A replica. A false princess. A world seemingly constantly on the verge of war - a lot certainly happened since that first day Luke was forcibly blown outside of the Fabre Manor for the very first time all those months ago. With everything that was happening it felt a bit odd returning to Baticul, even if present circumstances necessitated it. While the others went on their business, Luke was trying to avoid the Fabre Manor, and Natalia was avoiding King Ingobert. There were too many thoughts going through their minds combined, much less alone.
For Natalia, she couldn't talk with anybody about what was going on through her mind - it was enough of a shock to find out that she wasn't really her father's daughter. Being raised as the Crown Princess of the kingdom of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear was a faerie tale dream come true, but then Grand Maestro Mohs... she found out about her false heritage in the most awful way possible, with the man she revered as her father rejecting her. No, the memories they shared were not lies, but they certainly were under false pretenses. She knew she loved her father as much as any daughter could love their father, but if she wasn't really the true Natalia - he would have never treated her with the love that he did. That was difficult to come to terms with, and only time and effort could make the pain any less intense. However, given how drained she was, Natalia just wasn't yet ready to take that step - she needed to heal.
On top of that, her true parents - Badaq and Sylvia Oakland. Badaq, who had willingly become Largo the Black Lion of the God Generals. The man who no longer viewed her as his daughter. It was difficult enough being rejected by one parent, but being rejected by two? Natalia's heart carried a burden that seemed to have no equal. While her father - no, His Majesty had accepted her, the rejection from before still stung fresh in her heart. Even though she was home in Baticul, she felt like a stranger, wandering streets which she felt like she had no right to call her own. The people still loved her, and she loved the people and the kingdom. But until now, she had been a naive little girl deluded into being a princess who was no longer with the living.
Her footsteps echoing throughout the empty halls of this particular section of the palace, Natalia couldn't even bear to look the servants in the eye, glaring at her like some sort of stranger. She knew what was going through some of their minds: Why weren't they lucky enough to become a princess? Why weren't they lucky enough to have a faerie tale come to life? Why did Natalia - or rather Meryl Oakland - have this dubious honor? She simply couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that even if several subjects loved her for what she did for them, there would be several who resented her, even if this entire situation was not her fault. That taxed her heart so much that she had plenty of restless nights.
Before she knew it, her feet carried her to the empty ballroom, and on the other end was Luke.
After several seconds of silence, there was more of the same - however, both clearly saw each other as sunlight spilled through the giant windows and Luke stepped forward, holding out his hand. Gazing at him, Natalia witnessed a soft smile forming over his face. A bit curious and bewildered all at once, Natalia stepped forward and after several seconds of approaching him, she placed her hand into his, Luke holding it tightly.
"It's not enough to merely read and write!" A young teenaged Natalia declared, her tone crisp and clear as she stressed the proper enunciation of her words. A young Luke with disheveled hair was throwing a typical temper tantrum, which made Natalia even more stubborn in turn. "If you are to be my husband, the future King of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear, you also must learn the proper etiquette and mannerisms becoming of one worthy of such a title!" For now was fine, given the circumstances surrounding Luke's kidnapping and amnesia, but when they grew up Natalia was not going to put up with babysitting Luke! She would display her husband proudly the envy of all to see.
"I don't want to!" Luke screamed. "I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to!" He was bending his knees as Natalia dragged his arms to the center of the courtyard of the Fabre Manor. The princess was certainly strong! This vision of tug-of-war was not an uncommon sight in the Fabre Manor's courtyard, to the point where the servants learned to ignore the commotion and continue on with their daily chores.
"Princess Natalia, do you really think this is a good idea...?" Guy wiped some sweat from his forehead. Just watching this was painful, yet he was glad that he wasn't in Luke's position. Unlike the other servants, Guy had to at least try to show that he's in looking for Luke's best interests.
"My hand wouldn't be forced into doing this if you did your job and taught him properly!" Natalia snapped, causing Guy to cringe and take several steps back. Turning back to Luke, she snapped his arms up to make him stand. "Guy, begin the music!"
"Women are scary...!" Guy whined as he obeyed Natalia's orders.
It was difficult for Luke to come to terms with being a replica. He was raised to be someone else's replacement and nobody but the one person who gave him confidence and respect was the one who was manipulating him, using him. It was still difficult to wrap his young mind around everything that had transpired, including all of the recent revelations surrounding his birth. He was supposed to be some sort of Chosen One, who would bring prosperity to the kingdom of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear, and that ended up with the destruction of Akzeriuth by his own two hands. It didn't matter that Master Van was the one who manipulated him into doing it - Luke was just too easily drawn into the image of being somebody important, somebody who mattered. No penance for his bloodied hands would never be enough to grant him a good night's sleep. Would he never be absolved?
Taking Natalia's hand in his own, he pulled her hips toward him with his other hand, and instinctively she place her other hand onto his shoulder. There was no music, but a simply melody they both recalled began to dictate their movements, swaying back and forth. In Luke's case, it was hammered into his brain time and time again so much that it used to give him nightmares. It was funny how now they became a fond memory of sorts, when at the time he dreaded those practice sessions more than anything; face it, Natalia was scary before she gained some perspective. Then again, so was Luke.
Dancing was never one of his strong points. In fact, not very many things were his strong points. At this point, Luke wasn't even sure if he even had any good points. Regardless, he attempted to carry out this one task, this one dance, with the utmost confidence. Carefully recalling all of those lessons from long ago, he stepped in sequence, some of it being muscle memory. His eyes were locked with Natalia's, both expressionless, wondering exactly what was going on. They continued to dance.
It was simply easier to go along with the lessons rather than stall, to some degree. Besides, there were limited places to hide, trapped in the manor. It took a while, but Guy finally managed to persuade Luke to go along with Princess Natalia's whims, and Luke reluctantly began to follow the dance instructions. Unfortunately, motor control was not one of Luke's strong points to begin with, especially considering his child-like development at the time.
"No, Luke, you're getting it all wrong!" Natalia snapped, more than a bit annoyed at the fifteenth time Luke accidentally stepped on her toes. Luckily, after the tenth time, she learned to wear thicker shoes and make Luke go barefoot. "This one goes left, right, right, left! Your left, not my left!"
"I'm trying!" Luke whined, biting his lower lip as Natalia restarted the music and demanded that he give it another go. Dancing was hard work, to say the least.
"Princess, I think it might be better if you took a break..." Guy tried to persuade Natalia. Natalia sighed, looking at Guy, and then Luke. Luke was breathing heavily; it wasn't that he wasn't used to physical activity, Natalia knew that much. Guy would never tell her that her very presence was tiring for both Luke and him, though. "You could probably use a cup of tea for a few minutes, right?"
"We resume practice in fifteen minutes." Natalia looked at Luke, her eyes narrowing. She expected him to get it right, even if it took all day. "Once you learn how to dance, you just might remember your promise to me, that day." Natalia looked away, blushing a bit, lost in her reverie. Snapping out of it, she snapped another look at Guy, before she headed inside to get a cup of tea.
Natalia looked at Luke's eyes. Those deep green eyes, and she never noticed before how very much like shining jewels they were. Since when did Luke get so big and strong, with broad shoulders? He was always sort of muscle bound since brute physical activity was all that he enjoyed, but thinking back, when she finally met Asch and looked into his eyes, they were so... lifeless. As if somebody had stolen away his soul. Of course, the culprit was none other than Van Grants. How could she have ever mistaken them for each other...? Then again, Natalia knew that she couldn't blame herself. Nobody knew, aside from Van and Guy.
Going along with his movements, she noticed that Luke's feet didn't step all over her own... since when did he mature so much? Where did this regal aura come from? But even now, Natalia knew that dancing wasn't the most important thing. She pushed a child so hard to try to remember something he never experienced, and she felt ashamed of herself. She knew he was going through a difficult time - and she was worried about her own problems? Resting her head into his shoulder, Natalia sighed. Luke's broad chest, it was firm and strong. He felt reliable, safe, and warm.
"Come on, Luke, it means a lot to Natalia..." Guy took a deep breath. The young master was definitely a handful. Luke's pouting face was quite evident, even from all the way up on a tree branch. Resting his shoulder against the tree trunk, Guy wasn't entirely certain what to do.
"I'm sick and tired of it!" Luke yelled, crossing his arms. "I'm just going to stay up here, forever!"
After several moments of thinking, an idea hit Guy. Taking out a wooden sword, he knocked against the tree trunk. "Hey, Luke, how about some sword training? I may not be Van, but you can practice your moves on me."
He didn't even have to finish his sentence before Luke was on the ground, grinning at Guy and trying to grab at the wooden sword.
Training commenced. Guy did not attack, only parry, but he did concentrate on footwork. He had to be careful not to use any of his family's sword style out of fear of exposing his identity, but that wasn't needed anyhow. "Luke, concentrate on your foot movements." Easier said than done, but with a bit of work, Luke seemed to be getting it.
After some time passed, Guy thought it was time. Tossing aside his wooden blade, he told Luke to do the same. "Come on." Guy practically begged, "Just do it." Luke finally put away his blade, and concentrated on his foot movements. "Now, watch my movements, and react to them. Move your feet to make your opponent stay in your zone of attack." Concentrating, Luke made no mistakes.
"Now, think of this the next time Natalia comes over." Guy grinned. "You've got it."
A bit dumbstruck, Luke couldn't believe how easily he was tricked. "You... you meanie!"
It felt surreal, yet it was a memory... his memory. Because of that, he could consider it a fond memory, perhaps. Continuing to lead, Luke wondered what was going on through Natalia's mind? Did she regret those times? Did look back on them fondly? Or was he just a brat she had to take care of? That crushing self doubt in the back of his mind... he knew Natalia, like the rest of the group, was disappointed in him when Akzeriuth fell. He couldn't blame them. He was in denial, and acted like a child about it, blaming everybody and everything except himself He didn't take responsibility for his own actions.
If there was anything he could do to make up for everything, he would do it. And it's already been made quite clear that ending his own life wouldn't bring back all those that perished because of his foolish actions.
That's why he admired Natalia. Even if she was haughty, she was never selfish; she way she served the people is a testament to that fact. The fact was, Natalia was a generous person, giving all she had of herself to be a true leader and ray of hope for her people. Even if she wasn't Natalia Luzu Kimalsca-Lanvaldear by blood, she certainly was in spirit; to Luke, even the real Natalia probably couldn't match up to how her replacement surpassed her shoes. Luke couldn't say that about himself. He wasn't the true Luke, and he did nothing but stay in the manor for all of those years, just taking without giving anything in return.
As Natalia lifted her head to once again look Luke in the eye, he was gazing at the window. The window showed the Fabre Manor's back courtyard.
It had been several days since the last time Natalia visited the manor. After getting used to Guy's training, Luke was almost eager to show off his newly found skill.
She never came.
"I don't know what to tell you." Guy shrugged. "She's still in the castle. She's not anywhere outside of Baticul." Guy was worried about the kid, especially since even though he knew Luke would never admit it, he wanted one more chance.
That chance never came. Guy sighed. Natalia never brought up dancing again, and Luke became too preoccupied with his training with Van to even notice. It was just as well. If Van's plans came to fruition, they probably would have never had the chance to dance for real, anyway.
The dance ended, and Natalia was amazed that Luke actually managed to dance with her. It wasn't quite how she imagined. She imagined a bit more of a formal engagement, at night, Natalia in a gorgeous ballroom gown with Luke in a dashing suit... maybe that was asking for too much. Luke let go of her hand, as she found that she didn't know what to say. What was going through his mind? What brought on this one last chance to dance? Their first and last dance. A dance between two replacements, two kindred souls, two human beings who had no idea what lay ahead in the future. Natalia wanted with every fiber of her being to tell Luke that everything was going to be okay, that everything would turn out all right. That after this was all over, they could return to a normal life... no, he didn't want a normal life. His normal life was a cage.
She wanted them to be a family. Maybe not as husband and wife, but as friends who shared these bonds of childhood. The memories they shared between them belonged to them alone.
Luke turned around, and Natalia reached out her hand to grab his back. She couldn't. She opened her mouth, but she couldn't find the words. She had no trouble visiting the troops on the battlefield and reciting inspirational speeches, but now the words to say to Luke escaped her. Lowering her hand, she bit her lower lip, staring at the floor.
A replica. A false princess. A world seemingly constantly on the verge of war. However, even in these turbulent times, this pair of kindred spirits could connect, and form memories that were theirs and theirs alone.