Disclaimer: I do still not own Final Fantasy.
FINALLY (at long last, much?) I've uploaded da LAST chapter of this story! And with it, I've also provided a link on my profile that'll take you to a pic of Paige (how she looks waaay back in the beginning of the story).
On a more serious note...
You heard of how Romeo and Juliet ends?
She couldn't find John Smoth.
Of course, John Smoth couldn't open doors by himself, so he must have hopped into an open door somewhere. But the door to whichever room he had entered had been shut now, by the sound of it—none of the people in there intended to let him go.
"I've got hi-" sounded the crackling speakers on the walls. Then: "Gaah!" from the same speaker (and the same voice), and finally the ever-so-familiar "Disrespect hip-hop an' I'll spit in you' face."
On another note, although she hadn't found John Smoth, she had found a whole bunch of other awesome stuff:
A metal pipe (which she could have left behind in favor of several fancy swords, but didn't, since she didn't want to stab or accidentally kill somebody).
A bulletproof vest (which she could only have over her shoulders, since it was impossible to put on because of her blasted handcuffs).
A bazillion magic-sphere-materia-things (all of which she left behind, since she had no idea how to use one).
So, half-wearing a bulletproof vest while holding a metal pipe in both hands, Paige waltzed around and hugged walls like a bad imitation of James Bond, occasionally kicking open doors. Her face was stiff all the time—not with tough James-Bond-ishness, nor karate-ishness, but with pee-your-pants-ish-ness. So far, she had knocked out two innocent passers-by with the metal pipe. One had come around a corner, so she had knocked him out and then got the magnificent idea of hiding him inside the nearest room. And in there was guy number two. As a result, she was—at the moment—hiding more than moving. What if somebody found the two unconscious guys?
"Takin' chances," rapped John Smoth over the speakers. "Your favorite record has got to go."
Paige almost ran around a corner, but stopped just in time to not be spotted (or hit) by a running infantryman.
If he was running like that, maybe he was heading to where John Smoth was, to see what was going on?
"I'm hot 'cause I'm fly, you ain't, 'cause you' not," John Smoth rapped. Flapping noise was still heard all over the place. The brave, lazy parrot was really standing up against them. Gathering her meagre courage, Paige followed the running infantryman, glad that he didn't pay attention to whatever might be behind him. Before she knew it, he stopped at a door and opened it, then disappeared inside. Paige nearly followed, but realized there might be a lot more than just two or three men in there.
Guts, come to me!
… Though, come to think of it, guts wasn't enough at all, was it?
"I got my eye on ya," rapped John Smoth, sounding closer than before. "Ass so fat ya can see it from the front," he continued.
Slowly, an idea formed in her mind.
She didn't have to go in.
Pleased with her partially working mind (after oh-so-long-a-time without sleep), Paige simply opened the door to the room wide, then stepped back and ran away—but only to the closest corner. There she hid for a while, until she heard John Smoth fly outside, with Shinra people at his heels. Carefully she threw a glance around the corner to see which way they were heading.
They were coming straight towards her.
When Sephiroth stepped down on the snow before the entrance of the headquarters of Shinra, he felt a strange awareness. It was rather like an feeling that made him acutely aware that something was not as it should be. Though his logic argued that this was the most ideal time and place for him to wreak havoc on all things within sight that belonged to Shinra, his sword wavered.
His mind wavered.
Giving an instinctive snarl of a grimace at his own hesitation, he glowered strongly at the closed double doors in front of him.
"Crap, crap-craa-" Paige said in breaths while swinging the metal pipe like crazy. Maybe she should have learnt swordplay as well as karate. Or fencing. Or film-star-ish kung-fu with nunchakus. Just when did the damsel-in-distress factor not work?
"Children o' the sun, watch out, we comin' for ya!" John Smoth called out, though he wasn't doing anything except flap his wings and jump along beside her.
They had run through so many doors and halls and up and down so many stairs she had no clue where the exit was anymore. Right now they were in a spacey room with a currently empty reception desk.
Unfortunately, the men who'd been in the surveillance room with John Smoth had followed them all the way. There were three of them. Two of them wore shirts and ties and didn't look like fighters at all (for which Paige was eternally grateful, and would be for ever and ever), but the third man had a sword. A sword! Fuelled by fear (and a little bit by the fact that John Smoth was at her side), she swung her metal pipe back and forth so vigorously they were keeping their distance for the moment. They hadn't actually attacked yet. And yet here she was, tiring herself out by swinging her weapon like a rabid gorilla.
But then, all of a sudden the sword-guy had had enough, and charged at her.
And Paige mentally begged her luck, her karate skills, her wannabe hero-ishness and other random, yet awesome movie-like qualities to come to her all at once-
The man thrust his sword out, aiming to stab her, and at the same time Paige veered her metal pipe down at his hands with all the force (and fear-power) she could muster.
He grazed her arm at the same time as she crushed his hand.
"KAAH...!" he shouted, dropping his sword and clutching his wrist.
"OOW!" Paige screamed at the same time, staring down at her upper arm, certain that the cut was bone-deep. To her surprise—and puzzlement—it was only a teeny-weeny, itty-bitty little cut. Her white shirt had a small, but growing red stain on it, but that was all. And yet, it hurt like her arm had been skewered on a hay fork.
Confused, she glanced up.
The sword-guy—who'd dropped his sword by now—was stepping back, cursing between his teeth while scowling at her. He looked like he was in even more pain than her. One of his hands was red and blue, and looked strange—even a little lumpy and swollen where it shouldn't be. Paige grimaced. The two other men walked past him slowly and eyed her warily. She wanted to say something about unfairness and ganging up, but she could only grit her teeth—her arm still hurt. Why did a small cut have to be so painful? In movies, heroes could fight even when their hands were tied and they had a knife in their back and were full of bullets.
"Step back," said a strange, old-sounding voice. "If you cannot even handle this sort of inept lowlife, you incompetent trash, just get out of the way."
The rusty voice made the three guys freeze, and they looked behind them to the man who stood there, right by the empty reception desk. Paige squinted. The man wore glasses and a white coat. His back was hunched and his face bore all the traces of a man who had long since committed his life to work and duty. He was no taller than her, and his shoulders no broader, and his skin was even sicklier than hers was back when her anemia was at its worst. He moved slowly, too. Paige narrowed her eyes at this man who looked so weak, but who had easily silenced the three men who had been a threat to her. Was he Shinra's final boss, or something? The man pulling all the strings?
Then John Smoth started squawking and flapping his wings like crazy, and he tried to fly away. He didn't get far, and before long he looked like he'd gone crazy, because once second he flew to the right, next he skipped to the left, and then he stumbled back, his wings beating all the while.
When Paige left the parrot to his business and looked ahead again, the three men were already scampering away, their faces showing both wariness and distaste when they went past the small man.
"Who are you?" Paige demanded suspiciously. Surely a man this small couldn't be a threat. Unless he had bodyguards who were seconds away.
"Don't open your mouth to me, vermin."
Paige shot him a glare, and was about to retort, but...
But something flashed—not brightly, but something definitely did flash, and a moment later, many thin lines glowed on one of the walls, shaped like a rough square. And before she knew it, there was a terrible, screeching, crumbling sound as the part of the wall that was inside the square parted from the rest of the wall and fell into the room. At the same time, big parts of the wall and the roof above the hole started to crumble. From where she was standing, it looked as if the entire building might collapse. And there was nowhere to run, and no way she could shut out the noise—and there was really no way to tell if they weren't the ones moving and the broken parts of the building were still, and suddenly nothing made sense, because smoke and dust was all over the place, and the building trembled and rolling pieces of concrete made it impossible to move around. The floor shook so much Paige had to sit down so as not to fall. Part of her wanted to look—and then she did—and when she looked, she regretted and averted her eyes, then covered her head and thought of John Smoth, and of the thin man with the white coat, and the men who had brought her here, and the home they had taken her from, and even Sephiroth, for a long second.
As the rumbling chaos came to a stop there was smoke everywhere. A thin layer of grey dust was all over her once white shirt, and her black jeans, and in her light, uncombed hair. When she opened her eyes she had to blink repeatedly for the dust to get out of her eyes.
But the building was still standing. Or else she'd have been dead already.
"No surprise, I should say," she heard the sickly glasses-man say. "An army of one, as usual."
He... He wasn't talking about her, right?
When she saw something in her peripheral vision—despite the dusty smoke—Paige's heart skipped a beat. Through the smoke she saw John Smoth jump around, covered in gray dust. He looked like a fat, gray pigeon. Squawking miserably, the parrot rustled its feathers. Paige sighed with relief—better with a pat pigeon than a parrot squished under half a building.
Remembering the man with the white coat, she scrambled to her feet and coughed some before getting an overview.
To her left, the reception desk. Still empty, and undamaged, but full of dust.
To her right were pieces of concrete and girders that had once been a part of wall (and some parts of the roof). Speaking of which, a cold wind was already making its way in from the huge opening, and as was the snow—which reminded her exactly where they were. In the north of Russia. She doubted the authorities knew about this place.
Right in front of her was the man with the white coat.
Well, at this point, she could hardly be surprised anymore, but her logic still refused to see the truth. Therefore, she chose to categorize the other thing in front of her as an elf-prince-who-may-or-may-not-be-an-elf-prince-because-his-demeanor-suggests-that-he-might-as-well-be-an-esper-or-some-other-superhuman-creature-whose-strength-and-good-looks-are-so-superior-they-must-be-on-crack. Or maybe she should just call him a cosplayer, since that took less brain power.
Nevertheless, not too far away from the lab coat man stood a silver-haired man who—despite all her efforts—still managed to make her happy by just being there.
And he was looking straight at her.
Mask, mask, mask.
Right now, she was not in a state to do anything except show her most mask-dominated face ever. She would have to take her mask to a new level—extend its deadpan passiveness to her voice, if she could.
"Hojo!" screeched John Smoth, and the attention of the silver-haired man (who she still refused to name, even in her mind) snapped to the bird, and he scowled. Really scowled. Then he turned back to her slowly, deliberately.
For a reason he could not begin to comprehend, he was seeing two rather inconveniently familiar faces.
For the longest time he grasped for a reason as to why they might be here, but he found none, and so he continued to watch the face of that woman, scrutinized those eyes of ice she had, as if scowling might help him find the reason.
And she looked as cold as he felt.
Was it anger, this cold sensation that ran in his veins? But had he not learned through first-hand experience that with his fury came only scorching flames?
Expressionless still, she took a slow step back.
If she wanted to come with a hilarious, deadpan remark, now was definitely the time. But she couldn't come up with anything to say. No, not just that, she was completely without a clue as to what to do altogether.
Even standing still seemed wrong.
So she ran.
She ran, all right, ran like her life depended on it. And come to think of it, judging by that frosty glare Sephiroth had when he looked at her, maybe running away was the best idea. The most reasonable thing to do. The whole room was filled with large, scattered pieces of concrete and broken glass—parts of the building—left by Sephiroth's sword, or maybe one of his magic spheres (were they called materias?). From the hole in the wall, the frosty wind flowed inside freely, and with it came snow. It was nothing against the already frigid atmosphere, though—behind her, Sephiroth and the other man weren't talking at all. They didn't make a sound, so they couldn't be fighting, either. Paige didn't want to look over her shoulder to check what was going on. If she was being followed, she'd panic and do something stupid.
Then again, maybe she ran away just to see who would follow.
Clenching her fists as she ran, she headed for the closest staircase.
"Hojo!" screeched John Smoth from the far end of the room, and her heart skipped a beat. If she left him behind now, she'd have to come back for him later. Maybe if she got him to follo-
But before she knew it, something barrelled into her side and sent her rolling on the floor. Half blinded by dust and somewhat disoriented by the suddenness of the attack—if that was what it was—Paige got up on her knees and tried to look around. Her shoulder hurt, but was all right, surprisingly. Her ribs on the same side felt sore, though. Swallowing, and listening to John Smoth yell "Hojo!" in the background, she calmed her face while the smoke cleared up.
But when she saw Sephiroth and the lab coat-man, they were standing just where they'd been standing minute ago.
The scientist-like man bent his head and shook it a little, sighing as he did.
"And why, exactly, is it that you suddenly feel the need to prevent me from ridding us of a nuisance like that, Sephiroth?" demanded the lab coat man, his voice thick with disapproval. Paige guessed that by 'nuisance', he meant her. She also guessed—by his speech—that he was some sort of intellectually superior being in the food chain that was Shinra. What she couldn't guess, however, was how she had just been attacked, and why (or if) Sephiroth (judging by the scientist man's words) had saved her.
"If the two of you are acquainted, I should like to know how?" the glasses-man continued, his voice laced with disgust, his mouth curling in a contemptuous sneer. Then he turned to her, his black eyes stabbing hers with hate that seemed almost solid. Watching him made her feel cold and numb inside. For no reason she could comprehend, he loathed her, detested her, for having anything to do with Sephiroth. For a second she wanted to turn to Sephiroth for help—he could handle things better than her for sure—but then she remembered the circumstances the last time they met (or parted).
So she cleared her voice instead.
"I kinda thought I knew him," she said in a low voice, looking down. The peak in the scientist-ish man's angry mood was nearly tangible. It was best to keep her face and voice blank.
"But don't worry. I'll probably die pretty soon." By the hands of Shinra, or some other way. Now her voice was as dull as her eyes were cold. "That's what he wants, after all. For my death to come around."
And when she glanced at the man with the lab coat this time, his face had changed into how it had looked earlier—like he was looking at trash. No hatred, only distaste.
But she didn't dare to look at Sephiroth
To think there would come a time when the words of another could trouble him to this extent.
Sephiroth had never expected her to speak such words; to be this serious. Her death was, indeed, what he had been expecting, although as a consequence of leukemia, and not as a result of a slash of his Masamune against this building, or even by the magic of the professor before him. Granted, one might venture to say that Sephiroth had stayed with Paige with the only excuse being "I will allow myself to stay by her side, but only until she dies."
But her death had never been something he desired.
For Hojo to make her speak such words...
"As I thought. Just another insignificant fool," said the twisted man, watching Paige.
For Hojo to address her like that...
"If what she said is true, why don't you dispose of her now?" Hojo suggested, his voice thick with distaste.
Sephiroth's vision went red as rage rippled down his spine and surged through his veins. At Hojo's words his left hand clenched around the Masamune and his senses sharpened. This time, if the professor sent a spell at Paige, he would not hold back.
"You aspire to harm her?"
You aspire to harm that woman, who is mine?
"Or do you perhaps intend to kill her?" Sephiroth asked darkly, wearing a scowl as he raised his sword.
Hojo watched him silently, the way one might look at somebody who completely and utterly failed to do what one had first expected of them.
"... So this is what it looks like when a woman has a man wrapped around her little finger," said the man, his voice dull, coated with languid sarcasm.
He was about to retort, but Paige spoke before him.
"Who's got who wrapped around her little finger!" shouted Paige, apparently forgetting her mask for a second, but she quickly calmed again and cleared her face. "Just so you know, even if I use a machine gun, or a bulldozer, or a tanks, and Sephiroth uses a spoon, or even a feather, he'll defeat me before I can say the H in help," she deadpanned. Then she added while pointing at Hojo, "And you too, for that matter." Frankly, Sephiroth found he rather enjoyed himself when he heard her speak like this—like she should always speak.
"Hojo," squawked John Smoth, flapping his wings tiredly. Ignoring the bird, Hojo glanced over to Sephiroth, who took one step closer.
"What a pity, for your life to be handed to me..." Sephiroth spoke. "This easily." Then he stepped forward again and started walking, his strides taking him closer to the professor faster than the older man could retreat.
"Like a fiend for his queen," muttered the scientist, repulsed, as he produced a materia from one of his pockets and activated a protective spell around himself, in the nick of time. Sephiroth's longsword cut at him, but left only a crack in the shell—a crack that soon recovered. Naturally, it had to be a spell Hojo had kept for himself in the case of a situation like this.
"More effort, Sephiroth. If you want to kill me, you have to try harder," Hojo chided as he jumped back—fast, despite his age. Sephiroth suspected it had something to do with the man's experimenting. Still it seemed too easy. Even with Hojo's protective spell, all Sephiroth had to do was put in more effort, and Hojo would inevitably die by his Masamune. The professor obviously had something up his sleeve. He was only waiting for the right moment.
And so Sephiroth lashed out, several times so as not to miss, with all the force he could muster.
… So fast and so strong that the slashes of his Masamune carried through the air and all the way to the walls-
To the walls-
And there, lines—cracks—appeared, and too late, he realized his mistake. For even though he could make it out of the building before the it fell apart, Paige had no chance if he left her alone. And as noise akin to thunder ricocheted between the walls in the room—the sound of the building rattling and breaking apart—he was already moving away from the fatally wounded, bleeding, cursing Hojo. Slowly, yet faster every passing moment, the walls crumbled to pieces and came crushing down. And considering the number of floors above them, it would be no easy task to survive if they didn't get out before it was too late.
Paige stepped around without knowing where to go. She was close to the stairs leading down, but was that such a safe place to go? Did she even have time to head outside through the hole that was already in the wall? She'd have to climb over the pieces of concrete and debris-
"Paige," she heard from a distance, and whirled around.
"Hah-" she uttered as Sephiroth's shoulder unexpectedly hit her in the stomach, and the following seconds she couldn't breathe. Sephiroth raced forward with her over one of his pauldron-clad shoulders, first with great strides, then he leapt into the air and headed for the hole in the wall.
"Jo-John Smoth!" she managed, urgency in her voice. No matter how you looked at it, he was family. Any pet-owner would understand.
"... Tsch," uttered Sephiroth, his utterance laced with exasperation, but after a short moment of hesitation, he took a big turn and went back in, looking for the dust-covered parrot. And there it was, the lost bird, skipping around on the floor with its wings raised and its beak open, too tired to fly. They flew closer, through the dust that fell from the roof above, and then they slowed to a stop as the bird got within reach, and Sephiroth turned so that Paige could reach the little creature.
The moment she caught the scared bird, the roof gave in and collapsed.
The last thing she saw was an avalanche of concrete filling the hole in the wall that was their only way out.
Half a day earlier, on the other side of the planet, things were settling down.
At some point the military forces had lost contact with their silver-haired (temporary) ally, but they had managed to get the monsters under control at last. Now most of the beasts were killed and the area was already open to people who wanted to search for their families. The damages were bad in some places, but not irreparable—ruined houses, run-down fences, cars that had been stepped on, and, of course, casualties. Things were not entirely in order yet, however—some were still frantically searching for others, whether they were family members, friends or brothers-in-arms.
Solomon was one of the searchers.
After the beasts outside their house were taken care of by troops, he made his father (who by the way had helped the troops take care of the monsters, and was covered in gore as a result) drive him to Paige's house. He already knew she wasn't there—his friend Bray, Paige's neighbor, had told him so on the phone: she had been taken aboard a helicopter. But he talked his dad into driving to her house anyway. When they got there, Paige's family were all over the place looking for her. Their small dog was barking like crazy, and Paige's little sister was crying. When Solomon came around and told her parents what he'd hear from his friend, things didn't exactly get better.
They insisted for him to come inside (and he brought his dad, although he was somewhat reluctant, since he was dirty after his fights earlier). The news droned on the television in the background—in case they had news of Paige, or the helicopters that had taken her with them.
But no. Nothing.
Back in the soon-to-be snow-covered ruins of the Shinra Headquarters, there was no sign of life at all.
The movement of the crumbling concrete had stopped at last. Already, atop the broken pieces of the building, a white layer of snow was settling. The night air was made colder by the wind, which crawled into every corner and under every crack between the rocks, and broken girders stuck up in places, like distorted trees in a landscape of stone and steel. Survivors had long since escaped the area in the few helicopters left undamaged; the rest of the vehicles—and a few people, as well, no doubt—lay smashed beneath blocks of concrete. Nobody had stayed to clean up or erase all traces, so as to prevent Russian authorities from finding out about Shinra—it was every man for himself. That might be understandable, considering Shinra had never gone out of its way to help any of its workers.
As such, the place was abandoned; left as an impassable, frosty grave.
And perhaps it was for the best—Shinra was not one of the organizations one might want to rebuild, for many reasons.
Just then a lone rock moved, then rolled down the mountain of rubble, through the newly settled snow. Moments later more rocks followed, and although they were small, the sound of them echoed as they tumbled down to the base of the rubble. From a distance it might not look like anything at all. Closer, though, it was obvious—despite the freezing night temperature—that there was still life to be rescued from the ruins. Three lives, to be specific; a man, a woman, and one rather miserable bird.
"Children o' the sun, watch out, we comin' for ya," rapped John Smoth, sitting—of all places—in Paige's shirt.
Paige was too cold to answer.
There was nothing but boulders within their short line of sight. The weak night light that made its way down to them through the clouds was too weak for them to see the mountains beyond. Sephiroth, for one, had broken his wrist in his attempt to hold onto the Masamune, and he had not released it even then—and it had taken all his strength to keep himself from buckling under the weight of the rocks. He had shielded Paige with his body. The pain had kept him conscious until he broke their way out. Magic had its uses, even when one was trapped under tons of concrete, it seemed. It might have been easier—and faster—to get out without Paige and her pet parrot, but as it were, he found he was quite unwilling to leave her behind.
She sat in front of him, with dust in her light hair and dirt on her pale face, breathing plumes of air and hugging her knees to keep warm, careful not to squeeze John Smoth. To his surprise, she was still wearing the handcuffs he had seen on her earlier—he confessed he had forgotten about them. Instead he had gone to great lengths to keep her unharmed, and from what he could tell, he had succeeded—so far. It was still freezing.
"Paige," he said under his breath. She looked up at him, clenching her teeth to keep them from clattering.
"Your hands," he beckoned, and she glanced down before stretching out her arms.
Sephiroth had no Restore materia with which to heal himself, but even with his wrist broken, he would not clumsily cut her with his Masamune. Cautiously holding her arms, he cut off the handcuffs, then listened as they clattered against the stones after he threw them away. Their landing was muted by the snow.
"A-Are you all right?" she asked, stuttering because of the cold. "Or...?"
What a foolish think to ask.
"If you had died," he started, but immediately thought better of it. He would speak no soft words. "Your death... I will not have it." He scowled at her when he spoke. Her response did not come in the shape of a frightened face, but rather a warm blush. As one might expect, it was something to be appreciated, considering everything else within miles was freezing cold.
Gathering energy, he found a materia and called on a fire spell. The flame immediately settled at their side and grew larger, warmth pulsing through the air.
When she held her arms out to warm herself, her hands were shaking. Although she was the one trembling with cold, he felt struck.
Upon noticing his eyes on her, Paige pulled away from him a little—which made him feel worse.
By now it was clear to him that he wanted to stay close to her.
It was such a ridiculous notion that he frowned deeply at it and turned his head up, but then again—it seemed to him even more ridiculous to shrug off that emotion like it were a nuisance. He was no child.
Nor was Paige.
"It's so cold!" Paige managed to speak through clattering teeth, moving her arms (with wrists bruised from the handcuffs) around her knees. As if to remind them of his presence, the parrot's head peeked out of her shirt as he said, "Yo." As soon as he got a taste of the chilly wind, however, he ducked back in.
"Cold!" repeated Paige in an annoyed, loud whisper.
His wrist was broken—from holding onto his Masamune even as the building fell down on them.
His back was full of gashes—from the boulders and blocks of concrete that had worked against him in his struggles to get them out of the rubble.
And frankly, he, too, was cold.
Yet he found himself quite content with the way things were right now, with his blade within reach and this woman by his side. As he quietly lit another fire with his magic, he wondered by himself what she was thinking about. How did she feel right now?
Physically she felt like a block of ice taking a chilly bath in the ocean around the North Pole. But inside she felt really warm, darn it—so hot and cuddly it freaked her out. So while her body was cold and her feelings were warm, her mind was a brilliant mix of something that vaguely reminded of questions, memories, confusion and maybe reason. She was all right, Sephiroth was all right (by the looks of it) and John Smoth was all right ("You my lady, I'm ya' man.").
Darn straight, she was happy.
All over the place.
If she was lucky, nobody back home would notice that she'd been gone. Not even her family. But only if she was lucky. Speaking of her family, she hadn't even told them about her 'leukemia' yet. Oh, how she wanted to see their faces when she told them. Her dad would be so shocked his moustache might fall off. Her mum would probably cry, and her brother would be happy, too, and he might even make them all some fireworks to prove it. Her little sister wouldn't understand much, but she'd probably be happy too, even if it was just because all the others were happy. And their ever-barking dog, Chilli, would bark twice as much as usual, bark like a barking machine gun, maybe, when she saw John Smoth. As for Solomon... That guy could go do whatever he wanted. Marry Sierra, the ultimate great hero special School Princess, and get ten kids and live happily ever after and stuff. Paige had everything she needed.
Or at least almost everything she needed.
Just as he was about to ask how Paige was feeling, she spoke up:
"I'm happy." She looked up at him, her face radiant at first, then it faded some. "But I'd be happier if... Well, if..." She trailed off—apparently not intending to finish the sentence. Or perhaps not daring to. She did hold his eyes, though, however weak her gaze was compared to his.
He gave her a long, measuring look, his eyes slightly narrowed. The longer he watched her, the more her joy seeped from her face; the longer the silence between them lasted, the more uncertain she appeared, until she finally looked away, frowning.
He would have no such thing.
Deliberately, he moved closer to her over the few stones that separated them. Before she could do anything to prevent him, he took her chin and made her look at him.
"I should like to stay by your side."
… Only after a brief short-circuit of her heart and temporary malfunction of her brain, Paige was able to understand what he was saying.
"I'd like that," she said, feeling a little awkward, but smiling nonetheless.
Then she dared something she would never ever have dared to do almost one year ago—something that (if it had been suggested to her at the time) would have seemed impossible, absurdly stupid and unimaginably I-want-to-be-murdered-ish at the same time:
She went ahead and kissed him.
And then, as if she were a criminal who had just committed an unthinkable crime, she pulled away and stared at Sephiroth, somewhat like a child might gape at her parents after doing something she wasn't sure if she was allowed to do. By the look on his face, though, she had apparently caught him a little off guard. But before she knew it, he was giving her one of his flashiest smirks, a wry grin of a thing that made him look more dangerous than happy, really.
But he got the gist of it.
She was happy.
So was he.
(Don't worry, I'm sure they'll get home safely.)
Ai lav yu gais.