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a moment to breathe

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The worst thing about coming out of a long imprisonment or any trauma had to be the reality of settling back into your life. People expected it to be an instantaneous process.

It wasn't though. One couldn't snap their fingers and suddenly be ready to face the reality before them. In Hani’s case, there was a kingdom full of people awaiting her return, expecting her to be ready to rule and vanquish the rest of the evil still lingering in their world.

This couldn't be farther from the truth. Hani wanted to live up to the ruler they expected her to be. The pressure just seemed too great and she felt ready to buckle under it.

Hani tries not to show any signs of this. She managed to make them subtle and barely noticeable to all but one person; Mei.

It was impossible to hide anything from Mei. Her rescuer, friend, and everything in between. She saw through Hani the first time she put up a facade. Mei didn't say anything until they were alone, well away from prying ears.

“We both know you're not okay but I'll ask the generic question to get it out of the way. Are you okay?”

Hani let out a shaky sigh and shook her head. “I'm really not okay, Mei Mei.”

“At least you finally admitted it. That is a start.”

“Is it?” Hani asked, exhaustion obvious in her voice.

“A little.”

She sat down on the edge of her bed, desperate to get out of these suffocating robes. Hani's hands were shaking so much that she couldn't even undo the knot properly.

“Hani relax. Let me help.”

Mei succeeded where she failed. Her robes were undone, eventually pooling at her waist. It left Hani clad in nothing but her thin shift.

“Perhaps a bath is in order,” Hani murmured, flashing a smile in Mei’s direction. “Would you like to join me, Mei Mei?”

“Oh, I need an invitation? I just assumed I would be joining you.” Mei sounded offended but Hani knew she was only feigning it.

Hani flashed a smile. “It's commonplace to expect an invite to the princess’s bathing chambers.”

She stood first, shooting Mei an inviting smile over her shoulder before walking into her adjoining bathroom. Some of Hani's confidence returned but it left just as soon as it came.

For a while the two just lounged in the bath; Mei’s back against the wall of the bath and Hani's against Mei’s body.

“Do you feel at all relaxed?” Mei kissed Hani's bare shoulder, trying to lull her into even further relaxation.

“Mm.”

“Then the bath had the desired effect.”

Hani quirked a smile, tilting her head back so she could look at Mei’s face. “Mei Mei did you ever feel doubts during your journey to rescue me?”

“Of course.”

“What about after?”

“Then too.”

Hani sighed. “I don't know how to rule after being stuck in that prison for all that time. What if I screw up the kingdom more than it already is?”

“You have a team of advisors on hand to help you-- and not to mention my help.”

The last part of Mei’s sentence was full of amusement. Hani laughed, leaning further into her embrace. “You are more than capable of handling this on your own. I just don't think I'm strong enough.”

Hani didn't want to break down. It had nothing to do with breaking down in front of Mei. Crying was just very unpleasant. Physically and emotionally draining to the point where Hani wanted to do nothing but crawl in bed and sleep.

“Hani--”

“If you tell me I need to let it out I will banish you from these rooms for an entire month!” She warned.

This drew laughter from Mei. “I am quite skilled at breaking into places. What makes you think I won't find another way in?”

“I look forward to the challenge.”

The two of them rested in the bath until permanent pruney skin was a serious concern. Mei helped her out and Hani had no protests.

“Are you really not going to help me at all?” Mei asked. “Not that I'm complaining. I rather enjoy taking care of you.”

“I think I’d prefer if you did do all the work. Less for me to think about.”

Hani wondered if she would ever be ready to rule the kingdom. Before she was taken, Hani felt she had been a capable ruler. Now there was no sign of the once confident monarch.

Hani felt more relaxed after getting underneath the covers, resting comfortably in Mei’s arms.

“I wonder if it's possible for me to expect everything to be all right when I wake up tomorrow morning?”

Mei kissed her lips. “Unlikely but I always admire you for how hopeful you could be.”

The years Hani spent trapped, waiting for Mei to rescue her were some of the worst. When they reunited, Hani thought things might be difficult but they easily fell back into a pattern. Oh, they both were different but the bond between remained intact.

She closed her eyes, trying to will herself to sleep and stop overthinking. Problem was things didn't work that way. If anything, it made Hani think even more.

“Do you want to play a game of chess?” Mei asked suddenly.

Back in their younger days, it proved to be a sure fire way to calm their minds down.

“I don't know if I quite remember how to play. The rules are all very fuzzy.”

“Then there is no better time to play! I can re-teach you.”

Hani smirked. “Won't that give you an unfair advantage? For all I know you could be teaching me bogus rules?”

“Don't you trust me?”

“With my life, yes. When it comes to chest, no.”

Despite her reservations about being able to play, Hani gladly slipped out of bed and started searching for the old chess set. It would be a nice distraction from her brain.

Tomorrow morning, Hani would be better ready to face her anxiety or at least address it. Either way, it would be a good start.