Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy.


You were never really certain what all was said when your gazes fixed on each other. There had nearly always been a clear meaning on the surface, of course, whether it be thanks for a practical word of advice, appreciation for an attentive ear, or exasperation for a chattering tongue.

And yet, behind the familiar unyielding steel, the stoically firm marble, or the secretly brittle ice, there had been whispers of deeper currents. You often wondered if this just came with the nobility; perhaps they were all tragic mysteries of character and experience.

Al-Cid eventually laid that wandering theory to rest. Of course.

That still left you with a puzzle for a princess, in any case. When the swords rested in their scabbards, the gunpowder lay evenly in dry pouches, and the arrows just barely clattered in their quivers, you sometimes occupied yourself by turning it over in your head.

How does a person like her say so much with those blue-gray orbs, and yet hold so much more back?

Light always brought out their depth the most. By flickering firelight, you saw a dervish of red memories dancing in wells of weary darkness. By the radiance of the sun, you perceived a veritable mountain of resolution and courage matched only—if then—by the might of an errant Esper. And by glimmering starlight, you glimpsed distant pools of such otherworldly beauty that you could not but sit quietly in the shadows, entranced by the supernal echoes held imperishable in the liquid crystal of her eyes.

Sometimes, when they flickered towards you, you would hold her gaze with a receptive expression. A few times, like a child, you put on a smile in answer to an unspoken query; if her lips quirked up, yours grew wider. When her brows furrowed and her countenance grew distant, you knew she was thinking of Dalmasca and her struggles, and you grew somber.

Mostly, though, when your eyes met, your sight slid away and downwards; scuffing your feet on loose rocks to disguise your prior attention, you would chew the inside of your cheek and ask silent questions.

You never did get any answers. On the other hand, you never asked the others' opinions—you don't think anyone else truly noticed how much went on inside her. So, again and again you vainly pondered alone: who is the mystery that is Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca?

Yet, in the later weeks and the following months, the eventual and bemused acceptance of the beauty of her enigma shifted your focus. No longer did you desire to solve the puzzle and reduce it all to a rational explanation of her being, but to explore it—participate in her life—with the wide eyes of a delighted child receiving a wondrous gift from the gods. The longing of lasting companionship swept aside the shallow surface of your mind like a celestial storm, and its lightning pierced your very soul.

And so it is that you gaze into the starry heights of the heavens, one leg propped on the balcony, the other dangling carelessly a hundred feet from the earth. The view from even the guest rooms in the palace of Rabanstre will ever take your breath away, never mind the time of day, but you have eyes for naught but the stars this night. They are the lamps that come closest to casting the timeless light which you imagine veiled by her mortal form.

As an honored guest, it is your privilege to partake of anything which the palace has to offer. But glorious feasts of the Qu, heavenly music performed by virtuosos, and priceless works of art do not impress you as much as they, perhaps, ought to. All they do is remind you of her, somehow, truth be told. Mayhap they offer a reflection of a piece of her life here.

But as any sky pirate would tell you, only the genuine article is worth your time.

Swinging your leg aimlessly, you push back against the melancholy. That's your general mood these days, and it's hard to resist at every moment. It weighs down your steps, and you walk as though trudging across the dunes of the deep Estersand. People have been commenting on it lately, which isn't encouraging. You were hoping that you could keep it all from getting in the way of things, but it's a forlorn hope now.

Grimacing, you pick at a crack in the balcony's railing. Prying up a flake of stone, you weigh it in your hand before hurling it into the air. Tracking its fall to earth with a flat gaze, you shake your head. It's like watching your dwindling ability to pull on a faux smile for the social events that trap you whenever you drop in. Keeping up appearances among a crowd of gossiping nobles, prattling advisors, and contemptuous courtiers is getting harder. You could barely endure wearing that mask for a couple of hours tonight before you made your excuses and slipped away. An accomplishment, that.

Penelo secretly enjoys court life, for all her wariness of the aristocracy and her distrust of the powerful. The flowing dresses, the dulcet chamber music, the exotic perfumes…it all appeals to her dormant love of the luxuries that she grew up eyeing from the distance of the middle-class and, later, the streets.

That world means nothing but heartache to you, though.

It's a dead end. A vaulted ceiling to possibilities, cutting you off from the skies. Hero you may be, but the distance between you and Ashe is a kingdom's length.

Even if it were acceptable in the eyes of the powers that be—meaning, of course, those blue-blood families filling the palace coffers—it doesn't change the fact that she has obligations. After all, her first marriage might have nurtured a fairytale love, but that didn't mean it wasn't also critical political capital for everyone else.

And you could be nothing but a liability in that area. Street rat turned sky pirate on the one hand, and a mass of wealthy, influential, and willing princes on the other. Tough choice for those tugging on the strings of the monarchy, yes?

The hardest part of all is not talking to her about it, though. You know the only possible outcome: forcing her to choose between the good of her people and your selfish hope. And even if, for some inexplicably irrational godsforsaken reason, she did throw duty to the wind, even if she did take a chance on you…she lives for the well-being of her kingdom. Running away would hurt her inexpressibly. And you refuse to let that happen to her.

In the end, the only way that you can see the both of you together is in the final fall of Dalmasca into the desert sands, and her descent from the throne. Well, hell. That's out.

And on top of it all, she knows. Not everything, mayhap, but enough. You haven't a clue if it helps or hurts, but it adds that little complication whenever your eyes meet. For the reasons you won't say anything, she can't, and that's another source of mystery in your relationship—if you dare to call your guarded friendship as much.

A gust of nighttime wind ruffles your hair and blows sand past your face. You squint and turn your head, but it's merely a reflex. When the air stills, you continue looking down with half-lidded eyes.

It feels like hours in between, but a flicker of movement in the corner of your eye eventually draws your attention back to the waking world.

It's later than you thought. She is usually among the last to leave the frivolous social gatherings of the nobility—her office demands no less—and she is now clad in a silk dressing gown; no doubt she has stepped out for a breath of much needed fresh air before she retires. Dawn cannot be more than a few hours away.

The royal quarters are just down the hall from your lodgings; this places your two balconies next to each other, albeit separated by a distance of thirty or forty feet of empty space. It doesn't take her more than a few moments to notice you sitting on the edge with a leg dangling, looking for all the world as though you are perched on a stone in one of your old campsites.

She tilts her head in what could be acknowledgement or curiosity. Maybe both. Either way, her gaze is as striking and deep as ever.

Yet, paradoxically, it looks soft tonight. She's not sending a message or expecting to hear one. Instead, she hoists herself onto her own balcony and assumes your posture, swinging leg and all. It looks very un-queenly, and you get a kick out of imagining the horrified faces of any courtiers who may see her.

That lifts some of the weight from your shoulders, and you hold Ashe's gaze. The moment stretches on, probably past the point of decorum. That's neither here nor there, now, though.

Something's changed. For once, you're dancing the line together, pointing it out to each other and yourselves. Without words, you're exploring the future and brushing the unknown. No plans, just tracing ideas in the sand.

By the time the light grows rosy, you've not yet broken apart. And when the day finally calls, it will discover something new. A hidden route laid out by the gods who pity us mere mortals.

What it is…you'll know soon enough.