like, your boss is the spirit of the entire universe?”

“He’s not my boss. I am part of him,” Florian sighed. “It’s hard to explain. It’s like saying your body is the boss of your hand.”

“And I guess there’s spirits that are part of you, like the fingers are part of my hand but separate entities?”

“Yes, exactly like that. Well, kinda like that, it’s the closest I can make it make sense to you. Besides, the biggest spirit isn’t the universe. That’s like the third level in.”

“Wait, what’s bigger than the universe?”

Florian smiled. “Reality itself. Then come the different… types of realities for a lack of a better word and then come the universes for each kind.”

“Holy shit, I could win Nobel prizes with this knowledge, if I had any way to prove it. Fuck.”

Florian didn’t say anything as he was leaning against Vesa.

“How come your people never talk to us?” Vesa continued.

“Only a few of us ever did, that’s true, and then only life spirits. We directly oppose entropy so we are the only pro-active spirits. All non-living domains, earth, light, time, they don’t have an inner drive as life does. They are only acted upon. They don’t even like talking to us much. But yes, we have been in direct contact with humans somewhat regularly when humanity was young, but it led to all sorts of problems. Humans severely misunderstood us or tried to abuse our knowledge and power. They made up their own interpretation of what we said, their own beliefs of how the world works and then started fighting each other over those beliefs. We have stopped since then entirely.”

“Wow, so you’re actually breaking ‘spirit law’ here?”

“Law? No, we don’t have that. We just stopped bothering.”

“I would love to visit your world one day.”

Florian looked up at Vesa, confused. “My world is your world. They are not separate places. Humans just can’t see us.”

“Mmh.”

Vesa and Florian sat there for several minutes in silence, enjoying each other’s touch.

“What about your presents?” Florian looked over at the packages on the floor.

“I don’t really feel like it right now. I’d rather sit here with you if that’s okay.”

“If you want we can also do more than just sit here.”

“Like what?”

“You’ve been lonely. I’m here to keep you company. I won’t be here for long. And you clearly like me.” Florian winked. “Consider it my Christmas present to you.”

Vesa blushed. “I… I’ve never…”

“I know.” Florian put his hand on Vesa’s chest. “But I figure now would be the best time to try it out. Only if you want, of course. But I can tell you’re curious.”

“And it’s really okay for you?”

Florian laughed. “I’m okay with everything.” He gently pushed Vesa down on the couch so that Florian was lying on top of him. “Which position do you want to try first?”


September, last year

“I’m going to the store.” Nash was passing the couch with Florian on it. “Do you need anything?”

There was no reply.

“Do you maybe want to come along?”

More silence.

“Florian?”

“No, thanks.” Florian’s reply was uncharacteristically short, but he had been moody in the last few days anyway, so Nash didn’t pay it much mind.

As he was grabbing his things for the trip, he noticed the flowers on the dinner table starting to wilt. Florian had kept them alive ever since Nash bought them, which was almost half a year ago. Nash figured maybe autumn had something to do with Florian’s waning powers. He was the spirit of the nearby forest after all and the forest was now starting to lose its leaves.

“The flowers are wilting,” Nash voiced his observation.

Once again, there was no reaction.

Nash made his way to the couch and sat down next to Florian, who was just looking at the ashes in the empty fireplace.

“Florian, is everything all right?”

“No.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

Florian turned to look Nash in the eyes. “I’m dying.”

“What?! What do you mean? How?”

Florian lowered his eyes again. “I spent too much time outside the forest. My life energy is fading.”

Suddenly Florian’s shift in personality the last few days made sense to Nash. “Why didn’t you say something?! We need to get you back.”

“I didn’t want to leave you.”

“I don’t want to lose you, Florian! I can’t lose you.” Nash’s eyes teared up as memories from his husband came rushing back. “Not again.”

Florian embraced Nash.

“What,” Nash tried to swallow the clump in his throat. “What will happen to the forest?”

“Nothing. We are echoes of the world, not the other way around. If I die or grow too weak, another spirit will take my place.”

Nash broke the embrace to look Florian in the eyes. “Will you make it if we return you now?”

“Yes, but I won’t be able to heal fully, I am too far gone.” Florian looked down. “I will only be able to visit you for a few days in a year.”

Nash tried to fight back his tears. “I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t want to lose you time and time again.”

“I don’t want to lose you either.” Florian went in again for an embrace. “I’ve grown fond of you. And humans in general.”

“I love you, but I can’t go through this again.”

“I know.” Florian held Nash. “Can you promise me one thing?”

“What?”

“That you’ll love again?”

Nash drew Florian tighter. “I can’t promise that.”

“But you can try.”

It took a few moments for Nash to reply. “I will.”


December 26th, present

“You’re what?!” Vesa was shocked.

“Don’t make me repeat it, please.” Florian and Vesa were lying in bed. They had just finished their lovemaking and the following conversation unfortunately steered towards Florian’s ‘return to nature’ as he had called it. But there was little point to keep this secret from Vesa. He needed to be prepared for it after all.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you’d die?” Vesa sat up.

“What would that have changed?” Florian countered. “Would you have treated our time together differently?”

“Yes.”

“Then maybe it was a good thing I didn’t say it. I wanted you to enjoy the time without having to worry about how it’s going to end.”

Vesa gathered his thoughts. “Why are you even doing that? Why are you killing yourself?”

Florian sat up too and took a deep breath. “Remember Nash?”

“Yeah.”

“I told you I fell in love with a human. Nash was that man. We spent a few months together, until I noticed that I would be dying. Unfortunately, I had too little energy left to fully heal. I would only be able to manifest in a human body for a few days in a year. Nash couldn’t take it, but I didn’t want to completely leave behind the human world. There’s a lot of loneliness and I like to make people happy.”

“So he gives you to people who are lonely?”

“Yes.”

Vesa looked down. “But when you’re gone, I will be alone again.”

Florian moved forward and grabbed Vesa’s hands. “I’ve got to know you, Vesa, what kind of person you are. There will be plenty of men out there happy to call you their boyfriend.”

“Then why has it never worked out in the past?” Vesa looked away.

Florian cocked his head. “Because you give up too easily. You see a date not working out and think that’s how it will go for all of them. You spend too much time catastrophizing every encounter in your head that it paralyzes you.”

“So, it’s all my fault then?”

“It’s not your fault, Vesa. There’s reasons you believe the things you believe, but that doesn’t make them true.” Florian gently lifted Vesa’s chin up to establish eye contact. “I hope that our time together has shown you not only that you are capable and deserving of happiness, but also that you would make a good partner.”

“I wish I could just be with you.”

Now it was Florian’s turn to look down. “Sadly that’s not possible.”

A few seconds passed in silence before Vesa moved forward and met Florian in a silent embrace.


March, 9 months ago

There was a cold breeze as Nash made his way through the forest. He didn’t pull his collar together though. The chill made him remember the day he met Florian. It brought back good memories, of the time Florian sat on his couch wrapped in blankets, warming up by the fire, of the time they spent together, of the time they took strolls through the forest and Florian showed him everything there was to be seen, from the smallest mushroom to the tallest tree.

Nash was not collecting firewood today. He was not carrying an axe in his hand or a basket on his back. He was checking up on Florian, or what was left of him.

Florian wanted to stay with humans in a way, or at least to interact with them. He enjoyed the time he had with Nash but because Nash could not bring himself to go through the feelings of loss every year, they made a deal: Nash would deliver Florian to people who were lonely for christmas.

The details were not entirely clear to Nash, but Florian assured him that it would all make sense.

Nash finally made his way to the destination: A clearing in the forest. Here he had brought Florian, so that he could return to his spirit form.

It didn’t take long for Nash to figure out what was different. The clearing used to be covered in herbs and other low-growing plants and in a way that was still true, but something had changed.

Nash knelt down next to what looked like a fir sapling. It wasn’t big, but it was already larger than the surrounding plants. When he looked up he saw that there were fir saplings all over the clearing, a dozen or more.

But there was something else, though Nash had trouble describing it. It felt like the presence of someone he knew. Of course Nash knew this was Florian, but what surprised Nash was that the feeling came from the clearing and then from each sapling individually.

Nash understood what this meant: Florian had moved his consciousness into the clearing and then split off tiny parts of him into each sapling. Once grown to a certain size, Nash would collect the trees and send them out in the city with the guidance of Florian.

Nash reached out for the sapling in front of him.

He ran a finger along its delicate branch and smiled.


December 28th, present

It was the morning of the day his housemates would return when Vesa woke up. He reached out with a hand to wake up Florian to tell him that he would need to turn back today.

But his hand only found the empty bed sheets.

Vesa propped himself up and looked around the room. He got out of bed and went past the bathroom, which was dark.

“Florian?” He asked into the empty hall.

He froze when he entered the living room. Next to the TV was a tree, though it wasn’t green anymore. The needles looked dried up.

Vesa knelt down in front of the tree. “Florian?”

If there was an answer, Vesa didn’t hear it. He extended a hand and ran a finger along a branch. Needles fell to the ground.

Vesa understood and a weak smile formed on his face. “Thank you for the time we had.”

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