Desert Flower.

The sky is a deep, velvet purple, holding only the faintest vestiges of daylight. He is a deeper, darker silhouette against the horizon as he stands motionlessly on their balcony. Her heart stills within her as she watches him, already feeling the miles between them as he prepares to leave her for a far-off battlefield, in a war they already know is lost.

She approaches him quietly, unsure if he wants to be disturbed, uncertain if he blames her for taking him out of his kingdom in a time of need. His pain tugs at her, drawing her onwards. "I'm sorry," she whispers uselessly, and his head turns towards her, glinting eyes seeking her out. Even in the dim light she can see desperation burning within him.

"My father," he murmurs in a tone so full of fear that it hurts to hear, and she goes to him at once, unable to stand the pain in his voice. His arms wrap around her and he buries his face in her hair in search of comfort. They stand for a long time, just feeling the other breathe. She listens to his heartbeats and tries not to think that they are already numbered.

"I wish I could go with you," she tells him softly and feels his arms tighten in response. She has been taught to use a sword, but she knows that she is no knight. He knows this too, and shakes his head.

"Your duty is here," he reminds her, a little too quickly, and she nods her head in reluctant acquiescence against his chest.

("I will play mine," she'd said to him, when they had discussed their duty in the days when their only problem had been keeping their love a secret, for the sake of their two kingdoms.)

He gently places a hand over her stomach. "Do you think we've made a baby yet?" he asks, and his voice is hesitant with hope and fear. He is not a prince concerned for the security of his bloodline, but a man afraid of leaving no trace of his passage through the world behind him, and a husband afraid of leaving his wife alone.

Her throat closes with emotion and she has to shut her eyes to hide the sudden tears that prickle within them. "It's too soon to tell," she informs him regretfully as soon as she can trust her voice.

He closes his eyes as if he is making a wish, thumb stroking the smooth skin of her exposed stomach very softly, then his eyes open again, and he stares at her. The burning expression in them is very different now. "My desert flower," he whispers, the private term of endearment she pretends to laugh at but secretly cherishes. "My desert bloom. You look so beautiful in the moonlight."

(Two years later, when Al-Cid greets her as Dalmasca's desert bloom, she feels a little bit of her heart die all over again.)

She tilts her head back and lets his lips find hers. Every kiss, every touch that he gives her is a goodbye that she will never be ready for.

She wakes to the feel of lips against her temple and clutches at his shoulders desperately. He moves willingly to press a tender kiss to her lips.

"I did not mean to wake you," he murmurs with a small, sad smile. She is glad that he did. She does not let go of his armoured shoulders and he is forced to take a step backwards to make her, his eyes never leaving her face. She knows he is trying to memorise her features and feels a foolish pang of regret that she has not had time to brush her hair before he does.

"Come back to me," she finally commands, not able to conceal the desperation in her tone and she wonders how many other women are telling their sweethearts the exact same thing.

She can see the words hovering on his lips, assurances and apologies, but he does not speak. He just kisses her hand, twice, and leaves her there, lonely in the bed that is too large for her alone.

(She doesn't say the words. "Goodbye" or "I love you", either would have done, but grief and fear close her up throat, making words impossible.)

The next time she sees him, he is standing in front of her father and a crowd of thousands, too far away for her to touch or speak to. She is only able say goodbye with her eyes and hope that he understands. She keeps the brave image of the light shining off his upraised sword in her head for weeks, hoping, hoping…

The next time she kisses his cheek, he is too still, and his skin is cold underneath her lips. She is cold too, frozen inside except for the desire for vengeance burning harshly in her heart.

She carries his memory into battle with her like a blade, memories and anger the only thing sustaining her throughout fruitless battle after fruitless battle. After things begin to change, and she begins to hope once more, to trust in others again, she carries his too-brief love into battle with her like a shield. She believes in the possibility of victory, for the first time in two long, lonely years. She is alone no longer. But she still can't bring herself to say that final farewell.

(And giving up her wedding ring, although it is a small loss compared to everything else, is a grief as poignant as death itself.)

The very last time she sees him, he is nothing more than a ghost and a lie, guiding her down a path that will lead her to nothing but destruction. Running his shade through with the sword she is now proficient with is the hardest thing she has ever had to do but she knows that she can let him go, now. He would never have wanted this. She knows at last what she is fighting for. She is fighting for peace, for them both.

(But she still can't say goodbye.)

A/N: I actually wrote this ages ago, but I totally forgot about it until I rediscovered it yesterday. I love it when that happens, it's almost as good as finding unexpected money in your pocket. I love Ashe and Rasler, I wish he'd been in the game more, but their story is so sad.

One day, I promise to write a romance that is purely happy, but until that day, please review!

And of course, I don't own FFXII.