Thank you to all those that took the time to review. I haven't left yet and might have one more week at home at this rate. The goal is to keep churning out chapters while I can. I should get at least one more done of Not quite Normal, but who knows. My muse a fickle and hyperactive at times. This is not edited or reviewed by anyone other than me. So I do have to beg you to bear with the errors in exchange for faster posting.
Chapter 3- A little bit more.
It's not the sunlight streaming in through the window that wakes me up, but I come to all at once. I feel rested and peaceful for the first time I can remember, which isn't saying much. After all my memory is suspect at best these days. No, it's not even the unfamiliar room I'm in. Mostly it's the bed, well the fact that I am not alone in it.
On my chest rests a peacefully sleeping face framed by honey colored hair, long lashes stir only slightly against soft cheeks. One hand is curled under her chin while the other is not clutching my shirt as one would expect, but underneath the fabric and directly against my skin. It feels very intimate, also so right. Like I belong here, not on this world, because I was quite relieved to find out that I wasn't from this place. So, being confused about things others find normal was alright. No, here with Hitomi, or actually anywhere she is, that's where I belong.
I want to focus on that. It happens to be incredibly difficult because her hand over my heart is not the most personal contact I have to deal with. The long line of her athletic form is pressed against my body, and I can feel the way her firm breasts are only separated from the skin of my stomach by a thin shirt. Long runner's legs intertwined with mine, enforce the closeness. Most of all I'm afraid that feeling her like this, I won't be able to hide my growing interest and attraction that is noticeable against her belly.
If she wakes up now there is no way to hide how I feel about her. Not just the physical, but though I may not remember every moment we've shared in the past the emotions are there. They never left me even when the history that formed our bond did.
Everything I was told yesterday seems true enough, but it doesn't explain the missing pieces. That happened after I sent her home. Only I would know what happened to me, and that is so much easier to think about then how easy it would be to brush the soft flesh of her breast. Of all the things that I don't remember, what I do know is that I've never touched her like this. Simply dreamed of it.
Now I must remind myself that thinking about this is dangerous. We've never even kissed and yet the bond is so much stronger then basic attraction. She is here for me but asks for nothing in return. This isn't the first time. I'm sure it won't be the last.
She stirs, and I have to suppress a groan, the hand that was on my heart moves downward as the girl shifts. I nearly jump out of my skin as her bright eyes come open.
"Morning," Hitomi mumbles more than slightly embarrassed. She moved away putting space between us when the closeness of our bodies becomes too much. I'm just glad that my reaction to it has not been noticed, yet. "Sorry, you were aggravated, and I must have fallen asleep trying to calm you."
I turn my face away slightly not wanting her to see the thoughts written there. Part of me wants to say something and the other doesn't trust myself at all.
"I'll go start breakfast," The flush dusting her cheeks is very attractive, and I find I'm not embarrassed by the weakness she saw last night or the reaction I had to her this morning.
Without thinking about it my hand reaches out and pulls her back to me. "Thank you," I breathe into her short sleep mussed hair. Hitomi's arms came up as if on instinct and returned the embrace. After a few heartbeats she pulled away again, and this time I let her go.
When the girl returned later with a tray of food. Dressed for the day with her hair damp and eyes bright with something unsaid. I found out what is was after eating the meal she'd prepared. Though they'd cleaned me up at the hospital it was time for me to have my bandages changed, and if I was being entirely honest, I was beginning to smell.
As far as a bath went that would most likely wait until tonight, but I slept through my chance to be clean last night. Hitomi was determined to get all that taken care of now, herself. If I had stayed with the healers longer this wouldn't be an issue, they have people trained for this sort of care. Instead I had to figure out a way to let her take care of me without crossing a line.
We worked it out that I would bathe first wearing my undergarment then once dry new bandages would be wrapped on. Then clean clothes and back to bed. No excuses, no arguments. This wasn't a good time to get self-conscious, as I was never that way before. Though in the past being without a shirt was fine, but I'd never encountered a situation where I lost my pants.
With help I hobbled to the bathroom. Removing the bandages felt both relaxing and unsettling, a few of my ribs were definitely broken but shifted as the pressure came off. Next came my head wound. Lastly the leg was unwrapped. Sitting on a low stool I tried to wash myself, but Hitomi pushed my fumbling hands away. Insisting that I would just hurt myself more.
Her hands were steady and sure as they carefully cleaned each wound. Only a slight blush showed that she wasn't entirely comfortable with the amount of bare skin or how much of it was being touched by the only girl I've ever truly seen.
All the small cuts and bruises have faded to thin pinkish lines or pale-yellow blotches week of healing not days. Physical proof that I am not quite human. Even the larger injuries shouldn't be closing up at this rate. I shut my eyes as Hitomi lathers my hair, the feeling is soothing. Her fingers are firm as they work the soap into the thick strands. Flashes of memory; wind as I fly through the air, large white wings beating in powerful strokes.
I remember how it felt to have burning pain rip through my back, literally shred the skin as the wings quickly expanded. Not just that I have it back, the childhood stunt where I lept from the palace roof and my small wings were to weak, but my mother's arms were strong as they caught me mid-fall.
That almost takes my breath away. Hitomi must have noticed, because her hands still. "What is it? Did I hurt you?"
"No," I respond opening my eyes and taking her wrists so that I can pull her in-front of me. "I recalled what it feels like to call my wings and all the times I had to use them during the war. Also, I remembered my mother." It went without saying that I also remembered the promise I broke when the world shattered under her feet and saving her became the most important thing, even if it took much longer for me to understand. Hitomi was the first person to see the beauty in my curse. That might have been the moment I first fell in love with her.
"Oh Van," She sighed and the next thing I know her arms are pressing my soapy wet head into her chest. "That's wonderful. It will all come back gradually."
After a moment of tension, I relax into the embrace. Savoring the feel of her in my arms and know that even though my memory still remains broken, the fact I love this girl is something very real I can hold onto.
Over the next few days more of myself seems to trickle back into place, like small drops of water gradually filling an empty bucket. It takes time as everything said it would, but the more I remember the less I can stand sitting still. Waiting to heal takes more patience then I've probably ever possessed.
For her part Hitomi does her best to tend me, when I let her. Weakness comes with my healing wounds, but I reuse to let it show. Stubborn pride she calls it, but by the third day I've already started trying to train again. Whomever hurt me had no mercy and won't when I face them again. I must challenge them even if I still don't recall the reasons why.
It was an almost physical shock to realize my sword was gone, or hadn't followed me to this world. Being without it made me feel almost naked, even more so then the loss of clothing, but as though a part of me was missing. I would have been just as off balance if someone had chopped off my hand and told me to go about normal life.
The crested blade marked me as king, but so much more. I had it when everything else that made me who I was my people and country were ruthlessly stripped away. I held it in my hands when I was desperate, angry, and lost; still it also guided me through some of the darkest times. As though Balgus's strength and my father's wisdom helped me through it all to become the man, the king I was destined to be.
Hitomi's family home carried no proper substitution for the sword for training, but a long metal club she called a baseball bat did the job well enough. The weight was focused in the wrong place, I had to adjust my stance and balance. Regardless of it's faults the bat did make a satisfying sound as it sliced though the air.
"Don't over do it." Hitomi called from the rear of the house, as I moved around the small square back yard.
I didn't respond because I will not lie to her. Anyways my leg was already beginning to throb with the exercise. If I stopped too suddenly it would also make my head swim with dizziness. Of my original injuries those were the only remaining ones that still bothered me. A possible healing miracle for a normal man, but I have never been in danger of being that. Between my mother's blood and my father's royal stature I was born anything but common. The green-eyed girl was the only one to treat me as such, and that has always made her special.
After a bit I took a break, more to prevent her worry then any desire to on my part. An iced glass of barley tea was already waiting on the table made me grateful. I hadn't even realized how thirsty I'd gotten outside in the warm summer sun.
"Thank you," I breathed once I'd gulped down half the contents.
"No problem," Hitomi said, but there was a twinkle in her eye I wasn't quite able to read. It became apparent when I went to return to my work and found the metal cylinder gone.
"Where-" I started turning back to the house only to find Hitomi standing there, her shirt tied up on one side and a hose nozzle in her hand like a weapon. "What are you doing?"
"I think you look a little hot," She smiled with a playful glimmer, one I recognize now as the warning I missed earlier.
"Don't even think about it." My statement should have sounded like an order, but it had the opposite effect. She gave the handle a quick squeeze shooting a stream of cold water in my direction. One that I was barely able to dodge a direct hit, though the edge of spray just caught me in the shoulder.
She laughed at must have been an incredulous look on my face. Before I sputtered out another half-hearted threat, the second blast caught me right in the face. This time Hitomi went silent as if stunned that the attack had worked. I took the opportunity to lunge at her, causing the girl to shriek and run out of reach.
An all-out battle for the water sprayer ensued with much laughter and a very short-lived victory on my part where I was able to get control long enough to drench her in return. It wasn't entirely Hitomi's quickness that forced me to surrender, but the way her soaked shirt clung to every curve as if it were no longer there, the betrayal of my wandering mind was what truly disarmed me.
It wasn't though I let her win after that, but it was inevitable. Chest heaving with laugher she returned to the house for towels that had been set safely just inside the door. Tossing me one the short-haired girl grinned openly.
"I haven't had that much fun in a long time." She began to dry her face first, but unable to ressit any longer I wrapped my section of fluffy white fabric around her chest. Taken aback she sputtered at me. "What is this for?"
My face must have gone red, because she lifted the towel enough to look down at her wet and basically translucent shirt. With a shriek that had nothing to do with my actions the girl darted into the house gripping the cloth around herself. So, I guessed in a way it was a tie, and we both lost.
Without a towel anymore, I did my best not to drip as I walked carefully back to the room where I am staying. It should belong to a boy younger then Merle, but he didn't live here now. Hitomi hadn't said much about her family and their falling out. She didn't need to, I could see the blame the girl placed on herself for the rift.
It's not my place to say anything, but a man doesn't leave his wife because he doesn't believe a story even an other worldly fantasy. No, there are deeper, maybe darker reasons between the split. When Hitomi first told me about the family she missed so much I wasn't jealous but was in awe of this simple uncomplicated life. One that was waiting for her without condition or expectation.
The sad thing about life is that it rarely has a fairytale ending. There wasn't one in my family, or really any in our group. Maybe that desire for something better is what held us together. Rallying around Hitomi and the naïve hopefulness she carried like a banner. Some of her naturally enthusiastic glow should have faded, but that wasn't my Hitomi, she was so very strong.
I wasn't saying that I loved her, because it was expected in return. Or from some feeling of debt built from my need for her care. Truthfully the bond was always between us, even when I didn't know what to call it. There has never been anyone for me but the strange green-eyed girl.
When I return home if she wants to come along it will make me very happy, but I won't ask her to give up the life here. It must be something she wants with her whole heart, not just the part that will miss me.
These musing thoughts distract me while I change from the soaking clothes into a dry set. As soon as I've pulled the new shirt over my damp hair there is a knock on the door.
"Come in," I called knowing it could only be Hitomi. She entered wearing a new outfit of shorts and layered tank-tops, along with a slightly embarrassed expression.
"Hey," She started, and I recognized that an apology was coming next.
"That was fun, but next time I'll win for sure." The distraction worked even forced as it was. The shyness in her posture faded.
"I don't know about that." Playfulness had return and she stood in a defiant stance one hand propped on her hip. Both of us were actively avoiding the conversation of what I saw through the soaked fabric. Her expression turned thoughtful. "That might have been the first time I've ever seen you act your age. It was nice."
She was right of course. From birth I was never treated as a normal child. Tutors, training, and even my bedtime stories told of valiant knights slaying terrible dragons. To another boy that might have been just a tale of chivalry, but for me it was as though the earlier I was prepared the better off I would be. Diplomacy, history, economy structure, resource management, sword fighting, archery, etiquette, and even dancing; these were just a few of my lessons. All of which became more stringent the moment I became next in line to be king.
Other boys even those of high standings had time to go riding that had nothing to do with training or surveying the local tenets. They attended social functions where every well-connected girl wasn't potentially the next queen. Everyone wasn't a subject to them, and they were able to develop normal friendships, even ones only within the same class. I was not. It seemed like everyone always wanted something from me.
The memories come easier now, though not all the missing spaces are filled in yet. My strict upbringing taught me that arrogance was a better response then fear. So, when I met a girl who saved my life I wasn't grateful for her interference, because she had to want something in return. People only looked out for themselves and sought what I could do for them before anything else. She was different, Hitomi didn't see the world like I did.
War didn't leave her untouched, but even now there is true uncomplicated goodness in her. Not that I'd ever recommend being beaten and hit over the head this was a chance that I never expected to have. One to not be the king of Fanelia, but Van, just Van. Maybe it was selfish, then again, I'd thought the only time I'd see Hitomi we'd both be older.
She should have returned to me not the other way around. I looked at her now and only wanted one thing, first I needed to see if she felt the same.
"Would you want me to court you?" Though in this situation I could never truly do things properly, I have no gifts to give and showing her around the kingdom is also impossible. "I don't know how it is done here, but I'd like to try."
She smiled and it was a brilliant beautiful thing that almost took my breath away. "Van, are you asking me out?"
The term was unfamiliar, but the meaning I understood. "Isn't that what I said?"
"Well it helps if you say the words as a request." Her small amused expression made me want to do something impulsive like kiss her.
"Hitomi, will you go out with me with marriage in mind?" Maybe I went to far adding the last part, because she didn't respond right away. Second guessing myself my mind started trying to find a way to fix the blunder without getting slapped, again.
Before I could put my food in my mouth, which was bound to happen. Hitomi's hand came up, and one slender finger pressed to my lips.
"Don't blow a gasket Van. My answer is Yes," She paused knowing that I probably needed a moment to stop my head from spinning off into space. Her hand dropping from my mouth to take my hand in her much softer one, now that the danger had passed. "Under a few conditions. We take this slow and remember that wedding bells are still a long way down the road."
I nod taking a deep breath, letting her continue. "We still don't know everything that happened. So, lets take this one step at a time." At that she threw a towel over my still dripping hair and took off.
It was easy to agree with her, even if I didn't know what the next step would be. We'd already confirmed our feelings so that hard part was already done. Or it should be. I haven't courted anyone before, and to be honest I never thought I'd have to. Before I met Hitomi it was understood, but unsaid that my romantic future would be political in nature. Therefor it would have little to do with what or who I'd want.
It was hard to me to understand my growing feelings for the strange green-eyed girl. Denial was a large part of it, but in many ways I am still more sheltered then she. In this world I can rely on her to take the lead. A commitment means something different on our worlds and part of that means her leaving everything behind. So, we will do this her way for now. One day the roles will be reversed.
With my healing body and fractured mind taken into account, it was decided that we go for a walk in town. For the most part I would have been just as happy to stay here with her, but between waking up with her this morning and the wet clothing incident still fresh in my mind, being alone together was far more dangerous.
There was a heated debate about my refusal to use crutches, though I was already a bit sore from training it wouldn't slow me down. The clothes she'd chosen for me fit well enough but felt strange. Like by putting them on I was stepping into someone else's life. One where a normal boy and the girl he fancied could walk hand in hand without pressure or expectations. Maybe all this was old-fashioned, but it was part of who I am, and Hitomi didn't seem to mind.
She chatted happily as we walked. I listened to everything, just taking in the way sun light ringed her short-hair in gold like a shimmering halo. How the excitement made her eyes glow like large emeralds. I didn't need tell her how beautiful she was to me, the words weren't necessary, not in this moment. Instead I reached out first and took her hand in mine. She stopped walking just long enough to twine our fingers, and it didn't matter if my palm was sweeting.
As strange as Hitomi must have found Gaia as strange as I found her world. It was nice to know that I wasn't going crazy for not knowing what things were. I never questioned the small box she carried with her on our journey, or how it worked. So, it didn't seem right to worry about all the things I didn't understand now. Just grateful for the chance to be here, with her, like this.
"Hitomi!" A girl's voice called out in sudden recognition on the street.
I started to let go of her hand, but she gave mine a little squeeze in return holding on. We turned together to find a vaguely familiar face framed by deep reddish hair.
"Yukari, what a surprise." She stated greeting her closest friend cheerfully. Then with a glowing smile turned towards me. "I'm actually glad to have run into you. There is someone I'd like to officially introduce you to."
I gave a small nod before turning back to her friend. This meant a lot, for the people in her life to know me. That way when she did return to Gaia for good they would know that she was safe, with me. I recognized the other girl, Yukari, more now. She was the one who tripped running from the dragon upon our first meeting. She was also there the night I flew Escaflowne to retrieve Hitomi.
It seems she was remembering those times as well, because her brown eyes narrowed in response. "You," She said with a slightly unfriendly note in her voice.
Sensing her friend's dislike Hitomi leaned into my side as a sign of our shared feelings. "This is Van Fanel, and he's the one that I was with the entire time I was gone."
"He took you there." Yukari spat reminding me so much of someone else, maybe Merle, but thinking about it made my head throb.
"No," Hitomi soothed smoothly. "That's not how it happened at all. I don't know if it was an accident or if going there was destiny."
"But I'd be dead several times over if it weren't for Hitomi." I finished turning my attention back to the seer at my side. To me it didn't really matter what this friend thought of me, but it was important to her.
"Van, protected me too." The slight blush dusting her cheeks spoke louder then the simple words. "He's the one that I told you so much about."
The red-haired girl relaxed visibly, as if remembering more of what she'd heard from her friend and less of the assumption I was blamed for. After that we went into a shop that sold tea and cakes. The girls talked and I mostly listened though did contribute when directly questioned.
The whole atmosphere of the place was new and strange for me. There might have been places like this back on my world, but I'd never had the chance to be out in public like this, anonymous. Taking time out of your day to chat, eat sweets, and drink tea prepared by someone else; well it was something people like Millearna did. Here it seemed like everyone was excepted regardless of status. To think that the average populace had this kind of spare time and money for such luxury was surprising.
It was nice to see this side of Hitomi. True she's always shown a warmth that drew people in, an open acceptance regardless of factors that others would instantly judge on. Things that separated me from the rest of the world for far too long. By the end of our conversation her friend had warmed up to me and I'd heard a few new stories of the green-eyed girl that just made me love her more.
Right before we went our separate ways the new girl stopped us.
"Wait second," She called out to Hitomi. "I've had the song you used to whistle stuck in my head lately but can't remember how it ends." Then put her lips together and started a slow almost haunting tune. At the first notes a sharp pain shot through my head like an icepick. With the sudden pressure came images, ones I had yet to see since waking up on this world. A tall man with spiked light blueish hair, broad shoulder, and black wings.
The solemn almost peaceful way he whistled the Fanelian Lullaby, even though he helped destroy the land it came from. A sense of loss put on hold, and a need to set things right that led to a desolate city filled with green chocking smog. Finding not a casket, but his gaunt face floating in a cylinder full of sinister glowing liquid.
Hitomi's bright worries eyes swam into focus as she said my name over and over again. I grasped her hands hard enough to make her wince, not knowing my own strength in lingering memories.
"Folken isn't dead," I gasped out putting the pieces together. Her horrified expression doesn't cover half of what I'm feeling. The story tumbles out in a disorganized stream. "I needed to set his body to rest with our father, so I went back to Zaibach. They've kept him alive to run horrible tests on, trying to create more Draconians."
Bile rose in my throat, but I had to finish the story now that I knew what it was. "I had to get Folken out or if not kill him myself. Brother wouldn't want to exist like that, but they caught me." I refused to let them take me alive and did my best to take as many of their scientist and soldiers down with me. That was when someone hit me over the back of the head, and everything went dark. The next thing I knew was darkness and Hitomi calling out to me.
This little respite had been nice, but now that my memory had returned. I can't leave him there with those twisted people. I may not have forgiven Folken for his choices, but he is my only family and I know he'd come for me if I were in his place.
It was time to save him or die trying.
To be continued…
A/N- I'm sorry to leave you like that, but it was always going there. We got to see a little more between Hitomi and Van before the story returned to a darker theme. I don't have a whole lot to say. Nothing that would change things. I have prepared myself for the yelling.