Raven II

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24. Normal

ARIA-

Dastan's hand engulfed mine as we walked through the cave, my skin was trying to find the familiarity of his touch, but still it felt as if the pieces didn't fit. My eyes traveled from our hands together, to his forearm and up to his shoulder.

He looked almost exactly as I left him, as if his image from my memories copied themselves into the present. His dark skin contrasted heavily against mine, and the air traveled through his long hair.

I am hoping, wishing, for that moment when everything will be as it was before.

"Ari!" I didn't even have to look up to know who stood in front of us now. Only one person had ever called me Ari, and I let go of Dastan's hand to run into Zumir's arms. He spun me around a few times before he put me down, his eyes wrinkling form the corners of his lips as they lifted up. "You're real!" He exclaimed, holding on tightly to my shoulders.

"Yes." I whispered awkwardly. I looked down at my feet, not sure how to react to his comments. I felt stuck in this box, like if my reactions had to be like theirs, but I was still questioning everything.

I looked back toward the opening of the cave, hoping, again, that Jakko would pop into my sight. "What are you looking for?" Zumir questioned with a frown in his face.

Emi walked past me, "Jakko." She murmured when she stood by his side.

I whimpered quietly, biting my lip as I looked over to Dastan. He stood there, looking back at the cave entrance as well, his hands in tight fists and his jaw twitching in quiet anger.

I shook my head, "No, I just- I just didn't get to say goodbye to Th-thijs and Sarn." I lied straight through my teeth.

Dastan relaxed his posture, walking up the horses that stood by a makeshift camp. "Would you like to rest, or head back?"

I inhaled deeply, my shoulders moving up and down, "I think I'm ready to go home." Surprisingly, a warm smile creeped up my lip, and I genuinely felt the excitement in my chest at the realization that I would finally get to go back to what I was craving for years.

Dastan smiled softly, leaving the horse's side to put his fingers under my chin, forcing my eyes to look deep into his, "Home." His thumb caressed my cheek as his eyes travelled my face, "It hasn't been home in so long." He whispered, walking back to the horse, untying it from the tree. "Ready?" He stuck out his hand for me, waiting for me to take it.

I took it nervously, excited to start our journey back home. Maybe returning to Javal will bring to light all of the feelings I thought were going to flood me from looking at Dastan. With his hands on my waist, he lifted me up on the horse, climbing on behind me as soon as I found my balance.

"Do you want me to have someone look for Jakko?" I could feel the stiffness of his body, I could see his knuckles turn white as he held on to the reins of the horse. For him, Jakko was still that monster that took me, and hurt me. For me, he was someone else entirely.

I shook my head, "No. I want it to be just us now." I whispered, truthfully. Though I only told half the truth, leaving out that I was in fact trying to fall out of love.

"Okay." He whispered, though I could here the relief in his voice, and in the way he released his breath. It fanned my neck, reviving feelings in my body I thought were long gone.

With a small smile growing on my lips, I placed my hands on top of his as the horse began its trot back home. "I've missed you." I exhaled. The words had been on the tip of my tongue since I had first laid eyes on him, though it was only now that they had made their appearance.

"I have missed you, Aria. More than you know." His chest trembled and I leaned back into him, finding comfort, finally.

"Have you been here? This whole time?" I questioned, looking back as Zumir and Emi had began to pick up the camp.

"Yes." He answered softly, "I was not going to leave the one place I knew I would see you again."

I chuckled, "Of course, you would do that."

"I was-I was supposed to go through. Not Jakko-"

"I know." I cut him off. I knew how everything was supposed to go. The plans my parents had for me. The plans Dastan had for me. The plans Jakko had for me. Nothing went the way it was supposed to go, and still, I could not find myself getting angry at that. "Jakko told me." I reassured him.

"Good." He cleared his throat, and I could sense we both just wanted to move on from that conversation.

"So, Zumir and Emi, huh?" I turned a bit sideways, looking at his reaction. Though he only managed a small smirk and light chuckle.

"Umm..." He shook his head, "It's not exactly a love story." He looked at me with amusement and I raised my eyebrows, letting him know he had to explain himself, "Zumir just couldn't keep it in his pants."

"Ah." I gapsed, "That little-"

"Hey, at least he's sticking by her." He shrugged.

I looked forward, looking at the long road that stood before us, "Well, I hope it works out. Emi deserves someone to fall in love with her, not just stick by her, no matter how noble the reason."

"I agree. She grew on me." Dastan answered.

Maybe this all would feel normal soon.

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