Disclaimer: Legaia belongs to its creators, not me. I don't make money from writing this, it's a labor of love and insomnia!
Chapter Fifteen: A Bitter Taste
"Vahn? Wha... what are you doing here?"
The sudden voice stirred me awake. My hands... were touching grass? It smelled sweet... That's right, the Genesis Garden...
I looked up, and Mei was standing over me, looking shocked and hurt, her face puffy from tears.
Mei! Oh no, what have I done-
"Mei, I..." I began, standing up, but she shook her head, stepped back and cringed, her face contorted with a painful expression.
"Vahn, I just don't understand you!" Her hands tightly gripped one another, and she held them to her chest. "You hurt me so... so horribly, you forgot our promise, you're sleeping in all of these strange places, have you lost your mind? This... this isn't the Vahn I remember!"
I must really look crazy to her... "Please, let me explain!" Please, don't look at me this way...
Mei shook her head again, tears falling from her eyes. "I don't know how you can explain this! If... if you really love me like you said you did, how could you do those things to me?"
If I really loved her? "Mei, how could I lie to you?" She looked down, with a bitter, confused look on her face. Seeing her like this hurt me so much. "I don't know what made me say that, but I haven't slept right in days," Because I can't get Noa out of my head, I thought, then pushed that aside. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I never wanted to hurt you..."
Slowly she looked up at me, straining to look calm, but instead showing me even more how upset she was. I fought back a cringe. "I don't know what's wrong with you either, Vahn. For both our sakes, I hope you figure it out." I looked down, feeling ashamed. "I don't know what you're doing here, but maybe you'd sleep better if you went home to your bed. I'm going home, too." And with that she turned to leave.
"I'm sorry..." I called out as she reached the stairs. She paused for a moment, and I heard her sigh, but then she continued up the steps and she was gone.
Everything... everything hurt.
Somehow I made my way home without being seen by anyone, then collapsed on the bed. Too tired to think anymore, I pulled the covers over my head and quickly fell asleep.
When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was that it was still light outside. The second thing I noticed was that I really needed to stretch. I sat up in bed and stretched my arms above my head, moving my head from side to side. Turning my head, I saw my sister asleep in her bed beside mine. How long had I been out?
"Good morning Vahn," came my father's deep, calming voice from across the room. I turned my head to look; he was sitting at his desk, a mug of his morning tea in front of him. "We thought you would never wake up. You were sleeping there when we came back last afternoon, and nothing would wake you. Not even Nene's singing," he added with a smile. "It's good to have you back, son."
I smiled back. "It's great to see you again, Dad." He nodded, taking a drink of his tea, and I glanced outside. It was dawn again. "Did I really just sleep through a whole day? Oh man..."
He chuckled, setting down his cup. "Well, I'm sure you must have been tired enough from your long journey... Are you hungry?" He motioned towards the hearth, where a fire had been lit and a large pot was steaming softly. My stomach grumbled. "Breakfast should be ready soon."
I nodded vigorously, quickly getting out of bed. He smiled and got up from his desk, walking over to the fire. "I'll go see how it's doing then."
I grabbed a fresh set of clothes from my dresser and went behind the screen to change. Taking off my shirt, I realized that probably wasn't a good idea. I put my shirt back on and stepped out from behind the screen. "...I think I could use a bath."
"Go ahead and take one then," my father said, bent over the hearth. "We filled the bathwater yesterday. Just go ahead and light the furnace. I think this is going to take a while longer to cook, anyway. Maybe you'll have a chance to wake up a bit before Nene starts asking all her questions..."
I went back behind the screen, and sure enough, the metal basin was already filled with water. I grabbed the flint and steel from a nearby cabinet, and opened the furnace door beneath the tub. Crouching down, I lit the kindling, which quickly set the furnace ablaze, and shut the door. It would probably take a few minutes before the water was warm enough to bathe in, so I walked over to the table and took a seat near my father. He looked at me for a moment before speaking.
"We weren't expecting you back quite so soon, Vahn, is everything alright?"
I looked down for a moment. No, nothing is alright right now, I thought, and looked back up at my dad, who was standing with a hand on his desk. "Everything's fine Dad, we just changed our plans. Gala's training at Sol Temple, and Noa is staying with some friends of ours in Buma."
My father frowned slightly, his brow furrowed with concern. "Noa's in Buma? I'm sure these friends of yours are good people, but we were all so worried about that girl. Are you sure she'll be alright there?"
I felt some sort of burning, painful feeling rising up in my chest. Would Noa be alright? I really didn't know, and as much as I felt I needed to do something for her, I knew that I shouldn't... especially after what I'd done to Mei... "Yeah, I think she'll do well there. She's really recovered a lot, she's talking again and is full of energy. We almost couldn't believe it, it was so sudden."
"Oh, really! Well, that's great news! What a relief. I'm sure Maya will be happy to hear it, though she was looking forward to taking her in... but as long as Noa's happy, that's what matters."
I nodded, looking off to the side. My chest ached. What are these horrible feelings? Everything feels so messed up...
"Vahn? Are you alright?"
"Uh..." I guess I'd had an unpleasant expression... "I've got a bit of a stomachache. I think a bath and breakfast should fix it though." I tried to give a bit of a hopeful smile.
He nodded knowingly, then walked over to the counter. "Here, have some tea while you're waiting," he offered, pouring me a mug of tea from his pot.
"Thanks," I nodded, and took the cup from him. Picking it up, I took a sip. Oh Tieg this is bitter, I thought, my eyes wide. Somehow I managed to swallow it down.
My father laughed. "It's strong stuff, but it'll make you feel better. Go on, drink the rest."
I braced myself, then gulped the glass down. My eyes were wide open from the taste, and I was definitely awake now. My stomach felt kind of warm and tingly. "What do you put in this?"
"Tea and concentrated healing leaves. Good job son," he replied, clapping a hand on my shoulder. "I think the bath is ready now."
I looked back, and sure enough, I could see steam slowly rising from behind the screen. I stood up, pushed my chair in, then nodded to my father.
"I'll call you when it's time for breakfast," he said, heading back to his desk.
What was wrong with me?
I sighed, leaning further back into the hot soapy water. Maybe Mei was right, and there really was something wrong with me. I'd never had problems sleeping before, even after all the horrible things I saw in the Mist. Even when Juggernaut was unleashed on Rim Elm and I felt an overpowering rage constantly coursing through my veins, I still slept when I had to... Nobody's in danger, I don't need to keep my guard up anymore, so why do these thoughts leave me so sleepless and desperate?
Why does thinking about Noa make me act this way? Who am I becoming?
I have to find a way to settle my thoughts and feelings once and for all...
I don't want to turn into someone who hurts the people I love...
"Vahn, Nene, breakfast is ready!" My father's voice jolted me back into the room.
"Vahn!" My sister exclaimed. "Vahn, you're awake?"
I smiled. It was good to hear her voice again. "Good morning, Nene."
I heard footsteps.
"Nene, he's in the bath, don't go over there..."
"Oh." The footsteps stopped. "Well, good morning Vahn! Come to breakfast!"
I stood up, the water sloshing loudly beneath me, and grabbed a nearby towel. "I'll be right there!"
I dried off quickly, shaking out my hair, and put on a new change of clothes. It feels good to be clean again, I thought as I hung up my towel.
On the other side of the screen, Nene was finishing up setting the table, her hair tied up in a cute pink bow. My dad was carefully pouring oatmeal and fresh fruit into three bowls. I waved to my little sister as I walked out from behind the screen. "Nene! You've gotten taller, haven't you?"
Nene dropped the last fork down on the table in a clatter, and spun around to face me. "Vahn!" She ran towards me and I crouched down, scooping her up in a hug. "I missed you so much! Welcome home," she said looking up at me, her eyes bright and sparkling.
"I missed you too, little sis." Suddenly my stomach let out a huge growl.
Nene let go of me and giggled. "Hungry as always. Well, let's eat."
I nodded and took a seat across from my father at our small square table. Nene sat to my left. I grabbed my spoon and started eating. Immediately I realized just how hungry I was. Every spoonful made me feel hungrier. How many meals had I missed? Four? One bowl of this was definitely not going to be enough. I ate the last bite and looked up at my father to ask for seconds. Both of them were staring at me, my dad still holding his first spoonful of oatmeal above the bowl.
My father laughed and set his spoon back down. "Well, you're certainly hungry. Go ahead and eat as much as you like."
I nodded quickly and got up to serve myself another bowl. Nene giggled as I sat back down. "Vahn, you're like a wild animal!" My stomach let out another big growl, and I chuckled. "See!" she exclaimed, pointing to my stomach. I raised my eyebrows, shrugged and went back to eating.
I think I ate about six big bowls of oatmeal by the time everyone was done. I'm not really sure, I wasn't exactly counting. When we were all finished, my father took the dishes away to soak, then sat back down.
"So where are Noa and Gala?" My sister asked, looking up at me from her seat.
"Gala's training at Sol, and Noa is staying in Buma," My father answered for me. "Noa is happy again, isn't that great, Nene?"
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Nene said with a big smile. The smile faded, "But I was hoping she would come stay here... but that's okay. She'll come visit, right?"
I nodded, trying my hardest not to think about her.
"Of course." My dad replied.
"Good," Nene said, her face brightening. "Oh and Vahn, now that you're back," She giggled, "are you gonna do something romantic with Mei~?"
I felt another sudden pain, and quickly turned my face away, looking down.
"Oh what, are you still embarrassed?"
I looked up, and noticed my father was looking right at me. I must have had a bad expression on my face, because I saw a flash of worry and recognition pass through his eyes. He turned to Nene with a serious look on his face.
"Nene! You shouldn't tease your brother like that."
"Aww, that's no fun!" She pouted, crossing her arms. Dad scowled. "I mean, I'm sorry Father."
"Apology accepted," he said calmly, then looked at me and stood up. "Nene, I think Vahn and I are going to go take a walk." Nene looked sad and put-out, and I felt a little sorry for her, even though I was grateful my dad stepped in. "Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for you to spend with him later."
"Okay," she said, putting her hands in her lap.
I stood up, pushing in my chair behind me. My father nodded at me and motioned for me to follow, and led me out the door, shutting it behind us. He kept walking, and I followed him down the steps to the beach. It was pretty early, and everyone was still inside their houses. The sun rose low in the sky, leaving orange streaks on the waves. We sat down together on a log that had washed up on the shore.
My father turned to me, his face full of concern. "Is everything alright, Vahn?"
I looked down at the ground. What do I tell him?
He leaned back a little, placing his hands on the log on either side of him, and looked up at the sky. "I know you're strong Vahn, and you like to keep things inside. I understand... I'm the same way. But I just want you to know that you can tell me anything, and it won't ever change how proud I am of you."
"Dad, I... I don't even know how to talk about this."
"You don't have to."
We sat there in silence for a while, watching the waves lap up against the shore. A little crab scuttled by and let itself get carried out to sea. I thought about what had happened for a long time, then finally I spoke.
"I hurt Mei."
My dad looked up at me, listening. He didn't look mad, he just looked like he cared about me. I looked back at him, astonished. "I thought you would be upset."
He shook his head. "Love is hard, Vahn. Sometimes getting hurt is unavoidable."
But... "I don't know if I can make things right again."
"Mei really cares about you. I'm sure she'll give you another chance."
"That's not it... It's me. I think there's something wrong with me." I took a deep breath and looked downward. There really wasn't any going back now. "I can't stop thinking about... about Noa." My father closed his eyes and nodded. "I'm going crazy, I can't sleep, and I can't stop thinking about her. Even if... even if I know she won't understand. I... I love Mei, I always have, but I've never felt like this before. I think there must be something wrong with me."
My father sighed, and put his hand on my shoulder. "Vahn, there is nothing wrong with you. When you love someone... you can never stop thinking about them. Thinking about your mother kept me up at night. I know you really care about Mei, and I know everything is complicated, but... I think you need to spend some time really thinking about what will make you happy."
What will make me happy?
"It doesn't matter what the situation is as long as you're happy. I wouldn't trade the years I spent with your mother for more years with anyone else. Besides, if you aren't happy, she'll know. Women see these things."
Slowly, I nodded. What he was saying made a lot of sense...
He smiled at me, a sort of emotional smile, and stood up. "I'll go back to the house and let you think."
I smiled back at him the same way. "Thanks, Dad."
Author's Note: Wow, this is my longest chapter yet! And the shortest author's note! :O