NOTE: Happy Birthday, Dilandau!
I needed to keep up with my tradition of posting something on the birthday of my favorite character in Escaflowne. I had several ideas for this year but most of them seemed too dark, too complicated or too similar to previous entries.
And then, we had some really stormy weather recently and I decided to do something whimsical and slightly ridiculous. And with hints of my favorite Escaflowne crack ship. This is set post-series and where Dilandau is separated from Celena. That's all the setup you need, really.
This was really fun to write. If it isn't so blatantly obvious, this was influenced by Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And it's a one-shot for now, though there is some potential for future shenanigans. I haven't decided if I'll be going down THAT route, but this was just a fun process all the same.
Enjoy and please let me know what you think.
The rain fell in torrents and it didn't seem like it would let up anytime soon.
The lone traveller was already soaked to the skin, his clothes having absorbed most of the typhoon's fury. It was one of the worst Gaea had ever experienced and he had the very good fortune of being exiled and on the road when the storm struck.
He had been wandering for days, colder and more miserable than usual, his own frustration matching the fury of thunder and lightning. But he could find no refuge anywhere. In the few remote villages he visited, he was refused any shelter, his status as an exile evident in his disheveled appearance even if the people did not recognize his face from the countless posters disseminated all over the world.
Former Zaibach soldiers were not welcome anywhere.
He knew as much, and exile was a truly miserable experience, but he still preferred it to death. Dilandau Albatou was struggling but he would survive, if only to spite his enemies.
But at the rate he was going, he would not be able to spite them for long.
He was drenched and hungry and bone-tired. He wasn't even sure where he was anymore, only that he was still walking in the rain.
After hours of wandering aimlessly through the woods of some unnamed country, he almost succumbed to his fatigue when he spotted a small cottage in the middle of a small clearing. He blinked to make sure he wasn't just hallucinating. But there it was, secure and seemingly deserted since there was no light in the windows.
With the last of his strength, Dilandau dragged his feet to the door and found that it was unlocked. He could not believe his good fortune, but knowing that luck could just as easily run out, he wasted no time making the most of it.
He entered the cottage, dripping onto the floor, and saw that it was indeed empty. It was a simple structure, sparsely furnished, with a kitchen, a small table with two chairs, a fireplace, and to one side, a bed. Simple but perfect for all his needs.
He immediately set about making a fire, and it did not take long for one to blaze in the hearth. Dilandau sat there for a few moments, warming himself and basking in the comfort of this surprising shelter.
He stripped himself of his wet clothes and hung them on a rack to dry by the fire. After checking the small chest of linens by the bed he found a warm woolen blanket that he wrapped around his shivering form.
He rummaged in the cupboard and found some dried meat and cheese, and he devoured both voraciously. There were also some tea leaves in a jar and he was tempted by the aroma. He found a kettle which he filled with rain water and then heated over the fire. He had never been much of a tea drinker, preferring the warmth of alcohol.
But under the circumstances, the prospect of a hot beverage was too tempting, and at length, he sat at the table, sipping a steaming cup of tea as he listened to the rain outside.
At length, his exhaustion got the better of him and he had just enough energy to drag himself to the bed, where he collapsed, wrapped only in the borrowed blanket.
He silently thanked whoever owned this cottage for their inadvertent hospitality. He knew that he could not stay for long, that the owner would surely return after the storm. The inevitable confrontation would probably not be pleasant.
But he would worry about that later. At least for now, he was warm and safe, and for the first time in ages, Dilandau Albatou fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
"I chose the worst time to go out exploring," Merle berated herself as she ran through the woods.
Her instincts had warned her that the weather would be terrible but she had been too curious, too restless to stay at home, in the comfort of the palace. She had had to be in the wild for some reason and now she was paying the price.
Her fur was soaked and she was shivering, despite the thick cloak she had put on when she left for her journey. She was hungry and tired, and she had no one to blame but herself.
"It's a good thing the cottage isn't far," she thought with relief.
She had had a small cottage built in the middle of the woods, a rest house of sorts, and a place of refuge whenever she felt like being alone in the wild. She had stocked it with necessities for just such an occasion and it wasn't long before she found her way to it.
The first thing she noticed was the light. Someone had lit a fire inside.
"I really should install some proper locks in that place," she reminded herself as she approached the cottage carefully. But she didn't dawdle since the rain continued to pour and she was eager to get into her warm shelter. She would deal with the intruder later.
She opened the door and immediately ran to the fireplace, warming her hands with a sigh of relief. She noticed the rack of drying clothes by the fireplace as well as an empty teacup in the small kitchen sink. She looked to the bed and saw a sleeping figure, wrapped up in one of her brown woolen blankets.
The stranger made no indication that they had noticed her arrival, probably because the crash of thunder and the pounding of rain on the roof had drowned out all other noises.
Slowly, carefully, Merle approached the bed and tried to get a good look at whoever had wandered into her rest house. And strangely enough, she almost didn't want to disturb the person's slumber, so peacefully did they lie on the bed. They had obviously sought shelter from the storm and she could not deny them that. She was more curious than afraid as she moved closer.
But when she saw the face of the stranger, she gasped audibly in recognition, her reaction drowned out once more by a crash of thunder.
There was no doubt about it. The once fearsome Zaibach soldier, now a known exile, had found his way to Fanelia, to her special, secret spot in the woods. Fate had a twisted sense of humor.
Merle backed away in alarm, though it did not seem like he had heard her. She began to panic, to search the small house for a weapon and she bared her claws defensively. But her instincts told her that he posed no threat, and somehow, though her mind wondered at how she reached this conclusion, she was in no danger with him.
Once her initial shock and alarm passed, Merle noticed how different he seemed from the vicious Dragonslayer she remembered during the war. He was thinner, paler, gaunt even. Clearly, the harsh years of exile had taken their toll on him. And considering how horrible the weather had been for days, he was obviously exhausted.
But lying there, on her spare bed (such a strange image for Merle), he looked so…peaceful.
"How did you find this place, Dilandau?" Merle heard herself saying.
For a moment, the rain slackened and Dilandau heard the question. He looked up at Merle and if he was surprised to see her, he did not show it. He simply acknowledged her presence with a nod and then leaned back into the bed, pulling the blanket tighter around him.
"You can kill me now or just let me sleep," he muttered wearily, "Either way, I'm not leaving this bed."
Merle stared incredulously at him, unsure of how to react. But he seemed to have drifted off once more. So there was to be no violent altercation or struggle, at least not yet. And Merle sensed that even when the storm passed, both of them would be reluctant to engage in any unpleasantness. It just wasn't worth it.
The cat-girl sighed and resigned herself to her peculiar circumstances. She hung her wet clothes on the rack by the fire, and wrapped herself in another of her woolen blankets. In a way she was glad he had lit the fire before she arrived. It was almost as if the house had been prepared for her.
She hesitated at first and then shrugged, her fatigue overcoming her paranoia. The bed was wide enough for them both and for the moment, all she wanted was rest. She placed a spare pillow as a barrier between them though her companion did not stir when she climbed on the bed and lay down on the opposite side, facing away from him and willing herself to forget his presence as he seemed to be doing with her.
It was an extremely unusual situation.
But the storm raged on outside and they were both too tired to care.
"We'll figure things out in the morning," Merle thought as she pulled the blanket tighter around her and drifted off to sleep.