Trades Chapter 8
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
Hours later, Shu arrived in Gregminster, accompanied by Viktor and Flik. Much to his disappointment, he would not find Apple there. He was, however, considering this.
"I'm sure she stopped by the inn or something," Viktor was saying. "If you want, we could go in there with you and--"
"Viktor," Flik cut in. "I think we've butted in enough already. Really, this is his business now."
Shu's eyes reflected neither gratitude nor resentment at Viktor's suggestion. "I appreciate the offer," he replied, with a cold politeness about it. "However, I agree with Flik. I realize you mean well, but this is something I must do on my own."
"Heh heh, I'll bet," Viktor said, snickering, but silenced himself when he saw Shu looking in his direction with a sort of cryptic stare. He cleared his throat, face growing warm. "Anyway, I think Flik and I will use this time to check up on some friends of ours." Then to Flik, he said, "Though I honestly have no idea if Tir is even home now..."
"It wouldn't hurt to look," Flik told him.
"I guess so..."
Shu nodded. "That will be fine. I shall be off, then."
Viktor and Flik exchanged glances when Shu was gone.
"He sure was in a hurry to leave," Viktor commented with a smirk.
"Hello, sir," the owner of the inn, Marie, greeted Shu as he entered the building. "Shall I interest you in a room?"
"No," Shu responded. "Actually, I'm looking for someone. I was hoping you could--"
"Lord Shu?" called a familiar female voice.
Shu turned as Kasumi approached him.
"It's been a while..." the ninja girl continued. "You aren't here to see Apple, by any chance, are you?"
"It's fine," Shu said to Marie. "Thank you, anyway."
"All right," replied the woman. "If you change your mind, I'll be right here."
The young man turned his attention back to Kasumi. "Let us talk over here," he said, gesturing to a corner of the inn. When the two reached the place, Shu spoke first. "Now, you mentioned that..."
"...Apple was here, yes," Kasumi completed for him. "I...I'm sorry, Lord Shu. She left a couple of hours ago."
"Do you know where she went?"
"She mentioned she was going to Seika..."
It was here that Shu's face started to grow warm.
"...and she wanted to be there by the afternoon," she finished. "I'm sure if you went now, you could catch her there..." Though Kasumi knew of Apple's determination to move on with her life, she was unaware that that had included avoiding Shu completely for the past few days. And deep down, there existed another motive for her honesty...
"I-I see," the man stammered softly. "Thank you...Kasumi."
They said their somewhat acquainted goodbyes, and then Shu took off.
Kasumi smiled as she watched the man leave the inn.
I hope you have better luck than me, Apple, she thought to herself.
Just another day.
That's what it was. Just another day in which the birds sang and the waters rippled and the breeze settled about the town. Another day in which families began anew, and trades flourished...
Just another day for everyone else, Apple thought to herself as she walked through the streets of that quiet town. But for me...it's another day in which my life fails to begin...
Another day spent in hiding...
She folded her arms, smiling sadly. The winds picked up frostily around her, and she started to shiver.
Another day not in his arms...
Argh. She frowned at the thought. Enough already, Apple, she scolded herself, covering her face with her hands. He...he doesn't...care about you like that. Besides...
She drew closer to the destination, to the very place her life had been changed forever. To pay homage to the one who had made it all possible, and to remind herself...
It was hard to believe that she had made it as far as Seika that day. She had left early that morning on horseback, so close and so eager to arrive there. She stopped at the inn at Lenankamp to drop all of her belongings for the time being. What a relief it had been to leave there. There had been some recent renovations on the building, and some construction had been going on as she was there. The horrible noise and the occasional ground tremor were things that she needed the least. She could only hope nothing of hers would be broken in that stay...
She let out a small gasp when she found the place, and her heart began to beat faster. The lone hill she had eagerly climbed many a day, in a time she felt so full of life. Apple recalled mornings she could not wait to get up and be in that classroom. There was so much to know, so much to learn.
But it was so long ago, that what was once a familiar routine was now lost to her. She looked, with much uncertainty, at the old stairway leading up that hill, to his house, just reluctant to make even that first step.
She was breathing deeply, albeit unsteadily, as she tried to drive all negative feelings away. I have to do this for my sake. I know I can do this. I know...
She lifted a foot, setting it upon the first level of stone, then lifting the other. A normal walk up the stairs would soon become one of the hardest tasks of all, more memories and feelings awakening within her as she ascended.
It was then that the building came into view.
Her mouth fell open at the sight of it. Though she had been uneasy in the previous moments, her nervousness quickly faded, her heartbeat returning to normal. She was feeling just a little more calm as she approached the building, yet...
Apple stopped directly in front of the steps, hesitant to enter the house. The memories...
"Oh...Master Mathiu," she murmured.
This schoolhouse, a representation of all she had sought to be. Yet as he died, so did all those dreams...
And...I could have done something better than...than just collecting materials for a biography, she scolded herself silently. But I didn't...I just didn't want...
A tear was shed, but she didn't bother to wipe it away. "I didn't want...to forget you," she finished in a whisper. "Master Mathiu..." She had bottled up these feelings inside for many months, some for even years, but in the end, she could not deny them to be true.
"I'm...I'm here today to say...as hard as it is, I'm...I'm putting everything behind me." She choked back an anguished sob as she spoke the next words. "The biography...I-I'm giving it up. I have to move on. I can't keep dwelling...on the past...what no longer is, and...and what could never be..."
Feeling physically worn out, she uttered a low cry and slowly descended until she was on one knee, as if in prayer, or worship. "Please...forgive me, Master Mathiu. I just thought that if maybe I could keep your memory alive, that maybe, somehow, it would make it seem like you were still here. I missed you so much, and sometimes...I still do..."
Though quite wearied, she tried to smile. "You did so much for me. You were the Master, and sometimes...to me, you were...you were..."
...the father missing from my life...
The exhaustion was beginning its rule over her. "...ohhh." She hadn't slept that night, and she knew she didn't want to suddenly fall over here. Placing a hand on the small staircase for support, she moved herself up the steps, sitting down midway. She paused in her speech, and then...
"There's so much I want to say, Master Mathiu. So much I wanted you to hear, so much I wanted you to see me do. I...I just...wanted to be something that...you could be proud of...but..." More silent tears fell. "But as hard as I tried...all I could do was...was fail," she whispered sadly. "Please forgive me. Please...forgive me..."
For spilling so much blood...when that was the reason you went away from war...
Frowning at the thought of her failures, she drew her eyes away from the house, as an abashed child to a disappointed parent. "That's...that's all I ask...even though I don't...deserve..."
So...tired, she thought weakly, bowing her head. Feeling utterly drained, she rested her arms at top of the stairs. Submitting to the fatigue, she brought her head down, deciding to rest her eyes for a moment. "But at least...if there's one thing...you can be proud of..."
"...if you could only see Shu now..."
"Hey, she's waking up! Go try to find that young man who brought her in!"
"Ooh..." Apple stirred again, opening her eyes slowly.
"Hey, are you all right?" spoke the female voice again.
"Uh..." Apple blinked, noticing the middle-aged woman who was staring at her in concern. She looked around, realizing she was lying in a bed in an unfamiliar place. "Where...?"
"You're at the inn," the woman responded. "You've been out for a good hour and a half, ever since your friend brought you in."
"Oh..." Groggy and confused, she lifted herself to a sitting position. "M...my friend...?"
"Oh, yes. He walked in here carrying you in his arms, just before it started to rain. Said he found you on the steps of that abandoned schoolhouse."
That's right, Apple thought to herself. I was visiting Master Mathiu's house, and I was sitting on the stairs...I must've fallen asleep, so when he found me, he--
"W-wait," Apple stammered. "Who...who was the man that brought me in?"
"Uh..." the woman started to answer, scratching her head. "Gosh, you know what? He didn't tell us his name. I don't blame him, though. He looked pretty uncomfortable just being here."
"Well, I guess anyone would be uncomfortable bringing some strange girl to the inn..."
"Oh, sweetie, no. It wasn't you. Come to think of it, he seemed to be the most comfortable when he was with you. But the town, it seemed like it didn't hold many good memories for him, or something."
"Is he still here?" Apple inquired.
"Don't worry," the woman assured her. "The rain let up a few minutes ago, so he decided to make a quick trip to the store. He'll be back soon, and I think...he doesn't plan to leave without you..."
"I...see..." For some reason unknown to her, Apple began to blush, not in fear, but in somewhat eager anticipation. "I...how does he look--er...what does he...?"
"Ha ha ha. The look on your face tells me you might have an idea of who he is. Which reminds me..." The woman smirked. "When he first brought you in, you looked pretty cozy in his arms. You had the most adorable look on your face...of course, I'd be the same way if I were in the arms of such a handsome young man. You're lucky, finding someone like that. He's very sweet and polite...you'd better make a move soon, if you know what I mean..."
Apple smiled uneasily. "I...I suppose," she mumbled as she lifted the sheets off of her legs, turning to the floor. The man she's talking about...it...it sounds a lot like...
No, it couldn't be...I never told him I was there, much less where I was going, unless...
"Long time, no see, Apple," spoke the male voice.
Her mouth fell open just at the sound of his voice. Now wide-awake, she looked to the door where he was standing, as calm and collected as ever.
A second or two of silence had passed, and her shock melted away. Her expression softened, as it always did at the sight of him, and she could feel the happiness welling up inside of her.
"Shu...!" Apple cried, immediately springing to her feet. She rushed over to him with a smile and a heart teeming with wonderful, wonderful emotions. Overcome with joy, she flung her arms around him, hugging him tightly for a while. Impulsively, she planted a kiss on his cheek.
Not a split second later she realized what she had done. Apple slowly moved back, staring uncomfortably at him for a moment, and then brought her arms away. "I-I'm sorry," she mumbled as she avoided his gaze, her cheeks turning pink. "I don't know what came over me. I'm...I'm just..."
"Not yourself lately?" Shu finished for her. "I know. I gathered that when you first passed through Radat without seeing me, knowing that I was there. And then when I found you sleeping on the steps of Master Mathiu's house..."
"Umm...y-yeah," Apple said sheepishly.
"Boy, you two are real characters," the woman commented, snickering. "Well, I'd better get back to work. And don't worry about the room. It wasn't even a couple of hours, so I'm sure the innkeeper won't charge you. Unless...you want to stay?"
"Oh, I can't," Apple told her. "All my stuff is at another inn, and--" She stopped as her eyes met Shu's. "Well...unless...you...?"
The man shook his head. "I'd like to leave as soon as possible."
"All right then," said the woman as she exited the room. "You two take care now."
"How did you find me?" Apple asked when the two were alone.
"Not too long after you left Radat, Viktor told me about you, and that you were headed to the Toran Republic. I figured you would stop in Gregminster, so I went to the inn to ask if anyone had seen you. I happened upon Kasumi, who told me you had left that morning to come here, and I knew there was only one reason you'd ever want to return to this place." The final part had a hint of coldness to it.
"Oh Shu, please don't talk that way."
"You of all people know I have good reason to."
"I know, but..." Her expression turned pained in remembrance of Shu's final day studying under Mathiu.
"Let's change the subject," Shu suggested. "I'm ready to get out of here. How about you?"
"Why should I leave with you?" Apple shot back, her mood unexpectedly switching.
"Don't be so rude. You owe me a visit."
"What if I don't want to visit?"
"With the way you greeted me just now?"
"Err..." Apple turned away, her face growing hot once more.
"Why are you avoiding me?" Shu asked suddenly.
"I-I...I'm not...avoiding you." A weak lie, but it was all she could muster.
"Then what's the problem?"
Apple stared back at him for yet another awkward few seconds. "There's...no problem," she said finally. "My...my things are in Lenankamp. If we leave now, I-I'm sure we can pass the gate before nightfall." Still looking uncertain, she turned and started to leave the room.
"Apple, aren't you forgetting something?"
He pointed to the pair of glasses on the table.
Her eyes widened in shock. Oh my God! I can't believe I almost left those...damn, talk about suspicion...
"Uhhh...y-yeah," she stammered, walking over to the table. She picked up the glasses and put them rather quickly. "L-let's go." With that, she exited the room for good.
Shu stood there in a state of slight confusion, and then a moment later followed after her.