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When Life Gives You Roses

Chapter Text

I groan as the harsh sun glares at me. Everywhere I go is barren and I have to shield my eyes from both the light and sand blowing into my face. The bag on my back was starting to weigh me down.

"Nicole, you cannot go on like this any longer," I mumble as I continue to move my feet. My throat felt so scratchy and dry. I knew that if I didn't get water soon, I'm just going to faint. However, I've constantly felt as if I had to push on, like there is something helping me, guiding me. I step down from a high piece of dirt, and stop. A well! Water has to be in a well! That's what they are for! I scramble to the well and put my hands on the stones. I hiss as I take my hands away. They were so hot! I held my hands as I peered into the well.

"Empty?" I ask in desperation. How close am I to land? Am I anywhere close, or am I so far away ? I sigh as I cross my arms.

"How did you make it here on foot?" I heard. I blink and look around. If there is a voice around here, that must mean that there was someone nearby. Or someones? "This is a forgotten land. The power of the Harvest Goddess no longer reaches here. But I will take you to see the Harvest Goddess herself. Perhaps you are the one who will be able to bring life back to this parched land."

Me? Whoever is talking must have a sense of humor, I can't possibly bring life to this desert. Before I could even find this person, I was surrounded by a flashing white light. I cover my eyes until the light fades. I part my fingers in half so I peak through them. I lower my hand and stand up straight. I blink as I gather my surroundings. Am I in some sort of oasis? I was just in the middle of a desert. Now I'm just standing on a glass structure, surrounded by flowing water and grass? I look straight ahead to find a withered tree. I frown. That tree seems so sad, in this beautiful spring. I step forwards to get a better look. Another flash of white appeared before I even take five steps.

"Dum-da-da-DAA! Your Harvest Goddess is here!" This lady in front of me cheers. My eyes are wide and my is agape as I stare at this woman. She is decorated in white and sapphires. Her skirt, however, looks like flowing water, and her hair is in two loops on either side of her head. She was definitely beautiful, but I'm a bit fried from the journey here. I take a deep breath and smile at her.

"So, tell me... What is your name?" She asks. I tell her name, and her smile widens at me. "Nicole, you said? Well, thank you for coming here, Nicole!"

"Not to be rude, but why is the land like this? All dried up?" I ask.

"Why is the land all dried up, you ask. That's a long story..." She mumbles, frowning. She crosses her arms and pouts. "First of all, I, as you now know, am the Harvest Goddess! And this land was once lush and prosperous, thanks to my powers."

She was smiling again, "People were grateful for the blessings that I bestowed upon the land. They lived here happily. Until..."

She frowns again and turns her back at me, to look at the tree. She sighs. "They started to take it for granted that the land yielded such bounty.They forgot to be appreciative towards me..." At this point, I'm frowning too, "When I was no longer receiving enough of the power of caring from people, my own powers were drained. As a result, the land grew dry and barren as you see it now. Once the land was parched, everyone moved away! I no longer have a fraction of the power it would require to restore the lushness of this land to what it once was..."

"Harvest Goddess, what can be done about it?" I ask frantically. As much as I doubted myself before, after hearing her story, I feel as if I am the only one who could help this land. Everyone else is gone, and... And no one else is here is care.

"What can be done about it?" She asks curiously as she turns back to me. She smiles. "The Skytrees would have to be revived, of course!"

"I'll help! I'll do whatever I can!"

"You'd be willing to help do that?" I nod in response, giving her a sincere smile. She grins and claps her hands together.

"Tee-hee-hee! How nice of you! You have the thanks of your Harvest Goddess, Nicole! You've given me a boost with your power of caring!" She says. My eyes widen as she raises her hands to the heavens. I gave her power just by wanting to help? I watch as magic flows down into her hands that she has lowered to her waist. She then faces towards the tree and lifts the magic towards it. In a blink of the eye, the tree is now alive, with green leaves. It definitely looks happier. A little elf dressed in yellow flips into existence in front of the tree. He then appears next to the Goddess.

"Thank you for offering to help! I know you can make a huge difference!" He cheers. I giggle as I watch him bounce from foot to foot, as if he is dancing. It definitely is cute.

"My name is Rowan. I'm a Harvest Sprite. And what's your name?"

"Nicole!"I answer, smiling just as widely as he is.

"Nicole? Got it! Nice to meet you!" He greets. I nod in agreement.

"In my land grows seven mighty Skytrees. When all seven Skytrees have been revived, my powers will be fully restored! And then I will be able to bring the lushness and fertility of this land back!" The Harvest Goddess states.

"How can I help revive them?" I ask.

"But the only thing that can revive the the Skytrees is the power of caring. So, here's what I need YOU to do, Nicole: draw the people of the town here!"

I have to bring people back to this land...

"But how?" I ask out loud.

"If you tend to the soil, and make the land green again, the people of town will return." She explains. I nod. Since I came to this land to farm, I am more than willing to help this land grow. And if that is what I need to do to bring people back, then I'll farm like no one else!

"Thank you, Nicole! Now let me give you this."

Seemingly out of nowhere, farming equipment appears in her hands. My eyes widen before I take them. I thank her as I shove them into my bag. She then turns to look at the little Harvest Sprite.

"Rowan, I'm assigning you to help Nicole!"

"You can count on me, Harvest Goddess!" Rowan cheers, smiling. He gives a little salute to her before looking at me. "Well, Nicole, let's get started on some farming!"

With an approving face, the Harvest Goddess disappears in a flash of magic. I don't know If I'll ever get used to all this magic business, but I won't let it set me back. In fact, I need it to restore this land. That's now my personal goal, and I won't let anyone stop me from achieving it!

The little sprite led me out of the the spring. I look around once we get past the waterfall. My eyes go wide as I see that the land is no longer a desert. No more sand, no more blazing sun. Not to mention the actual waterfall, that has actual water flowing down into a small river.

"Look at that! A touch of green has returned to the land! And it's all thanks to your promise to revive the Skytrees, Nicole!"

-----

After Rowan showed me how to properly till the land, and had me plant seeds from the Goddess, he leads me to a house next to the fields. It's a small, quaint looking house made of wood. I liked the number of windows on the house, which would let me check the weather every morning. Not to mention how green the grass near the house is. It's all so pretty.

"No one has lived here for a long, long time, so you move right in! It has a bed, dress, refrigerator... And a kitchen! All for you to use however you want!" Rowan tells me. I blink. A fully functionally house for me? How lucky am I?

"Well, don't just stand there! Go on in and check out your new house, Nicole!"

I nod and thank him repeatedly. I go over to the house and hesitantly place my hand on the doorknob. I gently push the door open, meaning it has just sat here unlocked for a 'long, long' time. I step inside. A little heater to my right, as well a dining table. To my left is a small kitchen, which should be just fine for me. I see the dresser, bookshelves, and bed. Everything a single person could need. I sigh contently as I smile.

"You like the place, right? Isn't it cozy?"

I squeak as I look at the little Harvest Sprite. I huff.

"Don't startle me like that, Rowan," I mumble, "But, yes, I rather enjoy it."

"Don't hesitate to go to sleep, because it will get busy soon, and you'll want to be tip-top shape!"

I nod as I look at the bed behind Rowan. We bid each other good night before he leaves. I bite my lip and squeal. This is going to be great. A new life, a new job, my own goal that I set for myself, everything I could ever want. I slop backwards onto the bed. I grin as I turn onto my side. My eyes close, and I find that I'm more tired than I thought. It doesn't take long for me fall into dream land.

Chapter Text

It had been a few days since I moved in, and I was loving everything. I love the farming, the land, and the water. My favorite is to sit on the banks of the small river and dangle my feet in the shallow water. Although it is getting a bit lonely without humans to interact with. Not to say that Rowan isn't real company, but he is just one Harvest Sprite. I sigh as I stare out of my window near the kitchen. Eventually people will come - they have to. People are included in the life that I must bring back to this valley. Instead of worrying about my goal, I turn my focus to what's happening outside. It's early enough to watch the sun rise. I take a sip of tap water from my mug and make a noise of contentment.

"Heads up, Nicole! Someone just showed up in town!"

I jump at the voice and twist around to see Rowan. I have to juggle my cup a bit as to not spill my water. I pout as I set it on the kitchen counter and face him.

"What now?" I ask, crossing my arms.

"You better go see who it is, Nicole!" Rowan nearly yells, looking both frustrated and joyful. I raise an eyebrow.

"I'm not even dressed for the day," I point out, "How am I supposed to greet someone dressed like this?" My hand moves from my chest to mid-thigh. I was only wearing a tank top and basketball shorts. He looks flustered as he looks over me.

"Just hurry!" He insists before exiting with his magic. I raise an eyebrow. If there's someone here, then I should meet them. I change into my farming gear and fix my hair into a quick ponytail. I slip my gloves on before walking towards the door. I reach for the doorknob. I stop before even touching it. What if it's someone weird? Or just a cat, or something? I lower my hand and sigh. But what if it's an actual person? What if it's someone my age? I perk up a bit at that thought and push the door open. I smile at the fresh air before walking out of my small house. I head over to the left side of the mountain. I had only been to town once, just to see what was there. Nothing besides an abandoned hotel. Maybe this person will move into town and have a house! Then it won't seem so empty! I grin, nearly running down the mountain side.

Once my feet hit the grass of town, I immediately go over to the fence. I lean over it as I scan over the once-populated town. I spot two people by the empty water fountain and bit my lip. Actual people! I walk down the wooden stairs over to them. I stop at the bottom of the steps. I get a closer look to see two redheaded people - a female and male. They turn to face each other. I could see slight bags under the woman's eyes.

"Your father always talked about this land," The woman spoke, looking at the other, "Said it was so lush. He wanted to grow his own flowers for a living here... But just look... I hoped that the mysterious seedling your father left us with, which couldn't grow anywhere else, would grow here..." She gave a small cough, covering her mouth with her hand. I furrowed my brow.

"Don't be discouraged, Mom! I don't know how the land got all parched like this, but we'll get flowers growing here one way or another!" The man said, a determined look on his face. I smile at that. I'm glad someone so positive came here.

"Oh, Dean..." The woman mumbled, a small smile on her face. I decide that I should probably introduce myself now, stop being creepy. I walk over to the two and they look at me with such surprise.

"Whoa! Where did you come from? I thought this was a complete ghost town!" Dean asks, eyes wide at me. I smile at his response. "My name's Dean. I'm a florist by trade. And this is my mother, Carol."

"My name is Nicole! It's very nice to meet you both!" I greet, "However, I must ask how you guys came across this town."

Dean frowns and taps his cheek. "How'd we end up here? That's a long story..." he mumbles. He starts telling their story, telling about his late father and how he had wanted to live here. They also wanted to live here because of the lush land that could grow amazing flowers. He continues to tell me how the two originally lived in a town nearby and how they hiked here. "And so here we are. But the land is dry and dead. It's tough to see how we'll ever grow flowers here..."

I frown at his story, especially it's ending. How dare he just assume that the land is dead?

"I'm here to restore this land! It'll be beautiful again, I swear!" I reply, crossing my arms. He raises his eyebrows at me, a surprised look on his face. Maybe that was a bit too rude, but I just don't like how easily people give up hope.

"You really mean that? You're going to make the land lush and green again?" He asks in surprise. I blink.

"Of course! It's my goal after all!" I answer, smiling. He beams at me. He seems happy enough with my answer.

"Now that's inspiring! Okay!" He cheers, "I'm going to help you do it!"

"Won't it be -" Carol starts, interrupted by coughing, "Very difficult to make green things grow in this parched land?"

I frown again. I feel a bit bad that I had almost forgotten that she was there, but still! Even if it is difficult, I can do it!

"It may be, but you'll never know unless you try!" She must have been pleased with my answer. She nods and tells me that she's glad that Dean and her are going to residents. My eyes widen. She surprises me further by giving me flower seeds. I take them with a big thank you.

"If you can get those flowers to grow, make sure to show us." She almost challenges me. I nod before waving to the both of them. I head towards the valley. Grow flowers? No problem! If I could grow those cabbages from the Harvest Goddess, how hard could a few flowers be? I stop once I reach the well. I set the seeds down before tilling the land. I make enough space for five flowers before reaching my hands out for the seeds. I accidentally knock the small bag into the well.

"Oh, no, no! I needed those!" I curse as I grab the already soaked bag. I crouch down to look inside. I see that some of the seeds slipped through the bag and into the water. How am I supposed to show Carol drowned seeds?

"Need some help?"

"Dean?" I ask as I hear his voice. I tilt my head up to see the redhead smiling down at me. He had a fresh bag of seeds in his hand. He offers it to me and I take them. I stand and thank him.

"No problem. Just come see me if you need any more seeds, okay?" He checks. I nod. He pats my shoulder before walking back in the direction of town. I smile at the new bag of seeds. I made a new friend! How exciting? I hurriedly plant the seeds in the tilled spots. I pack soil on top of her little hole and water. The sun's just starting to set. I quickly finish and walk back to my house. I walk inside and change into my sleeping gear. At least I didn't scare them off with how determined I am. I fling myself onto my bed and shove my nose into the pillow. I can't wait to see what flowers I'm growing! I start listing off the names of all the flowers I know. It didn't take long at all for me to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

I reach around my kitchen for a loaf of bread. My eyes are still closed, since I don't really want to be up yet. I ended up staying up for a while last night reading. I peak one open to look for a knife at the same time. I manage to grab both without hurting myself. I slice a piece of bread off and shove it into my mouth. I finally open both eyes to wrap the rest of the bread up, so it doesn't dry out. I grab my clothes for the day as I lazily chew on my breakfast. I slip off my pajamas as I finish eating. I look at the clock on the wall. My eyes widen. It's nearly 8! I hastily throw my clothes on. I grab two glass bottles filled with water and walk out of my house. As I head for the fields, I wave at the Sam, the town's merchant. It has been a few days since I planted the flower seeds and met Dean and Carol. The flowers I had planted are sprouting well. In fact, I think that they might be fully grown. Maybe I can get Carol to be a bit more optimistic when I show her the beautiful flowers I grew.

I enter the fields. I gasp when I see a man collapsed near the well. I rush over and kneel beside him. I pop open the cap on the water bottle. Right when I was going to help him drink, he lifts he head up, causing me to spill the water over his face. Instead of being mad, however, he licks the water from around his mouth. He looks at me and grabs the bottle. He downs whatever was left. I stand and offer my hand to him.

"Ahh... Water... Jolly... Refreshing... Stuff..." He mumbles. He grins. He finally takes my hand and stands. "I'm awfully grateful! Awfully! Quite indebted to you! I have the pleasure to be Cyril-Regis Shireworth-Tuxley. The third. Esquire. At your service. Cyril to my chums."

I opened my mouth at nearly every pause to ask if he was okay, but he kept adding things to his introduction. I wait a bit to make sure he's done talking before I open my mouth again.

"Would you be so good as to acquaint me with your name, my good chap?" He asks. I raise an eyebrow.

"My name is Nicole. I'm the farmer he-"

"Nicole! A jolly dignified name!" He cuts me off. At this point, I couldn't help but smile. Everything about this man seems silly. He starts to tell me that he came to this land to visit the Harvest Spring, but that he lost both his luggage and wallet to a stranger. It would appear that he doesn't know the real meaning of being hoodwinked. Although, he is able to tell this story will smiling, so there's that.

"Trekking across the desert with no food or water - well, it wasn't a day at the races! And I started to lose consciousness... It was all going black when I vaguely discerned a well in the vicinity. Spot of luck, wot! I confess I was eager to drink straightaway, but using someone's well without asking first - it's not the done thing, y'know?" He explains, adding that he passed out before he could ask a 'local squire or what have you'. He then asks me what I'm doing in this desert.

"I'm going to revive this land to its previous state!" I answer, grinning. His eyes go wide as he looks at me with disbelief.

"Restoring this parched land, you say?" He asks, "Brilliant! Smashing plan! I'll throw my lot in with that!"

"Well, if you really wanted to help, this town could use a few new residents." I hint.

He agrees to move into town, adding that it's the least he can do for saving him. He heads towards town and I wave to his back. I fist pump the air once he's out of sight. I praise the Harvest Goddess. I'm at least one step closer to achieving my goal. I look at my flowers to see that they have fully bloomed. Today is just my day! I harvest them and head into town myself. No time to waste after all.

"Nicole! Hey!" Dean calls once he sees me. I rush over to him and hold up the bundle of flowers in my hands.

"Look! The soil is good enough to grow flowers!" I cheer. He looks down at the flowers in amazement.

"Oh! It's amazing to find such gorgeous flowers growing in this wasteland!" I hear Carol say as she walks over. She has a look of surprise on her face as she takes on the flowers. I smile at her. "You were right, Nicole. I'm sorry I ever doubted you!"

"I know, right, Mom?" Dean says, standing by my side. He puts a hand on my shoulder. "Nicole said it; You never know how things will turn out until you give it your best shot! That seedling my dad left to us won't grow anywhere else... I bet it will grow here, if we plant and tend to it with care!"

"That's a lovely idea, Dean!" Carol agrees. She coughs softly before continuing, "Let's live here and grow flowers! I don't think anyone will mind if we take a small spot in town."

"Yes! That would be amazing!' I reply, smiling widely. Today is just really my day. The guarantee that three people will move into town is just more than what I expected.

"Thank you! It will be so nice to be your neighbors, Nicole!" She says. She takes a few of the flowers I grew and walks back into the hotel. I look at Dean.

"Thank you, really, Nicole." He says, "I haven't seen her this happy since my dad passed away."

I put my hand over the one on my shoulder. We smile at each other. He slips his hand away and bids me farewell before heading back to the hotel himself. I sigh dreamily. As I head back to my own house, I couldn't help but think about how attractive Dean is while smiling. I shake my head. Everyone is a bit more attractive whiling smiling, of course. I walk into my house and grab a vase. I fill it with water, place it on the counter, and place the remaining two flowers in it.

"Nicole, the power of caring accumulated!"

"Stop doing that, Rowan, please. You'll give me a heart attack." I scold him once I turn to see him. He's grinning and doing his little dance.

"The flowers bloomed and you got the people to care!" He cheers, "That means the Harvest Goddess got a bit of her power back! Let's go!"

My eyes widen and I nod. He uses his magic to warp us to the spring. My head's a bit dizzy once I land on the glass below. I hold a hand up to my head. The Harvest Goddess then appears. She raises her hands up again to collect magic before sending it off. Along with reviving another Skytree, another Harvest Sprite appeared.

"Oooooooh! You made the flowers blooooom again! Thankyou-Thankyou-Thankyou!" He cries, also doing a small dance. We introduce ourselves. His name is Blossom, and my, is he cute! He's the Harvest Sprite of flowers, which would make sense.

"My, my, Nicole, it seems like I have you to thank!" The Harvest Goddess then thanks, "With another one of the Skytrees revived, some of my power has come back! In fact, I was able to expand the amount of land you can farm!" The two Harvest Sprites cheer and bounce from one foot to the other. They look just as happy as the Goddess looks. I couldn't stop myself from grinning.

"You're on the right track to making the land lush and lovely again, Nicole!" She congratulates. She disappears just like that and I'm left with the two Harvest Sprites. I leave them to catch up. I walk back to my house, ready to start the new day.

Chapter Text

"Oh, my, my, no! You cannot wear such informal dress!" Elise scolds me as we fry up the fish I had caught earlier. I had just told her that I planned on just wearing what I was already to the dinner party. She gave me the cutest frown I've ever seen.

"Watch the fish!" She instructs before walking off to my dresser. I sigh and gently push the fish around in the pan, trying to make sure that every part of the fish was cooked thoroughly. She made a noise of surprise as she saw my closet. "These are all farmer's clothes! No dresses, or skirts, or fancy tops!"

I turn to look at her with a raised eyebrow. "What did you expect? I farm for a living." I remind her. She huffs at me before closing the dresser drawers. She walks back over to the small kitchen and takes the spatula from me. I smile at her obviously offended atmosphere. As she pokes the fish around the pan, she frowns. She then gasps and looks at me.

"You can wear something of mine!"

"What? No - no... I'm bigger than you." I point out. I lift my hand up in the air to say that I was taller than her. She pokes my stomach with the spatula and smirks. I frown at the small wet spot on my shirt.

"I brought clothes with me that are a bit too big. Never know when I'm going to hit that growth spurt. You'll fit perfectly." She insists. She then flips the fish onto a plate with already cooked vegetables. I could tell she that she isn't going to let me win, so I sigh in defeat.

"Fine, but you have to promise that others will be in formal dress too."

"I promise on moi's life, Nicole!" She giggles. She then wraps the plates up. Even though this is supposed to be a small party, we ended up cooking a feast. About 10 plates worth of food. I grab a few already-wrapped plates and she grabs the rest. We head over to the now-occupied hotel. She talks about how pretty we'll look at the party, gushing over dresses and makeup. I just shake my head. How could I say no?

Once we get to the hotel, I hold the door open for Elise. She walks in and I follow after her.

"Papa! We are back!" She calls. The owner, Bastion, pokes his head out from one of the back rooms and smiles. He comes out to us, looking over the food.

"This is tres bien! Magneficant!" He praises. He takes the food from us and places it on the table. "I'll finish ze preperation, oui?"

"Oui! We are going to get ready for the party, papa!" Elise replies. She grabs my hand and leads me through the hotel. I could barely make out the rooms we passed, she's moving so fast. My feet manage to keep up, however. That is, until she abruptly stops in front of a door with pastry stickers on the door. I come to a halt just as she opens the door. The walls inside are a pastel pink. As we step inside, I notice the overall pastel theme. It's quite cute, and it fits her personality. She immediately walks over to her closet and starts to throw dresses onto the bed. I move over to the bed to look at each dress as they hit the bed.

"Okay, okay! Let's try this!" She cheers, clapping her hands together. She starts to flick through the dresses and creates two piles. She looks over at me and nods. I raise an eyebrow. What exactly is she doing?

"Try this!" She shoves a dress into my hands and pushes me towards the bathroom connected to her room. I step inside and close the door. I place the dress on the counter and look over it. It's an one-shoulder dress that's deep apple red color and looks as if it would go down to my knees. I shrug and strip down to my underclothes. I pull the dress over my head. I look in the mirror and blink. The dress clung to my hips, showing how skinny I really was. As I guessed, it ended right above my knees. I can't lie and say that I don't like it. I fold my clothes. I carry them back into Elise's room. She looks at me with stars in her eyes.

"Incredible! You are beautiful in that!" She compliments me. She grabs some red flats from the bottom of her closet. She trades me them for my clothes. I slip them on. She squeals in delight as she looks at me. Now that I look at her, she has also changed into a dress. It's a pale blue and goes down to her ankles. She looks beautiful in it and I smile at her.

"You look good too, Elise." I reply. She hugs me before grabbing shoes for herself. She slips on the shoes while putting on matching earrings. Once she's done, she looks at me.

"Let go!" This time, she walks at a normal pace as she leads me back to the dining room. Once we get back, I see that Bastion had set the table. He also changed into a simple suit that made him look younger.

"You look beautiful, mon cher!" He says to Elise. He then looks at me. "You too. You both look fantastic!"

--------

Elise finished up the final touches as I make sure that every candle on the table is lit. The table had been set so that every place had a plate of fish, vegetables, and a slice of a baguette. A few bottles of wine and apple cider are also on the table. Now the dining room was full with the town's people. Every is dressed in formal wear - just as Elise had promised. Everyone is sitting at the table, expect for Bastion. He's standing at the head of the table. He raises his glass full of wine up, and everyone repeats this action.

"Thank you all for coming to ze party!" He greets, "Once, this town was blessed by ze Harvest Goddess Spring very abundantly, and it was a lush, green place! But then ze spring dried up, and ze fish could live here no more! Ze crops could no longer grow! This place was forgotten!"

I blink at his speech. Isn't that the opposite of how you want to start a party? Aren't you supposed to talk about what a joyous occasion brought us all together? However, no one looks bothered by this. They are nodding along. Am I not getting something?

"But now, all of you have come here, and ze blessings of ze Harvest Goddess Spring have come again... And all thanks to Nicole!"

What? Everyone is now looking at me and clapping. My cheeks grow hot as I sink a bit in my chair. I was not all expecting to be thanked like this.

"Bravo! Bravo! So true! If we, ze citizens of this town, work together, we can surely restore this land! Everyone! Everyone! Let's begin ze party!" Everyone is cheering and clapping. It dies down as Bastion takes his seat. They all start to eat, so I guess I should too. I sit up straight and start to eat.

After half a hour, everyone is up and about. They are all talking and having a fun time. I, too, have loosened up a bit. I actually am enjoying this party more than I thought. I stand near the back of the room, talking to Elise about the season's crops and what can dishes can be created with them. Elise looks over my shoulder and I blink. I turn around to see Dean walking over. She raises her hand and moves her fingers as a sort of goodbye before walking over to a different group of people. I turn to face Dean. He's wearing a solid black suit that fits him perfectly. He had a flower in the breast pocket that matched his mother's green dress. He looks really handsome tonight.

"Hello!" I greet. He takes a sip of the red liquid in his glass. He's old enough to drink wine?

"Hey, Nicole. You look nice." He replies. I open my mouth before closing it. He just said that I look nice? I look nice?

"I mean, have you seen yourself in that suit?" I inwardly groan. Of course I would say something embarrassing like that out loud. He chuckles at it however. That meant that my response wasn't all that bad.

"I just wanted to say thank you again for the flowers."

"Oh, it's no problem at all! It's what I'm here for, y'know?" He nods. He looks into his glass, lost in thought it seems. I furrow my brow. Did I say something wrong before? I open my mouth to apologize before he ruffles my hair. I blink in surprise.

"Then just keep on doing you." He says. He winks before walking away to his mother. I'm pretty sure I'm as red as a ripe tomato. It was just a simple, friendly gesture, but then the wink happened. Elise runs up to me and immediately starts to question what happened.

"I - um... What?" I interrupt her. She frowns for a half a second before smiling widely.

"Do you like Dean?" She whispers. I look down as I think about it. Do I like Dean romantically? Well, that technically wasn't the question, so maybe I can dodge answering it.

"Of course, I do. He's a been a good friend so far." I answer. She looks upset at my answer and folds her arms across her chest.

"Non! Do you fancy him?" So close, but so far. I should've know that she would be persistent. I swirl around the cider in my glass as I think about it. I mean, I barely know him, but then there is love at first sight. But I don't think that really exists, right? Either way, I didn't feel any real attraction towards when we first met. That just leads into the question of if I do like him, since when?

"Well? Do you?" Elise asks. I merely shrug and smile. She groans in defeat. "Well, don't rush into anything, but I think he might fancy you."

Chapter Text

"Cocoa, this whole farming thing is so foreign, you know?" I ask my newly acquired horse, "Like... It's very different then how I used to live." She gives me a neigh as a response while I run the brush through her mane. I manage to sit criss-cross on this tiny stool and start to hum. Obviously Cocoa isn't up for a conversation at the moment.

"Nicole! Nicole!" Micheal bursts into my barn yelling. I flinch and roughly stroke her coat with the brush. Cocoa whinnies and steps away from me. I sigh and look at the boy.

"Yes, Micheal?" I reply calmly. He looks as if someone's dying.

"MaxisupersickanddyingandIneedyurhelpbecauseyoucangro-"

"Please, please, Micheal," I interrupt his hectic rambling, "Tell me so I understand."

"Max is sick! And I don't know to do and Gabriel said to come to you!" He says. I blink. Gabriel thinks I would know how to take care of a sick dog?

"Listen," I begin, "I don't think I can really do anything." He looks at me with big, tear filled eyes and I know I can't resist. I sigh. "Take me to him."

I stand from my stool and Micheal wastes no time in grabbing my hand. He's running back to his house in the village with me barely in tow. I keep stumbling over my own feet as I try to keep up with him. I didn't want to tell him to slow down though. It only takes us a few minutes before we get to the house. He slams the door open and points to his dog. Max is lying on the ground, eyes closed, and making small whimpering noises. My eyebrows rise in concern. Gabriel is kneeling next to him, the same expression on his face.

"Gabriel, Micheal told me that you sent for me. What can I do?" I ask.

Gabriel looks at me before standing. He now has on a stern face. "It seems like Micheal wasn't feeding the dog enough. But Max will get better if we feed him dog food with plenty of nutrients." He explains. I raise an eyebrow and glance at Micheal. He has his head down in shame, so I don't ask about it. It would be better for everyone if I didn't scold him. Just then, Else comes in with a bag full of cooking materials.

"Special deli- Oh, Nicole! What is going on?" She asks as she finally takes in the scene.

"Max hasn't been getting enough to eat, so he got sick. He needs nutritious dog food."

"So that is the situation?" She asks, "Then we should prepare the food, yes? To make dog food, we'll need two corn and one black bass. When you have the ingredients, come by the inn, yes? And we will make it together!"

I nod. Inside, I was jumping with joy. I have no idea how to make proper dog food, I just have the crops to do so. I'm too lucky to have a friend like Elise. We walk out of the house and I head back to the fields. I harvest whatever corn I have. I definitely have enough, so I can put the rest in the fridge later. As I stop to think about everything, I realize that I would have never been in this situation if I had stayed in the city. I smile at the thought. I'm actually helping, I'm making a difference! What makes it better is that Gabriel thought to get me. Me! I grin at the thought.

I walk over to the stream and take out my fishing rod. I tie a piece of animal feed to the hook and toss the line into the water. It takes a few tries, and a lot of waiting, before I finally caught a decent sized black bass. I hold it in my hands as I dash off to the inn. Luckily, there was no one else around to question me, which is good. I probably look like a maniac. A huge grin on my face as I hold the fish in my hands, running all around town to get to the inn. Imagine seeing that everyday.

I shove the door to the inn open and walk over to Elise. She looks at me in surprise before looking at the fish. I also grab the corn from my bag. She smiles at the ingredients for the dog food and leads me into the kitchen.

"Hello, Nicole!" She says as she takes the ingredients. "Let us make the dog food!"

We take the fish and corn over the sink. As we rinse off the ingredients, I look around the kitchen. It's a tad small, but definitely workable. Perfect for preparing a small dinner - or dog food. I look over to see Elise descaling the fish as best as she could. She looks determined. I take the corn and start to cut off the kernels. I put the freshly cut kernels into a bowl and start to cut the next one. So far so easy on my part. I glance at Elise to see that she is just barely finishing. I gasp as I accidentally run the blade over my index finger. I immediately pull back, as to not infect the food, and hold my hand close to my chest. She looks at me in concern.

"Run it over water right away! We have bandages in the drawer next to the sink." She instructs as she takes over cutting the kernels off. I nod and stand where she stood a few seconds ago. I turn the water from cold to warm and stick my finger under it. I hiss. The cut must be deeper than a simple cut. I'm not going to let it stop me from helping that dog. I open the drawer with my free hand and search through the random objects it held. I eventually found the bandages and grab the box. I somehow manage to open the box, grab one and peel back the wrapping. I take my finger from under the water. I slid the bandage over it.

"I can he- Oh..." I look over at Elise to see that she was already pouring the dog food from a pan to a container. I frown. How useless am I? I was supposed to help make the food, but I ended up just cutting myself. I huff at myself. Elise finally looks at me and giggles.

"What's so funny?" I ask, trying to sound offended. In reality, I just sound like a pouting child.

"Oh, nothing!" She replies. She puts a lid on the container and grabs a dog dish from a different drawer. I raise an eyebrow. Did they used to have dogs visit the inn back in the day? Instead of asking, I follow her out of the kitchen. She's still smiling as she carries the containers out of the kitchen, and the inn.

"Thanks for being cool about all of this." I mumble to her. She shrugs as she looks at me.

"You have to be used to this stuff in culinary. Cut, bandage, then continue cooking," She says, smiling falling, "Just don't get blood in the food. Know when to step away."

I've never heard her sound so professional. I hold open the door to the house and she thanks me, smile back in place. Micheal's head shoots up from his position on the bed. He quickly stands up. I grab the dog dish from Elise and put it on the floor. She opens the container filled with the food. She spoons it into the dish. When she steps back, we all watch the dog with wide eyes. There's an audible gasp from Micheal when Max actually stands. I bite my lip nervously. He sniffs the food curiously before plopping back down. Elise and I groan. Gabriel kneels once again next to Max and looks over the food. He took a bit in his hand before putting it into his mouth. My eyebrows shot straight up. He just ate food... That we made for the dog. No one normal does that. Elise and I glance at each other before looking at him.

"It tastes good... I wonder why Max won't eat it." He mutters, a puzzled look on his face.

"Let us try again with different ingredients!" Elise suggests, breaking the awkward silence first. I nod in agreement. "We'll use two corn again, and one perch!"

"I have that now, actually! So we can go make it now and be right back with new food that Max will love!" I say, hope in my voice. We say goodbye to everyone in the house before walking back to the inn. We're leaving the dog dish, hopeful that Max might eat something while we're gone.

"I'll do all the cooking, Nicole. You're still bleeding." Elise points out as we walk into the kitchen. I blink as I look at my finger. Indeed, blood was starting to stain the bandage.

"I guess I'll just have to watch." I figure. I am a bit disappointed, however. I was supposed to help make the new recipe, but I'm turning out to be useless again. I sit on the counter next to the sink. I watch as she skillfully runs the water over the fish before grabbing a peeler. She gently runs the tool over the fish's scales to get rid of them. I've never got the chance to watch someone cook up close, and it is definitely amazing. I'm mesmerized by her fast, but careful movements. It must've taken so much training to do that so confidently. She does everything in the kitchen so fast, I've noticed. I guess that comes with working in the culinary field. Have to give people their order before they get angry.

"What about taking your time to make something perfect? Isn't that worth the time? If it tastes good?" I find myself asking out loud. She looks at me in confusion, brow furrowed.

"My, what are you talking about, Nicole?" She asks as she flips the fish over to the other side. I shrug and lean back on my hands.

"You just move so fast and so do others in resturants, but you can't rush perfection, right?" I try to explain. She just laughs and continues to descale the perch.

"Time is important, no? The more you practice, the less time it takes to cook!" She explains as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I just nod slowly. I guess it did make sense. Practice makes perfect, right? But I guess not everyone has the time to perfect their cooking skills. I watch silently as she washes the corn.

"Nicole?" She checks. I make a noise of response, flicking my eyes over to her face. "Would you ever marry?"

"Woah, woah! Jeez..." I mumble, "I haven't thought about getting married to someone seriously. I haven't really met anyone that just sparked my interest, y'know?"

"Hmm... Perhaps you will someday, oui?" She asks, cutting off the kernels from the corn. She slides the kernels from the knife into a pot.

"I suppose it's not impossible. I would have to meet the right guy."

At that, the conversation is over. Elise seemed to be lost in her thoughts as she added the fish into the pot. I think about the three young men who just moved into town and smile. Dean is a sweetheart, but Cyril is quite silly. Gabriel is a quiet guy, but maybe he's someone else once you crack him open. I shake my head at the thought. Gabe isn't some kind of egg. Maybe I can fall in love with one of them, but I definitely won't try to make a huge thing out of it. Love comes after my goal to save the land. I nod at my own thoughts, as if telling myself what a good idea it is.

"Done! This is high-quality food for that poor dog!" Elise announces. She must've cooked that super fast, or I was just lost in my own world for a while. She pours the food into a new container and puts a lid on it. I slide down from the counter.

"Let's go!" We cheer together. We laugh together before walking out of the kitchen and inn. I look down at the grass as we walk. The short walk is filled with Elise's ramblings about Max.

"He'll be just fine once he eats some of the delicious dog food you made him. I swear of it!"

"Oui, you are right!" She agrees. I open the door for her again and we walk in. Sofia put the now clean dog dish in front of Max.

"He just wasn't eating any of it." She explains. We tell her it's okay before Elise scoops the food into the dish. Max, again, stands to sniff at the food. Again, again, he lays down, not even taking a nibble. Again, again, again, Gabriel kneels by the dish, only to eat a bit of it. This time, however, I wasn't as affected by it... As much...

"This is even better tasting then last time. It's full of flavors that Max likes... So, why won't he eat it?" Gabriel ponders.

"I wonder what is wrong with my recipe..." Elise mumbles, defeated. I put my hand on her shoulder for comfort.

"Maybe your father will know what to do?" I suggest. She looks at me with a new, determined face.

"You are right, Nicole! We should ask my papa for his advice! He should be at the inn!" She agrees. She nearly runs out of the house and I follow her. She pushes open the doors of the inn. Bastion was wiping down the dining room table with a cloth, but stops to look at us. Elise explains to him our dilemma, telling him about the unsuccessful recipes.

"Ah, oui, I see... Yes..." He mumbles. He rubs his chin thoughtfully. He then looks at me.

"But no one has asked anyone what Max likes, no? Asked what he wants?"

I open my mouth before closing it. I couldn't believe we forgot to ask the most obvious thing. "No, we have yet to ask."

"It is there where you must to inquire for ze right recipe. Ask what is different now about about how Max is taken care of." Bastion instructs.

"Let us go at once!" Elise says. I thank the inn owner before walking out with Elise. We walk back to the house. I'm thankful that they are almost right next each other, or this probably would've been a bit harder.

Once we are inside, we ask Gabriel what Max would like, but he said that he doesn't know, that Micheal would. So we turned to the younger brother.

"Uh, Max likes eating cabbage, mosquitofish, and tomatoes, and stuff..." He trails off. He then looks like he has a revelation. He reaches under his bed and hands me a dog dish. "He likes his food dish! We always used to feed him from it!"

I look over the dog dish. It's a shiny, red metallic color with a black paw print on the side. I smile.

"You're a real big help," I say, "I'll go see if I have every thing and bring it back to the inn."

"Sounds good." Elise agrees. I say goodbye to everyone before walking out of the house. I speedwalk to the fields and look through my crops. I see that behind the corn is behind a few tomato plants. I pluck a big, bright red tomato from it's vine. I smile and hold it close. Thankfully I snagged a bunch of mosquitofish while fishing earlier. Too many if I'm being honest. Now all I need is cabbage... Cabbage... I pace against my rows of crops. Did I need to plant some? But that would take a few days and I don't 100 percent understand how sick Max is. I can go check my fridge though! I sprite to my house, which is close, thankfully. Once inside, I look inside the fridge. I have to move a few things around at first, but I did find a few cabbages. I shove them in my bag and unload my harvest from today. "Thank you, Harvest Goddess." I mumble to myself as I close the fridge door.

-------

"Is it done yet?" I ask for what must be the billionth time.

"Not yet, Nicole." Elise mutters, obviously getting annoyed at my constant asking. I close the door to the kitchen and pace around the dining room. I figured it would have been better if I waited in the dining room so I didn't get in the way. Elise told me that this recipe was going to be a bit more challenging, and since I can't help, I figured I should give her some room. However, this was proving to be a pain, since I'm kind of bored, but also worried. I want Max to be alright, to live. I'm not going to bother Elise anymore, I tell myself. It isn't until another few more minutes that she comes out with the red dish filled with food. I grin as I take it from her.

"Elise, you did it!" I cheer. I may sound too happy, but I waited for - what felt like - hours. We walk out of the inn together.

"Thanks for helping with this. You didn't have to."

"I didn't have to, but who would've cooked all this dog food? Especially after you cut your finger." Elise replies. I nod, grinning. I give her a one-handed hug before we reach the house. Micheal is standing outside, which is rather curious.

"Nicole! Elise! I forgot something!" He says when we approach him. I sincerely hope it isn't an ingredient, or a whole different recipe. That would just kill me right now. "He would only eat that food you made him if I placed the dish in front of him."

Oh. Well, that's way easier than running around the whole valley. I hand him the full dish. "Be careful, it's still warm." I tell him. He nods and beelines to Max. We follow him inside. He places the dish in front of the dog. The dog stands up once more and sniffs the food. Elise and I are holding hands, quite tightly, both hoping that this works. I'm biting my lip as well. Max, however, barks a few times happily before eating the food. There is an audible sigh of relief coming from everyone. Gabriel kneels down next to the bowl and tries this dog food himself. A look of surprise comes to his face.

"This isn't the best tasting-dog food that you've made so far..." He mumbles, "But it's the taste that Max associates with good memories."

"Max loves you, Micheal," Sofia adds, "So the dog food you give him is the one that he wants to eat the most!"

I slip out of the house with Elise. I wave to her goodbye as she walks back to the inn. I start walking home before Rowan appears in front of me. I halt almost immediately and raise an eyebrow at him.

"Nicole! The power of caring has worked on the animals!" He cheers, doing his little dance, "It's because everyone is happy that Max is feeling better now! Let's go visit the Harvest Goddess."

I barely nod before I'm transported into the Spring. A bit more reaction time would be a bit better, but it's whatever. What is more important is that the Harvest Goddess has received more power, and that a Skytree can be revived.

In a flash of light, the Harvest Goddess appears in front of me. "Dum-Da-Da! Let's begin!" She sings before raising her arms. She receives the magic and sends it off just as before, but I can't wait to see which Harvest Sprite is going to wake up next. In front of the Skytree, a red Harvest Sprite appears. He uses magic to transport next to the Goddess.

"Hello-dee-doodle-doo! Nicole to meet you!" He greets, "I'm Calvin, Harvest Sprite of all animals!"

Just as the Sprites begin to talk to each other, the Goddess turns to me. She smiles. "It's getting a bit crowded around here now! Tee-hee! I'm happy that you're doing well on your mission from the Harvest Goddess!" she praises. I thank her profusely. She merely giggles before transporting away. Calvin tells me that he can help me by taking my animals out to graze. I thank him before taking my leave.

Chapter Text

I grin as I step into the small river. My boots lay in the grass next to the bank, as well as my socks. Next to me is Dean, who has also taken off his boots, socks, and rolled up his pant legs. It took some heavy convincing, but I did manage to get him to come into the water. I'm happy that I did too because he has the biggest smile on his face. I bend over slightly to cup some water into my hands. I throw the water into the air, making it sprinkle down on us.

"Hey, hey!" Dean says, laughing. I giggle with him. I'm glad that the rain finally stopped after 4 days straight. It is not fun to stare out of a window, when you could be hanging out with a friend. Although, the tea I brewed made it a bit better. It can't beat being outside in the spring sun however. Especially when I promised Dean that we could hang out a week ago. I still feel bad about it, even though he says that it's okay.

"Hey, Dean," I ask, "Will you tell me a story from your past?" He looks at me in confusion, before it melts into a thoughtful look. I move into a squatting position so that my butt didn't touch the water. I trace shapes into the water with my still-bandaged finger.

"Yeah, I got something, but you have to promise to not laugh." He answers. I raise an eyebrow as I look at him. He gives me a stern look and I roll my eyes.

"Of course, I promise, Dean."

"Okay, so when I was in school, I had this one friend. And he would always pester me about liking flowers. So one day, he just said 'If you like them so much, why don't you eat 'em?'. Who was I to say no, right?" He begins. I can't help but snicker.

"You're telling me you ate a flower when you were younger?" I check. He grins and nods. I can't help myself as I begin laughing. "S-sorry..." I mumble, trying to catch my breath, "I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at how cute that sounds!" By this time, Dean is laughing too. I manage stop calm myself and step out of the water. I stick my tongue out at him before walking over to the grass. I sit down. He follows me and sits next to me.

"Will you tell me a story about your past?" He asks. I flinch and look away. I wasn't expecting that one, but I guess I should have. I lay back on the grass. "You don't have to!" He immediately adds, probably due to my reaction. I shrug to tell him that it's okay. I think for a moment before I look up at the clouds and smile. I know what story I could tell him!

"Got one! When I was younger, I was laying on the grass next to my mother's rosebushes, just like I am now. I would point out clouds to myself and say what they looked like. It was relaxing. Of course, I was alone, but it's the thought that counts... Right?" I end up mumbling the last part. That memory ended up being more sad that I thought it was. I glance over at Dean to see him looking at the clouds. I flick my eyes back up to the sky. I like this peaceful silence. However, after a few minutes, he grabs my hand and holds it. I look at him in surprise.

"Look, that one kinda looks like a flower." He says, pointing at a cloud that looks nothing like a flower. I chuckle, knowing what is happening.

"No, it does not," I argue, "It looks like a whale. See, there's its tail." I move my finger in a curl, showing the cloud's tail-like feature.

"No, no, that's a stem." He argues back. I roll my eyes playfully. This ended up happening for the next half hour. He would point to a cloud, say that it looked like a certain flower, and I would argue that it looked like a completely different object. He would always dismiss what I saw, saying that I'm not looking hard enough. This would cause us to both laugh. Then it would repeat itself. Until I point at a new cloud.

"That one looks like a heart." I point out. I trace the shape of a heart in the air with my finger. Surprisingly, he didn't reply with anything other than a hum. I didn't pay too much mind to it. I just close my eyes and relax against the grass.

"Nicole, who are you?" Dean asks out of nowhere, "Not like that... I mean... What was your life like before you came here?"

I furrow my brow. I haven't told anyone beside Melanie who I used to be. I only told her because I thought she would understand, and she did thankfully. Besides, it shouldn't matter. I'm a farmer now. Isn't that all that matters?

"I just don't think you would like who I was." I mutter. He sits up and frowns at me. I sigh. "I really don't think that you'll understand."

"What if I do?" He asks, obviously offended. I shake my head and stand up. I gather my boots and socks under my arm, ready to leave. He must've gotten up too because he grabs my wrist. It's a gentle hold. I look down at my tiny wrist in his bigger hand.

"Dean, you just won't, okay? I wasn't exactly normal and I don't want to just go telling the whole town."

"I won't tell anyone! I just want to know because you're my friend." He says. I bite my lip as I look at him. I've seen this before, this exact situation. Only that man wasn't my friend. No one who ever asks who I am is. Once they figure out, they all use me and then leave. I drop my things to slap Dean as hard as I can. He lets go of my wrist in surprise and I take that moment to run. I could feel tears falling down my cheeks as I get away. I could hear Dean calling to me, but I can't go back. I slapped him for no reason. He isn't like anyone else I've met, but I couldn't even trust him. How's the real friend now? Definitely not me...

Chapter Text

It has been a week since I last spoke to Dean. A week since I had any real human interaction. I would take care of my animals, and crops, before going back home. Sofia had tried to talk to me while I was tending to Cocoa, but I just didn't want to talk. I still don't. What makes everything worse is that I'm always tired. I haven't slept in days because of a reoccurring nightmare. It was always Carol fainting, and I couldn't help her because no one would let me give her medicine. Everyone would push me away. After a couple days, I just stopped sleeping. Of course I always want to check up on her since I know that she's a bit sickly, but I didn't want confrontation with Dean. I know I was too harsh to him. He did nothing to harm me, nor did he show any intent to, but I ended up harming him.

That's why I'm considering turning around and going back home. I know that I have to check on Carol though. She might actually need help, and I want to be there for her. I force my hand to knock on the pink-painted door. I keep my head down as I wait. However, the response is almost immediate. The door opens and I lift my head to see Dean in the doorway. A small, fading bruise is on his cheek and I flinch as soon as I see it. I did that. I expected to be pushed away, exiled from this house, but instead, I'm being hugged.

"Nicole! I'm sorry!" He says quickly once he lets go. I blink.

"You're so... But why?" I reply, dumbfounded.

"I pushed you when I should have backed off," He explains, "I'll just wait until you're ready to tell me. Until then, I hope we can just go back to be normal friends."

"How can you want to be my friend after I slapped you like that? It left a mark."

"Because it's not a big deal, okay? I deserved it. I could tell that I was pushing into risky territory, but I kept going."

"Well, I'm still sorry, Dean. I'm just a bit protective about who I used to be. I... I'm a completely different person now."

He ruffles my hair and smiles. I'm left speechless by this man. He apologizes to me, then just accepts mine without any thought, without asking any questions. I sniffle as I feel tears forming. I wrap my arms around his neck to hug him tightly. He laughs softly as he hugs back. He gently places a hand on the back of my head as I cry into his shoulder. I'm a mess. I'm so lucky that I have someone like Dean in my life. I just feel dumb for realizing that now. Sure I have my best friends, but Dean is different. I pull away and wipe my nose on my sleeve. I smile.

"Thank you so much..." I mumble.

"It's no problem," He replies, "You're worth more than just a little slap. You're a great friend."

I rub my eyes with my sleeves, wiping away the tears. I nod in agreement. No one is worth losing over a silly little thing. Maybe I should just tell him who I am. If he likes me enough to move on just like that, I think he'll accept who I was.

"Maybe I can tell you who I wa-"

"Dean, y-y-you've been at the door for a wh-while! It's not good for your mother to let that humid air in." A voice from inside calls. A female voice. I blink and look at him in confusion. Was he already dating someone? I mean, not that it would matter. It's not like I like-like him or anything.

"Oh! Sorry Jeanne!" He replies, looking into the house. He then looks back at me and smiles nervously. "I haven't introduced you to Jeanne. She's been taking care of my mother ever since she fainted one morning."

I frown at him before pushing my way inside. I gasp as I see Carol on the bed, passed out. It was just like my dream.

"I don't think you should be in here right now," the same voice room as earlier, "I'm providing medical attention to Carol right now. Well, strictly speaking, the only medical attention has been to give her a diagnosis. So, um... I would like to prepare a herbal formula that will help her, but I lack the necessary ingredients..."

I look at the voice finally. A young girl with green hair and big, round glasses. I put my hands on my hips as I stare at her. Just who does she think she is? Claiming to know how to take care of Dean's mother without having any proper ingredients, or even any medicine on hand. Also, I know that she doesn't have a house here, so is she just living here? Just watching over Carol all day and night? I don't think so. I open my mouth to tell her off before Dean puts his hand on my shoulder. I close my mouth and look away.

"Nicole is the local farmer. She's trying to revive the land," He introduces, "I think that she can help with the ingredients."

The girl brights up at this. She takes my hands and it takes a lot not to take them away in disgust.

"Pa-pardon me! I'm Jeanne! If you can help, I'll be ever grateful!"

"As will I. I'm sure my mother will appreciate it too, Nicole." Dean says once I don't reply right away. I sigh in defeat. I can't say no to him, especially not right after he accepted me with open arms, and I cried all over him. I can't really say no to Carol either. How fair would it be to her if I didn't accept the request? She's been nothing but a doll since they've moved in.

"Fine, fine. What do you need?" I agree finally. Dean gives my shoulder a small squeeze before letting go. Jeanne scrambles to pull a paper from out her shoulder bag. She hands it to me.

"Everything on that little paper! I-I-I'll mix everything if you can bring the ingredients to me!"

I nod and shove the paper in a pocket of my overalls that I'm wearing. "No problem, really... I'll have them asap." I mutter before I walk towards the door. Dean follows me, frowning. I hate to see that look on his face, but I just don't trust that girl, especially when no one tells me anything about her. He announces that he's coming with me before opening the door for me. I walk through and wait for him outside of the house.

"Hey, thanks for doing this." He says after he closes the door. I lead him over to my house, knowing that Sam will be over there. I remember seeing celery and hot peppers on the list, but I don't have any of those growing. "I can buy us dinner, or something in return!"

"As I said before, Dean, it's no problem. I would do this for anyone in this village. No need to repay me." I say as I check my pouch for any of the seeds I need. I huff, not finding any. I'll have to buy some and hurriedly grow them. Maybe I'll ask Rowan to help. Maybe he'll use some special magic, or something, to help the plants grow faster.

"At least let me pay for the seeds."

"Okay." I reply almost immediately. I wasn't about to say no to free seeds. I smile at him. He raises an eyebrow at me before smiling back at me.

"So... How long have you and... doctor girl been dating?" I ask casually.

"What? Me and Jeanne? No! No..." He answer, a weird look on his face. I hold onto the railing as we start to walk up the mountain side. He walks by my side, which makes me feel a bit more comfortable. It's definitely nice to be out with someone, instead of being cooped up in my house by myself. Especially when it's the person I fretted over the whole time.

"I mean, not that she's a bad person, no. She's nice..." He adds, "But I just... I'm not looking to date someone right now?"

"Of course, Dean," I say teasingly. I do believe that he isn't dating Jeanne... sort of. What if he does like her romantically, and he just hasn't asked her out because of the whole situation? But, as a good friend, I will back off and let him live his life. If he likes her, he likes her, and vice versa. I stop once we hit the grassy field of my front yard. I see Sam walking around the cliff area and walk over.

"Sam! I need some seeds!" I tell him as I walk up. He looks at me and gives me a cheeky grin. I just know he's going to try to break a deal with me this time. I'm not going to fall for it.

----

"Pleasure doing business with you both!" Sam says before he walks over to the town. I fell for it. 10 of every type of seed he had for 3000 gold. I couldn't resist, and ended up saying yes. And Dean's wallet had to pay.

"Remind me to never go shopping with you again." He jokes. I smile sheepishly at him. How was I to know that was going to be a bit of a rip-off? Well, not a bit, more like a lot of a rip-off... But still! 10 of every type of seed! I guess it really is a rip-off if he only has 8 different types. I frown now that I think about it. I shove the seeds into one of my large pockets, leaving the celery and hot pepper seeds in my hand. I lead him over to the fields.

"I'm sorry! I just get so excited when I get to plant new crops!" I apologize. He shakes his head and shrugs.

"What can you do? I mean, I willingly paid for them, so no big deal!" He reasons. I think about it. I suppose I shouldn't feel too bad about. I didn't force him to pay, nor did he have any protests. But maybe that's just because I'm helping his mom... Jeez...

"Are you going to help me grow these, or go back home?" I ask as I pass through the two poles leading into the fields. I look at him to see that he's thinking about it. "You don't have to stay here if you don't want to, y'know."

I grab my hoe from the fertilizer shed I got from Doc. I figured it could double as a tool shed as well, and I haven't been proven wrong yet. He looks between me and my tool. He sighs.

"I think I'll go back to my house so I can keep a close eye on my mom." He answers, sounding a bit unsure. I quickly give him a one-armed hug. He returns it before walking back to the town area. I wave to his back before starting my work. I raised the hoe above my head before dropping it back down. I repeat this action until I have about 20 new spaces for my crops. It's definitely not easy work. I wipe my brow to rid my skin of the forming sweat. I sow the seeds and pat dirt over them. I fill my watering can with fresh water from the well before watering each spot one-by-one. I make a noise of satisfaction as I see all my work. Even though it's a bit hard, it's still fun. I know it's worth it all in the end. I look at my watch around my wrist to see that it's only 4 in the afternoon. Plenty of time to visit the Harvest Sprites. I head up the stone-made staircase next to my crops. I duck under the waterfall into the Harvest Spring. Once I'm inside, I find Rowan walking around. I walk up to him.

"Hey, Rowan, I need some help." I tell him. He looks up at me and grins.

"I'm a master at helping crops grow!" He cheers boastfully.

"Do have anything - like magic- that call help crops grow overnight? It's really important and I think it might help the Goddess." I ask. I hope that he has at least something that makes it so I don't have to wait more than three days. I don't want something to happen to Carol and I don't have the medicine ingredients. He looks up thoughtfully, swaying his head left to right. He then gasps as if he has an idea.

"I can! I know something like that! But I'll need to rest a week after."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah! Rest it up afterwards." I agree. He then flips out of existence. I walk out of the Harvest Spring, getting a bit of water on my clothes. I sigh and tell myself that I'll have to speak with Harvest Goddess. That waterfall has to be moved over some so I don't get wet anymore. I walk down the stairs to find Rowan stretching his arms to the heavens. He's chanting a spell as he does so, so I'm assuming that he has already started. I smile. This is so sweet of him. I'll have to bake him cookies sometime as a thanks. I head back over to my house to get some sleep. Even though it's still early, my body is drained. No sleep for a few day, then just hard labor? I'm going to collapse as soon as I see that bed. Which is exactly what I do when I enter my house. I flop onto the bed and almost immediately fall asleep.

-----

"Tell me, princess, where's daddy and mommy?" A man asks. I stand up as tall as I can, but I feel tiny on the inside. This man looks so familiar. Tall, dark brown hair, and silver eyes. He has a rough look that calls attention to him. I remember him from my past in the city. I couldn't help but feel attracted to him though.

"Obviously not here," I answer, "But I am. So we can do whatever you want." He smirks at me before pushing me up against my old bedroom wall. He kisses me. Little did I know that he's stealing any piece of jewelry that's out for him to grab. My eyes are closed, but I can still see everything. He pulls back after he's finished shoving everything into his pocket. He grabs my face.

"My, my, I landed myself the queen of oblivious. Who could ever fall in love with someone like you for real?" He asks. I blink up at him, not believing what he's saying. I open my mouth before he slaps me roughly. He walks away from as I stand there in shock. I hold my cheek as tears start to form. I kept asking why to no one. Or so I thought. Dean walks into my old room and smiles at me. A sweet smile. Nothing like that other man. He pulls me in for a hug as I cry on his shoulder. He 'shh's me as he pets my hair. I quickly relax into his touch. He pulls away and wipes away my tears with his thumb.

"Hey, it's okay," He murmurs. He presses a kiss to my forehead and abused cheek. I smile at him. I found comfort in his arms and I never wanted it to stop. He 's everything I could want.

"I know you're only using me to get over him. Am I right? Wait, don't answer that, I know I'm not." He then says. I stare at him with wide eyes. I-i'm not getting over anyone, no. I don't understand what he's saying to me. Just as I go to say something, the same green-haired doctor walks in and talks Dean's hand. She smirks at me.

"Don't ever think about stealing him for me. He's mine." She says. I want to say something, but all that would come out were broken sobs, and whimpers. The two of them laugh at my pathetic display before walking out of the room. I'm left by myself now, crying and devastated.

-------

I gasp as I sit up in my bed. I hold my aching forehead. I could feel tear tracks on my cheeks and sighed in frustration. Another nightmare... I tell myself that I'm okay, and that none of that happened in real life. I stand up and scuttle over to the kitchen. I take a pot and turn on the sink faucet. I place the pot inside so it can be filled with water. I turn off the faucet once it's 3/4 full and place it on the stove. I turn the burner on medium heat. I need some tea, and I hate having to wait for the water to boil. But it's a must. I shake my head in disappointment at the water, telling it to boil faster. I walk over to my closet and peel off yesterday's clothes. I then remember the seeds and take them out of the pocket, along with the paper that had the medicine ingredients on it. I put on almost the same outfit, overalls and a button up. I throw my pouch around my waist to finish the look.

Once the water in the pot is boiling, I take it off the burner. I pour the water into a cup. I grab a black tea bag and put it into the cup as well as a few scoops of sugar. I stir it all. I sit at my table and wait for the tea to become tea. I sip the still hot liquid as I relax in the chair. Tea is something I cannot live without. Especially after... whatever you'd call that dream. I finish the tea in a matter of minutes and stand. I look at the list from Jeanne. I need two great milks... I think I have that in the fridge. Maybe? I walk over to the fridge, placing my cup in the sink first, and open it. I find the milks in the side door. I'm so glad I put different colored labels on each bottle, or this would have been difficult. I shove both the milk and list in my pouch before pulling on my boots. I make my way outside of my house. I wave to Sam as I walk by. He gives me a little wave back. My journey to the fields, other than the noises of nature, is quiet and peaceful. It's quite nice actually.

"Rowan, you are a miracle from the Goddess herself!" I praise once I see that my crops are fully grown already. I take the paper out of my pouch and look over it. I need ten celery, and two hot peppers. Not too bad. I harvest what I need from my crops. Now that I have everything, I can give these to doctor girl and she can leave! Good plan! I carry the vegetables in my arms as I speed walk over to the florist's. I walk in without even knocking.

"I have everything, guys!" I announce. Both of them look at me in surprise. I walk over to Jeanne and give her the vegetables. I take the milks out of my bag, but hold them myself. She looks over everything and grins at me.

"Yes, this should do it... Now I will ... Um... I'll prepare the formula." She says with a stern look on her face.

"Thank you!" Dean mumbles in awe. I wink at him before bringing the milk over to the small kitchenette. Jeanne follows me. She mentions for me to go over to him, and I make a small sign of gratitude. I know I should probably be more suspicious around her because of that dream, but I can't bring myself to do that anymore. I've decided on my way here that I'm going to give her a chance. She's just trying to help, just like I am. I walk over to Dean and sit next to him on his bed. I put a hand on his thigh.

"Everything will be okay." I tell him. He looks at me and nods, but I don't know if he really believes that. I move my hand to his back and rub small circles over it.

-----
In almost no time at all, Jeanne walks over with the freshly made medicine. Dean and I both stand up. We watch she carefully lets Carol drink. She steps back once the bottle is empty. In a matter of minutes, Carol slowly sits up, now awake. I grin. I'm so glad I could help.

"Carol seems to be much more comfortable now..." Jeanne says in her soft voice. Dean nods.

"I know! Thanks a million!" He says. She then tells the family about the the temporary effects of the medicine, which causes some disappointment. It's a real shame though. That this medicine only lasts for a little while. We were all hoping that this medicine could cure her of her sickness once and for all. I sigh.

"Hey, mom, what do you think about the idea of getting the seedling off of our hands completely?" Deans asks. He must feel that that seedling is the root of her problems, and - from what I heard - it's seems to be true. However, Carol looks at him in surprise.

"What are you saying, Dean?" She asks.

"Mom, it's not growing! It's not withering either. We don't know why, but we do know that whatever it takes to make it grow, you and I aren't able to do it."

"That may be true, but it was your father's prize plant specimen..."

"I know, and that's why it's important to me too. That's exactly why we should let someone else take charge of it: Nicole." Dean suggests. I blink. Dean thinks that I should take the sapling? I mean, I do need it to complete my goal, just as the Harvest Goddess said, but I mean... He trusts me enough to let me tend to his late father's prized possession? I smile at the thought. Dean explains to his mother why I should take care of it and my heart just melts. He's too nice sometimes.

"That's a good point... If anyone can do it, Nicole can..." Carol finally agrees.

Dean turns to look at me. "So, would you do that for us, Nicole?" He asks, a complete serious look on his face.

"I know that I can. I know that I won't you guys, or your father, down!" I answer. Dean smiles at my answer before grabbing the seedling from the top of the dresser. He hands it to me and I take it.

"I know you're the one for the job." He tells me in a low voice. I thank both of the florists before Jeanne tells us that she plans to stay with Carol to keep her safe. I tell her that it's a good idea. I say goodbye to everyone in the house before making my way to the door. Dean rushes to get the door.

"Thanks. This thing is too heavy to carry with one hand." I tell him. He chuckles at me. He then leans in close.

"This Saturday night, I'll come pick you up from your house at 7, and we'll get some dinner." He whispers to me. My cheeks grow red as I nod quickly.

"Sounds good!" I agree. I manage to wave to him before running off to plant this sapling. I know the perfect place.

Chapter Text

"A hammer that can smash a giant rock?" Gus asks in bewilderment, "To make a hammer that could do that, you'd have to have orichalcum. But it takes great skill to forge orichalcum... More skill then I have left at my old age."

"Ohmygoddess, Grampy, just make the thing already!" Melanie says, a smile on her face. I find it quite surprising that she doesn't sound annoyed. Usually she does when Gus brings up his "lost" skills as a blacksmith. Instead, Gus tries to make an excuse, mumbling under his breath. "Grampy! Where can we, like, get some orichalcum?" Now she sounds annoyed, probably because of his lack of response. I could say something, but Melanie is so good at persuading him. I never need to say anything other than thank you to both of them.

Melanie huffs and stomps her foot against the floor. "He-LLO?" She nearly yells when Gus says nothing, "The orichalcum! It comes from WHERE?"

"O-orichalcum is found on the far side of the Underground Lake!" Gus replies right away, startled by his granddaughter. He turns away, to think, I think. I look at Melanie and know right away that she has a plan. I sigh. I really hope she doesn't do something crazy. I turn to face Gus.

"Is it possible to get this ore?" I ask him.

"I've actually gone to the far side of the Underground Lake for orichalcum before...The rocks in that area are unstable, and can collapse at any moment..." He says, "But even I had to give up and turn around because it was too dangerous.You're not ready to face that kind of danger, are you, Nicole? You see it's impossible, don't you, Melanie?"

He then faces, what I thought was, us. When I turn to look at Melanie, I see that she's no longer in the house. She didn't.... Did she?

"W-where's Melanie? Don't tell me she went off to get orichalcum! The girl has a lot of spunk! Fitting for a granddaughter of mine!" He says, smiling. Sure, sure, he can be proud some other day, but she could be in danger! I find myself stomping my foot to the ground like her.

"But that journey will put her in danger!" I snap at him.

"But that journey will put her in danger!" Gus repeats after me, "We have to go after her and leave for the Underground Lake at once!"

I nod and sigh. I couldn't believe she would put herself in danger like that for me. Of course I appreciate all the other times she's helped me, but there's a difference between being helpful and reckless. Not that I would ever tell her that. I just hope that she's okay...

--------

"M-melanie! How did she get so far so fast?" Gus asks as we see Melanie walk further into the mine. I start to walk over to her before Gus steps in front of me and puts his hand arm out to block me. I frown at him.

"The rocks along that trail could fall on her -and you- at any moment... What is that girl thinking..?" He adds the last part under his breath.

"But we have to go after her! We can't let her get hurt!" I yell. My voice had a hint of desperation. I didn't want my best friend to be hurt, or worse...

"Y-you're right! We have to go after her right away!" He agrees. I move his arm down before running around the corner. I didn't move far due to an earthquake. I immediately lose my balance and fall to the ground. I scrape my whole right leg against a stalagmite as I fall. It stings so bad. I hiss in pain as I look at my ankle. It had a huge cut, but didn't seem to be twisted. I sigh in relief. Another tremor occurs. I hear a scream.

"Melanie?" I call. I look up to see rocks falling all around Melanie. I try to, but I can't stand up with the heavy shaking. I gasp as the ground between us splits in half, creating a river. Only, the river is only getting larger and larger. I bite my lip, hoping that everything will be okay. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the earthquake stops.

"MELANIE! OH NO! NO!" Gus yells, a bit over dramatically, "What are we going to do now..?"

"Gus, you need to calm down. We have to focus on rescuing her." I tell him calmly. I manage to stand up, having to hold onto the same growing stalagmite that I fell against.

"You're right... The only thing to think about right now is rescuing Melanie." He agrees. I lean against a rock wall and sigh. How can we do it? There's a river in between us... "There's a river in between us! We need to make a boat!"

Gus makes a noise of agreement. He tells me that I would need hardwood for a boat and I huff. I can't collect hardwood with my axe. Gus seems to realize this.

"If you get me one mithril and three iron, I can upgrade your axe." He offers. I look at him with wide eyes. He's giving me a smile. I would have never thought that he would offer to forge something for me willing. I smile back at him. "I'll head back to the shop. Try to hurry."

I wave to his back as he walks away. I fall to my knees and wince. I look at my bloodied leg. I reach into my pouch and grab my first aide kit. I take out some gauze and quickly wrap it around the cut on my ankle. It would be fine for now. I shove everything back into my pouch before standing. I grab my hammer and twist it between my hands. Don't worry, Melanie, I'm going to get you out. I promise.

-----
(Dean P.O.V)

I knock on Nicole's door for, what feels like, the hundredth time. I haven't gotten any answer for the last half hour. I know she's not sleeping, but I don't want to say that she isn't home. I said Saturday at seven, right? I sigh in defeat and start to walk away. What's happening with her? No one sees her after she leaves somewhere with Gus? And he's the only one that comes back? It's almost been a week. What's worse is that no one has seen Melanie either. I've been trying not worry, but how can I not? Even the flowers I've tried to grow aren't as beautiful as they used to be.

Why did everything happen now? I was going to give her a red tulip - a bouquet of red tulips. I crumple the wrapping they are in in frustration. It isn't her fault, I know that... I wonder if this is what getting stood up feels like. Isn't that what this already is? I rub my face with my free hand. I mean, I dress nicely, bring her flowers, and nothing! I push open the door of my house.

"You're home fast, dear." My mom says once she sees me. She coughs into her hands softly. I put the bouquet of tulips on the kitchen table and sigh.

"Can't be home fast if I didn't do anything." I say. She gives me an apologetic look. I smile at her sadly. "It is what it is. I'll just try to talk to her sometime... If she ever comes back..."

--------
(Nicole's P.O.V)

I chip away at whatever ore is left in this damn mine. I've been in here forever, and I haven't stopped trying to rescue Melanie. I gasp as I see that I finally got the last piece of mithril ore that I needed. I tear up in happiness and relief. I pick it up and shove it in my pouch. I run out of the mine. However, I could feel the pressure of everything weighing down on my shoulder, like the world is telling me to rest. I push past this feeling. I can't stop for anything. I need to save my friend.

I slam open the door to Gus' house. "I have the stuff to upgrade." I tell him. He looks at me, probably surprised at my entrance. I hand over my materials and he looks over them. He gives a small nod.

"Here goes nothing..." He mumbles. After a few minutes of nothing, I'm starting to get a bit annoyed. He then shakes his head. "It's no use... When I look down at my hands, everything goes blurry in my head! I must be sick! I'm on the verge of death! I'm sorry, Melanie! Your Grampy's gonna pass away before he gets to see you again!"

"Gus, snap out of it..." I mutter, "I'm going to go get Jeanne. She'll help you..."

I'm given silence as an answer. I sigh before walking out of the house. I turn to walk up to the upper left corner of the village to Jeanne's house. I manage to avoid any of the town's people, not wanting to stop for a second. I knock on the door to the doctor's house. It takes a few minutes, but she does eventually open the door. She looks at me in bewilderment before letting me inside.

"Listen, I want to be fast about this, okay? Melanie is stuck inside the Underground Lake mine, and can't get out. I've been trying to help her. But to help her, I need Gus' help," I begin, "But Gus needs your help. He says that his world is going blurry, that he's sick."

Jeanne looks at me, trying to take in everything I said. "I'll go w-with you!" She agrees. I sigh in relief. Hopefully it'll just be nothing, and I can finally help Melanie. It'll all be okay. At least, I'll keep telling myself that.

I lead Jeanne back to the Gus' house and wait on the opposite side of the room. She's giving him a simple check-up so it shouldn't take that long. However, I can feel my foot start to tap against the floor repeatedly - both in impatience and nervousness. To ease my tension, I start to pace around the room. How can I relax at a time like this? Why did this have to happen now?

"I know what's wrong with Gus!" Breaks the silence in the house. I flinch at the sudden announcement. I look at them before walking over. "You... you... Have age-related farsightedness."

I blink. He's farsighted? That's it? Well, it is better than dying, I suppose. Jeanne then turns to face me. "Uh, Nicole... If we could get eyeglasses for Gus, it would clear up his condition."

"Okay, okay... How do we make them?" I ask.

"To make them, I would need one glass, one gold, and two softwood." She explains. I nod. I look through my pouch to pull out the needed items. I'm overjoyed that I don't have to go to that stupid, stupid mine anymore... I hand them over to her and she thanks me. Gus and I move out of her way as she works. I can't help but watch. It's not the most interesting thing, but it's definitely helping me stay up. After about twenty minutes, she turns to face us, a brand new pair of gold glasses in her hands. Gus takes them and puts them on. I'm impressed. They look good on him.

"How are they?" Jeanne asks, looking hopeful.

"I can see clear as a diamond!" He replies, "Now I can forge the best axe you've ever seen!"

I clap my hands together excitedly. This is just simply my day - with a slight distraction or two. I can finally rescue Melanie. I just hope that she's okay still. I bite my lip, trying to not thing of all the worst possible things that could have happened to her. No, no. I need to remain positive. She'll be just fine and I'll save her with this boat and she'll be just fine.

"This is a tool I can be proud of!" Gus says, pride in his voice, "Now you'll easily be able to chop down hardwood trees!"

He offers me this new axe. How long had I been in my thoughts? I look down at it to see a iron blade, with a beautiful sapphire handle. I pick it up. It feels super light in my hands, but I know I'll be able to pack a punch to those trees. I hold it close and smile.

"I'm glad you're feeling like your old self. Seeing a patient with a smile on his face is the best part of being a herbal doctor!" Jeanne says happily. She has on this huge grin.

"I'm glad you're doing to better too." I tell him sincerely. He thanks both of us before I nearly rush out of the house. I had to hurriedly cut down the trees, give the wood to Doc, then rescue Melanie. All in a day's work, right?

-------

"What do you mean 'it'll take a day'? I can't wait a day!" I snap at Doc. He simply smiles and moves into a new, difficultly weird position.

"I need a day to build this boat. That's what I mean." He replies. I groan as I rub my forehead. I couldn't believe this! I had to rescue Melanie as fast as I can. Doesn't he understand this? I want to just cry, I'm so done with all of this. I just want to save her.

"Go home. Get rest. Clean yourself up. You'll feel better about everything, Nicole." He adds. I look at him with wide eyes. I let his advice sink. Sometimes this man is something else, but when is he ever something to begin with? Instead of fighting, I simply nod and smile.

"Thanks. I really needed that..." I mumble. I shuffle out of his laboratory and sigh. No one has ever really told me to take time to myself, to relax. Just hearing those words made me feel better. I sluggishly walk back to my house, finally letting how tired I was effect my body. I know that I need to rest up, but I never really had the chance to. I was just so... I need to rescue Melanie, but that doesn't mean I can just let myself go in the process.

I push open the door of my house and sigh at the sight of my cozy bed. I slip off my clothes after getting my pajamas from my dresser. I put them on before collapsing on my bed. Never before has anything felt so amazing. I readjust my right leg so it doesn't hurt while I sleep. When I get the position just right, I lay my head down on my pillow. I close my eyes and immediately fall asleep.

------

When I wake up from my dreamless sleep, I feel ready to tackle the world. I feel hundred times better than I did yesterday. I stand my bed. I was able to stay up on my feet for about ten second before my leg gives out. I fall back into a sitting position on my bed. I look at my right leg to see many bruises and a dirty bandage. I wince. I fall back on my bed. How am I going to do anything if I can't even stand up properly? To add insult to injury, there is a knock on the door.

"Come in." I say loud enough to echo in the empty house. The door slowly opens to reveal Jeanne, holding a bag filled to the brim. She takes off her shoes before walking into the house. She closes the door.

"I, um.... I saw that you had a... Sort of limp. I want to look at your leg, if you'll let me." She explains herself. I sigh in relief. How perfect that she noticed something small! Now she can fix up my leg and I can leave! This is just amazing.

"Yes, please!" I answer quickly. She looks taken aback before scrambling over to my bedside. She set her bag next to her side as she kneels in front of me. She unwraps my leg. I groan in pain. The bandage may have been a bit too tight on my leg. She gasps seemingly in horror.

"Nicole! When did you do this to your leg?" She asks. She's grabbing different ointments and creams from her bag. She opens a tin and takes a huge dallop on her fingers.

"About a we-EEE-k ago..." I mumble, making an loud noise of pain as she applies the ointment. She mutters an apology as she smears the stuff over my cuts and bruises. My whole leg up to just above my knee is covered by the time she's done. It stings something mighty, but I guess it's what I deserve for waiting so long. She grabs a roll of gauze from the bag.

"You should know better! You're so close to losing this leg! It's so damaged and close to becoming super infected!" She scolds me. I lower my head and my gaze. It hurts to know that she's right, that I could've lost my leg if I had waited a few more days. I glance at my leg. I want to throw up. There's pus coming out of my cuts where the ointment was applied. I immediately look away. Thankfully, she grabs a cloth from her bag and wipes off everything from my leg. When I look at it this time, I notice that it already looks better. A lot of the bruising went down, but it still looks somewhat bad, but my cuts didn't look infected. I don't know what she used, but the doctors in the city need this stuff. She puts a different ointment on my leg, which didn't sting nearly as much, before wrapping it in bandages.

"Please be more careful. I'm going to leave this ointment here. Put it on before you go to bed every night for the next four days. Give your leg new bandages every morning." She instructs. She leaves the ointment and gauze on my table. I nod. Medicine at night, bandage in morning. Nothing too hard. "And, since I know I can't s-stop you, be careful not... not to walk around too much. Lean on others if you have too."

She packs up the rest of her things in that bag of hers and heads over to the door. She slips her shoes back on.

"Hey," I call to her, "Thank you."

She blushes as she hears this. She smiles warmly at me. "It was no problem."

She walks out of the door and I'm left alone. I push myself up so I'm standing. This time, it doesn't hurt so much, and I'm able to stay standing. Not too bad. I make my way over to my closet. I look over everything I have. I grab some overalls and a pale yellow flannel. I pull on my flannel and button it up. So far, so good. I then pull on my overalls. I buckle them up. I look down at my right leg. I shouldn't have rough jean material covering my leg. I roll the pant leg up until it is mid-thigh. I leave the other one alone, figuring this looks good enough. I put my hair into a sloppy bun before grabbing a few strawberries from my fridge. I eat them slowly, savoring each bite. Once I'm done, I throw away whatever is left and head out. I walk through the fields to get to town. It really is such a beautiful day. I wonder how many I've missed while I was in that mine, chipping away at ores...

-----

I hold my breathe as I press the insta-boat to my chest. I hope that this works, I need this to work. I don't know what I would do if it didn't. I press a button on, what I assume, is the back of the boat. It then transforms into a way bigger boat, one that can easily take me across to get Melanie. I hop inside. It's fairly stable, able to catch and hold me. I press down on the lever. It propelled me forwards, sending me to the other side. It's foreign, but I feel like I could easily get used to this.

Once on the other side, I hop out of the boat. Melanie notices and turns away from the ore that looks like it's been picked at a bit.

"Oh. My. Goddess! How LONG were you going to make me wait to get rescued already? Like, seriously!" She says immediately. I smile at that. I can't stop myself from tearing up. She's alright! I start crying tears of joy. All of my hard work wasn't for nothing. She glances over to the side before patting my back. "I can totally handle myself, Nicole."

"I know, I know." I say, sniffling. I wipe my eyes to get rid of the tears. She gives me a small smile. I could tell that she was happy to see me, that she was happy to be rescued.

"But... Like... Thanks." She mumbles, blushing. I lead her back over to the boat and help her in. I step in myself. As I press the lever, I tell her about my leg, and about Gus getting glasses. She looked so shocked at the latter. It feels nice to be back with her.

"Tell me that you, like, went on that date thing with Dean."

I freeze. The dinner date with Dean! I completely forgot! What am I going to tell him? I curse internally as I try to think of ways to explain to Dean that it was just a misunderstanding. Everything I came up with is just a lie though. I have to tell him the truth.

"No, but I'll make it up to him, I promise." I tell her. She gives me this unsatisfied look, before it turns into a smile.

"You totally have to let me make you the perfect dress for this date!" She insists. I think about it and nod. "Just give me some wool and I'll have something to you in a snap. I'll make you look beautiful before too. You'll be, like, to kill for!"

I listen to her ramblings of dress designs and perfect date scenarios. She definitely sounds more interested than me at this point, but I guess she doesn't get a lot of business here in this village. I really do appreciate her help though. I think I would be a complete loss if she didn't give me some pointers before she got trapped. She knows way more than me about dating, and she is happy to share her knowledge.

We manage to get to the other side of the river. I step out first so I can give her a hand. I turn the boat back down to it's tiny size before stuffing it in my pouch. We start to head out of the mine.

"You should go see your grandfather," I suggest, "I'll go talk to Dean about everything."

"Okay, but you have to get me all the details." She replies. She offers her hand to seal the deal. I grab her hand and shake it. I probably shouldn't tell her every detail, but I can tell her some things. Like if Dean's even still willing to go out for dinner again. I sigh as I think about it. I wouldn't be too happy if I got stood up, but I guess if I knew the situation, it would be a bit different.

As we step foot into town, we say our goodbyes. We depart and head our separate ways. I make my way over to the florist's, making sure to walk slowly. I don't want to just collapse in front of Dean because I was being too harsh to my body. I knock on the door. I breathe in and out deeply once to calm my nerves, but it didn't help much when the door swung open.

"Hi." I say softly. Dean looks at me and gasps. He pulls me into an extremely tight hug. I squeak in surprise. I was not expecting this, but when do my expectations ever get met with him? He lets go, but keeps his hands on my shoulders.

"Are you okay? What happened to your leg? What happened on Saturday?" He asks quickly. I try to take in all the question before answering. I want to give him clear, straightforward answers.

"I'm okay. Just a bit shaken by everything, but I'll be okay in a day or two," I begin, "I cut my leg when there was an earthquake in the Underground Lakes mines. Jeanne helped me patch it up. A-and I was in the mines because Melanie got trapped inside, and I wanted to rescue her... I, um, forgot about Saturday. Melanie was my first priority."

Dean listens to all my answers, nodding his head slowly. He doesn't look mad at all. That's good. That means he isn't super mad about my forgetting about Saturday. Maybe I still have a chance.

"Well... That was very brave of you, but... I..." He trails off. He doesn't know what to say, but I don't know if I would either. "I would like to, that is, if you want to, try for dinner again. If you want!"

I chuckle at that. "Of course, I want to have dinner with you. However... We can just have it at my house and I'll cook for you." I offer.

"Yeah! That sounds great! How about tomorrow? At seven?" He checks. I nod. It's a bit of a short notice, but I can definitely make it work.

"Tomorrow at seven." I confirm.

Chapter Text

It's almost 5 o'clock, and both Elise and Melanie are at my house. Elise is sitting on my bed while I sit on the floor in front of her, letting her brush my hair. Melanie had brought over her sowing supplies, and is working on the wool I gave her to make a dress. I really do appreciate them coming over to help. My nerves are almost fried. I could barely feed my animals without spilling any food earlier. This whole date thing is so nerve wrecking, especially with my friends making it into the biggest deal in town. However, I've calmed down a bit since Elise first showed up, a basket of food in hand. Then Melanie showed up just as we were deciding to make for dinner. She had tons of sketches of dresses, and told me that she would make any one that I asked for. Of course, I wasn't able to choose, which actually made Melanie happy. I guess I gave her full creative control over my attire for the night. So she's now sitting at my table, working on whatever design she decided to do. I really hope that it isn't something too fancy. I didn't want to be overdressed.

"Let's get started on food, no?" Elise asks. I look up at her and nod. I stand from my spot and stretch. My leg still has to be bandaged every morning, but that's fine. It's hurting way less than it used to. Elise gets up. We both walk over to the kitchen. I start to unload the basket full of food. We had already decided to make green salads, napolitan, and no-bake cheesecake. Hopefully they won't take too long, but I guess that's why we're starting about two hours early. I just hope that everything turns out okay. Don't want to scare off Dean because I can't cook. But then again, I don't think he's that shallow of a guy. Before I can even tell Elise that I didn't really need help cooking, I see that she's already starting on both dinner and dessert. I blink. That was fast.

"Nicole, come here! I, like, want your option on this." Melanie says to me. I sigh before walking over. I guess I can just cook for him next time? I sit down in a chair next to Melanie and look at her.

"What can I do for you?" I ask. She holds the dress, which looks finished already.

"I need to know how long you want it," She replies, "I want you to look totally amazing, but I don't want your leg to suffer, or something."

I blink. I hadn't even thought about that. I smile at the thought of Melanie trying to make it so my leg is comfortable. Although, she usually wants her clothes to be both comfortable, and stylish. I scoot back my chair so she can see my legs. I draw a line at my mid thigh with my index finger.

"There." I tell her. She studies where that is on my leg before looking at the dress. She nods to herself.

"It's done then." She hands me the brand new dress and I stare at it in my hands. It's a pale yellow strapless dress. There's two strings around the waist that, I assume, ties into a bow in the front. I love it already. I look over at Melanie to see her reaching into her bag. She pulls out a pastel pink bolero.

"Here, I made this before, in case you picked a strapless dress, or something like it." She explains as she offers it to me. I take it and smile widely.

"Thank you so much." I stand up with the new outfit in hand. I walk into my bathroom. I begin to take off my clothes, careful with my shorts. I didn't want to waste time re-bandaging my leg if I didn't have to. I manage to successfully take everything off. I pick up the dress first. I slip it on over my head and pull it down. I tie the bow around the front of my waist. It fits perfectly. I twirl in front of my mirror and grin. I grab the bolero and slide it on. I give myself one final look over before walking out of the bathroom. Melanie giggles happily at me.

"You look totally pretty in that!" She compliments me. I nod in agreement. Elise twists around to look at me.

"My, you look magnificent!" She tells me. I thank both of them before looking at the time. It's already six? I only have an hour before Dean's supposed to show up.

"Melanie, will you do my hair real quick?" I ask her. She nods before pulling the chair I was sitting in before close. I sit in it so my back is facing her. Whatever she chooses to do with it, I hope it just looks good. I sit patiently as she pulls my hair into a bun. I could feel that she left some hair out of bun to braid around it. I smile at her choice. It's not too fancy, but it's not too casual either.

"Hey, Elise? How is everything over there?" I ask the chef. She looks at me and smiles.

"Almost everything is ready. The pasta just has to cook thoroughly before I can decorate it, and everything else is in the fridge." She explains to me. I give her a thumbs up. I knew that she is good, but I didn't know that she is this good. She turns back around to the the food. I swing my feet in the chair, trying to get rid of the bubbling nerves. So far, everything has been perfect. A nice, new outfit, food that's almost ready, a clean house. What could go wrong? I could poison Dean with food that he's allergic to! I didn't even think about asking him if he's allergic to anything! I'm such a dummy... What if he's allergic to tomatoes, or peppers? What if it's cheese? I could kill him tonight!

"Nicole, your hair is done." Melanie says. I blink before touching my bun softly. Around it was a simple braid. I take a deep breath and smile. I didn't need to worry like I was. I could probably just make something else if he is allergic to anything.

"Thank you." I say calmly. I stand up from the chair and push it in. I walk over to my kitchen. As I smell what's cooking, I smile. It all smells, and looks, good. I'm sure that Dean will like everything just as much as I will.

"There! Enough napolitan for two!" Elise cheers. I look into the pot filled with the pasta. Sure enough, there is enough for two, maybe even more. I pat her on the back.

"It looks fantastic!" I praise. She grins proudly. I turn to look at the time. I gasp.

"You guys need to leave! He'll be here any minute!" I rush to the door and open it. The two grab their things before walking to me. "Thank you both very much! I'll make sure to tell every detail."

Both of them hug me one at a time before walking out. I wave to them before closing the door. I have about five minutes to destress before he comes. I make sure that the kitchen is clean and that no dishes are left in the sink. I put the salads on the table, along with silverware and napkins. I sigh in anxiousness. I need to calm down. I tell myself this, of course, but never can. It's just a date, but I've never had a proper date. It's scary, but also exciting.

A knock on the door interrupts my thoughts. I walk over and open it. Dean stands on my welcome mat, holding a bouquet of tulips. He has on dress pants and a plaid yellow button-up. He really does dress to impress. I smile at him.

"Come on in!" I offer, stepping out of his way. He thanks me before walking inside. He looks around.

"It's a cute place," He says, "Perfect for someone like you."

Did he just call me cute? No, he was calling the house cute, and that's good for someone like me. I smile at him. He smiles back before offering me the flowers. I take them. They certainly are cute! I grab a vase for them.

"Thanks for the flowers!" I tell him, "You look really nice tonight."

"Thanks. You look better." He compliments. I could feel my cheeks heat up a bit at that. He thinks I look good. I'll have to thank Melanie a billion times next time I see her. I couldn't even imagine what I'd look like if I didn't have her to help me. I snip the ends of the flowers' stems diagonally just Dean had said too before. I fill the vase just barely before putting the flowers in. I move to put the vase on the table.

"Hungry?" I ask as I look at him. He nods before pulling out a chair for me. I sit down before he pushes the chair in enough so I could reach the table. I thank him. He sits down on the opposite side of me.

"I thought that we'd start with a salad, then napolitan, then cheesecake." I tell him. I wait for his reaction, hoping that he isn't allergic, or hate my choices.

"Sounds good!"

--------

After about a hour, we've finished the food that Elise had prepared for us. The food was delicious, at least in my opinion. Not only that, but I'm having fun. Dean would tell me stories of his past, serious and funny ones. He didn't even ask once for me to tell him about my past, and I greatly appreciate it.

"So, tell me, flower boy, what do these tulips mean?" I ask. He chuckles at the nickname before looking at the tulips. I blink at him. He's gone super quiet.

"So... A red tulip, in the language of flowers, means a declaration of love." He says. What? Does that mean...? I flush at this and look away. Is he in love with me? Maybe not like love-love, like a family love? That has to be it.

"Well, thank you!" I reply. I smile at him. He looks at me with a raised eyebrow. Did I have it wrong? Maybe he really did mean love-love? "Did you mean... Like love-love?"

"Yes, Nicole. Love-love." He answers. I look away and sigh. If he is brave enough to offer me these tulips, then I can be brave too.

"I'll tell you about my past," I offer, "But only if you're serious about all this. If we're gonna be together and stuff, then you deserve to know who I was."

He looks at me with wide eyes. "You really don't have to do that!"

"It's okay. I want to..." He nods. I take a deep breath before starting, "I was born into a high class family. My mother is a doctor, and my father is a lawyer. However, I wasn't wanted by my mother, but my father wanted a little girl. He got one - me. I was spoiled rotten by him for a while, before he got bored of me. And my mother eventually grew to love me. Funny how that works, huh? Even though neither of them were home almost at all, I treasured the times we got to spend as a family. My favorite memory is when my mother and I bought roses together and planted them. My mother hates dirt, getting dirty, so it really was an amazing day.
I was privately tutored for a while, until I was about 17, so I didn't have many friends. I was walking home one day from running errands for myself until I bumped into someone - a man. His name was Dimitri. For me, it was love at first sight. Or what I thought was love. How was I to know not to trust this horrible, horrible man when I was kept inside my home for my whole childhood? Once he found out that my parents had money, he charmed me into "dating" him. Little did I know..." I trail off. I bite my lip, tearing up at the memories of this man. Dean looks at me with sad eyes. Before he can open his mouth, I start again, "He was a charmer through and through. He was definitely attractive, but only on the outside. He would always treat me horribly when we were alone. 'Give me money for beer', 'Don't you have a brain', 'You're nothing but worthless'. He was so selfish, so mean. But I gave into it. I would give him money. And when he would drink and drink and drink. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've been hit by this man. But I would always stay. Every time he called me 'princess', I knew that I couldn't leave. I lived for him to call me that.
Until one day... One day, we were in my room, and he was kissing me... But in reality, he was stealing from me. Everything he could grab, he did. I was so blind to his actions... Until he called me 'the queen of oblivious'. I remember so well. 'My, my. I landed myself the queen of oblivious. Who could ever fall in love with someone like you for real?'. And I just let him walk away. Out of my life. With all of the things my dad had bought me, everything. I cried for hours before I told myself to get over it. I still haven't, of course. And I don't know if I ever will.
To make matters worse, my parents were pressuring me to become like them. 'Become a lawyer'. 'Become a doctor'. They never noticed the bruises, the pain I was in. I really couldn't take it. I would cry myself to sleep every night. One day, I just walked out while they were both home, both lecturing me. I packed a backpack and I got in my car. I drove away. I was crying, so it was hard to see. Luckily for me, I didn't crash into any other cars. Unluckily for me, I hit someone. Dimitri. He was just laying on the ground, bleeding. I didn't do anything about it though. I just stared at him before I ran. I ran as far away as I could. I didn't even see if he was okay. I ran all the way outside of town. Once I was out, I didn't stop until I came here. I felt someone guiding me here. And that's it... Who I was. A sad, sad, naive girl."

I finish my story with tears rolling down my cheeks. I didn't tell Melanie that much, I didn't ever want to tell anyone that much. I just felt like I had to tell Dean everything. I sniffle as I rub my eyes. This didn't stop the tears. They just kept falling. I chuckle at myself.

"Pathetic, huh? I'm still that same girl, you know?" I say, a sad smile on my face. I finally look up to see Dean frowning at me. He gets up and walks over to me. He wraps his arms around me, pulling me in close. I start to hiccup.

"You're not. You've grown so much." He whispers. I break out into another sob at those words.

"You say that, but you have no idea." I tell him. I gently push him away before standing. I walk over to my bed. I reach under it to grab my backpack and pull it out. I open it. I start to look for something specific. I grab a scarf and my old cell phone.

"This scarf is something he bought me. Something that I couldn't give up. It was a Christmas gift one year. It was the only thing he ever bought me, even though it was with my money." I say, holding up the scarf. I throw it onto my bed. "And this is chalk-full of picture of him, and my family. I can't throw it away either."

Dean takes the phone out of my hand and tosses it onto the bed. He puts his hands on my waist. He pulls me in close and presses his lips against my forehead. I blush at that before looking at him in confusion.

"I can't tell you to give him up, and I can't tell you to give yourself fully to me, but I want you to know that I will never stop trying to get you to forget him. I want to treat you so well that you even forget his name, no matter how hopeless that sounds." He says, a serious look on his face. I could feel my whole being melt. He isn't giving up on me. I smile as new tears fall down my face.

"Thank you..."

Chapter Text

"You want me to do what?" I ask as I wipe the sweat from my forehead. It is now summer, which did not make farming any easier. I move to put my hoe back in the fertilizer shed before looking through my seed collection.

"You should write a letter home. Let your folks now how you're doing." Dean repeats. I absently nod before picking out strawberries and carrots. I till enough spaces for the seeds before ripping open the seed packages. Usually I listen to whatever my newly acquired boyfriend says, but I have already decided that today is going to be a pure farming day. I want to focus on planting these crops so that I have someway to eat and earn money. I'm half-way sowing my carrots seeds before I finally take in what he had said. I look over at him to see that he's sitting on a rock, just watching me. I huff at him.

"They're are not just 'my folks'," I start off, "Besides, they probably never want to hear from me again."

He raised an eyebrow at me. He leans back, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt. "I'm just saying." He says casually. I glare at him before looking away and crossing my arms over my chest.

"Fine! If you're going to be like that, I'll write the best darn letter you'll never read! I'll even send it today!" I tell him as if he had challenged me. It isn't until he flashes me a smile that I realize what I agreed to. I simply turn my back, continuing to sow my seeds. How am I going to write a letter to my parents? Would they even care? I sigh to myself as I grab my watering can. What did I just get myself into?

-----

I groan in frustration. How do normal people with normal families write letters home? I crumple up what has to be my fifteenth attempt. This is getting ridiculous. I can't even begin the letter without sounding like a complete tool. I grab another piece of paper and set it in front of me. I take a deep breath. I just need to calm down and write down what I think is right... Right?

'Dear Mother and Father,

I just wanted to write to tell you that I am alive and well. I've taken up farming, as well as the task of returning the life back to Skytree Village. So far, I have succeeded. I've made new friends, and even met someone - Dean. He's a florist from a different city who moved here with his mother. They're both very nice people. I'm sure that Dean would love to meet you when the time comes.'

I nod to myself. So far, so good. I could actually use this! I continue to write, adding in parts about Elise and Melanie, along with the other people of town. I write about what I pro I am at farming. I just let my pen write for me. I'm finally going to be able to tell them what I want to tell them - what they probably should know. Maybe Dean was right. I just need to check in with them and make sure that everything is okay. That is, if they even reply back. I finish the letter with my name and signature. Not to shabby, if I do say so myself. I grab the envelope that I bought earlier and address it to my old house. I add my own mailing address in the top corner before slamming a stamp in the other. I fold the letter into thirds and slide it in. I lick the envelope to activate the glue. I shudder. That taste is disgusting... Oh well, I don't really plan on doing it ever again.

All I need to do now is ship the letter off. I stand from my table and stretch. I look over at the trash bin filled with past attempts and frown. It took me a while to finally write a letter as myself... I sigh before slipping on my shoes. It is still relatively earlier - around 5:30 PM - so I should be about to just... Just do something. I haven't thought this far. Who do I give this to? I guess I should send it off with Sam, who visits his family every Sunday. If I'm right, that should be in just a few days. I should probably give it to him tonight and seal off the whole deal. I nod at my own idea. I walk out of my house. I remember that Sam was walking around the tree leading up to the Harvest God. I look around the corner of my house to find that he is still in this area.

"Sam! Can I ask a favor?" I ask him.

"Sure, why not?" Sam answers. I hold up the letter so he could see it. He looks at it before looking at me in confusion.

"This Sunday, when you leave, can you take this with you and mail it?"

He takes the letter and turns it in his hands. It's like he's never seen one before, which is funny to think about. He gives it a thoughtful look before nodding.

"I'll do that. But I'll need some red roses next time I plan to leave. For my wife, of course." He says. I chuckle. Of course he would strike up a deal. However, since it is a fairly easy favor, I agree to it.

"Thanks Sam. You're great!" I tell him. Before he decides to call the deal off, I walk back over to my house. I couldn't let him say no, not after I agreed to grow him roses. All I really need to do now is relax and -maybe- wait for a reply. Hopefully they don't just reject it, or throw it in the trash. As long as they just read it, I'll be happy. Not that I'll really ever know though...

------

"A letter?" I mumble as I step outside my door. I pick it up to see that it's addressed to me. I blink. Who would have sent me a letter? I read over the address it was sent from. That's my old house. Oh.

It's almost been a month since I sent the first letter, and the response has finally come. I take it into my house and close the door. Let's see if they consider me a disappointment, or not. I grab a small butter knife and cut open the side of the envelope. I take a deep breath before sliding the contents out. A simple letter it looks like. I move to sit down at my table. I place the letter on the table and stare at it. I can read it, but what will happen after that? Will I be disowned? What if they want me to return home and forget this village? I can't leave now that I've come so far. I look away. What am I to do? I can't just not read it though... I pick it up. If anything horrible happens, I can cry over it before starting my day. I unfold the paper to see curly lettering. My mother must've written this.

'Dearest Nicole,

Both your father and I are happy that you are making something of yourself - even if that goal seems impossible. We would like to meet this Dean before anything serious between you two starts. You left your last relationship on a hiatus that needs to be resolved. Which is why we have decided that you should come home for a couple weeks. You needn't stay if you don't wish to, but we do want you to stay longer than a few days. Call one of us when you get to the city, and we'll send someone to pick you up. Dean is also welcome, if that will make you feel more comfortable.'

I stare at the letter in disbelief. I can stay here? I just have to visit my parents for a week or two, and I'll be free. Even if I have to see Dimitri again... I grab my backpack from under my bed and start packing clothes. I shouldn't be this excited to return back to my old home, but this letter sounds so hopeful. I can start all over with my family as well. No more queen of oblivious. Just Nicole. I grin at that thought. I can be who I am! I pause. I hold my folded sweater in my hands as I furrow my brow. What am I to do about Dean? I could just invite him, but he would have to meet Dimitri. No matter how awkward it'll already be without Dean, my parents will still invite that thug over for dinner at least once. But if I don't invite him, what will he think? That I'll return to Dimitri's arms without thought? That will never happen. But how do I convince him of that? I could just... Not tell him. It would be morally wrong, but how else would I solve this? I sigh. What am I to do...?

Chapter Text

I rush to shove all of my folded clothes into my backpack. I count the number of tops and bottoms as they are packed inside. Just enough for a week and a half. Perfect! I smile at my packing skills. I look at the clock hanging on my wall to see that it is nearly 8 in the morning. I told everyone in the village that I would be leaving around 8:30 or so, but it's looking like it might be a bit earlier than that. I went around yesterday, house-to-house, telling everyone that I was leaving to go back to the city for a week or so. I would reassure them that I was definitely coming back - that no one was keeping me from my life in Skytree. I even told the Harvest Goddess, who informed me that she already knew of my debarking and wished me well. I waited to tell Dean and Carol last. I still hadn't decided if I wanted Dean to come with me, or not. When I had walked into the florist's, it was Carol who had greeted me. She informed me that Dean was rather upset that I didn't discuss leaving for the city with him first. I couldn't believe it at first.

"If you want to find him, you should look by the river in the fields," Carol told me, a sympathetic smile on her face, "I really hope everything goes well between you two."

Just like Carol had said, Dean was sitting underneath a tree by the river. I moved to sit next to him. He glanced at me before sighing. I gently put a hand on his knee. He immediately put his bigger hand over mine, almost completely covering it. I smiled at the sight. At least he wasn't ignoring me.

"Dean, I'm sorry. I... didn't know how to tell you. It's been eating me up because I don't know what to do." I apologized. He looked at me.

"Didn't know what to do? About what?"

"Whether or not I should invite you, or if you would even come if I did. My parents wrote that you were invited, but I just... How do I invite you without it being crazy awkward? How do I not invite you and have you not think I'm running back into Dimitri's arms? Would you even come with me? I mean, I want you there, but I don't want you to be there when he is..."

"You shouldn't worry about things like that, Nicole," He said in a comforting voice, "I'm okay with any choice you make. I just wished you would have told me that you were at least going."

From there, we agreed that Dean should only come if Jeanne was willing to do daily check-ups on Carol. Much to my surprise, Jeanne was completely okay with doing that. She had a smile on her face as she told us that it would be her pleasure. Deep down, I feel as if she doing it because I helped her collect the ingredients for her medicine. But I try to ignore it. Jeanne is doing a nice thing for us, why should I question it?

I grab a few other times that I'll need and shove them into my nearly filled backpack. I walk over to my counter. I had to unplug my blender so I could charge my phone. I press the home button to see my lock screen. It was a picture of Dimitri and I. I flinched as I see it. I force my eyes to stop looking at his face and look at my battery percentage. It was at a decent 83 percent. I unplug the charger and grab the phone. I push it into my right front pocket before putting the charger into the bag too. I zip up every pocket of the backpack before sliding the strips over my arms and onto my shoulders. I sigh in anticipation. A knock on my door causes me to look up. I walk over to open the door. There Dean stood. He's wearing his usual outfit, minus his apron. He has his own backpack on his shoulders. He smiling at me and I can't help but feel my heart melt.

"Is m'lady ready to leave?" He asks playfully. He gives me a bow before offering his arm to me. I curtsy in return.

"Thank you, kind sir," I reply. I loop my arm with his and we both laugh. I take my arm back to close and lock my door.

"When we get past the desert, which won't be long, I'll call my parents, and we'll be picked up. Just, please, don't freak out if it's a limo, or something of the sort. My parents don't know how to tune it down sometimes." I explain to him. He gives me a nod.

"I promise not to, at all, be freaked out by the huge piles of money your family has." He says jokingly, smirking at me. I give him a gentle push, smiling myself. Hopefully, he means that. I just wish everything goes well on this "vacation", and that my parents approve of Dean.

-------

"You weren't kidding!" Dean breathes as he looks at the slick black limo that my parents sent roll up to us. I sigh and nod. I had asked my parents not to send something over the top, but I guess they don't really understand what that means. I watch as the chauffeur walks over to us and opens the limo's door.

"Miss Lowell, and guest." He says, a bit of a bored drawl in his voice. I thank him and step into the limo. I sit down in the middle of the seat and Dean follows behind me. He looks amazed by the interior, as if he's never been in one before. I then realize that he hasn't. I smile as he inspects every inch. The door closes once he sits next to me.

"Okay, we're going to go over the rules of this visit." I tell him. He looks at me and nods. He puts his hand on my thigh, smiling.

"I'll do my best to follow them. I don't want your parents to dislike me." He replies. I smile at him. I'm glad he's taking this seriously, but then again, why wouldn't he?

"Alright! Don't bring up anything about money, or things in that category. Also don't bring up Dimitri. There is a chance that he won't be there at all, and I want to believe that. Be on your best behavior, but don't forget to be you. They'll love the real you." I instruct him. He chuckles and pats my thigh. I look up at him.

"You don't need to worry about a thing. I'll make you and your parents proud." He reassures me.

For the rest of the drive, I let Dean look around. He seemed fascinated by almost every nook and cranny in this limo. I stay in my seat and take out my phone. I immediately change my lock screen to a picture of my mother's rosebush. I message her, telling her that we have been picked up. I add that we are almost there. I don't wait for a reply before putting my phone back in my pocket. In all honesty, it was very awkward for me to be back to how I used to live already. Using my phone and riding around in a car? I cannot imagine doing those things in the village. I sigh. I already miss the village. In a way, I envy Dean. He didn't grow up with me. This is all new for him. I wish I could be in his position.

"Hey, Nicole." He says. I blink and look at him. He's sitting across from me. "Do you want to go back already?"

"You must be some sort of mind reader." I tell him. "But don't worry about me. I can manage to stay here for a week. It's no big deal."

He gives me an unsure look before nodding. I'm relieved that he decided to drop it. If we stayed on that subject, I'm sure that he would have easily convinced me to return to the village with him. I have to tell myself that it's only for a week. Then I can return home and leave behind my past. It will be all worth it. The rest of the ride is silent. It wasn't long anyways. The vehicle comes to a stop, and I know that we're here. I take a deep breath as I wait for the door to be opened for us. Dean, instead, opens the door and steps out. My eyes widen. I've never seen anyone just get out of a limo. I follow him and apologize to the driver. He has wide eyes, looking a bit disgruntled. Dean looks back at me and raises an eyebrow.

"Most people wait for the door to be opened for them, Dean." I answer his silent question. He nods slowly.

"I didn't know that... Well..." He mumbles. He apologizes to the driver before turning back to me. "Do you also have people open the front door?"

I giggle. "We don't need everything done for us. I think I can open a door." I tease. Just as I reach for the doorknob to the giant front doors in front of me, they open to reveal the inside of the house. Inside is two lines of servants on either side of the royal blue carpet in the middle of the room. The rest of the room is decorated with silvers. He raises an eyebrow at me and laugh nervously. Didn't think we were going to get a grand display, but my mother does like to put on a show for her guests. Behind the servants is a grand staircase. At the top is my parents. My mother, a skinny woman with honey blonde hair and blue eyes, and my father, a stern looking man with dark brown hair and green eyes. My mother is dressed in a navy blue dress that reached her knees, with small silver details. My father wore a normal black suit, and blue tie. Always dress to impress. Compared to them, we look like nothing. I almost regret wearing an overall dress with just a yellow shirt with white polka-dots. I glance over at Dean, who doesn't look intimidated at all. In fact, he looks amazed with the whole display. My mother's silver heels click against the stairs and floor as she walks over to us. My father follows behind her. He pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. My mother pulls me into a hug immediately.

"Oh! My darling Nicole! How I've missed you so!" She cries, holding me close. I awkwardly hug her back.

"I missed you too, mother." I reply. She pulls me away, holding my shoulders. She looks over me.

"Is this what they force you to wear up in that mountain? They're rags!" She asks. I laugh softly, choosing not to take it the wrong way. I can't blame her for her theatrics.

"No, no, mother. I chose to wear this. I don't really need fancy clothes to farm. They'll just get dirty!" I try to explain to her. She nods thoughtfully. She lets me go and my father pats me on the back.

"Good to see you again." He says. He has always been straight to the point, which is something I can appreciate. He offers his hand to Dean, who shakes it.

"Nathaniel Lowell." He introduces.

"Dean Fiore, sir. It's nice to meet you." Dean replies.

"What a gentleman! He's so behaved!" My mother gushes. His cheeks turn a bit red as he smiles.

"Thank you, ma'am."

"Ma'am is such an ugly term for such a nice boy. You may call me Ophelia. Mrs. Lowell, if you must." She insists. Dean nods.

"It is a pleasure to meet you both, Mr. and Mrs. Lowell." He says.

"Well, now that introductions are over, I'll show Dean to his room and I'll go unpack." I interrupt. My mother looks so distraught at my plan, but my father agreed. He pointed to the stairs. He grab Dean's hand and lead him upstairs.

"That wasn't too bad, Nicole. They're nice people." Dean says. I lead him down a long hallway.

"I'm glad you think so. My mother already adores you, so that's good." I tell him. He beams at me. I'm glad that he isn't scared off by now. I stop in front of a door near the middle of the hall. I open it to reveal a simple room. White walls, a queen sized bed with a canopy, a few paintings of nature on the wall next to a few windows, some dressers.

"This will be your room. I'm right next door... On the right." I tell him. He walks in and looks around. He gives me a thumbs up.

"Thank you! I like it!"

"I'm glad you do. Unpack and relax for a bit, okay?"

"Will do! You relax too." He tells me. I nod and smile at him. I close the door a bit before going into my old room. It had sky blue walls, a bigger bed, a full closet, a vanity, a huge window that had the view of the garden. I sigh in content as I see that nothing has been touched. I slam my backpack down next to my bed before laying down. I'll take a quick nap before dinner, then unpack afterwards. I nod at my own plan, telling myself it was a good one. I close my eyes and almost instantly fall asleep.

Chapter Text

I walk down the steps of the stairs carefully. After walking up, my mother visited to help me dress for dinner. It took a while for her to understand that I didn't want to wear something extremely formal, or too flashy. We eventually both decided that I should wear a forest green dress that had a high neck, which allows the back to fall completely open. The dress stopped right below my knees, allowing the similar colored heels to be shown off. She had pulled my hair into a neat bun, and used a curling iron to give the ends of my bands a bit of a curl. Although my heels aren't that high, I don't want to trip because one of the heels got snagged, or something of the sort. I step onto the open space separating the three sets of stairs leading in different directions.

"You didn't need to dress up for me, sweetheart." I hear. I snap my head up. I set my hard glare down the staircase in front of me. Standing here, with a suit jacket curled around his right arm, his left hand hanging by his side, is Dimitri. He's dressed in a off white dress shirt, black dress pants, and a green tie. His usually unruly, black hair is now a slicked back blond. The more I look over his attire, the more I think that my mother knew about this whole thing. Even though it was subtle, the main color of my attire matches his tie. I don't know what is going on, but I immediately dislike the whole scenario.

"I didn't. I dress for no one but myself." I bite back at him. He chuckles. I keep my head held high as I descend the stairs. "Why are you even here? Didn't you take what you wanted and left?"

When I see his face, I notice that it's scrunched up in confusion. I could swear that if you looked closely enough, you could see a hint of pain. I want to scoff at his display. I don't know why he is or would want to be here, but he is. Just what game is he playing? Just as I am about to step onto the the floor, I misstep, causing me to lose my balance. I fall forwards. I expected pain as my face hit the carpet, but, instead, I feel arms around my stomach and waist. I look up to see Dimitri smiling at me. He helps me stand upright. I cross my arms across my chest.

"Thank you." I mumble. I glance over at him to see him smiling widely. His harlequin green eyes are shining. It's starting to scare me a bit. He's never been like this before. It's like he's a changed person. I flick my eyes up to his forehead to see a small scar near his hairline. I bite my lip. I did that when I hit him, I'm sure. I look away.

"Nicole! Hey!" Dean calls from the top of the stairs. I smile at him. I see that his attire isn't much different that Dimitri's. The only difference is that he is wearing a deep brown tie that matches his eye color. He, too, has slicked his hair back. In his hand is a vibrant yellow daffodil. He walks down the steps, approaching Dimitri and I. Once he reaches us, he plants a kiss on my cheek and I giggle. He loops the flower's stem through the band that is hold my hair up. I gently touch one of the petals once he pulls away.

"Sorry it doesn't really match what you're wearing, but when I saw this daffodil, it reminded me of how beautiful you are. In the language of flowers, daffodils means inspiration and good fortune. And you give me both." He explains. My cheeks burn brightly at the thought.

"Thank you very much, Dean." I tell him. Dimitri clears his throat, grabbing our attention. I snap out of my daze and cough nervously. "Dean, this is Dimitri. Dimitri, this is Dean."

"It is nice to finally meet you." Dean says, offering his hand to Dimitri. He takes it, and they shake hands. I inwardly sigh in relief. At least there isn't a hostile atmosphere from either party.

"I'm going to go help my mother... decide how to set the table. You two get acquainted, or something." I mumbled. I pat Dean's arm and head into the dining area. I let out a shaking breath. I don't know what game Dimitri playing, if he's even playing one, but I don't like it one bit. He looks so... different. A calm air around him. He didn't smell like alcohol, nor did he look like some sort of thug. He looks like... A normal person. Someone you could bring home to your parents, and they would be pleased. I need to know what happened to him after I ran.

"Ahh, Nicole, honey! Can you help me choose what wine glasses to use? I want to use the perfect one, but I haven't a clue about Dean's preferences." My mother says, turning away from one of the many cupboards full of glass dishes. I step over to her and look at the my reflection in the spotless glass display. I can see that I've changed too. I no longer look like a lost child. I appear as a woman now. I tuck some hair behind my ear before looking at my mother.

"What happened that day? That day I ran away?" I ask her, my voice barely coming out as a whisper. As much as I want to know the events of that day, I also want to continue to run. Run back to my little house in the mountains, tend to my animals and crops. But I can't. I know I can't run forever.

"You needn't worry about the details before dinner." She replies. Her playful, adoring expression melts away, giving me a face that she only uses when she's at the hospital - Deadly serious. I hate when she uses it in family situations, but I also know that I need to press forwards.

"You invited Dimitri here for dinner, and he seems to be a completely different person! I deserve to know what happened to him!" I nearly yell. I need to calm down. Both Dean and Dimitri are in the next room, and I don't want them involved in this conversation. My mother looks at me, and, for a split second, she looked surprised. She sighs and crosses her arms over her chest.

"I will tell you, but you must promise not to lose your composure." She gives in. I simply nod, mentally preparing myself for whatever she has to say. "Dimitri, he... He wasn't hurt too badly. He merely had a few bruises, one crushed rib - but that didn't do any damage to his internal organs - and a rather sizeable gash on his forehead. As soon as I saw his name on the paperwork, I took him as my patient. He merely needed stitches and some rest. When he woke up, he didn't know who he was. He has retrograde amnesia."

My eyes widen as she tells me this. I didn't kill him, but I destroyed his memory. I bit my lip. "What did you do to him? Why is he a different person than before?"

"Retrograde amnesia is difficult concept, sweetie. Although there is a huge chance of that person eventually retaining their memories, there is also a chance that they never do. Dimitri still has yet to remember who he was, and I think that's for the better. He's a nice boy." She explains, "However, he does remember you, Nicole. Although his memories aren't 100 percent correct, he remembered me after a few days. After a few more days, he remembered you without me saying a word. And I promise I wasn't going to tell him anything. I knew that he hurt you. But as soon as I saw him tear up because of how he thinks he remembers treating you, I knew that he could change for the better. I helped him the whole time in recovery. He even stayed in this house for a while. He's a changed man."

"'How he thinks he remember treating you'? How does he remember treating me, mom? By consistently drinking and then taking it out on me? By using me to get whatever he wanted? By stealing from me?" I challenge her. Her eyes widen and she frowns.

"Do not tell him any of that. If you ruin all that he remembers now, he will break down and there's a chance he'll never recover. Sure, maybe his brain may have blocked out those exact memories, but he does remember that he didn't treat you fairly. And that is more than you'll get from any other man like the one he used to be."

I sigh. I know that she's right, but I just... Don't want to admit it. I can't do anything to make this worse for him, I know, but he must know that he has changed himself. Maybe it really is for the best. I reach into the cupboard and grab a simple wine glass.

"This one would be fine. Do you need anymore help setting up?" I ask, changing the subject. I glance at my mother to see that her serious look has faded away. She smiles as she grabs a few more of the same designed glass.

"No. That's all I needed," She tells me, "But if you could go get the boys, dinner's almost ready."

"Of course." I reply. I head towards the other room, hoping that the two aren't fighting or anything of the sort. However, as I walk through the entrance dividing the rooms, I could see them laughing together. I smile as I watch them. I could see Dean's muscles ripple through his dress shirt as he laughs. I sigh in content. I can't believe I was able to date him. His smile once his laughter died down was contagious.

"There's the woman of the hour!" Dimitri says once he notices me. I want to seize up and stand still, but I know I shouldn't. If I'm to move past all of this, I just need to relax. I wave them over.

"Come on! It's time for dinner!" I inform them.

"As long as it's not your mom's cooking!" Dimitri teases. Now it's my turn to giggle. Everyone in this house, but Dean, knew that my mom isn't the best cook. A 'I heard that!' came from the dining room, and I couldn't help but laugh. Comedic timing, I suppose. We walk back into the dining room and Dean lets out an audible 'Wow'.

"Will father be joining us tonight?" I ask as I take seat in the middle of the ridiculously huge dining table. Dean moves to sit next to me, still in his stupor. My mother sits across from him, and Dimitri sits next to her. I bit my lip softly. I don't know if I can handle sitting face-to-face with him, but I think I can at least try.

"No," My mother informs us, "He was called in for a new case, so he left earlier to get the details. He'll most likely spend the night at the office - like usual."

I nod thoughtfully. Moments afterwards, our appetizer of Caesar salad is presented to us. The tension soon dies down into a comfortable conversation. It feels... normal. Like we've been doing this for years. However, despite the calm atmosphere, I can't help but watch Dimitri's every move. The way his wrist moves as he uses his fork to pick up a lettuce leaf. The way his mouth curls up into a smirk whenever he has a joke to tell. The way a few strands of hair become unfolded against his forehead, resting against the pale skin of his. I'm also completely tuned out of the conversation before someone reaches in front of me, taking my barely touched plate. I blink. I mumble a thank you.

"Is everything alright, Nicole?" Dimitri asks, a concerned sparkle in his eyes. I nod.

"I just... Spaced out, I guess!" I say. I add an awkward laugh. Everyone decides to turn back to the conversation, although Dean did put a comforting hand on my knee. I smile. I just need to calm down and relax and not focus on the man in front of me. He's not the Dimitri I know, and that's fine. He's a new man. As soon as I can convince myself of that, I know I'll be fine. I can't, though. Even with a new appearance, I still see the man that used me. A new plate is put in front of me, but I can't focus on what's on it. I can only see the sincere smile of his face as he thanks the man who brought it to him. Only see the knife in his hand as he picks it up. Why does his need a knife? Why does he still have a smile of his face? What is he planning?

"Huh?" I snap out of it when Dean squeezes my knee before taking his hand back.

"I asked if you didn't like the idea of cannelloni for dinner?" Dean asks softly. I look down at my plate to see two perfectly rolled cannelloni, drizzled with marinara sauce. I could feel my cheek burn as I shake my head.

"I like them! Don't worry about it!" I answer. He raises an eyebrow, but decides to drop it. I grab my own knife and fork. I slowly cut into one of the ricotta filled pasta. It let out a bit a steam. Piping hot, I see. I stab the piece with my fork and take a bite of it. I smile. It's delicious, but that's to be expected. The cooks don't get paid for horrible food. I continue to cut off small pieces and eat them until the first roll is done.

"Are you not hungry, sweetheart?" I hear Dimitri ask. My eyes widen at that nickname. He had used it earlier too, when I was walking down the stairs. He used to call me that all the time. A sarcastic nickname. Does he even know what that name means to me? Does he know how much it hurts me? "If there's anything I could do, I would gladl-"

"Stop it! Okay? Stop it!" I yell as I stand. I couldn't handle it anymore. I didn't want to be in his presence for another second. I quickly walk out of the dining room, excusing myself from the meal. I walk out of the house all together, not bothering to put on a jacket. I instantly regret it. The bitter chill of Autumn was nipping at my shoulders and back. It didn't help that it was raining. I could feel my clothes getting soaked with each step, but I keep walking away.

"Nicole!" I hear. I don't stop or turn around. I didn't want anyone to follow me. I just need to be alone with my thoughts so I can figure this whole thing out. I can hear footsteps coming from behind me, splashing into the forming puddles. I could feel a hand on my shoulder and it squeezed gently. I turn to see Dean. His face was scrunched up with concern.

"What are you thinking? Going out dressed like that in the rain?" He asks. He drapes the suit jacket he must've brought with him around my shoulders. I turn to face him now. I can't help the tears that start to fall down my cheeks. He presses his lips against my forehead in a kiss before sweeping my wet bangs away from my frozen cheeks. He uses his thumb to wipe away some of my tears. I smile sadly at him. His hair has fallen back into a relaxed position and now stuck to his face, and you could see through his shirt. He pulls me into an embrace.

"It's going to be alright, Nicole." He promises before giving my hair a chaste kiss. I buried my face in the crook of his neck. I sob into the shoulder of his shirt. I know I'm ruining it, but I just need to let it out. He rubs my back. I didn't want him to see me like this, but I just don't know what to do anymore.

It takes a few more minutes, but my sobs finally die down into little sniffles. I slowly pull away. I smile at him. I thank him before kissing him on the cheek. Although I still don't know how to handle my feelings with Dimitri, I have definitely calmed down. I feel better, more lighter. Maybe all I needed was to cry, or maybe I just needed Dean. He looks into my eyes for a second before he gently takes my chin between his thumb and index finger. He leans closer to me and my eyes widen. Is this it? Our first kiss? It only takes a second for my questions to be answered. He presses his lips against mine, kissing me. I kiss him back, closing my eyes and melting into his touch. Every feeling of stress, or uneasiness, melts away as I relax into the kiss. He pulls away, smiling.

"That was worth the wait, if you ask me, my beautiful flower." He whispers. I could feel my cheek burn bright red as I nod. I want to tell him how amazing it was, but I find myself speechless. He lets go of my chin to hold my hand. "Let's go back, okay? You have me and we can take a break whenever you need it."

"Y... Yes. Right." I agree, brought out of my stupor. He grins before walking back to my parents' house. I follow, smiling at him. He's everything I've ever wanted, and so much more. However, I find that I can't focus my thoughts on him. I immediately find myself thinking about the dinner and Dimitri's face when I told him to stop. He looked like a little puppy I had just kicked. It hurt to see that look on his face, but I could feel, deep down, a bit of satisfaction. I shouldn't feel that way, but to know that I could inflict enough emotion in him to make that face, the same face I've made at him more times than I can count. I... Feel horrible for thinking about it like that. I can tell myself that I need to move on as many times as I want, but nothing will happen if I don't actually believe those words.

"Are you ready to go in?" Dean asks. I nod. I am going to start believing that now. That Dimitri is a changed man, and deserves a second chance. It may take a while to warm up to him, but, I swear, I will try! I open the door. My mother rushes over to me and hugs me. I blink.

"Mother! I'm all wet!" I tell her, laughing. She, too, is laughing once she pulls away. As much as she wants to scold me, I'm sure that she is happy to know that I'm back. Dimitri is standing near the entrance to the dining room, fiddling around with the button on his cuff of his shirt. I smile at him. "Everything is fine. I'm just having a hard time coping with being back home." I tell my mother, "I have to take a shower, and dry off. I'll show Dean one of the guest bathrooms."

As I walk towards the stairs, Dimitri finally looks up at me. I mouth him an apology before leading Dean up the stairs. He perks up a bit at this, and I can't help but smile. I take Dean down the same hallway as our rooms. "Alright! This bathroom is just two doors down and across from your room, in case you need to use it for other purposes. Have at it!"

"Thank you, my flower." Dean says. He gives me a quick kiss before walking into the bathroom. I giggle softly to myself. I walk back towards my room, planning on using the connected bathroom. Once I enter my room, I grab a set of pajamas and two towels before walking into the bathroom. I turn on the water. I'll just take a quick shower, then hop into bed and go to sleep.

-------

I walk into my room, my body wrapped up in a towel. I ruffle my hair with the other towel to help dry it. I perk up once I hear a knock at the door. "Come in!" I call, figuring it's just Dean or my mother. I blink as the door opens to reveal Dimitri. He's still dressed up from earlier, only his tie is gone and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone. Maybe he's staying the night? It is rather late in the evening. He opens his mouth before quickly closing it. Is he floundered by my state of dress? I lower the towel that was drying my hair as I look at him. His eyebrows are scrunched up, and he looks like he has a lot on his mind.

"Can we talk?"