Disclaimer: The characters in this fic, such as Johnny, Shania, etc. don't belong to me; they are property of Sacnoth and Midway, so don't sue! ;.;
Dedications: God, my friends, my readers, my RP buddies, Aruze for gracing this magnificent RPG with yet another installment, X-SEED for localizing this game, and finally, all the fans that are still devoted to this series after so long.
Shadow Hearts III: Perchance To Dream
Oh, man. Not again…
His face was covered in cold sweat as he tried to calm down his breathing after shooting straight up into a sitting position, peaceful sleep completely disrupted yet again. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut, his expression tense and strained from trying to banish the unwanted mental images, even as familiar voices continued to echo inside his ears, taunting his fragile psyche with heart-wrenching memories. Coarse material met his forehead when he tipped his chin down and involuntarily shivered, feeling a sudden chill surrounding him in spite of the tepid temperature within the heated agency. His hands clutched the blanket to keep himself mentally grounded, contrary to the small panicking part of him just wanted to scream out loud in growing frustration.
Was he ever going to stop thinking about them? He didn't want to forget them – no, that was something different altogether – but the scene from the basement wasn't how he wanted to remember them either. Or the "small" fact that his sister had eventually been killed by his own hand… rather, his sister's body, to be exact. Even so, he remembered seeing tears spilling from her eyes in the Gate, and for a brief minute, sympathy had almost overcome him. Why had she been crying back then? Was it because she had somehow regained her memories, and felt guilty for everything she did? Regret that she would need to fight against her brother for the sake of saving the world from the evil presence of Malice, powered by her very existence?
…Probably not. It was wishful thinking from a tortured mind, desperate to justify.
He had no idea when it all started, just that the occurrences were becoming more frequent as of late, prompting the perturbed blond to stubbornly stay awake longer than usual. It took only a few days for his butler to notice and inquire after his health, commenting with concern that faint dark circles were beginning to form around his eyes. His partner didn't say anything, but she watched him closely each morning, and it was harder to keep a secret from her because in some ways, she actually knew him better, after all the time they had spent together. Not wanting to alarm them, he fervently expressed denial and claimed everything was fine, knowing full well they didn't believe him, and yet, they couldn't forcibly extract the truth.
Damn it… Just stop.
A clenched fist suddenly hit the firm cushion, over the billowing sheet as he tried to suppress the tremors slowly crawling up his spine. He had to stay strong and pull himself together. No one else could help him deal with this problem, and losing his cool or crying like a little kid wouldn't do any good. If he had even half the strength and resilience of his willful partner, he probably could have gotten over it by now, and his gaze immediately shifted toward the second floor. With that determined resolution in mind, the young detective glanced over at the clock on the wall: 2AM, too late to do anything except tire himself out with an excruciatingly boring book, but… he didn't feel like reading. It always took him a long time to go back to sleep after suffering through one of those nightmares, and then he was usually awakened by Lenny rising early in the morning.
Tonight seemed like it would be no different, and the irritated blond fell back onto the couch with a light plop. Closing his eyes, he tried to clear his mind and return to sleep, tossing and turning around for a while before eventually realizing this method was a huge waste of time. Emitting a quiet growl of frustration, he flung off the covers and sat up on the couch, staring blindly into the darkness as he tried to figure out what to do. Dawn wouldn't come for hours, and if he stayed awake for the rest of the night, he was going to be tired during the day, which could affect his sharpness in any new cases that arrived. If he had still been traveling around with the group on their adventure, he could have snuck off and taken down a few monsters to kill some energy.
Maybe milk would help, like people always claimed. He went into the kitchen and kept the lights off as he hurriedly downed a glass, then left it in the sink. On his way back to the couch, he accidentally ran into a chair leg and groaned at the spike of fresh pain assaulting his senses.
The blond teen stumbled over and planted his butt down onto the cushion again, gritting his teeth from the unpleasant constant throbbing. Suddenly, a creaking sound caught his attention, and he turned his head to locate the source.
Footsteps were coming down the stairs from his room – Shania?
He must have made too much noise and disturbed her rest; he swore under his breath and waited for the Garvoy princess to make her entrance, all the while silently willing the pain to go away. He wasn't going to cast a damn healing spell for such a small injury like this.
"Johnny," she quietly greeted him upon reaching the bottom of the staircase, "You're up pretty late."
Luckily, she didn't seem angry, although she had a real penchant for concealing herself. Johnny Garland struggled to come up with some witty response, but found words failing him in his customary clumsy way – most particularly whenever it came to trying to act suave around his beloved partner.
"Actually, I just woke up," he finally replied, and then asked sheepishly, "Did I wake you up too? Sorry if I bothered you, Shania."
She waved a hand at him dismissively and tucked a few stray strands of blonde hair behind one ear. "It's all right. It's not just you. I haven't gotten used to sleeping in the city yet. There is so much noise outside, even at night."
Shania had been staying at his agency for over two months, ever since their journey ended – he hesitated to call their arrangement "living together" even though he fervently wanted to. Since the young detective didn't know how long she would be crashing there, he had graciously given his room to her while he slept downstairs on the couch. (His butler had expectedly offered up his own room for his master to stay in, but Johnny smartly declined.) At the beginning, it felt like he had all the time in the world to spend with her before she would inevitably pack up her things and leave, but now, as each day passed by, he was dreading her departure. She couldn't possibly plan on remaining in New York with him forever. She would eventually figure out what she wanted to do with her life, and then who knew when he could see her again?
"I'll get you some earplugs," he quickly offered, eager to dispel any dissatisfaction she had with the city lifestyle, "They're good for blocking out noise. Lenny uses them sometimes."
She didn't answer him immediately, as if trying to make up her mind, and nodded after a few minutes of silence. "Thanks. I'll give them a try."
Johnny wrote a mental note to make that run for her as soon as the local drugstore opened. Shania's presence was more than enough distraction for him to forget all about his pain from running into the chair leg. "Anyway… Do you wanna go back to sleep? I'll be quiet down here."
"In a little bit," she declared decisively, "I'm not tired right now."
"Well, in that case, come have a seat," he invited, moving over on the couch so there was room for her to join him, "I'll keep you company till you get sleepy."
Shania stayed by the staircase and simply stared at him without saying anything. Her eyes, though clear as the blue sky, often didn't tell him what he wanted to know, no matter how long he stared into them in hopes of drawing a hidden answer from the furtive woman. Even now, looking right at her, he had no clue what she was thinking, or why she would need to take so long to respond to his request. The blond teen awkwardly scratched the back of his head and silently wondered if she was searching for a way to politely turn him down. Just as he was about to open his mouth and claim he had been kidding to save himself some embarrassment, she suddenly started walking forward, crossing the short distance to sit next to him, taking a moment to idly adjust the short hem of her tunic.
The two worked together on a daily basis, and yet, her close proximity always had the same effect on him: his throat went dry, his hands began to get clammy, his heartbeat accelerated, and he was forced to make a conscious effort to stop his eyes from wandering.
While he was busy keeping himself under control, she broke the silence by asking, "Is something wrong, Johnny? This isn't the first night you've been awake so late."
Slowly, Johnny blinked, not expecting that observation from her. "Heh… so you noticed, huh?"
She simply nodded and waited for him to continue.
"I've been… dreaming lately," he admitted quietly, "about Dad and Grace."
"Oh," his partner tilted her head slightly to glance his way, "It's natural for you to think about them. You miss them, I'd imagine."
"Well, yeah, but… it's more than just that." He felt Shania avidly watching him as he spoke, and it was oddly soothing, like back on the bridge in Brooklyn, when he told her about his past interactions with his sister. "I feel… I dunno, kinda bad for being here. Dad brought Grace back, but then she gave me all her Will, and…" his chin dipped down and he closed his eyes, "if it wasn't for me… maybe they'd both be alive today. Or at least, she wouldn't have turned into Lady because of me, and… hurt so many people. It isn't fair to them that they're both dead, and I got to live again. They're the ones that are supposed to be here, not me. Then maybe… some really horrible things could have been prevented."
There was a long period of silence that followed his anguished confession.
Although it was too late to take any of those words back, Johnny honestly had no idea how the fearsome Garvoy warrior would absorb any of this – she hated Lady zealously, but with good reason. Would she get angry at him for continuing to think about the woman that once had his sister's body? He had never expressed this particular fear to her, but he sometimes wondered if even Shania blamed his existence for the brutal slaughter of her village. If Grace hadn't completely lost herself, then she wouldn't have inflicted so much pain and suffering across the country, terrorizing and killing countless people with Malice. Everything led back to that day in the basement, when their father decided to defy fate and revive his children, with little consideration of possible consequences that might follow.
Warmth flowed through the thin red material of his shirt as Shania suddenly placed her hand on his shoulder, causing his head to swivel back and stare at the unexpected presence.
Her tone sounded particularly soft while relaying, "I doubt your father would blame you for what happened, Johnny. None of it was your fault. He wanted both of you to live. It just didn't turn out that way… but it's not like you could have changed anything back then. You said your sister was always doing everything for you, remember? She probably didn't know what was going on, but when she woke up and saw you, she wanted to help you, in whichever way she could. She got to save you, one last time. Don't you think that would have made her happy?"
The young detective shrugged, still staring listlessly into blank space. "I guess…"
"I don't hold you responsible for what that woman did," came the surprising revelation, as if she had somehow read his mind, "It doesn't matter now. We killed her, and the Gate is gone. That's much more important than figuring out who should be blamed."
The tight constriction inside his chest suddenly released at acknowledging her words, and he let loose a heavy exhale that drifted aimlessly up into the tranquil night air. Shania couldn't possibly fathom how relieved he felt to hear that she didn't blame him for what had happened, considering the obvious extent of her hatred. He was already shouldering the tumultuous burden of feeling responsible for both his father and sister's deaths, and didn't need any more distress. From a logical standpoint, he knew that Shania was right; he had just been resurrected after Lady already killed his father and took her leave, but still… he couldn't completely shake off this feeling of responsibility. Not yet.
A weak smile lingered over his lips as he slowly lifted his chin, timidly forging eye contact with some trepidation lingering in his light green depths. "Thanks for saying that…"
From the way she advised him just then, it seemed like she might have firsthand knowledge on the subject; "You need more time. It's not gonna go away that quickly. Don't push yourself so hard to get over it."
Johnny nodded only once in response, his mind's eye still focused on the lingering mental image of his family. Time heals all wounds, right…? I sure hope so…
Boldly, he reached toward his shoulder and took her hand off so he could hold it within his own, needing that small source of comfort in this moment of raw vulnerability. He treasured every little bit of contact with the headstrong princess, and often wished things were different between them. Shania was aware of his feelings toward her, and although she had agreed to stay in his agency at his request, that didn't tell him where he actually stood with her. There were times where she had looked at him with a certain soft smile that sent his heart racing into overdrive, and she seemed to enjoy their outings whenever he showed her around different sites of the city. Right after his confession to his beloved companion, Johnny had made a silent promise to be patient and wait for her answer, one way or the other.
He quickly shook his head to clear away the cloudy haze, and then inquired curiously, "Yeah?"
Her gaze averted briefly before returning to meet his gaze. "What you said on the airship before we came to New York… about your feelings for me… did you mean it?"
His cheeks turned bright pink at her unexpected question – if she intended this to be a tactic of diversion, then it was definitely an effective one – and he nodded rapidly, while trying to get his voice working again.
"O-of course I did. I still do." He laughed quietly in an attempt to shake off the awkward edge clinging to his nerves; the last thing he needed to do was come off as insincere. "Come on. You really think I'd say something like that to just anyone?"
Shania frowned slightly, and he could have sworn that he caught a glimpse of confusion on her expression in that moment. "I don't understand… How can you love me, Johnny? You heard my father. 'Venomous, vengeful, bitter, and angry.' Why aren't you afraid of me? I… I'll probably hurt you again."
He looked down and started tracing a finger over the back of her hand. "Why should I be afraid of you? You're not a monster or anything. Anyway, I got where you were coming from. Maybe your dad didn't know how you felt. You had every reason to be angry and want revenge for your tribe. It must've been horrible to watch your home getting destroyed. Besides, there was also that Kiss of Malice from… Lady. It kinda messed with your mind too."
"But I've been cruel to you. In the basement of your house, after Roger told you the truth," she slowly shook her head to emphasize the gravity of her words, "you started crying, and I wasn't exactly comforting."
Johnny shifted uncomfortably, remembering that day all too well. "Well… I have to admit, what you said did hurt… but I got over it. I wasn't mad at you. It's not like you could just instantly change your mind about Lady. And you were nice to me in Brooklyn. You didn't have to ask me about Grace, especially when she reminded you of… you know."
She turned away, glancing off to the side. "I felt guilty, for how I treated you. When Roger showed you what happened in the basement… it must have felt like you had lost them all over again."
Involuntarily, he tensed and squeezed her hand. Shania, better than anyone else, could truly understand how traumatizing it had been for him to actually witness his family members dying right in front of his eyes.
"I didn't have to make you feel any worse than you already did," she continued softly, "But don't misunderstand. I asked you about her because I was curious. I wanted to try and understand how it was like for you and your sister. How she could be so different from back then to years later…"
"It's like Roger said, they weren't the same person. Lady wasn't my sister. Grace was my only sister." But that was enough discussion on this particular subject for one night – he didn't want to start feeling depressed again and send his mind back down that track. "Anyway, why are you asking all of a sudden? Not that I mind, but it's kinda surprising."
"I've been thinking about it ever since you told me," she revealed in a wistful tone, "trying to figure out the reason behind your feelings. At first, I thought it was my body that you might have loved and wanted, not me. But then, you haven't done anything questionable since I came back here with you…"
"Um… Uh…" he started stammering nervously, and then had to force his hand to stop shaking, because Shania would surely feel it.
"Okay… maybe in the beginning, it was sorta like that," the younger blond sheepishly admitted with a heated flush slowly crawling along the base of his neck, "but I don't care about your body that much anymore. I-I mean, not that I don't really care! It's just that your beauty's more than skin deep, and your looks happen to be a huge bonus! You could be hideously ugly, and it wouldn't change the way I feel about you!" Oh, God. Shut up! She's gonna kill me-!
Shania arched a slender brow at him, even as a teasing smirk formed over her lips. "Oh, really? So if I invited you to come upstairs and get in bed with me, you wouldn't jump at the opportunity?"
His virile teenage hormones screamed Hell Yes! but Johnny forcibly clamped them down.
"For sleeping? Yeah, I'd go up there with you." He held up his free hand defensively, cheeks still stained pink. "I-I wouldn't try anything funny, though-! It… it just wouldn't be right."
She leaned toward him just then and tilted her head slightly, as cool blue eyes filled with notable skepticism carefully studied his expression for, presumably, any signs of deceit.
"Look," he sighed in resignation, "I'll be honest with you, as long as you promise not to kill me if I put my foot in my mouth again."
The Garvoy warrior nodded, her facial features shifting back to their default neutral. "I won't hurt you, Johnny. You can tell me."
"You're beautiful. I'd be blind to not see that, even way back when we first met. You have a great body, the kind guys would dream about," he ventured cautiously, all the while feeling his face getting redder by the minute, "I'm sure they'd all love to have you in their rooms – and in their beds. But it's just a temporary thing for them, if that's how they really feel. There's gotta be more to that in a real relationship, right? 'Cause when morning comes, and they're done having… you know, spending the night together… that's it. Just the one thing, and then they go their separate ways. What's the point of doing something like that, and then running off afterward? It's like the girl didn't even matter to them. At least, from what I've heard."
An unidentifiable light briefly flickered within her cool twin depths when he had been in the middle of speaking, disappearing so quickly that it left him wondering if he had just been seeing things.
Her response was calm and even; "You're right. It doesn't mean anything to them. Lust is only temporary. Once it gets satisfied, they would just move onto their next conquest. But… you want to have a real relationship with me. Is that what you're saying?"
"Yes," he answered with utmost sincerity, "The, uh, physical stuff… I don't have a problem with any of that… but I'm not going after you because of your body. I love you for just being you, Shania."
Finally, a visible reaction: Shania dipped her chin down at his intense declaration, but not before he caught a little bit of color rising in her own cheeks.
"H-hey, it's up to you," there was a note of forced lightness injected into his tone, "If you don't… want to be in a relationship with me, you don't have to… I'm not gonna try to force you or anything…"
The blonde shook her head. "That doesn't concern me. I'm worried about you, Johnny. You've seen how I can get. You don't even know me at my worst. And I… I don't really know how I would be, in a relationship."
"Well, no one's perfect. And if you really wanna know, there's only one way to find out," he tried to persuade her, looking earnest and hopeful as he embraced her hand between both of his, "Um… I haven't had a relationship before, so… it's not like I'd know any more than you."
The silence that followed his proposal was deafeningly frightening, and once again, he focused his attention on preventing his hand from starting to shake, since he was still holding her. This was even more nerve-wracking than that time on the airship, when he had impulsively blurted out his love for the Garvoy princess, and then left her alone before she could reject him. Getting her to agree to come back to New York with him was only the first hurdle to overcome, and he was also careful to treat her like just a platonic partner for the past two months, in spite of his own personal wishes. How fervently Johnny wished he could see her eyes right now, or even her face, to gauge just a little bit of her reaction.
After what felt like a very long time, Shania finally lifted her gaze and nodded in assent. "…All right. I can't promise I won't make mistakes, or that I won't hurt you again, but I'll try not to. Just… keep being honest with me, and I'll do the same for you."
He openly gaped at her. "R-really? S-so… you'll be my girlfriend?"
Johnny didn't realize he had been holding his breath until his chest suddenly started to ache, and he gasped in a huge mouthful of air. Her answer elicited a wide smile to grace his lips, and his heart started pounding faster again, taking away some of the redness from his cheeks.
"Th-this is great! Oh, man…" he couldn't help gushing in amazement, while giving her hand a gentle, but eager squeeze to convey his happiness.
Shania averted her gaze again, as if embarrassed by his blatant display of affection, but the smile she was trying to hide, told him enough. He really needed to stop doing that, or risk having her think he was just a little kid who couldn't control his emotions…
Speaking of which, although he hated feeling so uncertain, he had to follow up with, "Hey, Shania? Are you, uh… bothered by my age, or, um, anything else like that…?" Such as his height. Or his past. Or the fact that there was still Malice inside his body, keeping him alive.
"No," she answered in earnest, to his great relief, "I know who you are, Johnny. And also what you are, for that matter. Those other traits aren't very important to me."
"Whew… glad to hear it."
Shyly, he lifted her hand and pressed his lips against the back of it, both to express his gratitude, and to signify the importance of the new bond that they now shared. He knew he had to go slowly with Shania, both physically and emotionally, since she felt so unsure of herself, and maybe even him as well. He definitely didn't want to screw up too badly in their relationship, if ever. His interaction with women was woefully limited to the girls in his neighborhood, or the occasional housewife that came around to see his butler. Master Meow was a cat, and the fearsome blonde vampire from the Valentine family terrified Johnny, to be perfectly honest. Shania's temper, intimidating as it could be at times, was still relatively mild compared to those two whenever they insisted on getting their way.
Shania, his girlfriend… he felt excited and nervous all at once.
Johnny continued to hold her hand for a few minutes longer, and silently wondered if he should work up the nerve to request a hug. To his surprise, Shania suddenly leaned forward and used a single slender finger to tip his chin up and kiss him; the simple action swiftly short-circuited his brain, effectively killing the remaining functions. His mind went completely blank, and all he could do was stay frozen while her lips moved against his, slowly, hesitantly, almost tingling with uncertainty. They felt so soft, like he had always imagined, and could only dream of touching, but this… this was actual reality. A burst of emotions exploded within his chest from the one gesture alone, but his muscles still remained frozen, keeping him rooted to that one spot when he desperately wanted to react.
All too soon, she pulled back, sky blue eyes searching his face as she questioned, "Are you okay? Did you… not like it?"
Her words immediately jolted him out of his deep reverie – he couldn't let her think for a second that he didn't enjoy it. Damn his body for going into a complete stupor at such a critical time. Giving into instinctive desire, Johnny swiftly answered her inquiry with a kiss, intertwining their fingers together as he tried to mimic the movement of her lips. He pulled her closer, and slipped his free arm around her waist, inadvertently scrunching up the already-short tunic to bare more of her creamy thighs. While he sank deeper into their kiss, he felt her other hand slowly gliding up the nape of his neck, slim fingers tangling with messy blond locks as her nails lightly scratched his scalp, eliciting a quiet noise to rumble deep in his throat.
Finally, they had to part when the need for air surfaced, but their reluctance was clearly shared.
"Wow…" Johnny blurted out uncontrollably, and had the presence of mind to look embarrassed for that utterance, coughing awkwardly as a distraction.
Instead of berating or teasing him, the priestess smiled softly, and then laid her head down onto his shoulder without saying a word.
Their hands were still linked together, which he settled on his lap, just to keep her close to him and absorb the soothing glow of her presence. They stayed like that for a while, until fatigue eventually nudged at his consciousness, drawing a yawn from the blond teen.
"Tired?" Shania prodded him in a gentle tone, though she sounded drowsy.
"Yeah…" he replied sleepily, "what about you?"
She nodded and gracefully uncurled from the couch, making him instantly yearn for the loss of her warmth. "We should get back to sleep. There are still a couple of hours before dawn."
"Got it," Johnny mumbled in agreement, albeit feeling very reluctant to let her leave, "I'll see you in the morning, okay?"
He released her hand and she rose from the couch, sauntering over to the stairs with the usual sashay of her hips, which his eyes avidly followed, especially considering the fact that her tunic was still lingering above her thighs. From behind, he easily caught sight of red undergarments shaping the curve of her rear end; he swallowed hard and felt silently grateful that his boxers were loose enough to hide any bodily reactions he had difficulty controlling. Without a doubt, the emotions he held for her were stronger than simple physical lust, but he didn't want Shania to think he was similar at all to the other guys in his neighborhood. Absently, Johnny considered pinching himself to make sure he was really awake, to verify that this wasn't all just an extremely vivid dream.
When she reached the staircase, he lifted an arm to give her a little wave. "Good night, Shania."
The lithe blonde paused before ascending and tapped her fingers against the banister as she turned back to offer, "Johnny… Do you want to come upstairs with me?"
Bright green eyes opened wide at her bold invitation, and then seconds later, Johnny fell off the couch, limbs entangled all over the floor. Shania laughed softly, and when he looked over at her, he saw a smile spread over her lips that could only be described as teasing.
"I meant for sleeping," she clarified with a devious edge, but then, her voice unexpectedly dipped down to a low level that made her next words sound almost… sensual? "Unless you're planning to… 'try something funny' on me."
"N-no," he stammered in awkward reply, and after a moment of silence, somehow miraculously summoned the courage to fire back, "Well… Only if you want me to."
She seemed a bit astonished to hear that remark, though she was quick to recover and lightly provoked him in return, "Not tonight. One step at a time, Little Master."
Johnny made a face; he wasn't fond of that particular nickname, to say the least, but he had long since realized she was fond of teasing him, for some reason. Because he loved Shania, he would let her get away with it, but anyone else? Not a cold day in hell.
She removed her hand from the banister and casually extended it toward him, like a truce of sorts. "You needn't worry. You'll have your chance… Just be patient, for now."
He tried to play it cool by shrugging nonchalantly in response. It wasn't like he only cared about having a physical relationship with his girlfriend, anyway. He was willing to let her decide when it was the right time for them to move forward and take that next step together. Kissing her alone had felt incredible, igniting his emotions so abruptly that he was taken back. Who knew how he would react if he got to do more? Unbidden, his gaze settled on her chest for a few seconds, and then with flushed cheeks, Johnny quickly averted his eyes, hoping she hadn't caught him looking in that forbidden area yet again. He didn't share the same ideals as the lustful guys he had told her about earlier, but he wasn't completely absent of hormones or needs either. He desired Shania.
That part of their relationship could wait to develop later. First, he had to get through sleeping next to said desirable girlfriend without going back on his word. At the very least, he felt confident that no more nightmares would visit him for the rest of the night. Not with Shania by his side.
The disoriented detective untangled himself and gingerly rose to his feet, before closing the distance between them to place his hand within hers. They ascended the stairs to his bedroom, leaving the forlorn couch cold and uninhibited until the light of morning arrived.
Author's Note: Okay, this story just… completely took off. O.O It started with the small, simple idea of Shania comforting Johnny after he had a nightmare, and then totally evolved beyond my imagination. I love when this happens… XD Oh, I recently put up a new poll for you Shadow Hearts fans to help me decide which story to work on next, so please vote! I have a number of ideas, and right now, I'm letting my brain and inspiration take me wherever they go. As always, thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this story, and I would love to read your reviews!
With love for my fans,