Waking from a peaceful slumber, Lily was unsurprised to find Vahn cradling her in his embrace. Any time she slept near him, she never experienced any discomfort or nightmares. Any negative feelings she had would seemingly vanish into thin air. In their place, comfort and security would envelop her like a warm, heated blanket in the dead of winter...
Noticing Lily's aura stir before promptly attempting to envelop him, Vahn gave her a light pat on the back, asking, "Feeling better...?" in a soothing tone.
Hearing Vahn's voice, Lily reconsidered her growing desire to pretend to be asleep. She didn't think he would mind, so, after a moment of deliberation, she closed her eyes and refused to answer. This caused an awkward smile to develop across Vahn's face, but, as Lily had anticipated, he didn't say or do anything to try and dislodge her. Instead, he waited patiently for Lily to 'wake up' and answer his questions of her own accord.
Fortunately, even in her borderline bereaved state, Lily was still the same kind, caring, and incredibly dependable girl she had always been. After around five minutes had passed, her guilt regarding the possibility she may be inconveniencing Vahn grew beyond her selfishness. She nuzzled against him one last time, and, after a final squeeze, sat a little straighter on his lap to answer, "I can still feel an ache deep inside my chest...but I am feeling a lot better..."
Nodding his head in approval, Vahn extended his hands to caress the sides of Lily's face, her scalp, and the base of her ears as he said, "That's good. Things like this happen every now and again. So long as you pick yourself up and keep trying, things will get better..."
Though she was initially leaning into Vahn's caress with a content smile on her face, Lily's expression quickly morphed into a sullen look as she weakly replied, "I'm not sure I want to keep trying..."
Slumping her shoulders, Lily brought her hands up to conceal her face. She couldn't even begin to describe the amount of guilt she was currently feeling, but, after trying for several months without any progress, she didn't think she could keep going. She didn't want to. If she had changed, it was because her relationship with Jin was slowly breaking her...
Noticing the concerning changes in Lily's aura, Vahn suppressed a sigh as he once again drew her close to him. She immediately returned his embrace, and, despite crying her eyes out previously, a fresh, seemingly endless stream of tears surged forth from Lily's eyes. She felt like she had just lost her best friend, and, though their relationship was less than fulfilling, she felt like she was somehow betraying Jin by refusing to try harder...
"Hey, kid...you okay...?"
Raising his head, Jin looked up to find a young woman with bright red hair fashioned into two, inordinately long pigtails. She was dressed like a swordsman, and, though she had a somewhat grumpy expression on her face, it did little to hide the concern visible in her ruby-red eyes.
Surprised by how handsome Jin was, the red-headed woman was briefly taken back. She never expected that the young man she found sniffling in an alleyway would be such a pretty boy. His facial features and skin were somehow even fairer than hers and she spent more than an hour in front of the mirror each morning...
Shaking such thoughts from her mind, the red-headed swordswoman extended a hand towards Jin, saying, "Take my hand. I don't know what happened, but you'll feel better after we get something in your belly. You sure as hell ain't gonna fix anything by squatting down in an alleyway and crying."
Furrowing his brows, Jin refused the woman's outstretched hand, saying, "Leave me alone..." before hanging his head. This caused the woman's left eye to twitch, her outstretched hand balling into a fist as she resisted the sudden and intense urge to smack Jin upside the head.
Leaving Jin to his brooding, the young woman disappeared from the alleyway in an apparent huff. A few minutes later, however, she came back with several piping hot meat skewers in hand before plopping down next to Jin and saying, "Here. Eat." in an authoritative tone.
Believing the woman would just go away if he ignored her, Jin neither accepted the meat skewer nor raised his head. Instead, he just continued to sulk for the better part of an hour as the woman finished off half the skewers before emulating his sulking. This caused Jin to feel more than a little annoyed, but, confident she would eventually get fed up, he continued ignoring her until the sky overhead began to darken.
"Hey...kid...you got someplace to stay? Like a Community or something?"
Hearing the woman mention Community, Jin's brows wrinkled. He was supposed to be the Leader of a Community yet here he was sitting in an alleyway and brooding. There was a good chance the others were waiting for him to arrive, so, after a lengthy period of silence, he reluctantly nodded his head and replied, "Yes..."
Exhaling in relief, the woman picked up one of the now chilled skewers before holding up her free hand to produce a bright orange flame. She ended up burning the meat a bit, but, after checking to make sure it was edible, she proferred it towards Jin and said, "That's good. I wouldn't have minded letting you crash at my place but it ain't exactly prepared for guests."
Though Jin was tempted to refuse the slightly charred skewer, sadness and longing had a way of amplifying the feeling of hunger. He also felt guilty about ignoring the woman for the better part of four and a half hours, so, after staring at the meat for several seconds, he eventually reached out to accept it, muttering, "Thanks..." in an aloof-sounding but appreciative tone.
Waiting until Jin had bitten into the skewer, the red-headed woman nodded her head in approval before saying, "The name's Helena, by the way. I'm a Sergeant serving in the Salamandra Military Police. Mind telling me your name and what you're doing here in this alleyway? I'm not the best of listeners but I know it helps to talk about things whenever you're feeling down. It sure as hell beats moping about without any purpose."
Furrowing his brows, Jin countered, "I wasn't moping...I was thinking about how I could fix things..."
Snorting through her nose, Helena picked up one of the remaining skewers, biting into it as she said, "Yeah, yeah, whatever you say. First time I ever saw someone productively crying..."
Adopting a slightly hostile expression, Jin looked directly at Helena and asked, "What do you know? Do you have any idea what I just went through? How much pain I'm feeling!?"
Chewing the cold meat from the skewer, Helena didn't so much as twitch when Jin suddenly yelled at her. Instead, she continued chomping away at the skewer until he gradually lost his momentum and slumped back against the wall.
Finished with the skewer, Helena flicked it into a nearby trash bin before saying, "I don't know jack shit about you, kid. To be perfectly honest, I don't need to. All I know is I found some brat sobbing away in the middle of an alleyway so I decided to come over to see if he needed help. If you don't want to talk about what happened, so be it. Just don't go condemning others for not understanding things you refuse to talk about. You won't get anywhere in life expecting people to magically know your thoughts."
Feeling a little thirsty, Helena rose to her feet with the intention of looking for a stand that sold beverages. Jin followed her departure with his eyes, but, after hearing what she had to say, he was genuinely at a loss for words. He didn't know if their meeting was providence or something more but Helena's words resonated strongly with his current mental state.
Ever since Lily ran off, Jin had been seriously contemplating the root cause of the problems in their relationship. The conclusion he came to was the same thing Lily had been pressing him to do ever since they started dating. He simply didn't know how to properly express himself or talk about the things that were troubling him. He was so used to bottling up and compartmentalizing everything that he would actively shut out the people trying to help him...
Realizing the root cause was his self-esteem issues, Jin hung his head in shame, muttering, "I'm a terrible Leader..."
Though she should have been out of earshot of Jin's words, Helena stopped near the mouth of the alleyway, stating, "Only if you give up..."
Widening his eyes, Jin looked in the direction of Helena only to find that she was nowhere to be seen. He rose to his feet and ran to the entrance of the alleyway, but, even after searching left and right, he saw neither hide nor hair of the redhead that had appeared out of thin air to try and help him. She had simply vanished...
Appearing on a roof several hundred meters away from the alleyway where she had encountered Jin, a somewhat annoyed expression developed across Helena's face as she muttered, "Now what? Do I join the Military Police or should I go exploring the Northern Plains?"
Though the question was directed at herself, Helena was unsurprised when a penetratingly deep yet comforting voice emanated from behind, answering, "That's up to you. If you'd like, I can even send you to the Actualized World your Template originates from."
Shaking her head, Helena stated, "Even if my abilities are currently limited, my potential far exceeds the standard of that world. Throwing a Tier 5 into a place where horses and wyverns are considered the fastest means of transport is simply ridiculous..."
Having made up her mind by the time she was finished speaking, Helena directed her attention to the North, adding, "I may as well check the plains to the North. There's supposed to be a bunch of Fae and other Spiritual creatures roaming about. Who knows, maybe I'll find some other lost brats in need of guidance...?"
Without waiting for the voice's, Vahn's response, Helena stepped off the edge of the rooftop before blurring into a red meteor that garnered a lot of attention before disappearing beyond the horizon. The character she was Templated from had a prideful and unyielding nature. Since Vahn had given her the freedom to choose her own path, that is exactly what she intended to do...
Following the temperamental redhead's disappearance, Vahn manifested atop the roof with a wry smile on his face. Instead of chasing after or trying to call Helena back, however, he fixed his gaze on Jin, muttering, "There is only so much I can do for you, kid...if you can't overcome your personal setbacks, you have no one else to blame if Lily seeks comfort in another..."
Understanding that the person Lily was most likely to attach to was himself, Vahn couldn't help shaking his head as he turned around and vanished into thin air. He was doing his best to support them, but, understanding how much pain Lily was in, Vahn couldn't help wanting to comfort her. If Jin didn't get his act together soon, he would need to step in before she had a complete and utter mental breakdown.
Someone as kind and caring as Lily didn't deserve to suffer the anguish of a broken heart. She had already lost one family. If Jin couldn't become the pillar she relied upon, Vahn would willingly bear her burdens...
It was one of the things he was best at...
(A/N: Alternate Titles: '*sad kitsune noises*...','Lending a hand...','When girls rebound to Vahn, they don't go back...')