Author's note: I honestly didn't know where I was going with this. xD But I did my best. This goes out to a certain person who messaged me about this pairing. *Hoping I didn't like...totally mess this up.* xD
Among the Lost
Francine Steinwald sat in the back of a car, watching out the window as familiar landmarks passed by. The woods seemed unchanged, which was hard for her to believe. When they rounded a corner, she half expected to see Hollow Fields still standing, exactly the way she had left it. But that was not to be. For as soon as she rounded the corner, there was nothing but rubble. In the distance, you could see the new school. As matter of fact, she had just come from there. Doctor Bleak had been the founder of the new school, and had given his prized students jobs at the academy, which was now famous for their advancements in science for the good of mankind.
She smiled to herself as she recalled how she had become one of the elite at the school, graduating earlier than most along with Lucy, Summer, Claude, and Carmen. For one, she had studied rigorously. She was third in their class, the top two being Lucy and Summer. She had also never turned in a late assignment. At the old school, when she had been a young 10 year old, she had been a huge procrastinator. She had to suppress a shutter as she remembered the windmill, the very thing that had changed her into who she was today.
In a way, she had to thank Miss. Weaver. If it hadn't been for her trip to the windmill, she would have never become one of the world's leading scientists. She had even become a teacher, one who never had deadlines in her class. But still…As she remembered the windmill, she felt keen terror run through her.
Francine was suddenly brought out of her thoughts when the car stopped. She looked up and around, unaware that so much time had passed.
"We're here Ms. Steinwald." Stinch muttered quietly.
She smiled and thanked him. He didn't like coming back here. This was where Miss Notch, their current school maid, had gotten hurt badly by one of the falling pieces of rubble. Stinch knew exactly which one it was, and eyed the direction it was in wearily. To tell you the truth, Francine didn't like coming back either, but there was something she promised long ago.
So she nodded toward Stinch, and said, "You can go back to the school now. I'll send a bot when I want to come back."
He merely nodded and drove off, leaving Francine to her own devices. As soon as he was out of sight, she dropped her upbeat demeanor, and sighed. Then she began the long walk to her destination.
Soon, she stood just outside what used to be the windmill of Hollow Fields. In her hand, she held a bouquet of flowers all in full bloom, one she had picked from the ruins along the way. Surprisingly, the courtyard still held some of the flowers from better days. And miraculously, the brokenness of the old school had not destroyed the beauty of the flowers.
Francine stood at the base of the hill, looking up. The windmill was now crumbled, and there was nothing but a ring of stone bricks where it had once stood. She inhaled slowly, building her courage. It was her first time back here since she had been placed in that awful ball. It had been years since then, and she had been able to get her body back…
Well. A replica at least. But that didn't matter at the moment. She had come back to fulfill a promise she had made a long time ago. One she had broken, but planned to fix today.
Finally, she took the first step forward, and then the next. Eventually, she was there, at the windmill. Terrified and shaking, but she was there. She did her best to suppress the chills that were running up and down her back, but nothing seemed to be able to stop them. Eventually she gave up, and did what she had set out to do.
She inhaled, and then called softly, "Simon?"
At first there was nothing but silence. A part of her worried that he had been hurt when the school had been destroyed. But then, a bust of wind, one that seemingly came from the ground, made the still air burst into a frenzy. She covered her eyes from the dust that was being kicked up by the sudden wind storm. Eventually, after a moment, it subsided, and she found herself across from the boy who had kept her sane in the windmill.
He seemed older, something that surprised her. She didn't know windmill children could grow, and yet here he stood. Miraculously, he was taller than her. He also still wore the same cloak that all the windmill children wore, but it was now longer. Stiches were visible where there had been more fabric added to the bottom. His hair had remained unchanged, which made her wonder if he had cut it while he had been here.
A ghostly voice cut into her thoughts, and her shutters stopped. "W-who are you? And why do you call me?"
His voice, although older, still sounded like the sweet boy who had comforted her when she was about to be taken to Miss. Weaver.
She smiled sadly, she had been afraid that he wouldn't remember. After all, even she, the one windmill child who had survived that wretched machine, still had issues with her memory from time to time.
"Simon…It's me. Francine?" she still spoke softly, knowing how confusing trying to remember things were for the windmill children.
He scrunched up his, face, trying desperately to remember. But soon, his face gave into sadness, and he shook his head.
"I-I'm sorry. Remembering is something that has no use here, so we usually don't try."
She was prepared for this, and walked over to a nearby wall that had crumble low enough to sit on. She perched on it, and then patted the stone next to her.
"Would it help if I told some of the memories I have?" she asked with a smile still on her face.
Belljoy nodded happily, and floated over. "That would be really great! I haven't had anyone to talk to since the most of the other children left."
Francine felt a little afraid at that. Where had they gone? But then she forced the thought out of her mind. She wasn't here to worry about them. She was here for Simon.
"Well…It all began with a boy…"
She began her story, starting with his trip to the windmill. He simply nodded and said, "I can…remember that a little…I don't like remembering that. I remember being afraid…terribly afraid."
He gave a little frown.
"Don't worry. It gets better, I promise." She said, holding a single finger to her lips.
Then she started with her story.
"I was nothing but a lazy child then…"
She remembered her shock when her name was called. Her heart stopped dead, and her face instantly grew pale.
Summer had been standing behind her, and was absolutely shocked that it was her.
Before Summer could say anything else, Miss weaver, in a chilling voice had said, "No arguments, ladies." She then gestured to Stinch, signaling him to come forward.
"Francine, Stinch will escort you out."
She could only hear the mutterings of her peers as she held back tears. She was terrified. Because as Simon had said only a week earlier…
"No one ever returned."
Simon was sitting beside her now, a thoughtful look on his face.
"But…if that were true, than how are you here now?" he asked, confusion playing across his face.
Francine looked at her feet, "Well…This is where things should start to come back to you."
She opened her mouth once again, and started her story. One she hadn't even told Carmen.
Stinch had her arm clutched in a tight grip. She could already feel bruises on her arm, but she didn't struggle. It wasn't his fault she knew, it was the principal's. After all, she was the one who sent her to the dreaded windmill. Stinch was just doing his job…
However, that didn't help quell the fear she felt.
The rain poured down around her, and she couldn't help but wish for her bed, her friends, even her homework. But none of those thoughts took away her reality. She had to accept the fact that she was going into the windmill.
And she probably wouldn't be coming out.
Tear streamed down her face as she made promises to herself that she would be ok...But a part of her knew that she was lying to herself. Eventually, they were at the door.
Stinch stayed silent, he knew that he would only see this girl once more, when he came to get her for Miss Weaver. He carefully opened the lock, making sure never to release his grip on Francine. Once the door was open, he nudged her inside. He walked a few steps in, her arm still in his hand, and left her in the middle of the room.
"Don't try anything kiddie. There is no telling what could happen here." He glanced around the room nervously, and backed out. Stinch was frightened of the windmill, and the beings its walls held.
The door shut, and the lock turned. She finally gave into sobbing. She collapsed in the middle of the room, sinking to her knees. She didn't know how long she cried, or how loud. Eventually she tired herself out, and fell into a dark sleep.
"And that was my first time in the windmill." She finished this part of the story, and looked at Simon out of the corner of her eye.
He seemed troubled.
"I…I remember that. But only a little. I remember trying to go to the cries, but…They wouldn't let me." He mumbled with his voice low.
She turned to face him fully. "Who wouldn't let you?"
He stayed silent only for a little while, and then replied, "The other children."
Francine turned away, and brushed some of her hair out of her eyes. She was a little thrilled. He was remembering! After all, she hadn't known he had heard her that first day. But then a blush came over her face. He had heard her…
She tried to brush it off by continuing her story.
"But then, I woke up a few hours later."
She opened her eyes blearily, and found her head lying on a cloak that was rolled up. She got up, blinking a few times. There was no one she could see…
"A-are you ok?"
She jumped when she heard the voice. She looked around the empty room in confusion, and called out quietly, "I…I'm fine."
She got to her feet, and tried to see if there was anything she had missed. Was there another cell or something?
"Your arm…." The quiet voice whispered, and she couldn't help but look at the left one.
Her sleeve had been rolled up, probably by the person she was talking to. She was not prepared for the sight that greeted her. Ugly purple and yellow splotches were on her left arm, bruises from Stinch's rough grip. She winced at the sight of them. Stinch must not know his strength. The sight of them was enough to bring tears to her eyes again.
"Don't cry….It'll only make you sadder." Came the voice again, this time they sounded a little panicky.
She couldn't help but giggle, only a tiny bit though.
"I won't…My eyes hurt too much…" She used her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes, drying the tears before they could start again.
She began to look around the room again, this time sure it was the only one. "Where are you? I mean, I don't mean to sound rude or anything, but…I can't seem to see you."
She heard a laugh, but then it abruptly stopped.
"Um…Have you looked up?"
She frowned briefly, but then looked up.
Above her was the boy who had been chosen last week. He was floating!
Her eyes widened, and she tried to say something, but she couldn't make her mouth work. He floated down to the floor, a little distance away from her.
"Please don't freak out…" He mumbled.
She finally shut her mouth, and stared at him. His appearance, although a little frightening, didn't faze her. Hanging around with Summer had cured her of being afraid of most things. However, his eyes…
"W-What happened to you?" She whispered, a little worried about what the answer would be.
He turned his head and then said…
Simon spoke then, cutting in on her story.
"I was forced to forget."
She turned toward him, a little surprised. He had a smile on his face, probably the first in a long time. It was a little eerie to see him smile, but she ended up smiling back none the less.
"Do you remember?" she asked, hope evident in her voice.
He nodded happily, and then said, "You were there for three days, and we had fun. I didn't leave your side the whole time."
A look of confusion crossed her face.
"But…I remember you leaving whenever I went to sleep."
This time he was the one who turned away.
"I..Um…I would only float above until you were asleep. Otherwise the other children would have kept me away again."
Her smiled returned, and she said, "Its fine Simon."
He looked back up at her and smiled again. He didn't want to tell her the truth. He stayed with her until that last day so the other windmill children wouldn't hurt her.
…Like they had done to him. After all, Miss Weaver wasn't the one who took his eyes. The windmill children, after seeing that Miss Weaver needed the eyes gone to prepare the body, had taken it upon themselves to remove them. Miss Weaver was actually a little delighted they helped her in her experiments. After all, they all wanted more brothers and sisters. Although, to give her credit, she would make sure they were never blind.
But then…he remembered something she had said when Stinch had come for her…
"You….You never did come back." He spoke; his voice was barely a whisper.
She froze, and then said, "I…I was changed into something else Simon…I wasn't a windmill child."
He looked her in the eye, something that made her heart beat a little faster.
She swallowed nervously and began.
She remembered fighting against Miss Weaver, after she had explained what would be done to her. Her memory, her personality, everything about her was going to be stripped away. But the woman was terrifyingly strong and easily subdued her. She was strapped into the machine, and the device placed on her head. And although she still fought, hope left her. She was going to be emptied…
But the only thing that comforted her was the thought of Simon.
Even as her memories were stripped away, she held onto the kindness he had shared with her.
Bit by bit, the girl she was disappeared.
Eventually, she was no more.
However, something unexpected happened. She woke up in darkness. She had no eyes, she had no hands, and she had nothing but her mind.
She couldn't even speak for the first couple of days.
She had turned away, feeling a little exposed. She had told no one that story. She had told absolutely no one.
Simon stayed silent for a while, and they sat in silence. She was scared that he was upset with her. But then, he broke the silence.
"But you're here now…"
She let out a sigh of relief and said, "I wanted to come back sooner, but…"
She stood up.
"You have no idea how hard it was to come back…I was in darkness for a year and a half before they figured out how to clone my body…"
He looked at her, his face was blank.
Her voice got a little louder, "And I was scared Simon…I was terrified that you had gotten destroyed when the school did!"
He floated up beside her, and said, "I didn't…And I can understand…No one would come back to the place that nearly destroyed them. Not by choice…"
Silence encroached on them again, but this time Francine was the one to break it. She tried to change the subject, and said, "And you know what's kind of funny? Even though I'm seventeen, since they cloned my body, they could only accelerate its growth by so much…So my biological age is 15."
Simon smiled, "So that's why you're so short."
Francine gasped in surprised, but her surprise turned into being mock offended.
"I am not short!"
Simon floated a little closer, "You are too!"
She tried to ignore what he said, but then retorted, "You're just overgrown, like a weed."
He floated a little closer, "Your hair is a lot longer too…"
A confused look crossed her face. She knew her hair was longer. When they had managed to put her into the body, its hair had never been cut. She had kept it that way, so her hair was to her waist.
"I know that Simon."
He had a smile on his face when he asked, "Do you remember my promise I made you in return for you keeping your promise?"
She thought back to their last day together.
"Simon…I promise I'll be back. As a windmill child or maybe I'll even escape. But I'll be back to see you…" there were tears at the corners of her eyes. They had seen Stinch coming up the path to the windmill, and she knew their time together was at an end.
Simon stayed quiet, but then whispered, "If you do come back, I'll tell you something no one else knows…"
She blinked in confusion, but then nodded.
"Okay…" she mumbled weakly.
Simon briefly grabbed her hand and squeezed it, while whispering, "Goodbye."
Francine watched as he floated upward, and then disappeared into the darkness…
"I remember now…" she said inhaling slowly. "What did you want to tell me?"
Suddenly before she could say anything else, Simon leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Before pulling away, he whispered by her ear, "I have a crush on you…"
He then pulled away.
She put a hand to her cheek, right where he had kissed her. She wished she had come back sooner.
"H-How long have you been waiting to say that?" she muttered, her voice breathless.
He smiled softly, "To tell you the truth, I didn't know until a little while ago…I forced myself to forget…"
She looked at him, "But why?"
He looked down at their feet, "Because I didn't think you were coming back."
She looked at him, not sure what to say. In the end, she said nothing. She simply stepped forward, and wrapped her arms around him.
All this time, ever since she had gotten back her body, she had wondered about keeping her promise. She didn't know if she would or not, and honestly, she hadn't wanted to. She was scared. But the memory of Simon forced its way into her mind every single day. And she couldn't have told anyone. No one would understand the promise she had made. No one had her memories. No one. It was her decision to make. But the little things he had done for her, keeping her calm, bringing her the cloaks to lie on, taking care of her bruises, and simply being with her, those were what brought her back.
"Simon…I want to thank you."
She smiled at him. This was the boy she had been thinking about for three years. Of course there was some emotion there for him…
She just wasn't sure if she liked him or not…
There was one way to find out.
She pressed her lips to his, and felt butterflies erupt in her stomach. Simon, although tensing in surprise at first, soon returned the kiss. It was an innocent, chaste kiss.
After they pulled away, they stayed holding each other for a while. Eventually, it got dark. Francine knew she would have to go soon; her friends would worry if she wasn't back before the doors were locked for the night.
"I have to leave again Simon…"
His grip loosened. "I know…"
"Can't you come with me?" she asked, he voice barely above a whisper.
He shook his head, "I can't leave here just yet Francine…"
"Why?" she didn't want to leave him here, in case he forgot again.
"I've been looking through the rubble for my memories…So maybe one day I'll be normal again…" he said as he let go.
She nodded. "Then I'll come back every day to see you. So you won't forget again."
He nodded with a small smile on his face. "Goodbye again Francine…"
She was about to reply, but the same burst of wind came, and she was blinded by the dirt that flew up around her. When it stopped, there was no trace of Simon. It was then she noticed the flowers she had brought were now scattered everywhere. She smiled though. Simon would see them tomorrow, and know they were from her.
She turned away, and walked back down the path, back to where the front of the school used to be. Once she was there, she turned and faced the old school. She had been terrified when she had come here this afternoon. But now…She couldn't wait to come back.
She reached into her pocket, and pulled out what looked like a flare gun. She shot it into the sky, but instead of a flare, a small robot shot out.
It flew rapidly, and disappeared within seconds.
She would come back. She knew she would. Until Simon found his memories and could leave this place, she would return every day.