Dedicated to the One who counts my heartbeats.
A/N: Yes, I've finally updated this 'one-shot'. It took me long enough, eh? Do forgive me.
Disclaimer: I do not own Phantom Brave.
Ash pressed his forehead against the wall. He balled his fingers into a fist and hammered the wood, begging his cursed body to feel something. Unfortunately, once one of the boards collapsed under the force of his hand, Ash was compelled to cease his vent. Listless, he picked the splinters from his knuckles. He was disheartened that there was no blood. There weren't even indications that he'd been skewered.
Ash buckled his knees and fell to the floor. He couldn't understand why he had to suffer this way. Hadn't he been through enough? All he wanted…just one thing…and it was out of his reach. No amount of pleading or praying would change it. Not that he didn't try. Continuously.
"Please!" he moaned.
Marona whimpered in her sleep. She tucked the covers under her chin. "Ash…?" Her drowsy eyelids fluttered open to look at him before she snuggled against her pillow to go back to sleep.
Ash breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he wanted was for Marona to wake up and question him. It would be too much. As he sat there, watching her peacefully resting form…her golden tresses, her honeyed complexion…something within him snapped.
At first, he wasn't sure what he felt.
What he felt?
Pain. There was a pain in his chest. But how? He hadn't been subject to sensation in-
The throbbing overwhelmed his thoughts. Ash clutched the area, panting in wonder at what was taking place. Sweat began to trickle down his face. He convulsed. The seizures started out tolerable enough…only to increase in length and fury. A cry escaped Ash's lips; he pulled himself upright. But to his surprise, he wasn't able to support his own weight.
Tripping over his feet, the phantom crashed against the wall. Ash groped for some support. He propped himself up in a secure position with his shoulder.
"What's…what's wrong with me?"
Marona shifted again. She rubbed her eyes. "Ash?"
For whatever reason, the sting in his chest intensified at her query. Ash staggered to the stairwell, intent on having Marona clueless to his episode…and the rafter he normally passed through – the one he always avoided whether he was conscious of it or not – suddenly became…
Ash's head collided with the beam. He hit it with such force, he teetered and, in a daze, toppled down the stairs to land on his back. Thankfully some-what cushioned by the hearth rug. He blinked the moisture from his eyes before releasing himself to the darkness that threatened to take his vision.
Finally. Ash'd been gifted the death he'd so desperately asked for. So he thought.
Marona sat up in bed. Her heart thumped wildly against her ribcage. "Ash?" She waited for him to appear to her as he always did when she had a nightmare, but he never materialized. "Ash?" she asked again, this time a bit louder. Marona slung her comforter to the side and stood, straining her ears to what she thought was…
Marona hurried to the landing. She peered down to find Ash's body sprawled out on the floor below.
"What happened? Ash!"
She nearly followed in his footsteps, she was in such a rush. Throwing herself at his side, Marona touched his face. The inky substance blossoming from just above his eye (indeed, blood) smeared over her fingertips. She took his jaw in her hands and continued to call him. His cheeks were flushed and warm?
Then Marona realized. She was touching him. She could feel his skin against hers as if he were solid. But that...
"Wake up!" Marona ordered. "Please wake up?"
She buried her face into his neck. Marona allowed the pent up tears to slip from her lashes. She didn't know what was going on…didn't understand why or how this could happen. But she didn't care about that right now.
"You promised me. Forever and ever, remember?" Marona wrapped her arms around his neck. She squeezed with all her might. "You promised!"
"Marona…" came a hushed moan in her ear. "You're crushing me."
She pulled away and gasped for breath. "Ash! You're alright!"
He nodded. "I'm…" Ash paused. He looked positively thrilled. Almost crazed with excitement. His amber eyes widened. "I'm-"
"Bleeding," Marona interrupted. She knew what he must be thinking. She had the very same idea floating around in the recesses of her mind. But she refused to jinx it. Whatever it was.
Ash watched in a dream as the young woman hurried about the room, locating gauze, ointment, and whatever else she could get her hands on. There hadn't ever really been a need for such first aid – he'd always been there to make sure she was out of harm and, well, there was no way for him to take any damage. Besides now, of course.
Marona dropped her supplies on the table where he sat. She rummaged around the lose medications until she found what she wanted. "Hold still," she warned, a small bottle in one hand and a dishrag in the other. Her tired, red-rimmed eyes glistened with worry. "It might hurt."
Ash grinned smugly at her. "Marona, if I can handle the sting of death itself, I think I'll be able to handle this."
Men. She ignored him. Marona poured a bit of the antiseptic onto the cloth, dampening a corner. With a steady hand, she dabbed at the gash on his forehead as tenderly as she could.
Ash did his very best not to wince. One: to prove a point. And two: he hadn't been exposed to his pride in years. It came back full force. With a vengeance.
So did other things. Such as his emotions.
Marona was standing right there in front of him, suddenly looking more beautiful than he could ever recall. The moonlight fell through the window above the basin and alighted on her skin. It illuminated in a subtle hue of blue. She was also caressing his face. Absolutely too much for him at this point in time.
There was a sharp intake of breath on Ash's part.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Marona pursed her pink lips and blew on his wound, thinking she'd hurt him in some way.
But that gesture proved to give Ash the sweats more than the dull ache of the anti-bacterial. Boy, she was beautiful. What in the world was he thinking?
"No. I'm fine," he managed.
Marona smiled and Ash looked away. He was surprised at the blush that tickled his cheeks. It was nice. Uncomfortable.
"I know what you need," she told him.
"Breakfast." She unraveled the gauze.
"Marona, it's the middle of the night. And you're exhausted."
"You can cook breakfast in the morning."
Marona sighed while she dressed his wound. "But-"
"No buts. Go back to bed."
She pouted. It was adorably cute. "Some people say thank you." Marona finished tying off the bandage and cleared the table a bit more heatedly than she meant to.
Ash was content with watching.
When Marona started back up to her room, she hesitated. "This isn't a dream, is it?"
"No." He hoped not.
Marona did go back up to her room and climb into bed as ordered, but she did not sleep. She was too afraid to close her eyes. If all of this was, in fact, just a figment of her imagination, then she didn't want to wake up just yet.
Ash was alive. Alive!
And she'd…felt him.
Marona shuddered at the memory. It was strange. All her life she'd never been able to sense the phantom. See him, yes. Hear him, yes. Touch him…never. And it was wonderfully foreign to her. Ash had skin! Just like hers! Well, that was a given…but it pleased her to no end, at any rate. It was so smooth, warm…and smelt of rotting fish. He had been dead for over ten years.
Marona sighed. If this was a dream, then it was a good dream. On the contrary, she wouldn't think that when she woke. More bordering on the lines of cruel.
"GAH!" shrieked a voice from outside.
Marona leaned on her elbows and peered out of the window. Ash was walking along the beach. His bare feet sloshed around in the sparkling ocean. Apparently, he'd forgotten all about 'water' and 'cold' coinciding the way his limbs shook…and the way he continued to squeal.
Marona smirked. He'd taken off his shoes. The thought struck her as odd that he'd had to wear them for so long. Hadn't seen his toes in ages. Now he was finally able.
Marona watched Ash remove his scarf. At that her eyebrows shot into the air. It was almost his trademark, that silly, maroon thing. And he tossed it aside like he'd been waiting to rid himself of the wool for quite some time now. She heard his laughter; her smile grew.
Ash shed his coat. The only clothing left was a white shirt and a pair of black slacks. Marona didn't even know he'd had anything under the jacket. The night he died must have been a cold one. Ash held out his arms, threw his head back to face the clear, night sky, and reveled in the experience.
Marona rested against the window frame. She was happy for him. He deserved to live. To feel.
Ash strode deeper into the water and dove under the foamy waves. He stayed submerged a good thirty seconds before appearing a little ways to the left, drenched through and through. With a wild shake of his head, Ash then proceeded to scrub himself. He'd obviously smelled himself, too.
Marona continued her observation. After a long swim, Ash fetched his sword and began to practice. Something about gaining back every single one of his nerves all at once must not have been such a good thing. Ash could barely lift the weapon at first. Let alone wield it like she knew he could. But he tried. And tried. And tried.
His persistence was…charming.
Eventually, his work paid off – his muscles were remembering the weight of the cold steel. Remembering the motions: attacks and defensive maneuvers. Satisfied, Ash thrust his blade into the sand. He took several, deep breaths. The silhouette of his chest rose and fell steadily in the darkness.
Then he turned and looked at her. Like he was suddenly aware of another presence.
Marona blushed. She was in for it now. He'd berate her something terrible for not sleeping like she should have.
Ash approached. His brawny arms swung back and forth. "Couldn't sleep?" He craned his neck to get a good look at Marona. His eyes were full of delight. Not disappointment at her lack of obedience.
Marona wrinkled her nose gleefully. "Told ya."
Ash ran a hand through his wild, dark hair. "How about that breakfast?"
Ash shoveled heaps of pancakes into his mouth, savoring the taste he'd been denied every morning for the last decade. "I'll never make fun of your cooking again," he sighed. "This is delicious."
Marona sat across from him, positively beaming. "You're welcome."
A knock at the front door startled them and they shared quizzical glances.
"A call at this hour?" Marona swayed over to the front door. She took a peek trough one of the many, empty knotholes, standing on her tip-toes to do so.
A stupid smile worked its way on Ash's face. He decided then and there that the girl must be an angel. She took his breath away by doing…nothing. His renewed, over-enthused heart was getting the better of him. He didn't know how much longer he could last before admitting what he felt for Marona. Out loud. To her.
"Who is it?" he asked. Ash shook himself from his reverie. For crying out loud, he was a warrior! He should have better control over his emotions than this.
Marona rested her back against the door, her hand against her collar. "It's Ruben."
"What's he doing here?" The bitterness in Ash's voice was unmistakable.
"I…I don't know." Marona closed her eyes. "I don't think I want to know." Even so, her hand strayed to the latch. "But I can't leave him out there, can I?"
Blast her kindness, Ash hissed to himself. He stood to his feet as the door swung on its rusted hinges, revealing a nervous and very well dressed Mr. Ruben.
"Good evening, Marona."
"Good evening, sir. May I ask what occasion brings you here?" She stepped aside to let the gentleman in.
Ruben stalked through the threshold, head bowed in thought. It was fortunate for him that he did this. Otherwise, he would have been face to face with one very ticked-off Ash.
Spinning on his heel, their employer turned to Marona once more. "You bring me here," he replied.
Ash scowled. A raging heat was taking over the better part of his abdomen and he gave it permission to swell until his entire body felt riddled with flame. It didn't help that Marona's visage visibly turned a darker shade of red. He knew it was only a matter of time before intimate requests were brought to her front door. She was of age, after all. But still, the over-protective nature of his being consumed Ash's every fiber. He wasn't going to let anyone, and he meant anyone, take away what he held so dearly.
"Me?" Marona snatched a handful of the end of her dress.
"Yes, you." Ruben stepped toward her. Ash followed silently, breathing down the man's neck. He didn't appreciate such forwardness. Especially since Marona didn't seem to replicate the sentiment. "Your beauty, your kindness-"
Ruben froze on the spot and Marona's jaw dropped the slightest of bits. "Ash…" She shook her head in an attempt to plead with him not to make a big deal out of the situation. It was too late for that. The man had not only insulted them by barging into their home so late at night, but his advancements were genuinely sickening. Oh, yes. There would be a scene.
Ruben worked up the nerve to face his fear. "Ah. The phantom," he said silkily. He found Ash with his eyes and stared down his nose at him. "This is a private matter. I'd like to speak with Marona alone."
Ash squared his jaw. He widened his stance, indicating that he wasn't going to move no matter what anyone said or did. "Private matter?"
"I'd like to ask for Marona's hand in marriage."
"That won't be possible. She's taken."
"You?" Ruben chuckled.
Ruben's titter transformed into a full-bellied laugh. "You can't marry her! You're dead!"
Ash snatched the man by his collar and jerked him completely off his feet. "Not anymore," he said through clenched teeth. "Now I think it's time you left. Tell all the other men itching to court my Marona that they're wasting their time." With that, Ash dragged Ruben back to the front door and tossed him out onto the sand. Furthermore, he stood there menacingly in the doorway until he was sure Ruben was gone. In jubilation, Ash watched the prestige and wealth scramble away like his life depended on it…which was true.
He'd forgotten Marona was there; his pulse fluttered. "I'm sorry." Ash made eye contact with the girl. He flinched at the bewildered expression written across her face. "I didn't mean to…" But he had. Every word, as a matter of fact.
Marona slid her hand into his, nonetheless. "Thank you."
Ash gazed down into her face. That gorgeous face.
"Was that a…"
Ash lingered close and a ponderous hum escaped his lips. "I made a promise didn't I?" he asked. "Forever and ever. Why do you think I stayed, Marona, when I could have saved myself a lot of grief? When I could have removed myself from this life?" Ash smiled at her surprise.
"Because I'm in love with you." He took Marona's palm and placed it over his racing heart. "Can't you tell?" Ash drew her near. Marona's breath warmed his mouth. "Say yes," he whispered. "Even if it's only for a day. Even if this is just a dream. There's no point in living without you."
"I…" Her eyes filled with tears. "Yes, I'll marry you." His shirt bunched in her fist as she clung to his side. "Is this what forever's going to feel like?"
Marona blinked at him.
"This is." Ash closed the distance between them and brushed his lips against hers in a simple kiss. This time, a numbing buzz swept down his spine, almost flooring him with its drive. So he pulled away before her mouth could render him useless, though Ash was ill at ease with the requirement.
"My first kiss." Marona felt of her lips.
"Your second." He kissed her again, only to part with her the minimalist of amounts to add: "Your third." And once more. "Fourth…"
Before his time was up, whenever that may be…tomorrow…the next day…or the next. It didn't matter. He felt life in himself again. And Ash was going to ride it for all it was worth. For, truly, it was a priceless thing (and he thanked God) to have full use of every sense, to be loved, and loved in return.
A/N: Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I put a little sappy City of Angel's spin on the whole sha-bang…but c'mon! How else is this going to end right?
If you aren't in a coma from over-exposure to fluff and cliché-ness then please leave a review. I'll even mail you back!