This is it! This is the last chapter of 2016. I’m excited to share it, even if I’m not sure if anyone will see it. I have to assume most people won’t be reading fiction online on New Year’s Eve.
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Arguing with Yuri somehow turned into letting Yuri stay. Willow did not even know how it happened. His insistence on answering the questions she wanted to be answered with ridiculous, supernatural explanations made her suspect that he somehow turned this around on her by magic. She knew that notion was pretty ridiculous, but she did not want to believe that she would believe something so foolish on her own. If they were going to continue to entertain the idea that he arrived here through something other than ordinary means she was going to go on believing that she let him stay because of a spell.
Her bed frame was broken beyond repair, but the mattress itself was still fine. Once the mess was cleaned up she had a reasonable place to sleep for the night. That just meant she needed to find a place to put Yuri.
Yuri tried to help, which quickly turned into following Willow around the house when she made it clear she did not need much help at all. She pitied him. No matter where he really came from, he seemed completely disoriented. A part of her could not resist the urge to do everything she could to make sure that he got back to the place where he belonged.
Spell or no spell, she hated to see anyone lose their way when it was in her power to do something for them. For that reason, she was willing to let Yuri crash on her couch.
Certain aspects of her home caught Yuri completely off guard. Willow watched him size up her monitor as it sat there running her screen saver. It was amusing enough to make her decide to try turning on the television just to see how he would react.
He nearly jumped out of his skin and she had to fight to hold back her laughter. Having her little experiment turn out to be a success was one thing, but laughing at his distress took it too far.
“It’s just my TV,” she explained quickly to cover up her urge to giggle. “Do you not have television where you come from?”
He shook his head.
She sighed and put down the blankets she had carried over. Sitting down on the couch, she began to explain to the best of her ability. It was not as easy as she would like it to be because her understanding of the science behind it was shaky at best and she was not sure how she could explain it without knowing much about Yuri’s understanding of the scientific basis for recording and broadcasting images.
“It’s a recording. Um… the people aren’t in the box or anything. Most of the stuff is recorded and played back later, but some of it is live and those are sent over as they are being recorded. That’s probably a terrible explanation. I’m sorry. Just don’t worry. It’s completely normal. It’s a common type of entertainment here.”
Yuri nodded. Already he seemed to have overcome his fear and was exhibiting the typical behaviors of a man transfixed by a television screen.
Willow rolled her eyes. Maybe her buying into his being from another world story was a bit premature. Either that or this sort of behavior was even more universal than she originally thought.
She dared not let go of the remote just yet. Once she did that she knew that she was giving up the last chance she had to reel in his attention. He was ignoring her in favor of leaning in closer and closer to the television. She was sure he would be bolder in his investigation of the device once he was no longer under her supervision. Right now though he was just watching the screen intently.
She turned off the television to get his attention back on her. She had something important to say and she wanted to make sure that he actually heard her and understood what he said back to her. She knew all too well about the dangers of having discussions while greatly distracted. It was a problem she used to run into fairly frequently when she lived at home with her parents. She could not even count the number of times she had been on the receiving end of television distracted answers and given distracted answers herself. This was too important for her to risk not receiving a legitimate answer.
“I want to get some sleep tonight,” she announced, trying to make herself sound as serious and mature as possible. “Can you promise not to rob me or murder me in my sleep so I can have some peace of mind?”
Yuri appeared shocked by her question. “Why would I rob or murder you?”
She shrugged. She knew she was not being entirely sensible right now. A sensible person would not allow him to stay at all. She knew as a young, single woman inviting a stranger to stay in her apartment was asking for trouble, but she could not imagine kicking him out. “You’re a strange man in my home. It feels like a sensible question to ask.”
“It’s not as though I came here of my own will, and I certainly didn’t come here with the intention to harm you in any way.”
“Well, maybe I’m just not quite sure I can believe your story.”
“I haven’t told you anything other than the truth as far as I know it,” he insisted.
Willow sighed. She could already feel this going around in circles. She was not ready to believe what he told her just yet and as long as he stuck with the story he first told her the stalemate continued. She might not be willing or able to believe it, but she could not bring herself to distrust him outright if he did not change his story.
She wanted to trust him. A part of her even wanted to believe his story. It would turn her world on its head, but she still found herself hoping that she would learn that it was all true, even if it meant that she owed her family some sort of apology for disagreeing with them so vehemently all the time.
“I don’t know why I trust you, but I think I do,” she admitted. “Just try not to break anything.”
With that, she handed him the remote and went to bed. On her way back she checked to make sure the lock on her bedroom door worked. It might not be much, but it was a small comfort to know that she could at least put a flimsy, locked door between them for the night. Trusting him not to murder her was one thing, but she still wanted to keep some modicum of modesty.
Yuri awoke to a stiff neck and cold feet. The couch was not made for sleeping, at least not for someone his size. He expected to wake up feeling completely disoriented, but he was still disoriented enough while awake to do more than doze. He remembered everything. He was not sure he was capable of forgetting the way he had come to be in this strange, new world.
All of it still felt like a dream. Unlike a dream the memory of recent events was not fading away. He woke up and he was still in this strange place. A part of him had hoped that he would know it was a dream in the light of day, that he would wake up this morning in his own bed. As soon as his mind awoke he knew it was not true.
The television chattered away in the background. The glow from the screen tried its hardest to transform the room into an alien landscape. The novelty had not yet worn off and the sounds and light shielded him from his own mind as he fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.
As he woke up Yuri wondered why it all seemed so normal to him. He felt oddly calm and at peace with his current situation. He knew he should be fighting to find a way back home as soon as possible, but for some reason, he could not bring himself to rush.
A part of his hesitation had to do with that person that had been chasing him. He sensed something was wrong with that situation as soon as he walked into it and the chase confirmed it. He would never know what might have happened if he had not stumbled into the hole in the world that brought him here. He thought he was pretty good at reading the vibes of different situations. That hallway had given off some bad vibes. He was not a big fan of the vibes he felt in the place in between the palace and this place either, but he had not felt as though he was in immediate danger there. Here, he felt safe.
He tried to remember the last time he felt completely safe as he sat up and stretched. It had to have been a long time ago. Life in the palace, as Durya’s heir, was always dangerous. Everyone seemed to have something to gain by getting rid of him. The only person he knew for sure wanted him around was Durya and that was only because the Duke picked him to be his heir and he could have the succession changed again if he ever decided to get rid of Yuri. Before that, he had been training to be a soldier. He might not have been on the front lines, but even a trainee was not entirely safe.
In this place, only one person even knew he existed and so far Willow seemed to be less than thrilled with their situation, but both unwilling and unable to do him any real or lasting harm. He knew he was imposing and for that reason tried not to fault her for being gruff with him, and he knew she could have kicked him out. She let him stay though which made him think that she was a kinder soul than she let on.
This place he found himself in was strange enough that he knew he would need a friend and ally to survive. Her dwelling had a number of apparatus he had never encountered before. The television was by far the most prominent and vocal of the bunch, but he had spotted other devices on his way to the couch the night before.
He got up and started to explore. He dared not disturb anything for fear of activating another noise-making device like the television which would not stop its constant stream of noise. He had learned how to change the sound and the pictures, but not how to make it stop. The last thing he wanted was to add to that noise by starting something else he could not stop.
His exploration revealed more box-shaped machines with numbers and buttons that he refrained from touching. The more he looked the more he felt sure that he should not touch anything. He did not want to be the one to disturb his hostess’ slumber so he tried his best to sit quietly until she came out here on her own.
With nowhere else to go and no other connections in this place, he thought it would be for the best to try to stay on her good side. He sat down at the table so he could be sure that she knew he was not trying to cause any trouble when she came out.
From his seat, he noticed some books. He knew how to handle books without getting himself into trouble at least. It would give him something to do while he waited rather than just wondering how long he would have to wait until he could get something to eat in this place. It would be a way to block out the television, which had somehow managed to become simultaneously less interesting and more disturbing overnight. At least with a book he had a general idea of what he was getting himself into.
By the time Willow woke up Yuri had returned to trying to make the television play something at least halfway decent. He gave his most valiant effort, cycling through all the available channels several times to no avail, but he could not quite bring himself to give up hope. He was not so absorbed in his mission that he missed the sound of her bedroom door opening.
He managed to turn around just in time to see her nearly jump out of her skin at the sight of him. He did not know what he had done to startle her and was about to apologize when she spoke up.
“Sorry. I forgot you were here,” she explained before trudging off to the kitchen.
Yuri did not want to crowd her, but he was starving and did not want to miss out on an opportunity to get something to eat. He forced himself to wait a moment before following her to the kitchen. He realized he had nothing to worry about when she shoved a bowl with food into his hands.
Instead of asking questions he decided to just follow her lead. The exhausted look on her face made him have second thoughts about asking too many questions just now. He followed her lead instead and ate the contents of the bowl which turned out to taste like pure sugar.
“I’ve gotta go to work today,” she announced abruptly. “Are you going back to where you came from today?”
He tried to get the sugar buzz to die down just a bit before he answered. He was not sure he even trusted himself to speak when he was pretty sure he could taste colors.
“Unless you know where another hole to my world is located I can’t go back,” he admitted.
She glared at him. Apparently, she expected him to have a different stance this morning than the one he presented last night. Unfortunately, he had been telling the truth then and he was not going to change his story now.
He shrugged. There was nothing else he could say. He knew nothing about this world so he could not even offer a suggestion of where more of these holes might show up. As far as he knew there was no way to predict their appearances even in his world. It was something that just happened sometimes and you hoped it did not happen to you because more often than not the people that disappeared never came back. Even though he was sure that some of them had not disappeared into holes to their worlds, some of them probably did and that meant some of them never came back. He worried that he might be one of the ones that never made it back, but he knew it was too soon to start thinking like that.
“I guess you’re staying here today.”
“I guess so.”
He felt as thought he had managed to disappoint her and he did not know how he could make it right. The best thing he could do would be to find a way to get back to where he belonged as soon as possible so he could stop being such a source of irritation for her.
She left the table and got up and disappeared for a while. When she returned she was in different clothes and if possible appeared to be more annoyed than before. He was still at the table and trying to stay out of her way.
“Okay. I have to go to work, but I guess after I get off work I can help you find your way back to where you below. Just stay inside while I’m gone so you don’t get yourself into trouble.”
Yuri nodded. He dared not defy her now that he knew he was not able to understand or predict the changes in her mood. The safest thing to do at this point seemed to be to remain quiet and do his best to obey her.
“There’s towels and stuff in the bathroom if you want to shower. I’m not sure what to do about your clothes right now, though.”
“What’s wrong with my clothes?”
“They’re not normal for around here. Not to mention that you’ve only got the one set and you can’t wear them all the time. I can’t exactly loan you my stuff since I don’t think that they’d fit even if you didn’t mind wearing girl’s clothes. We’ll figure something out.”
“Okay then,” he agreed.
She was slowly making her way toward the door. He suspected that she needed to leave but felt like she should stay either out of distrust or obligation to him.
He waited. She finally made it to the door.
“Just try to be inconspicuous while I’m gone,” she requested. “I’ll be back this afternoon.”
He waved. He was not sure if that was what was expected of him or not, but he did not know how else to see her off for the day given their very strange circumstances.