author's note: I needed another ToG fic to work on like I needed a hole in my head, but sometimes you get an idea and know you're going to be sleepless and crazy until you write it. I know the setup for this particular story is a little contrived (or - dare I say it? - cliche) but I hope it's eventually going to be worth the read anyway. Most of this was heavily inspired by Futures' The Karma Album, specifically "Islands in the Sea," because my brain often does that thing where it focuses on a single song and creates an entire story around it and wow, I wish I could turn that off sometimes.
we got locked away
on an island in the sea
a place where we can dream about the good old days
but we're almost home
to a place where I can see
where we can find our feet and all we see is gold
- Futures, "Islands in the Sea"
islands in the sea
chapter one - get out
It starts innocently enough, with a knock on his door and the sound of a familiar voice that makes his heart nearly stop.
"What in the world," he says, as he pulls the door to his office open and stares down at the figure of Pascal leaning there against the frame, a big grin on her face and something rolled up under one arm, "are you doing here?"
"That's no way to greet somebody you haven't seen for two months." She wags a finger at him, and her grin only gets bigger. "Didya miss me?"
Of course he missed her. "Not particularly," he answers, because he's good at lying, and watches her expression shift immediately into a pout. "The last time you showed up at the door to my office, it was because you had a ridiculous idea about implementing one of your inventions in Strahta. I haven't forgotten how that turned out, with me doing all the work, and you ordering me around like a dog - "
"Can't you just let bygones be bygones? Sheesh." She frowns at him for just a moment, and then shakes her head, hard, as if clearing away her irritation. "Okay," she begins, and starts to grin again, "can I come in? I have something totally awesome for us to look at this time."
"You heard me. Soooo can I come in or are you gonna make me stand here looking like an idiot, huh?" He opens his mouth to answer with some variation on "you're doing a fine job of that yourself," because he just can't resist the urge to pick on her, sometimes, but before he can say a word she decides for him and parades into his office. "Shut the door," she calls over her shoulder, and practically skips to his desk, tossing down the thing that is rolled up under her arm. "This is top secret, just between you and me."
"Pascal..." He sighs, but shuts the door anyway, because if he's going to try to reason with her, he certainly doesn't need any curious passers-by hearing their conversation. "I am at work. You cannot simply barge into my office and interrupt me with one of your - ideas - "
"Too bad, toots. I just did."
"... toots?" he sputters. "Wh - what - "
"Okay, knock it off with the hesitating and grumbling and being a total lame-o and get over here and look at this with me." She unrolls the thing on his desk, and from a distance he can see it's a map - a map of Strahta, that is, the country he knows like the back of his hand by now. This at least makes him curious enough to move to stand beside her, and when he is close enough, she jabs one finger at the bottom left corner of the continent. "Do you know," she starts, "about this place?"
He lifts an eyebrow. "The desert?"
"It's not just any desert. There are Amarcian ruins in this desert." Her eyes have lit up, and Hubert has to fight back the urge to groan, because over the course of the last two years that Pascal has been barging into his office in the presidential palace with hare-brained schemes that somehow never benefit him, nearly all of her ideas have involved Amarcian technology or ruins in one way or another. So he isn't surprised... but he is rather reluctant to listen to any more of this. "And," she continues, growing excited, "do you know what else is out here?"
"What?" he asks, completely disinterested, trying to figure out a graceful way to refuse her request. He is rather busy with work, and there's been a new surge of monsters in the Oul Raye area that he has been meaning to deal with - personally, of course -
"Islands," she answers, and at this he actually is interested. He blinks, raising both eyebrows, and bends to peer down at the map. There aren't any islands off the southern coast of Strahta that he is familiar with, nor are there any on the illustration, but before he can speak, Pascal keeps going, her voice dropping nearly to a whisper. "I was taking the ship out the other day, just for the heck of it, and when I flew over the coast, I saw them. There are like five or six islands down there, and one of them has a huuuuuge ruin on it. Even from a distance I could tell exactly what it was." She lifts her eyes to his, and there's a sparkle in them that makes his heart beat wildly; damn his apparently never-ending attraction to her, and damn her for being able to make him feel like a fool just by looking in his direction - "There's gotta be Amarcian technology down there, Hu," she says. "Undiscovered technology. And I have to research it."
"Are you sure there are islands off the coast of Strahta...?"
"Absolutely, positively, four hundred percent sure. I circled around like fifteen times just to check. I even had Fourier come out with me to confirm it - y'know, 'cause she's way better with geography than I am." She nods, jabbing her finger at the map again. "I've gotta get down there. I may have stumbled on something totally wild, like buried treasure or secret technology, or even the secret to my ancestors, and why they moved out of Strahta to the enclave in the first place - "
"Alright," he stops her, holding up a hand, "I believe you. But why are you here?"
"Yeah, about that." She laughs nervously. "So... do you remember the last time I, um, borrowed you to check something out in Strahta? When we went out to the valkines?"
He remembers that quite well, because it had involved him saving her from a monster attack on the way back, followed by a trip in the sand that had sprained her ankle, and then he'd had no choice but to carry her on his shoulders for three miles through the wind and heat. She'd been nothing but apologetic and he'd pretended to be annoyed, but... He shakes his head to clear the memory, trying to focus. "What about it?"
"After that, the prez said I had to ask for his permission if I wanted to do anything in Strahta, 'cause he didn't want me causing any trouble for you or... um, well, probably just for you, I guess." She laughs again, reaching up to scratch the top of her head. "Anyway, I'm gonna ask if it'd be okay for me to go take a look at the islands. But I figure he'll want somebody to go along to make sure I stay out of trouble, and to report back to him on whatever it is that I find, right? Soooo..."
"Sooooooo... maybe I was sorta kinda hoping that you'd volunteer to go with me?"
"No," he answers, immediately, and turns away from the map with a fluttering of his coat tails. She lets out a loud groan behind him, and he scoffs at the sound, pushing his glasses up on his nose with one finger. "Absolutely not. I have had enough adventuring with you for one lifetime. I have far too much to do here, and there is a monster problem in Oul Raye - "
"Oh, yeah, so about that." He can almost hear the smile in her voice. "I went through there on the way here, and they've actually got it almost completely taken care of. Captain was in the area, so we helped out a little bit. Burned most of those suckers right to the ground."
"... I - I see." He swallows. "Still, that does not lighten my workload - "
"Yeah, and... you're probably gonna be super duper mad, but... maybe I already asked the prez if he'd be okay with you going with me?" He whirls around, shocked, to see her twiddling her thumbs, her amber eyes fixed on the floor. "And maybe he already said yes?"
"Oh, come on, Hu! You know I hate going places on my own, and you're the only one who ever wants to go anywhere with me!" She stomps one foot, still avoiding his gaze. "Asbel and Cheria are too busy with their baby to do anything, and Sophie's always hanging out with Richard watering flowers and doing royalty junk, and Captain's so busy flirting with chicks in every city that half the time he forgets to do his stuff for Fendel! There's nobody else left, and - and - " She stammers, suddenly, her voice dropping in volume. "... and I mean, it's not like you're my last resort, because I'd always pick you first over anybody else, but it seems like I always get you in trouble or make you mad, and I hate bugging you, but..."
He stands in silence for a long moment, watching her closely, and almost immediately forgets to be angry with her. He does know the feeling, knows it quite well in fact. His brother and sister-in-law have been preoccupied with their newborn son, and Sophie and Richard have been spending quite a lot of time together, to the point that there have even been marriage rumors circulating in certain parts of Ephinea. And Malik... well, Hubert isn't going to spare any time thinking of what Malik has been doing, because it is of no concern to him. It does seem, sometimes, that in the two years that have passed since their journey, everyone else has found their place. He and Pascal, meanwhile...
More than anything, he doesn't want her to be alone. And as irritated as she makes him, sometimes, he still has feelings for her, feelings that have refused to leave him. When they are apart, he thinks he can be perfectly happy, but the moment that she barges into his office or arrives at the door to the Oswell manor, each time wearing a positively heart-stopping grin, he's reminded again of how desperately he wants to be by her side.
He really can't turn her down, he thinks. Not when she's staring at the floor of his office looking so sad. If it will give him a chance to be with her, even just for a few hours... well, he'll do anything, when it comes right down to it. Even something as ridiculous as looking for islands off the coast of Strahta that he's sure don't exist.
"If you've already made the arrangements with Mr. Paradine," he begins, slowly, and watches her eyes grow wide, "then I suppose I can clear up some time in my schedule to accompany you. But it must be no more than two days, because I am very, very busy, and my position in the military - "
He gets no further, because that's when Pascal bounds over to him and throws her arms around his neck, hugging him so hard that he is physically incapable of breathing for a few seconds. "You are the best, Hu!" she exclaims, and he turns what is probably an embarrassingly bright shade of red, awkwardly reaching around her back to return the hug - well, sort of. He still doesn't quite have the hang of hugging. "I can't wait to go," she laughs, drawing back and smiling up at him in a way that makes him stupid and speechless. "We'll leave this afternoon, okay? So finish up here and go pack your stuff and meet me at the port when you're ready. I'll be in the ship waiting for you."
"P - Pascal," he stutters, "are you absolutely certain that you want to go looking for these... islands? Perhaps we should send a group of soldiers out on an expedition first - "
"Of course I wanna go, silly! And duh, Hu, they're islands? It's not like you can send a bunch of guys out there on foot wading through the water trying to find them." She releases him from the hug, waving a hand at him. "We have to take the ship. Don't worry, it'll be totally safe. Okay?"
"I," he starts, and then sees that brilliant, beautiful smile on her face, the one that makes him weak in the knees, god help him, and can do nothing more but force out a hesitant, quiet, "okay." And she beams at him, reaches out to squeeze one of his hands, and then leans up to plant a kiss on his cheek before scooping up the map and dancing merrily out of his office, humming to herself the whole time.
Hubert watches her go, absently lifting a hand to touch his cheek, and once the door is closed and he's sure that no one is within hearing distance, he releases a loud sigh and collapses on the floor. He has no idea what he's getting himself into or what's about to happen to them, but as he stares at the ceiling with one hand still on his cheek, he thinks he would do anything she asked if it meant one more kiss like that.
A few hours later, Hubert is sitting by Pascal's side while she pilots an oddly familiar aircraft in the direction of the southern coast of Strahta, and as he leans back in his chair, absently watching clouds and scenery fly by below, all he can think about is how empty the ship seems with only the two of them in it.
It's been two years - a long two years - since he's been in the ship. At the end of their journey, when they'd all gone separate ways, Pascal had parked it somewhere in Fendel, apparently in some kind of underground bunker, if Captain Malik's words were to be believed. She'd come to visit him in Yu Liberte many times, but always on foot, and always on the way to or from some other destination. She'd been busy helping improve lives in the impoverished cities of Fendel for the first year, and then she'd moved on to other parts of the world. As she'd gone traveling around, Hubert had remained in Strahta, continuing his work in the military. They'd generally stayed the same, but everyone else...
Everyone else, he thinks, with a glance over his shoulder at the empty ship, has moved on. And here he sits by the side of the person he loves most, the person he's still unable to confess his feelings to, without moving an inch.
It hasn't been all bad, of course. By now he knows that she feels something for him - she's given him more than one peck on the cheek, after all, and several warm, rib-crushing hugs - but the extent of her feelings is entirely questionable, and the last thing he wants to do is express a romantic interest in her and be instantly rejected. He's so fond of the time that they spend together (even if it does usually get him in some kind of trouble) that the thought of losing it in the name of a confession, well...
He'd much rather suffer in silence, would much rather hold his tongue, than he would lose the chance to have those quick, probably meaningless kisses and wonderful hugs and brilliant, beautiful smiles.
"We're almost there, Hu," he hears her say, and snaps back to reality, lifting his head and looking out of the large window at the front of the ship. Below them he sees the edge of the continent disappear, and then there's nothing but ocean, deep and blue and spotted with the occasional ship sailing along to one port or another. He sucks in a breath at the sight - it's been a while since he's seen it - and hears her laugh, her eyes shifting to his for just a moment. "It looks totally different from up here, doesn't it?"
"It does." He manages a nod. "It's a rather startling reminder of how small we are..."
"Yeah, somethin' like that." She turns her attention back to the controls, a slight smile on her lips. "So are you ready to start exploring? We've got a lot of ground to cover, if what I could see from up here before was accurate..."
He peers at the ocean below them, watching as she slowly lowers the ship to a lower altitude; all he sees is water, and - Wait. His eyes widen, and he squints, reaching up to adjust his glasses, wondering if that tiny mark on the horizon in the distance is... land? "Pascal," he murmurs, "is that...?"
"I told you I wasn't making it up," she comments, and her smile widens. "We're close!"
He blinks, open-mouthed, watching as the mark becomes bigger, slowly begins to take the shape of an island. And beyond it he sees another pale patch of land, and another, and as Pascal brings the ship lower he counts them - seven in all, perhaps half a mile apart from each other, with one large island in the middle. They are all dotted with trees and have sandy shores, but the central body looks greener and denser, and in the center... "Hm," he murmurs, squinting again. "I believe I see the ruins you mentioned."
"Yup, right smack in the middle of the trees on that big one." She nods. "I'm gonna try to circle back around and land there, okay? There's a big patch of space on the eastern shore, so it should only be a short hike to - " A beeping sound interrupts her, and she stops mid-sentence, cocking her head to one side, blinking down at the controls. "... uh. Wha?"
"... what is it?"
"That's weird. I've never heard that noise before."
"Oh, it's probably nothing. I mean, this can't be right." She straightens, laughing lightly, lifting one hand from the controls to gesture at the panel as the other steers the ship in a wide circle. "Given the fact that this ship is like, hundreds of years old, I'm willing to bet it's kinda... you know, wacky and not calibrated and all confuzzled when it comes to the sensors and stuff."
The beeping is still ongoing, and is it his imagination or has it become more... urgent, somehow? "Pascal," he says, slowly, "what does that alarm mean?"
"Well, it means that the primary engine has failed, but that can't be right. I mean, it's still - " There's a low, drawn-out groan from somewhere within the ship, and she freezes, her voice dropping in volume. "... running. Oh. Urk."
"Did - did the engine just - stop?" He half-rises from his seat, alarmed. "There's a backup engine, isn't there - ?"
"Oh, yeah! I'm such a dummy, I totally forgot." She cheerfully flicks a switch, and... nothing happens. In the silence that follows, Hubert and Pascal exchange alarmed looks, and the Amarcian suddenly laughs as if she's just heard a really good joke. "Ohhhh, yeah, haha, so I really am a dummy. I also totally forgot that we blew out the backup engine the last time we were on Fodra, and I never had Psi fix it, 'cause what's the use of two engines?"
"Pascal." Hubert tries his hardest to stay calm, but he can feel the ship growing still, very still, and he doesn't like what she's saying, not one bit. "Are we going to crash?"
"I'm gonna level with you here, Hu." She sighs. "Yeah. We're gonna crash."
"Wonderful," he mutters, and sinks into his seat again, digging his fingers into the sides of the armrests. "Well, it won't be the first time. I trust you will at least be able to steer us to land?"
"It's gonna be tricky, given the angle and distance, but..." He sees her looking from the controls to the ocean and islands below them, her lips moving silently as if she's doing some calculations - and she probably is - and then she sighs, rubbing her forehead with one palm. "Yeah... tricky might be an understatement... I'll do what I can, but - " The ship lurches suddenly, and she yelps before leaning forward, rapidly toggling switches and turning knobs on the control panel. "... but don't hold it against me if we come in for a splash landing, okay?!"
"This was a bad idea," he mutters to himself, closing his eyes and holding on tight as the ship lurches again, dangerously, its nose slowly falling to point down toward the ocean. "I should have refused you, should have stayed at my desk and continued my paperwork - "
"Hold on!" she calls, and he hears something that might be the landing gear descending as the ship begins to fall out of the sky. He clenches his teeth together and keeps his eyes shut, and as the alarm continues to beep, says a silent prayer that they both come out of this in one piece.
Twenty minutes later, Hubert and Pascal stand side by side on the shore of an island in the middle of the ocean, a broken aircraft sprawled out in two long, slightly crumpled pieces on the land before them, and it's Pascal who sums up their shared feelings about the situation in two very direct, succinct words: "Well, crap."
"That's all you have to say?"
"I dunno, Hu, what else do you want me to say? The ship is broken. Maybe you should be thanking me for saving your freaking life." She huffs and crosses her arms, stiffly, and the anger in her voice catches him completely off guard. "I'm totally sorry that the engine failed, and that I just barely managed to land on one of these stupid islands, and I guess it's all my fault that my aim sucks when I don't have a working engine and a stupid tree broke my ship in half - "
"Stop," he interrupts her, and reaches out to gently lay a hand on her shoulder, "stop. I didn't mean to... I'm sorry. But I..." He looks at the ship, specifically at the large crack that runs up the middle - the crack that is actually more like a gap, one he can see through - and cringes. "... I am afraid we have gotten ourselves into quite a predicament this time."
She chews on her bottom lip, looking from his hand on her shoulder to the ship, and then unfolds her arms, reaching up to comb messy hair out of her eyes. "Yeah... guess we're not going anywhere anytime soon, huh?"
"Not unless you have the equipment to patch the ship together again."
"Yeah, um, no. I don't exactly carry sheet metal around with me every time I go flying. But hey, as long as the radio still works..." She eases carefully out of his grasp and starts in the direction of the ship, her boots sinking into the sand as she moves. Hubert follows, wondering exactly what she's talking about, and when they enter the cockpit of the ship through a newly made hole in one side - carefully, because walls and floor are all damaged, but thankfully not enough to have hurt them on their landing - she reaches for a small black box with a cord attached to the control panel and presses a small red button on the top. "Fourier?" she asks, and they both listen... but there's nothing, just a low crackle of static. "Nuts," Pascal murmurs, and then sighs, nodding at the man beside her. "I have this thing wired up to communicate directly with Fourier's lab," she explains, "'cause the last time I went out and had engine trouble, my big sis insisted that I come up with some way to communicate with her in case of emergency, y'know? But..." She makes a face. "It's kinda pointless if she's not actually in her lab to hear the broadcast."
"Wonderful." He rubs his forehead. "What can we do?"
"Well, I should be able to leave her a message, as long as this little thingie works..." She presses another red button on one side of the black box, and there's a low beep that prompts her to clear her throat and begin to speak. "Heyyyyy, Sis! So, here's the deal. Hu and I were on our way to look at those totally awesome islands we saw the other day, and the engine in the ship just went ka-blammo! So we kinda crashed and the ship broke in half. Yeah! Funny story, huh?" She pauses, apparently noticing the way Hubert is still rubbing his forehead, and giggles nervously. "Soooooo, I guess if you could like, try to communicate with me back when you get into your lab, or like, come rescue us or something, that'd be super! We're way far away from land, and we're definitely not gonna swim back to Strahta, so... yeah! That's it! Thanks, Sis!" She presses the button again, then abruptly drops the receiver, groaning. "Sorry, Hu..."
"Why do I get the feeling that you do not expect Fourier to return to her lab for quite some time?"
"Oof. I forget how perceptive you are and stuff." She cringes. "Yeah, she was supposed to be at the enclave all this week, so..."
"Wonderful." He folds his hands together, looking out the front window of the ship at the sand and ocean before them. "We are stranded together on an island in the middle of the ocean, away from all human contact, your sister is not able to receive your message for several days, and we have absolutely no idea as to what the climate, weather, or monsters are like in this area. This is... perhaps the worst situation you have ever dragged me into."
"Hey," she says quickly, frowning, "it could be worse."
"I beg you to tell me how."
"Well," she begins, and abruptly grabs hold of one of his arms, "it's the two of us, so it won't be bad, yeah? As long as we stick together, we'll be a completely unstoppable team again! Just like the old days!"
"P - Pascal - "
"Seriously, it could be a lot worse." She squeezes his arm once before dropping it, and Hubert's glad to see her turn away, because he knows his face is about to change colors in an absolutely mortifying kind of way. "I know the ship's cracked right in half and stuff, but at least we brought supplies. I stocked up with enough food and water for two days, and we've got medical supplies and a couple changes of clothes, I think, and - " She starts in the direction in the back of the ship, and he follows, carefully, side-stepping what remains of the massive palm tree that rather roughly broke their landing... and the aircraft, for that matter. "... and," she continues, reaching the back room, "we've still got somewhere to sleep."
"Hm." He peeks into the room and sees that the rest area, while dark and in disarray, does not appear damaged. "Well, that does satisfy our needs of food and shelter, at least for the time being. But our safety on this island is questionable at best. There could be monsters, or inclement weather. If there were to be an attack of some kind on the ship, the structure would only last for so long." He looks down at her with a slight frown. "And what is the situation with the ship's power? The communicator appeared to function, but the lights in this area are out..."
"Oh, shoot! I'm glad you said something." She turns on her heel and hurries back to the cockpit, leaving Hubert to scramble to keep up with her. "Yeah, so the power in the back of the ship is definitely gone for good. It's gonna be pitch black in there come night. But there are two energy systems - kinda like batteries - stationed up front. One powers the control panel and the engine, and the other powers the other functions, like lights and landing gear and stuff. We only need to worry about the first system, 'cause the second one is useless to us now." She bends over the panel with a finger to her lips, as if she's looking for something, then smacks a small yellow button with one hand before turning another switch to the left. "The problem is that the first energy source can eventually drain itself, especially if it's turned on all the time. We'll have to leave the power switched on so the communicator works and Fourier can contact us. Buutttttt..." She ducks through the hole at the front and he follows, and when they reach the sand and turn to face the ship again, they're met with the sight of a large, metallic panel rising slowly from the top. "... not too long ago, I added on a solar panel that will bring in energy from sunlight and convert it to energy that can power the ship. It was meant to be one of those last resort type function thingies, which..." She laughs. "... I guess it is, right now, huh?"
Despite his annoyance and fear of the unknown, Hubert is actually impressed. He folds his arms together and watches the panel slide into place, its face pointed upwards, in the direction of the sun that beams down on the island. "I have to hand it to you, Pascal," he says, "you are always prepared."
She winks at him. "You betcha!"
"But even with our power situation resolved, we have a limited supply of food and water, and our current location is one that has not been studied by anyone, as far as we are aware. We may be in grave danger." He swallows, nodding once at her. "Assuming we will be here for several days, as I regretfully must admit that we might... it would be best for the two of us to get a better understanding of this situation as soon as possible."
"You wanna go exploring?" she asks, and he nods again. "Y'okay! Grab your stuff and let's get to it. We'll be like real life adventurers, Hu!"
"I wish I could share your enthusiasm," he responds, and sighs as he trudges back into the ship to retrieve his weapon. He has a feeling that the next several days are going to be among the most challenging of his life - and not because he's stuck on an unexplored island in the middle of the ocean with limited supplies, but because he's stuck with Pascal, of all people. And just this once, Hubert thinks he would have preferred anyone else, because he's all but certain that having feelings for the person he's stranded with is going to make this entire situation that much worse.