Disclaimer: FFA? Nope. Not mine.
Author's Note: This is just after the bit where Izark beats up that one dude made of water, and the evil lady, Tazasheena, is all like, "You're the Sky Demon, and she's the Awakening!" Just so you know.

Reading People

Izark was good at reading the meanings behind what people said and did. He had to be; as the sky demon, he had to know if he would be killed by associating with one group or another.

But he couldn't always read Noriko. There were times when the Awakening's true feelings were a mystery to him.

She stood crying in a forest of tiny, densely-packed Kona trees. She stared at him, a broken heart in her overflowing eyes, and he approached. There was nothing he wanted more than to give comfort to her.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't get here sooner. Please don't cry. You're going to be alright." He moved to embrace her, but she jerked away and pressed her back against one of the Kona trees.

"I'm sorry," she whispered brokenly, "I'm sorry… I'm so sorry… I didn't know that I was the Awakening… And," her voice dropped and he could barely hear her, "that you were the Sky Demon."

"Noriko," he tried to say, but she rushed on, and the tears fell thickly from her beautiful eyes.

"I didn't know that you were forced to transform into that creature because of me." The words rushed from her mouth, unable to stay hidden. "You didn't want to, but you did, because of me!" Don't hate me, please don't hate me, I didn't know.

"Everyone is afraid of the Sky Demon and its awesome powers! The whole world is searching and wants to use it in a war! Who would want to become a thing like that?" She sobbed and his alarm grew. "Now I understand why you left me with Auntie and yelled at me when you had a seizure. But you still tried to protect me, and look what I did!" You were trying to protect both of us. I ruined it!

She hid her face in her hands, but the tears couldn't be blocked. "I told you that I loved you, and I was mad when you didn't answer!" I had no right to say such things. I want to take them back! "I didn't know!"

"Noriko!" he said forcefully, grabbing her wrists, but she pulled away again. "Calm down!"

"I've learned the language! I've learned the way of life! I'll go away. I can take care of myself." I won't ever be a burden to you again. I won't ever let you suffer again. I'll go away, and you'll be rid of me forever.

She was hysterical. "Don't believe what Tazasheena said," he shouted, masking his fear with anger. "It's nonsense, all of it!"

"Then I can tell people that I came from another world, and that I woke up here in the Sea of Trees! That the place where I was looked like the place where people say the Awakening will come!" You're lying to me. Don't lie to me anymore!

"Alright," he said quietly, defeated. "Alright, Noriko. I'll tell you the truth." He couldn't meet her eyes.

He told her everything. He was right, she said. He had gone to the Sea of Trees to destroy the Awakening – to kill you – but he hadn't expected it to be a girl. I just couldn't do it. It wasn't her fault that she was who she was. I don't blame you for what I am. Now that they were revealed, they couldn't stay with Gaya and the others; they had to make their own way, and he would be the only one able to protect her. Let me stay with you, Noriko.

"That's enough, Izark. That's enough. I won't let you sacrifice yourself anymore! I can take care of myself! I don't need you anymore! I don't need you!" You're a monster! Stay away from me! She pushed him away and ran through the Kona trees, and he stood there, unable to even breathe. The pain of her rejection was worse than anything he had ever experienced, even overshadowing having his arm cut off.

But he still found himself running after her.

He slammed his palm against the bricks so hard that an inch of stone crumbled and fell away. Noriko, blocked from her escape, turned the other way. He slammed that hand, too.

"Don't leave me!" he demanded harshly, and suddenly his mouth crashed against hers so hard that he was sure he had just bruised his teeth. Probably hers, too. And she was pinned against the wall like a terrified rabbit. But he didn't care. He was exactly where he had always wanted to be, kissing Noriko, pouring out all his desperation into her and praying that her response would not be disgust. Saying the words he didn't know how to say.

But then she leaned forward, and Izark nearly collapsed with relief. Because she was kissing him back, and saying more than she could ever tell him. Kindness. Warmth. Love. He felt her love flood into him, like a blanket, only infinitely more wonderful.

"I just want to protect you," he told her when he pulled away. "It's true that I'm closer to becoming a monster than ever before – but I don't care. I don't care! Stay with me, Noriko. Please. Please." His knees buckled and he crashed to the ground, kneeling before her, his head bowed. His hands formed into fists and slowly slid down the wall as he lost the will to keep them up. He was begging her, shamelessly, crying.

She leaned forward, pressed a kiss on his back, her hands on his skin and her warmth all around him, wonderful, wonderful.

"I'll stay with you," she said.

I'm here. I'll never leave. No matter what happens.

I'm here.

I love you.