Along the course of their travels, Vahn, Noa, and Gala have stayed the nights at myriad places, each location a unique pause in their never-ending journey across Legaia. The serenity of Jeremi, the comfort of Biron Monastery, even the chilling, emptiness of Drake Castle while still afflicted by the Mist—evening was always an unpredictable sequence of moments that could range from the deepest solace to terrifying horror, as each moment was dependent on their choice of venue for the night.
However, tonight was unlike any other.
It did not take long for the trio to fully realize the activity in Dr. Usha’s laboratory. Not a single person ever ceased in their bustle, and a symphony of discordant noise echoed all around the tower, sounding off in an incredible harmony of cacophony that was difficult to force into the background of the mind. Yet, the three Ra-Seru wearers were exhausted, and try as the tower might, not everyone was captive to the distracting orchestra.
Vahn, Noa, and Gala were tucked away in a corner graciously provided by Dr. Usha’s lovely wife, and the three heroes had settled on makeshift beds that were arranged by a single pillow and two blankets: a light comforter to lay on and a lighter one for actual use. Gala had faded away almost at once, his breathing becoming long and deep in a tempo not too distant from his usual rhythm. He was always so calm!
Vahn, however, found himself rolling over in a mass of limbs that refused to rest. Although near darkness surrounded him—as Mrs. Usha had kindly ordered the other scientists to dim the rooms—he remained awake and all too cognizant. Too vigilant. The instances of the day still pressed upon his mind, and ironically, although they had spent most of it dreaming at Uru Mais, he couldn’t dispel the longing his prophetic dream had brought.
It had been a long time since Vahn had thought of his mother.
He tried not to. The action was painful—dangerously so, and Vahn spent a great deal of energy burying it, because as much as he tried to entomb the memories, they inevitably blossomed again, solely to torment him. When he awoke, suspended on the floor of the Seru temple, he’d been shocked that the dream Tieg had provided for him featured his mother at all… mostly because he’d spent so little time actively thinking about her. His wounds had reopened, and as Vahn laid flat on his mattress, any modicum of peace escaped him like the feathery outline that Tieg had been.
Of course, he’d had Noa and Gala to confide in, but in those moments when the pain was new, Vahn couldn’t bring himself to share the precious knowledge of who his mother had been. It would have felt like giving her away, and although the mere idea of her was like a blow to the stomach, she was still valuable to him. She always would be.
It was clear that Gala was asleep; he had begun to snore. Vahn wasn’t sure about Noa, as she was usually quiet before sleeping. She had nightmares of her parents calling out for her—he wondered how many nights Noa lay awake, too afraid to dream because of what she would see.
Noa. Noa, who had tried to bathe with an employee of Dr. Usha’s. After a discrete conversation in which Vahn had gently explained to her that usually, only people in committed relationships took a bath together—why confuse her with the specifics of casual hookups anyway—she’d understood the gravity of the encounter and had promptly proceeded to look embarrassed for a few minutes afterwards. Noa, despite her upbringing, was a quick learner, and these discrete conversations had been happening less and less as over time she was able to piece things together for herself. That had only been a momentary lapse of perception.
Really, the entire thing was quite humorous and had been…delightfully compelling to Vahn, who was then forced to battle away what he thought may have been unseemly thoughts. Gala, on the other hand, had handled the ordeal quite gracefully and steered the focus elsewhere. Watching Gala’s affection for Noa develop was like witnessing a sunrise—slow at first, impossibly inert, and then suddenly brilliant and warm until the whole sky was consumed in it. Noa was extremely easy to love.
Which is why Vahn had to be cautious with her.
It wasn’t that it was Mei, as Vahn and she had never actually formed an exclusive relationship, but it also was Mei, in the sense that she was the first girl Vahn had ever loved… had ever made love with. Even though it had been entirely unplanned and didn’t really last for long, it was still real, and so were the subsequent encounters like it.
Technically, Vahn was free to love—or not love—who he chose, but the thought of he and Noa together was so exciting it was almost disturbing, especially given her childhood and lack of interpersonal experience. So he was content to be neutral about it and allow their relationship to unfold as it may.
There were so many relationships he did not allow himself to think of. Vahn made a mental note to acknowledge this as he rolled onto his back. The ceiling was too dark to see, but Vahn’s eyes were already drawn elsewhere, and he observed a mass of bunched fabric between his legs, like a small mountain top.
Vahn felt like sighing. Great.
All that thinking about Mei and Noa and sex and this happened. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes like a child. Instead, he exhaled long and slow through his nose, closing his eyes as he turned over on his side and willing the very much unwanted erection to go away.
His eyes flashed open at once, startled out of his internal admonition, only to see Noa a foot away, covers drawn up to her chin and wide emerald eyes flickering between his own gaze and the tent his legs and blanket had formed.
“Noa?” Had that meant to come out as a question?
“Vahn,” she said again, paper-thin whisper dissolving in the noisy atmosphere, “What is that?” She gestured with her eyes and gazed in the direction he desperately wished she would ignore.
If anything, the embarrassment of such vulnerability in front of a girl should have caused his body to deflate instantly, but this was Noa and she was noticing him and what was happening to his body when he thought of her and oh, Tieg… he momentarily wished he was dead.
“What is what?” Vahn asked. Would she drop the situation if he thought nothing was out of the ordinary?
Noa frowned, reacting to his confusion, and her brows drew closer towards the thin bridge of her nose. “That. Down there. Why is it all pointy?”
Pointy. Pointy. She had called his erection ‘pointy.’
“That, is, um…” and Vahn scrambled for an answer, simultaneously praying that Gala did not wake up, as well as Meta. Luckily, the Ra-Seru were quite muted at night, keeping their own consciousness distant from the heroes’s so that they may be able to fall asleep quickly.
If there was any sense of justice left in the world, Meta would not notice what was going on. But, Vahn would have to calm down. If Meta sensed any alarm from within Vahn’s own mind, there was no doubt that he would manifest himself at once to help with whatever was scaring his host. The thought itself was terrifying, and Vahn almost burst out laughing at the situation and with the sheer horror of how it may turn out.
“What?” Noa prompted, asking Vahn again. She was so inpatient.
This time, Vahn did sigh, inhaling and exhaling particularly slowly—and as silently as he could.
“That is… well… um. All right. Uh… have you ever been around a boy you liked and wanted to be close to them? Hug them?”
Noa’s gaze drifted away for a moment, and Vahn could see her thinking deeply about what he’d asked.
“Yeah!” she whispered excitedly, and Vahn shushed her. “Oops, sorry. But, yeah, when I’m around you, I always want to hug you!”
Vahn knew this, and yet her admittance—and the thought of embracing her—only made him harder, and he felt like running away from this room and never returning.
“Right. Well, how do you feel when you’re around boys that make you feel this way?”
“Really happy,” she replied, and a grin split her mouth apart, exposing all of her teeth and the dimples adorning her cheeks. “Excited.”
Vahn had an opening. “Excited, how?”
Noa thought again. She chewed on the inside of her cheek and Vahn watched patiently, frantically attempting not to focus on any part of her lips. “I feel… like how I do after a battle. All… excited and tired at once.”
“Okay.” Vahn was surprised—that was an accurate description of romance, or at least, was like how Vahn felt when he was around Noa as well. “That,” and he made it a point not to direct any attention back to his pelvis, “is kind of the same thing. Except, guys and girl’s bodies work differently, and so this what will happen to a guy when he’s around someone he likes, too.”
That was a vastly simplified version of the truth, but Noa was still learning, and without Gala, talking to Noa about adult content was more difficult on its own. He hoped he’d made some resemblance of sense to her.
A ribbon of energy still pervaded the air, despite the late hour. Even now, hours later after they’d officially retired for the night, Vahn could still hear the bustle of Dr. Usha’s researchers and idly, he wondered if they ever slept. The soft glow of their workspaces leaked into their bedroom from underneath the curtains separating them from the rest of the laboratory, and at first, Vahn thought their noise to be another obstacle from him falling asleep—now, it was a welcome distraction and Noa collected her thoughts, and it was also a chance for Vahn to calm his body down. There was no need for it to have gotten worked up in the first place; Vahn hadn’t even been aware of his growing erection. It’s just been so long since he’d been touched in that way. The mere thought of it must have caught him off-guard.
And then, the world shattered and Vahn’s body exploded in sensation, pleasure that shocked his nerves so that all of his breathing ceased. His head snapped down and what he saw didn’t make sense to him—a pale, slender hand, gently trailing its fingers over the part of him that was hardest, creating an ebb and flow pattern of electricity that wracked him.
Noa? Was it Noa doing this?
The thought of her name was enough to break his concentration. Without hesitation, Vahn reached down and firmly circled her wrist with his hand, tenderly forcing it away from him. His blue eyes glowed like a hearth as he willed her to pay attention to him.
His voice made her tilt her head to the side like it often did when she was confused. “Why?” She allowed her hand to be restrained, suspended by Vahn’s grasp, but scarlet hair tumbled over her forehead as her head shook in misunderstanding.
“Don’t you like me?”
Vahn actually smiled in reply, a grimace that shadowed across his features and made them darker, more angular, than they were when his face was relaxed. “Yes, but Noa, touching another person’s body, especially in that area… it’s for people in love.”
While this was not always the case, it was the thing that he could say to make her understand, especially since he and Gala hadn’t addressed the topic of hookups yet but had discussed romantic love with her. But relationships—after seeing Cara and Grantes—that she could process.
Their hands were still touching. Noa’s gaze dropped to them and then flashed back up to Vahn’s face, and he felt it warm underneath her scrutiny. “But, Vahn, how do you know if you’re in love?”
It was a good question. And one that Vahn had pondered for quite some time as they’d journeyed across Legaia. At times, the thought of Mei flashed into his mind and he would wonder the same thing. Was he in love with Mei? Or was it a young love between childhood sweethearts? What exactly was between them?
Vahn gave an imperceptible shake of his head, displacing his cerulean bangs and causing them to fall in front of his eyes. Wordlessly, he dropped the hand holding Noa’s and swept the hair away from his face, eyes trained on the ceiling and the inky darkness it blanketed him in.
“I don’t know, Noa. I’m not really sure.”
He turned his head towards her once again. She stared back at him, propped up on one elbow, her green irises glinting with curiosity.
“Are we in love?”
Vahn shrugged slowly, his forehead creasing, his mouth turning down at the corners. “I don’t know,” he repeated. His voice was but a whisper.
There wasn’t any point in deceiving her. Noa—despite her upbringing—was unimaginably perceptive and their closeness hadn’t exactly been a secret all this time. It was just that they’s never addressed it, never dared to step past the boundary of friendship that bonded them together. But what would it be like if they did? Would it shatter the connection between them? Ruin all of the moments spent together? Or would it transform their relationship into something altogether—something new and strong? Something that uplifted them both?
It was too much. It was too terrifying. It was too exhausting. It was too thrilling to contemplate. Vahn closed his eyes, surrendering to the crushing weight of a life spent yearning for love returned. He knew nothing about anything of life, and he realized it.
“I don’t know, Noa. I don’t know.”
For several moments, there was a heavy silence between them, pressing down on their bodies, crushing their skeletons to fine dust. There was then a breath, so quiet it was barely audible, but the words inside it filled the room with its weight and suddenly Vahn couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move any more than Meta could move from his forearm.
“But I… I think I do know, Vahn.”
He kept his eyes closed, not wanting Noa to see the confusion inside them, or the doubt.
Or… the joy.
Instead, what he felt was her hand returning to him, pressing in between his legs, searching out the part of him that was so hard it nearly hurt. And this time, Vahn did not move to stop Noa, though her touch was unfamiliar and therefore caused him to tense—a body turned so stiff he thought he might break.
“Noa, you don’t have to,” he mumbled, hating himself for not understanding his own feelings and the persistent confusion clouding his jumbled mind. His eyes flashed open and they found Noa already peering into his face, her eyes wide and vulnerable and staring straight into the realization of what she was doing to him… and to their relationship.
A small smile formed on her lips, however, and Vahn’s gaze dropped to her mouth, dwelling on the redness of it. “It’s okay,” she said encouragingly, and the conviction in her voice was enough to make him squirm. “I understand what I’m doing.”
And how could Vahn argue with that? After all the talks, the lectures, the discussions they’d shared, Gala and he had supplied Noa with extensive, anatomical information about sex, and here she was telling Vahn that she could understand what it meant to be in love, even if he did not!
Noa’s hand continued to stroke him, and she ran her fingertips up and down the expanse of his firmed flesh, causing Vahn to sigh, an involuntary response to the pleasure she inflicted upon him. He wanted more, of course he did, but he would not touch her, could not touch her, until he was certain he reciprocated her love and viewed her not only as a good friend, bonded by their shared experiences.
“Does that feel good?” Noa asked, her low voice creating goosebumps to erupt all over the back of Vahn’s neck. Noa slowly scooted herself closer to Vahn so that they were laying side by side, with their faces separated by only a few inches apart. Her hair had come loose from her usual ponytail and covered her delicate ears in a violent color somewhere that ranged between blood and the hue of flowers one could find in the wilderness, prompted to bloom by the morning sun.
Vahn nodded, and he reigned in his breathing so as not to startle her. This was not the occasion for impassioned feedback, no matter how frantic his heart was beating.
“Yes. It feels like… drinking a hundred Miracle Waters all at once.”
Noa’s eyes widened even further. “Really? Wow.” She flexed her hand and lightly squeezed him, encircling his entire length with her grasp. Vahn exhaled long and slow, closing the distance between them and bowing his forehead so that both of theirs touched and their breaths mixed in the tightened vacuum he’d formed.
It was every forbidden daydream of his coming true. It was a constellation of what-ifs and confusion all melted together to form one persistent bundle of doubt that weighed on his mind, no matter how good her hand on him felt. Vahn shuddered, flinching closer into Noa’s body as her hand suddenly delved underneath the loose fabric of his pants to really hold him in her palm while her fingers shyly stroked along the sides of his length.
“It’s… soft,” she mumbled. A knot of confusion formed in between her brows and Vahn smiled despite himself, nudging his nose against Noa’s cheek.
“It’s still flesh, Noa.”
“Yeah, but hard flesh. So how can it still be soft?”
“I have no idea.”
The silence between them was transformed. It was almost… comfortable, and as Vahn willed himself to control his breathing, Noa remained quiet, exploring his body and all of its angles in a muted kind of awe that Vahn was interested in watching.
Her reply was a hum of breath. “Hm?”
“Can I kiss you?”
Vahn felt his belly start to tense but warded off the feeling of his impending climax.
“Do people normally kiss during… this?” she asked curiously.
Vahn nodded, his scattered hair tickling the porcelain of her chin and neck.
And then without a word, Noa leaned away slightly, searching for Vahn’s gaze with bright eyes that one could fall into for the rest of their life and never utter a complaint about it. “I’ve never kissed anyone before.”
But Vahn knew this. “I know. You don’t have to. I was just wondering what it would feel like with you.”
Though what he really meant was, after all these months of dreaming about it, would it be as he imagined?
“I’ve wondered what it would feel like with you too, Vahn,” she said, confidence perforating the whisper of her voice.
It was then that Vahn lost control of his heartbeat. The rhythm took off like drum, banging away all of the composure he’d mustered in the past few minutes, and he felt absolutely breathless as he brought his hands to Noa’s face in the slight space between them. Her skin felt like silk under the callouses on his palms, and so he cupped her gently, taking a moment to peer into her eyes before leaning in and pressing their lips together in a sweet kiss that stabbed him with renewed adrenaline, only further accelerating his breathing.
For an instant, Noa’s hand paused on him and Vahn absentmindedly wondered if she was forgetting her rhythm, or if she was so shocked by the new sensation of a kiss that she forgot she was touching him altogether. He made no move to remind her to, but as Vahn pressed his fingers into her back, her hand slid along his flesh and she remembered again. She touched him faster now, with anticipatory excitement that destroyed Vahn’s lungs and dissolved the organs into nothing. He was drowning in her and never wanted to breathe again.
The tightness in his belly returned, and Vahn, being as tender as he could, broke away from their kisses to collect himself.
“Noa, do you remember what happens when a man climaxes?”
He watched as Noa tried out the word, silently mouthing it to herself.
Did she not understand? He tried again. “I mean, what happens at the end of sex.”
“Oh!” And she looked sheepish when Vahn shushed her again. “Sorry… but, you mean the white goo coming out of the guy?”
Had he and Gala even used the words ‘white goo?’ No, it didn’t matter. She was right.
“Yes, that,” Vahn said, swallowing hard against the raggedness of his breathing. “So… don’t be frightened, okay? It’s supposed to happen.”
Noa’s hand curved around him in a way that made him squeeze his eyes shut. When was the last time he’d serviced himself? Weeks? Months? He could feel the build up of all that time spent celibate raging as a fire within, annihilating every nerve ending he had and inspiring all of his body to combust at once.
Noa didn’t look frightened at all, thank Tieg. She looked as curious as ever, brows high upon her forehead as her gaze alternated between his own and where she touched him. “Okay,” she replied. “Is it almost the end?”
Vahn nodded, and leaned in close to kiss her again, his lips much more persuasive this time as he gently compelled her mouth to part for him so that their tongues brushed together lazily, sliding over one another as her hand slid over him.
He felt his whole body tense as his breaths came in jumbled heaps that were irregular in rhythm, and all he could think about was Noa being all over him, on his length, in his mouth—even her hair was mixed with his, their long strands twisting together in a marriage of blue and fuchsia that rioted against the plainness of their surroundings. She was so soft against him and yet so the opposite, formidable as always with her muscled body flattened upon his own. Noa was no longer the shy girl he had first met atop Mt. Rikuroa.
Everything constricted all at once. Vahn moaned as he felt himself twitch in her hand, and he maneuvered his head into the crook of her neck where he muffled the sounds of his loud breathing. He was coming so very hard that he thought he would never actually begin, but then he felt the hot rush of fire leave his body and wet the outer edge of his tunic as Noa continuously stroked him—a cadence that his pelvis naturally matched. Vahn plunged himself deeper into the circle of her palm and gasped, gripping the rest of her body so tightly he thought he might shatter against her, though he knew he wouldn’t mind.
He thrusted slowly as aftershocks rocked him, pumping into Noa’s fist with deliciously long strokes that ripped him apart. He was done coming but not so done that he wasn’t flush with intense pleasure, and idly he wondered if his hardness would persist as it occasionally did even after climaxing. His last few strokes were jerky, however, and finally he settled, catching his breath while Noa carefully removed her hand from inside his pants.
It was covered with white goo.
Realizing what must have happened, Vahn drew back from Noa’s body, propping himself up on an elbow until he was sitting up completely, blankets bunched around him in a whirlwind of chaos. Noa kept her hand away from the rest of her and she stared at it blankly, scrutinizing the come that glossed over her skin.
“Sorry,” Vahn mumbled. He proceeded to grab his topmost blanket and clean her hand, though he couldn’t help but smile a little as he did so; Noa seemed absolutely perplexed about the body fluid and sat up stoically, her head slightly cocked to the side as Vahn tended to her hand.
What time of night was it? Dr. Usha’s staff had never once paused in their research. Still, the noise their glass beakers and computers made pervaded the air as if the tower was a single beast, working endlessly to deliver them the data they needed—hour of the night be damned.
“There’s so much of it,” Noa said, still examining her hand.
Vahn blushed; he could feel the heat rising to his face as he finished cleaning her off.
Quietly, Vahn flipped his blanket around so that the wet edge lay at the end of his bed rather than the front, and he shyly brought his gaze back to Noa, who smiled at him sheepishly, the gesture tugging the corners of her lips upwards.
“Thank you,” Vahn said. He touched the back of his hand to her cheek and brushed away strands of hair that escaped her shoulder.
“For… that. It felt amazing and you were the one who made me feel that way, so… thank you.”
Noa’s smile turned radiant. “You’re welcome,” she said happily. “It was… interesting. But I’m glad it made you feel good.”
Vahn nodded in agreement and smiled back at her. “I really care about you Noa.”
“I care about you too, Vahn. Even if you don’t understand that we’re in love yet.”
Her words were startling. And so… blunt. Like she was absolutely sure of what she was saying. How could that be?
Slowly, Noa leaned forwards and placed a gentle kiss on Vahn’s cheek, abruptly pulling him out of his panicked thoughts.
“Let’s go to sleep now, okay?”
Vahn swallowed dryly, forcing the pleasure her kiss brought to him to go away. “Okay.”
And so they laid down, still facing one another, one hand outstretched in the empty space between them. Noa’s fingers slipped over his own and held them softly as her eyes fluttered closed, no longer wide with the complexities of adult interactions, and yet Vahn couldn’t help but stare just a little longer at the black arsenal her eyelashes were, like a row of fine, dark teeth.
“Goodnight, Noa,” he whispered, and Vahn felt her squeeze his hand. Her breathing deepened shortly after.
What was he to do with her?
Or more importantly…
What had they done to their relationship?