. o .

"You're many years late / how happy I am to see you…" - Akhmatova

. o .

It's not quite a romance.

Romance is for the duo twirling recklessly across the Meltokian ballroom, white lace and silver swords. Passion can be found in the two bickering beside the punchbowl; showstoppers both in their finery.

They are not old or resigned, nor are they any more tragic than the children they fight with and fight for. Yet they are the only ones who do not dance; his hands are tied, and she never learned how. They conspire instead, under an arching window along the east wall, sunlight streaming over silver and sky-blue hair.

A rare, mischievous smile curves her lips, and she blamed it on the empty wineglass dangling from her hand as she tucked a wayward strand of hair behind his ear. It is longer than hers, and she wondered, audibly, how he could stand it that way.

He chuckled, but before he could answer, she drew back slightly and asked in her Professor's voice if he was rebelling against something. She had read that men grew their hair out when they wished to do so, or so stated the journal she had perused.

"No," he answered. "I simply grew it out at first because I had no scissors, and then I kept it because I never could have long hair before. No more, no less." More controlled than she was, or simply with higher tolerance for the wine, his hands stayed at his side, yet his eyes traced her short silver hair, a trademark of her mother's people. Noting that her gaze followed his, a tiny smile quirked his lips. "Do you keep yours short for the same reason, Raine?"

Her eyes widened in surprise, and she stumbled over an answer, remembering too late that he had been more than the convict, more than the stoic martial artist.

One of these days, she promised herself, she would find out exactly how much they had read in common.

But not today.

Today is a necessary pretense; bright eyes and colourful festivities. It is a calm before a storm that none of their small party is certain they will survive. Still, as her attention slipped from the man at her side, a frown tugged at her lips as she looks at her little brother, so small and yet undeniably powerful, though one would not guess it from his youthful get-up and sparkling eyes as he conversed with the others at their table across the room.

For once, she does not envy him his youth, his innocence. She is not the one who must kill one she called 'friend' when the sun rises next.

Zelos' waggling eyebrows and pantomimed dancing as he passed the seat she shared with Regal snapped her melancholic line of thought immediately. Shaking her head at the irrepressible redhead, she turned back to find Regal's expression was as bemused as her own.

"I can't –" he began, apology clear in his tone.

"I don't –" she murmured, cutting herself off as she realized her interruption. When it was clear he was not about to finish, she added, "…when we win… I know we can't know. But we should be able to hope – if there is anything Lloyd has passed on to us, it is that we can hope to make it through this." Composing herself, Raine took a deep breath. "So, when we do, you said that you would remove those…"

Looking down at the shackles that bound his wrists, Regal sighed. "You wish this too, then?"

Smiling ruefully, Raine nodded. "You did promise her, but yes. I do. You cannot hold yourself guilty forever."

"I –" He paused, shook his head, and raised his eyes to hers, his resolve clear. "I cannot promise I will no longer feel guilt for what I have done. Yet I promised, and I cannot betray her again." With a careful lightness to his tone, he tried a smile. "We shall have to wait to dance until then, I think."

She chuckled. "I suppose I could try…"

Almost in time with her words, the band finished its last song. Noticing that the others had already retired, his laughter joined with hers, and he proffered his arm courteously. "My apologies; I did not realize it was this late…"

Once they arrived at her door, she slipped her arm out of his, and wished him good night. He replied in kind, but before she could slip into her room, he added, "I shall hold you to your promise, you know."

"You may regret it," Raine replied cautiously.

"You forget," he added, "that my boots are made of metal." Unusual mischief glinted in his eyes as he noticed the amusement in hers. "Until tomorrow, then."

Nodding, Raine closed the door behind her. She ignored the blatantly curious looks that Sheena sent her as she came in, only smiling breezily at the ninja girl curled up on the armchair, a journal dangling from one hand. Extracting the sketchbook clasped loosely in Colette's sleeping grasp, and pulling Presea's blankets off from where the little axgirl had kicked them to the floor, Raine's smile warmed. They were children now; soft and imaginative and ineffably hopeful, but they would make it. They all would.

"Until tomorrow," she whispered, claiming the empty bed closest to the window.

. o .

Regal kept his word, carefully taking Raine's hand once they had descended and she had comforted Genis as much as he would let her. Ignoring the speculative looks that their companions cast at them, he swept her into a slow gavotte; rich with memory, hope, and a quiet celebration. They had lost much along the way, but as the puzzled gazes of their friends turned into smiles, he spun the woman in his arms around, grinning at her half-hearted protests.

They still had their lives; looking at their intertwined hands, his gaze softened. They had won their freedom, and though he knew too well the transient nature of affection and loyalty, for now, at least, they had each other.

Not bad, really, he mused; better yet, Raine hadn't even stepped on his –

Oh well.

Squeezing her hand in reassurance and drawing her nearer, Regal smiled down at Raine and twirled her into another spin, chuckling at her flush, her feathers of silver hair twirling around her as they continued to dance. Disarray suited the Professor, though he was wise enough to never tell her that.

It wasn't a romance.

Yet with a little more time and a few more dances, perhaps it could be.

. o .


. o .

Disclaimer: Regal, Raine, and all other recognizable traits, locales, and personages of ToS belong to Namco. The quote at the outset is cited from Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces, and is a line translated from a Grecian poem. Naturally, it is not mine, either.

Sabe's Scribbles: Hmm… a little bit of happy fluff is good for you every once in a while. Comments, queries, and concrit are always welcomed; in the meanwhile, Cheers, and Starry Nights!