They thought that praying would suffice -

But she knew that hope would come with sacrifice.

A . W R I N K L E . I N . T I M E

Princess, Princess, why do you cry?

Why do your tears fall so fast?

Is it because you had to say goodbye

To the lives you took in the past?

I think a part of me wanted to reawaken. Perhaps I was needed, perhaps I was drawn out—but I think there was a part of me that wanted to remember. My life on Selene wasn't all bad—I had many, many good memories thanks to those four. It was their faces that triggered it in the first place; but had the seal been stronger, I'm sure it would not have sparked the catastrophe it did.

What would my life have been like, had I never remembered? Had I been smart and not followed Nozomu? Perhaps I would have grown old and died with some nameless husband, bore children and withered away in some grave; never realizing what I was—what I could become. Here, on Earth, I was born to a human mother and father—but that mere fact would not 'cleanse' my spirit of the demon blood that had 'tainted' it so long ago. I was and am their Princess—their Eve. Not a mere Descendant—I was there when Selene crumbled and died. I was there when my kingdom fell; my uncle had not saved us. He was never meant to rule.

We lost our home. Lost our lives, our power, our legacy.

But I won't let that happen again.

Never, ever again.

FREEFALL

Ch.002

"Mahiru! Mahiru, there's someone down here to see you!"

Her aunt's voice echoed up the stairs and through the door to her room, stirring her from her coma-like sleep. She'd never been one to slack off, but she was just so tired. Nothing was worth getting out of bed for. Mumbling something her aunt, Hanna, had no hope of ever hearing—let alone comprehend—she rolled over and groaned in perfect imitation of teenagers across the globe. Had she glanced at the clock, she would have realized that school had begun almost an hour before, but her aunt, having felt her flushed and overheated skin, let her sleep in for the day. Hanna, of course, had no way of knowing that Mahiru ran miles in the frigid night without a jacket—but Mahiru had always been one to get sick easily, so anything could have triggered it; stress, depression. . .

Downstairs, her aunt realized that Mahiru was not yet awake and apologized to their guest, telling him he could come back later. "It was very thoughtful of you to bring her bag; not many people would have done that, especially in a library." He'd declined any and all offers of refreshments, opting to just sit calmly on the couch. He stood now, however, shaking his head.

"It was nothing ma'am," said Nozomu with a small smile. With Hanna escorting him, he walked to the door, smiling politely. "I'll come by later, if that offer still stands." And he would come by later, if permitted.

Perhaps he was a bit too keen on seeing her . . . but she was their Princess, he reasoned, their Descendant; why shouldn't he be?

Hanna returned his pleasant smile, nodding. "Of course you can visit again; I'm sure she'll be feeling up to company by then." Outside, he turned and paused, bowing a little out of habit. "It was nice meeting you, Maegi-san," she said, and he took it as his cue to walk down the steps, waving to her nonchalantly.

"The pleasure was mine," he called out, and he walked out of sight—only to double back and venture around the house. He had no intention of leaving the vicinity just yet; not without seeing his Princess. 'She's not yours.' It came unbidden, but the thought was correct—best he learned not to use that possessive term anymore; Misoka had always been the one to scold him for his familiarity with her. 'Not without reason,' he reflected, eyeing the house and searching for her room. Even now, in present times, a mere servant such as he could not as much as stand in the face of the Emperor—a mere boy one fifth his size—without severe repercussions. It was absolutely unheard of. He'd be killed on the spot if he dared such an act of blatant defiance. Even Oboro, the Emperor's uncle, could not stand in his presence—unless he claimed the throne, which would just bring about more dispute than they could afford.

Thoughts of Oboro and the Emperor made him think of last night; he should have known she'd run. After all, she was being told everything she'd always thought was make-believe was actually truth—vampire, werewolf, tengu, kitsune . . . myths and legends brought to life.

She had every right to run.

He'd tried to follow—to bring her back—but Oboro had been right in stopping him; Selene-knew what he'd say to her without thinking, blurting out a history she didn't need to know. Maybe, one day, he'd tell her—if she got curious, or if one of the others (Akira, namely) decided to let slip something without meaning—but they were nowhere near that level of trust, and even after so many millennia had past, the pain was still too near. Too personal to share or analyze.

'Big house,' he mused, seemingly looking at the walls intently. As a member of the Lunar Race, he was able to feel the aura of the Moon—her blood called and sang to him; a lullaby he was unable to resist. It was like that for all of them, which made his recent meeting all the odder—Hanna, Mahiru's aunt, had not had the same distinctive energy as her niece. 'But she is the Descendant of the Princess—shouldn't her aunt have the same presence?' Unless, of course, Hanna was connected to Mahiru through her father, in which case, the Princess' bloodline would not be present through the older woman. Which was unfortunate. 'Perhaps her mother . . .?'

The thought of Mahiru's parents struck another chain of emotions in him; they'd died, so he couldn't very well ask them any questions—and, in all honesty, this much curiosity over the Descendant's life and history was not necessary, helpful, or even the least bit healthy—but it led him to wonder a few things. 'Had her reincarnation forgotten everything?' he questioned. Thousands of years had passed since Selene, but he still remembered the little platinum-haired girl as if it were yesterday.

Was that normal? He'd been reborn—some changes, but none too drastic—not reincarnated; but was it still normal to remember all of the soul's previous encounters? He was no expert at this. The thought of her reborn, growing, and marrying another—having children that would eventually lead to the Descendant he found—and dying as a regular human, however. . .

'Ah; there it is.' Mahiru's window overlooked the roof of another section of the house—one he'd never seen or been to, but that hardly mattered. In seconds, he'd landed quietly upon the shingles; the window wasn't locked either, though closed to keep away any harmful drafts. 'Perhaps she shares her ancestor's weak constitution.' He could see her face, blotchy and feverish with ill-health. The vampire allowed himself a moment of reminiscence; of a memory that swirled in his ever-moving rivers of thought. She'd fallen into the creek by the cabin, the little Princess, and had coaxed him to do the same—but though it was a warm, humid night, she'd awoken with a horrible cold the next day. He'd had to keep her at the cabin until she'd gotten better, and by then, the Palace was in an uproar.

'How did she manage to keep sneaking out for so long?' he wondered, sliding open the window and silently creeping inside. 'And keep us a secret?' It hadn't lasted forever—but it had lasted long enough that. . .

He shut the window behind him, wincing when he couldn't control the slight bang it made. When the aunt didn't barge into the room, he relaxed a little and walked over to the bed, careful not to stir or awaken the sleeping girl. Nostalgia hit him like a ton of bricks—she looked exactly the same. 'I wonder if her mother named her Mahiru purposely.' Was it a common name amongst the family? He smiled at himself faintly. 'I'm skeptical of everyone named Mahiru.' It was comical . . . and sad.

The years had been long in their search for the Blessed One. In the beginning, Nozomu had been somewhat opposed to the idea of finding the Descendant; another girl with the same eyes and hair? That same laughter—the same smile? He couldn't survive that heartache again; but it was for his people. He was being selfish in not joining the search—letting his personal involvement overrun his good senses—and so he became one of the Bandits, his keen eyes always on the lookout for hair that reflected the light of the moon; eyes of endless nights and music in her voice. Obviously, he hadn't found her until now—well, technically, Mitsuru had found her first—but for so long, he wondered what he might do if he found her. His little Mahiru.

Well, his Mahiru had grown, apparently, and had had children.

Did that mean that this Mahiru would haunt his dreams now, too?

At the risk of his hand transforming, he pushed the hair from her face, watching her twitch from the unsuspected contact. It was soft. "You look so much like her," he whispered, sitting on the floor in front of her slumbering silhouette. He wanted some quiet, just for a little while. "Do you stargaze, I wonder." She frowned in her sleep. "A nightmare? Or do you share her gift of foresight?" It would make sense to just awaken her and ask her these questions—but she had not seemed so accepting of them last night, and he did not wish to stress her when she was so obviously unwell. He wondered if some part of her could hear him; and then wondered if she would scream when she awoke and found him here. 'No—she'd still be too weak.'

He couldn't know that she wasn't having a nightmare at all; that she was simply dreaming. 'Princess, Princess, why do you cry?' He simply sat and watched, letting his mind wander to different times.

Some time later—he hadn't kept track—he heard her breathing change subtly. She was going from deep-sleep to the relaxed resting phase, mumbling some unintelligible babble under her breath as she shifted beneath the covers. Standing—and stretching his cramped legs—he walked to the window, leaning against the wall by the sill. Outside, the sun's glow was changing from morning glimmer to afternoon glare—it flooded through the pane and lit the room with warmth . . . but it was nothing to the Moon's beauty.

In a low whisper, he sang the story that had stuck with the Lunar Race since before he could remember. It had become habit to recite the ancient verses, and it felt right to vocalize them now in the presence of the Blessed One. 'In a way, she's been looking for us, as well,' he mused to himself, forgetting momentarily that he was not supposed to be here.

But he'd wait forever if it meant he could just talk with her. Just for a little while.

"You have a wonderful voice."

He almost leapt a foot in the air. Turning to face her, he studied her sleepy countenance . . . and wondered how she could be so receptive of his presence. A change of heart? "How are you feeling?" He came closer, but dared not touch her—this time, he would uphold propriety.

She sat up, keeping the blankets comfortably against her belly. It was a pose he knew quite well. "A little dizzy," she admitted. He noticed how she avoided his eyes.

"Could I get you something? Tea, perhaps?" He wanted to touch her forehead, but dared not. "Your aunt told me you were unwell. I'm sorry," he apologized, but for different reasons. "I hope we didn't scare you. It's my fault. I should have approached it differently." In spite of logic, he reached out and gently touched the back of her hand. He didn't let himself linger on the soft warmth of her pale skin, but the brief contact was enough to transform his own appendages.

She looked curious, not afraid. He felt a glimmer of hope. "Is that . . . ?"

He nodded. "Our human forms are simply one facet of who we are." When she didn't recoil, he--perhaps too eagerly--entangled their fingers together, careful not to harm her with his claws. "We are governed eternally by the Light of the Moon." Should he tell her? He felt the urge rise and choke him. 'It is not her burden to bear.' Her eyes, he saw, were wide and uneasy. Perhaps he should have done as Misoka said. He should not have come here . . . but her eyes . . . Selene help him. He could drown in them, but managed to steel himself--he would get through this. For his people, he would choke back the bile of desire and shield her from a past she would never know. Resolve renewed, he continued. "Your ancestor, the Princess of the Moon, was reborn on Earth many years ago. You are her Descendant. You carry the Light of the Moon within you."

Why wasn't she saying anything? Fear aside, wouldn't any normal human ask a million questions? For instance, how could a civilization have ever existed on the Lunar surface without it ever being documented within Earth's texts and research? Or, how did the Lunar Race come to live hidden amongst the masses of humans? How did they transform? Why is the Moon of present day un-inhabitable and desolate? How were they reborn?

He'd been prepared for a barrage of questions. He remembered how his little Princess of before was always so nosey. This . . . blatant lack of response didn't bode well. "Princess?" he tried.

"Mahiru," she corrected, although it sounded automatic even to his ears. "Um . . ." she took a breath. "Wo . . ." and then she couldn't seem to continue.

He thought that, perhaps, she might have been in shock. When he tried to apologize and somehow fix this disaster--although he had no clue of how to fix it--she finally found the words. "W-would you like . . . to have a frappicino with . . . me?"

The silence rang thickly in his ears. Now it was he who could not respond.

Unbeknownst to Nozomu, Mahiru's mind had hit warp-speed the second she'd felt his presence in her room. She didn't know what to say without stumbling over herself, and couldn't look at him without flushing . . . or wanting to burst into tears. His hands were as strong as she remembered them and when he pulled his away, she fought hard with herself to let him and not clutch onto it desperately.

As it was, mortification slowly started to seep into her cheeks. She didn't even know what a frappicino was. Junko loved them, she remembered. Unfortunately, that didn't help her in the slightest.

A slight pressure on her chin forced her gaze to meet his. "I'd love to." That smile of his should be outlawed. It was far too charming for any respectable woman to resist. "I'll leave you to your morning routine. Let me know once you've finished."

He vanished before she could say another word, leaving her to wonder if she'd imagined it all. She threw off the covers with a fervor only the desperate could conjure. Any sickness or ill-health must have vanished along with him; pure adrenaline drove her into high gear and she raced about her room like a maniac. Usually, a bout of this sort would have her tripping and stubbing her toes at least twice with a nice side of bruises to boot; instead, she seemed to glide from point to point, not once hurting herself. It was odd. It was absurd. Absolutely unheard of in all of her human years on this Earth.

Then she paused. She was jeopardizing herself in her own folly. A date? She was being ridiculous. She couldn't justify it to herself. Exposing the truth would not only bring harm to her physically, but would shatter what last shred of her people remained. If there were any others. 'Are there any others?' Maybe more of her people were reborn than she initially thought. Maybe. . .

She lowered to her knees. 'Sweet Diane, Mother of the Night and Holy Goddess of the Moon, please grant me your blessing. My sins are grievous and cannot be forgiven. . . but I beg of you, allow me this one indulgence. This one day to forget the tragedy I have wrought upon my people--your children. Permit me this sliver of happiness.'

She wasn't surprised to find tears prickling the corners of her eyes.

END.

Author's Note: For future references, I have no clue what the hell Mahiru's aunt's name is. If they said it in the manga, I completely missed it. I searched everywhere – no evidence of a name. So since I was reading the latest Furuba novel, guess whose name I chose? Just thought I should point that out . . . and yes, the first chapter was a rewrite of the original manga introduction of NozomuxMahiru.

One more thing. I have the distinct feeling I'm not even trying with this story. It's more of a . . . dusting-off-the-cobwebs deal . . . huh.