It took four hours to drill out of the Underworld.

They had climbed on the Falcon and Edge had immediately ordered them below, stating with a grin that they would only get in his way. Amid protests, he shoved all of them, even Cecil, down the stairs, laughing that he and Cid had modified it so he could fly his baby alone and having them near would break his concentration. He had soothed their fears by winking outrageously at Rydia and suavely suggesting that he could perhaps manage the controls with only her beside him, but the cockpit only had room for one, so would she mind sitting in his lap? She had shoved him, and he had shoved her right back and sent her below with the others.

The hours passed slowly. Rosa pulled out a string and she and Rydia began to play Cat's Cradle while Cecil removed his heavy armor and rummaged through his pack for a small jar of polish and a rag. Through the walls of the airship they could hear the sound of shattering rock and feel the rough vibrations of the ship. To Rydia, it felt like time stopped. Over and over, she and Rosa built intricate patterns with the string on their fingers while the grinding persisted. Occasionally they could hear Edge swearing, his voice echoing down into the cabin, and Rosa would shake her head, Rydia would roll her eyes, and they would continue the game. Cecil finished with his armor, pulled a book out of his pack, and relaxed on the floor. Eventually Rosa and Rydia tired of the game and Rosa went over to curl up next to Cecil, leaving Rydia to lie down on a blanket by herself. The vibrations of the ship eventually lulled her to sleep.

She jerked awake when the ship pitched violently and she rolled into the wall. Standing up, she looked around wildly. The ship was no longer grinding and Cecil and Rosa were also standing up with grins on their faces. Cecil answered the unasked question. "I believe we're out of the Underworld now, but we should probably stay down here. Knowing Edge, he wants to do this alone, and this is his baby so we should just let him fly it."

With a huff, Rydia settled back down, her back to the wall. The journey was much smoother now, but here and there, the Falcon would dip and jerk a little. Across the cabin, Cecil shook his head, murmuring about amateur pilots. The jerks became more consistent and Cecil began to look concerned.

The airship dipped deeper and Rydia felt the familiar sensation of the airship spiraling down to land. Cecil stood, frowning. He turned to Rosa. "That wasn't nearly long enough. It should take much longer to reach Mysidia, days even. He has no reason to land."

The airship bumped the ground, bumping them with it. Cecil strode towards the stairs, still frowning, but stopped short as the door swung open, letting in a shaft of sunlight. Edge stumbled down and both Rydia and Rosa gasped.

Rydia suddenly felt her stomach tighten. Her entire body tensed and she could feel herself shaking as Edge's eyes found hers and she caught a glimpse of dull pain in his gaze. There was so much blood…

He fell before he could reach the bottom, and Cecil caught him, immediately moving him to lie down on the floor, Rosa already rushing in to help. Rydia darted over as well.

She watched helplessly as Rosa's deft fingers moved over his skin, assessing the damage. "Cecil, go figure out where we are and get water to wash the blood off," she ordered. "Hurry! Rydia, my scissors from my pack."

Cecil didn't need to be told twice. He ran up the stairs and was gone. Rydia scrambled to provide the scissors and without hesitation Rosa cut the ninja's shirt and mask off. The wounds ran in long jagged lines all over his body and Rosa's fingers continued to probe through the blood. "They're not too deep, but something tore the flesh to shreds, and I don't understand… They aren't clean, it wasn't a weapon or a monster, so how…" Her gasp struck Rydia to the core as she pulled a rough piece of rock out of a cut.

Rydia felt her heart clench. "The IDIOT!" she cried. "He kept drilling with all the rock slicing him to pieces? I'll kill him! The moron! I'll KILL him!"

Rosa simply shook her head and muttered, "Men." She pressed her palms against his chest, her hands already covered in blood, and began to murmur softly.

Rydia backed away, fuming. Her thoughts jumbled together in her mind, and she hissed below her breath at his limp figure, "How DARE you try and do that alone. How DARE you try to be a damn hero and get us out without help. Stupid obnoxious moron, thinking you don't ever need any help. Arrogant bastard. How DARE you try and die…"

The magical aura surrounded Rosa and the cuts began to knit themselves together. The light spread from his chest to his arms, up his neck and onto his face. Rydia watched with a kind of morbid fascination as the wounds slowly disappeared, leaving faint traces of white scars. Only the dark clotted blood remained.

Rosa removed her hands with a sigh. She looked over to Rydia, her eyes soft. "He'll be alright. His body's still exhausted, and I can't cure that. He just needs to sleep."

Rydia nodded, and they sat and waited until Cecil returned with a bucket of water. Rosa fished a cloth out of her pack and began to wash the blood off the unconscious ninja's body. "We should have told him about Agart," Cecil said as he watched Rosa's ministrations.

She looked up, eyes slightly confused. "Why?"

"He knew he needed to land, but he didn't know how close the village was, so he kept going. He took us to the closest place he knew… We're by Eblan."

Rosa closed her eyes, and breathed softly. "I take it you don't think we can stay in here?"

Cecil shrugged. "Rydia can't build a fire in the ship. We'll have to stay in the castle for safety's sake. I just hope he doesn't wake up."

They all remained quiet as Cecil picked up their friend and led them up the stairs. The deck was still covered in rubble and bits of rock. Rosa shook her head at the sight and Rydia scowled.

The silence remained as they entered the ruins of the castle and found a room to set up camp. Night fell, and Rydia whispered words to light the wood from a splintered chair Cecil found in the rubble. No one wanted to talk in the gloomy atmosphere and they all soon curled up in their blankets, conscious of Edge's breathing where Rosa had wrapped him up in blankets by the fire.

Rydia listened to hear that sign of life, and then dropped off to sleep.

She didn't know what woke her, but she sat up and frantically looked around her, feeling that something was wrong. Cecil and Rosa were still asleep, but Edge's blankets were empty. Biting her lip, she looked around. The fire was dead, and all she could see were dim shadows in the glow of the moonlight shinning through the windows and the cracks in the ceiling and walls. Edge's weapons were still there, so he must be okay. She continued chewing her lip, and murmured to herself, "Rydia, you're being silly. That loser ninja is probably sleepwalking, and we'll find him in the morning, snoring under a staircase with a bruise on his forehead from running into walls. You should go back to sleep and pretend that you never knew he left."

She nodded decisively and plopped back down on her pillow. Seconds later, she sat up again. "But," she said out loud to the castle walls, "how would I have felt if I had suddenly been forced to spend the night in the ashes of Mist?" She considered her words for a moment, and then climbed out of her blankets and walked out of the room.

Each room she walked through was a testament to how hard the castle had been hit. Everything was ruined. The furniture was destroyed, wood splintered and fabric coverings torn to shreds and singed. The candelabras on the walls were melted, and even the walls were caving in here and there. Rubble formed hazards to skirt around on the floors. Everything looked decayed. Rydia shivered, wishing that she had thought to grab a cloak.

She wandered aimlessly, trying to decide if she really wanted to bump into Edge or not. But she found herself checking in rooms to see if she could find him, and all she found were the remains of the dead. Jewelry boxes torn open with the broken remains of the gems scattered around the floor, a doll with her dress missing and her face ripped off, broken and melted swords and ninja stars embedded in the stone walls. She ended up wandering through a hall, and the sheer number of the stars that added a metal texture to the wall aroused her curiosity. The hall led to two double doors, one slightly ajar. She slipped through one, and then froze.

Edge was standing in his shirtsleeves by the remains of a throne, his hand resting on it and his back facing her as he looked out of one of the room's windows. His aura screamed that he was deep in thought, a sight that seemed rare for Edge. She found herself hoping he hadn't heard her enter, and backed up to leave.

That idea shattered when he spoke. "My parents used to let me sit in here sometimes. Here and there when I was young, and then more frequently as I grew up. They wanted me to see how they handled things, to learn how to do things right. I didn't take it very seriously most of the time. I thought I had years to learn how to rule from my father. He was a good king."

Rydia could hear the pain lacing his voice and felt a sudden flash of empathy. "Edge…" she said softly.

He turned a little, and she saw that his mask was off, and his face looked… sad. She was so used to it being half hidden, and seeing his entire face painted in despair… Their eyes met, and she was gazing into the blue-gray windows of his soul and they shocked her to silence. His eyes were always filled with intensity, and to have it all directed at her… His eyes burned.

"I find myself wishing that I had paid more attention to everything, that I had taken nothing for granted. All the little moments… My mother liked to cook, and she dragged me down to the kitchen once to teach me how…" His lips twisted in a bitter smile. "It didn't go so well. I didn't have the patience and ended up nearly giving our entire family food poisoning. But she and my father taught me how to fight. They gave me my first sword when I was four, and then took it away when I went chasing after a boy who stole one of my toys with it. But eventually, they taught me to use it properly; they taught me discipline. I used to spar with my father and we'd cut each other up and laugh about it. But I could never fight my mother." A brief flash of anguish passed over his face, and he turned away again. "I could never hit my mother."

Rydia found herself feeling small and insignificant as she remembered the tears streaming down his face as his swords cut into his mother's warped body in the Tower of Babel. She had never been good at soothing people or handling tears. She felt like a child again, who didn't understand how to express her feelings. She wanted to show that she understood, she just wanted to walk up and hold him, but fear held her back. She cursed her inability to speak, but for once, no perfect phrase sprang to mind. With him, she could always find something sarcastic to shoot back, but for once, she was in a situation where she had no words.

His hands were moving, and when he turned to face her and walk towards her his mask was back on. He stopped and just looked at her, with that intensity in his eyes that Rydia just didn't understand. He held up his hand and she saw that something was intertwined in his fingers. He flicked his wrist and it flew out to dangle from one finger. It was beautiful, a gold chain with a red jewel, set simply and elegantly.

She brought her eyes up to look into his. That fierceness frightened her, yet… she found herself drawn to it. His voice made her shiver when he spoke. "This was my mother's. I found it in what's left of our apartments. My father gave it to her a long time ago."

He was suddenly moving, and Rydia bit back a gasp as his fingers brushed against her collarbone and neck, sending jolts that burned in a white-hot arc through her body. He was so close, his face resting against hers and she felt her pulse race and her breath quicken.

He moved back just as suddenly, and Rydia felt a new weight at her neck. She looked down, and raised her fingers to touch the red jewel resting against her skin.

"It suits you." It was all he said, and then he brushed past her to walk down the hall.

Rydia stood for a moment, stunned, and then darted out into the hall. "Edge…" she called after him.

He turned and just looked at her, and she found herself unable to say anything. But somehow, he seemed to understand.

"She would have liked you," he said softly, and then walked away.

Rydia stood in the hall a long time before returning to the camp.

Author's Notes

I wrote this over Christmas break, and finally decided to return the land of fanfiction and get an account to put it up. Why? I have nothing else to do. Medical problems have led to various hospital visits and not being able to go out and do anything… So, I did this!

For those who are freaking out, yes, I am aware that this may seem a little out of character for our dear Edge and Rydia. Normally, all they do is insult each other. However, I am a firm believer that, deep down, they do have a serious side.

So, here is a brief glimpse of that serious side. Woot.

And keep in mind, this is the first time I've written a fanfic in a loonnngg time. I'm a little rusty… If you see any errors, let me know. My grammar has never been perfect… And if you know a good BETA reader, I'd love a recommendation. I need one. Badly.

So, thanks for reading, and all comments, critiques and suggestions for improvement are greatly appreciated!

SJ