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Paradise Found

Chapter Text

First, the darkness, and a sinking feeling, like a wave closing over your head, sealing off all sight and sound from your senses.

Somewhere, there might have been bubbles, fizzling up into infinity overhead. Breathing wasn't something you thought about, until you had to, and then you no longer had to.

The pain came, and then it went, the cessation of which was greeted with something like a sense of relief. Yet a core of it remained, deeply buried where no nerves could reach, and even as perception shrunk to the point of nothingness, that pinprick was what remained with him until clarity found him again, in the form of...

"Oi Camellia! Why are you still sleeping on such a great day! Get up, you lousy lunk!"

The familiar, brash voice shook him out of his stupor, and Camellia blinked, wincing at stark light greeted his sensitive eyes. So used to the sky being overcast, it was a completely foreign experience to have the warm glow of sunshine bathing the meadow he was lying in.

A meadow? He thought to himself, bemused, as one hand twitched and found soft grass. Fingers dug into the soil beneath, neither muddy or dusty, the perfect mix of good, rich earth that was spoken of in books. The scents and sounds seemed to reach him for a long distance off, somehow muted yet definitely present, and free of that lingering scent of rain so familiar at the Clan.

He opened his eyes fully, careful to do it slowly to keep the light from blinding him. No rain, no forest. A long stalk of grass tickled his nose, making him wrinkle it and suppress a sneeze. Before he knew it, a familiar face thrust itself into his immediate field of vision.

"Are you still asleep? What are you doing! Get up! You're wasting the day away!"

"Ah...Cherry." The name took a moment to reach the tip of his tongue, but he managed without any awkward pauses. He sat up slowly, carefully, as if mindful of his body...which was odd, since he felt perfectly fine. Yet a part of him seemed to be concerned with...something. He couldn't remember what. He just had to be careful...because? He shrugged inwardly. Being careful wasn't a bad thing, after all.

"You still dreaming?" She waved a hand in front of him, frowning at his slower than usual responses. He blinked at her. For some reason she was yelling a little less at him. That had to be a record, especially without...without? Someone usually stopped her from getting too mad at him. Who was it? His mind felt wrapped in cotton wool. Maybe he was still dreaming.

Not too far away, Cattleya was chasing butterflies, with Rose on her tail as always. Nasturtium was half a step behind the two, eyes not quite focused as she held out her arms to let the butterflies land on her (not that they ever did). The green fields beyond them seemed to stretch out endlessly, and the sky was storybook blue, with perfect puffs of cloud sheep mimicking the frolicking girls prancing around on the ground.

On his other side, a high pitched 'ohohohoho~' drifted over, and Cherry scowled in the direction of Marguerite and her minions, who had miraculously set up a tea party in the middle of nowhere, complete with tea set and silverware. Where did they even get the silverware from?

But he had no time to consider that, because Cherry was tugging him to his feet. She hardly ever touched him aside from hitting him, and Camellia found himself caught between a smile and a frown as confusion assaulted him. There was something important he was missing...

He looked down and narrowly avoided stepping on a flower. Blinking rapidly, he rubbed at his eyes with his free hand, then looked more closely at the verdant green of the meadow.

He hadn't noticed at first, but it was in full bloom. The meadow was not just wild grass, but a low hedge of his namesake flourished almost directly before him, and he had almost trodden on them in Cherry's haste to get him up. Watching his step, he turned back to the right where the 3 carefree ones played, observing the wild roses in the bushes not far behind them, and the patches of bright colour among which the butterflies wove and danced. He couldn't be sure from this distance, but for some reason he knew that their namesakes accompanied them there as well.

Wild daises peppered the landscape to the left, along with creeping vines of jasmine and clematis. As he followed Cherry's lead past the hedge of wild camellias, he noticed the way some of the wild mimosa folded their heads as his feet brushed past them. It was a soothing and peaceful sight, yet something bothered him at the back of his mind. He was no horticulturist, but wasn't there something odd about all these flowers blossoming in the same place and in the same climate?

"Oi midget, where are you taking me?" He found himself saying without thinking, and he got the response he had been unconsciously seeking.

"Who are you calling a midget, you girly boy!" Cherry flared with predictable speed, glaring down at him somehow despite being half a head shorter. This was much more familiar ground, and Camellia found himself relaxing, a boyish grin finding its way onto his moon-like face.

"Oh, I don't know...someone about yay high?" He indicated a height around his waist and pretended to cast around for probable suspects. "Tiny people, can't see them at....owwww!"

Cherry had landed her famous overhand punch on him, making his struck ear ring, but he was grinning. She was seriously uncute when she got violent like this, but it was fun to rile her up. Rubbing at his bruised ear, he grinned goofily at her, and with mild surprise noted that the annoyance on her face slipped into a hesitant smile.

False was right; she does look cuter when she smiles. For some reason, the thought made him feel odd, almost guilty, for even thinking it. But why?

"Whatever!" Cherry turned on her heel before he could see her face again, and he followed her gaze to where a long ribbon of blue bisected the endless verde. The winding river zigzagged haphazardly across the field, bowing sharply at one area, which was where Cherry was looking at.

Silane had her head on Lindou's shoulder, their clasped hands visible even from this distance. With their backs facing them, they seemed to be staring at some distant point beyond the river, their namesakes aflower in a glorious splash of blue and violet by their feet. After a moment, Silane seemed to shrink in on herself, moving into Lindou's embrace and burying her face into the taller girl's chest. Lindou simply bowed her head and took the shorter prefect into her arms, the two clasped in an intimate embrace.

Shaken by the profound display of emotion from the normally brash prefect, Camellia forced himself to look away. It seemed like an unusually private moment, and he felt that he had no right to intrude by even looking from afar. When he looked back up, Cherry was already ahead of him, and he hurried to catch up.

"That's an odd sight." She commented suddenly, and Camellia was about to chime in about Silane and Lindou when he noticed her pointing at a spot filled with white and gold, further up the river from where Silane and Lindou stood.

It was indeed odd. Snow, that aloof girl with the cold gaze, who spoke with no one and interacted with others even less, was not alone where she was. That in itself was shocking enough, until you noticed who was lying asleep in the taller girl's lap.

Camellia's eyes widened, his jaw working soundlessly for a moment before he found his voice.

"That's...Marigold?"

Cherry seemed equally bemused by the whole idea. The two loners were in each other's company. Furthermore, Snow appeared to be stroking Marigold's hair almost tenderly, and even from this distance Camellia could see the restless expression the sleeping Marigold had on her face. A nightmare, perhaps?

His gaze though, was drawn back up to the wistful look Snow had on her face, as she gazed over the river into the distance, much as Silane and Lindou had been doing. There was longing and sadness and something not unlike grief in those normally cold eyes, melting the ice there. After a moment, Snow seemed to murmur something half to herself, closing her eyes and bowing her head. In her lap, Marigold seemed to twist painfully, mouth opening in a soundless cry as something not unlike tears rolled down her still closed eyes.

"Weirdos..." Cherry muttered, striding forward. Camellia followed, not entirely certain why he was following, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. It didn't take him long to work out where they were heading: a single cherry blossom tree flowered in the distance.

"Camellia..."

Cherry had turned back to him, in the shadow of the cherry blossom, the petals of her namesake drifting down around her in the breeze. With a start, he noticed once again that she was indeed very pretty, and that this scene felt somehow familiar...

"What do you think about me?"

Camellia fidgeted, shuffling from one foot to another. The perfect day felt all too unreal, as if this was all a dream, and what seemed awfully like the beginnings of a confession from a good friend -- because Cherry was indeed a good friend, for all that they fought and squabbled and didn't see eye to eye on lots of things, because whenever things got too bad, she would step in and make sure they made up and shook on it.

She? A familiar ache was building in Camellia's chest, an ache further reinforced when he looked up to meet Cherry's serious gaze. He had been in this position before, looking down at a girl, who had asked more or less the same question...but that girl hadn't been Cherry.

No, the silhouette in his memory didn't have the same long hazel hair that stirred in the breeze, as it did right now with Cherry. It was...

"Oi, Camellia, I'm asking you a question."

"Ah." His very eloquent reply. His gaze shifted back down to his feet. Tiny flowers clustered around them, delicate wispy affairs that sent a pang straight into his heart. Before he knew what he was doing, he was bending down, carefully picking the nearest bunch of blossoms and cradling them to his chest. Cherry stared at him in confusion.

"What are you doing?"

"Forget-me-not..." He whispered, then looked with unusual seriousness straight into Cherry's eyes, making her take a half step back. He smiled at her, a smile she had never seen directed at her, but a smile she found hauntingly familiar nevertheless. It was a smile that filled her with a sense of both overwhelming love and loss. She held a hand to her chest to keep herself from keeling over, and jumped a little when Camellia reached out to grasp her hand gently.

"Thank you for helping me remember, Cherry. You will always be my good friend."

He lifted her hand to his lips, not quite touching it, but she felt a soft breath over her knuckles before he released her. When he straightened and looked at her, she noted with a pang of sadness that he was no longer really looking "at" her. It was as if his soul had gone elsewhere, and was simply waiting for his body to follow.

"Sylvatica..."

Chapter Text

With the tiny bundle of flowers clutched to his chest, Camellia turned and walked away into the distance, where a single figure was huddled on a hill, carpeted with blue-grey blooms. Cherry watched him go, and an unbidden smile found its way onto her face.

"He's a stupid lunkhead, but you're lucky to have him..."

We shall be kind and not mention the tears that followed, and keep Camellia company instead, who had his heart soaring ahead of him, guiding him unerringly towards the bowed figure on the hill. Unlike the rest of the girls from the Clan, who had been instantly recognizable in their dresses and general demeanor as he had passed them earlier, this one was in a greying shawl that hid face and form. Yet it was unmistakeably female, even turned away from him as she was. Camellia felt like he was in a daze, his memories taking their time to unfold from within.

Despite this, he was certain of one thing. No, two things. One, that he loved Sylvatica, and that she was waiting right there for him. Had been waiting all this time for him. He would wait no longer to be reunited with her. He had been searching for her all this time, even when he hadn't remembered to do so.

"Sylvatica..." He murmured as he approached, and the figure seemed to shrink away from the word. "It's me, Camellia. I'm sorry I kept you waiting..."

"Don't come any closer!"

It was her voice, no doubt about it. It seemed a little strained from disuse, but Camellia would know it anywhere. He took another step closer, and she retreated the same distance, hiding her face from him.

"Sylvatica? I've come for you, like I promised. I'm a little late, I know...I'm sorry? Please forgive me..."

The words were fumbling, lacking in the suave charm False had. Camellia was never the type to do very well in front of the girl he loved. Most of the time he wondered what Sylvatica saw in him. He wasn't the most good-looking, the most charming, or even the most fascinating guy in the world. But somehow she had accepted him the way he was, awkward and bumbling and kinda slow in some respects. He was fairly sure he didn't deserve her, but that wouldn't stop him from fighting to keep her regard. She meant the world to him, and he was determined to let her know.

"You should have gone with Cherry, earlier..."

Her voice was sad, and Camellia halted, surprised by her knowledge that he and Cherry had been together earlier. Sure, they could be seen together, but how did she know about the almost-confession? Surely she couldn't have seen it from here?

"But the one I love isn't her. It's you." He said firmly, clutching at the slightly rumpled bouquet in his hands. "Sylvatica, there isn't anyone else for me but you..."

"You thought she was cute." Sylvatica sounded halfway between sad and accusing, and Camellia winced again. How did she know about that? Did his girlfriend have mindreading abilities? Or did that insufferable pipsqueak False tell tales again? If his buddy had, he would have to thump him good the next time he saw him...

"That doesn't matter, you're the one for me...just let me see you, Sylvatica..."

"You don't want to look at me, Camellia. I'm...ugly now. I don't want you to see..."

The huddled figure seemed to hunch in on herself, and Camellia felt a pang in his heart, and another strand of memory unravelled, a memory of howling wind and rain and thunder, and the sound of Sylvatica screaming, once upon a time...

Seized by a sudden horror and need, he closed the final distance between them and knelt by her side, even though she turned to face away from him. He reached for her hand, and felt the crinkled skin beneath his hands before she snatched it away, holding it to her chest. Another wave of memory hit, her tears a commonality in both past and present, and before he was aware of it, he had moved, pulling her into a strong embrace before she could run away from him.

"I'm never letting you go again, Sylvatica. I couldn't catch you back then, I couldn't do anything at all...this time, no matter what, you're not leaving me again."

"Camellia..."

He was crying, sobbing like a baby as the wizened hands of his beloved tentatively encircled him, pulling him into a tender embrace as he apologized over and over for not coming for her sooner. For forgetting their promise, for not being able to do anything when it counted.

"It's ok, you did your best..." She soothed, and in the circle of her arms, Camellia found the hole in his heart finally shrinking, that phantom pain that had haunted him all this time dissolving like mist in the wind. The same familiar scent lingered on her, but when he attempted to look up into her face, she pushed his head back down into her chest.

"Don't look, Camellia..."

"I'm not afraid, Sylvatica."

"You might not be, but I am..." Her voice trembled with uncertainty. Camellia sighed softly.

"Don't you trust me?"

"I do, Camellia...but I'm just so scared..."

"I love you, Sylvatica. That will never change, no matter what happens or how you look like. I will always love you, and even when my mind forgets, my heart never will."

With quiet determination, Camellia pushed himself free and sat up straight, facing Sylvatica, who had her head bowed, face still hidden by her shawl. She made a small whimpering cry when he reached forward to unveil her, the shawl whisked away by the wind as he tossed it aside. Though she buried her face in her hands, he cupped the sides of her head with his palms, bringing his forehead to lean against hers.

"It's alright...it's going to be okay..."

"Camellia...I can't..."

"Do you love me, Sylvatica?"

"O-of course, why do you even ask?"

"Then trust me."

With utmost care, he moved her hands away from her face, and for the first time in years, their eyes met, red on red, the mark of their bloodline. Liquid swam in her eyes, blurring her dimmed sight, but she could not miss his soft smile, the way it lit up his face and seemed to bring out a glow in his eyes. It was the same way he looked at her every single time, the look that Cherry used to call his utterly smitten expression. The look that was reserved for her, Sylvatica, and no one else. And he was looking at her the same way now, as if nothing had changed, even though everything already had.

"Sylvatica...I missed you..."

He whispered to her, pressing their foreheads together as he crushed her into him, as if afraid that she might vanish on him again. She choked on another sob, the tears rolling down her wrinkled face, and he comforted her with soft murmurs, whispering words of love and devotion into her ear. Her dear, sweet Camellia...

"How could you still love me like this?"

"Because I love you, Sylvatica, not how you look. I promised to stay with you forever, to grow old together. Did you think I would love you less then?"

"But..."

"Shh, love. No one's going to separate us anymore. I promise. And I won't forget this time, for sure."

She had to laugh then, a whispery brittle thing that left a warm feeling in its wake. And he laughed along with her as she leaned into his shoulder, one arm of his thrown around her shoulder as he cradled her protectively. On that windswept hill, surrounded by forget-me-nots, they gazed down at the paradisical fields below, and the river that seemed to sever the landscape in two, leaving what lay beyond a murky blot on the far horizon.

It was as if time had frozen on their side, but any moment was eternal for as long as they were together, side by side, never to be parted. And as they gazed into each other's eyes, they knew that they never would be, never again.

For as long as I live, in sickness and in health, till death do us part...
And perhaps, not even then...