Vahn awoke nearly three hours later, fully recovered, but still bandaged up as he raised his body. He recognized the surroundings as Naaza’s workshop and understood she had treated his body after Tsubaki’s ruthless counterattack. Remembering her blushing face, Vahn felt a bit of pride well up inside him.
Naaza, who had been mixing a solution at her work table, heard the noise and looked toward Vahn with a relieved expression as she said, “I really don’t understand how you’re able to recover so quickly. From the time I started treating you, you had multiple fractures and bruisers signifying internal bleeding, but before I even applied the medicine, the bruises slowly started fading away. It was a strange sight you know, watching a wound heal visibly without any magic being used…”
Toward the end of her words, Naaza began to trail off as she recalled the fact she had watched Vahn’s naked body for nearly an hour as his wounds healed. She began to blush, and Vahn realized the implication behind her words as he noticed he was nude under the covers. Seeing the clothes at the side, he was tempted to tease her by pretending to not notice them. Naaza seemed to sense some though, as she looked at him with and said, “Wear the clothes properly, or I’ll see to it that you spend the rest of the night in that bed…” Though she started off with a firm tone, Naaza blanked after hearing her own words.
Seeing the fierce blush cover her face, Vahn began to laugh out loud as he started dressing. He had never been shy in front of Tsubaki, Naaza, and Lili, so he made no efforts to cover himself which caused Naaza to gave him sidewards glances from time to time. After properly wearing the clothes, Vahn walked over to her work table and she turned around and started fumbling for her tools. Coming to a stop at her side, Vahn asked, “What are you working on now?”
Naaza released a sigh before she explained, “My mixing skills have improved immensely with your help. I even showed my results to Miach-sama, and he was really surprised to see how innovative your ideas were. With a bit of refinement, he said they would be able to easily produce higher quality medicines in the future with less effort.”
Vahn nodded his head and started looking at the ingredients she had been mixing. From what he could tell, Naaza was attempting to make a high-potion, someone that only veterans with decades of experience could confidently make. As Vahn had previously purchased Alchemy, Chemistry, and Potion Making manuals from his shop, he had helped her make several changes to the recipe. Now, even though she wasn’t as skilled as a master, Naaza was able to produce high-potions with nearly 40% efficacy.
As he started helping her prepare the ingredients, Vahn said, “You have made a lot of progress, Naaza. It won’t be long before you become a master or learn the [Alchemist] development ability.” Naaza slowly nodded her head after stopping herself from preventing him handling the ingredients. Even though she had stopped him time and again, he never seemed to listen for long and always tried to help her. Naaza was frustrated with how casually he did the actions, as Vahn was even more adept at the process than she was…at least before the mana infusing stage.
They both continued preparing the ingredients, but Naaza was somewhat distracted by Vahn’s presence. She always felt guilty when he helped her because she was never really able to help him with anything. Even though she tried to teach him mixing, and watched him perform all the necessary steps, he always ended up failing in the end. It had been a hit to Naaza’s confidence, and she felt like she was a useless teacher. Even Miach wasn’t able to help her understand the reason behind Vahn’s inability to mix potions.
After their months together, Naaza had long become aware of how she felt about Vahn, and she could even see that he cared about her as well. But, before his sudden ‘awakening’, as Lili called it, he never acted like he was interested in her as a woman. He always showed her kindness and affection, but Naaza felt more like a companion or colleague to Vahn instead of a potential love interest. Even now, although he acted somewhat promiscuous, he made no efforts to approach her in that manner.
Naaza had seen all the girls that visited him in the ward, and was aware that he had also confessed to Hephaestus. When Lili and Tsubaki had returned earlier, Lili began complaining to her about the development and talking about how it would be difficult to stay around Vahn unless they increased their ‘efforts’. Naaza knew what she meant by ‘efforts’, but she couldn’t find any confidence to approach Vahn. In her mind, he was someone with infinite potential who always tried his best, while she spent most of her time cooped up in her workshop.
Ever since she had been attacked in the dungeon, Naaza had a fierce trauma within her mind and refused to put any real effort into training. Now, other than a bit of archery practice, she proactively tried to avoid conflict. She just focused on her research and trying to apply Vahn’s theories to the knowledge and experience she had obtained since entering the Miach Familia. Comparing herself against Vahn, Naaza felt incredibly inferior…
While she was stuck in her own thoughts, Vahn had noticed her hands stopped moving and saw the sad expression in her eyes. Vahn frowned and felt a bit frustrated since it seemed like all the girls around him were prone to sudden and spontaneous bouts of sadness. He really wished they would always be happy, so he reached out and started patting her head like he had done so several hundred times before.
Naaza felt the familiar feeling but noticed there was now a warmth coming from Vahn’s palm that seemed intent on driving away all the negative feelings inside of her. It was a very calming and relaxing sensation, and it made the experience she had already grown fond of in the past even more impactful. While she had her eyes closed and began losing herself in the comforting warmth, Naaza heard a gentle voice ask, “Tell me, Naaza, why are you sad?”
Shocked that Vahn would ask the question so directly, Naaza paused for several seconds before releasing a sigh. The hand on her head brought her a lot of comforts, and it made the surprise and inhibitions she had melted away. In a dull voice, Naaza said, “I was thinking that…I am unworthy to be at your side. You have done so much for me, including saving my life…restoring my arm…so many things. And, no matter how hard I try to repay you favor, I am unable to do so.”
Naaza heard a loud sigh come from Vahn, and she looked toward him with a scared expression, afraid that her answer had upset him. Vahn saw her expression and pulled the back of her head until her face became nestled in his chest. In a somewhat tired manner, Vahn laughed as he said, “I can kind of understand why Tusbaki was mad at me earlier. Seeing people worry about things can be very frustrating.”
Hearing his words, Naaza felt like crying a bit but was distracted by all the other emotions she was feeling. Vahn continued to gently stroke her hair as he said, “I don’t know why people seem to treat me like I’m some special existence…the only thing I care about is that the people around me are happy. All I’ve ever wanted to do since arriving in this place is protect those near me, and help to ensure their happiness. Seeing you sad because you feel unworthy to be around me…well, it is a very painful thing.”
Naaza was greatly affected by his words as she remembered the ‘spar’ from earlier. She had seen how Tsubaki pushed Vahn to have his own realizations, and now she was suffering just like how he was at the time. Like Vahn, before the fight, she was lost in her own thoughts and had stopped moving forward when the only thing she actually had to worry about is doing her best. There was nothing stopping her except her own worries…
Suddenly, Naaza felt her chin lifted and she started at Vahn in a confused expression as he leaned forward and kissed her lips. She was very surprised by his sudden action but didn’t have an adverse reaction to the intimate contact. Instead, Naaza closed her eyes and a single tear rolled down her cheek as she accepted the kiss.
After a few seconds, Vahn pulled his face away while still holding Naaza’s between his two hands. She had a dazed and happy expression, and Vahn found it much more appealing than her previous sadness. Vahn smiled and said gently, “Have confidence in yourself. You are very cute, and already someone that I can’t imagine my life without. Even if we never became lovers, I would never be ashamed to have you at my side.”
Naaza, as if all her earlier concerns had been a joke, began laughing while covering Vahn’s hands with her own. However, the laughter didn’t last long, as Naaza leaned her head forward and began crying into Vahn’s chest after hugging his waist. As he had been standing while Naaza sat in a chair, Vahn was now stuck accepting her embrace while she held his body at an awkward angle. The only thing he could do was use his [Hands of Nirvana] to pat her back while she let out her pent-up emotions.
After she finished crying, Naaza continued to hold Vahn’s waist for several minutes, and he began to feel like his body was going to cramp up if he had to hold his awkward position for much longer. Curious as to why Naaza was still holding onto him, Vahn was about to ask but his words froze in his throat. From above, he could see Naaza with her eyes closed slowly breathing in his scent without trying to draw attention to herself.
Vahn wanted to laugh out after seeing her ‘sneaky’ actions. Since he was able to transform and experience what it was like to have enhanced senses, Vahn was keenly aware of how sensitive chienthropes and cat people were to the scent of others. To Naaza, it was likely that his scent brought her comfort and security, and her current actions were probably the most natural way she could express herself at the moment.
Pretending he hadn’t noticed, Vahn continued to pat her back until she finally released him nearly ten minutes later. The moment she let him go, Vahn felt like he had been freed from a heavy burden and he couldn’t prevent himself from leaking a relieved sigh. Naaza stood up from her chair, and Vahn noticed for the first time that their heights weren’t too different from each other. Naaza was now only a few cms taller than he was, and it brought their faces very close to each other when they stood so close.
Before Vahn could say anything, Naaza grabbed his face and returned a kiss of her own upon his lips. Out of ‘practice’ or ‘instinct’, Vahn reached his hands around her waist and pulled her body close. It was a curious feeling because he could feel her tail brushing against his wrists as it flailed back and forth. Naaza continued kissing Vahn for nealy a minute before she pulled away in an embarrassed manner.
Immediately resuming her seat, Naaza picked up her tools as she said to Vahn with a hint of excitement still in her voice, “You shouldn’t stay here for too long. There are other things you need to attend to, and I need to focus on my work.” Naaza seemed to be focused on anything but her work, and Vahn wanted to comment, but she continued, “I…will learn to move forward. At that time, I want you to give me a chance. I feel like, if you accept me now, I will have failed myself as a woman…”
Vahn hummed an affirmation before he gently kissed the top of her head. Before he left the room, he said over his shoulder, “I believe in you, Naaza.” With those parting words, he exited her workshop. Naaza waited for his footsteps to disappear before turning toward the door with a glaze covering her eyes. “Just make sure you have a place for me when the time comes…you idiot.” She then took a deep breath and began focusing on her work. Naaza was determined to increase her own qualifications. Even if Vahn was willing to accept her as she was, Naaza herself was dissatisfied and wanted to prove herself.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Smell is a powerful sense’,’God-hand strikes again’,’Naaza’s conviction’)