Hey, everyone! So, this is a celebratory one-shot for the end of my first successful NaNoWriMo! I hope that you enjoy, and yes, I will get back to working on my other fics now!
James closed the front door of the Sharance Tree, which he had called home for less than a year, but it already felt as though he had never had anywhere else that he had called home. Of course, for all he knew about his life before "Mr. Wooly" had shown up on Shara's doorstep, this might very well be his only home. The half-human, half-monster pulled his blue hand-knit cap down over his ears and started off down the long staircase. With the coming of autumn, there were much fewer hurricanes to ruin the crops, but cold winds sought every bare patch of skin whenever one stepped outside. But the weather never bothered James very much. He liked to go into town whenever he was free, to talk to people. Today was Holiday, so most people would be outside and not working, anyway.
However, there was one person in particular that James wanted to see.
"Good afternoon, James!" Shara's lilting, musical voice called from near the bulletin board in front of her house. James grinned and walked over to the cheery girl and her little sister, Monica, who were watering their flowers.
"Hey, Shara, Monica," he greeted them.
"It's a good thing that there are flowers that can grow in autumn," Shara said, leaning forward to breathe in the sweet scents. "Otherwise, I don't know how I would be able to live through the cold seasons!"
"I'm sure that you'd find a way," James laughed.
"I still like summer best," Monica chimed in. "I like swimming in the lake, as long as the fish stay away!"
James glanced around the square. He saw Hazel relaxing in a rocking chair outside of the general store, and Sherman was speaking animatedly to Rusk at the other end of the square, probably ordering a feast for his already huge belly, in defiance of his daughter's attempts at making him diet.
"Hey, Shara, do you know if Raven's home?" James asked, motioning towards Gaius's blacksmith shop.
"She passed by a little while ago, with Karina and Sofia," Shara replied with a shrug. "I think they were going down to the beach."
"I can't see why they would," Monica said, making a face. "We aren't allowed to go swimming anymore, and now there's nothing there but cold fish!"
"Okay, thanks," James said. "I'll see you two around!"
"Bye!" the sisters called after him as he turned towards the beach and walked off.
While waving with one hand in response to Sherman's boisterous "Unhello!" as he passed, James's other hand slowly found its way to the small, heart-shaped crystal pendant that hung from a slender chain around his neck. Raven had made if for him just two weeks previously, and it had automatically become his most prized possession. The chain was strong, probably one of Gaius's creations, but James still felt the need to be reassured of its presence every once in a while. Sometimes, when he touched it, the little heart would feel warm to the touch, but whether or not it was just his imagination he could not say. He preferred to believe that it was heat from her hands, her smooth, warm hands, that was still embedded in the love crystal that she had fashioned so skillfully into a piece of jewelry.
"Hey, James!" I loud shout cut through his reveries as he stepped out onto the sandy beach. James turned to see Carmen running up to him from her house, fishing pole in hand, as usual.
"Have you been avoiding your master?" she demanded. "When was the last time that you responded to one of my letters?"
"I've been busy, with those rumors of monsters in Oddward Valley…" James muttered, knowing that it wouldn't do any good.
"Well, you need to practice your fishing if you ever want to be any good! Hop to it, apprentice!" Carmen snapped, stomping on his foot twice for emphasis.
"Ouch! Okay! Maybe tomorrow…"
"Tomorrow? Excellent. You'd better be here!"
Carmen ran back to her house, leaving James to stand on his one good foot and rub the other, which was probably bruised despite his thick boots.
He heard someone giggle, and looked up to see Evelyn, Karina, Sofia, and Raven standing not too far away. It was Evelyn who had laughed, and James glared at her good-naturedly as he straightened again. The slightly eccentric clothier laughed again and waved before saying something quietly to her sister and skipping off in the general direction of her house. James tested his weight on his foot, his eyes meeting Raven's as he did so. Unlike everyone else, she wore nothing extra to guard against the cold. Her bright scarlet hair cascaded down her back, unlimited by a hat as James's blonde hair was. Raven gave a little smile in response to his delighted grin and then turned quickly away, her face turning nearly as red as her hair.
"Carmen is so polite," Sofia was saying as James approached the trio of girls. "I swear, she is the least pushy and most patient person in town."
"You can say that again," Karina yawned, lazily swinging her shipping basket back and forth.
Impolite, most pushy, and least patient, James internally translated Sofia's habitual backwards speech.
"Perhaps, if she were kinder to her pupils, they would be more eager to learn," Raven mumbled, still not meeting anyone's eyes.
"But would you want to be the one to suggest it to her?" James asked.
"I sure would!" Sofia said with a shudder.
"Hey, Raven," James said. Raven's sky-blue eyes peeked at him through her red locks.
"…What?" she asked.
"Let's go have some fun," James suggested. "That is, if it's all right if I borrow Raven for a bit," he added to the other girls.
"Most definitely not!" said Sofia, while Karina merely shrugged affirmatively, yawning again and probably thinking about taking a nap.
"How about it, Raven?" James extended a hand. Raven hesitated, but took it.
"…Okay," she said, smiling through her blushes.
"You get embarrassed so easily," James teased as they headed back up the beach the way he had come.
"Yeah…" Raven replied. "Where are we going, James?"
"I'm not sure…" said James. "We could go to the Flower Field, or maybe to the Star Dunes… No, not the Dunes, it's still light out… Wait, I know! This way."
The pair walked back through the town, passing by the Sharance Tree as they went. Suddenly, James remembered something that Evelyn had said to him in passing during his early days in Sharance:
"They say that if you propose to someone under the Sharance Tree, love will blossom."
It was strange that he should think of that now… Well, he thought, looking at the incredibly kind-hearted and beautiful girl at his side, maybe not so strange after all.
"What?" Raven asked, catching him staring at her as they entered the forest paths just outside of town.
James grinned. "I was just trying to decide whether you are more beautiful as a human or as a phoenix," he said. "But it's just too hard to tell."
James nodded. "Either way, you're gorgeous."
Raven blushed again. "Well… One might as well try to decide whether you are cuter as a human or as a Wooly."
"Excuse me?" James said, feigning offense. "I should say that I make a very stylish Wooly, thank you very much!"
Raven laughed, and James's heart lifted at the merry sound. There were very few things that could make Raven smile, let alone laugh, although she had been smiling a lot more than usual since the end of summer, when they had discovered that they both had a monster form. Before that, he had come to the blacksmith's store nearly every day, attempting to make conversation and giving Raven crystals that he had found in Privera Forest and Sol Terrano Desert, always trying to catch a glimpse of that elusive smile.
"Oh!" Raven exclaimed as they entered the icy region of Vale, realizing where they were going. "The Rosebush…"
"Right," James said. "The Icy Rosebush."
The pair turned a corner and arrived at their destination. The setting sun was casting its rays upon the ever-frozen flowers, causing them to sparkle and gleam. James saw the joy evident in Raven's face at the beautiful sight, and he knew that he had chosen the right place.
Suddenly, Raven's face fell, and she slid her hand out of his with a sigh and wandered around the rosebush to stand at the edge of the cliff behind it. A look of confusion and alarm crossed James's face, and he followed her, stopping to stand behind her.
"Raven?" he said, wanting so badly to reach out to her, to wrap his arms around her as he had done just a few weeks before, on this very spot, as she had cried in fear that he had disappeared due to her curse. Caution and a will to please her kept his hands at his sides.
"This place…" Raven whispered, her voice so soft that James could barely discern her words. "It used to be a place of… of fear, and of bad memories. I would come here to remind myself of what I was, of how my curse made me dangerous, and that I had to be alone.
"But now… Now, I look at this place as the place where I learned that I did not have to be alone, Here, I found someone who was like me, someone who shared the secrets…"
Raven turned around to face James, and there were tears in her sky-blue eyes.
"I keep thinking that this is all just a dream," she said. "I keep thinking that… that one day I'll wake up to find that you are just as distant as everyone else is, that you will have tossed that pendant into the shipping bin, that you hate me for the monster that I truly am…"
"Raven, Raven," James crooned, placing his hands on her shoulders. "I would never hate you, Raven, never."
"I know…" said Raven, a line of wetness on her cheek. "I just have to keep reminding myself of it, that's all."
James smiled slightly and gently wiped away her tears with his hands. Then, he let out an involuntary shiver.
"Are you cold?" Raven asked with concern.
"Just a bit," James said, although Vale in autumn was actually near freezing. Raven had no perception of differences in temperature, because of the fiery bird that was inside of her.
"Maybe we should head back," Raven insisted. "It's starting to get dark, anyway."
"No, no, I'm fine," James assured her, sensing that she did not want this date to end quite yet. He didn't, either.
"You're lucky," he said, touching her cheek and feeling its heat. "You're always warm. That's one benefit of being part phoenix, I guess."
She nodded, and then they were silent for several moments, he shivering, she watching him with concern.
"Look, I'll just—" James began.
"Here, let me—" Raven said at the same time.
There was a flash of light, and they both transformed into their monster selves, he a yellow Wooly with a naturally warm coat, and she a stunning phoenix with her wings poised to envelop him in their warmth. They stared at each other for a moment, and then both laughed at their foolish efforts, which had each rendered the other's useless, and transformed back into humans.
"I guess we should talk through our ideas before we put them into action," James chuckled.
"Yeah…" Raven said, an oddly distant look in her eyes.
"What are you thinking about, Raven?" James asked.
"I'm thinking…" Raven hesitated, and then finished her sentence rather quickly and determinedly. "I'm thinking that I know of a way to keep you warm. A remedy, of sorts."
"A remedy?" James raised an eyebrow. "All right. Go for it."
Raven nodded, hesitated again, and then took a step closer to him, pressing her lips against his.
At first, James reacted with surprise. Raven had never actively sought physical contact before, especially not any of a romantic context! It was disconcerting… But he felt as though someone had poured warm liquid into his mouth, and it was flowing all throughout his body, heating him from his head to the tips of his toes. It was a wonderful thing, to kiss Raven, the only girl who had ever truly been the object of his desires.
Raven pulled away from him, and they both stood there, breathing hard, faces flushed bright red.
"Is that… Is that better?" Raven asked.
"Yeah…" James said. "That was… perfect. Really warm."
Raven nodded, but she looked nearly as surprised by her own actions as James felt. She seemed to be waiting for his further reactions to said actions. What are you really thinking? her sky-blue eyes seemed to plead. Did I do right by kissing you?
"Actually, it's a cold evening," James commented, shivering for added effect. "Really, really cold. Do you think that you have any more of that remedy on you?"
Raven's face lit up as it had never lit up before, and she lost all reservations, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him passionately. James wrapped his arms around her and returned the kiss with just as much force, letting all of his emotions loose as he did so. I love you, that kiss said. I want you. I need you. I care about you so much, and I don't want anything to hurt you, ever. All of those sentiments were expressed in that kiss.
When that kiss was finished, they leaned in for another, and another, and yet another, and as they kissed, they stumbled backwards until James's back was pressed against the rosebush, but he did not even register the cold ice that touched him. The rest of the world had completely fallen away for the two young lovers. All that James was aware of was the kind, brave, blunt, thoughtful, and beautiful young woman in his arms, and all that Raven was aware of was the strong, caring, friendly, compassionate, and handsome young man that she was holding close to her. In that moment, there were no more troubles in their minds, and there was no more uncertainty, either. They did not care anymore that he did not know who he was, or that she did not know who her parents were. Such worries were far behind them. They had all of the family that they could ever have wanted right there beside them.
Suddenly, all of the strength seemed to have left their legs, and they sagged to the ground in the shelter of the frozen rosebush, still in each other's embrace, mouths still seeking each other's kiss. And their desires were changing as well, transforming as their bodies so often did. Through these strange, new desires, a flicker of caution and wariness passed through their minds.
"Raven?" James whispered, his hands creeping down her back.
"Yes, James?" she mumbled, her hands playing around his waist.
Were his fingers sneaking under her shirt of their own accord?
They must have been, because now her hands seemed to be undoing the clasp of his pants.
It was the sunlight on his face that caused James to awaken. He and Raven lay beneath the Icy Rosebush, facing each other, his arms still wrapped around her, his body absorbing her heat through their bare skin. Their clothes lay where they had been cast aside, long since forsaken in the throes of passion. They each only wore one article of clothing apiece: the heart pendant was still hanging from James's neck, and a similar pendant in the shape of the sun was hanging from Raven's.
Raven was even more beautiful when she slept. As if it were possible for her to be even more beautiful, James thought. The trials of daily life had no claim on her now, not even causing a wrinkle on her forehead. James had only seen her while she had been sleeping twice before: Once back in spring, when he had first arrived in Sharance, and she had collapsed of illness and fatigue due to her devotion to her duties in Gaius's shop. The second time had been here, as well, when he had disguised himself as an ordinary Wooly to figure out why she had suddenly turned hard and cold towards him. Of course, she had only been trying to protect him from her curse, just as he had protected her that night, staying by her side in Wooly form so that he could be there as a human when she awoke, to reassure her that he was a friend and that he was not going to disappear.
Dimly, he was aware of a slight nagging in his mind, like there was something important that he should be remembering, something about the sun, that was so high up in the sky…
Comprehension dawned, just as the sun had done quite some time ago, and he gently nudged Raven, just enough to shift her into wakefulness. Her eyes opened slowly and she blinked at him in confusion for a moment before she remembered the night's events and smiled blissfully, putting her arms back around his torso and squeezing. For once, she was not blushing at their contact.
"We should probably head back," James said calmly.
"Must we?" Raven asked. James shrugged, and she sighed, resting her head on his chest for a few more wonderful moments.
"What time is it?" she wondered aloud, rolling over to look at the sky, and at the sun… The late morning sun!
"Oh!" Raven's eyes widened and she sat up straight. "Oh, no! We were out all night…? Oh, where are my clothes?"
The pair quickly got dressed, untangling shirt sleeves from pants legs and smoothing out wrinkles as best as they could, Raven muttering to herself the whole time.
"So stupid… What was I thinking, staying out all night? There's no one to mind the shop… Gaius must be out of his mind with worry… Is someone searching for us? Half the town must have seen us leave… What if someone came by and saw us, what then…?"
James laughed softly at her worries, pulling on his other boot over a foot that indeed had a small bruise forming from the previous day and standing up. Raven rose, too, adjusting the collar of her pink jacket nervously.
"Good morning," James said to her, walking up to stand behind her.
"…Idiot," Raven muttered.
"You say that a lot," James commented. "I can never tell if you're referring to you or to me."
"We're both idiots," Raven elaborated.
"Well, I'd prefer being an idiot to not having you here with me."
"Actually, you're a romantic idiot," Raven said.
James stepped around to her front, so that they were not facing each other.
"And you aren't?" he challenged teasingly.
Raven shook her head slowly, but it wasn't in answer to his question.
"Everything that I thought I knew about the world…" she said. "You're gone and changed it all."
James smiled and leaned closer to her. Their lips were barely an inch apart…
"Don't!" Raven said, suddenly and forcefully.
James took a surprised step back, wide-eyed and bewildered at her refusal.
A hint of Raven's usual blush had returned at his reaction. "It's just that… I feel that if you kiss me again now, I will never be able to leave this spot," she explained.
"Oh," James said with relief. "Right."
"You go on back," Raven said. "I want to go to Sol Terrano Desert and gather a few materials… just so that it won't be so much of a scene when I come back into town."
"Okay," James said.
Neither of them moved to leave.
"Well, go on, get out of here!" Raven said, shoving him playfully. James laughed and pulled her close for a quick hug, his lips brushing against her forehead as he did so. Then, he turned and walked away from Raven and the Icy Rosebush, back into the forest paths and the farm beneath the Sharance Tree. No one was around, which he was mildly grateful for. After all, his mind was on other, more important matters… such as where to get a wedding ring.