Hello friend! I'll keep most comments to the end except for one. This is a mature story with themes and descriptions not meant for underage readers. If sexual acts are not your preference, please refrain from reading this story. I have other stories that are more neutral so feel free to navigate towards one of those. Otherwise disregard this warning at your own discretion.

Strong Memories

Chapter One- Just the Beginning

Memory is a strange thing. Time fades some things and sharpens others. There are so many days in my life I'll never forget and a few that I wish I could. You see I don't recall my father, just his funeral and the way my mother cried. My brother ten years older was who I remember reading me bedtime stories, and playing with me in the gardens. Then he too was gone from my life. All I know of my family after that was a sad silent shadow of my mother until she too left me.

The only family remaining was a small cat-eared child, who had lost her's long before, in this sorrow we were related. A country without a king, ruled by his remaining council until I met the minimum age for the rite of passage, as my brother had before me. An old scarred samurai as a teacher, mentor, but not a father.

Those years passed in blurs of whispers and doubts. Could I succeed where my brother failed? Could a child really rule our land? Did the council want to give up control after so much time in power? Was this really what was best for our people? Would it be better if I like the rest just never came back? Might it be fate? Our curse running true as the old timers always predicted it would?

The pressure of all that weighing down on my shoulders, ones I knew were thin for my age, but being wiry doesn't mean weak. Balgus made sure of that. Training until I could barely stand, or hold the blade too large and heavy for me. The skin on my hands split and re-healed so many times I stopped taking off my gloves except to wash, even to eat and sometimes sleep they stayed on.

Merle who grew out of her childish lisp, but never that clinging attachment to me. As much as people might frown about holding to the scrap of family I had left, or indulging her moods, none of it mattered. She and the old man were all I had left. Even as I aged closer to the deadline. Twelfth white moon of my fifteenth year came up so fast, and then my world changed.

One moment I was chasing fresh dragon tracks through wild grass: the next bright light was everywhere, lifting me, carrying my layers of armor and small arsenal onto another planet. One where a girl my age thought I was a figment of her imagination, only the repeating of a vision she didn't fully understand. Crashing solidly into my side, and like any attack I did as I was trained, I stood defensively strong.

She landed heavily on the strange ground. Two people rushing to her side, looked at me as though I was the one who had attacked her. When my arm still throbbed through the layers I had thought would protect me from a dragon. The same type of armor Folken wore ten years ago. It wouldn't even help me against a single girl. One with eyes like gemstones, but I wrote her off as just another bystander that would probably not want to be eaten by a dragon, but that was their choice.

As it was, they ran, but must have been the tastier snack as the beast was far more interested in them than me. It's thick tail smashing into me felt worse than the girl, but at least the dragon I expected. I remember every detail of the fight. The heat, taste of blood in my mouth, even the girl shouting just in time to save my life. When a spiked tail cut right where I had just been, slicing through chain and plate armor like it was nothing.

I didn't hesitate, striking at the first sign of weakness just as the beast would have. Slicing into the exposed soft underbelly, blue blood spraying, darting around so that I could open the glowing chest while the dragon screamed. The second gush of hot fluid coating me entirely, but once the energist was out all of the blood covering me began to steam away. Thick scaly skin, bone, and organs turning into ash on the wind.

Then the girl was there, and I just thought, gods not another person that wants something from me. I never expected to get hit by her a second time. It wouldn't be the last either. Sometimes it was to save my life crashing into each other over and over again, and sometimes she had to do it to remind me that I wasn't alone. That I didn't have to take on the world on my own. It was something I forgot in the blood and pain, with the darkness that wanted to swallow me from the inside out. It nearly succeeded more than a few times.

The dragon wasn't the first thing to turn to ash at my touch. For the most part I had even started to believe in all the negative whispers that have followed my whole life. The draconian curse haunted the back of my mind with everything bad that happened, and there were a lot of terrible reminders. There were times I wished to have a poorer memory. As if there were a way to make myself forget the screams of my people as they were tragically slaughtered. Celebration quickly morphing into screams, blood, and fire.

I didn't fall in love, but crashed into it, with that same troublesome girl bit by bit. She did the impossible, repeatedly and I couldn't stop from falling. Being young and inexperienced, the gradual change in my feelings didn't quite make those tumultuous times any easier. To be honest of all my years full of tutors and training they all neglected lessons on how to understand women, especially ones from other worlds with a temper as short as her hair.

I never really thought about a romantic future. Not being killed by a dragon was my most pressing issue for years. I'd always sort of been okay with the council picking someone suitable for me. It's not that I didn't find women attractive, but it seemed a pointless thing to worry about. Folken had been betrothed to a princess before his disappearance. An alliance strained by whispers that the missing prince had run from responsibility, our relationship with Asturia hadn't been the same since.

When the blond princess had been reminiscing about her visit to my country as a child I doubt she knew that it had been more diplomatic then a friendly visit. Her middle sister and my older brother had to meet in order to finalize the betrothal agreement. Fanelia has never believed in blind marriage contracts, so I knew when someone was chosen for me, I would at least get to meet her. It was more say then some royals got. Then again no one would enter into an agreement until I was king, it was too much of a risk to promise a daughter to someone who might never return.

Imagine my surprise when the other countries turned out right not to want a premature alliance, but it was no longer a country without a king, instead I became a king without his country. To think that that disaster helped me to see what I had been missing for so long. Someone that thought about me and not my crown. Who would risk herself literally running into danger for a boy who hadn't always been the kindest to her.

Just like the armor I wore the night we first met, my arrogance and blunt dismissal was meant to protect me from injury, but it was about as effective. Which is to say, easily penetrated by a sudden attack I never saw coming. She thought my curse was beautiful. Running to my side over and again over like we were drawn together, powerful magnets pulled by unseen forces. When worried for me when I was drowning in revenge, even when I completely lost my way.

It was better that her attention always lay elsewhere, it would make the promise to my mentor that much easier to keep. I wanted to protect her even if I wasn't the one she wanted. Still I couldn't have anticipated that her feelings towards me would change to something more.

She saved me from myself. Then it was time to let her go. Keep my promises, and that was possibly the hardest thing I've ever done. It was good too. Finishing this the way we started, together. The main difference was me, I wasn't living under the weight of whispers and curses. No longer hiding behind a wall of doubt and attitude.

That girl taught me it is was okay to care. Doing so didn't make me weak, instead it made me stronger. The rumors became legends, and that turned into power that I could use, another weapon in my arsenal.

As I rebuilt my country, the people returned. Not just the ones native to Fanelia who had fled and survived after the destruction, but others who lost everything answered my call, and they found comfort in the stories of the white dragon. A chance at a new life.

It caused more then just an infusion of citizens, but the potential that came with the promise of a future without war. Escaflowne slept and Fanelia thrived, but still a part of my life remained missing. In a way the war brought me a new family, but the green-eyed girl was the glue that had held or mismatched party together, without her it wasn't complete.

Of course, before I was a liability as an untried prince, the King of Fanelia and Pilot of the Escaflowne was an embarrassingly sought-after match. For most of my life I remained neutral about who and when I would be paired with my future queen. Now, I couldn't quite say that is was true.

In the years since everything happened both my council and outside forces tried to push favorable candidates. It I hadn't fallen so deeply in love this would have been so much easier. I might have agreed to marry some princess who was pretty and tolerable, I may have even grown to care for her. None of that was possible really, not anymore.

I always found myself comparing any of the women to her, or at least the memory I held so close. Merle said I was being unreasonable. Unfair even, since no one could ever live up to a memory, a fantasy really. At twenty moons it was finally time to put the past where it belongs.

After all it is my wedding day. It was time to move forward. For a long time, I even wondered if I would make it this far. My hands are steady as I fasten my sword belt across the long-embroidered vest, smoothing the crimson and gold fabric once the weight settles fully. I don't need to wear the crested sword, but it like my gloves are a constant comfort.

A small knock at the door comes followed by my sister entering the room, letting me know it was time.

This is when my life changes again. A memory that will either be sharpened with time or blur together like a whirlwind of colors. Expectant faces follow my entrance to the shrine, rebuilt and protecting Escaflowne once more. Sure, this could be done in the main courtyard for the whole city to witness, or on the palace roof at sunset in a private ceremony, but this choice like all the others feels right. Since this is where my life took a completely unexpected course. Where survival and revenge were impossible to separate.

I also learned a leader's true responsibility is to his people, it wasn't something I could understand locked in a training room. That true kindness has no limits, when caring isn't a liability, and I never had to be alone.

The music shifts and those invited to witness today go silent. A tall golden-haired knight stationed directly behind the Astorian Royal family, caught my eye with his crystalline blue ones. With a knowing smile Allen motioned upward slightly. One hand drifts to follow his clue, only to find the thick golden circlet at my brow had shifted down unevenly on one side. With a deep sigh to relieve my nerves I fixed the lopsided crown, and no one was paying me any mind, the whole crowd watching the entrance expectantly.

Merle appeared first; her bright hair pulled to one side tumbling over a single shoulder in one large corkscrew of curls, bringing out the color of her butter yellow dress. My sister may have been holding an overflowing bundle of wildflowers in a riot of colors, her large expressive eyes rolled at me. She could still read me better than anyone and reminded me of how stiff I was. With a deep breath I relaxed my tense shoulders, earning a real smile from the Neko girl.

As if drawn by an invisible force my attention locked on the woman just starting down the aisle. Her lean body is athletic but soft in all the right places, attractive, stunning even in the layers of white trimmed along all edges with gold and silver embroidered designs. The long sheer veil moving around her like a soft cloud.

I must have stopped breathing again, because the world sped up and she was right there next to me. Silently she turned passing the cascade of flowers I hadn't even noticed she was carrying to Merle who stood just off to the side. The slender hand then came towards me, I hesitated for only a second before taking it in my own and leading her forward. Together we stepped into the exact center of the painted floor, directly under the encased armor that was my past, with the woman who held my future.

The priest was there waiting for us, and as we turned towards each other I found it was more awe then nerves that made my movements feel clumsy and slow now, as I lifted the gold trimmed veil. Full kissable lips and large emerald green eyes smiled at me.

Hitomi was so beautiful I could barely breathe. "Careful now, your face might stick like that." She teased softly, but her hand trembled slightly in my own. The girl from the mystic moon was as flustered as I was, but she didn't wear a goofy smile like I apparently did.

"It's just," I swallowed the lump in my throat before continuing. "You seem to get more beautiful every time I see you."

She laughed lightly and though faint, was the most musical sound in this or any world. "You know Van, flattery will get you married."

I squeezed her hand firmly. "I'm counting on it." Flowery speeches were not my specialty, but honesty was.

The priest cleared his throat, and a wave of good-natured chuckling surrounded us. The rest of the world came back into focus, and half of it seemed to be in the shrine, watching happily. After that we followed the holy-man's prompts. Swearing in front of everyone to love, honor, and cherish each other till our last shared breath. Obedience was a part of the original oath, but we requested it be removed for our vows. Neither of us wanted to lie, as we knew from the start that we are both stubborn and only understanding will make it work, not submission.

The rings were next. Identical gold bands twisted and engraved to appear like the thin dragon from the crest that has followed my life, wings tucked around the serpent like body. I paused before taking Hitomi's ring, instead I removed my gloves, tucking the brown leather into my belt. The softness of her hand against the exposed callouses felt both strange and exciting. The metal slid easily to rest on her slender finger. Then my hand was in hers, she paused seeing the rough cracked, badly healed skin that I always hid.

"I've always been surprised that you never had any scars after the war." She whispered rubbing small circles with her thumb in the thick callouses on my palm. "It seems you've been hiding them all along."

I swallowed hard, barely feeling anything, but her hands gently moving the ring into place. Just the electric charge passing between us. Then my hand with the new golden ring was cupping her soft cheek, and I was kissing her. Cheers and clapping erupted from everywhere at once.

Hitomi's veil once removed was replaced with a thin circlet of braided gold and silver. The priest then announced her as Queen Hitomi Kanzaki de Fanel, and us as husband and wife. We took our first steps together, the start of the next part of our journey.

I knew we were expected to go directly to the reception, but, well I didn't want to. Instead the two of us ran for it, her laughter making my grin widen. No words were needed, she followed my lead into the palace, until we reached the stairs. She hesitated yanking on my arm slightly, and I saw the problem right away. Her long skirts weren't made for a quick get-away.

My grin lifted more on one side, and I could see her cheeks flush in response. It could also be the way I knelt slightly, an arm under her long legs, sweeping Hitomi into my arms in one smooth move. Then I was taking the stairs swiftly, two at a time in some cases, but didn't stop at the floor with our room. Instead I made it all the way to the roof in record time. Her slender arms still around my neck.

I almost didn't want to set her down. Still held the embrace as her feet touched the flat stones. Before I could say anything her soft lips were on mine. The heat passing through us like an irresistible current. Without breaking apart one of her hands threaded through my hair, pulling me closer and deepening the kiss.

Finally, we had to separate otherwise we'd never make it down to the party. Not that I would mind so much, but we'll have plenty of time later, or so I'm hoping.

"I stopped believing in stories with happy endings a very long time ago." My voice was low, but it was just the two of us, as it should be. "Until I met you and everything changed."

"That's not true." I could feel the piercing look in her eyes all the way to my core. "This isn't a happy ending, since it's just the beginning."

These are the memories that I want to hold on to forever deep in my heart, but I know from here on each day will be brighter than the last. Despite my inner desire to extend this private breath of fresh air, reluctantly we rejoined the celebrations. Just making the rounds of our guests took up most of the night. Even the portions of the evening where Hitomi and I were supposed to be together moved past at record speeds. I wanted to slow down time and savor each moment, like a sweet dessert where each bite is more amazing than the last.

The night and festivities wore on, but there never seemed to be a good time to escape. At one point I was cornered by an older Egzdardian man who was enthusiastically regaling me of stories from the last king of Fanelia's wedding to a mysterious woman, more than thirty moons ago. At some point Hitomi and I had been separated even though she was far better at getting out of these situations than I. Allen instead arrived with a timely excuse for my attention, making me grateful to my long-time friend all over again.

Before I could ask what he truly needed the tall knight placed a hand in the center of my back, giving me a strong push towards the doors. "Go, quickly." He urged low enough so only I could hear. "Hitomi is waiting."

I could have stopped and asked what he meant, but at that point I didn't care. With the blond man as a distraction I escaped into the far quieter corridor, which was empty. Confused for a second, I started down, slowly away from the guests that might still be enjoying our hospitality until the early hours, a time which I'd rather not be with them.

Distracted as I was, it came as a complete surprise when an arm snaked out from a darkened doorway tugging me back a step or two. Instinct to fight, attack, respond defensively flares to life quickly. Only the familiar perfume, like bright summer sunshine and vibrant wildflowers told who my attacker truly was. Hitomi's open smile was my second clue, but I already knew.

She took the initiative this time kissing me with a heat that told me the best part of the evening was yet to come. All the words in either world could express the depth of this connection. If the electric charge could burn us alive, we'd catch together. Her hands moved from my chest up to tangle in the always wild hair, skewing my crown without a care. My pulse pounded through my head blind to anything but Hitomi.

So many times I dreamt of this, of being together not just bond in the eyes of the world, but ready for our life together to being for real. We'd remained connected the four moons she remained on the mystic moon, I waited. When Hitomi returned I kept true to expectations of decorum despite neither of us being children before. All the times I'd wanted to touch her. Hold this slim body against mine, like the missing half to a whole person, incomplete without each other.

She pulled away by only a breath, stilling enough to whisper against my lips "I love you," Ready to burst apart with all the things that I could only share with her, as though my soul pushed against the containment of my skin.

Somehow, we made it back to our room, wanting this to be more than frenzied moments hidden in a parlor where anyone could stumble upon us. There's never been a woman for me that wasn't Hitomi, and I the only man for her. The door clicked behind us, desperate hands discarding our crowns amidst the growing pile of clothing on the floor. Hitomi's progress was halted by the row of tiny ties holding her dress in place. Wordlessly my fingers found the small knots, tightened by our energetic pulling, and worked the ribbons loose in what felt like painfully long moments. Then I was pushing the layers of fabric from her slender shoulders, pooling the priceless dress onto the floor like the cumbersome cloth it was. My vest and belt long gone, the shirt came off next, and her fingers found my bare skin as though learning the shape and feel of me by touch alone.

Breathe becoming more ragged, my lips found the edge of her jaw and began trailing downward, studying the curve of her neck a kiss at a time. My name escaped her like a prayer, and it was all I could do to keep from fragmenting into a million pieces, kept together only by my love for her. We stumbled towards the bed together, not seeing anything but each other.

Falling backwards I pulled Hitomi down so that she landed on top of me, her slighter form molded down the length of my body. Yet we still kissed like the world was ending, and only our continued passion could save us. Her legs shifted to either side of my hips, the straddling position a promise, or invention, it didn't matter because my breeches remained in place an unnecessary separation between us.

With a moan I used my superior strength to roll us over in one swift controlled movement. Hitomi let out a small surprised sound that nearly made my blood boil in response. Keeping my balance from pressing her down into the soft mattress I broke the kiss to look down at her. Chest heaving as though running a race, the motion causing her firm breasts to slip free of the thin fabric undergarments she'd worn under the dress. Straps loosely slid from slender shoulders and flimsy skirt hiked up to show the rest of her bare. The perfect shape of her form free to my gaze and I wanted to kiss and touch the entire expanse of sensitive flesh like a drowning man needs air.

As if reading my thoughts, Hitomi arched up in response to my desire. Her own wishes clear as I felt fingertips trail purposefully downward to my own unnecessary clothing. Carving a path of fire along the way. Without hesitation she unfastened the stays of my pants and pushed the fabric down over my narrow hips. Digging the balls of my feet into the mattress I pressed forward letting her push the cloth down enough until I could kick them off the rest of the way, now entirely bear to her.

I could feel her gaze on me with heat, love, and desire. The seamless tan of my muscled flesh completely on view for the first time. I'd never been shy about the loss of a shirt or several in the past, but now I was completely vulnerable. Dragging my view away from her body I saw everything there in clearly written in Hitomi's eyes. The want was there trying to disguise her nervousness, this being both our first time we knew that not all of this would be pleasant for my new wife. She bit her lip, torn between fearing the pain and complete love for me.

Shifting my weight again I cupped her cheek in one hand forcing worried green eyes to meet mine. "I know," I said simply. All the love I had for her clear in my eyes, after a moment the tension seemed to leave her, and she nodded. The kiss I instigated was softer than before. Full of tenderness, as my hand left her face and moved lower, trailing soft touches down until her breath became ragged again, small gasps and moans like music as my fingers worked.

When she arched up towards me on instinct, I took the opportunity, smooth yet as gently as possible. Hitomi's breath came out as a sharp hiss of pain, I stilled waiting for the worst to pass. Coaxing her with kisses as touches as a distraction from the unpleasant side of this. My love for her overflowing. I felt her relax, yet still didn't move until she said my name again, her own movements attempting to take control.

Together we learned a rhythm, one that brought both our breaths and actions quicker, more frantic. Until she tightened around me, hands that had been on my shoulders dug blunt nails into the flesh there, her voice mingling with mine as we both finished together.

Panting and spent I rolled off her, if only to pull Hitomi to my chest, our sweat dampened skin, hot and the air still felt electrified. Kissing the top of her head I apologized for the pain, even if we both knew it was unavoidable. She shrugged it off, sleepy and content now. I felt her breaths deepen as happy exhaustion took over. Full of love for the woman in my arms and an impossible contentment for the start of our life together.

As Hitomi had said this wasn't a happily ever after, just the beginning of the rest of our journey, one that we walked hand in hand. Until the very end. I for one can't wait to see what comes next.

To be continued…

A/N- Well… Not Quite Normal has a little left, Bitter Medicine is about halfway and waiting for inspiration. Then this story this which was a one shot come to mind. You see I started this one a long time ago and got to the point where Hitomi pulls Van into an empty room down the hall from the party. I was torn between leaving it PG and taking it into more mature content. As you can see it didn't stay innocent in the end. This was also intended as a oneshot… then I received a request from a regular reviewer to see a story that started with a wedding instead of ending at one like most continuations.

This was edited by Meghanna Starsong in only the original portion, but the rest is self-edited

It's possible this will stay her at the original ending, but the idea is to switch to Hitomi's perspective in the next chapter and go back and forth showing the first year of their marriage, the good and the bad, but always in love. I don't know when the next chapter with come into being as I still have the other two stories on the program, but this is the only mature one of the lot, so bear with me please.

As always, I can't wait to hear what you think.