A/N: This is a continuation of my story "Stardust" and picks up where it left off.
The thing about fall that I immediately noticed was the cool air in the morning. Although it came slowly at first, and the days were still warm, the mornings were starting to be more than a little chilly. As I walked out onto my porch with a coffee cup in hand, I looked over my fields. Abigail's additional help was clearly showing, and Leah even contributed with some signs that labeled my crops. Truthfully, my farm was looking fantastic now. My parents had written me a letter saying they would come by soon to check in on me, and I felt ready to accept them into my home. Finishing my coffee, I turned to walk back inside. My third step made the porch creak and my fourth made some rotten wood under it break and caused me to sink down to almost my knee.' Great…'
I looked down at the porch and groaned softly to myself. I carefully braced and hoisted my leg out of the hole I had just made. Upon closer inspection, the wood was soft and had a few traces of what I could best guess as termites running around. "I didn't need this right now," I spoke softly, much to myself as well as the few Junimo that gathered around to see what the noise was. Heaving a sigh, I stood up completely and grabbed my dropped coffee mug.
The door opened up to me and made a soft slamming motion behind as it closed. Robin was still asleep at this hour, so I instead sat down at my computer to bring up a few porch pictures to look at. "I've always loved the really dark cherry red wood porches," I told my house mates as they gathered around. "But knowing how much my tools cost, I bet a whole porch like this would be completely out of my price range…"
I hummed softly to myself and tapped my fingers on the desk. "I bet I could bribe her with helping cut down a tree and maybe sawing the planks… I could also possibly trade out some stuff…Man I'm getting good at this." A half chewed pencil was grabbed from a cup and plans were sketched roughly on a scrap sheet of paper. "Guess I need to take some measurements, huh?"
"Talking to yourself is the first sign of insanity," a new voice chimed in. As I turned, I saw Abigail walking into the living room with a half teasing, half worried look on her face. "I saw the hole, everything okay? Didn't get hurt did you?"
"Just my pride," I answered back with a light smile. "I'm not sure what the damage is though. It could be just a normal rotted out board or..." The expression she made let me knew where I was going with this. "Yeah, my whole house could be in danger."
"Didn't you once tell me that the Junimo helped out with that kind of thing? This place was a disaster before you got here, but it's improved quite a bit."
"Yeah, they've been doing a lot, but even with Robin's help it's still an old house. It's not made for a modern girl like me."
"Modern?" She asked, quirking up an eyebrow and crossing her arms. "Which part of you is modern? Your farming status, your ranch house, or your nature infused mana that would be suffocated in the city?"
"Touché." Leaning back into my chair, I looked up at the ceiling. "I wonder if I can just upgrade sections at a time...?" The idea made me perk up a little. I'd love some granite counter tops, maybe some new wallpaper, an expansion wouldn't be bad, and-"
"Whoa! What about your rotting porch?" Abigail interrupted, bringing me back to reality. "One thing at a time."
"Yeah... Yeah, you're right." Closing my laptop, I stood and walked over to greet her properly. "Thanks again for coming to help. How much longer now, until the guild lets you start working again?"
"Two weeks. Although I'm in good shape from working with you on your farm, I'll need to play it safe for a while. Ryou said he'd give me a few sparring sessions to get my mind right, but until then I'm going to keep to the first floors."
"How is he anyway? I haven't seen him in the guild for a bit?"
"He's in the desert nearby. A new cave was found there and mining corporations are fighting each other over it. I hear it's densely packed and even has rare metals. Joja snatched him up almost immediately, he's working full time as a bodyguard to the miners."
Bringing a hand to my chin, I thought about it. Ryou was so skilled that even mega corporations like Joja would hire him to make sure their workers stayed safe. "I wonder how many people are there..." Ideas started coming to my head again. "Joja here in town probably supplies them as they go by... So that means they'll need extra food..."
"Hey now, not going to undercut my dad are you?"
I laughed at the purple haired girl. "No, no! I was just thinking, you know, maybe they couldn't keep up. Here I am with some pretty hearty crops that just so happen to go right by your shop..."
"My dad could strike a deal with them to supply the left overs..."
"And I get my porch fixed before my parents come over!" We gave each other a high five. "Okay, I better get to work. What are your plans for the day?"
"Well honestly, I was thinking, maybe we could get a late start before we head out?" Her cheeks colored lightly and her voice was dipping dangerously into the seduction zone. I stepped back, only to bump against my table where my laptop was. She was already in front of me, hands going around my hips. Her eyes were soft and I felt my heart beating powerfully in my chest. "What do you think?"
"I...I don't know..." My breath faltered when hers started to brush against my neck. Ever since the moonlight jelly festival, and the night that followed it, Abigail had been much more...vocal about her desires. Although we hadn't found time to make a repeat of that time spent together, it wasn't from her lack of trying. "Abby..." Her strong arms lifted me and shifted my body easily, carrying me to my couch. "I should work..." My words were faltering though, and she knew it.
Before she could reply, her cell phone rang, startling her enough to halt her movements. "Who the heck would call me so early in the morning?" Curiosity got the best of her and she pulled her phone. "Mom?" She looked at me and I nodded at once. Things were still stressed in their relationship, so we both though this might be pretty important. With a press of a button, she was connected and held the device to her ear. "Mom? What's up?"
I couldn't hear her words, but Abigail's face told me it wasn't a very pleasant conversation. "Yeah, I'm at Kim's farm...Working of course...No, and that's not something you should-Mom!" She looked horrified. "It's six in the morning, I came here to work!" Her words made me laugh out a snort, which made my girlfriend give me a pout. "What...? No, I'm not going there. I don't care...I don't care, mom! After what he did to Kim..."
Deciding to give her some privacy, I wiggled out from under her and went to my room to properly dress for the day. Emily had made me some new clothes for Fall, and I took advantage of them happily. The jeans were baggy and reinforced at the knees, paired with a zipper that let me turn them into shorts when it got too warm in the afternoon. My top was a three quarter length light shirt that had a crop top jacket over it, showing off a simple design of a smiley face. As I pulled my hair up into a ponytail, I began to notice that it was getting increasingly long. My bangs were over my nose and pretty much long enough to tuck behind my ears. They had been bothering me recently, as they always fell into my field of view when leaning over. Despite this, I've never asked anyone in town who could cut my hair for me. I would have to get on that, and soon.
When Abigail came into my bedroom, I could tell her mood was ruined. "The Wizard wants to see me."
The words were hard to swallow. Not a month and a half ago, the man had tried to erase my memories to hide an affair that resulted in the birth of Abigail. That hadn't ended well and I haven't heard from him sense, despite him living so close to me and my usual routes. I couldn't care less about seeing him, as my magic was all self-taught as it was, but Abigail was... more dependent on hers. "What do you want to do?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"That's not what I asked." I let her sit next to me and took her hand in mine. "Abby, I don't like the guy, nor do I like the idea of him being around you." Before she could say anything, I went on with my thoughts. "However! I do understand that your job is in the mines, or on the countryside as a hired sword. There are wars being fought overseas as well as domestic battles to ensure that we humans aren't bothered by monsters. We need people like you, I need people like you, to keep us safe. If that means swallowing my pride and telling you to go back for more lessons on your magic, then... then so be it."
Her eyes looked into mine for a long time before a defeated sigh came from her lips. "I know... It's just that... I get so angry when I think about what happened." She took a deep, steadying breath. "But you're right. I should have been training more than I have been over these past few weeks. I can't afford to let myself get rusty and put you in danger."
"I get put in danger every time we go into the mines," I reminded her. "It just doesn't feel that way since you're with me."
"Well then!" Standing, she turned to give me a thumbs up. "I guess that settles it then. I'll go to his tower and see what he wants. I'll text you later, okay?"
"Sure thing." I stood as well and walked with her outside, splitting up at my watering station. Once she was a little ways off, I turned to my gear and strapped it onto my back. 'Maybe a little more mana today, to jump start my plans...'
By the time I gave myself a break, I realized it was already way past my usual part of the day when I had lunch. But the sun was starting to set sooner and sooner, and my stomach often didn't remind me until I was already starving, so my internal clock was getting more and more off. Paired with the sun being behind gray clouds all day long, I had no idea what time it actually was. Heaving a sigh, I headed back to the house to see what I could scrounge up for myself. As I did so, though, the hole in the porch got my attention from a distance. Instead of continuing on, I gave a sharp whistle for my horse and jumped onto him as he slowed down next to me. "Let's go to Robin's," I asked of him.
The ride didn't take too long, as Okami had decided that he wanted a good run. This led me to bracing myself and holding onto his mane extra tight. As the house came into view, I saw Sebastian walk outside and head for his favorite smoking tree. He heard Okami's hooves trekking upon the ground and he turned to face me, a little look of guilt on his face. "Evening, Kim."
"Evening?" I asked of him as I looked to the sky. Did I misplace the sun in my estimation? "Wow, no wonder I'm hungry."
"Did you skip eating again?" I noticed him putting something into his pocket as he talked; probably his cigarettes. "What did Maru tell you about that?"
"Yeah, yeah, and Abby too. I have to keep my energy up. Don't worry, I'm a big girl. Not like I'm going to-"
"Pass out on your field?" He finished for me with a little ire in his voice. "Kim, you need to take care of yourself. You have people who care for you, you know?"
I gave him a puzzled look, which made him turn away and look over the small lake by their house. "Something bothering you?"
"No...Yeah..." He leaned against the bark on the tree behind him and sighed out. I dismounted from Okami and gave him a pat to show it was okay if he wandered around. He didn't protest my joining him, leaning against the opposite side of the tree and staying silent. It only took a few minutes before he finally gave in and reached into his pocket, tossing the pack of cigarettes over his shoulder for me to fumble and catch. "Here."
"A new pack?" I asked him curiously, looking over the sealed box to see if I was supposed to see something special on it.
"I've had it for a week," He grumbled.
It took me a while to catch on, but once I did I couldn't help but give an amazed laugh. "Wow, really? You quit!?"
"Quitting." He snatched it back from me and tore open the seal.
"Hey," I put my hand on his and he froze. It was then that I noticed his eyes were bloodshot and his hair a right mess. "Oh my..."
He flinched and groaned before gripping the pack and smashing them into his fist. A flick of his wrist made him fling the crumpled pack into the water. "Why is this so hard!?" The words were almost a scream of desperation. "I can't sleep, I can't eat, I'm pissy as hell, I can't focus on my programming, I lost a client because I had too many bugs in my coding, My dad is pissing me right the hell off, Maru got accepted into a university and everyone is pressuring me to get on with my life and move out and go to college, and I've been working for years but do they see that? They just keep on and on and..." He stopped his rambling and walked back to the tree where I was. I knew that look and moved for him, allowing him to punch the tree once, in a good, solid, thwack sound that shook the leaves. "I should just move to the city... leave everything here... Start over..."
I heard that line before. We've been here before, in this very spot, a few months ago. He said the same thing, and gave me the same look as he is now. He wanted advice, but was too stubborn to admit it. I had done what he was dreaming about, and he wanted me to tell him it was possible. I took a breath and considered it. "Would that make you happy? Living in a little apartment that ate up most of your monthly income? Surrounded by people, lights, noise, music, kids screaming and playing?"
"Better than here," he sighed out and slumped down to sit at the base of the tree. I joined him once again and hugged my knees as a cold blast of mountain air came across us.
"Do you want that, or do you want privacy and respect?" I asked after a few moments of silence between us. He didn't reply at first, so I continued. "I think you just want to be looked at as an adult. Have people understand you and what you do. You don't need a dozen people around you, you need a few that trust you. Sebastian, if you want to move to the city, then move. But don't look for an escape."
"...Want to go on a ride with me?"
"...Sure." He rolled up to his feet and offered me a hand, which I accepted. I called to Okami to go ahead and go home and he bolted off on his own, enjoying a nice free run around. The garage opened up and Sebastian climbed on at once, walking it out. The rev was loud when he cranked it, and I straddled the seat behind him, balling my ponytail up into a bun to fit the helmet on. By now I was used to this, and managed to securely fasten it without his assistance. After only a short question if I was ready or not, we took off down the driveway, not even closing the garage behind us.
The city wasn't too terribly far away, but it was already starting to get dark by the time we got there. The ride had been quiet, but in a comfortable way. I knew this was how he cleared his head, and could also tell that he just wanted a friend with him as he did so. When we finally did reach the neon lights of the bustling city, I felt strangely nostalgic. "Where to?" He asked me, his voice coming into a small intercom in my helmet.
"Go straight," I said without even thinking about it. "A left at the red light." He followed my instructions for several minutes without question. It wasn't until I told him to park that he finally asked.
"Where are we?" He took off his helmet and looked at the sprawling complex in front of us. The building was over thirty stories tall, and extremely long. Each window looked almost identical, the same boring pattern repeated over and over again.
"Home," I answered softly. He looked over at me and then back to the place in front of himself.
"Well then... Welcome home, Kim."
Together, we walked to the front desk inside the building and the lady there instantly recognized me. We had been friends and had even gone out on the town a few times together while I stayed. She used to work at Joja corp with me, before I had left. "Kim!? Is that you?"
"Nagi?" I looked at her in shock before finally smiling. "What are you doing here!?"
"I could ask you the same thing!" She had shoulder length blondish brown hair and blue eyes. From her outfit, I could tell that she worked there now.
"I was just in the neighborhood. I wanted to see my old apartment complex. Oh! I'm sorry, this is Sebastian." My friend held out his hand and they shook.
"Wow, Kim, good find! He's a cutie!" She wasn't bashful with the compliment at all, and I chose to ignore it when I saw Sebastian's eyes widen slightly.
"Anyway, don't suppose there's a snowball's chance that apartment twenty thirty-four is open, is there?"
Nagi started clicking around on her mouse. "Well what do you know? It was rented out a little after you left it seems, but it was only a half year contract. It's vacant right now."
I was astonished. "May I go look?" She raised an eyebrow and I cleared my throat. "Totally thinking about renting it again." That did the trick and she gave me a key card along with a wink. "Thanks, Nagi." I got a smile and a wave before leading my friend over to the elevator. When the doors closed, I hit my floor button and felt the familiar feeling in my stomach as we ascended.
"Nice place," He finally spoke out, watching the buttons light up in turn for the floors. "I didn't think it'd be so well up kept."
"It's not bad. A little pricey, but I could deal with it."
"Your old job paid well, huh?"
The doors opened and we started to walk down the hallway that I had been down countless times over several years. "It did. It was easy, too. I could afford almost anything I wanted, had a car, a comfy plush desk job at a cubicle... Friends, co-workers..." I was repeating everything I had thought to myself months ago when I was looking at the officially served papers that held my grandfather's will.
"Why would you ever leave that for Pelican Town, of all places?" Sebastian stood next to me as we stopped in front of a door. My door.
Now that we were back here again, standing at this spot, my answer faltered. Why did I leave? "I wanted more." The words came out without my knowledge. The key card was swiped on the lock by the handle and the little light turned from red to green. Taking a breath, I turned the handle and stepped back into my old place.
The apartments were pre-furnished, something that was a positive as well as a negative for most people. For me it was great, as it meant that I didn't have to buy everything when I had left my family. Now, looking back into the place where I had lived for a few years, I suddenly felt homesick. Everything was pretty much exactly how I had left it. The feel of the carpet was the same, the smell was the same, and the dark room before I flicked on the lights was all the same too. As everything was illuminated, I felt a strange desire in me. I didn't have to work myself to death here. It was cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I had a modern television, cable, space for my game collection and systems. I got a sudden slap in the face with the realization that since I moved I had pretty much given up on the passion of playing old games, collecting them, talking about them to the nerdy friends at work...
"What are you thinking?" Sebastian asked lightly, bringing me back to the present.
"I... I don't know." We walked around together as I touched the furniture, trailing my finger over it as we passed. "I had my game collection over there," I pointed at the side wall where an empty book case was. "I would always toss my shoes off there," again I pointed, this time at the floor. "I'd come home, drop my purse, kick off my shoes, turn on the lights, and start on dinner..." I moved along to the kitchen and turned the light on there as well. "I cooked here..." The fridge was opened and I looked at the empty insides. "My food, obviously...I kept my cereal up top." I got on my tiptoes and opened the cabinet up there a moment before letting it close. Together we walked around the living room as I reminisced. I took him to the guest room, where I had my laptop set up and where I spent most of my time. Then we made it to the bedroom.
The mattress was new, as it still had the plastic wrap on it, and I felt a sting of something inside me that I didn't even think about much before now. I had wanted to lay in that bed again. The way it was perfectly dipped for my body. The soft, plush pillow top. I had wanted to replace my old bed at once at the farm, before the Junimo worked their magic into it. Even still, I wanted something more modern, and seeing my old one here in front of me just made me ache. "I had everything here," I spoke again, sitting on the bed and looked at him. "Every day was so easy..."
Sebastian looked around a little bit more before sitting on the other side of the bed. "But you left."
"I left," I confirmed, even though we both knew it. "Sebastian, I know you're an introvert, and like your privacy. You wouldn't find it here. Everyone knew everyone on the floors. We walked by each other every day. But it was an empty friendship. We shared a floor of a building, and that was pretty much it, despite being so close. You would become lonely after a while... Just like I did." I suddenly remembered Leah and Abigail, Robin and Pierre. The sweet old couple in the town, the library keeper, the blacksmith... Each one I had a personal connection with. Everyone's face flashed in my mind for a brief moment before I smiled softly to myself. "Sebastian, you don't need this kind of life. You should stay."
"...Yeah, maybe you're right." He finally agreed with me. "Programming lets me work at home, no matter where that home is. The little town over by us is pretty big as well, and I could get a lot of small business customers there if I tried... Heck, maybe I could even have a little house built for myself somewhere on the mountain that my parents live on."
"Yeah... Come on, 'Bastian." I stood up. "Let's go."
"You got it." He followed me out of the small apartment and I stood at the doorstep of it, looking at my old home. I felt a hand on my shoulder and I smiled softly to myself. With a soft, almost inaudible click, the lights turned off once more.
By the time we made it back to Pelican Town, I was feeling more and more homesick, but for my new place. I had ideas running wild in my head, plans for ways to improve my life and my farm. The little outing had done wonders for me, as well as Sebastian. He was uplifted again, and his withdrawal from nicotine had died down once more. It was already past midnight when we made it home, and he dropped me off at my front door, where all the lights were still on. "Thank you for today," I told him happily. "I thought we were going for you, but turns out we both got something from it, huh?"
"Seems that way." He adjusted the strap to keep his spare helmet attached to the seat behind himself. "See ya around, Kim." His words were a lot lighter than this evening, and it looked as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. His bike carefully moved around in the driveway before speeding up, the sounds of his gears shifting echoing all around me.
As I turned to go into my house, I saw Leah and Abigail standing at the door. Each one looked positively worried and a little upset at the same time. Before I could make it up the steps of my porch, Abigail was outside and grabbing me into a hug. "Where have you been!?" She demanded of me. "Why were you out so late with Sebastian!? Why did you leave your phone and purse at home!?"
I hugged her back and felt her body shake in my arms. "I'm sorry, I didn't plan on this." It was a little odd, comforting my girlfriend who usually protected me with her life. Leah came up to me as well, and I could tell she was very displeased at my up and leaving without any warning. "Hey Leah, I'm sorry. I didn't expect you two to worry, or even know I was gone." It was true. We didn't all talk every single day, and we still had our respective lives. Abigail took online courses for college, Leah still did her artwork, and I had my farm work. "If I had known, I would have asked to come back here to grab my phone first."
"I understand..." Leah sighed. "We overreacted, but you don't have the best record when it comes to taking care of yourself." My stomach growled at me at that moment and I felt a wince of pain in it. "Did you eat today?"
"No?" I offered lamely, grunting as Abigail squeezed me harder. "Sebastian had just finished dinner when I met him, I guess he assumed I had eaten already."
"The sun isn't out, you're spending your mana on your plants, and you didn't eat?" Abigail asked me, voice a cross between stern and worried. "Kim, so help me, if you pass out again..."
I tried to defend myself, but looking at the two in front of me, I knew I just couldn't. I had met Leah when I was starving, and gotten to know her when I was sick in her bed. I met Abigail after almost dying in the mines near the adventure's guild, and even then I had them both take care of me on more than one occasion. "Well... I guess I can't really say anything, huh?" I was let go of and Leah moved forward to hug me as well. Her figure was so much smaller than Abigail's. She was so skinny and petite, but not in an unhealthy way. Her embrace felt different as well. It was loving, supportive, and mature.
Looking at the two girls in front of myself, I gave a small sigh to them. "How about we go inside? Abigail, are you okay staying?"
"Yeah. Although my parents aren't really happy about it."
Leah led the way, pulling on my hand. "Come on, I made you dinner. It'll be fine once we heat it back up."
I wanted to groan at the idea of a meatless dinner, but held it back. I was slowly becoming used to skipping protein every couple meals, even if I didn't completely like it. Despite this, the feeling of home washed over me at once. My slightly cold log cabin, the Junimo dancing around the broken porch outside as they tried to do something about it, the scent of cedar and hardwood cherry from my furniture... and the two girls who somehow managed to both steal my heart at the same time. Abigail was still pouting at me, sitting down at the table in her usual spot while Leah took a plate from the refrigerator to warm up for me. They both gave me a look, and I couldn't help but smile lightly. "I'm home."