Warnings: Slight - very slight - spoilers for Suikoden V.

"Exeunt"

"We could run away together," Gizel says, and Sialeeds laughs. He flushes, just a little, as he always does when flustered, and says, "What?"

"You're ridiculous, you know that?" she says, then thinks about it. Her laughter fades and she presses her lips together. "Ridiculous."

"Why?" he presses.

"Because we can't do that."

"Why?" he says again, and she shoots him a look - don't be stupid, don't be cute, you know the reason why. But he scowls at her, daring her, and she shakes her head.

"Because," she says, "we are, both of us, heirs to very empty promises from which we cannot even begin to tear ourselves." But he has that stubborn set to his jaw, that sullen clench, so she sighs and says, "Assuming we did. What then?"

"We go to the Island Nations - "

"Not to us. We'd be fine." An outswept arm takes in the cabin, Stormfist, everything beyond. "What here?"

"Then Cousin Zahhak inherits," Gizel says. "And..." He doesn't even bother to finish the thought; Cousin Zahhak had in the brief tenure of their acquaintance already proven himself a callous and insensitive young man. "But you," he continues. "You could..."

"Why?" she whispers, reaching out to his face. He closes his eyes and presses his cheek against her hand, and she swallows against the tightness in her throat. "Without you..."

His eyes open suddenly. "My father knows a man who would be able to fake your death."

"Gizel - " she says, but he's caught up in the idea, catching her hand and pressing it in his.

"If we were to dye your hair, dress you differently - you could live out here. I could marry you in secret, introduce you as my bride from - I don't know, the Grasslands - "

"Gizel," she says again, and he stops, the words brimming on his lips and ready to fall again, his eyes so hopeful. But she curls her fingers around his and says, gently, "No."

He stares at her a moment, then looks down and swallows. He takes a moment, a breath, and says, "All right."

Uneasy, uncertain, she says, "Understand. It's not about you - " And now almost ashamed: "It's about Falena."

He smiles, bitter as salt, his eyes still fixed on his hands. "I always knew I should have avoided you damned patriots - " But that's a lie, in its own way, because he's as patriotic as she is. She can't help but take a breath of hatred for him, that he would pretend that she could destroy a love as sacred as that - but when that hatred passes all that's left is sadness.

"Your sister is a tyrant," he says.

Sialeeds smiles but again there's a stab of hatred. She thinks to herself that maybe it's best that this affair is ending before she has time to be disillusioned, and almost accidentally she says the same aloud. Again, he flushes, but he doesn't lose his temper - she's always admired that about him; for all that Gizel was always passionate, he never lost his temper. He looks close to it now, though, closer than she's ever seen him. She supposes it was cruel of her.

"Maybe it is," he says, his words carefully selected. "I'll never have to see you get oldand ugly."

She stares at him a moment, furious that he might deal so low a blow, pushes out of her seat and goes. She's outside before he catches up to her and grabs her by the upper arm. For a moment she's afraid, afraid that that it all was too much and afraid for herself, but he turns her around and embraces her fiercely. It takes a moment, but she presses her face into his shoulder and laces her arms around his waist, sighs.

"You deserve someone younger than me, anyway," she whispers to him.

He presses her even more tightly. "You deserve someone better than me," he says. The cynic in her notes that the little boy is desperate for vindication; the lover in her shakes her head and blinks back the tears that would wet his shoulder.

"If I keep waiting for someone better..." she whispers. He understands the thought and pulls back, looks her in the eyes and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. Then he kisses her, softly, on each eyelid, the cheeks, the nose, and then the mouth, and he kisses deeply like a thirsty man. He pulls back again and smiles his trembling smile.

"And I'll stop having to play your mother." She doesn't know what's wrong with her today - she immediately regrets the words as he takes a step away from her, his smile draining away. Written on his face, plain as his ingenuity, is anger, and guilt, and resentment, and shock, and sorrow, but anger most of all because what she said was in many ways true.

His voice shakes when he speaks. "You're right. This is for the best."

"Yes," she says, and wishes that she could ask to stay the night, so that they could have a golden-sunned morning goodbye, but after saying what she did she doesn't think he would let her. Even if he did her pride wouldn't allow it. So she turns instead on her heel and doesn't look back.

She wonders sometimes if the whole tragedy might have been averted if only she'd looked back.