Lost Child. [part i]Fandom:
Thanks to a death penalty, Pao-Lin finds out that her partner isn’t the man he used to be.Rating:
A For Awkward.Notes:
Writing about Hubert’s second death when I haven’t even gotten around to doing more than cursory plotting about his first? I have the best priorities.
Also, I hereby dedicate this fic in honor of Vyc’s birthday because the timing worked out, so why the hell not. Happy birthday, Vyc! I churned this out pretty fast, but I hope it’s still a decent read.
If Hubert looks a little like a lost child after being resurrected from his second death in Luceti, that’s only because he is — in a manner of speaking.
Cheria had contacted Pao-Lin over the journals to inform her both of Hubert’s return and his subsequent death penalty: being mentally reverted to his 10-year-old self. The full implications of this don’t quite register to Pao-Lin at first. She’s just been in Luceti for so long that memory manipulation doesn’t have quite the same bite as it used to, even if it’s no less of a hassle to deal with.
Instead, what comes to mind for her are images of a younger Hubert, the result of a shift inflicted on him and Asbel years ago. At ten years old, he was a soft-spoken, rather skittish sort, but nevertheless clearly more sanguine back then, a far cry from the serious teenager that Pao-Lin had met barely a month before. Even without that contrast, though, she’d found him endearing.
The dissonance of seeing his juvenile mannerisms on his adult body, however, is more unsettling.
Hubert is sitting on a stone bench in the middle of the backyard garden when Pao-Lin reaches House 28. He’s gazing down at the flowers with his hands clasped in his lap and his shoulders hunched, as though slowly sinking away from the world around him. There’s a soft frown on his face, which in truth isn’t anything new for him. But it lacks the steel that Pao-Lin only now realizes had existed in the Hubert she’d come to care for here.
She stops at the border of the garden, mindful of this new distance between them. “Hubert?”
Hubert glances up, startled. He stares in confusion for a second before his face lights up — if only a little — with a weak smile. “Oh...you must be Pao-Lin.”He looks nice smiling like that
, Pao-Lin thinks. Too bad the reason for it isn’t anything to be happy about. “I guess someone told you about me, huh?”
“Mm-hmm. Cheria said you were a really good friend of mine.”
Well, it’s the truth, more or less. “Yeah.” A pause. “Is it okay if I sit down...?”
He nods and scoots over on the bench.
Something clenches inside Pao-Lin’s chest when she walks over and realizes that she can’t just lean against Hubert like she usually does whenever she plops down next to him. She shouldn’t even sit that close now, right? That might be weird for him. Pao-Lin settles down at what seems like an acceptable distance, the space between them a cold, hard wall of lost memories.
“What’s the last thing you remember before you woke up here?” she asks, more for reasons of small talk than to actually find out anything.
“Oh, well, you know Richard, right? Asbel took him and Sophie to see Lhant Hill around sundown...”
“It’s this place where flowers bloom year-round — ” He suddenly stops in mid-sentence. “Hey, your hairpin...it’s a sopheria, isn’t it?”
Oh. Pao-Lin’s totally forgotten she’s wearing that particular one today. She likes to alternate between the sopheria from Hubert and the asters from her parents. “Yeah. You gave it to me as a present.”
Hubert colors a little. “I-I did?”
“Mm-hmm! For Christmas.”
“Oh, sorry. It’s a holiday here. Well, it’s actually a holiday back in my world, but Luceti celebrates it, too.”
“Do people usually give presents to each other on Christmas?”
“Yep! You could say it’s the whole point of the holiday.”
“...I see.” He glances down. “I’m sorry I don’t remember.”
“It’s not your fault. This kind of thing happens a lot in Luceti.”
“Cheria said something like that earlier. It’s pretty scary to think about.”
Pao-Lin reaches out to pat him on the shoulder, but thinks better of it. “It’s not so bad here most of the time.”
Hubert’s eyes widen in comical shock as he cringes away from her a bit. “Wh-what?!
How can you say that? Losing your memories is awful!
She’s inclined to agree despite her jadedness on the issue in Luceti, but Pao-Lin still has to stifle a giggle at his over-the-top reaction. “Yeah, you’re right, it is. But here they come back eventually. It’ll be a few months before you can get yours back, though.”
“The guy who fixes things like this” — she decides not explain further about death penalties in case Hubert hasn’t been told yet — “is always busy, apparently. So it takes a while before anyone can see him.”
“I see.” Hubert reaches out with a foot to gently nudge a daisy blooming nearby. “I wonder what happened...”
“To your memories?”
“No — well, yeah, I want to know that too. But I just wonder what I’ve forgotten.” He turns his hands palms-up and stares at them in awe. “There must be a lot. I can’t believe how different I am.”
Finally Pao-Lin allows herself a laugh. “Well, that’s what happens when you grow up.”
“B-but I have muscles!
” Hubert hugs himself around his midsection, as though he has a stomachache. “You only get those from training a lot, but I don’t like that kind of thing at all. But if my body’s like this, then I must have been training, right? So why did I start doing something like that?”
“Maybe you changed your mind?” Pao-Lin suggests. Again: half-truths in the air.
“I guess.” He glances at Pao-Lin out of the corner of his eyes. “H-hey, can I ask you something else?”
“What kind of person am I? I mean...what kind of person was I, before I forgot everything?”
Strangely (or perhaps not), Pao-Lin doesn’t miss a beat. “A wonderful one,” she responds with a smile. “One of the best people I know.”
Hubert blushes again. “Really?”
“Yeah? You’re smart, and strong, and always try to help others.” Even if he doesn’t always go about it in the most agreeable of ways. “You’re someone everyone can depend on.”
“...” He furrows his brows, clearly not believing her. “It must be nice to be someone like that,” he murmurs, dropping his gaze.
It’s heartbreaking for Pao-Lin to see Hubert so despondent. She’d guessed from her previous encounter with his younger self that he hadn’t been anywhere near as confident back then as he was in the present day, but she had never realized the full extent of it. Hubert rarely touched upon the subject of his personal feelings growing up, and many references to his childhood were limited to cultural facts about the countries he’d lived in. Asbel and Cheria had provided a little more information in passing, but they amounted to little more than confirmation of what Pao-Lin had already observed and deduced for herself.
What really stuns her, though, is how open
Hubert is right now. It’s as though someone had turned the faucet on his heart and let his emotions overflow into the world. Pao-Lin’s always thought that helping him would be easier if he would just be a little more expressive — that at least she’d have a better idea of how to react if she could accurately read his emotions. But now it feels like she has more expression than she knows what to do with. Where does she even start? It doesn’t help that her options for trying to comfort him are limited by the fact that he doesn’t remember their relationship at all. And she’s since realized that she’s not really the best at saying the right things to cheer people up.
someone like that,” she says, “so don’t worry about it too much, okay?” She suddenly gets an idea. “Hey, have you seen the library here yet?”
Hubert shakes his head. “I didn’t know there was a library here. I haven’t gotten to go into town yet.”
Pao-Lin grins and stands up, ready for a distraction. “So let’s go! I’ll show you around Luceti.” She holds out her hand to him.
Suddenly seeming apprehensive, Hubert just stares at it....oh. This probably looks suspicious to him, doesn’t it?
Feeling like an idiot, Pao-Lin retracts her hand —
— just as Hubert reaches out for it. He flinches and pulls away like he’s been burned once he realizes what she’s doing, however.
“Sorry,” Pao-Lin apologizes.
“No, it’s...it’s fine,” Hubert says. “I’m sorry for being rude. We’re s-supposed to be friends, so...that kind of thing should be okay, right?”
“Yeah, but if you don’t remember being friends with me, then it’d be like holding hands with a stranger, and that would be weird.”
Hubert glances down in thought, his hands held close to his chest and his elbows tucked at his sides. Then he meets Pao-Lin’s eyes again.
a stranger,” he says.
Pao-Lin blinks in surprise.
“You’re not,” Hubert repeats. His tone is not quite firm, but it’s clear that he’s making the effort. “You’re my friend. That shouldn’t change just because I don’t remember you. Anyway, Cheria wouldn’t lie to me about something so important. If she says we’re friends, then we are. So...”
And this time, he’s
the one holding out his hand — if a little timidly.
Still, it’s enough to lift the weight from Pao-Lin’s heart. She takes Hubert’s hand in hers, and begins to lead him towards the main path, passing by the open kitchen window to let Cheria and Malik know where they’ll be going.
Things won’t be in the same, but they can still be good in the meantime.