Usual disclaimers apply.
Thanks to Spazzle for the nice title!
"I have to admit, I never knew that all of this was out here." Norma giggled at the tiny barbaloot in her arms as it tried to catch hold of an errant brown curl dangling over her shoulder. It wasn't that the people of Greenville never left town, they just didn't normally venture out so far unless they were traveling. She herself had never had a need to do so.
"You live here, and you've never seen a hummingfish or barbaloot?" Once-ler cocked his head and lifted an eyebrow at her in surprise. She smiled.
"You live here, Once. I live in town. The animals don't come there much." It was true. The most the townspeople saw was the occasional Swamme Swan roosting in one of the trees around town. "I mean, it's quite a way to go when they've already got everything they need out here. Six miles? Something like that?"
"I guess so. I've never thought about it." After traveling as far as he had, what were a few more miles? Norma made a face as the barbaloot finally caught her hair. He yanked it a few times and bit at it curiously. Her pained expression caught Once-ler's attention. "No no, Pip! We don't do that to people. Hey!" Once-ler plucked the cub from her lap, tapping a finger against its nose until it spit the lock of hair out. Smiling a little, he set the cub in the grass, where it scooted back toward him and flopped over on its back. His long fingers stroked the soft belly, and Pipsqueak wriggled happily. "Did he hurt you?"
There was concern in his voice that made Norma smile. "It's nothing I can't deal with," she assured him, rubbing at the sore spot on her scalp. They fell into a comfortable silence, Once-ler happily tickling the cub as Norma stared out at the view of the forest. They were sitting in the grass of a small hillock not far from Once-ler's cottage.
The morning and afternoon had been spent in walking the miles that separated them. Of course, had Norma realized how far it actually was, she wouldn't have attempted the trip on foot. It had taken hours, but it had gone by quickly on account of how nervous she'd felt. It was her first time visiting Once-ler at his home, and she had pretty much invited herself over. Luckily he had been happy to see her.
Is he happy? Norma bit her lip, unable to keep from wondering as she watched him from the corner of her eye. His head was bent, dark hair falling over his eyes as Pipsqueak growled and bit playfully at him. There was a smile on his face that warmed her. It made it hard to keep from smiling herself. Maybe he was just glad for the company. He always seemed eager to talk in town, where hardly anyone gave him a second glance. Here no one could talk, at least not in a way he could understand. Anybody would get lonely living like that. Either way, Norma got to spend time with him. She hoped he really was happy to see her, but she was also willing to take what she could get.
Laughing at the small paws batting him, Once-ler lifted his head toward her. She felt heat spread through her cheeks and averted her gaze. There was a very interesting clover sprouting next to her right foot. He was smiling at her, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was trying not to gawk at him. She really liked it when he did that.
Realizing that she wasn't looking at him, Once-ler frowned. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, I'm fine." Norma turned to him, staring at his nose instead of looking him in the eye. It was a handy trick for talking to people when nervous that she'd picked up years ago. To Once-ler it looked as if she were giving him her full attention. He leaned back a little, puzzled. "So, how long are you planning on staying?" It was fortunate that Norma wasn't one to squeak when nervous. She didn't honestly think he would be picking up and moving anytime soon, not when he was planning to make his thneeds from the Truffula trees. Business wasn't good at all, and even someone as determined as Once-ler would need to make a sale or see some progress sooner or later. Even dreamers got discouraged, and Once-ler was definitely a dreamer. They filled him near to bursting, and poured into anyone who spent enough time with him. At least, that's how it seemed to Norma.
He stared ahead, mouthing twisting a little as he thought. "Well, I guess I don't really plan on leaving all that soon. I mean, I like it here and everything. I've got everything I need. Really, if I moved anywhere at this point it would probably be closer to town. Oh, wait..." He scratched under his hat, dislodging it completely. It fell to the grass behind him without drawing his notice." If...If I did that, I'd be farther away from the forest. That would make it harder to get the tufts picked and back home where I can work on them." He shrugged at her. "I guess the best thing to do is to stay right where I am."
Of course, it all came down to the thneed. This didn't surprise Norma. If anything, it reassured her that she wouldn't be losing her friend anytime soon. Pity he wouldn't be moving closer, though.
"Yes, I can see where that would be a problem," she agreed. She felt less flustered now, and actually looked him in the eye. "It would make the trip so much shorter, though. The...trip into town. You know?"
"That's a good point." He left it at that and for a while neither of them said anything. Noticing his hat still sitting in the grass, Norma picked it up and turned it over in her hands. It was old, but in good shape as if a lot of effort had gone into taking care of it. She sat it lightly on her head, but it was a little big and fell over the tops of her ears. He still hadn't noticed it wasn't on his head anymore. His eyes were turned skyward, where the light was beginning to fade a little.
Norma followed his gaze as a small sigh blew out through her nose. It was nice, just sitting there in the grass. There wasn't a need to speak or be doing something the way there was with other people. It was enough for them to share in each other's company.
After several moments Once-ler seemed to notice the silence. He blinked and glanced around before turning to Norma. His eyes narrowed at her. "Hey, when did you take my hat?" He lifted an eyebrow suspiciously, and there was a hint of a smile playing about his lips.
"I didn't take it, you lost it. " Norma smiled back as innocently as she could. He rolled his eyes at her.
"Yeah, uh-huh. It just happened to disappear off my head while I didn't notice a thing."
"Actually, yes." Smirking, he reached out and pushed the brim down over her eyes. "Hey!"
"You've got a lot of nerve, missy! Going around visiting people and stealing their hats. What else are you scheming in that head of yours?" The only answer she gave him was a giggle. If he knew what sort of things popped into her head sometimes, he'd be too flustered to ever talk to her again. "Well, I'll tell ya, I can be pretty crafty myself," he boasted when she didn't answer him.
"Oh, I don't believe it!"
"Sure can! So you'd better watch out!"
"Alright, then, Mister Crafty. What are you going to do to me?" She leaned back on her hands, looking at him from under the brim of his hat. Her question sent a faint blush across his cheeks. He stuttered a little before averting his eyes and crossing his arms protectively over his chest.
"W-well if I told you you would see it coming."
"A-and if there's no surprised in it, where's the fun, right?" His blush darkened a little as the conversation took a potentially awkward turn. As much as it amused her, Norma felt a little bad for teasing him.
"No, I suppose it wouldn't." She smiled and scooted a little closer to him. "I love surprises, don't you?"
"Well, yeah." He was looking at her from the corner of his eye, and she wondered if he'd noticed the movement. "I mean, doesn't everybody?" He looked down at her, a mildly curious tilt to his head.
"Mm-hm." She leaned closer to him and his eyes widened a little. Trying not to make a face, Norma steeled herself for her next move. Drawing a short breath through her nose, she puckered up and close the gap between them.
At least she tried to. At the last second Once-ler had leaned away from her, causing her to fall sideways and smoosh her face against his arm. They stayed that way for several minutes, both a little surprised. He smelled interesting (it was a little impossible not to notice with the fabric of his shirt rubbing against her nostrils). There was a scent she couldn't quite place, as well as the faint smell of butterfly milk that came with working with the Truffula trees. Norma stared into his shoulder. Once-ler stared at her, wide eyed.
Eventually she gave a weak laugh as she sat up and leaned away from him. "I...fell over." She excused herself lamely. Once-ler cleared his throat and glanced around.
"Uh...hungry?" he managed to ask. Norma shrugged and picked at the grass. "I mean, it's starting to get late. Did you want to stay for dinner?"
"Sure. Dinner sounds nice." He climbed to his feet and offered her a hand. Still feeling terribly awkward, she let him pull her up and tug her toward the cottage. Good grief, what was I thinking? She chided herself as they walked the short distance. With a glance at her friend she noticed that he didn't seem sure whether he should look at her or his feet. If that wasn't a rejection I don't know what is. At least he hasn't told me to leave or anything. Maybe I just surprised him?
The cottage was homey inside, but a bit cluttered. Glasses of water and empty bowls sat on every shelf and otherwise flat surface. Norma scrunched her face up and picked up a glass that was half full. "Uh..."
"Don't! Don't drink that." Once-ler plucked it from her grasp and smiled sheepishly. "The fish," he explained.
"Yeah. No matter how many times I wash and put all this stuff away, they just get it back out again."
"It's easier to just let them have it, you know?"
"Well, you're a bit outnumbered." She couldn't help smiling. There was an image in her head of him going getting up in the morning surrounded by the sleepy animals who had moved in with him. It was endearing. Once-ler replaced the glass on the shelf and beckoned her further in.
"Yeah, uh...there aren't a lot of places to sit. I didn't really plan on having much company when I came." With a shrug he left her to seat herself and began pulling things out of a small cupboard. "There's a chair around here somewhere. Or there's the bed. Take your pick."
If he did actually own a chair, it was lost in the clutter of dishes. It felt a little rude to suddenly go riffling through his house, so Norma contented herself with flopping down onto his bed. It was surprisingly soft and she sank into it a little. As she watched, he puttered around the kitchen area, happily singing to himself as he worked. After a few minutes he fell quiet and she heard him muttering something that sounded like "fat barbaloot". He looked at her over his shoulder. "Uh...yeah. I don't have a lot right now. I...didn't know I'd be sharing. So, tea?" He offered, fidgeting a little in embarrassment.
"Are you out of food, Once-ler?" Concern flooded Norma. Is he starving out here? Is that why he's so skinny? To her relief he laughed and rubbed the back of his neck.
"No, no. I had plenty. A few hours ago. It's, uh..."
"The fish?" she supplied.
"Barbaloots, actually. Guessing from the fur in the cabinet."
The poor guy looked nervous, Amused, Norma smiled at him. "I love tea." Cheerful once more, he beamed at her and went back to the little woodstove in the corner. He stoked the coals to life and set on a kettle to boil. Several seconds passed as he looked around, slightly at a loss as to what to do. Eventually he sank into the mattress beside Norma to wait.
Norma suddenly felt awkward. Maybe it was because they weren't talking anymore, or maybe it was because they were sitting quite close to one another and he kept looking at her from the corner of his eye. He was watching her, and she didn't know what to do with herself.
"So!" she said loudly to get his attention, to stop the covert looks he was tossing at her. With a chuckle she fumbled for something to say. "You know, I'm really glad I came out here today."
This brought a smile to his face. "Yeah? That's good. I was worried you were getting bored or something. I mean, it's not like we've done much..."
"Hey," she nudged him with her shoulder, sending a blush flaring over his features. "I like not doing anything, you know? It's...peaceful."
"...I like not doing anything with you, too, Norma." A smile lit her face, as had happened so many times that day. She was still leaning into him a little, and she felt him sway as he looked away from her and bit his lip thoughtfully.
"...Once?" Norma was a little confused. Was something wrong? He looked nervous about something. He turned to look at her again, his brow slightly furrowed in determination. Before she could say anything else, he had taken her face into his hands and kissed her.
The warmth of his touch was nothing compared to the heat of her face. She froze, her surprise rendering her immobile. She knew her face was flushed when he pulled away from her after a moment and nervously tried to gage her reaction. His face fell as she stared blankly at him.
Realization wormed its way into her brain as he stuttered at her a little and turned away apologetically. This...this was what she wanted! Why was she panicking? Hadn't she tried to do this very thing not fifteen minutes ago? She made a face as he made to get up and check the tea. She reached for him, suddenly sure that she couldn't handle him being more than a few inches away from her. She caught his elbow and pulled. He was unsteady in his half-risen position and the jerk of her fingers sent him flopping onto his back next to her.
Confused, he stared up at her and for a moment neither of them was sure what to make of the situation. Norma couldn't give herself a chance to hesitate. She plunged forward, leaning over him to press her lips against his. His arms easily found their way around her waist, pulling her against him excitedly.
Across the room the tea was boiling dry.
I started this a pretty long time ago and got distract by other things. Anyway, here it is! There are two more parts. I can't say when they'll be up, though, because they aren't finished yet. Hopefully it won't be long, though, so keep an eye open!
Thanks for reading everyone! Please tell me what you thought of it!