Dedicated to the Former of my Heart…
A/N: I usually don't drop everything I'm working on to post a little something, but this is an exception. You don't have to know anything about Phantom Brave to read the story, either, because I explain most of what's going on…so enjoy!
Ash stood to the side and reclined against one of the many marble pillars, arms folded across his chest. He watched casually as Marona, the most famous of all Chromas, once again refuse her rightful pay. Even though she'd spent the better part of the morning wiping out a few monstrous ghosts here and there on the wealthy island. He was neither surprised nor upset. And he wouldn't have been even if he remembered how to feel. Phantoms couldn't. Ash had come to expect it of her. She was too kind…too generous…too perfect. No matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn't understand her.
Marona held her hands behind her back. Her fingers fiddled with a loose thread on her white sundress. She giggled, "No. I insist, Mr. Ruben. Keep your money."
The one that had sent for her (a handsome man in his early twenties) bowed, ever gracious. He was dressed in fine robes of red silk, signifying that he was the last person who desired her charity.
But, then again, Marona didn't need his money either. Not exactly. She'd done very well making ample amounts of bordough. Even when she'd been forced to look after herself at such a young age. Defeating Sulfur (the embodiment of all evil) five years ago was no exception.
No mother or father.
Ash forced his mind from that horrific day. He loathed the memory of Marona's parent's deaths…and his own accident that had led him to be what he was.
"Thank you," the man said. "You may call me Ruben." He smiled at the young lady and she returned it. "If you don't mind me asking-" Ruben tugged at his collar, airing his sweaty neck. "Is he here?"
Marona blinked her large, blue eyes. "He?" She turned and wrinkled her nose playfully at Ash.
"The phantom that's always with you."
The young Chroma nodded. She bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing. "Like you said: He is always with me. Would you like to meet-"
"No," Ruben interrupted, a bit frazzled. "I'd just hoped that I'd be able to speak with you privately."
'In your dreams.' Ash moved so that he was only a few feet from their employer, determined not to let him out of his sight. It was one of the very few times that he'd been thankful for his invisibility.
'Oh,' Marona chided. 'Don't be rude.' "Whatever you have to tell me, I'm afraid it will have to be in front of him," she muttered aloud, a hint of annoyance in her voice. "He's being awful stubborn today."
Ash frowned at her.
"Well…then." The man situated his linen belt and found a new resolve. "I suppose that's doable."
Ash narrowed his eyes and reluctantly made himself discernable. He didn't deny that he felt a sense of pride as an audible squeak escaped Ruben's lips…stress on the word: felt. Ash hadn't been exposed to any sensation in over ten years. Only the memory flooded his being. And even that was becoming more difficult to recreate.
The surprised Ruben swallowed back his fear. "Um…yes." He switched his gaze from the phantom to the Chroma. Beads of sweat were already appearing on his forehead.
Marona giggled at the display.
"I was w-wondering," the man stuttered. "If, perhaps, you'd like to…" He swallowed again and unconsciously eyed Ash out of the corner of his eyes. "…like to dine with me this evening?"
Marona stopped her tittering at once and stood stock-still.
Ash's heart halted. Or, it would have if it had been pumping in the first place. This sort of thing had been happening more and more frequently the past few months. Marona would decide that island life was a bit too boring and therefore take an odd job. There were always rogue ghosts on the loose. And after the mission was complete she'd receive an invitation…
But Ash suddenly realized that his Marona was no longer a little girl. No longer hated. Her reputation of being The Possessed One (a reputation caused by him, no less) was non-existent. And she was now a very gorgeous sixteen-year-old.
He didn't like it. Who were these men to try and woo her? None of them were remotely worthy of her time.
Ash remembered jealousy, but since he could no longer feel anything, he refused to think that the said emotion had a hold of him now. He ignored it and waited for Marona's response.
"I'm flattered," she said, still smiling. "But I can't."
That's right, Ash laughed to himself, callously taunting the man. She's the most sought-after single in Iviore. The most beautiful, moreover. Yet you can't have her. Even with all your riches. Who was he kidding? Marona always declined. No matter how well off…how good looking…but why? Again, he didn't understand her. Not that he was complaining.
Ash followed his charge from the grand estate, concealed once again. He couldn't help but notice the lack of a spring in her step and the way she hung her head when they reached the beach. Dejected. Only a few times had he seen her like this…she was strong. Normally Marona wouldn't wear such emotions on her sleeve.
'Are you alright?' he asked.
Ash smiled and responded to her lie, 'I know you too well for that line to work on me.'
Marona picked up her pace, all the while avoiding his gaze. 'I don't want to talk about it.'
Ash hesitated at her brashness. 'You always tell me everything,' he wheedled.
"Please!" Morona cried, rounding on him. "Please, don't ask me!"
A few passers-by exchanged worried glances. They hurried along on their merry way and whispered behind their hands. The folk more than likely knew of Marona's status as the renowned Phantom Brave, but it didn't stop them from avoiding her at all costs when she started talking to herself out loud like she was now.
Ash gaped at her, unabashed. Marona never made outbursts like this. Except for when...
She'd pleaded with him not to leave. The time he'd been so determined to take down Sulfur on his own. And she'd shamelessly begged him not to go…that she needed him. Ash pulled himself from the memory, a little embarrassed. He'd been thinking on that conversation more than he should.
Marona spun away. She sprinted toward the ocean where their small boat awaited them, leaving Ash behind to ponder over what she'd said. And the way she said it.
Ash paced back and forth at the foot of the wooden staircase. He'd chosen not to question Marona as they'd made their way back to the island they called home, but now he was beginning to worry. The girl had disappeared into her room hours ago and there was still no peep from her. By this time, she was usually trying her best to whip up a meal for herself whilst he poked fun at her poor cooking skills.
It was just how these things worked.
If that man, Ruben, had hurt her feelings? Ash'd march right back over and give him a piece of his mind.
But before he did anything so drastic…
Ash climbed to the top of the stairs. He ignored the low-hanging rafter above, passed right through it, and emerged into the attic-like space Marona dubbed her own. She was sitting on her bed, gazing out the window at the setting sun. In her hands cradled the necklace Castile had given her. Even when she'd been opposed and feared. One of her only friends.
Besides him, of course.
Fine. Her only friend…that was alive.
Now Marona had more 'friends' than she could count.
Ash made a face at the thought. His expression softened as he recalled all the times he'd seen her like this. Daydreaming like a normal girl should. The day he'd found his way back here after his accident to tell her all that had happened. Her father's dying wish: that Ash'd look after her from now on. A few years later when she first started out in the Chroma business...and now.
It was amazing how much she'd changed. And he…well…he was still the same. The exact age he'd been killed. When Ash had begun his Chroma training under Marona's parents, their child had been around the age of five while he was eighteen. Now she was only two years younger than he.
It was strange.
"Marona?" he asked out loud.
Her shoulders sagged. She didn't turn around. "Hm?"
Ash approached and stood next to her bed. He felt horrible…or would have if…you know. But Ash knew what he should be feeling – he remembered. The fact that he couldn't comfort her like a normal friend tore at him. The fact that his arms were unable to wrap around her shoulders in a hug to where she could sense it… "Are you alright?"
He sighed. "You know I don't believe that."
She finally looked at him and the corners of her mouth lifted the slightest of bits. "I just don't want to bother you with something so silly."
"Isn't that what I'm here for?"
Marona rested an elbow on the windowsill and dropped her chin into her open palm. "So you're here to listen to the whining of a teenaged girl? I doubt that."
Ash smirked. "You did say that you needed me, remember?"
"And you promised to stay with me forever."
That he had. Ash thought on his promise constantly. He'd be there for Marona's twenty-first birthday. He'd be there for her marriage, for her children, for her death. Ash had never regretted anything, but this was cutting it close. He'd rather die all over again than have to watch her grow up, leave him behind, start a family of her own…
But why did he care so much? He should be happy.
"And ever," he finished. "Yeah. Is that what's bothering you?"
Does she not need me anymore? Does she not want me here?
Marona didn't answer for a moment. "…No." She clenched her teeth together and exhaled heavily through her nose. "I've just been thinking. You know when we went to visit Castile and her parents?"
"How, after all this time, she's finally able to walk?"
Ash nodded again. Another thing he loved about Marona: she'd given all they had after the last battle so that Castile could finally get better. After all the medication, the treatments, everything had paid off in the end. Though the girl would never be able to move about without the use of crutches, the drastic change from a lifetime spent in a bed was overwhelming.
Marona grinned at the thought of Castile's face when she'd taken her first steps. "Her parents, right before we left, kissed her good-night."
Ash furrowed his eyebrows. She wasn't making sense to him again. "Okay…"
"See?" Marona asked, turning her attention back to the scenery. "I knew you wouldn't understand."
Ash rubbed the back of his neck. What had he missed? "You're not giving me much of a chance."
"I just want to know how it feels," she blurted. A blush tickled her cheeks.
"How what feels?"
Marona swiveled around, slung her legs over the side of the bed, and faced him. She held his eyes. Looked long and hard as if trying to read something she couldn't comprehend. "How it feels to-" she broke off, trying a different approach. "Have you ever been kissed?"
Ash was sure he would have turned as red as she if he'd had any blood in his body. "I'm sure I have," he answered.
"You don't remember?"
Uncomfortable, Ash thought. I should feel uncomfortable…
"You can't remember your parents." Marona's blue eyes seeming on the verge of filling with tears. "Just like me."
Ash nodded again. "But, even if I did, I wouldn't be able to tell you how a kiss feels. It's one of the things I'm forgetting."
She blinked curiously at him.
"I can't feel, Marona."
"Oh." She said it like she'd misplaced the fact that he was no longer alive…then glanced back outside to see that night had fallen. "Tuck me in?" Marona didn't wait for an answer. She scooted over near her pillows, still in her sundress, and crawled beneath the covers.
Ash obliged. He fiddled with the comforter until a smile graced her lips. Marona snuggled further under her sheets and sighed with content. She looked happy enough on the outside.
"Good-night," Ash said.
"Good-night, Ash. I love you."
She said it every night she asked him to tuck her in. Marona liked Ash to (though she was old enough to care less), whether it was because she'd missed out as a child or because she enjoyed spending time with him. Probably both. But tonight, of all nights, it sounded different for some reason.
Ash mentally kicked himself for entertaining the idea. He couldn't. He couldn't. He couldn't!
Marona's breathing slowed. Ash could tell that she'd fallen asleep.
Ash gauged the distance, leaned forward, and carefully kissed her mouth. He knew she hadn't felt it so he was sure it wouldn't rouse her. Ash prayed for a spark, a tingle, a sensation of any kind what-so-ever.
There was nothing. Like always.
"I love you, too, Marona."
He couldn't fall in love with her…but he knew he just had.
A/N: I have no idea why I wrote this. Especially since it's kind of sad. I don't do sad things…so I think I'm going to write another chapter even if nobody reads this. Because…well…I'm a sucker for happy endings. And, by golly, this'll have a happy ending!
If you leave a review, I'll get back to you. It's true!