Title: Dreams and Realities
Characters/Pairings: Ashe/Vaan
Rating: M (not terribly explicit)
Summary: Maybe it's Vaan who holds all the answers to Ashe's questions.
Author's Note: Hooray for writing a pairing I never really thought about before involving characters I'm not entirely fond of.
...I'm not really sure what posessed me to write in present tense, but I think it works.

Ashelia Bnargin Dalmasca does not sleep. It is not something that others know, nor is it something they could realize. If one watched her, her eyes would close and her breathing would grow heavy as anyone else. So, perhaps, she sleeps. But she does not rest. Her nights are plagued with nightmares and memories, visions of the war and things that once were, and things that are no longer. Many nights, she wakes up crying, hoping that only she is awake to notice. Most of the time, she is, and she isn't sure whether to feel grateful or lonely.

"Ashe."

Last night she had a dream about Rasler. It was a happy dream of when they were first married, before the war. They had stood by an open window in the palace. It was a nice day, and the sun shone in on them and a slight breeze blew through her hair as they stood in an embrace.

"Ashe."

He had said her name and told her he loved her, and that he would never desert her. And then the dream had grown dark and cold, and despite her efforts, he had begun to fade away.

"Ashe!" Vaan yells, waving a hand in front of her face. "Snap out of it!" He peers at her with a mixture of concern and frustration, which subsides a bit when she acknowledges him with a raised eyebrow. "Why were you zoning out like that? It's dangerous." She blinks, coming back to consciousness more fully.

"Sorry," she mutters in reply, "I guess I'm just tired." Vaan continues to stare at her.

"You're getting enough sleep right?" She nods and wonders how many times she had and will have to produce an outright lie in response to that question. She doesn't want people to worry about her. She does that enough herself. "Well, if you say so." He doesn't seem convinced, but he turns and runs ahead. She had fallen behind the rest of the group, and she quickens her pace slightly in an attempt to catch up. Already, he has joined the rest of the group and is joking about something with Penelo. He has a wide smile on his face, and Ashe wishes she was younger and could enjoy life like he does.

She reminds herself that when she was his age, she was already a widow. And she realizes what she envies is not his youth but his freedom.

--

"You saw him, didn't you," he asks. "Like at the King's Tomb." He's standing at the edge of the bridge and for a moment she had thought she had seen Rasler standing there. From his words, she suspects that he saw the same. Was it real, or some hallucination brought on by lack of sleep? She blinks, and there is only Vaan there still, looking at her curiously.

"So you did see him, too," she comments, trying to force the haunting images of her prince out of her head. "But why?" she asks in reply.

"It's strange," he tells her, and she knows he doesn't have any more answers than she does, but he joins her on the bridge and she's grateful at least for the knowledge that she isn't going crazy. "Before," he continues, "I didn't even know what you looked like. And the prince— I barely knew there was a prince." He pauses, as if he's thinking about something. "Who knows? Maybe the person I saw was my brother."

"Basch told me about him," she comments, not sure what else she can say. She never knew his brother, and she still doesn't know Vaan well enough to come up with anything more meaningful.

"He enlisted, right at the end," Vaan explains, and he seems more serious that usual. He seems sad, angry, confused. It's almost disconcerting somehow. "But for what?" he asks, as much to the air as to her. "He knew we couldn't win."

"To protect something," she offers. Just like Rasler fought to protect his kingdom, and to protect her. Vaan is not consoled by the idea.

"How can he protect anything when he's dead? Was it different for Prince Rasler? Did that make sense?" He is frustrated, mournful, and suddenly older and less carefree. His eyes betray a certain weariness, his body a look of fatigue and malnutrition, and she wonders why she had never noticed before. She can feel the weight of his words and she realizes, perhaps for the first time, that he has lost as much as she has.

Time goes by, and she watches him, envies him, and wonders about him. She marvels at the fact that he can be so carefree while she is so bound. She contemplates whether it would be fair to take that away from him.

--

"Why do you fight?" she asks him one day, weary from travel. She has almost forgotten her own reasons, if she ever really knew them to begin with. She knows, in a sense, what he will say. Every one of them is there to fight their own demons from the past as much as for the sake of building a future. He wants to find answers, just like the rest of them. But she wonders—he's been watching her, too.

"For my brother," he replies immediately, then continues, "For Dalmasca." He smiles at her and lightly takes her hand in his, and she lets him. "For my queen," he adds emphatically, somehow knowing that what she was actually asking for was support. He gives her hand a gentle squeeze, and she can't help but smile back at him.

She realizes that he may be the only person who can truly say that he is here for her sake. She decides that he can be her reason.

She peers out the window of the Strahl and glances in the direction of Giruvegan, and she is more confused than ever before. She does not know what path to take. Already, she is on her way to the Pharos, but what then? Is she to use the Suncryst or destroy it? To take revenge, or to let the past be?

Metallic footsteps against the ship's floor startle her out of her thoughts, and she whips around to see the apologetic voice of the boy she both envied and admired.

"I hadn't meant to surprise you," says Vaan, with a frown, and she thinks that she'd much rather see his smile, so she forces one of her own.

"It's fine. I was just thinking." She looks out the window again and sighs, which prompts him to put a hand on her shoulder.

"About the Occuria?" he asks, and it's almost as if he can read her mind, but she knows the truth is that her thoughts are easy to follow right now. Her only response is to nod and continue staring out the window as she tries to calm the swirling emotions in her head. "It's okay," he tells her, and without looking she can tell he has put on that rare serious face again. To anyone else, she would have snapped at the comment, but from him it's comforting. She turns to look at him and confides in him her confusion.

"What should I do?" she questions softly, again shifting her gaze from his. She doesn't like being weak and indecisive, and she surprises herself by showing it so openly.

"I don't know," he admits, shaking his head. "But," he smiles and catches her eyes again, "Whatever you choose, I'll be here for you." The pure sincerity in his gaze is so overwhelming that it almost makes her want to cry. For the first time in who knows how long, she doesn't feel alone.

"Vaan," she breathes his name, her hand reaches to touch his cheek, and she pulls him closer. She feels lost, and she wants comfort. She reminds herself that she decided he was what she was fighting for. But still, what did that mean?

Their lips touch, and she wonders how long it's been since she's kissed anyone, and suddenly it isn't Vaan that's foremost in her mind. A tear comes to her eye and she finds herself feeling her finger in search of a missing ring.

"You're thinking about him, aren't you?" Vaan asks, and she can't tell if his tone is one of disappointment or accusation. "About Rasler." She looks at him for a moment, trying to deny it, then turns her gazes away from his and gives a slight nod, biting her lip. She has no words to say.

"I'm sorry I can't be him, Ashe." He turns away from her and she can tell he's hurt even though he's trying not to show it. "I'm just Vaan," he comments blankly, and walks away from her. She watches as his shoulders slump and he disappears down the corridor, not daring to look back at her, and she curses herself for doing this to him. He doesn't deserve it.

"I'm sorry, Vaan," she whispers, even though she knows he cannot hear. She realizes, with regret, that maybe she is still alone.

--

"Vaan." The name falls from her lips like a request and he stares at her, his eyes betraying a mixture of emotions: fear, happiness, confusion, desire. They are alone, and his hands rest at the edges of her clothing, terrified to venture any further. She has gotten a second chance.

"Who are you thinking about?" he asks, both hopeful and worried. She pauses a moment, searching her feelings to make certain that she's telling him the truth. She owes him that; he's never given her anything less.

"You, Vaan," she tells him and runs a hand over his bare chest, carefully pushing his excuse for a shirt off of his shoulders, "Just you." The ghost of Rasler has finally stopped haunting her. He's gone, along with the stone that might have given her the power to restore her kingdom. She isn't certain now of who she is, or what she wants out of her life, but for this moment, she wants him and that's all that matters. She doesn't want to be a queen. She just wants to be herself, in the way that he is himself. "Please, Vaan," she whispers, "Make me forget who I am, please." His response to her is a frown, and he backs away from her slightly.

"Ashe." His tone reprimands her without saying a word against her, and for a moment that's all he has to say. When he begins again, she wonders if he is really younger than her at all. "There's no point in forgetting who you are. You're my queen, and I'm your citizen. Maybe we're more than that, I don't even really know. But when we wake up tomorrow, those roles will still hold true, no matter what." He sighs and slumps away from her. "Are you sure this is what you want?" She feels a deep sense of loss as he moves away, and she quickly closes the distance and wraps her arms around him.

"In that case, make me remember. Who I should be, and why I want to be queen. I'm lost, Vaan," she pleads, and she hates that she has to admit her weakness, but she can't think of anyone else in whose presence she would allow herself to be this weak, even now when hope felt lost. "I just know I need you. I need to know I'm not alone." She stares into his eyes and sees that he

"You're not alone, Ashe," he assures her, returning her embrace. "You don't need to run from your troubles."

"I'm not running," she tells him, and she means it. Before he can question her, she gives him a deep kiss that she would hope spoke only of confidence, but she suspects a little bit of nervousness manages to show through. When she pulls away, he just looks at her, his expression filled with nervous anticipation.

"I… do… do you want me, Ashe? Like that? Really?" It all comes out in a rush and she finds it cute that he stutters. She nods and smiles, and if that wasn't enough assurance, she reaches for the clasp of his pants, but she pauses without undoing them.

"If that's what you want," she says softly, though from what she can feel in the present position of her hand, she can guess at the answer. In accordance with her example from a moment prior, he nods, smiles, and attempts to find the zipper on her skirt. His motions are clumsy and it's obvious that he's never done this before, but she finds it as endearing as everything else about him. She hasn't let anyone touch her like this since Rasler and she winces slightly at the shock as he enters her.

"Are you alright?" he asks gently. He freezes, and his eyes betray fear that he has hurt her. She nods and offers him a small smile.

"Yes," she assures him, stroking his cheek with one hand. "It's just been a long time." He seems relieved to know that she's okay, but his face still shows insecurity.

"Ashe," he questions her quietly, "is this really okay? I mean, you're royalty and I'm…" Before he can say anything more, she presses a finger to his lips, silencing him.

"Shh, don't think that way. You're Vaan, and I'm Ashe. Not a princess, not a queen, just Ashe." He nods hesitantly, and she smiles in return. "And I want this, Vaan." She wraps herself around him in encouragement, and soon they fall into a steady rhythm of caresses and gasps and moans, and she isn't sure how long they stay that way before they both collapse, exhausted and satisfied.

"Ashe?" His voice floats to her through a fog, and she wonders if she had dozed off. She replies with a quiet sound that doesn't qualify as a word. "Are you mine?" he asks, "More than my queen? And I'm more than just your citizen?" She laughs quietly, and doesn't think to correct him that she doesn't know if she'll ever be a queen. Maybe now she believes that she can be. "I can't think of any queen who would dare engage in such activity with a regular citizen," she tells him with a dazed smile. He peers at her with an intensity she isn't sure how he is able to muster. "So?" he prompts, and she realizes she hasn't really given him an answer. "Yes, Vaan," she murmurs sleepily into his chest. Apparently satisfied by that answer, he closes his eyes and holds her tight against him.

She nestles into his arms and sleeps like she hasn't in years, and for once she only dreams of happy things.