My parting words are included at the end, but for now, enjoy the last chapter!
"This is stupid."
Gerome had to once again resist the urge to roll his eyes. He really was spending too much time around Severa if he was picking up her mannerisms. "Stop complaining and just fill out the form."
"All the choices are dumb," she argued, gesturing to the half-sheet of paper in disgust. "They make me wanna gag with how cheesy they are. Who the heck thought it was a good idea to put 'Forever Yours' here?"
"I did," he said with a glare.
Severa coughed in response. "You're on the planning committee? Ugh, no wonder."
He turned back to his paper and mumbled, "The girls all but forced me to do it."
She snorted. "Figures. You couldn't have done a better job than this?"
Severa continued to grumble while Gerome ignored her. Reading over the choices, Inigo silently agreed that they were all pretty bad. The senior class was voting on a theme for prom, and none of the options were anything special. He checked off a few boxes at random, reasoning that the theme wouldn't make that much of a difference on the overall experience anyway.
Inigo wasn't all that excited for prom, but he'd agreed to go because his friends were going. Oddly enough, it was Gerome who'd encouraged him to go. Inigo thought his normally antisocial friend would be the last person who'd want anything to do with prom, but after being roped into organizing the event, maybe it was only natural that Gerome felt invested in it.
So Inigo had willingly paid a ridiculous amount of money for his ticket, signed up for a table, and rented a suit, all for a night he didn't care all that much about. He knew he probably would feel differently if he had a date to go with, but…
He shook his head to get rid of those thoughts. He'd already made up his mind that this was fine with him. They'd reached an understanding on where they stood as friends, and he'd accepted what that meant.
But a selfish part of him still wished that he could have had the chance to take her to prom. Their school had a policy about bringing outside guests, and unfortunately for him, no one was allowed to bring a date over the age of 21. He'd briefly considered lying about her age – Robin looked young enough to pass – but then realized that he'd be in trouble if they checked ID. It would have been nice to see Robin all dressed up, but Inigo knew when to admit defeat.
At least there'd be something else to look forward to – Gerome had promised that there would be good food, and Inigo wasn't going to refuse that.
At the next desk over, Severa nudged Gerome in the arm. He suppressed a sigh of annoyance, and said as calmly as he could, "Yes?"
"I'm not gonna say this again, so listen up," she said. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear self-consciously before muttering, "Thanks."
Gerome blinked. "I don't think I've ever heard you say that before."
"Yeah, probably not," she said, a slight blush on her cheeks. "And you probably won't ever again." She nodded towards Inigo and said, "Thanks for talking to him. He seems back to normal."
"I didn't do much," he said, which was true. Inigo had done most of the talking when Gerome went to see him, much to his relief.
"Well, whatever you said to him worked," she admitted. "He looks happier now, less distressed. I'm glad."
"He's worked things out in his own way," Gerome said. "And I think he's okay with that."
Inigo leaned closer, elbow on the desk. He grinned cheekily and said, "So you two are getting along now? Never thought I'd see the day."
"And you never will," Severa said. "Idiot."
Gerome shook his head. She really was stubborn. But he didn't miss the slight smile she sent his way.
Olivia watched her son struggle to comb his hair, trying not to smile too much at the scene. It really was amazing how he just couldn't get his hair to do what he wanted. Some things never changed. "You've gotten better," she called from the doorway.
"Really?" Inigo said distractedly. He carefully brushed his bangs back only to have them fall in his eyes again. A few cowlicks stuck out in strange places and the ends of his hair were flattened at awkward angles after he'd tried to wet them down.
"Well… let me help you," she decided. She took the brush from him, neatly smoothing down the stray hairs with water and using gel to style his bangs out of his eyes.
Inigo sat quietly as his mother fixed his hair, fiddling with the cufflinks on his shirt. She seemed to sense his apprehension and said, "It'll be fun, Inigo."
"I hope so," he said. As an afterthought, he added, "At least I can dance alright."
She giggled. "I'm sure you'll have a good time." She ran the brush through his hair one last time before patting Inigo on the shoulder. "There. All done."
"You're amazing," he declared. "Thanks, Mom. I think the car's here."
He gathered up his jacket and draped it over his arm, checked to make sure he'd put on his tie correctly, and headed for the front door. Olivia sighed a little as Inigo met his friends outside and got into the limo they'd arranged for. She saw Gerome, who gave an almost imperceptible smile in her direction and she waved back. Everything would work out for her son, given time. He had more people looking out for him than he knew.
All things considered, Gerome and co. had done a good job. The school had managed to secure a ballroom in one of the nicer hotels in the area and had sectioned off a specific drop off point for the students. A balloon archway framed the double-door entryway, through which there was a sign-in desk distributing roses. Round tables covered with pristine white tablecloths encircled the dance floor, which was waxed to sparkling perfection. A photo booth with props was set up outside, right next to the professional photographer. Overall, Inigo had to admit he was impressed by how well they'd managed to put things together.
The evening progressed as smoothly as one could hope. People took pictures at the photo booth, girls compared dresses, and the dinner was, as promised, pretty good. Inigo tried dancing for a bit, but decided to take a break after he nearly tripped over someone's shoes. He was sitting at the table half-heartedly eating a slice of cake when Gerome came by.
"Hey," he said. "You alright?"
"I'm fine, you worry too much. Go have fun with the others, I'm just resting," Inigo said. He tried to sound cheerful, but Gerome knew when his friend was faking.
He sat down in the chair beside him, a concerned look on his face. "You don't have to pretend. I think I know you better than that." Inigo didn't say anything, and so Gerome said, "She'd want you to have a good time."
"You're right," he said. "I never did tell you how things went after we talked, did I?"
"I thought it best not to pry," Gerome said. "Doesn't mean I'm not curious though. I'm guessing it went well?"
Inigo nodded. "Yeah. I think she might even like me, too. So I really shouldn't be so selfish about tonight. Sometimes we can't get what we want, no matter what we do."
Gerome smiled a little. "Sometimes you can."
Inigo raised an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean?"
He pointed straight ahead. "See for yourself."
Inigo slowly looked up, his eyes widening. Someone was standing there, someone he knew very well. In barely a whisper he said, "Robin? W-what are you doing here?"
She grinned at his reaction. "I heard from Gerome that you didn't have a date."
He blinked and turned to the chair beside him, but Gerome had already left. Inigo chuckled to himself, making a mental note to thank him later. "Gerome talked to you?"
"We've been in touch," she replied with a wink. "I was able to pull a few strings to get in here. Glad I made it in time."
She looked amazing. Her hair was pulled back into a half ponytail and adorned with crystal hair ornaments. She wore some light makeup that accentuated her natural features well, along with a silver necklace. Her dress was purple of course, made of a silky fabric that flattered her figure. In comparison to the other girls she looked much more elegant to Inigo, and he had to pinch himself to remember to keep breathing.
"I can't believe it," he said as he took in her appearance. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you found a way to be here tonight. I didn't think it was possible."
"I'm here," she said softly. She offered him her hand, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. "Care to dance?"
Inigo matched her smile with one of his own and took her hand. "I'd love to."
She led him to the center of the room where couples had begun to slow dance. He wondered if people would notice that Inigo was suddenly accompanied by a beautiful woman, but hardly anyone turned to stare. Robin laid one hand on his shoulder before gently guiding his hands to her waist. And then they started to dance.
Inigo was careful not to step on her toes, feeling way too nervous just because she was so close to him and he was touching her and they were dancing and it was happening all at once. The real thing was so much better than his dreams, and he was determined not to ruin things by making a fool of himself.
"Don't worry," she said reassuringly. "You're doing fine."
"You could tell I was nervous?" He asked, still concentrating on his feet.
Inigo looked up to see her grin a little. "You're really tense," she said. "Loosen up a little. It's just me."
"I'm nervous because it's you," he countered. "Didn't I say something similar before?"
"You might have," she hummed. "But you should have a little more faith in yourself. I'm not the dancing expert. And I'm just as nervous as you are, you know."
Inigo pulled her closer to him in response. "Any better?"
He winked and she rolled her eyes. "What a charmer. I guess old habits die hard."
At that, he laughed. "Only around you, Robin."
He noticed how she dropped her gaze at his words. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"Just thinking," she said. "About me and you. There's a lot I haven't told you yet that I wanted to tell you earlier."
"Better late than never, right?" He said. "So what's bothering you?"
She looked up at him gratefully. "You know, at first I was afraid to like you," she said as they continued to dance. "I won't lie – it is because of our age difference. I thought about how young you are and how there's still so much time for you to meet new people in the future. You'd have plenty of dating opportunities after high school out there in the real world, so I…"
She bit her lip and looked away. "I thought it was selfish of me to keep you from having that chance."
He considered that. "I guess we're both pretty insecure, huh?"
She nodded. "I was also afraid that you'd change your mind about me," she confessed. "Even though our feelings are the same, things could change tomorrow. That's true for any relationship, but with you I was too afraid to take that risk."
"Why's that?" He asked. "You've dated before, right? I remember you had a picture of you with your friends and…"
"I have," she nodded. "But I was afraid because I didn't want to lose you. I didn't want to get attached because I knew it would hurt too much if we had to say goodbye."
Her words were raw and true, and he saw the same kind of vulnerability in her that he saw in himself. "I felt the same about you," he admitted. "You're older and beautiful and, well, I'm sure you'd rather date people your own age, not some high school kid. Also, now that I think about it, that's probably illegal."
She laughed, and he joined in. "That's part of it," she murmured.
"I always felt like I was never good enough for you. That I could never measure up. That no matter how much older I got, you'd keep aging just the same. But…"
Inigo moved closer so their foreheads were touching. Her eyes seemed to shine even in the dark. "You're the one I want, Robin. Here, in this moment, right now, it's you. It's always been you."
He was so focused on looking into her eyes that he didn't realize what was happening until her palm was resting against his cheek, her eyes were closed, and suddenly her lips were on his.
The kiss was clumsy at best. Inigo's first thought was that kissing was nothing like the movies made it out to be. It was his first one, and he was painfully aware of how awkward the whole thing must be. But Robin's lips were soft and moved gently against his, and Inigo slowly started to match her movements.
They parted after a few seconds. A silence settled over them until Inigo said, "Wow."
"I love you, Inigo," she said a little breathlessly. "And it's about time I was honest and told you that."
Inigo was still trying to process the fact that she had just kissed him, that he had kissed her back, that they had kissed. It was a lot to take in, and before he could properly respond to her confession he heard a few people clapping and whistling at them. He turned to see his friends grinning nearby along with a few other people, at which he blushed furiously
"C-come on, stop staring!" He said in an aggravated tone.
Robin laughed. "Come on," she said, taking his hand and leading him away from the others.
"Wait, about what you said –"
"I meant it." She looked at him with the same intensity as the night she'd promised to wait for him, and said, "And I'll say it as many times as you want. I love you, Inigo."
His blush only increased at her words. "It feels different hearing it than being the one to say it," he admitted. "But even though it's embarrassing, it makes me happy to know that you… love me too."
"I was planning on telling you after you turned eighteen, but sometimes plans fall through," she said with a mischievous grin. "I'm sorry I kept you waiting so long."
"It's been ten years," he agreed. "But they say the best things in life can't be rushed. And you're more than worth it to me, Robin."
She smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck. "So, was I your first kiss?"
"Yup," he said. "As you can tell, I'm not quite used to this yet."
"Guess we'll just have to keep practicing then," she said with a wink. "Starting now."
She leaned forward, and Inigo smiled into the kiss. After years of unsuccessfully chasing girls, it turned out that the place to find the one beautiful girl of his dreams was just an old park bench.
And so Park Benches comes to an end! It's been a long road to get here, thank you all for your support. Over the months that I spent prioritizing this, there were a bunch of other ideas that popped up but had to be sidelined. I've got a lot of half-started ideas, most of which will probably never make it on here, but keep a look out for my future works!
The poll is still ongoing: Which critical hit lines from Fire Emblem Awakening are your favorites? Thirty choices, five votes, you decide.
And as always, thanks for reading!