(A/N: I didn't want to just post an update without any content, so here, enjoy a chapter. Just make sure to read the Author's Note at the end :P.)
Opening his eyes, Jin was surprised to find himself staring at an unfamiliar yet nostalgic ceiling. At his side, or, more accurately, sitting off to the side of the bed, was Vahn.
Rather than immediately answering Vahn's question, Jin focused on the pleasant warmth that had filled his entire body. It didn't eliminate all the negativity he had accumulated over the past few months, but it did make him feel a lot better.
Rising to a seated position, Jin ignored the fact he was wearing lime green pajamas as he looked around the room to confirm that he and Vahn were the only two people present.
"How's Lily doing...?"
Shaking his head, Vahn's expression and tone softened as he said, "She needs time. You both do..."
Though he nodded his head in understanding, the pained look in Jin's eyes was a testament to the guilt he was feeling. He didn't think he was wrong to want to take things slow, but after a considerable amount of soul-searching, he also understood how his actions hadn't exactly been fair to Lily.
While he could be highly self-centered at times, Jin wasn't stupid. He knew that Lily liked Vahn. His fear that she would be taken from him is what compelled him to enter the Game Board and subsequently propose to her.
When Lily agreed to become his girlfriend, Jin was over the moon with joy. More than anything else, however, he was relieved. Jin thought, from the moment Lily became his girlfriend, she would stop spending so much time with Vahn and, as a result, things would gradually return to the way they were. When they didn't, he felt as though she had betrayed him. Like she didn't care about their relationship.
In hindsight, Jin realized he had been expecting Lily to make concessions since the very beginning. He was incredibly fortunate that she had agreed to date him, yet, instead of relishing each and every moment of their time together, he focused on studying and increasing his strength. At times, he even avoided her outright. The only time they did anything together was when Lily attempted to force the matter. And what did he do in response? He, the person who had asked her to date him, lashed out at her for trying to progress their relationship too quickly.
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Realizing just how contrary his behavior had been, Jin hung his head for the better part of five minutes before muttering, "Please take care of her for me...she...Lily and Sandora both deserve to be happy..."
Shaking his head, Jin wiped away the tears building in his eyes before staring directly at Vahn and stating, "Please...please don't say anything. If this relationship has taught me anything, it's the fact that I'm not ready to bear the responsibility of another person's happiness..."
Looking away from Vahn, Jin stared at his open palms before clenching his hands into fists and saying, "You were right...people who are given things without earning them don't know how to appreciate them. I may have worked hard, but most of the power I possess is thanks to the help, resources, and guidance you provided. Even Lily...if you hadn't turned her down to try and support me, she never would have accepted to become my girlfriend..."
Closing his hands with enough force that his whole body trembled, tears began pouring down Jin's face. Despite this, an intense light glowed in his eyes as he clenched his teeth and said, "I'm tired of being weak! I want to become strong! Strong enough that I can grasp the things I want with my own two hands...!"
Returning his gaze to Vahn, Jin's expression became even more intense as he added, "I want to be like you, Vahn. I want to journey across various worlds to gather strength and accumulate experience through my efforts. I'm tired of everything being handed to me, only for it to slip between my fingers due to my weakness...!"
Understanding what Jin was asking, Vahn's expression became equally severe as he asked, "Are you sure about this, kid? Even if I send you away for a thousand years and pull you back to this exact moment, any chance you had at being with Lily would be gone..."
Shaking his head, Jin answered, "I'm not sure about anything, and that's the problem. I keep needlessly comparing myself to others and spend most of my time thinking about all the bad things that could happen if I allowed the Community to grow. I'm not qualified to be a Leader, and I'm not ready to shoulder the burdens of others. I need to find myself before I worry about anything else..."
Though he would be lying if he said he wasn't devastated by the thought of losing Lily, Jin had gradually come to the conclusion she was never his. She was a separate person with wants and needs wholly unrelated to his. As Vahn had told him long ago, relationships were a compromise between two willing individuals. If one side was incapable or unwilling to sacrifice for the other, both were bound to suffer.
Having formed his conviction, Jin stared into the depths of Vahn's subtly glowing pupils as he stated, "Please allow me to descend into one of your Actualized Worlds. If possible, I would like you to strip away everything that isn't my original power. This time, everything I achieve, every ounce of power I attain, will be acquired through individual merit and diligence!!"
Seeing the conviction in Jin's eyes, Vahn resisted the urge to explain just how foolish he was being. While it was essential to gain power through personal effort, the power obtained while cooperating with others served as the foundation of a person's strength. Trying to accomplish everything on your own was incredibly foolish.
Fortunately for Jin, Vahn believed that people should be allowed to make their own mistakes. He could be very overprotective when it came to his children, but that was the case with most parents. If they truly wished to pursue a path without his influence, he wouldn't stop them.
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"Very well. However, before I send you on your way, you need to explain the situation to Lily, Sandora, and the rest. If you're serious about taking responsibility for yourself from this moment onward, start by convincing them. Take it from me, kid. If you run away without saying goodbye, you will regret it for the rest of your life..."
Though he had been hoping to avoid an encounter with Lily and Sandora, Jin didn't refuse Vahn's words. He needed the man's assistance to access one of his Actualized Worlds. If Vahn refused, there was nothing Jin could do to force the matter. He was, once again, powerless.
Upon learning of Jin's decision, Lily demonstrated genuine anger for the first time in her life. She ended up pouncing on him, pinning him to the ground and beating his fairly handsome face over and over again until he resembled a pig. Then, for the better part of an hour, she just sat on top of him, tears streaming down her face as Jin silently endured a level of regret beyond words.
Once Lily had calmed down enough to allow Jin to rise to his feet, it was Sandora's turn to slap him. She only hit him once, but, similar to when Lily had struck him, tears began pouring down her face immediately after.
Compared to the anguish he felt upon seeing Lily and Sandora cry, the throbbing pain in Jin's face was negligible. In the years that followed, he even felt a bit of resentment towards Vahn for making him endure such an experience. It wasn't until he silently parted ways with yet another person he cared for that Jin understood the burden of failing to say goodbye. As painful as partings were, they were necessary to give both parties a form of closure. Failing to say goodbye only amplified the heartache you would feel. In some cases, it even bred resentment...
Unfortunately, by the time Jin had realized the error of his ways, he was living a life far removed from the people in the Little Garden. There were times when he wanted to return, but with a family, friends, and comrades who relied on him, he couldn't bring himself to leave their side. Thus, over time, the anguish he had endured during his parting with Lily and Sandora eventually became a cherished memory...something he could laugh about whenever he recounted his past to his grandchildren...
After dropping off Jin and ensuring his path wouldn't immediately deviate towards a bad end, Vahn hesitated for a moment before teleporting to the room where Lily was currently staying. Sandora had assigned everyone a suite, but instead of staying in her assigned quarters, Lily had barricaded herself in Vahn's room with all the lights turned off.
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"Come on out, kit..."
Though she didn't immediately come out, Vahn was unsurprised when Lily emerged from under the covers to reveal that she wasn't wearing a single piece of clothing. Her original plan was to seduce Vahn, but upon hearing the concern in his tone, a fresh layer of tears developed across Lily's eyes as she asked, "This is my fault, isn't it? If I weren't such a dirty and lustful woman, Jin never would have left..."
Shaking his head, Vahn approached Lily before taking a seat on the bed and hugging her. Her body briefly tensed, but, immediately after that, she began bawling into his chest as she tightly clung to the fabric of his tunic. Her relationship with Jin hadn't gone particularly well, but he was still one of the most important people in her life. Even if they couldn't be a couple, Lily would have continued supporting both him and their Community for the rest of her life.
Though Jin was still alive, Lily understood there was little chance their paths would cross in the future. By choosing to enter an Actualized World and pursue a solitary path, Jin had effectively given up on life, died, and reincarnated. All for the sake of personal validation.
"It hurts so much, Vahn...I feel like a hole has opened in my heart..."
Grabbing Vahn's collar in a manner that implied she was about to try and rip his shirt open, Lily's countenance became incomparably desperate as she begged, "Please...please make it go away..."
As Vahn had always been a source of fulfillment and warmth, Lily believed he was the only thing that could repair the massive rift that threatened to tear her apart. If he rejected her now, Lily felt as though she would never again be happy...
Desperate to feel wanted, Lily promptly deactivated the seal on her body. The tails swaying behind her increased from four to eight, and, as a result, various parts of her body began to swell as her hair practically 'exploded' into curls that extended well past her waist. Her height didn't increase all that much, but that wasn't too strange considering her mother was only around 162cm.
Though he was awed by the sudden and drastic increase in Lily's beauty, Vahn's expression remained as calm and serene as an underground lake as he held her close and whispered, "I will do everything in my power to fill the void in your heart. For now, however, you need to rest. As much as I want to take you right now, I would never take advantage of someone in their moment of despair..."
Hearing the first half of Vahn's words, Lily felt a sensation that could only be described as vertigo. She felt like she was falling into an endless abyss of darkness, only for Vahn to reach out at the last moment to catch her. It was a jarring experience, but Lily felt better knowing Vahn wasn't refusing her. He was just worried about her mental state...
"I understand...just please...promise me that you'll never leave...my heart cannot take losing another person precious to me..."
Without any hesitation whatsoever, Vahn answered, "I promise you...I'm not going anywhere..." before planting a kiss atop Lily's head. Then, as an additional assurance, he forced her tear-stained face to meet his before planting a second, much longer kiss on her lips...
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(A/N: Since people have been encouraging me to continue plugging for the website and pat-reon, I wanted to let people know that I've been working on a Legend of Korra Fanfic at the behest of my sponsors. We're only at 11 chapters right now but it should be at 30 by the end of the month. If you are interested in checking it out, I've made the first three chapters available to the public.)