Author's Notes:

The story picks up directly after the Fayt/Maria ending in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (a PS2 game developed by Tri-Ace and published by SquareEnix). I created this because, as I'm sure many of you will agree with me, I found the character endings too short and unfulfilling. Furthermore, while I enjoyed the game immensely, I found some things lacking, including Maria's development and history as a character. I created my own interpretation of certain key events in her past that were revealed in the game's storyline. I didn't feel their impact on the course of her life and emotional development was properly explained and so I made an attempt to fill in the blanks as I saw would be fitting. Otherwise, I've tried to preserve her personality as best as possible. I realize that Maria is supposed to be a strong-willed and dynamic figure, but I wanted to show that she also has a vulnerable side that she doesn't dare show anyone and the history on which this phenomenon is based.

Only You

Maria maintained a calm, casual composure but inside, her stomach churned and her head was swimming. She lowered her face in embarrassment. The room echoed dead silence and seconds ticked away with the depth of centuries. Steeling herself, she slowly adjusted her glance up towards Fayt. He was dumbstruck, still in a state of shock. Maria almost chuckled; his expression was priceless.

This was her chance. "Fayt, I..." Maria began. Suddenly her courage failed her. She had meant to say "I love you" but her voice had died in her throat. Her heart pounding, she began to panic.

What if he didn't feel the same way? What if there was someone else? What about Sophia? After all, she and Fayt had been friends since childhood. They'd had a lifetime of opportunities to fall in love. Maria had only met Fayt by chance only a few months ago, and not exactly under the most ideal of circumstances. Her heart sank. Of course, why hadn't she seen it before? Sophia was so open and energetic and cute, the kind of girl a guy can't help but like... the kind of girl a guy can't help but... love...

Maria was suddenly filled with a sense of self-loathing. Why couldn't she open up to others? Why did she push the ones that cared about her away? Fayt could never love me... The thought echoed through the walls of her mind.

Her mental defenses weakened, she couldn't continue. To others, she was the fearless leader of the anti-Federation group, Quark. Her authority was absolute, not because she ruled with an iron fist, but because her charisma inspired such loyalty from all those under her command. She was more than just a leader, she was a role model, she was a hero. Ironically, her being placed on a pedestal only served to distance herself even more from others. Maria had always been satisfied with this arrangement. She was fine carrying the burden of others but she could never trust anyone enough to share her own heavy burdens. She had always kept everyone at arm's length, passing herself off as a cool-headed, somewhat cold-hearted, strong-willed and independent woman. In reality, she had a delicate, tender side and longed for someone she could lean on, just a little bit. She was tired of being alone. Now, on the verge of baring her soul to the man she had fallen in love with, she retreated back to her old patterns. She had been living a lie for so long, how could she stop now?

Maria turned towards the door, her back facing Fayt. "I...I'm sorry. Please excuse me," she choked as she ran out of the room and towards the stairs. "Maria, wait!" Fayt cried out, suddenly snapping from his daze. Maria ignored him and headed for the bridge. She may have just dissolved Quark but as far as the ship's computer was concerned, she was still captain of the Diplo. As she stepped into the empty command post she quickly gasped, "Computer, lock down the bridge door." She heard an affirming click behind her. With her back to the door, she sighed heavily and sank to the ground. How could I be so stupid? She cursed herself. Maria felt cold and desperately alone. She wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn't come. Lost in her thoughts, she began to recall the past, the years before she had ever met Fayt. As her despair grew, a deluge of sorrowful memories washed over her...

Ever since the day she had lost her parents her life had been marked with grief and regret. Cliff and Mirage had saved her life and kindly taken her in, but she could never shake the empty feeling inside of her. In the days following her rescue from the Radish's escape pod, she was despondent and cried almost constantly. As if the loss of her mother and father had not been enough, she had learned they weren't even her real parents.

Why? Why did this happen? Why did Mommy and Daddy have to die? Why didn't I die with them? Why am I alone? These thoughts gnawed away at her relentlessly. No matter how Cliff and Mirage tried to cheer her, Maria would always just force a false smile, thank them, and asked to be left alone. Days passed into weeks and she was no closer to reconciling the torrent of emotions within her. She merely sat, curled up in her bed, sobbing dry heaves all the while for she had long since ran out of tears to cry.

Then she thought of her mother's last words to her.

You mustn't give up.

Why not?

You have to live.

Life has no meaning for me anymore...

Then she thought of how her mother would react to this death wish. Maria's mother had given up the last escape pod on the doomed Radish so that her daughter might live. How would she react if she knew Maria wanted to throw away this final gift from her mother? Maria felt sick. If she gave up now, Jessie Traydor's sacrifice would have been in vain. Thinking this, a new strength entered her.

"Mommy wanted me to live," she said defiantly. "Mommy would be sad if I die now. I don't want to make Mommy sad." As she choked back the sobs which hadn't stopped since that dark day, Maria rose to her feet with a new resolve. She would live. No matter the hardship, no matter the pain, she vowed to endure and make her mother proud.

Maria heaved a dry sigh and opened her eyes. She was still on the bridge of the Diplo. As she slowly rose to stand on her feet, she felt her confidence return. This wasn't like her. She was stronger than this. Now wasn't the time to feel sorry for herself. Just because Fayt didn't return her feelings didn't mean it was the end of the world. Besides, they say that your first love is always unrequited anyway.

At least that's what she told herself. In her heart, she knew her affections were meant only for Fayt. Nobody else could ever replace him. Her resolve faltered again and once more she felt herself slump to the floor.

Why was Fayt special anyway? Why did it have to be him? Maria thought it over, and again she turned to her past for answers.

It was when she had first stumbled upon Dr. Robert Leingod's forbidden symbological genetics project while searching for information on her biological parents. At first she felt only shock. She'd never imagined her mother had participated in research that defied the laws of the Pangalactic Federation. Then, as understanding dawned on Maria, a new emotion emerged. Anger. Dr. Leingod had used her as a guinea pig in a horrific experiment that had denied her every right as a human being. Her body had been altered against her will before she was even old enough to remember it, and what's more, her own mother was an accomplice!

She felt sickened and violated. Most of all, she felt betrayed. How could her mother have allowed it? She had never even bothered to tell her. All this time she had been living for the sake of a woman who hadn't really loved her, but just wanted to use her in some twisted experiment. She had admitted she wasn't Maria's real mother. Perhaps she was just a scientist assigned to monitor the long term effects of the experiment. Posing as a mother was the perfect cover. It all made sense. By now Maria was seething with rage.

Her body had been violated, her mother saw her only as a guinea pig, what the hell did she have left to believe in? She was too blind with hatred to listen to the recording of Dr. Leingod any further. She merely sat before the computer console in disbelief as her world crumbled before her very eyes. Minutes passed, then hours. She still couldn't believe it. Betrayed by her own mother...

Finally her breathing slowed and she felt the haze enveloping her mind dissipate. The anger was gone, now she was only numb. With a clearer head, she replayed the message. This time Maria caught something that had escaped her attention before.

"...we have implanted my own son with the destruction gene..." said Dr. Leingod's disembodied voice.

There is another...

She wasn't alone. She didn't know why, but this fact comforted her. Curious, she decided to research Dr. Leingod's genealogy in hopes of turning up information about his son. Before long she succeeded in learning of his name: Fayt Leingod. "Fayt..." she whispered. He was attending a university on Earth. They were the same age... - she made up her mind. She had to meet this person. Their situations were too similar. "I wonder if he knows about this experiment..." she asked out loud.

"No, they're probably monitoring him just like they did me," she reasoned. She pressed her hand on the most recent picture she'd found of him. It was a synthesized reproduction of a clipping from his university's newspaper. A young, handsome blue haired youth was smiling, posing for a picture after making the winning basket in the finals basketball game for his team.

He was also betrayed by his parents...

Again she felt comforted with this thought as she peered at his face, frozen in time. She was sure now. She had to meet this Fayt and tell him everything, and make his father answer to both of them for what he did.

Pulling her mind from the painful memories of her past, Maria became aware of her surroundings again. The scenery on the bridge of the Diplo hadn't changed at all. Maria sighed again. It had taken longer than she'd liked to find Fayt. She was a member of the anti-Federation group, Quark. Obviously she couldn't just waltz up to the Sol System and expect to be welcomed with open arms by the Federation defense fleet on constant patrol around Earth. Their meeting had to be postponed.

Maria wondered, "What if we had met back then? Maybe things would have turned out differently. Maybe I wouldn't have been too late..." She realized such thinking would only further depress her but she couldn't help clinging to her last vestiges of hope. She had nothing now. She had lost her one last chance at happiness with the only person in the universe who could know how she felt. The only one who shared her heavy burden. Maria felt her tears coming again.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. "Maria?" a voice said. "Maria could we talk please?" pleaded the same voice. It was Fayt. Maria could sense the urgency in his tone. She was too embarrassed to face him, but then again she couldn't avoid him forever. She hesitated for a moment but then decided to hear him out and say her good-byes. She would do her best to forget him.

"Computer, release the security lock on the bridge door." The door clicked in response and opened moments later. Fayt's familiar figure stepped through. "Maria..." he said softly. Maria, unable to hold it in any longer, was finally ready to confront him. "Fayt, I -" she began, but she stopped in mid-sentence in spite of herself. Fayt was gazing at her with such intensity that all her strength seemed to be sapped from her. She couldn't look away. Time seemed to slow and later she would never be able to recall exactly how long they had stared into each others' eyes. And then...

Fayt leaned forward, wrapped his arms around Maria's trembling body drawing her close, and whispered softly into her ear, "I love you, Maria."

Maria's body stiffened, her eyes widened, and paralysis gripped her mind. This can't be happening… This can't be happening… She stood for what seemed like an eternity, wrapped in Fayt's arms with her chin resting on his shoulder. This just had to be a dream, a beautiful dream that she had never dared to even hope for. For one brief, glorious moment in her otherwise grim and miserable life, she had found true happiness and she didn't ever want to let that feeling go. Even if this was just a dream, even if she would wake up and find herself alone in her bed, if she could only hold onto this single, shining moment for just a little while longer… Just for a second longer…