Chapter 21: Louise
"Louise?" Baron's word came out as a disbelieving whisper. "Louise? Is that really you?"
The slender blonde woman picked herself slowly off the floor and Baron quickly ran to her side.
"No, don't try to get up just yet; you'll still be weak from the change. But... how?"
Shakily, the woman laughed and just motioned to Haru. "She'll explain a little."
Baron's eyes snapped to Haru. "Haru... you knew about Louise?"
"Only recently," she mumbled.
"Why... why didn't you tell me that she...?"
"I think she didn't want to make you hope that she'd be able to return to normal. She didn't want me to tell you – I did offer."
"But still..." he continued, turning back to the beautiful young lady in his arms, "how did you end up...?"
"Small and furry?" she offered, smiling. "I have a theory, but it's not much."
"All your other theories were correct," Haru pointed out. When Baron turned to her curiously, she added, "Louise was the one who made me realise that we weren't dead. By asking the right questions, I finally reached the right conclusion. I don't understand why Louise ended up like this though... we didn't get that far before you found the solution."
"I believe," Louise started, "that when you were attacked, your magic did several unorthodox things. Not only did it protect you and bind part of itself to the statuette, but it also attempted to protect me, since you cared for me." No one noticed that she had carefully said "cared" instead of "loved" but if they did, they didn't comment. "But since I wasn't in danger – not immediate danger anyway – and I wasn't even close by, it protected me differently to how it protected you. I believe... that because your magic bound itself to that particular item, it affected me so I would take on a similar appearance. But, like you Humbert, I didn't age and I doubt that I actually needed to eat, although I ate to avoid suspicion."
"You've had a long time to think this through, haven't you?"
"I came back here and pretty soon realised that all wasn't as it seemed. With that, I tried to understand what had occurred. And I wasn't about to accept that you were dead," Louise added, smiling gently up into those familiar green eyes. "No matter what you thought."
"You always were very interested in how my magic worked," Baron replied fondly and hugged the blonde close. "Seems all those hours explaining and pouring over books paid off."
Louise's smile deepened as she received the embrace she'd missed for too many years; savouring the feel of familiar arms around her. "Seems so," she replied softly.
Haru stood awkwardly to the side, feeling like she was intruding on the reunion, but unable to leave without passing straight by them. "Louise, how was it you could see me?" she asked quietly. "Not even Baron could."
"I think I've worked out that one too – although I'm not sure. I guess it had something to do with being a cat – all the extra-sharp senses and all that – and also being joined by Humbert's magic. Probably a mixture of the two."
"Oh, probably." Haru watched the pair together and felt her heart sink. The worst thing was the knowledge she should be overjoyed for Baron. "I'll see you downstairs," she mumbled and sidled round them, finally able to escape through the door. She hurried down the stairs, but stopped when she came to the first floor landing. Leaning heavily against the wall, silent tears threatened to overwhelm her.
"What's wrong with me?" she whispered. "They're practically made for each other – you can see it. Louise has spent several lifetimes waiting by Baron's side, even if he didn't know it... surely she deserves this happiness?"
Baron had never said simply that he cared for her the way she cared for him... although he had admitted it, he hadn't said it plainly. And she probably couldn't measure up to Louise... especially not in Baron's eyes. Especially not after several lifetimes' worth of reliving those memories he retained of the beautiful blonde.
And they were perfect for each other. What did Haru have that could possibly make Baron want her over Louise?
A sob escaped her lips and she covered her face with her hands. It had been simpler in some ways when he had been in his ghost-state and they thought they knew nothing could come of their feelings. Now a relationship was possible, but it was down to choice rather than fate that now separated them.
And that hurt more than anything.
Baron heard the door unintentionally slam shut and suddenly his thoughts dragged him back to the brunette he'd slowly been falling in love with for the last week. He turned to the lady he was embracing and now his heart began to tear in two with the choice he never thought he'd have to face.
Louise saw the look and instantly understood. She gave him one last hug and placed a tender kiss on his cheek before murmuring, "Go after her, Humbert."
He tensed. "Louise..."
She smiled softly. "You've spent too many years reliving the past. It's about time you saw you had a future."
"You were once my future."
"Once. Humbert, things have changed in that time. We've changed."
"After all the years you've spent by my side and I didn't even know..." He was cut off as Louise placed one slender finger on his lips.
"I'm not going to guilt-trip you into anything," she said gently. "That was my choice and my choice alone. I saw the way you were with her... I'm not going to take that away. Anyway, you love her right?"
Louise leant in. "So what's the problem?"
He opened his mouth, then found no argument would come.
Louise smiled knowingly. She placed a final kiss on his cheek, for old time's sake. "Then go after her," she repeated softly.
Baron studied Louise's face and then slowly a smile slipped onto his features. He pulled the blonde into a hug. "Thank you, Louise."
"It's okay," she whispered back. She watched him get up and leave; only choosing to wipe at her eyes when he had gone. "It's okay. I can see what she means to you."
Haru heard running footsteps coming down the stairs towards her and she couldn't find it in herself to stay to find out what they had to say. She started along the corridor; her feet picking up into a run, but then she heard Baron shout out her name.
He sounded so happy – who was she to spoil that?
Suddenly Baron caught her hand and twirled her round; his hands gripped her waist and spun her round through the air as if she were a ballerina. He brought her to a stop so they were standing beneath one of Baron's light orbs; the air around them shimmering with the soft golden light. And then, suddenly, Haru wasn't concentrating on the light anymore, but rather on the proximity of their faces, and then she forgot about that and focused rather on the fact that his lips were meeting hers. Surprised, scared, exhilarated, she went with what her heart was urging her to do, and fell into the moment.
When the kiss ended, she found words would not come. Baron smiled a little ruefully at her speechlessness. "I caught you off guard then?"
Dammit, why couldn't she breathe properly?
"It seems you did."
He smiled yet more at her breathless answer; his eyes sparkling with a life she hadn't seen before.
"Is fine with this," he finished smoothly.
She stared a little longer into his eyes then, blushing furiously, buried her head into his chest. "Thank you, Baron," she whispered.
She looked back up at him. "Just for everything. Come on, we should be heading downstairs now. Everyone else will want to know what happened."
"Haru! So you did it!"
Haru laughed as her oldest friend dragged her into a bear hug. "Yep, Hiromi, we did it. Now... would you care to release me?"
Tsuge came next, offering a hand to her. "It's good to have you back."
Haru regarded the hand then looked up to the owner of it. "Come on, Tsuge. You've known me for a lot longer than that."
He laughed and offered a hug instead. Haru now laughed too and took the hug from her closest guy-friend. Then she turned to Machida. She smiled once, thinking a little embarrassedly of her feelings for him when they'd originally arrived at the castle. When he offered his hand, she didn't protest; only taking it in a formal handshake. "This trip was fun," she said honestly. "We should do this more often."
"With an additional certain someone towing along, of course," Hiromi added, smirking knowingly towards Baron.
"Of course," Haru echoed, grinning towards Baron. She motioned for him to step forward. "Hey, are you going to hide in the corner or introduce yourself?"
"Since they already know me, that would seem a little redundant," he replied, but stepped forward all the same to Haru's side. He threaded an arm around her waist, drawing her close.
"Well, it's good to have you back, Chicky." Renaldo ruffled her hair affectionately. He grinned over to Baron. "Don't worry; I won't ruffle your hair too."
"That sets my heart at rest," Baron replied dryly.
Haru turned to the rest of the group and began relaying their story, with the help of Baron whenever he felt she'd missed something out, although after a few raised eyebrows at his interruptions, he decided letting Haru finish the story herself was the best policy. He did notice though the absence of either kiss from the story, but he didn't bother to try to amend that mistake.
That was personal.
Louise hadn't moved from her spot on the floor when Toto arrived in the room. She didn't try to get up; she only murmured without looking round, "Who's there?"
The dark man stopped, his hand still on the handle, as his eyes took in the pale beauty before him. "Toto, ma'am. And you must be Louise."
She turned round. "So Baron's explained it all, has he?"
"Actually it was mostly Haru but... Baron... helped..." His voice trailed off as he became absorbed by her azure eyes; a brighter blue than the clearest summer sky. "I'm sorry – I didn't think anyone was up here. If you want, I'll go–"
"No, you can stay. I don't want to be a nuisance or anything..."
"You're not a nuisance." Then he quickly added, "I mean, you don't look like the type of person who would be... you know... a nuisance..." He paused, then gave up and just sat down beside her. "You're Baron's fiancée, aren't you?"
"Was. I was Baron's fiancée," she amended.
"Oh. Of course. And you're... okay with that?"
"I'm managing, if that's what you mean."
"How could you find it in yourself to... let go of Baron like that?"
Louise smiled gently at him. "Because if you love someone, if you truly love someone, you will let them go."
"So he gets his happy ending... but what about you?"
The lady laughed delicately. "I suppose I should just count myself lucky I've returned to human. It's going to be an uphill climb and I don't know how I'm going to manage it, but I will get through it. I've survived in this house for too many years, and mostly on the kindness of strangers... but I'm going to have to find another way of living now."
"You could stay here – until you find your feet, of course," Toto added hurriedly. "There are plenty of rooms in the house and we never changed this room because Baron wouldn't let us, so we could let you stay in it. We would still be able to rent out the castle, I expect." He stood up and offered the blonde a hand. "So what do you say? Are you willing to depend on the kindness of strangers for a little longer?"
Louise looked up at him; a soft smile beginning to form. "Yes," she said, and placed her slender hand in his, "I think so." The smile strengthened. "I think so indeed."
Haru looked down to her and Baron's joined hands. Still a spark of joy lit up in her at the fact she was now able to hold his hand and physically feel his presence. Things had changed so much in so short a time.
"What are you thinking about?" Baron asked softly.
"You. Me," Haru replied honestly. "How weird this whole trip has been."
"I wasn't quite expecting that last thought, but I see where you're coming from."
Haru smiled to herself. She let her head fall onto his shoulder as she stood on the back porch and admired the snow-capped gardens before her. The snow hadn't gone yet, but it was well on its way.
"What are we going to do now? I mean, according to the records, you disappeared a hundred or so years ago."
Baron considered this for a moment. "You should carry on your education," he said decidedly, "and carry on with whatever career prospects you had. I'm not going to hinder your future. I," he added just as Haru began to speak, "will try to get to grips with this day and age. Watching it from the sidelines is very different to actually living it."
"What about the castle?"
"What about the castle? Officially, it's Toto and Renaldo's. I have no claim on it."
"Except the fact that it was originally yours."
"Things have changed since then," Baron reminded her. "Maybe if I make enough money, I may buy the place off them, but to be honest I have lived here long enough. It's time I moved on."
He turned and smiled at Haru with a smile that near made her heart melt.
"Anyway, as long as I'm with you, I don't care where we are. I've been given a fresh chance at life and I plan on savouring every second of it. Whatever the future brings."
'After all,' he added mentally, looking lovingly at the brunette who was wonderfully, inexplicably, amazingly his, 'who knows what the future will bring.'
A/N: Yay! Finished! To be honest, I wasn't that sure of this story. It started off well, and then chapter 12 suddenly stopped, and then suddenly it picked back up again after several weeks avoiding me. As mentioned, this was inspired when someone mentioned that they were actually going to spend the weekend in an old castle for a birthday present, under much the same settings as this. You wouldn't believe the amount of jokes that cropped up about seeing ghosts. And following that came a lot of "what ifs" mixed with my usual overdose of TCR and this was the end result.
Thanks to all my reviewers: Suki-Alanna, isara-love, Nanenna, inujisan, James Birdsong, mAutumn, Raye of the Sunshine, Aperio, Ebony Mitsu, HaruxBaron4eva12, The Count Luca van Andrews, laurashrub, TheGamerSwordsman, Angel of Love and Fluffy Stuff, neko girl, CharlyKaa (Kaa), L.M. Dodger, bee3, Midnight the Black Fox, Vivid x Dreams, maddie-mira, TheRightGirl, delilah hunter, inulover1993, TomTheBoy, SilentSiren1526, Rowena BaronErikandSnapeLover, DancingWeretigress, A Toxic Detective x, CC21, ScyRy, Hollow's Xmas, WhiteDemoness11, Clara954, Bad Octopus and Akatsuki Demon Kiera666. And to every guest who didn't leave a name. You keep us writers writing!
Toto and Louise? S'pose it is possible and I've become rather fond of the idea now... This is the first time I've even hinted towards a pairing for her and I think I may do it again. I guess I felt guilty for neglecting her in the past. And for those LunexYuki fans... sorry. I'm not really suggesting Yuki is Louise in the film... but the similarities were just too close NOT to take advantage of in this. (And cookies to whoever gets where the 'kindness of strangers' line came from.)
Next story's summary:
Could something as simple as love break a curse? Then again, when was love ever simple?
Hope that got you interested! The next storyline has got to be one of my favourites so I hope you avid readers and reviewers will enjoy it too. It has a little mix of quite a few things that should become clear as it develops. As you've probably realised, I posted the first chapter early as a birthday present of sorts and I hope you enjoyed it.
See you then and God Bless.