Hello again friends! I'll keep it pretty short up top since most of the notes are at the bottom. This story has no connection to any of my other works. I do not own characters or situations belonging to licensed works. A small warning that there are darker themes of mental trauma and possible mental illnesses. I do not claim to be an expert on these subjects and remind any readers that nothing written is intended to be offensive or lessen the severity of those that suffer from like aliments. This is a work of fiction meant only to explore the themes of personal growth and healing.

Now that I've totally turned everyone off…

A very special thank you to Meghanna Starsong for editing and supporting this story. Words can never express how grateful I am for your help and friendship.

More than Skin Deep

Chapter One - Old Wounds

I wake up screaming yet again. The pain fresh is all consuming. A clear sky that rains blood, uncontrollable fires consuming everything in its path, solid ground that shatters like thin glass. Memories twisted into nightmares. Sweat beads on my skin making the soft cotton of my pajamas stick damp and uncomfortable.

I should be used to it by now. Years have passed, but the old wounds stay fresh and painful. It wasn't always like this. I returned home optimistic and whole, or so I had thought. The war ended, Van and I shared one last hug before he followed through on his oath to send me safely home. We had been wrong, though. I was already home.

My family, relieved by my return, asked questions but quickly tired of my answers. They couldn't believe in things and a world they would never see. I immediately learned some things are best kept to myself. On the other hand, bottling up the darkest of my memories began to eat away at me from the inside out like corrosive acid.

Most days I can pretend to be normal. That's all it is though, playing pretend like a child wearing her mother's clothes. Cute but nothing fits right. It seems the pendant was a double-edged sword after all.

On one side, it strengthened my powers unexpectedly. I saw some truly horrible things, but I could also use that prior knowledge to warn of danger and throw myself into the mix changing the outcome. It didn't always work out how I had hoped, but sometimes my visions were the difference between a quick death and saving a valuable life. Some days all that mattered was that I could make a difference, but the more I saw, the harder it was to stay optimistic.

I didn't learn of the other cutting edge to the pendant and its powers, or to say my powers, until it was too late. It seems the power was in me all along. Wearing the pendant wouldn't effect most people the way it did me. Van surely didn't start getting visions and telling fortunes just by wearing the necklace. So, that being said, not wearing the Atlantian stone didn't get rid of my powers. If anything, they got worse. That double edge happened to be that the pendant had been focusing the powers I hadn't known how to control. Without its help, I have no way to channel or sort through the visions.

Most of the time I can't even be sure of what I'm seeing. Did it already happen? Where was it? Did it happen on Gaia or here on Earth? The majority of the time I'll see bits of the past mixed inconsistently with the present or future, like a badly edited movie trailer.

That's what the latest "dream" was. One part war and death, one part modern-day earth event, and somehow the last part was what grocery store was having a sale on eggs. The only thing that would do me any good these days is the extra sale. Living alone can be pretty expensive.

It's not that I don't love my family even though they can't relate to me anymore. It's that I realized I had become a burden to them. Even the friends I swore I would always have grew apart and moved on. Somedays I am almost convinced to go back to the last place I felt like myself. To the only people that understand what I went through because they were there with me. Then I remember the way I am right now would only cause him pain.

On the surface, I can almost pass as a functioning person, but it wouldn't fool him for a moment. There are far more important things for him to worry about than my mental health. I've never hurt myself, but aside from that, I can't make any promises.

A loud knock sounds on my door, and I glance at the brightly glowing numbers on my clock. 3:45AM. God, I hope I didn't wake the neighbors up again.

Tossing the twisted sheets aside, I peel myself out of the worn futon in my one-room, tatami mat covered apartment. Tossing a robe over my damp night clothes, I open the door a crack.

"You okay in there, Hitomi?" The voice is muffled, but I sigh in relief. It's the woman from upstairs who works at a bakery. She's nice from what little I know about her, but is always leaving for work at this time. If she is the visitor, I think the rest of the building has missed my most recent late night bout, a sadly common occurrence.

"Yeah, sorry." I hope my voice comes out steady though I know the cheerfulness is as fake as my plastic smile. "I swear I won't watch horror movies so late anymore."

Her eyebrow raises quizzically, and I know it didn't fool her for a moment. "You watch a lot of late night movies these days."

"It passes the time." I smile again and pray she feels as awkward as I do and leaves.

"I prefer reading." She smiles back. "You should get some sleep while you can. If not, the shop opens at 6. You should stop by before the morning rush."

"Maybe some other time. I really should be getting to bed." I'm sure she knows I'll never stop by. I never do. Honestly, I don't even know her full name, although I've been told several times. I don't want to connect with her or any of these people. They may be nice, but that is all the more reason to not pull them into my twisted life.

"Okay, I got to go." She waves slightly before turning to continue with her busy day, where the odd neighbor who screams in the night won't even cross her mind.

I shut the door, check the locks, and start water boiling. I won't get any sleep at this rate, but I guess I've become numb to it all. A cup of tea can't change anything. I just like to pretend that it helps. As I take the first scalding sip, I glance at the clock absently. 3:45 blinks at me again. Okay, that's odd. We must have had a power surge or something that messed with the clocks, because the numbers hadn't changed since that first knock on the door.

Sighing, I shake my head. Yet another thing not quite right. 3:44. What? 3:43. Are the numbers moving backwards? 3:42. 3:41. 3:40. I watch mesmerized as the glowing forms begin to speed up. 3:35. 3:30. 3:25. 3:15. 3:00. Faster and faster. The bright glow nearly hurts to watch as it flashes past. Then, just as suddenly the number stop. 12:00. Midnight.

What had just happened? Why? At that time, I was still caught between memories and visions. What would going back change? I hadn't actually moved from the small, chipped second hand table and rapidly cooling cup of tea.

An image shimmers in front of me. Suddenly, it all makes sense. At midnight, the veil between the worlds is supposedly thinner. If my visitor is of the spirit variety, which I'm sure they are, then that show was more for their benefit than mine.

Long blue and gold silk dress and even longer deep green hair materializes. Instantly, I am caught between wondering why Varie Fanel has come to lecture me about this time, and curiosity as to what could have drawn her to me. My connection to her son was closed years ago, by me.

The moment the long dead queen truly sees me her familiar eyes widen. Good to know spirits can express shock, too. I know what has unsettled her. Whatever the reason for her sudden visit, she expected to see the cheerful, athletic, naïve girl from before. Honestly, most people can't get over the changes. Unnaturally thin and unhealthy pallor, I look more like a ghost than the dead woman in the room. Hair grown long and uneven, I normally tie it back during the day but sleep messed and uncombed. I must look like a wild animal. The dark shadows under my tired, green eyes can't be helping the matter.

"What happened to the sweet girl that thought she could save the world?" Her voice is low and melodious just as I remember it, almost sad.

"I don't know," I respond, my tone bitter. "If you see her, remind her she owes me money."

Her expressive eyes study me, and I almost look away. I won't back down. I'm not ashamed of what I have become, and I don't want pity from anyone, even an apparition. The clock seems to be stuck at midnight, so whatever she has come here for isn't the witty banter.

"I see now why we needed to come." Her elegant hands fold together, once more composed.

"We?" I question, glancing around for other ghostly visitors, but see none.

"Each night for the next three days, ghosts that are connected to you, Hitomi Kanzaki, will show you the past, present, and future of your current existence." Why now? What could possibly change by yet more visions? What could possibly be accomplished by this inane trip down memory lane? Since when did the horror story that is my life morph into the Christmas Carol?

"Spare me the details, and please get to the point." I wave absently. I know I'm being rude to the first true guest I've had in over a year, but honestly, what am I supposed to do? Cower in fear? Be grateful?

"I am here as a representative of the past." She states and I can't say I am surprised.

"I don't need you for that," I state sourly. "I see enough of the past without any help, and I don't want to see anymore." The latest nightmare still fresh in my tormented mind.

"It is because you are too stubborn that you can't see past the pain." Her voice has taken the hard edge that commands obedience; the queen is finally here. "The world can be a horrible place, and you have been far too long in the darkness. You've forgotten the beauty, kindness, and compassion that touched those of the people drawn to you. Hitomi, this is not your destiny. I am here to show you all the things you have forgotten."

With those last words, the apartment disappears and instead I sit on stone temple steps watching as a boy fights a dragon. A short haired girl shouts moments before the deadly tail can strike spearing the boy through. He barely dodges, losing his armor by keeping his life.

I turn away not wanting to see anymore. "I don't need to see this," I state stubbornly. "I remember what happens next."

"You have lived it, yes, but have you seen it from the outside looking in?" She asks and it gives me pause. I turn my attention back to the teens and see that the dragon now is gone. The boy holds the heartstone in relief as the girl runs up to him. Automatically, the awe he held a moment before turns to arrogance. She smacks him and starts sobbing. He is shocked by the pure emotion she shows.

It took me a long time to realize that the haughty attitude was a shield used to hide his insecurities. It was all there written clearly on his face from the very beginning. Trained and tutored, the prince was raised in constant companionship from those that always expected something from him. This was his first experience with someone that demanded nothing but gave so openly.

Who was this girl, and where has she gone? I live in self-imposed isolation, giving nothing and expecting even less.

The pattern emerged on our trip through my memories. The Draconian queen showed one event after the other. The pain, fear, failure, and loss were still there, but instead of being focal, I was instead guided to the reactions of those around me. The boy started showing more for the girl then she ever noticed, blinded by innocent infatuation. When she tackled him on an Asturian bridge saving him once again, the shock and awe unguarded, as it had been when he looked at the energist for the first time. That must have been when his feelings first began to evolve. Even he was unaware.

The first time he revealed his curse to save her, and instead of the disgust he expected, she instantly accepted all of him. When her heart stopped, how frantic he was to save her as she always seemed to rescue him. How did she ever miss the tender way he held her as they flew to save the murderous spy who could clear their names? Even when they failed, his silent vow to protect her was clearly written on his earnest face.

When the fighting and death began to consume him, the girl was there wishing for him to stop. Stop trying to save her and the world at the risk of himself. Stop punishing himself for the terrible things he couldn't have prevented alone.

The closer they grew, the harder he fought. She was so distracted that she never saw it. His clumsy attempts to cheer her up and express his still confused feelings.

I didn't need a spirit guide to show me the pained look when he witnessed the knight kissing the girl. I imagine that would be his expression if he could see me now. That is why I built a wall between us. I couldn't stand for him to witness the constant pain I endure. I knew I could never hide anything from him, so I pushed him away just like everyone else.

It wasn't just the boy who was affected by the girl, even though they spent the most time and energy together. I had missed so much by being the center of this vortex of emotion, action, reaction, and consequences. Even when I forced myself back home to end things, the wheel of fate continued to turn. I know that my indecision and confusion twisted those close to me, and that is what I fear will happen all over again if I were to return.

When the girl realized her feelings for the boy, she had to accept all of him and that included the blood on his hands. War changes people, but deep down he would always be the boy who had been surprised to have succeeded where others had failed. Could the same be said for the girl? Could she ever regain her innocence and optimism? For a time, it seemed that love had also given her wings, but distance and darkness ate away at her like fire through dry kindling, quickly leaving only ash behind.

I hadn't even realized I was crying until the tears splattered on the table next to my forgotten tea. My departed guest was no longer insight, but her voice floated through my mind like feathers drifting with the wind.

"Remember the strength that hope requires lives within you."

Brushing the tears away my eyes caught sight of the clock. 12:01.

Time had resumed, but I knew that within my strange world that it was no dream. Suddenly tired, I stretched back out on the futon, pulled the blankets over me, and was asleep before the clock glowed 12:02.

For the first time in a long time, no visions or nightmares plagued me. Instead, I dreamt of flying. Free yet protected within the circle of his strong arms. I was soothed and surrounded by the crisp spring breeze of his scent. He never spoke a word, but I could feel the comfort and compassion he shared freely with me. This wasn't a memory. It wasn't the boy who knew fighting better then talking. I know it was the man he had become. Van, I've missed him so much.

A weight shifts ever so slightly from my mind knowing that if I had never done anything else with my life, saving him would always tip the balance.

I wake fully rested and optimistic for the first time in a very long time.

I don't know who the other two spirits are or what they plan to show me, but for once I am not afraid.

To be continued…

AN- Well I hope you liked it. I normally like the Hitomi in my continuations to be more like she was at the end of the series. Maturing, and generally at peace with her role in the events. On the other hand it is a common theme for her to have mental trauma or internal scars from the terrible things she witnessed. And rightly so, but I don't normally go that path. This story is less about action and more about learning how to heal. As you'll notice many of the people Hitomi interacts with won't have full descriptions, which is because she has removed herself so far from others that the details don't matter. My cameo is the baker of course though I have a RP character that never got used show up later. If ya'll remember I was terrible at RPing but fell in love with the two characters I created. Remember they are not me, so I didn't fill this story with nothing but myself as side characters… Meghanna Starsong shows up in chapter three.

I have bits of the next two chapters written and this story is circling almost constantly in my mind so it should be quick to update. Also the chapters are quite short for me. It should make it an easier read, or that is what I am going for. I hope you are looking forward to the next two ghosts. I won't tell you who but it should be easy to guess. Finally there should be a total of four chapters give or take an epilogue.

Please Review