Vahn felt a heaviness in his body as a deep throbbing pain was emitting from his head. He felt like his skull had been cracked open and his brain had turned to mush. Unable to form any thoughts, he just allowed the pain to encompass his entire being, almost to the point he was unable to distinguish between where the pain began and where it ended. He felt like the pain stretched out endlessly, and it was almost as though his body was infinitely expanding along with it to allow for more pain to fill him.
Suddenly, from a place deep within, a cooling sensation began to build from a minuscule point at the very center of the seemingly endless pain. It began to expand, almost as if it was trying to erase the pain from existence, but no matter how quickly it spread out, it was always slower than the pace of the pain itself. Vahn felt like his soul was beginning to tear apart by the duality of the two contrasting feelings. One filled him with energy and life, while the other seemed determined to destroy everything and erase it from existence.
Vahn tried focusing on the ‘cool’ sensation and tried to tear his mind away from the pain that had wracked his body for what felt like an eternity. He could feel his consciousness accelerating toward the center of the sensation, but no matter how fast he thought he was moving, he never seemed to get any closer. A fear began to grip his mind as Vahn felt, if he was unable to reach the center, he would lose himself entirely.
Suddenly, along with the cool sensation, Vahn was also able to feel a soft and warm sensation that seemed to surround the entire space. What previously seemed like an infinitely expanding void, now seemed to be much smaller as the warmth quickly spread through his mind and banished the pain. The cooling sensation, no longer suppressed by the pain, now spread out at a speed faster than perception itself. Before an instant had passed, the cooling sensation encompassed Vahn’s entirety as he began to feel at ease.
No longer wracked by the pain, Vahn began to enjoy the feeling of warmth that was spreading from an unseen area outside of this strange space. It felt gentle, kind, and full of things that Vahn couldn’t quite describe. All he knew is, the feeling made him feel very safe an secure, very similar to something he had lost long ago. Slowly, the cooling sensation began to recede, allowing for the warm feelings to replace the emptiness where Vahn currently resided.
Vahn opened his eyes and noticed he had difficulty seeing in the dim light coming from a source outside of his line of sight. Currently, the only thing he could see was the sleeping figure of a woman, resting against the bedside where he was currently located. Vahn’s mind froze for a moment because he couldn’t understand why the person he saw would be present. The last thing he remembered was staring into the eyes of the Juggernaut before spending what felt like an eternity lost in that painful black space.
Feeling his movements, the figure woke up with a start and stared into Vahn’s eyes with a surprised expression on her face. The two stared at each other for a few moments before the woman, Hephaestus, threw her arms around Vahn and began to embrace him in a powerful and emotion-filled hug. “Uuuuh, Vahn, you idiot! Don’t scare me like that!” Hephaestus cried out in an aggrieved manner, and the pain-filled voice tore away at something in Vahn’s heart.
Without explanation, tears began falling from Vahn’s eyes as he returned the embrace of the crying Hephaestus. Feeling the warmth coming from her body, Vahn realized the thing that had brought him away from that painful darkness had been her embrace. He didn’t know how long he was unconscious, but he felt a great deal of time had passed. Without her gentle warmth, Vahn wasn’t sure he would have been able to come back from that abyss of pain and despair.
For now, Vahn allowed Hephaestus to embrace him while he rubbed her back in an effort to return some of the comforts she had given him. He could hear her mumbling accusations and various curses about him under her breath, but Vahn just allowed her to express her emotions as she pleased. Eventually, just as she started to calm down, Vahn spoke, “Thank you Hephaestus…you saved me. I don’t think I could have come back on my own.”
Hearing Vahn’s words, Hephaestus put more strength into her embrace before pressing Vahn’s head into her chest. “You stupid…” Hephaestus wanted to curse him again, but seeing the grateful expression and relief in his face, she couldn’t find the words to berate him any longer. Instead, Hephaestus spoke gently, “You had me worried…Vahn. I’m glad you came back.”
Afterward, the two enjoyed each other embrace until one of the doctors had come by with a number of people in tow. “Oh? Finally awake, my goodness, you sure know how to sleep, kid.” Vahn turned towards the voice and recognized the familia figure of Granny Marin. She was the same doctor that had treated his injuries when he collapsed outside of the dungeon previously. Behind her, there were five figures that looked toward Vahn with happy expressions after seeing him awake.
Before Vahn could greet them, Lili and Naaza both rushed toward his beside while Ais, Tiona, and surprisingly, Lefiya approached in a more moderate manner. The two girls had tears in their eyes as they neared, especially Lili who literally jumped into Vahn’s chest and began crying. Hephaestus, who had already had her time with Vahn, made way for the other girls before moving away to speak with Granny Marin.
Lili was inconsolable as she cried into Vahn’s chest. Even when he tried comforting her, she just nestled her face into his hospital gown and continued crying. Naaza took the seat that Hephaestus had left vacant as she stared at Vahn with a tear-stained face. Unlike Lili, she wasn’t crying loudly, but her silent sobs made Vahn feel even worse than the small pallum on his chest.
Vahn made eye contact with Tiona, Ais, and Lefiya and noticed they were acting more reserved than he expected. Noticing his confused expression, Tiona opened her mouth and explained. “The moment we brought you out of the dungeon, these two had been in a flurry after seeing your unconscious body. In the entire 9 days you were unconscious, they barely left your side.”
Hearing that he had been unconscious for nine days, Vahn was very surprised. The last-ditch efforts of the Juggernaut had done more damage than he expected, and it was very likely he had been on the verge of death at that time. Seeing the two crying girls that he had parted ways with previously in a confident manner, Vahn felt a terrible feeling in his heart. Placing his hand on both of their heads, Vahn muttered in a low voice, “I’m sorry…Lili…Naaza. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
“It wasn’t just the two of them that were worried, ya know~? Ais and Lefiya have been down in the dumps all weeks after you failed to wake up.” Vahn stared toward Ais and Lefiya, and he could see a sad look in Ais’s eyes. She looked directly at Vahn and said, “I’m glad you woke up. I was worried.” Ais didn’t deny Tiona’s claim at all, but Lefiya seemed somewhat hesitant as she said, “I’m also glad you are awake…”
Vahn felt happy to have the two girls’ care, but he was a bit confused by a matter and couldn’t help but ask while looking at Tiona,”Were you not worried?” Tiona began to smile with all of her teeth showing as a passionate fervor filled her eyes, “No way~! The entire time you were asleep, I kept telling everyone you would wake up! There is no way a hero would be defeated in such a way, hahahahaha-ack!” Toward the end of her laugh, Tiona choked a bit and Vahn could see that, while she likely believed he would wake up, she was still worried about him.
Vahn began to laugh out loud after seeing Tiona’s gaffe, and the entire room seemed to go silent as he was unable to repress the emotions that had been building inside of him. Seeing so many people concerned about his well-being, Vahn felt incredibly happy and fulfilled. Tiona’s actions had been the last straw and, even though he felt guilty for having worried them, he was unable to repress his happiness any longer.
Everyone in the room stared at the boy who was both laughing and crying at the same time. Though he seemed unaware of it himself, Vahn was currently in tears as he widely smiled at everyone in the room. They could all feel the relief and happiness contained within his voice, and everyone present began to feel happy, chasing away all the negative feelings that had been present previously.
After everything had settled down, Vahn was required to give every girl a hug before Granny Marin shooed them all out of the ward. Even Lefiya gave Vahn a short hug before departing with the rest of the girls. Once everyone was gone, the only people left in the room were Granny Marin, Hephaestus, and Vahn. Hephaestus sat next to the bedside and grabbed Vahn’s hand while Granny Marin began speaking.
“Kid, I honestly don’t know how you’re alive right now. After the Loki Familia brought you to me, I checked your condition and, by all rights, you should be dead. Your brain had suffered severe trauma and the liquid inside had increased to such an extent that, even if it didn’t kill you, you should have been in a coma for the rest of your life.” Granny Marin looked at Vahn like he was a corpse that had got up off the table and started parading around.
“For now, you’ll need to take time off from adventuring for the foreseeable future. I would suggest you spend time recuperating to see if there are any sequelae that present themselves. If nothing happens within three months, you should be fine to head back into the dungeon. And don’t try to sneak in either; I already informed all of the Guild Staff to bar your entrance, and if they catch you there will be consequences.” Granny Marin had a firm tone to her voice, and Vahn didn’t feel like there was any room for negotiation.
From his side, Hephaestus had decided to speak up and piggyback the words of Granny Marins, “Don’t worry, until I’ve confirmed with my own eyes that he is fit and healthy, I won’t allow him to enter into the dungeon. Even if I have to lock him away inside my workshop for the entire three months.” Hephaestus, much like Granny Marin, also spoke with a firm tone. Her words actually made Vahn a little scared but, seeing the concern in her eyes, he couldn’t find it in himself to refute her.
Vahn could see from his system that he was in perfect health, but he felt he owed it to everyone that had been concerned about him to rest for a while. He could always spend the time improving his blacksmithing skills and studying medicine with Naaza. Vahn hadn’t made much time to explore the City, and this would be a good chance to do so while he was unable to enter the dungeon.
Nodding his head, Vahn looked toward the two ‘fierce’ women and said, “I understand. I will take the next three months off to recover fully. I’m not in any particular rush to go back into the dungeon anyway.” Granny Marin nodded at his response, while Hephaestus released a relieved sigh. She knew that, if Vahn wanted to, he would find a way to enter the dungeon somehow. Seeing him so cooperative, a lot of the feelings that had been stressing her out in the two weeks faded away.
Hephaestus asked Granny Marin, “When can he go home?” The Doctor shook her head and nearly spat out the words, “Just take him. With my prognosis, he should have been in that bed for the rest of his life. He obviously has something special about him to bring him back from the brink. I’m not going to meddle in your Familia’s secrets, just make sure to foot the bill properly.” Granny Marin had quickly become paranoid about a patient like Vahn. It seemed like every time she saw him, it lead to a mess and an increase in the pressure she had to deal with.
Hearing Granny Marin’s ‘consent’, Hephaestus had a big smile on her face. Looking towards Vahn, she spoke her next words with more affection than she had ever mustered in all her millions of years of existence, “Let’s go home, Vahn.” Vahn noticed how happy Hephaestus was, and it felt like her mood had seeped into him from the point of contact in his hand. He nodded his head and returned her smile, “Let’s go home.”
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Sleepy Boi’,’A wild Hephaestus appears!’,’Surrounded by fire and flowers’)