She is far too endearing for her own good, and it sickens him just to think of it. She hasn't a clue as to what she does to him with her lilting laughter and glowing smiles. Her wide, awestruck eyes keep him awake at night wondering what she could possibly find so beautiful in this life. And when he does sleep it is her golden skin and strawberry blonde hair that he longs for in his dreams. It is the scent of desert lilies on that same skin that he wishes he could breathe in deeply and engulf his senses with. She is like a gift from the Gods and the root of his downfall all barely covered by too-short shorts and draped from head to toe in ribbons, braids, and beads.

But she hasn't a clue, and it is the most maddening thing in all of Spira. But, he thinks perhaps it's better this way, because she's far too young and he is in no position to be thinking fondly of anyone. Unfortunately, he knows himself too well and cannot keep the soft thoughts from surfacing every time she sticks her tongue out in play or wriggles her hips in a victory dance. And, oh, how he loathes himself when they do.

Far too young, he tells himself. If only it deterred him the way he desperately wishes it would. Eventually, it becomes his mantra; the magic words he repeats over and over in his head to keep his thoughts of her at bay, but in the end only succeeds in bringing her to mind more often. And yet he cannot – will not – stop himself.

Far too young, far too young...

Yes, he thinks. It's better that she doesn't know. The last thing he needs is for her to see him as the sick, depraved old man he truly is. Besides, what promises does an Unsent have to offer her other than those of heartbreak and loneliness? Why should he take from her the hope that is the very essence of her youth? She is good through and through, and he has no right to ruin that for her. She still has so much life left ahead of her; why should she waste it pining away over a man who will never be there, and truthfully never was? She deserves better – far better – than a dead man.

And so he hides behind his stoicism and cold remarks, keeping her promising warmth at arm's length. So, no matter how she tries she cannot reach him; cannot reach inside him and pilfer the one thing that makes him so utterly untouchable: his self-control. It is the very foundation of his being, and she toys with it – weakens it – every time she casts him a sideways glance. Her efforts promise friendship and devotion, but he is determined to keep her out for both her sake and his, and for a while he manages. But she is equally stubborn, and while her attempts at a breakthrough are futile, they are agonizingly torturous. He knows he cannot keep up with this charade for much longer, because he is long past the point of simple Want by now. No, this aching in his chest when she smiles at him or speaks his name is Need at it's worst.

But still he endures. For her, he tells himself. She is far too young...

It is not until the destruction of home when she comes seeking his comfort above everyone else that he can no longer deny the attraction is mutual.

He has wandered to some far-off corner of the airship to escape the flood of emotional trauma on the bridge when she comes stumbling up the hallway sobbing loudly and looking so hopelessly lost that he thinks for a moment she might not notice him leaned up against the wall gazing idly out the window. But, she does, and immediately makes a clumsy, headlong dash for him, tripping over her own feet and choking on her tears. However, rather than throwing herself against him as he had expected, she instead collapses at his feet in a small, quaking heap. He finds himself entirely unsure of what do as her crying begins to grow in volume.

She claws at the floor with her tiny hands and grinds her teeth together as though she were being burned alive. Never before has he seen her in such agony, and the aching in his chest returns with a sharp, grueling vengeance at the very sight of it. Need. He finds himself crouching down beside her and laying a hand on her quivering back.


She turns and fixes him with spiraling green eyes that are spilling tears like the sky in a rainstorm, and he realizes that she is burning. Her loss is overwhelming, and she is being charred from the inside-out.

"Please," she begs.

Her face is desperate and frantic, and he feels his shell of apathy crumbling.


His name on her lips lays bare a frightening trust; one he had never expected but always craved. She had come looking for him, and the thought makes him want to smile. But then she speaks again, and his entire world seems to fall to pieces. He hadn't seen it before.

"Auron, make it go away."

His body goes numb as he realizes he has entirely it wrong. She had come looking for him. Finally, what he has tried so hard to ignore has made itself so painfully clear that he can barely even breathe. No, he thinks. No no no. This can't be happening.

Just as she had slowly forced her way inside his heart with her smiles and laughter, she has forced him against his will into hers. She has accepted him willingly, and nothing has ever been more frightening. He's failed, and he's failed miserably.

He pulls his hand away, "I can't."

She sobs louder at this, biting down on her lip and squeezing her eyes shut. Sweet Fayth, what has he done?

"I want it to go away," she cries, curling into herself. "It hurts."

Though some cruel, uncaring piece of himself longs to get up and walk away, he still cannot bring himself to leave her like this. And though he doubts she has is it in her to hate anyone, he could not live with himself if she hated him. So instead he continues to stare down at her, a hint of softness appearing uninvited in his eyes. His hand finds a place on her shoulder this time.

"I can't make it go away, Rikku," he tells her firmly.

An eye slides open and she watches him closely from the corner, waiting for him to finish. She does not realize it, but her crying has stopped and her shaking begins to ebb.

"Only you can."

Slowly, she tilts her head to look at him, surprised at his answer and unsure what to make of it.

"How?" she sniffles.

The corners of his lips quirk in a momentary smile.

"By hoping for something better."

The Fayths know he would have succumbed to the Farplane long ago without it.

The smile she gives him is weak, but startling all the same. He had honestly expected her to start crying again. But, instead she looks up at him from her place on the floor, grinning as if suddenly nothing in the world was wrong.

"I knew coming to you was a good idea."

The sound of her quiet giggle and the feeling of her arms wrapping around his middle as she pulls herself against him stay with him for weeks to come.

He does his best to avoid her from that point onward, but in her usual fashion, she refuses to leave him be. She is absolutely persistent in retaining the connection that had been shared on the airship and he thinks she will slowly drive him mad.

She becomes his constant shadow, following so closely on his heels that when he stops short she careens right into him. And when he turns to chide her, she laughs and gives him a light shove forward before he can even open his mouth, telling him 'not to be such a slowpoke'.

She rarely attempts conversation with anyone but him now, and he finds it strange and somewhat infuriating that she forgoes her lively chatter with Tidus or Yuna for his silence. She is perfectly content to babble on and on at him for hours, dancing about him in circles as they walk, not caring in the least when he never says a word.

It is because of this misunderstanding that he is caught horribly off guard when she corners him during their one-night stay in Macalania. Slowly, one by one, the party had separated and scattered into the woods around the campsite, following Yuna and Tidus' lead, until it was only the two of them; a situation that had him fidgeting internally like a child awaiting punishment. To say that he did not trust Rikku's intentions in the least would be an understatement to the highest degree, because while he was sure she did not yet understand their predicament completely, she must've had a fairly good idea by now. It would take an incredibly foolish person to not, and Rikku was far from foolish.

So, when the campsite has grown quiet and she suddenly appears at his side, he feels his insides twist in nervous anticipation. She says nothing for a long moment, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet and gazing off in the same direction as him as if trying to locate whatever it is he is staring at. He thinks she must've realized that he isn't staring at anything because she quickly gives up and turns her eyes on him.

"So," she says casually, "how come you never talk to me anymore, huh?"

The question is entirely predictable, but for some reason he still feels as though someone has just knocked the wind out of him. Simply because he had been expecting her to ask eventually did not mean he had prepared an answer for when she did. And so he finds himself at a loss for words while she looks up at him expectantly. Her name is the only thing his tongue can manage.


"It's because of what happened on the airship, isn't it?" she interrupts him, sounding noticeably less cheerful.

He gives a quiet sight and tries again, fumbling in his head for the right thing to say until he realizes there is no 'right thing' to say. For a second time, finds himself at loss for anything but her name.


"Oh, come on, Auron," she interrupts again with even less patience than before. "I'm not a total dummy you know."

When he glances down at her she has her arms crossed over her chest and a hip cocked to one side, and he thinks she is so childish at times it's almost painful.

"I don't believe I ever implied that you were," he replies blandly, furrowing his brow when the sensation in his chest returns not as a lazy ache, but a slow, nauseating burn.

"I see you, you know," she informs him shortly, ignoring his previous comment.

He frowns sharply at this and promptly looks away, "I don't know what you mean."

"See?" she snaps, jabbing his weak arm with her index finger. "You do think I'm a dummy."

"How so?" he growls, ignoring the acute sting that races up his arm.

He wishes she would quit and leave him be, because he realizes now that she is far more observant than he gives her credit for.

But, instead, she groans in frustration and shoves him with just enough force to make him lose his balance and stumble backward.

"You think I can't see you!" she snarls, shoving him again. "Well, I've got news for you, Mister: I can!"

The surprising strength of her wiry little arms sends him staggering back again as she pushes him a third time.

"You're always watching me from the corner of your eye, even when you know you don't need to! I know I'm really clumsy and not very strong, but just because I can't heft a sword over my head like a baton like you and Tidus doesn't mean I can't take care of myself! I don't see you keeping tabs on Yunie, and she's the one you're supposed to be protecting! Some guardian you are, you big jerk!"

She is close to shrieking at this point, and he is half-worried someone might hear, because the last thing they need is someone rushing back to camp for fear of an emergency.

She has him backed up against a tree by now, and though he stands nearly a foot taller and could easily overpower her, a part of him still feels threatened. He glares down at her, his body tensed as though he were a cornered animal.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" he questions her, his voice thick with skepticism, even though he knows very well what it means and simply refuses to admit it.

"I don't know!" she hisses, fisting her hands at her sides and raising herself up on her toes, "Why don't you tell me?"

She is still too short to look him in the face, but their proximity has become so close that he can smell the sweet scent of lilies in her hair and feel her short, quick breaths on his neck. She is torturing him, and she doesn't have a clue.


Her name is a throaty whisper on his lips, but she doesn't want to hear it. She screams and pounds her tiny fists against his chest.

"Is that the only thing you can say? My name?" she shouts, beating him with as much strength as she can muster. "I'm not a little kid!"

But before her fists can make contact again, his massive hands take hold of her arms and he wrenches her around in a dizzying blur. She cries out as he slams her against the crystalized tree trunk in his place. The bastard had tricked her.

"That hurt, you big meanie!" she seethes, struggling against his iron grip on her arms as he pins her against the tree.


She quickly realizes that it is not her name, but a command. A black, threatening command that she does not entirely trust.

"What?" she spits, writhing violently in an vain attempt to escape.

"Do you want your answer?" he asks irately, catching and holding her anxious gaze.

She hesitates instantly, holding perfectly still and not saying a word. But when she nods weakly after a brief moment, the sight vaguely reminds him of a small child who is both curious and frightened of her parents' answer. But he does not want to be her parent, even though he knows he easily could be.

He chuckles low in his throat, "Then hold your tongue long enough for me to give it to you."

He thinks on it for a long moment, being a man of thoughts before actions and actions rather than words, holding her against the tree trunk and staring off into nothingness. Sweet Fayths, he thinks. He cannot do this anymore. His resolve is long since broken. Please, someone forgive him this small freedom.

The swift, predatory duck of his shoulders as he leans in and kisses her with such a sudden urgency makes her squeak in surprise and claw at his arms through the sleeves of his robe. He is not gentle in the least: his lips crush hers with strength enough to bruise and his tongue forces her mouth open to delve inside. He is pleased when she does not bite him as he had expected, but slowly, with some coaxing, kisses him back.

He frees his weak arm from his coat to reach up and grab the back of her neck, pressing his thumb into the underside of her jaw. She whimpers quietly, still dazed and unsure of how to respond.

His lips move against hers desperately, kissing her as if he would never do so again, urging her to react, and hesitantly, she does. Her fingers wrap around his biceps and squeeze fiercely. Her tongue becomes more adventuresome and he savors the warmth when she slips inside his mouth. She grows even so daring as to curl a leg around one of his and push her chest up against him. The sound that wrenches its way from his throat is low and guttural.

At last, he breaks free, gasping for the cool forest air to slow his labored breathing. As he gazes down at her he can see that she is just as breathless as he, but her face is flushed in the most pleasant of ways and suddenly the thought of not having her is unbearable. The lazy burning in his chest erupts into searing anguish, and he grits his teeth against it. Need. It is more grueling than any flesh wound he has ever suffered. Even the loss of his eye those ten years ago seems copesetic when compared to the scorching heat in his lungs that he endures now.


She surges up to meet him, her arms breaking free of his grasp and winding around his broad shoulders as she forces him into another kiss. She knows no bounds now, and while he knows it should bother him, it doesn't. The Need is beyond agonizing, and he does not know what else to do with himself. He kisses her back with twice the ferocity, growling her name against her lips.


Their teeth clash together painfully as he crushes her back against the tree trunk. But, she is equally determined for dominance, and his hands catch the undersides of her thighs as she hoists herself up and throws her legs around his waist. Her fingers knot themselves into his ponytail, pulling at the tie 'til it comes loose and she can comb through the long, dark hair at the base of his neck.

He grinds his hips into hers and she squeals against his mouth, her hands tugging frantically at his hair. It becomes clear to him then that she hasn't a clue what she is about to get herself into and the realization makes his stomach turn.

"Rikku," he groans, his thumb catching the hemline of her shirt, "you are..."

He cannot bring himself to finish. He is far too ashamed.

"Yeah," is the extent of her hasty response. "I am."

Even though he desperately wants to continue, he forces himself to ask the question anyway. But, she is making it so damn hard with the way presses herself against him and kisses him as if she can't possibly get enough.

"Should I –," is as far as he gets before she cuts him short a second time.

"No," she breathes, attempting to kiss him through her answer. "No, you shouldn't."

He does not debate with her any further, and succumbs to the rolling of her hips and the urgency of her mouth on his. Clothing is shed, meticulous and slow. Bare skin meets bare skin. Flesh is pressed against flesh. And when at last the breaking point is reached, he takes her violently, quieting her cry with his lips as he shoves himself into her.

She is pressed up against the tree, clinging to him for all that is dear to her in this world as she rides out the burning in her abdomen. He's too big, and she's too small, but neither seem to care because this closeness is to die for and they cannot bear the thought of letting the other go.

Despite how rough he is, the pain quickly seeps away, leaving thick waves of pleasure in its wake. She is not nearly as vocal as he imagined she'd be, but he doesn't mind too terribly because he can't recall how long they've been alone now and the thought of being discovered is somewhat disconcerting. Her quiet moans, soft whispers, and the breathless sound of his name on her lips are more than enough to satisfy.

But his pace slows significantly when he feels release approaching much too fast, and he supposes after so many years of misuse it should not surprise him. But he wants it to last. He wants revel in her warmth for as long as he can, for she has awakened a wholeness within him he thought to have perished alongside him ten years past. So, in spite of her whines of impatience, his thrusts become slow and gentle as he eases himself away from climax. He isn't ready to let her go just yet, and the cynic in him doubts he ever will be. In the recesses of his mind, he wonders just what he has let her do to him. But, as she whimpers again in protest to his lazy pace, he chuckles slightly and leans in close to whisper in her ear.

"Such a spoiled girl," he murmurs against the smooth skin of her cheek.

He gives a sudden upward thrust and indulges in the shrill gasp that escapes her lips.

"Do you always get everything you want?"

She presses her face against his, breathing heavily and holding him close as her muscles clench around him when he slams himself into her again.

She is so short of breath that her reply is barely audible, but his heart falters in his chest when he realizes what she has said; what he has done to her.

"Not until you," she whispers.

Like a man possessed, he surges forward, driving into her with such force that he feels her sink her teeth into his shoulder to keep herself crying out. He immediately begins thrusting harder, because he does not want her to be silent anymore. He wants her to scream out at the top of her lungs and drown out his thoughts.

But, he cannot keep this pace, and as she is pushed over the edge of her climax, he gives in and pounds into her desperately as he rides out his own release.

When at last they are lying together in a tangle of limbs on the ground beneath his coat, he comes to terms with what he has done. He gazes down at her, curled up in his lap and face buried in his chest, and understands that he has just told her the greatest lie without ever speaking a word. He has given her a promise that will be impossible to keep. The burning resurfaces more vicious than ever, but he swallows it down. He doesn't want to wake her. He doesn't want her to know.

She will never have him, and she hasn't a clue.

He comes for her every night after that, luring her away from the eyes of the others to make love to her on the quiet grassy plains of the Calm Lands or the snow laden hills of Mount Gagazet. And she welcomes him every time, eager for his hands on her skin and his lips on hers. Some nights – when his ghosts are quiet – he is torturously gentle, and others – when he loathes himself to the very core – he is as ruthless as he was their first time. But in the end it does not truly matter, because the lie continues to inflate and he can see the raw joy in her eyes each night he comes to her. She is thrilled with him, with his affection, and has absolutely no idea what he is hiding from her.

They are infinitely more comfortable in each other's presence, and yet careful enough not to tip off the others, something he is surprised at her for. She has never been one for keeping secrets, especially secrets that are as exciting and wonderful as she finds this one.

For a short while, he had been half-afraid she would out them immediately afterward. But when they wandered back into camp, one after the other, she had said nothing and simply flounced over to her sleeping bag to crawl inside and fall asleep instantaneously. No one said a word, or even stared.

The air had been thick with accusation, but not of them. Yuna and Tidus were the alleged culprits, something he found immeasurably entertaining though he did not voice it. He had just bedded a fifteen year old girl, and no one would have guessed because the two teenagers looked far guiltier than he felt. After a long moment of silence, he too had wandered off to bed as if nothing had happened at all.

Even as she dances about him, prattling on and lacing him with the chocobo feathers she's gathered on their trek across the Calm Lands, he feels their secret is secure. Though her smiles are warmer, her eyes more adoring, her behavior more doting, he knows he is the only who notices. They do not watch her the way he does.

And so, unbeknownst to her, he lets the lie grow with each passing day as they make their toward holy Zanarkand. But he cannot bring himself to tell her, because he knows it will break her heart and she will be dead in ways that he can't even begin to imagine. Fifteen years is much too tender an age to spend the rest of one's life in mourning.

But then the childish jealousy in him brings to mind thoughts of whether she even would. She is still so young, and he is sure there will be countless other men in her life before she is ready to settle down and find someone who she will mourn for when they are gone.

Youth is such a sick, twisted thing. It breeds devotion and detachment in the wrong places and for the wrong people, and he is not sure where she stands. Certainly he does not want her to take a vow of celibacy and drape herself in black for the rest of her days once he is gone, and yet at the same time it would not bother him terribly if she did. For once in his life, Auron realizes he is entirely unsure of what he wants. But when she glances at him over her shoulder and gives him that mischievous little smirk before pilfering Wakka's pockets, he cannot help but smile gently behind his cowl. He thinks he just might love her.

She cries when he tells her. She cries with everything she has. She cries so hard that she hiccups when she breathes or speaks. She cries so hard that her eyes stay red and swollen for a good two hours afterward. She cries so hard and so messily that the shoulder of his coat is soaked with her tears. She cries so hard and so messily that it puts her breakdown on the airship to utter shame.

She cries because he is dead, not because she understands what that means. She cries because she is sad for him, because it's 'no fun being dead', and she feels bad for always mooching his food. She cries because if she had known she wouldn't have made fun of him for being grumpy all the time or stolen his popsicles, because 'dead people are entitled to being grumpy and having popsicles more than anyone else'.

She cries because he is dead, not because she thinks anything will change. And once again, he cannot bring himself to tell her she is wrong. So, he lets her cry over all her silly little qualms with him being an Unsent like popsicles and moodiness and whether-or-not-it-hurt. He answers all her questions – irrelevant in the end as they may be – with patience and tenderness until finally there is nothing left she can think of to ask, though it takes those good two hours that her eyes stay red and puffy.

Then he takes her in his arms and makes love to her as gently and lovingly as he knows how atop the hill above their campsite beneath the starlit haze of the Zanarkand sky. And it hurts. His insides ache from the now overpowering pull of the Farplane and his body feels as though it might burst any moment now into a dozen pyreflies and disappear into the wind. It hurts, and he wants it to stop. More than he has ever wanted anything before, even her, he wants to claim his rights as an Unsent and finally have his rest. It has been so many years now, and he is beyond exhausted.

When he finally climaxes, crushing her against his chest and burying his face in her short blonde hair, he gives in and lets a little piece of himself go. It is a taste of the most tempting relief, and he sighs heavily at the sensation. He can feel her smiling against his skin, and is infinitely glad when she does not see the lone pyrefly drift up from his body and into the sky where it disappears.

He doesn't think he'll ever be able to tell her.

When she comes to him later that night he reeks of smoke and sake; a thick, bitter scent that makes her nose tingle as she plops down beside him on the hillside. But, silently she forgives him because he only drinks when he is nervous, and he only smokes when he is upset. And she thinks he has every right to be, not because he is dead, but because tonight is their last night. By this time tomorrow, Yuna will be dead, and so might they.

A part of her is remotely hopeful for the latter, because the Farplane sounds like a pretty nice place and it's where Auron should be but isn't and she isn't going let him go without her.

"You know," she says cheerily, lifting his good arm and wrapping it around her shoulders so she can curl herself up against him, "I think I understand now."

Though he makes no sound, she knows he is laughing because she has her head pressed against his chest and she can feel the soft rumbling inside.

"Do you?"


When he glances down at her she is smiling playfully, a gentle gleam in her verdant eyes.

"And what is it that you understand?" he presses her.

"Why you were such a grump to me after I was all upset and stuff on the airship."

His lips quirk in a crooked smile, "Upset is an understatement, Rikku."

She doesn't seem to hear him as she grins up at him knowingly; a sight that makes him veritably nervous.

"You like me."

... Is that all?

He chuckles aloud this time and threads his fingers through her ponytail.

"Yes," he says, pulling her closer. "I suppose I do."

"I know that seems like a really silly thing to say, but it took some thinking, you know? I mean, it seems pretty easy to look at what's happened and just assume 'oh, Auron must like me', but it's really not."

He wonders where exactly she is going with this, because she isn't making much sense and this happens to be one of those many times when her way of thinking seems so juvenile and so naive that it makes his brain hurt. How could she possibly think anything else?

"How is that?" he asks, eyeing her skeptically.

"Because," she says, her eyes flitting away for a moment, "you don't have to like someone to have sex with them, you know."

Suddenly, she becomes the most rational, mature individual he has ever met, because only a child would immediately assume that sex equaled love. Knowing that she didn't both astounds and wounds him. She has unintentionally stabbed at his pride.

"But it's okay," she continues brightly, "because I know now. I'd be pretty dumb if I didn't. You're too nice to me, even though you try not to be."

He tilts his head back and looks away from her then, "I suppose."

"Don't worry, Auron," she says, wrapping her arms around his middle and pressing her cheek against his chest. "I like you, too."

They are silent for a long while before he manages to collect his thoughts and reconsider a prospect she has long pestered him about. It has been so long now, and so much has changed, he wonders if she is still interested. And while it seems silly and irrelevant, it means more to him now than ever.



He swallows, and thinks on it one last time.

"Did you still want my coat?"

She gasps excitedly and pulls away to tug at his sleeve.

"You bet I do!"

He smiles at her fondly, "Then you may have it."

Her eyes alight and her lips part as she squeals and hugs him so tightly that he nearly chokes.

"You mean it, Auron?" she asks, looking up at him as if he's just granted one of her greatest wishes and she isn't sure if its real.

"Yes," he tells her, "but only after tomorrow."

Her shriek of excitement as she throws herself against him again is so pronounced that he is afraid she will wake someone and get them caught, though at this point he isn't sure it matters.

She does not even inquire as to why. Once again, she doesn't understand, which is actually alright, because this time he doesn't want her to. She has hasn't a clue what is truly going to happen tomorrow, and he thinks that is perfectly acceptable. It's better if she doesn't know.

His smile turns sour once he knows she cannot see him.

"You may also have a few of my swords if you wish," he adds quietly.

She squeals into his chest and wriggles enthusiastically. Her string of 'thank you's' is muffled against his coat. He rests his chin atop her head lovingly and holds her tightly.

She hasn't a clue, and he doesn't ever want her to.

The bastard had tricked her. Sitting alone on the deck of the airship with his coat draped over her shoulders and his belongings scattered around her, she realizes it at last. Her cheeks are soaked and her nose is running as she shrieks and cries until her lungs give out and her vision goes blurry.

"HOW COULD YOU!?" she screams at the clouds as if he might still be able to hear her. "WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW!?"

She pounds at the outside of the airship with shaking fists until they ache so badly she is sure both of them are broken. She reaches for his katana then, grimacing and sniffling as her shattered fingers protest both being wrapped about the hilt and the strength required that she is sorely lacking to drag it the matter of inches into her lap. The revelation of just how heavy it is truly is a bitter one as she attempts to lift it with weak, swiftly bruising hands and fails.

"Damn you!" she snarls, clutching what she can of the blade to her chest and sobbing anew. "DAMN YOU!"

And so she cries like hell because what else can she possibly do? Nothing has ever hurt so bad and she doesn't know how she is supposed to react. And so she screams and cries so hard that her head hurts and her mouth is dry and her entire body is shaking to beat the band.

How could he leave her here, alone and surrounded by all his things and all her memories none of which are enough to live with. The smell of smoke and cinnamon on his coat will fade, the sake in his canteen will evaporate leaving nothing but a faint, sour smell inside, his swords will rust and grow dull. And her memories will never do justice to the sensation of his hands on her skin or his fingers in her hair; the warmth of his body on hers as they make love or lying beside him in the afterglow; the thrill of kissing him and being kissed in return.

And so she cries like hell because what else can she possibly do drowning in his coat and surrounded by his possessions and her memories? Because it is so unfair that he left and didn't take her with him like she had wanted. Because it is so unfair that he left everything but his body to her and now there is no possibility of ever forgetting him, even if she wanted to. Because it is so unfair that these last few weeks are all that they've had and all they will ever have.

She cries like hell because she just doesn't understand. It makes no sense in her fifteen-year-old brain; this concept of loving someone but leaving them all the same; of loving someone and being unable to have them. And what makes it that much worse is knowing that she never would have. She realizes now that, from the very beginning, he had never intended to stay, and there is nothing she could have done or changed to dissuade him. She had loved him with all she had until the bitter end when he had asked Yuna to keep going and she had listened and all she could do was watch. There had been no final smile, no last 'I love you', only the passing of his katana from his hands into hers and the shedding of his coat from his shoulders to be placed around hers as he walked by. She presses her nose into the collar to see if it still smells like him. It does, and it only makes her cry harder and scream louder.

"I WOULD HAVE MARRIED YOU, YOU KNOW!" she throws her head back and shrieks, fisting her hands in the too-long sleeves.

She has grown so loud that she half-expects Yuna to appear beside her in concern, but she knows better. She knows she is not the only one aboard tonight who is mourning.

The tears are coming so freely and so fast that she no longer bothers to wipe them away. Because, after all, what's the point? No one is here to see her and she wouldn't care even if there was.

She squints up at the passing clouds, still clinging to the hilt of the sword as it slides down into her lap. She can no longer feel the aching burn in her hands.

"You told me once that the only way to make it stop hurting was by hoping for something better," she reminds him loudly, hoping that somewhere in the Farplane he can hear her. "Well, what am I supposed to hope for now!? There's nothing left worth hoping for! You were the best thing that ever happened to me!"

She glances back down at the blade resting across her thighs and runs her finger tips down it's length.

"Why did you have to up and leave me? After everything..." she stops short as the memory resurfaces and the tears come again. "You made love to me, you stupid, selfish bastard! You said you liked me, too, and that sounds really dumb but you and I both knew what it really meant!"

She thumps her fists against the flat of the blade and shakes her head violently because she can't make it make sense and the hurt won't go away and she doesn't know what the hell she is supposed to do.

"Why would you leave?" she sobs, reluctantly wiping her eyes on his sleeve. "I know you're dead and all, but couldn't I have been your reason to at least stick around? I mean, I don't know what it feels like being dead or if it hurts, and I'm sure it must've sucked, but couldn't you have let me help?

"I bet you anything I could've thought up a way to make it better, to make it not hurt if it did. But no! You up and skedaddled and didn't give me a chance! I know I didn't come up with any ideas to save Yunie, but you were already dead and didn't need saving so fixing you would have been easy! I bet I could've just hugged it all away but I can't and now I never will because you're dead for good this time and it's not fair because I'm all alone and I miss you..."

She is sobbing so violently now that the words stop coming because she keeps choking on them and she can barely breathe in the first place. She is sure that if Pop could see her right now he would tell her to quit her crying because there are plenty of other fish in the sea that aren't twenty years older than her and dead. But she also knows exactly where she would tell him to stick it because it didn't matter that he was old and dead or that she was too young and too naïve and illegal to boot; she didn't – doesn't – want another fish.

With what little rationale she has left, she supposes that someday she will move past this and find someone else, but fifteen is an awfully young age to be so attached only to be left equally heartbroken.

She peers back up at the sky, left coppery and hazy by Sin's explosion, and wonders if he can see her from the Farplane. Deciding that it doesn't really matter in the end if he can or can't, she sucks in a breath and says it anyway.

"I loved you," she starts, but that doesn't feel quite right because she never stopped and the fact he's gone doesn't mean it has to be past tense, so she tries again. "I love you. Even though we never said it for real, I think you knew it, just like I'm pretty sure you love me, too."

And she feels pretty okay saying that because the fact that he's gone doesn't mean it has to be past tense.

"I guess I'm just mad at you because we both tried so hard and got so close but you had to go and poof into a bunch of pyreflies before we made it and I know we could have if you'd have bothered to stick around. I meant what I said, you know. I really would have married you."

She sighs quietly and turns her gaze to the blade in her lap, rubbing the last few tears from her cheeks onto his sleeve. She feels ridiculous talking to him like this because she isn't sure if she really believes in the concept of an afterlife, but she can't make herself believe that he's just dead and gone for good and there's nothing else to it, so she takes another breath and keeps going. She knows inside that he can her hear from wherever he is.

"We always got so close, but it was never close enough, you know? There was always something else we needed to get past. Defeating Sin was supposed to be the last something and then we'd finally make it, well, if we actually made it, you know. Things were supposed to work out after that.

"We were supposed to finally break the news to the others, and I should have been able to introduce you to my pops as my boyfriendish-thing even though that would've made you super uncomfortable and he probably wouldn't have liked you too much after that. You were supposed to teach me how to use those great big swords of yours like you promised and now I have to teach myself because you had to go and be a jerk and ruin everything!"

She can feel the tears welling up behind her eyes and the sobs crawling up her throat, but she swallows it all back down because it's only going to make this harder if she doesn't. She curls both hands around the hilt of his katana, ignoring the sickening pain in her fingers and palms as she attempts to stand and hoist it up with her. The process is slow and clumsy and agonizing, but she manages at last, hefting the sword over her shoulder the way he used to. She struggles both to keep a straight face and remain standing as the blunt edge of the blade sinks into her flesh under the immense weight. Weakly, she tilts her head back to gaze at the sky, her fingers clenching tighter around the handle as she fights to keep from dropping it.

"I love you," she echoes, "and somehow I have a feeling that you'll come back one of these days to check up on me. I don't know when, or how, but when you do, I'll be ready."

She unsteadily adjusts the sword and gives the sky a sad smile.

"I'll teach myself how, and boy, will you be in for a surprise. I'll train and practice every day until I'm just as strong as you are. Just you wait, Mister. I'll be able to use every single one of these swords and think nothing of it, just like you can."

Just because he's gone doesn't mean it has to be past tense.

She stumbles as she takes a step forward and nearly loses her grip on the massive blade. But she won't drop it, she refuses. Her hands are burning and her legs are shaking but it doesn't matter because she's strong enough for this, and he always did get mad at her when she quit moving forward.

"It just stinks because we've made it so far and all we had left was that last mile-stretch and now we're never going to make it, and I feel like I'm stuck, because no matter how far I get you won't be waiting at the end anymore. But, maybe that's why you finally called it quits. You've been walking an awful lot longer than I have and I know you were tired so maybe you couldn't see the end, but I guess I wish we could have stuck it out for that last mile because then we wouldn't have to walk anymore and life would be a bowl of cherries."

She stops for a moment and thinks it over. He would disagree with that. In fact, he told her once that to live was to suffer and to die was to know peace. No, she thinks. She had it wrong. Or maybe they both did.

"You know, I really don't know. Maybe you're right and that for every inch we got we needed a mile more and that we'd never get to stop walking, but you know, at least we could have walked together just like we always did. It could have been fun if you'd have given it the chance. But, I can't really blame you either. My shoes are comfortable and don't give me blisters. I didn't heft around a beast of a sword for a couple decades. I'm not old. Both of my arms and eyes still work. I'm not dead. You had a right to be tired. You were ready to sit down and rest for a while."

The foolish part of her hopes that is all he is doing. Taking a break; a timeout; a breather. Just fifteen minutes to take off his boots and put down his sword and have a drink. Maybe when he's ready to get back in the game, the Fayths will put him back together and they can finish their walk. After all, she thinks as she finally slumps and sinks to her knees under the weight of the blade, fresh tears spilling down her cheeks as she lies to herself, a mile isn't so far.

She lays herself down slowly, curling up in his coat with the sword pulled against her chest and closing her eyes to sob quietly.

A mile isn't so far.