Author's Note: I apologize for the delayed update. I finally realize how much time and effort is placed into managing a story, the character development, originality, ect. I must have edited this chapter over fifteen times before being relatively satisfied with the length and order of information I wanted to reveal. And there is still so much more to come! Augh, what have I gotten myself into…
Anyway, hope this is an easy read and still minutely interesting for those who are sticking through with me to the end. Thanks babes! Enjoy (:
Footfalls echoed down the hallway as the ghosts exited the recovery wing; Helen's colorful voice finally breaking the silence with an inquiry for a fellow investigating kitchen buddy.
A silhouetted figure lingered outside the recently emptied chamber entrance as the thick wooden door clicked shut, hiding the remaining two occupants from view. But not out of earshot, as the figure's hearing affirmed. She swiftly slid to the side of the doorway, the leather covering her back scraping across the pronounced stony surface as she pressed herself against the wall. Her pulse increased slightly as the muffled voices from within began to clarify into intelligible speech. Galatea was speaking softly—no that had to be Flora. Silver eyes narrowed, arms folding across her chest as her ears struggled. She identified Galatea's magnetic tone and drew herself to it.
"—I don't care how, or why…you're here…never letting you..."
Her trimmed nails formed minor indentions in the skin of her biceps as she held her breath, straining for more. She expected more, but after a few minutes the threat of asphyxiation became too great. She berated her physical needs as the stale hall air hastily inflated her lungs. Absolute silence wasn't an issue anymore; she could distinguish muted sobs, and stifled gasps for oxygen dispersed through tears.
Flora must be crying…Galatea never cried.
The stealthy woman chewed her lower lip. Her big toe twitched inside her left boot as she toyed with her options. She felt obligated to leave and give the reunited…friend's a respectful distance. Her heart seemed to tighten beneath her breast. Then again, was it truly a responsible act to purposefully leave an emotionally distressed warrior, apparently back from the dead, alone in the Holy city without knowing if said crying warrior was safe to be left alone at all? She held back the urge to groan out her frustration, and knock the back of her head against the solid stone behind her.
Stop. Breath. Think. Galatea is watching over Flora…voluntarily. The perceptive blonde must be analyzing Flora, matching her words to the sincerity in her aura—she was an almost foolproof lie detector. She smirked. If anyone could divulge information discreetly, it was Galatea.
Satisfied with this conclusion, the covert figure deftly pushed herself off from the wall, falling into a feather light tread as she became, true to her name, a shimmering phantom.
It hadn't taken quite as long as Galatea had thought it might to calm the emotionally raw warrior in her arms. She had expected to stay up half the night comforting the former number eight with soft words and gentle touches, answering any questions she might pose after she wore herself out with the inevitable distress of the day. However, after about an hour of fragmented whispers and much needed cossetting, Flora's breathing had returned to normal along with her shifting aura, signaling the end of her tears.
Galatea pressed her lips to the top of Flora's head once again, and patiently waited. Gradually Flora pulled away and gathered herself into a proper upright position, wiping at her eyes and cheeks before fixing her bangs and the loose silvery blonde strands from her face. Flora thankfully noted that the throbbing towards the front of her forehead had subsided, as she turned her eyes to the silent woman next to her.
She gasped softly, her hands going to cover her lips as concern immediately flooded her aura. In the dim light of the room, and with the other ghosts surrounding her, she hadn't had a chance to fully take in Galatea's appearance.
"Galatea…" she breathed, "Your eyes…they're…"
"Yes, I know."
Flora tentatively raised a hand to graze Galatea's cheek, relief filling her when the goddess leaned into her light touch, welcoming it. She swallowed, unsure if she should inquire into the injury or leave it be until Galatea wished to discuss it.
"Much happened after Pieta was destroyed, including this." Galatea motioned to her eyes. "Don't apologize for it—I know you were about to," she stated with a slight grin, "It's not as bad as it may seem, and it has given me more than one indispensable advantage over the years. To a certain degree, I can still "see"—just in a more highly developed optical sense of the word."
Flora fingers traced over the light markings over the bridge of Galatea's elegant nose. "I even opted for minimal scarring." Galatea chuckled. Flora couldn't help but to do the same as she smiled at her number three's dutiful attention to her physical appearance. At least some things had remained consistent.
"Will you tell me…what happened, when you're ready?" she posed gently.
"Of course." Galatea responded, stilling Flora's hand as she pressed it firmly to her cheek, closing her eyes as she felt her own aura delight in the delicate contact. Flora enjoyed the affection, and wished that was the only thought taking precedence over her mind.
She knew she should be analyzing their situation—her situation. So many questions plagued her thoughts. Why was she alive? Why hadn't the organization come to collect her when she had awoken? Why were Miria and the other warriors from Pieta here in Rabona? For that matter, why was Galatea here? Everything felt wrong—foreign and spiraling in chaotic circles around her mind. Flora's brow creased. She should be attempting to explain, to make sense of it all and not let the reunion with her comrades and Galatea distract her from her overbearing sense of duty, but before she could stop herself, the syllables fell from her lips without notice.
"It's just so surreal that you're here—that I am here, Galatea." Galatea opened her eyes to take in the woman next to her as she brushed her lips over Flora's knuckles before lacing her fingers with the younger woman's. Flora glanced down at the clasped hand in her lap tightly clenching at the hem of her shirt, as she found herself averting her eyes from the unwavering stare of her companion.
Galatea continued to study the young woman's face, noting how Flora's eyes resisted settling anywhere near her own. Flora's anxiety worried the perceptive blonde. It's almost as if the nimble blonde was ashamed of revealing such a strong personal admission. This was unlike her.
"I'm scared too."
Flora's head whipped up, her eyes searching the woman seated next to her. Was Galatea serious? Had she heard correctly? Galatea had never admitted to anything even close to resembling fear in all the time they had been together. Galatea's lidded eyes were soft, yet intense under her wispy bangs, never shifting from Flora's probing orbs. Flora pulled her lower lip between her teeth to keep her jaw from trembling before speaking again.
"I have so many questions. And I'm frightened that this may all be a dream, or some twisted afterlife I'm projecting for myself to deny the reality that I am dead. I am afraid that I am going to wake up tomorrow and… and you won't be here." Flora's delicate voice became raspy as her thin fingers began to rub her stinging eyes.
"But I am here, Flora." Galatea soothingly took Flora's hand in her own, and carefully placed it on her chest, just above her heart.
"I'm here," the tall blonde said firmly, "I am not going anywhere."
Their eyes locked. Flora's normally warm gaze had been replaced with one of deep concentration, and a desperate wide-eyed stare searching for some sign of imagined deception. Galatea hoped her own gaze, though physically altered, conveyed the sincerity of her words; the distrust reverberating off her former number eight was unsettling to say the least. Flora's aura hadn't felt this way before—not around her.
Galatea decided at that moment, she would gladly do whatever was necessary to abolish this uncertainty, and fear from Flora's mind. She would take care of the younger woman now…like she should have done back then. Galatea raised her other hand to cover the back of Flora's as it rested against her chest.
"I promise. I'm here."
Flora felt the steady pulse beneath her palm, the warmth in Galatea's eyes, the confidence in her voice, and breathing in deeply, she finally let go. Flora crushed Galatea's lips against her own as she held Galatea's face captive in her hands, her fingers curling in the straight locks behind her ears. Galatea melted into her immediately.
"I thought…I had…lost you." She whispered in between their frenzied kisses.
The tenacity emanating from the wavy blonde was turning the ordinarily dominant and composed woman beside her into pliant jelly. She was caught in Flora's grasp, and she found herself relishing being left to the smaller woman's mercy.
She felt just as relieved and eager as Flora's frantic lips. As if sensing these thoughts, Flora whimpered her agreement. Galatea's hands buried themselves in Flora's shorter locks, settling firmly at the base of her neck as her lips hungrily returned Flora's sentiments.
I'm back. And I found my way to you.
Tears formed at the corners of Flora's eyes as she willed this moment to last, feeling one of Galatea's arms hooking around her slim waist to bind them together. And there they sat, holding onto one another in the shifting moonlight, until the careening flood of emotion had dissipated into a contented river.
Galatea rested the apex of her forehead against the shorter blonde's, breathing in the scent of forest pine and lavender she had missed for so long. Her thumb caressed the flushed cheek beneath it.
Flora leaned up to place a chaste kiss on Galatea's lips before her eyelids fluttered open to greet the tender gaze being showered onto her.
A shaky breath escaped both warriors and they briefly chuckled at the other's unwillingness to separate any further. Galatea dropped feather light kisses on each side of Flora's face before burying her face in the space between the wavy blonde's neck and shoulder, maneuvering her arms around the smaller woman to draw her in. Flora gladly obliged and pressed flush against her partner, sighing as her fingers sought out the smooth skin of Galatea's lower back to trace random patterns there.
"Stay with me tonight?" Heat crept up to the surface of her cheeks. "Please—just hold me like…" her voice caught in her throat.
"…Like I used to?" Galatea smiled into the crook of Flora's neck, amused that Flora was still embarrassed to ask for affection as the smaller woman nodded.
"Until I fall asleep?"
"Until you fall asleep."
Galatea swept a hand nimbly through the delicate undulations of Flora's bangs, directing the light strands away from the warrior's resting eyes. Galatea frowned slightly. Helpless; it was an odd, unwelcome emotion for her to digest. Her unruly sense of pride, or ego, grated against the word. But that's what she truly felt when she looked down at her slumbering companion. Flora was so...lost. Even now, locked deep in sleep, Galatea could sense the inner turmoil exhausting the unconscious woman cradled in her arms. Not that she could blame her; they were all lost in this strange mystery. She gently kissed Flora's cheek before gracefully slipping from her nestled position to kneel beside the bedframe, pulling up the bedding to cover the smaller woman's shoulders. Her fingers traced Flora's brow mindlessly and lightly fell down the side of her face.
"I won't be long." She said softly.
Galatea stood, adjusted her tunic and fitted leggings and exited the room, gingerly closing the door before turning her back to it, eyes clamped shut. The tall blonde let out a shaky breath. Her fingertips grazed the surface of the rigid oak door pressed supine against her spine. She ached to remain in that room more than anything…remembering the feel of Flora's breath on her skin, her lips, the raw exposure in her eyes, their subdued auras brushing against one another—and the faint flicker of another's. Galatea's weighted eyes flashed open as the copious pieces of her steal exterior sealed into place. Her resolve tightened her jaw as she thrust her heels forward into a sharp gait, allowing them to take her to her destination.
The woman was indeed a creature of habit—so predictable sometimes. Even without her keen yoki sensing abilities, Galatea knew this was where the phantom would be laying in wait for her. And as she thought, as soon as she shut the door behind her, the strawberry blonde's head lifted from its resting place atop her joined hands to reveal an expectant stare. Galatea absorbed the air of the room, her body and mind immediately reacting to the underlying tension resonating off the seated captain across from her: legs crossed, back painfully erect, hands settling firmly in her lap.
Galatea narrowed her eyes somewhat, inclined her chin a bit higher than normal and cocked a slender eyebrow, physically questioning the woman pretentiously gawking at her. And in my own room no less. The nerve. Galatea snorted softly.
"So," she began, "What can I do for you, Miria? I don't suppose this is a social visit."
"What do you mean, 'What can I do for you, Miria?'" The spikey haired blonde stood from the simple wooden chair, "Galatea, what has come over you? I understand the sudden return of an old acquaintance can be shocking, but your behavior is lacking its natural grace, and control."
"Hmph, doubtful." Galatea crossed her arms indignantly across her chest.
"Galatea!" Miria scolded as she stepped forward, gesturing outwardly with her hands as she spoke, "This is inexcusable; you are being unreasonable! Flora—"
"—Is none of your business!" Galatea snapped. Miria's eyes widened. She swallowed visibly, but refused to look away from the woman before her. Galatea turned her gaze to the landscape out the corner window to her left. "…Perhaps I deserve to be unreasonable for once, Miria." Her slightly pursed lips reminded Miria of a stubborn child in mid pout, a trait she would have normally found amusing on the leggy blonde, if not irritatingly attractive.
"Perhaps. It's obvious this reunion is taking its toll on you, more than I had predicted…Flora must be a good friend." Miria stated pointedly. "But what happened earlier this evening cannot happen again. I did what I had to. Time is as valuable as information, and we needed both. Crucial facts could be forgotten or looked over if not addressed immediately. You know this as well as anyone…"
"And you know I value your opinion, Galatea."
Miria locked her eyes on the tall blonde. She didn't have to say it—they both knew. Their minds were almost equally matched when it came to vexing, impossible situations like the one they found themselves drowning in at this very moment. Still, something in Miria's voice irked the taller warrior. So Galatea scoffed and rolled her eyes out of habit as her head cocked to the side in a condescending motion.
"Spare me the rhetoric, Miria, I'm not one of your little soldiers. I know when I'm being screened…don't you forget that." She glanced at Miria who was watching her under creased brows. "I will offer my input when ready, not before, and not because you issued orders for me to." Galatea silently dared Miria to challenge her.
Miria practically growled in her throat. Why you pig-headed, combative…
"Very well," Each syllable coming out deliberately slow, "If that's how you wish to play this scene out, so be it. It doesn't change what will and must happen tomorrow with our guest." Her voice warned.
"What are you going to do Miria? Cut her down if she doesn't answer you prudently?" Galatea growled. "Flora is not our enemy—she's our comrade and mutual friend."
Miria's features softened at the last word. "We do not know that yet…People change, Galatea, even people like us. And even we cannot escape death." Miria cautiously inched towards the stiffening blonde. "Something is blatantly awry here…Galatea," her hand rested lightly on the taller woman's forearm, "I know you can sense it too."
"I sensed you eavesdropping earlier this evening if that's what you mean."
Miria bristled, eyes darting down to Galatea's arm as she shifted her weight to her right leg, not pulling away from Galatea or the truth. "At least you have the decency not to deny it." Galatea stated.
Miria sighed. "Of course I won't deny it…it would not only be foolish and insulting to, but also dishonorable to attempt such a thing." Her eyes flickered up to the taller blonde's. "Don't you wish to know why?"
"I suppose any information obtained was vital to your teammates' safety and your mission's success. That seems a plausible reason to justify snooping." Galatea felt a playful quirk pull at the edge of her lips. The familiar banter seemed to ease out involuntarily. She hadn't even noticed when Miria's thumb had begun massaging small circles into her bare forearm.
"Miria…" The captain's pulse quickened at the soft tone the taller woman was using. Their bodies had gravitated to mere inches apart from the other. Miria inclined her chin up. If she leaned in a centimeter more, their noses would touch, and then it would only take a mere breath more to touch her fully, safely.
So she did.
Galatea abruptly broke away, breathing a bit short, "I need to go." The dazed captain merely stood speechless as she watched Galatea uncharacteristically retreat to the hallway, her footsteps disappearing into faint, hurried slaps on the stone floor.
Galatea fled down the hall, her hand wiping at her mouth, the warmth of Miria's hot breath still lingering on her lips. What is the matter with me? You cannot be that person, Galatea, not anymore.
The leggy blonde halted outside of the recovery wing, pacing back and forth, trying to settle her mind and her pulse. She needed to focus on a task, something important, something rigorous…
She stopped mid-pace and walked towards a nearby window frame. The wind felt good against her face and neck—crisp even, as it shifted the neckline of her tunic against her collarbone. Her palms lay flat on the smooth gray windowsill. Then, as if given a stark command, she turned briskly on heel and headed for the forest below. She only had about an hour or two to work with now, and every second counted.
Any reviews welcome! Expect the same amount of time for the next update, unfortunately. heh