"See you tomorrow!"
"I'll miss you!"
Saya smiled at the usual chorus of farewells as her young students scrambled out the door to make their way home in the bright Motavian sunshine. She stood in the doorway and waved until the last of them disappeared from view. Before she could turn around and go back inside, a tall figure in the distance caught her attention.
She shielded her eyes with her hands as the man walked towards her. He seemed to be around her age, and he wore a white jacket over his tailored clothes. When the distance between them had closed, he nodded a polite greeting to her. "Are you Saya?" he inquired.
"Yes, I am. How may I help you?"
"I come from Piata. I work at Motavia Academy with Hahn." His gaze dropped to the dusty ground, and he scratched his head as he deliberated his next words. "There's been...uh...some sort of strange occurrence outside of Mile."
Saya felt a knot form in her stomach and her knees grow weak, remembering the last time she had dealt with the results of an unexpected event. "Is everything okay?"
"Everyone in Piata is fine." He grimaced. "The residents of Mile weren't so lucky."
The azure-haired teacher closed her eyes, unsure of whether she should dare speak the question that was lingering between them. "And Hahn? What happened to Hahn?"
"Hahn was with us at the Academy when it happened, he's okay." A breath of relief escaped into the air before he continued. "But he felt obligated to go investigate the cause of the problem. He said something about joining up with a hunter friend of his."
Chaz. Saya didn't know whether to be relieved that Hahn had at least joined a competent team of people or angry that he had jumped into a dangerous situation without consulting her. "When did he leave?"
"Early yesterday morning."
Another beat of silence passed. "Has anyone heard from him since then?"
Her legs threatened to give out from under her again, but she steadied herself and decided on a course of action. "I'm going back to Piata with you."
He didn't try to talk her out of it. "I have another telepipe. I'll wait while you collect your things."
At that moment, she couldn't think of a single possession she wanted with her when faced with the prospect of having lost her fiancé. "No, that's all right. Let's go."
In Piata, Saya was escorted to Hahn's quarters and given a spare key, accompanied by the instructions to take as long as she needed. She closed the door behind her and looked around the small room. It had been quite some time since she had last visited him at the Academy, yet his living space was relatively unchanged. Being there without him caused the emotions she had been fighting back since his colleague had first appeared before her to come rushing forward, and she slid down to the floor to let the waves of anxiety and grief flood through her.
They had been madly, passionately, utterly in love with each other, but they had also both been strong-willed and stubborn. She had been proud of all his accomplishments, and she admired and was in awe of his brilliant mind; however, she wasn't quite ready to abandon her home and her job to move to the big city of Piata. He, in turn, couldn't understand why she still felt compelled to stay in their tiny hometown of Krup, and was unwilling to consider leaving the Academy and moving back there.
As she sat alone in the empty room, it all seemed so insignificant. If there was a way to turn back the clock and make up for lost time, or even a way to take back all of the hurtful things they had said to each other during their heated arguments about where to settle down and start their lives together as a family, she would do anything for that opportunity. She dragged herself to her feet and started rummaging through his belongings, desperate to find a piece of him to cling on to as she tried to come to terms with what they had failed to realize.
Her own face smiled up at her from a picture frame on his dresser. She turned away from it, shunning the reminder of their previous happiness, and moved towards the bookshelf. Though they were likely essential to him, his various textbooks and binders of notes held no meaning for her, and that area of the room was also disregarded. His impeccably organized desk came into her line of vision, and she took a seat at his workspace.
The only thing on its top surface was a notebook and a jar of writing implements, so she turned to the drawers. The top one contained nothing but files and research, and the next one was filled with a neatly arranged assortment of office supplies. The last drawer was nearly empty, save for a small box. She pulled it out, set it on top of the desk, and carefully lifted the lid.
Inside was every letter she'd ever written to him. Communication between the two distant towns had been difficult, and telepipes were expensive. They'd had to rely on hunters from the guild in Aiedo who volunteered to travel between the towns, bringing correspondence and information with them as they made their way all throughout the Motavian countryside. As the damaged planet had become more and more dangerous, their visits to Krup had been inconsistent, but Saya had always been ready with a handwritten missive for whenever one happened to pass through on his way back to the larger cities.
She gingerly leafed through the stack, opening the occasional envelope, and reliving the brief snippets of their enduring romance. Memories of writing each one trickled back to her, and she struggled to keep from smearing the ink on the pages with the tears that stung at the corners of her eyes, threatening to spill forth at any moment.
Her fight was unsuccessful, and the first open sob erupted from deep within her chest. She dropped the pile of letters onto the desk, where they scattered into a sloppy pile, and got up from the chair. The bed was only several short steps away, and she collapsed on top of it. Clutching his pillow to her face, she resisted the urge to scream out as she wept. Its downy warmth had retained his scent, and the searing pain that wracked her body was only magnified as she came to realize that she would never hold him close to her again.
They had been playmates, classmates, childhood sweethearts. She couldn't remember a time in her life when Hahn hadn't been by her side, and she had taken their future together for granted. With his absence, a piece of her was missing, and she knew it would be irreplaceable.
Despite her overwhelming anguish, it would be impossible for her to stay wrapped up in his blankets and his lingering presence forever. When her cries had subsided to a more manageable level, she sat up and wiped her eyes. There was no reason for her to remain in Piata, and though she felt sick at the thought of breaking the news to Hahn's parents, she wanted to be back in a familiar setting to grieve appropriately.
A quick search of his closet turned up an empty cardboard box. She straightened up the pile of letters and put them inside before looking around to see what else she wanted to bring back with her. The framed portrait was deemed unnecessary, and she pushed it aside. She came across a loose photograph of them sitting at the water's edge in Krup, which was added to the carton by shaking hands. Various trinkets that were recognizable to her, some articles of clothing, and a wristwatch that had been her birthday gift to him one year were all collected and packed up with care. Life without him would be difficult, even unbearable some days, but she knew his spirit would always be with her, guiding her forward.
The sound of the door opening nearly made her drop the box, and she prepared to scream at the intruder to leave her alone. Before she could react, a haunting voice ripped through the sorrow that hung heavily in the air. "Saya? What are you doing?"
She spun around and gasped, staring at the familiar form in the doorway with red-rimmed eyes. Frozen in place, her lips parted in surprise, and she could only gape at him, convinced that her mind was playing tricks on her. She wanted to believe it was him, that it was truly him, yet she was afraid of setting herself up for a crushing disappointment.
He looked at her puffy skin, her matted hair, and the container of his personal property, and understood the scene before him. "Oh, Saya. I'm so, so sorry. I don't know how you can ever forgive me...."
His apologies were cut short by the thump of the box being dropped on the desk and the disheveled woman rushing into his arms. She buried her face in his neck as she embraced him, and her voice was muffled against his chest. "Someone came and told me what had happened, and where you'd gone, and all I could think about was what happened to Alys, and when you didn't come back, I...I...." She paused to catch her breath and clutch at him even more fervently.
He stroked the unruly waves that cascaded past her shoulders and rested his chin atop her head. "It all happened so fast. I wanted to let you know, I should have let you know, but there just wasn't time. Enough people had already died, and I was worried for the future of our world." He rubbed the small of her back, pulling her closer. "And you. I didn't want anything to happen to you. Even if I couldn't...."
She heard his voice start to crack and his breath catch in his throat. Pulling away from him, she looked him over, wanting to take in every last magnificent detail of the man that she thought had been lost to her. "I still can't believe it," she said, shaking her head. "I really didn't think you were still alive. But I suppose I should have known." She took one of his hands and pressed it to her chest, directly over her heart. "When I didn't feel you with me anymore, I just expected the worst."
"There were times when I didn't think we'd make it," he admitted. "But everything's okay. We're all going to be okay."
Saya didn't press him for details, as she had far more crucial matters to discuss. "I kept thinking about all the mistakes we've made — putting things off, waiting for a perfect time that would never come, staying apart for far too long. But that's all in the past now. I realized that while I've been blessed with so many wonderful things, the most important thing is you." She managed her first smile since arriving in Piata. "And I'm never taking my eyes off you ever again!"
He laughed. "I wasn't about to let you escape from me any time soon, either!"
She giggled with him, enchanted by the magic of their unexpected reunion and shared joy. Her enthusiasm was interrupted, however, by the sudden awareness of her unkempt appearance, and the similar state of the room. "Oh dear!" she exclaimed, her hand flying up to the side of her face. "I must look terrible right now. And I'm afraid I made a bit of a mess in here. I —"
Hahn cut her off by putting a finger to her lips. "You are the most beautiful sight in all of Algo to me. Nothing will ever change that." He moved his hand to caress her cheek, and she closed her eyes. A wayward lock of hair was pushed out of the way before he drew her into him, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her with an urgent intensity. She pressed her body along the length of his, wanting to melt into his strong embrace, to become a part of him so they never ran the risk of agonizing separation ever again.
Saya was prepared to lose herself in the intimacy of the moment, but she had learned the necessity of speaking certain words as soon as they were felt. She broke the kiss and tilted her head to the side, staring into the smoldering depths of his dark brown eyes. "I love you, Hahn. So very much."
He took a step backwards and sat down on the bed. "I love you, too." Reaching out for her, he tugged at her hands until she landed in his lap. "Welcome home."