A/N: A big thanks to those who've reviewed. Sorry there was such a big wait for this chapter. I don't intend to continue this fic any further, but who knows, maybe the next time I play FFIV, I'll decide I want to do a follow-up.
Edge rose before the sun and slipped a note under Rydia's door on his way out of the castle. He had stayed up long into the night deciding what to write. Many drafts had been apologetic, a few had striven to be romantic, but none of them had satisfied him. So the note that Rydia would find when she woke merely read,
Meet me in town-- the bridge by the waterfalls. I'll be waiting.
And wait he did. He stretched, warmed up, and began practicing rolls back and forth over the wooden planks of the bridge. Working out kept him focused and prevented him from dwelling on the coming confrontation. He had spent the previous evening thinking about all the things he wanted to say, and he'd learned enough during that time to realize that the perfect way to tell her whatever it was that he wanted to say would not come to him, and even if it did, he wouldn't remember it right.
When he heard someone approaching, he sat down on the bridge and let his legs dangle. He was looking at the three little waterfalls.
"I hope you were planning on saying something this time." It wasn't said caustically, which it very well could have been, and for that Edge was grateful.
But he couldn't stifle his knee-jerk reaction. "No, I thought I'd invite you here to ignore you some more."
"I didn't come to play games, Edge. If you did, then I should leave now."
"Don't," he said, serious this time. He looked at her. She stood at the edge of the bridge, a light breeze toying with a stray wisp of green hair. There was something different about her now. "You're older," he said finally.
"A bit, yes. That's what happens when you spend the better part of an upworld year in the Land of Summoned Monsters." She walked onto the bridge, so that she was standing just a few feet away. "Don't tell me that's why you snubbed me yesterday? Because now I act as old as you actually are, and you still act as old as I actually am?" Her last sentence was accusatory, and it fell on his ears like a flail.
"I deserved that," he admitted quietly. He'd been wearing his mask, but now he took it off. "Listen, the reason I acted like I did yesterday... I was afraid." It was no small thing for him to say, and he hoped she appreciated that.
"Afraid of what?" Not harsh, not gentle. Just there.
He pulled one leg up onto the bridge and brought his knee to his chest, resting his hands on it. He made himself keep looking at her as he spoke. "Afraid of you. Afraid of how I would react when I saw you. Afraid that it would hurt too much if it looked like your life had been going along just fine and dandy without me."
She sat down and, looking at the waterfalls, said, "You're really not good at this, are you?"
"No, I'm not," he said, laughing earnestly. After a brief moment he added, "What am I admitting to be bad at exactly? Right now I can think of several things."
She turned her head to look at him. "Apologizing. You haven't said once that you're sorry."
He pounded a fist against the bridge and muttered, "Idiot." Then to her, he said, "Does it still count if I say it now that you've told me?"
She seemed to be thinking it over for a moment as she gave him a critical look. "For most people, I'd say 'no.' But I think someone of your ineptitude can be allowed a little leeway." The way she said it, it was friendly teasing. It was a thinly-veiled kindness, not an insult.
He felt like he should preface it with something--anything--but he didn't know what else to say. "Rydia, I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. The way I acted was stupid and immature. You deserve to be treated better than that."
She smiled. He couldn't remember ever seeing such a genuine smile on her face directed at him. I could get used to this apologizing thing, if it always ends like this.
"I forgive you."
"It's not the only thing I'm sorry for, either. I've never treated you as well as you deserve. I didn't know how to treat you. I'm not completely sure that I do now." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before continuing. "I keep people out. I want to let you in."
She wasn't smiling anymore, and for a moment he worried he'd said exactly the wrong thing. But she didn't look angry or upset, merely thoughtful. He waited for her to say something, but she didn't speak. She didn't even blink.
Finally, he asked, "Rydia? You still with me?"
A hint of a smile crossed her lips, and she averted her gaze. "Yes. Sorry, I was just... surprised. I wasn't expecting that."
After a moment, he said, "Well...?"
She looked at him again. Blinked. "Well, what?"
He started concocting a snappy one-liner, but made himself stop. He slammed the heel of his right hand onto the surface of the bridge, exhaling sharply. Stop! Just stop. You are not going to throw up sarcasm like a smokescreen and run away from this. Just be honest. If you get hurt, well, you probably deserve it. "Saying what I said... was really, really hard. Aren't you going to react at all?"
"I'm trying to figure out how," she said bluntly. "I appreciate you saying it. I do. Don't misunderstand that." After a moment of what looked like searching for words, she asked, "Why do you want to let me in?"
Isn't that part self-explanatory? "Why? Well, because... What do you mean 'why'?"
"I just want to be sure that I understand what you mean."
He searched for words. He felt pretty sure that somewhere in his thinking last night, there had been a good answer to this. Right about now, language seemed like a foreign medium to his brain. He spoke very slowly, thinking as he went. "I mean that I want to be honest and open with you. Because you're different from everyone else I've ever met."
"To my knowledge, there are no other eight-year-olds with the mind and body of a twenty-something." Again, there was no bite in her response, although she could have put it there had she so chosen. She was prompting him for more detail.
He almost winced at the reminder of her technical age. He still had to speak very slowly, because he had very little idea how his sentences were going to end when he started them. "Well, I hope your heart is all grown up, too. I'm not so sure that I want to let you in because you're different. I think you're different because I want to let you in. You're the only girl who didn't swoon over a cheap line from me. Or at least the only girl who I gave so much as a passing thought after she didn't swoon. And you're the only girl who I gave more than a passing thought at all. I worried about you when you took hits, and I wanted to see approval in your eyes when I fought well. With every other girl, it was about the moment. With you, it became about the next moment, and the one after that, and the one after that. With other girls, it was about fun. With you, there wasn't anything that I could rationally call 'fun,' but on several levels, it was so much more satisfying just being with you, whether we were buying new gear or fighting for our lives. Other girls I would forget the moment they left the room. You I couldn't forget when you were practically in another world."
He looked away. "Sorry, I guess I was rambling. Did that answer your question?"
"I think so." He wasn't looking at her, but he could tell from her voice that she was smiling. "And yes, my heart is 'all grown up,' too."
That got a smile out of him, and he dared to look at her out of the corner of his eye. She was looking right at him. Her smile was so warm. "You planning on doing any sharing of your own?" he asked, masking his nervousness with a little sarcasm. He figured that was all right.
"Maybe. I'll tell you this much--every time I think I've got you pegged, every time I tell myself not to hope for much out of you, you blow my expectations away."
"That's a good thing?" he asked, making sure.
"That's a very good thing," she confirmed. And then, in a mock-whisper, she added, "So what you should be doing now is stating simply and clearly just how you feel about me and what you propose to do about that, seeing as we won't be staying in Baron much longer."
"Thanks for the tip," he whispered back. He had still been looking at her from the corner of his eye, but now he turned to face her fully. He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped himself. Instead of what he'd almost started to say, he laughed a bit. "You know, it really sucks the mood out of everything when you tell me what to do."
"I'm not giving you a script," she protested, a playful twinkle in her eye. "And besides, would you have thought to say such things if I hadn't told you?"
"Quiet, you," he said bossily. "I at least get to say what I want in my own way. So you listen, and you listen good. I love you, you hear me? So unless you are so revolted by that thought that you plan on siccing Bahamut on me, I don't want you going to back to live in a place that'll make you old enough to be my mother the next time I see you. I have absolutely decided that you are the woman I'm going to marry. You will be my queen and you will be the mother of my heir, and I don't care if I have to spend years convincing you before you'll agree to it. I hereby invite you to a visit of indefinite length to Eblan after we leave Baron, and if and when you desire to visit your family in the Land of the Summoned Monsters, I will go with you so you can't weasel out of this by getting all old on your own, and so I can convince your dear monster parents that they should help me convince you to marry me. And if you try to sneak off without me, I will hide in your bags--and remember, I'm a ninja, I can do that!"
When he finished, she just smiled for a moment. Then she said, "I'll take you up on that visit to Eblan. We'll see about the rest."
Allowing his face and voice to show his disappointment, he said, "You don't love me back."
"I'm not sure," she said bluntly. "I think I might, but I want to be certain. I know that I care too much about you to lead you on. But I'm more than willing to give you a chance."
Smiling, she leaned over to him, her face tilted upwards towards his. Was that an invitation? He didn't feel at all certain, but he wanted so badly to kiss her... he tentatively reached out a hand to stroke her cheek. She didn't resist the touch, so he craned his neck and planted his lips firmly but gently on hers.