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18 June 2007 @ 10:53 pm
(15 pairings) out of the blue - chapter 2  
Disclaimer: No part of FFIV belongs to me. All hail Squaresoft.

* * *

When she arrived home, Rina had already told their parents what the Elder had said. Her father was in the middle of a sentence full of quiet praise for the man’s wisdom when she appeared in the bedroom door. Three pairs of eyes turned toward her.

“Mishi, you’re back. What do you think about all this?” her mother asked. For a moment, Mishaila couldn’t speak. After her encounter with Alan, she didn’t know what she thought. It was going to take a good deal of digging through guilt and shame and the remains of anger, and restructuring of ideas, before she could begin to figure that out. There wasn’t room in her mind to put all the thoughts together, not yet.

“I’m – very tired,” she said carefully. “I would rather not talk about it right now. May I go to bed, please?” Her mother looked worried, her sister faintly puzzled. Her father looked at her keenly from where he lay, and nodded.

“Sleep well, Mishaila. We’ll talk another time.” She turned and went to the room she shared with Rina, flung her hat into the corner, left her robe in a heap on the floor and crawled into bed.

Mishaila did not see Alan again for nearly a week. Then, one morning, she caught sight of him about to enter the school just ahead of her and Mat. Her stomach lurched.

“Alan.” She almost hoped he hadn’t heard her, but he stopped and looked back to see who had called. When he recognised her, his face closed and he turned away again, but remained where he was. Mishaila motioned for Mat to go on without her. She had been dreading this meeting; she thought it very likely that he might never forgive her, but the apology had to be made. She stopped beside him and a little behind, for she was not eager to face him.

“Alan… I’m sorry.” There was a pause. He made no response. “I shouldn’t have behaved the way I did, or said… what I said, that night. It was inexcusable.” When Alan still neither moved nor spoke, she forged on, becoming almost desperate. “I was angry. I know you only wanted to help. You were right and I was wrong and that made me even madder, and I didn’t know, I’m so sorry, I swear I didn’t know!” She was on the verge of tears now. Why won’t you say anything? Why won’t you look at me? “I don’t expect your forgiveness, but…” But couldn’t you at least acknowledge me? This is all I can do. Out of words, she lowered her head and awaited a response – something, anything, even if all he did was walk away from her.

“Mishaila.” Her head came up so fast she nearly lost her hat. His face was turned toward her. “I – pushed you at the wrong time, I think. I didn’t like to think you meant… what you said, and I guess you didn’t.” He paused and turned toward her completely. “I accept your apology. Don’t cry!” he added hastily, but the tears were already spilling out, much to her embarrassment. First I make an idiot of myself and insult him, then I go and cry in front of him! She covered her face with the ends of her sleeves. She was too old for this, why couldn’t she control herself for once? But the relief of being forgiven, the easing of her guilt, was too much, too suddenly. She swallowed a sob; the result was a noise like a hiccup.

“Listen, it’s okay. Please don’t cry,” he said again, awkwardly. “I’m pretty good at getting over things, and I wasn’t exactly the soul of politeness to you, either.” She swiped at her wet cheeks, finally reasonably sure that she wasn’t going to break down again. “Look… why don’t we start over?” He held out his hand, and she took it.

“Thank you,” she managed. She didn’t think they could really afford to make enemies among themselves, with the recent crisis and the Earth in peril. Having a clean slate with someone who should rightly despise her was something precious.

Suddenly she realised that the last of the other students had gone in some time previously.

“Oh, no! We’re late!” They hurried inside, separating to go to their respective classrooms.

* * *

The lessons in the Black classroom that day were especially grueling, and it was announced that the senior students would begin studying second-order elementals the following week. Excitement mingled with apprehension as they were dismissed.

“It’s tricky enough controlling even the primary elementals,” Mishaila rambled, leaving the classroom with Mat. “I bet second-levels are twice as hard, plus the extra power output. I wonder how long before Master Nob lets us actually start to practise?” Master Nob, a tall, broad-shouldered mage, was the instructor of Black magic. His head was entirely bald, but his grey moustache was thick and full. His students respected him a great deal.

Suddenly, in the midst of her speculation, Mishaila caught sight of Alan on the other side of the entranceway. Just as she noticed him, he glanced in her direction. Hesitantly, she raised a hand to wave; he smiled and nodded in response. Rather relieved, she smiled back at him, and then he was gone, walking home with some of his classmates.

“What was that all about?” demanded Mat once they had gone a little ways homeward. “This morning he makes you late for class, and now this. I didn’t think you two even knew each other.”

“We don’t,” she admitted. “Didn’t. It’s kind of a long story.”

“Tell me,” commanded her friend. So she did, beginning with her reaction to the Elder’s speech, then relating her collision with Alan and how he had expressed concern (here Mat scoffed: “He obviously doesn’t know you at all. Everyone knows not to talk to you when you’re upset, it’s like taking a match to a firecracker!” She elbowed him in the ribs) and detailing the resultant exchange, down to her last venomous shot and his dignified response. Mat whistled.

“I know. I felt terrible.”

“No wonder you’ve been quiet this last week,” he commented. “Was it that you couldn’t talk to him, or just that you didn’t see him?”

“Didn’t see him. I was going crazy. It was such an awful, ignorant thing to say. I was sure he’d never forgive me. I’m so stupid.”

Mat regarded her quizzically. “Stupid for saying it, or stupid for thinking he’d never forgive you?”

She blew out a breath, thinking. “Both, I guess. He was very generous when I apologised this morning. He’s obviously not a coward, and he’s really smart and really nice.” A small, amused grin appeared on Mat’s face.

“And has lovely blue eyes and is at the top of his class, I suppose?” he teased gently.

“They’re green,” corrected Mishaila absently. “And I think he actually is at the top of his class; I saw the list last month.” Abruptly she realised what he’d just gotten her to say. “Hey!” she protested.

“You are far too observant for your own good,” said Mat solemnly, and let the joke drop. “So are you friends now, or what?”

“I don’t really know,” she said slowly. “We sort of agreed to start fresh, but we never really see each other because we’re not in the same class. Anyway, my record talking to him so far isn’t very good. I cried in front of him this morning.” She flushed at the memory.

“Hey, look at it this way: at least you didn’t fling random and badly-researched insults at him,” Mat pointed out. She elbowed him again. “Ow! That was my kidney!”

“You’ve got another. You’ll survive,” she said airily. They stopped in front of her house.

“I’m glad you’re sorted out and back to normal, Mishi,” said Mat seriously. “Things are grim enough without my best friend going around being miserable.” She smiled up at him; he’d just grown taller than her within the last year.

“Thanks, Mat. See you tomorrow.”

“See you!” He continued down the street; his family lived behind the weapons shop two buildings over. She went inside to tell her father about starting secondary elementals.

* * *

The next day, Mishaila and Mat arrived at school at the same time as Alan.

“Good morning,” said Alan pleasantly. Mishaila returned the greeting, then remembered whom she was with.

“Oh! Alan, this is my best friend, Mat.”

Mat nudged her. “We’re second cousins. I never told you?” Alan looked amused, while Mat strove to retain his innocent expression as he explained. “Our mothers are cousins. We don’t have family get-togethers all that often, so we don’t know each other well, but this isn’t our first meeting. Really, did I never tell you?”

“No,” said a beet-faced Mishaila. “You definitely never did.” She sighed and managed a lopsided smile. “Well, I think it’s safe to say that’s my catastrophic blunder for the day. I hope I’m done now. Can we go inside? It’s hot.” They went inside. Before they parted ways, Alan said,

“Don’t worry about it; it was an honest mistake. Besides, I often forget myself that I’m related to that one.” He winked at her, waved to them both and went off to the White classroom. Mishaila rounded on Mat.

“Why didn’t I know you were cousins?” she demanded. He shrugged.

“Second cousins,” he reminded her. “I thought you knew. Or I would have, if the question had ever occurred to me. This town isn’t very big, you know.” She scowled. “But I’ll concede that I don’t know everyone either, so stop looking at me like that,” he continued. “Let’s go. Class is about to start.”

They saw him again after school, and waved. The morning after that, they arrived at the same time again. Mishaila was just wondering whether it was really a coincidence or not, when Alan surprised her by saying,

“I’m going up the Tower after school to pray. If you two want to join me, I wouldn’t mind some company.’

Mat declined immediately.

“Thank you for asking, but I promised my father I would help him with the shop this evening.”

Mishaila blinked. “I thought he didn’t need your help until tomorrow.” He gave her an exasperated look, and when she failed to take the hint, said,

“Well, he changed his mind. Sorry, I can’t come.” The cousins exchanged a glance that went completely over their companion’s head.

“Well, I’ll come, anyway,” she declared. “Those heroes probably need all the help they can get.” Alan nodded.

“See you after school, then.”

Thus, when classes were through, Mat went home alone, to sit in the shop and do nothing, for his father did not actually require him until the next day; and Mishaila found herself walking up to the Temple with Alan. It was the first time they had spent more than a few minutes together, and Mishaila felt awkward. There didn’t seem to be anything to say. Alan, too, seemed uncomfortable, but she thought it might just be because he was thinking of his father’s death and the strangers in whom their tenuous hopes rested. It did not seem appropriate to talk about that, though, so they both remained silent all the way up the Tower.

It was a beautiful day, windy and cloudless. As they came out at the top of the Tower, a strong gust nearly stole Mishaila’s hat, so she took it off and carried it. Alan’s hood blew back, and the sudden gleam of the sun on his wheat-coloured hair drew her attention. Then the wind whipped her own long hair across her face, and she had to deal with it. Gathering it behind her head with the hand not full of hat, she shoved it down the collar of her robe, where it would be safe from the wind.

The two mages crossed to the aperture, knelt, and bowed to pray. Mishaila intended to pray for the heroes, but found it difficult to concentrate. She was continually distracted by the flashes of gold in the corner of her eye as Alan’s hair was blown about. It was short enough that it couldn’t be tied back, but long enough to give delight to the winds. She glanced over surreptitiously several times, until once she realised she had been actually staring for some few moments. Staring at his hair when she ought to have been praying. Just then he turned his head a fraction and stole a glance at her. Their eyes met, and they both looked away instantly. Mishaila resolved not to look again. He’d caught her staring! It is my doom to embarrass myself in front of this boy, she decided. Then it occurred to her to wonder why he had been looking at her, too, and her mind descended into such a swirl of contradictory conjecture and emotional agitation that there was no salvaging her concentration.

She also was unsure of how long he intended to pray. It must have been half an hour already, and she wondered how rude it would be to interrupt him and ask. Very, she decided, and resigned herself to patience.

Fortunately for her, she did not need much. He rose shortly afterward, and as she did the same, he smiled and said,

“Shall we go? I think it’s probably almost dinner time.”

They descended the tower in a somewhat more companionable silence. It wasn’t until they got outside again that Mishaila remembered that her hair was still uncomfortably inside her collar. She pulled it free and shook it out. They were passing out of the shadow of the Tower, and Mishaila heard a sharp intake of breath as she herself winced at the sudden glare and put her hat back on.

“What’s wrong?” She peered up into Alan’s face. It bore an odd expression, but that was quickly erased by his disarming smile.

“Nothing. Listen, Mishaila, I’m sorry I kept you up there so long. I was – having some trouble concentrating.” He looked away. “Anyway, thank you for coming. Can I walk you home?”

“Yes, thank you,” she replied, surprised. She was sure he lived in the opposite direction. Her mind leaped as they walked, and she reined it in sharply. No baseless conclusions for you, she told herself firmly. They’ve gotten you in enough trouble already, which is why it’s ridiculous to even think that he might… She caught the tail end of that thought and stuffed it away in a corner. Neither of them had spoken since leaving the Temple; she wondered if she should say something, but she still couldn’t think of anything to talk about. After another moment, Alan broke the silence.

“I hear the preparations for the Summer Festival are going ahead after all,” he said. Mishaila thought it an odd conversation opener, but welcomed a topic, any topic.

“Yes, my aunt is involved with the planning mages. They’re taking the Elder fully at his word. It will be… different… without the Crystal, though.”

Alan nodded. The summer solstice was just over a week away; every year, Mysidia held a great celebration. There would be no physical differences this year because of the Crystal’s absence, but the awareness of its loss could hardly help but colour the mood.

Alan opened his mouth to say something else, but they were just coming to her house, and he didn’t know where she lived.

“It’s just here,” she said, and he closed his mouth on whatever he had been going to say.

“Thank you for coming with me,” he said instead.

“It was my pleasure,” she replied; a little too formally, she thought, so she grinned at him and added, “See you tomorrow?” He grinned back – she’d never seen him grin before, and it made his eyes dance and his hair was blown all over and shining and this was not the time to be noticing how perfect his teeth were – and agreed,

“See you tomorrow.” And he turned and went back the way they had come. He just tripled his travel time, she thought. For me. And the little thought-end she’d banished earlier came tearing out of its corner laughing like a four-year-old. Impulsively, she let herself enjoy it. It might even be true.

* * *

Chapter 3