What Lies Beyond: Chapter 34

Conviction really didn't make it any easier.
Lay paced up and down the hallway below deck, twisting and turning back and forth incessantly as the knots in her stomach seemed to do the same. She had rarely felt worse, which should have made things easier, but it didn't.
She really needed him right now. She needed to feel wanted, cared for, and loved, and he gave her all those things without asking much in return. She never really realized how much she depended on him until he left her.
But he had left her, when she needed him the most. She didn't ask much of him, either, except his kindness, and that night it had been refused. What was there to say he wouldn't do it again? How could she trust him now?
For that matter, why should he trust her? She had always been dismissive towards him, never fully opening up her heart towards him because he didn't fit the ideal she had in her head. Did he know that? And yet, he loved her anyway?
How could she face him? What would she say, after all of this?

She eventually forced herself to stop, working herself up wasn't helping. She stared at his door from the middle of the hall and her throat seemed to close up. She wasn't ready to face him, she had no idea what she was going to say, but somehow she knocked on the door to his room anyway. A tense silence filled the hallway as she waited for a response.
“Go away”, a voice faintly responded from the inside. Her heart had barely been beating while she waited for him, but now it felt like it was going to burst.
“Petal.” she said, in a weak, squeaky voice that was completely lacking its usual dignity. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It's you I love.” There was no response. She forced herself to go on. “I got so wrapped up in my own concept of what love should be that I was completely blind to my own feelings, and I treated you terribly. I'm sorry.”
The door slowly opened. He stared at her with his big blue eyes, saying nothing, a blank expression on his cream-coloured face. It was all out there now, there was no backing down anymore. “Please tell me you still love me”, she wheezed, scarcely able to breathe.
“Of course I do”, he said flatly, and her heart started again. But it wasn't all right. She wanted to pounce on him, drag him to his bed, and bathe in the warmth of his love, but it wasn't the same. The man standing in front of her wasn't the same man she had loved, he had changed, and so had she. They couldn't just go back to how things were. He was still staring at her, waiting to see what she would do.
“Come with me”, she said, not being able to think of anything else.

She led him up to the deck. They passed by several of her crew on the way, but she didn't care. He followed along silently, revealing nothing.
She finally stopped when they reached the helm of the ship. “The stars are so pretty tonight”, she said, sitting down on the deck.
“They seem the same as always to me”, he replied, sitting down beside her.
“Some nights I appreciate them more.” She put a paw around his back and rested her head on his shoulder.
“People are watching us”, he whispered to her.
“It doesn't matter”, she said, tilting her head back a bit.
He put his paw around her and gave her a squeeze, and finally she knew everything was all right. “I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have doubted you.”
“It's all right”, she said, forgiving him. “You weren't all wrong. I was an idiot, and I probably deserved it.”
“I hated myself for hurting you like that, my quee-”
“Lay”, she interrupted him. “If you're going to be my lover, you need to use my name.”
“My darling Lay, then”, he corrected himself, and she kissed him.

She heard murmuring from behind them. “I hope it wasn't the secrecy that you liked about us”, she said offhandedly.
“It was a little exciting sometimes, but no, I can do without it.”
“We make a bit of a strange couple. You were always so shy and quiet. What was it that possessed you to approach me way back then?”
He looked down at his feet. “You took me to bed once back then, remember?”
“Not really,” she replied, “I took everyone to bed back then.”
“Well... I felt something from you when we were together. A sort of longing for something more that I hadn't felt from anyone else. When I looked into your eyes, I knew I wanted to be with you, because I wanted that, too. I hoped we could find it together.”
“Mm,” she smiled at him. “So that's what it was.”
“Well, and there's this”, he said sheepishly, groping her with his paws. “No one else even comes close to you.”
She laughed uproariously, forgetting that there might have been a few people who hadn't heard yet. “You're the worst!” she cackled, smacking his shoulder with her paw. “Luring me in with that sentimental bullshit!”
“It's true though!”, he protested.
“I know it is”, she smiled, snuggling him, and they curled up together to watch the stars go by.

“It's getting late”, he said eventually, and she looked up at him, only half paying attention.
“I guess it is”, she said, taking his paw and gradually rising to her feet. He stood up with her, and they shared a long kiss.
When it finally ended, she took him back to her cabin and closed the door behind them. Her hesitation was gone now, and it was easy to tell that he wanted her, too. The long time they had spent apart suddenly hit her, and they didn't waste any time making up for it. It wasn't as wild and passionate as it had sometimes been, but there was a warmth and kindness to it that hadn't been there before, and afterwards as she held him she finally felt at peace. “I love you”, she whispered to him. He returned it, and she was truly happy.


An excited voice suddenly broke the tranquillity: “I can't believe this is really happening!” it declared, loudly.
“You're so lucky! I'm totally jealous!” said another woman's voice. Something was picking at her shoulders and back. She rubbed her eyes and felt the silky fabric brush pressing against her skin. She pulled away an arm covered in frilly white lace and immediately knew where she was.
“I just know you'll be so happy together!”, said Coquette. She was surrounded by various women from her crew, all fiddling with her dress.
“Enough!” she said impatiently, waving her hand. “It's perfect.” They all backed away.
And it was. It was as elegant and regal as befitting of a wedding dress, and just form-fitting enough to showcase her perfect hourglass figure and her ample bust. The front bangs of her long brown hair hung down over her shoulders, framing her face nicely without covering any of it. “Simple tastes”, she mused to herself, twirling one of her bangs around a finger as she wondered what man was waiting for her on the other side of that aisle. Even though this wasn't her first time, she couldn't help but feel a bit nervous.

As she stepped out of her dressing room, her nervousness quickly turned to surprise, and then to amusement as she recognized her groom immediately. He looked very neat, with a pitch black suit ordained only by a large pink carnation, a neatly folded handkerchief in one pocket, and a black tie over his white dress shirt. His brown hair had been neatly arranged in a straight, tidy fashion, but she quickly messed it up when she threw her arms around him and squeezed him to her.
“Petal...” she said, hugging him tightly. The audience gasped and murmured.
“Ahem.” He protested, struggling feebly. “This isn't proper, you know.”
She released him and a tear trickled down her face. “I'm just so glad it's you”, she whispered. He took her hand and they started down the aisle as the music began to play.

With her heels on, she stood a fair bit taller than he did. She wondered if anyone else noticed. She knew they made a strange couple, but it didn't bother her. He was delicate, overly trusting, and definitely a bit naive, but he always did everything he could to make her happy, and he was always there for her. She had never imagined it like this, but now it seemed to make perfect sense.
They reached the altar, where a grey-haired man with a long beard stood before them. He read them their vows, and they repeated them without incident, and as he made his final pronouncement, they threw their arms around each other and kissed passionately. The entire crowd rose to their feet in thunderous applause, cheering and whistling with happiness for them. All except for one, who caught Lay's eye immediately – she was applauding in a half-hearted fashion and didn't seem into it. As the applause eventually died down and the guests returned to their seats, the lone woman quietly excused herself from the room. Lay looked at Petal and he nodded to her, and she dipped out of the room after her while Petal chatted with the guests.

She caught up with the woman sitting on a bench in the hallway. She had brown skin and hair, and was wearing a simple black dress. She was a bit plain, and her long hair seemed a bit of a mess, but she was pretty enough. “Don't mind me”, she said, noticing her. “I just needed a little bit of fresh air.”
Lay picked up her dress and sat down beside her. “Don't like weddings, huh?”
“Oh no,” the woman said, quickly. “It was a great ceremony. Congratulations.”
She did her best to hide any trace of sadness from her voice, but there was no fooling Lay.
“I used to hate weddings too”, she said, looking ahead. “Everyone else was always happy, but it just made me feel lonely. I felt like my prince would never come.”
“You seemed very happy today.”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I spent all my time searching and love found me instead.”
“That must be nice.” the woman said, the pain in her voice starting to show a bit more clearly now. “I've never have that kind of luck.”
“Do you love someone?” Lay asked, directly.
“...It never works out”, she responded, sadly. “I don't know if I'll ever find someone who loves me for who I am.”
“Someone will.” Lay assured her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Maybe someone already does. But you can't give up. You just have to get back out there. And sometimes you have to do what your heart tells you is right, even if it's hard.”
“Get back...?” the stranger repeated, trailing off. Lay caught a glimpse of something in the stranger's brown eyes, but she wasn't sure what it was. “...Yes. You should get back to the others”, she continued eventually, “I'll be all right.”

Lay wasn't sure about that, but she really wanted to see him before it ended. This was finally her time, after all, and she knew they would be missing her. She returned to the hall to the adoration of her crew and her new love and together they all laughed and shared stories about old times. She was surprised to learn just how many of them already suspected they were together, or at least claimed that they had, but she was greatly relieved that they all accepted their love. Poor Sonnet was sobbing uncontrollably, claiming it was all just too emotional to bear, so she smacked him back to his senses to everyone's great enjoyment.
When it was finally time for them to leave, she and Petal led the joyous procession out of the building, past the now-empty bench in the hall, out onto the grassy path where the sun had set and her ship was waiting for them. Back aboard the ship, she took Petal back to her cabin, where he laid down on her bed and beckoned to her. She knew it hadn't been real, but they celebrated like it was their wedding night anyway. Afterwards, as they lay together, completely exhausted, all seemed quiet in the world, broken only by the sound of their breath and the distant echo of crashing waves.

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