A/N: I disappeared for a long while, so it feels a bit weird to be writing again. =_= I didn't think I'd be back to writing again, or this soon, but something just urged me to put this idea, which has been floating in my head for years now, into words. No beta. Enjoy.
Until the End of Time
"I will cross the plane of time, every star to find you… Wait for me…"
Chapter 1: The past long forgotten
When her mother died in a car accident ten years ago, Natsuki Kruger thought that she would never come back to Fuuka again, but today changed all that.
In a white jacket and a pair of jeans, Natsuki stood in front of the black, rusty gates, watching the old, two-story manor, where she was born and spent her childhood years. It used to be haven for her, but life hadn't exactly been kind, and things changed since the accident. Her father took her back to Germany, and they never looked back.
"Natsuki, I need you to visit Madam Fujino…" That was what her father told her two weeks ago. There was guilt in his eyes as he said it, but he wasn't going to take no for an answer. It was urgent. It was non-negotiable. Natsuki must come back here one last time to tend to the ailing Madam Fujino as it would have been her mother's wish to serve her master until the end.
Oiii, but the woman is a witch!
Natsuki grumbled as she tightened the heavy suitcase in her hand. She still remembered how strict Madam Fujino was, amazed at her mother's rigorous obedience towards her master. Unfortunately, Natsuki's rebellious nature made her the least favorite among dozens of maids' children in the manor. If she remembered correctly, she never earned a smile from Madam.
The twenty-year-old woman let out a sigh and pushed the gates open. She entered and walked along the graveled road leading to the building. Thin fog blanketed the grass throughout the yards. Soft wind caressed her hair and cheeks. The smell of the soil reminded her of the fun in her younger years.
Natsuki turned at the familiar voice. Her face beamed at the sight of the bob-haired girl in a maid uniform. Tokiha Mai vigorously waved at her as she ran towards her childhood friend.
"Mai!" Natsuki dropped the luggage and gave her friend a big hug.
Mai grinned from ear to ear. "Oh, my God, how long has it been! I miss you so much!"
Natsuki broke the hug and nudged her friend. "Have you gained weight?"
"Well, there aren't that many girls left to fight for the food with me." Mai stuck her tongue out, blushing.
"Oh, where did everyone go?" Natsuki looked around and noted how quiet the place was. Years ago, there would be maids coming out to receive the guests, or gardeners tending to the flowers and trees.
The fiery-haired girl mildly shrugged. "A few years after you were gone, Madam fell ill. She ordered Ms. Maria to let go of many of the maids, saying that she didn't need them anymore. They were sad to go, you know. But, luckily, Madam was kind enough to keep Takumi and me around. Now that he's old enough, he drives her to places sometimes. I'm assigned to help in the kitchen."
"No wonder this place looks pretty dead."
"Natsuki, don't say such thing! This is our home."
"Yours, not mine," Natsuki said, picking up her suitcase.
"Two weeks ago, Madam suddenly asked for you, Natsuki. She made Ms. Maria call your father and asked for this one last favor from you."
"Yeah, I'm very puzzled that she wanted to see me. I wasn't exactly her favorite."
"But your mother was!" Mai said with the same joyful grin Natsuki always felt warm whenever she saw it.
"I'm not my mother, and now I had to drop my entire semester just to take care of some old woman I hardly knew."
"Of course, you knew her. You grew up here." Grinning, Mai led her friend through the front doors.
As soon as the two, tall, wooden planes parted, Natsuki took a glance inside the hall, where it was kept dark with curtains down. The smell, however, was not as damp as she expected, but the same smell of lavender as she used to remember.
Natsuki shook her head before following Mai in, grumbling to herself. "She never talked to me. Not directly anyway."
"Was that so?"
At the trembling voice, Natsuki and Mai looked up at the grand stairway, and saw Madam Fujino standing at the top, watching down at them. Nao Zhang, once an heiress of a Chinese billionaire, married a Fujino and saved the centuries-old, famous family from bankruptcy. She was seen as a hero to some, but a devil to many. Ever since she stepped into this manor, everything changed.
Madam Fujino looked much older than last time Natsuki saw her. The old woman wore black kimono, her gray hair pulled up into a bun. Even though her body had grown frail, her back hunched, the feistiness in her eyes still showed.
With a black, carved-wood cane in her right hand, Madam Fujino slowly walked down the stairs. "Has it been…ten… ten years…? You look so much like your mother."
Mai hurried to Madam Fujino's side and helped her down the stairs. "Please, be careful, Madam."
Natsuki put down her suitcase and bowed. "Hello, Madam."
Madam Fujino took her time to come down the stairs to stand in front of the raven-haired young woman. She squinted as she scrutinized Natsuki up and down, causing Natsuki to look away. "Your mother failed me. Not only she could not find it, she died and left me all alone…"
Natsuki raised her brows. "Find what?"
Madam Fujino's gaze steadied, her shoulders stiffened. "Your mother failed me, and you… you will, too. It's too late now… Too late."
"What are you talking about?" Natsuki frowned.
"Madam refers to the ancient pair of bracelets. You know which, Natsuki," Mai interrupted.
"Ah. The pair." Natsuki rolled her eyes.
Madam Fujino looked away from Natsuki, discontent clearly visible in her jade eyes. "Such insolence. You're very different from your mother," she said. "Take her to her room, Mai. I want to take a walk in the garden."
"Yes, Madam." Mai bowed.
Mai let other maid help Madam Fujino, and then led Natsuki to the room upstairs, where Saeko Kruger used to live. While the maids lived downstairs, Saeko was given the privilege to live upstairs with Madam Fujino. However, when Natsuki was just a child, she usually spent her time with Mai and slept in Mai's room instead.
Both women entered Saeko's room, where it was kept clean, and the furniture still looked new. Natsuki put the suitcase on the floor and sat down on the bed. She caressed the creamy, cotton bed sheet, recalling how soft it had been back then. Strangely, it still smelled of her mother's soft, rosy perfume.
"Try not to upset her, Natsuki. She's very old now. She says things, but doesn't mean them," Mai said, sitting down next to her friend.
"After all these years, she still blames my mom for failing to find the bracelet. For God's sake, it went missing like… a thousand years ago? This is ridiculous." Natsuki shook her head. "I don't know why she wants me back here. I don't want to watch her die. I don't even want to be near her now that she's still alive. And if she thinks that I'll try to find the freakin' bracelet like my mom did, she's sorely mistaken."
Mai giggled. "Then why are you here, Natsuki?"
"Dad insisted. Damn it. I wanna go home already," Natsuki pouted, lying back down on the bed and drumming her fingers on her tummy.
At Mai's smile, she knew what her friend was thinking. Even if her father didn't force her, Natsuki herself knew she couldn't really ignore Madam Fujino's request. It was something she never understood. Perhaps, it was just how her mother was deeply devoted to Madam. Perhaps, it was something about the manor that kept haunting her every now and then even after she moved to Germany ten years ago.
"I was born here…" Natsuki said, her tone softer. "I kinda missed it… except the bracelet thing that made my mom work on some useless shit for years."
"But it's very important to the Fujino family. It's natural that Madam would want it back."
"Oh, come on. She was a Zhang. A billionaire. I doubt some bracelet means that much to her."
Mai patted Natsuki's shoulder and got up. "Be positive, Natsuki-chan. I'll go fetch you some water."
"Thanks, Mai." Natsuki sat up and ran her hand through her hair. She did feel thirsty and tired from the long flight. Her gaze then found the window and the familiar, creamy curtains. She walked up to admire the beautiful view of the garden. She could see the old woman walking through the garden with a maid following her every step. She couldn't help but wonder how Madam Fujino was so generous in giving her mother such a good room.
The bracelet… Why so obsessed with it…?
Her mother once told her a story about the pair of bracelets that were treasures of the Fujino family, an emerald and a ruby bracelet. The pair was passed through generations of firstborn son. When engaged, he would dutifully give one of the bracelets to his fiancée as a promise. It was said that only until both owned the bracelets, their love would be cursed. Unfortunate, bizarre stories continued to haunt the Fujino family for centuries for the ruby bracelet had been missing for almost a thousand years.
Nao Zhang received the emerald bracelet as a wedding gift from her husband, but had not found the other one. Even though he died only two years into their marriage, she had not given up in finding the ruby bracelet for the past fifty years.
Holding back a sigh, Natsuki tightly crossed her arms across her chest, watching the old woman move as slow as the time at the manor. Madam Fujino was still searching—still hoping, and the fact somehow pained Natsuki's heart.
Maybe it's really too late like you said…