Disclaimer : I don't own Claymore


One Last Time

The city carved in the mountainside had always been ominous at best, yet under the moonlight, it was even worse. Seeing it again after all these years, it was still way too soon in Clare's opinion. If she had had a choice, she wouldn't have come near this place for the rest of her life and forgotten like most of the things from her past.

Yet this time, she had no choice. The message had been clear, and no matter how much she wished to deny it, its contents left her no other option but to come back for one last time to the Organization's headquarters, the town of Staff. Drawing her cloak tighter and pulling up her hood to cover the face, Clare walked up to the wall, each step somehow feeling heavier than the previous. 'One last time.' She thought repeatedly. 'Just one last time.'

"So you've come," a voice stated from a shadowed part near the base of the wall. Startled by the unexpected call, Clare turned to the side, barely repressing a defensive gesture. From the shadows a feminine form came out, clad in the Organization's uniform and a Claymore on its back.

The familiar person only marginally eased Clare's tension, as she knew firsthand how powerful this warrior was. Her swordplay was amazing, and her speed had made her legendary among generations of Claymores, but more than that, this warrior had to be feared because of the incredible intelligence and cunning laying under her characteristic spiky mane, and the sheer experience she had after being possibly the longest-living Claymore.

"How did you know I was here, Miria?" Clare asked cautiously.

"I had a feeling you'd come as soon as you got the message." the Phantom Warrior and current Number One stated calmly, her silver eyes watching Clare with equal caution despite the slight warmth of her tone.

"After the trouble Helen and Deneve went through to find me, the least I could was listening to them, if only for old time's sake. This is why you specifically sent them, right?" Clare sounded somewhat accusing. "Is it true Miria? This had better not be a lie…"

"I would not lie to you Clare!" Miria exclaimed. "Not about that!"

Clare sighed. "I know. It was bound to happen some day. I just wished it had come much later."

"It's been over twenty years Clare." Miria reminded. "I wish we could have met again under better circumstances…"

"Better circumstances." Clare let out a bitter chuckle. "Please Miria, you know how things are. There will be no such things as 'better circumstances' between us, no matter how much we'd want to. Ever."

Miria's steely eyes narrowed. "True. This is probably the last time we will meet with any friendship Clare. So please, for Raki's sake, let us not ruin it." she finished almost pleadingly.

Clare looked down shamefully. Miria was taking a huge risk in contacting her, she should at least be grateful.

After all, she was being granted a chance to speak with Raki one last time.


As they walked through the stone corridors and to their destination, Clare could easily hear the melancholy tune of a flute getting clearer. Minutes later, the sound stopped and they were greeted by a trainee who exited the room they were heading for. The girl, who appeared fourteen at most, froze at the sight of Miria, clutching her instrument to her chest like she had just committed a fault.

"N-Number One…" she stuttered at the sight of the legendary Phantom warrior. "I am sorry, Grandpa asked me if I could play for him a little. I-I'll be leaving now."

"There is no problem Nadia. I'm sure he loved it." Miria smiled a little, faintly amused at the girl's awe. "How is he?"

Nadia's face became sombre, which was the only answer they needed. "I see." Miria said.

After the girl had departed, Clare turned to Miria with an enquiring look on her face.

"All the trainees call him that now, and even some of the newer warriors." Miria explained. "He talks with them, listens to them, watches them train and helps a little. He sits by their side and stays with them when the pain of the transformation becomes too much. He makes a point of learning their names and on their birthdays, he cooks them a cake. Hell, he even managed to get mine." Miria's face looked torn between a smile and a scowl. While she appreciated the gesture, the candles had not been necessary in her mind.

Warrior or not, a woman does not enjoy having her age made common knowledge, and Raki had somehow gotten it right.

"That sounds like him all right." Clare replied with a sad smile.

"He has also encouraged them to enjoy some normal hobbies, like drawing or music, so they are far more attached to their humanity. Can you imagine, Clare? We haven't had a single accidental Awakening in over ten years. In his own way, Raki has done a lot for us and changed some things for the better," Miria then sighed dejectedly, her mood dampening, "yet some things stay the same."

Clare knew what Miria meant. All these efforts, all those sacrifices, all that pain… for nothing. Sure, they had managed to topple the Organization, but the last experiments of the former leaders, a kind of Yoma that could breed, had ensured it had to be rebuilt. An independent slew of Yoma meant that humans would always need protection, namely warriors, and as long as warriors fought, Awakening was a very distinct possibility.

The chaos of the leaders' death had profited a certain undying spy who used the opportunity to increase his influence. Rubel easily covered up the involvement of the Ghosts of Pieta, simply presenting them as stray warriors who were then offered an amnesty by the new leaders if only to refill the depleted ranks. He had not done it out of altruism either : as long as the Organization existed, it needed valuable resources to function, resources that could not be used against his true masters.

It tore them inside, but to protect the humans from the outbreak of Yoma, and the future warriors from themselves, Miria and her companions forced themselves to join again. They would keep an eye from the inside to ensure no other warrior had to die meaninglessly. Only Clare chose not to come back, and Raki had followed her.

Clare's reminiscing ceased once she was inside the room, Miria staying outside to give her the privacy she wanted. Her eyes fell on the figure peacefully laying still in the bed, the slow raising of the sheets and the faint heartbeat, even to the superhuman senses, the only signs of live coming from him.

As she took in the changes the years had wrought on her old friend, Clare was painfully reminded that twenty years is a long time for humans. His hair had gone pure white, and his skin, though tanned, was wrinkled. Yet even in this man who had lived over seventy years, she could still easily recognize the child who had followed her, and the man who had been her lover and companion for years.

"Hello Clare." he greeted her warmly, a smile forming on his face even as his eyes remained closed.

Even to this day, it amazed her that this complete human somehow could sense her presence, even when her presence was undetectable to the best Yoki-sensors. Back then, Raki had laughingly chalked it up to the special bond they had always shared, but it seemed their years apart had not dulled his perceptiveness in the least.

Yet even his warm smile couldn't hide the dreadful weariness he was feeling or the effort it took just to speak. Seeing him like this finally drove Miria's message home.

He was dying.

The unfairness of it filled Clare with a silent, impotent fury. Why did kind souls have to age and die while undeserving monsters keep on living?

"It is good to see you again, Raki." Clare answered with a gentleness she thought she had lost years before, moving to sit on the single chair next to the bed.

As he looked at her, Clare felt her heart skip a couple of beats as she saw one thing that had not changed in the years. Though old and tired, his eyes still held that amazing kindness, that wonderful warmth which characterized her friend. And even now, they shone with the special light that had always been reserved to her alone, the gaze of a man looking at the most beautiful woman in the world.

She had hoped that he would have realized she no longer deserved it.

No matter how much she wanted to deny it, Clare allowed herself to bask in this warmth, wrapping itself around her shattered self and soothing her very soul. Over twenty years, yet his effect was as potent as ever on her.

Would it be different if they had stayed together longer, she wondered, only to squash the selfish thought a second later. Raki had gone through hell and back, literally, with her. They might as well been married considering the commitment they had for each other.

Yet it had not lasted, Clare remembered. Though she could heal perfectly, Raki could not. Though she did not age, Raki did. The battle against warriors, Yoma and Awakened combined with the years gradually took their toll on his human body. She glance at the crutch leaning next to the bed, the reminder of the final injury which had nearly cost him his left leg, and left him with a bad limp.

Worry for his safety drove her to act. She had known he would keep on following her till his death if he could, so Clare, for the first time in decades, had contacted Miria and requested that she welcomed him in Staff. This at least ensured he would live safely and for himself, without having to face her enemies with her. She had not even been able to bid him farewell, since he would have protested, so she simply disappeared after leaving him in the appointed town.

This however also meant parting ways forever, as setting foot into the Organization's headquarters would mean her death warrant.

Until today.

"Thinking about the past?" Raki asked with a tired, raspy voice.

"Aren't you even a little angry at me? Leaving you like that, without a single explanation." Clare asked, as this was the only thing that mattered to her. He had every right to be furious, after everything he had left for her.

And if he resented her, it might make it a little easier.

No such luck.

"Whatever anger I felt died a long time ago. And it's not like you could burden yourself with me much longer. If I went away, you would be safer, so it was for the best."

"Damn it Raki!" Clare exclaimed. "I did not leave because you were a burden. Don't even think for a second you ever were! I just… wanted you to be safe. You've given me everything you have, I wanted you to live a little for yourself. And instead of doing that, I just heard you once again started to live for others, helping them to cling to their humanity…" she sighed. "You idiot." she finished lamely.

Raki couldn't repress a hearty laugh, for a moment sounding like a man half his age. "I know I am, but I've never known any other way to live."

"This is not how it should be." Clare whispered mournfully. "You should have a family around you. You should die surrounded by your children and grandchildren. And instead, all you have is a …"

"Clare." Raki interrupted her, somehow managing to sound like a stern grandfather. "I do have a family, though not by blood. All the warriors and trainees have come and bid me farewell already. And right now, I am with the single most important person in my life. What else can a dying old man ask for?"

His kind eyes met her teary ones. "I've had a long life. I've met many incredible people, made wonderful friends. I've loved an amazing woman, and I was lucky enough to be loved in return."

'You've loved a monster.' Clare thought sorrowfully, though she did not say it. 'And it did… still does love you.'

"I've helped people. I've done good things and bad things. And do you know what?" Clare held his hand tighter yet her touch remained tender. Raki gave her the gentle, loving smile he always had just for her. "I would not change a single thing."

He freed his hand from hers and gently brushed her cheek. To Clare's surprise, it came back wet. "So please, don't cry for me." he finished.

'So even these eyes can still shed tears.' Clare thought in wonder. 'Even now, you're pulling me back, even though you only ended up caught within my darkness. You may still be the kind soul you've always been, but your devotion definitely cost you your innocence.' Clare had felt guilt over many things in her life. Guilt over Teresa's death. Guilt for being so weak. But what she had done to him, or rather the lengths he had gone for her, truly ate at her soul more than anything.

"Won't you ask me what I've been doing? We haven't seen each other in such a long time after all." Clare asked, trying to bring them back to a more suitable topic, and also to hide her shame before he could see it.

"Is it really necessary Clare?" he replied. "Do we really need small talk? I don't think we can squeeze twenty years in whatever time I have left. Instead I'd rather enjoy your company for as long as I can."

"As you wish." Clare smiled, allowing a comfortable silence to settle between them. Indeed, they had always been above meaningless chatter. Any words they would share at this point would be useless, as each one knew the other's feelings and thoughts without the shadow of a doubt. Just as it had always been, the other's simple presence was the greatest reassurance they needed. So, for the first time in twenty years, and for the very last time, Clare granted Raki the peace only her company could grant him.

Clare did not know how much time passed as she sat by his side, a silent angel watching him in his last moments. After a while, Raki just closed his eyes and fell asleep, her hand still in his. She watched as his heartbeat slowly became fainter, and his breath became shallow. His grip became looser but she refused to let go.

She knew the exact moment Raki died.

More time passed, dawn was drawing close, but Clare did not want to leave. The hand she had yet to release was starting to grow cold, but she did not care. A few tears fell down her cheeks but she did not notice them, or did not bother to stop them. This might be the last time she would ever cry after all. She just remained there, her eyes never leaving Raki's serene, peaceful face, trying to engrave each and every feature into her memory. Be it just his face, the scent of his skin, or plainly his warmth, be it the child, the adult or the old man, Clare wanted to save as much as could from him, either in her mind or in her heart.

Time would pass, she knew. And with it, her memory would fade bit by bit. Much to her dismay, she could barely remember Teresa's beautiful face nowadays, only the warmth and love that had briefly existed between her and the woman whose flesh had been implanted within her. One day, Raki would also be reduced to a mere happy yet distant memory, a name she would associate with warmth and love, but no face. Maybe she feared this day would come all too soon, and she was trying to delay it by capturing everything she could from him, present and past.

"I'm sorry Clare," Miria's voice broke the mourning silence, "but you must leave now." Looking up, Clare did not know whether or not to be surprised at the undisguised sadness in Miria's posture, as she too had just lost a friend. "I cannot allow you to be found here."

"Would it be so bad?" Clare asked, wondering how long Miria had been here unnoticed.

"People would die. Either you or the warriors. Whichever, Raki would not want it. He would not want you to join him in the afterlife so soon."

Despite her own pain, Clare could not repress a mirthless laugh though she did comply, placing a final kiss on Raki's forehead and covering his face with the bed sheet, the finality of the action feeling like a death sentence to her. "Even if there was an afterlife, Miria, I would not meet Raki there. After all," Clare paused to put on her cloak and secure her hood, once again hiding her light brown hair and green eyes, "I doubt humans and Awakened beings end up in the same place when they die."

With this, Clare, former Rank Forty-Seven, the Fallen Ghost of Pieta walked out and closed the door, leaving behind her the final bond that had allowed her to keep some semblance of humanity even after her Awakening.